- Romantic Globalism: British Literature and Modern World Order, 1750-1830 by Evan Gottlieb
All in favour of empire raise your hands. Uh, I see. Not many. Imperialism is a difficult sociopolitical project to condone these days, and not merely for the sins of its fathers (the Dutch, the Spanish, the French, the British). Empire lives on in the operations of a global capitalist economy that scripts the agencies of consuming humankind in advance of its best intentions. For Romanticists still hungry (some would say nostalgic) for a revolutionary solution to the problem of economic domination, it is disheartening to realize that the history of globalization leads back to the age of revolutions (the American, the French, the Haitian). Did all that bloodshed in the name of freedom only grease the machinery of capital accumulation? If revolution provokes empire, not [End Page 748] the other way around, then what are we to make of Romanticism, once understood as a revolutionary cultural movement, now implicated in the long march of capital across the globalizing centuries?
In Romantic Globalism: British Literature and Modern World Order, 1750-1830, Evan Gottlieb offers a backstory to globalization that rescues, or tries to rescue, some of the literary work produced during the years of his subtitle. He is justifiably irritated by criticism that reduces writers once deemed progressive to lackeys of empire and its sustaining public persona, the nation. He wants to work around those constraints to advance an account of Romanticism that finds “emancipatory possibilities in the conceptual developments of contemporary globalization” (153). That is a surprising statement, coming from someone whose political commitments appear, if not exactly leftist, at least leftish. Commentators on the right usually celebrate the “emancipatory possibilities” of globalization.
But Gottlieb tells a story that counters their idolatry of the marketplace with the emergence, from the conceptual origins of globalization, of progressive values still relevant to contemporary life. His “long durational” (10) approach ideologically links the late eighteenth century to the present, revealing Romantic-era writers to be keenly aware of “global processes and dynamics that [are] increasingly reshaping their lives, their nation, and their world” (2). Their planetary perspective turns pedagogical where they share a “commitment, implicit or explicit, to teach readers to think globally in ways that emphasize the horizontality, transversality, or mutually constitutive nature of the relations between peoples and nations” (10). The global scope and transnational thrust of Romantic Globalism gives scholarship a welcome push beyond (British) territorial limits as the condition of cultural and critical engagement.
Gottlieb’s title indicates something of his method. Substituting “Globalism” for “Imperialism,” he moves Romanticism beyond the constraints of nation and empire. Situating “British Literature” in a “Modern World Order,” he expands Romanticism to embrace the globe. That “globalism” is a word of quite recent coinage, early 1940s, according to the OED, hardly matters if the point is to read Romantic literature as a user’s guide to later developments. Because “Romantic-era authors experienced and critically negotiated some of the most profound aspects of early modern globalization” (16), they can teach us, their heirs, how to inhabit a globalized reality. Gottlieb eschews contemporary descriptions of globalization, with their info-tech, money transfers, and transnational corporations, approaching it more softly “as a set of interlinked processes that grows out of and … alongside the modern nation-state consolidation” (4). While he never describes [End Page 749] those processes in detail (a nod to Immanuel Wallerstein stands in for analysis), he argues that Romantic writers observed them with such acuity that their work acquires a cosmopolitan agenda, encouraging readers “to adopt a recognizably modern global mindset and learn to think of themselves as members of a nation-state whose economic, political, and socio-cultural development is inextricably intertwined with that of the rest of the planet” (10). With Romantic globalism, British writing goes planetary.
Or some of it does. Gottlieb’s globalistas remain a pretty select crew. One might be forgiven for wondering how Romantic they really...