This article reads Immanuel Kant’s “Perpetual Peace” (1795) alongside Jane Austen’s Emma (1815) and Persuasion (1817) to show how national character—a concept grounded in shared taste through culture rather than territory—could be maintained in a rapidly globalizing world. Kant proposed tolerance as a way to allow travellers to move across the globe peacefully without having to abandon their national character. Austen’s Emma portrays taste as able to do the political work necessary to stabilize country house culture by linking the enactment of taste in the Highbury community to something like Kantian tolerance. As Persuasion demonstrates, however, tolerance’s toothlessness becomes apparent when the national community is detached from territory. By replacing tolerance with disgust, Persuasion’s mobile community can protect itself from those who might degrade it. Austen’s marriage of taste and disgust places each individual who passes the taste test into a realm of friendship with those of like mind, making this community the bearer and defender of the English way of life wherever it may be located geographically.


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pp. 317-340
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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