Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Ordering of the World in the Eighteenth Century

Donald, Diana and Frank O'Gorman. The Ordering of the World in the Eighteenth Century. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.


Arts exuded order - static order. Order was also in the universe, divinely structured not for man, but only man, purportedly, could fully appreciate it. Ideas of order flowed back and forth between religion, humanities, science.

Joshua Reynold's Discourses describe artistic order and hierarchy, ranking the styles and subjects of art. At the summit was art modelled on the renaissance. Its epick style roused the nobler passions, based on severity - sober tones or bold, simple contrasts. From there we move down along the Great Chain of Being. Threats to this beauty came from Venice with nuances and light flickering that seduced the painter (these works were fickle, superficial, vain, etc - in language borrowed from Pope these paintings were all the bad of feminine).

More on the Chain - there is hierarchy of course, and balance (from top to bottom, from man being both spiritual and physical). The things below were - subjected - to those higher up. Many assumed this to be true, and that the drudges needed to be kept in ignorance to not be too miserable. People like Johnson, in Rasselas, questioned the resulting social stagnation - "the maxims of a commercial nations .... promote a rotation of property" (Johnson The Works)

Some - noting eg the importance of earth worms - saw rather the mutlifarious lateral relations of interdependence.

Foucault says this is when belief in the mysterious affinities linking all the objects in the world gives way to rational systemisation as per Linneaus (although some critics thought it was silly to base system on a few external criteria when clearly the truth is on the inside). People DID, though, look closely at the world to set up their systems - and some said it was an unsustainable theological fantasy to make unbroken linear continuity a part of the plan of the Creation (Blumenbach quoted on page 10)

What many hoped to find was that nature reflected a benevolent and perfect Creator - like Newton perhaps - but increasingly what they found was disorder and constant flux. Donald says this "was as closely related to concepts of the political order and of human destiny as the hierarchical 'Great Chain' had been" (11)

Buffon regarding nature and Smith regarding the economy are said to have had parallell systems of irresistible, opposite but self-correcting forces. More critical voices included Hume, who did not see an invisible hand keeping order and indeed thought that man created trouble for himself - "man is the greatest enemy of man", and Malthus, who presented nature not as abundant and ever-nurturing but as an "indigent parent who could not provide for all her fecklessly produced off-spring" (13). Then Darwin taking inspiration from Malthus, in a cross-pollination that as we have seen is the norm rather than an exception.

Such interchanges were common among the many conflicting ideas of order, and each structure was internally incoherent - we are looking then, at several, flawed, attempts at ordering the world. This is organised as follows (list of chapters and content).

"Providence, Predestination, and Progress: Or, Did the Enlightenment Fail?"

Basically Jonathan Clark says that divine providence as an explanation of the course of human affairs (private lives and politics alike) remained a vital and mainstream explanatory model. I think he also says that when people moved away from providence is was as often as not toward chaos, not scientific rationality ... Finally, scientific rationality and providence were not, initially, at odds with eachother - they were often seen as the same (e.g. Newtion's view that we see God's hand in the laws of nature).

There is a discussion of how miracles are less seen as events where God overules the laws of nature than as a fortuitous confluence of individually natural events = providence. I think the underlying debate is as to the nature of God - if all-powerful he need not tinker constantly with his creation, but then if people have free will God needs to clean up after their bad decisions. On the other hand if people do have free will - is God still omnipotent?

At times he seems to go off his topic and just generally discuss the kinds of debates on order taking place in the eighteenth century - his long term goal seems to be to argue that the Enlightenment wasn't secular, not modern, and that the focus on order and structure was invented as a straw man in the nineteenth century by people who were questioning everything sacred. And the only thing they managed was to question themselves.

Chapter two - Frank O'Gorman
"Ordering the Political World"

Looking for an overarching model of the political order in 18th c Britain - the old idea that there is a stable and solid political order is misleading. The Whig interpretation has held though, and it "emphasized both the constitutional legitimacy and historical continuity of the political system." (p 84)

Standard interpretations have been:

1) J Clark saying Britain in the eighteenth century was dominated by the forces of monarchy, Anglicanism and aristocracy - an ancien régime - a confessional state.

2) John Brewer said England was a Fiscal-Military State - acknowledging that Britain depended on parliamentary supply and presenting Britain as essentially secular.

3) A social interpretation by eg Borsay, Corfield and Paul Langford that emphasizes the growth and importance of the middling classes. Complements Brewer rather than Clark.

4) Linda Colley has described how a Protestant-based patriotism emerged to protect the nation against its other - France.

All of them seem to assume the order was stable - working from Jack Plumb's lectures in the 60's where he claimed that in the 1720's England achieved political stability after decades of strife. Whigs had won over Tories, court over country, executive over the legislature and electoral franchises had been narrowed. Finally, the independence of London had been curtailed and Scotland and Ireland been pacified. (p 87)

there are problems with the stability thesis:

1) growth of oligarchy and expansion in the executive is said to have created INstability under William and Anne but stability under George I and II?

2) Plumb claims electoral patron subdued their constituencies - but this is not the case, as many seats were contested later and the size of the electorate increased

3) Walpole believed there were threats everywhere -Whigs, Jacobites, France

4) Plumb leaned on Habbakuk's theory of the growth of large estates - didn't happen. The GENTRY prospered, not the aristocracy.

5) Plumb said Whigs were in control - but the Tories were a constant, serious threat - and many Tories were also Jacobites and ready to renounce the Hanoverians.

6) and Church-state relations in Scotland and Ireland made for instability

7) and Plumb did not look at local issues - local gov't had worked through the instabilites of the 17th C and just kept on going, not noticing much difference in the 18th

8) Plumb doesn't say how long it is supposed to have lasted [maybe until the colonies were lost?]

What really IS there is rebellion - dynastic, imperial, and religious (p 89) - additionally there are a number of plots and crises (p 90). Also, no other country has this kind of constant crises or rebellion going on, OTHER countries are much more stable. In France, things are quiet before the revolution - except the riots, but riots in Britain are much bigger. Only in Poland can we see a country whose history "manifestly exceeds that of Britain in the vulnerability and persistent instability" (91).

One of the general problems is of course terminology - what do we mean by stability and crisis? Plumb's definition is too wide and there is no other agreed upon. Stability is when people believe gov't is legitimate and this belief is consistent with general beliefs so people continue to assent to gov'ts authority. The opposite happens when people feel alienated from the political order - a "crisis of legitimation". O'Gorman says this happened on a number of occasions in 18th c Britain.

The first time was w the Glorious Revolution, then w the installation of George I, then the Jacobite uprising in 1715, then end of peace w France 1741) at the time of the War of Austrian Succession and the fall of Walpole (1742), and then the Jacobite uprising of 1745-6. After that the Jacobites were done for but stability was not to be had ... things just got worse with the rebellion of the colonies and the American war of independence (1776-1783). The conflict raised serious issues about legitimacy and loyalty and subjection. Add to this the county associations under Christopher Wyhill and the Gordon Riots in 1780 and it is clear the whole country was mad the whole time.

Then we get ten pages of the different crises and how they were handled - in the end O'Gorman says that the crises did not break the country apart but rather served to strengthen the cohesion of the country (104). The issues that caused instabiliy were solved and stability grew - the problem of distance, of dynastic inheritance, of loyal opposition. Darly on people were frightfully disloyal -

MY NOTE HERE - this says they were perhaps doing something else? that they were not being disloyal to England but loyal to their religion, that they were not disloyal to the king but loyal to the idea of monarchy ... I think that is a really interesting question - what US did people feel like they belonged to, and what did that belonging entail. I do NOT think that O'Gorman shows instability - I think he shows exactly what others have been talking about - a nation that was stable enough to deal with so many crises without falling apart.

Chapter four - Rosemary Sweet
"The Ordering of Family and Gender in the Age of Enlightenment"

Although patriarchy was questioned - the family was still an organising factor. "The institution of the family and the distinction between man and woman were seen to be God-given and 'natural'; they were the basic determinants of order in eighteenth-century society and, as such,not open to question" (112). Lawrence Stone's classical discussion of the separation of spheres and other key features of 'modern family life' should be given up in favor of a "plurality of overlapping models of family life" (113)

Nuclear family? some maybe, but experiences are widely divergent. They existed before and kinship models kept existing. Publications of antiquarian family history, establishing family kinships, persisted (117) THey may have been 'cultural residue' (Raymond Williams) but still important (118).

The family and polical culture (check out Lewis Namier ...) Recent research has found:
a) neat theoretical distinction between public and private spheres breaks down when tested against the lived experience
b) the importance of the family - particularly in informal politics, which was a lot of it. (120)Campaigners would target women as well as men and women were expected to help out and were vital conduits of information
Women worked for the family, not themselves, but then I guess so did men ...

Family interest and Corruption - familial interest and involvement was questioned as symptom of corruption - please note this was at least in part a class issue. Pigott and others used gender to point out the immoral mores of the aristocracy and to question aristocratic privilege. Family influence continued unabated - but it was being transformed into a different kind of political force, "one of the points where the unreformed system was most vulnerable to attack" (122)

Urbanization: a challenge to the family? Conservative moralists such as Byng feared the loss of distinction and privileges due to birth and breeding, and looked upon the growth of urban society with horror" (123) ... "but the concept of the family amongst the middling sort should not automatically equate with a simple model of individual autonomy and private domesticity, or the rejection of the obligations due to wider kin" (123) - RICHARD GRASSBY has shown that "half of business partners came from immediate family or kinsfolk, with no decline towards the latter end of the period" (124) There are though, some studies that show a shift toward friends and neighbours instead of kin ... Kin and networks based on occupation, politics, religion and neighbourhood coexisted!

Separate Spheres, gender roles and the nuclear family - aristocratic connections of kinship did come under attack but some of the other claims are weak. Judith Lewis has argued (in line with Stone) that aristocratic women were forced to withdraw, Thomas Laqueur has claimed that we went from one sex to a two sex model of gender and women were defined in terms of childbearing (127). "This mode of thought, it has been argued, produced a discourse which was able to 'stabilize and maintain a social order of gender inequality', even as the traditional foundations of patriarchal theory were being undermined" (127).

It IS true that women found themselves excluded from some professions, but in many ways "the tidy transition that is supposed to have taken place in early eighteenth-centuryy thought is considerably less clear-cut than some interpretations have suggested" (128)

KAREN HARVEY has shown that two-sex and one-sex models exist parallell to each-other in both seventeenth and nineteenth-century literature. Numerous historians have shown that affectionate love existed long before the 18th century (129) [Keith Wrightson I believe is one].

Marriage: Romantic Ideals and Pragmatic Reality ... upper class folks seem to have some element of romance, but much more of parental suitability, middling sort folk seemed to often consider the partnership, co-dependency ... (see eg Hunt) - hard to find any direct changes in emotional register depicted in sources ... clear that although there was general agreement that adultery was wrong, positions were changing and thetre were increasing numbers of divorce, esp. after 1770 (130) = also "adultery was becoming a social problem rather than a religious offence" (130).

It is difficult to know what to make of print culture evidence - what exactly does it mean? And that sort of reasoning also sidesteps the issue of "whether gender weighed more heavily than social status or class in determining an individual's identity and experience" (130)

there is also the yawning chasm between prescription and practice - "recent research has cumulatively built up a picture of the widespread participation of women in the urban economy that blurs the clarity of the distinctions that historians have traditionally tried to draw" (131)

!!!!! COMMENT!!!!
The deal is that women were always also all these other things - and depending on what they were doing they would use whatever was their strongest suit - "I qualify for this position/authority/whatever because of X" ... X is never their gender, being a woman was almost never the basis for authority - and it was often a the basis for devaluation and humiliation. When you wanted to question someone you would use their weakest suit - and that was often gender ... but in between those two situations there were many when gender did not come up, where other criteria already had decided. Those who had a number of strong suits did not have to discuss their gender as often - they had other capital. The question then becomes if gender is always seen as the weakest suit to take someone down with?

"fluctuating and contested nature of masculinity" (131) - one change "that can be attributed to the code of politeness was a diminished tolerance for violence". the values of politeness were often those associated with women so there was a fine line to balance on

and btw, the importance of family was relevant to men too - "private, domestic virtues of a man began to have an increased bearing upon his public persona, whether he was a statesman or a military hero" (132)

Finally - as you have seen things were complex - the model of big change and separate spheres is too simple, older patterns were still viable and the terrain contested - note that the model is not the reality - the ideal type shows the pattern, not any individual truth. (133)

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