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Conservative enlightenment in britain and germany; a rezeptionsgeschichte of William Robertson and Emund Burke (1760-1800)


The study of the European Enlightenment, an era and a subject central to our understanding of modernity, has undergone important transformations during the past few decades. The themes central to these transformations - communication, cultural exchange and transfer; unity amidst diversity as related to different levels of identity and foci of identification in European culture and institutions; continuity and change, "radical" and "conservative" in modernity - could not be more relevant at the time of the most extensive enlargement of the European Union. They raise questions that are asked again and again in "core" and accession countries as well. In so far as history matters in answering them, the Enlightenment heritage stands out.

This project explores some of the se central themes through a detailed case study of the German reception of the works and thought of two eighteenth-century British authors who embody the "conservative Enlightenment", the Scottish historian William Robertson, and the Anglo-Irish politician, philosopher and public moralist Edmund Burke. Of central importance are their views on Europe as a "commonwealth" marked by a unique system of civilisation; the features and the development of this system, in distinction from others; the roots and the articulation of these views in an enlightened discourse; and in Burke's case, the implications of the French Revolution for this civilisation.

The aim of the project is to study how all these ideas of the British "conservative Enlightenment" were received, understood and recycled in an impressive array of translation and commentary in contemporary Germany. The ways in which this exercise in comparative intellectual history may contribute to and sharpen our own understanding of European civilisation as well as the genera l issue of the possibilities and limitations of cultural exchange within its boundaries are central to the project.

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S.domenico Di Fiesole, Firenze