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Liberty by degrees: Raynal and Diderot on the British constitution

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Raynal and his collaborator, Diderot, offer views on the history and nature of the British Constitution in various parts of their encyclopedic account of Western expansion, The History of the Two Indies (1770, revised versions 1780 and 1784). These opinions are analysed in comparison with the judgments of Montesquieu, Voltaire, Hume, Bolingbroke, De Lolme and others. The evolution of Raynal's ideas on the subject is discussed in the light of his earlier anglophobic History of the Parliament of England (1748) and the mutually contrasting French historians he used for that work, the Jesuit Pierre-Joseph d'Orleans and the Huguenot Paul de Rapin-Thoyras. Raynal's conversion to a liberal admiration for British institutions is seen both in the context of the American Revolution and his relationship with Diderot. His insistence on a historical approach clashes with Diderot's more radical and philosophical rhetoric, and the stress between their attitudes becomes apparent in the compromises they attain. Notable among their conclusions are the rejection of English appeals to antiquity, and the fortuitous development of liberty through a series of well defined stages.

Keywords: Bolingbroke; British Constitution; De Lolme; Despotism; Diderot; Hume; Liberty; Montesquieu; Paine; Parliament; Rapin-Thoyras; Raynal; Voltaire

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1853 County Line Rd, Villanova, PA 19085, USA.

Publication date: January 1, 1999


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