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Rather than an anti-imperial tract, Diderot's Supplement to Bougainville's 'Voyage' was an attempt to explore the possibilities of colonial reform. He envisions a political system founded on consanguinity, which he believed might allow for a more just colonial order. In setting out this system, he relies on an expanded notion of 'commerce', playing on and altering contemporary enthusiasm for free commerce as a means to establish legitimate colonies. In order to understand Diderot's reformist vision, and thus the significance of the Supplement, it is necessary to read the work in the context of his remarks on colonization in G.T. Raynal's Histoire des deux Indes and to identify several contemporary debates that Diderot engages in his dialogue. This broader context reveals Diderot's position in a larger current of reformism in France, but also his debt to earlier colonial precedent and contemporary colonial policies. His solution is a system founded on natural desire constructed to overcome the basic paradox confronting later liberal imperialists: the imperial impulse versus the rights of colonial subjects to determine their own future.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2016

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