Transnational History as Historical Subject

Transnational history has emerged in the wake of the sprouting of international history, global history, and post-colonial history as historical subject fields in the 1990s academic marketplace. Chris Bayly’s 2004 book Birth of the Modern World, 1780–1914 is a landmark in the emergence of transnational history as an academic subject stressing the connectedness of history, as a narrative of accelerating cross-border métissage and intercontextuality. As another historian in this school, Sven Beckert, reminds us, transnational history is more than an academic brand; it is a fundamentally different analytical space and a social movement in itself. On the cover of Bayly’s book is a portrait by Anne-Louis Giradet, student of Jacques Louis David, who would be exiled in Brussels after 1815 with Emmanuel Sièyes as revolutionaries turned supporters of Bonaparte. Ironically, it hangs in in the Trianon at Versailles. It is a portrait of Citoyen Jean-Baptiste Belley of Saint Dominique, native of the slave port of Gorée in Senegal, comrade-in-arms of Toussaint L’Ouverture and the first Black Deputy to both the National Convention and the National Assembly. Belley’s silk cummerbund and the decoration of his hat assert the universalizing intention of the French Revolution, His light breaches express the sexual power of Rousseau’s noble savage, and refer to Bayly’s emphasis on bodily regimes. Belley leans against a bust on a marble plinth: the bust of the Encyclopèdiste Raynal, the most radical critic of slavery and the colonial policy of the Ancien Régime.

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Roundtable: The Future of History

From the 2015 Telos Conference in New York, the following is a video of the roundtable discussion on “The Future of History: A New Universal Vision or Dissolving into Particularities?” Moderated by Adrian Pabst, the roundtable included Wayne Hudson, Joseph Bendersky, Greg Melleuish, Aryeh Botwinick, Jonathan Israel, and Tim Luke. The video of an earlier roundtable on “Universal History” can be viewed here.

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The Critique of Philosophical Naturalism

Given the rich and diverse history in the discipline of philosophy, many a practicing philosopher might justifiably remark that insightful philosophical inquiry must withstand the test of time. Though “The Collapse of Philosophical Naturalism” was published in Telos in 1969, many of its insights remain highly relevant to conversations that continue in philosophical and sociopolitical circles today. Dale Riepe issues a damning critique, examining four at once distinct and kindred flaws in philosophical naturalism.

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Negative Utopia as the Ground for Universality

In his Critique of Judgment, Kant explains how “subjective judgments” resemble theoretical claims about truth in that they claim universal assent, even though they do not have an objective basis for doing so. In other words, although they are subjective, they assert a strict sense of objectivity and claim a universal ground for truth. Therefore, the proof of the validity of these judgments cannot be found in a specific “observable feature” of the object, but rather in the “actual intersubjective agreement.” While truth in his third Critique is neither a matter of the intellect nor a thing reducible to conceptual realm, it seems that he offers a different sense of truth that influenced the major trends in continental philosophy. One can trace this sense of truth as it provides a ground not only to “test the limits of our historical era” but also “to go beyond them.”

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History as the Laboratory of Philosophy

Anyone familiar with Étienne Gilson’s teachings knows he is celebrated for: being a Thomist, his criticism of “essentialism” in philosophy, emphasizing St. Thomas’s revolutionary focus upon the principle of the act of existence (esse) within the natures of things, and a shift away from ideas to existential judgments within Western philosophical thought. Odd, then, are two claims related to Gilson made by people who knew him well. The first, from Gilson’s biographer Lawrence K. Shook, says of Gilson, “An Erasmian humanist at heart, he wanted to end all wars and to liberate men to work out their salvation in the context of personal freedom. He believed that this could be achieved through the kind of education that fostered the acquisitions of moral virtues through the writings of Cicero and Seneca.”

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Jonathan Israel: The Enlightenment Reconsidered

From the 2015 Telos Conference in New York City, the following is a video of Jonathan Israel’s keynote presentation, “The Enlightenment Reconsidered: A Contemporary Controversy.” For further details about the conference, which addressed the theme of “Universal History, Philosophical History, and the Fate of Humanity,” visit the Telos-Paul Piccone Institute website.

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