chapter
8 Pages

Introduction

WithJoyce Appleby, Elizabeth Covington, David Hoyt, Michael Latham, Allison Sneider

The nineteenth century was alternately driven by an idea of progress nurtured during the Enlightenment and haunted by the attempt to make that notion a reality in the practical form of revolution. The landmarks offered by the ideal of the one and the memory of the other only slowly receded from the historical horizon in the years after Napoleon’s downfall of 1815, never entirely ceasing to provide the new century with its cardinal points of historical orientation. Whether viewed as shoals dangerously encroaching upon the course of nations, or as headlands beckoning a brighter future, these landmarks of history and philosophy were soon to find themselves the subjects of the scientific discussion they had helped to popularize during the Enlightenment. Successions of thinkers set out to devise a social theory that would either affirm or delegitimate by rational means what history had so abruptly accomplished during the transformations of the late eighteenth century.