British Romanticism and the Critique of Political Reason

British Romanticism and the Critique of Political Reason

by Timothy Michael


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What role should reason play in the creation of a free and just society? Can we claim to know anything in a field as complex as politics? And how can the cause of political rationalism be advanced when it is seen as having blood on its hands? These are the questions that occupied a group of British poets, philosophers, and polemicists in the years following the French Revolution.

Timothy Michael argues that much literature of the period is a trial, or a critique, of reason in its political capacities and a test of the kinds of knowledge available to it. For Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Burke, Wollstonecraft, and Godwin, the historical sequence of revolution, counter-revolution, and terror in France—and radicalism and repression in Britain—occasioned a dramatic reassessment of how best to advance the project of enlightenment. The political thought of these figures must be understood, Michael contends, in the context of their philosophical thought. Major poems of the period, including The Prelude, The Excursion, and Prometheus Unbound, are in this reading an adjudication of competing political and epistemological claims.

This book bridges for the first time two traditional pillars of Romantic studies: the period’s politics and its theories of the mind and knowledge. Combining literary and intellectual history, it provides an account of British Romanticism in which high rhetoric, political prose, poetry, and poetics converge in a discourse of enlightenment and emancipation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781421418032
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date: 12/15/2015
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Timothy Michael is a Fellow of Lincoln College and an associate professor of English at the University of Oxford.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Problems of Knowledge and Freedom 1

The Discipline of Political Knowledge: Invention, Development, Crisis 6

Contexts: Intellectual History, Political Theory, and Romantic Studies 17

Cases of Romanticism 25

Conceptual Orientations

1 Kant and the Revolutionary Settlement of Early Romanticism 33

Revolutions, Copernican and French 35

Prophetic History and Moral Terrorism: The Conflict of the Faculties 44

Independence from Experience: The a Priori Aporia 49

The Rhetoric of Hurly-Burly Innovation

2 Burke and the Critique of Political Metaphysics 61

Hypotaxis: Burke's Speech on Fox's East India Bill 63

Paradox: Reflections on the Revolution in France 74

3 Wollstonecraft and the Vindication of Political Reason: The Rights of Men 84

Ratiocinatio: Building Affection on Rational Grounds 85

Stale Tropes and Cold Rodomontade 92

Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful 99

4 The Government of the Tongue: Godwin's Linguistic Turns and the Artillery of Reason 104

The Power of Mere Proposition: Political Justice 106

Constructing a Form of Words: Political Justice 111

Resisting "Incroachment": Cursory Strictures 118

The Literature of Justice and Justification

5 Coleridge and the Principles of Political Knowledge 129

Hume and the Highest Problem of Philosophy 132

Structures of Mind and Government: The Friend 140

The Symptom of Empiricism 151

6 The State of Knowledge: Wordsworth's Political Prose 156

Rational Resistance: A Letter to the Bishop of Llandaff 158

The Limits of Experimental Philosophy: the Convention of Cintra 161

Trying French Principles: Two Addresses to the Freeholders of Westmorland 168

Poetry and Poetics of the Excursive and Unbound Mind

7 The Dwellers of the Dwelling: Wordsworth and the Poetry of Recompense 177

Epistemic Hedonism: The 1802 Preface 178

Tranquil and Troubled Pleasure: Home at Grasmere 182

Building Social Freedom: The Excursion 193

The Inner Citadel of the Spirit 198

8 P. B. Shelley and the Forms of Thought 203

The Case for Skeptical Idealism 205

Historical Epistemology: A Philosophical View of Reform 209

The Atmosphere of Human Thought: Prometheus Unbound 218

Afterword 231

Notes 235

Bibliography 259

Index 273

What People are Saying About This

Christoph Bode

"In this trailblazing study, Timothy Michael proves to be in absolute, sovereign command of his multifarious material. He is, in the best sense, himself a political thinker and a discerning critical mind. Michael displays what was once defined as the only secret of style: have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. This is a landmark publication."

David Simpson

"It is received wisdom that the Romantics were critics of reason. What is not so well-known, and what this book shows, is that they undertook its critique in the radical Kantian sense. They did so in hopes of renewing reason as a means for generating political knowledge, a task which brought together writers whose apparent political affiliations were very different. Michael has made a valuable contribution to our understanding of the political–philosophical ambitions of a generation too often remembered only for its poetry."

Charles W. Mahoney

"Ambitious, well executed, and timely, this book provides valuable insight into some of the most abiding questions of Romantic studies."

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