During the first year of the French Republic, it was commonplace to compare the nascent government to “those days that can be called the true golden age,” a time “when each nation determined on its own its rights and duties” and when the people “shared more or less equally the advantages of a collective administration.” The myth of the golden age had been naturalized, escaping from the confines of poetry and royalist rhetoric to enter the authoritative narratives of history and ethnography. Perhaps the most eloquent and intriguing proponent of natural republicanism of the pre-revolutionary decades in France was Sylvain Maréchal, who demonstrated how the belief in a society governed solely by natural right was wholly assimilated into the discourse of sensibilité. This chapter examines three critical shifts with respect to natural right: Orientalist studies, new voyages of discovery (in particular French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville's visit to Tahiti), and physiocracy.
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