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Savages, Romans, and DespotsThinking about Others from Montaigne to Herder$
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Robert Launay

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780226575254

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226575421.001.0001

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From Savagery to Decadence: Ferguson, Millar, and Gibbon

From Savagery to Decadence: Ferguson, Millar, and Gibbon

(p.171) Ten From Savagery to Decadence: Ferguson, Millar, and Gibbon
Savages, Romans, and Despots

Robert Launay

University of Chicago Press

French Enlightenment writing about savagery, centered on America and Oceania, was centrally concerned with the relationship between property and inequality, while writing about despotism in Asia revolved around political centralization. The two literatures did not tend to intersect until they were synthesized by British, and especially Scottish, thinkers. Adam Ferguson, following the lead of Adam Smith, identified the division of labor as the motor of an ambivalent progress, expanding the horizons of the few while limiting those of the majority, imperiling democratic institutions and personal liberties. John Millar, his younger contemporary, developed his arguments even more systematically if somewhat more optimistically. In England, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire pitted Roman civilization as delicately poised between the savagery of the Germans and the Oriental despotism of the Persians, liberty without order as opposed to order without liberty. His account was in many ways a metaphor for the predicament of modern Europe as he understood it.

Keywords:   Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, John Millar, Edward Gibbon, Enlightenment, France, Britain, Scotland, division of labor, savagery, despotism

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