Robert Launay, "Savages, Romans, and Despots: Thinking about Others from Montaigne to Herder" (U of Chicago Press, 2018)


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Take a look at a globe. Europe is there in big letters, and, to us, this hardly merits a passing thought. But Europe is a concept, a construct, an idea. So too is modernity. These categories have rich and contested histories.

It is to their lineage that Robert Launay looks in Savages, Romans, and Despots: Thinking about Others from Montaigne to Herder (University of Chicago Press, 2018). In this lucid and discerning volume, Professor Launay explores how a host of European luminaries used others to think about themselves and their worlds.

Prior to the nineteenth century, discourses about the New World and China were much less about domination than about understanding their authors’ own social and political milieus. The figure of the Native America, the political life of China, the character of classical antiquity—all these “others” assumed different significances to different thinkers depending on the critique they sought to make about contemporary society.

Ranging as it does from Mandeville to Montaigne, Montesquieu, Kant, and many others, this book synthesizes an immense—and immensely complex—body of political thought into an accessible narrative that is doubtless of interest to specialists and non-specialists alike.

Jonathan Megerian is a doctoral candidate in history at Johns Hopkins University. He works on late medieval and Renaissance England. His dissertation explores the role of historiography in the formation of imperial ideologies in Renaissance England.

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