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British Romanticism and the Critique of Political Reason

Timothy Michael

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Romantic writers responded to the challenges of reform and revolution by rethinking the scope of political reason.

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…

Romantic writers responded to the challenges of reform and revolution by rethinking the scope of political reason.

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.

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British Romanticism and the Critique of Political Reason

Timothy Michael

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Reviews

An ambitious and illuminating book that will undoubtedly shape the future course of Romanticism studies. And, given the current political climate in the United States and around the globe, the questions it asks are immensely relevant to discourse beyond literary criticism.

Underlying the scrupulous research is [Michael's] own belief in 'the legitimacy of political knowledge': a kind of learning from inquiry that is not identical with mastery of the theories of government or mere position-taking.... British Romanticism and the Critique of Political Reason will be read... with absorbing interest by scholars of an earlier period who may have imagined that the eighteenth century concluded on or about the year 1789.

Romanticists, intellectual historians, and philosophers will benefit immensely from Michael's work.

A compelling and timely argument about the contested relationship between reason and politics in British Romanticism... Michael's argument not only recovers the world and language of the Romantics, but also speaks directly to contemporary issues in politics across the globe.

A thoughtful, rigorous book written in a pleasingly clear manner.... Michael's philosophical criticism offers an exciting attempt to rethink the field.

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About

Book Details

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
The Discipline of Political Knowledge
Context
Cases of Romanticism
Conceptual Orientations
1. Kant and the Revolutionary Settlement of Early Romanticism
Revolutions, Copernican

Acknowledgments
Introduction
The Discipline of Political Knowledge
Context
Cases of Romanticism
Conceptual Orientations
1. Kant and the Revolutionary Settlement of Early Romanticism
Revolutions, Copernican and French
Prophetic History and Moral Terrorism
Independence from Experience
The Rhetoric of Hurly-Burly Innovation
2. Burke and the Critique of Political Metaphysics
Hypotaxis
Paradox
3. Wollstonecraft and the Vindication of Political Reason
Ratiocinatio
Stale Tropes and Cold Rodomontade
Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful
4. The Government of the Tongue
The Power of Mere Proposition
Constructing a Form of Words
Resisting "Incroachment"
The Literature of Justice and Justification
5. Coleridge and the Principles of Political Knowledge
Hume and the Highest Problem of Philosophy
Structures of Mind and Government
The Symptom of Empiricism
6. The State of Knowledge
Rational Resistance
The Limits of Experimental Philosophy
Trying French Principles
Poetry and Poetics of the Excursive and Unbound Mind
7. The Dwellers of the Dwelling
Epistemic Hedonism
Tranquil and Troubled Pleasure
Building Social Freedom
The Inner Citadel of the Spirit
8. P.B. Shelley and the Forms of Thought
The Case for Skeptical Idealism
Historical Epistemology
The Atmosphere of Human Thought
Afterword
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio
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Timothy Michael

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