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Jan Rotmans, ASH PhD candidate, will defend the dissertation entitled 'Enlightened Pessimism. Republican Decline in Dutch Revolutionary Thought, 1780-1800' supervised by Prof. Niek van Sas.

Detail Summary
Datum 23 april 2020
Tijd 12:00

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak public defenses are not permitted at the moment. As a result, Jan's defense will take place online without an audience.


History is not only about what happened or about what past thinkers believed that had happened, but also about what they imagined that could or would happen. This dissertation analyzes their expectations, focusing on the ways in which these past thinkers imagined the historical development of their political institutions. It claims that a considerable level of pessimism about history, politics and human nature characterizes the worldview of Dutch enlightened revolutionaries, who turn out to be deeply concerned about the possibility of inevitable political decline through moral corruption. The enduring relevance of historical pessimism in Enlightenment thought has been obscured, however, because the existing literature tends to analyze the history of historical thought in terms of its modernity. Problematically, such a modernist perspective has limited our understanding of past thinkers and their concerns, this dissertation argues, while simultaneously impoverishing our understanding of the present. The beginning of the twenty-first century has witnessed the return of the perceived instability of political institutions, in particular democratic ones, but the increased pessimism about the durability of liberal democracies is hard to reconcile with modern confidence in historical progress or with the ahistorical universalism that is embedded in much liberal thought. This study of classical-republican thought in the revolutionary end of the eighteenth century emphasizes the importance of another vocabulary, in which the historical challenge of maintaining the political institutions that enable liberty and equality occupies a central place.