A locus classicissimus of European historiography, in the history of modern political thought the Mediterranean has often been surprisingly sidelined. With the exception of Mazzini, Gramsci and a few other figures, few names belong to the general knowledge in this field, and fewer still come from the non-European part of the region. This volume, edited by Maurizio Isabella and Konstantina Zanou, breaks new ground by introducing a wide range of individual intellectual trajectories which gave shape to a variety of political aspirations in the Mediterranean region, from the rise of the short-lived Septinsular Republic in the early 1800s to the decline of the Ottoman Empire. It also reorients the established view of the modern era, which is introduced here not only as an Age of Revolutions and anti-imperial patriotic passions, but also as one of imperial reform and strategic nationalism. The contributions reveal a complex web of conditions within which ideas of nationhood, popular sovereignty and liberty were developed in the region and beyond. The concept of ‘diaspora’ is central, shifting expectations away from the conventional focus on nationalism, patriotism or imperialism and towards a more ‘polycentric world of the nineteenth century’ (p. 7). This is partly a reflection of the focus on intellectuals belonging to populations scattered around the Mediterranean or lacking political sovereignty for other reasons, including Greeks, Jews, Italians and Armenians. But, as the editors put it, the authors also view diasporas more conceptually as encapsulating a ‘synthesis of everything’ and as networks where ‘collective or individual consciousnesses were originally shaped’ (pp. 6–7). The comparative invisibility of this intellectual landscape, from the perspective of international scholarship, is a relatively recent phenomenon. In early nineteenth-century Britain, Jeremy Bentham, for instance, would have been not just familiar, but personally acquainted with the North African political thinker Hassuna D’Ghies. Ian Coller (ch. 5) shows the influence of D’Ghies, who was briefly the editor of the official—and, of course, Francophone—newspaper of the Ottoman Empire, Le Moniteur Ottoman, on Jeremy Bentham’s understanding of Ottoman misrule (p. 105). Konstantina Zanou (ch. 6) contextualises the more familiar, but hitherto isolated, story of Ioannis Kapodistrias, the Ionian who became Russia’s foreign minister, by recovering the ‘great expectations’ (p. 124) which characterised the mentality of Ionian intellectuals in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Although they were inspired by aspects of the emerging democratic tradition, she shows how Orthodox nationalism and conservative values pushed figures such as Kapodistrias and his Danubian friend Alexandre Stourdza to eschew the liberal philhellenism of western Europe in favour of service to Russian autocracy in pursuing their aspirations to Greek sovereignty. Conventionally, such comparatively unknown thinkers tend to be introduced with ethnic or geographical (occasionally also religious) labels, something which the ‘British dissenter’ Jeremy Bentham or the ‘Prussian pietist’ Immanuel Kant seemingly rarely need. As this volume shows, however, often such vacuous labels mark the biographical starting point rather than the intellectual flags under which their ideas sailed. This is also true of the social backgrounds of some of the authors. We see Niccolò Tommaseo, an Italian with an illiterate Slavic-speaking mother, ‘lurching’ into Slavophilia, as Dominique Reill evocatively puts it (p. 150), and the son of a Dalmatian barber, Matija Ban, making a career teaching Petrarch and Racine to Armenians in the Ottoman Empire (p. 147); there is an Italian, Girolamo de Rada, who is propelled by the spirit of Risorgimento to promote the history and language of Albania, in Artan Puto and Maurizio Isabella’s chapter (ch. 9). Vangelis Kechriotis (ch. 10) concentrates on two Greeks, Pavlos Carolidis and Emmanouil Emmanouilidis, who lament the decline of the Ottoman Empire. These figures are only introduced to the reader with national labels for want of another category, as it quickly turns out that their supposed ‘indigenous’ identity was hardly what their ideas were really about. Nor is the range of activity restricted to the Mediterranean. Thus, Young Ottomans exiled in Paris apparently established contact with the leaders of the Polish uprising of 1863, as Andrew Arsan shows. He challenges facile expectations concerning the alignment of religious and political interests by explaining why liberal Muslims and Catholics could join forces in the ‘destruction of Russian influence’ across a rather wide geographical area ‘in the East’, from the Baltic to the Bosporus, where Russian dominance could be perceived as oppression of (Polish Catholic) Christians in one case and as ‘emancipation of the Christian populations in Turkey’ in another (p. 159). Conversely, in Zanou’s case, the ‘pro-Russian’ Stourdza stood out as an advocate of censorship at German universities, which he considered to be what would today be called hotbeds of radicalisation (p. 123). The background of the ‘Euroamerican corps’ of liberals seeking to fight for Spanish independence from the Bourbons (p. 30) in Juan Luis Simal’s chapter and the focus on the liberal Constitution of Cadiz (1812) in Gabriel Paquette’s (p. 49) are a welcome reminder to twentieth-century historians of the longer tradition of international activism in this context. Equally, Isabella emphasises that Italian liberals should be viewed not only within the context of the patriotism of expatriates, but also as the consciousness of a ‘global colonial South’ (p. 92). Reading this list of unexpected life stories might appear episodic and ancillary at first, but the authors and editors do pull the threads together to form a persuasive common argument: they systematically untrain our expectations that a Greek will always seek Orthodox sovereignty, that an Albanian will be a nationalist secessionist or that anti-colonial activists will always seek to shake off the yoke of empires. All of this might be true for some people some of the time, but the volume shows the plausibility of the opposite constellation as well: a Greek defending Muslim Ottoman sovereignty, an agent of national liberation strategically entering the service of an autocrat, a Muslim seeking alliances with a Catholic and so on. Where Reill unsettles our ideas of place, Zanou emphasises the uncertainty of the temporal horizons, seeing that this was a ‘transitional period with an unknown future’ (p. 130). If you were thinking that, in the absence of nationalism, the category of class might provide firmer bearings, you might, once again, be productively disappointed. What can be said, however, is that ideas appear here as the remit of what might be called the aspirational classes. As Thomas Gallant rightly points out in his afterword, the volume gives a voice both to ‘working-class’ and non-elite, and to the more traditional elite ‘cosmopolitans’ (p. 206). Many of the intellectuals represented here are also constantly in search of attachment for both their passions and their interests, to use Albert Hirschman’s famous phrase, and even in the absence of capital deploy their linguistic and cultural heritage as sources of social and geographical mobility. Any deployment of concepts such as home, exile or diaspora is therefore likely to be strategic and requires careful contextual study. Conversely, the authors also remind us that we should be wary of applying notions such as ‘uprooted’ or ‘hybrid’ to these highly articulate authors, who shifted their senses of home according to their needs and circumstance—as did their contemporaries in England, France or Germany. This obvious commonality raises the question about the relationship of what might be called the economic and material history of the region to the ideas which were generated there. Is there, in the end, anything special about the Mediterranean, that thalassian capital of diasporas, where being multilingual and pluri-confessional is not an instance of some post-Orientalist and postmodern cultural construction such as ‘hybridity’, but the norm? The introduction and an appraisal by Samuel Moyn suggest that the volume is rooted in an intellectual terrain laid out by Fernand Braudel (p. 1 and back cover). This may be so, given that no history book with ‘Mediterranean’ in its title can really ignore Braudel. Yet, philosophically speaking, this book is hardly Braudelian in the annaliste sense of a geohistory, unless we discard Braudel’s own first two volumes as a mere introduction. Quite unlike Braudel’s model, where a longue durée reconstruction of material and economic conditions makes the imperial rule of Philip II fade in importance, for the authors gathered here the instability of empires, linked to the ideas and conflicting aspirations of those ruling and inhabiting them, both in Northern and Southern Europe, is the defining factor. The thalassian perspective advanced here (p. 1)—derived from the ‘new thalassology’ announced by Peregrine Horden and Nicholas Purcell—allows the volume to provide a coherent but complex portrait of the region as an emblematic zone of imperial contacts and conflict. For many of the authors, the key interlocutors here are the late Christopher Bayly (to whom the volume is dedicated) and Jennifer Pitts: the former for having found an eloquent way of inscribing non-European spaces into the history of modern liberalism with the capacious concept of an ‘imperial meridian’ (p. 79); the latter being one of the leading authors in the ‘turn to empire’ within a predominantly British and transatlantic historiography. In this context, it was a pity that the Portuguese concept of a ‘liberdade meridional’, associated with Almeida Garrett (p. 49), was translated as a ‘system of Southern liberty’—thereby losing the conceptual connection to Bayly’s notion together with the linguistic one. But, more importantly, the authors also go beyond the boundaries set by these master interlocutors in terms of the geographical spaces and linguistic basis of their materials. The primary research we see here was conducted in Italian, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, Albanian, Croatian, Polish, Persian and Turkish, not to mention some of the regional dialects used. English and French are important as linguae francae, but not necessarily as the main languages in which ideas were first formulated historically. Sadly, the increasing linguistic uniformity of the modern global academic market will probably continue limiting our capacities to follow in their footsteps and read these texts in their original. There is only one desideratum worth noting, particularly for purposes of introducing this book to students, which is to have a more expansive index with conceptual entries on subjects such as ‘liberty’, ‘nationalism’ or ‘sovereignty’, instead of one focused on persons. This will be helpful to those wishing to get to grips with this late imperial meridian through more familiar reference points. This volume is not just enlightening but potentially liberating: there is, it turns out, more than one way to take control, at least at the level of ideas. © Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 10, 2018
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