The Enlightenment and the rights of man

BookThe Enlightenment and the rights of man

The Enlightenment and the rights of man

Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment, 2019:11


November 11th, 2019

Access Token


Other Formats



The Enlightenment redefined the ethics of the rights of man as part of an outlook that was based on reason, the equality of all nations and races, and man’s self-determination. This led to the rise of a new language: the political language of the moderns, which spread throughout the world its message of the universality and inalienability of the rights of man, transforming previous references to subjective rights in the state of nature into an actual programme for the emancipation of man.

Ranging from the Italy of Filangieri and Beccaria to the France of Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot, from the Scotland of Hume, Ferguson and Smith to the Germany of Lessing, Goethe and Schiller, and as far as the America of Franklin and Jefferson, Vincenzo Ferrone deals with a crucial theme of modern historiography: one that addresses the great contemporary debate on the problematic relationship between human rights and the economy, politics and justice, the rights of the individual and the rights of the community, state and religious despotism and freedom of conscience.

'Ferrone’s perspective is broadly cosmopolitan, and alongside more familiar French, German, and British figures, he highlights the role of Neapolitan Enlightenment thinkers, often neglected outside Italy, from Giambattista Vico to Gaetano Filangieri. This dense, erudite tome is not for casual readers but is an invaluable reference for scholars.'
D. A. Harvey, CHOICE

Author Information

Vincenzo Ferrone has written extensively on the Enlightenment and Ancien régime Europe. He has taught and held fellowships at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, and the Collège de France in Paris. He is currently Professor of Modern History at the University of Turin.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Preface to the English translation11
Introduction: why did the Enlightenment in the Western world discover the rights of man, and what are those rights?13
I. From natural law to the natural rights of the individual27
1. The historiographical debate and the discontinuity of the Enlightenment29
2. The metamorphosis of ancient natural law41
3. Modern natural law as the ‘science of morality’69
4. Natural law and ‘the crisis of the European mind’: Jean Barbeyrac95
5. The return of Antigone: freedom of conscience and the limits of sovereignty109
6. The person as autonomous and conscious individual: John Locke123
7. From duties to rights: the Enlightenment discovery of the natural right to the pursuit of happiness135
II. From natural rights to the rights of man as moral and political rights149
8. The epistemological break: Diderot and Hume151
9. The question of Rousseau171
10. The politicisation of natural rights: legislation and reform in Montesquieu, Helvétius and Beccaria227
11. The political neutralisation of rights: Wolff, Hume, Ferguson, Smith, Blackstone253
12. The Neapolitan school of natural law and the rights of man: Vico and Genovesi285
13. The new ‘science of legislation’ of the rights of man: Filangieri and Pagano319
III. The Late Enlightenment: the rights of man and the political struggle against the Ancien régime 365
14. Public opinion and the defence of man: Voltaire, Diderot and physiocracy367
15. The ‘performance’ of the rights of man in France between art and politics393
16. The politicisation of the Republic of Letters in Germany: freemasonry and the rights of man419
17. The Bavaria Illuminati, the rights of man and the end of the Late Enlightenment441
Conclusion: towards a history of the Enlightenment and the rights of man as an unfinished project and a laboratory of modernity489