What’s so civil about civil society? Enlightenment philosophers agreed that civility was most easily achieved when efforts to that end—the institution of various apparatuses (laws, systems of belief, money) and norms (politeness, sympathy, tolerance)—capitalised on mankind’s natural traits. Yet thinkers of as diverse political leanings as Rousseau, Hume, and Schiller consistently appraised ‘artifice’ and ‘the artificial’ as indispensable to collective human life. This central paradox of Enlightenment theories of civil society remains under-explored. Offering the first account of how eighteenth-century thinkers across Europe debated how myriad social and political artifices keep society civil, this project sheds new light on a central intellectual problem in European history, whilst speaking to contemporary aversions towards the artificial, and resonating with attempts to rethink the place of truth and artificiality, as well as what it means to be civil, in the modern political world.
Shiru Lim is an historian of political thought. Her research explores the relationship between knowledge and power, and between intellectuals and the state, focusing on Enlightenment Europe. She completed her PhD and BA at University College London, and her MPhil at the University of Cambridge. She was previously a fellow at the Lichtenberg-Kolleg, the Göttingen Institute for Advanced Studies, and Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute.