The Concept of Civilisation from Enlightenment to Revolution

An Ambiguous Transfer

in Contributions to the History of Concepts
Raymonde Monnier CNRS

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This article focuses on the evolution of the concept of civilisation in the French language through the analysis of socio-political discourse from Enlightenment to the Revolution and of the Anglo-French transfers and translations of different English historians and philosophers who first started using the concept in the second half of the eighteenth century. In the interaction between the French and English Lumières, civilization came forward as a meta-concept pitted against that of the contract theory advanced by authors such as Adam Ferguson, with a distinct perspective of an overarching natural history of mankind. Drawing upon the results produced by Frantext and a history of the use of concept in different theoretical frameworks, the author demonstrates the construction of civilisation in its relationship to various antonyms (barbare, sauvage, barbarie), rhetorical uses and conceptions of history.

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