I am due to defend a dissertation in early modern Spanish intellectual history, “The Bourbon Ideology: Civic Eudaemonism in Habsburg and Bourbon Spain, 1600-1800,” March 25, 2021. My research and teaching commitments converge on the history of European political thought in the later Renaissance and Enlightenment. My approach to early modern political texts is grounded in antique and medieval precedent and motivated by a humane interest in the social upheavals which accompanied Renaissance and Enlightenment relitigations of sovereignty and virtue. My research is concerned with the intellectual genealogy and definition of political modernity, even as I recognize that ideas, while they continually evolve and rise or fall in popularity, seldom arise ex nihilo. My dissertation identifies what intellectual historian Gabriel Paquette has called “the pliable rhetoric of public happiness” both with the emergence of enlightened absolutism from the late Renaissance and with the emergence from the former of the broader popular Enlightenment. It uses Spain as a case study within the broader Western European development of a language of secular public happiness in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This vocabulary was first articulated in service of regalism and against institutional Christianity, but after 1750 was more commonly deployed against monarchy and for individual freedom, particularly economic freedom. Renaissance and Enlightenment eudaemonism owed much to Aristotle and the Stoics but took a uniquely modern form over the course of its association with enlightened absolutism. I demonstrate that, far from having been last to the table of Enlightenment, Spain developed the discourse of public happiness essential to enlightened regalism earliest of any European country and long before the Bourbon succession of 1700.
The intellectual historian Gabriel Paquette has identified the propaganda language of the eighteenth-century Spanish Bourbon monarchy with a “pliable rhetoric of public happiness” of which the monarchy claimed to be “linchpin.” In a process beginning in the sixteenth century, by the late eighteenth century, the phrase “public happiness” had substantially replaced the “common good” in Spanish political thought. The project excavates the emergence of Spanish civic eudaemonism from Renaissance debates on reason of state, demonstrating the historical processes by which it repeatedly changed hands in subsequent centuries. Civic eudaemonism allowed Renaissance authors to allude to reason of state without instrumentalizing virtue, thereby putting the needs of the State over the doctrinal demands of the Church. The result was a new emphasis on the absolute sovereignty of the monarch, on whose shoulders rested the secular happiness of Spain. There was no consensual definition of public happiness. At the turn of the seventeenth century the sum of justice, security and civic virtue was meant. Later in the century the definition of mercantile success appeared, and by 1750 justice and virtue were disappearing. After 1780 mercantile definitions gave way to the personal industry of individual subjects, independent of regal influence and taken collectively. In Spain, as elsewhere, the alliance with regalism collapsed as soon as Christianity was purged from political writing.