Race and Enlightenment: The Story of a Slander 

In 1945, Columbia University published an obscure treatise by Jean Bodin, which originally appeared in 1566, as part of its “Records of Civilization: Sources and Studies” series. Bodin was a theorist of absolutism, but one who had a profound influence on later natural rights thinkers, and this was his first work, translated from Latin by Beatrice Reynolds. Scholars across Europe and the United States were busy for over more than two centuries, but especially after World War II, collecting and publishing works that they deemed crucial to “civilization.” They sought works that would aid students in understanding and furthering modernity, defined as democracy and human rights, enlightenment, and the scientific method, as well as capitalism. As they sought significant works that would contribute to furthering “civilization” in the present by understanding its past — a kind of scholarly uplift for society — they omitted from their assembled record works that did not fit present desires. Ancient, medieval, and modern works that were not a useful past for liberal modernity were ignored — not revived, not translated, not reprinted, not quoted, not read, not taught. It was thus that they created a modern canon that revolved around and vindicated the issues that they themselves cared about.  In the years after World War II, it was increasingly the Enlightenment that garnered such attention, the one that featured John Locke and other theorists of democracy and republics, modern science, and modern economics. As American universities flourished and expanded in the 1950s and 1960s, and efforts to promote human rights and democracy around the world expanded under the auspices of the United Nations, Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, for example, was translated into many different languages. Scholarship on Rousseau and Adam Smith, among many others, flourished. But there was a problem. The Enlightenment occurred

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