Damien Tricoire, “Raynal’s and Diderot’s Patriotic History of the Two Indies, or The Problem of Anticolonialism in the Eighteenth Century”, The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 59/4 (2018), 429-448.

In recent historiography, Raynal’s and Diderot’s Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the Two Indies plays a central role as part of a broader reaction against postcolonial Enlightenment critique: many scholars enhance the so-called “Radical Enlightenment” with the intention of defending the idea that at least some Enlightenment thinkers were truly progressive and did not link their civilizing agenda to an imperialistic one. The History appears in this context as a paragon of Enlightenment anti-colonialism. Recently, doubts about the qualification of the History as fervently “anti-colonial” have arisen, however. This article seeks to contribute to a further revision of our view on the History. It criticizes the view according to which the History is an anti-colonial book as an anachronistic interpretation. It explores the overall narratives of Raynal’s and Diderot’s book, interprets them in the context of French colonial policy and patronage networks, and reads Diderot’s most radical passages in the larger context of the book. Doing so, it comes to the conclusion that the History is best understood as a patriotic book reflecting the classical republicanism of French elites and the visions of French “enlightened” politicians in power after the Seven Years’ War.