The Past in the Present

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Abstract

At least since John Locke's observation (in his Second Treatise of Government, 1690) that “in the beginning, all the world was America”, Western thinkers have engaged in the practice of treating non-Western people as if they were living in the European past, a practice which remains pervasive within contemporary social and political thought. This article begins to chart the genealogy of this practice, exploring its classical (ancient Greek and Roman) antecedents as well as its European Renaissance and Enlightenment variants. We focus particularly, in this latter regard, on the European discovery of America and the revolt by sixteenth-century Protestant historians against the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire.

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