Anthony Pagden

Anthony Pagden teaches at UCLA. His most recent books are La ilustración y sus enemigos and, as editor, The Idea of Europe: From Antiquity to the European Union.

Best at Imitation: Spain v. England

Anthony Pagden, 2 November 2006

At the beginning of the 17th century, the combined Spanish and Portuguese Empires – from 1580 until 1640 they were under one ruler and known collectively as the ‘Catholic monarchy’ – included, beyond the Iberian peninsula, Italy, the Netherlands, parts of southern France, the whole of America from California to Tierra del Fuego, the shores of West Africa, the...

A new history of empire, no longer either triumphalist or cast in the shades of black and white favoured by the post-colonialists, is beginning to be written. It assumes that the metropolis and the colonies were not self-contained realms (as the older ‘imperial history’ often assumed); it recognises that empires were made and ruled by individuals with often very different, even...

At its height, roughly between 1556 and 1640, the Empire of the kings of Spain stretched from the Philippines to the shores of the North Sea. The 19th-century Russian Empire covered more territory and the British had a larger population, but no other European empire was spread so widely or embraced so many different peoples. This behemoth has conventionally been called the Spanish Empire. At...

Oak in a Flowerpot: When Britons were slaves

Anthony Pagden, 14 November 2002

Tangier, 1684. A motley group of soldiers scrambles over the ruins of a town, burying beneath the rubble newly minted coins that bear the image of Charles II. This least remembered of the outposts of the fledgling British Empire is nearing its end. For more than a decade it had been a thriving commercial port, in which Charles, who had acquired it in 1661 when he married Catherine of...


Anthony Pagden, 13 June 1991

Mexico, Mexicans sometimes say, is too far from God and too close to the United States of America. The same could be said of the whole of Latin America. Ever since the declaration of the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, a piece of political effrontery which sought to deny a role in the affairs of the hemisphere to any extra-continental power, most North American administrations have looked on the entire Southern continent as their ‘backyard’. But, as Reagan’s near maniacal obsession with El Salvador and Nicaragua makes plain, their special interest has always been reserved for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, the areas discussed in this, the latest stage in Leslie Bethell’s collective attempt to capture ‘Latin America’s unique historical experience’.

Social Poetry

Anthony Pagden, 15 October 1987

Prophetically, the Island of Utopia is set in or near the Americas – More, characteristically, forgot to ask exactly where. And it was in the Americas that the most extensive, long-lived, and most fantastical, utopian experiments were conducted. The New World’s open spaces provided a constant challenge to the quirkier side of the European social and moral imagination until the end of the 19th century. Most of the early settlers came in quest of some new life. Most wished to live out some version of the privileged worlds they had been denied access to in their home countries. But there were others who came with ambitions to fabricate wholly new worlds, cities on a hill, where life could be made better, happier or morally more complete. In the Catholic South such experiments were largely confined to various attempts to reconstruct the primitive apostolic Church. One Franciscan, with an annotated copy of More’s book in his habit, went so far as to take some at least of the ‘features in the Utopian commonwealth’ and test them out on the Indians of Michoacan. The famous Jesuit ‘reductions’ in Paraguay – the subject of The Mission and now, improbably, of a Jesuit comic-book – though far from traditionally utopian, operated with the same sense that out there in the tropical rain-forests man could retrace his steps and begin again. In the North, such utopian communities were private ventures: and they proliferated – Oneida, New Harmony, Equality, True Inspiration. There was even one called Utopia. ‘We are all a little wild here,’ Emerson wrote to Carlyle in 1840, ‘with numberless projects of social reform. Not a reading man but has a draft of a new community in his waistcoat pocket.’’

It’s as if he’d never existed

Anthony Pagden, 18 July 1985

As Franco lay dying in the winter of 1975 wild conjectures circulated in Madrid as to what would happen when the old dictator who had already been twice rescued from what had looked like certain death, but who could not hope to escape a third time, finally departed. As in most societies where all but the most anodyne political debate has been rigorously forbidden and the only available political vocabularies have been emptied of any possible meaning, these conjectures often took the form of jokes. One which appeared as a strip-cartoon in the pages of La Codorniz, a semi-clandestine Spanish version of Le Canard Enchaîné, went as follows: the young prince Felipe asks the king, whether there will be a public holiday when Franco dies. Yes, he replies. And, papa, will there be a holiday when you are declared king? Yes, says the king. And, papa, will there be a holiday when the Republic is restored? I suppose so, replies the king somewhat alarmed. Oh good, says the prince: a whole week off school.

To kill a cat

Anthony Pagden, 21 February 1985

It is the fortune, or perhaps the misfortune, of the Enlightenment that its historians frequently write very long books. Franco Venturi’s Settecento Riformatore, which must surely be one of the longest, has now reached its fifth and final volume. As an enterprise it can have few parallels even among dixhuitièmistes. It offers no less than the description of an entire culture seen from a single geographical viewpoint. The culture is the whole of Europe from 1730 until the demise of the ancien régime in the French Revolution. The perspective is Italy, for, as Venturi announced at the start of the project, the Italians were, because of their long tradition of social and political analysis, perhaps the most perceptive observers of the European scene.

Calvi Calvino

Anthony Pagden, 19 July 1984

He died, one Jesuit said, ‘like a flower in the field that closes at night’. Some time in the evening of 28 September 1978 Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I, abandoned his tenure of the throne of St Peter. He had been Pope for only 33 days. The news was entirely unexpected. Unlike his predecessor, John Paul had shown no signs of ill-health during his brief reign, and very soon it began to be rumoured that he had been poisoned. Having inadvertently landed themselves with the wrong man for the job, a man who seemed to be about to sanction birth control and who had once remarked that God was more of a mother than a father, the Curia, it was said, had removed him by the traditional means – the only means open to them. Most of these rumours were not, at first at least, meant to be taken very seriously. The behaviour of the Vatican hierarchy, like that of the Government of Italy, is frequently an object of ridicule – or of shame – to most of those who are compelled to live with it. But there certainly were some peculiar circumstances surrounding John Paul’s death. The cause of death was given as ‘myocardial infarction’ – heart failure – but this diagnosis was supported only by an external examination carried out by Renato Buzzonetti, deputy head of the Vatican health service, a man who, on his own admission, had little knowledge of the Pope’s previous medical history and who seems to have refused to put his name to any death certificate.–

Being a benandante

Anthony Pagden, 2 February 1984

In the mountainous district of Friuli in Northern Italy there were good witches and bad, ‘good walkers’ (benandanti) and evil ones. On certain nights of the year during the Ember Days, in the valley of Josaphat, the two met and did battle for the crops. The benandanti came armed with stalks of fennell, the witches and warlocks with sorghum and sometimes the wooden palettes used for cleaning ovens. Ranged like armies with their captains and their banners, they fought all night long. If the benandanti won, then the harvest would be safe, but if the witches won then there would be famine. The benandanti could also on occasion cure the bewitched and protect people’s homes from the vandalism of the witches: as one of them explained, the witches ‘go into the cellars and spoil the wine with certain things, throwing filth into the bungholes’. Unlike the witches, who had sold themselves to Satan in exchange for their supernatural powers, the benandanti, who fought only for ‘Christ’s faith’, were born to their profession. Every man whose mother had preserved the caul (the placenta) in which he was born and wore it about his neck was compelled to ‘go forth’ when called to defend the crops. These night battles did not, however, take place in this world but ‘in the spirit’. The soul alone ‘went out’, sometimes in the form of some small animal, leaving the body behind inert and as if dead. In the morning, before dawn, the spirit returned, but if someone should attempt to turn the body or ‘come and look for a long time at it’, the spirit would never again be able to re-enter its former home and would be compelled to join the horde of those who had died ‘before their time’. Being a benandante was clearly a risky business.


Failed Coup

18 July 1985

SIR: I can only apologise. Antonio Tejero’s attempted coup took place, as Maria Eugenia Fuentes says (Letters, 19 September), in 1981 and not, as I stated in my review of David Gilmour’s The Transformation of Spain, in 1980. As for her other point, I can only reply that it is obviously the case that no set of political claims is ever likely to be met to the full satisfaction of all the...

Being a benandante

2 February 1984

Anthony Pagden writes: I should like to comment briefly on each of Professor Ginzburg’s rejoinders. But first let me dispel any suggestion that my praise of his literary gifts was in some sense intended to devalue his equally considerable historical ones. It is a vulgar error, in which Professor Ginzburg’s Italian enemies have all too often taken refuge, to suppose that ‘good’,...

Double Doctrine: The Enlightenment

Colin Kidd, 5 December 2013

In the course of 15 years teaching history at the University of Glasgow, with between a hundred and fifty and two hundred students in my classes, I inevitably received a few complaints. Some have...

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Clashes and Collaborations

Linda Colley, 18 July 1996

How should historians write about empire? Or, if you prefer, the imperial enterprise? The task is made difficult in part because many people still find it easy to confuse academic concentration...

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America first

Felipe Fernández-Armesto, 7 January 1993

‘See America first’: the old tourist-office advertising slogan made it sound easy. The most famous moment in the history of exploration, however, is also one of the most baffling. In...

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Benedict Anderson, 21 January 1988

New York, Nueva Leon, Nouvelle Orléans, Nova Lisboa and Nieuw Amsterdam – already in the 16th century, Western Europeans had begun the strange habit of naming remote places in the...

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The Moral Life of Barbarians

Geoffrey Hawthorn, 18 August 1983

Spain was in doubt about its new dominion in the Antilles. In 1493, the Pope Alexander VI had granted Ferdinand and Isabel the right to conquer and also to enslave the inhabitants of the islands....

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