audio record
Media not available in the Digital Archive
The programme takes the form of an account of Gibbon's achievement as seen by one of his twentieth-century admirers. Gibbon called himself a "philosophic historian".
Metadata describing this Open University audio programme
Module code and title: A204, The Enlightenment
Item code: A204; 12
Recording date: 1979-05-08
First transmission date: 06-05-1980
Published: 1980
Rights Statement: Rights owned or controlled by The Open University
Restrictions on use: This material can be used in accordance with The Open University conditions of use. A link to the conditions can be found at the bottom of all OUDA web pages.
Duration: 00:18:20
+ Show more...
Producer: Helen Rapp
Contributor: Hugh Trevor-Roper
Publisher: BBC Open University
Keyword(s): Gibbon; Philosophic historian
Footage description: Gibbon called himself a "philosophic historian". He was one of the few men who was able to substantiate the philosophy of The Enlightenment. He was to do this in his study of The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire. The historical philosophy of the 18th century had seen a break with theological motivation and had fallen back on Pyrrhonism - a philosophy of historical scepticism. It was not until Montesquieu came up with a "sociological" motivation based upon scientific method that a way out of the morass of despondency was found. His suggestion that there was a relationship between social structure, ideas and events encouraged the prevailing belief in "progress" towards a new Golden Age. However, as Professor Lord Trevor-Roper says, 'The mere fact of the decline of Antiquity cast a doubt over the optimism of the 18th century'. It was to take the enlightened thinking of Gibbon to attempt a re-appraisal of Montesquieu's philosophy and to shed a new, positive light on it. He did this with his original approach as a social historian. Gibbon believed that it was the structure of the Roman Empire that determined its history. The decline of Rome was not due to the barbarians, but rather to the extent of the empire and its inflexible and centralised regime. He also emphasised the function of Christianity in this context. He maintained that the early Church encouraged a cloistered life and a passive response to the regime. At the end of his 38th chapter, Gibbon asks the most significant question of his age: could it all happen again in modern times ? He denies that it could with characteristic optimism and confidence. 'For the real motor of history is not political: it is economic and intellectual. It lies in the useful arts and sciences; and these, once discovered, can never be lost.' But in the rational 18th century, Gibbon did not forsee the irrationality to come and had a 'faith in the ultimate prevalence of human reason, now that the mechanics of progress are known'. In this Gibbon reflects the spirit of The Enlightenment.
Master spool number: TLN19950H821
Production number: TLN19950H821
Available to public: no