This article begins from the assumption that what was once an integral dimension of progress—the development of literature and of art more generally—now lies outside its scope. The essay falls into three parts that juxtapose French with German intellectual history. The first part examines the notion of literary progress developed by Charles Perrault and Fontenelle, as well as the opposition to it by Boileau and other antiquarians, during the querelle des Anciens et des Modernes in the later seventeenth century. The second part treats the reception of those arguments during the eighteenth century by J. C. Gottsched, J. J. Bodmer, and J. J. Breitinger. Special attention is given to the paradox that Gottsched, the leader of the German antiquarians, and Bodmer, the leader of the German progressives, were equally devoted to the Leibnizian-Wolffian philosophical system and thus that German Romanticism, heavily indebted to Bodmer's poetics, had roots in rationalist philosophy. The essay's third part discusses ideas of literary progress in the writings of the early Romantics J. G. Herder and Friedrich Schlegel. As these discussions show, the conception of general progress was formed in a field that has since dissociated itself from progress's march.

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