By viewing economic, political, and literary developments through the anachronistic lens of neoliberalism, this essay calls attention to largely overlooked interrelations between the market and seventeenth-century arguments for political freedom. The essay tracks the trope of the neo-Roman political slave to tyranny as it collides with the institution of African slavery in early modern political debates over property and in pamphlets protesting injustices in the trades in sugar, slaves, and indentured servants. Using narrative digressions to stage a struggle for primacy between background and foreground and between text and New World context, Aphra Behn's Oroonoko: A Royal Slave exploits these tensions between the economic and political domains to reveal the market not only as an ethical framework for political freedom but also as a tyrant ruling over those it dispossesses. Taken together, the essay's texts tell a story about economic and political entanglements that intensify even as the economic realm attempts to establish itself as an independent domain. This story develops alongside another: if freedom was initially conceived out of a relationship between subject and ruler, by the end of the seventeenth century the possibilities for political freedom depended on a set of global relations that included not only the citizen and the government but also its colonies and the markets they produce.
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1 September 2011
Valerie Forman; Early Modern “Neoliberalisms”: England and the English Caribbean. Modern Language Quarterly 1 September 2011; 72 (3): 341–367. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-1275163
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