Originally given as a series of lectures at the Sorbonne, François Guizot’s History of Civilization in Europe was published to great acclaim in 1828 and is now regarded as a classic in modern historical research. History was particularly influential on Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, and Alexis de Tocqueville. Tocqueville, in fact, requested that a copy of History be sent to him when he arrived in the United States.
This volume offers what Guizot himself describes as a “philosophic history” of Europe, one which searches for the underlying general causes and effects of particular events. Guizot considers European civilization in its broadest senses, encompassing not merely political, economic, and social structures, but also the ideas, faculties, and sentiments of “man himself.” Guizot understood a two-way relationship between external conditions (i.e., social, political, and economic conditions) and the inner man: external conditions affect the inner man, whose moral and intellectual development eventually shapes social and other external conditions.
Guizot’s History describes the development of European civilization in terms of the inevitable advance of equality of conditions, due to many factors, including a new emphasis on the individual. The author explores the decentralization of power that characterized feudalism, the centralization of power after the fifteenth century, and finally the rebuilding of local autonomy necessary for representative and free government. As editor Larry Siedentop describes, “The [History’s] moral is about the social and political consequences of destroying local liberty . . . excessive concentration of power at the center of any society is, in the long run, its own undoing.”
François Guizot (1787–1874) was a French historian, political philosopher, and politician.
Larry Siedentop was educated at Hope College, Harvard, and Oxford. He is Emeritus Fellow of Keble College, Oxford, and was for many years faculty lecturer in political thought in the university. His publications include The Nature of Political Theory, Tocqueville, and most recently, Democracy in Europe.