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Enlightening Outlook on Agreements

In his chapter in this new edited collection, Dr Timothy J. Dodsworth considers the varied nature of agreements beyond the formal rules of contract and how a cultural lens can provide a glimpse of how agreements shaped everyday life during the enlightenment period. The chapter identifies the message of agreements and their context-specific binding nature in literary masterpieces, artwork, political and philosophical writings. It reveals how agreements of all kinds were entered into and by whom, the role of trust on the one hand and legal advice and enforcement mechanisms on the other, the perceived effect of entering into an agreement on those concerned, and how the very concept of an agreement was at the root of political theory in this period. Agreements were used to legitimatise suppression of foreign nations, to explain the law’s intervention – as the collective agreement – to prevent the individual’s lapse into their inherent egoism or to underscore the binding nature of religious promises. For the narrative of the time, the societal role of agreements translated not just into new beginnings but just as often into a conclusive end. 

Timothy J. Dodsworth, ‘Agreements’ is published in R. Probert and J. Snape (eds.), A Cultural History of Law in the Age of Enlightenment (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019)