In View of European: Vision of the East in Abraham Anquetil-Duperron`s «Oriental Legislation»

Andrii Chalyi

Master of history

Oleksandr Ivanov

Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv

UDC 94(5):930.23“17”А.Анкетіль-Дюперон



XVII-XVIII centuries determined by further European inclination into the Eastern countries affair`s. Due to old custom and to enlarge European understanding of the East, a lot of travelers made their own accounts about nearly everything the saw. But usually they didn`t understand the language, didn’t realize peculiarities of social order and receive information from only one source and moreover analyzed issues they had through the prism of European-based consciousness, that had created specific and inaccurate image of the East. During the Enlightenment such descriptions were used to create a civilization theory which stated about principal distinction between East and West. In popular form this theory is known as «oriental despotism», and had been postulated by one of the most popular French philosopher – Charles Louis de Montesquieu in his works «The Spirit of Laws» and «Persian letters».

This concept consists of three elements: absolute monarchy, which is not restrained by any means, law or society, ability of state to confiscate property of its own citizen and therefore absence of private property at all, and absence of codified law. In not so distant future such an ideas were implicitly rooted in the theoretical background of full-scale political and military expansion of European countries, that ruined Asian states or limited their sovereignty made them almost a colonies. Nevertheless there was one man who stood against such theories – Abraham Anquetile-Duperron (1734-1805), profound French scholar, linguist, adventurer and due to his time – participant of French-Britain rivalry in India, who is now remarkably known for efforts to translate and edit Avesta, and thereafter being totally obstructed by his fellow-scholars, and now widely recognized as one of the finding father of French oriental studies and oriental studies generally. In his not so acclaimed work «Eastern legislation» (1778) he argued that so called «oriental despotism» has never existed, its element were based on false, incomplete assumptions, mechanistic extrapolation of European realities on the improper civil situation, banal exaggerations which had been made by previous travelers.

Taking Ottoman empire, Persia and India (Moghul Empire) Duperron offer his own interpretation of the same facts, which were described by others. He stated, that in each of this countries have codified laws, which regulate all kinds of social activities, there is private property, that could be bought and sold and inherited by both male and female, and could be confiscated only as a penal punishment. All economical interactions are based on written agreements and religion is not as sufficient as his predecessors described. Monarch and other officials are being restrained by the system of rules which control each their step or decision, moreover their power depends on public recognition and charisma, which means in case they lose it, they lose their position as well and society have divine right to overthrow such leaders as infidels or tyrants. In spite of this Duperron makes his conclusion of invalidity of «oriental despotism» as an immanent and established type of ruling in the East. He emphasized that so called «oriental despotism» occurs only in time of collapsing of normal social life which were described. So force Duperron insists on principal equivalency of the Eastern and Western civilization types, which have the same core elements but differs only in its realization, determinate by geography, history and society.

Key words

Eastern despotism, East, historiography, Anquetil-Duperron, orientalism, eastern studies

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