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Feverish Bodies, Enlightened MindsScience and the Yellow Fever Controversy in the Early American Republic$
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Thomas Apel

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780804797405

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804797405.001.0001

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“In Politics As Well As Medicine”; or, The Arrogance of the Enlightened

“In Politics As Well As Medicine”; or, The Arrogance of the Enlightened

Chapter:
(p.117) Five “In Politics As Well As Medicine”; or, The Arrogance of the Enlightened
Source:
Feverish Bodies, Enlightened Minds
Author(s):

Thomas A. Apel

Publisher:
Stanford University Press
DOI:10.11126/stanford/9780804797405.003.0006

Chapter Five examines the tenor of the debate, especially its conspiratorial tone. Participants on both sides of the debate cast themselves as victims of the persecutions of their opponents, who had conspired to subvert the truth. The fever discourse thus mirrored the well-known “paranoid style” of contemporary political discourse. These parallel discourses were mutually reinforcing and both were rooted at least in part in the similar material organizations of early republican discursive communities. This chapter also argues that common sense epistemology itself provoked intolerance. For if truths about nature or politics offered themselves to common sense, then those who differed were not merely incorrect, but dangerously wayward and probably ill-intentioned. The vitriol of the yellow fever debate left investigators wanting to exert greater top-down control over the course of natural inquiry, just as the bitterness of the1790s political wars left intellectuals wanting to contain political discourse.

Keywords:   counter-Enlightenment, dialectic of enlightenment, paranoid style, conspiracy theory, public sphere, freedom of the press

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