Regulating Life: Romanticism, Science, and the Liberal Imagination*
© 2018, © 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. The concept of regulation was a key means by which many Romantic-era authors sought to understand and direct relationships among life, the individual, and political collectives: for example, Immanuel Kant contended that the Ideas of reason must play a “regulative” role in subjective experience; Thomas Malthus argued against the utility of human political regulations by outlining a natural logic of population self-regulation; and Mary Shelley began her novel Frankenstein with a description of Robert Walton’s dream that his arctic voyage would result in a discovery capable of regulating all future nautical navigation. Yet precisely what regulation meant for Romantic-era authors remains obscure, as does the relation of Romantic conceptions of regulation to liberalism and biopolitics, which latter both emerged during the Romantic era, and which both relied on conceptions of self-regulation. Focusing especially on Malthus, Kant, and Wordsworth, this essay maps several key aspects of Romantic understandings of regulation, and concludes with a reflection on how these reflections can guide our own contemporary efforts to rethink self-regulation in our era of the Anthropocene.
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