Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

'Changes to preserve everything the way it always was': the idea of reform and the uses of economic language in the eighteenth century

Cunha Alexandre, Cedeplar/UFMG

Having in the background what might be called the slow disintegration of the old regime, the chapter deals with the idea of “changing to preserve things as they always were” as a key to analysing the context of the enlightened reforms of the late eighteenth century. Giving particular attention to the question of the uses of economic language in the eighteenth century, the article distinguishes a substantive trait of the political, economic, and social transformations taking place in several countries of southern Europe, and in Portugal, in particular, and contributes to a conceptual history of terms related to the idea of change (“reform” and “improvements/betterments” in particular) in Portuguese, and by contrast in other Romance (Spanish, Italian, and French) and German languages (English and German). The initial effort is in capturing a route of differentiation and specification of these terms throughout the eighteenth century, using the dictionaries produced for the major European languages in this period. In sequence, political and economic and administrative memoirs produced during the period are used for tracing and mapping the uses of “reform” and “improvements/betterments, clarifying in special some tensions underlying the term reform in the late eighteenth century that are well-illustrated by the Portuguese case, clearly reinforcing this perspective of change to preserve everything the way it always was.


Keywords: economic ideas; economic language; enlightened reforms; improvements/betterments; old regime

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