A few weeks ago I asked you who you rooted for in the French revolution: peasants, aristocrats, philosophes, bourgeoisie… I also rambled a while about Ben Franklin and imagined a ridiculous Enlightenment action movie pitting Poor Richard against the (fake) chess-playing mechanical clockwork known as the Turk. A friend of mine immediately slapped a “who do you root for in the French Revolution?” poll on his LiveJournal. Alas, he’s taken that site down, so I can’t link to it, but I believe the bourgeoisie turned out to be the surprising fan favorite. Must say something about LiveJournal’s emo youth demographic. My friend also flipped my plans for the Turk. In his version of the blockbuster Ben Franklin Code, the oaken Ottoman was a fomenter of rationalism and revolution, not the servant but the enemy of absolutist monarchies. He might have something there.
Soon after writing that earlier post, I came upon Simon Schaffer‘s article “Enlightenment Automata,” which puts our friend the Turk at the center of a wonderful discussion of eighteenth-century clockworks and their implications for Enlightenment-era debates about liberty, politics, economics, and free will. There’s lots of good stuff by Schaffer floating around the net, particularly at the Hypermedia Research Centre, about which I will hopefully post more later. But to find this particular essay, I fear you may have to read a book.