New Worlds for Old
Reports from the New World and Their Effect on the Development of Social Thought in Europe, 1500–1800

By William Brandon

Explorers, soldiers, missionaries, and colonists writing from every part of the New World repeatedly emphasized certain fundamental strangenesses in New World societies, especially the equality, community, and liberty so frequently observed among New World peoples. Influential European thinkers from Thomas More, Ronsard, and Montaigne to Rousseau to Marx and Engels repeatedly discussed the new and different values of these reported New World ways

New Worlds for Old examines the cumulative effect of such New World visions on the progress in the Old World—particularly in France—of certain revolutionary social ideas. Beginning with late fifteenth and early sixteenth century Spanish and Italian accounts, Brandon traces their impact through political, economic, philosophical, and religious thinkers in Europe’s Early Modern Age. Drawing upon a wealth of archival sources, Brandon argues that though the Old World may have conquered the New for European culture and civilization, the New World engraved upon the Old, especially via seventeenth and eighteenth century France, changes as profound in some respects as those it suffered.

Amid the social and political turmoil of early modern Europe few glimpses of the New World, with its strange and vivid inhabitants, exotic landscapes, and fabulous treasures, were as productive of change as those which revealed novel attitudes toward the foundations of society: property, authority, liberty, and the purpose of life.

While acknowledging the great importance of our European heritage in understanding basic concepts of liberty, Brandon’s study demonstrates that the very thinkers who helped to form those concepts were themselves influenced by reports from the New World. New Worlds for Old thus offers an account of the earliest influence of the Americas upon the European intellectual tradition an a revisionist perspective on the American political and philosophical heritage.


William Brandon has been a professional writer since 1938. He is the author of Quivira: Europeans in the Region of the Santa Fe Trail, 1540–1820 and New Worlds for Old: Reports from the New World and Their Effect on the Development of Social Thought in Europe, 1500–1800.

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