The Early Modern Social Contract as Imagined in Philadelphia and Madras: A Comparative Analysis of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution and the Vorogayt Parats-Nshavak

The Early Modern Social Contract as Imagined in Philadelphia and Madras: A Comparative Analysis of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution and the Vorogayt Parats-Nshavak

Paper presented at the 40th anniversary workshop of the Society for Armenian Studies held in Yerevan, Armenia, October 3-5, 2014

Introduction

The end of the 18th century was an innovative era in terms of political organisation. The revolutions in the United States and in France, as well as such less enduring movements as the Polish Constitution, were echoed halfway across the world in Madras, India (modern Chennai), where a small but wealthy and active community of Armenians expressed ambitious plans for a future Armenian state. Although those plans did not come to fruition, the Vorogayt Parats-Nshavak reflects the Western discourse inspired by Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and others, refracted not just through an Armenian lens alone, but the specific perspective of Persian-Armenian merchants in India – a country quickly coming under the British yoke, alongside the presence of other European powers, such as the French and Portuguese. Meanwhile, after about a decade of an inefficient arrangement under the Articles of Confederation, the US Constitution tried to bring together “a more perfect Union” for its part, marrying the ideological drive of the Declaration of Independence to practical considerations of the day-to-day affairs of running a country.

This paper will examine the Vorogayt Parats-Nshavak in light of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. It presumes familiarity on the part of the reader with the latter, American documents. It will first discuss the texts of the Vorogayt Parats and the Nshavak, including some analysis, followed by a comparison with the two founding documents of the United States in terms of the conceptions of statehood and in other details. Additionally, the problems of the authorship of the Vorogayt Parats-Nshavak will be taken up, as will its dating, and the designations of the documents in question.

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