From Hartlib to Linnaeus: Science, Spirituality, and Political Economy
Sweden embarked on an ambitious project to improve and strengthen the nation around the turn of the 18th century. Recognizing that the foundation for Sweden’s glory and greatness during the reign of Gustav II Adolf was no longer sustainable, the new strategy focused on enhancing the nation’s productive capacities. Uniquely blessed by God – according to contemporary observers – with abundant natural resources, the key to restoring the nation’s power and prosperity was to promote the right kinds of knowledge by which nature’s secrets could be unlocked and its hidden potential harnessed for productive purposes. Drawing on scientific, religious, economic, and philosophical currents prevalent throughout Europe, Sweden developed its own vision for reform, which, in turn, gave rise to a deeply interconnected discourse and practice of improvement. This new culture of improvement informed the nation’s strategies for economic development, state-formation, spiritual regeneration, and scientific advancement – all of which were considered essential to the nation’s progress and modernization. My paper focuses on how the Hartlib Circle instructed and inspired Swedish improvers, such as Urban Hiärne (1641-1724) and Anders Kempe (1622- 1689), and how they helped to prepare the ground for Christopher Polhem (1661-1751), Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), and Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778).