By K. Steven Vincent
Conventional scholarship on French liberalism has usually proceeded by way of defining the middle concerns and telling a narrative in their emergence and improvement. This e-book takes a distinct method: instead of starting with an a priori definition of liberalism, it makes a speciality of the political considered Benjamin consistent and Germaine de Sta?l, the 1st figures in France to name their concept “liberal.” In so doing, it advances a brand new interpretation of the timing and personality of French (and extra widely eu) liberalism, and contributes to the continuing debate about the position of morality, sociability, and conceptions of the “self” in smooth liberal idea.
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Additional resources for Benjamin Constant and the Birth of French Liberalism (Palgrave Studies in Cultural and Intellectual History)
There was the influence of Isabelle de Charrière, who had been critical of Constant’s support of the Terror. There was the influence of Germain de Staël, whom Constant met in Switzerland on 18 September 1794, the beginning of their long and tempestuous relationship. There was the moderate turn the Revolution had taken. There was the new possibility of Constant actually playing a role on the stage of French politics. Before proceeding to an analysis of this transition—a transition that represents the formation of Constant’s distinctive political identity as a “liberal”—it is necessary to consider Constant’s relationship with Germaine de Staël.
10 Following the May 1795 return to Paris, Constant spent most of the next seven years in the region of the French capital, though he traveled often to Switzerland to be with Staël during her periods of exile. He would leave the Paris region for an extended period only after his exclusion from the Napoleonic Tribunat in March 1802. Initially, he was tied to the world of the Thermidorians and close to the circle of Staël. In her salon, Constant met important political figures like Paul Barras and Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyès.
These affairs suggest that Constant was craving, even more than the average libidinous adolescent, intimacy and connection, and that he would act in extreme ways to pursue the immediate object of his attention. His correspondence provides insight into other elements of his character. These early letters reveal a stance of worldly skepticism, articulated as pessimism, moral indifference, and a critical regard toward everything. 21 Whether this explains sufficiently Constant’s despair is open to question.