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The Idols of the Age of Revolutions: Charisma and Power in the Atlantic World, 1750-1830

Date and Time: 
Thursday, January 24, 2019. 12:00 PM - 01:30 PM
Meeting Location: 
Humanities Center Boardroom
Workshop: 
History of Political Thought
Meeting Description: 

This session will focus on the introduction and first chapter of David's book, tentatively titled "The Idols of the Age of Revolutions: Charisma and Power in the Atlantic World, 1750-1830." 

From the introduction: "Around the world, in both democratic and autocratic states, there is a perennial longing for leaders with magnetic appeal and extraordinary abilities who can unite viciously divided communities, overcome apparently intractable problems, and by the sheer force of personality give whole nations a new start. But charisma also generates anxieties -- especially in democracies. Democracies pride themselves on being governments of laws, not men. What will happen if we treat ordinary, limited, and perhaps even corrupt and criminal people as superhuman, making them into idols? ... Yet, paradoxically, the longing for such leaders acquired new importance, and a distinct new shape, during the very same period that witnessed the birth of modern democracies: the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was during the moment of extraordinary intellectual fermentation that we now call the Enlightenment, and then in the great revolutions that washed across much of the Western world, that the powerful forms of political charisma we are familiar with today took shape. To an extent that has never properly been recognized, the relationship between ordinary people and their political leaders underwent a revolutionary transformation. That transformation is the subject of this book."

The chapters will be precirculated.

David Bell is the Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor in the Era of North Atlantic Revolutions, at Princeton University. He is a historian of early modern France, with a particular interest in the political culture of the Old Regime and the French Revolution.

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