Benjamin Constant and the Birth of French Liberalism by K. Steven Vincent

By K. Steven Vincent

This booklet advances a brand new interpretation of the timing and personality of French (and extra commonly eu) liberalism, and contributes to the continuing debate in regards to the position of morality, sociability, and conceptions of the "self" in glossy liberal suggestion.

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Extra resources for Benjamin Constant and the Birth of French Liberalism

Sample text

Personally, of course, he had finally extricated himself in November 1795 from his unhappy marriage with Minna von Cramm, and, on a positive note, he and Staël became lovers in January 1796. Politically, he had left behind his more radical views of the early-1790s and was developing the more moderate stance for which he was to become famous. Constant fondly remembered these years as the period during which he worked to conceive the appropriate political regime intellectually and, simultaneously, to impose the appropriate regime concretely.

39 Dennis Wood sees the influence of Isabelle de Charrière as “a tonic” for Constant, a practical sustaining influence during Constant’s years as a young man. She was the first woman in Constant’s adult life to give him the stable affection that permitted him to accept without guilt his own perceptions: for example, his sense that all things and people are complex and mutable. She played a critical role in Constant’s development as a novelist. 40 What is beyond dispute is the important role Isabelle de Charrière played in Constant’s life during the next few years.

Much of this analysis drawing from personal experience informed Adolphe—“that most quietly disruptive of all French novels,” in the words of Alison Fairlie27—which is about the failure of a relationship and, more broadly, about the tragic incompatibility of certain character traits with the structure and mores of modern society. Twentieth-century analyses have generally been less censorious of Constant, though, arguably, this has as much to do with changing mores as anything else. Again, the issue of “character” has been central.

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