David A. Bell, Professor of History at Princeton University, explores “The French and American Revolutions and Modern Democracy” as part of the National History Center and Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Weekly History Seminar series on Monday, April 26, 2010.
Today, men and women around the world hail democracy as an unquestioned good, and enthusiastically trace its modern history back to the great “democratic revolutions” of the late eighteenth century, especially in America and France. We forget that in both countries, leading revolutionaries actually had a profound distrust of democracy. John Adams said the word “signifies nothing more nor less than a nation of people without any government at all,” while Antoine Barnave, the French revolutionary, called it “the greatest of plagues.” This distrust has had extraordinary consequences for the present practice of democracy, as will be shown with particular reference to the French case.
Professor Bell is a specialist in the history of early modern and modern France, he has published books on the politicization of the legal profession under the ancien régime, on the origins of nationalism in France, and on the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars as the “first total wars.”
This is part of the weekly history seminar that aims to facilitate the understanding of contemporary affairs in light of historical knowledge of all times and places, and from multiple perspectives. Click here to see a complete listing of the schedule of speakers and topics, as well as videos of the presentations.