Revue de Presse: September 27

27 September 2020

In a review for the Point, Scott Spillman discusses Men on Horseback by the Princeton historian David Bell. Bell’s book is a study in the modern phenomenon of charisma, which Max Weber called “the great revolutionary force.” Applying Weber’s definition of charismatic authority to the Age of Revolutions, Bell examines the relationship between democracy and individual celebrity in characters like Napoleon and Toussaint Louverture. For Spillman, Bell’s study confirms Hannah Arendt’s insight that passions like love often overshadow the political role of persuasion. The larger-than-life political leader is often tempted to lay speech and negotiation to one side. Spillman says the most compelling—but perhaps rarest—character from the period Bell studies is George Washington, who channeled his charisma into the Constitutional Convention and the presidency. More commonly, charismatic politicians resist institutional constraints on their own popularity.


Historian Gregory Brown traces the career of Andrew Dickson White, who founded both Cornell University and the American Historical Association, in a post for the Age of Revolutions blog. Brown thinks White deserves credit as the earliest American historiographer of the French Revolution. Aided by lectures he attended in Paris and his contact with Edouard René de Laboulaye (an early French historian of American politics), White honed an interest in archival research and long-term intellectual origins. Even if White’s own scholarship is less than memorable, Brown situates White as the founder of a specifically American “canon” of scholarship on the French Revolution.


As protests against racist policing have erupted throughout the United States, Donald Trump has sought to mobilize a white backlash to boost his re-election campaign. So far, it doesn’t seem to have worked. In the Atlantic,  Adam Serwer explains why: America today has less in common with 1968—the year Richard Nixon’s “law and order” campaign won him the White House—than with 1868. During Reconstruction (when the young George Clemenceau was visiting the United States), Northerners were outraged by spectacles of racist violence in the defeated South. Despite President Andrew Johnson’s attempt to return to normal relations with the former slaveholding rebels, an antiracist coalition kept the Radical Republicans in power, nearly leading to his removal from office. For Serwer, a similar antiracist majority exists in the United States today, though the implications of this fact are far from certain. It is up to Democratic politicians to attempt to live up to the legacy of antiracist radicals, from Thaddeus Stevens and Frederick Douglass to Martin Luther King.


Tocqueville 21 contributor Hugo Drochon explores the state of the French Right in an article for the New Statesman. Drawing on the work of Zeev Sternhell, he argues that Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National represents a radical (even fascist) Right that does not fit in with René Rémond’s notion of France’s “three rights” (Legitimist, Orleanist, and Bonapartist). Drochon is skeptical that the radical Right can gain power on its own, but argues that Marion Maréchal-Le Pen’s strategy of combining the far right with the traditional Catholic Right might win the day, as long as she can effectively marry conservative social values with neoliberal economics.


How should the European Union respond to democratic backsliding in its member states? If Hungary and Poland degenerate into full-blown autocracies, the EU would lose its legitimacy, since its authority stems from the democratic character of its constituents. But to expel backsliding member states is to unjustly deprive their innocent citizens of important rights. Not to mention that expulsion is illegal according to the EU’s own treaties. Tom Theuns, another Tocqueville 21 contributor, explores these paradoxes in an article for the EUobserver.


In the New York Review of Books, Lucy Jakub meditates on the state of Maine’s long relationship with American art. Perhaps only true natives can depict Maine’s bleak winters, craggy exterior, and far-flung lighthouses. But Maine also bills itself as “Vacationland,” and has traditionally been an outpost for urban artists seeking a summer escape and New England authenticity.  Surveying the work of painters like Jonathan Fisher, Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, and Louise Nevelson, as well as members of various sculpture and craft movements, Jakub asks who and what can capture the nature of Maine.


For France Culture, Sylvain Bourmeau, host of the show La Suite dans les idées, has put together a five-part podcast series on the work of John Dewey, whose work has gained increased attention in France. The series features philosophers, such as Joëlle Zask and Mathias Girel, and covers a broad range Dewey’s writing on radical democracy, as well as his experiments in art and education.


Photo Credit: Bank Phrom, via Unsplash.


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