Lafayette in Two Worlds: Public Cultures and Personal Identities in an Age of Revolutions

Lafayette in Two Worlds: Public Cultures and Personal Identities in an Age of Revolutions

Lafayette in Two Worlds: Public Cultures and Personal Identities in an Age of Revolutions

Lafayette in Two Worlds: Public Cultures and Personal Identities in an Age of Revolutions

Synopsis

Lloyd Kramer offers a new interpretation of the cultural and political significance of the career of the Marquis de Lafayette, which spanned the American Revolution, the French Revolutions of 1789 and 1830, and the Polish Uprising of 1830-31. Moving beyond traditional biography, Kramer traces the wide-ranging influence of Lafayette's public and personal life, including his contributions to the emergence of nationalist ideologies in Europe and America, his extensive connections with liberal political theorists, and his close friendships with prominent writers, many of them women. Kramer places Lafayette on the cusp of the two worlds of America and France, politics and literature, the Enlightenment and the Romantic movement, public affairs and private life, revolution and nationalism, and men and women. He argues that Lafayette's experiences reveal how public figures can symbolize the aspirations of a society as a whole, and he stresses Lafayette's important role in a cultural network of contemporaries that included Germaine de Stael, Benjamin Constant, Frances Wright, James Fenimore Cooper, and Alexis de Tocqueville. History/Biography

Excerpt

When and where did the modern history of politics, culture, and social relations begin? Historians respond to such questions with evidence and examples from many centuries and places, but this book carries the assumption that historical transitions and conflicts in America and Western Europe between the 1770s and 1830s contributed decisively to the creation of what we call "the modern world." Despite immense changes in technology, communications, economic production, and political cultures, we still live with institutions, ideologies, and aspirations that emerged in the political and cultural movements of the late eighteenth century: Enlightenment theories of human rights, liberty, and knowledge; the American and French Revolutions; Romanticism and nationalism; the Industrial Revolution and expansion of capitalism; and new conceptions of public and private life which drew on all of these interacting historical forces.

It is impossible to write a complete history of these complex political, social, and cultural changes, so a would-be analyst must choose a method for including and excluding examples of the vast information we can know about this period in Western history. One of the possible methods, for example, appears in R. R. Palmer's classic synthetic survey, The Age of the Democratic Revolution. Palmer's book includes valuable information about a remarkable number of societies and revolutions, but it necessarily excludes detailed attention to specific individuals. Another method for approaching this revolutionary era would therefore focus on the life and ideas of a single figure, an approach that I develop here by analyzing the liberal French aristocrat and political activist Gilbert du Motier de Lafayette (1757-1834). Although this book relies on synthetic, conceptual perspectives that Palmer and others have developed to describe the era in which Lafayette lived, my own narrative excludes much important information about wider historical patterns in order to emphasize the experiences and significance of one famous person.

The traditional historical interest in the lives of prominent individuals has been widely questioned and discredited in contemporary scholarship. Many (perhaps most) professional historians now think of historical processes in terms of social or cultural structures, and the liberal, humanist conception of autonomous individuals has given way to a description of "individuals" as . . .

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