David A. Bell

David A. Bell who teaches history at Princeton, is the author, most recently, of Men on Horseback: The Power of Charisma in the Age of Revolution.

‘One red sea of Fire, wild-billowing, enwraps the World; with its fire-tongue licks at the very Stars.’ When Thomas Carlyle wrote these words in the 1830s, few people in the West doubted that the event he was describing, the French Revolution, counted as among the most important in human history. Some saw it as a deliverance, others as a catastrophe, but they agreed that it had...

The Napoleonic Wars were in no sense purely European events. They involved individuals from around the world and had worldwide ramifications. They left a stamp on everything from the westward expansion of the United States to the independence of the Latin American nations to the geopolitical dominance of the British Empire in the 19th century. Napoleon’s own ambitions reached far beyond the European continent. ‘I wanted to rule the world,’ he told Benjamin Constant in 1815. ‘Who wouldn’t have done, in my place?’Historians have always been aware of these ramifications. It’s familiar knowledge that the westward expansion of the US began when Napoleon decided to sell it the vast Louisiana Territory and that Latin American independence movements took off after his invasions of Portugal and Spain, which meant they could no longer control their colonies. But the wars in Europe already make for a dauntingly complex subject.

In the autumn​ of 1730, a 20-year-old woman in the southern French port of Toulon claimed that her spiritual director, a middle-aged Jesuit, had repeatedly forced her to have sex with him. When she became pregnant, he made her drink a potion that induced an abortion. He denied everything and accused her of slander. The case went to trial before the sovereign court of Aix-en-Provence, and...

A State Jew: Léon Blum

David A. Bell, 5 November 2015

The​ newspaper Action française habitually referred to Léon Blum, France’s Socialist leader, as the ‘warlike Hebrew’ and the ‘circumcised Narbonnais’ (he represented a constituency in Narbonne). On 13 February 1936, Blum was being driven away from the National Assembly when he encountered a group of ultra-right-wing militants who had gathered at...

The 18th century​ was a great age for criminals. Western European countries were awash with more private wealth than ever before, but their police forces remained weak, at least by modern standards. Communications were slow and unreliable, and only the most rudimentary means existed for tracking individual malefactors. Especially in remote towns, a determined band might carry out a brazen...

Revolutionary Yoke: Le Nationalisme

William Doyle, 27 June 2002

Recording the moment Samuel Johnson startled his friends in 1775 by declaring patriotism to be the ‘last refuge of a scoundrel’, Boswell felt that the definition needed to be glossed....

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