2022 Besterman Lecture - Napoleon’s Nemesis: Madame de Staël and the Origins of Liberalism

germaine de stael by vladimir borovikovsky

The Voltaire Foundation warmly invites you to the 2022 Besterman Lecture given by Professor Helena Rosenblatt (CUNY) on Napoleon’s Nemesis: Madame de Staël and the Origins of Liberalism

Among studies devoted to Napoleon, few give much attention to Germaine de Staël (1766-1817). Yet Madame de Staël was one of Napoleon’s most formidable opponents and played a decisive role in his downfall. On the eve of the Battle of Leipzig (1813), she was perhaps the most famous woman in Europe. So powerful was she that the emperor felt the need to censor her writings, harass her with his police, and, finally, exile her from France. Uncowed, she turned her home in Switzerland into an anti-Napoleonic bastion and devoted herself to assembling the coalition that would eventually defeat him. Not satisfied with that, she wrote a book meant to ensure that nothing similar to his rule would ever happen again.

The intertwined lives of Madame de Staël and Napoleon are not only the story of two fascinating individuals at a key moment in history. They are also the story of the emergence of a particular kind of liberalism that seems endangered today and of two types of democracy that are once again battling it out, one liberal and the other illiberal.


The lecture will be recorded but not live-streamed. The video will be available shortly after the event on our YouTube channel.