Front Page Titles (by Subject) Coppet: French Liberal Culture and Politics - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1
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Coppet: French Liberal Culture and Politics - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Coppet: French Liberal Culture and Politics
“The Coppet Circle: Literary Criticism as Political Discourse.” History of Political Thought 1, no. 3 (December 1980): 453–473.
Coppet, Mme de Staël's (1766–1817) Swiss estate, was the refuge and stage of a brilliant literary and intellectual salon from 1804–1810, the period of Napoleonic hegemony. Coppet's role as a center of political opposition to Bonaparte, the historical traditions of the salon, and the intellectual preoccupations of Coppet's members merged to nourish a concern with the connection between politics and culture—specifically, with the cultural mechanisms of Napoleonic domination.
“The Coppet circle's indictment of Napoleonic despotism was framed by the emergent literary struggle between the ‘classical’ and the ‘romantic.’ What appeared to be an aesthetic quarrel over the appropriate sources of literary inspiration—ancient or modern models—was interpreted by the Coppet group to have a hidden political content. The prevailing governmental classicism, founded on the sterile imitation of archaic models, nurtured the unquestioned ritualistic obedience requisite to despotism. The new romantic aesthetic, expressing the vitality of living historical traditions, incarnated the energies of a free political society. The significance of these claims lies with the Coppet circle's pioneering attempt to bring a consciousness of historical change to bear upon the analysis of culture as a mechanism of political education. They were the first to confront in a systematic fashion the implications of modernity—its potential for liberation or repression as reflected in the ideals of its art. Finally, the Coppet group's aesthetic vision imbued their political theory with a subtlety and complexity rarely acknowledged in scholarly assessments of nineteenth-century French liberalism. The concept of the ‘romantic’ crystallized those tensions and ambivalences they deemed implicit in a free and pluralistic society.”
Tenenbaum's far-ranging study offers historical reflections on the salon as a social milieu; examines those currents of ideas that shaped the Coppet group's perspectives; and concludes by focusing on the political strategies and theoretical contributions of the Coppet circle.
Noteworthy among Coppet's distinguished coterie of intellectuals were Benjamin Constant, A. W. Schlegel, J.C.L. de Sismondi, and Prosper de Barante. Of this inner circle, all but Schlegel were liberal constitutionalists rooted in the cosmopolitan traditions of the Enlightenment. Along with a liberal consensus went an antipathy to the despotism of Bonaparte.
The political objectives of the Coppet circle liberals were twofold: first to condemn the ‘closed’ despotic system of Napoleon; and second, to define the culture of a free society appropriate to post-Revolutionary France. In its cultural-political analysis, the Coppet circle introduced a new sophistication into the study of aesthetic practice under a system of total political domination. Particularly important was Benjamin Constant's essay De l'esprit de conquête, which noted that a reliance on indoctrination to elicit mass support and willing participation distinguished the Revolutionary despotism from older, cruder, and less pervasive forms of domination. The terms of Constant's indictment of the military state of Napoleon recalled the charges levelled against the classical aesthetic in his preface to Wallenstein. Resembling classicism and incompatible with modern society, the spirit of conquest was rooted in “admiration for uniformity...symmetry, and abstract essence, a general idea.”