Languages for Liberty: Figuring Revolutions, Resisting Oppression

Free Public Lecture

Languages for Liberty: Figuring Revolutions, Resisting Oppression

2017 Walter Mangold Lecture

To what extent can languages be a tool for personal and political freedom and one of the most efficient ways to resist oppression and tyranny?

The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Empire offer a privileged example to address this question. During this crucial period of European history, writers such as François-René de Chateaubriand, Benjamin Constant and Germaine de Staël found themselves confronted with extraordinary events. Initially, they strove to understand what a revolution is, to measure its progress and its risks. Later, they were major figures in the opposition to Napoleon’s despotism. Strikingly, they found in foreign languages and literatures powerful resources to feed their reflection on liberty and their arguments against tyranny. In this way, they show that knowledge of other languages is the indispensable, and possibly only, means to preserve our personal and political freedoms in a globalized world.

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