One of the most fascinating, intelligent, and influential thinkers of her time, Germaine de Stael, was born into a wealthy and distinguished Swiss family. Her mother held a famous salon attended by such celebrities as Voltaire and Diderot, and her father, Jacques Necker, was Louis XVI’s minister of finance and author of several books in which he vigorously defended liberty, constitutionalism, and moderate government.
A romantic and restless soul, Madame de Stael blended love and politics while attracting the friendship of the most important men of her age, from Talleyrand and Benjamin Constant to Goethe and August Wilhelm von Schlegel. Her deep appreciation for the principles of American democracy led to correspondence with Thomas Jefferson, Gouverneur Morris, and Albert Gallatin and to a meeting with John Quincy Adams.
Of all her writings, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, published posthumously in 1818, is Stael’s most important political work, becoming a classic of liberal thinking. She recounts the momentous events of the French Revolution, including the fall of the Bastille and the resulting terror. Anticipating Tocqueville’s analysis of the Revolution, Stael saw the events of 1789 as an inevitable phenomenon that could not have been averted by the efforts of a few individuals. Aurelian Craiutu states that Considerations explores “the prerequisites of liberty, constitutionalism and rule of law, the necessary limits on power, the relation between social order and political order, the dependence of liberty on morality and religion, and the question of the institutional foundations of a free regime.
Throughout the six parts of Considerations, Stael offers memorable insights into the events, institutions, and personalities of the time, including an unflattering portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte. Part six is a vigorous defense of constitutional liberty and the rule of law. The final chapter, “Of the Love of Liberty,” makes a persuasive case for political liberty that is still relevant and timely today.