What is political history now? What are the main themes in current political historical scholarship? Come find out by attending the Utrecht Lectures in Political History, organized by the Political History Section of Utrecht University’s Department of History and Art History!

Hosted by Political History section at Utrecht University


27 January 2023


Sweelinckzaal, Drift 21

David A. Bell
Sidney and Ruth Lapidus Professor in   the Era of the North Atlantic Revolutions
Princeton University

Charisma, emotions, and political   leadership in the Age of Revolution

When the French right-wing author Léon Daudet coined the term “total war” in a 1918 pamphlet, he used it not to describe the cataclysm of the Great War, but to refer to an aspirational state that the French should strive to achieve in order to defeat the German enemy. The term has since become a staple in several disciplines, often used to describe a conflict in which all of society’s resources are mobilized to wage war. But it has also come under immense criticism and raises many thorny questions—what wars qualify as total? What level of mobilization must be achieved? Does it refer to the obliteration of the civilian-soldier distinction? To a disregard for the laws of war? And once we agree on a definition, when did “total war” first begin and why?

David A. Bell has provided an influential answer to these questions in his popular 2007 book The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Modern Warfare. He argues that total war is helpfully understood as a process, specifically one of uncontrolled radicalization and that this phenomenon developed in the wake of the Enlightenment, during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.

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