A Laboratory of Liberty

The Transformation of Political Culture in Republican Switzerland, 1750-1848


Looking at a series of Swiss political debates, this book offers a case study of a revolutionary transformation to a rights-based society and political culture. Based on a tradition of political innovation and experimentation, Swiss citizens recalibrated their understanding of liberty and republicanism from 1750 to 1848. The resulting hybrid political culture centered around republican ideas, changing understandings of liberty and self-rule. Drawing from the public political debates in three characteristic cantons, A Laboratory of Liberty places the Swiss transformation into a European context. Current trends in Revolutionary studies focus on the revolution in its global context and this book demonstrates that the Swiss case enhances our understanding of the debates over the nature of liberty in the transatlantic world during the Age of Revolution.

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Marc H. Lerner, Ph. D. (2003) in History, Columbia University, has been Assistant Professor of History at the University of Mississippi since 2005. His research interests are focused on revolutionary Europe in comparative perspective, republicanism, democracy and the transition to political modernity.
"[...] excellent monograph [...]. Lerner’s book on Switzerland is a superb piece of scholarship that will interest historians whose subjects lie way beyond the frontiers of that fascinating and intriguing country." – Mike Rapport, University of Glasgow, in: American Historical Review 118/3 (June 2013), pp. 947-948
"Rooted in extensive research in various Swiss archives, his emphasis on public opinion adds a valuable piece and moves the volume beyond conventional intellectual histories. [...] Laboratory of Liberty [is] of use to scholars well beyond the field of Swiss history." – Martin Kalb, Northern Arizona University, in: Swiss American Historical Review 48/3 (Nov., 2012), pp. 80-81
"Lerner gelingt auf diese Art ein faszinierender Einblick in die Vielfältigkeit, Hybridität und Uneinheitlichkeit des Republikanismus und seiner Freiheitsvorstellungen am Übergang in die Moderne. [...] Es gehört auch zu den Verdiensten dieser Studie, darauf bedacht zu sein, das Fallbeispiel Schweiz nicht isoliert zu betrachten, sondern den politischen Transformationsprozess in der Eidgenossenschaft konsequent in die großen europäischen Entwicklungslinien einzubetten und damit als Beitrag für das bessere Verständnis der Transitionsperiode in einer europäischen Perspektive zu verstehen." – André Holenstein, Historisches Institut der Universität Bern, in: H-Soz-u-Kult, H-Net Reviews, Oct. 2012
"Le livre de Marc Lerner remplit un vide évident pour quiconque s’intéresse à l’ère des révolutions. [...] Marc Lerner apporte ici un travail passionnant sur les continuités et discontinuités dans l’histoire de la Suisse, qui permet de mieux comprendre sa configuration actuelle." – Annie Jourdan, University of Amsterdam, in: Annales historiques de la Révolution française 369 (July/September 2012), pp.169-172
List of Maps
List of Abbreviations

Part I The End of the Old Regime in Europe and in the Swiss Eidgenossenschaft

Chapter One On The Ideological Origins of the Revolution in Switzerland

Chapter Two Ambivalent Revolutionaries: The Helvetic Republic in
Revolutionary Europe

Part II Regeneration of a Constructed Past: Continuities and Discontinuities in the Struggle
between Old and New Visions of Switzerland and Europe

Chapter Three The right to Self-Rule: The Debate Over Legitimacy and the
Vaud-Bern Relationship

Chapter Four Two Visions of Political Society in Inner Switzerland, 1829–33

Chapter Five Popular Sovereignty in the Züriputsch

Part III National Accommodation

Chapter Six Radical Conceptions of the Confederation: Popular Sovereignty and the
1845 Revolution in Vaud

Chapter Seven War, Accommodation and the Making of the Modern Constitutional State


Those interested in revolutionary Europe and atlantic world throughout the entire Age of Revolution (1750-1850), those interested in the history of political thought, republicanism and democratization.
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