The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

April 26, 2019

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Democracy without Nations? The Fate of Self-Government in Europe (part 1)
Pierre Manent - 04/16/08

This essay is adapted from Pierre Manent, Democracy without Nations? The Fate of Self-Government in Europe, translated by Paul Seaton and recently released from ISI Books.

Today we speak of “democracy” in the singular. In this sense, popular usage joins scholarly discourse. And both join Tocqueville, who presented democracy as an immense phenomenon that came from afar and is leading us toward unknown shores, but also as remaining essentially the same throughout its long development. According to Tocqueville, democracy is first and foremost “the equality of conditions.” The democratic movement is a movement toward an ever-greater equality of conditions.

Thirty years ago our manner of speaking about democracy was different. The substantive “democracy” was usually accompanied by an adjective. One spoke of “liberal” or “bourgeois” democracy, of “socialist” or “popular” democracy. Scholarly opinion very much doubted that there was something called democracy tout court.

These changes in popular and academic discourse invite us to begin our inquiry into the European nation by attempting to retrace the movement of democracy in the main lines of its history, or at least to discover the rhythm of that movement. Inquiring after the various ways in which the question of democracy has been posed, we can see how it came to the point where it finds itself today.


The two dates most generally acknowledged to have structured or punctuated the development of modern European democracy are separated by more than a century: 1848 and 1968.

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