I’m a sucker for any historical reading related to the Enlightenments in Europe and America. Why? The expansion of knowledge. The romance of scientific discovery. New ways of thinking about religion. Skepticism about received values and traditions. Belief, however naive, in the ideas of progress and reason. Beyond the topics and ideas, it’s also the outstanding figures: Voltaire, Montesquieu, Denis Diderot, Francis Bacon, John Locke, Isaac Newton, David Hume, René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and on and on. Continue reading
These chapters, meaning three and four, were hard for this modern Americanist. I’m a post-Civil War historian with broad interests, but reading the historical details from English events and people dating from the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), the English Civil War (1642-1651), Restoration (1660-1688), and Glorious Revolution tested my professional patience. Continue reading
Chapter One – Born in Bloodshed: The Origins of Democracy
Chronologically speaking, this is the broadest chapter. Its survey of the precursors of pre-modern democratic thought moves us from the Greeks to Reformation Europe, and a bit beyond. It covers 500 BCE to roughly ~1600 CE. Continue reading
[Updated: 2/16/2017, 8:10 pm, central. – TL]
I regret to report that I’m unexpectedly on the road this week for family matters. The travel is leaving me with little keyboard and desk time. So today I’ll simply post the reading schedule, in preparation for next four entries—which will cover a lot of ground in the book. – TL Continue reading
Here in Oklahoma, we tend to think that we have the nation’s most apocalyptic weather. So far — knock on wood — we’ve largely been spared this year. But our neighbors down in Baja Oklahoma (they tend to call it “Texas”) haven’t been so lucky. They got hit by a series of Biblical-plague-level hail storms, one of which managed to knock out L.D. Burnett’s wifi. So, on her behalf, I’m posting links to three storified twitter streams from panels at this year’s Organization of American Historians conference, which was held last weekend in Providence, RI. Follow me below the fold for your links! Continue reading
One of the classics of political theory that I have been eager to read is Peter Bachrach’s The Theory of Democratic Elitism (1967). Like the best works of Albert Hirschman, it is both compact and dense; it is very difficult to do it justice in a brief space such as this. It is explicitly a rejoinder to the pluralist theories of democracy most associated with Robert Dahl, the author of Who Governs: Democracy and Power in an American City (1961) among many other works. Bachrach is also perhaps familiar to you by his widely-cited article “Two Faces of Power” (1962), which also took Dahl as its key opponent.
That article is quite interesting by itself, but for now I want to articulate a question that is, in some ways, the essential question of Bachrach’s book but that also goes basically unspoken, answered in the breach as it were. Are all forms of elitism also anti-democratic?
The following are some thoughts I laid down in some haste after preparing for my first discussion section of the year. It occurred to me to add this to the series of two posts I wrote about democracy a while ago (1,2). Please forgive the brevity and the spirit of coffee table polemics.
Historians usually cast the emergence of the notion—or fiction as Edmund Morgan would have it—that sovereignty lies with the people, or that there is such a thing as ‘the people’ in the first place, as a positive liberating development. Originating in corporate notions held by commoners and by way of an ascendant middle class, these novel attitudes lay at the heart of the great transformations which in the western world left archaic and more authoritarian forms of government by the wayside. Thus we tend to view democracy, by and large, as a positive development in the history of ideas and of politics.