The S-USIH Best Book prize for books published in 2016 goes to Jan Stievermann’s Prophecy, Piety, and the Problem of Historicity. Interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures in Cotton Mather’s Biblia Americana. Stievermann, who teaches at the University of Heidelberg, where he is professor […]
The Society for U.S. Intellectual History announces the open call for candidates to serve as S-USIH officers, with terms that cover June 1, 2017 to May 31, 2018. We encourage members who are interested to self-nominate by Ray Haberski at […]
We are pleased to announce that the winner of the 2017 Dorothy Ross Award for best article published by an emerging scholar goes to Nick Witham for his article, “Popular History, Postwar Liberalism, and the Role of the Public Intellectual […]
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By Holly Brewer http://history.umd.edu/users/hbrewer
(This is the second installment of the Toward Democracy Roundtable. Check here for yesterday’s introduction.)
James Kloppenberg begins his meditation on the origins and tensions of democracy with the observation that democracy has won. Everywhere throughout the world, he begins, democracy is “the world’s governing ideal.” Where then did it come from? And what did its first advocates mean by it, and how was it supposed to function? Beginning with the Athenians, and pausing quite dramatically with the Reformation, his answer is in America, before the Revolution, indeed, he is even more specific: in Rhode Island, somewhere in the 1640s. One might laugh at the specificity, or raise a skeptical eyebrow, but in truth – as one explores the modern meanings of democracy, of a broadly representative and inclusive government, that respects difference, and allows for equality within reason, and fosters virtue—all crucial elements of Kloppenberg’s definition, perhaps he is not wrong. He comes from a long line of reputable philosophers who have given democracy similar origins; my favorite is Alexis de Tocqueville, who similarly positioned democracy emerging among more generally the New England Towns, though Tocqueville was not new–he was reading earlier historians of New England. Once discovered, Kloppenberg argues, democracy slowly spread, despite troubles from pesky kings, rising triumphant with the American Revolution.