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6 - Self-critical democracies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 May 2010

Pierre Rosanvallon
Collège de France, Paris
Arthur Goldhammer
Harvard University, Massachusetts
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In the first half of the nineteenth century, representative regimes everywhere chose institutional architectures that reflected a liberal concern with limiting the power of government. Constitutional engineering was not the focal point of democratic demands at the time, however. It seemed clear that universal suffrage was the primary goal, the central thread of the history of democracy in this period, although the precise chronology varied from country to country. Throughout this long struggle it was expected that universal suffrage would yield everything people desired. It would create a society in which each person had his or her place. It would put an end to corruption. It would ensure the triumph of the general interest. The rule of number would by itself lead to a democratic society. This state of mind was nicely summed up in 1848 by the Bulletin de la République, which greeted the advent of the vote for all in these terms: “As of the date of this law, there are no more proletarians in France.” Ledru-Rollin offered this lyrical comment: “Political science has now been discovered … From now on, it is a simple matter of applying it broadly.” These naïve hopes were soon to be disappointed. That is why the “social question” became central in discussions of political representation from this time forward.

Politics in an Age of Distrust
, pp. 150 - 172
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2008

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