Rollback of Democracy? A Tocquevillean Perspective

Rollback of Democracy? A Tocquevillean Perspective

This article suggests that to judge the state of democracy today we need to clarify what we mean by democracy. Not simply given, democracy's institutional and moral meanings have been historically, and continue to be at present, the subject of intense disagreement. Drawing on one of the most influential accounts of modern democracy – Tocqueville's – it argues that far from rolling back, democracy defined by the passion for equality is, so to say, rolling forward; and that the various crises we are observing today issue less from the retreat than from a deepening of inherently democratic tendencies. These same trends may help explain the rise of neo-liberalism in recent decades. Mitigating these deep-seated tendencies would require a comprehensive set of remedies. Among them is the need to rethink not only the nature of equality but also, perhaps above all, the meaning of freedom.

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