Why Democracy Cannot be Dropped in Bombs from B52s at 30,000 Feet: The Social Bases of Democracy Revisited

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal 21 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Stephen MENNELL, University College Dublin, Ireland
Alex Law and Eric Royal Lybeck have recently edited a book entitles Sociological Amnesia (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015), showing how the discipline of sociology has a well-developed capacity to forget earlier sociologists and – more importantly – their valuable ideas and findings. So it is not entirely surprising if high-level public officials, few of whom are sociologists, remain in still greater ignorance. The case in point here is the rich body of theory, findings and debate on the question of the social foundations of political democracy. This body of literature can be traced back at least to Alexis de Tocqueville, but research in the field was especially vigorous in the quarter-century after the Second World War, having been stimulated by need to understand the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazism, as well as similar movements elsewhere. The literature was especially well synthesised in William Kornhauser’s The Politics of Mass Society (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1959). In this paper, I shall revisit Kornhauser’s book, and ask whether, if the earlier understanding of the social bases of democracy had not been forgotten (or wilfully dismissed), American foreign policy disasters – notably the invasion of Iraq – might not have happened.