Visions of Past and Future in the Past, Present, and Future (if any) of Democracy

Monday, 11 July 2016: 14:30
Location: Hörsaal 4C G (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
John MARKOFF, University of Pittsburgh, USA
In the course of revolutionary upheavals on both sides of the Atlantic at the end of the 18th century, people began to use the term “democracy” for the new institutions and practices being brought into existence. It was a term that evoked a distant past, a collection of practices being enacted in the present, and a future that inspired hope in some and fear in others. Significant aspects of the subsequent history of democracy can be understood as responses to the recurrent propensity of democratic political life to generate hopeful and fearful futures and innovative efforts to realize or prevent those futures. Such efforts have intermittently but very importantly redefined democracy since the 1780s.

There are some implications for the scholarly study of democracy, an important agenda for political sociology.  We need to do more than ask why it is that countries vary in the degree to which their political institutions resemble those of other countries currently held to be democratic ones, important as that question is. We need to be thinking about the ways in which new institutions and practices may come into existence that will, again, redefine democracy.