The Development of Democracy

The County Election painting

Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought


Two articles recently emerged from a disagreement between James Kloppenberg and Hugo Drochon  at Yale’s spring panel “Atlantic Contradictions: The Spread of Democracy, Imperialism, and Independence in the American World.” During the panel James Kloppenberg presented his book, Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought, and Hugo Drochon offered a critical response. 

Kloppenberg and Drochon transposed their argument from the panel into articles published in Global Intellectual History. The panel was hosted by Yale’s Center for the Study of Representative Institutions, a JMC partner program, and organized by JMC’s postdoctoral fellow Mordechai Levy-Eichel.

Read Hugo Drochon’s review of Towards Democracy >>

Read James Kloppenberg’s response to Drochon’s remarks >>


About James Kloppenberg’s Toward Democracy

In this magnificent and encyclopedic overview, James T. Kloppenberg presents the history of democracy from the perspective of those who struggled to envision and achieve it. The story of democracy remains one without an ending, a dynamic of progress and regress that continues to our own day. In the classical age “democracy” was seen as the failure rather than the ideal of good governance. Democracies were deemed chaotic and bloody, indicative of rule by the rabble rather than by enlightened minds. Beginning in the 16th and 17th centuries, however, first in Europe and then in England’s North American colonies, the reputation of democracy began to rise, resulting in changes that were sometimes revolutionary and dramatic, sometimes gradual and incremental.

Kloppenberg offers a fresh look at how concepts and institutions of representative government developed and how understandings of self-rule changed over time on both sides of the Atlantic. Notions about what constituted true democracy preoccupied many of the most influential thinkers of the Western world, from Montaigne and Roger Williams to Milton and John Locke; from Rousseau and Jefferson to Wollstonecraft and Madison; and from de Tocqueville and J. S. Mill to Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Over three centuries, explosive ideas and practices of democracy sparked revolutions–English, American, and French–that again and again culminated in civil wars, disastrous failures of democracy that impeded further progress.

Comprehensive, provocative, and authoritative, Toward Democracy traces self-government through three pivotal centuries. The product of twenty years of research and reflection, this momentous work reveals how nations have repeatedly fallen short in their attempts to construct democratic societies based on the principles of autonomy, equality, deliberation, and reciprocity that they have claimed to prize. Underlying this exploration lies Kloppenberg’s compelling conviction that democracy was and remains an ethical ideal rather than merely a set of institutions, a goal toward which we continue to struggle.

Learn more about the book here>>



Kloppenberg photo

Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

James T. Kloppenberg was born in Denver and educated at Dartmouth (A.B. 1973) and Stanford (M.A., 1976, Ph.D., 1980). He and his wife Mary have lived in Wellesley, MA, since 1980. In recognition of his teaching, he has been named a Harvard College Professor and awarded the Levinson Memorial Teaching Prize by the Harvard Undergraduate Council. He teaches courses on European and American thought, culture, and politics from the ancient world to the present. He serves as the chair of the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies, as well as on the faculty of the graduate program in American Studies and the undergraduate concentration in History and Literature. His recent publications include “Trump’s Inaugural Address Was a Radical Break with American Tradition” in The Washington Post and “Still the Party We Remember” in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. 

Learn more about James Kloppenberg >>



Hugo DrochonHugo Drochon is a postdoctoral fellow in history at Cambridge University. He is political theorist and historian of modern political thought, with interests in continental political philosophy, democratic theory, liberalism and political realism. His book Nietzsche’s Great Politics came out with Princeton University Press in 2016 (paperback 2018). It was reviewed in the TLS, New StatesmanTimes Higher EducationNotre Dame Philosophical ReviewsDissent and the LARB, and featured in interviews with Vox and the Irish Times. It was selected as one of CHOICE’s Outstanding Academic Titles for 2017, and longlisted for the Bronislaw Geremek First Academic Book Prize.

His current research is on elite theories of democracy – Mosca, Pareto, Michels and Ostrogorski – and the impact their thinking had on the development of democratic theory in the US and Europe after WWII, notably on figures such as Schumpeter, Dahl, Wright Mills, Aron, Manin, Rosanvallon and Bobbio. He has a book entitled ‘Elites and Democracy’ under contract with Princeton University Press.

Learn more about Hugo Drochon >>




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