Rethinking Democracy: The Tocqueville Review special issue (2015)

This FHN post alerts you to the latest Tocqueville Review/La Revue Tocqueville special issue, “Beyond Stateless Democracy”, which is now available on Project MUSE.

To date, despite an expanding body of empirical, historical, and theoretical scholarship on the state, we remain surprisingly (and somewhat inexplicably) prisoner to three modes of state thinking: a) the liberal vision of a neutral, nightwatchman state; b) the Marxist conception of a more extractive, dominating state; and c) Max Weber’s fetishization of bureaucratic rationality and autonomy.

Recently a growing body of empirical and theoretical work on the state in sociology, political science, and history has begun to take explicit issue with these reigning paradigms. While offering distinctive perspectives on the problem of the state in different periods of European and American history, the essays in this symposium build on the new empirical, historical, and theoretical work on the state that has emerged in the last generation and expressly sought to move beyond these archetypal theories. Indeed, the revisionist essays presented here grow out of the real empirical difficulties presented by the lack of fit between conventional theories of the modern state and the actual complexities of modern European and American political history.

The preface, introduction, and three essays in the symposium titled Beyond Stateless Democracy attempt to outline a different set of paths beyond conventional genealogies and analyses of the modern state. Tom Sugrue’s preface suggests that bringing the demos back in opens up possibilities for reinventing cultural and social history. The introduction to the symposium then outlines a new approach to the state that seeks to push beyond the empty ideal of a “stateless democracy.” The three essays that follow attempt to provide a chronological and critical approach to our reigning theories by exploring “the democratic state.” William Novak’s essay “Beyond Weber: The Need for a Democratic (Not Aristocratic) Theory of the American State” urges a fundamental reconsideration of the Weberian hegemony that has dominated state studies since the revisionist work of the 1980s. James Sparrow’s “Morgenthau’s Dilemma: Thinking the Democratic Leviathan in the Atomic Age” then provides a contextualization and reconsideration of the post-World War II realist frame for political theory, which fundamentally misconceived the prospects of a democratic state in the American Century. Finally, in “Foucault and the State”, Stephen Sawyer brings us to the present by revisiting some key social theories of power that are crucial to a fundamental rethinking of the state.  In a radical revision of conventional wisdom concerning Michel Foucault’s conception of the state, Sawyer recovers the critical strand of state thinking that emerged in the wake of the social movements of 1968 and that moved squarely beyond the liberal, Marxist, and Weberian paradigms. The two articles that follow by Bernard Harcourt and Vincent Duclert treat the key question of the legacy of nineteenth century liberalism in the twentieth century. Harcourt’s article explores the reduction of Millian ambiguity in the attempts to revive the harm principle in the twentieth century, while Duclert pursues the rediscovery of Elie Halévy’s liberalism by showing his role as a democratic intellectual from the Dreyfus affair to World War I and beyond. The final essay on the Tocqueville revival in China completes this picture from the rare, but central perspective of the transformations of nineteenth-century liberalism in our quickly shifting political context of the twenty-first century.

The symposium and these stimulating studies of the legacy of liberalism rejoin the mission outlined in the editorial that opens the issue by Stephen Sawyer, which suggests that The Tocqueville Review/La Revue Tocqueville has a special role to play in grappling with our current epochal shifts in democratic practice and theory through a new critical democratic studies.

Click here to read the full table of contents.



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