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Thursday November 11 at 10.00-11.30

The spirit of democracy - and how it is corrupted

How does one revitalize democracy in times of crisis? Democracy is today challenged by populism and elitism, as well as by the resurgence of new forms of authoritarianism. The Spirit of Democracy: Corruption, Disintegration, Renewal shows that while we have good reasons to worry about the corruption of democratic practices and ideals, these worries are often attributable to questionable assumptions about what democracy is. Drawing on Montesquieu’s classical work on the spirit of laws, the book sets out to reconceive the ways in which we understand and conceptualize modern democracy: from sovereignty to spirit. According to Montesquieu, different political forms are animated and sustained by different spirits: a republic by virtue, a monarchy by honor, and a despotic form by fear. This book argues that modern democracy is a sui generis political form animated and sustained by a spirit of emancipation. The removal of divine, natural, and historical authorities in political affairs unleashes a fundamental uncertainty about the purpose and direction of society. In a democracy, we respond to that uncertainty by sharing and dividing it equally. It emancipates us from a state of self-incurred tutelage. Based on this argument, the book develops a new theoretical framework for studying the corruption, disintegration, and renewal of democracy: what it is, how it begins, and where in society it plays out.