The Social and
Economic Origins of Democracy
Democracy seems to be suitable only to a very little country.— Voltaire
That [democracy] worked at all is a near-miracle, explainable only by the
abundance of a nation [the United States] that could afford a
cumbrous and wasteful government system.— Karl Loewenstein
Interest in the relationships between social classes and the political system is as old as written history. Aristotle, the first empirical social scientist, developed his typology for the Greek polis according to the size of the politically participant groups and their class origin. Although the modem literature does not necessarily treat democracy as class rule, it does stress the parallel development of certain social classes and of democracy.
Historical studies indicate that modem democracies can occur only under certain conditions of capitalist industrialization. Karl Marx identified the bourgeoisie as the major force behind the emergence of democracy in Western Europe. He argued that the capitalist class used parliamentary systems and democratic mechanisms to capture control of the state from the traditional elite, the aristocracy. Similarly, Barrington Moore, in his study of major Western democracies, and Albert Soboul, in his analysis of the French Revolution, stressed the role of the middle class or the urban bourgeoisie in the transformation of political systems into democracies.1 Although he marked the importance of Protestantism in the development of Western democracies, Max Weber, in his well-known work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, emphasized the individualism and the sense of individual responsibility inherent in the Protestant ethic as the major catalyst for the development of burgher classes and of a democratic political culture.
In the early 1940s, Joseph Schumpeter highlighted the historical correspondence between the development of capitalism and democracy. He established a creed for the liberal democratic theorists who would treat capitalism