Democracy, Revolution, and Monarchism in Early American Literature

Democracy, Revolution, and Monarchism in Early American Literature

Democracy, Revolution, and Monarchism in Early American Literature

Democracy, Revolution, and Monarchism in Early American Literature

Synopsis

Paul Downes offers a radical revision of some of the most cherished elements of early American cultural identity. The founding texts and writers of the Republic, he claims, did not wholly displace what they claimed to oppose. Instead, Downes argues, the entire construction of a Republican public sphere actually borrowed and adapted central features of Monarchical rule. Downes discovers this theme not only in a wide range of American novels, but also in readings of a variety of political documents that created the philosophical culture of the American revolutionary period.

Excerpt

This book attempts to deconstruct the revolutionary opposition between democracy and monarchism by considering some of the ways in which the democratic state and the democratic subject inherit the arcana imperii of the absolute monarch. The monarch provided Americans with a model of sovereign autonomy that might be reproduced on an individual level; but he also exemplified a self-dissolution and mystification that would be associated with everything the revolution had come to replace. This book suggests that the American Revolution initiated a democratization of the monarch's relationship to secrecy, duplicity, arbitrariness, and magisterial madness even as it redistributed the monarch's singular autonomy. The figure of the absolute monarch, I insist, is the American Revolution's constitutive other; the democracy it confronted can only be understood as a political order compelled to translate — even as it condemns — monarchism's attempts to transcend its political aporias. One of the American Revolution's most persistent claims is that it has done away with monarchism's miracles and restored an order of common sense. In the introduction to this book I will spell out at some length how we might go about undoing that claim, not in order to expose a lie, but topropose that the ideology of democratic monarchophobia undermined some of the revolution's most valuable political innovations. Determinedto defend its purity through an absolute rejection (or exorcism) of alltraces of monarchic obfuscation, democratic idealism proceeded toabandon some of the ways in which its ownmysteries (mysteries which Ihave gathered together under the rubric of the spell of democracy) mightcontribute to expanded political participation and opportunity.

In chapterone I considerthe specific role played by the figure of George III in the heat of the American Revolution and worktowards a better understanding of Emerson's striking retrospectivedescription of the monarch as the “hieroglyphic” by which men “obscurely signified their consciousness of theiro wn right and comeliness, the right of every . . .

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