Academic journal article European Quarterly of Political Attitudes and Mentalities

Revolution and Democracy in the Early Romanian Modernity of the 19th Century

Academic journal article European Quarterly of Political Attitudes and Mentalities

Revolution and Democracy in the Early Romanian Modernity of the 19th Century

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

1.1 The importance of the problem

The recent scholarship in the field of the origins of modern institutions and nation-state agrees upon placing at the origins of those processes two basic pillars: the Revolution (in its multiple incarnations beginning with the French Revolution and pursuing with the theories on revolution during the whole 19th century) and the model of technical democratisation, by implementing representation techniques as a warranty of keeping the democratic institutions in a certain balance (R. Koselleck, 1990; M. Gauchet, 2005; P. Manent, 2008; P. Rosanvallon, 2011). The European trauma caused by the scar of the French revolution pushes political thinkers as well as political actors towards reformulating the basic principles of organising the state and of conceiving the institutional framework. Benjamin Constant, one of the first political thinkers of the nineteenth century who proposed such a dramatic change in contemplating democracy, was in fact among those who shaped up the political programme of the Modern Europe. He completed and amended the anterior model of the early-modern political thought of the seventeenth century for the communal production, validation and dissemination of knowledge and political power as based on the contract. He also rejected the rousseauist model by arguing that the Model of Ancient Liberty was no longer compatible with the Modern type of society in which democracy as an individual expression has gained its clear place in the political theory. (P. Rosanvallon, 1990, 2000; T. Ball, J. Farr and R. L. Hanson, 1995; M. Gauchet, 1997; Q. Skinner and Bo Strath, 2003; P. Manent, 2007).

1.2 The difficult part of the problem

If the origins of the Romanians and the nature of their political freedom were already a "certainty" for Valachian, Moldavian and Transylvanian intellectuals, especially in the second half of the 18th century, the actual unsolved problem of the political thought in the following century is the meaning of Government, Governance, in their conceptual relationship to Revolution and Representation (J. Bartelson, 1995). The Romanian intellectual elite of the early nineteenth century thinks of modernity not only in terms of institution building, but also in terms of language building (D. Barbu, 2006). Therefore, "representation" would refer not only to the act of being represented - in the Parliament, in the central administration, in the communes etc. - but also to the act of representing the institutions by expressing them in a clearer and appropriate way. In fact, this battle with the speech and the process of finding a word-equivalent for the political framework - or simply expressing the idea of "political state" of the Romanian language - is in someway an indicator, for the majority of the intellectual debates of the time, to the direction to follow.

This discourse includes both principles of a democratic potentiality and the roots of its own dissolution. The authors at this time are placed in a double reference to the elements still present of the Enlightenment, inherited from the 1830 generation, on the one hand, and with the general questions of the democratisation process in nineteenth century. This double reference, between Ancient and Modern, creates a paradoxical and problematic coexistence of two opposite political cultures (Zeev Sternhell, 2010).

On the one hand, one can find the democratic universalism of Tocqueville, within the "constraints" of the formative and "strange liberalism" (R. Boesche, 1993) shaped by the author of the Democracy in America and rephrased by the doctrinaires, like Guizot.

On the other hand, there are the specificities of the "national spirit", put in eighteenth century Vico's perspective (Nouva Scienzia, 1725) and used as a guideline by the French symbolist historians like Michelet and Quinet in the 19th century. The fact that those two were a current source of inspiration for the Romanian authors of that time was in fact at the origins of a doctrine which operates with a collective vision of the nationhood, regarded as a spirit in its whole, and not as a distinct society of individuals led to formal and objective institutions and cautious in keeping alive the fundamental distinction between private and public space. …

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