Democracy and Europe

Europe, along with the United States, is considered the epicenter of democracy in the contemporary world and its culture a foundation of modern democratic and administrative thinking. Europe's history was once dominated by feudal lordship and the dynastic culture of European royal families who inherited principalities and based their realms' identities on favored religion and nobility. The conception of modern democracy is usually mentioned in conjunction with freedom of expression and thought, developments of major political philosophers of the 17th century whose ideas directly influenced the leaders of the American and French revolutions. More importantly, the starting point of democratic thought in Europe is considered the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Following years of wars directed by the powers in Europe, a peace was established that guaranteed the sovereignty and official religion of each realm, while guaranteeing the freedom of worship to a limited number of Christian movements: Catholicism, Lutheranism and Calvinism.

The concept that all religions should be freely permitted to be practiced spread beyond the stated faiths. John Locke is considered the father of modern liberalism, believing that individuals have the right to approve their governments and to practice whatever religion they wish as so long as it does not impede on the sovereignty of the state. His views were expressed mainly in Second Treatise of Government and A letter Concerning Toleration. He also advocated the separation of the powers of church and state.

Following the French Revolution in 1789 The French National Assembly adopted key ideas from the American Declaration of Independence in its draft of a new constitution. The French philosopher Voltaire led a public outcry against the Catholic Church and its unequal role in public life -- its tax exemptions and its right to collect tithes from the entire population. The Catholic Church then lost its right to appoint French church officials. The subjugation of officials to the French state accorded with John Locke's views relating to religion and loyalty to the state. Jews also experienced a government-engineered religious emancipation of their community.

Following the Napoleonic Wars, years of international mediation among royals and nobles from various European states tried to reinstate the old order despite the pressures of liberalism. There was a brief push for democracy during the Spring of Nations in 1848 when many countries experienced mutually inspired uprisings of some sort, but most were quickly quashed, or their revolutionary governments collapsed a few years later. The 19th century saw the repeal of serfdom, or feudalism, in Russia, Austria and Prussia. After World War I, new states were created or conquered which instituted democratic governments, mainly in Eastern Europe and Germany. The later rise of fascism and popularity of communism threatened democratic development. After World War II, Europe was divided between a Russian-imposed communist bloc in Eastern Europe and an Anglo-Franco-American backed bloc of nominally parliamentary democracies. It was not until the collapse of the Soviet Union and its influence that the one-party dominance of communists was toppled in Eastern Europe and many previously communist countries moved toward democracy en masse.

It has been suggested that it is possible to break Eastern Europe into four distinct regions which have developed differently, but whose countries have developed either in tandem or experienced similar phenomena in the democratic development process. A common issue has been economic development and corruption. Other gauges have been used to measure the support for democratic development: macroeconomic and microeconomic issues, security issues, social structure and an emerging European identity.

The creation of the European Union and the related development of the common currency, the Euro, have had the objective of integrating Europeans. A common parliament and even foreign affairs ministry has been created, but its influence has been restricted by the autonomy of its member states and the crisis with the Euro's value and its member countries' debt crises. But the appeal of the European Union was to create a cooperative bloc to stymie conflict and perhaps compete with the United States in the global economy. Hostility to American policy has been suggested as a further incentive for Europeans to integrate and direct their influence and promote democratic values. Andrew Moravcsik suggests many see the social-democratic model popular in Europe as being superior to the American model. He adds to this point that "Europeans espouse a broad conception of human rights, which subsumes universal social welfare, medical care, child care, quality education, and unemployment assistance."

Democracy and Europe : Selected full-text books and articles

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