On Cosmpolitanism and (Vernacular)
Democratic Creativity: Or, There
Never Was a West
At the tail-end of the eighteenth century those who called themselves democrats were, according to John Markoff, 'likely to be very suspicious of parliaments, downright hostile to competitive political parties, critical of secret ballots, uninterested or even opposed to women's suffrage, and sometimes tolerant of slavery' (1999: 661) — hardly surprising, for those who wished to revive something along the lines of ancient Athens.
At the time, outright democrats — men like Tom Paine, for instance — were considered a tiny minority of rabble-rousers even within revolutionary regimes.1 Things only began to change in the first half of the next century. In the United States, as the franchise widened in the first decades of the nineteenth century, and politicians were increasingly forced to seek the votes of small farmers and urban labourers, some began to adopt the term. Andrew Jackson led the way. He started referring to himself as a democrat in the 1820s; within twenty years, almost all political parties, not just populists but even the most conservative, began to follow suit. In France, socialists began calling for 'democracy' in the 1830s, with similar results: within ten or fifteen years, the term was being used by even moderate and conservative republicans forced to compete with them for the popular vote (Dupuis-Deris 1999, 2004). The same period saw a dramatic reappraisal of Athens, which — again starting in the 1820s — began to be represented as embodying a noble ideal of public participation, rather than a nightmare of violent crowd psychology (Saxonhouse 1993). This is not, however, because anyone, at this point, was endorsing Athenian-style direct democracy, even on the local level. (In fact, one rather imagines it was precisely this fact that made the rehabilitation of Athens possible.) For the most part, politicians simply began substituting the word 'democracy' for 'republic', without any change in meaning. Myself, I suspect the new positive appraisal of Athens had more to do with popular fascination with events in Greece at the time than anything else: specifically, the war of independence against the Ottoman Empire between 1821