The Ethos of Democracy

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James Kloppenberg's Toward Democracy is a monumental achievement. To start with, Kloppenberg's breadth and depth of knowledge are awe-inspiring. He begins his story in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the religious wars in France, with the philosopher Michel de Montaigne, who rejected democracy because he did not believe ordinary people were capable of the self-restraint it required. Kloppenberg ends his narrative three hundred years later, with the poet Walt Whitman, lamenting the rise of unbridled individualism in the post-Civil War United States. Even though much attention is devoted to intellectual developments in northern America—Kloppenberg is, after all, specialized in American history—his book places these in a much broader context, highlighting how both in the colonial period and beyond Americans participated in transatlantic “communities of discourse” (2). In that sense, Toward Democracy contributes towards the recent transatlantic turn in American historiography.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)607-612
Number of pages6
JournalModern Intellectual History
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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