10 January 2010

Book: Democracy in Europe: A History of an Ideology

Democracy an ideology? Yes, if you will believe Luciano Canfora's book "Democracy in Europe: A History of an Ideology" (trans. Simon Jones; Wiley-Blackwell, 2005):


Publisher's description: "This history traces the development of democracy in Europe from its origins in ancient Greece up to the present day. Considers all the major watersheds in the development of democracy in modern Europe. Describes the rediscovery of Ancient Greek political ideals by intellectuals at the end of the eighteenth century. Examines the twenty-year crisis from 1789 to 1815, when the repercussions of revolution in France were felt across the European continent. Explains how events in France led to the explosion of democratic movements between 1830 and 1848. Compares the different manifestations of democracy within Eastern and Western Europe during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Considers fascism and its consequences for democracy in Europe during the twentieth century. Demonstrates how in the recent past democracy itself has become the object of ideological battles."

Review: "Canfora's book provides powerful insights into the idealogical [sic] use of democracy." ("European Review of Labour and Research")

Canfora writes: "[W]hat has prevailed in the end – or rather as things stand now – is 'freedom.' It is defeating democracy. This freedom is not, of course, for all, but for those who are 'strongest' in competition, be they nations, regions, or individuals. [...] [F]reedom is disturbing in that it is either total – in all areas, including personal conduct – or it is not; and every obligation that favors the less 'strong' is precisely a limitation on the freedom of others. In this sense, [Giacomo] Leopardi's view of the unbreakable, inescapable connection between freedom and slavery corresponds to reality. [...] Slavery is, of course, geographically scattered, cleverly dispersed, and concealed in the media. [...]

"[F]reedom has won – in the rich world – with all the terrible consequences this has, and will continue to have, for the rest. Democracy is postponed to some other era, and will be reinvented all over again by other individuals. Perhaps not by Europeans."

Canfora's book is so vehemently anti-democratic, it has been claimed, or at least critical of western democracy and pro-communist/Stalinist, that the intended German publisher refused to print the translation.

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including table of contents):


Luciano Canfora is Professor of Classical Philology at the University of Bari.

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