A Machiavellian Conception of Democracy? Democracy and Conflict
Between the late 1970s and early 1980s, the French intellectual landscape changed noticeably. It was a time when totalitarianism was being criticized, liberal democracy rediscovered, and human rights rehabilitated. In this context, the figure of Raymond Aron, long marginalized and in many ways against the current, was the subject of a kind of retrospective recognition in France—did he not, before many others, clearly distinguish liberal democracies from “secular religions” and “totalitarianism?” However this may be, it is clear that this belated recognition went hand in hand with a certain banalization of the Aronian approach. Praised, to be sure, for his “lucidity,” Aron was considered a rather unoriginal political thinker, since his conception of democracy basically consisted in a prosaic defense of the rule of law and pluralism. It is striking that, in contemporary French political philosophy, the references to Aron, outside the small circle of his admirers, are few, or rather, almost nonexistent, while his presence in the Anglophone academic debate remains barely more than marginal. It is especially in some areas of political sociology that the Aronian conception of democracy is sometimes mobilized in a nebula that goes from a small group of theorists concerned with the role of “elites”—Gaetano Mosca, Vilfredo Pareto, and Robert Michels—to Joseph Schumpeter, whose conception of democracy is presented primarily in terms of a competitive elitism. Moreover, Aron’s view of democracy, when it is not presented as similar to that of other political scientists such as Robert Dahl or Giovanni Sartori, is often placed in a specifically French tradition of liberalism, which, from Montesquieu to Élie Halévy, via Tocqueville, favors pluralism, countervailing powers, and moderation.
KeywordsLiberal Democracy Political Freedom Political Thought Legal Defense Political Pluralism
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