Wednesday 25 January 2017

Manent Mercerdi (8): Contemporary Thinkers website

As part of my regular plug for the work of French Catholic political philosopher Pierre Manent, I include this week an excerpt from an essay about him from the excellent website Contemporary Thinkers. (This website contains material on a wide range of modern political thinkers. Its companion, Great Thinkers, contains similarly helpful material on pre-twentieth century political thinkers.)

In Manent’s more recent works, Democracy without Nations? (2006, trans. 2007) and especially A World without Politics?: A Defense (2001, trans. 2006), he has explored the “political forms”—city, empire, church, and nation—through which human beings decide on matters of common importance. The most recent political form, the nation, has started to become questionable. One immoderate interpretation of the historical destiny of democracy argues against the rationality of national boundaries. “Pure democracy,” Manent writes of this view, “is democracy without a people—that is, democratic governance, which is very respectful of human rights but detached from any collective deliberation.”

But as a point of fact, the nation-state and not “democratic governance” has produced the framework within which Western peoples became modern. Only the modern state asserted sovereignty over all parts within it, yet retained the integrity of those parts through its representative character. What concerns Manent is the replacement of the sovereign state and representative government by a manner of governance “more and more functional-bureaucratic and less and less political.” In place of a sovereign people, a “procedural democracy” has appeared that allows a people to make a democratic choice only when that choice reflects a preexisting conclusion from universal human rights.


Today, Manent argues, the principles of democratic equality and scientific rule, when taken to their conclusions, threaten to do away with the political framework through which we have always decided matters of common importance. When decisions are made on the basis of global human rights or the prescriptions of technocratic science, the political form is lost. Yet, we have no political history outside the political forms that have shaped the West. To abandon them in favor “humanity” is a risk whose consequences we may not be prepared to fathom.

[From essays by Gladden Pappin on Manent here]

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