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Against Democracy: Literary Experience in the Era of Emancipations

Against Democracy: Literary Experience in the Era of Emancipations

Simon During
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Against Democracy: Literary Experience in the Era of Emancipations
    Book Description:

    This book argues that we can no longer envision a political system that might practically displace democracy or, more accurately, global democratic state capitalism. Democracy has become fundamental: It extends deeper and deeper into everyday life; it grounds and limits our political thought and values. That is the sense in which we do indeed live at history's end. But this end is not a happy one, because the system that we now have does not satisfy tests that we can legitimately put to it. In this situation, it is important to come to new terms with the fact that literature, at least until about 1945, was predominantly hostile to political democracy. Literature's deep-seated conservative, counterdemocratic tendencies, along with its capacity to make important distinctions among political, cultural, and experiential democracies and its capacity to uncover hidden, nonpolitical democracies in everyday life, is now a resource not just for cultural conservatives but for all those who take a critical attitude toward the current political, cultural, and economic structures. Literature, and certain novelists in particular, helps us not so much to imagine social possibilities beyond democracy as to understand how life might be lived both in and outside democratic state capitalism. Drawing on political theory, intellectual history, and the techniques of close reading, Against Democracy offers new accounts of the ethos of refusing democracy, of literary criticism's contribution to that ethos, and of the history of conservatism, as well as innovative interpretations of a range of writers, including Tocqueville, Disraeli, George Eliot, E. M. Forster, and Saul Bellow.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4663-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. ONE Democracy Today
    (pp. 1-13)

    Literature and democracy? It’s a topic that only a few years ago would have seemed remote from what was most urgent in the academic humanities. But the situation has changed. Democracy in particular solicits our attention. The perennial stream of books and articles across various disciplines addressing democracy’s successes and failures has become a flood.¹ Republicans, associationalists, classical liberals, social democrats, and conservatives have all registered their sense that democracy needs to be reconstituted (Balibar 2010, Gauchet 2007, Hirst 1994, Runciman 2005, Skinner 1998). Influential radical European philosophers have also been actively engaged in retheorizing the concept, for the most...

  5. TWO Reform or Refusal? Living in Democratic Capitalism
    (pp. 14-36)

    Democracy’s authority, its charisma of legitimacy, is so overwhelmingly strong that it is difficult to see how we might stand outside it. Yet it is not as if radical and crippling criticism of contemporary democratic society is rare in practice. And we can easily adduce three kinds of commonly remarked systemic failure: (1) distributional, (2) administrative, and (3) experiential.

    Distributional failure concerns global democratic capitalism’s long-term and continuing incapacity to prevent ongoing massive inequities in terms of income and access to resources and goods, for example, health care and education. (The most recent evidence for this continuing inequity and its...

  6. THREE Conservatism and Critique
    (pp. 37-57)

    Certain historical moments prophetically illuminate the future. One such moment occurred during the dark early days of World War II in Britain, when it seemed as if Nazi Germany were about to defeat Western liberal democracy. It was at this moment that the concept “totalitarian democracy” was invented, a term that seems to have been first used by the conservative Catholic political theorist Christopher Dawson. Extending a line of thought earlier propounded in Hilaire Belloc’sThe Servile State(1912), Dawson argued that totalitarianism (of which he was by no means an automatic enemy) might result from the democratic state’s increasing...

  7. FOUR Literary Criticism’s Failure
    (pp. 58-76)

    As I have suggested, up until World War II serious literature was inhospitable to democratization’s purposes and processes, at least in Europe. So too, as many scholars have noted, was literary criticism (see Asher 1995, Weimann 1974, Williams 1958). In the light of the previous chapters, this bald statement immediately solicits a number of further questions. Where does literary criticism fit into the account of reform, refusal, conservatism, and critique that I have been sketching? Is literary criticism’s nondemocratic heritage one reason for its apparent loss of influence and confidence over the last few decades? Has criticism, at least in...

  8. FIVE The Literary Origins of Modern Democracy
    (pp. 77-104)

    It was in the 1830s that it first became clear that, come what may, democracy would ultimately triumph over its enemies. That was also the last decade in which it was still possible to think cogently of European democracy apart from industrial capitalism. In this chapter, I want to explore certain relations between literature (understood broadly) and this sense that history was taking a new and irrevocable turn.

    By the 1830s, it had long been recognized that modern democracy contained three separate drives, each broadcast in the French revolutionary publicity machines after 1789: (1) liberty (or freedom), (2) equality, and...

  9. SIX Howards End’s Socialism
    (pp. 105-122)

    E. M. Forster’s 1910 novelHowards Endrecords the descent of the “angel of democracy” on Britain. In testifying to this annunciation, Forster was not just registering the social democratic state’s emergence but engaging the ways in which everyday life was being reshaped by democratizing forces and hopes. And against a critical consensus that has invested a great deal in Forster’s liberalism, I want here to argue thatHowards End, as a political novel, adjudicates the democratic angel’s contested purposes and effects inside a lineage that is closer to radicalism than to liberalism but that is already, only twenty-five years...

  10. SEVEN Saul Bellow and the Antinomies of Democratic Experience
    (pp. 123-148)

    To the academic literary critic, few writers offer greater challenges—and, I think, greater rewards—than Saul Bellow. That’s partly because he wasone of us. For much of his career, he was a professor at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, where he taught for more than thirty years. And his novels are—whatever else they are—novels of pedagogical intent, exploring the contemporary fate of the ideas that constituted a humanities education at the time. Many of his protagonists are intellectuals—the most famous of them all, Moses Herzog, is a professor of intellectual history and...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 149-158)
    (pp. 159-172)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 173-182)