Keeping the Republic: Reading Arendt’s On Revolution after the Fall of the Wall

Two decades after the fall of the Wall seemed to announce – by default, as an unexpected gift – the triumph of democracy, optimism appears at best naïve, at worst an ideological manipulation of the most cynical type. The hope was that the twin forms of modern anti-politics – the imaginary planned society and the equally imaginary invisible hand of the market place – would be replaced by the rule of the demos; citizens together would determine the values of the commonwealth. The reality was at first the ‘New World Order’ of George H.W. Bush; then the indecisive interregnum of the Clinton years; and now the crass take over of democratic rhetoric by the neo-conservatives of George W. Bush. ‘Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains,’ wrote Rousseau at the outset of The Social Contract; how this came about was less important, he continued, than what made it legitimate: that was what needed explanation. So it is today; what is it about democracy that makes it the greatest threat to its own existence?

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