Cultural Origins of Democracy in the West
F 2017


Recent events lead us to reexamine our understanding of the concept of "Democracy."  The term is defined in many different ways.  It was reviled for most of history.  While  Democracy has been defined as a “universal value,” in today’s world, is that really the case? The author of our core book guides us through the history of the concept from ancient Greece through the Nineteenth Century.  He reviews relevant historical, philosophical and religious perspectives beginning with the ancient Greeks and moving to Montaigne, the religious wars of the Reformation era, the destruction of that same democratic impulse in the seventeenth-century English Civil War, rebirth in the British North American colonies and then the American, and French revolutions.  He posits that, contrary to the common view that modern Democracy does not arise until after the exclusion by the secularists of religion from the political discourse, the 16th and 17th century revival of interest in Jewish and Christian sources by Protestant theologians transformed political thought in several new dimensions


The SDG is a follow-up to "Democracies in Crisis," offered in Winter 2017. 

Weekly Topics

1. Origins; Greece, Rome, & Montaigne                  Kloppenberg, intro & chapter 1                  

2. Colonial North America                                        Kloppenberg, chapter 2                              

3. The English Civil War                                           Kloppenberg, chapter 4                    

4. The "Glorious Revolution," 1688                          Kloppenberg, chapter 4                                


5. The Enlightenment in Europe                              Kloppenberg, chapter 5                               

6. Religion and Enlightenment in America               Kloppenberg, chapter 6                            

7.  American Independence                                     Kloppenberg, chapter 7                              

8. Institution-Building in America                             Kloppenberg, chapter 8                               

9. Norms of Reciprocity in the US                           Kloppenberg, chapter 9    


10. Delusions of Unity in France                             Kloppenberg, chapter 10                             

11. Virtue & Violence in France                                Kloppenberg, chapter 11                                

12. French Democracy and Terror                           Kloppenberg, chapter 12                             

13. Democratic Cultures                                          Kloppenberg, chapter 13                               

14. The Tragic Irony of Democracy                          Klopppenberg, chapter 14                                 


James T. Kloppenberg, Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought. Oxford, 2016. 828 pp.