Contemporary Sociological Theory
On Social Imaginary
The number one problem of modern social science has from the beginning
been modernity itself. I mean that historically unprecedented amalgam
of new practices and institutional forms (science, technology, industrial
production, urbanization); of new ways of living (individualism, secularization,
instrumental rationality); and of new forms of malaise (alienation,
meaninglessness, a sense of impending social dissolution).
In our day, the problem needs to be posed again from a new angle: is
there a single phenomenon here, or do we need to speak rather of "multiple
modernities", the plural reflecting the fact that other
non-Western cultures have modernized in their own way, and cannot properly
be understood of we try to grasp them in a general theory which was
originally designed with the Western case in mind?
This essay is intended to explore the hypothesis that we can throw some
light on both the original and the contemporary issues about modernity
if we can come to a clearer definition of the self-understandings which
have been constitutive of it. Western modernity on this view is inseparable
from a certain kind of social imaginary; and the differences between
today's multiple modernities need to be understood in terms of the divergent
social imaginaries involved.
This approach is not the same as one which might focus on the "ideas",
as against the "institutions" of modernity. The social imaginary
is not a set of "ideas"; rather it is what enables, through
making sense of, the practices of a society. This crucial point will
be expanded below, in chapter 3.
My aim here is a modest one. I would like to sketch an account of the
forms of social imaginary which have underpinned the rise of Western
modernity. This is an essay in Western history, which leaves the variety
of today's alternative modernities untouched. But I hope that some closer
definition of the Western specificity may help us see more clearly what
is in common between the different paths of contemporary modernization.
In writing this, I have obviously drawn heavily on the pioneering work
of Benedict Anderson in his Imagined Communities
1, as well as on
work by J¨¹rgen Habermas and Michael Warner, and on that of Pierre Rosanvallon
and others, which I shall acknowledge as the argument unfolds.
My basic hypothesis is that central to Western modernity is a new conception
of the moral order of society. This was at first just an "idea"
in the minds of some influential thinkers, but it later came to shape
the social imaginary of large strata, and then eventually whole societies.
It has now become so self-evident to us, that we have trouble seeing
it as one possible conception among others. The mutation of this view
of moral order into our social imaginary is the coming to be of certain
social forms which are those essentially characterizing Western modernity:
the market economy, the public sphere, the self-governing people, among
I will start with the new vision of moral order. This was most clearly
stated in the new theories of Natural Law which emerged in the 17th
Century, largely as a response to the domestic and international disorder
wrought by the wars of religion. Grotius and Locke are the most important
theorists of reference for our purposes here.
Grotius derives the normative order underlying political society from
the nature of its constitutive members. Human beings are rational, sociable
agents who are meant to collaborate in peace to their mutual benefit.
Starting from the seventeenth century, this idea has come more and more
to dominate our political thinking, and the way we imagine our society.
It starts off in Grotius' version as a theory of what political society
is, that is, what it is in aid of, and how it comes to be. But any theory
of this kind also offers inescapably an idea of moral order. It tells
us something about how we ought to live together in society.
The picture of society is that of individuals who come together to form
a political entity, against a certain pre-existing moral background,
and with certain ends in view. The moral background is one of natural
rights; these people already have certain moral obligations towards
each other. The ends sought are certain common benefits, of which security
is the most important.
The underlying idea of moral order stresses the rights and obligations
which we have as individuals in regard to each other, even prior to
or outside of the political bond. Political obligations are seen as
an extension or application of these more fundamental moral ties. Political
authority itself is legitimate only because it was consented to by individuals
(the original contract), and this contract creates binding obligations
in virtue of the pre-existing principle that promises ought to be kept.
In the light of what has later been made of this Contract theory, even
later in the same century by Locke, it is astonishing to us how tame
the moral-political conclusions are which Grotius draws from it. The
grounding of political legitimacy in consent is not put forward in order
to question the credentials of existing governments. The aim of the
exercise is rather to undercut the reasons for rebellion being all too
irresponsibly urged by confessional zealots; the assumption being that
existing legitimate r¨¦gimes were ultimately founded on some consent
of this kind. Grotius also seeks to give a firm foundation, beyond confessional
cavil, to the basic rules of war and peace. In the context of the early
seventeenth Century, with its continuing bitterly fought wars of religion,
this emphasis was entirely understandable.
It is Locke who first uses this theory as a justification of "revolution",
and as a ground for limited government. Rights can now be seriously
pleaded against power. Consent is not just an original agreement to
set up government, but a continuing right to agree to taxation.
In the next three centuries, from Locke to our day, although the contract
language may fall away, and be used only by a minority of theorists,
the underlying idea of society as existing
for the (mutual) benefit of individuals,
and the defense of their rights, takes on more and more importance.
That is, it both comes to be the dominant view, pushing older theories
of society, or newer rivals to the margins of political life and discourse;
and it also generates more and more far-reaching claims on political
life. The requirement of original consent, via the half-way house of
Locke's consent to taxation, becomes the full-fledged doctrine of popular
sovereignty under which we now live. The theory of natural rights ends
up spawning a dense web of limits to legislative and executive action,
via the entrenched charters which have become an important feature of
contemporary government. The presumption of equality, implicit in the
starting point of the State of Nature, where people stand outside of
all relations of superiority and inferiority,
2 has been applied
in more and more contexts, ending with the multiple equal treatment
or non-discrimination provisions, which are an integral part of most
In other words, during these last four centuries, the idea of moral
order implicit in this view of society has undergone a double expansion:
in extension, on one hand, (more people live by it, it has become dominant),
and in intensity, on the other, (the demands it makes are heavier and
more ramified). The idea has gone, as it were, through a series of "redactions",
each richer and more demanding than the previous one, up to the present
This double expansion can be traced in a number of ways. The modern
discourse of natural law started off in a rather specialized niche.
It provided philosophers and legal theorists a language in which to
talk about the legitimacy of governments, and the rules of war and peace,
the nascent doctrines of modern international law. But then it begins
to infiltrate and transform the discourse in other niches. One such
case, which plays a crucial role in the story I'm telling, is the way
that the new idea of moral order begins to inflect and reformulate the
descriptions of God's providence, and the order he has established between
humans and in the cosmos. I'll return to this below.
Even more important to our lives today is the manner in which this idea
of order has become more and more central to our notions of society
and polity, remaking them in the process. And in the course of this
expansion, it has moved from being a theory, animating the discourse
of a few experts, and become integral to our social imaginary, that
is, the way in which our contemporaries imagine the societies they inhabit
and sustain. I want to describe this process in more detail later.
Migrating from one niche to many, and from theory to social imaginary,
the expansion is also visible along a third axis, as defined by the
kind of demands this moral order makes on us.
Sometimes a conception of moral order may not carry with it a real expectation
of its integral fulfilment. This does not mean no expectation at all,
for otherwise it wouldn't be an idea of moral order, in the sense I'm
using the term here. It will be seen as something to strive for, and
it will be realized by some, but the general sense may be that only
a minority will really succeed in following it, at least under present
Thus the Gospel generates the idea of a community of saints, inspired
by love for God, for each other, and for humankind, whose members were
devoid of rivalry, mutual resentment, love of gain, ambition to rule,
and the like. The general expectation in the Middle Ages was that only
a minority of saints really aspired to this, and that they had to live
in a world which heavily deviated from this ideal. But in the fulness
of time, this would be the order of those gathered around God in the
final dispensation. We can speak of a moral order here, and not just
a gratuitous ideal, because it is thought to be in the process of full
realization, but the time for this is not yet.
A distant analogy in another context would be some modern definitions
of Utopia, which refer us to a way of things which may be realized in
some eventually possible conditions; but which meanwhile serves as a
standard to steer by.
Rather different from this are the orders which demand a more or less
full realization here and now. But this can be understood in two rather
different ways. In one, the order is held to be realized; it underlies
the normal way of things. Mediaeval conceptions of political order were
often of this kind. In the understanding of the "King's Two Bodies",
his individual biological existence realizes and instantiates an undying
royal "body". In the absence of highly exceptional and scandalously
disordered circumstances, on the occasion of some terrible usurpation,
for instance, the order is fully realized. It offers us not so much
a prescription, as a key to understanding reality, rather as the Chain
of Being does in relation to the cosmos which surounds us. It provides
us the hermeneutic clue to understanding the real.
But a moral order can stand in another relation to reality, as one not
yet realized, but demanding to be integrally carried out. It provides
an imperative prescription.
Summing up these distinctions, we can say that an idea of moral or political
order can either be ultimate, like the community of saints, or for the
here-and-now; and if the latter, it can either be hermeneutic or prescriptive.
Now the modern idea of order, in contradistinction to the Mediaeval
Christian ideal, was seen from the beginning as for the here-and-now.
But it definitely migrates along a path, running from the more hermeneutic
to the more prescriptive. As used in its original niche by thinkers
like Grotius and Pufendorf, it offered an interpretation of what must
underlie established governments; grounded on a supposed founding contract,
these enjoyed unquestioned legitimacy. Natural Law theory at its origin
was a hermeneutic of legitimation.
But already with Locke, the political theory can justify revolution,
indeed, make this morally imperative in certain circumstances; while
at the same time, other general features of the human moral predicament
provide a hermeneneutic of legitimacy in relation to, for instance,
property. Later on down the line, this notion of order will be woven
into "redactions" demanding even more "revolutionary"
changes, including in relations of property, as reflected in influential
theories, such as those of Rousseau and Marx, for instance.
Thus while moving from one niche to many, and migrating from theory
into social imaginary, the modern idea of order also travels on a third
axis, and the discourses it generates are strung out along the path
from the hermeneutic to the prescriptive. In the process it comes to
be intricated with a wide range of ethical concepts, but the resulting
amalgams have in common that they make essential use of this understanding
of political and moral order which descends from modern Natural Law
This three-axis expansion is certainly remarkable. It cries out for
explanation. It is unfortunately not part of my rather narrowly focussed
intentions to offer a causal explanation of the rise of the modern social
imaginary. I will be happy if I can clarify somewhat the forms it has
taken. But this will by its very nature help to focus more sharply the
issues of causal explanation, on which I will offer some random thoughts
somewhat later. For the moment, however, I want to explore further the
peculiar features of this modern order.
A crucial point which ought to be evident from the foregoing is that
the notion of moral order I am using here goes beyond some proposed
schedule of norms which ought to govern our mutual relations and/ or
political life. What an understanding of moral order adds to an awareness
and acceptance of norms is an identification of features of the world,
or divine action, or human life which make certain norms both right
and (up to the point indicated) realizable. In other words the image
of order not only carries a definition of what is right, but of the
context in which it makes sense to strive for, and hope to realize the
right (at least partially).
Now it is clear that the images of moral order which descend through
a series of transformations from that inscribed in the Natural Law theories
of Grotius and Locke are rather different from those embedded in the
social imaginary of the pre-modern age.
Two important types of pre-modern moral order are worth singling out
here, because we can see them being gradually taken over, displaced
or marginalized by the Grotian-Lockean strand during the transition
to political modernity. One is based on the idea of the Law of a people,
which has governed this people since time out of mind, and which in
a sense defines it as a people. This idea seems to have been widespread
among the Indo-European tribes who at various stages erupted into Europe.
It was very powerful in seventeenth Century England, under the guise
of the Ancient Constitution, and became one of the key justifying ideas
of the rebellion against the King.
This case should be enough to show that these notions are not always
conservative in import; but we should also include in this category
the sense of normative order which seems to have been carried on through
generations in peasant communities, and out of which they developed
a picture of the "moral economy", from which they could criticize
the burdens laid on them by landlords, or the exactions levied on them
by state and church.
3 Here again, the
recurring idea seems to have been that an original acceptable distribution
of burdens had been displaced by usurpation, and ought to be rolled
The other type is organized around a notion of a hierarchy in society
which expresses and corresponds to a hierarchy in the cosmos. These
were often theorized in language drawn from the Platonic-Aristotelian
concept of Form, but the underlying notion also emerges strongly in
theories of correspondence: e.g., the king is in his kingdom, as the
lion among animals, the eagle among birds, etc. It is out of this outlook
that the idea emerges that disorders in the human realm will resonate
in nature, because the very order of things is threatened. The night
on which Duncan was murdered was disturbed by "lamenting heard
i' the air; strange screams of death", and it remained dark even
though day should have started. On the previous Tuesday a falcon had
been killed by a mousing owl; and Duncan's horses turned wild in the
night, "Contending 'gainst obedience, as they would / Make war
In both these cases, and particularly in the second, we have an order
which tends to impose itself by the course of things; violations are
met with backlash which transcends the merely human realm. This seems
to be a very common feature in pre-modern ideas of moral order. Anaximander
likens any deviation from the course of nature to injustice, and says
that things which resist it must eventually "pay penalty and retribution
to each other for their injustice according to the assessment of time."
5 Hesiod speaks
of the order of things in similar terms, when he says that if ever the
sun should deviate from its appointed course, the Furies would seize
it and drag it back.
6 And of course,
the Platonic forms are active in shaping the things and events in the
world of change.
In these cases, it is very clear that a moral order is more than just
a set of norms; that it also contains what we might call an "ontic"
component, identifying features of the world which make the norms realizable.
Now the modern order which descends from Grotius and Locke is not self-realizing
in the sense invoked by Hesiod or Plato, or the cosmic reactions to
Duncan's murder. It is therefore tempting to think that our modern notions
of moral order lack altogether an ontic component. But this would be
a mistake, as I hope to show later. There is an important difference,
but it lies in the fact that this component is now a feature about us
humans, rather than one touching God or the cosmos, and not in the supposed
absence altogether of an ontic dimension.
Now what is peculiar to our modern understanding of order stands out
most clearly if we focus on how the idealizations of Natural Law theory
differ from those which were dominant before. Pre-modern social imaginaries,
especially those of the second type mentioned above, were structured
by various modes of hierarchical complementarity. Society was seen as
made up of different orders. These needed and complemented each other.
But this didn't mean that their relations were truly mutual, because
they didn't exist on the same level. They formed rather a hierarchy
in which some had greater dignity and value than the others. An example
is the often repeated mediaeval idealization of the society of three
orders, oratores, bellatores, laboratores: those who pray, those who
fight, and those who work. It was clear that each needed the others,
but there was no doubt that we have here a descending scale of dignity;
some functions were in their essence higher than others.
Now it is crucial to this kind of ideal that the distribution of functions
is itself a key part of the normative order. It is not just that each
order ought to perform its characteristic function for the others, granted
they have entered these relations of exchange, while we keep the possibility
open that things might be arranged rather differently, e.g., in a world
where everyone does some praying, some fighting and some working. No,
the hierarchical differentiation itself is seen as the proper order
of things. It was part of the nature, or form of society. In the Platonic
and neo-Platonic traditions, as I have just mentioned, this form was
already at work in the world, and any attempt to deviate from it turned
reality against itself. Society would be denatured in the attempt. Hence
the tremendous power of the organic metaphor in these earlier theories.
The organism seems the paradigm locus of forms at work, striving to
heal its wounds and cure its maladies. And at the same time, the arrangement
of functions which it exhibits is not simply contingent; it is "normal"
and right. That the feet are below the head is how it should be.
The modern idealization of order departs radically from this. It is
not just that there is no place for a Platonic-type form at work; but
connected to this, whatever distribution of functions a society might
develop is deemed contingent; it will be justified or not instrumentally;
it cannot itself define the good. The basic normative principle is,
indeed, that the members of society serve each other's needs, help each
other, in short, behave like the rational and sociable creatures that
they are. In this way, they complement each other. But the particular
functional differentiation which they need to take on to do this most
effectively is endowed with no essential worth. It is adventitious,
and potentially changeable. In some cases, it may be merely temporary,
as with the principle of the ancient polis, that we may be rulers and
ruled in turn. In other cases, it requires lifetime specialization,
but there is no inherent value in this, and all callings are equal in
the sight of God. In one way or the other, the modern order gives no
ontological status to hierarchy, or any particular structure of differentiation.
In other words, the basic point of the new normative order was the mutual
respect and mutual service of the individuals who make up society. The
actual structures were meant to serve these ends, and were judged instrumentally
in this light. The difference might be obscured by the fact that the
older orders also ensured a kind of mutual service; the clergy prays
for the laity, and the laity defend/work for the clergy. But the crucial
point is just this division into types in their hierarchical ordering;
whereas on the new understanding we start with individuals and their
debt of mutual service, and the divisions fall out as they can most
effectively discharge this debt.
Thus Plato, in Book II of the Republic, starts out by reasoning
from the non-self-sufficiency of the individual to the need for an order
of mutual service. But quite rapidly it becomes clear that it is the
structure of this order which is the basic point. And the last doubt
is removed when we see that this order is meant to stand in analogy
and interaction with the normative order in the soul. By contrast, in
the modern ideal, the whole point is the mutual respect and service,
I have mentioned two differences which distinguish this ideal from the
earlier, Platonic-modelled orders of hierarchical complementarity: the
Form is no longer at work in reality, and the distribution of functions
is not itself normative. A third difference goes along with this. For
the Platonic-derived theories, the mutual service which the classes
render to each other when they stand in the right relation includes
bringing them to the condition of their highest virtue; indeed, this
is the service which the whole order, as it were, renders to all its
members. But in the modern ideal, the mutual respect and service is
directed towards serving our ordinary goals, life, liberty, sustenance
of self and family. The organization of society, I said above, is judged
not on its inherent form, but instrumentally. But now we can add that
what this organization is instrumental to concerns the very basic conditions
of existence as free agents, rather than the excellence of virtue -
although we may judge that we need a high degree of virtue to play our
proper part in this.
Our primary service to each other was thus (to use the language of a
later age) the provision of collective security, to render our lives
and property safe under law. But we also serve each other in practising
economic exchange. These two main ends, security and prosperity, are
now the principal goals of organized society, which itself can come
to be seen as something in the nature of a profitable exchange between
its constituent members. The ideal social order is one in which our
purposes mesh, and each in furthering himself helps the others.
This ideal order was not thought to be a mere human invention. Rather
it was designed by God, an order in which everything coheres according
to God's purposes. Later in the eighteenth Century, the same model is
projected on the cosmos, in a vision of the universe as a set of perfectly
interlocking parts, in which the purposes of each kind of creature mesh
with those of all the others.
This order sets the goal for our constructive activity, insofar as it
lies within our power to upset it, or realize it. Of course, when we
look at the whole, we see how much the order is already realized; but
when we cast our eye on human affairs, we see how much we have deviated
from it and upset it; it becomes the norm to which we should strive
This order was thought to be evident in the nature of things. Of course,
if we consult revelation, we will also find the demand formulated there
that we abide by it. But reason alone can tell us God's purposes. Living
things, including ourselves, strive to preserve themselves. This is
God having made Man, and planted in him, as in all other Animals, a strong desire of Self-preservation, and furnished the World
with things fit for Food and Rayment and other
Necessaries of Life, Subservient to his design, that Man
should live and abide for some time upon the Face of the
Earth, and not that so curious and wonderful a piece of
Workmanship by its own Negligence, or want of Necessities,
should perish again ....: God ... spoke to him, (that is)
directed him by his Senses and Reason, ... to the use of
those things which were serviceable for his Subsistence, and
given him as the means of his Preservation. ... For the desire, strong
desire of Preserving his Life and Being having been planted in him,
as a Principle of Action by
God himself, Reason, which was the voice of God in him,
could not but teach him and assure him, that pursuing that
natural Inclination he had to preserve his Being, he followed the Will
of his Maker.
Being endowed with reason, we
see that not only our lives but that of all humans are to be preserved.
And in addition, God made us sociable beings. So that "every one
as he is bound to preserve himself, and not quit his Station wilfully;
so by the like reason when his Preservation comes not in competition,
ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of Mankind."
Similarly Locke reasons that God gave us our powers of reason and discipline
so that we could most effectively go about the business of preserving
ourselves. It follows that we ought to be "Industrious and Rational".
9 The ethic of
discipline and improvement is itself a requirement of the natural order
that God had designed. The imposition of order by human will is itself
called for by his scheme.
We can see in Locke's formulation how much he sees mutual service in
terms of profitable exchange. "Economic" (that is, ordered,
peaceful, productive) activity has become the model for human behaviour,
and the key for harmonious co-existence. In contrast to the theories
of hierarchical complementarity, we meet in a zone of concord and mutual
service, not to the extent that we transcend our ordinary goals and
purposes, but on the contrary, in the process of carrying them out according
to God's design.
Now this idealization was at the outset profoundly out of synch with
the way things in fact ran, thus with the effective social imaginary
on just about every level of society. Hierarchical complementarity was
the principle on which people's lives effectively operated, all the
way from the kingdom, to the city, to the diocese, to the parish, to
the clan and the family. We still have some lively sense of this disparity
in the case of the family, because it is really only in our time that
the older images of hierarchical complementarity between men and women
are being comprehensively challenged. But this is a late stage on a
"long march", a process in which the modern idealization,
advancing along the three axes I mentioned above, has connected up with
and transformed our social imaginary on virtually every level, with
The very revolutionary nature of the consequences ensured that those
who first took up this theory would fail to see its application in a
host of areas which seem obvious to us today. The powerful hold of hierarchically
complementary forms of life, in the family, between master and servant
in the household, between lord and peasant on the domain, between educated
¨¦lite and the masses, made it seem "evident" that the new
principle of order ought to be applied within certain bounds. This was
often not even perceived as a restriction. What seems to us flagrant
inconsistency, when eighteenth Century Whigs defended their oligarchic
power in the name of the "people", for instance, was for the
Whig leaders themselves just common sense.
In fact, they were drawing on an older understanding of "people",
one stemming from a pre-modern notion of order, of the first type I
mentioned above, where a people is constituted as such by a Law which
always already exists, "since time out of mind". This law
can confer leadership on some elements, who thus quite naturally speak
for the "people". Even revolutions (or what we consider such)
in early modern Europe were carried out under this understanding - as
for instance, the monarchomachs in the French Wars of Religion, who
accorded the right to rebel not to the unorganized masses, but to the
"subordinate magistrates". This was also the basis of Parliament's
rebellion against Charles I.
And this long march is perhaps only ending today. Or perhaps we too
are victims of a mental restriction, for which our posterity will accuse
us of inconsistency or hypocrisy. In any case, some very important tracts
of this journey happened very recently. I have mentioned contemporary
gender relations in this regard. But we should also remember that it
wasn't very long ago when whole segments of our supposedly modern society
remained outside of this modern social imaginary. Eugen Weber has shown
10 how many communities
of French peasants were transformed only late in the last century, and
inducted into France as a nation of 40 million individual citizens.
He makes plain how much their previous mode of life depended on complementary
modes of action which were far from equal; especially, but not only
between the sexes: there was also the fate of younger siblings, who
renounced their share of the inheritance, in order to keep the family
property together and viable. In a world of indigence and insecurity,
of perpetually threatening dearth, the rules of family and community
seemed the only guarantee of survival. Modern modes of individualism
seemed a luxury, a dangerous indulgence.
This is easy to forget, because once we are well installed in the modern
social imaginary, it seems the only possible one, the only one which
makes sense. After all, are we not all individuals? Do we not associate
in society for our mutual benefit? How else to measure social life?
This makes it very easy for us to entertain a quite distorted view of
the process; and this in two respects. First, we tend to read the march
of this new principle of order, and its displacing of traditional modes
of complementarity, as the rise of "individualism" at the
expense of "community". Whereas the new understanding of the
individual has as its inevitable flip side a new understanding of sociality,
the society of mutual benefit, whose functional differentiations are
ultimately contingent, and whose members are fundamentally equal. This
is what I have been insisting on in these pages, just because it generally
gets lost from view. The individual seems primary, because we read the
displacement of older forms of complementarity as the erosion of community
as such. We seem to be left with a standing problem of how to induce
or force the individual into some kind of social order, make him conform
and obey the rules.
This recurrent experience of breakdown is real enough. But it shouldn't
mask from us the fact that modernity is also the rise of new principles
of sociality. Breakdown occurs, as we can see with the case of the French
Revolution, because people are often expelled from their old forms,
through war, revolution, or rapid economic change, before they can find
their feet in the new structures, that is, connect some transformed
practices to the new principles to form a viable social imaginary. But
this doesn't show that modern individualism is by its very essence a
solvent of community. Nor that the modern political predicament is that
defined by Hobbes: how do we rescue atomic individuals from the prisoners'
dilemma? The real, recurring problem has been better defined by Tocqueville,
or in our day Fran@ois Furet.
The second distortion is the familiar one. The modern principle seems
to us so self-evident: are we not by nature and essence individuals?
that we are tempted by a "subtraction" account of the rise
of modernity. We just needed to liberate ourselves from the old horizons,
and then the mutual service conception of order was the obvious alternative
left. It needed no inventive insight, or constructive effort. Individualism
and mutual benefit are the evident residual ideas which remain after
you have sloughed off the older religions and metaphysics.
But the reverse is the case. Humans have lived for most of their history
in modes of complementarity, mixed with a greater or lesser degree of
hierarchy. There have been islands of equality, like that of the citizens
of the polis, but they are set in a sea of hierarchy, once you replace
them in the bigger picture. Not to speak of how alien these societies
were to modern individualism. What is rather surprising is that it was
possible to win through to modern individualism; not just on the level
of theory, but also transforming and penetrating the social imaginary.
Now that this imaginary has become linked with societies of unprecedented
power in human history, it seems impossible and mad to try to resist.
But we mustn't fall into the anachronism of thinking that this was always
The best antidote to this error is to bring to mind again some of the
phases of the long, and often conflictual march by which this theory
has ended up achieving such a hold on our imagination.
I will be doing some of this as my argument proceeds.But at this stage,
I want to pull together the preceding discussion and outline the main
features of this modern understanding of moral order.
This can be sketched in three points, to which I will then add a fourth:
1) The original idealization of this order of mutual benefit comes in
a theory of rights and of legitimate rule. It starts with individuals,
and conceives society as established for their sake. Political society
is seen as an instrument for something pre-political.
This individualism signifies a rejection of the previously dominant
notion of hierarchy, according to which a human being can only be a
proper moral agent embedded in a larger social whole, whose very nature
is to exhibit a hierarchical complementarity. In its original form,
the Grotian-Lockean theory stands against all those views, of which
Aristotle's is the most prominent, which deny that one can be a fully
competent human subject outside of society.
As this idea of order advances, and generates new "redactions",
it becomes connected again with a philosophical anthropology which once
again defines humans as social beings, incapable of functioning morally
on their own. Rousseau, Hegel, Marx provide earlier examples, and they
are followed by a host of thinkers in our day. But I see these still
as redactions of the modern idea, because what they posit as a well-ordered
society incorporates relations of mutual service between equal individuals
as a crucial element. This is the goal, even for those who think that
the "bourgeois individual" is a fiction, and that the goal
can only be achieved in a communist society. Even connected to ethical
concepts antithetical to those of the Natural Law theorists, and indeed,
closer to the Aristotle they rejected, the kernel of the modern idea
remains an id¨¦e-force in our world.
2) As an instrument, political society enables these individuals to
serve each other for mutual benefit; both in providing security, and
in fostering exchange and prosperity. Any differentiations within it
are to be justified by this telos; no hierarchical or other form is
The significance of this, as we saw above, is that the mutual service
centres on the needs of ordinary life, rather than aiming to secure
for them the highest virtue. It aims to secure their conditions of existence
as free agents. Now here, too, later redactions involve a revision.
With Rousseau, for instance, freedom itself becomes the basis for a
new definition of virtue, and an order of true mutual benefit becomes
inseparable from one which secures the virtue of self-dependence. But
Rousseau and those who followed him still put the central emphasis on
securing freedom, equality and the needs of ordinary life.
3) The theory starts with individuals, which political society must
serve. More important, this service is defined in terms of the defense
of individuals' rights. And freedom is central to these rights. The
importance of freedom is attested in the requirement that political
society be founded on the consent of those bound by it.
If we reflect on the context in which this theory was operative, we
can see that the crucial emphasis on freedom was overdetermined. The
order of mutual benefit is an ideal to be constructed. It serves as
a guide for those who want to establish a stable peace, and then remake
society to bring it closer to its norms. The proponents of the theory
already see themselves as agents who through disengaged, disciplined
action can reform their own lives, as well as the larger social order.
They are buffered, disciplined selves. Free agency is central to their
self-understanding. The emphasis on rights, and the primacy of freedom
among them, doesn't just stem from the principle that society should
exist for the sake of its members; it also reflects the holders' sense
of their own agency, and of the situation which that agency normatively
demands in the world, viz., freedom.
Thus the ethic at work here should be defined just as much in terms
of this condition of agency, as in terms of the demands of the ideal
order. We should best think of it as an ethic of freedom and mutual
benefit. Both terms in this expression are essential. And that is why
consent plays such an important role in the political theories which
derive from this ethic.
Summing up, we can say that the order of mutual benefit holds (1) between
individuals (or at least moral agents who are independent of larger
hierarchical orders); the benefits (2) crucially include life and the
means to life, however securing these relates to the practice of virtue;
it is meant (3) to secure freedom, and easily finds expression in terms
of rights. To these we can add a fourth point: (4) these rights, this
freedom, this mutual benefit is to be secured to all participants equally.
Exactly what is meant by equality will vary, but that it must be affirmed
in some form follows from the rejection of hierarchical order. These
are the crucial features, the constants that recur in the modern idea
of moral order, through its varying "redactions".
I mentioned above that this new notion of order brought about a change
in the understanding of the cosmos as the work of God's Providence.
We have here in fact one of the earliest examples of the new model of
order moving beyond its original niche and reshaping the image of God's
The notion that God governs the world according to a benign plan was
ancient, even pre-Christian, with roots in Judaism, as well as Stoicism.
What is new is the way of conceiving his benevolent scheme. We can see
this in the arguments from the design of the world to the existence
of a good Creator God. These too were very old. But formerly, they insisted
on the magnificent design of the whole framework in which our world
was set, the stars, the planets, etc; and then on the admirable micro-design
of creatures, including ourselves, with our organs fitted for their
functions, as well as on the general way in which life was sustained
by the processes of nature.
These certainly continue, but what is added in the 18th Century is an
appreciation of the way in which human life is designed so as to produce
mutual benefit. Emphasis is sometimes laid on mutual benevolence. But
very often the happy design is identified in the existence of what one
might call "invisible hand" factors. I mean by this actions
and attitudes which we are "programmed" for, which have systematically
benificent results for the general happiness, even though these are
not part of what is intended in the action or affirmed in the attitude.
Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations has provided us with the
most famous of these mechanisms, whereby our search for our own individual
prosperity redounds to the general welfare. But there are other examples;
for instance, one drawn from his Theory of Moral Sentiments,
where Smith argues that Nature has made us admire greatly rank and fortune,
because social order is much more secure if it rests on the respect
for visible distinctions, rather than on the less striking qualities
of virtue and wisdom.
The order here is that of a good engineering design, in which efficient
causation plays the crucial role. In this it differs from earlier notions
of order, where the harmony comes from the consonance between the Ideas
or Forms manifested in the different levels of being or ranks in society.
The crucial thing in the new conception is that our purposes mesh, however
divergent they may be in the conscious awareness of each of us. They
involve us in an exchange of advantages. We admire and support the rich
and well-born, and in return we enjoy the kind of stable order without
which prosperity would be impossible. God's design is one of interlocking
causes, not of harmonized meanings.
Otherwise put, humans are engaged in an exchange of services. The fundamental
model seems to be what we have come to call an economy.
This new understanding of Providence is already evident in Locke's formulation
of Natural Law theory in the Second Treatise. We can already
see here how much importance the economic dimension is taking on in
the new notion of order. There are two facets to this. The two main
goals of organized society were security and economic prosperity. But
because the whole theory emphasized a kind of profitable exchange, one
could begin to see political society itself through a quasi-economic
Thus no less a personage than Louis XIV, in the advice he offers to
his dauphin subscribes to something like an exchange view: "all
these different conditions that compose the world are united to each
other only by an exchange of reciprocal obligations. The deference and
respect that we receive from our subjects are not a free gift from them
but payment for the justice and protection they they expect to receive
This, incidentally, offers some insight into (what turned out to be)
an important transition stage on the "long march" of the order
of mutual benefit into our social imaginary. This was a rival model
of order based on command and hierarchy. What Louis and others of his
time were offering could be seen as a kind of compromise between the
new and the old. The basic justifying reasoning of the different functions,
here ruler and subject, is new, viz., the necessary and fruitful exchange
of services. But what is justified is still a hierarchical society,
and above all, the most radical hierarchical relation, that of absolute
monarch to subject. The justification is more and more in terms of functional
necessity, but the master images still reflect something of inherent
superiority, an ontological hierarchy. The king, by being above everyone
else, can hold society together, and sustain everything. He is like
the Sun, to use Louis' favourite image.
We might call this the "baroque"
14 solution, except
that its most spectacular example at Versailles, saw itself in "classical"
terms. It is this compromise which reigns for a while over most of Europe,
sustaining r¨¦gimes with much of the pomp, ritual and imagery of hierarchical
complementarity, but on the basis of a justification drawn more and
more from the modern order. Bossuet's defense of Louis' absolute rule
falls in the same register.
But secondly, the economy could become more than a metaphor. It came
to be seen more and more as the dominant end of society. Contemporary
with Louis' memoir of advice, Montchr¨¦tien offers a theory of the state
which sees it primarily as the orchestrating power which can make an
economy flourish. (It is he, incidentally, who seems to have coined
the term `political economy'.) Merchants act for love of gain, but good
policy by the ruler (a still visible hand) can draw this towards the
This second shift reflects feature (2) of the modern order in my sketch
above: the mutual benefit we are meant to confer on each other gives
a crucial place to the securing life and the means to life. This is
not an isolated change within theories of Providence; it goes along
with a major trend of the age.
This trend is often understood in terms of the standard "materialist"
explanations, for instance, the old Marxist account that business classes,
merchants, later manufacturers, were becoming more numerous, and gaining
greater power. Even on its own level, this account needs to be supplemented
with a reference to the changing demands of state power. It more and
more dawned on governing ¨¦lites that increased production, and favourable
exchange, was a key condition of political and military power. The experience
of Holland and England demonstrated that. And, of course, once some
nations began to "develop" economically, their rivals were
forced to follow suit, or to be relegated to dependent status. This,
as much if not more than growing numbers and wealth, was responsible
for the enhanced position of commercial classes.
These "materialist" accounts are important, but following
Weber, I don't believe that they take us to the origins of this change.
In other words, I think that more production came about first, and then
its military/political advantages began to be plain for all to see,
and hence it became an object of policy.
What started us on this path, I believe, was certain political and even
spiritual changes. Here I think Weber is right, even if not all the
detail of his theory can be salvaged.
The original importance of people working steadily in a profession came
from the fact that they thereby placed themselves in "settled courses".
If ordered life became a demand, not just for a military or spiritual/intellectual
¨¦lite, but for the mass of ordinary people, then they had to become
ordered and serious about what they were doing, and of necessity had
to be doing, in life, viz., working in some productive occupation. A
really ordered society requires that one take these economic occupations
seriously, and prescribe a discipline for them. This was the "political"
But in Reformed Christianity, and to a growing extent among Catholics
as well, there was a spiritual reason, which was the one Weber picked
up on. To put it in the Reformed variant, if we are going to reject
the Catholic idea that there are some higher vocations, to the celibate
or monastic life, following "counsels of perfection", if one
claims that all Christians must be 100% Christian, that one can be so
in any vocation, then one must claim that ordinary life, the life that
the vast majority cannot help leading, the life of production and the
family, work and sex, is as hallowed as any other. Indeed, more so than
monastic celibacy, because this is based on the vain and prideful claim
to have found a higher way.
This is the basis for that sanctification of ordinary life, which I
want to claim has had a tremendous formative effect on our civilization,
spilling beyond the original religious variant into a myriad secular
forms. It has two facets: its promotes ordinary life, as a site for
the highest forms of Christian life; and it also has an anti-¨¦litist
thrust: it takes down those allegedly higher modes of existence, whether
in the Church (monastic vocations), or in the world (ancient-derived
ethics which place contemplation higher than productive existence).
The mighty are cast down from their seats, and the humble and meek are
Both these facets have been formative of modern civilization. The first
is part of the background to the central place given to the economic
in our lives, as also for the tremendous importance we put on family
life, or "relationships". The second underlies the fundamental
importance of equality in our social and political lives.
All these factors, material and spiritual, help explain the gradual
promotion of the economic to its central place, a promotion already
clearly visible in the 18th Century. And at that time, another factor
enters; or perhaps it is simply an extension of the "political"
one above. The notion becomes more and more accredited that commerce
and economic activity is the path to peace and orderly existence. "Le
doux commerce" is contrasted to the wild destructiveness of the
aristocratic search for military glory. The more a society turns to
commerce, the more "polished" and civilized it becomes, the
more it excels in the arts of peace. The impetus to money-making is
seen as a "calm passion". When it takes hold in a society,
it can help to control and inhibit the violent passions. Or put in other
language, money-making serves our "interest", and interest
can check and control passion.
16 Kant even believed
that as nations becomes republics, and hence more under the control
of their ordinary tax-payers, actuated by economic interests, recourse
to war will become rarer and rarer.
The new economically-centred notion of natural order underlies the doctrines
of harmony of interest. It even came to be projected onto the universe,
for it is this which is reflected in the 18th Century vision of cosmic
order, not as a hierarchy of forms-at-work, but as a chain of beings
whose purposes mesh with each other. Things cohere, because they serve
each other in their survival and flourishing. They form an ideal economy.
See dying vegetables life sustain,
See life dissolving vegetate again:
All forms that perish other forms supply,
(By turns we catch the vital breath, and die)
Like bubbles on the sea of Matter born,
They rise, they break, and to that sea return.
Nothing is foreign: Parts relate to whole;
One all-extending, all preserving Soul
Connects each being, greatest with the least;
Made Beast in aid of Man, and Man of Beast;
All served, all serving: nothing stands alone;
The chain holds on, and where it ends, unknown.
God in nature of each being founds
Its proper bliss, and sets its proper bounds;
But as he framed a Whole, the Whole to bless,
On mutual Wants built mutual Happiness:
So from the first, eternal ORDER ran,
And creature linked to creature, man to man.
From all this, Pope triumphantly
concludes "that true SELF-LOVE and SOCIAL are the same."
And so perhaps the first big shift wrought by this new idea of order,
both in theory and in social imaginary, consists in our coming to see
our society as an "economy", an interlocking set of activities
of production, exchange and consumption, which form a system with its
own laws and its own dynamic. Instead of being merely the management,
by those in authority, of the resources we collectively need, in household
or state, the "economic" now defines a way in which we are
linked together, a sphere of coexistence which could in principle suffice
to itself, if only disorder and conflict didn't threaten. Conceiving
of the economy as a system is an achievement of eighteenth Century theory,
with the Physiocrats and Adam Smith; but coming to see the most important
purpose and agenda of society as economic collaboration and exchange
is a drift in our social imaginary which begins in that period and continues
to this day. From that point on, organized society is no longer equivalent
to the polity; other dimensions of social existence are seen as having
their own forms and integrity. The very shift in this period of the
meaning of the term `civil society' reflects this.
I have just invoked the move from theory to social imaginary in connection
with this new consciousness of society as as "economy". But
the 18th Century sees other, perhaps even more fateful such moves. I
want to describe two other such, which have helped shape our world.
But before doing this, I will have to clarify my key term.
I have several times used the term `social imaginary' in the preceding
pages. Perhaps the time has come to make a little clearer what is involved.
What I'm trying to get at with this term is something much broader and
deeper than the intellectual schemes people may entertain when they
think about social reality in a disengaged mode. I am thinking rather
of the ways in which they imagine their social existence, how they fit
together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows,
the expectations which are normally met, and the deeper normative notions
and images which underlie these expectations.
I want to speak of "social imaginary" here, rather than social
theory, because there are important differences between the two. There
are, in fact, several differences. I speak of "imaginary"
(i) because I'm talking about the way ordinary people "imagine"
their social surroundings, and this is often not expressed in theoretical
terms, it is carried in images, stories, legends, etc. But it is also
the case that (ii) theory is often the possession of a small minority,
whereas what is interesting in the social imaginary is that it is shared
by large groups of people, if not the whole society. Which leads to
a third difference: (iii) the social imaginary is that common understanding
which makes possible common practices, and a widely shared sense of
Now it very often happens that what start off as theories held by a
few people may come to infiltrate the social imaginary, first of ¨¦lites
perhaps, and then of the whole society. This is what has happened, grosso
modo, to the theories of Grotius and Locke, although the transformations
have been many along the way, and the ultimate forms are rather varied.
Our social imaginary at any given time is complex. It incoporates a
sense of the normal expectations that we have of each other; the kind
of common understanding which enables us to carry out the collective
practices which make up our social life. This incorporates some sense
of how we all fit together in carrying out the common practice. This
understanding is both factual and "normative"; that is, we
have a sense of how things usually go, but this is interwoven with an
idea of how they ought to go, of what mis-steps would invalidate the
practice. Take our practice of choosing governments through general
elections. Part of the background understanding which makes sense of
our act of voting for each one of us is our awareness of the whole action,
involving all citizens, choosing each individually, but from among the
same alternatives, and the compounding of these micro-choices into one
binding, collective decision. Essential to our understanding what is
involved in this kind of macro-decision is our ability to identify what
would constitute a foul: certain kinds of influence, buying votes, threats,
and the like. This kind of macro-decision has, in other words, to meet
certain norms, if it is to be what it is meant to be. If a minority
could force all others to conform to their orders, it would cease to
be a democratic decision, for instance.
Now implicit in this understanding of the norms is the ability to recognize
ideal cases, e.g., an election in which each citizen exercised to the
maximum his/her judgement autonomously, in which everyone was heard,
etc. And beyond the ideal stands some notion of a moral or metaphysical
order, in the context of which the norms and ideals make sense.
What I'm calling the social imaginary extends beyond the immediate background
understanding which makes sense of our particular practices. This is
not an arbitrary extension of the concept, because just as the practice
without the understanding wouldn't make sense for us, and thus wouldn't
be possible, so this understanding supposes, if it is to make sense.
a wider grasp of our whole predicament, how we stand to each other,
how we got to where we are, how we relate to other groups, etc.
This wider grasp has no clear limits. That's the very nature of what
contemporary philosophers have described as the "background".
18 It is in fact
that largely unstructured and inarticulate understanding of our whole
situation, within which particular features of our world show up for
us in the sense they have. It can never be adequately expressed in the
form of explicit doctrines, because of its very unlimited and indefinite
nature. That is another reason for speaking here of an "imaginary",
and not a theory.
The relation between between practices and the background understanding
behind them is therefore not one-sided. If the understanding makes the
practice possible, it is also true that it is the practice which largely
carries the understanding. At any given time, we can speak of the "repertory"
of collective actions at the disposal of a given group of society. These
are the common actions which they know how to undertake, all the way
from the general election, involving the whole society, to knowing how
to strike up a polite but uninvolved conversation with a casual group
in the reception hall. The discriminations we have to make to carry
these off, knowing whom to speak to and when and how, carry an implicit
"map" of social space, of what kinds of people we can associate
with in what ways in what circumstances. Perhaps I don't initiate the
conversation at all, if the group are all socially superior to me, or
outrank me in the bureaucracy, or consist entirely of women.
This implicit grasp of social space is unlike a theoretical description
of this space, distinguishing different kinds of people, and the norms
connected to them. The understanding implicit in practice stands to
social theory the way that my ability to get around a familiar environment
stands to a (literal) map of this area. I am very well be able to orient
mayself without ever having adopted the standpoint of overview which
the map offers me. And similarly, for most of human history, and for
most of social life, we function through the grasp we have on the common
repertory, without benefit of theoretical overview. Humans operated
with a social imaginary, well before they ever got into the business
of theorizing about themselves.
Another example might help to make more palpable the width and depth
of this implicit understanding. Let's say we organize a demonstration.
This means that this act is already in our repertory. We know how to
assemble, pick up banners, and march. We know that this is meant to
be within certain bounds, spatially (don't invade certain spaces), in
the way it impinges on others (this side of a threshold of aggressivity
- no violence). We understand the ritual.
The background understanding which makes this act possible for us is
complex, but part of what makes sense of it is some picture of ourselves
as speaking to others, to which we are related in a certain way - say,
compatriots, or the human race. There is a speech act here, addresser
and addressees, and some understanding of how they can stand in this
relation to each other. There are public spaces; we are already in some
kind of conversation with each other. Like all speech acts, it is addressed
to a previously spoken word, in the prospect of a to-be-spoken word.
The mode of address says something about the footing we stand on with
our addressees. The action is forceful; it is meant to impress, perhaps
even to threaten certain consequences if our message is not heard. But
it is also meant to persuade; it remains this side of violence. It figures
the addressee as one who can be, must be reasoned with.
The immediate sense of what we're doing, getting the message to the
government and our fellow citizens that the cuts must stop, say, makes
sense in a wider context, in which we see ourselves as standing in a
continuing relation with others, in which it is appropriate to address
them in this manner, and not say, by humble supplication, or by threats
of armed insurrection. We can gesture quickly at all this by saying
that this kind of demonstration has its normal place in a stable, ordered,
This does not mean that there are not cases where we might do this -
Manila 1985, TienAnMen 1989 - where armed insurrection would be perfectly
justified. But precisely, the point of this act in those circumstances
is to invite tyranny to open up to a democratic transition.
We can see here how the understanding of what we're doing right now
(without which we couldn't be doing
this action) makes the sense it does, because of our grasp on
the wider predicament: how we continuingly stand, or have stood to others
and to power. This in turn opens out wider perspectives on where we
stand in space and time: our relation to other nations and peoples,
e.g., to external models of democratic life we are trying to imitate,
or of tyranny we are trying to distance ourselves from; and also of
where we stand in our history, in the narrative of our becoming, whereby
we recognize this capacity to demonstrate peacefully as an achievement
of democracy, hard-won by our ancestors, or something we aspire to become
capable of through this common action.
This sense of standing internationally and in history can be invoked
in the iconography of the demonstration itself, as in TienAnMen 1989,
with its references to the French Revolution, and its "citation"
of the American case through the Statue of Liberty.
The background which makes sense of any given act is thus wide and deep.
It doesn't include everything in our world, but the relevant sense-giving
features can't be circumscribed; and because of this we can say that
sense-giving draws on our whole world, that is, our sense of our whole
predicament in time and space, among others and in history.
Now an important part of this wider background is what I called above
a sense of moral order. I mean by this more than just a grasp on the
norms underlying our social practice, which are part of the immediate
understanding which makes this practice possible. There also must be
a sense, as I stated above, of what makes these norms realizable. This
too, is an essential part of the context of action. People don't demonstrate
for the impossible, for the utopic
21 - or if they
do, then this becomes ipso facto a rather different action. Part of
what we're saying as we march on TienAnMen is that a (somewhat more)
democratic society is possible for us, that we could bring it off, in
spite of the skepticism of our gerontocratic rulers.
Just what this confidence is based on, for instance, that we as other
human beings can sustain a democratic order together, that this is within
our human possibilities, this will include the images of moral order
through which we understand human life and history. It ought to be clear
from the above that our images of moral order, although they make sense
of some of our actions, are by no means necessarily tilted towards the
status quo. They may also underlie revolutionary practice, as at Manila
and Beijing, just as they may underwrite the established order.
Now what I want to do, in the following pages, is sketch the change-over,
the process in which the modern theory of moral order gradually infiltrates
and transforms our social imaginary. In this process, what is originally
just an idealization grows into a complex imaginary through being taken
up and associated with social practices, in part traditional ones, but
often transformed by the contact. This is crucial to what I called above
the extension of the understanding of moral order. It couldn't have
become the dominant view in our culture without this penetration/transformation
of our imaginary.
We see transitions of this kind happening, for instance, in the great
founding revolutions of our contemporary world, the American and the
French. The transition was much smoother and less catastrophic in one
case, because the idealization of popular sovereignty connected up relatively
unproblematically with an existing practice of popular election of assemblies;
whereas in the other case, the inability to "translate" the
same principle into a stable and agreed set of practices was an immense
source of conflict and uncertainty for more than a century. But in both
these great events, there was some awareness of the historical primacy
of theory, which is central to the modern idea of a "revolution",
whereby we set out to remake our political life according to agreed
principles. This "constructivism" has become a central feature
of modern political culture.
What exactly is involved, when a theory penetrates and transforms the
social imaginary? Well for the most part, people take up, improvise,
or are inducted into new practices. These are made sense of by the new
outlook, the one first articulated in the theory; this outlook is the
context that gives sense to the practices. And hence the new understanding
comes to be accessible to the participants in a way it wasn't before.
It begins to define the contours of their world, and can eventually
come to count as the taken-for-granted shape of things, too obvious
But this process isn't just one-sided; a theory making over a social
imaginary. The theory in coming to make sense of the action is "glossed",
as it were, given a particular shape as the context of these practices.
Rather like Kant's notion of an abstract category becoming "schematized"
when it is applied to reality in space and time,
22 the theory is
schematized in the dense sphere of common practice.
Nor need the process end here. The new practice, with the implicit understanding
it generates, can be the basis for modifications of theory, which in
turn can inflect practice, and so on.
What I'm calling the "long march" is a process whereby new
practices, or modifications of old ones, either developed through improvisation
among certain groups and strata of the population (e.g., the public
sphere among educated ¨¦lites in the eighteenth Century, trade unions
among workers in the nineteenth); or else were launched by ¨¦lites in
such a way as to recruit a larger and larger base (e.g., the Jacobin
organization of the "sections" in Paris). Or alternatively,
a set of practices in the course of their slow development and ramification
gradually changed their meaning for people, and hence helped to constitute
a new social imaginary (the "economy"). The result in all
these cases was a profound transformation of the social imaginary in
Western societies, and thus of the world in which we live.
There are three such important transitions which must figure in our
account: the rise of, respectively 1) the "economy", 2) the
public sphere, and 3) the practices and outlooks of democratic self-rule.
Each of these represents a penetration/transformation of the social
imaginary by the Grotian-Lockean theory of moral order. I have already
mentioned (1) above. I turn now to the other two.
2) The economic was perhaps the first dimension of "civil society"
to achieve an identity independent from the polity. But it was followed
shortly afterwards by the public sphere.
I want to describe the public sphere as a common space in which the
members of society are deemed to meet through a variety of media: print,
electronic, and also face-to-face encounters; to discuss matters of
common interest; and thus to be able to form a common mind about these.
I say "a common space", because although the media
are multiple, as well as the exchanges which take place in them, these
are deemed to be in principle intercommunicating. The discussion we're
having on television now takes account of what was said in the newspaper
this morning, which in turn reports on the radio debate yesterday, and
so on. That's why we usually speak of the public sphere, in the singular.
The public sphere is a central feature of modern society. So much so,
that even where it is in fact suppressed or manipulated it has to be
faked. Modern despotic societies have generally felt compelled to go
through the motions. Editorials appear in the party newspapers, purporting
to express the opinions of the writers, offered for the consideration
of their fellow citizens; mass demonstrations are organized, purporting
to give vent to the felt indignation of large numbers of people. All
this takes place as though a genuine process were in train of forming
a common mind through exchange, even though the result is carefully
controlled from the beginning.
In this discussion, I want to draw in particular on two very interesting
books, one published almost thirty years ago but recently translated
into English, J¨¹rgen Habermas' The Structural Transformation of
the Public Sphere,
23 which deals
with the development of public opinion in eighteenth Century Western
Europe; the other a very recent publication by Michael Warner,
The Letters of the Republic,
24 which describes
the analogous phenomenon in the British-American colonies.
A central theme of Habermas' book is the emergence in Western Europe
in the 18th Century of a new concept of public opinion. Dispersed publications
and small group or local exchanges come to be construed as one big debate,
from which the "public opinion" of a whole society emerges.
In other words, it is understood that widely separated people sharing
the same view have been linked in a kind of space of discussion, wherein
they have been able to exchange ideas together with others and reach
this common end-point.
What is this common space? It's a rather strange thing, when one comes
to think of it. The people involved here have by hypothesis never met.
But they are seen as linked in a common space of discussion through
media - in the 18th century, print media. Books, pamphlets, newspapers
circulated among the educated public, vehiculing theses, analyses, arguments,
counter-arguments, referring to and refuting each other. These were
widely read, and often discussed in face-to-face gatherings, in drawing
rooms, coffee houses, salons, and/or in more (authoritatively) "public"
places, like Parliament. The sensed general view which resulted from
all this, if any, counted as "public opinion" in this new
This space is a "public sphere", in the sense I'm using it
here. Now in the previous paragraph, I talked of a conclusion "counting
as" public opinion. This reflects the fact that a public sphere
can only exist if it is imagined as such. Unless all the dispersed discussions
are seen by their participants as linked in one great exchange, there
can be no sense of their upshot as "public opinion". This
doesn't mean that imagination is all-powerful here. There are objective
conditions; internal: for instance, that the fragmentary local discussions
inter-refer; external: there had to be printed materials, circulating
from a plurality of independent sources, for there to be the bases of
what could be seen as a common discussion. As is often said, the modern
public sphere relied on "print capitalism" to get going. But
as Warner shows, printing itself, and even print capitalism, didn't
provide a sufficient condition. They had to be taken up in the right
cultural context, where the essential common understandings could arise.
25 The public sphere
was a mutation of the social imaginary, one crucial to the development
of modern society. It was an important step on the long march.
We are now in a slightly better position to understand what kind of
thing a public sphere is, and why it was new in the eighteenth century.
It's a kind of common space, I have been saying, in which people who
never meet understand themselves to be engaged in discussion, and capable
of reaching a common mind. Let me introduce some new terminology. We
can speak of "common space" when people come together in a
common act of focus for whatever purpose, be it ritual, the enjoyment
of a play, conversation, the celebration of a major event, or whatever.
Their focus is common, as against merely convergent, because it is part
of what is commonly understood that they are attending to the common
object, or purpose, together, as against each person just happening,
on his or her own, to be concerned with the same thing. In this sense,
the "opinion of mankind" offers a merely convergent unity,
while public opinion is supposedly generated out of a series of common
Now an intuitively understandable kind of common space is set up when
people are assembled for some purpose, be it on an intimate level for
conversation, or on a larger, more "public" scale for a deliberative
assembly, or a ritual, or a celebration, or the enjoyment of a football
match or an opera, and the like. Common space arising from assembly
in some locale, I want to call "topical common space".
But the public sphere, as we have been defining it, is something different.
It transcends such topical spaces. We might say that it knits together
a plurality of such spaces into one larger space of non-assembly. The
same public discussion is deemed to pass through our debate today, and
someone else's earnest conversation tomorrow, and the newspaper interview
Thursday, and so on. I want to call this larger kind of non-local common
space "meta-topical". The public sphere which emerges in the
18th Century is a meta-topical common space.
What we have been discovering about such spaces is that they are partly
constituted by common understandings; that is, they are not reducible
to, but cannot exist without such understandings. New, unprecedented
kinds of spaces require new and unprecedented understandings. Such is
the case for the public sphere.
What is new is not meta-topicality. The Church, the state were already
existing meta-topical spaces. But getting clear about the novelty brings
us to the essential features of the public sphere as a step in the long
I see it as a step in this march, because this mutation in the social
imaginary was inspired by the modern idea of order. Two features of
it stand out in this regard. One is the one mentioned above; its independent
identity from the political. The other is its force as a benchmark of
legitimacy. Why these are important will be clear if we recur to the
original idealization, say, with Grotius or Locke.
First, as I made clear in the pencil sketch above (point 1), in the
Grotius-Locke idealization, political society is seen as an instrument
for something pre-political; there is a place to stand, mentally outside
of the polity, as it were, from which to judge its performance. This
is what is reflected in the new ways of imagining social life independent
of the political, viz., the economy and the public sphere.
Secondly, freedom is central to the rights society exists to defend
(point 3). Responding both to this, and to the underlying notion of
agency, the theory puts great importance on the requirement that political
society be founded on the consent of those bound by it.
Now contract theories of legitimate government had existed before. But
what was new with the theories of this century is that they put the
requirement of consent at a more fundamental level. It was not just
that a people, conceived already as existing, had to give consent to
those who would claim to rule it. Now the original contract brings us
out of the state of nature, and founds even the existence of a collectivity
which has some claim on its member individuals.
This original demand for once-for-all historical consent, as a condition
of legitimacy, can easily develop into a requirement of current consent.
Government must win the consent of the governed; not just originally,
but as an ongoing condition of legitimacy. This is what begins to surface
in the legitimation function of public opinion.
I will bring out these features of the public sphere, in reverse order.
This can perhaps best be done by articulating what is new about it on
two levels: what the public sphere
does; and what it is.
First, what it does; or rather, what is done in it. The public sphere
is the locus of a discussion potentially engaging everyone (although
in the 18th Century the claim was only to involve the educated or "enlightened"
minority) in which the society can come to a common mind about important
matters. This common mind is a reflective view, emerging from critical
debate, and not just a summation of whatever views happen to be held
in the population.
26 As a consequence
is has a normative status: government ought to listen to it. There were
two reasons for this, of which one tended to gain ground and ultimately
swallow up the other. The first is, that this opinion is likely to be
enlightened, and hence government would be well-advised to follow it.
This statement by Louis S¨¦bastien Mercier, quoted by Habermas,
27 give clear expression
to this idea:
Les bons livres d¨¦pendent des lumi¨¨res dans toutes les classes du peuple; ils ornent la v¨¦rit¨¦. Ce sont eux qui
d¨¦j¨¤ gouvernent l'Europe; ils ¨¦clairent le gouvernement
sur ses devoirs, sur sa faute, sur son v¨¦ritable int¨¦r¨ºt,
sur l'opinion publique qu'il doit ¨¦couter et suivre: ces
bons livres sont des ma@tres patients qui attendent le
r¨¦veil des administrateurs des @tats et le calme de
Kant famously had a similar view.
The second reason emerges with the view that the people is sovereign.
Government is then not only wise to follow opinion; it is morally bound
to do so. Governments ought to legislate and rule in the midst of a
reasoning public. Parliament, or the court, in taking its decisions
ought to be concentrating together and enacting what has already been
emerging out of enlightened debate among the people. From this arises
what Warner, following Habermas, calls the "principle of supervision",
which insists that the proceedings of governing bodies be public, open
to the scrutiny of the discerning public.
28 By going public,
legislative deliberation informs public opinion and allows it to be
maximally rational, while at the same time exposing itself to its pressure,
and thus acknowledging that legislation should ultimately bow to the
clear mandates of this opinion.
The public sphere is, then, a locus in which rational views are elaborated
which should guide government. This comes to be seen as an essential
feature of a free society. As Burke put is, "in a free country,
every man thinks he has a concern in all public matters".
30 There is, of
course, something very new about this in the 18th Century, compared
to the immediate past of Europe. But one might ask, is this new in history?
Isn't this a feature of all free societies?
No; there is a subtle but important difference. Let's compare the modern
society with a public sphere with an ancient republic or polis. In this
latter, we can imagine that debate on public affairs may be carried
on in a host of settings: among friends at a symposium, between those
who meet in the agora, and then of course in the ekklesia where the
thing is finally decided. The debate swirls around and ultimately reaches
its conclusion in the competent decision-making body. Now the difference
is that the discussions outside this body prepare for the action ultimately
taken by the same people within it. The "unofficial" discussions
are not separated off, given a status of their own, and seen to constitute
a kind of meta-topical space.
But that is what happens with the modern public sphere. It is a space
of discussion which is self-consciously seen as being outside power.
It is supposed to be listened to by power, but it is not itself an exercise
of power. Its in this sense extra-political status is crucial. As we
shall see below, it links the public sphere with other facets of modern
society which also are seen as essentially extra-political. The extra-political
status is not just defined negatively, as a lack of power. It is also
seen positively: just because public opinion is not an exercise of power,
it can be ideally disengaged from partisan spirit and rational.
In other words, with the modern public sphere comes the idea that political
power must be supervised and checked by something outside. What was
new, of course, was not that there was an outside check, but rather
the nature of this instance. It is not defined as the will of God, or
the Law of Nature (although it could be thought to articulate these),
but as a kind of discourse, emanating from reason and not from power
or traditional authority. As Habermas puts it, power was to be tamed
by reason. The notion was that "veritas non auctoritas facit legem".
In this way, the public sphere was different from everything preceding
it. An "unofficial" discussion, which nevertheless can come
to a verdict of great importance, it is defined outside the sphere of
power. It borrows some of the images from ancient assemblies, as we
saw above from the American case, to project the whole public as one
space of discussion. But as Warner shows, it innovates in relation to
this model. Those who intervene are, as it were, like speakers before
an assembly. But unlike their models in real ancient assemblies, they
strive for a certain impersonality, a certain impartiality, an eschewing
of party spirit. They strive to negate their own particularity, and
thus to rise above "any private or partial view". This is
what Warner calls "the principle of negativity". And we can
see it not only as suiting with the print, as against spoken, medium,
but also as giving expression to this crucial feature of the new public
sphere as extra-political, as a discourse of reason
on and to power, rather than
As Warner points out, the rise of the public sphere involves a breach
in the old ideal of a social order undivided by conflict and difference.
On the contrary, it means that debate breaks out, and continues, involving
in principle everybody, and this is perfectly legitimate. The old unity
will be gone for ever. But a new unity is to be substituted. For the
ever-continuing controversy is not meant to be an exercise in power,
a quasi-civil war carried on by dialectical means. Its potentially divisive
and destructive consequences are offset by the fact that it is a debate
outside of power, a rational debate, striving without parti pris to
define the common good. "The language of resistance to controversy
articulates a norm for controversy. It silently transforms the ideal
of a social order free from conflictual debate into an ideal of debate
free from social conflict."
So what the public sphere does, is enable the society to come to a common
mind, without the mediation of the political sphere, in a discourse
of reason outside power, which nevertheless is normative for power.
Now let's try to see what, in order to do this, it has to
We can perhaps best do this by trying to define what is new and unprecedented
in it. And I want to get to this in two steps, as it were. First, there
is the aspect of its novelty which has already been touched on. When
we compare the public sphere with one of the important sources of its
constitutive images, viz., the ancient republic, what springs to our
notice is its extra-political locus. The "Republic of Letters"
was a common term which the members of the international society of
savants in interchange gave themselves towards the end of the seventeenth
Century. This was a precursor phenomenon to the public sphere; indeed,
it contributed to shaping it. Here was a "republic" constituted
outside of the political.
Both the analogy and the difference gave its force and point to this
image: it was a republic as a unified association, grouping all enlightened
participants, across political boundaries; but it was also a republic
in being free from subjection; its "citizens" owed no allegiance
but to it, as long as they went about the business of Letters.
Something of this in inherited by the eighteenth century public sphere.
Within it, the members of society come together and pursue a common
end; they form and understand themselves to form an association, which
is nevertheless not constituted by its political structure. This was
not true of the ancient polis or republic. Athens was a society, a koin@nia,
only as constituted politically. And the same was true of Rome. The
ancient society was given its identity by its laws. On the banners of
the legions, "SPQR" stood for "Senatus populusque romanus",
but the "populus" here was the ensemble of Roman citizens,
that is, those defined as such by the laws. The people didn't have an
identity, didn't constitute a unity prior to and outside of these laws.
This reflected, as we saw above, a common pre-modern understanding of
the moral\metaphysical order underlying social practice.
By contrast, in projecting a public sphere, our eighteenth century forbears
were placing themselves in an association, this common space of discussion,
which owed nothing to political structures, but was seen as existing
independently of them.
This extra-political status is one aspect of the newness: that all the
members of a political society (or at least, all the competent and "enlightened"
members) should be seen as also forming a society outside the state.
Indeed, this society was wider than any one state; it extended for some
purposes to all of civilized Europe. This is an extremely important
aspect, and corresponds to a crucial feature of our contemporary civilization,
which emerges at this time, and which is visible in more than the public
sphere. I want to take this up in a minute, but first we have to take
the second step.
For it is obvious that an extra-political, international society is
by itself not new. It is preceded by the Stoic cosmopolis, and more
immediately, by the Christian Church. Europeans were used to living
in a dual society, one organized by two mutually irreducible principles.
So the second facet of the newness of the public sphere has to be defined
as its radical secularity.
Here I am recurring to a very particular use of this term, in which
it stands close to its original meaning as an expression for a certain
kind of time. It is obviously intimately related to the one common meaning
of `secularity', which focusses on the removal of God, or religion or
the spiritual from public space. What I am talking about here is not
exactly that, but something which has contributed to it; viz., a shift
in our understanding of what society is grounded on. In spite of all
the risks of confusion, there is a reason to use the term `secular'
here because it marks in its very etymology what is at stake here, which
has something to do with the way human society inhabits time. But this
way of describing the difference can only be brought in later, after
some preliminary exploration.
The notion of secularity I'm using here is radical, because it stands
not only in contrast with a divine foundation for society, but with
any idea of society as constituted in something which transcends contemporary
common action. For instance, some hierarchical societies conceive themselves
as bodying forth some part of the Chain of Being. Behind the empirical
fillers of the slots of kingship, aristocracy, and so on, lie the Ideas,
or the persisting metaphysical Realities that these people are momentarily
embodying. The King has two bodies, only one being the particular, perishable
one, which is now being fed and clothed, and will later be buried.
34 Within this
outlook, what constitutes a society as such is the metaphysical order
35 People act within
a framework which is there prior to and independent of their action.
But secularity contrasts not only with divinely-established churches,
or Great Chains. It is also different from an understanding of our society
as constituted by a law which has been ours since time out of mind.
Because this too, places our action within a framework, one which binds
us together and makes us a society, and which transcends our common
In contradistinction to all this, the public sphere is an association
which is constituted by nothing outside of the common action we carry
out in it: coming to a common mind, where possible, through the exchange
of ideas. Its existence as an association is just our acting together
in this way. This common action is not made possible by a framework
which needs to be established in some action-transcendent dimension:
either by an act of God, or in a Great Chain, or by a law which comes
down to us since time out of mind. This is what makes it radically secular.
And this, I want to claim, gets us to the heart of what is new and unprecedented
This is baldly stated. Obviously, this notion of secularity still needs
to be made clearer. Perhaps the contrast is obvious enough with Mystical
Bodies and Great Chains. But I am claiming a difference from traditional
tribal society as well, the kind of thing the German peoples had who
founded our modern North Atlantic polities, or in another form what
constituted the ancient republics and poleis. And this might be challenged.
These societies were defined by a law. But is that all that different
from the public sphere? After all, whenever we want to act in this sphere,
we meet a number of structures already in place: there are certain newspapers,
television networks, publishing houses, and the rest. We act within
the channels that these provide. Is this not rather analogous to any
member of a tribe, who also has to act within established structures,
of chieftainships, councils, annual meetings, and the rest? Of course,
the institutions of the public sphere change; newspapers go broke, television
networks merge, and the like. But no tribe remains absolutely fixed
in its forms; these too evolve over time. If one wanted to claim that
this pre-existing structure is valid for ongoing action, but not for
the founding acts which set up the public sphere, the answer might be
that these are impossible to identify in the stream of time, any more
than they are for the tribe. And if we want to insist that there must
be such a moment, then we should remark that many tribes as well hand
down legends of a founding act, when a Lycurgus, for instance, laid
down their laws. Surely he acted outside of existing structures.
Talking of actions within structures brings out the similarities. But
there is an important difference which resides in the respective common
understandings. It is true that in a functioning public sphere, action
at any time is carried out within structures laid down earlier. There
is a de facto arrangement of things. But this arrangement doesn't enjoy
any privilege over the action carried out within it. The structures
were set up during previous acts of communication in common space, on
all fours with those we are carrying out now. Our present action may
modify these structures, and that is perfectly legitimate, because these
are seen as nothing more than precipitates and facilitators of such
But the traditional law of a tribe usually enjoys a different status.
We may, of course, alter it over time, following the prescription it
itself provides. But it is not seen just as a precipitate and facilitator
of action. The abolition of the law would mean the abolition of the
subject of common action, because the law defines the tribe as an entity.
Whereas a public sphere could start up again, even where all media had
been abolished, simply by founding new ones, a tribe can only resume
its life on the understanding that the law, although perhaps interrupted
in its efficacy by foreign conquest, is still in force.
That's what I mean when I say that what constitutes the society, what
makes the common agency possible, transcends the common actions carried
out within it. It is not just that the structures we need for today's
common action arose as a consequence of yesterday's, which however was
no different in nature from today's. Rather the traditional law is a
precondition of any common action, at whatever time, because this common
agency couldn't exist without it. It is in this sense transcendent.
By contrast, in a purely secular association (in my sense), common agency
arises simply in and as a precipitate of common action.
The crucial distinction underlying the concept of secularity I'm trying
to define here can thus be related to this issue: what constitutes the
association? or otherwise put, what makes this group of people as they
continue over time a common agent? Where this is something which transcends
the realm of those common actions this agency engages in, the association
is non-secular. Where the constituting factor is nothing other than
such common action - whether the founding acts have already occurred
in the past, or are now coming about is immaterial - we have secularity.
Now the claim I want to make is that this kind of secularity is modern;
that it comes about very recently in the history of mankind. Of course,
there have been all sorts of momentary and topical common agents which
have arisen just from common action. A crowd gathers, people shout protests,
and then the governor's house is stoned, or the chateau is burned down.
But prior to the modern day, enduring, metatopical common agency was
inconceivable on a purely secular basis. People could only see themselves
as constituted into such by something action-transcendent, be it a foundation
by God, or a Chain of Being which society bodied forth, or some traditional
law which defined our people. The eighteenth century public sphere thus
represents an instance of a new kind: a metatopical common space and
common agency without an action-transcendent constitution, an agency
grounded purely in its own common actions.
But how about the founding moments which traditional societies often
"remembered"? What about Lycurgus' action in giving Sparta
its laws? Surely these show us examples of the constituting factor (here
law) issuing from common action: Lycurgus proposes, the Spartans accept.
But it is in the nature of such founding moments that they are not put
on the same plane as contemporary common action. The foundation acts
are displaced onto a higher plane, into a heroic time, an illud tempus
which is not seen as qualitatively on a level with what we do today.
The founding action is not just like our action, not just an earlier
similar act whose precipitate structures ours. It is not just earlier,
but in another kind of time, an exemplary time.
And this is why I am tempted to use the term `secular', in spite of
all the misunderstandings which may arise. Because it's clear that I
don't only mean: `not tied to religion'.
37 The exclusion
is much broader. For the original sense of `secular' was `of the age',
that is, pertaining to profane time. It was close to the sense of `temporal'
in the opposition temporal/spiritual, as we saw earlier.
Now in earlier ages, the understanding was that this profane time existed
in relation to (surrounded by, penetrated by: it is hard to find the
right words here) higher times. Pre-modern understandings of time seem
to have been always multi-dimensional. Time was transcended and held
in place by eternity; whether that of Greek philosophy, or that of the
Biblical God. In either case, eternity was not just endless profane
time, but an ascent into the unchanging, or a kind of gathering of time
into a unity; hence the expression "hoi ai@nes t@n ai@n@n",
or "saecula saeculorum".
The Platonic or Christian relating of time and eternity were not the
only games in town, even in Christendom. There was also the much more
widespread sense of a foundation time, a "time of origins"
as Eliade used to call it,
38 which was complexly
related to the present moment in ordinary time, in that it frequently
could be ritually approached and its force partly re-appropriated at
certain privileged moments. That's why it could not simply be unambiguously
placed in the past (in ordinary time). The Christian liturgical year
draws on this kind of time-consciousness, widely shared by other religious
outlooks, in re-enacting the "founding" events of Christ's
Now it seems to have been the universal norm to see the important meta-topical
spaces and agencies as constituted in some mode of higher time. States,
churches, were seen to exist almost necessarily in more than one time-dimension,
as though it were inconceivable that they have their being purely in
the profane or ordinary time. A state which bodied forth the Great Chain
was connected to the eternal realm of the Ideas; a people defined by
its law communicated with the founding time where this was laid down;
and so on.
Modern "secularization" can be seen from one angle as the
rejection of higher times, and the positing of time as purely profane.
Events now exist only in this one dimension, in which they stand at
greater and lesser temporal distance, and in relations of causality
with other events of the same kind. The modern notion of simultaneity
comes to be, in which events utterly unrelated in cause or meaning are
held together simply by their co-occurrence at the same point in this
single profane time-line. Modern literature, as well as news media,
seconded by social science, has accustomed us to think of society in
terms of vertical time-slices, holding together myriad happenings, related
and unrelated. I think Anderson is right that this is a typically modern
mode of social imagination, which our mediaeval forbears would have
found difficult to understand, for where events in profane time are
very differently related to higher time, it seems unnatural just to
group them side by side in the modern relation of simultaneity. This
carries a presumption of homogeneity which was essentially negated by
the dominant time-consciousness.
39 I will recur
to this below.
Now the move to what I am calling "secularity" is obviously
related to this radically purged time-consciousness. It comes when associations
are placed firmly and wholly in homogeneous, profane time, whether or
not the higher time is negated altogether, or other associations are
still admitted to exist in it. Such I want to argue is the case with
the public sphere, and therein lies its new and (close to) unprecedented
I can now perhaps draw this discussion together, and try to state what
the public sphere was. It was a new meta-topical space, in which
members of society could exchange ideas and come to a common mind. As
such it constituted a meta-topical agency, but one which was understood
to exist independent of the political constitution of society and completely
in profane time.
An extra-political, secular, meta-topical space, this is what the public
sphere was and is. And the importance of understanding this lies partly
in the fact that it was not the only such, that it was part of a development
which transformed our whole understanding of time and society, so that
we have trouble recalling what it was like before.
There are, of course, two other such extra-political, secular spaces
which have played a crucial role in the development of society. they
are: first, society considered as extra-politically organized in a (market)
economy, which I mentioned above; and second, society as a "people",
that is as a meta-topical agency which is thought to pre-exist and found
the politically organized society. We have to see these three as linked
in their development, and also as interwoven with other kinds of social
spaces which were also emerging at this time.
Habermas notes that the new public sphere brought together people who
had already carved out a "private" space as economic agents
and owners of property, as well as an "intimate" sphere which
was the locus of their family life. The agents constituting this new
public sphere were thus both "bourgeois" and "homme".
I think there is a very important link here. The importance of these
new kinds of "private" space, that is, the heightened sense
of their significance in human life, and the growing consensus in favour
of entrenching their independence in face of state and church, bestowed
in fact exceptional importance on an extra-political and secular domain
of life. It is hard not to believe that this in some way facilitated
the rise of the public sphere.
I would like to place these forms of privacy in a further historical
context, which I already invoked above, in connection with the rise
of the "economy". This is what I have called the "affirmation
of ordinary life".
41 By this I mean
the broad movement in European culture, which seems to have been carried
first by the Protestant Reformation, which steadily enhances the significance
of production and family life. Whereas the dominant ethics which descend
from the ancient world tended to treat these as infra-structural to
the "good life", defined in terms of supposedly "higher"
activities, like contemplation or citizen participation, and whereas
mediaeval Catholicism leaned to a view which made the life of dedicated
celibacy the highest form of Christian practice, the Reformers stressed
that we follow God first of all in our callings and in our families.
The ordinary is sanctified, or put in other terms, the claims to special
sanctity of certain types of life (the monastic), or special places
(churches), or special acts (the Mass), were rejected as part of false
and impious belief that humans could in some way control the action
But to say that all claims to special sanctity were rejected is to say
that the nodal points where profane time especially connected with divine
time were repudiated. We live our ordinary lives, work in our callings,
sustain our families, in profane time. In the new perspective, this
is what God demands of us, and not any attempts on our part to connect
with eternity. That connection is purely God's affair. Thus the issue
whether we live good or bad lives was henceforth situated firmly in
ordinary life and within profane time.
Transposed out of a theological and into a purely human dimension, this
gave rise to the constellation of modern beliefs and sensibility which
makes the central questions of the good life turn on how we live our
ordinary lives, and turns its back on supposedly "higher"
or more heroic modes of life. It underlies the "bourgeois"
ethic of peaceful rational productivity in its polemic against the aristocratic
ethic of honour and heroism. It can even appropriate its own forms of
heroism, as in the Promethean picture of humans as producers, transforming
the face of the earth, which we find with Marx. Or it can issue in the
more recent ethic of self-fulfilment in relationships, which is very
much part of our contemporary world.
This is the background against which we can understand the two developments
Habermas picks out. First, the saliency given to the "private"
economic agent reflects the significance of the life of production in
the ethic of ordinary life. This agent is private, over against the
"public" realm of state and other authority. The "private"
world of production now has a new dignity and importance. The enhancing
of the private in effect gives the charter to a certain kind of individualism.
The agent of production acts on his own, operates in a sphere of exchange
with others which doesn't need to be constituted by authority. As these
acts of production and exchange come to be seen as forming an ideally
self-regulating system, the notion emerges of a new kind of extra-political
and secular sphere, an "economy" in the modern sense. Where
the word originally applied to the management of a household, and therefore
to a domain which could never be seen as self-regulating, in the 18th
Century the notion arises of an economic system, with the Physiocrats
and Adam Smith, and that is the way we understand it today.
The (market) economy comes to constitute a sphere, that is, a way in
which people are linked together to form an interconnecting society,
not only objectively but in their self-understanding. This sphere is
extra-political and secularly constituted. But it is in an important
sense not public. The time has come perhaps to distinguish some of the
senses of this overworked term.
There seem to be two main semantic axes along which this term is used.
The first connects `public' to what affects the whole community ("public
affairs"), or the management of these affairs ("public authority").
The second makes publicity a matter of access ("this park is open
to the public"), or appearance ("the news has been made public").
The new "private" sphere of economic agents contrasts with
`public' in the first sense. But these agents also came to constitute
what we have been calling a public sphere in the second sense, because
this sphere is precisely a meta-topical common space, a space in which
people come together and contact each other. It is a space, we might
say, of mutual appearance, and in that sense a "public" space.
But the economic sphere proper is not public even in that second sense.
The whole set of economic transactions are linked in a series of causal
relations, which can be traced, and by which we can understand how they
influence each other, but this is neither a matter of common decision
(by "public authority), nor do these linked transactions lie in
some public domain of common appearance. And yet I want to speak of
a "sphere" because the agents in an economy are seen as being
linked in a single society, in which their actions reciprocally affect
each other in some systematic way.
The economy is the first mode of society of the new sort which I defined
above, a society constituted purely extra-politically and in profane
time. It forms part of the background to the rise of the public sphere.
It seems very plausible that the explanation of each is interlinked
with that of the other.
The second background Habermas picks out is the intimate sphere. Here
we see a development of the second main constituent of ordinary life,
the world of the family and its affections. As the 18th Century develops,
this becomes the locus of another demand for "privacy", this
time defined in relation to the second kind of "publicness",
that concerned with access. Family life retreats more and more into
an intimate sphere, shielded from the outside world, and even from the
other members of a large household. Houses are more and more constructed
to allow for the "privacy" of family members, in relation
to servants as well as outsiders.
The enhanced value placed on family life, in the context of another
long-term development, towards greater concentration on subjectivity
and inwardness, has as one of its fruits the 18th Century cherishing
of sentiment. Another shift occurs, as it were, in the centre of gravity
of the good life, within the broad development which affirms ordinary
life, and a new importance comes to repose on our experiencing fine,
noble, or exalted sentiments. This new ethic both defines and propagates
itself through literature. Perhaps its central vehicle was the epistolary
novel. Rousseau's Julie was a paradigm case.
This literature helped define a new understanding of an intimate sphere
of close relations, the home at its finest of noble sentiments, and
exalted experience. This understanding of experience was further enriched
by a new conception of art in the category of the "aesthetic".
This is another fruit of subjectification, of course, because art understood
in this category is being defined in terms of our reaction to it. It
is in this century that music becomes more and more detached from public
and liturgical function, and comes to join the other arts as objects
of aesthetic enjoyment, enriching the intimate sphere.
This intimate realm was also part of the background against which the
public sphere emerged. And not only because it constituted part of the
domain of the (extra-political and secular) "private", but
also because the intimate domain had to be defined through public interchange,
both of literary works and of criticism. This is only superficially
a paradox, as we shall see below. A new definition of human identity,
however "private", can only become generally accepted through
being defined and affirmed in public space. And this critical exchange
itself came to constitute a public sphere. We might say, it came to
constitute an axis of the public sphere, along with, even slightly ahead
of the principal axis which concerned us above: exchange around matters
of public (in sense one) policy. People who never met came to a mutually
recognized common mind about the moving power of Rousseau's
Julie, even as they came to do in the early Revolutionary period
about the insights of his Contrat Social.
We should also mention here a third way in which the Reformation helped
to create the conditions for meta-topical common agency in secular time.
I am thinking here particularly of the more radical, Calvinist wing.
From the very beginning this usually demanded a much more thoroughgoing
reorganization of Church life than the more moderate Lutheran variant.
Later, particularly in the English-speaking countries, this also spilled
over into political restructuring, and the founding of new political
units, designed on new principles, as in New England. At this point
this strand of the Reformation also began to fissure, and to generate
new "free" churches, based more and more on voluntary associations,
a process which intensifies in the eighteenth Century with Methodism
and the Great Awakening.
In this recurrent activity of founding and refounding, we are witnessing
more and more the creation of common agencies in secular time. We still
have a crucial reference to God, as the one who calls us to this refounding,
but the reference to higher time is less and less prominent. It remained,
if at all, only in an eschatological perspective, to the extent that
the new reforms were thought to be ushering in the end of profane time,
and the gathering of all times in God. As this perspective dims, the
founding activity is confined more and more exclusively in profane time.
The life of these new churches or sects also helped to set the scene
for modern forms of common agency in another respect. They usually demanded
a strong commitment from their members, drawing them to associate with
others beyond the bounds of family, lineage, neighbourhood or traditional
fealty. They created societies in which these more partial ties mattered
less than belonging to a religious community for which membership was
individual, and fundamentally the same for all. Something like this,
of course, was always part of the theory of the Christian Church, but
the modern sect lived this more intensely, and accustomed its members
to see themselves as belonging individually and directly to the whole.
The ground was thus prepared for modern "horizontal", or direct
access societies, in which our membership is unmediated by any partial
group, as also for a mode of sociability in which new associations are
constantly being created.
It is against this whole, economic, ecclesial and intimate-sentimental
background that we have to understand the rise of the public sphere
in Europe. And this means that we should understand it as part of a
family of extra-political and secular constitutions of "society".
On one side, it relates to the economy, even farther removed from the
political realm in that it is not a domain of publicity in any sense.
On the other side, it helped to nourish the new images of popular sovereignty,
which gave rise to new and sometimes frightening forms of political
action in this century.
3) This latter is the third in the great connected chain of mutations
in the social imaginary which have helped constitute modern society.
This too starts off as a theory, and then gradually infiltrates and
transmutes social imaginaries. We can see how older ideas of legitimacy
are colonized, as it were, with the new understandings of order, and
then transformed; in certain cases, without a clear break.
The United States is a case in point. The reigning notions of legitimacy
in Britain and America, the ones which fired the English Civil War,
for instance, as well as the beginnings of the Colonies' rebellion,
were basically backward-looking. They turned around the idea of an "ancient
constitution", an order based on law holding "since time out
of mind", in which Parliament had its rightful place beside the
King. This was typical of one of the most widespread pre-modern understandings
of order, which referred back to a "time of origins" (Eliade's
phrase), which was not in ordinary time.
This older idea emerges from the American Revolution transformed into
a full-fledged foundation in popular sovereignty, whereby the US constitution
is put in the mouth of "We, the people". This was preceded
by an appeal to the idealized order of Natural Law, in the invocation
of "truths held self-evident" in the Declaration of Independence.
The transition was the easier, because what was understood as the traditional
law gave an important place to elected assemblies and their consent
to taxation. All that was needed was to shift the balance in these so
as to make elections the only source of legitimate power.
But what has to take place for this change to come off is a transformed
social imaginary, in which the idea of foundation is taken out of the
mythical early time, and seen as something that people can do today.
In other words, it becomes something that can be brought about by collective
action in contemporary, purely secular time. This happened sometime
in the eighteenth century, but really more towards its end than its
beginning. @lites propounded theories of founding action beforehand,
but these hadn't adequately sunk into the general social imaginary for
them to be acted on. So that 1688, radical departure as it may seem
to us in retrospect, was presented as an act of continuity, of return
to a pre-existent legality. (We are fooled by a change in semantics.
The "Glorious Revolution" had the original sense of a return
to the original position; not the modern sense of a innovative turn-over.
Of course, it helped by its Wirkungsgeschichte to alter the sense.)
This fit between theory and social imaginary is crucial to the outcome.
Popular Sovereignty could be invoked in the American case, because it
had a generally agreed institutional meaning. All colonists agreed that
the way to found a new constitution was through some kind of assembly,
perhaps slightly larger than the normal one, such as in Massachusetts
in 1779. The force of the old representative institutions helped to
"interpret" in practical terms the new concept.
Quite different was the case in the French Revolution, with fateful
effects. The impossibility remarked by all historians of "bringing
the Revolution to an end"
43 came partly
from this, that any particular expression of popular sovereignty could
be challenged by some other, with substantial support. Part of the terrifying
instability of the first years of the Revolution stemmed from this negative
fact, that the shift from the legitimacy of dynastic rule to that of
the nation had no agreed meaning in a broadly based social imaginary.
This is not to be understood as the global "explanation" of
this instability, but as telling us something about the way in which
the different factors we cite to explain it worked together to produce
the result we know. Of course, the fact that substantial parts of the
King's entourage, the army and the nobility did not accept the new principles
created a tremendous obstacle to stabilization. And even those who were
for the new legitimacy were divided among themselves. But what made
these latter divisions so deadly was the absence of any agreed understanding
on the institutional meaning of the sovereignty of the nation.
Burke's advice to the revolutionaries was to stick to their traditional
constitution, and amend it piecemeal. But this was already beyond their
powers. It was not just that the representative institutions of this
constitution, the Estates General, had been in abeyance for 175 years.
They were also profoundly out of synch with the aspiration to equal
citizenship which had developed among the educated classes, the bourgeoisie
and a good part of the aristocracy, which found expression in a number
of ways; negatively through the attack on aristocratic privilege, and
positively in the enthusiasm for Republican Rome and its ideals.
44 That is why
virtually the first demand of the Third Estate in 1789 was to abolish
the separate chambers, and bring all the delegates together in a single
Even more gravely, outside of these educated ¨¦lites, there was very
little sense of what a representative constitution might mean. True,
masses of people responded to the calling of the Estates General, with
their cahiers de dol¨¦ance, but this whole procedure supposed the continuance
of royal sovereignty; it wasn't at all suited to serve as a channel
for the popular will.
What the moderates hoped for was something along the lines of Burke's
prescription: an evolution of the traditional constitution to fashion
the kind of representative institutions which would precisely be understood
by all as the expression of the nation's will, through the votes of
the citizens. This is what the House of Commons had become in the 18th
Century, even though the "people" here was a small ¨¦lite,
deemed to speak for the whole through various kinds of virtual representation.
This created a sense of the forms of self-rule which was part of the
social imaginary of the broader society. That's why the demands for
broader popular participation took the form in England of proposals
to extend the franchise. The people wanted in to the established representative
structure, as most notably in the Chartist agitation of the 1830s and
1840s. The American case discussed above was a stage ahead on this same
evolution; their representative assemblies were generally elected on
the basis of manhood suffrage.
These forms of self-rule through elected assembly were part of the generally
available repertory in the Anglo-Saxon societies. Not only were they
absent in that of the popular classes in France, but these had developed
their own forms of popular protest which were structured by a quite
different logic. French peasants and city dwellers had their own way
of making their needs known when things got intolerable, the peasant
or urban uprising. In towns, say, when the price of wheat soared, and
local merchants were suspected of hoarding grain to make a killing,
riots could break out, targetting the municipal authorities and/or the
offending merchants. These offenders were often killed, in a partly
ritualized violence which our modern sensibility finds gruesome (e.g.,
the victims decapitated, their heads carried around on pikes and displayed).
Then the royal government would react, send in some soldiers, restore
order, and make some exemplary punishments (more killing, and with its
own ritual elements, which accompanied public executions under the ancien
45 But they would
also be sure to take measures to lower the price of grain, imposing
ceilings and importing stocks from elsewhere.
From one point of view, one can see the whole bloody process as an exchange
between the base and the summit where power resides, the enacting of
a cahier de dol¨¦ance in unmistakable terms. But the background understanding
which enframes the whole exchange is that power remains at the summit;
the very opposite of the understanding defining popular sovereignty.
Popular classes that function in this way have to transform their repertory
before they can act as a sovereign "people".
A good part of what was involved in "bringing the Revolution to
an end" was this transformation of the popular repertory, the development
of a new social imaginary which would confer on regular ordered elections
the meaning of expressions of popular will. In the meantime, as always,
there was a struggle to reinterpret old practices in a new way.
Take the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. This was in many
ways an old-style popular insurrection. It had a particular, limited
goal: getting hold of the arms which were supposedly stored in the Bastille
in order to defend Paris against the threat of the Swiss mercenaries;
and it ended in a very tradition ritual of violence: the execution of
the governor, whose head was displayed on a pike. But just as the revolt
of the colonies in the name of their traditional, established rights
was later reinterpreted as the innovative act of a sovereign people;
so here the taking of the Bastille was seen as an assertion of popular
power. The building's importance was no longer the particular, contingent
fact that it contained arms (actually it didn't really, but that was
what was believed), but its essential, symbolic nature as a prison in
which people were arbitrarily confined by royal fiat.
This creative misremembering has played a big part in the transformation
of the social imaginary. It was ritually referred to in the F¨ºte de
la F¨¦d¨¦ration exactly a year later, through which Lafayette hoped
to stabilize the revolution in the more moderate form of a constitutional
monarchy. And it has of course become THE symbolic date of the turn-over
to popular rule, the annual national feast of the French Republic.
But in the nature of things this kind of transformation couldn't be
effected right away, in the immediate aftermath of the Revolution. Moreover,
any chance of doing this was undermined by the fact that the leading
¨¦lites couldn't agree on the representative forms which they wanted
to have accepted as the normal channels of the popular will.
For the great battle between the different revolutionary factions turned
on this issue: what was the correct institutional expression for the
sovereignty of the nation. This defined the terms of the struggle between
them. Each had its formula to offer as the proper way of realizing this
principle: whether through a republic or a constitutional monarchy,
through indirect representation, or some more immediate relation of
people and deputy, through the representation of different interests
or the undivided expression of a general will. The undecidable issue
between these different institutions and procedures had in the end to
be determined at the boundary of all of them, through coups de force.
Thus the members of the Convention elected by the "people"
were eventually purged in 1793 under threat of the activists from the
Paris sections, and that in the name of the "people". The
immediate consequences are too horrible and too well-known to need repetition.
The terms of this struggle, its peculiarly intense ideological nature,
the immense importance placed on theoretical justifications and models
of right government, during those days when the urgent practical dangers
of foreign invasion and internal counter-revolutionary insurrection
seemed to demand their place at the top of the agenda; these are to
be understood in this context. The discourse wasn't simply a cover for
the hard reality of group interest and military defense, a diagnosis
which becomes truer later in under the Directory. Rather all this talk
was for real; its goal being to establish that one's own group was carrying
out the only legitimate realization of the sovereignty of the people.
And this meant that however dotty the content of the discourse, it was
generally meant in deadly earnest; even when we're dealing with the
Jacobins, where the criteria of genuine representation of the people
turned crucially on the virtue of the leaders, standing foursquare for
the whole against the self-interested, divisive "factions".
It is especially in the case of the Jacobins that the expression "deadly
earnest" becomes appropriate.
As Furet has argued, the murderous craziness of the revolutionary crisis
cannot be considered a kind of rhetorical froth thrown up by the real
battles for national survival, or between groups. We have to allow for
The problem of "ending the Revolution" continued to haunt
French society into the Restoration and well into the 19th Century.
47 The return to
some stability in the aftermath of the Revolution could only come through
some generally accepted forms of representative government. And this
meant solving the double problem which the whole Revolutionary period
had left unresolved: coming to an agreement among political ¨¦lites
on representative institutions, which could at the same time become
part of the popular social imaginary.
Once again, during the Restoration, the opposition of the royalist ultras
made things exceedingly difficult. And the growing social divisions
which came with the growth of the working class made it all the more
difficult to bridge the gap between ¨¦lite constitutionalism and popular
repertory. On the contrary, the Revolution remained alive for a number
of radicals not just as the gateway to a proper institutional order,
but as itself the paradigm moment of popular sovereignty. Something
like a revolutionary scenario, what Robert Tombs calls "the Revolutionary
48 haunted the
radical imagination and remained in the popular memory, waiting to be
re-enacted in order to realize finally the promise of 1789. In these
circumstances, the spectre of renewed revolution could never be finally
laid to rest, however often the claim was made to have "ended the
But as Guizot, the Doctrinaires, Thiers, and later Gambetta saw, the
only solution would be the evolution of forms which would come to be
generally recognized as the obviously appropriate realization of the
new principle of legitimacy. Guizot and the Doctrinaires understood
that required the growth of a new, widely shared social imaginary,
49 but their own
¨¦lite representative institutions, with their narrow franchise, could
never chrystallize this around themselves, as gradually became clear
Over time, republican France found such forms, but only after they had
gone over to manhood suffrage. Gambetta saw that the only way the people
could develop a new social imaginary around ordered representative institutions
was by participating in their election.
The forms which "took" in France turned out to be interestingly
different from the Anglo-American mode. Pierre Rosanvallon has traced
the peculiar path by which universal suffrage was achieved in France,
and he brings to light the different shape of the social imaginary in
this republican tradition.
So this third of the great mutations, after the economy and the public
sphere, involves "inventing the people"
53 as a new collective
agency. We can recognize in the forms which have emerged from these
mutations the lineaments of our understanding of moral order in contemporary
liberal democracies. The way we imagine our social life is articulated
in these forms. The "society" in which we live is not just
the politically-structured order; we also belong to "civil society".
We are linked in an economy, can seek access to a public sphere, and
move in a world of independent associations.
Moreover, action in the political sphere has to take account of the
integrity of the other forms, and the goals people seek in them. It
is true that the idea of politics as purely instrumental to, say, economic
prosperity is hotly contested in our world (and rightly so, I believe).
In fact, the emergence of popular sovereignty has given politics a new
importance, which partly expressed itself in the retrieval of forms
and ideals from the ancient republics and poleis, in which political
activity stood at the apex of the citizen's life. But even so, the integrity
of the other spheres cannot be gainsaid. The drive to over-ride them,
to control all other aspects of life in the name of some radiant future,
has become familiar to us as the totalitarian temptation, visible early
on at the height of the Jacobin terror, and latterly in Soviet Communism
and its offshoots. Not only do these attempts run counter to certain
fundamental features of our understanding of moral order - most notably
the demand for individual freedom and moral autonomy - but they themselves
have generally been undertaken in the hope (vain, as it turns out) that
this hyper-control would issue in a world of non-constraint. For Marxism,
the ultimate end was the withering away of the state. No more eloquent
testimony is possible to the profound anchoring of the pre-political
in our modern understanding as limit and goal of politics.
(In the case of the other great totalitarian temptation of our century,
Fascism, we have indeed, a frontal assault on our understanding of moral
order. This is one facet of the reaction against this order, which I
want to describe below. It is important to see that this order has been
and will continue to be contested. But it is hard to imagine its being
replaced. We were lucky in that Fascism was eliminated by military defeat
in the first half of the Century. But even if it hadn't suffered this
fate, I doubt that fascist r¨¦gimes could have indefinitely resisted
the demands for greater freedom which are so anchored in our culture.)
This sense of the modern age as one which gives a crucial place to the
non-political was articulated early on by Benjamin Constant in his famous
lecture on ancient and modern liberty.
54 The error of
Jacobinism (and of Rousseau), according to Constant was to think that
the only freedom which matters to us is that of political participation,
which the ancients prized. But we have become people for whom economic
prosperity and the satisfactions pf private life also have a crucial
importance. We cannot just apply the ancient models to our political
In order to give a fuller picture of our contemporary notions of moral
order, we should add to the three forms of social existence we have
already identified in our modern imaginary - economy, public sphere,
and a polity ruled by the people - a fourth, which has been articulated
in bills and charters of rights. Here is a crucial feature of the original
Grotian-Lockean theory which has become embedded in our understanding
of normative order. It has come to structure our social imaginary in
somewhat the same way and by the same process as Popular Sovereignty
has. That is, earlier practices were given a new sense, and thus came
to be structured differently.
So just as the practices of getting consent from elected assemblies
was transformed during the American revolution into a new definition
of political legitimacy; so at the same time, and through the same political
changes, the practices embodying the primacy of law begin to change
their sense. Instead of enshrining merely the rights of Englishmen,
they began to be seen as reflections of the Natural Right, of which
the great seventeenth Century theorists had spoken. These were invoked
in the Declaration of Independence. The primacy of rights is given a
further push by the first ten amendments to the constitution.
This whole development reaches its culmination in our time, in the period
after the Second World War, in which the notion of rights which are
prior to and untouchable by political structures becomes widespread
- although they are now called "human" as against "natural"
rights; and in which this consciousness is given expression in the entrenchment
of charters of rights, by which ordinary legislation can be set aside
when it violates these fundamental norms.
These declarations of rights are in a sense the clearest expression
of our modern idea of a moral order underlying the political, which
the political has to respect.
I have been describing our modern social imaginary in terms of the underlying
idea of moral order, one which has captured in our characteristic social
practices and forms the salient features of seventeenth Century Natural
Law theory, while transforming this in the process. But it is clear
that the change in the underlying notion of order has brought a number
of other changes with it.
I have already mentioned the absence of an action-transcendent grounding,
the fact that modern social forms exist exclusively in secular time.
The modern social imaginary no longer sees the greater trans-local entities
as grounded in something other, something higher, than common action
in secular time. This was not true of the pre-modern state, as I argued
above. The hierarchical order of the kingdom was seen as based in the
Great Chain of Being. The tribal unit was seen as constituted as such
by its law, which went back "since time out of mind", or perhaps
to some founding moment which had the status of a "time of origins"
in Eliade's sense. The importance in pre-modern revolutions, up to and
including the English civil war, of the backward look, of establishing
an original law, comes from this sense that the political entity is
in this sense action-transcendent. It cannot simply create itself by
its own action. On the contrary, it can act as an entity because it
is already constituted as such; and that is why such legitimacy attaches
to returning to the original constitution.
Seventeenth century social contact theory, which sees a people as coming
together out of a state of nature, obviously belongs to another order
of thought. But, if my argument above is right, it wasn't until the
late eighteenth century that this new way of conceiving things entered
the social imaginary. The American Revolution is in a sense the watershed.
It was undertaken in a backward-looking spirit, in the sense that the
colonists were fighting for their established rights as Englishmen.
Moreover they were fighting under their established colonial legislatures,
associated in a Congress. But out of the whole process emerges the crucial
fiction of "we, the people", into whose mouth the declaration
of the new constitution is placed.
Here the idea is invoked that a people, or as it was also called at
the time, a "nation", can exist prior to and independently
of its political constitution. So that this people can give itself its
own constitution by its own free action in secular time. Of course the
epoch-making action comes rapidly to be invested with images drawn from
older notions of higher time. The "Novus Ordo seclorum", just
like the new French revolutionary calendar, draws heavily on Judaeo-Christian
apocalyptic. The constitution-founding comes to be invested with something
of the force of a "time of origins", a higher time, filled
with agents of a superior kind, which we should ceaselessly try to re-approach.
But nevertheless, a new way of conceiving things is abroad. Nations,
people, can have a personality, can act together outside of any prior
political ordering. One of the key premisses of modern nationalism is
in place, because without this the demand for self-determination of
nations would make no sense. This just is the right for peoples to make
their own constitution, unfettered by their historical political organization.
In order to see how this new idea of collective agency, the "nation"
or "people", articulates into a new understanding of time,
I want to recur to Benedict Anderson's very insightful discussion.
55 Anderson stresses
how the new sense of belonging to a nation was prepared by a new way
of grasping society under the category of simultaneity:
56 society as the
whole consisting of the simultaneous happening of all the myriad events
which mark the lives of its members at that moment. These events are
the fillers of this segment of a kind of homogeneous time. This very
clear, unambiguous concept of simultaneity belongs to an understanding
of time as exclusively secular. As long as secular time is interwoven
with various kinds of higher time, there is no guarantee that all events
can be placed in unambiguous relations of simultaneity and succession.
The high feast is in one way contemporaneous with my life and that of
my fellow pilgrims, but in another way it is close to eternity, or the
time of origins, or the events it prefigures.
A purely secular time-understanding allows us to imagine society "horizontally",
unrelated to any "high points", where the ordinary sequence
of events touches higher time, and therefore without recognizing any
privileged persons or agencies - such as kings or priests - who stand
and mediate at such alleged points. This radical horizontality is precisely
what is implied in the direct access society, where each member is "immediate
to the whole". Anderson is undoubtedly right to argue that this
new understanding couldn't have arisen without social developments,
like that of print capitalism, but he doesn't want to imply by this
that the transformations of the social imaginary are sufficiently explained
by these developments. Modern society required also transformations
in the way we figure ourselves as societies. Crucial among these has
been this ability to grasp society from a decentred view which is no-one's.
That is, the search for a truer and more authoritative perspective than
my own doesn't lead me to centre society on a king or sacred assembly,
or whatever, but allows for this lateral, horizontal view, which an
unsituated observer might have - society as it might be laid out in
a tableau without privileged nodal points. There is a close inner link
between modern societies, their self-understandings, and modern synoptic
modes of representation in "the Age of the World Picture":
57 society as simultaneous
happenings, social interchange as impersonal "system", the
social terrain as what is mapped, historical culture as what shows up
in museums, etc.
There was thus a certain "verticality" of society, which depended
on a grounding in higher time, and which has disappeared in modern society.
But this was also, seen from another angle, a society of mediated access.
In an ancien r¨¦gime kingdom, like France, the subjects are only held
together within an order which coheres through its apex, in the person
of the King, through whom this order connects to higher time and the
order of things. We are members of this order through our relation to
The principle of a modern horizontal society is radically different.
Each of us is equidistant from the centre, we are immediate to the whole.
This describes what we could call a "direct-access" society.
The last centuries have seen a shift from hierarchical, mediated-access
societies to horizontal, direct-access societies. In the earlier form,
hierarchy and what I am calling mediacy of access went together. A society
of ranks - "society of orders", to use Tocqueville's phrase
- like seventeenth century France, for instance, was hierarchical in
an obvious sense. But this also meant that one belonged to this society
via belonging to some component of it. As a peasant one was linked to
a lord who in turn held from the king. One was a member of a municipal
corporation which had a standing in the kingdom, or exercized some function
in a Parlement with its recognized status, and so on. By contrast, the
modern notion of citizenship is direct. In whatever many ways I am related
to the rest of society through intermediary organizations, I think of
my citizenship as separate from all these. My fundamental way of belonging
to the state is not dependent on, or mediated by any of these other
belongings. I stand, alongside all my fellow citizens, in direct relationship
to the state which is the object of our common allegiance.
Of course, this doesn't necessarily change the way things get done.
I know someone whose brother-in-law is a judge, or an MP, and so I phone
her up when I'm in a jam. We might say that what has changed is the
normative picture. But underlying this, without which the new norm couldn't
exist for us, is a change in the way people imagine belonging. There
were certainly people in seventeenth century France, and before, for
whom the very idea of direct access would have been foreign, impossible
to clearly grasp. The educated had the model of the ancient republic.
But for many others, the only way they could understand belonging to
a larger whole, like a kingdom, or a universal church, was through the
imbrication of more immediate, understandable units of belonging, parish,
lord, into the greater entity. Modernity has involved, among other things,
a revolution in our social imaginary, the relegation of these forms
of mediacy to the margins, and the diffusion of images of direct access.
This has come through the rise of the social forms which I have been
describing: the public sphere, in which people conceive themselves as
participating directly in a nation-wide (sometimes even international)
discussion; market economies, in which all economic agents are seen
as entering into contractual relations with others on an equal footing;
and, of course, the modern citizenship state. But we can think of other
ways as well in which immediacy of access takes hold of our imaginations.
We see ourselves as in spaces of fashion, for instance, taking up and
handing on styles. We see ourselves as part of the world-wide audience
of media stars. And while these spaces are in their own sense hierarchical
- they centre on quasi-legendary figures - they offer all participants
an access unmediated by any of their other allegiances or belongings.
Something of the same kind, along with a more substantial mode of participation,
is available in the various movements, social, political, religious,
which are a crucial feature of modern life, and which link people translocally
and internationally into a single collective agency.
These modes of imagined direct access are linked to, indeed are just
different facets of modern equality and individualism. Directness of
access abolishes the heterogeneity of hierarchical belonging. It makes
us uniform, and that is one way of becoming equal. (Whether it is the
only way is the fateful issue at stake in much of today's struggles
over multi-culturalism.) At the same time, the relegation of various
mediations reduces their importance in our lives; the individual stands
more and more free of them, and hence has a growing self-consciousness
as an individual. Modern individualism, as a moral idea, doesn't mean
ceasing to belong at all - that's the individualism of anomie and break-down
- but imagining oneself as belonging to ever wider and more impersonal
entities: the state, the movement, the community of humankind. This
is the change that has been described from another angle as the shift
from "network" or "relational" identities to "categorical"
We can see right away that in important sense, modern direct-access
societies are more homogeneous than pre-modern ones. But this doesn't
mean that there tends to be less de facto differentiation in culture
and life style between different strata than there was a few centuries
ago, although this is undoubtedly true. It is also the case that the
social imaginaries of different classes have come much closer together.
It was feature of hierarchical, mediated societies, that the people
in a local community, a village or parish, for instance, might have
only the most hazy idea of the rest of their society. They would have
some image of central authority, some mixture of good king and evil
ministers, but very little notion of how to fill in the rest of the
picture. In particular, their sense was rather vague of what other people
and regions made up the kingdom. There was in fact a wide gap between
the theory and social imaginary of political ¨¦lites, and that of the
less educated classes, or those in rural areas. This state of affairs
lasted until comparatively recently in many countries. It has been well
documented for France during most of the nineteenth Century, in spite
of the confident remarks of Republican leaders about the nation "one
60 This split consciousness
is quite incompatible with the existence of a direct-access society.
The necessary transformation was ultimately wrought by the Third Republic,
and the modern France theorized by the Revolution became real and all-embracing
for the first time. This (in more than one sense) revolutionary change
in the social imaginary is what Weber captures in his title:
Peasants into Frenchmen.
Imagining ourselves in this horizontal, secular world involves our belonging
to new kinds of collective agency, those grounded just in common action
in secular time. But it also involves, at the other end of the spectrum,
being able to grasp society as objectified, as a set of processes, detached
from any agential perspective.
As long as society is seen as by its very nature only cohering as subject
to the king, or as ruled by its ancient Law, because in each case this
is what links our society to its grounding in higher time, it is hard
to imagine it in any other terms, or from any other angle. To see it
just as a system, a set of connected processes, operating in partial
independence from its political or legal or ecclesial ordering, requires
this shift into pure secular time. It requires a perspective on society
as a whole independent from the normative ordering which defines its
coherence as a political entity. And this was well-nigh impossible as
long as a normative ordering embedded in higher time was seen as essentially
defining the polity.
The first such independent take on society was the first form introduced
above, that which grasped it as an "economy", that is, no
longer just as a particular domain of the management by the ruler of
his kingdom, construed as an extended "household", but as
a connected system of transactions obeying its own laws. These laws
apply to human actions as they concatenate, behind the backs of the
agents; they constitute an "invisible hand". We are at the
antipodes of collective agency.
So the new horizontal world in secular time allows for two opposite
ways of imagining society. On one side, we become capable of imagining
new free, horizontal modes of collective agency, and hence of entering
into and creating such agencies, because they are now in our repertoire.
On the other, we become capable of objectifying society as a system
of norm-independent processes, in some ways analogous to those in nature.
On one hand, society is a field of common agency, on the other a terrain
to be mapped, synoptically represented, analyzed, perhaps preparatory
to being acted on from the outside by enlightened administrators.
We have become accustomed to experiencing these two perspectives as
in tension; we often fear that the first will be repressed or elided
by the second, as our world comes more and more under bureaucratic management,
which itself may turn out to be dominated by its own impersonal laws.
But these two standpoints cannot be dissociated. They are co-aeval,
they belong together to the same range of imaginings which drive from
the modern moral order.
Central to this is the idea that the political is limited by the extra-political,
by different domains of life which have their own integrity and purpose.
These include but aren't exhausted by the economic. It is thus built
in to the modern social imaginary that it allow us to conceive of society
in extra-political forms; not just through the science which came to
be called "political economy", but also through the various
facets of what we have come to call "sociology". The very
meaning of `society' in its modern sense points us to this entity which
can be grasped and studied in various ways, of which the political is
only one, and not necessarily the most fundamental.
Our modern imaginary thus not only includes categories which enable
common action, but also categories of process and classification which
happen or have their effects behind the backs of the agents. We each
can be placed in census categories in relation to ethnicity, or language,
or income level, or entitlements in the welfare system, whether or not
we are aware of where we fit, or what consequences flow from this. And
yet categories of both kinds, the active and the objective, can be essential
to the social imaginary in the sense I've been using it here, that is,
the ensemble of imaginings that enable our practices by making sense
It is clear how the active do this: only if we understand ourselves
as a collective agency can we have this kind of action in our repertory.
But the objective categories enable in another way. Grasping my society
as an economy is precisely not grasping it as a collective action, but
only because I understand the system in this way will I engage in market
transactions the way I do. The system provides the environment which
my action needs to have the desired result, and I may want to assure
myself from time to time that it is still working as intended, e.g.,
not heading into depression, or hyper-inflation.
Active and objective categories play complementary roles in our lives.
It is close to inconceivable that we could dispense with the second.
As to the symmetrical hypothesis: that we should only have objective
imaginings of society, while our sense of agency should be entirely
as individuals, this corresponds to one of the Utopias (or dystopias)
of the 18th Century, that of Enlightened despotism. The only agency
allowed to affect the whole is the ruler, guided as he or she is by
the best scientific understanding.
Only for fleeting moments did the political development of any society
approximate to this, under the "enlightened" direction of
Frederick II, Joseph II, Catherine the Great, Pombal. It seems more
than a mere accident that our history took a different direction. In
a sense, it did so most strikingly through the development of the public
We can see here the complementarity at work. In a sense, the discussions
in the public sphere depended on and consisted in the development of
enlightened, objective understanding of society, economically, politically,
juridically. Public opinion was seen in one perspective as ideally rational,
the product of calm and reasoned discussion. But the public sphere from
another angle was also inevitably seen as a common action. The discussion
had an upshot, it chrystallized into "public opinion", a common
mind or collective judgement. And what is more fateful, this opinion
became gradually but irresistibly a principle of legitimation.
Nothing is more striking than the emergence of this new force in the
last 20 years of en ancien r¨¦gime in France. Before 1770, Enlightened
opinion was seen as a potential nuisance or danger by the royal government.
An attempt was made to control the circulation of ideas through censorship.
As this came to be more and more obviously ineffective, some attempts
were made to steer the public discussion through "inspired"
interventions by friendly writers. By the time we get to the eve of
the Revolution, public opinion comes to be seen as an irresistible force,
forcing the King, for instance, to recall Necker, the finance minister
whom he had earlier sacked.
Many things underlie this development, including the mounting uncontrolled
debt of the government which put it at the mercy of its creditors. But
an essential condition of the turn-over was the growth of the common
understanding itself which underlay the very existence of such a thing
as "public opinion". A change in social imaginary had brought
a new political force onto the scene.
In a common contemporary image, public opinion was portrayed as a tribunal,
a sort of supreme court which authority had to listen to. This was the
tribunal which Malesherbes praised as "independent of all powers
and respected by all powers ... that tribunal of the public ... the
sovereign judge of all the judges of the earth".
62 And as Jacques
Necker himself put it after the event in his history of the Revolution:
"... an authority has arisen that did not exist two hundred years
ago, and which must necessarily be taken into account, the authority
of public opinion".
The modern social imaginary is thus both active and contemplative. It
expands the repertory of collective action, and also that of objective
analysis. But it also exists in a range of intermediate forms as well.
In speaking above about the typically modern, "horizontal"
forms of social imaginary, in which people grasp themselves and great
numbers of others as existing and acting simultaneously. I mentioned:
the economy, the public sphere, and the sovereign people, but also the
space of fashion. This is an example of a fourth structure of simultaneity.
It is unlike the public sphere and the sovereign people, because these
are sites of common action. In this respect, it is like the economy,
where a host of individual actions concatenate behind our backs. But
it is different from this as well, because our actions relate in the
space of fashion in a particular way. I wear my own kind of hat, but
in doing so I am displaying my style to all of you, and in this, I am
responding to your self-display, even as you will respond to mine. The
space of fashion is one in which we sustain a language together of signs
and meanings, which is constantly changing, but which at any moment
is the backgound needed to give our gestures the sense they have. If
my hat can express my particular kind of cocky, yet understated self-display,
then this is because of how the common language of style has evolved
between us up to this point. My gesture can change it, and then your
responding stylistic move will take its meaning from the new contour
the language takes on.
The general structure I want to draw from this example of the space
of fashion is that of a horizontal, simultaneous mutual presence, which
is not that of a common action, but rather of mutual display. It matters
to each one of us as we act that the others are there, as witness of
what we are doing, and thus as co-determiners of the meaning of our
Spaces of this kind become more and more important in modern urban society,
where large numbers of people rub shoulders, unknown to each other,
without dealings with each other, and yet affecting each other, forming
the inescapable context of each other's lives. As against the everyday
rush to work in the Metro, where the others can sink to the status of
obstacles in my way, city life has developed other ways of being-with,
for instance, as we each take our Sunday walk in the park; or as we
mingle at the summer street-festival, or in the stadium before the play-off
game. Here each individual or small group acts on their own, but aware
that their display says something to the others, will be responded to
by them, will help build a common mood or tone which will colour everyone's
Here a host of urban monads hover on the boundary between solipsism
and communication. My loud remarks and gestures are overtly addressed
only to my immediate companions; my family group is sedately walking,
engaged in our own Sunday outing; but all the time we are aware of this
common space that we are building, in which the messages that cross
take their meaning. This strange zone between loneliness and communication
fascinated many of the early observers of this phenomenon as it arose
in the 19th Century. We can think of some of the paintings of Manet,
or of Baudelaire's avid interest in the urban scene, in the roles of
fl@neur and dandy, uniting observation and display.
Of course, these 19th Century urban spaces were topical, that is all
the participants were in the same place, in sight of each other. But
20th Century communications has produced meta-topical variants, when
for instance, we lob a stone at the soldiers before the cameras of CNN,
knowing that this act will resonate around the world. The meaning of
our participation in the event is shaped by the whole vast dispersed
audience we share it with.
Just because these spaces hover between solitude and togetherness, they
may sometimes flip over into common action; and indeed, the moment when
they do so may be hard to pin-point. As we rise as one to cheer the
crucial third-period goal, we have undoubtedly become a common agent;
and we may try to prolong this when we leave the stadium by marching
and chanting, or even wreaking various forms of mayhem together. The
cheering crowd at a rock festival is similarly fused. There is a heightened
excitement at these moments of fusion, reminiscent of Carnival, or of
some of the great collective rituals of earlier days. So that some have
seen these moments as among the new forms of religion in our world.
64 And Durkheim
gave an important place to these times of collective effervescence as
founding moments of society and the sacred.
65 In any case,
these moments seem to respond to some important felt need of today's
Some moments of this kind are, indeed, the closest analogues to the
Carnival of previous centuries, as has frequently been noted. They can
be powerful and moving, because they witness the birth of a new collective
agent out of its formerly dispersed potential. They can be heady, exciting.
But unlike Carnival, they are not enframed by any deeply entrenched
if implicit common understanding of structure and counter-structure.
They are often immensely rivetting, but frequently also "wild",
up for grabs, capable of being taken over by a host of different moral
vectors, either utopian revolutionary, or xenophobic, or wildly destructive;
or they can chrystallize on some deeply felt, commonly cherished good,
like ringing the key chains in Wenceslas Square; or as in the case of
the funeral of Princess Diana, celebrating in an out-of-ordinary life
the ordinary, fragile pursuit of love and happiness.
Remembering the history of the 20th Century, replete with the N¨¹rnberg
rallies and other such horrors, one has as much cause for fear as hope
in these "wild" kairotic moments. But the potentiality for
them, and their immense appeal, is perhaps implicit in the experience
of modern secular time.
I have dwelt at length on these ambiguous spaces of mutual display,
but they obviously don't exhaust the range of possibilities between
common action and objectification. There are also moments where a common
space is filled with a powerful shared emotion, rather than an action,
as with the millions of spectators watching the funeral of Diana. These
vast meta-topical spectator spaces have become more and more important
in our world.
Moreover, these different ways of being together don't just exist side
by side. We have already seen how mutual display, for instance, can
sometimes flip over, at least momentarily. into common action. On a
somewhat more enduring basis, what starts of as a mere census category
may be mobilized into common agency, making common demands, as with
the unemployed, or welfare recipients. Or previously existing agencies
can lapse into mere passive categories. The modern imaginary contains
a whole gamut of forms, in complex interaction and potential mutual
The move to a horizontal, direct-access world, interwoven with an embedding
in secular time, had to bring with it a different sense of our situation
in time and space. In particular it brings different understandings
of history and modes of narration.
In particular, the new collective subject, a people or nation that can
found its own state, that has no need for a previous action-transcendent
foundation, needs new ways of telling its story. In some ways, these
resemble the old ones; and I noted above how the stories of state founding
may draw on the old images of larger-than-life figures in a time of
origins that we cannot recapture: think of some of the treatment of
Washington and other Founders in American story-telling about their
origins. But for all the analogies, there is a clear difference. We
are dealing with a story in purely secular time. The sense that the
present, post-founding order is right has to be expressed in terms which
consort with this understanding of time. We can no longer describe it
as the emergence of a self-realizing order lodged in higher time. The
category which is at home in secular time is rather that of growth,
maturation, drawn from the organic realm. A potential within nature
matures. So history can be understood, for instance, as the slow growth
of a human capacity, reason, fighting against error and superstition.
The founding comes when people arrive at a certain stage of rational
This new history has its nodal points, but they are organized around
the stages of a maturing potential, that for reason, or for rational
control, for instance. On one story, our growth entails coming to see
the right moral order, the interlocking relations of mutual benefit
that we are meant to realize ("We hold these truths to be self-evident
..."), on one hand; and achieving adequate self-control to put
it into practice, on the other. When we are sufficiently advanced on
both of these paths, we are at a nodal point, where a new and better
society can be founded. Our founding heroes, for all their exceptional
qualities, emerge out of a story of growth in secular time.
This can fit into the story (or myth) of progress, one of the most important
modes of narration in modernity. But it can also fit into another such
widely invoked matrix, that of Revolution. This is the nodal point of
maturation in which people become capable of making a decisive break
with age-old forms and structures which impede or distort the moral
order. Suddenly, it becomes possible to carry out the demands of this
order as never before. There is a heady sense that everything is possible.
Which is why the idea of Revolution can easily turn into a powerful
myth, that of a past nodal point whose infinite possibilities have been
frustrated, betrayed, by treachery or pusillanimity. The Revolution
becomes something which is yet to be completed. This was a sustaining
myth of the radical French Left during the nineteenth Century and into
But one of the most powerful narrative modes centres around the "nation".
There is something paradoxical about the people that can preside over
its own political birth. What makes it that just these people belong
together for purposes of self-rule? Sometimes in fact, it is the accidents
of history. A "nation" is born, because the people who were
hitherto ruled by a single authority decide to take this rule into their
own hands (or certain ¨¦lites decide that they have to be led to this
end). This was the case in France in 1789, and less happily, with the
early 20th Century attempts to establish an Ottoman nationality. Or
else a people establishes itself out of the political choice for self-rule,
as with the American Revolution. The revolutionaries separated themselves
off from other Englishmen, even the Tories in their midst, by this decisive
But much of what we call nationalism is based on the idea that there
is some basis for the unit chosen, other than historical contingency
or political choice. The people who is being led to statehood is thought
to belong together - in virtue of a common language, common culture,
common religion, history of common action. The point has been tirelessly
made that much of this common past is frequently pure invention.
67 This is true,
but it has certainly often been politically effective invention, which
has been interiorized and become part of the social imaginary of the
And here again, the underlying category is that of growth of potential.
In spite of our dispersion, multiplicity of dialects, lack of consciousness,
we were an sich Ukrainians, Serbs, Slovaks, or whatever. We had important
things in common which made it natural and right for us to function
together as a single sovereign people. Only we needed to be awoken.
Then perhaps, we needed to struggle in order to realize this destiny.
The idea of a maturation, a growth in consciousness, an an sich which
ultimately becomes f¨¹r sich, is central here.
These three modes of narrativity: progress, revolution, nation, can
obviously be combined. And they can in turn be interwoven with an apocalyptic
and messianic modes which are drawn from religious understandings of
Heilsgeschichte: for instance the idea that the maturing order must
confront violent opposition, the more violent the closer it is to ultimate
victory. Revolution will be attended by a titanic struggle, a secularized
Armaggedon. The devastating effects of this in twentieth Century history
have been all too evident.
And beyond this placing of our present in a national political history
is our sense of our people's place in the whole epochal development
or struggle for moral order, freedom, the right. This can be a very
important part of our national self-understanding. Think of the place
of a kind of universalist chauvinism in French national consciousness
at the time of the French Revolution: France as the nation destined
to bring freedom and the rights of man to Europe. Military glory and
a universal mission are fused. This is heady stuff, as Napoleon knew.
The USSR and Communist China have tried to assume this mantle at different
points in our Century.
Enough has perhaps been said to show how much our outlook is dominated
by modes of social imaginary which emerge from what I have called the
long march, and has been shaped in one way or other by the modern ideal
of order as mutual benefit. Not only the troubling aspects, like some
forms of nationalism, but if we just look at the other, virtually unchallenged
benchmarks of legitimacy in our contemporary world: liberty, equality,
human rights, democracy; we can see how strong a hold this modern order
exercises on our social imaginary. It constitutes a horizon we are virtually
incapable of thinking beyond. After a certain date, it is remarkable
that even reactionaries can no longer invoke the older groundings in
higher time. They too have to speak of the functional necessities of
order, as with de Maistre's executioner. They may still think in theological
terms, as do both de Maistre and Carl Schmitt (but significantly, not
Maurras). But this is theology in a quite different register. They have
to speak as theorists of a profane world.
What relation then does the modern social imaginary bear to modern secular
Well, plainly, as my use of the term `secular' in the above discussion
implies, the long march must have contributed to a displacement of religion
from the public sphere. It has helped to remove God from public space.
Or so it might seem. But this is not quite true. It has certainly removed
one mode in which God was formerly present, as part of a story of action-transcendent
grounding of society in higher time. "The divinity that doth hedge
a king", and the powerful range of analogies/assimilations between
king and God, king and Christ, which Kantorowicz describes
69, these are drastically
undermined and finally dispelled by the imaginaries which have emerged
from the order of mutual benefit. But this doesn't mean that God must
be altogether absent from public space. The American people who came
to invoke itself as "we" also defined (defines) itself as
"one people under God". The order of mutual benefit was originally
seen as God-created, and its fulfilment as God-destined.
In order to understand our present predicament, we have to see what
this alternative form of God-presence amounts to, and how it has been
set aside in many contemporary societies.
I will try to describe here what it amounts to. Now what the long march
has plainly done is work alongside and together with the forces which
have carried us away from the enchanted cosmos shaped by higher times.
There is, of course, a close connection between disenchantment and the
confining of all action to profane time. The same factors which eventually
dispel and empty the world of spirits and forces - worshipful living
of ordinary life, mechanistic science, the disciplined reconstruction
of social life - also confine us more and more to secular time. They
empty and marginalize higher times, they repress the kairotic, multi-level
time of Carnival, occlude the need for, even the possibility of anti-structure;
and hence render notions of action-transcendent grounding less and less
comprehensible. They plant us firmly in a secular time which is more
and more mapped out and measured as a comprehensive environment without
a chink which might give access to the former connections of higher
And so these latter disappear, albeit through a number of transition
stages, of which the great modes of Baroque public space are striking
examples, as was also the "classicism" of the Sun King.
Plainly, then, this social imaginary is the end of a certain kind of
presence of religion or the divine in public space. It is the end of
the era where political authority, as well as other meta-topical common
agencies, are inconceivable without reference to God or higher time,
where these are so woven into the structures of authority, that the
latter cannot be understood separately from the divine, the higher or
the numinous. This is the step that Marcel Gauchet has described as
"the end of religion". But this alarming expression is given
a more exact sense: it is the end of society as structured by its dependence
on God or the beyond.
70 It is not the
end of personal religion, as Gauchet insists.
71 And it is not
even necessarily the end of religion in public life, as the American
case shows. However it is undoubtedly a decisive stage in the development
of our modern predicament, in which belief and unbelief can coexist
More precisely, the difference amounts to this. In the earlier phase,
God or some kind of higher reality is an ontic necessity; that is, people
cannot conceive a meta-topical agency having authority which is not
grounded somehow in higher time - be it through the action of God, or
the Great Chain, or some founding in illo tempore. What emerges from
the change is an understanding of social and political life entirely
in secular time. Foundings are now seen to be common actions in profane
time, ontically on the same footing with all other such actions, even
though they may be given a specially authoritative status in our national
narrative or our legal system.
This freeing of politics from its ontic dependence on religion is sometimes
what people mean by the secularity of public space. And there is no
harm in this; indeed, it is probably a good idea to give it this sense.
This is the picture of "le social fond¨¦ sur lui-m¨ºme", of
which Baczko speaks.
But we musn't lose from sight that this opens a new space for religion
in public life. R¨¦gimes founded on common action in profane time are
in a certain sense based on a common will. This doesn't mean that they
are necessarily democratic; the common will may be that of a minority,
it being taken for granted that they can speak for the rest, or that
the others are not capable of self-rule. The common will is even the
grounding of fascist r¨¦gimes, it being understood that the real will
of the people is expressed through the Leader. In a sense it is almost
a tautology that, where we lose any ontic dependence on the higher,
and the polity emanates from some founding common action, the shared
will that this action realizes is given a foundational role.
And of course, this reference to a common will is inescapable in democracies,
which claim to be based on popular sovereignty. Here there is some common
understanding of what the state is about, which provides the framework
within which the ongoing deliberation can take place, the reference
points of public discussion, without which the periodic decisions cannot
be recognized as expressions of the popular will. Because it is only
if we have had a debate about a commonly identified issue, and one in
which each of us has some kind of chance at a hearing, that we will
be able to recognize the outcome as a common decision.
More, if I am to accept as auhoritative a decision which goes against
me, I have to see myself as part of the people whose decision this is.
I have to feel a bond with those who make up this people, such that
I can say: wrong as this decision is in its content, I have to go along
with it as an expression of the will, or interest, of this people to
whom I belong.
What can bond a people in this sense? Some strong common purpose or
value. This is what I want to call their "political identity",
Let me try to explain this further.
To take the case of democratic societies as our example, it is clear
that this identity must involve freedom, and that must include the freedom
of the dissenting minority. But can a decision which goes against me
serve my freedom? Here we meet a long-standing skepticism, which is
particularly strong among those who hold to an atomist political philosophy,
and who are suspicious of all appeals to a common good beyond individual
choice. They see these appeals as just so much humbug to get contrary
voters to accept voluntary servitude.
But we don't need to decide this ultimate philosophical issue here.
We are dealing with an question not of philosophy, but of the social
imaginary. We need to ask: what is the feature of our "imagined
communities" by which people very often do readily accept that
they are free under a democratic r¨¦gime, even where their will is over-ridden
on important issues?
The answer they accept runs something like this: You, like the rest
of us, are free just in virtue of the fact that we are ruling ourselves
in common, and not being ruled by some agency which need take no account
of us. Your freedom consists in your having a guaranteed voice in the
sovereign, that you can be heard, and have some part in making the decision.
You enjoy this freedom in virtue of a law which enfranchises all of
us, and so we enjoy this together. Your freedom is realized and defended
by this law, and this whether or not you win or lose in any particular
decision. This law defines a community, of those whose freedom it realizes/defends
together. It defines a collective agency, a people, whose acting together
by the law preserves their freedom.
Such is the answer, valid or not, that people have come to accept in
democratic societies. We can see right away that it involves their accepting
a kind of belonging much stronger than that of any chance group which
might come together. It is an ongoing collective agency, one the membership
in which realizes something very important, a kind of freedom. Insofar
as this good is crucial to their identity, they thus identify strongly
with this agency, and hence also feel a bond with their co-participants
in this agency. It is only an appeal to this kind of membership which
can answer the challenge of an individual or group who contemplates
rebelling against an adverse decision in the name of their freedom.
The crucial point here is that, whoever is ultimately right philosophically,
it is only insofar as people accept some such answer that the legitimacy
principle of popular sovereignty can work to secure their consent. The
principle only is effective via this appeal to a strong collective agency.
If the identification with this is rejected, the rule of this government
seems illegitimate in the eyes of the rejecters, as we see in countless
cases with disaffected national minorities. Rule by the people, all
right; but we can't accept rule by this lot, because we aren't part
of their people. This is the inner link between democracy and strong
common agency. It follows the logic of the legitimacy principle which
underlies democratic r¨¦gimes. They fail to generate this identity at
This last example points to an important modulation of the appeal to
popular sovereignty. In the version I just gave above the appeal was
to what we might call "republican freedom". It is the one
inspired by ancient republics, and which was invoked in the American
and French Revolutions. But very soon after, the same appeal began to
take on a nationalist form. The attempts to spread the principles of
the French Revolution through the force of French arms created a reaction
in Germany, Italy and elsewhere, the sense of not being part of, represented
by that sovereign people in the name of which the Revolution was being
made and defended. It came to be accepted in many circles that a sovereign
people, in order to have the unity needed for collective agency, had
already to have an antecedent unity, of culture, history or (more often
in Europe) language. And so behind the political nation, there had to
stand a pre-existing cultural (sometimes ethnic) nation.
Nationalism, in this sense, was born out of democracy, as a (benign
or malign) growth. In early nineteenth century Europe, as peoples struggled
for emancipation from multi-national despotic empires, joined in the
Holy Alliance, there seemed to be no opposition between the two. For
a Mazzini, they were perectly converging goals.
73 Only later on
do certain forms of nationalism throw off the allegiance to human rights
and democracy, in the name of self-assertion.
But even before this stage, nationalism gives another modulation to
popular sovereignty. The answer to the objector above: something essential
to your identity is bound up in our common laws, now refers not just
to republican freedom, but also to something of the order of cultural
identity. What is defended and realized in the national state is not
just your freedom as a human being, but this state also guarantees the
expression of a common cultural identity.
We can speak therefore of a "republican" variant and a "national"
variant of the appeal to popular sovereignty, though in practice the
two often run together, and often lie undistinguished in the rhetoric
and imaginary of democratic societies.
(And in fact, even the original "republican" pre-nationalist
revolutions, the American and the French, have seen a kind of nationalism
develop in the societies which issued from them. The point of these
revolutions was the universal good of freedom, whatever the mental exclusions
which the revolutionaries in fact accepted, even cherished. But their
patriotic allegiance was to the particular historical project
of realizing freedom, in America, in France. The very universalism became
the basis of a fierce national pride, in the "last, best hope for
mankind", in the republic which was bearer of "the rights
of man". That's why freedom, at least in the French case, could
become a project of conquest, with the fateful results in reactive nationalism
elsewhere that I mentioned above.)
And so we have a new kind of collective agency, with which its members
identify as the realization/bulwark of their freedom, and/or the locus
of their national/cultural expression. Of course, in pre-modern societies,
too, people often "identified" with the r¨¦gime, with sacred
kings, or hierarchical orders. They were often willing subjects. But
in the democratic age we identify as free agents. That is why the notion
of popular will plays a crucial role in the legitimating idea.
This means that the modern democratic state has generally accepted common
purposes, or reference points, the features whereby it can lay claim
to being the bulwark of freedom and locus of expression of its citizens.
Whether or not these claims are actually founded, the state must be
so imagined by its citizens if it is to be legitimate.
So a question can arise for the modern state for which there is no analogue
in most pre-modern forms: what/whom is this state for? whose freedom?
whose expression? The question seems to make no sense applied to, say,
the Austrian or Turkish Empires - unless one answered the "whom
for?" question by referring to the Habsburg or Ottoman dynasties;
and this would hardly give you their legitimating ideas.
This is the sense in which a modern state has what I want to call a
political identity, defined as the generally accepted answer to the
"what/whom for?" question. This is distinct from the identities
of its members, that is the reference points, many and varied, which
for each of these defines what is important in their lives. There better
be some overlap, of course, if these members are to feel strongly identified
with the state; but the identities of individuals and constituent groups
will generally be richer and more complex, as well as being often quite
different from each other.
We can now see the space for religion in the modern state. For God can
figure strongly in the political identity. It can be that we see ourselves
as fulfilling God's will in setting up a polity which maximally follows
his precepts, as many Americans have done, in the Revolutionary period
and after. Or else, our national identity can refer to God, if we see
ourselves as defined partly by our unique piety and faithfulness. This
has often arisen among peoples who are surrounded or worse, dominated
by (what they see as) heretics and non-believers; e.g., the Afrikaners,
Poles, Irish, French Canadians of yore. As they struggle to gain or
preserve independance, a certain kind of fidelity to God, a certain
confessional belonging becomes constitutive of their political identity.
We have seen how this can later degenerate, so that the piety drains
away and only the chauvinism remains, as in Northern Ireland and the
former Yugoslavia, but this identity presence can also nourish a living
This is the new space for God in the "secular" world. Just
as in personal life, the dissolution of the enchanted world can be compensated
by devotion, a strong sense of the involvement of God in my life; so
in the public world, the disappearance of an ontic dependence on something
higher can be replaced by a strong presence of God in our political
identity. In both individual and social life, the sacred is no longer
encountered as an object among other objects, in a special place, time
or person. But God's will can still be very present to us in the design
of things, in cosmos, state and personal life. God can seem the inescapable
source for our power to impart order to our lives, both individually
It was this shift from the enchanted to the identity form of presence
which set the stage for the secularity of the contemporary world, in
which God or religion are not precisely absent from public space, but
are central to the personal identities of individuals or groups, and
hence always possible defining constituents of political identities.
The wise decision may be taken to distinguish our political identity
from any particular confessional allegiance, but this principle of "separation"
has constantly to be interpreted afresh in its application, wherever
religion is important in the lives of substantial bodies of citizens
- which means virtually everywhere.
77 And the possibility
is ever present of a re-invasion of the political identity by the confessional,
as with the rise of the BJP in India.
Modernity is secular, not in the frequent, rather loose sense of the
word, where it designates the absence of religion, but rather in the
fact that religion occupies a different place, compatible with the sense
that all social action takes place in profane time.
1. London: Verso 1991.
2. John Locke, quote on SofN
where no subordination,
3. The term "moral economy"
is borrowed from E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working
Macbeth, 2.3.56; 2.4.17-8 (Sources 298).
5. Quoted in Louis Dupr¨¦,
Passage to Modernity, Yale University Press, 1993, p. 19.
Two Treatises of Civil Government, I.86.
8. Op. cit., II.6; see also II.135;
and Some Thoughts concerning Education, para 116.
9. Op. cit, II.26.
Peasants into Frenchmen, London: Chatto & Windus 1979, ch
11. Leslie Stephen,
History of English Thought in the 18th Century, vol 2, p. 72.
M¨¦moires, p. 63, cited in Nanerl Keohane,
Philosophy and the State in France, p. 248.
13. Keohane, op. cit, p. 249-51.
14. Of course, a large and complex
thesis lies behind this flip reference. The basic idea is that Baroque
culture is a kind of synthesis of the modern understanding of agency
as inward and poi¨ºtic, constructing orders in the world, and the older
understanding of the world as cosmos, shaped by Form. With hindsight,
we tend to see the synthesis as instable, as doomed to be superseded,
as it was in fact.
But whatever the truth of this, we can see in Baroque culture a kind
of constitutive tension, between an order which is already there, and
is hierarchical, and agents who continue and complete it through their
constructive activity, and hence tend to understand themselves as acting
out of themselves, and thus in this respect as situated outside of hierarchy
and thus equal. Hence hybrid formulations such as those of Louis above.
I have learnt much from the very intersting decription of Baroque art
in Louis Dupr¨¦'s Passage to Modernity, Yale University Press
1993, pp. 237-48. Dupr¨¦ speaks of the Baroque as the "last comprehensive
synthesis" between human agency and the world in which it takes
place, where the meanings generated by this agency can find some relation
to those we discover in the world. But it is a synthesis filled with
tension and conflict.
Baroque churches focus this tension not so much on the cosmos as static
order, but on God whose power and goodness is expressed in the cosmos.
But this descending power is taken up and carried forward by human agency,
creating "the modern tension between a divine and a human order
conceived as separate centres of power." (p. 226).
Baroque culture, Dupr¨¦ argues is united by "a comprehensive spiritual
vision. ... At the centre of it stands the person, confident in the
ability to give form and structure to a nascent world. But - and here
lies its religious significance - that centre remains vertically linked
to a transcendent source from which, via a descending scale of mediating
bodies, the human creator draws his power. This dual centre - human
and divine - distinguishes the Baroque world picture from the vertical
one of the Middle Ages, in which reality descends from a single transcendent
point, as well as from the unproblematically horizontal one of later
modernity, prefigured in some features of the Renaissance. The tension
between the two centres conveys to the Baroque a complex, restless,
and dynamic quality." (237)
15. Keohane, op. cit, pp. 164-7.
16. Albert Hirschmann,
The Passions and the Interests, Princeton, 1977. I am greatly
indebted to the discussion in this extremely interesting book.
17. Alexander Pope,
Essay on Man, III, 9-26, 109-14; IV, 396.
18. See the discussions in Hubert
Dreyfus, Being in the World, and John Searle, , drawing on thework
of Heidegger, Wittgenstin, Polanyi,
19. The way in which the social
imaginary extends well beyond what has been (or even can be) theorized
is illustrated in Francis Fukuyama's interesting discussion of the economics
of social trust. Some economies find it difficult to build large-scale
non-state enterprises, because a climate of trust which extends wider
than the family is absent or weak. The social imaginary in these societies
mark discriminations - between kin and non-kin - for purposes of economic
association, which have gone largely unremarked in the theories of the
economy that we all share, including the people in those societies.
And governments can be induced to adopt policies, legal changes, incentives,
etc., on the assumption that forming enterprises of any scale is there
in the repertory, and just needs encoouragement. But the sense of a
sharp boundary of mutual reliability around the family may severely
restrict the repertory, however much it might be theoretically demonstrated
to people that they would be better off changing their way of doing
business. The implicit "map" of social space has deep fissures,
which are profoundly anchored in culture and imaginary, beyond the reach
of correction by better theory. Francis Fukuyama,
Trust, New York; Free Press, 1995.
20. Mikhail Bakhtin,
21. This doesn't mean that Utopias
don't deal in their own kind of possibility. They may desribe far-off
lands or remote future societies which can't be imitated today, which
we may never be able to imitate. But the underlying idea is that these
things are really possible in the sense that they lie in the bent of
human nature. This is what the narrator of More's book thinks: the Utopians
are living according to nature (Baczko 75). This is also what Plato
thought, who provided one of the models for More's book, and for a host
of other "Utopian" writings.
22. Immanuel Kant,
The Critique of Pure Reason,
23. Translated Thomas Burger,
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989; German original:
Strukturwandel der @ffentlichkeit, Neuwied: Luchterhand 1962.
24. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
25.Letters, chapter 1.
26. This indicates how far the
late 18th Century notion of public opinion is from what is the object
of poll research today. The phenomenon that "public opinion research"
aims to measure is, in terms of my above distinction, a convergent unity,
and doesn't need to emerge from discussion. It is analogous to the opinion
of mankind. The ideal underlying the 18th Century version emerges in
this passage from Burke, quoted by Habermas (Structural Transformation,
pp. 117-8): "In a free country, every man thinks he has a concern
in all public matters; that he has a right to form and deliver an opinion
on them. They sift, examine and discuss them. They are curious, eager,
attentive and jealous; and by making such matters the daily subjects
of their thoughts and discoveries, vast numbers contract a very tolerable
knowledge of them, and some a very considerable one. ... Whereas in
other countries none but men whose office calls them to it having much
care or thought about public affairs, and not daring to try the force
of their opinions with one another, ability of this sort is extremely
rare in any station of life. In free countries, there is often found
more real public wisdom and sagacity in shops and manufactories than
in cabinets of princes in countries where none dares to have an opinion
until he comes to them."
Structural Transformation, p. 119.
Letters, p. 41.
29. See Fox's speech, quoted
in Structural Transformation, pp. 65-6: "It is certainly
right and prudent to consult the public opinion. ... If the public
opinion did not happen to square with mine; if, after pointing out to
them the danger, they did not see it in the same light with me, or if
they conceived that another remedy was preferable to mine, I should
consider it as my due to my king, due to my Country, due to my honour
to retire, that they might pursue the plan which they thought better,
by a fit instrument, that is by a man who thought with them. ... but
one thing is most clear, that I ought to give the public the means of
forming an opinion."
30. Cited in
Structural Transformation, p. 117.
Structural Transformation, p. 82.
Letters, pp. 40-2. Warner also points to the relationship with
the impersonal agency of modern capitalism (pp. 62-3), as well as the
closeness of fit between the impersonal stance and the battle against
imperial corruption which was so central a theme in the colonies (pp.
65-6), in the framing of this highly over-determined mode.
Letters, p. 46.
34. See E. Kantorowicz,
The King's Two Bodies, Princeton: Princeton University Press,
35. For an extra-European example
of this kind of thing, see Clifford Geertz's
Negara, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980, where the
pre-Conquest Balinese state is described.
36. I have discussed these different
modes of higher time in DRB, pages
37. As a matter of fact, excluding
the religious dimension is not even a necessary condition of my concept
of secular here, let alone a sufficient one. A secular association is
one grounded purely on common action, and this excludes any divine grounding
for this association, but nothing prevents the people so associated
from continuing a religious form of life; indeed, this form may even
require that, e.g., political associations be purely secular. There
are for instance religious motives for espousing a separation
of church and state.
38. Mircea Eliade,
The Sacred and the Profane, New York: Harper 1959, pp. 80 and
39. Anderson borrows a term from
Benjamin to describe modern profane time. he sees it as a "homogeneous,
empty time". `Homogeneity' captures the aspect I am describing
here, that all events now fall into the same kind of time; but the "emptiness"
of time takes us into another issue: the way in which both space and
time come to be seen as "containers" which things and events
contingently fill, rather than as constituted by what fills them. This
latter step is part of the metaphysical imagination of modern physics,
as we can see with Newton. But it is the step to homogeneity which is
crucial for secularization, as I am conceiving it.
The step to emptiness is
part of the objectification of time which has been so important a part
of the outlook of the modern subject of instrumental reason. Time has
been in a sense "spatialized". Heidegger has mounted a strong
attack on this whole conception in his understanding of temporality;
see especially, Sein und Zeit, T¨¹bingen: Niemeyer, 1926, Division
2. But distinguishing secularity from the objectification of time allows
us to situate Heidegger on the modern side of the divide. Heideggerian
temporality is also a mode of secular time.
Structural Transformation, Chapter II, sections 6 and 7.
Sources of the Self, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989,
42. Francis Fukuyama, whose discussion
of this point I found very helpful, also holds that the new sociability
which arises from this strand of the Reformation helped to create the
conditions for a very successful mode of capitalist development. See
Trust, New York: The Free Press 1995.
43. Fran@ois Furet,
La R¨¦volution Fran@aise, Paris 1988.
44. See Simon Schama,
Citizens, New York: Knopf 1989, chapter 4.
45. Just how elaborate and (to
us) horrifying these could be one can glean from the description of
the execution of Damiens, who made an attempt on the life of Louis XV
in 1757, in the rivetting opening pages of Michel Foucault's
Surveiller et Punir, Paris: Gallimard 1976.
46. Fran@ois Furet,
Penser la R¨¦volution fran@aise, Paris:
47. Pierre Rosanvallon,
Le Moment Guizot, Paris: Gallimard 1985, pp. 16-7, 285 and ff.
48. Robert Tombs,
France: 1814-1914, London: Longman 1996, pp. 20-26.
Le Moment Guizot, p. 80.
50. Op. cit. chapter IX.
51. "Je parle pour ceux
qui, parmi les conservateurs, ont quelque souci de la stabilit¨¦, quelque
souci de la l¨¦galit¨¦, quelque souci de la mod¨¦ration pratiqu¨¦e avec
pers¨¦v¨¦rance dans la vie publique. Je leur dis, ¨¤ ceux-l¨¤: comment
ne voyez-vous pas qu'avec le suffrage universel, si on le laisse librement
fonctionner. si on respecte, quand il s'est prononc¨¦, son ind¨¦pendance
et l'autorit¨¦ de ses d¨¦cisions, comment ne voyez-vous pas, dis-je,
que vous avez l¨¤ un moyen de terminer pacifiquement tous les conflits,
de d¨¦nouer toutes les crises, et que, si le suffrage universel fonctionne
dans la pl¨¦nitude de la souverainet¨¦, il n'y a pas de r¨¦volution
possible, parce qu'il n'y a plus de r¨¦volution ¨¤ tenter, plus de coup
d'@tat ¨¤ redouter quand la France a parl¨¦". Gamebtta's speech
of October 9 1877, quoted in Rosanvalloon,
Le Moment Guizot, pp. 364-5.
52. Pierre Rosanvalon,
Le Sacre du Citoyen, Paris: Gallimard 1992.
53. E.S Morgan,
Inventing the People,
54. Benjamin Constant: "De
la libert¨¦ des anciens, compar¨¦e ¨¤ celle des modernes",
Imagined Communities, London: Verso 1991.
56. Anderson, op. cit., p. 37.
57. Martin Heidegger, "Die
Zeit des Weltlbildes", in Holzwege, Frankfurt: Niemeyer
58. See Benedict Anderson,
59. Calhoun, op. cit., pp 234-5.
I want to reiterate how much the discussion in this section owes to
Calhoun's recent work.
60. This has been admirably traced
by Eugen Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen, London: Chatto 1977.
61. London: Chatto 1979.
62. Quoted in Keith Baker,
Inventing the French Revolution, Cambridge 1990, p. 189.
63. Quoted in Stephen Holmes,
Benjamin Constant and the Making of Modern Liberalism, New Haven:
Yale University Press 1985, p. 243.
64. See Dani¨¨le Hervieu-L¨¦ger,
La Religion pour M¨¦moire, Paris: Cerf 1993, chpter 3, esp pp.
65. @mile Durkheim,
Les Formes ¨¦l¨¦mentaires de la Vie religieuse,
66. Bronislaw Baczko,
Les Imaginaires Sociaux, Paris: Payot 1985, pp. 117-8. I have
drawn a great deal on the interesting discussions in this book.
67. See Ernest Gellner,
Nations and nationalism, Eric Hobsbawm,
68. The pathos involved in the
attempt to recover the unrecoverable was well illustrated by Charles
X's attempt to restore the whole original liturgy in his coronation
at Reims in 1825. See the description in Fran@ois Furet,
Revolutionary France, pp. 300-3.
69. E. Kantorowicz,
The King's Two Bodies,
70. "La fin du r@le de structuration
de l'espace social que le principe de d¨¦pendance a rempli dans l'ensemble
des soci¨¦t¨¦s jusqu'¨¤ la n@tre",
Le D¨¦senchantement du Monde, Paris: Gallimard 1985, p. 233.
I have learnt a great deal from this fascinating and profound work.
71. Op. cit. pp. 292 ff.
72. op. cit., p.
73. And in fact, the drive to
democracy took a predominately "national" form. Logically,
it is perfectly possible that the democratic challenge to a multi-national
authoritarian r¨¦gime, e.g., Austria, Turkey, should take the form of
a multi-national citizenship in a pan-imperial "people". But
in fact, attempts at this usually fail, and the peoples take their own
road into freedom. So the Czechs declined being part of a democratized
Empire in the Paulskirche in 1848; and the Young Turk attempt at an
Ottoman citizenship foundered, and made way for a fierce Turkish nationalism.
74. Rousseau, who laid bare very
early the logic of this idea, saw that a democratic sovereign couldn't
just be an "aggregation", as with our lecture audience above;
it has to be an "association", that is, a strong collective
agency, a "corps moral et collectif" with "son unit¨¦,
son moi commun, sa vie et sa volont¨¦". This last term is
the key one, because what gives this body its personality is a "volont¨¦
g¨¦n¨¦rale". Contrat Social, Book I, chapter 6.
75. I have discussed this relation
in "Les Sources de l'identit¨¦ moderne", in Mikha@l Elbaz,
Andr¨¦e Fortin, and Guy Laforest, eds.,
Les Fronti¨¨res de l'Identit¨¦: Modernit¨¦ et postmodernisme au Qu¨¦bec,
Sainte-Foy: Presses de l'Universit¨¦ Laval, 1996, pp. 347-64
76. See my "Faith and Identity"
77. See Jos¨¦ Casanova,
Public Religions in the Modern World, University of Chicago Press
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