The Democratic Imaginary

‘Women taking part in a pro-democracy sit in Sitra’. Wikipedia/Creative Commons.
‘Women taking part in a pro-democracy sit in in Sitra’. Wikipedia/Creative Commons.


The invention of and struggle for liberal democracy in the late eighteenth century remains central to the West’s claims to have invented modern forms of democratic governance and public decision-making. Although often billed as a product of the European Enlightenment, the ‘modern democratic imaginary’ (Rosenfeld) was the result of myriad revolutionary projects across the world, inspired by an emergent mass media, that attempted the political, philosophical, and literary-artistic task of representing “The People” – often in direct opposition to dominant strands of Enlightenment thought. In the twenty-first century, this ‘democratic imaginary’ is threatened by the rise of authoritarianism, while its ambitions seem, paradoxically, to be both made vulnerable and brought within reach by modern communication technologies. In this context it is now more crucial than ever to understand the long, turbulent, and multi-cultural history of modern democracy from its fraught instantiation in the late eighteenth century to its embattled present. Placing these historical moments of technological, political, and artistic revolution into dialogue with each other throws new light on the present crisis in democracies around the world, a crisis driven and defined by the potential of political and literary-artistic representation to give a voice, an image, a body, an expression, a reality to “The People”.