Everyone will be familiar with the complaint that democracy is no longer what it used to be. Little is left of the optimist belief after 1989 that democracy had now began its triumphant march around the world. Even mere so, even in those parts of the world where had survived the threats of totalitarianism the view that democracy is the best thinkable is no longer the truism it was until a mere two decades.
If I’m not mistaken a certain historical myopia can be discerned in all that has been written on this disappointing development – notwithstanding some outstanding exceptions (e.g. Fukuyama’s Political Order and Decay). But ordinarily the story is: 1) democracy functioned excellently until the 1980s, 2) then something strange happened that still very hard to pin down, and 3) now democracy is in a mess with populism, Trump and all that. So the focus is most often on the last four to five decades.
In my fortcoming book to be discussed in the workshop I propose to do the opposite and to place the present state of democracy against the background of no less than two-thousand years of European history. Concentrating on the interaction between sovereignty and political representation I will discern four periods in this history: the late Roman Empire, 2) the Middle Ages, 3) the period of modern sovereignty, comprising both absolute monarchy and representative government (thus implying that the difference between these two is smaller than we have been taught to believe) and 4) our own time. Period 3) is a reprisal of period 1) and period 4) of period 2. Obviously, this periodization suggest that the era of democracy (or of representative government) is nearing its end and that this how we should interpret the poor performance of contemporary democracy.
Finally, most people will see my claim that the Middle Ages make their return in our own time is profoundly counter-intuitive – if not worse. So I’m well aware that I have something to explain. I’ll try to do so by making use of Leibniz’s metaphysics of the substance or the monad.