The Rebirth of the Nation
In this pithy and eloquent essay, the eminent French political philosopher Pierre Manent raises the alarm on the dangers attending the “depoliticization” of contemporary Europe—that is, the dangers of reducing the human world to the single desideratum of maximizing individual and social rights. Europeans, he suggests, increasingly wish to escape from the “national form” that welcomed and nourished democracy in the first place. In place of territorial democracy, which made possible liberty and self-government, Europeans have increasingly succumbed to a “confused idea of human unity” that effaces all the mediations between the individual and the “world.” In Democracy without Nations? Manent takes powerful aim at this new, distinctively European form of “democratic governance,” which neither truly represents nor governs the individuals whose rights it aims to maximize.
Manent’s book has implications far beyond intra-European debates about the future of European democracy. It provides the richest available reflection on the political forms that make the exercise of self-government possible. It shows that the consent of the individual must be balanced by a broader cultivation of that “communion”—both civic and religious—which informs every authentically human community. And it provides a comparative critique of the relationship between religion and politics in the Islamic, Jewish, and Christian traditions. Manent provocatively suggests, in fact, that the liberal state and the Christian nation go hand-in-hand. The “spiritual vacuity” that characterizes today’s secular Europe, he asserts, is ultimately untenable. Europeans therefore must come to terms with the Christian character of their nations if those nations—and if the moral substance of Western liberty—is to survive.