Democracy Without Nations? - Intercollegiate Studies Institute

Democracy Without Nations?

The Fate of Self-Government in Europe


Can Europe survive after abandoning the national loyalties—and religious traditions—that provided meaning? And what will happen to the United States as it goes down a similar path?The eminent French political philosopher Pierre Manent addresses these questions in his brilliant meditation on Europe’s experiment in maximizing individual and social rights.

Want a discount? Become a member by purchasing the Readers Club Subscription!


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.

Additional information


Eligible for Member Discount

Eligible for Readers Club Discount



“This book shows how democracy weakens itself almost to the point of disappearing when it forgets its own history and neglects the conditions that made it possible. But, Pierre Manent adds, the external world—which doesn’t share our angelicism—summons us to exist, reminding us that Europe will condemn itself if it persists in its current self-denial, the chief symbol of which is the denial of its substantial relationship to Christianity. This perfect refutation of a tempation to hide oneself in a utopia—to no longer exist—is provided as a salutary warning to citizens as well as politicians.”
Paul Thibaud, L’Express

“[A]n excellent introduction to the work of an important thinker, whose ideas help us understand the temptations of the E.U.’s utopian dream—and its dangers….Pierre Manent’s work is a timely reminder of how much we stand to lose if we follow Europe down that road—as well as a heartening reminder that some of our cousins across the Atlantic share our concerns.”
Bruce S. ThorntonCity Journal

“Generally speaking, this book must be read and reread in order to pose the right questions about a complex situation in which all the guidelines have been willfully cut by politicians and pundits. This little ‘socratic’ book, which returns us to the Greek and Biblical sources of the West, is a work of public hygene!”
Guillaume de ThieulloyLibérte Politique

“The richness of Pierre Manent’s analyses, conveyed by an acute sense of eloquence, compels attention.”
Patrick JarreauLe Monde

“Pierre Manent brings to light with verve and ever appropriate nuance ‘the spiritual vacuity’ of a continent ‘that fears its own shadow.’ What citizen who wants to follow the adventure of the European Union can fail to consider this cautionary analysis of European vertigo?”
Alexis LacroixLe Figaro

“With the publication of this compact yet eloquent book, the French political philosopher Pierre Manent has become a voice to be reckoned with in the present-day French and European civic conversation … With verse and a uniquely Gallic gift for the penetrating aperçu, Manent takes aim at the reduction of the political problem to a single desideratum: the maximization of individual and ‘social’ rights at the expense of the self-government of citizens and communities.”
Dan MahoneyThe European Journal of Political Theory

“While Pierre Manent’s Democracy Without Nations? concerns itself principally with the erosion of national sovereignity in Europe, American readers will find that Manent raises questions about the fragile bond between nationality and self-governance that we would do well to answer. In Manent’s view, America and Europe are today mirror images… Whatever weaknesses of Democracy Without Nations?, they are minor compared with its splendid grasp of the importance of territory, of the necessary bond between geographical space and political ‘forms and parameters.'”
Jack TrotterChronicles

“Manent’s forthcoming work from [ISI Books] is a short and higly readable book… It’s of particular interest to anyone concerned with the National Question—whether the nation-state can survive as the political expression of a particular people.”
Steve SailerV-DARE

“This lucid philosophical essay generated a great deal of discussion upon its publication in France in spring 2006. Manent takes aim at contemporary Europeans’ pretense of having replaced their nations’ sovereignty and self-government with a ‘pure democracy’ marked by ‘democratic governance’ which is very respectful of human rights but detached from any collective deliberation… [I]f his earlier work on the history of liberalism emphasized the secular character of the liberal state as it was conceived by the modern political philosophers, this work insists that the liberal state and the Christian nation ultimately stand or fall together: In fact, I know of no more incisive dissection of the ‘hollow and vain’ humanitarianism that substitutes for thought among European elites today.”
Dan MahoneyClaremont Review of Books

“Pierre Manent is one of the most challenging political thinkers writing today. His trenchant, provocative analyses eschew all formulaic and simplistic ‘answers’ to complex political questions. No one is better at helping us to understand what is happening in today’s European society, which imagines that it has moved beyond politics to a world of universal humanitarianism. Manent, by contrast, defends the idea of ‘political community’ with eloquence and vigor. Read this book!”
Jean Bethke Elshtain, author of Democracy on Trial and many other books Elshtain, author of Democracy on Trial

“Pierre Manent offers keen insight into the connection between the nation-state and the European political inheritance. At a time when the European Union has emancipated itself entirely from the loyalties and identities that provided its original meaning, let us hope that the Eurocrats will read Manent’s study, and come to see how crazy they are.”
Roger Scruton, author of The West and the Rest: Globalization and the Terrorist Threat

“This slim volume may be read as an extended meditation on the condition of Europe, that is, on the nature of democracy and the importance of national identity as the old nations of Europe are increasingly absorbed into the amorphous and ever-expanding European Union…Manent fears that Europe is on the verge of self-destruction…To parry the threat of self-destruction, Manent is convinced that “nothing is more important than to get a grip on our centuries-old development. And that means first of all we must again become fully aware of the original Christian character of our nations.”…While La raison des nations: reflexions sur la democratie en Europe was written with that continent in mind, Manent’s reflections possess trans-Atlantic value as the United States itself seems to be undergoing an identity crisis.”
Review of Metaphysics

“In this slim volume, Manent . . . offers a defense of the nation as the only possible modern antidote to the spiritual malaise spread by individualistic liberalism. . . . Unlike American neocons, Manent identifies the contemporary modalities of excessive modernity with the liberal imperialsim of post-Maastricht European integration and post-Cold War American hegemony. For Manent, the key to grounding democracy in natural and divine right is found in old nations such as France, which historically embody Christian communion in a secular age. . . . Given the reputation that Manent and his fellow “new French thinkers” currently enjoy among American conservative intellectuals, this book is important for libraries with significant holdings in contemporary political philosophy.”

“Of today’s major European philosophers, Pierre Manent is the one with the profoundest understanding of democratic man. Democracy without Nations? does explicitly what all of Manent’s work has done implicitly. It asks, without mystification or prejudice, whether the newest elaborations of democracy and human rights are making us more free or less.”
Christopher Caldwell, senior editor, Weekly Standard

“Pierre Manent is one of the wisest and most original political philosophers writing in our time. This book shows us what an extraordinary human achievement was the nation-state and how it has been the necessary condition for real democracy and self-government. The decline of the nation-state in Europe means the decline of democracy there as well. Americans, whose own nation and sovereign state are under sustained assault from forces such as globalization and multiculturalism, will learn much of great theoretical and practical importance from this powerful and compelling work.”
James Kurth, Professor of Political Science, Swarthmore College

Want the best of conservative thoughts, news, and conversation directly in your inbox?

Joining ISI is 100% free with no obligations and connects you to a vibrant community of thoughtful students and scholars, plus exclusive opportunities and invite-only conferences. Join today!

Learn more about what ISI has to offer to students