Watch “Is Democracy Conspiratorial?” by Professor Samuel Moyn (Harvard)
Since the time of the abbé Barruel, the French Revolution – the source of democratic claims eventually the world over – has been unmasked as the outcome of a dark conspiracy.
This talk examines some of the contemporary legacies of this claim about the secret agenda of democratic self-rule, with a focus on some famous main twentieth-century commentators like Reinhart Koselleck and François Furet who were insufficiently critical of the old allegation even in renovating our sense of where the Revolution fits in modern politics. Dwelling on some of the intellectual origins of Furet’s “Interpreting the French Revolution,” in which the conspiracy claim figured, the talk distinguishes that strand of the book from other and more valuable impulses, which had other sources, notably the view that democracy is the rule of no one, so that it is very hard to justify or even securely locate its legitimate authorities at any given time.
Samuel Moyn is James Bryce Professor of European Legal History at Columbia University, where he has been teaching since 2001. He is author of “The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History” (2010) and a new collection of essays entitled “Human Rights and the Uses of History” (2014). From July 1, 2014, he will take up a new position as professor of law and history at Harvard University.
This public lecture was originally given 10 June 2014