The Idea of Democracy and the Eighteenth Century
If the central concern of present-day political debate across the board involves the term democracy (or the democratic quality of society), the connecting themes in eighteenth-century political discourse were commerce and morality. From attitudes towards the reform of nations into viable commercial societies to the level of global governance, this theme dominated Enlightenment politics. It might also be argued that Enlightenment ideas about commerce and morality are, in some sense, the equivalent of ideas about ‘democracy’ now. To see the grounds for comparison, we need to look beyond the fact that democracy was neither on the cards as a possibility, nor as a desire for improving the well-being and quality of people in civil society. In this way, it becomes possible to recognise that early eighteenth-century politics still revolved around much the same issues as early twenty-first century politics.