Dominique Reynié

The Triumph of Public Opinion The Public Arena in France from the 16th to the 20th Century Publication date : April 1, 1998

Democracy is a familiar concept, though scarcely a simple one. Although it is the accepted form of government in many countries, it is not necessarily a perennial one. The beginnings of present-day democracy can be traced back to 16th-century movements; over the centuries, the concept has been honed down through a series of alterations and transformations. Political activity in today’s democracies is the result of nearly five centuries of complex developments.But what is the significance of those developments? What were the driving forces, fears, or goals behind them? Who created our present-day concept of democracy? The democratic freedoms governing public debate are generally known: they include freedom of opinion, as well as freedom to publish, to hold meetings, to join unions, and to demonstrate. Yet the concerns underlying these freedoms are less familiar. Why has so much talent been so intently focused on de-politicising urban life and on drawing a clear distinction between public debate and public life? Why has so much effort been deployed to ensure the victory of public opinion? The political system governing us today is the result of a process begun long ago; how can it serve to maintain public order and obedience in the era of mass society?Dominque Reynié’s brilliant questioning of the tenets of democracy is based on one hundred years of previously unstudied parliamentary debates highlighting the reasons that led legislators to accept democratic freedoms. The author’s conclusions differ significantly from those of earlier historians and legal experts.
A professor of political science at the University of Nice and an associate researcher at the Centre d’études de la vie politique française (CEVIPOF),Dominque Reynié is the author of Le Livre Politique en France (1993).