Raymond Boudon

Rediscover the Value of Democracy In Praise of Common Sense Publication date : October 12, 2006

Could there be profound intellectual causes for the crisis — of representation, legitimacy and even efficiency — that the great Western democracies are undergoing? Could this crisis spring from the power of relativism over our way of thinking? Of course, relativism fosters freedom — but at what price, and with what consequences?
These are some of the questions that Raymond Boudon addresses here. He argues that relativism, because it excludes any notion of universalism (anything goes since everything is relative), has created a fertile ground for a cynical conception of social and political relations, and thus for the emergence of the types of fundamentalism that we are witnessing today. Relativism nurtures feelings of disarray. It legitimises the confusion between morals and politics, faith and reason, the private and public spheres.
As a result, democracy is reduced to a system dominated by conflicts of interests, in which might equals right. Not surprisingly, the élites of Western society appear to have lost their bearings, allowing themselves to be guided by militant minorities and public opinion.
What can be done, asks Boudon, to put an end to the confusion engendered by relativism, a movement that has come to dominate Western thought. How, he wonders, can we accept the diversity of values without concluding that “everything is relative”? This is, without doubt, the great question that the twenty-first century must face. For Boudon, thinkers such as Alexis de Tocqueville, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim, among others, can help us rediscover the value of “common sense”, that form of rationality, which we all share, and which transcends individual and cultural differences.
This book is a profound meditation on the sources of our contemporary disarray and the solutions that, in spite of everything, remain open to us.

Raymond Boudon is a member of the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques and a professor emeritus at the University of Paris-Sorbonne. He is the author of the following books, published by Editions Odile Jacob: Tocqueville aujourd’hui (2005), Pourquoi les intellectuels n’aiment pas le libéralisme (2004) and Y a-t-il encore une sociologie? (2004). He is also the author of L’Inégalité des chances, L’Art de se persuader, Le Juste et le vrai and Déclin de la morale, déclin des valeurs?