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New Left Review 74, March-April 2012

Jacob Collins


Marcel Gauchet has slowly garnered a reputation as one of France’s premier thinkers, Le Monde suggesting that he might fill the place left vacant by Pierre Bourdieu. [1] Marcel Gauchet, L’avènement de la démocratie, tome III: À l’épreuve des totalitarismes, 1914–1974, Gallimard: Paris 2010, €24, paperback 661 pp, 978 2 07 078624 4 He is co-founder and day-to-day editor of France’s leading intellectual review, Le Débat, professor of political theory at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and the author of several works of philosophy, including an influential theory of secularization with a modest Anglo-American readership, The Disenchantment of the World (1985). In recent years, Gauchet has set to work on an ambitious philosophical history of democracy, L’avènement de la démocratie, which tracks, over five centuries, the West’s ‘terminal path toward metaphysical autonomy’. This is a matter of great urgency for Gauchet, who pegs democracy as the new ‘untranscendable horizon of our time’, but laments that its deepest impulses and implications have escaped our grasp. The third and latest volume of the four projected, À l’épreuve des totalitarismes, 1914–1974, is an epic, if ultimately bland, restaging of the struggle between democracy and totalitarianism in the twentieth century, framed in terms of Gauchet’s larger thesis of Europe’s long secularization.

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Jacob Collins, ‘A Metaphysics of Democracy’, NLR 74: £3

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