Oxford research project: Re-imagining democracy in the Mediterranean, 1750-1860

In the middle of the eighteenth century, ‘democracy’ was a learned word, used primarily in discussions of the ancient world – Greece and republican Rome – or to denote one element within mixed constitutions: that is, constitutions (including the British) which combined monarchical, aristocratic and democratic elements. From the mid-eighteenth century, democracy was increasingly theorised as a primitive political form, ill-fitted to the complexities of modern life: ‘modern democracy’ came to sound like a contradiction in terms. For all that, by the middle of the nineteenth century democracy had become a key category for comprehending the modern world, and the term had passed into general use.
During the French revolutionary, Napoleonic and post-Napoleonic eras, northern European powers claimed a major voice in settling southern Europe’s affairs. In this context, movements for popular and for national freedom interpenetrated. Because certain experiences were shared across the region, political ideas and movements also criss-crossed it – sometimes in the baggage of exiles who, driven from their native countries, joined the fight for freedom elsewhere. In southern, even more than in northern Europe at this time, democracy was often an insurrectionary movement, involving the mobilisation of armed force against domestic and foreign tyrants.

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