Democracy - A Fragile Way of Life


After the Cold War ended, liberal democracy was taken for granted. Now it is in crisis: citizens distrust parliamentary politics, the people’s parties are losing members and votes, and social media are crowding out public debates. Challenging the sense of despair that informs recent studies on how democracy dies, Till van Rahden argued that it might prove more useful to explore what keeps it alive. A fruitful point of departure is the insight that democracy is not only a matter of elections and political parties, constitutions and parliaments, but is grounded in democratic experiences. The attention is less on how democratic government works, but on what equality, freedom, and justice feel like. A focus on democratic forms and aesthetics allows us to revisit the cultural and social foundations of democracy. No matter how stable a democracy may seem, it will wither and perish without ways of life that allow for and encourage democratic experiences.

Till van Rahden is a Full Professor at the Université de Montréal where he held the Canada Research Chair in German and European Studies from 2006 to 2016. Since January 2021 he is also a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the “Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften,” an Institute for Advanced Studies of the Goethe University. In 2018, he was a LFUI-Guest Professor at the University of Innsbruck, and in 2016, he held a fellowship at the “Leibniz Institute for European History” in Mainz. He specializes in European history since the Enlightenment and is interested in the tension between the elusive promise of democratic equality and the recurrent presence of moral conflicts.

The Lecture was moderated by the rector of the IWM, Shalini Randeria.