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Anti-democracy and the “People” in Early Modern England and Beyond

Friday, October 20, 2023, 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm

The Democracy in History workgroup of the CEU Democracy Institute cordially invites you to this public lecture.

If you would like to attend the lecture in person, please register here by October 15.

If you would like to follow it online, the Zoom-meeting will be available here.


This paper studies and connects, for the first time, a diverse body of anti-democratic critics who, in early modern England and in nineteenth-century Britain, similarly attacked direct/pure democracy as a vicious way of life at the forefront of which stood the multitude-mass and plebeian licence. It then shows that anti-democratic ideas were much more important in shaping British political thought and public discourse than has been acknowledged. Lastly, it delineates the long-term development of a resilient cluster of arguments and tropes that excoriated democracy by condemning democratic man’s character, while also explaining when, where and how this anti-democratic paradigm was forcefully contested.

If it might be known that a large number of British authors, following a tradition of thought that began with Plato, saw democracy as utterly pernicious, it is less established why they considered democratic regimes to be cradles of private and public vices. Equally left unanswered is why and how, at the two historical junctures ca. 1590s-1660s and ca. 1820s-1880s, this view was painstakingly elaborated in political parlance. In this respect, no or little attention has been paid to the major twofold critique whereby vicious people wanted democracy so as to give their vices free rein, while, in turn, democracy encouraged a morally deleterious spirit among the lower orders (exemplified by ‘doing as one likes’).

Among the texts analysed are those of both prominent (e.g. Filmer, Nedham, Milton; Burke; Macaulay, Arnold, Mill, Maine; Dewey) and less-known thinkers.


Cesare Cuttica teaches British History at Paris 8 and is member of the Helsinki Centre for Intellectual History. He has written two monographs: Sir Robert Filmer and the Patriotic Monarch: Patriarchalism in Seventeenth-Century Political Thought (MUP, 2012; Paperback 2015) and Anti-democracy in England 1570-1642 (OUP, 2022). He has also edited four collections of essays on different topics. Besides working on the history of ideas in early modern Britain and Europe, Cesare has written about the practice of history-writing, notably about the methodology of intellectual history. He is currently the beneficiary of a ‘Gerda Henkel Stiftung Scholarship: Funding Programme Democracy’, based at the University of Helsinki. This project focuses on the history of democracy in early modern Europe and is a collaborative undertaking with two other colleagues.