John Markoff
1999 Journal of World-Systems Research  
Writing on the eve of the democratic breakthrough of the late eighteenth century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau gave vivid voice to a critique of the political institutions across the Channel that were admired by so many French reformers of the day. Commenting scornfully on British electoral practice, he observed in 1762 that:"The people of England regards itself as free, but it is gravely mistaken. It is free only during the election of Parliament. As soon as they are elected, slavery overtakes it,
more » ... ry overtakes it, and it is nothing. The use it makes of the short moments of liberty it enjoys merits losing them." Rousseau's contention about the limitations of electoral institutions was in no way superseded by the age of democratic revolution that followed. From the 1790s to the present, there have been recurrent complaints about the depth of popular involvement in political life, the reality of popular control over powerholders, and the possibility that the existence of some form of institutional channel for participation could blind publics to the inadequacy of that participation. Rousseau's critique has repeatedly reappeared in one form or another and has informed movements for a more genuine democratization.
doi:10.5195/jwsr.1999.135 fatcat:atxcso3h3ravdlrle2rtbakltm