Agents of the People by Pasi Ihalainen

By Pasi Ihalainen

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The reconstruction of this kind of past political vocabularies is far from easy given the temptation to look for the modern concepts of democracy and popular sovereignty in historical sources. In searching for an answer to the question of when it became legitimate to speak about democracy and popular sovereignty as recognized and approved principles in their modern senses, we should concentrate on establishing when expressions that can unarguably be seen as having modern meanings actually begin to emerge in the historical sources.

Translated from the French of M. de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu. With Corrections and Additions Communicated by the Author. Vol. 1 (London 1750), 11, cited here from the first English translation which was most likely to be read by British parliamentarians. Cf. Wright 2002, 293, who refers to “sovereign power” in a modern translation. 25 In later French Enlightenment debates, the concept of democracy occasionally took on positive meanings, which highlights the French origin of much of the ongoing conceptual change.

We shall never know what the result of this revaluation of democracy within the mixed constitution would have been without the French Revolution. The Revolution ensured that the vocabulary of democracy and the sovereignty of the people became increasingly introduction 27 common in the debates of the British Parliament and that the two available understandings of “democracy” led to a fierce but in the long run fruitful conceptual confrontation. Clashes between the emerging new understanding of ‘democracy’ within the mixed constitution and the French revolutionary notions of ‘democracy’ and ‘the sovereignty of the people’ as the basis of all government are analysed in Chapter Five.

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