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Summary 1999(2)

Summary


American social sciences and the rhetoric of democracy in the inter-war period (Dario Frezza)

This article analyses the evolution and the main rhetorical features of the debate on democracy which took place in the American social sciences in the inter-war period. In particular, it deals with the relationship between the ideal of democracy and its actual practice, and with the symbolic figure of the "common man". In the decade following the Great War, doubts arose among social scientists about the rationality of the "common man" and the possibility of him being a good democratic citizen. As a consequence, the political importance of enlightened elites possessing technical and scientific knowledge was stressed. The Great Depression transformed this debate. The economic situation was now held responsive for the widening gulf between the ideal of democracy and its reality, and social scientists started studying the "common man" as a victim of the Depression and as the bearer of new social rights rather than as an imperfect citizen. The challenge of totalitarian regimes in the Thirties created a climate favourable to the uncritical defence of democracy rather than to the analysis of its defects.



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