Simon During, Against Democracy: Literary Experiences in the Era of Emancipation (Fordham University Press, 2012)
This book argues that we can no longer envision a political system that might practically displace democracy or, more accurately, global democratic state capitalism. Democracy has become fundamental: It extends deeper and deeper into everyday life; it grounds and limits our political thought and values. That is the sense in which we do indeed live at history’s end. But this end is not a happy one, because the system that we now have does not satisfy tests that we can legitimately put to it.
In this situation, it is important to come to new terms with the fact that literature, at least until about 1945, was predominantly hostile to political democracy. Literature’s deep-seated conservative, counterdemocratic tendencies, along with its capacity to make important distinctions among political, cultural, and experiential democracies and its capacity to uncover hidden, nonpolitical democracies in everyday life, is now a resource not just for cultural conservatives but for all those who take a critical attitude toward the current political, cultural, and economic structures. Literature, and certain novelists in particular, helps us not so much to imagine social possibilities beyond democracy as to understand how life might be lived both in and outside democratic state capitalism.
Drawing on political theory, intellectual history, and the techniques of close reading, Against Democracy offers new accounts of the ethos of refusing democracy, of literary criticism’s contribution to that ethos, and of the history of conservatism, as well as innovative interpretations of a range of writers, including Tocqueville, Disraeli, George Eliot, E. M. Forster, and Saul Bellow.
"Against Democracy is a frame-shifting discussion of the interrelated histories of democracy, conservative thought, and the rise of literary criticism and theory. Highly readable, and displaying a rare blend of literary and political insight, this book is sure to influence ongoing debates in the literary humanities."—Amanda Anderson, Johns Hopkins University
“Simon During is one of the most original, intelligent, unpredictable literary critics currently writing in the English language. Sentence by elegant sentence, one generally learns more from him than from almost anyone else I can think of.”—Bruce Robbins, Columbia University