To properly comprehend democracy's present and future role in politics, particularly in regards to processes of democratisation and democracy promotion, we must cultivate a more nuanced reading of democracy's past. Needed is 'a radical historicisation of democracy', in Frank Ankersmit's words, which foregrounds that democracy is a contingent historical fact, necessarily conditioned by its past. This position is contrasted to the standard account of democracy and its history provided by liberalism. Rather than comfortably accepting the current prominence of liberal democracy and the widespread normative agreement on this form of rule, this article instead considers the much longer tradition of thought which regarded democracy as something negative and very distinct from liberalism. In so doing, a sensitive reading of democracy's past promotes a much more reflexive position, which opens space for considering whether the present state of affairs is actually much less secure and more fragile than many liberal proponents of democracy tend to suggest. At the same time, this approach also points the way towards a more considered case for democracy.
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