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Towers of Babel

“Nations have lost their old omnipotence; the patriotic tie does not hold.  Nations are getting obsolete, we go and live where we will.  Steam has enabled men to choose what law they will live under.  Money makes place for them.”

—R.W. Emerson

While Pierre Manent’s Democ­racy Without Nations? concerns itself principally with the erosion of national sovereignty in Europe, American readers will find that Manent raises questions about the fragile bond between nationality and self-governance that we would do well to answer.  In Manent’s view, America and Europe are today mirror images.  Each is a version of “democratic empire”; they share a vision of political order that is, strictly speaking, no longer political.  The “sentiment of resemblance,” identified by Alexis de Tocqueville as the quintessential democratic emotion, has become in both Europe and America “a passion for resemblance.”  It is no longer sufficient, it seems, to extend to the “other” the respect that we demand for ourselves; rather, “[w]e are required to see the other as the same as ourselves.”  We have learned to regard only our likenesses as of fundamental value; what is different must be ignored or discarded.  For differences threaten the...

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