Two Varieties of Democracy

"Two Varieties of Democracy," Commentary, September 1952.  (A review of The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy by J. L. Talmon.)


An essential defect of Mr. Talmon’s analysis is that he takes the ideology of “totalitarian democracy” as corresponding to an actual fact. In a sense he is deceived by the very myth he has set out to expose. That the Communists are sincere in asserting their regimes are “people’s democracies” is no excuse for Mr, Talmon’s believing it, even if only to disapprove. What can it possibly mean to state, as he does, that “modem totalitarian democracy is a dictatorship resting on popular enthusiasm”? Or that the Jacobin dictatorship was a “dictatorship of the popular masses”—after he has himself shown how the elections of 1793 were rigged? How is it that Mr. Talmon can declare solemnly that the Directory, which replaced the tyranny of Robespierre, “restricted popular sovereignty, freedom of speech, and discussion”? Restricted in comparison with what—the Reign of Terror?

Commentary Magazine