People’s capacity to give meaning and direction to social life is an essential dimension of political freedom. Yet many citizens of Western democracies believe that this freedom has become quite restricted. They feel they are at the mercy of anonymous structures and processes over which they have little control, structures and processes that present them with options and realities they might not have chosen if they had any real choice. As a result, political interest declines and political cynicism flourishes.

The underlying cause of the powerlessness pervading the current political system could be modernization. Taking the work of Max Weber, Karl Mannheim, and Joseph Schumpeter as a point of departure, Hans Blokland here examines this process. The topics covered are, among others, the meaning of modernization, the forces that drive it, and, especially, the consequences of modernization for the political freedom of citizens to influence the course of their society via democratic politics.

“Blokland’s scholarship is excellent, thorough, accurate, and interesting. His detailed examination of Weber, Schumpeter and Mannheim not only pursues the arguments they make, shows how their ideas evolved, and the context in which they originated, but draws important inferences from their work.”

David E. Apter, Yale University






Dem einzelnen Menschen mögen mancherlei persönliche Ziele, Zwecke, Hoffnungen, Aussichten vor Augen schweben, aus denen er den Impuls zu hoher Anstrengung und Tätigkeit schöpft; wenn das Unpersönliche um ihn her, die Zeit selbst der Hoffnungen und Aussichten bei aller äusseren Regsamkeit im Grunde entbehrt, wenn sie sich ihm als hoffnungslos, aussichtslos und ratlos heimlich zu erkennen gibt und der bewusst oder unbewusst gestellten, aber doch irgendwie gestellten Frage nach einem letzten, mehr als persönlichen, unbedingten Sinn aller Anstrengung und Tätigkeit ein hohles Schweigen entgegensetzt, so wird gerade in Fällen redlicheren Menschentums eine gewisse lähmende Wirkung solches Sachverhalts fast unausbleiblich sein . . .

Thomas Mann (1924: 50)

The scientific outlook in political science can easily produce a dangerous and dysfunctional humility: the humility of the social scientist who may be quite confident of his findings on small matters and dubious that he can have anything at all to say on larger questions. The danger, of course, is that the quest for empirical data can turn into an absorbing search for mere trivialities unless it is guided by some sense of the difference between an explanation that would not matter much even if it could be shown to be valid by the most advanced methods now available, and one that would matter a great deal if it should turn out to be a little more or a little less plausible than before, even if it still remained in some considerable doubt.

Robert Dahl (1961: 25)