This week’s readings, Chapters 4 and 5 in The Age of Empire, focus on the growth of democracy and the rise of the proletariat. These two concepts are linked—the rise of the masses pushed democracy to the point of inevitability. However, first Hobsbawn follows the development of democracy from Athens up until modern examples such as Italy, Spain, France, and Germany. All these countries mentioned did not necessarily have democratic regimes in this time period, but Hobsbawm demonstrates the effects mass labor and social movements had on the governing systems. The author also describes the difficulty of “bringing labor movements into the institutionalized game o politics”(101). In most countries, workers as a “class” were not complied into union until after 1914. Additionally, the author emphasizes the importance of symbols in the workers movement, and hence in politics. Political life thus found itself increasingly ritualized and filled with symbols and publicity, both overt and subliminal. He goes on to describe the importance of language in nationalism and identifies symbols that became important for social movements and hence, the transformation of democracy. This symbols and rituals include things like music and the national flag. He concludes the first chapter with describing that capitalism must inevitably abandon the bourgeois democracy.
I found these readings interesting, a little dense, but interesting. I enjoyed the parts where is discussed the mobilization of the masses. He describes how the common people indirectly created: mass media, mass movements, mass parties, and mass propaganda. However, I disagree with one part of this section on the masses. On page 87, Hobsbawn says, “The western world, including after 1905 even tsarist Russia, was plainly moving towards system of politics based on an increasingly wide electorate dominated by the common people”. The idea of Russia, with its overtly socialist system, moving toward mass politics doesn’t make sense to me. Besides this question, I thought the rest of the chapters were extremely intelligent and well written.