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We have long known that creating democracy is more than a matter of installing the right political plumbing. Political machinery depends upon shared behaviors and habits of mind—what historians and political scientists often call "political culture." Attractive and protean, the concept has generated quick dividends and longer-term deficits since its coinage in the sixties. The result was a rather muddy sense that "culture" mattered, but little clarity about what culture was or how it actually affected politics. Recent books about the revolutions of the long eighteenth century by historians James Kloppenberg and Jane Kamensky signal a much needed correction. Their articulated, robust notions of what culture is help us think about both the eighteenth-century revolutions and the modern world that they helped to create.
Nathan Perl-Rosenthal reviews The Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought by James T. Kloppenberg and A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley by Jane Kamensky.