The missing revolution: The totalitarian democracy in light of 1776

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During much of his prolific career, the late historian Jacob Talmon was preoccupied with revolutionary movements, and was especially unsettled by, and attracted to, the force displayed by the French and Russian Revolutions. The young United States' long and bloody war against the British Empire, followed by the creation of a republican novus ordo seclorum, supposedly fitted Talmon's revolutionary model and narrative. Hence, it is hard to account for the complete absence of the American Revolution from Talmon's extensive and celebrated trilogy. This paper examines how Talmon understood revolutions and how the major historiographical schools interpreting the American Revolution could not accommodate, for different reasons, Talmon's paradigm of the nature and essence of revolutions. The paper further demonstrates how not only the failings of different historical interpretive schemes convinced Talmon to ignore the American Revolution. Rather, since the American Revolution could be conceived either as Lockean or Machiavellian, but in any event not as Rousseauian, Talmon overlooked its Atlantic nature; he chose to focus solely on messianic Europe. The paper will thus analyze the meaning and consequence of the fact that Talmon left the examination of the pursuit of happiness to Americanists, and chose to leave 1776 out of his corpus. Indeed, a missing revolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158-168
Number of pages11
JournalHistory of European Ideas
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2008


  • Historiography
  • Jacob Leib (1916-1980)
  • Liberalism
  • Republicanism
  • Revolution
  • Talmon
  • Totalitarianism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy


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