Prospective Time
America was the first modern republic to openly declare itself based in
the authoritative voice of the people, but because of the heterogeneity
of its population, the expanse of its different territories, and its lack of a
single shared tradition or common past it was also the western country
perhaps least capable of creating consensus over the location or meaning
of that voice. The more that power was proclaimed in the people’s name
during the postrevolutionary years, the more the people seemed to re-
cede from clear view.3 While the Revolution ostensibly made Americans
“one people,” it also inaugurated a history of political contention over the
meaning and extent of that term. The Revolution may have promised an
important source of common belief and behavior, it may have been what
Douglass called the “Ring-Bolt to the chain of [the] nation’s destiny,”
but it was also a source constituted by paradox, an unreachable origin
The understanding of time, and of human life experienced in time . . . is an important
part of . . . society’s understanding of itself—of its structure and what legitimates it, of
the modes of action which are possible to it and in it. There is a point at which histori-
cal and political theory meet.
, Politics, Language, and Time1
The restorative power of democracy is still part of the American political
WOlIn, “fugitive Democracy”2
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