Cuttica, Cesare: EXCLUDING THE ‘GIDDY HYDRA-HEADS’ FROM THE BODY POLITIC: DEMOCRACY AND THE PEOPLE IN EARLY MODERN ENGLAND.

In the wake of the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump, many commentators have questioned whether large swathes of people are indeed fit to participate in the life of our democracies. The masses’ political nous and sense of responsibility as well as competence in and knowledge of political affairs are all cast in doubt. Such considerations might shock a twentieth-first-century audience. This is not the case though when it comes to (intellectual) historians of the early modern period. In fact, back then the idea that the people (or, as they were regularly called, ‘the rabble’/‘the multitude’) might be entitled to vote in elections, have a voice in political or social matters, freely express opinions on things they allegedly knew nothing of was simply inconceivable. Thus, by focusing on a variety of sources composed in England ca. 1603-1649, this paper shows in detail how democracy was considered to be the worst form of government precisely because it catapulted the people at the forefront of politics. In fact, attacks on democratic principles and practices – even though at that time the latter were virtually non-existent across Europe – were often shaped by the idea that the popular component of the body politic was irrational, ignorant and subject to uncontrollable passions. In one word, democracy was seen as the end of civilisation and the transformation of both State and Church into confusion-ridden arenas where dangerous and mad-brained members of the lower orders had the upper hand. For these (and other) reasons, it was almost universally believed and argued that the ‘giddy hydra-heads’ ought to be excluded from politics and public participation more generally. Democracy was therefore a dirty word and remained so in the 1640s, which contrary to much scholarship did not see the dawn of a new democratically-inclined – that is, people-friendly – era.