You are here

Citizens of a Common Intellectual Homeland

The Transatlantic Origins of American Democracy and Nationhood
Armin Mattes

BUY Cloth · 280 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813938042 · $45.00 · Jun 2015
BUY Ebook · 280 pp. · ISBN 9780813938059 · $45.00 · Jun 2015

Notions of democracy and nationhood constitute the pivotal legacy of the American Revolution, but to understand their development one must move beyond a purely American context. Citizens of a Common Intellectual Homeland explores the simultaneous emergence of modern concepts of democracy and the nation on both sides of the Atlantic during the age of revolutions. Armin Mattes argues that in their origin the two concepts were indistinguishable because they arose from a common revolutionary impulse directed against the prevailing hierarchical political and social order. The author shows how the reconceptualization of democracy and the nation, which resulted from this revolutionary impulse, received its decisive form from the French Revolution. Although the French Revolution was instrumental in redefining the two terms, however, neither were these changes confined to France, nor did the new meanings merely radiate from France to other countries.

To illustrate the transatlantic emergence of these ideas, Mattes considers the works of pairs of prominent intellectual contemporaries—one in America and the other in Europe—each writing on a common topic. The thinkers and topics include Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke on the transatlantic revolutions, John Adams and Friedrich von Gentz on the mixed constitution, James Madison and Immanuel Kant on perpetual peace, and Thomas Jefferson and Destutt de Tracy on the nation. Mattes's approach highlights the significant impact that the French Revolution had on the evolution of thought in the period, demonstrating that the emergence and early development of modern concepts of democracy and the nation in America were intimately tied to revolutionary events and processes in the larger Atlantic world.

Preparation of this volume has been supported by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

Jeffersonian America


Armin Mattes offers an original and convincing reinterpretation of the origins and nature of American democracy, certainly not a minor topic. This book is an important contribution to the literature in terms of both its interpretation of the founding era and the methodology it employs. A fantastically sophisticated yet crystal clear work of intellectual history.

Seth Cotlar, Willamette University, author of Tom Paine's America: The Rise and Fall of Transatlantic Radicalism in the Early Republic

Armin Mattes takes a well-known fact—that the French Revolution had a significant impact on European and American thought and politics—and transforms it into a prism to rethink how and why we have come to understand "democracy" as we do....For scholars of political thought, Mattes offers a new intellectual genealogy for democracy.

The Review of Politics

How did Americans come to see democracy as desirable? In Citizens of a Common Intellectual Homeland, Armin Mattes takes up this classic question but answers it in a fresh way, introducing the reader to a series of fascinating transatlantic conversations, among figures famous and obscure alike, about what a postrevolutionary world should look like. This is a highly ambitious account of the intellectual preoccupations of the age of revolutions.

Sophia Rosenfeld, University of Virginia, author of Common Sense: A Political History

In this well-written book, Mattes aims to illustrate the late-18th-century development of concepts of democracy and nationhood in America that resulted from the influence of the French Revolution.... Highly recommended.


What may be most striking in a first perusal of this compelling history of the conceptual origins of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America is Armin Mattes's innovative approach which can roughly be described as the unlikely but happy marriage between German conceptual history and an updated version of a much older method, one admired by the eighteenth-century revolutionaries themselves.... The great precision and clarity that characterize the arguments throughout Citizens of a Common Intellectual Homeland make it quite unlikely that Mattes's own intellectual homeland, as presented in this book, can fail to attract numerous future citizens.

Journal of Southern History

Citizens is an innovative take on the transatlantic emergence of the ideas of American democracy and American nationhood. And with his clear, crisp, and uncluttered prose, as well as his wide range of primary and secondary sources, Mattes provides a compelling narrative and a solid historio-geographic platform from which to launch future studies of the concepts of American democracy and the American nation.

Gregory Jones-Katz · The Register of Kentucky Historical Society

Interested in this topic?
Stay updated with our newsletters:

Related Books