The Political Histories of Western Europe and the United States over the past three hundred years illustrate powerfully how the evolution of fully functioning liberal democratic politics has been linked intimately to the presence of vigorous thinkers and activists dedicated to the pursuit of a liberal polity. The social contract theory of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the constitutionalism of Baron Charles de Montesquieu, the laissez-faire economics of Adam Smith, and the reflections of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton on the challenges of competitive politics all helped to lay the groundwork for the achievement of liberal democratic politics in France, England, and the United States. Particular strains of political thought found in these and other thinkers help to account for the similarities and differences among the world's historic experiments in bourgeois democracy. French liberalism, which had no Thomas Hobbes seeking eloquently to defend monarchical absolutism, ultimately could not accommodate royal prerogative to democratic politics; and, lacking an Adam Smith to assert the primacy of economic laissez-faire, it showed no fundamental antipathy to the centralized state in its political practice. A more dramatic contrast is afforded by the fragile and short-lived democracy of Weimar Germany, nurtured in soil where G. W. F. Hegel's organic conception of the state and the doctrines of state sovereignty that legitimated the regime of Otto von Bismarck overwhelmed the contributions of Immanuel Kant and Wilhelm von Humboldt to liberal theory. In the final analysis, to be sure, the presence or absence of absolutism and its defenders, of laissez-faire economics and its rationalizers is attributable to other factors deep in the history and culture of each society. Yet, in all these cases, the historical relationship between thought and politics is clear and striking.

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