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Les transports de la démocratie

Mathieu Flonneau
Léonard Laborie
Arnaud Passalacqua

Préface. Mobility and democracy versus mobility and modernity. A foreword

Hans-Liudger Dienel

Texte intégral

1The “Elective Affinities” (Wahlverwandschaften) of mobility and modernity have been stated, analyzed and assessed regularly in recent times (e. g. by Stephan Rammler), less so, although there is an overlap, the liason of mobility with egality and especially with democracy. There is a consensus that mobility started a long term liason with progress not only in technical but in political terms already before the industrial revolution. This relation included freedom and constitutionalism. Is this already an indication and statement concerning an interdependency with democracy? Of course, growing access to mobility was seen as a precondition for social equilibrium and inclusion in the 19th and 20th century. The railroads and later the car were praised as a pathway to a leveled society, though the little differences remained especially visible in transport. I just recall the different classes in public transport and the many possibilities for distinction in individual mobility. But, the general leveling effect of modern mass motorization seemed to counterbalance and even overcome all efforts and attitudes for demarcation and showing off. Thus, mobility can be seen as determinant of democracy and enactment of nuanced class society at the same time, as some articles of the volume can show.

2In recent years, more and more transport and mobility experts recognize and describe a fundamental paradigm shift in the relation of mobility and modernity: transport and mobility seem to be no longer the cutting edge of modernity. Modern communication devices and systems have pushed the car to the back of the mind of especially young people in big cities in Central Europe. The car has lost much of its fetish values, the driving license is less desired than the laptop.

3Do we face a paradigm shift in societal assessment and connotation of the relation of mobility and democracy as well? Nothing less is the most relevant overarching question of this omnibus. To answer such a central question for the future not only of mobility and transport in Europe, but for its most important industries and for the social construction of Western societies at large, the volume looks back into the history of this relation since early modern Europe.

4The unabated steady growth of transport and mobility in modern Western societies can partly be attributed to its complementary effects: transport and mobility were able to meet the demands both of integration and access on the one hand and of discrimination and segmentation on the other. On another level it could serve both the expectations for masculine individuality and power and later or even at the same time enable women to discover mobility as a way to personal freedom and self-efficacy.

5Individual perceptions and social constructions play an important role in the book. At the same time it is a thorough analysis of politics. Government used transport and mobility in order to develop and present itself as a progressive and strong state, capable of action. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, transport infrastructures (and energy, gas and heating systems) were communized on the national and the local level. Public transport systems became one of the most important policy fields and income sources of city governments in times of municipal socialism. Since, transport and mobility have fallen back in political ranking. The underfinanced transport infrastructure in Europe can be seen as a visible sign for the paradigm shift of the relation of transport and modernity.

6But, what about the liaison of mobility and democracy, which is not dependent on the conformity of mobility and modernity? Just the opposite: we can interpret the many counter waves against an ever increasing mobility since the 19th century as an expression of self-reflective democratization. Just consider opposition against the railways, the advent of the car and especially mass motorization since the early 1960s, the inhospitality of the modern city (Alexander Mitscherlich), the aggressivity and blood prize of the car (Ralph Nader) and its ecological impact.

7At the same time, we can identify a growing reassessment and excitement about tranquility, modesty and immobility in Western Societies. This shift is visible in universities, ministries and in transport museums, which belong to the best visited museums in the world with millions of fans. The history of these institutions reflects the reassessment of mobility. While the quantitative success of museums (visitor figures) were and still seem to be due to the fascination for speed, technology, power and glamour, we find more and more critical reflexive expositions on the history, present times and the future of mobility. While the number of visitors of these avant-garde-expositions often still do not underline a true paradigm shift in the reception of mobility, the new messages alone demonstrate that times are changing.

8Do we face a true and deep paradigm shift in assessment and connotation of mobility and democracy? The volume is addressing this most important and relevant question. By a multiperspective approach and longue durée comparisons, the volume gives innovative insights on the changing elective affinities between mobility and democracy. The famous historian of technology Svante Linqvist defined historiography as the discussion of present times with history about its future. In this perspective, the specific moment of publication of this book is a sign for the growing general societal interest in the relation of mobility and democracy. I see a reason for this growing interest: times are a changin’ for this relation and we want to know why and whereto. Therefore, it is an important book both for the historiography and policies of mobility.


Historien, Technische Universität Berlin, Center for Technology and Society.

© Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2014

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