No principle is more centrally important to the democratic idea than the limitation of the state by the demand that it respect basic human rights. It is impossible to forget that in our century, democracy’s principal adversary has not been the monarch ruling by “divine right” nor the oligarchy of landowners and feudal lords but totalitarianism; and that in order to combat totalitarianism, nothing is more important than the recognition of limits to state power. This feeling is so strong that we are now tempted to accord much less importance than did the thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the idea of the sovereignty of the people or to the idea of equality as Tocqueville defined it. This is so because the structured, hierarchical communities that were once protected by powerful mechanisms of social control have been completely destroyed by the blows of rapid change under modernization and in the decomposition of the established order. The traditional order was destroyed by no founding act or oath of social contract but by modernity, with or without democracy. Traditional monarchies and ruling classes are things of the past the world over, and so are the forms of family- or school-based authority that instilled a respect for supposedly natural hierarchies. Throughout the world, “orders” have been replaced by classes, and classes may in turn be replaced by a multiplicity of interest groups. As a result, the state’s power can be limited only by political decision or moral conviction. History, however, tends to give the state increasing power in mobile societies where it is more than an agent of reproduction of the social order, a central actor in the processes of change and of accumulation and redistribution. The assertion of the democratic idea is therefore much more clearly present in such voluntary self-limitation, which runs counter to modern society’s tendencies, than in the rupture of traditional authority by states that have been more often authoritarian than democratic.