"Votes should be weighed, not counted", argued nineteenth-century liberals. This pathbreaking study analyzes parliamentary suffrage debates in England, France and Germany from 1830 to 1885, showing that liberals used a distinctive political language, 'the discourse of capacity', when talking about political participation. Only those people who had the right capacities, as individuals or as members of a social class, ought to be able to vote. Using the discourse of capacity defined liberals, and they used it to define and limit full citizenship, excluding women and the lower classes. Despite national variations, this political language was common to liberals throughout Europe. The rise of consumer culture drove the discourse of capacity from politics at the end of the nineteenth century, but it survives today in education and the professions.

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