31 January 2010

Book: Nietzsche Contra Democracy

A book showcasing Friedrich Nietzsche's anti-democratic thought: "Nietzsche Contra Democracy" by Fredrick Appel (Cornell University Press, 1999).

Publisher's description: "Apolitical, amoral, an aesthete whose writings point toward some form of liberation: this is the figure who emerges from most recent scholarship on Friedrich Nietzsche. The Nietzsche whom Fredrick Appel portrays is of an altogether different character, one whose philosophical position is inseparable from a deep commitment to a hierarchical politics. Nietzsche contra Democracy gives us a thinker who, disdainful of the 'petty politics' of his time, attempts to lay the normative foundations for a modern political alternative to democracy. Appel shows how Nietzsche's writings evoke the prospect of a culturally revitalized Europe in which the herdlike majority and its values are put in their proper place: under the control of a new, self-aware, and thoroughly modern aristocratic caste whose sole concern is its own flourishing.

"In chapters devoted to Nietzsche's little discussed views on solitude, friendship, sociability, families, and breeding, this book brings Nietzsche into conversation with Aristotelian and Stoic strains of thought. More than a healthy jolt to Nietzsche scholarship, Nietzsche contra Democracy also challenges political theory to articulate and defend the moral consensus undergirding democracy."


Reviews: "From the opening words of this new book on Nietzsche's political philosophy, we know we are in the hands of a capable scholar: 'Friedrich Nietzsche's great concern is for the flourishing of those few whom he considers exemplary of the human species.' Appel's book demonstrates, from start to finish, the economy and lucidity found in this pithy statement. [...] He laces together textual evidence and strong arguments to make his case, to my mind incontrovertibly, that Nietzsche's opposition to liberal and egalitarian political ideas ... was unvarying." (Philip R. Munger, "The Boston Book Review")

"Fredrick Appel offers a thorough and devastating critique of what he calls the 'new orthodoxy' about Nietzsche which dominates contemporary scholarship. Appel [...] demonstrates how much scholars have to distort Nietzsche's writings to turn him into an enemy of social hierarchy and domination". (Bernard Yack, University of Wisconsin, Madison)

"[A] brilliant piece of scholarship, both clearly written and well argued, or if you prefer, both lucid and logical." (David A. Gugin, "Perspectives on Political Science")

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including table of contents):


Fredrick Appel is Senior Editor at Princeton University Press. He appears not to have published since – neither books nor articles.

30 January 2010

Book chapter: Anti-Democracy: The Politics of Early Modernism

The book by Rebecca Beasley, "Theorists of Modernist Poetry: T.S. Eliot, T.E. Hulme, Ezra Pound" (Routledge, 2007), contains a chapter titled "Anti-Democracy: The Politics of Early Modernism" (pp. 47-61):


From the publisher's description: "Modernist poetry heralded a radical new aesthetic of experimentation, pioneering new verse forms and subjects, and changing the very notion of what it meant to be a poet. This volume examines T.S. Eliot, T.E. Hulme and Ezra Pound, three of the most influential figures of the modernist movement, and argues that we cannot dissociate their bold, inventive poetic forms from their profoundly engaged theories of social and political reform. Tracing the complex theoretical foundations of modernist poetics, Rebecca Beasley examines [...] the modernist critique of democracy [...]. This volume offers invaluable insight into the modernist movement, as well as demonstrating the deep influence of the three poets on the shape and values of the discipline of English Literature itself."

Excerpts: "Eliot, Hulme and Pound all held anti-democratic political views during their early careers. Eliot and Hulme identified themselves with 'classicism', in the sense determined by Charles Maurras and the Action Française. Pound, more equivocally, associated himself with the individualist anarchism advanced by Dora Marsden in [the journal] The New Freewoman/The Egoist."

"Eliot first encountered Maurras, [Pierre] Lasserre and the Action Française in one of his graduate courses at Harvard [...]: its stance against romanticism, Rousseau and democracy, and its commitment to tradition, order and cultural elitism. [...] Pound [...] declared that the artist 'has been at peace with his oppressors for long enough. He has dabbled in democracy and he is now done with that folly'. He proposed instead an 'aristocracy of the arts', arguing that the artist 'knows he is born to rule but he has no intention of trying to rule by general franchise. He at least is born to the purple. He is not elected by a system of plural voting' [...]. Unlike Hulme, Pound did not translate his anti-democracy into a party allegiance [...]. This aversion to political institutions, and to the state more generally, is at the root of his attraction to anarchism and, later, to Italian fascism. [...]

"Even though Eliot and Pound represent quite different strains of anti-democracy, therefore, they both relate their beliefs in the political sphere to stylistic precision and restraint in their poetry. [...] Pound and Eliot are usually seen as part of a single political trend in modernism, but in fact their politics are in many ways antithetical. Both were anti-democratic and, from the 1920s, authoritarian, but Pound's politics were revolutionary, whereas Eliot's were conservative."

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including full table of contents):


Rebecca Beasley is now a University Lecturer and Tutorial Fellow in the Faculty of English at Oxford.

29 January 2010

Article: Islamism and Totalitarianism

Jeffrey M. Bale, "Islamism and Totalitarianism" ("Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions", 10 [2], June 2009: pp. 73-96):


Abstract: "Ever since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and even more so since the spectacular attacks by Qa'idat al-Jihad against the U.S. on 9/11, there has been an ever-growing flood of academic and journalistic publications devoted to radical Islam. Unfortunately, much of that literature has embodied problematic conceptual perspectives that can best be characterized as 'Islam bashing', 'Islam apologism', or – worst of all – 'Islamist apologism'. The purpose of this article is to identify the key problems with all of those perspectives, and especially to challenge the widespread view that Islamism can assume genuinely 'moderate', 'democratic', or 'liberationist' forms. On the contrary, the argument herein is that Islamism is an intrinsically radical and anti-democratic extreme right-wing political ideology, one that is not only based upon an unusually strict, puritanical interpretation of central tenets of the Islamic faith but is totalitarian in its very essence. Hence Islamist movements should not be seen as being comparable to Western movements like Christian Democracy, but rather as being similar in certain respects to Western totalitarian movements like Marxism-Leninism and fascism."

Excerpts: "A second form of 'Islamist apologism' promotes the idea that Islamism is essentially a new type of 'democratic movement from below', a kind of justifiable reaction against the corrupt, authoritarian regimes that unfortunately hold sway throughout most of the Muslim world. [...] That would be equivalent to arguing that Marxism-Leninism and fascism, two other intrinsically anti-democratic and totalitarian ideologies, somehow managed to inspire the formation of genuine 'democratic movements from below' simply because they levelled serious critiques of and arose in opposition to authoritarian and/or corrupt regimes in their respective countries.

"The sad truth is that Islamist opposition to the authoritarian regimes in places like Egypt and Algeria, whether violent or non-violent, has never arisen primarily because the Islamists are troubled morally or philosophically by the fact that those regimes are 'authoritarian' and 'undemocratic' – so too are the Islamists, even the allegedly 'moderate' ones – but rather because they consider those states to be 'apostate' or 'un-Islamic', as well as because the very same regimes have not hesitated to carry out harsh repressive measures against Islamist groups. [...]

"A third and related form of 'Islamist apologism' is that Islamism [...] can even be seen as an Islamic form of 'liberation theology'. [...] If the historical record is indicative, no Islamist movement has ever 'liberated' anyone other than like-minded religious fanatics – unless one equates 'liberation' with the suppression of religious diversity, moral 'deviance' and political dissent, the restriction of minority and women's rights, the de jure or de facto repudiation of genuine democratic values, and the more or less systematic attempt to control both the external behaviour and the very consciousness of believers – and no Islamist regime is ever likely to, either, at least not without jettisoning its core Islamist doctrines.

"To claim that such movements are 'progressive' in any way, simply because they oppose Western hegemony, defies all logic. After all, the Italian Fascists and Nazis were also bitterly opposed to Anglo-American, French and Soviet 'imperialism', yet no well-informed academician would ever claim that they were a force for 'liberation'. Yet that is how some are nowadays portraying the Islamists. [...]

"Islamism [...] has both revolutionary and revivalist features. It can be described as revolutionary because, in order for the Islamists to achieve their stated objectives, the existing international world order would have to be fundamentally transformed if not overturned, either wholly or in part. It can be characterised as revivalist because the Islamist goal is to restore the pure, pristine Islamic community [...] that is now governed by 'satanic' man-made laws and institutions (including democracy) [...] devised by Western 'unbelievers' [substituting] the sovereignty of man in place of that of Allah [...].

"This intrinsic theological and philosophical opposition to democracy does not mean, of course, that various Islamist groups have not disingenuously proclaimed their acceptance of democratic rules and cynically exploited democratic processes and procedures, such as participating in elections and forming temporary coalitions with other parties, simply in order to facilitate their accession to power, just as other monists and totalitarians like the communists and fascists had periodically done in past eras. [...] Despite the occasional efforts of non-violent Islamists to pay lip service to pluralism and democratic processes, almost always for purely tactical reasons, the substance of Islamist doctrines is intrinsically anti-pluralist and antidemocratic."

Jeffrey M. Bale is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

28 January 2010

Articles: Wolff's (Plato's) argument that democracy is irrational

The Royal Institute of Philosophy's journal "Think" has published a string of three articles of possible interest (hard to say as I can't get access to them without paying $45/£30 each – for 4, 6, and 7 pages, respectively, that is!).

Most recently, they published "Reply to Wolff, Plato, Smith, Churchill and Aristotle on Democracy" by Timothy Childers (8 [22], June 2009: pp. 93-9):


Abstract: "Fraser Smith (THINK 16) argues that Plato's argument against democracy as reconstructed by Jonathon [sic] Wolff is flawed because in a 'modern' democracy the people do not rule, but instead elect officials subject to a system of checks and balances. Smith's conception of democracy is much like Churchill's (and Popper's). I will argue that Smith's reply does not address Wolff and Plato's argument. I will then point out that Aristotle replied to Plato's argument in an appealing – and strikingly modern – fashion. Aristotle, I conclude, did justify to at least some degree democracy, and hence did address Plato's argument."

Timothy Childers is a member of the Institute of Logic of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague.

The article by Fraser W. Smith that Childers refers to is "A Short Reply to Wolff's (Plato's) Argument that Democracy is Irrational" (6 [16], December 2008: pp. 49-52):


Abstract: "Wolff suggests by way of the following argument (adapted by Wolff from Plato's Republic) that democracy appears to be irrational. Here is the argument given: 1) Ruling is a skill. 2) It is rational to leave the exercise of skills to experts [sic] 3) In a democracy the people rule. 4) The people are not experts. Therefore: 5) Democracy is irrational."

Fraser W. Smith's affiliation is not mentioned by the journal.

The original article by Jonathan Wolff is titled "Are We Good Enough for Democracy?" (1 [2], September 2002: pp. 29-34):


Abstract: "Is democracy a good thing? Most of us think so. And yet, as Jonathan Wolff here explains, Plato thought democracy was a very bad idea. If you favour democracy (and I'm guessing you do), then your challenge is to explain what, if anything, is wrong with Plato's argument. So can you?"

The arguments in that article were taken from Wolff's book "Introduction to Political Philosophy" (Oxford University Press, 1996), chapter 3 "Who Should Rule?", section "Plato against democracy"
(pp. 66-77 in the revised edition of 2006):


Excerpts (2006 edition): "On the latter understanding, then, democracy is mob rule: the rule of the rabble, the vulgar, the unwashed, the unfit. But this insult to democracy is a mere preliminary to Plato's main anti-democratic arguments. His basic weapon is the so-called 'craft analogy'. The point is very simple. If you were ill, and wanted advice on your health, you would go to an expert – the doctor. [...] The last thing you would do is to assemble a crowd, and ask them to vote on the correct remedy. The health of the state is a matter of no less importance than the health of any given individual. [...]

"If the people are allowed to decide they will be swayed by those who speak loudest and with most conviction [...]. Meanwhile, those who are truly skilled [...] will be ignored. [...] Ruling, like medicine, navigation, or even farming, is a skill. [...] Just as medicine should be left to the experts, and a medical training only given to those most suited, so should ruling, and a training to rule. [...] Plato's argument against democracy seems devastating. If ruling is a skill, and a skill that can only be attained by the few, then democracy seems plainly absurd or irrational. [...]

"[Plato's experts, the philosopher-kings,] agree to rule, not for the intrinsic or external rewards of the role, but because they would otherwise find themselves ruled by others. Rather than allow other people – worse still, all other people – to rule, they grudgingly accept this necessary duty."

Jonathan Wolff is Professor of Philosophy at University College London.

27 January 2010

Book chapter: "A Critique of Democracy" in "Ancient Worlds, Modern Reflections"

The book "Ancient Worlds, Modern Reflections: Philosophical Perspectives on Greek and Chinese Science and Culture" by Geoffrey E.R. Lloyd (Oxford University Press, 2004) contains a (not particularly instructive) chapter titled "A Critique of Democracy" (pp. 169-87):


Publisher's description: "Geoffrey Lloyd's pioneering new book uses a study of ancient Greek and Chinese science and culture to throw light on fundamental problems, both intellectual and moral, that we still face today. The issues range from the debate about realism and relativism in philosophy of science to doubts concerning the universal applicability of the discourse of human rights. Lloyd provides compelling evidence that ancient civilizations have much to offer contemporary debates in many fields of study."

Excerpts: "[T]he paradox is that there is far more agreement nowadays than in earlier centuries at least on the name of the most satisfactory political constitution, that is democracy [...]. However, that agreement on what the ideal should be called is not matched by a corresponding consensus on how democracy should work in practice, nor by a corresponding concern as to how far actual practice lives up to that ideal. [...] But my chief concern relates not to the score, of how many political regimes across the world are nominally democratic, versus how many are not, but rather with the problems of modern democracy itself. [...] I see no alternative to democracy in some form [...].

"The diagnosis I have offered of the weaknesses of democracy at both the national and the international level is utterly bleak, and the prognosis almost equally so. [...] The weaknesses of our existing political institutions [...] in not even providing an adequate framework for discussion directed at alleviating the problems [...] must be shown up for what they are. On the national scale there is the failure to engage the electorate and secure their active participation in the political process, as well as the deleterious effects of professional lobbying for commercial and other interests [...]. On the world stage, there is the need to cede some measure of sovereignty to international institutions to give them the wherewithal to implement decisions taken by the collectivity of nation-states. [...] I am not optimistic that the necessary lessons will be learnt in any other than the hardest way, through the experience of catastrophe. [...]

"While democracy is, as I said, the name of what most of the world accepts as the best national political dispensation, its weaknesses must be acknowledged, and so too its current ineffectiveness when translated on to the global scale. [...] To say that there are no easy solutions is a grotesque understatement. We need to muster all the resources for criticism and analysis that we can, including those from reflections on the past. We have to cut through the rhetoric that allows the one remaining superpower to preach the virtues of democracy for other states, while paying scant attention to the opinions of other nations in the forum of international debate. [...] What are the chances of such an argument from self-interest carrying sufficient weight in the face of mindless materialism and greed?"

Review: "[W]e can learn from ancient Chinese civilization the rich notion of solidarity, specifically the sense of the interdependence of all humans and the principle of collective responsibility for the common welfare. On the other hand, we can learn both positive and negative models of democratic behavior and accountability from the ancient Greeks. In conclusion, Lloyd argues that we need to substitute the discourse of justice and equity for that of human nature, and replace the discourse of rights with one that focuses on responsibilities, ties, and obligations." (Youngmin Kim, "Bryn Mawr Classical Review")

Unfortunately, much of Lloyd's "critique of democracy" may be owed to an old man's general ennui with the state of society and the world, with questionable bearing on politics, democratic or otherwise.

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including full table of contents):


Sir Geoffrey E.R. Lloyd is Emeritus Professor of Ancient Philosophy and Science at Cambridge and a Fellow of the British Academy.

25 January 2010

Book: Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism

Did last week's US Supreme Court decision to lift restrictions on campaign contributions by business corporations (and labour unions and other special interests) really change anything? Those who do not realize just how closely linked democracy and capitalism are – and always have been –, may call it "the end of democracy" (as evidenced by so many blog posts).

The others may be reminded of any number of books and articles on the subject. For example, Sheldon S. Wolin's "Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism", published in 2008 by Princeton University Press:


Publisher's description: "Democracy is struggling in America – by now this statement is almost cliché. But what if the country is no longer a democracy at all? In Democracy Incorporated, Sheldon Wolin considers the unthinkable: has America unwittingly morphed into a new and strange kind of political hybrid, one where economic and state powers are conjoined and virtually unbridled? Can the nation check its descent into what the author terms 'inverted totalitarianism'?

"Wolin portrays a country where citizens are politically uninterested and submissive – and where elites are eager to keep them that way. At best the nation has become a 'managed democracy' where the public is shepherded, not sovereign. At worst it is a place where corporate power no longer answers to state controls. Wolin makes clear that today's America is in no way morally or politically comparable to totalitarian states like Nazi Germany, yet he warns that unchecked economic power risks verging on total power and has its own unnerving pathologies. Wolin examines the myths and mythmaking that justify today's politics, the quest for an ever-expanding economy, and the perverse attractions of an endless war on terror."

Of particular interest may be the chapter titled "Intellectual Elites against Democracy". Excerpt: "[H]istorically, the idea of elite rule conceived democracy as its antithesis and natural enemy. [...] Today, when the appeal of democracy is being touted by ruling elites and exploited as an instrument of American power, elite contempt is prudently camouflaged, or perhaps sublimated, as managed democracy."

Reviews: "[A] rare, chilling analysis of intellectual critics of democracy. If democracy means more than occasional elections and protection of those rights that are compatible with economic and political elites' interests, Wolin's analysis of our democratic predicament is shocking, solid, and fundamentally correct." (C.P. Waligorski, "Choice")

"Building on his fifty years as a political theorist and proponent of radical democracy, Wolin here extends his concern with the extinguishing of the political and its replacement by fraudulent simulations of democratic process." (Jonathan Crary, "Artforum")

"Wolin demonstrates that the threats to our democratic traditions and institutions are not always from outside, but may come from within." (Rakesh Khurana, Harvard Business School)

"[H]e contends that the institutions and practices that Americans regarded as their defense against totalitarianism – and other forms of authoritarian domination – have failed them." (Anne Norton, University of Pennsylvania)

"Wolin argues that the unquestioned faith in the virtues of free market capitalism has dramatically narrowed the range of policy options that are on the table when debate turns to resolving the US's ills." (Alex Waddan, "International Affairs")

"[A] comprehensive diagnosis of our failings as a democratic polity [...] including [...] what must be done if it is not to disappear into history along with its classic totalitarian predecessors." (Chalmers Johnson, "Truthdig")

While I believe that Wolin's solution, radical democracy, is an illusion, his criticism of current democracy stands.

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including full table of contents):


A new edition of this book in paperback is announced for February/March 2010.

Sheldon S. Wolin is Professor of Politcs Emeritus at Princeton.

23 January 2010

Book: The King Never Smiles

The meaning of democracy and democratic rule in Thailand, a constitutional monarchy frequently subjected to military coups, have been hotly contested for decades. The first unauthorized biography of the King of Thailand tries to shed light on an underappreciated component of it – Paul M. Handley's "The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej" (Yale University Press, 2006):


From the publisher's description: "Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej, the only king ever born in the United States, came to the throne of his country in 1946 and is now the world's longest-serving monarch. The King Never Smiles [...] tells the unexpected story [...] how a Western-raised boy came to be seen by his people as a living Buddha, and how a king widely seen as beneficent and apolitical could in fact be so deeply political and autocratic. [...] [L]ooking beyond the widely accepted image of the king as egalitarian and virtuous, Handley portrays an anti-democratic monarch who, together with allies in big business and the corrupt Thai military, has protected a centuries-old, barely modified feudal dynasty.

"When at nineteen Bhumibol assumed the throne, the Thai monarchy had been stripped of power and prestige. Over the ensuing decades, Bhumibol became the paramount political actor in the kingdom, silencing critics while winning the hearts and minds of his people. The book details this process and depicts Thailand's unique constitutional monarch – his life, his thinking, and his ruling philosophy."

Reviews: "For too long, the issue of the monarchy has been the prone elephant that analysts of Thai history and politics have had to treat carefully around. That era should now pass. ... In sum, this is the classic story of an exceptional man recrafting a monarchy against the grain of an era." (Chris Baker, "Asia Sentinel")

"A new and comprehensive history of the Thai modern monarchy ... [which] presents a direct counterpoint to years of methodical royal image-making." (Jane Perlez, "The Sunday Telegraph")

"This work is essential to understanding Thailand's modern political history and, particularly, the latest coup." (Major Dewayne J. Creamer, "Proceedings"/US Naval Institute)

Excerpt: "[U]nquestioning adoration also arises from the toughly enforced law of lèse-majesté protecting his inviolateness. Embedded within national security statutes, the lèse-majesté law is applied to protect not only the person of the king and his immediate family but the institution of the monarchy itself, both current and historical. Maligning even a previous king can bring charges, conviction for which could bring over ten years' imprisonment. [...]

"[O]ver time he concluded that elected parliaments were self-serving and unrepresentative of the people's true needs. He decided that constitutional law in practice benefited the non-royal elite and didn't protect his subjects. Ultimately, he believed, European-style democracy, constitutionalism, and capitalism only divided the people, undermining the unifying and justice-dispensing role of the dhammaraja [king]. In his alternative vision, the modern Thai state would be guided by the king and the laws of dhamma, and administered by virtuous, loyal, able, and also tough men, neo-princes found in the top ranks of the military and civil service who worked at their jobs under the king's guidance for the good of the whole."

For reasons of lèse-majesté, the book has been banned in Thailand and local authorities blocked access to websites advertising it. It is also not for sale in many other Asian countries.

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including table of contents):


Paul M. Handley is a freelance journalist who lived and worked as a foreign correspondent in Thailand for thirteen years.

21 January 2010

Article: Buying Consensus in "Free" Markets: The End of Democracy?

From the interdisciplinary field of evolution studies and social systems research comes this article: Gianfranco Minati, "Buying Consensus in 'Free' Markets: The End of Democracy?" ("World Futures: The Journal of General Evolution", 60 [1-2], June 2004: 29-37):


Abstract: "Repeatedly, in Western democracies, sophisticated marketing techniques are used to manipulate consensus. In this context, 'free' markets are interesting only because they contain potential buyers and it is possible to buy consensus. In many European countries (e.g., Italy), in Italy, for example [sic], political scientists apply marketing techniques (advertising, psychological effects) to get (i.e., to buy) political consensus. They work on the premise that the decision to buy a product and the decision to vote for a candidate are equivalent. Their interest is not in convincing, but in shaping an expedient cognitive model.

"This may be the end of classic democracy. Real consensus is no longer necessary in this scenario. It reduces freedom to mere selection, where people choose among equivalent choices on a pre-arranged menu. Freedom reduced to selecting is an illusion."

Some excerpts: "In the past, in democratic societies, political competitors tried to convince voters to support them. They used communication techniques, psychology, media, advertising, strategies based on saying only part of the truth, promising, lying, and so on. The financial efforts to support such campaigns were very high, and competitors often found various ways to finance such activities.

"In the new approach, the business seems to be the same, but the game is decided on another level. To participate and to play at this new level is very expensive – very few may play. It seems to me that at this level only the designers of the system may participate. At this level, a new system is established for the purpose of making consensus buyable. Then the goal is to buy consensus for someone in particular. The participants in the game set new rules without declaring them.

"In this new situation, traditional competitors think that they play the usual game although the game is really changed. Competitors who do not know that they are playing the wrong game lose. The new game is to establish new implicit rules: the owner of the game, of the very private, expensive, sophisticated knowledge and technology, is the winner no matter who the competitors are. [...]

"We may metaphorically name this package social software used by default by agents, to process any kind of information and no matter which cognitive model is adopted. How does this process take place? By diffusing standardized situations via different media. Psychological research makes it clear that there is no linear relationship between advertising and the sales of a product. Why do corporations still insist on such a marketing strategy? The possible answer is that they are not linearly interested in advertising a single, specific product, but in supporting standardized life styles, standardized ways of thinking. They are interested in supporting a system of advertising that generates in the audience the illusion of freedom, in which people are reduced to consumers with the possibility to select and to judge only among a closed set of possibilities. [...]

"In the past, democracies fought the problem of ignorance because they understood that an educated public was essential to democratic stability. Accordingly, they strove to educate people to a more sophisticated and appropriate use of language. Now the situation is reversed. The new approach for controlling social systems is based on ignorance, on a simplified, limited usage of natural language. The source of this situation is a distorted usage of mass media, especially television. The mass media purpose is not to educate, but to reach the maximum number of people with advertising messages that standardize social life. Their purpose is not democratic (to reach everybody with impartial information), but business oriented. Their prime targets are potential buyers and the market. That is the result of a market-oriented education. The language of young people is more and more the language of advertisements; that is, language in the broader sense: words, interests, ways of dressing, ways of behaving, and so on. [...]

"With this impoverization of language, interactions among people are reduced to being events driven. Properties discussed in the daily language are related to materialistic factors, to consumerism (like prices, quality, availability, reliability, effectiveness, etc. of goods) making our societies at a mass level unable to discuss ideals and designs, leaving this dimension to perhaps only religion. [...]

"In our days, democracies are managed by leaders elected by decreasing percentages of voting population (the majority of the voters). It would be an interesting project to research the likely connection between the relative futility of the voting process and the lack of citizen participation in elections. In this framework, some people maintain the illusion of freedom because they can select among pre-established possibilities even if they cannot participate in the controlling design."

"World Futures" is the journal of the General Evolution Research Group (GERG). Grounded in the perspective of humanistic systems science, it is devoted to the exploration of all aspects of evolution.

Gianfranco Minati, Founder and President of the Italian Systems Society (AIRS), lectures in the Department of Built Environment Science and Technology at the Polytechnic University of Milan. A mathematician by training, he is the author, co-author, and editor of numerous academic publications, including eighteen books.

20 January 2010

Article: The Anti-Democratic Curriculum of High-Stakes Testing

A new journal, "Critical Education", launches with an article on "The Idiocy of Policy: The Anti-Democratic Curriculum of High-Stakes Testing" by Wayne Au (1 [1], January 2010).

The article can be read free of charge at this link:


Abstract: "Making use of the body of literature outlining the various controlling aspects of high-stakes testing on classroom practice, the analysis presented here finds that vertical hierarchies are both established and maintained through the top-down structure of education policies in the United States, as exemplified by the No Child Left Behind Act. By looking at the effects of such policies through Parker's (2005) discussion of key aspects of democratic education, this article finds that educational policies based upon systems of high-stakes, standardized testing represent a curriculum that teaches anti-democracy."

Some excerpts: "[P]olicies centered upon systems of high-stakes standardized testing [...] have been advanced upon a consistent rhetoric of democracy, couched in terms of individual choice, individual equality, equal opportunity for achievement [...].

"Indeed, high-stakes tests hold so much power because their results are tied, by policy, to rewards or sanctions that can deeply affect the lives of students, teachers, principals, and communities. [...]. The power in this model, then, is located in the upper echelons of institutional bureaucracies that maintain the authority to determine the assessment, determine the criteria for what counts as passing or failing, and determine the sanctions and punishments for those that do not meet their criteria for passing. [...]

"[E]ducators and students alike are essentially being 'taught' a curriculum that is anti-democratic. This can be seen in the various ways teaching and learning have been restructured [...] to control teachers, to restrict diversity, and to ignore local contexts and voices. [...] The current hegemony of high-stakes testing [...] also undermines democratic thinking more generally by narrowing the conversations that students, teachers, and communities can engage in as potentially active participants in the content and direction of schooling relative to broader social relations." (italics removed)

"Critical Education" is an international peer-reviewed journal, published by the Institute for Critical Education Studies and based at the University of British Columbia.

Wayne Au is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Secondary Education at California State University, Fullerton.

Books: Critics of democracy in Victorian England and post-Revolution France

Minnesota Archive Editions has made available again a book that was first published in 1938: Benjamin E. Lippincott, "Victorian Critics of Democracy: Carlyle, Ruskin, Arnold, Stephen, Maine, Lecky":


From the back cover: "Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible to scholars, students, researchers, and general readers. Rich with historical and cultural value, these works are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions. The books offered through Minnesota Archive Editions are produced in limited quantities according to customer demand".

Review: "The Victorian 'literature of protest' has all too often been regarded as coming merely from the left. To be sure, every manual of English literary history has something to say about the 'Victorian prophets' attack on democracy.' But it has remained for [Lippincott] to analyse with unusual keenness and balance of judgment the role played by Carlyle, Ruskin, and Matthew Arnold in the nineteenth-century struggles with democratic dogma. His examination of James Fitzjames Stephen, and of Maine and Lecky, gives his book exceptional richness, since Lecky and Stephen are undeservedly neglected in many discussions". (Charles Frederick Harrold, "Modern Philology", 1939)

Benjamin E. Lippincott was Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota.

Out of print, but maybe available in libraries, is Jack Hayward's "After the French Revolution: Six Critics of Democracy and Nationalism"
(Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991).

Description: "The French Revolution has generally been recognized as the starting point of modernity. It is the source, in their modern guise, of the founding myths of the nation as the basis of political community and democracy and as the only legitimate way of managing political affairs. While the Revolution, narrowly defined, has been exhaustively denounced and eulogized, its antecedents and more especially its legacies, have been neglected. [...]

"Six of the critics of what became the predominant tradition in France are considered in turn, ranging from the extreme Right to the extreme Left. Maistre represents the reactionary, theocratic Right, while Saint-Simon represents the modernizing industrial Right. Liberalism is advocated by the constitutionalist Constant and To[c]queville, the champion of the decentralisation. On the Left, Proudhon is the exponent of pluralist and libertarian socialism, while Blanqui embodies the recourse to revolutionary dictatorship."

Jack Hayward is a Research Professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Hull and a Fellow of the British Academy.

19 January 2010

Article: The Freedom Industry and Student Politics in Bangladesh

An author who has repeatedly written critically about democracy and seeks to draw attention to what democracy and the violence it promotes have done to his native Bangladesh is Iftekhar Sayeed.

While his short essays may appear somewhat repetitive over the years, employing the ever-same quotations and examples, and lacking in focus, a good overview of his major concerns is offered by the 2006 article "The Freedom Industry and Student Politics in Bangladesh", published (with an introduction by the editor) in the e-zine "Axis of Logic":


Excerpts: "The role of students in establishing and maintaining democracy in Bangladesh has never received careful scrutiny. Student politics has been a deadly, internecine affair. Today, student groups are used by political parties as private armies: they are given guns, told to extort money – 'taxes' and 'tolls' – and bring down the government through [violence]. They have become a highly criminalised group. [...] The headlines reveal that around 4 student activists are murdered by other student activists every month in gangland wars. [...]

"The role of foreign donors, such as USAID and DFID [UK], in promoting such a state of affairs deserves careful scrutiny. These organisations fund local NGOs. [...] The total silence of the NGOs on the subject of student politicians killing each other over turf can be explained in terms of their eagerness to please donors: the students are an integral part of the democratic process. If these boys did not take to the streets [...], the parties would not rotate in power. [...] The disturbing picture of a 'freedom industry' emerges, with crime (on the part of the local parties) as the base of the pyramid and the donors as the apex."

Iftekhar Sayeed is a widely published poet and freelance journalist as well as a teacher of English and Economics.

Remember also the recent article by Jalal Alamgir (University of Massachusetts at Boston), "State(ments) of Emergency: Anti-Democratic Narratives in Bangladesh", published in the collection
"Anti-Democratic Thought", ed. Erich Kofmel (Imprint Academic, 2008).

The full text of the paper can be read here:


From January 2007 through early 2009, Bangladesh stood under military rule after "the norms of democracy had decayed so much that the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the centre-right party that was in power, began openly to change electoral rules and institutions in order to engineer the coming national elections in its favour". The elections were held only in 2009. "The state of emergency that gagged independent political voices and action was accompanied by statements of emergency, essentially anti-democratic narratives marketed deliberately to discredit democracy as a political system in the context of Bangladesh. These narratives emanated from a variety of sources that sprung up to take advantage of the political void. These sources included the military patrons and their clients, regime collaborators or 'reformists' within political parties, and sections of the urban civil society."

Greek riots: "Democracy Shall Not Win"

In the so-called motherland of democracy, Greece, democracy has, once again, come under severe attack.

Youth riots and anarchist violence and bombings have been shaking the capital, Athens, for over a year. On 9 January 2010, a bomb exploded outside the building of the Greek Parliament. The attackers had warned the media of the imminent threat, so the area was cordoned off by police at the time. No injuries were reported.

The "Guerilla Group of Terrorists – Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire" took responsibility for the bombing in a communiqué titled "Democracy Shall Not Win" of which a translation in (bad) English has now become available at this link:


Excerpt: "If it sounds unthinkable in our days for anyone to speak against democracy without being labeled a conservative or a fascist, it is because propaganda resides in the houses and in the minds of [democracy's own] subjects. Democracy's totalitarianism has otherwise nothing to envy from previous totalitarian regimes. Nepotism, aristocracy, men of the court, favoured men, businessmen, mediators, contractors and publishers still rule social life, while down 'below' remain unjustly treated and at the same time, always willing to be 'fooled'.

"Society continues to passively tolerate them and wants to take their place at the same time. The ambitions of becoming easily rich, of spectacularly advancing to a higher social class, of having a career, accumulating property, securing material objects and double-locked doors is what democratic prosperity comes to promise. And so, the willful subjects surrender to the totalitarianism of capitalist sovereignty placed against a democratic background. The exploitation of our labour and our lives intensifies, social disparities grow, the world's police become militarised, spectacle rules – material, and at times intellectual and emotional decadence becomes the choice of the many.

"Most of this is not new. This has been, more or less, the state of social life under any authority. Yet today, democracy sugars the pill. Democracy is the coup d'etat that doesn't bring tanks out on the streets but TV cameras and reporter microphones instead. Democracy rules with the power of its propaganda. Labour is protected in the constitution as a supreme right, social disparities are the achievement of the free market and of competition, the police protect and serve the social demand for security, the spectacle protects the freedom of expression and your next-door neighbour might come to a plight, but it's not you, so why bother ...

"Democracy's new social contract is ratified across western capitals: in-between confiscated cars, endless queues forming outside social security services, the torturing take place inside police stations, new cell phone special offers, flat-screen TVs, unemployment benefits, psychological problems and loneliness, upsurges of nationalist pride and unpaid loan installments. And most importantly, non of this was forced upon anyone, nor was it carried by the order of some junta generals. These are 'the people's grand achievements'.

"This is why we claim that democracy is technique and the ability of power not to be understood as oppression. Capitalism is the boss and democracy is its spokesperson. We are not naive to believe that 'the chosen few' the people have elected are really in charge. They obviously comprise bearers of state orders, 'men and ladies of honor'. Most of them are not to be taken seriously anyway. Democracy's main role is to function as the smokescreen for the monstrous capitalist machine. It is the systemic shop-front, modeled upon the mafia economy. It 'launders dirty money', it keeps the 'profile clean', sees that everybody gets 'paid' (from those working in parking lots up to singers) it has an army of bouncers (from formal police force to para-state agents) and the clients (i.e. the proud people) always pay on time.

"It would be a mistake on our side if we did not at this point mention the upgraded role of journalists in these dealings. Nowadays, in the democracy of our time, the media have taken on the role of mediators traditionally reserved for political parties. [...] This is part of democracy's advanced communication strategy. It now becomes clear how politicians and journalists work side by side. Their rhetoric might seem differentiated on TV news and on talk shows, depending on who might be speaking and whose interests are served – however, they have one common direction: to justify and to defend democracy.

"All talks and disagreements end up there. In order to achieve this, they invent an imaginary dialogue between society and politicians, using journalists as mediators. This is why they use the truth of a democratic 'public opinion'. They construct the 'immovable' truth of a majority that nobody dares to question. The truth in opinion polls and numbers. This is how public opinion becomes a client of political parties and vice versa. This is how politicians and journalists shape social relationships, and transform them at will. At the same time, relationships change as opinion polls that supposedly derive from society eventually return and come to shape society through the spectacle. And so the people, just like consumers, are always right.

"In this odd clientelist relationship, democracy, allied with the media comes to shape social behaviours. Especially nowadays, the epidemic of fear is spreading. On the one hand are the American-fed employees of the ministry of police, with their imaginative statements and the 'leaked information' about ruthless terrorists, and on the other hand, the journalists' cutting headlines and stories on an 'upsurge of violence' and 'violence and insecurity'. In this way the squeeze and mix together different cases and contrastive incidents – bank robberies with pick-pocketing, arson attacks with mafia dealings, kidnappings of rich people with trafficking [...]

"In this way, the demand for security is restored and the ideology of terror is produced. We bring up these examples, because with them as a guide we can perceive a percentage of the operation of democracy. All the statements and announcements above are in reality not made in order to face the problem of 'criminality'. 'Criminality' partly serves certain state interests. The objective therefore is not exactly neither safety neither order, but their spectacular reflection. [...] Because in reality democracy is the spectacular reflection and the substitute of freedom. No freedom can exist for as long as democracy exists. [...]

"[W]e would never understand an axiom that invokes the 'objective' right of the many over the few. History has proven we should have no confidence in the opinion of the masses. The persons that willingly adopt for themselves the term of 'the people' and who speak as part of 'we the people, who pay for it all', abandon every creative self-confidence and let themselves drift in the fallacy of their leaders. This is the people. A noisy mass with lowered heads, incessant moaning, misery and crowd mentality that degrades life to repeated operations and sequences of rules. No good reason exists for us to respect its judgement and its choices. We wish for a world in which each one individually will undertake their responsibilities, will communicate their thoughts, exchange arguments, will have the courage of their opinion even if questioned by the majority, without hiding behind representatives and mediators.

"Voters in democracy are never satisfied with their lives and their environment. They always have a complaint about something, they exasperate, they are angry and protest – but every four years they wrap their conscience in a ballot and support, once again, the system. They postpone crucial decisions about their life until the next elections, believing as they do that someone more suitable, more correct and more fair than the previous one will come to power. They stubbornly refuse to admit that no one is more capable than themselves to manage their own life, as otherwise they would be confronted with the void of their life, the years of resignation, an entire life of captivity – and they would have to admit that they have been slaves. That they were victims of fallacy – and no one is ever willing to degrade themselves in this way, by admitting something like this.

"They prefer to always blame others, the incompetent politicians, the foreigners, the terrorists, everyone but themselves. No one offends his ego, even if for the rest time, they will let themselves be trampled by the system. For us however, the issue is the questioning and the rupture with any dominating system, never mind how liberal they may be presented to be. We understand that the power for the management of our lives lies within us – and the decision of how we shall live belongs to us. Which is something that the voter refuses to understand: the power of their self to exceed set barriers, the prohibitions, moral values, ideals and to define their Ego by themselves. [...]

"To begin to fight means to stop seeing yourself through the eyes of the system, to allow no more for yourself to be determined by coercions, to be freed from fear. [...] The conscience and the determination of certain persons to terminate the habit of survival are enough in order to pass from resistance to attack, to place the question of liberation – not in a vague future for the following generations, but in the permanent present; here and now, for their own selves – and this is how a guerrilla group is born. [...]

"[Parliament,] the temple of democracy, surrounded by the most cutting-edge systems of surveillance and a large number of policemen did not stand as an obstacle to our choice. The choice, that is, to offend this symbol, the prestige of democracy without any moral hesitation. Each place has its vulnerable point and the satisfaction of finding it will never cease. [...]

"To democracy we shall show no respect, only rage and attack."

One of the most sensible and clear-sighted indictments of democracy I have read. That is precisely why even bombs will not get it the attention it deserves.

The original communiqué, in Greek, was published here:


Articles: Detecting State Crimes against Democracy

A rather odd little article, in thrall to conspiracy theories – and casually accusing Richard Nixon of being behind the assassinations of both John F. and Robert Kennedy: Lance deHaven-Smith, "When Political Crimes Are Inside Jobs: Detecting State Crimes against Democracy" ("Administrative Theory & Praxis", 28 [3], September 2006: pp. 330-55):


Abstract: "Public administration theory and practice tend to overlook the possibility of state political criminality in liberal democracies. This article proposes a policy science to detect state crimes against democracy (SCADs), using social and political theory to understand when, why, how, and by whom such crimes are likely to be committed. After defining SCADs and differentiating them from other types of political crimes, the article analyzes SCADs in terms of antidemocratic tendencies posited by theories of liberal democracy. SCADs are traced to specific institutional objectives by analyzing patterns in SCAD targets, timing, and modus operandi. The role played by career civil servants in exposing government crimes and deceptions suggests that professional public administrators are a critical line of defense against the criminalization of the state."

Some excerpts: "Public administration scholars and practitioners have seldom considered the possibility that agencies or whole branches of government might be corrupted by top leaders or subverted for illegal purposes by strategically placed insiders. [...] [They] do not envision organized efforts by public officials to undermine democracy and popular control of government. [...] SCADs include not only election tampering, vote fraud, government graft, political assassinations, and similar crimes when they are initiated by public officials, but also more subtle violations of democratic processes and prerequisites. [...]

"In the vortex between aggressive military interests and a frightened, uninformed mass public, the worst features of presidents and of presidential politics can be unleashed. Paranoia and impulsivity can be reinforced by the pressures of the office; intelligence agencies can be pressured to distort their findings; elite megalomania can resonate with mass ethnocentricity, homophobia, and authoritarianism; and critics of military actions can end up being targeted as enemies of the state. [...]

"However, nothing that is currently known about SCADs precludes the possibility that SCAD networks are much more widely dispersed, involving either a more or less stable group of mid-rank professionals intent on protecting certain values (anticommunism, white supremacy, Christianity, etc.), or temporary combinations of opportunistic officials in the middle ranks who come together briefly to achieve limited objectives (financial gain, career advancement, inter-institutional advantages, etc.). It is also possible that multiple networks coexist and cooperate or compete."

As if it wasn't surprising enough that this one passed peer review, a follow-up article appeared last year: Lance deHaven-Smith and Matthew T. Witt, "Preventing State Crimes Against Democracy"
("Administration & Society", 41 [5], September 2009: pp. 527-50):


Abstract: "This article analyzes U.S. vulnerabilities to state crimes against democracy (SCADs). SCADs are actions or inactions by government insiders intended to manipulate democratic processes and undermine popular sovereignty. Watergate and Iran-Contra are well-known examples of SCADs involving top officials. SCADs in high office are difficult to detect and successfully prosecute because they are usually complex and compartmentalized; investigations are often compromised by conflicts of interests; and powerful norms discourage speculation about corruption in high office. However, liberal democracies can reduce their vulnerability to state political criminality by identifying vulnerabilities proactively and instituting policies for SCAD detection and prevention."

I haven't been able to access the latter article yet.

Lance deHaven-Smith is a Professor in the Reubin O'D. Askew School of Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University.

Matthew T. Witt is Associate Professor of Public Administration at the University of La Verne.

18 January 2010

Book: The Citizenry and the Collapse of Democracy

Currently on sale with a 34% discount (US and Canada only): Nancy Bermeo, "Ordinary People in Extraordinary Times: The Citizenry and the Collapse of Democracy" (Princeton University Press, 2003):


Publisher's description: "For generations, influential thinkers – often citing the tragic polarization that took place during Germany's Great Depression – have suspected that people's loyalty to democratic institutions erodes under pressure and that citizens gravitate toward antidemocratic extremes in times of political and economic crisis. But do people really defect from democracy when times get tough? Do ordinary people play a leading role in the collapse of popular government?

"Based on extensive research, this book overturns the common wisdom. It shows that the German experience was exceptional, that people's affinity for particular political positions are surprisingly stable, and that what is often labeled polarization is the result not of vote switching but of such factors as expansion of the franchise, elite defections, and the mobilization of new voters. Democratic collapses are caused less by changes in popular preferences than by the actions of political elites who polarize themselves and mistake the actions of a few for the preferences of the many. These conclusions are drawn from the study of twenty cases, including every democracy that collapsed in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution in interwar Europe, every South American democracy that fell to the Right after the Cuban Revolution, and three democracies that avoided breakdown despite serious economic and political challenges.

"Unique in its historical and regional scope, this book offers unsettling but important lessons about civil society and regime change".

Nancy Bermeo is Nuffield Professor of Comparative Politics at Oxford and Professor of Politics at Princeton.

Books: New Challenges to Democratization

The Madrid-based "European think tank for global action" Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE) has been studying the suggested recent "backlash" against democracy. Based on this research, two publications have appeared last year.

First, "New Challenges to Democratization", eds. Peter Burnell and Richard Youngs (Routledge, November 2009):


From the publisher's description: "This important text explores the widespread contention that new challenges and obstacles have arisen to democratization, assessing the claim that support for democratization around the world is facing a serious challenge.

"Bringing together leading international scholars of democratization [...], this book examines the issues relating to developments within non-democratic states and issues related to the democratic world and its efforts to support the spread of democracy. Featuring in-depth studies on the limits of US democracy promotion, the Middle East, Russia, China and new democracies, the book sheds light on such questions as: Is the wave of democratization now in retreat or should we be careful not to exaggerate the importance of recent setbacks? Do serious, sustainable alternatives to democracy now exist? Is international democracy promotion finished?"

Contents: 1. New Challenges to Democratization (Peter Burnell, Warwick); 2. State Sovereignty and Democracy: An Awkward Coupling (Laurence Whitehead, Oxford); 3. Ideological Challenges to Democracy: Do they Exist? (Marina Ottaway, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace); 4. The Continuing Backlash against Democracy Promotion (Thomas Carothers, Carnegie Endowment/Johns Hopkins); 5. Democracy Assistance and the Search for Security (Nancy Bermeo, Oxford/Princeton); 6. Public Support versus Dissatisfaction in New Democracies: An Inside Challenge? (Renske Doorenspleet, Warwick); 7. External Sources and Consequences of Russia's 'Sovereign Democracy' (Michael McFaul, Stanford/Hoover Institution, and Regine A. Spector, University of Massachusetts, Amherst); 8. Democratizing One-Party Rule in China (Shaun Breslin, Warwick); 9. Democratization by Whom? Resistance to Democracy Promotion in the Middle East (Bassma Kodmani, Arab Reform Initiative); 10. Energy: A Reinforced Obstacle to Democratization? (Richard Youngs, FRIDE);
11. Addressing Democracy's Challenges (Peter Burnell and Richard Youngs)

The full version of a second publication, "Democracy's Plight in the European Neighbourhood: Struggling Transitions and Proliferating Dynasties", eds. Michael Emerson and Richard Youngs (Centre for European Policy Studies [CEPS], Brussels, and FRIDE, October 2009), can be downloaded free of charge at this link:


Description: "In recent years many analysts have focused their attention on an apparent 'backlash' against democracy and democracy promotion. FRIDE and CEPS have previously cooperated on exploring the general nature of this 'backlash'. In this volume we turn to a more specific European neighbourhood focus, and explore the general issues relating to democracy's travails in more detail in the countries to the south and east of the European Union. The underlying question is whether, in an era of democratic pessimism, the European neighbourhood can offer any more optimistic conclusions.

"In this context we asked a group of experts [...] to write short essays covering fifteen different case studies from across the neighbourhood region. They assess a common range of questions: Is democratisation now in retreat, or just stagnating? Do we risk exaggerating the importance of recent setbacks? What is happening to the normative appeal of democracy? How does the financial crisis impact on political trends? How have external democracy promotion efforts evolved and been received? Is international democracy promotion running out of steam? What has been the impact of the slowing of the EU's enlargement process, alongside the limited scope of its neighbourhood policy?

"The book addresses these specific questions in three groups of states. First, those countries in or close to the European Union: Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Turkey. Second, states of the former Soviet Union: Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia, Moldova, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Third, three Arab states of the southern Mediterranean: Morocco, Algeria and Egypt."

Excerpt: "There is virtually no well-functioning democracy in the neighbourhood of the European Union, which now finds itself surrounded by states that fall broadly into either one of two categories. In one category there are the states that have seen the post-communist political transition processes go astray and take on various guises of distorted, perverted, or dysfunctional democracy. This group includes the newest member states of the EU. On the other hand there is a set of authoritarian regimes in which the concentration of power has become increasingly consolidated".

Peter Burnell is Professor of Politics at the University of Warwick.

Michael Emerson is an Associate Senior Research Fellow and Program Director for Wider Europe with CEPS.

Richard Youngs is Director General of FRIDE. He also lectures at the University of Warwick.

New group: Democracy Is Dead

Days after the Islamist groups Islam4UK and Al-Muhajiroun were outlawed by the British government, the groups' leader, Anjem Choudary, announced his plans to found a new group under the provocative name "Democracy Is Dead":


Seemingly, this story, which was run by the "Daily Star" yesterday, has not been picked up by any other British media. (It's all over the
anti-Islamic blogs, though.)

Already Islam4UK, according to its website, was set up "to propagate the supreme Islamic ideology [...] as a divine alternative to man-made law", i.e., democracy.

Islam4UK was banned after announcing a protest march to remember the Muslims who died at the hands of the western coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The (now shut down) website of Islam4UK has been archived here:


17 January 2010

Article: Is Democracy Good for the Poor?

Another article by Michael Ross, critical of the merits of democracy in a development context: "Is Democracy Good for the Poor?" ("American Journal of Political Science", 50 [4], October 2006: pp. 860-74).

Full text available here:


Abstract: "Many scholars claim that democracy improves the welfare of the poor. This article uses data on infant and child mortality to challenge this claim. Cross-national studies tend to exclude from their samples nondemocratic states that have performed well; this leads to the mistaken inference that nondemocracies have worse records than democracies. Once these and other flaws are corrected, democracy has little or no effect on infant and child mortality rates. Democracies spend more money on education and health than nondemocracies, but these benefits seem to accrue to middle- and upper-income groups."

Some excerpts: "Perhaps this helps explain why people in newly democratized countries often vote for candidates and parties associated with former dictators. A recent United Nations survey found that 54.7% of respondents in Latin America would prefer a dictatorship to a democracy, if it would help 'resolve' their economic problems".

"This finding highlights the importance of understanding why democracies perform so badly for their poorest citizens [...]. If democracy does not matter much, what political factors do?"

"[F]or those in the bottom quintiles, [democratic] political rights produced few if any improvements in their material well-being. This troubling finding contradicts the claims made by a generation of scholars."

"Correcting this bias could alter some widely held beliefs about the merits of democratic government."

Michael L. Ross is Professor in the Department of Political Science at UCLA and Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

Articles: Does Oil Hinder Democracy?

Here an influential article that studies the impact of countries' natural resource wealth on democracy and democratization processes, claiming that natural resources have "antidemocratic properties" – "oil and mineral wealth tends to make states less democratic": Michael L. Ross, "Does Oil Hinder Democracy?" ("World Politics", 53 [3], April 2001: pp. 325-61).

From the abstract: "Some scholars suggest that the Middle East's oil wealth helps explain its failure to democratize. This article examines three aspects of this 'oil impedes democracy' claim. First, is it true? Does oil have a consistently antidemocratic effect on states, once other factors are accounted for? Second, can this claim be generalized? Is it true only in the Middle East or elsewhere as well? Is it true for other types of mineral wealth and other types of commodity wealth or only for oil? Finally, if oil does have antidemocratic properties, what is the causal mechanism? The author uses pooled time-series cross-national data from 113 states between 1971 and 1997 to show that oil exports are strongly associated with authoritarian rule; that this effect is not limited to the Middle East; and that other types of mineral exports have a similar antidemocratic effect, while other types of commodity exports do not."

The article can be read free of charge here:


Excerpt: "The test also implies that oil and mineral wealth cause greater damage to democracy in poor countries than in rich ones [...]. This pattern is consistent with the observation that large oil discoveries appear to have no discernible antidemocratic effects in advanced industrialized states, such as Norway, Britain, and the U.S., but may harm or destabilize democracy in poorer countries. [...]

"Moreover, [...] a given rise in oil exports will do more harm in oil-poor states than in oil-rich ones. Hence, oil inhibits democracy even when exports are relatively small, particularly in poor states."

On his website, Michael Ross also provides the preliminary draft of a 2009 working paper titled "Oil and Democracy Revisited":


Abstract: "Recent studies have disputed the claim that 'oil hinders democracy,' or raised questions about the causal mechanisms behind it. I re-examine this question, using an improved measure of petroleum wealth, and a dataset that covers all countries from 1960 to 2002. I also explore other types of evidence on oil and authoritarian rule, including data on public opinion and gasoline prices. The results suggest a) oil wealth strongly inhibits democratic transitions in authoritarian states; b) oil's anti-democratic effects seem to vary over time and across regions; and c) there is little support for most of the alleged causal mechanisms, including two of the three mechanisms suggested by Ross [2001]."

Excerpt: "[According to the World Values Survey] Oil Income is strongly and negatively correlated with a less favorable view of democracy. The pattern can be seen in [...] the fraction of respondents in each country that agreed, or strongly agreed, with the statement supporting democracy. [...] This pattern holds across regions of the world: in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, and the Former Soviet Union, citizens in oil-rich states have less affection for democracy than citizens in oil-poor states".

This working paper also provides references to the most recent literature in the field.

An article of interest not mentioned by Ross, though, is Kevin M. Morrison, "Natural Resources, Aid, and Democratization: A Best Case Scenario" ("Public Choice", 131 [3-4], June 2007: pp 365-86). Here again a link to the full text:


Abstract: "Natural resources and aid give dictators revenue to maintain power. Attempts are being made, therefore, to funnel these resources away from nondemocratic governments and toward their citizens. Using formal analysis and building on existing theories of democratization, I analyze the effects of such institutional solutions when they function perfectly (the best-case scenario). The models show that even with institutional safeguards, these resources diminish chances for democratization. In addition to their practical importance, the results have an important theoretical implication: the political resource curse may not be due to dictators' use of these resources, but simply to their existence in nondemocracies."

Michael L. Ross is Professor in the Department of Political Science at UCLA and Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies.

Kevin M. Morrison is now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University.

16 January 2010

Article: The "Antidemocratic Personality" Revisited

A 2008 article by Jaime L. Napier and John T. Jost: "The 'Antidemocratic Personality' Revisited: A Cross-National Investigation of Working-Class Authoritarianism" ("Journal of Social Issues", 64 [3]: pp. 595-617):


Abstract: "More than 60 years ago, psychologists identified a potential threat to democracy from within, namely the 'antidemocratic personality' arising from the 'authoritarian syndrome.' It was soon discovered that the problem of authoritarianism was especially acute among those who were low in education and income, and that it was associated with intolerance toward others. However, several important questions were left unresolved. We revisit fundamental theoretical and empirical questions concerning the existence and nature of 'working-class authoritarianism,' focusing especially on four psychological aspects of authoritarianism, namely, conventionalism, moral absolutism, obedience to authority, and cynicism.

"In a cross-national investigation involving respondents from 19 democratic countries, we find that all four aspects of authoritarianism are indeed related to moral and ethnic intolerance. However, only obedience to authority and cynicism are especially prevalent among those who are low in socioeconomic status. Conventionalism and moral absolutism were significant predictors of economic conservatism, whereas obedience to authority and cynicism were not. We find no support for Lipset's (1960) claim that working-class authoritarianism would be associated with economic liberalism. Instead, we find that authoritarianism is linked to right-wing orientation in general and that intolerance mediates this relationship. Implications for electoral politics and political psychology are discussed."

Some excerpts: "Mussolini and Hitler initially came to power through democratic means. [...] We suggest that [...] even when people – including many members of economically disadvantaged groups – actually do participate in mass politics, their participation does not necessarily produce outcomes that are democratic, egalitarian, or even congruent with their own self-interest [...].

"In general, our study suggests that people who are high and low in socioeconomic status may be drawn to right-wing ideology for different reasons. It appears that those who are high in income may be motivated, at least in part, to preserve their advantageous position in society, whereas individuals who are low in education and income are drawn to right-wing leaders, parties, and policies in part because of moral and ethnic intolerance, that is, because of certain behavioural manifestations of authoritarianism [...].

"[T]he social and psychological factors that lead members of the working class to vote against their own social and economic interests is a serious potential concern for the long-term stability of democratic society. In particular, democracy itself is threatened when citizens are motivated by intolerance of others, as opposed to, say, bettering their own situation and the situations of their fellow citizens. The findings of our research also underscore the tremendous importance of education for citizens in a democracy. It may well be that – especially for those who confront economic insecurity – higher education provides one of the few known social brakes against intolerance and other antidemocratic sentiments."

The authors of the article build up on Theodor W. Adorno et al.'s "The Authoritarian Personality" (1950) and an earlier book chapter by Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford titled "The Antidemocratic Personality" (1947) as well as referring to many other contributions made since then to the study of this proposed set of character traits.

Jaime L. Napier is now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Yale. John T. Jost is Professor of Psychology at New York University.

15 January 2010

Book: Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right

An older book by a still controversial author is "Against Democracy and Equality: The European New Right" by Tomislav Sunic. The book was first published in 1990 by Peter Lang, a second edition appeared in 2008, published by Noontide Press.


From the second publisher's description: "In this important work, Dr. Sunic takes a detailed look at the European 'New Right,' a significant intellectual movement of men and women who are concerned about the survival of the West. This book – Against Democracy and Equality – provides a survey of the New Right's origins, impact and outstanding figures, and an overview of the theory of 'revolutionary conservatism.'

"A healthy, enduring society, say New Right thinkers, must be based on the natural principles of hierarchy and aristocracy. Carl Schmidtt [sic], Oswald Spengler, Alain de Benoist, and the other leading figures of this intellectual current contend that egalitarianism – whether manifest in Marxism or in liberal democracy – inevitably leads to social decay and entropy.

"Rejecting both traditional liberalism and conservatism, the New Right calls for a European rebirth rooted in a stern awareness of history and human nature, and based on a recognition of Europe as an organic entity."

The book features an introduction by Paul Gottfried (Elizabethtown College) as well as a foreword by David J. Stennett.

Tomislav Sunic is a freelance writer living in Zagreb. This book is based on his doctoral dissertation in Political Science, defended in 1988 at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He taught at colleges and universities in the US and Europe and served in various diplomatic positions with the Croatian government.

While this is a scholarly publication, please note the context. Both Sunic and the publisher of the book have been accused of holding racist views. Noontide (the publishing arm of the Holocaust-denying Institute for Historical Review) also keeps many anti-Semitic titles in its programme.

14 January 2010

Article: Thoreau's Critique of Democracy

The article "Thoreau's Critique of Democracy" by Leigh Kathryn Jenco ("Review of Politics", 65 [3], summer 2003: pp. 355-81) received the 2003 Best Paper Award from the Foundations of Political Theory section of the American Political Science Association (APSA) for the best presentation on a section panel at APSA's 2002 annual meeting.

Abstract: "Most commentators see Henry David Thoreau's political essays as an endorsement of liberal democracy, but this essay holds that Thoreau's critique of majoritarianism and his model of civil disobedience may intend something much more radical: when his criticisms of representative democracy are articulated in more formal terms of political and moral obligation, it becomes clear that the theory and practice of democracy fundamentally conflict with Thoreau's conviction in moral autonomy and conscientious action. His critical examination of the way in which a democratic state threatens the commitments that facilitate and give meaning to the practice of morality intends to reorient the focus of politics, away from institutions and toward the people such institutions were ostensibly in place to serve. His critique stands as a warning that becoming complacent about democracy will inhibit the search for better (perhaps more liberal) ways to organize political life."

The article has been reprinted recently in "A Political Companion to Henry David Thoreau", ed. Jack Turner (University Press of Kentucky, July 2009: pp. 68-96).

The entire article (as published in the book) can be read at this link:


Some excerpts: "Thoreau's numerous and overt criticisms of democracy, and his exhortations to transcend it, are grounded in a deontological moral philosophy that renders impossible the mediation of justice through democratic institutions. This is overlooked even by those commentators who interpret Thoreau's disgust with government and majority rule a bit more literally. [...]

"Thoreau does embrace the liberal values he has come to symbolize for many – free expression, civil disobedience, the liberty to follow one's conscience – but he provokes questions about the extent to which these values should or even can survive embedded within a democratic matrix. [...]

"Thoreau's characterization of all voting as a betting game betrays a profound disgust with the participatory requirements constitutive of liberal democracy. [...] 'A minority is powerless when it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then.' Its influence is completely undermined when it agrees to abide by the outcome of a vote. [...] Thoreau strikes at the very core principles of democracy, realizing that the sacrifice of an individual's moral interests to the vagaries of representation and voting is moral tyranny. [...]

"Thoreau is actually making the surprising observation that, like monarchy or aristocracy, democracy too is a system in which one is unavoidably governed by others, and it is this realization that drives him to a nearly anarchic (but to him, more genuine) form of 'self-rule.' That such a vision seems utopian does not mean it should not be taken seriously as a criticism of the assumption that democracy is the best we can do. [...]

"Thoreau's political writings are valuable for the very reason that they help us recognize the trade-offs between liberal freedoms and democratic commitments – moral costs that lie well concealed beneath a mask of practicality."

Leigh Kathryn Jenco is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the National University of Singapore.

Articles: Nietzsche's Critique of Democracy

Friedrich Nietzsche's antipathy toward democracy is well known, and it is advisable to read primarily his own books, such as "Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None", "Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future", and "On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic".

However, scholars continue to publish about him and last year "The Journal of Nietzsche Studies" carried an article by Herman W. Siemens on "Nietzsche's Critique of Democracy" (issue 38, autumn 2009: pp. 20-37).

Abstract: "This article reconstructs Nietzsche's shifting views on democracy in the period 1870–86 with reference to his enduring preoccupation with tyrannical concentrations of power and the conviction that radical pluralism offers the only effective form of resistance. As long as he identifies democracy with pluralism (Human, All Too Human), he sympathizes with it as a site of resistance and emancipation. From around 1880 on, however, Nietzsche increasingly links it with tyranny, in the form of popular sovereignty, and with the promotion of uniformity, to the exclusion of genuine pluralism. Democracy's emancipatory claims are reinterpreted as 'misarchism,' or hatred of authority, and Nietzsche looks to the 'exceptional beings' excluded by democracy for sources of resistance to the 'autonomous herd' and 'mob rule.'

"Against elitist readings of this move, it is argued that Nietzsche opposes the domination of the herd type under democracy from a standpoint in human diversity and a generic concern with the future of humankind. Exceptional individuals are conceived in pluralistic, agonal terms, as a community of legislators engaged in a process of transvaluation that serves the interests not of one or a few but of all of us: 'the self-overcoming of the human.'"

Unfortunately, I have no further access to this journal and can't even find a link where to buy it.

Herman W. Siemens is an Assistant Professor at the Institute for Philosophy of Leiden University, The Netherlands.

Slightly older is an article by Paul van Tongeren, "Nietzsche, Democracy, and Transcendence", published in the "South African Journal of Philosophy" (26 [1], 2007: pp. 5-16):


Excerpts: "[Nietzsche] calls 'the democratic movement [...] not only a form of the decay of political organization but a form of the decay, namely the diminution, of man, making him mediocre and lowering his value' [...] and in Twilight of the Idols, he writes: 'The man who has become free – and how much more the mind that has become free – spurns the contemptible sort of well-being dreamed of by shopkeepers, Christians, cows, women, Englishmen and other democrats.' [...]

"It therefore not only sounds, but is dangerous to read Nietzsche on democracy. And yet, or by that very token, it might be important to confront ourselves with Nietzsche's critique of democracy, not only for historic reasons, but also in order to test our own democratic convictions, as well as to acknowledge and to understand better our possible unease with some features of contemporary democracy. [...]

"Equality is in the interest of the weak. Therefore a weak being, a weak society, a weak era, will become democratic, will preach equality and will make efforts to expell [sic] any struggle, any tension, any difference [... .]

"Democracy for Nietzsche is one of those figures in which the human being, after the death of God canonizes itself, eternalizes its present form and makes it impossible for other forms to emerge. [...] After having been liberated from the subservience to a transcendent God [...], we have become (or at least run the risk of becoming) the prisoners of ourselves, locked into the immanence of our present interests. [...]

"If this is true, we do not have to become anti-democrats in every sense of the word, when we recognize some of our own unease with democracy in Nietzsche's critique. [...] We will have to look critically at the ways in which actual democratic structures tend to eliminate conflict in favour of consensus. Instead we will have to be creative in finding ways of cultivating dissensus."

Paul van Tongeren is Professor of Moral Philosophy and Director of the Center for Ethics at Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

Article: Was Socrates Against Democracy?

The article "Was Socrates Against Democracy?" by Terence Irwin was published in the collection "Plato's Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito: Critical Essays", ed. Rachana Kamtekar (Rowman and Littlefield, 2005: pp. 127-49).

This is a direct link to a limited preview of the article:


Excerpt: "According to one view, the trial [of Socrates] is significant because it reveals Socrates' anti-democratic outlook, and the Athenians' reaction to it. This view may be expressed in three claims: 1. Socrates was prosecuted, and the prosecution succeeded, mainly because many Athenians suspected him of having influenced leading members of the Thirty, the oligarchic regime that ruled Athens in

"2. The suspicions were correct. Critias and other leading oligarchs believed that Socrates advocated oligarchy, and their belief encouraged them in their anti-democratic activities. 3. The influence rested on a correct understanding of Socrates. For Socrates' political views, correctly understood, implied that an oligarchic regime such as the Thirty was better than the democracy that it replaced."

While Irwin opposes these claims, he also provides references to publications supporting them and discusses the counter argument.

Terence Irwin has been Professor of Ancient Philosophy at Oxford since 2007. Before that, he taught at Cornell University. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

13 January 2010

Trend: Number of electoral democracies declined

Freedom House yesterday released its "Freedom in the World 2010" survey results.

According to the press release, "the number of electoral democracies declined [in 2009] to the lowest level since 1995. [...] Africa suffered the most significant declines, and four countries experienced coups. [...] The number of electoral democracies dropped by three and stands at 116. Developments in four countries – Honduras, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Niger – disqualified them from the electoral democracy list, while conditions in the Maldives improved enough for it to be added."

In an overview essay, "Freedom in the World 2010: Erosion of Freedom Intensifies", the author, Arch Puddington, Director of Research at Freedom House, writes: "Coups have been a rare phenomenon in the last two decades. During 2009, however, a number of countries experienced what amounted to coups. In Guinea, a classic military takeover that began at the end of 2008 took hold during the year, while in Honduras, Niger, and Madagascar, extraconstitutional mechanisms were used to remove or extend the rule of sitting leaders. [...]

"According to a survey published by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press on December 3, 2009, for the first time since World War II, a plurality of Americans (49 percent) believe the United States should 'mind its own business and let other countries get along the best they can.' The steepest specific change in general public attitudes surveyed is the decline in interest in 'spreading democracy around the world,' from 44 percent just after the 2001 terrorist attacks to a mere 10 percent today. [...]

"[A] 'freedom recession' and an authoritarian resurgence have clearly emerged as global trends".

Details are to be found here:


Don't expect any objectivity, though. Freedom House is an organization that advocates democracy around the world.

Book: Democracy and anti-democracy in ancient Greece

Those who have access to books published in Italy and/or speak/read Italian, may be interested in "Democrazia e antidemocrazia nel mondo greco: atti del convegno internazionale di studi, Chieti 9-11 aprile 2003", ed. Umberto Bultrighini (Edizioni dell'Orso, 2005).

The proceedings of a scientific conference, this volume contains
Italian-, French-, and English-language articles such as: "Was all Criticism of Athenian Democracy Necessarily Anti-Democratic?" (Edward M. Harris, Durham University); "Timonieri e dottori, padri e servitor: il linguaggio figurato politico nell'ideologia democratica e antidemocratica" (Roger W. Brock, University of Leeds); "Democrazia e antidemocrazia nella Mileto del V secolo" (Clara Talamo, Università degli Studi di Salerno); "An Alternative Democracy and an Alternative to Democracy in Aristophanic Comedy" (Alan H. Sommerstein, University of Nottingham); "Democrazia e antidemocrazia a Siracusa: isotes e ges anadasmos nelle lotte sociali del IV secolo" (Sebastiana Nerina Consolo Langher); "Democracy and its Opponents in Fourth-Century Athens" (P.J. Rhodes, Durham University); "Problemi rodii: democrazia e antidemocrazia nel IV secolo" (A. Coppola)

Review: "[W]e do possess many antidemocratic theoretical testimonies, from the anonymous The Constitution of Athenians to Plato's and Xenophon's writings. Although modern scholars have often tended to defend the Athenian democracy without taking seriously their charges, a more accurate and less prejudiced scrutiny shows that the Athenians themselves did sometimes accept these criticisms, by passing laws to minimize the problems they pinpointed. [...] We can explain such a responsiveness to criticisms because democracy, at its beginnings, was not born as a stiff procedural system: its practice came before its conceptualization." (Maria Chiara Pievatolo, "Bryn Mawr Classical Review")

The full review and a complete table of contents are to be found here:


Another recent Italian article I happened across (but can't find an abstract of): Marco Santucci, "Democrazia e antidemocrazia nel mondo greco", Rivista di cultura classica e medioevale, 46 (1), 2004: pp. 85-105. May or may not be linked to the conference preceding the above volume.

Book: Chieftaincy, the State, and Democracy

A book-length study on old and new understandings of traditional chieftaincy in South Africa: "Chieftaincy, the State, and Democracy: Political Legitimacy in Post-Apartheid South Africa", by J. Michael Williams (Indiana University Press, December 2009).


Publisher's description: "As South Africa consolidates its democracy, chieftaincy has remained a controversial and influential institution that has adapted to recent changes. J. Michael Williams examines the chieftaincy and how it has sought to assert its power since the end of apartheid. By taking local-level politics seriously and looking closely at how chiefs negotiate the new political order, Williams takes a position between those who see the chieftaincy as an indigenous democratic form deserving recognition and protection, and those who view it as incompatible with democracy. Williams describes a network of formal and informal accommodations that have influenced the ways state and local authorities interact. By focusing on local perceptions of the chieftaincy and its interactions with the state, Williams reveals an ongoing struggle for democratization at the local and national levels in South Africa."

Contents: 1. Introduction: The Chieftaincy, the State, and the Desire to Dominate; 2. "The Binding Together of the People": The Historical Development of the Chieftaincy and the Principle of Unity; 3. The Making of a Mixed Polity: The Accommodation and Transformation of the Chieftaincy; 4. The Contested Nature of Politics, Democracy, and Rights in Rural South Africa; 5. The Chieftaincy and the Establishment of Local Government: Multiple Boundaries and the Ambiguities of Representation; 6. The Chieftaincy and Development: Expanding the Parameters of Tradition; 7. Legitimacy Lost? The Fall of a Chief and the Survival of a Chieftaincy; 8. Conclusion: The Chieftaincy and the Post-Apartheid State: Authority and Democracy in a Mixed Polity.

J. Michael Williams is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of San Diego.