Category Archives: E – MEDITATIONS SERIES

Second Meditation on Dictatorship [written March 1, 2008] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.


14-03-18 BLOG SECOND MEDITATION ON DICTATORSHIP

The argu­ment behind this series of med­i­ta­tions is that aris­to­cratic elites, whether they are dressed up in mil­i­tary uni­forms, busi­ness suits, or the regalia of roy­alty, are iden­ti­cal in pur­pose and func­tion. Dif­fer­ences between them are triv­ial and cos­metic, not struc­tural. The term “dic­ta­tor­ship” applies equally to all places where an unelected gang of hood­lums rules over peo­ple and ter­ri­tory, what­ever their sup­posed ide­ol­ogy or what­ever style they chose to prance around in. I fur­ther con­tend that they are nei­ther morally legit­i­mate, nor “gov­ern­ment” in the sense that demo­c­ra­t­i­cally elected admin­is­tra­tions are. Dic­ta­tors are merely crim­i­nals, no dif­fer­ent from the crim­i­nals that rob con­ve­nience stores or attack women in dark­ened car parks. The only dif­fer­ence is the amount of money they steal and the num­ber of peo­ple they mur­der or maim.

Next, I have argued that rule by aris­toc­ra­cies is a con­stant dan­ger to human soci­ety in any time and any place, inde­pen­dent of a society’s level of wealth, or avail­able tech­nol­ogy. I argue that there are no nec­es­sary or pre­des­tined “stages” in the orga­ni­za­tion of human soci­ety. Morally good and ben­e­fi­cial demo­c­ra­tic social arrange­ments can be made at any time and in any place, by any group of peo­ple, large or small. Lan­guage, eth­nic­ity, loca­tion, and degree of wealth are not struc­turally rel­e­vant to demo­c­ra­tic prac­tice, and demo­c­ra­tic prac­tice does not orig­i­nate with, or “belong to” any par­tic­u­lar cul­tural group. Sim­i­larly, dic­ta­tor­ship can occur in any human group. Immoral, dis­eased soci­eties can be made at any time, in any place, by any group of peo­ple, large or small. Both pos­si­bil­i­ties always co-exist.

I then pro­posed that the actions of aris­to­cratic elites are merely the exten­sion of tech­niques employed by psy­cho­log­i­cal bul­lies and con-artists on the per­sonal scale of human inter­ac­tion. In other words, bul­lies, frauds, swindlers and manip­u­la­tors oper­ate as a patho­log­i­cal minor­ity in all human groups. The meth­ods and motives of dic­ta­tors and rul­ing aris­toc­ra­cies, oper­at­ing on the level of nations, are not dif­fer­ent, in any mean­ing­ful way, from those prac­ticed on a small scale among petty crim­i­nals. In all cases, the rulers are com­pletely aware of what they are doing. They are not the prod­ucts of col­lec­tive or “his­tor­i­cal” processes. They are not arriv­ing at dom­i­nance uncon­sciously. None of the “ide­olo­gies” or “philoso­phies” attrib­uted to such patho­log­i­cal per­son­al­i­ties actu­ally have any sig­nif­i­cance. They are merely plausible-sounding “scripts” that rul­ing elites pro­fess to believe, in order to con­fuse and manip­u­late their vic­tims. Rul­ing elites do not believe in any such sys­tems or philoso­phies. They are merely tools for achiev­ing their goals, and can be con­tra­dicted or dis­carded at any time. The basic manip­u­la­tive tech­niques of dic­ta­tor­ship are sim­ple: the man­u­fac­tured image of charisma, the lie, the car­rot, and the stick.

Finally, I have explained what every expe­ri­enced con-artist or swindler knows, that the key to exer­cis­ing con­trol over peo­ple, and get­ting what you want from them, is secur­ing their belief and col­lab­o­ra­tion. It is our col­lab­o­ra­tion ― in the form of accept­ing their claims to be “sov­er­eign gov­ern­ments”, or “lead­ers”, and accord­ing them for­mal and cer­e­mo­nial legit­i­macy — that is at the heart of their power. Because we accept their claims to power and author­ity, their author­ity becomes real. Psy­cho­log­i­cal col­lab­o­ra­tion gives them power, and eco­nomic col­lab­o­ra­tion makes their crimes profitable.

Imag­ine that if every time a cor­ner store was robbed, the rob­ber could sim­ply walk across the street and deposit the stolen money in a bank, and then the neigh­bour­hood busi­ness asso­ci­a­tion agreed that now the rob­ber was the legit­i­mate “owner” of the store, and should be auto­mat­i­cally enrolled in the asso­ci­a­tion as a respectable local busi­ness­man. Sup­pose that the police agreed that any­one who suc­cess­fully robbed a store should not be pur­sued and pros­e­cuted, because they were now a “sov­er­eign body”. It is self-evident that such a pol­icy would lead to unlim­ited armed rob­bery and vio­lence. We would think peo­ple insane if they held such val­ues. Yet that is exactly what we have cho­sen to do with tyran­nies and dictatorships.

Any­one who man­ages to mur­der, rape, and pil­lage on a large enough scale is auto­mat­i­cally rec­og­nized as a “sov­er­eign gov­ern­ment”, accorded a seat in the United Nations, and allowed to deposit the money they steal into Swiss bank accounts. We then allow them to spend that money on Fifth Avenue, the Ginza, or the Champs-Élysées. Their legit­i­macy is rec­og­nized by all, their secu­rity is assured. Arms deal­ers and gov­ern­ments line up to sup­ply them with the weapons which keep them in power. Only the occa­sional one is deposed if he steps on too many toes, or mis­cal­cu­lates a bid for hege­mony. The major­ity can count on accep­tance and security.

Yet peo­ple seem to see noth­ing wrong with this arrange­ment, and grow very hos­tile if one even sug­gests alter­ing it. Even the direct vic­tims of dic­ta­tor­ship will often find them­selves unable to renounce their dic­ta­tors, and will still see them as legit­i­mate. The rela­tion­ship of peo­ple to dic­ta­tor­ships strongly resem­bles that of delu­sional cult mem­bers or of abused wives who refuse to leave a vio­lent hus­band. In both cases, psy­cho­log­i­cally dom­i­nant con-artists have skill­fully manip­u­lated the inse­cu­rity and credulity of their vic­tims in order to sep­a­rate them from the world of rea­son, and iso­late them in a world of delu­sion, unrea­son­ing faith and loy­alty. The abus­ing hus­band alter­nates vio­lent beat­ings with tears and asser­tions of devo­tion, and plays on the des­per­ate need of his vic­tim to be loved, even if the “love” con­sists of bro­ken bones and humil­i­a­tion. The abused wife refuses to have him charged, and goes back for more abuse. The reli­gious cult leader skill­fully plays on the emo­tional needs of his fol­low­ers to manip­u­late them into mak­ing him rich, or sat­is­fy­ing his sex­ual crav­ings. Even after leav­ing the cult, for­mer mem­bers still see the cult leader as a charis­matic father fig­ure, and yearn to find a sub­sti­tute. In both cases, it is the will­ing co-operation of the vic­tims, and the col­lat­eral co-operation of third par­ties, that makes the crime pos­si­ble. The abus­ing hus­band is accepted by other hus­bands as “one of the boys”. The cult leader is accepted as a respectable reli­gious leader in the community.

So it is with dic­ta­tor­ship. Dic­ta­tors get power because they are able to suc­cess­fully acquire loyal fol­low­ers who will carry out their will. Than Shwe doesn’t have to per­son­ally burn dis­si­dents alive… he has sol­diers who will do that for him, and offi­cers who will orga­nize it, and clerks who will enter the details into ledgers, and busi­ness­men who will sell him the incin­er­a­tors and accoun­tants who will add up the costs. Fidel Cas­tro did not have to per­son­ally round up and tor­ture the homo­sex­u­als and poets that he hated. He had loyal hench­men who would do it for him. And he had investors who would pro­vide the cap­i­tal to finance his oper­a­tions. Dic­ta­tors rely on the co-operation of those out­side of their ter­ri­tory, who, by cus­tom and con­ven­tion, agree that they “own” the peo­ple and ter­ri­tory that they control.

That insid­i­ous cus­tom and con­ven­tion pro­claims that they are immune to pun­ish­ment, and immune to the ordi­nary moral cen­sure that human beings are sup­posed to impose on wrong­do­ers. Than Shwe or Fidel Cas­tro can appear in a pub­lic place, and they will be treated as respectable peo­ple. They are celebri­ties, to be fawned on and pam­pered. Diplo­mats will meet them at cock­tail par­ties, shake their hands, and tell jokes to them. Pres­i­dents and Prime Min­is­ters of democ­ra­cies will invite them to their homes for din­ner, or play golf with them. All moral­ity is sus­pended. Dic­ta­tors inhabit a lucra­tive and com­fort­able world, where theft, mur­der, tor­ture, and every other abom­inable crime are not only tol­er­ated, but rewarded. The rich and pow­er­ful agree, uni­ver­sally, that no rulers should ever be pun­ished for what they do to their peo­ple, but they may poten­tially be dis­ci­plined for trans­gres­sions against more pow­er­ful brethren.

So what should decent human beings do, in this bizarre, and obvi­ously sick situation?

The first, and most impor­tant step in oppos­ing dic­ta­tor­ship is for human beings to demand that moral­ity be rec­og­nized and obeyed. We must begin with a moral self-education and self-discipline that trains us to treat dic­ta­tor­ship as it should right­fully be treated. We must per­son­ally, each of us, refuse to accept the lie of dic­ta­to­r­ial legit­i­macy, in any con­text. Our own behav­iour must become morally exact and con­sis­tent. And we must demand that our elected offi­cials obey that morality.

We must never allow the con­cept of “legit­i­mate” dic­ta­tor­ship to be inserted into polit­i­cal analy­sis or dis­course, with­out expos­ing and defy­ing it. We must never allow any politi­cian to engage in any action that legit­imizes dic­ta­tor­ship, with­out denounc­ing and oppos­ing it. We must use what­ever social and demo­c­ra­tic insti­tu­tions we have at our dis­posal to achieve the abo­li­tion of dictatorship.

We should denounce and shun any­one who social­izes with a dic­ta­tor, treats a dic­ta­tor as legit­i­mate, or does any kind of busi­ness with a dic­ta­tor. That shun­ning should be absolute, dra­con­ian, and irrev­o­ca­ble. The atti­tude of a decent human being should be: “Deal with a dic­ta­tor, and I will not only refuse to vote for you, or buy your prod­ucts, but I will not allow you in my home, nor will I shake your hand. Break­ing bread with you is unimag­in­able. I will not allow you any­where near my chil­dren. No one should ever speak to you, or even look at you.” One act of col­lab­o­ra­tion with any dic­ta­tor, of any kind, no mat­ter how insignif­i­cant, should auto­mat­i­cally sever a human being from any con­nec­tion to the human race.

On the polit­i­cal level, we should regard any col­lab­o­rat­ing with a dic­ta­tor­ship as an act of high trea­son. This should be the foun­da­tion stone of our moral val­ues in for­eign rela­tions. What we should be work­ing for polit­i­cally, is a set of con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments that man­date impeach­ment and trea­son charges for any politi­cian who is caught in the same room with a dictator.

That should be the atti­tude of any morally respon­si­ble human being, and that atti­tude should be com­mu­ni­cated loudly, and repeat­edly, to any­one in busi­ness or gov­ern­ment. Con­trary to what we usu­ally imag­ine, politi­cians do respond to being “trained” in this man­ner. There is noth­ing inevitable or nec­es­sary about their col­lab­o­ra­tion with evil. It only occurs because we allow it, because we let them get away with it unpun­ished. We should be pun­ish­ing them for it, pun­ish­ing them hard, pun­ish­ing them as angrily and vig­or­ously as we can. Pun­ish­ing them on elec­tion day, pun­ish­ing them in the opin­ion polls, and pun­ish­ing them by turn­ing our backs on them, spit­ting on them, any­thing that gets the mes­sage across. We are not in a posi­tion to directly pun­ish the dic­ta­tors, at this stage, but we are in a posi­tion to pun­ish our own offi­cials when they col­lab­o­rate with them. That should be the pol­icy and prac­tice of any pro­gres­sive per­son or insti­tu­tion in our soci­ety. It should be the moral behav­iour that is taught in schools. It should be the moral stan­dard acknowl­edged and prac­ticed by all peo­ple in the arts, in sci­ence, in edu­ca­tion, and in schol­ar­ship. A sense of moral out­rage should become the norm in this regard.

This moral cen­sure should not be con­fined to politi­cians alone. If a movie star or rock star pub­licly hangs out with a dic­ta­tor, or sup­ports a non-democratic regime, then the pub­lic should turn against them, and his or her career should quite rightly face ruin. If a busi­ness­man buys or sells from a dic­ta­tor, we should deploy what­ever pub­lic social sanc­tions we can man­age. Boy­cotts and protests are effec­tive in such cases, far more than peo­ple gen­er­ally imag­ine. Even the loss of five per­cent of a mar­ket can destroy the careers of hot shot CEOs and cause turnovers in board­rooms. Civ­i­lized peo­ple should exer­cise those sanc­tions at every opportunity.

It is pre­cisely this kind of moral force that drove the anti-slavery move­ment in the 19th cen­tury, and that, in the United States, put an end to racial seg­re­ga­tion in the 1960s. It was not politi­cians or the wealthy who ini­ti­ated these reforms. It was ordi­nary peo­ple, at first only a very few, who made these things hap­pen. In the begin­ning, only a hand­ful of com­mit­ted indi­vid­u­als acted on their con­sciences. Their con­sis­tency and courage made the lines of choice clear. Slowly, oth­ers were either inspired by their exam­ple, or shamed by it. Grad­u­ally, a new moral norm was estab­lished, and soci­ety mutated to the point where trans­gres­sors could not show their face in respectable com­pany. Polit­i­cal changes fol­lowed. But the polit­i­cal changes would never have been pos­si­ble with­out the under­ly­ing force of indi­vid­ual human beings exer­cis­ing moral choice and conviction.

That is what we should be doing when con­fronted with the fact of dic­ta­tor­ship. Dic­ta­tor­ship is respon­si­ble for the largest por­tion of suf­fer­ing and injus­tice in the world. Poverty, dis­ease, famine, social injus­tices of all kind are mostly the bi-products of dic­ta­tor­ship. If any­one aspires to oppose social injus­tice, or wishes to do some­thing con­crete about poverty and dis­ease, it should be their first pri­or­ity to destroy dic­ta­tor­ship. To accom­plish this, it is nec­es­sary to embrace, pro­claim, prac­tice and pro­mote the moral stan­dards nec­es­sary to oppose dic­ta­tor­ship effec­tively. These val­ues must be con­sis­tent and prac­ticed with­out capri­cious excep­tions. It is not per­mis­si­ble to protest one dic­ta­tor and cod­dle another. No strate­gic align­ment with any dic­ta­tor is morally per­mis­si­ble, in pur­suit of any objec­tive. That goes for both gov­ern­ment poli­cies and the actions of indi­vid­u­als. A human being ― any human being ― can only be rec­og­nized as hon­est and moral if he or she opposes all dic­ta­tor­ship, every­where, with­out exception.

If politi­cians begin to feel the heat of this moral force, if they are called to account by jour­nal­ists when they vio­late fun­da­men­tal moral­ity, and if they find them­selves shunned and denounced at every turn, they will even­tu­ally be forced to change their behav­iour. The process may be a slow and dif­fi­cult one, but what right thing has ever been easy to do?

In the mid­dle of the 18th Cen­tury, a young man in New Jer­sey, John Wool­man, came to the con­clu­sion, at the age of 23, that slav­ery was immoral, and that no decent per­son should profit from it. It took him many years to con­vince a hand­ful of peo­ple of this posi­tion, but by the end of his life, it had been adopted by the major­ity of Quak­ers in Amer­ica and many in Eng­land. From the exam­ple of the Quak­ers, this view­point grad­u­ally won over intel­li­gent and morally sen­si­tive peo­ple, and by the end of the 18th cen­tury had a wide­spread influ­ence. Ver­mont became the first gov­ern­ment to abol­ish slav­ery, fol­lowed soon after by Upper Canada, and then a num­ber of New Eng­land States. A court in Lower Canada in 1803 ruled slav­ery incom­pat­i­ble with the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples of law. Oppo­si­tion to slav­ery spread to Scan­di­navia, then to many other places in Con­ti­nen­tal Europe. In 1834, chat­tel slav­ery was abol­ished, at least legally, through­out the British Empire. The United States had to undergo a tumul­tuous and ago­niz­ing war before the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion in 1863. But this titanic strug­gle against evil could not have suc­ceeded if peo­ple like John Wool­man, a sim­ple tay­lor and notary, had not pro­claimed and com­mit­ted them­selves to a clear-cut moral posi­tion. It was their moral force that ulti­mately made polit­i­cal changes happen.

Dic­ta­tor­ship is merely a mod­ern ver­sion of the slave trade, prac­ticed by peo­ple who con­trol ter­ri­tory and claim to be “gov­ern­ments”. The ulti­mate elim­i­na­tion of dic­ta­tor­ship calls for the deploy­ment of the same type of moral force as that ear­lier movement.

There are basi­cally two sets of strate­gies nec­es­sary. Those who presently live under dic­ta­tor­ship need to develop one set of strate­gies. Those who live out­side of dic­ta­tor­ship, who can freely express their opin­ions and influ­ence elected gov­ern­ments, should be pur­su­ing another set. The two sets of strate­gies are related, and should be co-ordinated. But in this essay, I’m pri­mar­ily con­cerned with the sec­ond set.

The strat­egy of deploy­ing moral force should serve a sim­ple pur­pose: to get laws passed and poli­cies enacted that make dic­ta­tors suf­fer, cut them off from money, humil­i­ate them, iso­late them, and even­tu­ally destroy them. First, our aim should be to get our gov­ern­ments to renounce all ties and alliances with dic­ta­tors. Then it should be to repu­di­ate recog­ni­tion of dic­ta­tor­ships as legit­i­mate gov­ern­ments. Then we should get laws passed mak­ing it charge­able trea­son for any politi­cian to con­sort with, enter­tain, or com­mu­ni­cate per­son­ally with a dic­ta­tor. We should be demand­ing that the embassies and con­sulates of dic­ta­tor­ships be closed, and that their diplo­mats be expelled. Then we should demand the expul­sion of all dic­ta­tor­ships from inter­na­tional bod­ies, or that democ­ra­cies with­draw from inter­na­tional bod­ies that per­mit dic­ta­tor­ship to par­tic­i­pate. Then, we should push for the enact­ment of laws mak­ing it a crim­i­nal offense to engage in any eco­nomic exchange with a dic­ta­tor, or his hench­men. These should be fol­lowed by laws dis­solv­ing cor­po­ra­tions that do busi­ness with dic­ta­tors. All these demands should be made, one after the other, with unend­ing pres­sure from the bot­tom up. No per­son should be regarded as fit to hold any posi­tion of respectabil­ity or hon­our unless they make these demands.

Par­tic­u­lar atten­tion should be paid to the behav­iour of finan­cial insti­tu­tions. We should demand laws that severely pun­ish any bank that pro­vides finan­cial ser­vices for a dic­ta­tor, or his hench­men, even by indi­rect pro­ce­dures (i.e., num­bered or secret accounts, money-laundering, dummy cor­po­ra­tions). These laws should hold banks respon­si­ble for trans­gres­sions even if they claim to have done them unknow­ingly. Access to inter­na­tional bank­ing ser­vices is the life-blood that makes dic­ta­tor­ship func­tion prof­itably. It is the heart of the mat­ter. If banks out­side our own coun­tries do not con­form to these rules, then they should not be allowed to trans­act busi­ness in our coun­tries. Our goal should be the seizure of all assets held by dic­ta­tors or their hench­men ― so that they can be held in trust for the peo­ple who right­fully own them, the vic­tims of the dic­ta­tors in their own countries.

Ulti­mately, our aim should be to issue war­rants for the arrest of all dic­ta­tors and their rep­re­sen­ta­tives, hench­men, and col­lab­o­ra­tors. These war­rants should man­date the arrest and trial of any of these peo­ple if they set foot on the soil of a democ­racy. The only final result that is morally accept­able to decent human beings would be a “Nurem­berg” trial of all the dic­ta­tors on Earth.

These are all things that can be done through the demo­c­ra­tic process, and through the law. And they are all things which can be done with­out mak­ing war, which invari­ably harms the vic­tims of dic­ta­tor­ship more than it harms the dic­ta­tors them­selves. We must always remem­ber the “ace in the hole” that every dic­ta­tor counts on: they hold their own peo­ple hostage, and many of those hostages are chil­dren. We should never be in the busi­ness of bomb­ing chil­dren to “save” them from dic­ta­tor­ship. We should be focused on elim­i­nat­ing the dic­ta­tors. Stran­gling their blood-flow of money, and mak­ing sure that they can­not ever show their faces in the civ­i­lized world are far more effec­tive than any mil­i­tary swaggering.

But to do this requires a long, slow build-up of social pres­sure from prin­ci­pled indi­vid­u­als. Those indi­vid­u­als must be sure of them­selves, and be will­ing to stand up to the ridicule and counter-pressures they will be sub­jected to. They will be sneered at by intel­lec­tu­als, dis­missed as cra­zies by politi­cians, and under­mined by those who gain finan­cially from col­lab­o­ra­tion with dic­ta­tor­ship. They will feel the lure of con­for­mity. They will grow weary of explain­ing the same obvi­ous facts over and over again, and they will become list­less and dis­con­so­late when progress fails to mate­ri­al­ize quickly. It will be very, very dif­fi­cult to pass the laws we need. All politi­cians will hate them. All rich peo­ple will hate them. All cor­po­rate inter­ests will hate them. Many intel­lec­tu­als will hate them with rabid fanati­cism. All these forces will fight tooth and nail to block them.

The strat­egy of deploy­ing moral force obvi­ously requires patience, since no results can be expected to come quickly, and it requires sac­ri­fice. It is con­ve­nient, and com­fort­able to turn a blind eye to dic­ta­tor­ship. It is con­ve­nient to buy the cheap prod­ucts that dic­ta­tor­ships sup­ply, with their mar­ket advan­tage of slave labour and envi­ron­men­tal rape. It is con­ve­nient to avoid con­fronta­tion with our own élites and big shots. It is tempt­ing to swal­low the illu­sion, ped­dled by all our politi­cians, that dic­ta­tors can be “reformed” by “engage­ment”, bribes, or polite­ness. But moral­ity is not a con­ve­nient or a com­fort­able thing. It requires that you stand up straight as a man or a woman, and fol­low a prin­ci­ple, rather than kiss­ing bums and col­lect­ing the cube of sugar. Moral­ity holds no appeal for most intel­lec­tu­als, who pre­fer the clev­er­ness of realpoli­tik and oppor­tunis­tic moral obfus­ca­tion. Moral­ity holds no appeal for “rad­i­cals” and other poseurs attracted to the bom­bast of “rev­o­lu­tion”. But moral­ity is what is truly rad­i­cal, truly rev­o­lu­tion­ary, and, in the long run, truly effec­tive. In the long run, I think that moral truth, and moral force will win.

Why do I think so? Because the world is grow­ing up. Dic­ta­tor­ship is the prod­uct of igno­rance, cow­ardice, and super­sti­tion. It will be a hor­ri­bly painful process, but we will out­grow it.

First Meditation on Dictatorship [written Thursday, February 7, 2008] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.


14-03-18 - BLOG Memorial-at-Lidice-1st-Med-on-Dic

Mon­u­ment at Lidice.
The faces of the chil­dren are not gen­er­al­ized abstrac­tions. They are care­fully recon­structed from pho­tographs to rep­re­sent the indi­vid­ual chil­dren as they were in life.

We are so hamyd,
For-taxed and ramyd,
By these gentlery-men!

― The Wake­field Sec­ond Shep­herds’ Play, c.1425–1450 [1]

We are men the same as they are:
Our mem­bers are as straight as theirs are,
Our bod­ies stand as high from the ground,
The pain we suffer’s as pro­found.
Our only need is courage now,
To pledge our­selves by solemn vow,
Our goods and per­sons to defend,
And stay together to this end…

— Robert Wace, Le roman de la Rou et des ducs de Nor­mandie, 1160-70s [2]

On my return to Prague, last year, after tramp­ing in Hun­gary and Tran­syl­va­nia, my friend Filip Marek took a day off for some more explo­rations of the Bohemian coun­try­side. This turned out to be the most emo­tion­ally charged day in my trav­els, and I’ve delayed describ­ing it because of its per­sonal impor­tance to me.

The land­scape around Prague is not much dif­fer­ent, at first glance, from that of South­ern Ontario. It’s rich farm­land, gen­tly rolling hills, and patches of mixed for­est sim­i­lar to those around Toronto. Most of it was so pleas­ant that I couldn’t help replay­ing snatches of Dvořák, Smetana and Janáček in my head as the car rolled under the dap­pled sun­lit trees, past fields and vil­lages that seem to be both ancient and brand new at the same time. How­ever, our quest was to extract some­thing incon­gru­ously dis­turb­ing and tragic from Bohemia’s woods and streams.[3] We were going to see two places that do not loom large in the his­tory books, but loom large in the kind of his­tory that I am con­cerned with. The first was the Vojna Hard Labour Camp, in the for­est near the vil­lage of Příbram, and the sec­ond was the site of Lidice, a vil­lage that no longer exists. Read more »

Sixth Meditation on Democracy [written January 10, 2008] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.


14-03-18 BLOG SIXTH MEDITATION ON DEMOCRACYFor this Med­i­ta­tion on Democ­racy, the sixth in the series, I will under­take a cri­tique of some cur­rently dom­i­nant ideas about the role of democ­racy in human his­tory, and attempt to pro­vide a con­cep­tual frame­work for look­ing at democ­racy in a dif­fer­ent, more real­is­tic way. This will mean that some of the ground cov­ered in ear­lier med­i­ta­tions will be revis­ited. It will also draw on the col­lab­o­ra­tive work between myself and Prof. Steven Muhlberger, pub­lished in the Jour­nal of World His­tory, and on the World His­tory of Democ­racy Web­site. I am exclu­sively respon­si­ble, how­ever, for the views expressed in this series.

Read more »

Fifth Meditation on Democracy [written Monday, November 5, 2007] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.


14-03-18 BLOG FIFTH MEDITATION ON DEMOCRACY

It’s my con­tention that both hier­ar­chi­cal and egal­i­tar­ian behav­iour are equally “nat­ural” to human beings. These two meth­ods of inter­act­ing with oth­ers in a group have co-existed in all human soci­eties, from the ear­li­est stages of our evo­lu­tion as a species. It is also my con­tention that, while there is a lim­ited place for hier­ar­chi­cal think­ing and behav­iour in a good soci­ety, it is egal­i­tar­ian think­ing that has cre­ated civ­i­liza­tion and moral­ity. Any soci­ety that is dom­i­nated by hier­ar­chy is essen­tially back­ward, self-destructive, and immoral. Read more »

Fourth Meditation on Democracy [written Saturday, September 22, 2007] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.


14-03-18 BLOG FOURTH MEDITATION ON DEMOCRACYRecently, two Cana­dian high school stu­dents did a remark­able thing. It was remark­able enough to gen­er­ate a large amount of com­ment in the blo­gos­phere. Accord­ing to the orig­i­nal news item in the Hal­i­fax Chron­i­cle Her­ald [1], a grade 9 stu­dent “arrived for the first day of school last Wednes­day and was set upon by a group of six to 10 older stu­dents who mocked him, called him a homo­sex­ual for wear­ing pink and threat­ened to beat him up.” Any­one who has attended high school knows the usual out­come of such sit­u­a­tions. But in this case, it was dif­fer­ent. Two senior stu­dents, Travis Price and David Shep­herd, were dis­gusted by this crude bul­ly­ing. “It’s my last year. I’ve stood around too long and I wanted to do some­thing,” David explained. The two stu­dents bought 75 pink tank-tops and, ral­ly­ing stu­dents through the inter­net, per­suaded half the stu­dent body to wear them, or to sup­ply their own. When the bul­lies next came to school, they were con­fronted by an ocean of pink sol­i­dar­ity. “The bul­lies got angry,” said Travis. “One guy was throw­ing chairs (in the cafe­te­ria). We’re glad we got the response we wanted.” Read more »

Third Meditation on Democracy [written Saturday, August 18, 2007] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.


A convivial gathering of men and women in ancient Pakistan. The style of art, known Gandharan, drew on influences from India, Persia and Greece.

A con­vivial gath­er­ing of men and women in ancient Pak­istan, dur­ing the Gand­ha­ran era, a time of intel­lec­tual and artis­tic syn­the­sis. Gand­ha­ran art, drama and phi­los­o­phy drew on influ­ences from India, Per­sia and Greece.

West­ern Europe, and lands cul­tur­ally derived from it, have made some rel­a­tively suc­cess­ful approx­i­ma­tions of democ­racy and civil soci­ety, and com­bined them with notice­able pros­per­ity. Peo­ple both inside and out­side this favoured zone won­der why, and they have often sought the answer in two par­tic­u­lar areas: reli­gious tra­di­tions, and the dra­matic intel­lec­tual era called “the Enlight­en­ment”. As some­one who has writ­ten about the uni­ver­sal aspects of democ­racy, I’ve often felt some annoy­ance at what I con­sider parochial views of his­tory, and dubi­ous ideas of causal­ity. I feel great sym­pa­thy for peo­ple out­side the favoured zone, who are hope­ful that they can have a demo­c­ra­tic future, but are dis­com­fited by the “second-banana” sta­tus that it seems to imply for their cul­tural her­itage. This is espe­cially true in the Islamic world, where past cul­tural glo­ries and present embar­rass­ments com­bine to make the search for demo­c­ra­tic reform a touchy sub­ject. I think that an exces­sively car­toon­ish view of the Enlight­en­ment, and of the rela­tion­ship between reli­gion and democ­racy, is part of the prob­lem. Read more »

Second Meditation on Democracy [written Monday, August 7, 2007] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.


14-03-18 BLOG SECOND MEDITATION ON DEMOCRACY

Þingvel­lir, the out­door site of the medieval Ice­landic elected par­lia­ment. Þingvel­lir, the out­door site of the medieval Ice­landic elected parliament.

“Civ­i­liza­tion is the process in which one grad­u­ally increases the num­ber of peo­ple included in the term ‘we’ or ‘us’ and at the same time decreases those labeled ‘you’ or ‘them’ until that cat­e­gory has no one left in it.” — Howard Win­ters, an Amer­i­can archae­ol­o­gist who stud­ied ancient set­tle­ment and trade pat­terns [quoted by Anne-Marie Cantwell in Howard Dal­ton Win­ters: In Memo­riam]

“Voice or no voice, the peo­ple can always be brought to the bid­ding of the lead­ers. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the paci­fists for lack of patri­o­tism and expos­ing the coun­try to dan­ger. It works the same in any coun­try.” — Her­mann Wil­helm Göring, sec­ond in com­mand to Adolf Hitler. Read more »

First Meditation on Democracy [written Wednesday, July 25, 2007] REPUBLISHED

https _s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com_736x_ee_59_33_ee593300e425c02784549e0228c025e1In the begin­ning years of this blog, I pub­lished a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. I am re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence over part of 2018. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.


18-02-10 BLOG First Med pic 1

Har­mod­ius and Aris­to­geiton, the gay cou­ple whom the Athe­ni­ans regarded as the founders of their democracy

All philoso­phies stand on choices that can­not be jus­ti­fied by proof. Any ama­teur Socrates can demon­strate that I can’t prove that two and two are four, or that free­dom is desir­able, or even that I exist. Ulti­mately, ideas, no mat­ter how pas­sion­ately held, rest on assump­tions that can­not be known with absolute cer­tainty. It does not fol­low from this that we should avoid act­ing on sig­nif­i­cant assump­tions, or that we should aban­don the analy­sis of ideas. If I’m stand­ing in the mid­dle of the street, and see a twelve-ton truck hurtling in my direc­tion, I don’t stand there, par­a­lyzed by epis­te­mo­log­i­cal uncer­tainty. I jump out of its way. Later, seated on a com­fort­able couch, with a cold beer in my hand, I might indulge in the lux­ury of reflect­ing that the truck may have been an illu­sion, or that I can­not prove with cer­tainty that being hit by a truck is worse than not being hit by a truck. All of us must choose our basic assump­tions, either in a con­scious process, guided by rea­son, or unconsciously.

This is a med­i­ta­tion on democ­racy, and democ­racy only becomes a coher­ent idea when it rests on the assump­tion that human beings have rights. This, in turn, rests on the assump­tion that there is a moral dimen­sion to the uni­verse. Out­side of these assump­tions, polit­i­cal thought becomes arbi­trary. If indi­vid­ual human beings have no rights, then what­ever hap­pens is self-sufficiently jus­ti­fied, and any state of affairs that human beings find them­selves in is as desir­able as any other. Effec­tively, if there is no moral dimen­sion to the uni­verse, then it is a mat­ter of indif­fer­ence what hap­pens. Events just come to pass ― say, the Holo­caust, or the Slave Trade, or Abu Graib ― and there is no point in dis­cussing them. It is point­less to seek jus­tice or defy injus­tice, because the very idea of jus­tice depends on the assump­tion of a moral­ity that rests upon some­thing more sub­stan­tial than cus­tom or whim. In the absence of moral choice, peo­ple seek some sense of order in human affairs through some amoral orga­niz­ing prin­ci­ple. Loy­alty to a group, obe­di­ence to author­ity, or the famil­iar­ity of rit­ual become sub­sti­tutes for eth­i­cal con­science. Read more »

PREFACE TO THE MEDITATIONS [republished from 2010]

The extended blog entries called “Med­i­ta­tions” have proven to be the most pop­u­lar items on this web­site. While some of these essays have some schol­arly trap­pings (cita­tions, etc.), they are pri­mar­ily per­sonal doc­u­ments, and thus may con­tain col­lo­quial prose, pro­fan­ity, or other non-academic elements.

Any­one is enti­tled to reprint these pieces, as long as they are not altered, and credit is given.

14-03-18 BLOG PREFACE TO THE MEDITATIONS (2010)[Fred­er­ick Dou­glass (1818–1895), born a slave in Mary­land, U.S.A., secretly taught him­self to read, and suc­cess­fully escaped slav­ery in 1838. His auto­bi­og­ra­phy cat­a­pulted him to promi­nence in the anti-slavery move­ment. Widely known as the “Sage of Ana­cos­tia”, Dou­glass was the most promi­nent and influ­en­tial African-American of his cen­tury, and one of the great­est philoso­phers of free­dom in human his­tory. In both word and deed, he strug­gled for the free­dom and equal­ity, not only of African-American males like him­self, but for women, native Amer­i­cans, immi­grants, and all other human beings. One of his favorite quo­ta­tions was: “I would unite with any­body to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”]

From A Nar­ra­tive of the Life of Fred­er­ick Dou­glass, an Amer­i­can Slave (1845):

Very soon after I went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Auld, she very kindly com­menced to teach me the A, B, C. After I had learned this, she assisted me in learn­ing to spell words of three or four let­ters. Just at this point of my progress, Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once for­bade Mrs. Auld to instruct me fur­ther, telling her, among other things, that it was unlaw­ful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read. To use his own words, fur­ther, he said, “If you give a nig­ger an inch, he will take an ell. A nig­ger should know noth­ing but to obey his master–to do as he is told to do. Learn­ing would spoil the best nig­ger in the world. Now,” said he, “if you teach that nig­ger (speak­ing of myself) how to read, there would be no keep­ing him. It would for­ever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unman­age­able, and of no value to his mas­ter. As to him­self, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him dis­con­tented and unhappy.” These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sen­ti­ments within that lay slum­ber­ing, and called into exis­tence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and spe­cial rev­e­la­tion, explain­ing dark and mys­te­ri­ous things, with which my youth­ful under­stand­ing had strug­gled, but strug­gled in vain. I now under­stood what had been to me a most per­plex­ing difficulty–to wit, the white man’s power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achieve­ment, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I under­stood the path­way from slav­ery to freedom.

else­where, Dou­glas said:

To make a con­tented slave it is nec­es­sary to make a thought­less one. It is nec­es­sary to darken the moral and men­tal vision and, as far as pos­si­ble, to anni­hi­late the power of reason.

From Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man:

Man has no prop­erty in Man.

These med­i­ta­tions are con­structed with a par­tic­u­lar dis­ci­pline. Every effort will be made to ensure that their ter­mi­nol­ogy is con­sis­tent and mean­ing­ful. The reader will prob­a­bly notice the con­spic­u­ous absence of some terms that are else­where accepted. The terms “cap­i­tal­ism” and “social­ism”, for exam­ple, are not used any­where because I con­sider them to be buzz­words with­out iden­ti­fi­able mean­ing. The terms “left” and “right”, sup­pos­edly rep­re­sent­ing a “polit­i­cal spec­trum” of ideas and prac­tice, have never been used in my work. This clas­si­fi­ca­tion of polit­i­cal ideas is per­ni­cious non­sense, and its use reduces any polit­i­cal dis­cus­sion to inco­her­ent gib­ber­ish. Instead, I will rely on a ratio­nal clas­si­fi­ca­tion of polit­i­cal move­ments and ideas. The terms “West” and “West­ern”, along with their reveal­ingly ten­den­tious cor­re­late “Non-Western”, are also renounced. They are embar­rass­ing rem­nants of a narrow-minded past, still used with annoy­ing impre­ci­sion and capri­cious­ness. Worst of all, they came into use because of a pro­found mis­un­der­stand­ing of the world’s mosaic of soci­eties. My rea­sons for these judg­ments will be expounded in an appen­dix to the Meditations.

Apart from this dis­ci­pline, I’ll avoid cre­at­ing an idio­syn­cratic jar­gon of my own. I pre­fer plain lan­guage. When I use a word or a phrase in some way that dif­fers from gen­eral cus­tom, or the rea­son­able expec­ta­tions of read­ers, I will make every effort to make my mean­ing clear. How­ever, lan­guage being a slip­pery thing, I can expect to fail at this now and then.

Works of seri­ous thought are not writ­ten with­out an implied audi­ence. The writer can­not avoid hav­ing some men­tal image, how­ever vague, of who is likely to be read­ing their words. Often it can be eas­ily rec­og­nized, for exam­ple, that a given writer assumes that the reader resides in their own coun­try, or is of the same gen­der, or has a sim­i­lar social or edu­ca­tional back­ground. The more seri­ous the sub­ject mat­ter, the more nar­row this assumed audi­ence is likely to be. Occa­sion­ally, a “we” or an “us” will appear in a work that makes it plain that the author assumes that “we” or “us” excludes most of the human race. This is not one of those works. It’s intended for all human beings, every­where on the planet. If I had my druthers, I would pre­fer it to be simul­ta­ne­ously writ­ten in every lan­guage. Unfor­tu­nately, I can only write expres­sively and pre­cisely in one lan­guage, Eng­lish. For­tu­nately, that lan­guage is the world’s most widely dis­trib­uted, and a work writ­ten in Eng­lish can find it’s way into the hands of a diverse read­er­ship, scat­tered across the globe. I am more con­cerned that my ideas reach peo­ple in places like Papua New Guinea, Tran­syl­va­nia, Bourk­ina Fasso, or Burma than that I gain pop­u­lar­ity among my own com­pa­tri­ots. I have friends and acquain­tances in all these places, and the men­tal pic­ture of a reader that hov­ers in my mind, as I write, includes them. They have big­ger prob­lems to deal with than my own coun­try­men. The sub­jects I dis­cuss are more urgent for them. I live in the aston­ish­ingly lucky coun­try called Canada. Com­pared to most places in the world, it has no seri­ous polit­i­cal prob­lems to speak of. I will try not to for­get that, and I will try not to glibly dis­miss the expe­ri­ence of peo­ple for whom the def­i­n­i­tion and appli­ca­tion of democ­racy are life-and-death issues.

THE MEDITATIONS — A NEW PREFACE (2018)

18-01-18 BLOG Democritus_statue

Dem­ocri­tus med­i­tat­ing on the seat of the soul, by Léon-Alexandre Del­homme (1868)

This blog has been online for a dozen years. A good deal has changed in that time.

When I began PhilPaine.com in 2006, it was only read by a hand­ful of friends. Since I held no aca­d­e­mic posi­tion, and had more or less failed as a fic­tion writer, I did my work in obscu­rity. I have no degrees, no aca­d­e­mic posi­tion, no insti­tu­tional con­nec­tions. My “CV” con­sists of a lot of youth­ful and incau­tious “adven­tures” in dis­tant places, a good deal of expo­sure to the seamy under­side of my own soci­ety, and a sys­tem­atic pro­gram of read­ing. A sin­gle paper, writ­ten in col­lab­o­ra­tion with an estab­lished scholar, Steven R. Muhlberger, was for many years my only claim to aca­d­e­mic legit­i­macy, though it was to have an amaz­ing endurance and influ­ence. Steve’s patient friend­ship and emo­tional sup­port have been the key to my sur­vival. His own blog, the lit­er­ate and infor­ma­tive Muhlberger’s World His­tory, pre­ceded mine. We are still col­lab­o­rat­ing, though nowa­days on the trans­la­tion of a medieval text. I am equally indebted to Skye Sepp and Isaac White, whose reg­u­lar vis­its, intel­lec­tual stim­u­lus, and reg­u­lar com­pan­ion­ship have kept me from going bonkers. I also had emo­tional sup­port from older friends, scat­tered around the world, who remained in touch by cor­re­spon­dence and occa­sional vis­its. Of par­tic­u­larly impor­tance to me has been an endur­ing com­rade­ship with Filip Marek of Prague, whose actions dur­ing the Czech Rev­o­lu­tion of 1989 inspired me both intel­lec­tu­ally and spir­i­tu­ally. Over the course of a long friend­ship we have trav­eled the roads and trails of Canada as far as the Arc­tic Ocean, picked our way through a half dozen ancient Minoan and Myce­naean sites, and not long ago spent a week hik­ing the trails of mag­nif­i­cent Mt. Assini­boine.

Now, in 2018, the pic­ture is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. I have a mod­est aca­d­e­mic rep­u­ta­tion, and some of my writ­ings are widely dis­sem­i­nated. As of this year, I am free to pur­sue my researches full-time as long as I live fru­gally. A few eccentrics in con­ven­tional Acad­e­mia have pro­moted my work — notably Jean-Paul Gagnon (now with the Insti­tute of Gov­er­nance and Pol­icy Analy­sis in Can­berra, Aus­tralia). Cita­tions pile up. The blog has a wide inter­na­tional read­er­ship. I have wit­nessed some of the ideas which, when Democracy’s Place in World His­tory was first pub­lished in 1993, were novel and unortho­dox, become a sig­nif­i­cant stream of thought sur­fac­ing in many quar­ters. Though we are enter­ing some dark and dan­ger­ous times, as far as democ­racy and civ­i­liza­tion are con­cerned, I believe those ideas will ulti­mately flour­ish and tri­umph over bar­barism.

My blog writ­ing is not meant to be the same as for­mal aca­d­e­mic writ­ing, and much of it is rough and unpol­ished. Top­ics as dif­fer­ent as the soci­ol­ogy of silent films, cur­rent hot bands, democ­racy in the ancient world, how to cook ban­nock, and why you shouldn’t climb vol­ca­noes in sub­stan­dard sneak­ers appear in the blog, higgledy-piggledy. But among these, in the begin­ning years, were a series of arti­cles called “Med­i­ta­tions on Democ­racy and Dic­ta­tor­ship” which are still reg­u­larly read today, and have had some influ­ence. They still elicit inquiries from remote cor­ners of the globe. They are now buried in the back pages of the blog, so I’m mov­ing them up the chrono­log­i­cal counter (for the sec­ond time) so they can have another round of vis­i­bil­ity, espe­cially (I hope) with younger read­ers. Over the com­ing months, I’ll be re-posting them in their orig­i­nal sequence. Some ref­er­ences in these “med­i­ta­tions” will date them to 2007–2008, when they were writ­ten. But I will leave them un-retouched, though I may occa­sion­ally append some ret­ro­spec­tive notes. Mostly, they deal with abstract issues that do not need updating.

Phil Paine, Toronto.