Everybody, welcome to Dance News History, what a treat I've got for you now on this podcast, I've got Professor David Runciman back on a legend. We're talking about his history of ideas.
Season two, the guy, he just goes on there and he just monologues about the most important political theorist of all time. He tells us about their lives. He tells about why their thinking matters. And he tells us that these giant minds are wrestling with the same things that we're wrestling with. How do we get a better politics and who the hell put these people in charge of us? Why these lunatics running society? All the politicians listening to this.
And I know there are one or two. I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about the other guys. Always a great pleasure to have Professor David Runciman on, you can hear his podcast on the talking politics feed wherever you get your iPod. If you can listen to previous episodes in which David Runciman has come on this podcast, you can do so at history hit TV Dafter. Listen to the ads. Either they're all ad free over there, so you get a history hit TV sign up for a small subscription and then can listen to year's worth of podcasts and watch hundreds of wonderful history documentaries.
In the meantime, though, everybody enjoy this chat in which things get a bit gritty with Professor David Runciman.
Prof, great to have you back on the podcast. Pleasure. You've got another one of your series out, what you just discussed, the whole history of political thought through leading practitioners.
How did you choose the last set? Like what was the driving principle? It wasn't just like his eight famous political theorist to talk about them. So the last one started with Hopes Leviathan, and the theme was the state, the modern state that sometimes called the thing that we still love under pandemic times. We realized we still live under a coercive political authority that has life and death power over us. And Hobbs, for me, is the preeminent philosopher, tried to make sense of it, to rationalize it.
So the theme of that one was we have this really odd form of politics. We used to it. We sort of allow people to take decisions for us over which we have some, but limited control on which our lives depend. And somehow we feel better off for that. And Hobbs is the philosopher who tries to say, look, we can make sense of this. And then the other thinkers in different ways were reacting to that. That kind of rationalization of this is very modern.
It has a lot to do with rationality and science and so on. And in this series, I start with Rousseau. He's often contrasts with hopes we can talk about that. And the contrast is as great as people think. But it seems to me this is the other question that people have, which is not how do we make sense of this? But this clearly doesn't make sense that this is mad how we allowed these idiots the right, the power to control us.
And in this tradition, it seems to me what people want to do is try and go back and find the point, when did we go wrong? When did we give up our own freedom? When did we lose our ability to do these things for ourselves? How did we get trapped in a form of politics that is clearly madness? And though these two traditions overlap in lots of ways because it's not as if Hobbs's in a bit mad and it's not as if people like Rousseau aren't in their different ways actually trying to rationalize things.
But there are lots of questions you can ask about politics. But if you think about the gut reaction that people have to modern political life, it is both great for us and it's terrible. And sometimes what we want to do is kind of make sense of why it works. But sometimes and maybe this year particularly, what we want to do is ask ourselves, how did we end up with this as the thing that we call democracy, justice, freedom when it's so obviously isn't?
Well, I'm glad you Producers', because I went to some therapy because I am in a middle aged state of angst about this, because as your kids grow up, you try to explain to them, they go, well, why is this the way it is? You go? Well, because we elected these things that are manifestly untrue and because we live in an era in America, there is a full scale assault on democracy at the moment. In Britain, we've never really had a true democracy.
We've got this insane second chamber full of appointed peers. We've got a government that's consistent electoral minority. The vote. I think we all think that things are terrible, but there does seem to be we are in Britain at the moment. There's a discontinuity passed around. Ministers resigning when they are found to have lied or broken codes and things. And it's very difficult for me. Why am I paying this law? I'm beginning to feel this doesn't have legitimacy.
Now, am I just a mad, middle aged person flirting with anarchism or libertarianism or something? Or is this something that you're going through? You mentioned you said that is the lockdown. The pandemic response has forced you to think about government as never before. Why now?
So we all have both responses. So during this year and the last four months or so series produced during lockdown, the early part of lockdown. But it seemed to me we were living in a pretty Hobbesian world in which we were dependent upon people taking decisions which were life and death decisions. I mean, they still are for us. And somehow there was extraordinary acquiescence and there still is to a lot of people surprised for all the pushback that has been on all the resentment coming and all of that and these moments where people go, this is crazy.
Most of us, most of the time have gone along with it and also saved hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives.
So the kind of Hobbesian idea that we can subordinate ourselves to the states and we can benefit from and our money still works, there's still food in our supermarkets. Yeah.
And with the risks that come with that, I mean, there is always a huge risk in forms of arbitrary power, but the Hobbesian argument is strictly arbitrary power and you really are in trouble. But at the same time, we all have the other impulse. You have it. I have it. Which is that feeling that, well, we've got ourselves into a situation in which we are dependent on this way of doing politics. And yet, one is this the only way really, is this the only way?
And also is not dependency. More evidence of the fact is you are sort of implying that that we haven't really thought this through. You know, we can't really rationalize it. So I start this series with not Bruce's most famous book, The Social Contract, but I think by far the most interesting book called The Discourse on Inequality, which is this kind of history of the whole human race. How did we get from in his idea? And it's not completely convincing in a kind of natural state.
We were not dependent on each other and we could live without this kind of politics to what he thinks of the sort of grotesque versions of modern life and modern politics. But it ends with this great set of questions that I remember reading as a student and thinking, well, these are the questions that literally the last line of the book, Rousseau says, what we've got to explain is how we can live in a world. Where a child can rule an old person, an idiot can rule a wise person, and the few can tell them what to do and something not just pandemic wise, but kind of trump wise and many things about Trump, but it often felt like America somehow was in the grip of a child, possibly also an idiot.
And also, we all are aware that we're living in a world in which power so concentrated in a few hands. But there are so many more of us. I mean, I hesitate to say I'll but so many more of the many by definition. Why do we let them get away with it? That's Rousseau's question. And his answer is kind of brainwashing. You know, his answer is that we have just grown up historically and then in our own lifetimes with our intellectual framework that doesn't allow us to ask the why question why is it like this?
And the way to ask the why question is to strip it back, to go back, to tell the story backwards. Kind of Benjamin Button, social history. How did we get here? And we have to kind of trace the steps and find the points where we had choices, because Russa's argument is otherwise we don't have choices. We can't see where we lost them. And it's a really powerful argument. It's crazy, a lot of it. And Rousseau was a pretty strange fellow in his way, but it's incredibly powerful and sometimes liberating.
David, I always love it when you point out that actually is political philosophy at best when they're studying history.
So in this series, I think the central figure is nature. And the other way to sort of capture what some of these things have in common is that the great unveilings, they're the ones who are pulling off the veil, the mask to see what lies beneath but nature's word for its genealogy. It's that kind of history. It's a family tree history. It's kind of how do we move through the stages that this begets? This begets this begets this begets that.
And there isn't a moment in any of these stories. There's not a kind of big bang moment where we were good and we became bad. We were free and we became enslaved. These stories are so compelling because I say in the first podcast, it's this line from Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises with one character says to another, How did you go bankrupt this famous line? And he says, gradually, then suddenly and the story of our sort of enslavement to these forms of politics is both gradual and sudden.
It's over many generations. Then there are moments where we kind of take the big step in Russo's mind into this form of entrapment.
You and I have talked a lot about the 90s, people listening to this program. We can be banging on about the 90s, but it feels more grotesque because it feels like do bolson narrow Trump, Erdogan, Putin, China, Eastern Europe, a world in which these people are in charge of us. When we all thought that there was a direction of travel in the 1990s that looked like those intolerable people would be consigned to the past, feels even more acceptable.
Like it's almost like there was a kind of idea that we had a glimpse of what the future should be. And instead we're still mired in very. 20TH century, if not older, mendacious, corrupt, grifting, autocratic strongmen, and we've got nuclear weapons floating around and a massive climate crisis and the denial of truth, like I don't know how I'm getting out of the house at the moment in the morning. To be honest with you. When Nietzsche and Rousseau identified these dead other historians, it useful to think about historical narrative, or are they talking, as Rousseau does in his more famous book about our natures?
What got us into this position? Is it history could have gone differently or is this about us?
It is certainly for Rousseau, it's partly about nature, but they have a historical understanding of nature. So it's not like there's a point, which is the natural point. All of it is evolving. And these early theories of evolution, Nietzsche's case, pretty Darwinian theories of evolution, but it's about how the natural human experience is a constant work in progress constructed by us, limited by our natural abilities. But we are constantly building on this thing and its history.
We need to write endlessly about history. But Nature was interested in his phrasing, the uses and abuses of history. I mean, history furniture is a weapon because everything is a weapon for nature. Everything is a tool. All the intellectual constructs are tools in the hands of people who are, as we all are, as human beings, willing power in one way or another. And historians, academics. Nietzsche was pretty clear about this, the idea that academics are somehow above the fray.
We are all using this in order to assert our point of view. It's a very 21st century view. In a way. This is all about drawing dividing lines. But yeah, the historians, it's about time and change and it's about the ways in which to be human is to understand how we got to here from somewhere else in our own lives, in the lives of our societies, in the lives of the species. But it's not history in an academic sense.
I mean, if you read Rousseau and you read nature. They seem so remote from so different from what we might think of as historical narrative today, so personal, they're so polemical, that's so wild, they're so speculative and they are works of genius, contemporary stories. Some of them may be geniuses, too, but when you encounter the kind of wildness of a human being, speculating about the whole thing, it feels very different from sifting the evidence.
Why do Nature and Rousseau and so many others, how would they explain why billions of people in the world are living under Modi and President Xi? You know, China and India, for example, in some of those other names I mentioned. What do they identify? How has that been allowed to happen?
There are lots of answer to that question. Let me give one possible kind of Nietzsche and answer. So Nature has this great line where he says, you know, all human beings will power. The will to power is one of the things that characterises us. But most of us are powerless. Tell me about it.
Well, and you think your policy should meet some powerless people. And of course, of course, the human condition is the experience of powerlessness, essentially. And Nietzsche, some blunt terms this most human beings are slaves, not masters, but even the slave, he says, has the will to power. And rather than not willing at all, we would will nothingness, he says. So the story of the week as he puts them so let's call it the powerless, is rather than giving up their will, they will will nothingness.
They will sort of will the antithesis of power itself. So there are lots of ways of explaining how human beings can seemingly give up their power, allow themselves to be dominated in order to feel that they have a channel, an outlet for what Nietzsche would call their resentment. And I think Nietzsche would say that one way to explain this is that all people who are weak will find channels to constrain the strong, even if that means empowering people who will enslave them, you know, who will oppress them because that impulse is so strong and it's that impulse that skillful politicians can exploit.
So his word for it is resentment. A lot of people have written about this and used Nietzsche to try and explain it, but it can be channeled in all sorts of directions that look counterintuitive, counterproductive, self-defeating. And Nietzsche's genius, as he explains everything through this, including Christianity itself, Christianity for nature, is the will to power of the powerless. It's their way of trying to constrain the powerful, their masters through a turn the other cheek, the meek will inherit the earth morality.
And yet it generates new forms of power and oppression. But at least the powerless can feel it's our philosophy, it's our oppression. I think he would explain 21st century politics through that time. Make sense?
Yes, definitely. Politics resentment is we're speaking. The US Congress has passed historic action and Republicans have spent the entire week talking about Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss books, you know, trying to fire a gun according to a sense of resentment about progressives labeling them racist and coming for their culture. But what about Douglas? Because he feels interesting in this list, because he has experienced powerlessness like nobody else has.
He actually was a slave said when people I need to talk about slavery, Douglas would say, don't bandy that word around. Don't use it generically. The experience of slavery is categorically different from the experience of being oppressed or weak. So that's partly why he's in here. Yeah.
And yet in his later years, everything that he'd worked so hard to achieve looked like it was actually going backwards. And yet he never lost his faith in the project to come. All you tell me, I mean, did he he remained more optimistic than me. Are affluent white guys wanting for nothing in the 21st century? Why is that?
I didn't know that much about him before I started reading him and researching him for the series. He's a completely fascinating figure, also an amazing writer. I mean, just an amazing writer. But yeah, his life follows an unusual arc. In a way. It starts. And I say in the podcast, Russa has that question of how can we allow this to happen? And Douglas, in his various autobiographies, almost always begins with his version of the same question.
So how is it that this person can enslave me? And he says at the age of seven, he realized there was no answer to that as an illiterate, uneducated child, when he asked himself the question, how does that person have life and death power over me? He concluded, There is no answer to that question I can ever accept. You don't need to read a book or to have had a conversation with a philosopher to know the answer a child knows, and that's the definition of slavery.
So the more sophisticated Rousso and arguments about democracy and social oppression, maybe you do need to sort of read books and be educated. But actual slavery speaks its truth, unvarnished by philosophy. And so there's a kind of purity to his understanding very early on. And then he. His profoundly traumatic life, he has to escape slavery, and I say in the podcast, there are three stages to first, once you realize this thing is not it's unjust.
Justice is the language. And he sums it up. He says it's not color. The only explanation could be color. And that cannot be the explanation. So it's crime. It's just crime. So the first thing you have to do is escape. Doesn't matter. How does it matter? When does it matter why you just got to get out? There's a moral to this for lots of people who find themselves in situations that cannot be justified, don't argue about it.
And he says there is no argument to be had with slavery. Because it's not an arguable situation that implies there's something to be said on the other side. First thing you do is get out. Second thing you do is expose it. So he escaped. Then he spent his young life going around America and then Britain and Ireland telling the story of what it's like, not arguing against it, just telling people the horrors. And then the third thing you have to do is abolish it.
And he did that in the first half of his life. He didn't abolish it, but he was part of the abolition movement that did abolish it. Then what do you do? And a second half of his life was extraordinary because then what he did was Republican politics. And he was a Republican Lincoln's party, his party. He got involved in education projects. He got involved in enfranchisement projects, folks, women, conventional politics. Because having done the first three things, the only thing that's left then is just to fight regular politics.
But it sort of seems the wrong way round for us. People are uncomfortable, sort of this heroic struggle then descends into what we just recognize as routine democratic politics where he thought progress would come from. But to me, that's what makes him heroic, that he spent the second half his life doing the mundane thing. But that was only possible for him because of what he did in the first half of his life, which was escape, expose a bullet and remained even though reconstruction.
Fell apart towards the end of that period, so the second was life, in a way is tragically a failure, but it strikes me that he remained positive about that work and about the state. So talk to me about him, because I need to feel a bit more hopeful.
So he did. And in a sense, he wasn't wrong in that I think he understood, as probably we should all understand, that real complicated, messy democratic politics is always kind of up and down, back and forth zigzag, as Obama said when Trump was elected. They're going to be good times and bad times. But you got to keep the faith or to keep hope that the hard grind and Douglass lived a long life. So these were long struggles.
But, yeah, it's true that the 20 years after the Civil War were better than the 20 years after that for the causes he believed in, the cause of emancipation and the civil rights, as we now call it. But he kept going because I think he believed that there's a watershed, which is the abolition, the abolition of slavery. And after that, it's going to be messy, is going to be complicated. And in many ways, it got worse after his death.
You know, it took 100 years and the fight is nowhere near over. It's a long, long struggle. But I think he believed that the difference between slavery actually being enslaved were nothing you do makes any difference. There is no argument to be had. There's no way you can resist. You just have to get out. And politics where almost everything you do could make a difference. So for him, it was the difference between having lived a life where he was genuinely powerless to living a life where even if it was frustrating and annoying and depressing, that was hope.
It's that story. I mean, it's actually a heroic story.
You listening to me have an existential crisis, talking to David Runciman more after this.
Romans, Gods, Spartan's, The Wars of Alexander the Great Successes, an incredible, entirely necessary detail.
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It all ends up with that terribly boring and trite democracy, the worst system apart from the other. I mean, do any of your thinkers. Come up with the answer and go, huh? Well, this is actually how we constrain the executive. This is I mean, I know you don't do Mel, but Bentham obviously got very close to him. And there are kind of the liberal Democratic ideas and restrain and executive voting, widening access to vaccines, all the things that we can try and do to any of your thinkers.
Riccardo's is enough.
Yeah, I mean, I think so, but it's demanding, starting with Rousseau Grace. I thought there was a way of doing it quite call it democracy, but doing popular sovereignty. That was a form of freedom, emancipation from this kind of oppression. But as he said, it was austere, it was demanding. It needed a small state. He basically had to abolish commercial. So it really wasn't for the modern world, but there was a way of doing it.
And then you have to accept if you're not willing to do that incredibly demanding form of politics, then you have to be much more attuned to all the ways in which you're likely to sort of slip down the slope to oppression. And I think with many of them, there's a sense that there are answers, but the answers are probably too hard for us. And so that's part of the self-awareness that comes with taking off the veil. It's like you said about the 1990s, we accept stories of progress too easily, too lightly.
We believe them because they're comfortable and they're consoling actually, to really measure progress in concrete terms that we can hold onto is probably much harder work and we're comfortable with. And so we tend not to want to do it. Same with Bentham. Bentham demanded three things his kind of democratic reforms. He wanted mass enfranchisement. You know, he wanted working man. And then with Mel, we get women to be allowed to vote. He wanted secret ballots so people could express their views in private and he wanted annual parliaments.
He thought if you got a parliament runs more than one year, it would become corrupt. It was hopeless. And it's so interesting that we take the first two for granted. Everyone gets a vote. You get to vote in Secre who are perfectly fine to let the parliament run for five years, shot through with corruption. No actual control over what they do when for Bentham, without really regular, almost constant surveillance by the voters of the people that they've elected, the thing is going to run out of control.
But it's way too demanding for us. I mean, Brenda from Bristol didn't want an election two years after the last one. Imagine if we were basically doing it all the time, which is what Bentham thinks we should do, because if we don't if we don't keep our eye on them, they're human beings. And human nature tells us that people further than us. But it's too much for us, it's too much for us, so there's something kind of austere and demanding about the people who strip off the veil and say, look, it doesn't make sense.
This would make it make sense. But frankly, we now know enough about ourselves that we know it's probably going to be too hard for us. Yeah.
And even you, one of the great political observers in Britain, how often do you read draft bill before parliament?
I don't think you need to preface that with even me. I mean, it's just like obviously I haven't got a who does. I mean, but how often do the politicians themselves and in complex modern societies where so much is connected with so much, we all know this. We all know it now. Roussos pared down austere democracy, as he called it. Partly it's pared down because as soon as you overlay on it a commercial society, as he called it, you know, a modern economy, there's no way anyone is going to be able to see through it.
And yet what he wants is a kind of transparency, you know, an ability to see the consequences of the choices we make. None of us have the ability to see the collective consequences of the collective choices we make. I mean, maybe someone, somewhere in Silicon Valley has now got the technology that they can see how everything connects to everything. But the machines can do it. We can't. I was fascinated.
You said you worked on Douglas almost for the first time to do this. What a wonderful thing it must be to discover new writing for you. And it makes me think writing this series of podcasts, what did you learn and how are you feeling, man? Like at the end. Where are you?
Yeah, I mean, so like I said, I read Rousseau when I was an undergraduate. The second discourse called Discourse and the Quality and age 19 that really spoke to me. And I thought, well, in my 50s now I'm going to be older and wiser and I'm going to think that this is nonsense.
Yeah, Rousseau's a teenage boy. I mean, I just love the Peter Russo when I was 19, it was the best.
Yeah, but I have to say, rereading it had exactly the same effect on me. It had that kind of bracing effect where someone says to you, we all want this. I'm sister. You don't have to believe what the man says. You can think this through for yourself. So to my surprise, I found this. I was I wouldn't say it's liberating, but that's overstating it. But I found it as bracing as ever, say with nature.
But something's 100. So I just read this. I'm ashamed to admit this, but I'm about to talk about it. I just read all the way through for the first time, Simone de Beauvoir, the second sex, a 900 page book. Amazing. I mean, just as those books are that, you know what they say and you've kind of read about them, but when you actually encounter them for themselves, they're so much weirder and so much more fully in the little sort of asides, these extraordinary stories and the picture it paints of what life was like in France in the 1940s, not just for women.
She's pretty sympathetic about men to the things that don't make it into the blankest 15 minute summary. Not really. I mean, the I mean, the second sex is a book to summarize the other book that I read, which I hadn't read before. And I read it because my son, who's a student now, is very interested in Samuel Butler. And so I read everyone is sort of utopian dystopian book about partly about what it would be to live in a society where machines have the ability to tell us what to do.
And I'm just grateful for the fact that there are these books out there that you hear about and we never quite have the time to read them. And then something forces you to read them. In this case, having to do a podcast series. There are almost always more interesting when you think I mean, almost every book is more interesting than the summary because all of the interest is in the bits that aren't summarised, Bill. I mean, if anyone hasn't read everyone, it's 1872.
It could have been written yesterday.
Are you surprised as somebody spent your entire life teaching and thinking about these subjects, are you surprised the impact that contemporary context having on you, putting on your mask, going to the supermarket, not seeing your friends? I've changed in my life from being a radical free marketeer, a student of Daniel Hannan, to being to being a Keynesian socialist and back in about four times in my life. But you probably don't because you think about these things. How is what we've been through affected you and your thinking?
Yeah, that's a bit.
And I think it's partly so. I'm a historian, historian of political thought. That's what I do professionally and in a sort of tradition that tries to teach us that we shouldn't think that these ideas from the past really speak to us because they weren't written for us. We're different. There's a famous line in some of the arguments that historians have about this, which is that we should learn to do our own thinking for ourselves. And we don't just sort of pick up Plato because he can't decide what to do next.
And yet reading these books, particularly over the last year, I just put that to one side and I just feel they do speak to us. Sure, they went about our world, but they're often about unusual conditions in which people are finding themselves, to their surprise, ruled, governed, constrained, but also being offered choices that they don't understand, don't really know what to do with. And, you know, we're living through a discombobulating time.
And that tends to be when the most interesting political writing comes out. We think we're living through this unprecedented tech revolution and somehow it's messing with our heads because we're franchising our choices to machines like Samuel Butler in the 1970s, having exactly the same thought and being thrown in exactly the same ways. OK, the machines weren't smart by our standards, but they were smart by his standards. And he suspected that we'd lost control to the things that we'd built to serve us.
And now we were serving them. And the interest is that our 21st century anxieties resonate back to these texts. And then the whole point of history, I think, is it allows us to see ourselves, but in a completely different context. And it's in spirit with the history that Rousseau Nietzsche. Right. Which is to try and get us to see that there's something incredibly contingent about who we are. But we can only understand that if we trace who we are back to people who are like us, 50 years ago, 500 years ago, 100000 years ago, and completely unlike us.
And that's the value of history. It doesn't have a value if it's just got to be nothing like them. It doesn't really have a value if we think, well, this is just the French Revolution over again, the value is we're like them. I'm nothing like them. And I think I probably had more of those thoughts over the past year because we're living through. So this is the ultimate cliche, isn't that we're living through unprecedented times, except they're not unprecedented because they're very precedented, but they're unprecedented for us.
That's the point.
They're very precedented and they're a useful comparison because like a defined war, you got, what, last time there was a war, a pandemic feels like a useful tool of comparison. I mean, it's funny, me whining at the start saying I'm depressed, I'm about life. I mean, there's probably a counterpoint in which I'm just a whining twat. And in fact, what we've done is saved millions of lives. We've lucky enough to have invented a form of government, allows us to print unlimited amounts of money to pay for extraordinary things like developing a vaccine in a quarter of the time that the previous record of any vaccine was produced.
We've put it in the arms of everyone. We haven't yet suffered global food shortages. The global economy is creaking a bit, but it's still delivering record levels of food to record numbers of humans. We've got problems, but has your reading, you think actually that things have turned out a lot better than many of the dystopian takes of suggest they might have done?
Yes, I think I'm one of those people who think there's that line that human beings overestimate what can be achieved in a year and underestimate what can be achieved in 10 years. And so I know we've achieved a lot this year, but I think all of those people who thinks that people overestimate dystopia in the short term and underestimate it in the long term, Trump is dystopian. There is not. The pandemic is dystopian. No, it's not. Climate change is dystopian.
Yes, it could be genuine tech transformation over a human generation. It's the 23 year trends that matter. And we are inevitably fixated on the shorter term. So I think my feeling is that the last year has been dramatic and in some ways it's been worse than expected. You know, if you go back to the projections of how bad this could get in the United States and in Britain, it's worse, but in other ways better. And God knows where it would be without the vaccine.
And like you say, there are all sorts of things we've discovered, including that we can keep printing money, you know, has changed its meaning in the last year. But the danger would be to think, well, we got through that. So we're going to be all right because the long term challenges haven't gone away. And this tradition of writers, I'm talking about this podcast series. If there's something that connects them, particularly around a thinker like Nietzsche who people find very disturbing because he is quite scary, but he's a writer of liberation.
I mean, it's about freeing us from the things that grab hold of our minds and our thinking and as it were, channeler impulses back on ourselves in a destructive way. A Nietzsche doesn't really have an answer for anything. But when you read Nietzsche, do get that sense that at these moments where things are revealed to us, that's not the time to cling to the old certainties. That's the time to think we have. You know, again, it's a cliche, but we've got an opportunity now maybe to rethink a few things.
But the temptation of sort of the war analogy began and then ended is to neatly packaged it up and sort of think, you know, return to normal is what we're going for. I would be discouraged if the result of this is that we return to normal.
The result this is that we should plant a trillion trees and put solar panels on every roof.
It's so obvious because I think the result is also we should rethink how we do politics. This is an opportunity because the one thing that hasn't really changed over the last 30 years is how we do democratic politics turns out to be the hardest thing to change of all is, you know, we just still do it the same old ways. And at some point we have to rethink. At some point, we've either got to find ways to genuinely internationalize it, genuinely democratize it, make it more responsive, or make it more scientific.
I mean, God knows what we can carry on muddling along. But this does seem like an opportunity to ask, is there a way of doing it differently? I don't think we will, but we could.
Well, every time you're on the podcast, I ask you for your five point plan and you're always funny and clever to give it to me about my point.
Exactly. That's the problem. Runciman, get a five point plan.
My five point plan is read. Rousseau, Douglas Butler, Nature and de Beauvoir.
You mentioned Liberty. I'm so fascinated with watching this course on the American right and elsewhere in the world. India may be at the moment Russia you touched on in the beginning, but what do the writers make of how we acquiesce and even cheer? Because we've seen I've now seen this going on in my lifetime, which I didn't think I've ever really seen before. We cheer well, many of us cheer when our rights and liberties are taken away from us.
Why do we cheer for that process? I think at the heart of this is inequality, the human condition has these different inequalities built into it, and I don't tell you about the rest of it. So the question is about how we get all of these artificial inequalities that are not natural human made, but under conditions where it is so unequal. How people live under the supposedly equal rights and liberties. There is so much privilege, even in a democratic world, there is so much injustice that that impulse, that sort of Nietzsche and impulse to channel the anger into a kind of general reduction is that although if we're all suffering well, at least the people who have got the most to lose are suffering to that kind of thought.
The people with less to lose are more likely, I think, to acquiesce in a general clampdown, because at least it takes away from the people who have been getting away with it for too long. I think that's a big part of it. I think we all have a tendency to feel that, though we've all got something to lose under these kind of political conditions. There is an equality to injustice. I mean, I know it sounds weird, but I mean, even under pandemic conditions as equality to everybody being locked in their homes.
And that's why we're so furious when a few people break those rules. If you ask that question, why are people so much angry about Dominic Cummings than they seem to be about the kind of pay that people get in the city, which seems like a more serious problem is because we've been led to believe for a while that for once the rules apply to everyone. And they didn't no one believed that the rules apply to everyone before this year because they clearly don't.
Some people benefit, some don't. Some get rich, some never do. Some get well educated. Some never have a job. And there's something about a kind of blanket. Form of oppression that's consoling and I think we all have it in us because we're all worse off than someone. That's resentment towards nature, that resentment. Well, that's cheerful. Can I ask you always say that the life as you always say that I've brought it to the point about this kind of bracing realism is it's meant to allow everyone who reads these kind of books to feel, well, you know, we can rethink this.
Well, I'm rethinking who is the most exciting author who's got the five point plan of Runciman, not give me the five point plan. Who has who's an author that you admire at the moment that he's thinking like Bentham and male in practical terms about how we do the things he just talks about, which I actually believe in internationalize decarbonise, democratize our society.
Again, I'm not going to give you anything you want. I think it's probably my sort of prejudice or preference in the people I like to read. A lot of people like to read these people are so much better at diagnosis than solutions. I've thought for a long time that Yuval Harari is a brilliant writer until he got onto his book about what we should do. Thomas Piketty is a brilliant writer. I mean, Capital in the 21st Century is brilliant book and you get the last bit where he just sort of proposes a slightly utopian and politically unassailable wealth tax.
I think Paul Mason is a brilliant writer. His diagnosis of post capitalism, a fantastic book, is Corbyn Politics. So it's weird in the thing that is so rare is the sort of diagnostician Rousseau brilliant diagnostician. I didn't think he had the political answers. I'm always with the diagnosis. I think someone else maybe politicians are the ones who have to do the solving.
Yeah, I did feel Bentham and they had kind of, you know, didn't practical. Yeah.
I mean, I prefer Bentham to mill partly because he gets the worst press and he's, you know, he's meant to be the sort of robotic automaton pleasure machine guy and actually at a heart of gold. I mean, for Bentham, the whole project was just about there's too much suffering in the world. And I talk about it in the podcast. Bentham was partly responding to a society in which people were still being executed for what was called sodomy. I mean, you could be executed for being gay.
And Bentham says, well, the great advantage about utilitarianism, whatever else you might think about it, is there is no way on a utilitarian calculus that you can do that. So who cares what else is wrong with it? My God, we could save people. So there is that the ability to identify the obvious injustices and that sometimes gets lost when people want solutions. I think Bentham has solutions, actually. I think what Bentham has is a means of saying this cannot go on any longer.
You cannot not let people vote. You can't execute them for these crimes. You can't run a state on the basis of cruelty. And what you should do in place of cruelty, well, who cares? Just don't be cruel. And actually, the last thinker in this series, I talk about Judith Jiblah, my favourite late 20th century political philosopher. She is the philosopher who says, doesn't really matter what we do. Just don't be cruel.
You know, I wonder when you said the politicians in Europe. So I think actually you're right. It strikes me that strides forward are unglamorous commissions. You know, whether you look at them, the beverage committee just get a lot of experts in a room. And rather than wonderful but deeply flawed people like Rucho coming up with insane solutions. My wife works in women's criminal justice. The arts is all that. The Causton Coalition report is brilliant. She wrote it all down.
If we acted on that, we would save the lives and improve the lives of millions and millions of women and girls in the country and of course, men. But we just need that across all the different silos.
Presumably I just need good politics and that's genuine in the spirit of Bentham's and party wise, go by précis. People think he's this kind of guy who wanted to sort of solve it all and work it all out and lay it all down. Whether it's not that, it's if you find a solution and it works in pleasure pain terms, you know, it makes people better off. Just do it. But also, what would I do? I would definitely rethink the UK Constitution.
Let's have a constitutional convention, ordinary people, experts, whatever. Just do something.
I Runciman Doctrine of faith, your own. I mean, of course you want a convention, you'll be like you'll be like Jefferson and Franklin up in there. You and Helen just dominating the floor.
I think I know you're going to respond to that. Hello. My my grandmother sounds but it sounds so boring. You know, citizens, jury, the two most boring words in the English language, strong disagreement.
We're among friends here. It's the most exciting thing that's happening in our lifetime at the moment. I'm into it.
I know. But it sounds so dull. That's what I'm saying. It's just as you said. I mean, you said it in the way. You said it commissions. You said that word with, you know, who's going to on the barricades for the commissions. Well, maybe that is what we need. I definitely think so. If I had a one word answer to what we should do, we should just experiment more. We should experiment more with our politics.
We're ridiculously risk averse. We think if we tinker with the Constitution, we tinker with it all the time. But we think if we do something which might actually change things or democracy will fall apart, it won't. I would have much, much more trying stuff out locally, internationally, constitutionally, deliberatively. Just do different things and make them evidence based.
So radical thought. Thank you. That was so fun as I'm feeling excited, I feel optimistic now.
I don't feel pessimistic. You are right.
How can I afford to perform that sort of how how could live on binge? Listen to this podcast. Yes.
So we're halfway through as we speak now. We've just done Rosa Luxemburg. It's called talking politics, history of ideas. When you listen to them, we always provide links to free copies of the books online. Further reading it is meant to be apart from anything else because people are locked down a resource for people who've been out of school, university and so on. But it's more than that. It's really about some amazingly interesting books. Thanks so much.
The school district is part in the history of our country called. Ivan, thanks for reaching the end of this podcast. Most of you probably asleep, so I'm talking to your snoring force, but only one is awake. It would be great if you could do me a quick favor, head over to wherever you get your podcasts and rate it five stars and then leave a nice glowing review. It makes a huge difference for some reason to how these podcasts do.
Martinus. I know, but them's the rules. Then we go farther up the charts, more people listen to us and everything will be awesome. So thank you so much. Sleep well.