Lapham’s Quarterly Fall 2020: DEMOCRACY – Pt. 1

[CATEGORIES: Literature, Lapham’s Quarterly, Reading, Book Review]
[Click HERE to see my previous posts referencing Lapham’s Quarterly.]
[Some of LQ’s contents are available free.]
[L.Q. cover, quotes, and images are from Lapham’s Quarterly Fall 2020: Democracy, except where noted.]
[Click or right-click on a photo may give the option to open it separately.]
[NEW to Lapham’s Quarterly? See the standard notes at the end of this review. After 50+ LQ summaries I jump right in.]

[This is a READING section, for those who might stumble in looking for photography. My edits/summaries of the L.Q. historical journal continue.]

DEMOCRACY is here!

My digital copy of the Fall 2020 issue has arrived. Considering our recent presidential election and its aftermath, it is not a moment too soon. (I hope.)

“Democracy, the Fall 2020 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, explores the history of people joining together to form movements, governments, and communities from the ancient world through the present day.” (L.Q. email.)

KA-BOOM

That’s the sound of democracy blowing up on 6 January 2021, “a date that will live in infamy”. (–FDR) Large numbers of supporters of outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump broke into the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Five people died from various causes, including one protestor shot by security, one police officer from injuries sustained in the turmoil, and three from medical conditions.

I say we are better than this. It will likely change our governance forever.

‘Democracy is dead, long live democracy.’ So they say of kings and queens, at least.

I’ve always liked the somewhat mangled and debated quote from Benjamin Franklin, the essence of which, I think, is the point:

“Well, Doctor what have we got—a republic or a monarchy?

Franklin: A republic, if you can keep it.”

A constitutional republic, I was taught. I suspect we’ve had more of a monarchy, autocracy, or dictatorship for a good bit of the last four years.  Oligarchy, plutocracy, you-name-it. I won’t parse the details, but perhaps this issue of L.Q. will. A recent L.Q. email reminded me of Mobocracy, the theme of a speech by young Abraham Lincoln, quite pertinent these days. (KA-BOOM.)

“There is, even now, something of ill omen among us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions in lieu of the sober judgment of courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice.” –Abraham Lincoln.

L.Q. has generously posted the Democracy Table of Contents. Similar can be found for any issue at its Voices In Time online. [Both references are subject to the links staying accessible.]

Previous issues that may touch on democracy, to name a few:

POLITICS – VOLUME V, NUMBER 4 | FALL 2012

REVOLUTIONS – VOLUME VII, NUMBER 2 | SPRING 2014

RULE OF LAW – VOLUME XI, NUMBER 2 | SPRING 2018

As always, side-quotes proliferate throughout an issue. A few gems I’ve stumbled upon already:

When we define democracy now, it must still be as a thing hoped for but not seen. —Pearl S. Buck, 1941

I venture the challenging statement that if American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, then fascism and communism, aided, unconsciously perhaps, by old-line Tory republicanism, will grow in strength in our land. —FDR 1938

Everyone else is represented in Washington by a rich and powerful lobby, it seems. But there is no lobby for the people. —Shirley Chisholm, 1970

Television is democracy at its ugliest. —Paddy Chayefsky, 1976

Democracy is the fig leaf of elitism. —Florence King, 1989

Let the people think they govern, and they will be governed. —William Penn, 1693

The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletariat to the level of bourgeois stupidity. —Gustave Flaubert, 1871

So many men, so many opinions. —Terence, 161 BC [Did Mae West read him? She said ‘So many men, so little time.’ She also said ‘I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.’ I digress. –JH]

Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people. —Oscar Wilde, 1891

Despotism subjects a nation to one tyrant, democracy to many. —Marguerite Gardiner, 1839

What keeps the democracy alive at all but the hatred of excellence, the desire of the base to see no head higher than their own? —Mary Renault, 1956

Vote, n. The instrument and symbol of a free man’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country. —Ambrose Bierce, 1911 

As I am ever the optimistic cynic, Flaubert and Wilde are my favorites, with Bierce close behind. It often seems Oscar Wilde had a quip for everything. (That’s the importance of being earnest, I suppose.) 😉

The back cover names some of the authors within:


(L.Q. email.)

I am curious to see what comedian Harpo Marx and science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin have to say. We must keep our sense of humor, if he says anything humorous at all, and recent events are definitely surreal and the gist of science fiction.

Lewis Lapham’s Preamble is titled Uncivil Liberty.

Founder and editor Lapham, patrician by birth, successful by his considerable intellectual and journalistic competence, and staunch defender of the allegorical Everyman, rails against the wealth and greed that purports to represent the masses but instead widens the divide of haves and have nots.

He notes: “Landlords in the plantation South imported African slaves; developers in the merchant North imported vagrants and bankrupts dredged from the slums of London and obliged to pay their passage across the Atlantic with terms of indentured labor on its western shore. The prosperous gentry already arrived on that shore regarded the shipments of “human filth” as night soil drained from Old World sewers to fertilize New World fields and forests.”

I thought I had heard the ‘human filth’ reference before, so I went on a search. Ultimately, I found:

“On August 6, 1676, Nicholas Spencer, secretary of the Virginia Colony, complained in a letter to Lord Thomas Culpepper that Virginia was becoming “a sinke to drayen England of her filth and scum.”” (Ref.)

Not who I thought said it, but in the process of searching I found numerous paragraphs of this preamble had been written in numerous other essays over several years, all by Mr. Lapham. I suppose if you’ve written over 600 essays you are entitled to reuse some thoughts.

The Preamble, L.Q. Fall 2016: Flesh — “…the developers imported African slaves as well as “waste people” dredged from the slums of Jacobean England—vagrants, convicts, thieves, bankrupts, strumpets, vagabonds, lunatics, and bawds obliged to pay their passage across the Atlantic with terms of indentured labor on its western shore.

The prosperous gentry already settled on that shore regarded the shipments of “human filth” as night soil drained from Old World sewers to fertilize New World fields and forests.”

Another example in the Preamble:

“Trump staked his claim to the White House on the assertion that he was “really rich,” embodiment of the divine right of money, unbossed and unbought and therefore free to say and do whatever it takes to make america great again. He declared his candidacy in the atrium of his eponymous tower on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue in June 2015, there to say, and say it plainly, that money is power, and power, ladies and gentlemen, is not self-sacrificing or democratic.” (p. 15)

Elsewhere:

“Trump staked his claim to the White House on the proposition that he was “really rich,” embodiment of the divine right of money and therefore free to say and do whatever it takes to make America great again. A deus ex machina descending an escalator into the atrium of his eponymous tower on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue in June 2015, Trump was there to say, and say it plainly, that money is power, and power, ladies and gentlemen, is not self-sacrificing or democratic.” (Ref.)

I won’t belabor the point. It was just curious…

The real gist of the preamble are his assertions, with cause, that America has not been about Liberté, égalité, fraternité, or, as we like to say, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but about accumulation of wealth, the freedom to consume, the elevation of the white, Anglo-Saxon, landed gentry, at any cost.

“For reasons of national security, most of them specious, the government classifies American citizens as prospective enemies, reserves the right to tap everybody’s phone, open everybody’s mail, declare the American people unfit to mind their own business. The capitalist subjugation of democracy makes money the measure of all things, sets the exchange rate for our value as human beings.” (p. 15)

“America’s democracy ceased to move forward as a living force with the election in 1980 of President Ronald Reagan that was the dawn of a bright new day for the old-line Tory plutocracy currently managing the country’s affairs with little care for anything other than itself. By the mid-1980s the share of the nation’s income drawn from dividends, interest, and rents surpassed the share earned in wages. In 2020 the fifty richest Americans hold as much wealth ($2 trillion) as the 165 million people in the poorest half of the population. In the time elapsed between the two calculations, governments of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich (Reagan’s, Clinton’s, and Obama’s, as well as those of Bush and son) stepped up the privatization of the public good, enacted more laws restricting the freedom of persons, fewer laws restraining the license of property, let fall into disrepair nearly all the infrastructure—roads, dams, bridges, schools, hospitals, power plants—that provide the democracy with the foundation of its common enterprise.” (p. 16)

The Preamble is available free (FREE!) online.

To be continued…

The standard notes:
1. Since L.Q.’s inception with the Winter 2008 issue its size is always 7″ x 10″ x 1/2-17/32″. It is white-covered, printed on high quality paper throughout, with richly printed reproductions of fine art from time immemorial, and 221 pages up to a page or two of addenda at the back.
2. Each issue contains extracts about the title topic from great authors and thinkers spanning all recorded history. It begins with an eloquent, to a fault, preamble/introduction by editor Lewis Lapham. The main body is called Voices In Time and contains 3 or 4 subcategories of the topic with about 25 extracts per section. Noteworthy sidebars, side quotes, and depictions of appropriate art from the ages are liberally distributed throughout. Several extended contemporary essays bring up the rear. There are several other small sections every issue (Among the Contributors, Conversations, Miscellany, ‘The Graphic’).
3. Per the L.Q. website:
“Lapham’s Quarterly embodies the belief that history is the root of all education, scientific and literary as well as political and economic. Each issue addresses a topic of current interest and concern—war, religion, money, medicine, nature, crime—by bringing up to the microphone of the present the advice and counsel of the past.”
4. I encourage all to subscribe to this fine publication. It is a rich supplement to anyone’s reading.

15 thoughts on “Lapham’s Quarterly Fall 2020: DEMOCRACY – Pt. 1

  1. ” I suspect we’ve had more of a monarchy, autocracy, or dictatorship for a good bit of the last four years. ”
    Yes. And it is not just the past four years. Can The American Presidency, America herself, have gravitas again? It was so easy to destroy us in just four stupid years. How actually do we recover? Never again will any schoolchild believe that ascendancy to the American presidency is the highest achievement possible. No one else in the world will believe it either.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am speechless at what such a large percentage of the population would support. I was charitable thinking that their vote in 2016 was to be an experiment in a non-politician could do. I expected that there would be a much wider margin in the 2020 election after they saw what he couldn’t do.
    Now many are ready to tolerate what he did do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading John. We really need to address how one person can run amok over a Congress of 535 elected representatives, and what is motivating HALF the electorate to support that.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sue. I hope it will be more peaceful than expected. It was a legitimate election, these protesters have not been wronged, and many others are disgusted and ashamed of their actions. We shall see.

      Liked by 1 person

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