[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.]
Lapham’s Quarterly is always timely, but rarely more than with Summer 2020: EPIDEMIC and Fall 2020: DEMOCRACY, both delayed in publication due to the pandemic.
“…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.)
Like an episodic television series, I might start by saying “previously, on DEMOCRACY”…
That was the sound of democracy blowing up on 6 January 2021 as supporters of outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump broke into the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.
This episode might continue with:
That was the sound of a beautiful fireworks display in Washington, D.C. on the evening of 20 January 2021, after a peaceful and dignified inauguration of new President Joe Biden earlier that day.
If we were spared the anticipated inaugural protests from the most rabid and radical of ‘right-wing’ Trump supporters, we were not without destructive confrontations in Portland, OR and Seattle, WA, from the most rabid and radical of ‘left-wing’ anti-Trumpers, the so-called ‘Antifa’ and the like, who broke windows at the (anti-Trump!) Democratic Party of Oregon building. Their protest banners included “We are ungovernable,” “A new world from the ashes,” and “We don’t want Biden. We want REVENGE for police murders, imperialist wars, and fascist massacres.”
So much for peaceful demonstrations. Democracy marches on.
The main body of every issue of Lapham’s Quarterly is Voices In Time, usually in 3 sections. In Democracy they are Revolution, Constitution, and Dissolution. I presume Revolution is for throwing off the yoke of whatever tyranny previously existed , Constitution for the conversion to democracy and the governing of, and Dissolution for the dissolving of democracy, which to me seems like another revolution, going full circle.
As noted in Pt. 1, L.Q. posted the Democracy Table of Contents online, and similar in its Voices In Time. [Both subject to the links staying accessible.] In these, 28 of the approximately 75 literary extracts are available FREE. The complete essays at the back of the issue are FREE also. Not surprisingly, what I think are the best essays are NOT free. Isn’t everything in a democracy free? Only in America, that I’m aware, are citizens being given ‘free money’ during the pandemic, though reportedly, other countries are exceeding the U.S. in pandemic stimulus as a percentage of GDP.
My questions in reading this issue are ‘what IS democracy’ and ‘what might be BETTER’?
You may think me ignorant to ask the first question, but I wonder if the collective WE the U.S. citizens know anymore. When I was in high school we had Civics class which taught us about government. I have read that less time and attention is given that currently.
Somewhere I learned that we were technically a ‘constitutional republic’, not a majority rule democracy. Checks and balances between the three branches of government, protection of minorities, not just what any gang of thugs with 50.1% of the vote wants it to be. Even today people make a lot of the majority popular vote. Lest we forget, ‘any gang of thugs…’ could run the country.
As for what is better, ‘aye, there’s the rub’.
What does L.Q. have to say about all this?
REVOLUTION starts with a contemporary piece by Younger and Partnoy, an ‘updating’ of Marx’s The Communist Manifesto with an emphasis on activism and activists/have-nots vs. haves:
“In the haves society, personal power is but a means to increase and consolidate social power. In an Activist society, personal power is a means by which to increase the social welfare of society as a whole.
In a haves society, therefore, the past dominates the present; in an Activist society, the present dominates the past. In a haves society, power is independent and has individuality, while the living person is dependent and has no individuality.
And the abolition of this state of things is called by the haves “the abolition of individuality and freedom”! And rightly so! The abolition of haves individuality, haves independence, and haves freedom is undoubtedly aimed at.
By freedom is meant, under the present haves appropriation of the term, freedom to pursue narrow personal self-interest and the power to separate and divide those forces that seek to align themselves against these narrow vested interests.” (p. 28)
Well!! Has our constitutional emphasis on individual freedom skewed us toward a selfish self-interest? Some say equality of opportunity, not equality of result. Others, many others, emphasize the considerable imbalance of result, as Lewis Lapham noted in his Preamble: “In 2020 the fifty richest Americans hold as much wealth ($2 trillion) as the 165 million people in the poorest half of the population.”
I’ve never been comfortable with Marx’s “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” (Wiki) On the other hand corporate CEOs, film-makers, financiers, et al, make MASSIVE amounts of money, although they do have HUGE responsibilities, and give generously to charity, and of whom I’m not the least bit envious. Ok, perhaps an iota. Oh, the quandary.
It’s why we are here, to read, contemplate, and understand.
Side-bar quotes abound, a sampling:
The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletariat to the level of bourgeois stupidity.
—Gustave Flaubert, 1871
If one man offers you democracy and another offers you a bag of grain, at what stage of starvation will you prefer the grain to the vote?
—Bertrand Russell, 1950
Vox populi, vox humbug.
—William Tecumseh Sherman, 1863
The tendency of democracies is, in all things,
to mediocrity. —James Fenimore Cooper, 1838
Democracy is the fig leaf of elitism.
—Florence King, 1989
Gossip is one of the great luxuries of a democracy. It is the tawdry jewel in the crown of free speech and free expression. You don’t read gossip columns in dictatorships.
—Liz Smith, 1999
Tenth-century Persian poet Ferdowsi relates a story, the essence of which is, things work better if someone is in charge rather than everyone having an equal voice.
In 1943, Simone Weil, from her work On the Abolition of All Political Parties, expounds:
“In principle, a party is an instrument to serve a certain conception of the public interest.
The goal of a political party is something vague and unreal. If it were real, it would demand a great effort of attention, for the mind does not easily encompass the concept of the public interest.
…for the party to serve effectively the concept of the public interest that justifies its existence, there is one necessary and sufficient condition: it should secure a vast amount of power.
Political parties do profess, it is true, to educate those who come to them: supporters, young people, new members. But this is a lie: it is not an education, it is a conditioning…
Just imagine: if a member of the party (elected member of parliament, candidate, or simple activist) were to make a public commitment, “Whenever I shall have to examine any political or social issue, I swear I will absolutely forget that I am the member of a certain political group; my sole concern will be to ascertain what should be done in order to best serve the public interest and justice.” Such words would not be welcome. His comrades and even many other people would accuse him of betrayal. Even the least hostile would say, “Why then did he join a political party?”—thus naively confessing that when joining a political party, one gives up the idea of serving nothing but the public interest and justice.
Political parties are a marvelous mechanism which, on the national scale, ensures that not a single mind can attend to the effort of perceiving, in public affairs, what is good, what is just, what is true. If one were to entrust the organization of public life to the devil, he could not invent a more clever device.” (P. 38-39)
She was not a fan.
Ms. Weil doesn’t like political parties, John Adams (Vice-President to George Washington, afterwards second President of the United States) doesn’t like democracy!
“I do not say that democracy has been more pernicious on the whole, and in the long run, than monarchy or aristocracy. Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy. But while it lasts, it is more bloody than either.
Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” (P. 40-41) FREE!!
Speaking of Civics lessons, Harry Atwood in 1928 wrote a U.S. Army training manual that offered definitions of forms of government:
“Democracy: A government of the masses. Authority derived through mass meeting or any other form of “direct” expression. Results in mobocracy. Attitude toward property is communistic—negating property rights.
Republic: Authority is derived through the election by the people of public officials best fitted to represent them. Attitude toward property is respect for laws and individual rights and a sensible economic procedure.” (P. 60) Brief, and FREE!!
Notably, the manual was withdrawn and destroyed about five years later, near the start of the Great Depression. Hmm. Alternate facts? Alternate reality?
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 founder/editor Lewis Lapham. The main body is called Voices In Time and contains 3 or 4 subcategories of the issue’s theme, 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 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.