And by jetsam, I really mean it. Well, I read bits and pieces of a few books tonight while riding on eastward on a plane from Chicago to Philly … and then drove to Cranbury (NJ), at which in a hotel now I am typing. Anyhow, here is a little bit about the books I’m reading because from that future posts will derive.
The first book was Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy, by Nathan Sharansky. Now Mr Sharansky has been a political figure of sorts from the 70s onward, but my personal history has been such that I am pretty much unaware prior to reading this book of any of his prior history. I came about this book, mainly from an Amazon recommendation when I purchased a different book, Chantal Delsol’s book Unjust Justice: Against the Tyranny of International Law, which I have not really started as yet. Anyhow, I haven’t really got yet to the meat of Mr Sharansky’s book, so far he’s been picking away at the edges of it. Describing, from his personal experience, how his personal identification as a Zionist bolstered his personal struggle to retain his identity and sense of purpose the gulag system (and how a fellow prisoner, a Christian also used his own personal identity for the same purpose).
Paul Collier, author of the The Bottom Billion, which last year was my pick of “most influential” book that I had read that year, has another (well more than one, but I only had one with me). This book, Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places, makes a very very interesting observation. There is a notion, shared almost universally which is wrong. This is a political tenent held in common by Mr Bush and Mr Soros. But both are wrong. Democracy is not universally helpful. There is a statistical correlation, and the causes for which Mr Collier thinks he has uncovered, that demonstrates quite robustly that there is a crossing point in the measure of relative harm vs good democracy can do for a country as a function of wealth. This crossing point is located by Mr Collier specifically at $2.7k/year ($7/day) average income. If a country’s average income is below this … democracy becomes more and more harmful. If a country makes more than that, autocracy is harmful. Now, paging through, Mr Collier will not ultimately abandon democracy as a recommendation for poor countries, and I think this is in a large part because one would hope that those poor countries do not remain poor forever and there’s going to be an ugly transition point if democracy is abandoned. I might describe his recommendation that democracy needs “tempering” or external maintenance when countries are poor.
Finally, another French (conservative) social/political observer, Philippe Beneton has a book Equality by Default: An Essay on Modernity As Confinement translated for the English reader. Modern liberals, especially recently, denounce the modern conservative movement as having lost it’s intellectual way. Well, liberalism/progressivism shouldn’t throw stones while living in glass houses. For while, something rotten may be affoot in Denmark, modern liberalism/progressivism has been treading into shallow intellectual waters itself and Mr Beneton points to the causes and the roots of their error(s). One of the symptoms of this matter can be seen in the proliferation of “rights” that can be found coming from the left.
Anyhow, more on all these … later.