So, where to from here?


Well, it’s January 1st, 2019. It’s late in the afternoon here. It’s broken cloud overhead and about 4˚C. This morning Carolyn and I went for a longish walk of about 5.3k on a lovely forest trail that used to be a railway bed. It runs between Cumberland and Royston. The trains that ran on the tracks mostly carried coal but there was also a passenger train that used the tracks now and again, even into the 1950s. Now, the trail is wide and flat as you would expect from a decommissioned rail bed. Ideal walking for me. Carolyn, on the other hand, walks as fast as a demon even though she’s 66 years old. I can barely keep up with her, but she indulges me and slows down, which for her is tough, I know. We miss our old walking companion, Wilco, aka Mr. Sniffy the Brittany spaniel. He died in July last year so now we can only walk with his memory. But I digress.

Last week I decided that I would continue blogging on any number of topics including the ones Jack Minard suggested: capitalism, democracy, liberalism, etc. However, I’ve also decided to write a sketch of how my intellectual development unfolded from as far back as I can remember. I spent a lot of time in universities and colleges during my lifetime and my ideas and viewpoints changed significantly and frequently as I read and had to incorporate my readings into what I had already read and studied. Teaching had a huge impact on how I approached subjects of study, what attracted my attention intellectually and practically in terms of pedagogy. One reason is that when I started teaching at SFU and Douglas College in the mid -70s the colleges in BC were quite new and begging for instructors. At SFU I was a teaching assistant and worked for a number of profs. At Douglas I was the instructor for introductory sociology courses but I also got to teach a History of Québec course. I had no experience teaching history, so it was a steep learning curve for me, but well worth it. I learned so much. That drew me into a greater interest in Canadian history and the study of indigenous cultures, although at SFU I worked with Noel Dyck and he was instrumental in getting me interested in colonialism and what he calls coercive tutelage. But enough of that for now. The ‘sketch’ may become a kind of autobiography, but for now, I’m not calling it that.

In terms of the topics Jack suggested I’ve got a 5000 word blog post sitting here in draft form that I need to finish up but I may also break it up into smaller, more accessible chunks. In working on this post I’ve done a lot of reading, pulling books off of my shelves but also from the shelves of the internet archives and the Gutenberg project. I seem to be a little out of control. The post seems to want to grow exponentially. Well, I’ve got a lot to say…ask any of my former students. That means I have a lot to write about too.

Here’s a taste of where I’m going with democracy. It’s a quotation from a nondescript political science monograph that I have called Democracy in the United States, Second Edition, by William H. Riker (1965): …”democracy” is frequently used in the contemporary world without justification either in logic or in observation. It has, that is, become a stock and abused slogan in the vocabulary of propagandists for almost every system of government.’

Yes, indeed. In the next few weeks I’ll try to tease out some of the real from the propaganda, some of the essential from the silly.

4 thoughts on “So, where to from here?

  1. The history of democracy starts (as you know) with a practical expression in Ancient Greece around the middle of the 4th c BCE. While I do not disagree with your quote from Riker, the term has a roller coaster experience in Western civilization with a greater amount of time spent in disrepute than favour. Is there only one “true” type of democracy, eg. Western, or are there gradations and variations that could rightly be called democracy? What is different about modern “representative”/electoral democracy from Athenian “direct”/participatory democracy? Which is better? What is meant when adjectives are applied to the use of democracy, as in, “peoples'”, or “participatory”, or “workers”?
    Press on my friend!

    1. Interesting. I’m still doing research on democracy. It’s quite a ride. Of course, as a sociologist I may be using a different approach than you might. I have asked myself some of the questions you pose in your comment. I’m still writing a post on capitalism and I also have to weave in commentary on liberalism because it is an important part of my considerations of the period of capitalist expansion to dominance in Britain (particularly) in the 17th Century. Just reading Mills On Liberty.

  2. England in the 17th c. is consumed for the first 60 years with religious wars [Catholic vs. Protestants, especially Puritans] and the issue of the ‘divine right of kings’. The mid-century civil war and the execution of the king and the establishment of a Commonwealth answered the second issue. Questions about the legality of regicide dominated the discourse and is an important matter for Thomas Hobbes, and later, for John Locke. At best these two can considered photo-liberals, Locke moreso then Hobbes. The much later 1688 Glorious [Bloodless] revolution and the following year’s English Bill of Rights established & recognized the rights of individuals/citizens and finally addressed the dominance of the Anglican religion especially with regards to the rights of succession to the monarchy. But then you knew all of this! The rise of liberalism and the primacy of the individual precedes, in my opinion, the emergence of early industrial capitalism.

    1. Thanks, Paul. Interesting observations. I’m reading a book on my Kindle by Ellen Meiksins Wood called The Origins of Capitalism: A Longer View (2002). In it she argues that capitalism arose in agrarian Britain. She also argues, against some critics who espouse what she calls the commercial model, that it’s wrong to assume that people always had the psychological make-up necessary for the capitalist market and that it was only necessary to remove the fetters inherent in feudalism that kept it at bay. In other words people weren’t champing at the bit to become possessive individualists engaged in a ‘free’ market for labour and we aren’t all ‘natural’ market participants. Veblen makes a similar argument. I agree partly with your last sentence but it may be that all three realities on the ground of individual rights, the capitalist market and democratic institutions arose together in a maelstrom of massive change in the 17th Century. I’m still researching that one so I’m not firm on the sequence of events or on the necessary preconditions for the rise of capitalism in Britain. Woods is clear that she thinks that capitalism is a British invention. Macpherson is not that sure. It’s certainly true that paid labour existed for a long time before capitalism, but it was never the dominant social relation. Your observations about the English Bill of Rights are spot on. The sentiments expressed in it would come later to the French and Germans in similar documents.
      This is really fun stuff.
      Cheers.

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