David Runciman

David Runciman teaches politics at Cambridge. His latest book is Confronting Leviathan: A History of Ideas.

Short Cuts: Kaepernick Was Right

David Runciman, 10 March 2022

The​ Netflix series Colin in Black and White, about the early life of the NFL quarterback and civil rights activist Colin Kaepernick, begins by comparing American football to slavery. We are shown a group of Black football players having their bodies prodded and measured by white coaches, as they decide who fits the bill and who gets tossed on the scrapheap. Two minutes in, the actors morph...

Libertarians would have us believe that unregulated, free-market capitalism is somehow diametrically opposed to state capitalism. One encourages innovation; the other stifles it. What Peter Thiel demonstrates is that unregulated, free-market capitalism is in fact closely aligned to state capitalism. Deregulation means that nothing constrains the monopoly power of the security state and nothing gets in the way of people selling it their bogus and corrupting wares. This alliance helps explain the weird anomaly of Thiel’s persona. He’s like a cross between Joe Pesci in Goodfellas – a man who will stab you in the eye with a ballpoint pen if you cross him – and Richard Branson, another so-called entrepreneur who makes most of his money by capturing state-controlled contracts (Virgin Rail, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Media). Branson, unlike Thiel, is a bit of a hippy and mouths most of the liberal pieties, including about climate change. But it doesn’t really matter what the philosophy is. The business model is the same: get as close as you can to the people who control the protection rackets. 

Once Trump had been told he had won, and then that he hadn’t, there was no solace to be had. There was only blind rage. Trump’s view of the election result remained frozen in time. He believed the votes counted after 10.30 p.m. on 3 November could only be part of a plot to undo what had already been done. This conviction derived in part from his long-standing, strategic paranoia. His entire life had been built around the principle that the best way to claim what was rightfully yours was to insist that others had stolen it from you. But it also stemmed from his notoriously loose relationship with numbers. He didn’t make the numbers up. But he took the numbers he found most convenient and made them the only ones that counted. ‘In the Trump political world, like the Trump business world,’ Michael Wolff says, ‘you focused on the bragging rights of gross rather than the harsher reality of net.’ The question was never what you could do with what you were left with, it was always what you could insist you were owed in the first place.

A Funny Feeling: Larkin and My Father

David Runciman, 4 February 2021

The last letter​ Philip Larkin wrote was to Kingsley Amis on 21 November 1985. He was too ill to hold the pen himself and dictated it to be typed and signed by his secretary at the Brynmor Jones Library in Hull. He told Amis he was going into hospital that day for more tests – ‘only tests, but of course they are looking for something, and I bloody well hope they don’t find...

Magic Beans, Baby

David Runciman, 7 January 2021

Whowas Barack Obama? The man himself seems troubled by this question and his notably introspective memoir offers up some surprising answers. Was he, for instance, the same person as Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president? When Obama met with Medvedev in 2009 at a dacha outside Moscow, he was surprised by how familiar it all seemed. From his reading of Russian novels, he had been...

In a Frozen Crouch: Democracy’s Ends

Colin Kidd, 13 September 2018

A historian​ ought to know better, I suppose. But for the last decade – ever since I passed a long queue of anxious depositors outside a branch of Northern Rock in September 2007...

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When American politicians are caught having illicit sex – like Eliot Spitzer, who resigned as governor of New York in 2008 after it was revealed that he was using a call-girl when he went...

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Throughout the history of political thought, attempts to imagine, classify and explain possible modes of political life have been characterised by starkly polarised and stylised antinomies. Among...

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