David Runciman

David Runciman teaches politics at Cambridge. His books include How Democracy Ends and Confronting Leviathan: A History of Ideas.

Short Cuts: At Blair’s Gathering

David Runciman, 21 July 2022

‘Dyou know why British politics is so acrimonious?’ I heard one man in a dark blue suit and pale blue open-necked shirt say to another, dressed just the same. ‘Because the stakes are so low.’ This was a somewhat heretical thing to say at an event that had been convened to remind us that the stakes have never been higher. The occasion was the Future of Britain...

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...

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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