David Runciman

David Runciman teaches politics at Cambridge. His books include Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power, from Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond, How Democracy Ends and Confronting Leviathan: A History of Ideas. He has written more than a hundred pieces for the LRB on subjects including Lance Armstrong, gambling, all three volumes of Charles Moore’s biography of Thatcher, Donald Trump’s election and his defeat. He is the host of the podcast Past Present Future.

But how? Capitalist Democracy

David Runciman, 30 March 2023

Martin Wolf​ believes that capitalism and democracy are like an old married couple. Neither partner can cope alone. Without democratic checks and balances, capitalism grows greedy and corrupt: the people with money reward themselves with power, which they use to make more money. It takes politicians with a popular mandate to stop them. However, without capitalist get-up-and-go and economic...

All​ in all, this new government looks much more like a continuation of the first six years of post-New Labour Tory rule than the last six years of post-Brexit Tory rule. George Osborne’s political tactics are to the fore again. When Jeremy Hunt said that he would soon be announcing fiscal decisions of ‘eye-watering difficulty’ – spending cuts, tax rises, the works – he seemed almost to be relishing the masochism. Really his statement was designed to put Labour on the spot. Now that it’s clear there is no room for government generosity, what will Keir Starmer do? If he sticks to Hunt’s plans he loses his point as a politician. If he ditches them he risks destabilising the economy. This is pure Osbornomics, which was always just a continuation of politics by other means. There is, however, one glaring difference from 2010. Then, it was ostensibly Labour that had messed up the public finances. This time, the mess is entirely of the Tories’ making.

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. 

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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