My Readings

Luis Rubio

“I always imagined that Paradise would be a kind of library.”
Jorge Luis Borges



In such a changing and convulsive world, it is of the essence to read about everything, listen to ideas that are attractive as well as repulsive in order to maintain a clear and sharp perspective of the time in which we are living, but also of the context within which things take place. History is particularly useful for this purpose and this year I have read various excellent texts on key moments of the past. Here is a description of some of my best readings, at least those from which I learned the most.

The economic polarization and its consequent inequality are not novel themes, but they have become key issues in the public discussion of the entire world. A few years ago, the Thomas Piketty book appeared on the inequality in the world. From that moment studies were launched on diverse perspectives to analyze and assess the gravity and veracity of the French economist’s findings. The Cato Institute published an extraordinary compendium of these criticisms with the (meagerly creative) title “Anti-Piketty,” also published in Mexico by the Fondo de Cultura Económica (FCE). Rather than focusing on the past as Piketty does, this volume pinpoints the XXI century, which allows us to understand the enormous differences in the formation of capital and its social consequences. A must-read.

Richard White*, a historian, studies the evolution of U.S. society in the second half of the XIX century, beginning with the end of the Civil War and especially  brings into  focus the growth of the so-called “Robber Barons,”thegreat entrepreneurs who built huge empires, transformed the world and later were the object of anti-monopoly legislation. It is interesting to observe the similarities and differences of that era compared with ours, above all because the common denominator, the technological change,explains much more than the means proposed to combat the evils of our times as they were in times past.

One hundred years after the October Revolution, China Miéville** describes with exceptional expertise the way that Russia went from being an autocratic monarchy immersed in a profoundly unpopular war at the onset of 1917, to arrive in October having gone through not one but two revolutions and attempted to metamorphose into the vanguard of the world revolution. Nothing better details the tenor of this narrative than a quote that the author proffers at the start, asserting that “one need not be a prophet to foretell that the present order of things will have to disappear.”

Perry Anderson unfurls his marvelous curiosity, this time on the theme of hegemony, a term employed frequently in the most diverse ambits of international policyand of social control, but that is rarely spelt out punctiliously. Commencing with Greece, in The H-Word: the Peripeteia of Hegemony, Anderson elucidates the origin of the designation and its use throughout time. In a series of historical chronicles, he proceeds through Gramsci, E.H. Carr, Morgenthau, Kindelberger, Laclau, Arrighi and others, drawing to an end with a reflection on U.S. foreign policy and the complexity of the world and of the struggle among the powers of the moment in which we live.

None of my readings were as illuminating, but also as unsettling, as that of John Ferejohn and Frances McCall Rosenbluth, two political scientists who set out to decipher the provenance of democracy and the reasons for its emergence in distinctive nations. The title of the book, Forged Through Fire: War, Peace, and the Democratic Bargain, sums up their argument: without war there is no democracy. It is war that made possible the rise of democracy, basically because, in one country after the other, when the elites felt threatened it was then that they were required to seek out the population to save their own skins; that is what made possible a political arrangement for sharing the power, i.e., democracy.

Finally, during this past yearI found myself with several books, some excellent, dedicated more to attempting to make sense of specific, current events,than to “great”explanations, which deserve mention: The Road to Somewhereby David Goodhart outlines the new wellsprings of imparity between those who are “mobile” and those who have been marginalized. Mark Lilla has produced a gem in “The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction,” delineating the tensions between a changing world and those devoted to thwarting this advance. Tzvetan Todorov, a historian originating in totalitarian Bulgaria, has published another extraordinary book, The Inner Enemies of Democracy, focusing on the stage after the fall of the Berlin Wall and how the space for freedom and democracy has contracted worldwide. Christopher Hayes trains his thoughts on societies’ loss of confidence in their governments and traditional institutions, including those that clearly possess a rightful place in the society.  While his focal point is on the U.S., much of his line of reasoning is universal: The Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy. In 2014, Peter Pomerantsev brought out a work on the Russia of today that is not lacking in contemporaneity in the world in general: Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible takes on the fictional matter and narratives that governments fabricate to preserve the power, in the hopes that that no one take notice of the reality. Nothing seems to change.



*The Republic for Which It Stands, Oxford; **October, Verse.