Election 101 — The View from Abroad


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For many Europeans, used to parliamentary systems, short election seasons, and strict campaign finance laws, the American election can look like a beached whale–awe inspiring, exotic, impressive, horrifying. The endless series of debates, the attack ads, the strange “issues” (“Does Satan consider America his enemy?”), the huge sums of money fueling the candidates–all can give the appearance of a long-running reality TV show.

American politicians say one thing–“Washington is the problem” for example–while spending vast fortunes to occupy choice Washington real estate. In Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power, from Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond, David Runciman, political theorist at Cambridge and frequent contributor to leading UK newspapers and magazines, looks at such hypocrisy from Hobbes to the present. He shows that hypocrisy and political life are locked in an internal embrace, and that the most dangerous type of politician of all is the candidate who says that they are above the hard ball and disingenuousness of political life. This is an interesting argument for this electoral season, given President Obama’s (largely failed in the eyes of many) attempt to transcend Washington politics and the criticism of Mitt Romney as a fake conservative.

Yet it’s difficult in this election season for Europeans to feel too sanguine about their own politics. Several European states are virtually bankrupt, their elected governments replaced by technocratic regimes, unelected and probably unelectable as they administer harsh medicine to their nations’ finances.

In this context American democracy, however imperfect, might be the least bad system. The American system tests candidates mercilessly, and this year has already revealed a clear and stark choice between two views of the future of the American economy and of American’s place in the world. Both are crucially important to Europeans, who will be paying close attention this fall to see which answer Americans give.

It is often said that Europe has a “democratic deficit” in that its key institutions are not directly elected by the citizens of European nations. Federalism, a key concept in American political life, is one potential answer to the EU’s problems and a topic very much in the air. In The End of the West: The Once and Future Europe, David Marquand calls for Europeans to confront the painful issues of ethnicity, integration, and economic cohesion, and to build a more democratic and federal Europe.

For Raymond Geuss, author of Philosophy and Real Politics, political theory should not be about building abstract arguments about federalism or democracy but about understanding how politicians use power in the real word. This book is a manifesto for a new kind of political philosophy, one that calls for a historical and contextual understanding of political power.

–Al Bertrand, European Publishing Director


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What They Think of Us
International Perceptions of the United States since 9/11
Edited by David Farber


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The Reading List

Why Is There No Labor Party in the United States?

Robin Archer
Taming the Gods

Religion and Democracy on Three Continents
Ian Buruma
What They Think of Us

International Perceptions of the United States since 9/11
Edited by David Farber
Philosophy and Real Politics

Raymond Geuss
The French Way

How France Embraced and Rejected American Values and Power
Richard F. Kuisel
Uncouth Nation

Why Europe Dislikes America
Andrei S. Markovits
The End of the West

The Once and Future Europe
David Marquand
Political Hypocrisy

The Mask of Power, from Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond
David Runciman
The Politics of Good Intentions

History, Fear and Hypocrisy in the New World Order
David Runciman
ForthcomingMasters of the Universe
Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics
Daniel Stedman Jones
October 2012

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