Friday, 20 September 2013

Democracy Past, Present, Future: Another World Is Possible. Public Lecture - University of Otago, Division of Humanities

I will be giving a public lecture on this topic.
7-8pm Thursday October 3rd, 2013.
Burns 1 in the Arts 1/Burns Building (on Albany Street), University of Otago.

The lecture theatre is booked from 7-8.30pm so that those who want to stay on for question time can do so. This will be followed by an informal book launch with music, discussion and drinks in the Divisional Tearoom, 1.W.9 - up the stairs from Burns 1 on the first floor of the Burns Building.

Here is a brief description of the focus of the lecture.
In the 21st century there are sound reasons to consider democracy’s past as part of the struggle for a more democratic future. Governments are managing the global financial crisis and ensuing prolonged recession – universally recognised as constituting the most severe crisis of the world capitalist economy since the Great Depression of the 1930s– in the interests of the rich and powerful. So-called liberal democratic governments are clearly disproportionately influenced by business and increasingly using the kind of domestic surveillance and spying normally associated with authoritarian states. The global economic crisis is unfolding in the context of a deepening environmental crisis, most notably involving unsustainable patterns of non-renewal resource use and climate change.

This suggests that we need to explore the possibility of an alternative to a world of crisis, environmental devastation, inequality, poverty, and war. Yet the world’s rulers, the corporate media, and the majority of political theorists assume, and actively promote the assumption, that the only viable model of democracy to have emerged thus far in history is liberal representative democracy. In my book – The History of Democracy – I show that this assumption is highly disputable and that the history of democracy is more complex, varied and inspiring than liberal depictions of democracy suggest, with Athenian, liberal and socialist forms of democracy being worthy of recognition and consideration. The history of democracy suggests that another more democratic, egalitarian and environmentally sustainable world is by no means inevitable, but that it is a realistic possibility because, among other things, it will be built on the foundations of what has come before.

This lecture is based on The History of Democracy, originally published by Pluto Press in 2013, with translated editions due to appear in China, Germany and Turkey. It is described by David McNally, Professor of Political Science at York University, as a “stunning and panoramic book”, which “sheds light on the theory and practice of democracy across the ages”.  According to reviewers, The History of Democracy provides: "an excellent exploration of the history of democracy and the struggle to extend it" (Socialist Review (UK)); “an excellent text for anyone seeking to understand a socialist perspective on democracy, historically rooted, and then read on further” (London Socialist Historians Group); an “ambitious project of cutting-edge relevance for the Arab region and the world” (Jordan Times).


Big thanks to all those made it to my public lecture. To Philip Nel for providing a typically warm and generous introduction, to Robert Patman and the rest of the Politics Department at the University of Otago for supporting it, to the International Socialist Organisation for helping with the advertising and running the bar. Some people said really nice things about my lecture and my book afterwards. This means a lot to me- it's what keeps you going as a lefty intellectual when so much of the time you have to deal with hostility and derision in the academy.

Around 100 people turned up and listened very politely to my hour-long lecture. I wasn’t happy with my performance. I tried to squeeze too much material into it. The pacing was far from perfect- too much waffle in the Introduction, too rushed towards the end. Because I was so tired from working a succession of nights on preparing a slick PowerPoint file (bad idea) I really struggled to maintain concentration and when I departed from my notes I struggled to be articulate, fluent and coherent. My responses to questions could have been better. It wasn’t a disaster, but my performance could have been a lot better.

More positively the point of the lecture wasn’t self-promotion. In part it was to promote the book, but mainly the idea was to draw together people from across the left in Dunedin, as well as students and members of the public interested in the topic. It was undoubtedly a success in this regard. The questions, contributions and discussion afterwards were really interesting. So once again thanks to all who made it. And thanks to Sharon Van Etten, PJ Harvey, Shapeshifter and Broken Social Scene for providing the soundtrack.

I've put the PowerPoint slides for the lecture as jpg files below.

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