Beasts and Gods

by Roslyn Fuller (2015)


I found out about this book from an excellent rebuttal of the oafish Andrew Sullivan that Fuller penned in the Los Angeles Review of Books. The article itself was somewhat of a summary of this book, and can perhaps best be encapsulated by the following excerpt:

If the United States were a democracy, it would have no need for Black Lives Matter, because any citizen would be able to report police brutality to the Assembly at any point and have a judgment rendered immediately instead of suffering in silence. If the United States were a democracy, it would not run for-profit prisons, because companies would not be allowed to collude with a special group of lawmakers behind closed doors to get their predrafted laws passed. If the United States were a democracy, there would be no “money in politics” because there would be no one to spend the money on. If the United States were a democracy, it would be devoid of mass media demagoguery, because anyone would be entitled to address the public in a public sphere anytime they wanted. I’ll even give the benefit of the doubt and say that if the United States were a democracy, it may not have perpetrated so many wars on other people.

The “Assembly” refers to the ancient Athenian form of democracy, which Fuller uses as a model for a true participatory democracy. The current Western model does not fare well in comparison. The boldness of Fuller’s vision is what sets her book apart from most. She begins with the premise that our system is terrible and launches her thesis from there, whereas more conventional writers would just spend the bulk of their work explaining the “why” of that terribleness. Not Fuller — she is more concerned with where to go from here, and what historical precedents may exist to guide us.

In that sense the book really is worth a read; in addition to offering detailed descriptions of Athenian and Roman politics, Fuller also specifies the mechanisms by which representative/electoral democracy is inherently corrupt, including a detailed exploration of NGO and international politics and even a section on the media’s pernicious influence. She also goes farther out on a limb than most political theorists in a commendable attempt to provide a path forward, though I happen to be personally skeptical that technology and the internet will save us from our worst tendencies.

The main knock I give this book is that Fuller’s writing itself is, frankly, mediocre at best. The book is littered with split clauses, dangling participles, weird comma use and run-on sentences. An example of nearly all of those defects in one:

ERT also credits itself with successfully setting the conditions for ten new members to accede to the EU in 2004, as well as ensuring that discussions on new EU accounting standards were not ‘dominated by professional accountants’, an endeavor which, judging by the current state of European accounting standards, it was also successful in. 223-4

My ears are bleeding from the screams of that “in” as it begs to be reunited with its lost mother of a “which”.

It’s strange to say but Fuller’s at her worst when she’s attempting to be stylish and witty, so I would actually suggest she just stay as terse and analytical as possible, which would also have the agreeable side effect of shortening the work. None of these flaws were evident in her excellent newspaper piece, so perhaps it’s just that she’s used to shorter works.

In any case, I find the ideas in this book to be highly valuable and timely, especially when it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the immense corruption that pervades our every waking moment. Even though the delivery system for said ideas is lacking I would still recommend the book to anyone interested in politics, history or modern society/culture. If you’re on the fence I highly recommend reading her article at the link above. If that piques your interest you should definitely move on to the book.

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