Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Lit of Flawed Democracy

These are days when millions of people in America and around the world question the recent election. Is democracy flawed in the United States? There are several books of note that have dealt with this very question over the years.

I.F. Stone (no relation to Sly Stone)had a famous weekly in the Dick Cavett  era, and also wrote an informed but opinionated history of the most famous Greek philosopher, Socrates. The Trial of Socrates. Most people know Socrates had to drink hemlock as his death sentence, but not many know why.

Socrates thought that allowing the common people to vote in a democracy was a bad idea. The undereducated could be easily swayed by a popular demagogue making promises of wealth and glory with little or no substance to back up the claim. Disaster would result.  A history of the Peloponnesian War would later bear out his argument.

The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon is probably the most famous tale of outside interference in a US election. Communist Chinese have brainwashed American soldiers captured during the Korean War and transferred to a secret "re-education" center in Manchuria. One of the Army officers is the son of a wealthy politician running for president, and he is the main target, brutally conditioned by torture and hypnosis to become a sleeper agent and assassin. The book has been in print for over fifty years, and made into two tremendously popular motion pictures. My favorite is the 1962 film starring Frank Sinatra, Lawrence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Henry Silva, and Academy Award winner Angela Lansbury.

Recntly, I have seen posts encouraging people to read It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, which recently sold out online. An article in the Washington Post referred to both the Lewis novel and the more recent National Book Award winner by Philip Roth, The Plot Against America, a dark tale of pro-Nazi Americans led by national hero Charles Lindbergh who win the 1940 election and send America into a Fascist spiral. The article, by Carlos Lozada, June 9, 2016, gets into Trump-bashing more than I care to share here in this blog. I'm not into political statements; I'm writing about books and flawed democracy. Obviously, I am not the first or last to do so.

One of my favorite books ever is Burr by Gore Vidal. In this well-researched historical novel, Vidal examines the character of our Founding Fathers, and takes a close look at the Electoral College, where Aaron Burr tied Thomas Jefferson in electoral votes. Vidal also wrote another historical novel about rigged elections, 1876. Both should be popular reading these days.

Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing.net recently posted about another excellent book on outside interference, The Twentieth of January.

If you have other books to recommend, please do so. Try to avoid blatant attacks on the current president, no matter how strong the temptation. Remember what Frank Zappa said: Politics is the entertainment division of the military-industrial complex.