Review: Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, Barrington Moore Jr.

During the past eight (!) weeks I have wondered what conclusion the author will reach and present at the end of Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. I might be intellectually challenged (I think not but it is a possible explanation) but as I close the last page I can detect none. Absolutely none.

The book explores how different societies have reached what might be described as a “modern” stage, starting off with England, France and the US, discussing different features of the Puritan revolution (Cromwell), the French revolution and the US Civil War.

This part was interesting and made me wonder at the gaps in my knowledge about the socio-political history of Sweden. (As a side it made me ask my parents, who specialise in modern political history, for advice on literature… which made me realise that the reason for my lack of knowledge is caused by the lack of systematic knowledge in this area – instead they pointed me to lots of different sources from which I might piece together a theory. This indicates it is a valid research topic. If I had been a researcher, that is ;-) )

The second part tried to make the same kind of analysis regarding the Chinese, Japanese and Indian examples. This too was interesting and made me aware of certain aspects of their histories of which I had not been aware before.

The third part tried to sketch different routes to modern society, based on the six examples, and in that tried to find patterns. This too was interesting, but I started to think that the author needed to present some conclusions, fast, and that they be more extensive than “there are different ways to modernity and perhaps it’s possible to categorise them based on how a society was composed at the beginning of the process”.

Lastly, the work is dated. Especially when he draws on the Indian example, but also when he discusses Russia, Germany and Italy, as he frequently does, the age of the book is obvious – my edition is dated 1966 and no data the author refers to are later than 1963. In a stagnant society this wouldn’t matter, but I don’t think anyone can argue for the world being in 2010 what it was in the early/mid-60’s.

The really REALLY relevant part is the epilogue, named “Reactionary and Revolutionary Imagery”. Here the author discusses, based on the previously presented material, how the people who have the political power in any system at a time of change behaves, to stay in power; typical symptoms such as specific ideological content, behaviours, values and arguments used, feelings they try to speak to. Here it is relevant to note that he had no idea whatsoever what the early 21st century would bring as he speaks of devaluation of science, an appeal to “feeling”, moral virtues and a return to past ways of doing things, including a return to “nature”.

I would be very interested to hear him discuss our present times. This will not happen, as he died in 2005.


Geek musing on the Lord of the Rings

So, lately I’ve been struggling with the book I’m presently reading. And as evasive actions goes few things beats watching old films.

Every time this happens I watch different films, and this time I was ready for a rerun of Lord of the Rings. Now, when you’ve been watching a film a gazillion times, not to mention that you first had the books read to you 35-some years ago, with frequent rereads, there’s things that starts to shine through.

I’ll be the first to admit that fiction is fiction, and to some extent you just need to suspend you disbelief or the story will not make sense. This – the suspension of disbelief – is a wonderful thing that lets me embrace the totally different or to understand the unthinkable; it widens my understanding of the world, even if the story as such is pure fiction.

Despite this, and 35 years later, it dawns on me how ridiculous some things are. I mean, what on Middle Earth does it tell us when a total stranger with no experience in managing a large realm can become a king, based on folklore and an alleged kinship with someone who died 2500 years ago?!?!?!

“I’m a descendant in direct line from Alexander the Great. Please hand over the rule over your nation to me.”

Well, hardly. If you insist I’ll call the police, they’ll drive you to psych ER.

Luckily for Aragorn this story didn’t happen in the modern industrialised world but in an agrarian utopia where people took such heady statements for the real thing. ;-)

The price of reading an ebook

I have enjoyed reading books on my iPhone, using Stanza, but recently I decided an ereader would be a good thing to get.
Using Stanza I’ve browsed for books from US or UK sources, but as I considered the device itself I started to check the range of titles offered here in Sweden.

Now, one of the big things with ebooks is that you only need to work on the original – writing, editing, cover design, formatting, marketing – yes, for sure, but doing copies are painless. You don’t need to calculate print runs, or pay for printing, or for delivery to physical shops, or for handling of returns; nor is there a host of in-beweens who add to the final price you the reader pay for the actual book.

Despite this ebooks in Sweden cost me, the reader, just as much as an ordinary hardcover book.
In some cases perhaps a bit less but still considerably more than what buys me a paperback.

As an example, let’s use the book Svensk maffia, by Lasse Wierup. The online dealer wants me to pay

189 SEK or US$25.56 for the downloadable audiobook
41 SEK or US$5.55 for the paperback (mass market size)
154 SEK or US$20.85 for the ebook (epub, mobi or pdf)

Add to this that the device itself is between 1995 and 2995 SEK (US$270-405), as sold from Swedish retailers.

I have to ask myself – does this mean authors suddenly get paid better? Or do this only mean that the publisher OR the (online) retailer gets a bigger profit?

My bet is on the last.

My guess is also that present situation is due to the publishers being clueless about what to do with this e-ification. Maybe they just don’t understand the format and the media, and are afraid that ebook sales will eat away the sale of Dead Tree Books (DTB’s).
Of course they will. Of course!!! It’s like who needs steady deliveries of ice now when we have fridges? But if they play their cards right they will still be in the publishing business, so there’s nothing to fear.

The alternative is that the publishers really think we readers are idiots waiting to get ripped off, that we’ll silently pay hard back prices for something that costs monumentally less to produce than a paperback…

No wonder ereaders aren’t a big hit here.