What We Are Reading Today: Let the People Rule by John G. Matsusaka

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Updated 19 February 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Let the People Rule by John G. Matsusaka

Propelled by the belief that government has slipped out of the hands of ordinary citizens, a surging wave of populism is destabilizing democracies around the world. 

As John Matsusaka reveals in Let the People Rule, this belief is based in fact, says a review on the Princeton University Press website. 

Over the past century, while democratic governments have become more efficient, they have also become more disconnected from the people they purport to represent. 

The solution Matsusaka advances is familiar but surprisingly underused: Direct democracy, in the form of referendums. 

While this might seem like a dangerous idea post-Brexit, there is a great deal of evidence that, with careful design and thoughtful implementation, referendums can help bridge the growing gulf between the government and the people.

Drawing on examples from around the world, Matsusaka shows how direct democracy can bring policies back in line with the will of the people (and provide other benefits, like curbing corruption).


What We Are Reading Today: Peace and Penance in Late Medieval Italy

Updated 07 April 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Peace and Penance in Late Medieval Italy

Author: Katherine Ludwig Jansen

Medieval Italian communes are known for their violence, feuds, and vendettas, yet beneath this tumult was a society preoccupied with peace. Peace and Penance in Late Medieval Italy is the first book to examine how civic peacemaking in the age of Dante was forged in the crucible of penitential religious practice.
Focusing on Florence in the 13th and 14th centuries, an era known for violence and civil discord, Katherine Ludwig Jansen brilliantly illuminates how religious and political leaders used peace agreements for everything from bringing an end to neighborhood quarrels to restoring full citizenship to judicial exiles.
She brings to light a treasure trove of unpublished evidence from notarial archives and supports it with sermons, hagiography, political treatises, and chronicle accounts. She paints a vivid picture of life in an Italian commune, a socially and politically unstable world that strove to achieve peace. Jansen also assembles a wealth of visual material from the period, illustrating for the first time how the kiss of peace—a ritual gesture borrowed from the Catholic Mass—was incorporated into the settlement of secular disputes.
Breaking new ground in the study of peacemaking in the Middle Ages, Peace and Penance in Late Medieval Italy adds an entirely new dimension to our understanding of Italian culture in this turbulent age by showing how peace was conceived, memorialized, and occasionally achieved.