What We Are Reading Today: Systemic Corruption by Camila Vergara

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Updated 29 September 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Systemic Corruption by Camila Vergara

This provocative book reveals how the majority of modern liberal democracies have become increasingly oligarchic, suffering from a form of structural political decay first conceptualized by ancient philosophers. Systemic Corruption argues that the problem cannot be blamed on the actions of corrupt politicians but is built into the very fabric of our representative systems.

Camila Vergara provides a compelling and original genealogy of political corruption from ancient to modern thought, and shows how representative democracy was designed to protect the interests of the already rich and powerful to the detriment of the majority. Unable to contain the unrelenting force of oligarchy, especially after experimenting with neoliberal policies, most democracies have been corrupted into oligarchic democracies. Vergara explains how to reverse this corrupting trajectory by establishing a new counterpower strong enough to control the ruling elites. Building on the anti-oligarchic institutional innovations proposed by plebeian philosophers, she rethinks the republic as a mixed order in which popular power is institutionalized to check the power of oligarchy. Vergara demonstrates how a plebeian republic would establish a network of local assemblies with the power to push for reform from the grassroots, independent of political parties and representative government.

Drawing on neglected insights from Niccolò Machiavelli, Nicolas de Condorcet, Rosa Luxemburg, and Hannah Arendt, Systemic Corruption proposes to reverse the decay of democracy with the establishment of anti-oligarchic institutions through which common people can collectively resist the domination of the few.


What We Are Reading Today: Republics of Knowledge by Nicola Miller

Updated 22 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Republics of Knowledge by Nicola Miller

The rise of nation-states is a hallmark of the modern age, yet we are still untangling how the phenomenon unfolded across the globe. Here, Nicola Miller offers new insights into the process of nation-making through an account of 19th-century Latin America, where, she argues, the identity of nascent republics was molded through previously underappreciated means: The creation and sharing of knowledge.

Drawing evidence from Argentina, Chile, and Peru, Republics of Knowledge traces the histories of these countries from the early 1800s, as they gained independence, to their centennial celebrations in the 20th century. Miller identifies how public exchange of ideas affected policymaking, the emergence of a collective identity, and more. She finds that instead of defining themselves through language or culture, these new nations united citizens under the promise of widespread access to modern information. Miller challenges the narrative that modernization was a strictly North Atlantic affair, demonstrating that knowledge traveled both ways between Latin America and Europe.