A writing by Dang Thu Ha – a 3rd-year student of College of Business and Management, VinUniversity
My first encounter with Politics by Runciman came quite unexpectedly. It was on an evening night when my roommate and I had our daily chat about politics after dinner. In the middle of the discussion, I remembered her asking me: “Do you think a country with no politics or bad politics is better-off?” Puzzled as I was, I tossed her a question in return: “Why can’t we have an omnipotent nation-state with its law followed by everyone in the world? Wouldn’t that be more efficient?” “You know what, that guy in Politics by Runciman said the exact same thing” – she told me, followed by a suggestion that cannot be more tempting: “You should really read that book. I read it for my Socialism course but it was a worth-reading one with almost all of the core questions & concepts in Politics answered. It has the answer for your question as well.” Needless to say how hooked I was and how high the bar was set, given that my friend is an avid reader with very strong political points of view. And that’s why despite all my fear of the course, I looked forward to it each day (as much as I can totally read the book beforehand, I wanted to fully immerse myself in the experience of reading the book for the course). I have to say, without a shadow of a doubt, this book has exceeded all of my expectations.
Published in 2014, Politics is a relatively new read. Being part of the series Profile: Small Introductions to Big Topics, it certainly lived up to the name with its conciseness (the whole book consists of 188 pages), simple language, clear structure and consistent narrative. With the help of his witty and sarcastically humorous writing style, Runciman has successfully guided readers through the most important questions of politics within the span of three chapters: Violence, Technology and Justice. He has also cleverly and elegantly integrated the political arguments of various philosophers including Thomas Hobbes, Machiavelli, etc. As a keen student of HASS1010 (Marxism – Leninism Philosophy), I have exposed myself to both Hobbes and Machiavelli’s arguments before; however, no author has provided me with the level of clarity and conciseness that Runciman did. The whole read succeeded in carrying me seamlessly from one political terrain to another without the need for any vehicle except for my average-sized brain (and my eyes if that counts). At this point, I hope my praises do not imprint on you a flawless image of this book because as with any books, there are some points that I would disagree with Runciman. However, they do not erase my general enthusiasm for this book and also, do not stop this book from being an exemplary piece of writing on politics.
Before the chapters unfold, Runciman began his book by a contrast between two countries – Denmark and Syria in order to understand the importance of politics. He made an acute point, which I strongly resonate with:
“The difference isn’t that Danes are better people than Syrians. They aren’t inherently nicer or smarter: people are pretty much people the world over” (Runciman, 2014)
People are, indeed, just people. Same body structure – bones and flesh, same atomic composition – oxygen, hydrogen, etc. Then what is it that makes the difference between Denmark – safe, stable, a seeming haven and Syria – dangerous, turbulent, and riddled with wars? The answer, according to Runciman, lies in Politics.
In Chapter 1, Runciman answers the question: “What is Politics? What are the goods it offers the world and what are the damages it can do?” Chapter 2 explains the relationship between politics & technology and answers why politics is still of the utmost importance even in this technological era, while the third chapter talks about politics’ failure in enforcing & ensuring equality. The simplicity, accessibility yet profoundly thought-provoking nature of the book, together with its excellent illustrations made it a truly enjoyable reading experience.
In conclusion, I urge you to grab a copy of this book and start reading immediately. I genuinely enjoyed reading this book for the sake of it rather than for my book review assignment because it doesn’t merely stay at answering my question, it provokes me to search for more and look deep into the meaning of politics. Runciman opened this book with a two-word sentence – “Politics matters” and ended it with a three-word sentence – “Politics still matters”, which to me looks like the hinge to open a door that would lead to grand new pastures of knowledge. This is a journey that I would embark on myself and would encourage you to take with me.
Runciman, D. (2014). Politics: Ideas in Profiles. Profile Book
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