Chomsky And Pollin: A Global Green New Deal Is The Only Way To Avert Disaster

Robert Pollin

Global warming is the biggest challenge facing humanity today. Yet, climate change has yet to become our number one priority even though, as the World Meteorological Organization warned back in March 2020, “time is fast running out” on averting an acute environmental catastrophe.

In this context, a comprehensive Green New Deal is urgently needed to be put into action. A Global Green New Deal. And, hopefully, the incoming Biden administration will not squander the opportunity to have the U.S. take the lead on climate emergency now that the Senate is under Democratic control.

In the interview that follows, Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin explain the urgency of undertaking ambitious efforts to respond globally to the existential crisis of climate change within the context of a just transition to a green economy. Chomsky and Pollin are joint recipients of the 2020 Climate Courage Award granted by the Climate Change Leadership Institute for their book Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal and its articulation of “a global solution that is not only bold and viable but also replete with the need for a just transition.”

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, the outgoing Trump administration was the worst thing that could have happened for the environment. Trump rolled out dozens of deregulation policies. His administration reversed the Obama-rule on methane emissions, even though methane, the natural ingredient in natural gas, is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Meanwhile he denied the science of climate change and withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement. What can we expect from the Biden administration on climate emergency, especially now that the Senate is under Democratic control, and why is it so important that the U.S. should rejoin the Paris Agreement?

Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky: Rejoining the Paris Agreement is imperative, but only a bare beginning. The Agreement was an important step forward. It is, however, very weak, not even close to what has to be done. It also has no teeth: it is voluntary, no binding commitments. The primary reason for the weakness is the U.S. Republican Party, which would not permit anything that went much beyond symbolism. The Party is still there. In fact, it just achieved overwhelming success in the November 2020 elections, winning at every level except for the White House, where distaste for Trump’s antics prevailed. That victory is quite astonishing if only in light of the fact that the Party’s leaders were responsible for killing tens if not hundreds of thousands of Americans in the preceding months — not to speak of racing to the abyss of environmental catastrophe, a fact that scarcely registered.

The Party is still there, a dominating force, poised to ensure that the country is ungovernable, a specialty of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell as he proclaimed with pride during the Obama years and demonstrated with considerable success.

And Trump is not gone, far from it. A large majority of the Republican voting base regards him as their leader, if not savior. They can be whipped up to threaten any Republican office holder who dares to depart from Trump-McConnell malevolence, much as the Tea Party was organized and used for that purpose, with plenty of funding from powerful concentrations of capital. It may be recalled that as recently as 2008, during the McCain campaign, Republicans were willing to entertain the thought that there might be some problem about destroying the climate that sustains life. With virtual unanimity, they succumbed to a juggernaut launched by David Koch to extirpate that heresy, a victory that remains in place. With Trump setting himself up as the “true victor” in the elections, stirring up poisons in the ways he masters very well, there will be serious barriers to returning the country to a moderately civilized course.

How serious the barriers are we saw right before our eyes on January 6, a fateful day.

Ever since he gained office, Trump has been working hard to turn the country into a tin-pot dictatorship under his rule, a process we have been discussing regularly in this forum as it has unfolded.

To repeat briefly, there have been three prongs to the assault against the world by this miserable creature:
1. Destroying the environment that sustains life
2. Sharply increasing the threat of terminal nuclear war;
3. Dismantling formal democracy.

The first one alone suffices to establish him as arguably the most dangerous political figure in human history, a truism that has been hard for many to contemplate.

Right now we are witnessing the next step in his dedication to destroy American democracy. He has been bragging for years about the “Tough Guys for Trump” — his Black and Brown Shirts.

On January 6, he unleashed them, encouraging their violence and destruction as they broke into the Capitol Building to prevent formal ratification of his electoral defeat, which, it seems, he will never acknowledge no matter how much destruction is caused by his malevolence.

In his disgraceful performance calling on his tough guys to go home — for now — he could not refrain from stirring up more poisons with brazen lies about how his “landslide victory” was stolen by evil forces, doing what he can to ensure maximum damage to the country to which he intends to return triumphantly to complete the wreckage.

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Green Social Democracy Offers The Most Viable Path Toward A Sustainable Future

The coronavirus pandemic has created both a public health and an economic crisis in the United States. More than 300,000 people have died of COVID-19, with excess deaths highest among Black and Latinx populations. Hospitals across the country have passed the breaking point. And millions are struggling to eat and pay the rent. Yet, the stock market is hitting record highs and the super-rich are getting even richer in the midst of the pandemic. Yet, there is no talk among the elites of meaningful reforms, even while the climate change is driving the planet to tipping points.

In the interview that follows, David Kotz, economics professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, argues that radical change is the only hope for a sustainable future and advocates a blueprint based on the vision of a “green social democracy.” Kotz is the author of scores of articles and books, including The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism (Harvard University Press).

C.J. Polychroniou: David, we are again in the midst of yet another capitalist crisis, yet the stock market is at a record high. How could this be when the economy is weakening and so many Americans are struggling?

David Kotz: The performance of the stock market is not a good indicator of the health of the economy. It is driven by expected future profits of corporations and future dividend payouts, which cannot be known with any certainty. At times the stock market is affected by purely speculative factors; that is, the belief that if stock prices have been rising recently then they will continue to rise in the future, which can lead to a self-sustaining upward spiral in stock prices.

On March 1, 2020, just before the pandemic began to shut down the U.S. economy, the ratio of price to corporate earnings for the Standard and Poor’s 500 corporations was 22.80, yet after some nine months of pandemic economic crisis, it had risen to 37.08 on December 11, 2020. While the majority of the population has suffered financially during this period, the rich, who do most of the stock market investing, have been doing fine. Large corporations have been taking actions that boost their stock price, such as buying back their own shares at a historically high rate and making large dividend payouts — actions that do not indicate economic health of the economy. While U.S. corporate profits fell by 20 percent in the second quarter of 2020 compared to six months earlier, dividends fell by only 5 percent.

The United States is the richest country in the world, but its distribution of wealth is more unequal than in any other country in the advanced industrialized world. Why is that?

An unmodified capitalist economy generates a very high degree of inequality of income and wealth, as the owners of companies and other forms of property are able to take most of what is produced by working people. However, inequality can be reduced when workers have strong trade unions through which they can claim a larger share of what they produce. Inequality can also be reduced by several kinds of government interventions, including income maintenance programs, progressive tax systems, minimum wage regulations, provision of essential goods and services for free or at reduced cost, and not least, fiscal and monetary policies that promote a low rate of unemployment. A low unemployment rate increases labor’s bargaining power and particularly benefits workers who are at the low-wage end of the working class.

The labor movement in the U.S. historically has been weaker than in other developed capitalist countries. Among the reasons for this are the following: 1) the ethnic and racial diversity of the U.S. working class, which has made it more difficult for all workers to combine in struggle against employers; 2) the rapid population growth in the U.S. in the period when capitalism was developing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which created significant opportunity for workers and their children to rise in the class structure; 3) the U.S. capitalist class put up very determined resistance to labor unions, including the use of violence; and 4) American culture is relatively individualistic, which makes it more difficult for workers to engage in collective action.

For the same reasons cited above, the U.S. is the only developed capitalist country in which a working class-based socialist political party has never achieved major party status. In other countries such parties have played the major role in the enactment of government programs that reduce inequality. In the U.S., the Democratic Party has in some periods played a somewhat similar role, but that party is not a workers’ party but rather represents parts of big business and parts of small business as well as working people. The result has been much weaker government programs that reduce inequality.

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Noam Chomsky: Trump Has Revealed The Extreme Fragility Of American Democracy

Noam Chomsky

Even after Trump-appointed bureaucrat Emily W. Murphy of the General Services Administration signed a letter enabling Biden to start working with federal agencies and prepare for a transition of power, Donald Trump has personally continued to resist conceding, thus breaking the tradition of a peaceful transition to power.

What is he after with his bogus legal challenges of a “rigged and stolen” election? Can he really hope for a legislative coup? Is the contemporary United States a country divided not merely on political and ideological issues among its body politic, but, more frighteningly, along different conceptions of reality? And will Trumpism continue after Trump has left office? Revered public intellectual Noam Chomsky sheds light on these questions with groundbreaking insights in this exclusive interview for Truthout.

C.J. Polychroniou: U.S. election officials have declared the 2020 election “the most secure in American history.” Yet, the Trump campaign continues to mount legal challenges to the electoral process, pushing outrageous falsehoods, while Rudy Giuliani has gone so far as to make outlandish claims of a vast global conspiracy to steal the election from the Great Leader. In your view, what is really behind Trump’s legal challenges?

Noam Chomsky: Speculation of course, but I’ll indulge in a bad dream — which could become reality if we are not on guard, and if we fail to recognize that elections should be a brief interlude in a life of engaged activism, not a time to go home and leave matters in the hands of the victors.

I suspect that Trump and associates regard their legal challenges as a success in what seems a plausible strategy: keep the pot boiling and keep the loyal base at fever pitch, furious about the “stolen” election and the efforts of the insidious elites and the “deep state” to remove their savior from office.

That strategy seems to be working well. According to recent polls, “Three-quarters (77%) of Trump backers say Biden’s win was due to fraud” and “The anger among Trump’s base is tied to a belief that the election was stolen.” Rejection of the legal challenges with ridicule may please liberal circles, but for the base, it may be simply more proof of the Trump thesis: the hated elites will stop at nothing in their machinations.

Meanwhile, this strategy requires keeping the wrecking ball — Trump’s symbol — actively at work. Do nothing to deal with the pandemic, even delay in providing data to Biden’s team while a top nurse’s union warns of “catastrophic death” in the growing chaos while “our hospitals are knowingly still not prepared” and the government is on vacation.

Viewed through the lens of this vile strategy, if the pandemic gets worse, so much the better. Then local officials will try to impose restrictions and even lockdowns to control patriotic Americans — in line with the plans of the supposed “Communist-run deep state” — leading to economic harm and intrusions on normal life. Meanwhile, Trump and his associates could abandon other normal governmental activities so that when Biden establishes what they describe as a “fake government” on inauguration day, the immediate problems will be severe and failure likely.

On that day, which will live in infamy among the faithful, Trump might set up what he claims is an authentic government in Mar-a-Lago, with Mitch McConnell’s Senate in his pocket and a furious popular base. The next step would be to make the country ungovernable, a specialty that McConnell has been perfecting for a decade and that an accomplished demagogue like Trump can manage reflexively. Everything that goes wrong can be blamed on the treacherous “elites.”

Trump and associates might, as some have speculated, set up an alternative media empire, incorporating talk radio and other far right outlets but perhaps not Fox, which has shown occasional signs of disobedience. Then they could come roaring back into power in 2022-2024, feeding on growing discontent.

They would then be free to destroy the environment with abandon and maximize short-term profit for their primary constituency, impose discipline on what remains of government, tame the media, institute harsh authoritarian measures elsewhere, and continue with their abject service to their masters — the real elites, the very rich and the corporate sector, the decision-makers, as recent academic research once again establishes very clearly.

It’s of no little interest that we have to turn to the world’s leading business journal, the very respectable London Financial Times, to read some elementary truths about what could once claim to be a leading democracy: “Anyone with a pulse,” Financial Times Associate Editor Rana Foroohar writes, “knows that in the US today the system is rigged in favour of the wealthy and powerful.” Foroohar adds:
One particularly illuminating paper [just cited] found that considering the opinions of anyone outside that top 10 per cent was a far less accurate predictor of what happened to government policy. The numbers showed that: ‘not only do ordinary citizens not have uniquely substantial power over policy decisions; they have little or no independent influence on policy at all’. We have had decades of legislative tweaks to everything from tax policy to corporate governance and accounting standards that have favoured capital over labour. Supreme Court decisions such as the Citizens United case have also dramatically increased the amount of money funneled into political campaigning. This has left the nature of America’s political economy perilously close to an oligopoly.

If the Trump strategy is anything like the speculation outlined above, the prevailing oligopoly might look like a fond memory.

Anger and contempt for “elites” is not a mistake, even if the real elites are effectively concealed by the propaganda machine.

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Chomsky: Voting Is Not The End. It’s Only The Beginning

Noam Chomsky

Joe Biden is the winner of the 2020 election. Yet while Trump has lost, the Democrats failed to materialize the blue wave some expected — and Trump fared extremely well despite the pandemic. In this exclusive interview, Noam Chomsky shares some of his insights about Trump’s continuing popularity and what the left needs to do in the years ahead, emphasizing that voting is never an end — only a beginning.

C.J. Polychroniou: Although Biden has won the election, the Democrats failed to materialize a blue-wave landslide, and it is clear we will continue to deal with large-scale Trumpism. Given that you were extremely skeptical of the polls from day one, what do you think contributed to the massive turnout for Trump, even as Biden saw an even more massive turnout? Or, to phrase the questions differently, why is nearly half the country continuing to support a dangerous charlatan leader with such a feverish passion?

Noam Chomsky: The very fact that someone could be considered a serious candidate after just having killed tens if not hundreds of thousands of Americans through a disastrous response to COVID-19 is an extraordinary victory for Trump — and a defeat for the country, for the world and for hopes for a decent future.
Some of Trump’s victories are very revealing. A report on NPR discussed his victory in a solid Democratic county on the Texas-Mexico border with many poor Latinos that hadn’t voted Republican for a century, since Harding. The NPR analyst attributes Biden’s loss to his famous “gaffe” in the last debate, in which he said that we have to act to save human society from destruction in the not very distant future. Not his words, of course, but that’s the meaning of his statement: that we have to make moves to transition away from fossil fuels, which are central to the regional economy. Whether that’s the reason for the radical shift, or whether it’s attributable to another of the colossal Democratic organizing failures, the fact that the outcome is attributed to the gaffe is itself indicative of the rot in the dominant culture. In the U.S., it is [considered] a serious “gaffe” to dare to hint that we have to act to avoid a cataclysm.

Poor working people in the border area are not voting for the predictable consequences of Trump’s race toward cataclysm. They may simply be skeptical about what science predicts. Sixty percent of conservative Republicans (35 percent of moderate Republicans) believe that humans are contributing “not too much/not at all” to global warming. A poll reported in Science found that only 20 percent of Republicans trust scientists “a lot…to do what is right for the country.” Why then believe the dire predictions? These, after all, are the messages pounded into their heads daily by the White House and its media echo chamber.

South Texan working people may not be ready to sacrifice their lives and communities today on the basis of claims in elite circles that they are instructed not to trust. These tendencies cannot be blamed solely on Trump’s malevolence. They trace back to the failure of the Democratic Party to bring to the public a serious program to fend off environmental catastrophe while also improving lives and work — not because such programs don’t exist; they do. But because they don’t appeal to the donor-oriented Clintonite neoliberals who run the Democratic Party.

There’s more. Trump has shown political genius in tapping the poisonous currents that run right below the surface of American society. He has skillfully nourished and amplified the currents of white supremacy, racism and xenophobia that have deep roots in American history and culture, now exacerbated by fear that “they” will take over “our” country with its shrinking white majority. And the concerns are deep. A careful study by political scientist Larry Bartels reveals that Republicans feel that “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it,” and more than 40 percent agree that “a time will come when patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands.”

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Irreconcilable Differences: The 2020 Elections Prove Again The U.S. As Outlier

CJ Polychroniou

The most consequential election in modern U.S. history won’t produce a winner for at least a few more days. And then, the result may be contested in the Supreme Court, with unforeseen consequences for the future of democratic order.

However, while much of the media and the public are consumed with scenarios as to how Biden, or Trump, can reach the magic number of 270 electoral votes, there are some highly disturbing trends and facts about the 2020 election that need to be analyzed if progressives in the U.S. can hope to advance a successful strategy in the years ahead.

First, the polls were wrong again. A blue wave did not materialize in spite of the highest voter turnout in a century and the huge demographic changes taking place all across the United States.
Second, Biden failed to perform as expected in spite of the country being in the midst of a catastrophic pandemic, with a criminally negligent president in charge who has misled the public about Coronavirus from day one and has intentionally spread dangerous information about it.
Third, Trump did much better than expected in spite of being a charlatan, the sort of a leader who says and does such outrageous and highly dangerous things that it is simply unimaginable that citizens in other advanced democracies would have tolerated him in their midst, let alone support with a feverous passion as so many Americans do.

The 2020 U.S. elections have revealed as strongly as possible that the country remains highly polarized, marked by irreconcilable differences between red and blue states. In fact, the U.S. is probably more divided today between red and blue than it was during the 1860s, and much of the credit for this accomplishment is due to the brilliant skills of the con artist occupying the White House for the last four years. Trump has exploited the anxieties, frustrations, and fears of white America, with its toxic ideological notion of racial superiority, in a manner that would have made Joseph Goebbels feel like an amateur.

Racism has always been around. But it is more alive and kicking in today’s USA than any other time since the 1950s or 1960s. This is why Trump’s neo-fascist political posturing is found to be so appealing among such huge segments of 21 st century Americans. Democracy, for Trump and many of his supporters, is an unnecessary luxury if it would mean building a society where whites are the minority. In fact, in a survey cited in Larry Bartels’s research article “Ethnic antagonism erodes Republicans’ commitment to democracy”, “most Republicans…agreed that ‘”the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.”’

This is why there was a record turnout in the 2020 election: this was an election about white Americans, as Umair Haque, Director of the Havas Media Lab, artfully argued a few days ago in his essay “Is White America Really Ready to Reject Trump’s Fascism?”

To be sure, the U.S. remains an outlier among highly advanced societies on many issues, because racism is the driving ideological force. The U.S. is the only country in the advanced industrialized world without a universal health care system, but with a warfare but no welfare state.–but-we-sure-have-a-warfare-state/

The alone among western countries with its continued use of the death penalty (where racial disparities continue even though the death penalty usage has declined), it has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and has ratified fewer key human rights treaties than all other countries in the G20 group. Additionally, it never ratified the Equal Rights Amendment proposed in 1972, and it ranks 75th globally in women’s representation in government.

Indeed, white America is very different from the rest of the advanced world, as Haque points out in “Is White America Really Ready to Reject Trump’s Fascism?, in profoundly striking ways: “Voters in Europe and Canada — white majorities there — can be relied upon to act with some modicum of decency and humanity and common sense. They back, over and over again, what the world now considers modern social contracts that make up functioning, sophisticated societies — healthcare, retirement, education, childcare, and so on, for all, not just themselves. It would be a massive, massive shock if voters anywhere else in the West began to act like America’s white majority — they are so far off the scale of conservatism, in formal terms, that it might as well not exist.”

In sum, what the 2020 elections demonstrate, regardless of who wins the election, is that Trumpism will remain the dominant ideological and political movement in the third decade of the 21 st century in the United States. With or without Trump in the White House, white America will surely remain vigilant in its attempt to “safeguard America’s traditional values” and, in that context, progressive forces will have their hands full.

In the light of this, the creation of a “Popular Front,” a coalition of all democratic forces of the sort that took place in Europe in the mid-1930s to combat the rise of fascism, should be embraced as possibly the only coherent strategy to roll back Trumpism. But in 21 st century USA, this would mean a commitment first and foremost to the norms and values of an inclusive democracy within the context of class-and environmental politics.
As such, “identity politics,” which has gone from inclusion to division and has led to political tribalism in U.S. society, needs to be reassessed in a manner where its positive attributes are incorporated into a broader political agenda. But this is a story for another time.

C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, the political economy of the United States and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published several books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers and popular news websites. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Croatian, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish. He is the author of Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change, an anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthoutand collected by Haymarket Books.

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The Winner Of The 2020 Election Won’t Be Inheriting A Genuine Democracy

CJ Polychroniou

Today’s election is widely regarded as the most important national election in recent U.S. history, voters remain divided and polarized over what should be essentially the future of the country. Issues over racism, immigration, guns, women’s rights, police brutality and climate change are what essentially divide Republican voters from Democrats. The former, galvanized by the extreme and divisive rhetoric of a racist and reactionary president, wish to preserve the values of “traditional America” (white supremacy and patriarchy, militarism, rugged individualism and religiosity), while Democrats worry that another four years of Donald Trump in office will spell the end of democracy.

Is destroying or saving U.S. democracy what the upcoming election is all about? In this interview, political scientist C.J. Polychroniou says it is high time that we did away with the political rhetoric when it comes to U.S. democracy and look at the facts: The U.S. has a highly flawed system of democratic governance and doesn’t even rank among the top 20 democracies in the Western world, and thus is in dire need of major repair. In fact, Polychroniou argues, it is far more accurate to describe the United States as an oligarchy, a regime where an economic elite and powerful organized interests are in virtual control of the policy agenda on most issues of critical importance to public interest while average people are mainly political bystanders.

Alexandra Boutri: The general consensus among a significant percentage of voters opposed to Donald Trump is that the upcoming election represents a pivotal moment in U.S. politics, for what is at stake is nothing else than the future of democracy itself. True, or an exaggeration?

C.J. Polychroniou: Trump’s presidency has been marked from the beginning by lies, strong authoritarian impulses, contempt for the media and disdain for science, big gifts for the rich and big cuts for the poor, and complete disregard for the environment. His political posturing is outright neo-fascist, and, as such, this president surely has little concern about the subtleties of democratic governance. Of course, U.S. democracy was in a crisis long before Trump came to power. In fact, one could easily make the argument that the U.S. is not a true democracy at all (it qualifies as a mere procedural democracy), and was never meant to be when you get to understand the architecture of the Constitution, who the framers were, and why they opted to ditch, in the manner of a coup, the Articles of Confederation, during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. In fact, the drafting of the Constitution itself was not a democratic process: The delegates were sent there by state legislatures with a mandate to revise the Articles of Confederation, but, instead, they worked in total secrecy in producing an entirely new legal document for the future government of the United States.

The Constitution that the framers produced, with its system of checks and balances, was as a legal document way ahead of its time, since back then, monarchy was the prevailing form of political rule throughout the world. But in addition to designing a system of governance that would prevent the rise of an absolute ruler, the framers also wanted to make sure that the masses themselves would not be in a position to determine political outcomes. Indeed, the framers were seeking a form of government that would keep the elites safe both from the caprice of absolute rulers and from the whims of the rabble. They were indeed in complete agreement with the view of John Jay, one of the so-called Founding Fathers and the first Chief Justice, when he said, “Those who own the country ought to govern it.” Hence the purpose behind the introduction of the Electoral College, which blatantly violates the very basic principle of democracy, i.e., one person, one vote; hence also the anti-democratic nature of the Senate, where states with very small populations get the same number of senators as states with huge populations.

The U.S. is also the only democracy in the world where politicians are actively involved in manipulating the boundaries of electoral districts. Political gerrymandering has a long history in the U.S., but as Common Cause National Redistricting Director Kathay Feng pointedly put it, “In a democracy, voters should choose their politicians, not the other way around.”

In addition, federal election campaigns funded entirely by private money makes a mockery of the democratic process for electing public officials, while the “winner-take-all” system, which is not in the Constitution and therefore can be changed without a constitutional amendment, can easily be regarded as undemocratic under modern election law jurisprudence, as has correctly been pointed out by former Republican governor of Massachusetts, William Weld, and law professor Sanford Levinson.

In sum, there is no other democracy in the advanced industrialized world with the “undemocratic” features of the system of democracy found in the U.S., including its two-party system which severely limits public dialogue and debate among competing political views. Little surprise, therefore, why even the conservative weekly magazine The Economist has labeled the U.S. a “flawed democracy.” As a matter of fact, U.S. democracy does not even rank among the top 20 democracies in the Western world, according to the Democracy Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The U.S. form of governance fits far more perfectly with that of classical oligarchy, although in the last four years, the country also had a leader who behaved more in tune with the traits of the tyrannical man outlined in Plato’s Republic.

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