Sunday, 27 October 2019

How to Do Good to Many: The Public Good Is the Christian’s Life – 13 Nov 2018by Richard Baxter & Jordan J Ballor (Editor) Christian's Library Press

“It is a sign he is a branch cut off and withered who careth little for any but himself” (292). 

Richard Baxter, How to Do Good to Many

“And let all men take their common and special opportunities to do good: time will not stay; yourselves, your wives, your children, your servants, your neighbours, are posting to another world; speak now what you would have them hear; do them now all the good you can. It must be now or never; there is no returning from the dead to warn them” (323-34).

Given the extraordinary literary output by Richard Baxter, it is hard not to agree with Richard Schlatter that figures like Baxter have been largely overlooked by historians both left and right. Baxter was a prodigious writer turning out more than 130 books. So many books that it is difficult to count. Many of the books are folios with over 1 million words in length.

While prominent figures like Baxter have largely been forgotten, the same cannot be said about the English revolution. The last two decades have seen a never-ending stream of literature.  The revolution still provokes significant interest and controversy. The purpose of this little review is to try and place Baxter within the context of the English revolution and to a certain extent, rescue him from the condescension of history.

While many significant figures of the revolution have sketchy biographies, this cannot be said of Baxter, who was born in 1615. From an early age, Baxter began to see things in class terms describing his father as “a mean Freeholder”. Like many families at the beginning of the revolution, Baxter’s family life was tough, and the family was “entangled by debts”. However, his poverty did not stop Baxter from thinking that  ‘Godly People were the best’.

Baxter was heavily influenced by his family’s acceptance of Puritanism. Baxter was later to recognise his father as the “Instrument of my first Convictions, and Approbation of a Holy Life’. In class terms, Baxter was part of a growing and influential lower middle class who would clash so spectacularly with the King and Aristocracy in the English revolution.

Like other middle-class people around him, Baxter had the drive to try and achieve ‘Academick Glory’, and ‘wanting Academical Honours’. This he did not achieve through university but by becoming self-taught.  Baxter “became one of the most learned of seventeenth-century divines.” Baxter puts this down to God. His praise of God is a running theme throughout his writings and is central to the book How to Do Good to Many: The Public Good Is the Christian’s Life. The book is a guide for the middle class on how to do good. There is nothing controversial in the book; much of Baxter’s political and social outlook is missing. This is a little strange given that Baxter was profoundly moved by the massive social, political and religious upheavals brought about by the English revolution.

While Baxter’s work is cloaked in religious trappings, once you break open the shell of religiosity, it is clear to anyone that a study of his political and philosophical writings play an essential part in our understanding of the events of the 17th-century English revolution.

From a political standpoint, Baxter was on the right-wing of the Presbyterians. He kept his distance from Oliver Cromwell and other leaders of the revolution. To use a modern term, Baxter took a typical centrist position also attacking anyone associated with the left-wing of the revolution, including Independents such as  Hugh Peters. The “sectaries” like Thomas Rainborow and any Leveller, in general, were “tools of Anabaptists’,. Anyone who sought to widen the franchise was seen as Anabaptists by Baxter.

Early on in his life, Baxter took up an extreme and class position on the poor. He did not believe that men “from the Dung-cart (could) to make our laws, and from the Ale-house and the May-pole to dispose of our religion, lives, and estates. When a pack of the rabble are got together, the multitude of the needy and the dissolute prodigals if they were ungoverned, would tear out the throats of the more wealthy and industrious…. And turn all into a constant war”.

It would be easy to dismiss Baxter’s writing on the poor as an exception, but in reality, they partly expressed a real fear amongst the ruling class that the revolution would lead to a wider franchise and more importantly a revolution against the property. which to a certain extent happened.

If you strip away all the religious superstructure at the base of Baxter’s writings are hatred of the masses. His Holy Commonwealth, which is probably his most famous book is a manifesto against a more comprehensive democracy except for the chosen few namely people like him. Baxter‘s hostility to the poor was expressed most vehemently in his opposition to the Leveller’s. 

When Baxter was in the New Model Army as an army Chaplin, he opposed the  Levellers in debate accusing them of publishing “wild pamphlets” as “changeable as the moon “and advocating “a heretical democracy”. The irony of this being that Baxter’s books themselves were burnt and he was labelled as a subversive like the Levellers he criticised.

Printing Revolution

You could say that this book by Baxter is the product of two print revolutions. One took place in the seventeenth Century the other in the twenty-first century. Baxter’s original book was part of an influential print culture that exploded during the English revolution. As Joad Raymond writes ” The publication of one of the first popular printed works, Mercurius Gallobeligicus, in 1594 ushered in a new era of the printed word to England in the form of pamphlets and newsbooks. These works quickly gained popularity by the middle of the seventeenth century, amplifying communication among all levels of society”.[1] Given Baxter’s prodigious output it has been said that he “was the first author of a string of best-sellers in British literary history”.

This book is also part of another print revolution no less important. The print revolution in the twenty-first century has seen the rise of books printed by their author or publisher. This particular edition was initially printed in the United States, but my copy says it was printed in the United Kingdom by Amazon. In some cases, it is difficult to tell the origin of the country a book is printed in since ships outfitted with printing presses now print vasts quantities and deliver them to any country in the world.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is Baxters appeal to merchants to behave themselves as good Christians. As Christopher hill recounts in his book The English Revolution 1640 “The political theorist, Hobbes, describes how the Presbyterian merchant class of the city of London was the first centre of sedition, trying to build a state-governed like the republics of Holland and Venice, by merchants for their interests. (The comparison with the bourgeois republics is constantly recurring in Parliamentarian writings.) Mrs Hutchinson, the wife of one of Cromwell’s colonels, said all were described as Puritans who “crossed the views of the needy courtiers, the encroaching priests, the thievish projectors, the lewd nobility and gentry . . . whoever could endure a sermon, modest habit or conversation, or anything good.”[2]

As was said at the beginning of this review, Baxter is an overlooked writer but along with Thoms Hobbes and James Harrington[3] is a crucial figure if one wants to understand the nature of the English revolution. Baxter’s writings give us a more in-depth insight into culture and politics during the civil war.

According to one writer “The largest single group among Baxter's correspondence consists of some seventy men who became nonconformist ministers at the Restoration, but the interest of the letters is not confined to the history of nonconformity, ecclesiastical affairs, or theological controversy. Baxter was an acute enquirer into matters arcane and mundane, inveterately interested in both public affairs and individuals' experience, encyclopedically industrious in establishing the grounds for the opinions which, for over half a century, he freely discussed in letters with persons of every walk of life, from peers, the gentry, and members of the professions, to merchants, apprentices, farmers, and seamen. The result is not merely a rich historical archive: the range of this correspondence, the vitality of its engagement with a great variety of topics, the immediacy of its expression, and the unpredictability’s of its mood and tone make this collection a record of felt experience unique among early epistolary archives”.

To a certain extent, Baxter was sensitive enough to recognise the social currents that brought people of diverse social backgrounds into struggle against the king. Baxter used the only tool available to him. He “ransacked the Bible and half-understood historical precedent for some theory to explain what they were doing”.

Baxter chose the parliamentary side because he felt that “for the debauched rabble through the land emboldened by his (the kings) gentry and seconded by the common soldiers of his army, took all that were called Puritans for their enemies”.

While it is correct to place Baxter’s writings alongside that of Hobbes and Harrington  Schlatter believes that Baxter’s opposition to Hobbes and Harrington were that they believed in a secular state, but Baxter did not.

Having said that Baxter closely followed the writings of Hobbes and Harrington declaring  "I must begin at the bottom and touch these Praecognita which the politicians doth presuppose because I have to do with some that will deny as much, as shame will suffer them to deny."

Baxter was heavily critical of Hobbes whose “mistake” according to one writer “was that in his doctrine of "absolute impious Monarchy' he gives priority to man by making sovereign the will of man rather than the will of God. Baxter deplored any attempt to draw criteria for right and wrong from man's As for Harrington; his great fallacy consisted in denying God's sovereignty by making "God the Proposer, and the people the Resolvers or Confirmers of all their laws." If his [Harrington's] doctrine be true, the Law of nature is no Law, till men consent to it. At least where the Major Vote can carry it, Atheism, Idolatry, Murder, Theft, Whoredome, etc., are no sins against God. Yea no man sinneth against God but he that consenteth to his Laws. The people have the greater authority or Government than Gods in Baxter's view, such conceptions of politics and its practice as those of Hobbes and Harrington is suited to atheists and heathen”.

While being critical his writings bore similarities to both Hobbes and Harrington.According to Geoffrey Nuttall "in politics as well as an ecclesiastical position as continually taking a 'moderate' position which from both sides would bring him charges of betrayal or insincerity."

To the consternation of many revisionist historians, a case can be made that the English revolution was fought along class lines. As Baxter himself put it at the time: “A very great part of the knights and gentlemen of England . . . adhered to the King . . . And most of the tenants of these gentlemen, and also most of the poorest of the people, whom the others call the rabble, did follow the gentry and were for the King. On the Parliament’s side were (besides themselves) the smaller part (as some thought) of the gentry in most of the counties, and the greatest part of the tradesmen and freeholders and the middle sort of men, especially in those corporations and counties which depend on clothing and such manufactures…Freeholders and tradesmen are the strength of religion and civility in the land, and gentlemen and beggars and servile tenants are the strength of iniquity”.[4]


To conclude Schlatter offers some advice on how we should understand Richard Baxter's place in the English revolution “students of Baxter must look backwards, for he stands near the end of a tradition which, although someone is always trying to revive it as a weapon in the never-ending war on liberty and democracy has been long been dead. To understand Baxter’s politics we must reflect on that long political tradition which achieved its first and most magnificent expression in the City of God, which flourished in the Middle Ages and Reformation, and died in the Age of Reason”.

Comment  by C Thompson

Dear Keith,
                   I read your most recent post on the works of Richard Baxter and their significance with interest. I am afraid I do not think your interpretation is correct. Because Baxter like many of his contemporaries recognised that there were economic and social distinctions in English society does not mean that they were class-based or that they supported an interpretation of the events of the 1640s as an example of class conflict in the Marxist sense. 

The use of terms like "lower middle class" is anachronistic and the view of the capacity of those at the lower end of the social scale to take political decisions was not just a reflection of upper class prejudices. I am hard-pressed to think of any early modern historians nowadays who would use such terms. There was, moreover, no real prospect at any stage of small groups like the Diggers, still less the Levellers, overthrowing the economic and social order. In any case, the complex mechanisms for conciliation and negotiation between different individuals, social groups and localities have yet to be fully explored. Baxter cannot be re-moulded in this procrustean sense.
                 With good wishes,


[1] Joad Raymond, The Invention of the English Newspaper: English Newsbooks, 1641-1649 (Oxford:Clarendon Press, 1996), 6
[3] See J ames Harrington: An Intellectual Biography – 10 Oct 2019-by Rachel Hammersley

Monday, 21 October 2019

The Orange Hare

By Arturo Monterroso

 “I am taking it!” she said with a loud voice. I looked up. She was a bit over seventy, and he was clearly closer into falling the eighty something abyss. He walked stooping over his three-legged cane, and took a breath after telling off his wife. She was the first to raise her voice, as she was holding a stuffed rabbit tight against her bosom. The woman had resisted her husband’s reprimand, digging her heels into an attitude that I perceived as defiant because she had responded immediately.

“I am taking it,” she said again in a lower yet firm voice making a pout. She was petite, still holding some echoes of sweetness deep in her eyes. “No,” he said with a slight quiver in his voice, “I am not willing to pay a fortune for a stuffed animal that your granddaughter will not even like.” “Our granddaughter,” she quickly corrected him; “for our granddaughter who will be delighted with this bunny.” “Yes,” he replied, “a horrendous and extremely expensive, odd-colored rabbit. Have you ever seen an orange rabbit before?” “It’s a stuffed bunny, Heriberto, it’s not a real rabbit; it’s a toy,” she explained to him. “Uh-huh,” he replied, “and surely that justifies why we must pay for it as much as our electricity bill.”

The thin-bodied man was wearing a flat cap sunk down just above his eyebrows. “Well, as you wish,” she said, “you win,” and left the toy on the table from where she had taken it. Until that moment I wasn’t aware that the bookstore sold stuffed animals, and it was not precisely found in the children’s section. He made a gesture of complaisance, one made by those who think they are right. “Let’s go!” commanded to his wife (they clearly were married), “it is getting late.” “Late for what?” she asked somewhat angry. “You always think it’s late!” “Let’s go,” he said, trying to show composure. “All right!” she said loudly. “You are the boss! It’s always the same! You are the boss!” And then I lost sight of them.

I went back to reading the first page of Cartas portuguesas (this was the reason that had brought me to the bookstore’s coffee shop), but a scream got my attention and made me to look up over the book. “No!” exclaimed the old man, trying to lift the three-legged cane, clearly meaning to threaten her. The lady was holding the rabbit again and the husband was blocking her way. “No!” he repeated once again, “it’s already decided! Put that rabbit back in its place!” She looked around as her eyes were met by the few people in the cafe, and left the rabbit back on the table. Then she appeared annoyed, rolled her eyes up (maybe asking to some divinity for help in the bookstore’s ceiling), walked a couple of tired steps and reached for the man’s arm who seemed satisfied. Finally, her wife had come to her senses.

When they had disappeared among the shelves, surely on their way to the door which would definitively settle their disagreement, I went back to the Cartas de la monja portuguesa, a title in Spanish of the book that collects five letters written by sister Mariana Alcoforado, a nun who had been seduced by a count. As I pondered on the kinky circumstances and the image of the woman writing love letters under the dim candlelight of her lonely cell, I saw the woman passing in front of me who, once more, had the stuffed rabbit in her hands. I stopped thinking about the nun and paid new attention to the drama of the rabbit that, looking closer, it wasn’t a rabbit but a lanky, long-eared hare, the color of oranges; of orange oranges ¾because of course there are green and yellow oranges¾ and of a hue similar to the skin of ginger. It had a long and funny face; the hare, not the lady who, ensconced in the self-help section, was nervously and fondly squeezing the stuffed animal. Her granddaughter would surely like it. What would an old fogey know about what a little girl likes?

I asked for the check, paid the coffee, closed the book, and put it back on the self. Anyhow, the famous letters were not written by the nun, but by a Gabriel-Joseph de Guilleragues, who had been ambassador of France in Constantinople. And that small detail spoiled the erotic taste of reading the book. Besides, with all this drama of the old couple and the orange hare I had lost my concentration. I even stopped for a moment to look at a volume on sale of the complete works of the philosopher Walter Benjamin, to whom probably I am never going to read, and then continued my way out to the door. I was about to step out when I heard the woman’s voice again who, at the checkout counter, was calling to her husband while her finger was pointing at a little paper next to the hare.

Indeed, the husband’s credit card had gone through the small payment device and the man had to sign the little paper. I would never know how she had convinced him, but it was obvious that the women had won the battle. I browsed through the last illustrated edition of Vida y muerte de la pequeña Caperucita Roja (Una tragedia), by the German writer Ludwig Tieck, pretending I wasn’t interested in learning how things would unravel. I waited to see how the drama of the hare would end and, opposite to what I thought, it wasn’t a big deal after all: the old man signed the paper, took his card, and put it away in his wallet. Then he offered his arm to his wife and left the bookstore nonchalantly. She was carrying a plastic bag with her much coveted possession: the orange hare. I stayed a little bit longer in the bookstore waiting for them to walk ahead.

I caught up with them just as they were about to go down the escalator, but the couple was blocking the way because they were arguing about who would go first. It was hard to say if his three-legged cane was the reason or the bag the lady was holding which seemed impossible, or maybe it was just uncomfortable, to ride the escalator at the same time. “Heriberto,” she would say still holding his arm, “let’s wait for Gerardo to help you go down.” “Who is Gerardo?” asked the old man annoyed and with an inquisitive look. “He is your lifelong chauffeur, of course. Who else?” she replied. He seemed to ponder deeply and then asked with a frown: “Should we return it?” She replied evidently eager to pick up a fight: “Who? Gerardo?” “That rabbit, the old man answered, pointing at the plastic bag. “It’s too expensive, you know that at our age we should be saving.” “Oh, Heriberto!” she exclaimed, “shut up! I will leave you here until Gerardo comes and help you down. I am sick of you!” “I don’t need any such Gerardo to go down this simple escalator,” said the old man. “I can do it by myself.” She turned around only to realize that there was already a line of people waiting for them to end their squabble. At last, she finally let go of her husband’s arm so that he could go first on the escalator.

He took a minute to assess the elusive step each time he wanted to place his foot on the it, but then he unexpectedly went ahead, tried to grab the bag from the woman, and lost his balance. He was unable to plant his three-legged cane on the fleeting stairs, and fell on his face. He bounced several times before landing horizontally at the foot of the escalator, looking dead. It turned out he wasn’t, because when we rushed down to help him, he was still breathing, although with some difficulty. Now without the flat cap, which had flung somewhere on the floor, I was able to recognize in the pale and scrawny countenance the face of General Túnchez, one of the greatest gunrunners of the past decades. He had become a millionaire under the shadows of power, enabling smooth way to countless containers through customs avoiding taxes. Later, he had invested in all kinds of properties and in the money laundering industry. Nobody was able to prove anything. He was forever untouchable. And that is how he had reached the age of retirement and peace. Until today. All because of a harmless orange hare.

Arturo Monterroso

Nació en Guatemala en 1948. Es escritor, editor y corrector de estilo.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

S.Roskell, Perspectives in English Parliamentary History

By C Thompson

Academic essays which survey the state of particular areas of historical interest rarely have long shelf lives. They are creatures of the moment, useful to undergraduates but soon outdated by the passage of time. As new articles and books appear, their utility declines and, before long, they are forgotten. Nonetheless, there have been surveys of this kind which encapsulate the understanding of historians at a particular point in time and which pose an interesting contrast to later claims.

The essay composed by the distinguished medievalist, J.S.Roskell, on perspectives in English Parliamentary history and published in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library in March, 1964 falls into this category.[1] Roskell took as his subject the development of Parliament from the medieval period onwards up until the year 1700 and made some critical points about the point at which the institution became an indispensable and permanent part of the country’s constitution.

In the pre-modern period, Parliament depended on the sovereign’s will for its meetings: such meetings were extraordinary and occasional events. Until Parliament became a regular part of the constitution, it could not control royal governments. J.E.Neale’s works on Tudor Parliaments made it clear that it was not the business of Parliament to supervise the government of England. It was true that the House of Commons had gained a degree of control over attendance and of freedom from arrest. But Queen Elizabeth had contested with success claims by M.P.s like Peter Wentworth to speak on matters like the royal succession and, indeed, on religion. Restiveness in opposition is one thing but the thing it was not was power. 

“So much”, Roskell concluded, “for the treat to personal monarchy and the preparation of the constitutional revolution of Stuart times.” Under James and Charles, too, the right to free speech proved illusory in practice: M.P.s could be and were confined during and Parliamentary sessions in 1614, 1621, 1626, 1629 and the spring of 1640. It was not until the Bill of Rights of 1689 that there was any constitutional safeguard for freedom of speech.

The acid test of Parliamentary power rested on the control of direct and indirect taxation. This had actually contracted under the Tudors because of the life-time grant of Tonnage and Poundage in the first Parliaments of their reigns. The bargaining power of the House of Commons was thereby reduced. It was not withheld until 1625 but Charles I still collected taxes without Parliamentary authority. As long as a King could dissolve Parliament at his discretion and could use his prerogative to choke opposition, it was impossible for the House of Commons to secure the abolition of levies like impositions and Ship Money collected on the basis of royal authority backed by judgments in the courts of law.

If Parliament was to control taxation, it was necessary to make its grants conditional upon their appropriation to specific purposes and to ensure that these were adhered to. This requirement was resurrected in 1624 and 1641 but only made invariable post-1688. The auditing of such grants was only indisputably re-established in 1667.

The real break, Roskell argued, came with the end of the power of the Crown to govern effectively without Parliament. What the Tudors had created was not the “power” of the House of Commons, much less authority, but merely potentiality. What was being fashioned under the early Stuarts was the procedural means to secure power but not, critically, power itself. The new practices identified by Wallace Notestein were the means to an end but control over the Crown itself was not established. The great divide in Parliamentary history came in the late-seventeenth century when Parliaments had to meet regularly, when taxes had to be voted year by year, when, in fact, they became a regular part of the constitution.

The significance of this essay lies in its summary of historical understanding in the mid-1960s. Roskell was perfectly clear that Parliament was not an institution wielding power and that its existence depended upon the willingness of monarchs to summon it. He was no less clear on its pre-1640 role as an extraordinary and occasional event. It could not control the government nor could it prevent levies or taxes without Parliamentary approval being collected. Monarchs could and did disregard privileges like freedom of speech when they chose: they could and did incarcerate members of both Houses during Parliamentary sessions and after adjournments and dissolutions. Procedural changes did not give either House “power” as such.

This analysis undermines claims for the novelty of Conrad Russell’s assault on the Whig interpretation of Parliamentary history when it was made over a decade later. Historians like John Ball in his study of Sir John Eliot’s role in Parliaments between 1624 and 1629 had already disposed of such an interpretation while J.H.Hexter in 1959 had repudiated the claim that there was a struggle for sovereignty between the Crown and Parliament. The views Russell criticised were antique and no longer current in the historiography of the period. Roskell’s essay confirmed this verdict.

1.J.S.Roskell, Perspectives in English Parliamentary History. Bulletin of the John Rylands Library. Volume 46, No.2 (March, 1964), Pp.448-475.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Alternatives to the terms 'the Great Rebellion', the 'English Revolution' and the 'Wars of the Three Kingdoms'

by Christopher Thompson

I have never been entirely happy with the terminology used by historians to describe the events of the 1640s and 1650s in the British Isles and Ireland. Clarendon's use of the phrase the 'Great Rebellion' appears inadequate in the light of scholarship since c.1970 or so on the interactions between the three Stuart realms while the term 'the English Revolution' carries the weight of improbable Marxist claims about the rise of the bourgeoisie and proto-proletarian agitation.

More recently, investigations of the interactions between Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales have suggested that the 'Wars of the Three Kingdoms' provides a better title but this does not fully provide for the requirements of internal pressures and struggles within those kingdoms.

Having looked around for an alternative terminology, I wonder whether the French terminology for 'great uprisings' may be more appropriate, i.e. 'Les grands soulèvements dans les îles britanniques et en Irlande' or ' le grand soulèvement', since the conflicts of the 1640-1660 period seem to me to have more in common with the revolt of the Low Countries after 1566-1567 or the French Wars of Religion from 1562 to 1598 and the Frondes of 1648 to 1653. I should be interested to learn what others think on this subject.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Review: Permanent Record by Edward Snowden - 352 pages- Macmillan-(17 Sept. 2019)

“It is hard to think of a greater stamp of authenticity than the US government filing a lawsuit claiming your book is so truthful that it was literally against the law to write,”

Edward Snowden

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”
― George Orwell, 1984

The ink on Edward Snowden’s new book had barely dried when the US government sought to block the proceeds of his memoir Permanent Record.

The US Department of Justice filed suit on Tuesday against Edward Snowden and his publisher Macmillan. The aim of this vindictive move was to stop Snowden from receiving any money made from the publication of his new book. US Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger stated, “This lawsuit will ensure that Edward Snowden receives no monetary benefits from breaching the trust placed in him.” Snowden's publisher Macmillan is also being sued “solely to ensure that no funds are transferred to Snowden, or at his direction, while the court resolves the United States’ claims.”

Snowden who has over four million Twitter followers is widely respected for his whistleblowing act and in some quarters is regarded as a hero said the book was written not for monetary gain but in order to set the record straight regarding his release of data that showed the US government had systematically and secretly tapped the internet records of every single person on the planet. In doing so successive, the US government had violated constitutional rights on a massive scale.

As Snowden intimates in the book, the surveillance apparatus exposed has no real parallel in history. Companies like Verizon, Google and Yahoo helped the US government collect billions of emails, phone calls, texts, videoconferences and webcam recordings.

One writer said that it “allows the surveillance agencies to draw social and political profiles of every person in the US and hundreds of millions of people beyond America’s borders”.

The book itself contains no “secrets” it still nonetheless takes the breath away at the extent of spying the US government undertook. While not implying in the book  Snowden has uncovered through a series of leaks “the very advanced framework of a police state, both illegal and unconstitutional. The National Security Agency (NSA) and the US spy network are engaged in the collection of virtually all communications and the assembling of vast databases for the purpose of monitoring the personal, social and political activities of the entire population”.

As Snowden graphically puts it in an interview “All of your private records, all of your private communications, all of your transactions, all of your associations, who you talk to, who you love, what you buy, what you read—all of those things can be seized and held by the government and then searched later for any reason, hardly, without any justification, without any real oversight, without any real accountability for those who do wrong”.

On a human level, this point was hit home in the book when Snowden was spying on someone and was watching his target through his computer. The target had his son on his knee all the while Snowden was spying on him.

As Snowden notes he could “actually see you write sentences and then backspace over your mistakes and then change the words and then kind of pause and think about what you wanted to say and then change it. Moreover, it is this extraordinary intrusion not just into your communications, your finished messages but your actual drafting process, into the way you think.”

One overarching aim of the lawsuit is to try to deter people from buying the book and discussing content such as the one above but as Edward Snowden tweeted “Yesterday, the government sued the publisher of #PermanentRecord for—not kidding—printing it without giving the CIA and NSA a chance to erase details of their classified crimes from the manuscript. Today, it is the best-selling book in the world.”

Snowden’s book is a cross between a novel, spy story and biography, and this makes it a cracking read. Reading the book, one is struck by a certain degree of irony. Although carrying out one of the most audacious revolutionary acts this century Snowden's early life would appear to have been the inspiration for the film The Truman Show.

Snowden grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC. His family was all involved in the military or federal government in some capacity. Snowden himself becoming a trusted CIA employee and NSA intelligence contractor.

There is a lot to admire about Snowden. On a personal level, the fact that he was prepared to sacrifice everything to expose illegal US government spying shows he was a man of courage and principle. On a broader level, Snowden was radicalised by the multiple wars carried out by the US government during his most formative years. In this sense, Snowden is not alone.

The life experience of the 30-year-old Snowden reflects that of an entire generation. “The disaffection with and growing opposition to the existing social and political set-up reflected in the evolution of Snowden’s views is not simply an individual process, but part of a change involving millions of his generation. It is this fact that accounts for the extraordinary level of anger and fear within the state apparatus that has been generated by his actions”.

From reading his book, his whistleblowing was as much an act against the massive invasion of privacy as it was against a quarter-century of wars. It would appear that Snowden very consciously fought to oppose these wars in the one way that was open to him and that was whistleblowing.

Kevin Reed supports this sentiment adding“ millions of workers and young people are entering political struggle today—facing a crisis that will challenge and shake up their views about the nature of the US military, the two-party system, the unions, bourgeois nationalism, etc.—Snowden’s book provides an insight into the internal process by which one young intelligence worker came to act, on the basis of principles, against the entire military-intelligence establishment of the American government”.[1]

There is much to like about this book. While Snowden had a reasonable idea of what would happen after he released his files nothing really prepared him for how fundamental his life would change. Once the files were released he planned to go to one of few countries that he would feel safe in that being Ecuador.

To do so, he had to fly via Russia while in the air Snowden’s passport was revoked by the US Department of State. Snowden lived at the airport in Russia for 40 days after which he was given asylum by the Russian government.

One striking aspect of the book is the degree of confidence Snowden has shown in his actions. There is not a moment of the doubt despite the years of threats and calumny by the US government. His courage and principled stand is not just a reflection of his personal courage but because he knows he has widespread support.

As Glenn Greenwaldy states  “Snowden seemed to derive a sense of strength from having made this decision. He exuded an extraordinary equanimity when talking about what the US government might do to him. The sight of this twenty-nine-year-old young man responding this way to the threat of decades, or life, in a super-max prison—a prospect that, by design, would scare almost anyone into paralysis—was deeply inspiring. And his courage was contagious: Laura and I vowed to each other repeatedly and to Snowden that every action we would take and every decision we would make from that point forward would honour his choice.” [2]

It would be pointless to hope this book gets a wide readership as it is already selling bucketloads throughout the world. It is hoped that the new generation of workers and students reading the book act upon his courageous and selfless action. In his book, he is refreshingly frank about the emotional crisis his whistleblowing caused to his family and partner Lindsay. While had to abandon his girlfriend without any warning it is comforting to know that their relationship was as strong as his principles.

Further Reading

A Quarter Century of War: The US Drive for Global Hegemony 1990-2016 Paperback – 27 Jul 2016-by David North  (Author)-

[1] US Justice Department sues Edward Snowden to block proceeds of memoir
Kevin Reed-23 September 2019-
[2]No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the Surveillance State
By Glenn Greenwaldy-(p51)