FFS Library Update: Lawrence Lessig’s “Republic, Lost”

republic_largeAlthough I have not personally had the chance to read “Republic, Lost” yet, I have written in the past about my admiration of Lawrence Lessig’s work on money in politics. His observations, logic and legal reasoning concerning the corrosive and corrupting effect of money in politics closely mirror my own. Rather than the often partisan scree of some analysts, Lessig favors a rational root cause analysis that does not rely on ideological polemic to make his points.

Mr. Lessig and his publisher, Twelve Books, have made “Republic, Lost” available in both .pdf and epub formats under the Creative Commons license. You can download it in either format at Lessig.org and we are making it available in the FFS Library in .pdf format (as always, free of charge). However, if you enjoy Mr. Lessig’s writing and insights as much as I do, you’ll probably want to buy a hard copy. It is available at IndieBound, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

In addition to clerking for Judge Richard Posner on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court, Lessig is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. He holds a BA in economics and a BS in management from the University of Pennsylvania, an MA in philosophy from Cambridge, and a JD from Yale.

Kudos to Anonymously Yours for bringing this to our attention.

Gene Howington

Editor-in-Chief, Flowers for Socrates

About Gene Howington

I write and do other stuff.
This entry was posted in Campaign Finance, Civil Liberties, Constitutional Law, Corruption, Democracy, Economics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to FFS Library Update: Lawrence Lessig’s “Republic, Lost”

  1. Anonymously Yours says:

    He says the truth as he sees it and having clerked for two sell outs on the federal bench it is amazing the truth be told.

  2. michaelbeaton says:

    Just the title is sufficient to understand the scope of the work. It is as if Gibbon is writing his history in the moment. Or Milton looking back at the bright hope of what might have been, but now from which we are banished. I look forward to reading this, not with delight, but for , hopefully, actionable insight and understanding.

    I was just reading some articles about the Amtrak incident, and connecting the dots of all to too many things that seem (not seem are) wrong in America, and the world, today. The state crime; various wars on this and that that are never won, and seem to have the opposite effect of the purported purpose. Bridges that are falling down, or are about to. Yet another cycle of robber barons accumulating the wealth of the nation – but this time the grip seems more sure on the throat of the society – No Teddy Roosevelt in sight.
    And the strange rejection of knowledge and science. I wonder that we are not in fact in some parallel to the early days of conflict between The Church and the nascent understandings of the cosmos that created so much resistance. Thankfully the church does not have the same power….But is it not essentially the same that the political powers that are in charge of our national and political fortunes are so antithetical to basic and essential knowledge?
    To list the issues, even if only by title, is to present a catalog of ill’s and corruptions and systemic problems that defy solution or synthesis; Water, Poverty, Racism, Liberty, Bill of Rights, Infrastructure, Community, Justice(?), Tea Party, BushCo, Wealth distribution/accumulation, NSA, Blowback (ref Chalmers Johnson), War, CIA, Hope and Change, Corporations – Fascism, Climate Change, Education – Higher and Elementary, Television/Media, Consumer vs Customer, People vs Human Resources, The Singularity, Land Use and Agriculture, The Commonweal, Principles…. I wonder if it is possible to make a coherent comprehensive list. I have tried, and it ultimately turns into everything… The corruption of our society is near complete.

    Below all the tumult of the details of the “List”, I think that it is the inability to adhere to the essential Principles that did indeed make America unique in the world (even while it continued to be very much the same as any other nation/peoples ) that will be found to be the undoing in the end. The systemic, underlying reason for “Republic Lost”.
    What shreds remain of the Bill of Rights – in Principle – are not enough to restore a nation. Not in their current form, with the current forces arrayed against them. What remains of the notion of Citizen is barely a ghost of the necessary foundation for a nation. So a new set of principles are being inculcated and they do not include the great vision as to be found in the preamble of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
    We are past that now… As Huxley had it , moving into a New Brave World.
    Or, as Lincoln said it best : We are now engaged in a great struggle to see if that nation , or any nation so constituted can long endure…

    Thanks for finding and posting this. I look forward to reading it. If there is ,after all ,any way to stop this runaway train before it derails it will be on the depth and insight and hope of such people as Lessing who remember important things that have been forgotten.

  3. michaelbeaton says:

    Another book that examines some of the underlying history is this history of the Republican Party. I am about a third way through it. It is very interesting to trace the undulations of the parties and how they address the core issues and sever problems over time.
    I suspect this book would give some historical context to Lessings book.



  4. Mike Spindell says:


    I wish I could dispute every theme you touched on in your comment, if only to deny the dystopian reality you present…..but I can’t and so sadly share your view.

  5. michaelbeaton says:

    Me too actually.

    And I do find hope not in the sense of fixing “this system”… this one seems broken beyond repair…but in the potential and promise of a new emerging system that will replace it…

    This is a complex notion, but one that seems to accord with the “facts” on the ground.
    Meaning that despite the sad state of things … and that is true… it is not the only thing that is true. There are plenty of pockets of people and groups committed to something different and better.
    Certainly they don’t have the explicit power these monolithic forces and systems…still, that is not the only thing that is important. I think this is the meaning in the stories and mythologies , as well as a motif of history itself… that absolute power never is really absolute. There is an arc to history that bends towards justice, as MLKing said…however painful it is in the meantime. (And it is. Almost unbearably so. Here I would insert Alexandr Solzhenitsyn to bear upon this point.)

    Despite the dystopia, and I believe it is real, still it is not perfectly hopeless. Where the “light” is coming in is not by revising or reforming the existing order, but by those who are functioning within it, but are predicated upon a different foundation. (As an aside, I think this is the horrible disappointment with Obama… He had the potential to be a leader in this realignment…It was the core meaning, as I understood it, of his “message” of “Hope and Change”. And I think he understood it that was as well. I don’t believe he was simply another lying politician at the time he was propounding such things. He just didn’t reckon on the power of the forces that happened to be in play. The rot was deeper than he (and we) imagined. So whatever forces waylaid this opportunity… I think the underlying energy is there to be tapped in the Citizenry…. It just wont be , I think anyway, at the level of our manifest political system. )

    I have essays worth of examples and thoughts to add here. But this as a place holder for now.

    My main proposition is that there are some who are simply choosing a different path from the seeming binary choice of (1) becomes like them (0) resist them and fight them in the terms of the debate as expressed.
    A third line is to simply refuse the fight at that level and to go deeper….

    “A problem cannot be solved at the level it was created”
    Something like that.

    I think it is worth understanding the paradigms in play…but in order to affect real change it is going to require a different underlying core principles… or, as I would have it, a different paradigm. The old one was insufficient to the times. In system terms, what is required is a “Second Order Change”, not simply a “First Order” change tantamount to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
    I hope that Lessing’s book is a contribution to the thinking at this level…

    As Lincoln said it; “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
    So we must…
    We are surely “enthrall” to the present order. It will not be easy…not even close…but I do believe we are at one of those hinge points in history where the current order is going to break down one way or the other. It is the ideas that are “laying around” at the time that will determine the character of the Phoenix that arises.
    I see it as my (our?) job to propagate those ideas as best as can be done against this time.

    • Mike Spindell says:


      I’d say from your mouth to God’s ears, but I don’t believe in an activist deity. I’d be interested in how you would define another way.

      • michaelbeaton says:

        I think we would have a good and wide ranging conversation…I’d enjoy that.
        To yours here a few thoughts then and then into the day:
        > On pessimism:
        I wonder about the term. There is some semantic work to be done to be clear on this thought I think. Meaning: Is it pessimistic to observe and be aware of what is true? (And that is where the tricky part is.. but small t truth at least. ) The catalog of details that you and I and also others make here on this board could be seen as pessimistic. I see it as clarity, from which wisdom and accurate actions might be taken in response.
        I just read an article in the NewYorker about J.Bush and his rejection of “hypothetical” questions. A standard ploy of our political class. Covering up either a fiction, incompetence – they really don’t know, or just the run of the mill lying that they don’t wish to have exposed. It is kin to the other political flaw : “That was in the past lets move on”. And thus we can learn nothing because of our devotion to not being “pessimistic”, and some unwillingness to learn from the past. Mistakes were, — and continue — to be made. Indeed. And largely because we refuse to learn from anything other than … as you have it… what can be done to increase my own power…. (in all the complex facts of that notion)
        So, pessimistic? I say realist, even pragmatist.

        The main reply I wanted to address was your sentence :”…but where we may differ “…

        My primary POV is one of systems, and systemic relationships. My inquiry is to understand the structure of a “thing”, event, or system as being a priori essential to understanding the flows of power, energy, decision making… basically why things are the way they are.
        As part of that I engage all sorts of points of perspective to help understand and elucidate those systemic relationships and structure. Including the ones you are specialist in…(I am a student of Jung, as well as Maslow, for example.)
        Point being , we would not differ so much as take different stations around the proverbial elephant like so many “Blind Sufi’s”.

        When the inquiry is honest, and willing to be influenced, corrected, informed and grow by good engaged conversation I think the old frame work of differences is less useful. Meaning, the differences don’t need to create “camps” that need to be defended, rather are , like the sufi’s attempts to understand the magnitude of a thing that is bigger than any one particular part. or pont of view. Indeed all the points of view need to be synthesized (without regard to ego) to understand the thing. (Is is churlish to reexample the opposite by citing again those odd and extensive exchanges w “Bob” and his “dog” metaphors…? Though you and Gene and others get credit for trying… I suppose )

        So not so much , then, to differ as to learn. As thus, I appreciate your contributions to all the posts you post. And I appreciate the engagement in this thread as well.

        As to the substance of your point… the place of power in creating, sustaining, and defining a context and reason for why things happen…along with the underlying psychology…. we are in perfect agreement. Only that I expect you understand this angle of the conversation deeper, and would and will enjoy learning more as we go forward on this thread and others…
        I agree, when we understand , for example , that money is , at these levels, not a medium of exchange, but a function of power I believe we are beginning to understand the structure of how things are organized. The particulars you introduce begin to address the question of “why” this is the case….

        Then it no longer is confusing why things that seem inexplicable keep happening the way they do. When we don’t understand the underlying dynamics nothing makes sense. Then, at least, we have the chance of “thinking different”, or “anew” in a way that solves a problem at core levels, not simply reacting to symptoms. (Heck! the train came off the track, the bridge fell down…why didn’t someone do anything about it! Quick do something….)
        To remain in thrall to the inexplicable and confusing is , in my opinion, part of the design of those in power.

        And etc.

        From this point I think wisdom and insight might have a chance to gain a handhold. Without it , I think, perhaps very pessimistically, there is no chance at all…

        So on to continuing and having profound and deep systemic conversation , looking at all the forces and factors that are in play….by which, as L. had it, we might, if at all, “save our selves”.


  6. Anonymously Yours says:

    Good stuff I have read.

  7. michaelbeaton says:

    Morning Mike,
    A couple of thoughts in re yours:
    1. No deities… Of all the things that need to re-thought… “think anew…” god, religion of all the various inflections much be in the first place on the list. To break free of this syndrome seems to me essential. It always struck me, the point that Toynbee made, in the ebb and flow of civilizations that after the the sociopolitical structures collapsed what remained was a resurgence of the religious… Examples abound… (One off the wall example is in the SciFi book Dune, which has among the themes it explores some of these very elements.) And I find it interesting that in our own experience that one of the markers of decline and corruption is our own resurgence of the religious fundamentalism… Not only in such extremes as ISIS and other Islamic factions…But here in good ol’ USA… (and there are other forms of fundamentalistic thinking/being that are not specifically religious)
    So yes, agreed, no gods…

    2. So if not that, then what? And that is what I have sometimes enjoyed this board for… the exploration of such things. I find it interesting , however, that a food fight (dog fight?) over Ferguson and other threads that spawn endless posts, back and forth battling with Bob , for example, over important, but ultimately non-issues while this thread has been left to you and me more or less. (I mean the forward movement, creative thinking, and integrated growth in participants thinking rather than what seemed more to be a staking out of invincible (to any meaningful argument) intractable predetermined opinions. (Bob was being as ass and a belligerent IMHO, for the record..) ) How is it that a post of this quality , caliber and potential to generate substantial engagement and useful expressions of different (not battling) points of view goes essentially un-attended?

    I think this point, however badly I am making it, is part of the conversation somehow. Meaning, in response to yours… how do we have a conversation when no one will converse?

    3. With that preamble, I notice my comments are of two very different perspectives. The first, the “dystopian” , I hold to be more or less true as a point of understanding the context within which we function. There is no really escaping it, especially on its own terms. The systems in play are too monolithic to subject to “frontal assault”. I see having a clear eyed understanding of the context the one primary factor foundational to any and all other thoughts that might address the issues in meaningful as well as pragmatic ways.

    I see this lack of being able to peer into the realities of “how it is” as first cause to many if not most of the ill’s that plague us. In journalism/reporting it shows up in the captured media, and is manifest in a profession unwilling, or , just as likely , unable to “Ask the Next Question”.
    In our political world of course it shows up everywhere: One example is having idiot Senators bringing snowballs to the floor, and having representatives who ardently believe that science is the devil’s work in charge of the Science committees in the House. An invincible ignorance that cannot understand even the simplest of things.
    So we bumble about addressing symptoms not causes and wonder incessantly how come nothing changes…. At least this is one of the primary reasons.

    As our times are new we must think anew…

    But to think right thoughts is to be dedicated to an a priori honesty… Something you are particularly adroit at in your writings….But not so much in our culture at large. Thus… ibid…

    So it seems to me that the only way out of “this level” of thinking and stuckedness is to “think anew”… which to me means a clear understanding that the system we are in now , at pretty much every level except the most small and accessible, is corrupt, and in fact beyond the point of redemption. I don’t know if that is absolutely true. But as a premise it leads me to think that what is required is to leave this system to do and be what it will, while others head out into the uncharted terrritories of just doing what needs to be done in ways that they need to be done without respect to the “worn out creeds of the past”. (Global Capitalism? Dominion over the Earth? The God ordained Racism s that enable us to subjegate people “for their good”… And any number of other “paradigm” defining axioms by which we have organized our structures). No longer waiting for the large organizations, governments, and other ostensible “leaders” to lead. They will not. And where they might be able to …they wont. Costs to much. Not enough profit or power or benefit in it.

    I am thinking, then, of things like Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful”. And the thinking expressed in this site zeri.org. And the skunk works coming out of google, tesla, and the like who seem to have an ethos different from the standard grubby grabbing global capitalism. I am pondering the Transition Town movement. The ethos behind 350.org is another example. So many more amazing examples of people going beyond the existing order to live and work out something better.

    As a practical matter then,, I like the notion behind Transition Towns : use the energy and systems we have now to create and develop the systems necessary for the sustainable future as the existing resources deplete. Our current model seems one of running the system to exhaustion : “Eat Drink and be Merry for tomorrow we die”. Finding creative ways to engage even this question seems a useful and necessary “paradigmic” principle to address.

    And etc….

    What I think would be interesting , if it were to happen in this thread, would be a great discussion that would become a catalog of useful ideas, books, papers, references, experiences, that speak to any of these core ideas.
    That is exactly how I took the original post from Gene: A book relevant to the cause of making a better world, with meaningful understanding of the context and realities with , hopefully, new, creative, rambunctious ideas how to respond and think about it all.

    Lets see….

    And see! No gods needed….


  8. Mike Spindell says:


    I share you pessimism about the current system and its corruption at all levels. We indeed are living in an ever more dystopian world and you and I agree on many things. What you are providing as a way beyond the current state of affairs blends well with my own conceptions, though I see it in perhaps more psychological/sociological/anthropological terms, which I guess reflects my training in psychotherapy. I see the destructive nature of civilizations in terms of desire for power. The misuse of religion, political philosophy, economics to further the cause of individuals and their allies to achieve and maintain power over other humans. Our entire species is set up hierarchically and the main struggle a person faces in how to increase their level on the human pecking order. As you state the system is beyond repair, but where we may differ is looking at at what I seen are the symptoms rather that the cause of our modern dystopia. My sense is that the cause is this ego driven competitiveness to accrue higher status, that many aspiring to have used in constructing their stratagems to gain power. We seek logic in many of the activities of those in power, or who are aspiring to obtain greater power in the world. There is no motive save that of increasing ones power.


  9. michaelbeaton says:

    On Pessimism : here is an interesting interview… https://onpoint.wbur.org/2015/05/12/chris-hedges-protest-revolt

    What I find so interesting in the form of so much of our “debates” in the public square is the dogmatic literalism to a point, and thinking that if you dismiss a point you have won the argument. In this piece Hedges is truly sounding an alarm, and predicts and suggest some pretty dire outcomes.. His oppostition thinks he has won the point by saying “There wont be a mass revolution”… and he is likely correct in that assertion. It is unlikely the gov would allow such mayhem to go unchecked in todays world. It is , for example , unlikely that the riots and evens of 1968 would be allowed to progress as they did then now.

    I bring this up as a coda to my prior post on what it might mean to have a real , insightful, useful conversation. It doesn’t happen by dening things, or thinking you have won the argument and there is nothing more to discuss if you manage to simply a point into a straw man….

    Anyway, the interview stands on its own, and is, to me, a compelling voice on the corruption that is the underlying point of this thread.

  10. Pingback: You Say You Want a Revolution | Flowers For Socrates

  11. Mike Spindell says:


    I’m not able to do justice to your comments right now, but I think I address some of your points re: Chris Hedges in a new post https://flowersforsocrates.com/2015/05/18/you-say-you-want-a-revolution/#more-8343 , which I re-purposed from a piece I did two years ago at RIL. Hopefully, by the end of the week my time will be freed up enough to give your comments the attention they deserve.

  12. Good thread, guys.

Comments are closed.