Arthur D. Robbins is a psychologist with a practice in Manhattan. He holds a bachelors in English from Queens College, a doctorate in psychology from the New School for Social Research and a doctorate in French and Romance Philology from Columbia University, where he specialized in 18th-century political thought. Dr. Robbins spent a year and a half in Paris studying psychopathology at the Sorbonne. His articles on French literature and psychopathology have appeared in scholarly journals. He has spent the last ten years reading and writing about democracy.
In his spare time Dr. Robbins enjoys playing Bach on the cello and studying painting at the Art Students League. He once made a violin from scratch, one of his proudest achievements.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Some time ago I read a book by Kenneth M. Dolbeare entitled "Political Change in the United States: A Framework of Analysis" (1974). At the end of the book, Dolbeare suggests to the reader that he design a new form of government. This new government, a government that never existed before, would suit the whims and fancies of the reader. Dolbeare imposed no constraints, no guides to work with. This was a most unusual proposition, at once both intimidating and empowering. How could one possibly presume to create a new government, if only in the imagination? On the other hand, wouldn’t it be a wonderfully liberating experience to engage in such an exercise? New possibilities would open up. One would begin to see the current government through different eyes. The future would seem brighter, seen in the light of this new government.
Well, I took up Dolbeare’s challenge. I did exactly as he suggested. I borrowed from Aristotle his use of the word “virtue” and proceeded to create a new form of government. For Aristotle, “virtue” meant the excellence of a thing. The virtue of a knife is its sharpness; the virtue of a workhorse is its ability to pull heavy loads. If I wanted to create a democracy, what would be its virtue? As I understood the word “democracy” then, and still do, the virtue of democracy as a form of government is its inclusion of the maximum number of citizens in the deliberative and legislative processes.
This then became my goal—to design a government that had this virtue. It would be a government that included hundreds of thousands or maybe even millions of citizens, not as passive observers but as actual governors. There would be no other considerations. I would not worry whether or not my new government was feasible or even desirable. I would not include any other constraints. I would simply proceed with my new government, heedless and free of any second-guessing.
For the past twenty years or so, I have been living with this imaginary government in my head. It has cast a warm glow of anticipation and optimism as I have lived out the harsh realities of how government has indeed been behaving in current reality. Though I took no steps to realize the new government I had created, it nonetheless existed for me as an alternate reality to the government that did exist. "Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained: The True Meaning of Democracy" was written in the hope that those who read it will join me in my journey to the land of imaginary government, where new possibilities exist as realities.
When did you first start writing?
I started writing as a High School student. But these were writing exercises. I think I first began expressing myself in a personal way was when I started writing outside of school and began exploring my emotions. I wrote a poem about a boy wandering down a country road, his "hat askew." I was quite proud of "hat askew."