Thursday, January 30, 2014

Find out more about: ‘Against Power Inequalities’

Against Power Inequalities is a short history of the struggle for inclusive communities, recounting critical moments in opposing exploitation and oppression, and explains their inter-connections across time and nations.

It provides an accessible guide to the barriers to greater inclusion, how some of them have been overcome, and why significant challenges still remain.

Here are what some of the leading thinkers and practitioners have said about it:

“Henry Tam has written a book that is breathtaking in its panoramic overview of the genealogy of power inequalities and the struggles against them. ... In its forensic, but always optimistic, analysis of how citizens have worked in the past, and continue to work, towards a fairer, more just society, we have an inspirational example of a text that speaks truth to power.”
D. Reay, Professor of Education, University of Cambridge

“Henry Tam is a master storyteller. This is history retold as a panorama of struggle, hope and co-operation in the name of fairness and in the pursuit of an ever wider circle of respect and equality. The idea of community has deep roots in human behaviour and, as this book shows, in human history.”
E Mayo, Secretary General, Co-operatives UK

“Tam’s book is an intellectual tour de force, an erudite romp through the history of civilization that highlights the origins of power and the never-ending effort to democratize hierarchical systems through mobilized participatory communities. It bears reading and re-reading, because the issues of power and community are so fundamental, and the history so rich and evocative. One might call it, if Howard Zinn would permit, A People’s History of the World.”
C Derber, author of Greed to Green; Morality Wars; &
Corporation Nation; Professor of Sociology, Boston College (USA)

“In this thought-provoking book Henry Tam demonstrates that in times in which populist movements try to pit the people against the bearers of democratic institutions, we need to reconsider the relation between democratic decision-making and community life. ... Alongside social democrats and liberal reformers, Christian Democrats who are interested both in the history and in the future of their ideals, will derive inspiration from this work of a truly independent scholar.”
E M H Hirsch Ballin, Minister for Justice (The Netherlands)

“In recent times we have seen corporate greed stripped bare, and its ugliness and fraudulence displayed for all to see. … [W]ill we be able to fashion new forms of social organisation, based on reciprocity and human solidarity? Henry Tam takes us on an epic journey spanning more than two millennia of human ideas and endeavour, and reminds us that there is nothing inevitable about inequality of power and its attendant misery, and that alternatives based on enlightened enquiry, distributed power, and constant vigilance, are always to be found.”
S Wyler, Director, Development Trusts Association (UK)

“In Against Power Inequalities, Henry Tam tells the inspiring, global story of democratic struggles against concentrated power and offers guidance for progressives today. It is a broad, bold, and thoughtful manifesto for popular democratic reform.”
P Levine, Research Director, Jonathan Tisch College
of Citizenship and Public Service, Tufts University (USA)

"The author boldly claims that his book provides a historical guide to the progressive struggle for power redistribution, and draws out the underlying obstacles to the development of more inclusive communities. This is a mightily ambitious claim. ... Having read the new edition of Against Power Inequalities, I now recognise the power of his keyboard, and believe his claim for the book to be justified."
J Tizard, the Huffington Post (UK)

“Tam takes on a breathtaking sweep of philosophy, history, and world culture. Throughout this book, he tugs with a potent blend of indignation and optimism at a single thread: What happens when people do not have a fair share of power, and how we can counter it by creating a more inclusive society.”
D D Kallick, Senior Fellow, the Fiscal Policy Institute (USA)

“Henry Tam is pivotally involved in the promotion of active citizenship in the UK and has written extensively on the subject. His latest publication, Against Power Inequalities, is a tour de force, providing an authoritative and widely researched account of the development of inclusive communities worldwide.”
R Bolsin, General Secretary, Workers' Educational Association (UK)

"This book makes a thorough and compelling case for persevering with the struggle for more inclusive communities. For anyone concerned with activism and political change, it provides an invaluable touchstone to help understand the mechanics of autonomy and control."
D Tyler, Chief Executive, Community Matters (UK)

1. Reciprocity, Power & Inclusive Communities
2. The Origins of Power Concentration
3. Learning to Challenge the Powerful
4. Enlightenment Ethos & its Enemies
5. Freedom from the Abuse of Power
6. Collective Action for the Common Good
7. Progressive Triumphs and Setbacks
8. The Struggle in the Global Age

To purchase the e-book or paperback version, click on: Against Power Inequalities
The text of the original edition is available as a free pdf (1.7 MB) download from the Equality Trust.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Politics for Outsiders: Learning Guide

There are broadly five challenges facing anyone concerned with teaching the theory and practice of inclusive politics. They may not always follow the same order, but many people, young or old, who are excluded from having any real influence over political decisions in their society, often believe in one or more of these propositions:

• There has always been, and will always be, wide gaps between those with power and the rest. There is nothing anyone can do about it, and we should just live with it.
• People will continue to disagree about what kind of community we should all strive for. There is no prospect of any political vision coming to be recognised as preferable to others, so we should forget about trying to rally people behind a common political goal.
• Activists tend to exaggerate the problems we face, and partisan advocates are obviously biased. It follows that attempts to raise concern against the dangers of exclusionary and oppressive politics will never get very far with a sceptical public.
• We may agree theoretically that reciprocity and mutuality are admirable, but in practice, it is just too difficult if not outright impossible to get people to cooperate on equal terms and achieve better results than if it were just left to a few experts or leaders to make the decisions.
• People cannot help how they behave. No one can be meaningfully held responsible for what they do, or the consequences that may lead to for others. Instead of bemoaning the irresponsibility of others, each should just be concerned with one’s own life.

In the light of the groups you are trying to teach, share ideas with, or engage through outreach, you may need to address some or all of these dispositions which can hold back political participation. The ‘Politics for Outsiders’ collection brings together materials that have been developed through the consistent application of inclusive political ideas in an inter-related set of academic and practical activities, so that together they present a package to make a comprehensive case for inclusive political participation.

One way of using the learning resources that make up ‘Politics for Outsiders’ would be to organise class discussions or reading circles to consider what they put forward with the help of a series of prompt questions. For example:

Against Power Inequalities:
→ what happened in history when power inequalities were allowed to widen without constraint?
→ how were power inequalities successfully challenged?
→ what were the risks in not sustaining limits to power inequalities after reforms were achieved?
More information: Info on Against Power Inequalities

→ what is the case for developing more inclusive communities?
→ what are the three communitarian principles and the implications they have for public policies?
→ what are the objections and responses to communitarian social and political development?
More information: Info on Communitarianism

Kuan’s Wonderland:
→ what is wrong with the society depicted in the novel?
→ what are the parallels with our own world?
→ what are the lessons from the struggle against those who relentlessly seek to take advantage of others?
More information: Info on Kuan’s Wonderland

Together We Can:
→ what are the core features of ‘cooperative problem-solving’?
→ what do we know about the evidence showing that its correct application can produce better and more sustainable results than other approaches?
→ what are the common mistakes and misunderstanding in trying to implement cooperative problem-solving?
More information: Info on Together We Can

Responsibility & Personal Interactions:
→ why do some people think no one can be held responsible for what they do?
→ what are the conditions under which people must be held responsible for their behaviour?
→ what would be legitimate reasons for accepting that someone is not responsible rather than irresponsible?
More information: Info on Responsibility

Have you been to ‘Kuan’s Wonderland’?

Kuan’s Wonderland is an allegorical novel set in a surreal dystopian world. It tells the story of young Kuan who is taken by force to a realm called Shiyan, where nothing is as it appears. He tries to find a way to escape and reunite with his father, not suspecting that both father and son could be the target of a nefarious conspiracy. It has been:

• Widely acclaimed as a gripping tale about power, deceit and defiance in the struggle against oppression.
• Highly rated by readers for its plot-twists and layers of meaning.
• Recommended reading to facilitate group discussions on social injustice in youth and adult education.

E-book version: £0.99
Paperback: £7.99

What’s been written about Kuan’s Wonderland?

• “Kuan’s Wonderland is an unmissable page-turner. Tam has created a fantasy universe unlike any that has come before.” (President, the Independent Publishers Guild)
• “It is fast-paced while containing beautifully written and memorable passages. And the ending is tense, unexpected and powerful.” (Economics Editor, The Independent newspaper)
• “Simply a tour de force. It is powerfully imaginative … [and] full of plot surprises and layers of deeper meaning.” (Director for Education, WEA)
• “[A] fast-moving adventure in a new world, which sparkles with visually captivating creatures and imaginative technology … [The ending is] astonishing.” (Fantasy Book Review)

What do readers like about it?

Here are a few excerpts from the customer feedback posted at

• “I can't remember the last time I was so gripped by a book. It kept me up late three nights in a row while I finished it. Indeed I contemplated abandoning work for a day just so I could find out what happened next. It's a very seductive read.” (A. J. Marks)
• “There are so many layers of meaning, … that a reader will be able to return again and again, and see fresh details each time. As soon as I'd finished Tam's novel, I had a huge urge to go back to the beginning and start all over again.” (Helen M.)
• “Tam has created an extraordinary world and a story line which makes the book a delight to read. The plot is full of action and constant surprise. But more than that, there is a depth to the book and a clear moral and political challenge for each of us to consider.” (Anton)
• “Imagine the bastard lovechild of Pan's Labyrinth and 1984 - if you can - and you might get a flavour of what's waiting for you with Kuan's Wonderland. … The twist at the end is inspired - it will be playing on your mind for days after you finish reading.” (YakinaMac)

Who’s recommending it for reading circles?

• “A great book to open debate and enquiry with young people on society and politics.” (Gary Buxton, Chief Executive, Young Advisors)
• “Kuan's Wonderland is a mesmerizing novel. … Readers young and old will be intrigued by the story and both teachers and students are going to have much to talk about and around it.” (Nicolette Burford, Director, Documentary Film-Makers Cooperative)
• “It is vital that young people understand the problems of power inequality if we are to bring about change and Kuan's Wonderland offers a unique, imaginative, way of introducing them to the issue. We highly recommend it!” (Julie Thorpe, Head of School & Youth Programmes, the Co-operative College).
• “Kuan’s Wonderland and the resource guide which accompanies it … [provide] an innovative and valuable way of engaging young people to explore issues surrounding equality and democracy in a way which speaks to them.” 
(Rachel Roberts, Director, Phoenix Education Trust)

Would you be interested in the teaching resource for the novel?

A learning resource for teachers and students interested in discussing the novel has been developed with the Equality Trust. The resource can be downloaded for free via the Equality Trust link for ‘Kuan’s Wonderland: A Novel Exploration of Inequality’. This will enable you to:
• Use the novel to facilitate discussions of equality and democracy in class.
• Share your views with other schools.
• Devise action plans to promote equality and cooperation in school and the wider community.

According to Kate Pickett (Director, Equality Trust, & co-author of The Spirit Level: why more equal societies almost always do better):

Kuan’s Wonderland is a didactic novel that doesn’t hesitate to entertain the reader. It shows that political theorists can engage a wider public with an imaginative medium such as popular fiction without losing intellectual force. The Equality Trust welcomes this opportunity to work with Henry Tam with the publication of the learning resource for his novel as part of our Young Person’s Guide to Inequality.”

Teachers can request a free pdf version of the novel for use at their school. Or readers can download their own e-copy for 99p to their Kindle, iPad, or any computer device with a free Kindle app from

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Find our more about: ‘Responsibility’

Central to progressive politics and the development of inclusive communities is an understanding of the conditions under which people must be held responsible for their behaviour, and how that affects others in society.

This issue is critically examined in two books by Henry Tam:

Responsibility & Personal Interactions: A Philosophical Study of the Criteria for Responsibility Ascriptions, Tam, H. (Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990).
Available from Amazon.

This book explores the interpersonal basis of the practice of responsibility ascriptions; formulates a clear and precise set of criteria for responsibility ascriptions; and demonstrates how the proposed criteria help to solve the key problems connected with responsibility in moral and legal philosophy.

Sir P.F. Strawson, the Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy (University of Oxford), wrote that he read it “with great interest and pleasure. I find myself fully in agreement with the main thrust of it … I particularly applaud (and share) [Tam’s] conception of the proper task of the philosopher.”

Chapters in the book:
• Personal Attitudes, Personal Interactions, and the Practice of Responsibility Ascriptions
• Is It Irrational to Hold People Responsible for Their Behavior?
• Forced to Behave in Spite of Oneself
• Culpable and Non-Culpable Ignorance
• Mental Abnormality and Responsibility
• Responsibility for Foreseeable Side-Effects & Intentional Omissions
• Determinism & Responsibility

Punishment, Excuses & Moral Development, Tam, H., ed., (Aldershot: Avebury Press, 1996)

This book brings together philosophers, psychiatrists and criminologists to explore how best to deal with irresponsible behaviour in society.

Part 1 Punishment:
Punishment, citizenship and responsibility
Restitution without punishment - is it enough to make criminals pay?
Mental disorder, multiple diagnosis and secure provision

Part 2 Excuses: responsibility, mental illness and psychiatric experts
"Not guilty, by reason of genetic determinism"
The limits of criminality - Kant on the plank

Part 3 Moral development: criminals and moral development - towards a cognitive theory of moral change
"Community", communities and the education of citizens
Individual versus social change
Educating responsible citizens.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dr. Henry Benedict Tam: writings & learning resources

Dr. Henry Tam is a writer, academic and activist whose ideas have influenced educators, campaigners, community organisations, and government institutions. The materials listed below may be of use to anyone interested in learning/teaching progressive ideas & practices [For an updated version of this archived post, see 'Politics for Outsiders'.]

Against Power Inequalities: a history of the struggle for inclusive communities
This short history narrates critical moments in opposing exploitation and oppression, and explains their inter-connections across time and nations. “An intellectual tour de force, an erudite romp through the history of civilization that highlights the origins of power and the never-ending effort to democratize hierarchical systems” (Professor Charles Derber, US); “history retold as a panorama of struggle, hope and co-operation [by] a master storyteller” (Secretary General, Co-operatives UK). (For more reviews & option to download the book for free, go to Info on Against Power Inequalities)

Communitarianism: a political philosophy of how we should live inclusively
This book sets out the core ideas of a communitarian vision for society, and their key political implications. It has been praised by scholars and commentators on both sides of the Atlantic, and was nominated by New York University Press for the 2000 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. (For more information, including reviews and other related writings, go to Info on Communitarianism)

Kuan’s Wonderland: a political fable/sci-fi fantasy novel set in a dystopian world
This novel weaves plot twists and striking characters with political allusions to create a memorable indictment of power inequalities. Variously praised as “an unmissable page-turner” (President, the Independent Publishers Guild); “original and very engaging” (Fantasy Book Review); and “powerfully imaginative” (Director of Education, WEA); it has been selected by the Equality Trust as a key resource in its Young Person’s Guide to Inequality. (For more information, go to Info on Kuan’s Wonderland)

Together We Can: a set of resources developed to promote cooperative problem-solving
These resources grew out of Together We Can, the cross-government programme Henry Tam devised and implemented when he led the Home Office (and later the newly established Department for Communities & Local Government) work on civil renewal and community empowerment 2003-2010. Subsequently, the evidence and advice pulled together in support of furthering cooperative problem-solving have continued to be reviewed and promoted by the Forum for Youth Participation & Democracy, Cambridge University. (For a guide to the available resources, go to Info on Together We Can)

Question the Powerful: a blog on political iniquities and the danger of power imbalance
These essays (posted twice-a-month) highlight the problem of power relations in public policy issues ranging from education, democracy, and welfare, to plutocratic economics, criminal justice and international relations. They serve as a regular prompt to rethink the underlying causes of social and economic difficulties in terms of the widening power gap we face. (For a selection of the most viewed posts, go to Info on QTP)

Responsibility & Personal Interactions: a critical study of the basis of moral responsibility
This in-depth study puts forward specific criteria for when members of society should or should not be held responsible for their behaviour, and tests them against legal judgment in seminal cases. The challenging issues involved in dealing with crime and responsibility are further addressed in Tam’s book, Punishment, Excuses & Moral Development, which brought a team of experts together to examine what policies ought to be adopted in practice. (For more information, go to Info on Responsibility)

If you would like to discuss the ideas in the above publications or explore how they can be used more widely to promote interest and understanding in support of progressive lifelong learning and democratic activism, contact Dr. Henry Tam (

For more background information, click on: ‘Henry Tam (biographical & bibliographical note)

10 Books about 'ism's

Academics can be too fond of talking about endless ‘ism’s and their intricate differences. The public are too prone to dismiss ‘ism’s as confirmation that there can be no agreement about any fundamental issue in life. But from the large variety of ‘ism’s on offer, we can draw out complementary insights and instructive perspectives that would together enrich our understanding of how we should live.

From my own reading and reflections over the years, I have picked out ten expositions of classic ‘ism’s to share with others. In most cases, the ‘ism’ in question forms the title of the book. Where this is not so, the name of the book is given in brackets. In my experience, the ideas presented by these ten works contribute to an evolving progressive philosophy of life, and are valuable in guiding our moral behaviour and political stance.

Feminism (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman): Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
Utilitarianism: J. S. Mill (1863)
Pragmatism: William James (1907)
Liberalism: L. T. Hobhosue (1911)
Existentialism (An Existentialist Ethics): Hazel E. Barnes (1967)
Stoicism (Stoic Philosophy): J. M. Rist (1969)
Humanism and Moral Theory: Reuben Osborne (1970)
Scepticism & Naturalism: P. F. Strawson (1985)
English Ethical Socialism: N. Dennis & A. H. Halsey (1988)
Communitarianism: Henry Tam (1998)

(For a short piece on what communitarianism should mean in the face of the current political challenges, see ‘Communitarianism Revisited’.)