David Runciman, 4th Viscount Runciman of Doxford

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David Walter Runciman, 4th Viscount Runciman of Doxford FBA (born 1 March 1967) is an English academic who teaches politics and history at Cambridge University, where he is Professor of Politics. From October 2014 to October 2018 he was also Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies.[1]

Family and early life[edit]

Runciman was born in St John's Wood, North London, England, and grew up there. His father, Garry Runciman, Viscount Runciman, was a political sociologist and academic and his mother, Ruth Runciman, is former chair of the UK Mental Health Commission, a founder of the Prison Reform Trust and former chair of the National Aids Trust. His father, mother, and paternal grandfather and great-grandfather all attended Cambridge.[2] He was educated at Eton College, an all-boys public school in Berkshire, where he won the Newcastle Scholarship. He went on to study at Trinity College, Cambridge.[3]

Runciman is the great-nephew of the historian Sir Steven Runciman. He inherited his family's viscountcy on the death of his father in 2020.[4] From 1997 to 2021 he was married to the food writer Bee Wilson with whom he has three children.[2][5] He is now married to psychotherapist Helen Runciman (née Lyon-Dalberg-Acton), daughter of Edward Acton.


Runciman began writing for the London Review of Books in 1996 and has written dozens of book reviews and articles on contemporary politics since, for the LRB and a number of other publications.[6]

Runciman has published six books. An adaptation of his PhD thesis was published in 1997 as Pluralism and the Personality of the State. The Politics of Good Intentions: History, Fear and Hypocrisy in the New World Order (2006) evaluates contemporary and historical crisis in international politics after 9/11 while Political Hypocrisy (2008) explores the political uses of hypocrisy from a historical perspective.[7] The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present (2013) lays out his theory of the threat of democratic overconfidence.[8] Profile Books published his books Politics: Ideas in Profile and How Democracy Ends in 2014 and 2018, respectively.

In October 2014, he was appointed head of the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge. Runciman gave his inaugural lecture on 24 February 2015 on Political Theory and Real Politics in the Age of the Internet.[9] He was preceded in this position by Andrew Gamble and Geoffrey Hawthorn.

One of Runciman's most influential works is Politics: Ideas in Profile. This book explores what politics is, why do we need it and where, in these troubling times, is it heading. Taking the reader across topics such as the gap between rich and poor to the impact of social media on our political climate, it is a useful resource for anyone who is interested in learning about how politics shapes the world. With reference to Machiavelli, Hobbes and Weber Runciman answer the questions that many ask themselves when discussing politics; such as how there can be such disparity between the wealthiest nations and the least developed.

Since 2015, Runciman has hosted a podcast called Talking Politics with Professor Helen Thompson. The podcast convenes a panel of academics from the University of Cambridge and elsewhere to speak about current affairs and politics.

In July 2018, Runciman was elected Fellow of the British Academy (FBA).[10]

In July 2021, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL).[11]

Runciman was PhD supervisor to Tara Westover, the author of Educated.[1]

How Democracy Ends[edit]

Published by Profile Books in 2018, 'How Democracy Ends' takes a look at the political landscape of the West, showing us how to spot the signs that democracy may be under threat. Set out in four major sections:

1. Looking at the role of Coups in ending democracy, looking at both modern and ancient Greece in the process.

2. How major world shattering catastrophes could kill off democracy, be that nuclear war or the Climate Crisis.

3. He takes a look at our rapidly changing society, specifically technologically and how the advent of Artificial Intelligence could soon be a problem.

4. Lastly he takes a look into the future, whether democracy will actually end and if it does, could it be replaced by something better?

Reviews of the book have been received generally positively. Getting a 3.7 out of 5 stars on 'goodreads'[12] and 4.4 out of 5 stars on Amazon.[13] Andrew Rawnsley at The Guardian wrote that the book left him "feeling more positive than I thought I would be" [14]


After a negative book review in The Guardian of Antifragility by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Taleb referred to Runciman as the "second most stupid reviewer" of his works, arguing that Runciman had missed the concept of convexity, the theme of his book. "There are 607 references to convexity", Taleb wrote.[15][16]

Selected works[edit]

  • Runciman, David (1997). Pluralism and the Personality of the State. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521551915.
  • Runciman, David (2000). "Is the State a Corporation?". Government and Opposition. 35 (1): 90–104. doi:10.1111/1477-7053.00014. S2CID 143599471.
  • Maitland, Frederic William (2003). David Runciman; Magnus Ryan (eds.). Maitland: State, Trust and Corporation; Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521526302.
  • Runciman, David (2009). The Politics of Good Intentions: History, Fear and Hypocrisy in the New World Order. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400827121.
  • Runciman, David (2010). Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power, from Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691148151.
  • Brito Vieira, Monica; Runciman, David (2013). Representation. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9780745658292.
  • Runciman, David (2014). Politics: Ideas in Profile. Profile Books. ISBN 9781782831358.
  • Runciman, David (2015). The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400866076.
  • Runciman, David (2018). How Democracy Ends. Profile Books. ISBN 9781541616783.
  • Runciman, David (2019). Where Power Stops. Profile Books. ISBN 9781788163330.
  • Runciman, David (2020). "Don't be a Kerensky!". London Review of Books. Vol. 42 no. 23. pp. 13–16, 18.


  1. ^ "David Runciman". Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS), University of Cambridge. 26 September 2013. Retrieved 6 May 2020.
  2. ^ a b Shook, Karen (5 December 2013). "The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present, by David Runciman". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  3. ^ O'Reilly, Judith (1 September 2008). "David Cameron's reading list made me the dinner guest from Hell". The Times.
  4. ^ Crick, Michael (9 January 2008). "Happy families". BBC Newsnight blog.
  5. ^ Kramer, Jane (18 March 2013). "A Fork of One's Own: A history of culinary revolution". The New Yorker. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  6. ^ "David Runciman". London Review of Books. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  7. ^ Dunne, Tim (17 July 2008). "Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power, from Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond". Times Higher Education.
  8. ^ Bogdanor, Vernon (14 November 2013). "The Confidence Trap by David Runciman: Are we too complacent about democracy?". New Statesman.
  9. ^ "Professor David Runciman". Politics and International Studies (POLIS). University of Cambridge. 26 September 2013. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
  10. ^ "Record number of academics elected to British Academy | British Academy". British Academy. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  11. ^ "RSL announces 44 new Fellows and Honorary Fellows". Royal Society of Literature. 6 July 2021. Retrieved 9 July 2021.
  12. ^ "How Democracy Ends".
  13. ^ "How Democracy Ends: Amazon.co.uk: Runciman, David: 9781781259740: Books".
  14. ^ "How Democracy Ends review – is people politics doomed?". TheGuardian.com. 20 May 2018.
  15. ^ Antifragile: How to Live in a World We Don't Understand by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – review by David Runciman The Guardian 21 November 2012
  16. ^ Response by Taleb

External links[edit]

Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Viscount Runciman of Doxford