This article is taken from the March 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.
I’m a fan of Jonathan Meades, but his piece on Welsh and Wales was a nasty mix of cliché, minority-bashing, cultural snobbery and factual inaccuracy. He knows neither the country nor anything of the past and present life of the Welsh language. He doesn’t know who speaks it, where, how long it has existed, or its historic tenacity against… well, people like him: English supremacists triggered by the fear of another language within earshot in ‘‘their” country.
Meades mentions his opposition to Brexit and the parochial mentalities that led to it. On the showing of this article, he shares rather more than he thinks with the Little Englanders, the atavists and the xenophobes he claims to despise. I don’t recall reading that in his hugely enjoyable Encyclopaedia of Myself. Maybe he’ll update it for the next edition.
Patrick McGuinness (Professor of French and Comparative Literature)
St Anne’s College, Oxford
The Second Sex
I was very pleased to read Daisy Dunn’s article [“THE UNNATURAL HERSTORY MUSEUM,” FEB] on women’s-history-only museums. She approaches the subject, and the issues with contemporary feminism, with admirable clarity.
If “herstory” museums are to open, this only permits the greater eradication of women from more traditional museum spaces. I agree with Dunn that in acknowledging that women’s history matters, these curators and museums have unwittingly side-lined it. But there is another point to be made — surely these new museums will not be as well-funded as their “male” precursors? It is galling to think of women’s history being little more than a poorer cousin to more-established museums.
Little Better Than U
I greatly enjoyed The Secret Author’s tirade against the lack of bourgeois life in contemporary literary fiction [“WHY MODERN NOVELS ARE SO BORING”, FEB]. I fear we are unlikely to see anything as brilliant as Alan Hollinghurst’s wonderful The Line of Beauty (2004) in the crop of novels published this year. Indeed, I doubt such a book would even be published now.
Is there something to be said for literary depictions of aristocratic life? The Patrick Melrose novels do not succeed because they conform to middle-class mores, and gothic literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries does not get its flair from well-lived lives in suburban villas.
It is true that the likes of Jane Austen and Wilkie Collins continually explore the tensions between the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, and their plots are driven by middle-class mobility. But, one has to recognise that no small part of their drama derives purely from castles, titles, and rakish younger sons of dukes and viscounts.
Lacking Common Sense
Robert Crowcroft’s article [“OUR ENEMIES BRING OUR FRIENDS CLOSER,” FEB] about the importance of recognising China as a determined enemy of the liberal democracies gets off to a shaky start by quoting the unrepentant Nazi legal theorist, Carl Schmitt.
He then compounds his folly with reference to “another clever extremist, Lenin”, before conceding that distinguishing between political friends and enemies is “a very old way of thinking” going back at least as far as Plato.
This does not deter Dr Crowcroft from then suggesting that any application of this timeless principle requires a “Schmittian lens” and that “Schmitt’s insight has retained its potency”.
If the same point could have been drawn just as easily from numerous other extant writers from down the ages, then why undermine your own position by quoting with approval from a persistent devotee of totalitarian dictatorship, who is currently a popular point of reference within the Chinese Communist Party?
One more edifying alternative can be found in Halford Mackinder’s famous lecture “The Geographical Pivot of History”, published in The Geographical Journal in 1904, where a similar point is made with memorable elegance and style:
A repellent personality performs a valuable social function in uniting his enemies, and it was under the pressure of external barbarism that Europe achieved her civilization. I ask you, therefore, for a moment to look upon Europe and European history as subordinate to Asia and Asiatic history, for European civilization is, in a very real sense, the outcome of the secular struggle against Asiatic invasion.
If Halford Mackinder is simply too passé and predictable for a Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Edinburgh, then there is always the characteristically esoteric example of the late Bernard Lewis, who quoted the Andalusian moralist Ibn Hazm of Cordoba to similar effect in articles published as far apart in time as 1968 and 2001.
Either way, it would set a good example to recognise Carl Schmitt as an inveterate enemy of liberal democracy and Halford Mackinder as an old friend.
Down on Brown
Although he insists that he is “not by inclination a hagiographer”, isn’t Irwin Stelzer a little too generous in his praise for Gordon Brown’s role in “the international financial crisis” [“THE LEFTIST WHO SAVED BRITAIN,” FEB]? Wasn’t it Brown’s “light touch regulation” that helped in setting the scene for the crisis in the first place?
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