Dizzy and the modern world

Posted by Helen Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A long article on Benjamin Disraeli in the New Yorker by Adam Gopnik, loosely linked to the two most recent biographies: Christopher Hibbert’s “Disraeli: The Victorian Dandy Who Became Prime Minister” and William Kuhn’s “The Politics of Pleasure: A Portrait of Benjamin Disraeli”.

The article concentrates on Disraeli as adventurer who has lived his own dream and links him in various ways to modern politics. Specifically, there is a discussion as to whether he is the progenitor of Anglo-American conservatism of the present.

Mr Gopnik comes to the conclusion that he is not but his analysis of what the latter consists of is so inadequate as to make that conclusion questionable. Does he really understand what happened in Britain in the eighties and the nineties?

“Mrs. Thatcher’s ideological brilliance was to insist on Manchester-school politics to the exclusion of all else; the people who brought her down were the heirs of Disraeli, anxious about her rejection of the public welfare and more than a little snobbish about her openly middle-class antecedents.”
Up to a point Lord Copper, as they said in Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop”.

Nor is his description of the parliament Disraeli entered in 1837 as “at once fossil-filled and fluid, in the manner of a tar pit” particularly helpful. Is that really what British politics was like five years after the 1832 Reform Act?

Anyone who really does believe that the Duke of Wellington was “brutally authoritarian, High Church Royalist, and reactionary” has not bothered to try to understand that great man.

Still, the piece is worth reading even if one ends up disagreeing with a good deal of it.


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