Tory Historian is not the first person to note that there is something peculiarly and enchantingly English and conservative about Sir Edward Lutyens, whose birthday is March 29, 1869. That is not to say that there is only a conservative cultural tradition in England. There is a very separate radical one, though it, too, in many ways, is conservative in its outlook. But that is, perhaps, for another posting or for comments by readers.
He designed country houses, London houses, grandiose buildings in New Delhi and several war memorials including the Cenotaph in Whitehall. The one reproduced here is the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval, a structure that combines grandness of design with comfort of feeling. Could that be a definition of conservatism in culture?
There is something ineffably English about Sir Edward’s family life – the five children, born despite a less than happy marriage; the dottiness of his wife, Lady Emily Lutyens (later Lady Lutyens), who had actually proposed to him and insisted on the marriage and who later became fascinated by theosophy, Eastern religions (only some of them, one presumes) and Juddu Krishnamurti; the children, some of whom turned out to be completely conventional, some less so.
Mary Lutyens became a writer of biographies, including that of Krishnamurti. Elisabeth Lutyens is the most interesting offspring. A prolific and highly regarded composer, though something of a maverick, she has been lost to the general public through a double prejudice – against English and against women composers.
Tory Historian is going off the beaten track today to spend the day in preparation for a talk this evening on the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907. Properly speaking, it should have been delivered last year, for the anniversary but not nearly enough people were interested.
For some reason, the anniversary of the Entente Cordiale of 1904 seemed of greater import. Yet the two are inextricably linked - both agreements negotiated in secret against popular opinion (especially the Anglo-Russian one) by a Foreign Office that was turning away from traditional ideas of international politics.
Both were supposed to put an end to centuries of rivalry and enmity but together they resulted in Britain becoming involved in the First World War. In fact, one could argue that these agreements made that war all but inevitable. Or did they? Tory Historian is looking forward to some trenchant opinions from readers of this blog.
The next event hosted by the Conservative History Group will take place on April 21 in the House of Commons. The journalist and author Simon Heffer, Enoch Powell's biographer, will be speaking about Powell's "rivers of blood" speech and its consequences on the fortieth anniversary.
Further information about time and exact place to follow.
This may be St Patrick's Day but Tory Historian refuses to pander to the general consensus, despite the word tory being from the Irish tóraí, which means a robber. So no stories of St Patrick and no words of "Danny Boy".
Instead here is a quotation from Mark Twain, who never disappoints:
Sacred cows make the best hamburgers.What can one say except how true, how very true.
The launch of Jeremy Black's "The Curse of History" was a good deal of fun with an interesting exchange between the author and the dedicatee, Peter Lilley MP.
Professor Black said in his speech that while individual shame was the cornerstone of our culture and development - without shame there can be no atonement and no change - collective guilt was meaningless and harmful to society.
Mr Lilley agreed with it broadly but added an interesting caveat. As he is proud of his country and its history, he said, so he feels it possible and necessary to feel ashamed of some of the less salubrious episodes of the past.
This would indicate that there might be such a thing as individual shame for the collective past or, even, collective shame. That, of course, is not the same thing as collective guilt, let alone any need to apologize or excuse for perpetual victimhood.
Jeremy Black, Professor of History at the University of Exeter, nominally an expert on eighteenth century history but in reality on everything, a conservative (possibly even one with a capital C) must be the most productive historian around.
This evening will see the launch of yet another book by him, published by the Social Affairs Unit. The title is "The Curse of History" and Professor Black will be returning to a favoured theme: the wrongness of treating history as a basis for collective grief and constant need to apologize.
Tory Historian intends to be there and is hoping to review the book on this blog very very soon.
Tory Historian is full of remorse at being late with the obituary of Francis Pym, Baron Pym of Sandy and a descendant of the great Parliamentarian, John Pym. Whether his ancestor would have been quite as impressed by our Pym as the many obituarists seem to have been is a moot point. Then again, Francis Pym did put up a fight against his leader and Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, in the name of old-fashioned, paternalistic, one-nation Tory politics.
One of the great advantages of writing this obituary so late is that everything has really been said from every side from the exhaustive Daily Telegraph piece to the more intriguing article in MercoPress about Francis Pym’s role in the Falklands conflict.
The latter is written by a British writer but the dateline is Montevideo, so the article may be said to be something of an in-between effort. It is not what one might call complimentary about Lord Pym, though the comment that he opposed the war because of his own experience in World War II is a valid one. (Curiously, nobody makes that allowance for the people who had gone through World War I and were anxious not to have another one in the late thirties.)
The Telegraph obituarist, clearly and admirer takes a slightly different view and does not think that Pym’s negotiations with Alexander Haig and desire to have peace with Argentina showed weakness.
Pym became Foreign Secretary in the most taxing of circumstances, with Lord Carrington’s resignation after Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands. Passed over for the job three years earlier, Pym now found himself summoned in the hour of need. He brought to the office calm, precision, shrewdness and diplomacy, and, working closely with US Secretary of State Alexander Haig, secured valuable international support as Britain’s Task Force recaptured the islands. With Mrs Thatcher determined not to be thwarted by the United Nations or by well-meaning third-party initiatives such as the “Peruvian peace plan”, Pym delivered her the time and the diplomatic space to achieve conclusive military success.There can be no question that Francis Pym was a most attractive personality, a highly courageous officer in the war (he won the MC in Italy) and a gentleman. Sadly, he was not a good politician and not just because he was out of step with the new(ish) more determined Conservative Party.
Whatever he may have thought about the usefulness of large majority, an election campaign is not the time to voice reservations. Although, the reason for his dismissal after the 1983 victory was more likely to have been Mrs Thatcher’s dissatisfaction with his stint as the Falklands War Foreign Secretary. She saw him as the creature of the FCO.
He supported both Heath, being the Chief Whip who managed to take the European Communities Bill through in 1972 on a majority of 301 to 284 and the man who was credited with turning the Prime Minister from his Selsdon promises, and Margaret Thatcher. As a consequence, and most unfairly, he was distrusted by both.
It is possible that his forte was being a Whip rather than a Minister but he is unlikely to have seen it that way. Let us, in all charity, describe him as the Daily Telegraph does
Francis Pym will be remembered as a brave, honest, highly competent and gifted man whose politics were old-fashioned and impeccably conducted. That he never achieved the highest office may have been a reflection of the times rather than of the man.After all, how many politicians these days can be described as “brave, honest, highly competent and gifted”?
My teenage years were dominated by newsprint. Literally. The house was filled with newspapers and magazines, which my mother periodically threw out. My father, on the other hand, was a true news and newspaper junkie. The day on which he could not get his fix was a bad day.
He subscribed to the Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian and the Daily Mail, the three heavy Sunday newspapers and the News of the World, the New Statesman and the Spectator as well as the Russian rags, necessary to his work as a leading commentator on the Soviet Union. Over and above that he (or quite often I on his instructions) bought Time Magazine and Private Eye. And then there came an addition: the National Review, the only exciting right-wing publication in the English language.
By this stage Bill Buckley (yes, I know his name was William F. Buckley but somehow even a teenage admirer in another country thought of him as Bill) had become a legend. He went on being a legend up to and beyond his recent death as this moving tribute by Peggy Noonan shows.
The facts of his life – his precocious entry into the world of political thought; his determination, brilliance and love of ideas and language; his hyperactive lifestyle – have all been told in numerous obituaries. I want to add several related points.
First is that Buckley, like Reagan and like Thatcher in some ways, was, as an American friend described him, a happy warrior. He took great joy in life and politics in whatever order that happened to come up. Buckley made conservative politics attractive through the joy he projected, the excitement with which he imbued all his activities: writing, broadcasting, entertaining, just living.
Whole new generations, mainly in the United States, but some in other parts of the Anglosphere, went to that side of the political spectrum, partly because what Buckley said was so absolutely right, in every sense of the word and partly because of his personality.
The obviousness of this is shown by the fact that until recently the Republican Party dominated politics and the right dominated political discourse in the US despite the stranglehold the liberal consensus acquired over the academia (as Buckley wrote as long ago as 1951 in his seminal “God and Man at Yale”) and the media.
Ronald Reagan and his presidency embodied in themselves these ideas and he showed them to be successful. Things change and different people come to the fore. The jury is still out on the Bush presidency, naturally enough since it will not be over till January of next year. It also looks as if the right has lost its appeal in the US. That, I suspect, is deceptive. Come November there may be a few surprises, especially for the British media, which managed to call the last presidential election wrong.
Even if the Democrats sweep into power, conservative ideas and conservative thinking will not be extinguished in that country – they may even become stronger.
What of Britain, which had a highly successful Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher? How much influence has Buckley really had?
On certain individuals his influence has undoubtedly been enormous. They are, however, the exception, the ones who look to America for ideas and think that Britain should be part of an Anglosphere instead of being stuck in an embarrassingly inward looking European project or try to revive the ideas of the Commonwealth.
What, however, the conservative movement has not taken on board is the sheer pleasure of proclaiming ideas that one considers to be right. There is too much hiding behind shibboleths, too much embarrassment, too much coughing and whispering, too many assumptions that one must not go beyond a certain point and that one must be “balanced” in what one says, writes or broadcasts.
Let us emulate the happy warrior as so many do in the US, in good times and bad: let us proclaim what we believe in without fear and without embarrassment. Only that way can conservatism be a mainstream ideology, which is what Bill Buckley made it in the fifty-odd years of his working life.