'Tis the end of January and the list of dates needs to be compiles. So this is the last call for ideas on which dates in British and world history that are essential to one's understanding of history.
Alistair Cooke, co-author (with Sir Charles Petrie) of The Carlton Club 1832 - 2007 and author of numerous learned articles in the Conservative History Journal, writes about the fall of the first Salisbury government. No point in quoting; read the whole piece.
Tory Historian is reading with great interest Giles Hunt’s “The Duel” the tale of rivalry between Canning and Castlereagh. There will be a review in the series of books of interest to those interested in conservative history but here is a small complaint and there are too many historians about whom it can be made.
There is no need, in Tory Historian’s opinion, to write about the past with a constant nudge to the present. Occasional parallels may enhance our understanding but there has to be an assumption that the reader of a history or a biography is capable of understanding events of the past and, if needs be, grasping the difference between the period under discussion and the here and now.
There is the obligatory reference to “Princess” Diana (really, Mr Hunt ought to know better) in connection with the Duchess of Devonshire, a parallel that is extremely forced as Tory Historian has pointed out before.
But Mr Hunt goes further. He points out that George Canning, while having many advantages in political life, had one serious disadvantage – he was neither a lord nor related to one. As it happens he knew many lords and one, Lord Macartney, was a kind of a patron, but the point is important. To some extent, Canning had to promote himself and survive on his wits. (Thackeray makes a similar point about Becky Sharp in “Vanity Fair”.)
Mr Hunt then says:
The avidity with which peerages were sought, even Irish ones that did not convey a seat in the House of Lords, may seem extraordinary to us, but it was not motivated simply by snobbery or social climbing and a wish to boast of aristocratic lineage – after all, both Castlereagh’s and Jenkinson’s fathers were born commoners [Earl and then Marquess of Londonderry and Earl of Liverpool, respectively] – but being a lord or an heir to a peerage gave weight politically. Eton and Christ Church had given Canning several aristocratic friends such as Lord Henry Spencer, Granville Leveson-Gower, or Morpeth, who accepted him as a social equal, and the fact that he had to earn his living made no difference since many a younger son of a peer had to do the same. But during the course of Canning’s career he was frequently criticized as being an upstart, and what would be considered normal ambition in other politicians was seen to mark out Canning as an adventurer on the make – especially as political opponents could point out that he was the son of an actress and therefore socially outside the pale.Whether they did so point out remains unclear from this passage but the suggested superiority of our own more democratic age strikes a false note. First of all, clearly Canning was considered to be various peers’ equal. Secondly, not so long ago we had the small matter of cash for peerages scandal that showed an equal avidity to acquire peerages even now. Thirdly, Tory Historian is old enough to recall the sneering comments about Margaret Thatcher who was “a grocer’s daughter” and nothing more than “an ambitious politician”, a specie otherwise unknown in the annals of government.
Tory Historian thinks that the dates project (here, here and here) needs to be brought to an end. Therefore, suggestions will be received till the end of this week, which, happily, coincides with the end of the month. Over the following couple of days all the information and suggestions will be processed i.e. read and jotted down on a piece of paper and a more or less final list will be published next week.
However, Tory Historian knows what kind of argumentative folk read this blog and there will be another opportunity to argue with the final list in order to produce a final-final list. Can't say fairer than that, surely.
In the meantime, here is a book that might be of interest to people interested in conservative history. It has been out in the United States for a while and has caused a great deal of ... well, the polite way of putting it is discussion. A vicious argument would be more accurate but all attempts to kill it have failed. Long live American love of freedom.
It is published this week in Britain and was launched by the New Culture Forum yesterday. The books is Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism". More on that as time goes on but a couple of quotes from the Introduction, entitled "Everything You Knew About Fascism Is Wrong", may whet our readers' appetite.
The main thesis of the book is that many of what Americans call "liberal" and we call "leftie" ideas have grown out of fascist ones, fascism being a left-wing ideology with Mussolini and even Hitler remaining a hero of the left until they sold their souls to Stalin.
Here Mr Goldberg discusses "totalitarianism".
But what do we mean when we say something is "totalitarian"? The word has certainly taken on an understandably sinister connotation in the last half century. Thanks to work by Hannah Arendt, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and others, it's become a catchall for brutal, soul-killing, Orwellian regimes. But that's not how the word was originally used or intended. Mussolini himself coined the term to describe a society where everybody belonged, everyone was taken care of, where everything was inside the state and nothing was outside: where truly no child was left behind.Though that last phrase refers specifically to a Bush initiative, the rest of the description will sound very familiar to people on both sides of the Pond and everywhere else. We have all been pelted with policies that battle with "social exclusion". Like the hero/narrator of Dostoyevsky's "Notes from the Underground", Tory Historian quite likes the idea of being outside the tent, of being excluded. (PS Not to be confused with "Notes from the House of the Dead", also by Dostoyevsky.)
Liberal fascism differs from classical fascism in many ways. I don't deny this. Indeed, it is central to my point. Fascisms differ from each other because they grow out of different soil. What unites them are their emotional or instinctual imnpulses, such as the quest for community, the urge to "get beyond" politics, a faith in the perfectibility of man and the authority of experts, and an obsession with the aesthetics of youth, the cult of action, and the need for an all-powerful state to coordinate society at the national or global level. Most of all, they share the belief - what I call the totalitarian temptation - that with the right amount of tinkering we can realize the utopian dream of "creating a better world".To the best of Tory Historian's recollection, the phrase "totalitarian temptation" was invented by the French writer Jean-François Revel in 1976. One hopes that Mr Goldberg will acknowledge that as well as the many similar ideas to be found in Albert Camus' "The Rebel".
Naturally, the apology is for the silence. Many other problems but also busy reading Giles Hunt's "The Duel". The sub-heading explains the subject: "Castlereagh, Canning and Deadly Cabinet Rivalry". And they say politics has never been nastier than today. Hah! More to come.
Tory Historian is ploughing through Michael Burleigh’s “Blood and Rage – a cultural history of terrorism”. It may well become one of those books of interest to all those interested in conservative history but for the moment judgement is not exactly withheld but balanced.
The book is useful in that it traces the history of modern terrorism from the days of the Fenians and the Russian nihilists of the nineteenth century thus showing certain continuing characteristics that are worth studying. There is nothing so annoying than hearing yet another member of the various anti-terrorist organizations complain about the difficulties of dealing with this new lot because they are so unlike the IRA. Well yes, but are they unlike the anarchists of the 1890s and 1900s? Are there no similarities between them and the German and the Italian groups of the seventies?
The details of Burleigh’s book are, however, problematic. His account of what he calls “guilty white kids” – the Italian Brigada Rossa and German Red Army Faction – is precise and accurate, apart from a tendency of describing killings by terrorist with one bullet fired to the head as “executions”. Sloppy, very sloppy.
When it comes to the chapter on the Russians (40 pages devoted to 60 years of complicated history) Burleigh’s account becomes more than sloppy. It is inaccurate and the parallels are often forced. He is shaky on the Anarchist International. Not every strike organizer in the United States was an anarchist. Some were devoted socialists or anarcho-syndicalists.
More as the ploughing through progresses. However, Tory Historian’s attention was caught by an intriguing quote from the critic and literary writer Edward Garnett, husband of translator Constance Garnett. The topic in hand is Joseph Conrad’s superlative novel “The Secret Agent”, whose plot is based on the attempted bombing of the Greenwich Observatory (though, as it happens, the same writer’s “Under Western Eyes” is a better study of the pathological nihilist mind).
Garnett wrote rather superciliously:
It is good for us English to have Mr Conrad in our midst visualising for us aspects of life we are constitutionally unable to perceive.Edward Garnett thought of himself as being far superior to the average rather cloddish English writer, critic and reader, being, as he saw himself, a connoisseur of superior foreign literature. However, what that sentence irresistibly reminds Tory Historian of is a passage in George Mikes’s “How to be an Alien”:
“You foreigners are so clever,” said a lady to me some years ago. First, thinking of the great amount of foreign idiots and half-wits I had had the honour of meeting, I considered this remark exaggerated but complimentary.Somehow Tory Historian suspects that Edward Garnett would not have liked George Mikes’s masterpiece.
Since then I have learnt that it was far from it. These few words expressed the lady’s contempt and slight disgust for foreigners.
At Tuesday's AGM of the Conservative History Group I was asked to report on the Journal and outlined a plan for a supplement early in the year that would focus on the Anglosphere and related history. There were no dissenting voices apart from one: the treasurer.
In theory it would be good to have that supplement as well as a big issue of the Journal in time for the Party Conference. In practice it is hard to know how to raise the money. I suspect, though, that there are people out there who have ideas as to what one can have in the supplement and how best to finance it.
Of course, we may well have to put everything up on the internet.
Anyway, I welcome all suggestions either on the blog in the usual way or to me at szamuely_at_aol.com.
... here are a couple of recent anniversaries that Tory Historian missed. They can both be added to the list of dates everyone must remember. Indeed, I believe at least one has been suggested in the comments.
On January 5, 1896 an Austrian newspaper reported the discovery of new kinds of radiation. In actual fact Wilhelm Röntgen's break-through experiment was begun on November 8, 1895. The influence his work has had on medical diagnosis and treatment has been more than colossal.
On January 6, 1838 Samuel Morse gave the first public demonstration of the telegraph.
The next meeting of the Conservative History Group will take place on Tuesday, January 13 at 6.30 in the Thatcher Room of Portcullis House. Lord Fowler (better known as Norman Fowler) will be speaking about his book "A Political Suicide", which is reviewed by Iain Dale, Director of this Group in the latest issue of the Journal.
You are all welcome but, please, remember that there are security checks and getting into Portcullis House may take a little while. Sometimes, of course, one just walks through with no queues in sight.
Iain Dale, Director of the Group, has asked me to inform those readers who are members or would like to be members of it that there will be an AGM immediately after Lord Fowler's talk.
Taking time off discussions about important dates, Tory Historian has been contemplating the problem of truncated Christmas celebrations. It all seems to be centred on Christmas Day with no other celebrations visible for most people, at least not in Britain.
St Nicholas is still welcomed by children all over Central, Northern and Eastern Europe with newly cleaned shoes put out in the window on December 5 with goodies found in it the following morning.
Epiphany, the arrival of the Three Kings or Magi with gifts, is seen as the rightful time to give presents in southern Europe.
Twelfth Night (actually, the evening of January 5 but generally remembered these days on January 6) should be the end of the Christmas celebrations, December 25 being the first day but the festivities starting on Christmas Eve. In Tory Historian's childhood the tree was decorated on December 24 and the family exchanged presents that evening. Christmas Day became a more social event with friends visiting each other. The decorations were dismantled on January 6.
However, with trees going up haphazardly all over December they are discarded soon after New Year's Day, not a day that is in any way part of the Christmas celebrations. Of course, originally decorations stayed up for 40 days till February 2 (the Purification of the Blessed Virgin) but that did not survive the Reformation.
Twelfth Night did, however, with special cakes baked for the occasion and much merry-making with wassail being drunk liberally. Inside the cake there should be three dry beans for the three Magi. (The picture is of a Portuguese cake.)
There are other traditional though now largely forgotten aspects of Twelfth Night, many dating back probably to pre-Christian times. This winter festival was the day of the Lord of Misrule. It was the world turned upside down - the peasant who found one of the beans became the head of festivity until midnight. Sometimes there would also be a pea in the cake and she who received it would be the Queen for the nonce.
Those themes crop up in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night or What You Will", in Tory Historian's estimation one of the Bard's best.
The greatest of all history books, “1066 and All That”, famously maintained that there were only two memorable dates in English history: 55 BC and 1066. This blog is busily proving the authors wrong but we may not be representative.
On the subject of the Gunpowder Plot Sellar and Yeatman said:
There were a great many plots and Parliaments in James I’s reign, and one of the Parliaments was called the Addled Parliament because the plots hatched in it were all such rotten ones. One plot, however, was by far the best plot in History, and the day and month of it (although not, of course, the year) are well known to be utterly and even maddeningly MEMORABLE.The year was 1605, incidentally, but it is, of course, utterly unmemorable.
We have produced another date that can rival it. Neither Tory Historian nor any of the extremely knowledgeable contributors remembered the year 2001. And yet we all know 9/11, even if some of us are occasionally confused as to which is the month and which the day. Will this one be another Gunpowder Plot with an utterly unmemorable year and maddeningly memorable month and day? Not for the time being as we shall have to list it with other important dates.
There will be a final consensus list but here are a few dates to think about, some from our readers, some from Tory Historian doing a little more thinking.
1588 was mentioned by several contributors. The defeat of the Spanish Armada put England definitively out of the Catholic power structure.
1956 was also mentioned several times. The year of Suez and the Hungarian Revolution had an enormous impact on subsequent developments.
Then there are others, not yet discussed (methinks). 312 – Constantine’s conversion, which put the Roman Empire on its path to becoming Christian, whatever his reasons may have been. Tory Historian thinks that from a historic point of view this is a more important date than either 4 BC or 33 AD, the probable dates of Jesus Christ’s birth and of the Crucifixion. Disagreements are welcome.
We have a problem with the question of printing. Which is the crucial date? Tory Historian proposes 1455, the date of the Gutenberg Bible but at least one reader prefers 1436, the date moveable type was first implemented. And what of 1473, Caxton’s first book printed in English or, alternatively, 1476 in which the first English-language book (Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”) was printed actually in England?
We have two possible dates of importance to women: 1869 – Wyoming Territory grants votes to women though there were various examples of women voting before that, at least for a time. From the British point of view the date of Married Women’s Property Act, 1883, might be more important.
There are many more to be considered when the consensus list is put together. It looks ever more like 100 dates rather than 50 but we shall have to see.
In the meantime, here is another notion to be taken on. Let us take the six years of the Second World War from September 1, 1939 (Germany’s invasion of Poland) and August 15, 1945 (VJ Day). What precise dates can be called turning points in that period? September 3, 1939, May 10, 1940, June 22, 1941, December 6, 1941 spring to mind immediately. We already have August 15, 1942 – arrival of the Ohio in Valetta harbour, breaking the siege of Malta. May 8, 1945, of course, as well as May 9 – the latter marks German surrender on the Eastern front. August 6 and 8, 1945. What else? Is February 2, 1943, the German surrender at Stalingrad, led by Field-Marshal Paulus a turning point?
This one will be fun. Go to it, while Tory Historian tries to put together a coherent general list.
A belated happy new year to all our readers and apologies for not pursuing the subject of historical dates. Fear not: it will be pursued.
In the meantime, Tory Historian is launching another idea, promised before. Books that would be of interest to those interested in conservative history but do not necessarily find space in the published journal.
The first of these is one that has been mentioned on the blog before (here and here), so little else is needed. Richard Pipes’s “Russian Conservatism and Its Critics” is an important contribution to our understanding both of Russian history and to the many varieties of conservative and conservative-liberal thought.
Professor Pipes analyzes the political reality and shows how various theories in different periods, since it is hard to see a real development of theory, supported that reality, which meant supporting autocracy either as a permanent institution or a more temporary one while Russians learn to deal with constitutionalism, liberalism and democracy.
The new Russian autocracy lacks legitimacy and has tried to invent one by producing a new autocratic ideology of “sovereign democracy”, a meaningless term but it avoids the old Russian one. There are many others, listed by Edward Lucas in “The New Cold War”.
There are two questions, one political and one theoretical. In the first place, will the new autocracy be able to create itself a legitimacy that will allow it to overcome bad times as well as good; and in the second place, will it be able to create a coherent theory to back that political legitimacy.