Thoughts on a sick bed

Posted by Tory Historian Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Driven to a sick bed by an extremely nasty cold, Tory Historian applied the best medicine possible: a reading and re-reading of old-time favourites, in this case, John Buchan’s “The Power-House”. (Here it is on line but it is the sort of book one might want to read either in bed or curled up in an armchair.)

“The Power-House” is one of TH’s favourites, combining as it does a jig-saw puzzle beginning with a desperate cat-and-mouse game at the end. The chase before safety and subsequent confrontation takes place in London, which is a particularly attractive aspect of the novel as the movements of the hero, his friend, the Labour MP and of the villains can be followed on Tory Historian’s mental map.

The theme is an international conspiracy, created by a super-intelligent but utterly amoral man who is contemptuous of the inadequate knowledge and compromises that underpin civilization as we know it, that is the western variety. The various aspects of that conspiracy: crime, disorder, anarchist outrages, the odd revolution appear to most observers as independent events.

This theme was much favoured before, during and after the First World War. “The Power-House” was serialized in 1913 and came out as a book in 1916. The theme crops up in “The Three Hostages”, a post-war Hannay adventure and in the writings of many other authors of the period, as well as films such as the Dr Mabuse series. [Tory Historian recommends reading the books and seeing the films, not finding out the plots ahead.]

There is some sense in the theme in that the events of the twentieth century proved how thin that layer of civilization really was. But the ideologies that undermined and destroyed it, that plunged many parts of the world into anarchy and monstrous oppression, were not particularly romantic and had no ultra-intelligent guiding spirit behind them.

Sadly, as one looks at Nazism and Communism, the twin evils of the modern world, one must recall Hannah Arendt’s description of the Eichman trial: evil is banal. That is, of course, why reading Buchan is such joy.


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