Tory Historian is once again recommending a rival and, sadly, much more successful publication to readers of this blog. The New Criterion, as mentioned before, has a collection of articles about the future of conservatism. They are well worth reading though, inevitably, it is a motley collection.

The problem that few of the articles manage to solve is the crucial one of conservatism and change. Strictly speaking, conservatism means conserving what there is and not moving forward at all but what happens if what there is, is not palatable to conservatism.

Tory Historian’s own favoured view is that great conservatives of the past have found that the principles of conservatism were more important than the need not to change. Among the essays, John O’Sullivan’s call for action against the unaccountable bureaucrats, particularly the international and transnational ones is, therefore, the essay that is most in tune with Tory Historian’s views.

Mr O’Sullivan’s article can be read freely on the internet, others require subscription, which takes no time at all. Readers of this blog may well find them interesting and might want to have a discussion on the subject here. Oh yes, ignore the piece on the Lisbon Treaty. Not because the treaty is not a ghastly shambles but because the article seems not to know that it is one in a long process of Britain being subsumed in an integrated “Europe” that began more than thirty years ago.

PS This ties in very well with the discussion currently developing on ConservativeHome blog on whether the Conservative Party should imitate a hare or a tortoise.

Curiously enough, Tory Historian found a follow-up to the previous posting in the latest editions of The New Criterion, which, among other articles carries papers from a symposium organized jointly by the magazine and our own Social Affairs Unit. Apart from the symposium, which Tory Historian has not read yet, there are other articles and book reviews.

One is a characteristically caustic piece by Mark Steyn on Noel Coward’s letters but the best one is by David Pryce-Jones, entitled “Enough Said” [registration needed]. The book is by Ibn Warraq and is called “Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism”.

It has to be said (oh dear!) that Edward Said’s moment is fast disappearing thanks to historians like Ibn Warraq, Justus Reid Weiner, Robert Irwin and David Pryce-Jones himself.

From the point of view of this blog, though, the really interesting paragraph is the following one:

As common sense suggests and Ibn Warraq substantiates, the interest of Westerners in the East from classical antiquity onwards was motivated by intellectual curiosity; they wanted to find out about the other human beings with whom they were sharing the world. To seek knowledge for its own sake is the special and wholly beneficial the West has made to mankind.
Back to Herodotus, methinks. For how can one be an historian without being consumed with curiosity?

Tory Historian has started the new year by reading two books almost simultaneously (not to mention the odd detective story or Georgette Heyer historical romance). One is R. J. Q. Adams’s biography of Balfour, subtitled “The Last Grandee” about which there will be postings later on.

The other book is a completely entrancing history of the Persian Wars by Tom Holland. Entitled “Persian Fire”, it is subtitled “The First World Empire and the Battle for the West”.

There has been a mention of the Battle of Thermopylae on this blog before as well as a speculation about different views of how significant those battles on the borders of the Persian Empire were.

Naturally enough, Tom Holland speculates on the significance, especially, his underlying thesis is that the division between the West and the East or the rest began in the 5th century BC though he also believes that the divisions have never been as clear-cut as one might assume.

What is it that has excited many generations of people about those wars?

Any account of odds heroically defied is exciting – but how much more tense it becomes when the odds are incalculably, incomparably high. There was much more at stake during the course of the Persian attempts to subdue the Greek mainland than the independence of what Xerxes had regarded as a ragbag of terrorist states.

As subjects of a foreign king, the Athenians would never have had the opportunity to develop their unique democratic culture. Much that made Greek civilisation distinctive would have been aborted. The legacy inherited by Rome and passed on to modern Europe would have been immeasurably impoverished.

Not only would the West have lost its first struggle for independence and survival, but it is unlikely, had the Greeks succumbed to Xerxes’ invasion, that there would ever have been such an entity as “the West” at all.
That is clear and unarguable, though some doubt has to be raised about the Athenian claim to democracy in any post-Classical sense of the word.

One has to admit, however, that the Persian empire has also had a great deal of influence on subsequent political developments, not least its ability to keep a balance between various conquered and subdued peoples.

Then there was Sparta. Much as one admires the heroism of the Spartans and the recent film “300” (no, Tory Historian decided to give it a miss), one has to admit that no tradition of freedom or democracy emerged from that militant and militaristic city. Had the Persians defeated Sparta, many of its enslaved neighbours might have preferred the new regime. The chances are Xerxes would have dealt with the liberated helots more intelligently than Sparta’s admirer, Hitler, did with the oppressed people of the Soviet Union.

There can, however, be no argument about one aspect of the difference between the West and the rest, an aspect that emerged from the Persian Wars. Forty years after the events, a Greek, Herodotus, began asking questions about them and about their causes.

The desire to know and to understand the history of what there is around us seems to be peculiar to European mentality. Even when conquering other peoples Europeans seem to want to write their history – an unusual attitude, not shared by other cultures, though there is the odd individual exception. We have much to thank the Greek from Halicarnassus who first asked the question: “Why did it happen like that?”

Tory Historian is not much given to new year resolutions, being one of those who forgets them within a week or so, never mind trying to keep to them. But (there is always a but after a statement like that) one resolution that is worth making is a more assiduous upkeep of this blog.

In the meantime, let me leave you all with a picture and a link to one of the most wonderful new year tradition the Vienna concert that includes music from the Strauss family and contemporaneous composers.

Happy new year to all who read the Conservative History blog, the Journal and may the Conservative History Group flourish in 2008.

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