Tentative Steps towards Civility #4: Being Offended is not (necessarily) the issue

Revolutions invariably eat their children.

It’s an almost inevitable fact of history. The expression was coined by a royalist journalist during the French Revolution, Jacques Mallet du Pan. But perhaps, if tweaking was needed, more often than not revolutions eat their parents. Think Robespierre in France; Trotsky in Soviet Russia; Röhm in Nazi Germany. (more…)

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Tentative Steps towards Civility #1: If you must label, keep to ideas (not people)

Standards in public discourse have deteriorated. I hope that is something on which we can all agree. Jeremy Corbyn came to the Labour leadership promising a kinder and more respectful politics – but that’s not happened. Of course, it was not really in his gift. Nor was he ever likely to control his more radical supporters, let alone political foes. (more…)

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Václav Havel’s 1978 warning to the West

I’m trying to understand power – what it means, how it’s wielded, how it affects us. Big topic. But I’m increasingly convinced that we can’t understand the culture of suspicion without grasping the power of power (and itsabuses).

This has drawn meto someone who has been a bit of a hero, but whose writings I’d only dipped into. Reading Václav Havel‘s masterly and vital 1978 essay The Power of the Powerless has blown me away. Written in the dark days of Czechoslovak communism (only 10 years after the false dawn of the Prague Spring), it is a profound analysis of what it was like to live under a regime built entirely on lies. The only response, the only subversion of the regime, therefore, is to live in truth. (more…)

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Let the meaning choose the word: Orwell on political language

It has its gainsayers (eg Steven Poole is pretty disparaging, though unfairly in my view) but George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language (the whole essay is online), is prophetic. Of course some of his linguistic concerns are matters of taste and fashion (as Steven Poole rightly notes). But written at the close of the Second World War, this article exposes the sham sincerity and dissembling motivation behind so much political speech and writing. That is the essay’s great virtue. And it has not gone out of date at all. (more…)

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