Commonplace 2012



“I think the main question about marriage is not so much whether you are in love with each other as whether you have the essential points in common which enable you to live with each other without getting on each other’s nerves.”                       (P. G. Wodehouse, in a letter written ten days after his wedding in 1914, quoted by Patrick Skene Catling in his review of P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters, edited by Sophie Ratcliffe, in the Spectator, December 13, 2011)


“As a rule, in Russia, the authorities fear the people, and the people fear the authorities.”                                                                                  (novelist Vladimir Sorkin, quoted in NYT, January 2)


“In a perfectly uncomplicated way I believed in God, wholeheartedly. It has taken me years to learn that the reason for this implicit faith was that I never associated morals with him. In those days God was totally unrelated to justice, egalitarianism, righteous warfare, sexual abstinence, and those many other equivocal attributes with which holy people and theologians have invested him, so as to disguise a straightforward amalgam of goodness and beauty under a hopeless tangle of cross-purposes, and to obscure his clear countenance.”                                                                                                                           (from Another Self, by James Lees-Milne, Chapter 1)


“Of poetry he had an absolute horror, and once warned me darkly that if I ever published a poem he would send me straight to the colonies with only £5 in my pocket.”                                                                                                  (from Another Self, by James Lees-Milne, Chapter 3)


“Convictions for cheating at cards, theft, rape and murder were doubtless disagreeable records for any public school man subsequently to explain away, but expulsion from Eton would set the seal upon all social intercourse thereafter.” (from Another Self, by James Lees-Milne, Chapter 3)


“But my father would not send me to Cambridge, because he had run up debts at Trinity in the nineties, or to Oxford because he was told that there were three niggers at Balliol.”                                                                                   (from Another Self, by James Lees-Milne, Chapter 4)


“Besides, rat poor and ineligible though I was, I could no more have had an affair of the heart (as opposed to the senses) with a member of the lower classes than bicycle on a rope across the Niagara Falls.”                                   (from Another Self, by James Lees-Milne, Chapter 5)


“How anyone without a title, and there were quite a few, ever got into Magdalen during Warren’s presidency, I am at a loss to explain.” (from Another Self, by James Lees-Milne, Chapter 6)


“But hatred of false ideologies is a distinct virtue.   One cannot love without hating, and without love one is not alive. So it is often one’s bounden duty to hate.”                                                                                                                   (from Another Self, by James Lees-Milne, Chapter 6)


“What made these particular intellectuals [Communist fellow-travellers at Oxford] so contemptible was their dishonesty. They turned a blind eye on the mass-murders, the persecutions unparalleled in history, the deliberate degradations of the individual, the debasement of standards of art and conduct which Communists had brought to the Soviet Union. Instead they screamed against the bestialities of Fascism and Nazism, which were not one jot more disgusting. If anything, existence for the ordinary citizen was preferable under a Fascist than under a Communist regime. At least under Fascism he was free to worship his God. Yet British intellectual leftists of the thirties threw themselves into the Spanish Civil War against Franco who was engaged in a life and death struggle with the forces of  world disruption and anarchy. Their teaching is evident enough today among the proletarian intellectuals if the redbrick and plateglass universities where it has borne some putrid fruit. I hope that my leftist colleagues occasionally ponder over what they have done, and suffer a little remorse for their past follies. Their fanaticism helped  to contribute to the present-day falsification of political arguments, distortion of basic truths, and depreciation of civilized values.”                                                                                            (from Another Self, by James Lees-Milne, Chapter 6)


“There is much to be said for dissimulation as opposed to cant. For whereas the last often clogs the wheels of daily discourse the first often oils them.”                                                                                                                            (from Another Self, by James Lees-Milne, Chapter 7)


“For after June 1941 the war ceased to be a fight to maintain ideals, and became a war of nations against nations. The allies were determined to crush not merely Nazism, but Germany for the benefit, as things have turned out, of Bolshevism. This was brought about by our insistence upon Germany’s unconditional surrender long after Nazism was doomed. The consequence of our compromise with Russian policies needs no stressing – the hideous partition of Europe and the rising strength of world Communism.” (from Another Self, by James Lees-Milne, Chapter 8)


“The midsummer day on which lying in bed in hospital I listened to Churchill on the radio magnifying the virtues of our new ally, Soviet Russia, marks without question the nadir of my whole life. No situation, I then thought, could be more perilous to a nation’s soul than that in which to save its skin it has no alternative to compromising with the devil. Was salvation at this price worth the candle? Ever since the 22nd of June, 1941 I have been convinced that evil is not just the negation of good, but the more important of the two polarities between which our fortunes revolve, and that existence on earth is of small intrinsic value. Since this life is clearly a losing battle of good against evil, I hope, without being at all sure, that the next may offer some opportunity of identification with the eternal truths, of which the Almighty has so far vouchsafed us a transient glimpse.” (from Another Self, by James Lees-Milne, Chapter 8)

[see also Commonplace 2007 (September) for further excerpts from Another Self]


“Single-cell life might be common, given the right simple conditions, but the steady, long-term evolution toward critters that play improv saxophone, write alliteration poems, and build heavy-lifting rocket boosters may depend on a prohibitive list of planetary prerequisites.”                                                                                                                                      (Dr Geoffrey Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley, quoted by Dennis Overbye in NYT, December 3, 2011)


“Frankly, I feel frustrated whenever I have to talk about revolution for the benefit of people who have never been through one. They are — if you’ll excuse the platitude — like a child who doesn’t believe that fire hurts, until he burns himself. I, my generation, my nation, have been involuntarily through two revolutions, both of them socialist: one of the right variety, one of the left. Together they destroyed my peripheral vision.”                             (Josef Svorecky, Czech writer, in 1981, quoted in National Post of Canada, from his NYT obituary, January 5)


“And yes I was trained by a Marxist historian (the late Gwyn A. Williams) and I am proud of it. We are, I fear, a dying breed.” (historian Linda Porter, in History Today, December 2011)


On National Character

“The question of what values we are to reach exposes the greatest flaw in [Tristram] Hunt’s thesis [that history should be used as a tool to teach values]. National characteristics are not learnt but inherited [??]….. To quote the philosopher Roger Scruton: ‘I cast my mind back to the way in which Britishness was taught to me by my family, school, church and town. These values … were seldom mentioned and never taught. Britishness was a state of mind, imparted like the sense of family, as a collective “we”.’”          (Tim Stanley, in History Today, December 2011)

“[He rejected the concept of heritable characteristics: the notion implicit in the discussion paper that the Germans were more prone to ‘aggression, angst, sentimentality, etc.’] ‘What we simplify as “national character” is in fact, I believe, the product of environment, of social structure, of “culture”: that is, of continuous education within a constant tradition. Change that, and the supposed “national character” changes with it.””                                                                                                                          (Adam Sisman quoting Hugh Trevor-Roper in a 1990 Sunday Telegraph article, from An Honourable Englishman (A Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper), Chapter 24)

“Estimates of national character are apt to be little more than expressions of individual opinion or prejudice; and they are often so vague or so contradictory, that skeptics have questioned whether there was really any such thing as national character at all.”                                                                        (Logan Pearsall Smith, in English Words Abroad, from Words and Idioms)


“The Union attracted the most politically minded undergraduates, which in the 1930s meant those on the Left. In the second debate of the Michaelmas term of 1932, for example, the motion was carried that ‘This House believes that the Russian experiment is succeeding, and welcomes its success.’ A few weeks later, the House decided that socialism offered ‘the only solution to the problems facing this country.’”                                                                                           (from Adam Sisman’s An Honourable Englishman (A Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper), Chapter 3)


“In contrast to Feiling and Masterman, the young Patrick Gordon Walker had embraced Marxism. He was determined to reform and modernize the teaching of history at Oxford. He summoned first-year students to his rooms and there explained that history was not an art, but a science. The Marxist interpretation had predicted the course of events since Marx’s own time with such remarkable accuracy that it could now be regarded as scientifically valid. This seemed very exciting to Hugh at the time.”                                                                                                      (from Adam Sisman’s An Honourable Englishman (A Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper), Chapter 3)


“One thing that history teaches us is that there is hardly any limit to the nonsense human beings will believe.”                                                            (A. L. Rowse, in the Spectator in 1938, quoted in Adam Sisman’s An Honourable Englishman (A Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper), Chapter 5)


“The indefatigable pursuit of an unattainable Perfection, even though it consists in nothing more than the pounding of an old piano, is what alone gives a meaning to our life on this unavailing star.”                                                     (Logan Pearsall Smith, according to Hugh Trevor-Roper, in Adam Sisman’s An Honourable Englishman (A Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper), Chapter 7)


“One morning [Dick] White, Ramsbotham and Hugh meandered over the gently rolling Teutoburg Hills, ‘talking of abstract propositions, such as Truth and Validity, and concrete propositions, such as the Canons of Christ Church, for ten unnoticed miles.’”                        (from Adam Sisman’s An Honourable Englishman (A Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper), Chapter 8)


“The young should always be brought up in the Established Faith. They can then have all the more fun in deviating from it later.”                              (Robert Blake to Hugh Trevor-Roper, from Adam Sisman’s An Honourable Englishman (A Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper), Chapter 9)


“The post-war years were a time of much hand-wringing about the need for a new philosophy to revive Western civilization. The nightmare of Nazism, and the disastrous failure of the democracies to contain it, had created a void, with no lack of candidates willing to fill it. On one side were the Communists and ‘fellow-travellers’, who exerted a degree of influence on British intellectual life almost impossible to contemplate today. On the other were anti-Communist zealots, many of them former Communists themselves. Hugh was opposed to both. Intellectually he was anti-Communist, but he was mistrustful of those who advocated an anti-Communist crusade. He was repelled by prophets such as Arnold Toynbee who claimed to offer a spiritual solution to the moral problems of the post-war world. And in view of the supine attitude of the Vatican throughout the period of fascist rule in Europe, he found the hunger of certain English-speaking Catholics to secure the moral fruits of victory ‘somewhat indecent’.”                    (from Adam Sisman’s An Honourable Englishman (A Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper), Chapter 10)


“Intellectuals may be citizens; they may even, as such, have to become soldiers; but it is not their business to become recruiting-sergeants. If their rational message is not heard in their time, let them still utter it rather than turn it into a battle-cry; it may still be heard tomorrow.”                                                                                        (Hugh Trevor-Roper in Encounter in 1955, quoted by Adam Sisman in An Honourable Englishman (A Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper), Chapter 14)


“This is not to deny that there are Marxists who have made contributions to history, but it is never as Marxists that they have done so.”                                                                                                                            (Hugh Trevor-Roper, in contribution to Problems of Communism, quoted by Adam Sisman’s An Honourable Englishman (A Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper), Chapter 14)


“[the Senior Common Room at Oriel].. seemed to him ‘like a country club in Carlisle: an old, half moribund institution where the local squire, the local solicitor, and the local clergyman gathered occasionally for a glass of port, a rubber of auction bridge, and slow conversation about the weather.’”                                                                                                                                   (from Adam Sisman’s An Honourable Englishman (A Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper), Chapter 16)


“When people become abusive in correspondence it is generally a sign that they have lost confidence in their powers of reasoning.”                                      (Hugh Trevor-Roper, quoted by Adam Sisman in An Honourable Englishman (A Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper), Chapter 20)


An Insult to ‘Witches’?

“I hope that the Blunt mania will now die down. I despise Blunt – a sanctimonious Cambridge prig – but I hate witch-hunts.”                     (Hugh Trevor-Roper to Valerie Pearl, quoted by Adam Sisman in An Honourable Englishman (A Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper), Chapter 21)


“Earlier Hugh had claimed to Annan that he had been opposed to Xandra’s plan for a party, on the grounds that no one would come to Cambridge; ‘you might as well, I protested, invite the beau monde to a party in Biggleswade.’”                                                                                    (from Adam Sisman’s An Honourable Englishman (A Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper), Chapter 24)


“It is important for society to do a better job than it now does in accepting differences as a fact of life. The differences between Asians, Africans and Caucasians “are small — but they are real.”                                                                                                                                           (James F. Crow, population genetics pioneer, in Daedalus in 2002, from his NYT obituary, January 11)


On Robert Graves’s Goodbye To All That

“His attitude, however leaves a disagreeable impression. One might gather that thousands of men instead of a few hundred were executed, and that suicides were as common as blackberries. He is, in short another example of the ‘intellectual’ whose intelligence with regard to the War penetrates a much shorter distance than that of the plain man.”

On Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms

“As for ourselves we may have well misrepresented it, for we found it quite impossible to finish.”

On Alexander Kerensky’s The Catastrophe

“This conceited and self-contradictory narrative proves that the writer, however, honest and patriotic, was a man of the very slightest political insight. His attack on General Kornilov robs him of what sympathy one might have felt with him in his difficult situation.”

On Cyril Falls’s The History of the 36th (Ulster) Division

“The compiler of this list is unfortunately precluded, not by modesty but by a sense of decency, from enlarging upon the merits of this work. He can only say of it that he would not have included it had he not deemed it worthy of its place.”

(Cyril Falls, military correspondent to the London Times, sometime Chichele Professor of History at Oxford University, in War Books, 1930)


“All politicians surrender some personal belief to political necessity. The common error, then, is that the needed concession is turned into belief.”                                                                                                                                            (John Kenneth Galbraith, in Name-Dropping, Chapter 8)


“You realize, Galbraith, that I am the last Englishman to rule in India.”

“However, the world still belongs to Trinity men.”                                                          (Jawaharlal Nehru, according to John Kenneth Galbraith, from Name-Dropping, Chapter 10)


Makes Mao’s Great Leap Forward look like a minor school long-jump competition?

“Nothing in the twentieth century was so badly handled and with such disastrous consequences as Mountbatten’s policies on Indian independence, leading as they did to the division of the subcontinent into three countries amidst conflict, mass migration and death.”                                                                                      (John Kenneth Galbraith, in Name-Dropping, Chapter 10)


Make Poverty History (cont.)

“The  universal cause of poverty is a shortage of money among those experiencing it.”                                                                               (John Kenneth Galbraith, in Name-Dropping, Chapter 11)


“But to whatever accident of history, or special quality of race, England owes its free associations, and the special morality and type of character which makes them possible – the spirit of give and take, of ‘playing the game,’ the voluntary submission of the individual to the group – it is in these qualities and characteristics (if there is any truth in our linguistic theory) that will be found the most original manifestations of the national genius; and embodied as they are in the institutions of free government, the most important contribution which England has made to the civilization of the world.”                                                                                                                         (Logan Pearsall Smith, in English Words Abroad, from Words and Idioms)


“… for of all the dusty Saharas and Dead Seas of literature, there are none, save perhaps those of old theology, which are more desolate than the arid wastes of obsolete aesthetic speculation.”                                         (Logan Pearsall Smith, in Four Romantic Words, from Words and Idioms)


“The subject-matter of idiom is human life in its simplest aspects; prudent and foolish conduct, success and failure, and above all human relations – the vivid attitudes and feelings of people intensely interested in each other and their mutual dealings – approval, but far more largely disapproval, friendly, but more often hostile feelings, fallings out and makings up, rivalries and over-reachings, reprobation, chastisement, and abuse.”                                                                                                                      (Logan Pearsall Smith, in English Idioms, from Words and Idioms)


“Quotations from the poets weary us if too often repeated, flowers from the garden of speech soon wither, learned figures become trite and hackneyed, but the pot and the frying-pan, the wet blanket and the spilt milk, the cat in the bag, and the pig in the poke, never lose their moral approbation; nor can we ever tire of the misadventures of those immortal rustics who count their chickens before they are hatched, harness the cart before the horse, fall between two stools, or most injudiciously keep on throwing stones from the glazed windows of the houses in which they live.”                            (Logan Pearsall Smith, in English Idioms, from Words and Idioms)


“There are moral issues that confront our country. Debt isn’t one of them.”    (Jesse Eisinger, a reporter for ProPublica, ‘an independent, nonprofit newsroom’, quoted in NYT, January 19)


“Some men have sought to become famous and renowned thinking that thus they would make themselves secure against their fellowmen.”                                                           (Maxim Number 7 in Epicurus’s Diogenes Laertius, quoted by Stephen Greenblatt in The Swerve, Chapter 3)


“Gold, silver, jewels, purple garments, houses built of marble, groomed estates, pious paintings, caparisoned steeds, and other things of this kind offer a mutable and superficial pleasure; books give delight to the very marrow of one’s bones. They speak to us, consult with us, and join with us in a living and intense intimacy.”                                                                                                                                               (Petrarch, according to Stephen Greenblatt in The Swerve, Chapter 5)


“[You should be suspicious of anyone who]

Displays an excessive purity of life;

Walks barefoot through the streets, with a dirty face and shabby robes;

Shows in public a disdain for money;

Always has the name of Jesus Christ on his lips; wants to be called good, without doing anything particularly good;

Attracts women to him to satisfy his wishes;

Runs here and there outside the monastery, seeking fame and honors;

Makes a show of fasting and other ascetic practices;

Induces others to get things for himself;

Refuses to acknowledge or return what is given to him in trust.”                                                                              (Poggio Bracciolini, quoted by Stephen Greenblatt in The Swerve, Chapter 6)


“The pattern of dreaming and deferral and compromise is an altogether familiar one: it is the epitome of a failed life.”                            (Stephen Greenblatt in The Swerve, Chapter 6)


“Seventy charges were formally read out against him [Baldasare Cossa, Pope John XXIII]. Fearing their effect on public opinion, the council decided to suppress the sixteen most scandalous charges – never subsequently revealed – and accused the pontiff only of simony, sodomy, rape, incest, torture and murder.”           (Stephen Greenblatt in The Swerve, Chapter 7)


“The quintessential emblem of religion – and the clearest manifestation of the perversity that lies at its core – is the sacrifice of a child by a parent.”(Stephen Greenblatt in The Swerve, Chapter 8)


“Is it so hard for men to live together?

Were they so gentle in the Stone Age?

Why the broken forearms in Badarian graves?


…No, I won’t go home and open a bottle of port,

I’ll have this out with Fate…


Must I love my fellow neighbours,

Must I palpitate in sickly earnest

For two thousand million spiteful apes?

Must I love the cabman and the coolie,

Butlers and Basutos, hairy Ainus,

Grinning Orientals, surly Prussians,

Lovely Hindu-Negro-Chinese-Caribs,

Tax-collectors, Fascists, pimps and Scotchmen?


Bring me the lowest-browed gorilla,

Introduce me to the cheerful chimpanzee;

Arm-in-arm we’ll chant the People’s Flag,

Take degrees in proletarian culture

And be analysed by Doctor Jung…” (Stanza 11 from Richard Aldington’s Life Quest, 1935)


“He [Newt Gingrich] believes that what he says in public and how he lives don’t have to be connected. If you believe that, then, yeah, you can run for President.”                          (Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne Ginther, quoted in the New Yorker, January 23)


“But Harvey, of course, was doing what we are all apt to do when we find a stranger sympathetic; he was giving her as virtues what he was conscious of possessing as failings.”                                                                          (from Michael Arlen’s Lily Christine, Chapter 2)


“He drove as though there were a devil in him, fresh-looking and handsome and frank, smiling at policemen just as they were about to pull up, smiling with that pleasant officer-to-man smile which, so Lily Christine had often thought, had given the under-dogs in England the illusion of happiness for so long. If those attractive-ish Grand Dukes had had the secret of that smile maybe they wouldn’t be wandering about Europe now like lean stricken tigers in search of comfortable lairs.”                                                                         (from Michael Arlen’s Lily Christine, Chapter 5)


“It was an amusing thought, that revolution would never break out in England until Englishmen could be servile enough to take to waitering in large numbers.”                                                                                                                                  (from Michael Arlen’s Lily Christine, Chapter 7)


“The English instinctively had a contempt for the way foreigners tried to please women, with flowers and little attentions; they said that foreigners were up to their tricks again, trying to get something. But an ordinarily kind man ought to think of such things, the little things that give pleasure. Still, one was born with that sort of thoughtfulness or one wasn’t. It never would come naturally to him any more than to Soames Forsythe.”                                                                                                                                      (from Michael Arlen’s Lily Christine, Chapter 11)


“Yes, yes! Of course the fellow isn’t actively bad – who could be actively bad or actively anything who, once he has passed the age of eight, is willing to spend three consecutive days of his life standing with ten others in a field looking for a small leather ball? Of course he isn’t bad. But a fellow like that can be made bad, good, or indifferent.”                                                                                                            (Andy Ambatriadi, in Michael Arlen’s Lily Christine, Chapter 11)


“Whenever one of you Englishmen does a thing that’s unbelievably caddish – the others call it a streak of madness.”                         (Andy Ambatriadi, in Michael Arlen’s Lily Christine, Chapter 11)


“Good. Every honest Englishman is [anti-foreign]. It’s the semi-cultured, demi-cosmopolitan, half-emasculated, tolerant, foreign-loving Englishman that makes me sick. We’ve had plenty of them in Greece, I can tell you. Jellyfish with projecting teeth.”                                                                                                            (Andy Ambatriadi, in Michael Arlen’s Lily Christine, Chapter 11)


“It was a club of the old traditions, that is to say it did not, like many London clubs of the day, admit forgers, card-sharpers and blackmailers, which was no doubt why it was not much frequented.”                                                              (from Michael Arlen’s Lily Christine, Chapter 14)


In her DNA?

“Growing up, Khrys Vaughan always believed that she had inherited her looks and mannerisms from her father, and that her appreciation for tradition and old-fashioned gentility stemmed from her parents’ Southern roots. But those facets of her self-image crumbled when she was told, at age 42, that she had been adopted.”                                            (from report in NYT, January 24)


“That God should spend His eternity – which might be so much better employed – in spinning countless Solar Systems. And skylarking, like a great child, with tops and teetotums – is this not a serious scandal? I wonder what all our circumgyrating Monotheists really do think of it?”                                                                             (Logan Pearsall Smith, in Vertigo from Trivia)


“I am sometimes afraid of finding that there is a moral for everything; that the whole great frame of the Universe has a key, like a box; had been contrived and set going by a well-meaning but humdrum Eighteenth-century Creator. It would be a kind of Hell, surely, a world in which everything could be at once explained, shown to be obvious and useful. I am sated with Lesson and Allegory; weary of monitory ants, industrious bees, and preaching animals. The benefits of Civilization cloy me. I have seen enough shining of the didactic Sun.

So gazing up on hot summer nights at the London stars, I cool my thoughts with a vision of the giddy, infinite, meaningless waste of Creation, the blazing Suns, the Planets and frozen Moons, all crashing blindly for ever across the void of space.”                                                                                                                                          (Logan Pearsall Smith, in Mental Vice, from Trivia)


“The other day, depressed on the Underground, I tried to cheer myself up by thinking over the joys of our human lot. But there wasn’t one of them for which I seemed to care a button – not Wine, nor Fame, nor Friendship, nor Eating, nor Making Love, nor the Consciousness of Virtue. Was it worth while then going way up in a lift into a world that has nothing less trite to offer?

Then I thought of reading – the nice and subtle happiness of reading. This was enough, this joy nit dulled by Age, this polite and unpunishable vice, this selfish, serene, life-long intoxication.”                                                                                   (Logan Pearsall Smith, in Intoxication, from Trivia)


“’Awful moments? Why, yes, of course,’ I said, ‘life is full of them – let me think –‘

‘To find other people’s unposted letters in an old pocket; to be seen looking at oneself in a street-mirror, or overheard talking of the Ideal to a Duchess; to refuse Nuns who come to the door to ask for subscriptions, or to be lent by a beautiful new acquaintance a book she has just written full of mystical slip-slop, and dreadful musings in an old-world garden –‘”                                                                                         (Logan Pearsall Smith, in Moments, from More Trivia)


“That we should practise what we preach is generally admitted; but anyone who preaches what he and his hearers practice must incur the gravest moral disapprobation.”                                                                                                                                  (Logan Pearsall Smith, from Afterthoughts)


“How can they say my life isn’t a success? Have I not for more than sixty years got enough to eat and escaped being eaten?”                                                (Logan Pearsall Smith, from Afterthoughts)


“What with its crude awakenings can youth know of the rich returns of awareness to elderly people from their afternoon naps; of their ironic thoughts and long retrospections, and the sweetness they taste of not being dead?”                         (Logan Pearsall Smith, from Afterthoughts)


“Unrequited affections are in youth unmitigated woes; only later in life do we learn to appreciate the charm of these bogus heart-breaks.”               (Logan Pearsall Smith, from Afterthoughts)


“Thus the sense of malease grew, and has indeed remained with me so vividly that I never meet a rich, successful business American without some slight speculation about the bones he has crushed and the wretches he has eaten. These experiences have given me a certain dislike for the whole iron economic system upon which our civilization is founded – a dislike, however, which I must admit is by no means strong enough to make me forgo any of the pecuniary advantages which I derive from it. And anyhow I quiet my conscience – how honestly or dishonestly it would be difficult for me to say – by the reflection that I cannot think out any other economic scheme of things that would allow the human spirit to put forth fairer blossoms. The only alternatives to it seem Fascism and Communism, and of the prospects these offer it would be difficult to say which is the more ghastly.”                                                                                                                                                     (Logan Pearsall Smith, in Unforgotten Years, Chapter 5)


“Americans who go to live abroad are sometimes troubled by the word ‘expatriation’; they give much anxious thought to the question as to whether it is expedient, and above all whether it is right, for them to change their skies. An Englishman or other European who settles in America incurs no kind of moral blame, either in the land he has deserted or in his new-adopted home; he is supposed to have had his reasons, and it is taken for granted that they are good ones. But to desert America is somehow regarded as a kind of treachery, as if America were more than a country, were a sort of cause, and its Stars and Stripes the banner of a crusading army which it is dishonorable to desert.”                        (Logan Pearsall Smith, in Unforgotten Years, Chapter 10)


“Although we attribute to stone a great power to hold time back, to refuse its claims (cairns, stone tablets, monuments, statuary), this is true only in relation to our own mutability. Looked at in the context of the bigger geological picture, rock is as vulnerable to change as any other substance.”                                      (Robert Macfarlane, in Mountains of the Mind, Chapter 2)


“The authentic Englishman us one whose delight is to wander all day amongst rocks and snow; and to come as near breaking his neck as his conscience will allow.”         (Leslie Stephen, in The Playground of Europe, quoted by Robert Macfarlane, in Mountains of the Mind, Chapter 3)


“In the hot summer of 1860 the glaciers of Chamonix were alive with the rustle of crinoline.”                                                                   (Robert Macfarlane, in Mountains of the Mind, Chapter 4)


“Those who travel to mountain tops are half in love with themselves, and half in love with oblivion.”                                           (Robert Macfarlane, in Mountains of the Mind, Chapter 5)


Latins and Latinos

“’He [Police Chief Leonard Gallo] and the East Haven Police Department are doing their job right,’ said Ferdinando Cerrato, 79, a retired barber who said he has lived in East Haven for 47 years.  The Latino influx in recent years is ruining the town, he said, adding that it is ‘becoming a third-world banana republic.’”                                            (from report in NYT, January 31)




“For history is only accidentally the continuity of peoples: fundamentally it is the continuity of countries – and ideas. The modern Jews who have re-created Israel may please themselves with the fancy that they are resuming a lost inheritance, In fact they can hardly be surprised if the Arabs of Palestine, still poised upon the historic hills of Judaea, look down upon these sea-borne invaders of the coastal plain as the ancient Hebrews looked down, in their day, upon the encroaching settlers from the West, the Philistines.”                                                                                                                  (Hugh Trevor-Roper in The Holy Land, from Men and Events)


“If Western civilisation is to be saved from darkness now, it can only be by Western methods: ideologies are only applicable when night has already fallen. That, no doubt, is why Hitler and Goebbels preached a gospel of destruction, and Stalin hungrily scans the future for unemployment, misery, and slumps.”                                                                                                                                      (Hugh Trevor-Roper in The Dark Ages, from Men and Events)


“Like Pascal after him, he [Erasmus] discovered that in moral questions it is not earnestness but irony that kills.”                  (Hugh Trevor-Roper in Desiderius Erasmus, from Men and Events)


“’True we are mendicants’, declared the Dominicans as they launched their counter-attack against the Franciscan doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, ‘but we have more than 40,000 crowns of gold in reserve for this purpose.’”                                                                                                                                     (Hugh Trevor-Roper in The Twilight of the Monks, from Men and Events)


“Cloisters, to their inhabitants, were country clubs; to the outer world they were useful receptacles for unemployable or half-witted sons and unportionable daughters. To such men, the suggestion that the rule should be executed – that roast beef disappear from the menu, that private property be abolished and (worst of all) that chastity be enforced – naturally seemed an outrageous revolution. Fortunately, they reflected, they had ample funds for resistance. They could bribe the great, prevaricate at law, appeal to their relatives and clients in the world, mobilize their tenants, arm their serfs; and ultimately, at the summit of the system, they could rely on their greatest asset of all: the patronage, or the apathy, of the Court of Rome.”                                                    (Hugh Trevor-Roper in The Twilight of the Monks, from Men and Events)


“Fortunately, while there is death there is hope.”                                                                         (Hugh Trevor-Roper in High Latimer and the English Commonwealth, from Men and Events)


“Roman Catholics, seeing Protestantism equated with capitalism by scholars, and capitalism turned into a word of abuse by socialists, have been quick to seize the advantage and declare that the Protestant Reformation in England is thus proved to have been a ‘rebellion if the rich against the poor’, leading to all the ills that modern socialists complain of. Marxist historians, declaring summarily that the equation of Puritanism with capitalism is one of ‘the irresistible conclusions of modern research’, announce that the Puritan Revolution was the crucial victory in the world struggle of capitalism to burst its ‘feudal’ bonds: it was ‘the decisive shift’ from a generally feudal to a predominantly capitalist society…”                                                                            (Hugh Trevor-Roper in Social Causes of the Great Rebellion, from Men and Events)


“Conquered and frustrated people hunger for a myth, and provided they have a symbolical figure and a dramatic immolation they are seldom fastidious about the literal truth or authenticity of the gospel.”                        (Hugh Trevor-Roper in The Myth of Charles I, from Men and Events)


“How well one knows the face of certain converts to Catholicism – that smooth, exhausted look, burnt-out and yet at rest, as of a motorist who, after many mishaps and mounting insurance-premiums, has at last decided to drive himself no more, and having found a chauffeur with excellent references, resigns himself to safer travel in a cushioned back-seat.”                                                                         (Hugh Trevor-Roper in Huguenots and Papists, from Men and Events)


“Ill in France, he [Thomas Hobbes] was pestered by the clergy of three denominations, begging him to die in their communions. ‘Let me alone,’ he replied, ‘or I will detect all your cheats from Aaron to yourselves.’ Ad he attributed ‘all the changes of religion in the world to one and the same cause; and that is, unpleasing priests’.”                                                                                                                                  (Hugh Trevor-Roper in Thomas Hobbes, from Men and Events)


“He [Clarendon] understood, as modern doctrinaire historians do not, that economic interests are abstractions which cannot mobilize themselves; that their force depends on personal manœuvres, temporary alliances, procedural devices; that the study of politics is in fact always the study of politicians.” (Hugh Trevor-Roper in Clarendon and the Great Rebellion, from Men and Events)


“The crown of a man’s career is his biography.”                                                                                (Hugh Trevor-Roper in Macaulay and the Glorious Revolution, from Men and Events)


“No doubt this cult of holy poverty is very praiseworthy in merely rural societies; but, as Bernardo Ward pointed out, it is not the way towards economic growth’. The child who sees his mother kiss the hand of a useless begging friar insensibly adopts a religion of idleness, whereas ‘in the countries where there are no mendicant orders and no pilgrims, and where poverty is never represented as meritorious, the popular contempt for begging is a powerful force on the side of industry.’” (Hugh Trevor-Roper in The Spanish Enlightenment, from Men and Events)


“As a historian he [Marx] is dead as mutton, or at least as dead as Orosius, Baronius and Bossuet.”                      (Hugh Trevor-Roper in The Faustian Historian, from Men and Events)


“When radicals s ream that victory is indubitably theirs. Sensible conservatives knock them on the nose. It is only very feeble conservatives who take such words as true and run round crying for the last sacraments.”                                                                                                                                           (Hugh Trevor-Roper in Arnold Toynbee’s Millennium, from Men and Events)


“But did not the more essential parts of that civilization, its mysteries and mummeries, its sacraments and sacrifices, Isis and Adonis and Mithras, happily survive, gathered up and preserved in that new syncretist religion, ‘that quaint Alexandrian tutti-frutti’, as Norman Douglas described it, Christianity?”                                                                                                                              (Hugh Trevor-Roper in Arnold Toynbee’s Millennium, from Men and Events)



“After all, as some sage philosopher [who?] once observed, the irresistible is very often merely that which has not been resisted.”                                                                                                                         (Hugh Trevor-Roper in Arnold Toynbee’s Millennium, from Men and Events)


“The Westerners didn’t want Qaddafi, and they got rid of him, and they created problems for all of us. When you chased Qaddafi out in that barbaric fashion, you created 10 more Qaddafis. The whole Saharo-Sahelian region has become unlivable.”                                                                                          (Bajan Ag Hamatou, a lawmaker from Ménaka, Mali, quoted in NYT, February 6)


‘Mainstream’ Economics

“It was “The Road to Serfdom” by Friedrich Hayek that became the ur-text of Mr. Paul’s emerging ideology, introducing him to Austrian economics and its Manichaean choice between laissez-faire capitalism and a government-run economy destined for disaster. (Mainstream economists have long dismissed the Austrian school, but it retains a devoted following among libertarians and some conservatives.)”                              (from report in NYT, February 6)


‘Make Poverty History’ Chapter 65

“The essential truth about poverty is that we will never fully understand what causes it.”                                                                                                              (David Brooks, in NYT, February 7) “The danger is we will revert back to the mindset of the war on poverty, when poverty was just a matter of income, and giving families more would improve the prospects of their children. If people conclude that, it’s a mistake.”                                                                                         (James J. Heckman, economist at University of Chicago, quoted in NYT, February 10)


Unlike, say,…. er,…. The Timermans

“This is not an indigenous population.”                                                          (Argentina’s foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, on the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands, from NYT, February 11)


“Gaspar Miklos Tamas, a political philosopher and former Parliament member, was once quoted by the BBC as saying that the party [the Justice and Life Party, in Hungary] was not Nazi or fascist, adding, ‘although, of course, it is racist, chauvinist, anti-Semitic, xenophobe, anti-democratic, anti-republican and anti-constitution.’”                                                                                                                        (from the obituary of playwright Istvan Csurka in NYT, February 12)


“I’m fed up to the teeth with strong personalities and superpowers claiming to be messiahs! In this century the problem has not been of reducing the evils that already exist, but rather of resisting their growth. The optimists, and particularly the Chekhists among them, are so much more to be feared than the sceptics or those who see life as nothing but one great tragedy. The optimist is so secure in the knowledge that his, and only his, convictions are the truth, that he must rush and build Utopia in his own lifetime. But will he hesitate to destroy all who stand in his way: after all, they are only a hindrance, merely blocking the path to heaven! The more convinced and morally justified the monomaniac the more he reeks of the blood of the innocent.”                                      (from Edward Kuznetzov’s Prison Diaries, 7th November 1970)


“Any country characterized by the separation of secular and religious interests is no use to a totalitarian government. For despotism to flourish, the people must be susceptible to monomania.”                           (from Edward Kuznetzov’s Prison Diaries, 23rd  November 1970)


“Any dictatorship makes short shrift of organized crime. Whether it be a personal dictatorship or an administrative-party oligarchy, it regards organized crime as its own prerogative, it cannot tolerate competition. The somewhat paradoxical conclusion that must be drawn is that the presence of organized crime is –for a while at any rate – an unmistakable barometer as to the degree of democratization in a society if, that is, the adherents of formal logic among us were not forever declaring that the given amount of democracy is a society is in direct proportion to the amount of crime in that society. Organized crime is the income tax you pay for the benefits of democracy, its inexhaustible expenditure, like pornography, for example. The choice is either freedom of the press plus pornography, or ‘Pravda’ minus pornography. The constant task for the democratic society is to keep cutting down its expenses, while at the same time avoiding the perils of dictatorship.”      (from Edward Kuznetzov’s Prison Diaries, 26th November 1970)


“If an unreluctant believer is obsessed by the search for truth, then the more he is tormented by doubts, the more he will defend the rightness of what he believed.”                                                                                             (from Edward Kuznetzov’s Prison Diaries, 29th November 1970)


“One finds many brilliant men among their [the founders’ of religious and social movements] until the new movement is victorious, when they are replaced by mediocrities who support the fossilized status quo. The latter always persecute originality and daring; in the beginning the aim of every movement is truth and justice, irrespective of any interpretation that may be put upon them, but after victory is achieved, the aim is to cling on to power at all costs. Now it is the persecutors who raise the standard of their prophets.”                                                                                                               (from Edward Kuznetzov’s Prison Diaries, 2nd December 1970)


“No one can sing a Leonard Cohen song the way Leonard Cohen can’t.”                                                                                                                (a Leonard Cohen fan, from NYT, February 12)


“We wish to discover our ancestors, but we wish to discover them possessed of ample fortunes, adorned with honourable titles, and holding an eminent rank if the class of hereditary nobles, which has been maintained for the wisest and most beneficial purposes, in almost every climate of the globe, and in almost every form of political society. If any of these have been conspicuous above their equals by personal merit and glorious achievements, the generous feelings of the heart will sympathize in an alliance with such characters; nor foes the man exist who would not peruse with warmer curiosity the life of a hero from whom his name and blood were lineally derived. The Satirist may laugh, the Philosopher may preach; but reason herself will respect the prejudices and habits which have been consecrated by the experience of mankind.”                                                                                      (Edward Gibbon, in Memoirs of My Life, Chapter 1)


“It is an obvious truth  that parts and virtues cannot be transmitted with the inheritance of estates and titles; and that even the claim of our legal descent must rest on a basis perhaps not sufficiently firm, the unspotted chastity of all our female progenitors.”                                                                                                                     (Edward Gibbon, in Memoirs of My Life, Chapter 1)


“All superfluous ornament is rejected by the cold frugality of the Protestants; but the Catholic superstition, which is always the enemy of reason, is often the parent of taste.”                                                                                                   (Edward Gibbon, in Memoirs of My Life, Chapter 6)


“… but I was soon disgusted with the modest practice of reading my manuscript to my friends. Of such friends some will praise from politeness, and some will criticize from vanity. The author is the best judge of his own performance; none has so deeply meditated on the subject, none is so sincerely interested in the event.”               (Edward Gibbon, in Memoirs of My Life, Chapter 7)


“The first indispensable requisite of happiness is a clear conscience unsullied by the reproach or remembrance of an unworthy action.”       (Edward Gibbon, in Memoirs of My Life, Chapter 8)


“… but I must reluctantly observe that two causes, the abbreviation of time and the failure of hope, will always tinge with a  browner shade the evening of life. The proportion of a part to the whole is the only standard by which we can measure the length of our existence. At the age of twenty, one year is a tenth perhaps of the time which has elapsed within our consciousness and memory: at the age of fifty it is no more than a fortieth, and this relative value continues to decrease till the last sands are shaken by the hand of death. The reasoning may seem metaphysical; but on a trial it will be found satisfactory and just. The warm desires, the long expectations of youth are founded on the ignorance of themselves and of the world. They are gradually damped by time and experience, by disappointment or possession; and after the middle season, the crowd must be content to remain at the foot of the mountain, while the few who have climbed the summit, aspire to descend or expect to fall. In old age, the consolation of hope is reserved for the tenderness of parents, who commence a new life in their children; the faith of enthusiasts who sing hallelujahs above the clouds; and the vanity of authors who presume the immortality of their name and writings.”             (Edward Gibbon, in Memoirs of My Life, Chapter 8)


“Despite being denounced by the United Nations as a ‘harmful traditional practice,’ baad is pervasive in rural southern and eastern Afghanistan, areas that are heavily Pashtun, according to human rights workers, women’s advocates and aid experts. Baad involves giving away a young woman, often a child, into slavery and forced marriage. It is largely hidden because the girls are given to compensate for “shameful” crimes like murder and adultery and acts forbidden by custom, like elopement, say elders and women’s rights advocates.”                                                                                                                                               (from report in NYT, February 17)


“Something of their naïveté was captured the following morning in a satirical report, ‘Himalayans at Play,’ published in Punch [Volume 156, 1919]. ‘Sir Francis Oldmead said his preferred route to the summit was up the Yulmag valley to the Chikkim frontier at Lor-Lumim crossing the Pildash at Gonglam and skirting the deep gorge of the Spudgyal… The chairman having expressed his regrets that Sir Marcon Tinway was not present to describe his experiments with manlifting kites and trained albatrosses, the assembly dispersed after singing the Tibetan national anthem.’”                                                                                                                    (from Wade Davis’s Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest, Chapter 3)


“The average European is not good looking according to our ideas. We consider your noses too big, often they stick out like kettle spouts; your ears are too large, like pig’s ears; your eyes blue like children’s marbles; your eye sockets too deep and eyebrows too prominent, too simian.” (‘a woman’s view of the Western man’, in a Tibetan book written by Rin-Chen Lha-Mo, quoted in Wade Davis’s Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest, Chapter 3)


“I’m tired of traveling and travelers, far countries and uncouth people, trains and ships and shimmering mausoleums, foreign ports, dark-skinned faces and a garish sun. What I want to see is faces I know, and perhaps Bloomsbury in a fog; and then an English river, cattle grazing in Western meadows.”                        (George Mallory. in a letter to his friend David Pye, quoted in Wade Davis’s Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest, Chapter 9)


“In that peculiar English way we attempted to elucidate the details of one another’s upbringing and background without asking direct questions.”                              (John Morris, quoted in Wade Davis’s Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest, Chapter 10)


“I want to make one thing clear. I am the expedition’s official medical officer. I am, as a matter of fact, a qualified doctor, but I fell it my duty now to remind you that I have never practiced in my life. I beg you in no circumstances to seek my professional advice, since it would almost certainly turn out to be wrong. I am however willing if necessary to sign a certificate of death.”                                (Tom Longstaff, medical officer on the 1922 Everest expedition, quoted in Wade Davis’s Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest, Chapter 10)


“That Finch had not attended the proper schools was one thing for General Bruce and Colonel Strutt to endure; that he had chosen a career in the sciences, a profession unworthy of a gentleman, was quite another; but that he would cobble his own boots was beneath contempt. Strutt, in particular, was outraged. ‘I can still see his rigid expression as he looked at that picture,’ Morris wrote, ‘”I always knew that fellow was a shit” he said, and the sneer remained on his face while the rest of us sat in frozen silence.’”                                        (from Wade Davis’s Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest, Chapter 10)


Eat Your Heart Out, Dean Martin!

“…though Morris, as transport officer, had to struggle at times to maintain discipline among the porters, especially when it came to drink. ‘We decided that a man was not drunk’, he reported, ‘so long as he could lie on the ground without actually holding on. It was, we felt, a generous interpretation, but there was one porter who was consistently unable to comply with this simple test.’”                                                                                                                                (from Wade Davis’s Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest, Chapter 11)


“I mean to say, yes, alcohol has the effect of shortening one’s life, but it staves off immediate death. I am as it were cashing in the last 20 years of my life with alcohol, in order to gain a week or two. Admittedly, to keep the metaphor going, there will come a time when the bailiffs turn up unexpectedly, and too early.”                                                                                                                                               (Joseph Roth to Stefan Zweig, quoted by Amelia Atlas in NYT, February 26)


“One of the more poetic aspects of America was the way knaves repeatedly appeared on the scene who spent their lives raking in shekels and then gave them away again at the end. Servants of God.”                                              (from Gregor von Rezzori’s The Orient-Express, p 65)


“In his profession he was surrounded more by Jews than non-Jews and was generally looked on as one of them. He never corrected this assumption. He might just as well have been half Jewish as half Armenian; Armenians and Jews belonged to the oldest and most dignified races on earth and were the most conspicuous victims of genocide in history. And when he thought of his aunts’ cucumber noses it seemed silly to make a distinction. As an Armenian, he felt the racial characteristics common to both races, as alike as two peas.”                                                                                                                        (from Gregor von Rezzori’s The Orient-Express, p 92)

Compare: “Five Greeks for one Jew

Ten Jews for one Armenian”                                        (Armenian Proverb, according to Bruce Page, David Leitch, and Phillip Knightley in The Philby Conspiracy, Chapter 18)


“… and the closer he got to Europe the more he realized that he could never feel completely American, not in his soul of souls, that he’d always looked down, considerately but skeptically, on his fellow Americans and their naïve, undaunted, trumpeting optimism, looked down from a covert, superior, secure position as a member of a sadder, older race.”                                                                                                      (from Gregor von Rezzori’s The Orient-Express, p 116)


“He’d written off so-called western Europe too. Nothing made him squirm more than this hodge-podge of nations, this everybody’s and mo-man’s land desperately concerned with its various little palettes of traditional colors while simultaneously striving for unity; this culture-saturated, culture-fatigued secondhand American province, laughable in the zeal of its imitation, tragic in the misunderstanding of what it imitated.”                                                                                                                                                       (from Gregor von Rezzori’s The Orient-Express, p 128)


“You know very well I’m not mistaken. When you look in the mirror you may find your nose is a trifle short and your mouth perhaps too large, or you’ll see some other minor imperfection or the signs of fleeting youth and all that nonsense. But that has nothing to do with the beauty of a person who has thought of herself as someone agreeable – more agreeable than most everyone around – always excepting of course such divinities as movie stars or champion athletes, Nobel Prize winners and the like –“                                                                                                                         (the author to the Finnish lady, from Gregor von Rezzori’s The Orient-Express, p 144)


“That has really stayed in the DNA of Amish culture and Amish history. It’s not unlike slavery for African-Americans. It’s not unlike the Holocaust for Jews. There’s this sense of being a separated people, of being a minority people, of being cautious about what the outside world might do to you again.”                                                                                                     (Donald B. Kraybill, sociologist, from review of ‘The Amish’ in NYT, February 28)


“His [St. John Philby’s] disgust for the younger generation’s lust for Western consumer durables drew rebukes from him which carried  a strong flavour of anti-Semitism. He was fond of saying that the Arabs and the Jews were both Semites and therefore traders, and that the only difference lay in the fact that the Jews were honest traders and the Arabs were not.”                                     (from The Philby Conspiracy, by Bruce Page, David Leitch and Phillip Knightley, Chapter 3)


“There is something to be said for the view that in espionage matters, it is often not possible to ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ that a man is a loyal agent. There is a point at which the actions of an effective agent, however meticulously examined, are not objectively distinguishable from those of a traitor or potential traitor. One of the things the SIS men did understand was that in the last analysis a spy has no protection but the loyalty of his friends: his record, examined in cold blood at some arbitrary moment by an outsider knowing nothing of the conditions of his service, may give a fatally misleading impression.”                                                                                 (from The Philby Conspiracy, by Bruce Page, David Leitch and Phillip Knightley, Chapter 17)







“’We would replace power rooted in possession, privilege or circumstance by power and uniqueness rooted in love, reflectiveness, reason and creativity,’ the statement said. Those sentiments were echoed in Occupy’s founding principles — ‘constituting ourselves as autonomous political beings engaged in non-violent civil disobedience and building solidarity based on mutual respect, acceptance, and love.’”                                                                                                                        (from article on the Port Huron Statement of 1962, in NYT, March 4)


“The great thing about Americans is that they don’t know when they are being bored.”                                                                                         (Maurice Bowra, attributed to him by Isaiah Berlin in letter to Bowra, quoting Mrs Frankfurter: from Berlin’s Supplementary Letters, 1928-46)


“What people didn’t like, and it’s still true in this country, they don’t like passion. They find it vulgar.”                                                                                                                   (Terence Davies, director of the adaptation of Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, from NYT, March 11)


Economics Nuggets

“’s [Spain’s] in trouble thanks to private-sector, not public-sector, excess.”                                                                                                                                  (Paul Krugman, in NYT, March 12)

“The stated purpose of the Commission [Commission on Banking (ICB)] was to consider structural and related non-structural reforms to the UK banking sector to promote financial stability and competition in the aftermath of the banking crisis of 2008.”                                                                                              (from report on Sir John Vickers in Oxford Today, Hilary 2012)

“What do you think might happen with the current Eurozone sovereign debt crisis?

Anyone who is confident answering that reveals that they don’t actually know what they are taking about.”                    (Sir John Vickers responding to question in Oxford Today, Hilary 2012)

“Everything that is solid does melt into thin air, but it was capitalism rather than communism that destroyed the bourgeoisie.”                                                                                                               (philosopher John Gray, paraphrased by Jonathan Black in Oxford Today, Hilary 2012)

“Keynesians – in the corrupted sense of ‘those who believe in yet more deficit financing whenever there is an economic problem’ – may well assume that the [Singaporean] government has splurged to achieve this remarkable result.” (James Bartholomew in the Spectator, March 3)

“I’m not a believer in the Old Testament theory of business cycles. I think that if we can help people, we need to help people.”                                                                                       (chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke, from Atlantic Monthly, April 2012)

“We have exchanged the gold standard for the Ph.D. standard, for soft central planning.”                                                                                     (publisher James Grant, from Atlantic Monthly, April 2012)

“Marxist ideology as it was conceived no longer corresponds to reality.”                                                                                 (Pope Benedict XVI, on his way to Cuba, reported in NYT, March 24)



“Michelet, like many nineteenth-century writers, is at his worst when he is preaching a gospel. We know them well in English, these nineteenth-century gospels: Ruskin’s Beauty, Meredith’s Nature, Matthew Arnold’s Culture – large and abstract capitalized words, appearing in cloudy apocalypses, as remedies for practical evils.”                                                                                                                          (from Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station, Part 1, Chapter 4)


“He [Le Père Enfantin] did not have the true fanatic’s capacity, the capacity of Mrs. Eddy or Joseph Smith, for deceiving himself and others; he had kept waiting for the female Messiah, who should finally make the world believe in him and who would make him believe in himself.”                                                           (from Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station, Part 2, Chapter 4)


“The result of the all-powerful reaction had been to cause the young Hegelians in Berlin to recoil into a theoretical intransigence; and since their position of pure atheism and pure communism, which made no contact with actual society, excluded all possibility of affecting the course of events by ordinary agitation, they had resorted to a policy of clowning unlike that by which the Dadaists of our own post-war period attempted, in a similar fashion, to shock a world of which they totally despaired and which they could only desire to insult.”                                                                                                 (from Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station, Part 2, Chapter 7)


“I applaud with all my heart your idea of bringing to light all the varieties of opinion; let us have good and sincere polemics; let us show the world an example of a learned and far-sighted tolerance; but simply because we are at the head of a movement, let us not set ourselves up as the apostles of a new intolerance, let us not pose as the apostles of a new religion – even though this religion be the religion of logic, the religion of reason itself. Let us welcome, let us encourage all the protests; let us condemn all the exclusions, all the mysticisms; let us never regard a question as closed, and even after we have exhausted our last argument, let us begin again, if necessary, with eloquence and irony.”                                                                                                 (Proudhon in letter to Marx in 1942, quoted Edmund Wilson in To the Finland Station, Part 2, Chapter 9)


“… but Marx was never the man to forbear very long with a rival. Nor was he ever able to refrain very long from reminding self-educated thinkers who had lifted themselves out of the lower classes, as Proudhon and Weitling had done, that they were not doctors of philosophy like himself.”                          (from Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station, Part 2, Chapter 10)


“.. and he [Born] considers it insolent of Engels to have reminded the workers present of ‘the reproach so often made against the rich sons of manufacturers that they are in a position to press the daughters of the people into the service of their pleasures.’”                                                                                         (from Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station, Part 2, Chapter 10)


“To anyone who has always found it difficult to feel the inevitability of any metaphysical system and who tends to regard metaphysics in general as the poetry of imaginative people who think in abstractions instead of in images, the conceptions of the dialectical materialists recommend themselves only moderately. They do provide a dramatic formula for the dynamics of social changes; but they are obviously impossible to apply to others.”                                                                                                   (from Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station, Part 2, Chapter 11)


“But in so far as this movement involves, under the disguise of the Dialectic, a semi-divine principle of History, to which it is possible to shift the human responsibility for thinking, for deciding, for acting – and we are living at the present time in a period of the decadence of Marxism – it lends itself to the repressions of the tyrant. The parent stream of the old German Will, which stayed at home and remained patriotic, became canalized as the philosophy of German imperialism and ultimately of the Nazi movement.”                                                                                     (from Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station, Part 2, Chapter 11)


“The timid man who seizes a formula because he wants above everything certainty, the snob who accepts a doctrine because it will make him feel superior to his fellows, the second-arte man who is looking for an excuse that will allow him to disparage the first-arte – all these have an interest in ruling out, in discrediting, in ridiculing, in slandering; and the truculence of Marx and Engels, which has come down as part of this tradition. Is the only part of their equipment they can imitate.”                  (from Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station, Part 2, Chapter 12)


“I can’t give you any idea how I feel. The poor girl loved me with all her heart.”                                                                                                                   (Engels, in letter to Marx, on the death of his mistress, Mary Burns, from Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station, Part 2, Chapter 13)


“For another element of Marx’s genius is a peculiar psychological insight: no one had ever had so deadly a sense of the infinite capacity of human nature for remaining oblivious or indifferent to the pains we inflict on others when we have a chance to get something out of them for ourselves.”              (from Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station, Part 2, Chapter 15)


“The bourgeoisie, in Karl Marx’s writings, are created mainly in caricature; and the proletariat figure mainly as their crimes. There is in Marx an irreducible discrepancy between the good which he proposes for humanity and the ruthlessness and hatred he inculcates as a means of arriving at this – a discrepancy which, in the history of Marxism, has give rise to much moral confusion.”                     (from Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station, Part 2, Chapter 15)


“The government which Marx imagined for the welfare and elevation of mankind – though he sometimes spoke of democratic institutions inside the new dominant class – was an exclusive and relentless class despotism directed by high-minded bigwigs who had been able to rise above the classes, such as Engels and himself.”                                                                                                                            (from Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station, Part 2, Chapter 15)


“Karl Marx had still been heavily loaded with the old paraphernalia of culture; Das Kapital, with its wealth of illustration, its footnotes and sidelights and learned jests, its quotations from many literatures, ancient and modern, in their original many tongues, has still something in common with such a treatise as The Anatomy of Melancholy; if its father was the moral genius of Judaism, its mother was the Renaissance.”                                                                                                                                                          (from Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station, Part 3, Chapter 2)


“These Marxists were suffering from a form of the disease to which Marxism seems inevitably prone in periods of political reaction; the delusion that the processes of history will automatically do the Marxist’s work without his direct intervention.”                                                                                                                (from Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station, Part 3, Chapter 2)


“Lenin: The Great Headmaster”                                                                                                                                 (chapter title, from Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station, Part 3, Chapter 2)


“We find Lenin identifying history with his will, as when he writes to the Central Committee on the eve of the October Revolution: ‘History will not forgive delay by revolutionists who could at once be victorious.’ We even hear of – what seems to happen with every Marxist, when events get beyond his control – his tending to put off on history, as though it were a fierce outside himself, developments for which he does not want to feel responsible; ‘History is a cruel stepmother, and when it retaliates, it stops at nothing,’ he said to Gorky…’”                                                                              (from Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station, Part 3, Chapter 5)


Make Poverty History (cont.)

“The debate over the altruism paradox illuminates the unique capacity of humans to study our own behavior. By learning how we have become what we are as a species, might we learn to nurture positive traits and marginalize harmful ones? Understanding the biology of altruism does not necessarily lead to more altruistic behavior on a personal level. This suggests a larger paradox, of inaction in the face of knowledge. Perhaps it’s also within our grasp to understand the causes of poverty and the violence inherent in our makeup, but do we really want to?”                                                                                     (letter from Ben Kelley, in New Yorker, March 19)


“The great paradox of America is its simultaneous belief in the future and its veneration of the past.”                                                                   (Frank Prochaska, in History Today, March 2012)


“It [the Bund Geistiger Berufer (BGB)] had been specifically constructed to appeal to German nationalists by it founder Professor Friedrich Bernhard Lenz, who according to the Comintern report, ‘sympathized with the Soviet Union and whose intensely patriotic views convinced him that only by allying with the USSR could Germany escape the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles and provide for the restoration of the former power of the German state’.”                                                                       (John Costello and Oleg Tsarev, in Deadly Illusions, Chapter 4)


“The material of the historian is shrinking all the time, as telephones destroy with ruthless thoroughness all values but their own. The leisurely letter and introspective diary are almost forgotten arts, by no means to be replaced by the gossip and chatter of the ephemeral magazine or newspaper.”                                              (Lord Halifax, in Fullness of Days, Foreword)


“If you had been to Church on Sunday morning, (and ‘going to church’ was not satisfied by attendance only at Morning Prayer) greater latitude was permissible in the matter of Sunday enjoyment and occupation. But even so there were curious distinctions. Lawn tennis was never allowed, croquet was; card games in the evening were taboo, but letter games, halma and chess were all right; for my sisters it was legitimate to knit, but not to sew.”                                                                                                                    (Lord Halifax, in Fullness of Days, Chapter 1)


“There the family year came to be regulated a good deal by the Church seasons and the racing calendar; there might be a short visit to London in February, but the normal thing was to get back to Hickleton for Lent and Easter; Whitsuntide was Bovey Tracey and the refreshment of the West Country; July as the end of London and return to Hickelton till after Doncaster Races, when the house moved to Garrowby in time to eat a Wold-stubble fed goose on Michaelmas Day; and finally back to Hickleton in time for Advent.”                                                                                                                                               (Lord Halifax, in Fullness of Days, Chapter 1)


“After the accepted uniformity of school pattern it was refreshing to find Christ Church large enough to allow an almost indefinite measure of diversity. On the whole I think that this positive advantage to the individual, which was the result of its size, outweighed the disadvantage to the college, which was probably unavoidable, of a certain weakness in its solidarity. Thus encouraged, my college life grew into an agreeable compound of pretty steady reading for the History School, once Pass Mods were out of the way, hunting with the Bicester, Warwickshire and Heythrop hounds, beagling, strolling around Christ Church Meadow or Magdalen walk or the Parks, and on the social side talk on every subject at all hours of the day or night, with a pleasant mingling of Junior Common Room, Loders’ Club, and Bullingdon, which at least ensured that one’s acquaintance was reasonably spread.”                                                                                                                                        (Lord Halifax, in Fullness of Days, Chapter 1)


“Oh, my dear fellow, there’s nothing whatever to be frightened about – just speak as often as you can and as long as you can, and you will rapidly acquire that contempt for your audience which every bore has.”  (A. J. Balfour to the author, from Lord Halifax’s Fullness of Days, Chapter 2)


“As a private member, therefore, I was not unduly tied, and both before and after the war [1914-18] used to imitate my brother-in-law, George Lane fox, in trying to so order my life as to reconcile the claims of the House of Commons with as much hunting as we could fit in. The general plan was to hunt in Yorkshire on Mondays, catching the evening train in time to vote if necessary in the House, and to return to Yorkshire Thursday night, so as to be able to hunt Friday and Saturday. On the whole, this did not work badly, though it made for a tiresome division of time and energy and I would not recommend it.” (Lord Halifax, in Fullness of Days, Chapter 2)


“Although there was much in the Nazi system that profoundly offended British opinion, I was not blind to what he (Hitler) had done for Germany, and to the achievement from his point of view of keeping Communism out of his country.”            (Lord Halifax’s account of his meeting with Hitler, from his diary of November 19th, 1937, from his Fullness of Days, Chapter 5)


“A modern Robin Hood: producing on me a composite impression of film-star, gangster, great landowner interested in his property, prime Minister, party manager, head-gamekeeper at Chatsworth.”                                                                                       (Lord Halifax’s description of Goering, from his diary of November 20th, 1937, from his Fullness of Days, Chapter 5)


“On the side of the Polish and Roumanian Governments, neither was prepared to accept the relationship with the Soviet Government that such a policy involved. An inherited, and a not unnatural, suspicion of Russia dominated their thought, in which the acceptance of Soviet protection seemed only too likely to supply the excuse for Soviet penetration. Their fear of the Soviet was at least as great as, and probably greater than their fear of Germany. An intelligent rabbit would hardly be expected to welcome the protection of an animal ten times its own size, whom it credited with the habits of a boa constrictor.”                                                                                                                                               (Lord Halifax, in Fullness of Days, Chapter 5)


“About the fourth Congressman to speak said this. ‘Mr. Ambassador, before I ask my question, I would like you to know that everyone of is this room thinks President Roosevelt is as dangerous a dictator as Hitler or Mussolini, and that he is taking this country to hell just as fast as he can.’”                                                                          (Lord Halifax, in Fullness of Days, Chapter 6)


“On the other side, however, it is well to remember that one of the distinctive characteristics of the American nation has always been just this capacity to be stirred by moral indignation, even when there was little likelihood of this indignation being converted into action. I fancy the world would be poorer if this power was lost; for the human conscience tends to grow dull under the drug effect of cumulative horror, and it is well to be reminded of ultimate values.”                                                                                               (Lord Halifax, in Fullness of Days, Chapter 6)


“And I recalled an observation made to me by a wise American to the effect that he did not think it would have been safe to entrust a completely flexible constitution like the British, to the hands of a people so sensitive and mercurial as the Americans.”                                                                                                                                           (Lord Halifax, in Fullness of Days, Chapter 6)


“On our staff also was Donald Maclean who has become vastly more notorious by his disappearance than he ever would have been if his life had followed its natural bent. In those days he was generally popular. There was nothing to indicate the mental commotion that overcame him when serving in Cairo, and that in another form presumably led him finally to disappear.”                                                        (Lord Halifax, in Fullness of Days, Chapter 6)


“At Milwaukee, after a similar evening of quite profitable questioning, a kind proposer of a vote of thanks complimented me by saying, ‘Up to now there have always been some of us here who would have expected, when we met the British Ambassador, that we should find him too smart for us. After meeting Lord Halifax, we shan’t think so any longer.’”                                                                                                              (Lord Halifax, in Fullness of Days, Chapter 6)


“It was at Yale too that I heard an original defence by Dr. Angell, a former President of Yale, of undesirable left-wing activities in which certain University professors were said to indulge, and which were attracting unfavourable public comments. Speaking of one of them he said, ‘Not all his class attends his lectures. Of those who attend, only half listen to what he says. Of those who attend and listen, only half understand. Of those who attend, and listen, and understand, only half remember. Of those who attend, and listen, and understand, and remember, only half agree. The damage therefore is not serious.’”                         (Lord Halifax, in Fullness of Days, Chapter 6)


“His lifelong resort to regular and unhurried worship brought him consolation at times of stress, a serenity transcending the cares of statecraft, and a detachment from the evil realities of life which was of no service to a foreign secretary. A humble acceptance of Divine Will protected him from self-reproach, even from self-examination, on the consequences of his actions; and a belief in immortality made the sufferings of those enslaved by the Nazis seem less tragic than they were.”                                                           (from Kenneth Rose’s DNB entry on Lord Halifax)


“’Culture is a basic need,’ said Andreas Stadler, director of the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York and president of the New York branch of the European Union National Institutes for Culture. ‘People should have the right to go to the opera.’” (from report in NYT, March 25)


“Good taste is the enemy of art. It’s wonderful for curtains, but in art it’s suffocating.”                                                                                         (Anita Steckel, from her NYT obituary, March 27)


“Now that we are nearly all fourteen-year-olds playing with gadgets, the gulf between the so-called civilized and the less advanced peoples is much less than it was, let us say, in the 18th Century. The black boys who drove us sometimes in these parts did it just as well as any white chauffeur. I have no doubt they can clean and work a machine-gun just as efficiently as the European soldier. And this is not a line of thought that can be followed with pleasure.”                                                        (J. B. Priestley, writing on Egypt, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 2)


“And always, I think, no matter what our beliefs about death may be, it is not really for the dead themselves we mourn, but for ourselves and these shrinking and chilling lives that we must see out to the end.”                           (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 3)


“They are trying to apply the remedies of one world to the ailments of another one, almost as of the British Medical Council should try to abolish a plague on Mars. All my correspondents – and I do not except the communists – seem to me to be thinking in the 19th Century, and unfortunately our lives have now arrived nearly at the middle of the 20th century.”                                                                                      (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 5)


“Pseudo-mysticism by the hundredweight has been dumped on my doorstep. Hailed as a spiritual brother, I have been almost overwhelmed by New Thought that was neither new nor thought. Ladies who remembered being princesses in Babylon and queens in Thebes have demanded an hour’s intimate talk. Gentlemen acquainted with the innermost secrets of St. John, Boehme, Cagliostro and Madame Blavatsky have offered to reveal all. Astral planes and etheric spheres have been two-a-penny. The After Life, the Beyond, the World of Light, became the commonest geographical terms.”                           (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 5)


“A passion for travelling at high speeds; the collecting mania; an utter absorption in routine work; that kind of interest in art in which you are, in Blake’s phrase, ‘connoisseured out of your senses’; an overmastering concern for the forms as against the spirit, the body as opposed to the soul, of life in the past; a constant over-stimulation of sex: these are all forms of escape. But to call an interest in new ideas, which promise to be of the gravest significance to humanity, a form of escape is to have no respect for language or for your readers’ intelligence.”                                                                                        (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 5)


“Without science we are helpless children. Without poetry and deep natural piety, we are blundering fools, reeling in our new and terrible cocksureness into one disaster after another.”                                                               (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 10)


“I wonder if in their heart of hearts these roaring military dictators feel themselves to be absurd hollow figures, for when all is said and done they are contemporaries of ours and their most inward stream of thought and feeling cannot be so entirely different from ours.”                             (J. B. Priestley, on the German General Staff, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 11)


“No amount of will-power will help you to invent if you have no invention in you. Napoleon would have found it easier to conquer all Asia than to write one entertaining comedy.”                                                                           (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 11)


“The dangerous man, the enemy of non-attachment or any other wise way of life, is the born actor who has never found his way into the Theatre, who never uses a stage door, who does not take a call and then wipe the paint off his face. It is the intrusion of this temperament into political life, in which at this day it most emphatically does not belong, that works half the mischief in the world.”               (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 12)


“And everywhere, in every country, as the people are regarded with more contempt, so the tide of public flattery rises; the British are told how sturdy and sensible they are;’ The Americans how fortunate and independent they are; the French how clever and glorious they are; the Germans how noble and wise they are; the Russians how lucky and unique they are; and a thousand million donkeys listen and nod and pull away at the cart, and do not hear, from behind the shafts, the scornful snigger.”        (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 13)


“The English instinct has always been to treat economics and politics as a mere part of a man’s life, and to consider a man’s economic position as less important than his general character and not to be confused with it. Both Marxism and Fascism are opposed to this, and we see today with what result. Professor MacMurray makes the same point at the end of his Creative Society, where he observes: ‘… the governing values of English social life belong to the field of direct social relationships. As a result, the English can never quite succeed in taking their politics or economics seriously. Private life means more to them than public life, and by private life they mean not individual self-realisation but the social life which rests upon free choice of friends and associates.”                                              (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 13)


“We have among us thousands and thousands of Bertie Woosters who do not know that Jeeves is dead.”                                                            (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 13)


“We are not a democracy, but a plutocracy roughly disguised as an aristocracy. All our real government is done by the Right People.” (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 13)


“We may not be compelled to make a fancy salute every time Chamberlain passes us, and the secret police do not come round to see that we are carefully listening to him on the wireless – and if that means democracy, then we have one – but the fact remains that we ordinary English citizens have known no more about what Chamberlain has been doing than the Germans and Italians know about Hitler and Mussolini.”                                                                                                                                                     (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 13)


“The country house routine, with its solemn arrangements for slaughtering creatures at stated seasons, is regarded as one of the great goals, life at its fullest.”                                                                                                                    (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 13)


“Too many English are terrified of appearing vulgar to the superior beings of the class above theirs or of appearing undignified to the members of the class below.”                                                                                                       (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 13)


“There is no more reason why we should be governed by railwaymen and transport workers, just because they belong to large and powerful unions, than we should be governed by rich employers and landowners because they are paying the most taxes.”                                                                                                     (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 13)


“If we ever do build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land, it will certainly not be done under trade union rules.”              (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 13)


“Clearly you can turn Marxist for one of two reasons: because you believe it to be all true; or because although it may not all be true, it is the most useful creed for anyone who wishes to replace capitalism by collectivism…..   But I cannot see it utility now. Here in western Europe we could do better, as collectivists, without it. And especially here in England, where its nonsense is not our nonsense.”            (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 13)


“It is these little men who produce the ‘nothing but’ accounts of this life, robbing it of all mystery and wonder. Life, they tell us, is ‘nothing but’ something or other; and if know nothing else, I know in my very bones that these fellows are wrong. I would rather believe the wildest nonsense ever imported with the films and tinned fruit from California than march around their tiny circle with these ‘nothing but’ men. I would rather believe that I am an ex-Babylonian queen who has been turned into a Yorkshire author by a Great White Monster in Tibet. I would rather believe that I am being guided by the spirit of my late great-uncle Alfred through a dead Red Indian who speaks in the voice of a stout woman in a Brixton basement. Anything, anything rather than this cheap cocksure intellectuality, which despises every age but this because we know, and they didn’t know, how to fly the Atlantic or use X-rays.”                                                                                                             (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 14)


“Nearly all the great movements of this age have at their starting-point a contempt for the individual human being. Here, I believe, the American industrialist, with his mass production and his cynical publicity campaigns, the Russian Communist, with his ruthless planning, and the Nazi or Fascist, with his impudent or deliberately base propaganda, could join hands.”                                                                               (J. B. Priestley, from Rain Upon Godshill, Chapter 14)


“No experiment should be believed until it has been confirmed by theory.”                                                 (astrophysicist Arthur S. Eddington, according to Dennis Overbye in NYT, March 27)




“Doubts are like stains on a shirt. I like shirts with stains, because when I’m given a shirt that’s too clean, one that’s completely white, I immediately start having doubts. It’s the job of intellectuals and writers to cast doubt on perfection. Perfection spawns doctrines, dictators and totalitarian ideas.”                                                                                                                            (Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi, in 1999 interview, from his NYT obituary, April 5)


“Now that I’m sixty-five, I think this is a good moment to write a memoir. . . . Sixty-five is the right time for casting a backward glance, while one is still fully engaged in one’s life.”                                                                                                                  (Edmund White, from My Lives)


“If you had asked people whose lives Sartre changed why they admired him so keenly, they would have said that it was because in his book ‘Being and Nothingness’, and in his famous 1945 speech ‘Existentialism is a Humanism’, he had reconciled Marxism and existentialism. To some, this may seem like not much of an accomplishment – they may feel rather as a parent feels when a child has, over breakfast, reconciled Lucky Charms and Froot Loops in one bowl – but at the time it seemed life-giving.”                                 (Adam Gopnik, in the New Yorker, April 9)


“He [Alex Salmond] would force each of us to choose an exclusive and separate identity, and in doing so split my family and indeed tens of millions of individuals like myself. This is false to who we are: not because we are free-floating cosmopolitans, too elusive to be pinned, but because we are British. And Britain is not a bland and placid unity: but a vigorous community, built of different nations…….  Each of us feels an outsider in some part of our country, and is challenged by the pride of our fellow nations. Such contradictory energies are not a threat to Britain but have been, for centuries, the key to our vitality. This deep and flexible identity is true to our natures, and to the modern world. Reducing our identity reduces ourselves.”                                                                                                    (Rory Stewart, in Prospect, March 2012)


“For young militants and communists, references to the Soviet Union, the crimes of Stalin and the cold war seem obsolete. ‘Most of our militants haven’t experienced the Stalin period; this historical burden is behind us,’ said Pierre Laurent, the Communist Party’s general-secretary. ‘Our historical reference is the Popular Front, May ’68, and 1980, when the Communist Party was strong.’”                              (from NYT report on the French general election, April 10)


 Then Why Stop There?

“You ask business why they’re not hiring. They say it’s because no one is buying anything. Well, a higher minimum wage would give people more money to spend.” (Jen Kern, minimum wage campaign coordinator at the National Employment Law Project, quoted in NYT, April 10)


“Academic seclusion has all the inconveniences of a desert island, with none of its compensations; it breeds idleness, spite, intrigue, arrogance and strange lunacies.”                                                                                                                     (C. Day Lewis and Charles Fenby, Anatomy of Oxford, p 73, quoted by John Dougill in Oxford in English Literature, Chapter 3)


“What distinguishes Cambridge from Oxford, broadly speaking, is that nobody who has been to Cambridge feels impelled to write about it. If it is not quite true that everybody has at least one book inside him, it seems to be the fact that every Oxonian has at least one book about Oxford inside him, and generally gets it out. Oxford men will say that this shows what a much more inspiring place Oxford is, and Cambridge men will say that it shows how less quickly Oxford men grow up, and we can leave it at that.”                                       (A. A. Milne, in Autobiography, p 159, quoted by John Dougill in Oxford in English Literature, Chapter 4)


“In [Stephen] McKenna’s Sonia a Christ Church student gives odds of five to three that there is no such college as Wadham, and seven to two that even if there is his companion cannot find it.”                                                       (John Dougill in Oxford in English Literature, Chapter 4)


“That’s the Oxford manner. Everything’s effect, effect is everything … Doesn’t matter how foolishly you behave, as long as what you say is either frivolously intellectual or intellectually frivolous.”                                                                                                                 (Brian Aldiss, in Forgotten Life, p 233, quoted by John Dougill in Oxford in English Literature, Chapter 6)


“Oxford colleges, like those of Cambridge, have always represented much more than material wealth. They are rather a prime expression of what Tocqueville rightly diagnosed as the stereotypical English institution – the club.”                                                                                        (Linda Colley, from An Obsession with the State, in the Times Literary Supplement, March 13, 1987, pp 261-262, quoted by John Dougill in Oxford in English Literature, Conclusion)


“What’s more, the Pleistocene ice age set in around 1.6 million years ago and even in Africa the nights would have been chilly.”                                                                                                                                        (from Special Report on Human Evolution in New Scientist, March 24-30)


Thoughts on Aging

“The wilderness in which I wandered as a young boy, believing myself forever lost, never to reach a destination. I have now come to believe is precisely the place to be. There is no lasting comfort, it seems to me, in the safe landing. Better to stay in flight, take the next bus, relinquish control, trust in happenstance and embrace impermanence.”                                                 (actor Frank Langella in his memoir Dropped Names, quoted in NYT review, April 14)

“Death? Afraid of death? When you get older, you dry up. You die. That’s it. I’ve lived my life. I’ve lived it out. I’ve left my mark. I’ve had great sex. I got a great record collection —— “                                                                                    (cartoonist R. Crumb, quoted in NYT, April 14)


“Myth and invention are essential to the politics of identity by which groups of people today, defining themselves by ethnicity, religion or the past or present borders of states, try to find some certainty in an uncertain and shaking world by saying, ‘We are different from and better than the Others’. They are our concern in the universities because the people who formulate those myths and inventions are educated people: schoolteachers lay and clerical, professors (not many, I hope), journalists, television and radio producers. Today most of them will have gone to some university. Make no mistake about it. History is not ancestral memory or collective tradition. It is what people learned from priests, schoolmasters, the writers of history books and the compilers of magazine articles and television programmes. It is very important for historians to remember their responsibility, which is, above all, to stand aside from the passions of identity politics – even if we feel them also. After all, we are human beings too.”                                                                                                             (Eric Hobsbawm, in Outside and Inside History, from On History)


“For, if we fix our attention on what is permanent, we cannot explain what has obviously been transformed, unless we believe that there can be no historical change but only combination and variation.”                                                                                                                                    (Eric Hobsbawm, in What Can History Tell Us About Contemporary Society?, from On History)


“History as inspiration and ideology has a built-in tendency to become self-justifying myth. Nothing is a more dangerous blindfold than this, as the history of modern nations and nationalisms demonstrates.”                                                                                                        (Eric Hobsbawm, in What Can History Tell Us About Contemporary Society?, from On History)


“If we do not tackle the basic problem of the transformations of humanity, or at least if we do not see that part of its activities that is our specialist concern in the context of this transformation, which is still in progress, then we as historians are engaged in trivialities or intellectual or other parlour-games.”             (Eric Hobsbawm, in Has History Made Progress?, from On History)


“May I add that I believe Marxism to be much the best approach to history because it is more clearly aware than other approaches of what human beings can do as the subjects and makers of history as well as what, a subjects of history, they can’t. And it is the best, incidentally, because, as the virtual inventor of the sociology of knowledge, Marx also evolved a theory about how the ideas of historians themselves are likely to be affected by their social being.”                                                                            (Eric Hobsbawm, in Has History Made Progress?, from On History)


“There is no such thing as economic, or social, or anthropological, or psychoanalytical history: there is just history.”                  (Eric Hobsbawm, in Has History Made Progress?, from On History)


“History is not the accumulation of events of all kinds which occurred in the past. It is the science of human societies.”                                                                                (Fustel de Coulanges, quoted by Eric Hobsbawm, in From Social History to the History of Society, from On History)


“Again, there are degrees of class. To use Theodore Shaini’s phrase, the peasantry of Marx’s 18th Brumaire is a ‘class of low classness’, whereas Marx’s proletariat is a class of very high, perhaps of maximal ‘classness’.”                                                                                                                                 (Eric Hobsbawm, in From Social History to the History of Society, from On History)


“However, from time to time history catches economists at their brilliant gymnastics and walks off with their overcoats. The early 1930s were such a period, and we are living through another such. At least some economists are dissatisfied with the state of their subject. Historians may be able to contribute to clarification, if not to revision.”                                                                                                             (Eric Hobsbawm, in Historians and Economists: I, from On History)


“As August Ludwig von Schlözer, that ornament of eighteenth-century Göttingen, announced even then: statistics are static history, history is statistics in movement.”                                                                                      (Eric Hobsbawm, in Historians and Economists: II, from On History)


“Econometrics shifted from being a tool for testing theories to being a tool for exhibiting theories. It became  a descriptive language …. Good economic theory was stronger than the data – at least in the minds of the economists – and therefore it must be imposed on the data. What started off as a technique for elevating data relative to theory ended up by doing exactly the opposite.”      (Lester Thurow, quoted by Eric Hobsbawm, in Partisanship, from On History)


“There are, after all, probably more economists employed in the academic institutions of the city of Boston and its neighbourhood today than the total number of professional economists in Britain between the publication of the Wealth of Nations and Keynes’ General Theory: and all are kept busy reading and criticizing each other’s works.”                                                                                                                                     (Eric Hobsbawm, in Partisanship, from On History)


“Among the young Communists there [in Cambridge, in the 1930s] we used to joke: the communist philosophers were Wittgensteinians, the communist economists were Keynesians, the communist students of literature were disciples of F. R. Leavis. And the historians? They were Marxists, because there was no historian that we knew of at Cambridge or elsewhere – and we did hear and know of some great ones, such as Marc Bloch – who could compete with Marx, as a master and inspiration.”                    (Eric Hobsbawm, in Marx and History, from On History)


“Yet if we are to understand human history, in a global, long-term sense, as the progressively more effective utilization and transformation of nature by mankind, then the concept of social labour in general is essential.”             (Eric Hobsbawm, in Marx and History, from On History)


“It may, of course, be possible and even relatively easy to formulate a more modest historical case for the necessity or perhaps inevitability of the transformation from capitalism to socialism. But then we would lose two things that were important to Karl Marx and certainly to his followers (myself included): (a) the sense that the triumph of socialism is the logical end of all historical evolution to date; and (b) the sense that it marks the end of ‘prehistory’ in that it cannot and will not be an ‘antagonistic’ society.”                                                                                                                                                       (Eric Hobsbawm, in Marx and History, from On History)


“Marx remains the essential base of any adequate study of history because – so far – he alone has attempted to formulate a methodological approach to history as a whole, and to envisage and explain the entire process of human social evolution.”                                                                                                                                (Eric Hobsbawm, in Marx and History, from On History)


“Science is a dialogue between different views based upon a common method. It only ceases to be science when there is no method for deciding which of the contending views is wrong or les fruitful. Unfortunately this is often the case on history, but by no means only in Marxist history.”                                                          (Eric Hobsbawm, in Marx and History, from On History)


“For the foreseeable future, we shall have to defend Marx and Marxism in and out of history, against those who attack them on political and ideological grounds. In doing so, we shall also defend history, and man’s capacity to understand how the world has come to what it is today, and how mankind can advance to a better future.”                                                                                                                                             (Eric Hobsbawm, in Marx and History, from On History)


They Said That About Stalin, Too..

“If there is one safe generalization about the normal relation between peasants and kings or emperors in the period before the nineteenth century, it is that they regarded the king or emperor as by definition just. If he only knew what the landowning gentry were up to – or more likely a particular named nobleman – he would stop them or him oppressing the peasants. So in a sense he was outside their world of politics and they were outside his.”                                                                                                   (Eric Hobsbawm, in On History From Below, from On History)


“What I remember of my life as a Cambridge undergraduate is different today from what it was when I was thirty or forty-five.” (Eric Hobsbawm, in On History From Below, from On History)


“Since 1980, if I am not mistaken, the  census of the USA had granted its inhabitants the option of describing themselves as ‘Asian-Americans’, a classification presumably by analogy with ‘African-Americans’, the term by which black Americans currently prefer to be described. Presumably an Asian-American is an American born in Asia or descended from Asians. But what is the sense in classifying immigrants from Turkey under the same heading as those from Cambodia, Korea, the Philippines or Pakistan, not to mention the unquestionably Asian territory of Israel, though its inhabitants do not like to be reminded of this geographical fact? In practice groups have nothing in common.”                                                                                                                                            (Eric Hobsbawm, in The Curious History of Europe, from On History)


“The tradition which regards Europe not as a continent but as a club, whose membership is open only to candidates certified as suitable by the club committee, is almost as old as the name ‘Europe’. Where ‘Europe’ ends naturally depends on one’s position. As everyone knows, for Metternich, ‘Asia’ began at the eastern exit from Vienna, a view still echoed at the end of the nineteenth century in a series of articles directed against the ‘barbarian-asiatic’ Hungarians in the Vienna Reichspost. For the inhabitants of Budapest, the border of true Europe clearly ran between Hungarians and Croats and Serbs. No doubt proud Rumanians see themselves as essential Europeans and spiritual Parisians exiled among backward Slavs, even though Gregor von Rezzori, the Austrian writer born in the Bukovina, described them in his books as ‘Maghrebians’, that is ‘Africans’.”                                                                                                                                        (Eric Hobsbawm, in The Curious History of Europe, from On History)


“For it was both the sacrifice of the USSR and the ideas of macro-economic planning and management pioneered there that saved liberal capitalism and helped to reconstitute it. It was the salutary fear of revolution that provided much of the incentive to do so.”                                                                                             (Eric Hobsbawm, in The Present as History, from On History)


“I suggest that the sudden, revolutionary leap from the old system to capitalism which has been imposed on them has disrupted the economy perhaps more than the Second World War, more than the October Revolution did, and the economy of the region has already taken longer to recover from it than it did in the 1920s and 1940s.”                                                                             (Eric Hobsbawm, in Can We Write the History of the Russian Revolution?, from On History)


“For all human collectivities necessarily are and have been part of larger and more complex world. A history which is designed only for Jews (or Africa-Americans, or Greeks, or women, or proletarians, or homosexuals) cannot be good history, though it may be comforting history to those who practice it.”    (Eric Hobsbawm, in Identity History Is Not Enough, from On History)


“Austerity can turn a crisis into an epidemic.”                                                                                   (David Stuckler, a sociologist at the University of Cambridge, quoted in NYT, April 15)


“Regulation failed, not because regulation is inherently wrong but because the regulators were inept.”                                                                  (Gary Weiss, in Ayn Rand Nation, Chapter 14)


“My view is that all artists, whether they know it or not, whether they would repudiate the notion or not, are in fact ‘showers forth’ of things which tend to be impoverished, or misconceived, or altogether lost or willfully set aside in the preoccupations of our present intense technological phase, but which, nonetheless, belong to man.”                                                                                        (painter and poet David Jones, quoted by Andrew Lambirth in the Spectator, April 7)


“But no one fights globalization alone. No one can lie down alone in the path of history with impunity, not even the nation of the artiste Jean Dujardin.”   (Olivier Guez, in NYT, April 21)


“Until we have created a romance of peace that would equal that of war, violence will not disappear from people’s lives.”                                                                                                                          (Count Harry Kessler, quoted in New Yorker review of his Diaries, April 23)


“There is this lickel man they say is God – them crazy.”                                                        (Bob Marley’s wife Rita, on Haile Selassie’s visit to Jamaica in 1966, quoted in New Yorker, April 23)


“Of course it was a disaster

That unbearable, dearest secret

has always been a disaster.

The danger when we try to leave.

Going over and over afterward

what we should have done

instead of what we did.

But for those short times

we seemed to be alive. Misled,

misused, lied to and cheated,

certainly. Still, for that

little while, we visited

our possible life.”                                (Going There, from Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems)

“Think, they say patiently, we could

make you famous again. Let me fall

in love one last time, I beg them.

Teach me mortality, frighten me

into the present. Help me to find

the heft of these days. That the nights

will be full enough and my heart feral.”                                                                                                                                             (from I Imagine the Gods, from Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems)


“’And,’ she said, ‘you must talk no more

about ecstasy. It is a loneliness.’

The woman wandered about picking up

her shoes and silks. ‘You said you loved me.’

the man said. ‘We tell lies,’ she said,

brushing her wonderful hair, naked except

for the jewelry. ‘We try to believe.’

‘You were helpless with joy,’ he said,

‘moaning and weeping.’ ‘In dreams,’ she said,

we pretend to ourselves that we are touching,

The heart lies to itself because it must.’”                                                                                                                                (Naked Except for the Jewelry, from Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems)


“  For Isaiah Berlin


When the hedgehogs here at night

see a car and its fierce lights

coming at them, they do the one

big thing they know.”                                     (Flat Hedgehogs, from Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems)


“The truth is, goddesses are lousy in bed.

They will do anything it’s true.

And the skin is beautifully cared for.

But they have no sense for it. They are

all manner and amazing technique.

I lie with them thinking of your

foolish excess, of you panting

and sweating, and your eyes after.”                                                                                                                                                   (Dreaming at the Ballet, from Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems)



“Mother was the daughter of sharecroppers.

And my father the black sheep of rich Virginia

merchants. She went barefoot until twelve.

He ran away with the circus at fourteen.

Neither one got through grammar school.

And here I am in the faculty toilet

Trying to remember the dates of Emperor Vespasian.”                                                                                                                                       (Going Home, from Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems)


“He thinks now that persecution often comes out of a search for identity. It’s enough, he thinks, to be a human among other humans; to be an outsider in a community is to be intellectually independent. Perhaps real security and peace come only after death.”                                                                                    (Max Egremont on Michael Wieck, in his Forgotten Land, Chapter 1)


“To brag about one’s country is the stupidest form of boastfulness. What is a nation? A great wild garden full of bad plants and good.”                                                                                                                                (J. G. Herder, according to Max Egremont in Forgotten Land, Chapter 13)


“The great causes of pain, Conwell-Evans thought, were the treatment of Germany as an international pariah, particularly the war ‘guilt’ clause in the Treaty of Versailles, followed by the terrifying inflation; the sense of defencelessness within a ring of armed states; the French invasion of the Ruhr; the taking of Upper Silesia by the Poles and Memel by the Lithuanians in defiance of the League of Nations; the occupation of the Rhineland by black French troops. National Socialism had staved off a communist revolution and brought stability out of the babble of the parties in the Weimar Republic.” (Max Egremont, in Forgotten Land, Chapter 17)


“That expectation raised the thorny question of whether Brazilian farmers and Chinese laborers should be called on to help finance the debt of Italian office workers and Spanish retirees..”(from report on possibility of ‘developing’ nations contributing more to the IMF, in NYT, April 23)


“The truth of the historian, for example, is not the same as the truth of the essayist. The historian can and must know more about a moment of the past than an essayist can possibly know about what is happening today. The essayist, far more than the historian, is obliged to take into account the prejudices of his own day, and thus to exaggerate for emphasis. The truth of authenticity is different from the truth of honesty. To be authentic is to live as one wishes others to live; to be honest is to admit that this is impossible.”                                                                      (Timothy Snyder, in Foreword to Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder)


“The stereotypes of course remained, not only about gentiles but about Jews. There was a clear pecking order among us Ostjuden, Jews from eastern Europe (who were all of course despised by the cultivated German-speaking Jews of central Europe). Broadly speaking, Lithuanian and Russian Jews saw themselves a superior, in culture and social standing; Polish (particularly Galician) and Romanian Jews were lowly creatures, to put it politely. This ranking applied both within my parents’ marital antagonism and across their extended families. My mother in moments of anger would remind my father that he was nothing but a Polish Jew. He would then point out that she was Romanian.”                                                                                             (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 1)


“On her mother’s side, my first wife’s family were prosperous Jewish professionals from Breslau: representative types from a long-established German bourgeoisie. Although they had escaped Nazi Germany and settled comfortably in England, they remained profoundly German in everything they did: from the décor of the household, to the food they ate, to the conversation, to the cultural references with which they identified one another and newcomers….. Their sense of loss was palpable and omnipresent: the German world that had abandoned them was the only one they knew and the only one worth having – its absence was a source of far greater pain than anything that the Nazis had perpetrated.”                                                                                      (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 1)


“To tell the truth, my first mother-in-law remained rather fond of Germany – both the Silesia of her childhood and the prosperous, comfortable new Bonn Republic with which she was increasingly familiar. Both she and her sister remained convinced that it was Hitler who was the aberration. Deutschtum for them remained a living reality.”                                                        (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 1)


“On the other hand, to become an insider at Cambridge or Oxford foes not in itself require conformity, except perhaps to intellectual fashions; it was and is a function of a certain capacity for intellectual assimilation. It entails knowing how to ‘be’ an Oxbridge don; understanding intuitively how to conduct an English conversation that is never too aggressively political; knowing how to modulate moral seriousness, political engagement and ethical rigidity through the application of irony and wit, and a precisely-calibrated appearance of insouciance. It would be difficult to imagine the application of such talents in, say, postwar Paris.”                               (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 2)


“I found myself running alongside one of the policemen who had been assigned to control the demonstration. As we were trotting along, he turned to me and inquired, ‘So how was the demonstration, Sir?’ And I, finding nothing bizarre or absurd in his inquiry, turned and responded, ‘I think it went quite well, don’t you?’ And then we continued on our way. This was no way to make a revolution.”                                                                                                                                            (Tony Judt, recalling a 1968 demonstration in Cambridge against Denis Healey, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 3)


“Marxism, we tend to forget, is a marvelously compelling account of how history works, and why it works. It is a comforting promise to anyone to learn that History is on your side, that progress is in your direction.”                                                                                                          (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 3)


“It is one thing to say that I am willing to suffer now for an unknowable but possibly better future. It is quite another to authorize the suffering of others in the name of that same unverifiable hypothesis. This, in my view, is the intellectual sin of the century: passing judgment on the fate of others in the name of the future as you see it, a future in which you may have no investment, but concerning which you claim exclusive and perfect information.”                         (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 3)


“I do feel as a Jew that one has a responsibility to criticize Israel vigorously and rigorously, in ways that non-Jews cannot – for fear of spurious but effective accusations of ant-Semitism.” (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 4)


Osbert Lancaster’s Third Empire and Marxist Non-Aryan

“The public face of fascism and communism was often strikingly similar. Mussolini’s plans for Rome, for example, look frighteningly like Moscow University. If you knew nothing of the history of Nicolai Ceauşescu’s House of the People, how would you determine whether it was fascist or communist architecture?”                                                                                               (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 5)


“And this, of course, is where fascism comes in: the idea that the state is free to do what it wants. Print money, is that’s what’s needed; reassign expenditure and workers where needed; invest public funds in infrastructure projects even if they don’t pay off for decades; it doesn’t matter. These ideas were not fascist per se: indeed, in sophisticated forms, they would soon be associated with Maynard Keynes. But in the 1930s, only fascists were interested in adopting them.”                                                                                                                                                  (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 5)



“The logic of Thatcher’s program was, on its own terms, impeccable: Britain, in post-imperial decline, could no longer sustain the level of expenditure of an earlier period.”                             (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 6)



“After reading Kołakowki, who saw Leninism as a plausible if not inevitable reading of Marx (and in case the only politically successful one that we have), it became increasingly difficult for me to maintain the distinction, inculcated in me since childhood, between Marxist thought and Soviet reality.”                                                                                                                           (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 6)


“Despite my close attention to a particular historical time and place, my argument was essentially conceptual and even ethical: the intellectual impropriety and political imprudence of assigning to any one institution, any monopolistic historical narrative, any single political party or person, the authority and resources to regulate and determine all the norms and forms of a well-ordered public life. The good society, like goodness itself, cannot be reduced to a single source; ethical pluralism is the necessary precondition for an open democracy.”                           (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 6)


“By the time the logic of revolutionary exterminism reaches Cambodia, communist ideological purposes have merged with Nazi collective categories.”                                                            (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 6)


“Rigging the past is the oldest form of knowledge control: if you have power over the interpretation of what went before (or can simply lie about it), the present and the future are at your disposal.”                                                                                                                             (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 7)


“Memory is younger and more attractive, much more disposed to seduce and be seduced – and therefore she makes many more friends. History is the older sibling: somewhat gaunt, plain and serious, disposed to retreat rather than engage in idle chit-chat. And therefore she is a political wallflower – a book left on the shelf.”                                                                                  (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 7)


Strange Logic

“Do I think that this country owes something to its black population? A debt incurred by slavery; by the men and women forced to come here and contribute to the country’s prosperity against their will? Yes, I do. Do I think affirmative action was a legitimate strategy towards this end? Yes, I do. And so on.

But do I feel guilty about all this, as a white man? No, I most certainly do not. At the time of the slave trade, and even up to abolition, my forbears lived in poverty in some remote stetl in eastern Belarus. There is no reasonable sense with which they can be held responsible for the America in which I now find myself.”                                                                                                             (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 8)


“Intellectual activity is a bit like seduction. If you go straight for your goal, you almost certainly won’t succeed. If you want to be someone who contributes to world historical debates, you almost certainly won’t succeed if you start off by contributing to world historical debates.” (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 8)


“In my view, the failure to think logically is tied to ideology. Consider the communist intellectuals and reformers in the 1960s. Their inability to grasp the scale of the communist catastrophe was in large measure ideologically driven. Blind to the contradictions of what they thought of as ‘reform’ economics, they were neither stupid not operating in bad faith. But their logical reasoning was subordinated to dogmatic first principles.”                                                   (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 8)


“Obviously this is the condition of most people who write: throwing a letter into the ocean in the forlorn hope that it will be picked up.”                                                                                   (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 9)


“Money makes goods measurable. It blurs any discussion as to their respective standing in an ethical or normative conversation about social purposes. I think it would serve us all well to ‘kill all the economists’ (to paraphrase Shakespeare): very few of them add to the sum of social or scientific knowledge, but a substantial majority of the profession contributes actively to confusing their fellow citizens about how to think socially. The exceptions are well known, so we could perhaps excuse them.”                                                                                            (Tony Judt, in Thinking the Twentieth-Century, by Tony Judt with Timothy Snyder, Chapter 9)


“We cannot have a durable, competitive, dynamic banking system that facilitates economic growth if policy protects the franchises of oligopolies atop the financial sector. Those ‘interconnected’ firms that find themselves dependent on implicit government support do not serve our economy’s interest.”                                                                                             (Kevin Warsh, former Fed governor, and a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford and a lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, quoted in NYT, April 29)


“I will always treasure traveling to Australia with him [Martin Furnival-Jones] for the first CAZAB conference in 1967. As we approached the passport barrier a party of ASIO officials was waiting to meet us on the other side. F.J. handed in his passport.

‘What’s this?’ drawled the passport officer, pointing to the entry in F. J.’s passport under ‘Occupation’.

F.J. had entered ‘Gentleman’.

‘That is my occupation’, uttered F.J. in his most patrician manner, ‘I have no other. I am a gentleman. Don’t you have them here?’”                   (Peter Wright, in Spycatcher, Chapter 22)


“As we always used to say in the office: ‘Politicians come and go, but the Security Service goes on forever.’”                                                                 (Peter Wright, in Spycatcher, Chapter 23)



“Scientists use sophisticated computer programs to forecast future climate, but the computers are not yet powerful enough to predict the behavior of individual clouds across the whole earth over a century, which forces the researchers to use rough approximations.”                                                                                                                                                      (from report in NYT, May 1)


“Being Native American has been part of my story, I guess, since the day I was born.”                                                                                                                                          (Democratic Senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren, who is ‘1/32 American Indian’, quoted in NYT, May 3)


“An EKG generally costs less than $150, according to the American College of Cardiology — not $1,400, a figure cited as an average cost to uninsured patients.”                                                                                                                                             (from a Correction in NYT, May 5)


“A court in St. Petersburg on Friday fined a gay rights campaigner about $170 in the first application of a new municipal law against distributing what the law calls “gay propaganda.” The charge stemmed from a rally held last month, where the campaigner, Nikolai Alekseyev, carried a poster that said: ‘Homosexuality is not a perversion. What is a perversion is field hockey and ice dancing.’”                                                                     (from report in NYT, May 5)


“That, what you see now, is Thermidor in its purest form. The French Revolution taught us a lesson, but we didn’t know how to profit by it. New do not know how to save our revolution from the Thermidor. Therein lies our real fault, and for that history will condemn us.”                                                                                              (Kamenev to Mironov, after an interrogation by Yezhov, from The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes, by Alexander Orlov, Chapter 9)


“Dearest Berman, you don’t seem to understand me at all. I have not the slightest desire to be in a  high post. If my party, for which I lived and for which I was ready to die any minute, forced me to sign this, then I don’t want to be in the party. Today, I envy the most ignorant non-party man.”                                                                                             (Ter-Vaganyan, after signing his ‘confession’, from The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes, by Alexander Orlov, Chapter 10)


“My defective Bolshevism became transformed into anti-Bolshevism, and through Trotskyism I arrived at fascism. Trotskyism is a type of fascism and Zinovievism is a variety of Trotskyism.”                                                                                                                       (from Zinoviev’s speech at his 1936 trial, from The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes, by Alexander Orlov, Chapter 14)


“As far back as 1929, seven years before the Moscow trials, Radek called Trotsky in his public speeches a ‘Judas’ and accused him of being ‘a collaborator of Lord Beaverbrook’.”                                        (from The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes, by Alexander Orlov, Chapter 14)


“You are telling me that Stalin has promised to spare the lives of the old Bolsheviks! I have known Stalin for thirty years. Stalin won’t rest until he has butchered all of us, beginning with the unweaned baby and ending with the blind great-grandmother!”                                                                                                                                          (Mdivani, refusing to testify against himself in June of 1938, from The Secret History of Stalin’s Crimes, by Alexander Orlov, Chapter 20)


“My side had won the presidential debate (measurably by votes casts and we hoped by argument) the night before the poll, when I was supported by Kingsley Martin, long-serving editor of the New Statesman, in favor of an uncompromising motion that ‘without a great growth of socialism this war will have been fought in vain’.”                                                                                                                      (Roy Jenkins, in 1940, from his A Life At The Center, Chapter 2)


“We [Jenkins, Crosland and Ian Durham] were the only committee members [of the Oxford  University Socialist Club] not on the Communist party line……  The main duty that I remember going with this office was that of engaging in a long and unrewarding correspondence with Iris Murdoch, my opposite number in the old club, about the sharing of its assets and/or liabilities. Both our different ideological positions and the arm’s length nature of our negotiations were indicated by our respective salutations. ‘Dear Comrade Jenkins,’ she began. ‘Dear Miss Murdoch,’ I replied. Forty-seven years later I compensated by giving her an Oxford degree.”                                                              (Roy Jenkins, from his A Life At The Center, Chapter 2)


“I was infused by liberal optimism, tempered but not hobbled by a tendency to make mildly mocking jokes about the people and institutions I most admired. That was essentially the cast of mind which Oxford, working on my natural proclivity, gave me.”                                                                                                               (Roy Jenkins, from his A Life At The Center, Chapter 2)


“I could therefore see looming up the dilemma which, at least since 1931, every nondoctrinaire Labour politician had probably most dreaded: a clear short-term conflict between the interests of the country and those of the party.”   (Roy Jenkins, from his A Life At The Center, Chapter 15)


“The conventional wisdom is that the main result of election meetings is not the swaying of marginal votes but the inspiring of the faithful. I came to the view that their essential purpose may be the even narrower one of bolstering the ego of the candidate.”                                                                                                      (Roy Jenkins, from his A Life At The Center, Chapter 20)


“Joe Grimond was less prepared than I was and spoke with that mixture of mocking deflation and fastidious elevation which Liberals, in spite of their alleged inability to raise their sights above the paving stones, have loved for thirty years.”                                                                                                                                  (Roy Jenkins, from his A Life At The Center, Chapter 29)


The Fist


The fist clenched around my heart

loosens a little, and I gasp

brightness: but it tightens

again. When have I ever not loved

the pain of love? But this has moved


past love to mania. This has the strong

clench of the madman, this is

gripping the ledge of unreason, before

plunging howling into the abyss.


Hold hard then, heart. This way at least you live.                  (The Fist, by Derek Walcott)
Perfection Wasted

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic
which took a whole life to develop and market —
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
In the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That’s it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren’t the same.                     (Perfection Wasted, by John Updike)

“A narcissist is someone better-looking than you are.”                                                                      (Gore Vidal, in 1981 interview with Michiko Kakutani in NYT, recalled in NYT, May 9)

“The idea of Fowler [of Modern English Usage] is part of that nimbus that includes a fondness for flowers and animals, brass bands, cups of milky tea, net curtains, collecting stamps, village cricket, the quiz and the crossword.”                                                                  (Henry Hitchings, in The Language Wars: A History of Proper English, quoted in the New Yorker, May 14)

“I have seldom wasted time on the origin of the nations; unless for an opportunity of smiling at the gravity of the author, or at the absurdity of the manners of those ages; for absurdity and knavery compose almost all the anecdotes we have of them.”                                           (Horace Walpole, quoted by Peter Mandler in The English National Character, Chapter 2)

“Although there was great alarm, particularly in London in spring 1848, that a planned Chartist mass meeting might be the spark to light an English revolution, there were in fact more people signed up as special constables than there were Chartists in attendance.”                                                                                                (Peter Mandler in The English National Character, Chapter 3)

“Alter the spelling and the grammar, and Shakespeare’s common soldiers might write home letters from India or the Crimea. Bates, Williams, and the other good yeomen whose limbs were made in England are much like their countrymen of the nineteenth century, as if they had crossed the Channel in the Golden Fleece, and been carried to Agincourt by the Northern Railway… They love and hate, they think and speak, and fight, in precisely the same way, and on just the same principles. Even between different classes living in the same age, the moral identity is more important than the intellectual disparity.”                                             (James Stephen, in a review of Buckle’s History, quoted by Peter Mandler in The English National Character, Chapter 3)

“He [Buckle] died of his travels, succumbing to disease on the Middle East in 1862, his last words allegedly, ‘Oh my book, my book! I shall never finish my book!”                                                                                        (Peter Mandler in The English National Character, Chapter 3)

“An adventurous spirit, practical sagacity, a resolve to succeed, a willingness to seek his fortune in any way, courage to face dangers, cheerfulness under disaster, perseverance on the sphere which he has chosen . . . personally acceptable in the land where he goes, valued for his capacity and probity, treated with kindness and consideration, exciting no animosity, and intermarrying with the folk amongst whom he lives, yet all the while he remains every inch an Englishman, does not change his ideas or modify his opinions, cannot hold his tongue when he is challenged, but is ready to put everybody right.”                                      (Bishop Creighton, in The English National Character, quoted by Peter Mandler in The English National Character, Chapter 4)

“The story was frequently told that a French journalist rushed across the Channel to report on the English Revolution, only to find the port where he landed absorbed by a football match taking place between police and strikers. ‘You English are not a serious people!’ he spat, and flounced back to France.”                                                                                                      (quoting Hugh Dalton, Peter Mandler in The English National Character, Chapter 5: compare Lenin anecdote)

“If I care to spend my day writing Latin verses or watching cricket, as opposed to selling some beastly machine or rubbishy gimmick over a fat expense account luncheon, who is to say I am not the better man for it?”                                                                                                                                           (Simon Raven reviewing Anthony Sampson’s Anatomy of Britain in the Listener, 12th July, 1962, quoted by Peter Mandler in The English National Character, Chapter 6)

“My ambitions are largely negative: I don’t want to feel guilty about not learning a foreign language, I do not want to take classes in art or art appreciation, I do not want to drink less wine, I do not want to eat more fruit and vegetables, I do not want to take more exercise, and I do not want to fly economy class.’              (Harold Fox, histopathologist, in interview with the International Journal of Gynecological Pathology in 2004, from his Times obituary, May 25)

“Faced with people saying ‘There’s no problem’, sociologists tend to say, ‘Well, there must be one, it’s just a different sort of problem, so it gets overlooked. So they say villages just have a different sort of racism compared with cities.”                                                                                                                 (‘Chris’, in Derek J, Taylor’s A Horse in the Bathroom, Chapter 23)


“This is what our Nation stands for

Books from Boots’ and country lanes,

Free speech, free passes, class distinctions

Democracy and proper drains.”          (John Betjeman, from In Westminster Abbey)


“By contrast Callaghan had boldly told his conference the previous week that Keynesianism was dead: the Government could no longer spend its way out of recession.”                                                                                                                      (John Campbell, in The Iron Lady, Chapter 7)


“We are all Thatcherites now.”                                                                           (Peter Mandelson, in The Week, 22 June, 2002, quoted by John Campbell, in The Iron Lady, Chapter 27)


“She does not believe the markets are wise – in fact, she says, they seem to require ‘no thought at all’. Their dominance is bad news in civilization terms, too, she argues, ‘You can’t imagine [the market] as inspiring literature, no music is going to be composed around it and no one is going to pick it up on 200 years and say, ‘my goodness’. There will be no Sophocles of contemporary understanding insofar as it’s dominated by this kind of economic non-thinking.’”                                                                                                                               (Mark Greaves, in profile of Marilynne Robinson, ‘Obama’s favourite contemporary novelist’, in the Spectator, May 26)


“Become good at cheating and you never need to become good at anything else.”

“People say graffiti is ugly, irresponsible and childish, but that’s only if it’s done properly.”

“We can’t do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles. In the meantime we should all go shopping to console ourselves.”                              (Banksy, quoted in Wynn Whelson’s review of Will Ellsworth-Jones’s Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall, in the Spectator, May 26)




“I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires.”                                                                                                                               (Susan B. Anthony, according to letter from Claire Cafaro in NYT, May 24)

“If God is really speaking through Dr. Graham’s mouth, it must be acknowledged that God is quite stupid.”                                                       (Roland Barthes, quoted in NYT Magazine, May 27)


“Learn to tolerate strange worldviews. Don’t pervert the values of the past. Women in former eras were downtrodden and frequently assented to it. Generally speaking, our ancestors were not tolerant, liberal or democratic. Your characters probably did not read The Guardian, and very likely believed in hellfire, beating children and hanging malefactors. Can you live with that?”                                                                                                                                      (Hilary Mantel, to a master class at the Royal Society of Literature in 2010, quoted in NYT, May 27)


“All Southern literature can be summed up in these words: On the night the hogs ate Willie, Mama died when she heard what Daddy did to Sister.”                                          (The mother of the writer Pat Conroy to her son, according to Tad Friend in the New Yorker, May 21)


“Can you imagine an American who has achieved the position [H.G.] Wells has, worrying because he started out in life on the wrong side of the tracks? But nothing will ever make Wells forget that his father was a professional cricketer and his mother the housekeeper at Up Park.”          (P. G. Wodehouse, from P. G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters, edited by Sophie Ratcliffe)


“Thucydides wrote that history was philosophy teaching by examples. The trouble is that we tend to choose the examples that suit our own tribal narratives and versions of events. So most communities and nations are encouraged to forget the things they should remember and remember a skewed account of things they should forget. Bad history can therefore become the servant of bad politics, for example the sort of identity politics that has caused so much bloodshed down the centuries. Good history is usually subversive, chipping away at national stereotypes and xenophobia, and questioning the yarns that regimes spin to justify their power and assert their legitimacy.”                                                  (Chris Patten, in Prospect, May 2012)


“The veil is the identity of the Muslim woman. The West wants to tear off this identity so that the Muslim woman would be without her identity, and then everything else would be trivialized.”                                                                                                       (from statement attributed to Omauma Hassan, wife of Al Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahri, from NYT, June 9)


“Human beings are, necessarily, actors who cannot become something before they have first pretended to be it; and they can be divided, not into the hypocritical and the sincere, but into the sane who know they are acting, and the mad who do not.”                                                       (W. H. Auden, in The Age of Anxiety, quoted by Richard Davenport-Hines in the Spectator, June 2/9)


“It is no crime to be friends with a drunken and disreputable pansy.”                                                                                                                                              (David Mure, on Guy Liddell’s friendship with Guy Burgess, quoted by Geoffrey Elliott in Gentleman Spymaster, Chapter 39)


‘They’ and ‘Us’!

“We have sufficient evidence to the effect that Neanderthals possessed a symbolic culture. They are close enough to modern humans to have interbred with us. This is sufficient to think about Neanderthals as fundamentally human beings with perhaps racial differences.”                                                                                                                                             (Dr. João Zilhão, a prehistorian and Neanderthal specialist at the University of Barcelona, reported in NYT, June 15)


“Congratulations, my noble, gracious, little Martha! I too am of ancient lineage, even older than yours. I am a direct descendant of Neanderthal man. And pure? Yes, pure human.”           (Boris Vinogradov to Martha Dodd, from Erik Larson’s In The Garden Of Beasts, Chapter 14)


“The provenance of the Rohingya is as difficult to trace as that of many of Myanmar’s other ethnic groups: they appear to be a mixture of Arabs, Moors, Turks, Persians, Moguls and Pathans, according to the United Nations. Myanmar’s government counts more than 130 ethnicities in the country. The Rohingya are not on that list.”             (from report in NYT, June 16)


“The über-Keynesians just want to see bigger deficits and more spending. We don’t know what Keynes would have done because Keynes didn’t live in world of huge budget deficits and massive sovereign debt. Spain was running a budget deficit in 2011 of 8.5 percent of gross domestic product. That’s not sustainable. You need a path back to a sustainable budget, and that does require some belt-tightening. The Germans are right about that.”                                                                                                                                                           (Sebastian Mallaby, a senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, quoted in NYT, June 16)




On False Contrasts and Moral Equivalence

“Isn’t it the story-teller’s task to act as the devil’s advocate, to elicit sympathy and a measure of understanding for those who lie outside the boundaries of State approval? The writer is driven by his own vocation to be a protestant in a Catholic society, a catholic in a Protestant one, to see the virtues of the capitalist in a Communist society, or the communist in a Capitalist state.”                                                                                                    (Graham Greene in The Virtue of Disloyalty)


And in the Spanish Civil War?

“We are fighting – Roman Catholics are fighting – together with the Communists, and working together with the Communists. We are fighting together against the Death Squads in El Salvador. We are fighting together against the Contras in Nicaragua. We are fighting together against General Pinochet in Chile.

There is no division in our thoughts between Catholics – Roman Catholics – and Communists.”                                                                            (Graham Greene, from The Meeting in the Kremlin)


“The derelicts who mimed their tragedies, the lunatics who every day improvised absurd melodramas, scabrous monologues, satirists, cripples, alcoholics, one transvestite, one reprieved murderer, several hunched, ant-crazy old women, including one who paused in the middle of the street, to address her feet and reprimand the sun, one other fantasist dressed in black silk hat, gloves, frock coat, soiled spats and cane, another, a leg lost, bucking like a sailor, one parched, ravaged poet, ex-athlete and piano fiend; all towns are full of them, but their determined, self-destructive desolation was performed. Johnnie Walker, Pepsi-Cola, Wild Bill Hickok, Cat Strangler, Fowl Thief, Baz the Dead, Wax-me-all-over-except-my-balls, Bull-voiced Deighton, Submarine the Bum-Boatman, the untranslatable N’Homme Mama Migrains (your louse’s mother’s man), Lestrade sallow and humped like a provincial Sherlock Holmes, Estefine Manger Farine, and the inestimable Greene, Bap, Joumard, and Vorn.”                                                                                                               (from Derek Walcott’s What the Twilight Says)


“The vision of progress is the rational madness of history seen as sequential time, of a dominated future. Its imagery is absurd. In the history books the discoverer sets a shod foot on virgin sands, kneels, and the savage also kneels from his bushes in awe. Such images are stamped on the colonial memory, such heresy as the world’s becoming holy from Crusoe’s footprint or the imprint of Columbus’s knee.”                        (from Derek Walcott’s The Muse of History)


“It docks, not obscured by smoke or deafened by too much machinery, and above all, it would be so racially various that the cultures of the world – the Asiatic, the Mediterranean, the European , the African – would be represented in it, its humane variety more interesting than Joyce’s Dublin. Its citizens would intermarry as they chose, from instinct, not tradition, until their children find it increasingly futile to trace their genealogy. It would not have too many avenues difficult or dangerous for pedestrians, its mercantile area would be a cacophony of accents, fragments of the old language that would be silenced immediately at five o’clock, its docks resolutely vacant on Sundays.”           (Derek Walcott on Port of Spain, from The Antilles)


“So many people say they ‘love the Caribbean,’ meaning that someday they plan to return for a visit but could never live there, the usual benign insult of the traveler, the tourist.”                                                                                                           (from Derek Walcott’s The Antilles)


“Union busting is a mortal sin.” (Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice, in 2010 statement)

“It has to do, in part at least, with this Catholic belief that human beings are social, that there is something meaningful about associating together,” Dr. Bailey said. “And it also is linked to this commitment to a living wage, and how important that is. It’s a claim about the sociality of human nature and also a claim about a basic decent minimum to support one’s family, really.” (James P. Bailey, a full-time theology professor at Duquesne University)  (from NYT, June 23)


“If he declined to comply with the request [to protest to the German government about its oppression of Jews], he would be subject to considerable criticism. On the other hand, if he complied with it he would not only incur the resentment of the German Government, but might be involved in a very acrimonious discussion with that Government which conceivably might, for example, ask him to explain why the negroes of this country do not fully enjoy the right of suffrage; why the lynching of negroes in Senator Tydings’ State and other States is not prevented or severely punished; and how the anti-Semitic feeling in the United States, which unfortunately seems to be growing, is not checked.”                                                                                                                                           (from State Department memorandum written by R. Walton Moore, January 19, 1934, quoted by Erik Larson in In The Garden Of Beasts, Chapter 32)


“There is nobody among the officials of the National Socialist party who would not cheerfully cut the throat of every other official in order to further his own advancement.”                                                         (Bella Fromm, quoted by Erik Larson in In The Garden Of Beasts, Chapter 39)


“..and she had thought that no one can misunderstand a mother so completely as her own children.”                                 (Midge, in Elizabeth Taylor’s The Wedding Group, Chapter 20)


“What career women want – the words alone cause recoiling. The premise that they want to be spanked is one with which Ms. James herself [author of Fifty Shades of Grey] does not even seem to comply. ‘I think in real life, it’s very, very different,’ she told the ‘Today’ show Tuesday. ‘You want someone who does the dishes.’”              (from NYT article, April 21)







“[Millet]: ‘… but don’t forget that the Conservative Parties in France have got it firmly fixed in their minds that England stands for destruction of Fascism, and Conservatives in France regard Fascism as a protection against Communism.’

[ Rees]: ‘I fear Fascism far more than Communism.’”                                                                                                                                   (from European Exchange – III. France, a Discussion between Goronwy Rees and Pierre Millet, published in the Listener, 18 December, 1935)


“I am told on good authority that there will shortly be an internecine struggle between the white races, the black races and the yellow races. My prayer is that we draw a bye in the first round.”                                                                                                                  (G. W. ‘Tuppy’ Headlam, teacher at Eton, recounted by Alec Douglas-Home in The Way The Wind Blows, Chapter 2)


“I once said to him [Lindemann] in Christ Church Hall that I didn’t much care for the portrait of Lord Halifax  who was represented with little flesh and no blood, and I said that he must already have been dead and painted at a leave-taking, ‘Oh no’, said Lindemann, ‘he’d been reading his old dispatches.’”                 (Alec Douglas-Home in The Way The Wind Blows, Chapter 2)


“Maxton was a born parliamentarian and an artist in debate. His bark was worse than his bite. Raven-haired, sallow of complexion, with hollow cheeks and dark somber eyes, and a voice of doom, he was the incarnation of the spirit of revolution; but he was fundamentally lazy and that was his Achilles’ heel. I remember that, after a speech which I had made, he said to me in the Lobby, ‘Alec, you will be my first candidate for the lamp-post when my revolution comes.’ He then pause and said, ‘No, I don’t think that is right – I think that I would offer you a cup of tea.’ He did so there and then, and we talked of cricket which was about his only ‘bourgeois’ weakness. “                               (Alec Douglas-Home in The Way The Wind Blows, Chapter 3)


“After leaving Eton he [Edward Lyttelton] he became a Canon and he confessed that he could never walk up the nave of his cathedral without speculating whether it would take spin.”                                                                    (Alec Douglas-Home in The Way The Wind Blows, Chapter 3)


“I have no doubt that the Russian as a man is a patriot, but as a Communist he is a conspirator who must undermine patriotism in others. What we have to do is frustrate the conspirator and negotiate with the patriot.”                                                                                             (Alec Douglas-Home at a Conservative meeting in 1960, from The Way The Wind Blows, Chapter 10)


“Can a democracy with one man one vote acquire the necessary political sense to allow its representatives to work these checks and balances and restraints? Or will it always cry for the moon? And will the electors reward with their votes those who promise to give it? The point is unresolved, but it is the 64,000 dollar question because it is becoming more and more clear that there are few halts between Keynes and Marx.”                                                                                                                                   (Alec Douglas-Home in The Way The Wind Blows, Chapter 20)


“To call circumcision into question is idiotic. Just as washing your face, your hands and behind your ears is a ritual in Islam, so is circumcision.”                                                                                                                   (Gonca Sapci, Turkish immigrant in Germany, quoted in NYT, July 14)


“All memory of childhood is episodic, embedded in the moods of separate periods which later we interpret as stages of our development.”                                                                                                                          (from Cassandra, in Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear)


“To recognize what is absurd and to accept it need not dim the eye for the tragic side of existence; quite on the contrary, in the end it may perhaps help in gaining a more tolerant view of the world.”                   (from Cassandra, in Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear)


“Nevertheless I exulted in the certainty of a later, all the more powerful vindication – a steadfast faith in the revelatory power of truth which stayed with me and reassured me all my life whenever I saw through some mental sham that, for the time being accepted as valid, could not eb exposed because of some vested interest or dimply because of general stupidity.”                                                             (from Cassandra, in Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear)


“Among the experiences from which we learn nothing that we didn’t know already, there is to be counted the insight that the reality we consider as all-dominating in truth consists mostly of fictions. My family fictions were only too transparent: we loved the years 1919-1939 in the illusion of having a pseudo-feudal position in the world; this was based neither on prestige enjoyed in an existing society nor on wealth, but merely on the position my parents and particularly my grandparents had held before the First World War.”                                                                             (from Cassandra, in Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear)


“… and through my mother, an iridescent interplay of all archfemale characteristics – sensual excitement paired with the fitful capriciousness of the  potential mistress, forever  vacillating between stormy tenderness and  pretended indifference,, between  lovingly passionate empathy and  cruelly punishing iciness.”                                                                                                                                              (from The Mother, in Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear)


“From our viewpoint, the developments in Germany were welcome: a profusion of optimistic images of youth bursting with health and energy, promising to build a sunny new future – this corresponded to our own political mood. We were irked by the disdain with which we as the German-speaking minority were treated, as if the former Austrian dominance in Romania had been one of Teutonic barbarism over the ancient and highly cultured Czechs, Serbs, Slovaks and Wallachians, as if these had freed themselves from their oppressive bondage in the name of civilizing morality. The bitterness of the defeat suffered by Germany rankled in us, and we felt good when we saw that in Germany, a new self-reliance refused to accept that a people vanquished was a people despised. At the same time, the threatening, even criminal aspects of socialism seemed to be averted; socialism confronted us at all times in the frightening mask of close-by Communism. ‘Reds’ were the enemy per se, throughout the world, and the Germany of the valiant Brownshirts stood as out protection against them. Nor were we alarmed by the adjective socialist in the name of the National Socialist German Workers Party. The commonweal objectives of the National Socialist movement did not fade into abstract ideologies, we thought, which in international Marxism ended up in a general disintegration of values, but instead bound the nation together on behalf of the people’s welfare. This could be equated with the welfare of the individual. And instead of the disastrous leveling of materialism, varied individualities could join in a common ideal. As to the anti-Semitism of the upward-striving Third Reich, it was generally accepted that, irrespective of all tolerance and even close personal relations with Jews, it could only be salutary if a damper were placed on the ‘overwhelming arrogance of Jewry’. That this ‘damper’ would bring about the murder of six million Jews no one could foresee.”           (from The Mother, in Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear)


“The strange reciprocity between spirituality and daimon inherent in any enthusiasm – enthusiasm that often deteriorates into fanaticism and corrupts the original purity of great ideas (and, inversely, filters pure intentions and aspirations from what is foul, placing them in the service of the devil) – seems to emerge quite regularly with each new generation. And nothing seems more difficult for the young than to elude the currents of their time.”                                                                       (from The Father, in Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear)


“Together with Lord Russell, he shared the view that one had to be a very great gentleman to be a good socialist.”             (from The Father, in Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear)


“He did not visit her [his daughter] during her last months in the Tyrol, respecting her discipline in dying, the same discipline he himself displayed at his own end. It was based on the sober conviction that dying is a strictly private matter that cannot be shared with anyone, and that the pain is only sharpened if one allows this ultimate and most revealing manifestation of one’s innate archsolitude to be witnessed by the one person whose love enabled one, fleetingly, to deceive oneself as to its inevitability.”                                                                                                                          (from The Father, in Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear)


“Father always considered Prussians as not Germans at all but, rather, Wends and thus Slavs, an unpleasantly assertive minority in the German-speaking world, ‘Prussia,’ he used to say, ‘is a typical upstart nation: one of the colonies of the Reich that seceded from the mother country and managed to rise to prominence. Similar developments caused the downfall of the Roman Empire. Frederick II of Prussia dealt the death blow to the Holy Roman Empire of Germanic Nations, whose imperial crown legitimately had been worn for six hundred years by Hapsburgs. Later Hohenzollerns, foremost William II, extended the damage to catastrophic proportions. A former colony preserves the spirit in which it was founded and administered. The Prussian concept of the state, according to which every citizen is primarily a soldier, should never have impinged on the old dominions of the Reich. But it isn’t merely the calamitous Wilhelminian militarism that is Prussia’s legacy…’ and so on.”                                                                                                                                             (from The Father, in Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear)


“I could not imagine how the distraction of this unfortunate man [the ‘Wolfman’, in Freud], scion of an assiduously suicidal family, widower after the suicide of his wife as well, a former millionaire whom the Russian Revolution had driven into exile without a cent, saddled with a hysterical and ailing mother who refused to died, himself afflicted with an exemplary checklist of neuroses – I could not imagine how the derangement of this poor devil could be traced to nothing more than that, as an infant, he had accidentally witnessed his parents engaged in coitus a tergo.”                        (from The Sister, in Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear)


“One can preserve the treasured moments of the past as one would a hidden jewel; or one can be dragged down by them as by a convict’s ball and chain. For sensitive natures, these alternatives are very close.”        (from The Sister, in Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear)


“Despite the threats that hung over the world, people lived with faith in the future, whether in a chiliastic or apocalyptic spirit, in a critical or fatalistically hopeful mood. Sharp-eyed pessimism and starry-eyed optimism went hand-in-hand – but both were looking ahead. One foresaw the horrors of a second world war in the near future – the first one had ended only a decade earlier – and could depict them vividly, but at the same time one expected the ultimate deliverance of the children of Adam from the curse of labor through the benefits of technology and the establishment of an earthly paradise thanks to socialism. A whole peacock’s fan of glowing ideologies new and old, hundreds of reform proposals, from novel footwear for the prevention of flat feet to mystically ecstatic meditations supposed to raise the quality of life – all promised a new and better world and a grander life for everybody. Utopian dreamers designed cities such as Metropolis for a future in which the submerged masses would be freed from the yoke of proletarian slavery. One shed prejudices and one’s clothes, and, naked, engaged in calisthenics on mountain meadows.” (from The Sister, in Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear)


“The Huzules – a Ruthenian-speaking tribe said to be the direct descendants of the Dacians, since whose times they barely had been touched by progress – hesitated for years before entrusting to him their bone fractures, wolf bites, the eelworm nests in their lungs and their syphilis-eroded noses, instead resorting to their own herb-brewing witches; but ultimately they came to him, since he was covered by the state health insurance plan, and they did not have to pay him anything besides occasional voluntary contributions in the form of cheese, wild berries, or trout and grouse hens from their poaching.”                                                                                                                  (from The Sister, in Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear)


“I am a writer and as such I have not only the right but also the duty to raise the level of reality, as I see it, to the very point where it threatens to tip over into the unbelievable. But if one seeks to achieve this by drawing – as I do – on the autobiographical, paraphrasing and transforming it and inserting it into fictional and hypothetical happenings, then one runs the danger of falling into one’s own trap, with the result that one no longer knows what is real and what is not. This exceeds the moral sphere and comes dangerously close to schizophrenia.”                                                                                               (from Epilogue, in Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear)


“You must never undertake the search for time lost in the spirit of nostalgic tourism.”                                                                    (from Epilogue, in Gregor von Rezzori’s The Snows of Yesteryear)


“Equally, perhaps, there was something in their public-school version of socialism which offended against instincts which were rooted in my origins. Somehow it was tainted by the charitable, and estimable, motive of ‘doing something for the poor’. I was one of the poor myself, and was not at all sure I wanted them to do something for me.”                                                                                                     (from Goronwy Rees’s A Chapter of Accidents, Chapter 2)


“Some chose learning, some chose art, some chose self-indulgence, some chose games; some even chose rebellion against their fathers and everything they represented, but with a subconscious assurance that this was only another kind of game and nothing very serious would happen as a result. And whatever the choice there was an underlying assumption that what mattered was to choose for oneself, and that the sum of individual choices could only contribute to the greatest happiness of all.” (from Goronwy Rees’s A Chapter of Accidents, Chapter 2)


“As the depression deepened, and capitalism seemed helpless either to remedy it or to alleviate the sufferings it inflicted, it transformed Adolf Hitler from an opera bouffe Bavarian politician into a world figure of nightmare proportions, and his triumph in Germany was the prelude to a series of political disasters that followed one another with the inevitability of a Greek tragedy. The tragedy was enacted against a background which was occupied by a vast, grey army of workless men, whose existence seemed both to threaten the capitalist system and to make a mockery of it as a method of satisfying human needs.”                                                                                                                     (from Goronwy Rees’s A Chapter of Accidents, Chapter 2)



“Thus it was felt that when Guy reneged on communism he did not merely betray his own cause; he disgraced the whole of liberal England and he was ostracized not merely by his own comrades in the Party but by most of his friends outside it.”                                                                                                                                          (from Goronwy Rees’s A Chapter of Accidents, Chapter 3)


“Guy’s contempt for Lord Irwin continued when he became Lord Halifax. Years later he quoted to me with approval a comment on him which he attributed to Churchill: ‘Halifax has only one principle – grovel, grovel, grovel…!’”                                                                                                                                                      (from Goronwy Rees’s A Chapter of Accidents, Chapter 3)


“However deeply we may feel the value of personal relationships it is impossible to abstract and divorce them from other, impersonal factors in our lives, both material and spiritual, which are of equal or of even greater importance, and indeed if we do so we may deprive personal relations themselves of the roots which give them their real life and vitality.”                                                                                                          (from Goronwy Rees’s A Chapter of Accidents, Chapter 5)


“If there had been such a thing as equities in the Middle Ages, there wouldn’t be a college in existence in Oxford today.”                                                                                                            (Lord Brand, chairman of Lazard’s, quoted by Goronwy Rees in A Chapter of Accidents, Chapter 5)


“She [Rees’s wife] had the native English sense that men and women are individuals who, within the limits of the law, should be allowed to pursue their own interests without interference by anyone else; she found herself among people for whom totem and taboo were superior not only to the law but to the individual.” (from Goronwy Rees’s A Chapter of Accidents, Chapter 5)


“Indeed, in my attitude to the Soviet Union I had behaved in much the same way as I had to Guy; that is to say that, even after I had sufficient evidence to recognize it for what it was, I had continued to make every kind of reservation and excuse for its conduct, however evil its consequences might be.”    (from Goronwy Rees’s A Chapter of Accidents, Chapter 5)


“’Mao used to say that “revolution is not a dinner party,’”’ Mr. Yang, the editor at Yanhuang Chunqiu, said sardonically. ‘But right now, revolution is precisely a dinner party.’”                                                                                                                                               (from NYT, July 18)


“What can be done? First, we cannot expect neoliberalism — privatization, deregulation, free trade — to revive growth. The credit paradox is only narrowly a financial crisis — it is a crisis of faith, one that summons us to turn away from a capital-centered economy to a human-centered one. Capital cannot be expected to be self-policing. To prevent it from mortgaging humanity’s future, governments must reject laissez-faire attitudes. The “visible hand” of government is needed to manage the markets, revamp regulatory systems and bridle reckless behavior. Governments should encourage businesses to invest in the “real” economy — to promote technological innovation and job creation rather than speculation and profiteering.”      (Li Congjun, president of Xinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the People’s Republic of China, in NYT Op-Ed, July 18)


“It had become evident that the structure of capitalist society in its old form had broken down, not only in Britain but all over Europe and even in the United States. The whole system had to be reassessed. Perhaps it could not survive at all; it certainly could not survive without radical change.”                                                                                                            (Harold Macmillan, The Winds of Change, p 283, quoted by Miranda Carter in Anthony Blunt: His Lives, Chapter 5)


“The dispute centered on two children who were born to a woman after she had married for a second time. She had remarried without obtaining a get, or a ritual divorce, from her first husband, a convert to Judaism.  In a well-publicized ruling, Rabbi Goren said the children, a brother and sister, were not ritually mamzerim — the offspring of an illicit union — because the former husband’s conversion had not been valid. Rabbi Elyashiv disagreed. He said that the conversion had indeed been valid and that the children were therefore technically mamzerin and thus no longer entitled to marry ordinary Jews, though they could marry other mamzerim.”                                                            (from the obituary of Rabbi Y. S. Elyashiv in NYT, July 19)


“Some populations [of Homo Sapiens] have a tiny contribution from Neanderthals as well, introduced when our ancestors interbred with our close evolutionary cousins.”                                                      (Mark Henderson, in The Science You Need To Know, in Prospect, July 2012)


“It is no use preaching socialism unless you have a country to practice it in.” (Mao Tse-Tung, quoted by Harold J. Laski in On the Communist Manifesto, Introduction)

“To this there must be added the grave issues created by the ethical behaviour of Communist parties outside Russia after 1917. The passion for conspiracy, the need for deception, the ruthlessness, the centralised and autocratic commands, the contempt for fair play, the willingness to use lying and treachery to discredit the opponent or to secure some desired end, complete dishonesty in the presentation of facts, the habit for regarding temporary success as justifying any measure, the hysterical invective by which they wrought to destroy the character of anyone who disagreed with them; these, in the context of an idolisation of leaders who might, the day after, be mercilessly attacked as the incarnation of evil, have been the normal behavior of Communists all over the world. Men of extraordinary gifts ceased to have any mind or a character of their own; they placed these in the keeping of their particular party, which, in its turn, placed them with its own mind and conscience in the keeping of Moscow, until they became automata responsive only to the orders of their leaders and accepted those orders, especially at critical moments, with a mechanical devotion which justified every shift and turn in Communist policy as the expression of infallible insight. While they were thus acting almost in the full light of day, they were demanding their right to be admitted into working-class organizations to which they promised complete fidelity even while it was everywhere known that their only reason for seeking that admission was their desire wither to dominate or destroy the particular organization concerned, and to make it as servilely dependent upon their leaders as they were themselves.”                                       (Harold J. Laski in On the Communist Manifesto, Introduction)

“Without general elections, freedom of the press, freedom of the assembly, and freedom of speech, life in every public institution slows down, and becomes a caricature of itself, and bureaucracy emerges as the one deciding factor … Public life gradually dies, and a few score party leaders, with inexhaustible energy and limitless idealism, direct and rule. Amongst them the leadership is, in reality, in the hands of a dozen men of first-class brains, even though, from time to time, an élite of the working class is called together in Congress to applaud the speeches of their leaders, and to vote unanimously for the resolutions they put forward.” (Rosa Luxembourg, in Die russische Revolution, p 113, quoted by Harold J. Laski in On the Communist Manifesto, Introduction)

“Few documents in the history of mankind have stood up so remarkably to the test of verification by the future as the Communist Manifesto. A century after its publication no one has been able seriously to controvert any of its major positions.” (Harold J. Laski in On the Communist Manifesto, Introduction)

“Mr. Attlee has never been himself a Marxist; but there is not a word in the sentences of his that I have quoted which could not have been eagerly accepted by the authors of the Communist Manifesto; and they would, I think, have inferred from them that in the degree to which the Labour government with a majority puts the spirit of these phrases into operation, it would fulfil the great objectives for which it was formed. By unbreakable loyalty to its own principles it could lead its own people, even in the hour of crisis, to cast off its chains. A British working class that had achieved its own emancipation could build that working-class unity everywhere out of which the new world will finally be won.” (Harold J. Laski in On the Communist Manifesto, Introduction)

‘No one can appreciate the spirit of the 1930s, which in the long term was to move mountains, unless they realize that not only Strachey and the Webbs believed all this stuff, but their innumerable readers did too. The mixture of the true, appalling poverty in Britain and the United states, and the false success of the Soviet system created a vast body of opinion which believed urgently in the necessity for change.”                                                                                                                                                (Frances Donaldson, in A Twentieth-Century Life, Chapter 5)


“I do not think Jack and I would ever have joined the Communist Party, because we are not wild enough…..  Members of the local Labour Party, as also its leaders, were always fairly sound on the Communists. ‘You can’t trust them,’ one of them said to us. ‘In the end they’ll always let you down.”                             (Frances Donaldson, in A Twentieth-Century Life, Chapter 5)


“Only two things spoiled our lives in those days. The first was the necessity to have servants.”                                                      (Frances Donaldson, in A Twentieth-Century Life, Chapter 5)


“The only conversation I can remember was when Ian [Fleming] explained to Noël [Coward] that he did not understand the difference in the French pronunciation of ‘an’ and ‘on’.“                                                                 (Frances Donaldson, in A Twentieth-Century Life, Chapter 18)


“… to many of them the Abdication was a matter of no importance at all. To myself and to most of the people I knew, it was a particularly enjoyable nine days’ wonder. Jack and I were actually pleased because, thinking it absurd when the Stock Exchange fell, we bought shares and almost immediately made £100 (equivalent to about twenty times as much today).”                                                                                   (Frances Donaldson, in A Twentieth-Century Life, Chapter 22)


“Only when capitalism has been abolished will it be possible to abolish poverty, unemployment and war.”            (Philip – later Viscount – Snowden, according to Harry Pollitt’s DNB entry)


“A Government in Great Britain cannot wage war successfully if it seeks to destroy values to which the mass of people has pinned its faith. Those values are summarized for us in the system of parliamentary democracy: we could not win the war at the price of its destruction.”                                                                                                                     (Harold J. Laski, in Government in Wartime, from Where Stands Democracy?, Essays by Members of the Fabian Society, 1940)


“You can’t give orders to the British Press

To emphasise, embroider or suppress,

To baste the Reds and take a Fascist tone –

There is no need, they’ll do it on their own.”                                                                                                                         (Hamilton Fyfe’s parody of Humbert Wolfe, in Propaganda and Repression, from Where Stands Democracy?, Essays by Members of the Fabian Society, 1940)


“We cannot get away from the fact that, from the standpoint of the 20th century, Great Britain stands for an obsolete, rentier, imperialistic capitalism, essentially uncreative and obstructive. We cannot get away from the fact that this British capitalism has shown itself ready to compromise with fascism up to the very last moment, or that it has maintained a consistent hostility to the Soviet Union, even while it was negotiating with it in the name of collective security. Whatever institutions may fit the needs of the 20th century, assuredly those of British or French capitalism do not fit those needs. They are sufficiently condemned by their endemic unemployment, and by their failure, despite the vast opportunities which science has opened up to our generation, to create anything at all.”               (G. D. H. Cole, in The Decline of Capitalism, from Where Stands Democracy?, Essays by Members of the Fabian Society, 1940)


“A brain needs washing if there is a problem, just as clothes need washing if they’re dirty, and a kidney needs washing if it’s sick.”                                                   (Jiang Yudui of the pro-Beijing China Civic Education Promotion Association of Hong Kong, quoted in NYT, July 30)


“… for the freely wandering mind of the loafer is that which best develops the intelligence.”                                (Witold Gombrowicz, in Polish Memories, quoted in the New Yorker, July 30)




“I had a very happy childhood, which is very unsuitable if you’re going to be an Irish writer.”                                                                                                                                           (Maeve Binchy, to a lecture audience in Dayton, Ohio, in 1999, quoted in her NYT obituary, August 1)


“There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”                                                (Gore Vidal, according to his NYT obituary, August 2)


“I have converted to Judaism. Still, I can’t say I’ve become a Jew. Or I’m a Jew. Or I am Jewish. It’s a strange thing. I don’t quite believe you can claim to be a Jew if you weren’t born one.”

“I chose Judaism, yes, because of my sons, but because a Jew doesn’t have to believe in anything particular. We just have to behave in a way that . . . oh, I don’t know . . . that does the world good. I guess I like the sense of endless responsibility without the promise of reward.”                                                          (Miranda, in Mary Gordon’s The Love of My Youth, Thursday October 25)


“The brainchild of the elder Mr. Humala, ethnonationalism holds that indigenous and mixed-race Peruvians, whom he calls the “copper race,” should lead the country. A fringe movement, it leans heavily on the dream of recapturing a golden age of the Incas, the indigenous group whose Andean empire was overthrown by the Spanish. Mr. Humala, 82, grew up in a village speaking Quechua, a native language, and considers himself copper. His ideas have been labeled racist, but he says they are based on racial pride, not discrimination.”                                                                                              (from article on the Peruvian President and his family, NYT, August 5)

“I wrote all my papers with a fraudulent fluency that could only have taken in those who were bound by their own educations to honour a fluent fraud.”                                      (the playwright Simon Gray, on his education at Cambridge, quoted by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in NYT, August 5)


“What worries me is that in America, we can almost never kill off anything bad once it starts. Whether it’s mohair subsidies or the 50,000 troops still in Germany, once something has a constituency, it finds a way to live on. The drug war, just like the war on terror, created jobs and budgets, and the beneficiaries don’t want to give them up, even though they know they’re fighting an immoral and unwinnable war.”             (Bill Maher, in NYT Book Review, August 5)


“The message of Guthrie’s life’s work is clear: Fight back against the environmental, economic and social crises that capitalism creates, and for a new global society that guarantees everyone such basic human rights as a beautiful, well-constructed place to live.”                                                                                  (letter from Susan Dorazio, of the Bronx, in NYT Book Review, August 5)


“But people still sometimes ask me, why can’t they assimilate more? Dress like us. Talk like us. Perhaps, some seem to believe, that would prevent the sort of tragedy that happened in Wisconsin. I never have an easy answer. But I do know this: to wipe away what has come before, who we have been over the centuries, also means to forget who our own mothers and fathers were. It means that how they conducted their lives — the families they raised, the homes they built — didn’t matter. It denies us that basic human impulse, to remember their stories, the unique timbre of their voices. It would be as if they had never existed at all.”                                                             (novelist Bhira Backhaus – born to a Sikh family – in NYT  Op-Ed, August 8)


Good Circles and Bad Circles?

“The Government of that time was not aware of Mr Burgess having associations with Communist circles of a kind which threw doubt on his reliability, and the same applied to Mr Maclean.”            (Herbert Morrison, Foreign Secretary, in House of Commons, 10 July 1951)


“Autobiographies, whether by Philby or by Sonia, must be treated with the greatest care for their chief aim is not information but misinformation.”                                                                                                                                           (Anthony Glees, in The Secrets of the Service, Chapter 9)


“Whole continents and epochs of human experience are being taught to undergraduates in terms if a ‘we’ that relates to an ‘other’. So ‘we’ becomes a very unstable pronoun where all identities are rendered provisional, multiple, situational and relative. There is not even room for the ‘we’ of human nature.”       (Robert Colls, author of identity of England, in History Today, August 2012)


“The desire to maximize a particular virtue is common enough: the admission that it is not always possible to this without fatally diminishing others is not.”                                                                             (Noel Annan, in Introduction to Isaiah Berlin’s Personal Impressions, p xvii)


“He has no quarrel with the children or grandchildren of those whom Namier called ‘trembling Israelites, men and women of Jewish descent who have long ceased to tremble, and live happily among their neighbours accepted for what they are, who are free from envy, anxiety and apprehension and who do not observe Jewish rituals or festivals and indeed may be hostile to religion as such. He may, it is true, regards faintly odious the contortions of those Jews who attract attention to their origins by their efforts to suppress them, who wince at hearing the name of Zion mentioned and would prefer to be strolling in the Long Room at Lord’s wearing the tie of the Marylebone Cricket Club.”                                                                                                                          (Noel Annan, in Introduction to Isaiah Berlin’s Personal Impressions, p xxiv)


“As a pluralist he sees no contradiction in observing quadruple or quintuple loyalties.”                                           (Noel Annan, in Introduction to Isaiah Berlin’s Personal Impressions, p xxvi)


“Each of us has awful friends; and we are all somebody’s awful friend.”                                                                (Noel Annan, in Introduction to Isaiah Berlin’s Personal Impressions, p xxix)


“’To be a Zionist it is not perhaps absolutely necessary to be slightly mad”, Weizmannn is reported to have said, ‘but it helps’.”                                                                                                                                             (Isaiah Berlin, in Chaim Weizmann, from Personal Impressions)


“Hermann Cohen, the philosopher, is said to have remarked with the scorn of an old stoic sage, to Franz Rosenzweig, who tried to convince him on the merits of Zionism, ‘Oho! So the gang now wants to be happy, does it?’ Weizmann thought exactly that; he could not see why this was thought a shameful act of surrender.”                                                                                                                                                 (Isaiah Berlin, in Chaim Weizmann, from Personal Impressions)


“Best of all he liked positive human gifts: intelligence, imagination, beauty, strength, generosity, steadfastness, integrity of character. And especially nobility of style, that inner elegance and natural breadth and sweep and confidence which only old and stable cultures, free from calculation, narrowness and neurotic self-pre-occupation, seemed to him to possess. England seemed to him to display these qualities most richly, and he remained devoted to her until the end of his days.” (Isaiah Berlin, in Chaim Weizmann, from Personal Impressions)


“The romantic, somewhat Churchillian, image of England as moved, in the last resort, by her moral imagination, and not by a short view of her self-interest or passing emotion, would not leave him. The England which had stood alone against barbarism and evil, the England for which his son had lost his life, was scarcely less real to him than his vision of the Jewish past and future.”                                    (Isaiah Berlin, in Chaim Weizmann, from Personal Impressions)


“’Miracles do happen’, he said to me once, ‘but one has to work very hard for them.’”                                                                   (Isaiah Berlin, in Chaim Weizmann, from Personal Impressions)


“Some intelligent person took him out of the army, and put him into the Foreign office as adviser on Polish affairs attached to the Historical Adviser to the Foreign Office, Sir John Headlam-Morley. ‘I remember’, said Namier to me, ‘the day in 1918 when the Emperor Karl sued for peace. I said to Headlam-Morley; ‘Wait’. Headlam-Morely said to Balfour: ‘Wait.’ Balfour said to Lloyd George: ‘Wait’. Lloyd George said to Wilson: ‘Wait.’ And while they waited, the Austro-Hungarian Empire disintegrated. I may say that I pulled it to pieces with my own hands.’”                            (Isaiah Berlin, in L. B. Namier, from Personal Impressions)

“I will tell you how they make professors in Oxford. In the eighteenth century there was a club called the Koran Club. The qualification for membership was to have travelled in the East. Then it was found that there were various persons whom it was thought desirable to make members of the club and who had not travelled in the East. So the rules were changed from ‘travelling in the East’ to ‘expressing a wish to travel in the East.’ That is how they make professors in Oxford.”                                    (Namier, quoted by Isaiah Berlin in L. B. Namier, from Personal Impressions)

“”You do not know rabbis and priests as I do – they can ruin any country. Clergymen are harmless. Nobody ever speaks as being in the hands of the clergymen as they do of the Jesuits, and, I fear now, should do of the rabbis.”                                                                                                                         (Namier, quoted by Isaiah Berlin in L. B. Namier, from Personal Impressions)


“You must be a very clever man to understand what you write.”                                                                              (Namier, quoted by Isaiah Berlin in L. B. Namier, from Personal Impressions)


“An amateur is man who thinks more about himself than his subject.”                                                                                                         (Isaiah Berlin, in L. B. Namier, from Personal Impressions)


“On the other hand, he was not militantly anti-intellectual; he liked any evidence of mental power or elegance; and suffered from neither of those two notorious occupational ‘complexes’ of dons – a repressed yearning for spectacular worldly success and influence, and a resentful odium academicum of those who aspire to it.”                                                                                                                                                 (Isaiah Berlin, in Hubert Henderson, from Personal Impressions)

“I use the word ‘genius’ advisedly. I am sometimes asked what I mean by this highly evocative but imprecise term. In answer, I can only say this: the dancer Njinksy was once asked how he managed to leap so high. He is reported to have answered that he saw no great problem in this. Most people when they leap in the air come down at once. ‘Why should you come down immediately? Stay in the air a little before you return, why not?’ he is reported to have said.” (Isaiah Berlin, in Meetings with Russian Writers in 1945 and 1956, from Personal Impressions)


“I see a vision of everyone living normal lives here with a political situation that has to be unique. There is no other example in history of a people dispersed for 2,000 years that comes back to its land and reclaims it. It’s a very peculiar situation and will need a peculiar solution.”                                                 (Dani Dayan, leader of Israel’s settler movement, in NYT, August 18)

There is no doubt that Soviet propaganda remains the most successful hoax ever perpetrated on the human race.” (Isaiah Berlin, in Foreword to Jenifer Hart’s Ask Me No More)


“To illustrate (though not to defend) our standpoint, I cite the following passage from a  letter of September 1936 from a very intelligent friend of mine, then an official in the British Museum, who has recently been to Russia.

‘I am quite confident in the country and its future, though while actually staying there I felt very anxious about many things. I began to feel more happy about it when I met and talked with Sir Bernard Pares [historian of Russia] on the boat coming back; he seemed to understand it all very clearly and to be quite convinced of the value of what liberals call the Russian experiment, and what’s more he appeared ready to give credit not merely to Russians, whom he loves, but to communists, whom he has no reason to love. I don’t think I misunderstand him if I say that. There is another thing which I didn’t realize till I got back here: that is, that all the things that one is inclined to be worried about, restrictions on liberty, a failure to reach our standards of taste in something or other – all the things, in fact which don’t fit in with our oh-so-well-educated lives – simply don’t seem to a genuine worker as sources of trouble.’”                                                                                                                                 (Jenifer Hart, in Ask Me No More, p 74)


“We appreciate the objections to the adoption, in times of peace, of a procedure under which candidates for or members of the Public Service might be penalized simply because they are – as they have a legal right to be – members of the Communist Party. On the other hand, the first duty of every Civil Servant is to give his individual allegiance to the State, and the State has a right – indeed the duty – to protect itself by ensuring that its interests are not endangered by the employment of persons who may not accept this view of their obligations. The ideology of the Communist involves, at the least, a divided loyalty, which might in certain contingencies become active disloyalty: the Canadian case has amply demonstrated the reality of this danger.” (security memo to Attlee and his ministers in 1947, quoted by Peter Hennessy in The Secret State, p 87)


“Once you have a formula and an electronic computer, there is an awful temptation … to present a picture of the future which through its very precision and verisimilitude carries conviction.”                                                                                                                                 (Fritz Schumacher, in lecture ‘A Machine to Tell the Future?’, ca. 1960, quoted by letter in Spectator, August 11)



“The people of Europe must learn that only together will they be able to assert their civic model of a social state and the national diversity of their culture.”                    (philosopher Jürgen Habermas,  with Peter Bofinger, a leading economist, and Julian Nida-Rümelin, a former government cultural adviser, in a Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung essay, quoted in NYT, August 19)


“We cannot have a situation in which chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people.”                                                                                                                    (President Obama on Syria, at White House press conference, reported in NYT, August 21)


“It is the first definition of the grave problem of nonproliferation and of its discriminatory character: the countries that have atomic weapons have always been convinced that the bomb is less dangerous in their hands than it would be in the hands of those countries that still do not possess it.”                                              (Bernard Goldschmidt, in Atomic Rivals, Chapter 4)


“Middle age is when you stop combing your hair and start arranging it.”                                                                                                         (Christopher Plummer, according to NYT, August 22)


“Everything the [Chinese Communist] Party does to fix things in the short term only makes matters worse in the long term by setting off property prices again. Take the recent cut in interest rates, which was done to boost domestic consumption, which won’t boost itself until the Party sorts out the Healthcare system, which it hasn’t the money for because it has been invested in American debt, which it can’t sell without hurting the dollar, which would raise the value of the yuan and harm exports, which will shut factories and put people out of work and threaten stability.”                                                                     (Mark Kitto, in Prospect, August 2012)


“… but as my step-father Isaiah Berlin once said to my mother when she complained that it’s not proper to talk about money he, the consummate intellectual, replied that money is the most interesting subject in the world; I believe art is the second.”                                                                                                                   (Michel Strauss, in Preface to Pictures, Passions and Eye)


“Any man of progress had two homelands, his own and the Soviet Union.” (Jacques Duclos, general secretary of the French Communist Party, in 1949 at meeting in honour of the 25th anniversary of Lenin’s death, as quoted by Bertrand Goldschmidt in Atomic Rivals, Chapter 25)


“Sometimes I have a sherry before dinner”                            (Charlie Parker’s reply to a doctor, from Nica Koenigswarter’s ODNB entry, after ‘Bird’: The Legend of Charlie Parker, p 133)


“I am a typical American, a southerner, and 27 years of age … I am loyal to my country and know but reverence to her flag. BUT I shall never submit to fight beneath that banner with a negro by my side. Rather I should die a thousand times, and see old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wild.”                                                                       (Senator Robert Byrd, in 1944, quoted by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic, September 2012)


“The central question that emerges – and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that can be answered by merely consulting a catalog of the rights of American citizens, born Equal – is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes – the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.”                                                                                                                     (William F. Buckley, Jr, in 1957, quoted by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic, September 2012)




Ethnic Identity in Brooklyn – Latinos?

“Mr. Lopez has long been circumspect about his personal background. He has said his paternal grandfather was born in Spain before moving to Italy. Many constituents think Mr. Lopez is Hispanic, a handy identity in what is now a heavily Hispanic district. He is actually of predominantly Italian heritage and speaks little Spanish.”         (from NYT, September 5)


“Well, I mean, obviously Fuchs knew very well what the dangers were, having been thrown out himself. Very often, the British attitude was, “Well, if Hitler would happen in this country, he would be on a box on Hyde Park corner.” It was a certain — it just wasn’t quite realistic.”                                                         (Hanni Bretscher, wife of physicist Egon Bretscher, in 1984 interview)


 Sources for John Cleese (no. xxvi in a series)

“On one of several occasions when he [Maynard Keynes] had wrongly predicted the course of the economy, his young friend pressed him for an explanation. ‘Victor’, Keynes replied, ‘I made a mistake’.”

‘The Cat Lives!’ Slice of ham was tested on cat at medical research Council by MI5 (BI (c) before being given to Churchill.        (from Elusive Rothschild, by Kenneth Rose, p 26 and p 74)


“The children enjoyed the story of their father, a guest at a formal dinner, instructing the waiter, ‘I am Lord Rothschild. I do not eat pork. Bring me a ham sandwich.’”                                                                                                              (from Elusive Rothschild, by Kenneth Rose, p 149)


Disgusting Practices in New York

“’If you follow strictly the ritual, there will be no harm to the boy. A circumcision is a joyous occasion – nothing traumatic about it.’ (mohel Romi A. Cohn, who uses ‘oral suction’ during the ritual)

‘I don’t want a 99 percent job, I want a 100 percent job. I want him [his firstborn son] to be fully Jewish.’ (Isaac Morton)                                            (from report in NYT, September 13)


“Where skepticism is strength, pyrrhonism is weakness: for we need not only the strength to defer a decision, but the strength to make one.”                                                                                                                                    (T. S. Eliot, in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, p 28)


“It [culture] includes all the characteristics activities and interests of a people; Derby Day, Henley Regatta, Cowes, the twelfth of August, a cup final, the dog races, the pin table, the dart board, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, nineteenth –century Gothic churches and the music of Elgar. The reader can make his own list. And then we have to face the strange idea that what is part of our culture is also a part of our lived religion.”                                                             (T. S. Eliot, in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, p 30)


“To ask whether the people have not a religion already, in which Derby Day and the dog track play their parts, is embarrassing; so is the suggestion that part of the religion of the higher ecclesiastic is gaiters and the Athenaeum. It is inconvenient for Christians to find that as Christians they do not believe enough, and that on the other hand that, with everybody else, believe in too many things: yet this is a consequence of reflecting, that bishops are a part of English culture, and horses and dogs are a part of English religion.”                                                                                                (T. S. Eliot, in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, p 31)


“I do not overlook the possibility that Britain, if it consummated its apostasy by reforming itself according to the prescription of some inferior or materialistic religion might blossom into a vulture more brilliant than that we can show today. That would not be evidence that the new religion was true, and that Christianity was false. It would merely prove that any religion, while it lasts, and on its own level, gives an apparent meaning to life, provides the framework for a culture, and protects the mass of humanity from boredom and despair.”                                                                                       (T. S. Eliot, in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, p 32)


“A diversification among human communities is essential for the provision of the incentive and material for the Odyssey of the human spirit. Other nations of different habits are not enemies: they are godsends. Men require of their neighbours something sufficiently akin to be understood, something sufficiently different to provoke attention, and something great enough to command admiration.”                                             (A. N. Whitehead, in Science and the Modern World)


“It is a recurrent theme of this essay, that a people should be neither too united nor too divided, if its culture is to flourish. Excess of unity may be due to barbarism and may lead to tyranny; excess of division may be due to decadence and may also lead to tyranny: either excess will prevent further development in culture.”                                                                                                                                             (T. S. Eliot, in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, p 49)


“So, within limits, the friction, not only between individuals, but between groups, seems to me quite necessary for civilization. The universality of irritation is the best assurance for peace.”                                                    (T. S. Eliot, in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, p 59)


“Certainly, in those countries in which the prevailing faith has been Protestant, anti-clericalism seldom takes a violent form. In such countries, both faith and infidelity tend to be mild and inoffensive; as the culture has become secularised, the cultural differences between faithful and infidel are minimal; the boundary between belief and unbelief is vague; the Christianity is more pliant, the atheism more negative; and all parties live in amity, so long as they continue to accept some common moral conventions.”                                                                                                                                                  (T. S. Eliot, in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, p 72)


“A universal concern with politics does not unite, it divides. It unites those politically minded folk who agree, across the frontiers of nations, against some other international group who hold opposed views. But it tends to destroy the cultural unity of Europe.”                                                                                           (T. S. Eliot, in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, p 121)


“An individual European may not believe the Christian Faith is true, and yet what he says, and makes, and does, will all spring out of the heritage of Christian culture and depend on that culture for its meaning. Only a Christian culture could have produced a Voltaire or a Nietzsche. I do not believe that the culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian Faith. And I am convinced of that, not merely because I am a Christian myself, but as a student of social biology, If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes.”                                                                              (T. S. Eliot, in Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, p 126)


“If I am a man or a woman with sufficient imagination (and this I do need), I can enter into a value-system which is not my own, but which is nevertheless something I can conceive of men pursuing while remaining human, while remaining creatures with whom I can communicate, with whom I have some common values – for all human beings must have some common values or they cease to be human, and also some different values else they cease to differ, as in fact they do.”                                                                              (Isaiah Berlin, in My Intellectual Path)


“That is why pluralism is not relativism – the multiple values are objective, part of the essence of humanity rather than arbitrary creations of man’s subjective fancies.”                                                                                                                                    (Isaiah Berlin, in My Intellectual Path)


“I find Nazi values detestable, but I can understand how, given enough misinformation, enough false belief about reality, one could come to believe that they are the only salvation. Of course, they have to be fought, by war if need be, but I do not regard the Nazis, as some people do, as literally pathological or insane, only as wickedly wrong, totally misguided about the facts, for example in believing that some beings are subhuman, or that race is central, or that Nordic races alone are truly creative, and so forth. I see how, with enough false education, enough widespread illusion and error, men can, while remaining men, believe this and commit the most unspeakable crimes.”                                                             (Isaiah Berlin, in My Intellectual Path)


“If pluralism is a valid view, and respect between systems of values which are not necessarily hostile to each other is possible, then toleration and liberal consequences follow, as they do not either from monism (only one set of values is true, all the others are false) or from relativism (my values are mine, yours are yours, and if we clash, too bad, neither of us can claim to be right).”                                                                                       (Isaiah Berlin, in My Intellectual Path)


“Again, the idea of sincerity, as a value, is something new. It was always right to be a martyr for the truth, but only to the truth: Muslims who died for Islam were poor, foolish, misled creatures who died for nonsense; so, for Catholics, were Protestants and Jews and pagans; and the fact that they held their beliefs sincerely made them no better – what was important was to be right. In discovering the truth, as in every other walk of life, success was what was important, not motive.”                                                                  (Isaiah Berlin, in My Intellectual Path)


“The more sincere, the more dangerous; no marks were given for sincerity until the notion that there is more than one answer to a question – that is, pluralism – became more widespread.”

(Isaiah Berlin, in My Intellectual Path)


“Since the middle of the fifteenth century skeptics had pointed out that there was little reason to trust historians: they were apt to be subjective, biased, and, even when not actually venal or corrupt hacks, liable, out of vanity or patriotic pride or partisan spirit or sheer ignorance to distort the truth. All history in the end relies on eye-witness testimony. If the historian was himself engaged in the affairs of he was describing, he was inevitably partisan; if not, he would probably not have direct access to that vital information which only participants possessed and were hardly likely to divulge. So the historian must either be involved in the areas he describes, and therefore partisan, or uninvolved and liable to be misled by those who had an interest in bending the truth in their own favour; or, alternatively, remained too far from the true sources of information to know enough. Hence the notorious fact that historians contradict each other freely, and that opinions alter from age to age and almost from historian to historian.” (Isaiah Berlin, in One of the Boldest Innovators in the History of Human Thought: Giambattista Vico)


“Because we are men we can enter unto the experience of other men; we may make mistakes – such knowledge is not infallible. But the very possibility of such intercommunication, based as it is on the understanding of motives, outlooks, ways of life, rests in principle on something different from the knowledge that we have of the external world, which can never, in the end, be more than a recording of what occurs, or how, without knowledge of why it occurs, or indeed whether such a question makes sense at all.”                                                                                 (Isaiah Berlin, in One of the Boldest Innovators in the History of Human Thought: Giambattista Vico)


“To the old nineteenth-century intelligentsia the very notion of  a class of persons involved in intellectual pursuits – such as professors, doctors, engineers, experts, writers, who in other respects live ordinary bourgeois lives, and hold conventional views, and who play golf or even cricket – this notion would have been absolutely horrifying. If a man was a professor in late nineteenth-century Russia, then the mere fact of his involvement with ideas made him an implacable opponent of the regime in which he lived; if he did not, he was, in the eyes of the militant, a traitor, a man who had sold out, a coward or a ninny.”                                                                                                                                    (Isaiah Berlin, in The Role of the Intelligentsia)


“Consequently to call anything a timeless truth about men or society must be in principle absurd. For there is nothing timeless in the lives of man: all truths consist in some relationship between men’s thoughts and the objects about which they think, and since both objects and thoughts do not stand still but alter with changing historical conditions, things will look different to those who are hemmed in by a given society and press against its walls – in whose interest it is to alter or destroy it – as compared with the way in which that society will look and feel to those who are in a high degree of harmony with it, and therefore, either instinctively or consciously, opposed to change.”                                                    (Isaiah Berlin, in The Philosophy of Karl Marx)


“There is, for example, no social or moral truth which will be equally valid for both classes; thoughts , beliefs, moral feelings are for Marx formed of action, and their validity – or truth – will, like that of propaganda, depend upon the interests of the group to which the beholder belongs.”                                                          (Isaiah Berlin, in The Philosophy of Karl Marx)


“For Marx, a class is a body of persons unified by some objective social interest: an objective interest being the need to achieve or acquire that which renders those who have it more free, that is, better able to master their own lives in order to achieve the rational satisfaction of their own needs. For Marx, the history of mankind is a history of the struggles of classes. His philosophy of history is the source of all his philosophical beliefs.”                                                                                                                                               (Isaiah Berlin, in The Philosophy of Karl Marx)


“The new ‘biological’ science of mankind, whether in its metaphysical-Hegelian or evolutionary-Darwinian form, was in principle codifiable, communicable, learnable. Comte, and after him Spencer, made bold attempts to reduce it all to a clear and dogmatic system. The huge cosmologies of Spengler and Toynbee represent the gloomy culmination of this tradition, Karl Marx, who took seriously the proposition that if history was a science, it was concerned with ‘inexorable’ repetitions of some kind, offered a rival and more fruitful theory.”                                                                                                                              (Isaiah Berlin in Realism in Politics)


“In spite of all that we hear about inexorable laws of history (a metaphysical refrain from the Soviet Union and Chatham House), one thing seems clear: large revolutions, attempts to upheave existing society and alter the course of events, do, at times, produce a break and change things deeply, but seldom in the direction which their initiators anticipated or desired.”                                                                                                                       (Isaiah Berlin, in The Origins of Israel)


“The principle obligation of human beings seems to me to consist in living their life according to their lights, and in developing whatever faculties they possess without hurting their neighbours, in realizing themselves in as many directions as freely, variously and richly as they can, without worrying overmuch whether they are measuring up to the peaks in their own past history, without casting anxious looks to see whether their achievements reach the highest points reached by the genius of their neighbours, nor yet looking at other nations, or wondering whether they are developing precisely as they expect to develop.” (Isaiah Berlin, in The Origins of Israel)


“This is so because their whole existence and all their values depend upon the assumption that they can by conscious effort live the life of the natives, and acquire complete security through pursuing, if need be by means of artificial techniques, those activities which the natives perform by nature and spontaneously. This must not be questioned, since, unless it is true, the presence of the strangers among the natives can never be wholly free from danger, and their enormous sustained effort, culminating in the acquisition of a special kind of intellectual and moral vision with which they have seen into the heart of the native system, might turn out to derive from a gigantic delusion: a delusion which has taken them in, perhaps, but has not taken in the natives whose instincts continue to tell them that the strangers, who by this time look like natives, speak like them, even react like them, nevertheless lack something, want of which prevents them from being natives. What that something is neither the natives nor the strangers can precisely specify, the strangers being particularly skilled at refuting crude or malicious native theories about what the impalpable something is.”                   (Isaiah Berlin, in Jewish Slavery and Emancipation)


“But the strangers we speak of are unique in retaining their peculiar attributes, especially their religious views, while stoutly denying that these peculiarities are of crucial importance, or relevant to their relationship to the society in which they dwell. This attitude rests on an illusion which is nevertheless, for the most part sincerely and honourably, accepted as a reality by both sides, but which, being half felt as delusive, communicates a sense of desperate embarrassment to those who seek to examine it: as if a mystery were being approached to the belief in the non-existence of which both sides are pledged, yet the reality of which both at least suspect.”                                                                                      (Isaiah Berlin, in Jewish Slavery and Emancipation)


“Those who do not wish to emigrate, or apply for Israeli citizenship, should face the fact that they do not actually wish to be Jews in the full sense, and should choose some other nationality. Having decided let us say, that they would rather be Englishmen or Americans than Israelis, they must cease to irritate their neighbours by a self-imposed exclusiveness, cease to oppose mixed marriages of their sons and daughters, cease to congregate in spiritual and even topographical ghettos round specially Jewish  institutions, or cling to the use of Yiddish or other Jewish languages, and generally take vigorous steps to immerse themselves completely (and not, as before, with reservations) in the general life around them.”                                                                                                                                          (Isaiah Berlin, in Jewish Slavery and Emancipation)


‘Fearful thinkers, with minds seeking salvation in religious or political dogma, souls filled with terror, like T. S. Eliot or Arthur Koestler, may wish to eliminate such ambiguous elements in favour of a more clear-cut structure, and they are, in this respect, true children of the new age which, with its totalitarian systems, has tried to institute just such an order among human beings, and sort them out neatly, each to his own category, and has suppressed civil liberties in varying degrees in order to achieve this purpose, which is sometimes defended on ultra-rationalist, scientific grounds.”                                            (Isaiah Berlin, in Jewish Slavery and Emancipation)


“If Weizmann was punished it was for his excessively clear sense of reality and for his love of the English….  Weizmann believed in the English because he believed in the sane, balanced, empirical quality of their lives; in their distaste for theories and ideologies; in their respect for individuals; in their love of genuine liberty and genuine contentment; in their capacity for not sacrificing live human beings on the altar of abstractions and ideals.”                                                                                                                      (Isaiah Berlin, in Chaim Weizmann’s Leadership)


“Nor do such good and rational men allow for the terrible ingenuity with which men can prove to their own satisfaction that the road to one ideal also leads somehow to the contrary. Men want too much: they want what is logically impossible. That is why such scared symbols as ‘liberty’ and ‘democracy’ and self-governmental ‘rights’ cover such a multitude of ideals which conflict with one another. It is as well to realize this. Things are what they are; status is one thing, liberty another; recognition is not the same as non-interference. In the end we all pay too dearly for our wish to avert our gaze from such truths, for ignoring such distinctions in our attempts to coin words to cover all that we long for, in short for our desire to be deceived.”                                                                                                                            (Isaiah Berlin in The Search for Status)


“The irresistible, as Justice Brandeis once observed, is often simply that which is not resisted.”                                                                                                      (Isaiah Berlin in General Education)


“Honorable men, as they were called in the golden age of chivalry, were rich enough to outfit a squadron of knights and brutal enough to lead them into battle, often culminating in the killing and plundering of civilian populations. The code of chivalry defined honor in ways that are familiar to people today — as honesty, loyalty, courage — and in ways that are not. It was honorable, for example, to show mercy to a defeated enemy, but only if the enemy was a social equal. There was no dishonor in slaughtering commoners.”                                                                                                                             (from obituary of Maurice H. Keen, in NYT, September 26)


“It was not a formally constituted pecking order – only a society with a fixed order of precedence will have such a thing formally laid out, and in no society will the official order of precedence represent the real order. So while Scotland has an order of precedence, it is never enforced and people may walk through doors in front of others who really should be allowed to go through the door before them. That is, of course, how things should be; who would wish to live in a society in which the order of walking through doors was something that anybody cared about? …….  The answer, of course is a system based upon common courtesy and consideration, mixed with a measure of sheer practicality.”                                                                                                                            (from Alexander McCall Smith’s The Importance of Being Seven, Chapter 11)


“That is all to do with the social self – the bit that is determined by the fact of being a member of a group rather than being solitary; when it comes to the family, how much more vivid is the impression that one’s fate is formed by the actions of others. Each one of us is a palimpsest on which our parents have written, and beneath their writing is the writing of their parents. Thus is family pathology transmitted, and although behavioural geneticists may argue amongst themselves how genes determine behavior, the rest of us have no difficulty in seeing familiar traits being passed from parent to child to grandchild.”                                                                                       (from Alexander McCall Smith’s The Importance of Being Seven, Chapter 42)


“His father never fully understood the detail of banking: not many important bakers do.”                                                              (from Justin Cartwright’s Other People’s Money, Chapter 2)


“It was different back in Moses’s day when the little outsider dealt fairly with the Gentiles, so that they trusted him and he built up a fortune on his reputation. Now the family are not even Jews any more – and much taller – and what they are doing is utterly pointless: they are charging a premium, a kind of snob appeal disguising the very basic principles of retail banking.”                                                               (from Justin Cartwright’s Other People’s Money, Chapter 10)


“What is it about the English upper classes that it is still so important to associate themselves with the countryside? Lurchers, rabbits, tweed, Viyella shirts, caps – flat caps are back – and those Dijon mustard trousers. Signifiers. Signifying that these people are the true people of England. You never see a Jew in these togs, accompanied by a lurcher, although that Home Secretary chap used to dress up in green wellingtons and corduroy trousers in his constituency.”                                                             (from Justin Cartwright’s Other People’s Money, Chapter 10)


“The intimacies between men and women are not for publication, he thinks. They are often innocently obscene or infantile. Nobody, anyway, really knows what goes on between other men and women.”                           (from Justin Cartwright’s Other People’s Money, Chapter 18)


“But whatever their game is, Melissa, if it goes wrong, pensions, medical research, academic institutions, you name it, all these innocent people and causes supported by the charitable trusts will go down the pan.” (Tredizzick, in Justin Cartwright’s Other People’s Money, Chapter 19)

“Mr Tredizzick is not interested. He’s hell-bent on bringing down capitalism.”                                                                                (from Justin Cartwright’s Other People’s Money, Chapter 22)


“I’m sure the grant will be resumed now that Sir Harry’s gone to banker’s heaven. Can you imagine what that would be like? Verdi at full blast day and night for the tone deaf, grouse season twelve months a year, Krug coming out of the celestial taps, the angels all pole dancers or rent boys, Lucifer dressed as Matron dispensing the cod liver oil, fishcakes served at every meal.”                     (Artair Macleod, in Justin Cartwright’s Other People’s Money, Chapter 19)


“She [Fleur] remembers these wild swings of optimism and expectation. Then, she thought they were inspiring, his [Macleod’s] naïve belief in the inevitable triumph of art over bourgeois values and his confidence in the effect that the old Celtic legends – presented by himself – would have on the ancient but forgotten cultures when he reconnects them with their melting, misty past. As she remembers it, his belief was that we are all the producers of our history and our race memories, even memories we are not aware of are buried within us and need exhuming. Absolutely mad nonsense, but even now she understands the yearning that lies behind it.”                                                       (from Justin Cartwright’s Other People’s Money, Chapter 23)


“What they were forgetting, perhaps, is that the people as a coherent and decent group with shared values had never been anything more than a conventional myth, and now it has, anyway, gone for ever, lost in a world of compulsive gratification and trivialization, where culture and art and learning are no longer the goals of this once decent class – if it ever existed.”                                                                               (from Justin Cartwright’s Other People’s Money, Chapter 24)


“People talk about true stories. As if there could possibly be true stories; events take place one way and we recount them the opposite way.”                                                                                                                                             (from Justin Cartwright’s Other People’s Money, The End)


“I found myself caught up in what you could call a world historical event. You could say it’s a great political and intellectual event of our time, even a moral event. Not the fatwa, but the battle against radical Islam, of which this was one skirmish. There have been arguments made even by liberal-minded people, which seem to me very dangerous, which are basically cultural relativist arguments: We’ve got to let them do this because it’s their culture. My view is no. Female circumcision — that’s a bad thing. Killing people because you don’t like their ideas — it’s a bad thing. We have to be able to have a sense of right and wrong which is not diluted by this kind of relativistic argument. And if we don’t we really have stopped living in a moral universe.”                                                                   (Salman Rushdie, from interview in NYT, September 18)


“In Judaism, the health of the baby is more important than anything. The harm, he added, would come if the baby was not circumcised. A man who is not circumcised cannot understand the context of the Bible. It is very, very important.”                                                                                                                  (Rabbi David Goldberg, of Hof, Germany, quoted in NYT, September 20)


“There is no honor in relativism when radicals of any faith exploit religion to justify murder.

Revolutions sometimes consume their pluralists and their democrats.”                                                                                                                                 (Steve Coll, in the New Yorker, October 1)




“Artifacts, just like people, animals or plants, have souls and historical memories. When they are repatriated to their countries, the balance of nature will be restored.”                                                                              (Turkey’s culture minister, Ertugrul Gunay, quoted in NYT, October 1)

“We are moving from lived memory to historical memory. We’re at that transition, and this [tattooing of Auschwitz numbers] is sort of a brazen, in-your-face way of bridging it.”    (Michael Berenbaum, a professor at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles who is among the foremost scholars of the memorialization of the Holocaust, quoted in NYT, October 1)


“Other images and short films capture connections between hair and loss. A photo dating from the late 19th century or early 20th century of a Malagasy widow shows her long hair unkempt and flying in the wind; a widow in Madagascar did not wash for a year after the death of her husband, to avoid attracting potential suitors.”                                                                                                                             (from report on Paris exhibition, The Art of Hair, in NYT, October 2)


“So why are the Pre-Raphaelites still not taken seriously in this country? Why aren’t they revered like the Impressionists? Why are they still regarded in highbrow circles as slightly second-rate? Well, partly it’s down to simple snobbery. Pre-Raphaelite art was collected by industrialists rather than landowners, new money instead of old. In classbound Britain, this genre became associated with the nouveau riche. However, I reckon it’s also got a lot to do with British cultural insecurity. If something’s attractive and entertaining, like the Pre-Raphaelites, we tend to distrust it. Like self-conscious six-formers, we still think great art should be difficult, pessimistic and, above all, foreign.”                                  (William Cook, in the Spectator, September 15)

“Now well into the second decade of a new millennium, Britain still enjoys a complicated relationship with its romantic past, and this ambivalence is particularly evident in how it defines ‘modernism’. Often, modernity in pre and post-war British art is measured by comparing it with whatever was happening across the Channel at the time. But this kind of cultural relativism might warp how we understand and enjoy so much of twentieth century British art, because not only is a great deal of it figurative, it is also specifically British.”                                                                                              (from advertisement for Messum’s, in the Spectator, September 15)


“What’s the use of being brilliant, if you sit at a cafe all day and are considered the greatest bore because you don’t know when to stop talking and never write anything down?”                      (Sybille Bedford on Esther Murphy, from Lisa Cohen’s Three Lives, reviewed in NYT, October 7)


“’The difference between collectors and hoarders is largely a distinction of class.’

Tenet No. 3: ‘We don’t need more museums that try to construct the historical narratives of a society, community, team, nation, state, tribe, company or species. We all know that the ordinary, everyday stories of individuals are richer, more humane and much more joyful.’ Tenet No. 11: ‘The future of museums is inside our own homes.’”                                                                                      (Orhan Pamuk, from The Innocence of Objects, quoted in NYT, October 7)


“He also adopted a less black-and-white approach to religion in public life. ‘In Islamic law, there is something called the science of balance,’ Mr. Qaid said. “You need to look at the context, see if something will do more harm than good before you practice it.’ He said he considered secular Turkey the best model for an Islamist government in Libya, argued that tolerance and pluralism should be its watchwords and said it should rest on only those precepts of Islamic law that are ‘universal human values.’”                                                                                                                                              (Libyan parliamentarian Abdel Wahab Mohamed Qaid, from NYT, October 7)


“A lot of the pressure is about revisiting old settlements and defeats and agreements about who commits what to central budgets. But when it comes to the crunch, it’s not about money but national myths — what kind of people we are, meta-narratives and emotions: ‘Do we feel oppressed? Do we feel safe enough to leave?’ Ghosts of history return, and while economics plays a role, in the end people vote with their hearts.”                           (Heather Grabbe, previously political adviser to the E.U.’s commissioner for enlargement, quoted in NYT, October 7)


“The anniversary cult is a means of painlessly and superficially informing a ‘cultural élite’ which for consumer-market reasons need constantly to be enlarged. It is a way of consuming – as distinct from understanding – history.”                                                                                                 (John Berger, in Rodin and Sexual Domination, quoted in the Spectator, September 22)


“But Mr. Eloy, who said his heritage was Brazilian (making him Latino but not Hispanic, he said), said classrooms were enriched by a mix of voices.”                                                                                                                 (student at Texas University in Austin, quoted in NYT, October 9)


“While memoirs are a valuable source of information, historians know that, in relying on them, one must keep in mind such problems as poor memory, errors about details, embellishments, self-service, sensationalism, and outright deception.”                  (from Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev, p 55)


“Writing about the American intellectuals who knowingly accepted assistance from the CIA in the 1940s and 1950s to counter Communist influence, critics have charged that they have been untrue to their calling. How much more apt is the characterization directed at men who worked not for their own government, but for the intelligence service of a dictatorship?”                                                                                                                              (from Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev, p 193)


“Historical fiction is a hybrid form, halfway between fiction and nonfiction. It is pioneer country, without fixed laws. To some, if it is fiction. Anything is permitted. To others, wanton invention when facts are to be found, or, worse, contradiction of well-known facts, is a horror: a violation of an implicit contract with the reader, and a betrayal of the people written about. Ironically, it is when those stricter standards of truth are applied that historical fiction looks most like lying.”

“What sort of person writes fiction about the past? It is helpful to be acquainted with violence, because the past is violent. It is necessary to understand that the people who live there are not the same as people now.  It is necessary to understand that the dead are real, and have power over the living. It is helpful to have encountered the dead firsthand, in the form of ghosts.”                                                                                                                                           (Larissa MacFarquahar, in The Dead Are Real, a profile of Hilary Mantel, in the New Yorker, October 15)


“’You’re supposed to be brilliant. Dazzle me.’

‘Am I supposed to be brilliant? To tell the truth I talk far too much, but only the credulous are taken in.’” (Rosamund and Mendel in Justin Cartwright’s The Song Before It Is Sung, Chapter 2)


“He [Mendel] also saw, as he once told Conrad, that Oxford philosophers were going down a blind alley if they believed that there was some incorrigible proposition waiting to be discovered. In the thirties, he told Conrad, academics were in the grip of this fallacy. Most philosophers in Oxford, he said, believed in a version of determinism, although of course none of them had ever met a determinist. His reading of the history of ideas offered an entirely different perspective, namely that ideas and beliefs are often in conflict, so the important question, it seemed to him, was not the truth of the ideas themselves, so much as the resolution of them, and that could only be realized by understanding human longings.”                                                                                                                          (from Justin Cartwright’s The Song Before It Is Sung, Chapter 6)


“After years of reflection, old people reorder their lives. We all do it our way. We construct our self-image as if we are hoping for some retrospective distinction, a vision of the person we believe we are supposed to be; without being able to see a template, we carry on relentlessly, like bees obeying an order they don’t understand, until death makes it all irrelevant. Why is it important to practice willful amnesia and invent myths?”                                                                                                                         (from Justin Cartwright’s The Song Before It Is Sung, Chapter 8)


“It’s a strange thing, this tendency to claim for oneself the higher moral ground. It’s tactical rather than real and it’s increasingly common, so that people routinely excuse themselves on the grounds of their higher longings. They are cursed, as they gravely admit, with a more acute consciousness than other people.”                                                                                                                                                            (from Justin Cartwright’s The Song Before It Is Sung, Chapter 10)


“I think all women believe adultery is a betrayal of themselves as women, while many men, in my experience, think of it as an endorsement of their true natures.”                                                                                                            (from Justin Cartwright’s The Song Before It Is Sung, Chapter 28)


“Most lobbying is pro-business, in that it promotes the interests of existing businesses, not pro-market in the sense of promoting truly free and open competition.”                                                                                                                                           (Luigi Zingales, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, quoted by Chrystia Freeland in NYT, October 14)


“’I met your father’, I said to the future Edward VIII, not for years realizing what a faux pas this parental word was in royal circles. The blushing British captain replied democratically, ‘Well, how’d you find the governor?’”                                                                                                                                              (George Seldes in Wilson and the People, from Tell the Truth And Run)


“The social structure rests upon the great working classes of the world; these working classes in several countries of the world have by their consciousness of community of interest, by their consciousness of the community of spirit, done perhaps more than any other influence to establish a world which is not a nation, which is not a continent, but is the opinion, one might say, of mankind.”                                                               (President Woodrow Wilson in Milan in 1918, quoted by George Seldes in Wilson and the People, from Tell the Truth And Run)


“Fame may not come to the poet until a thousand years have passed over his grave, but to a general it comes the next morning – if the battle is won.”                                                          (George Seldes in Foch Proposes the Anti-Comintern, from Tell The Truth And Run)


“That was the most marvelous thing about Lenin: he really loved mankind. Others loved themselves, money, theories, power; Lenin loved his fellowmen. They say to me, ‘How can you be so enthusiastic about Lenin – he did not believe in God.’ I reply: ‘That is simply a phrase. Lenin was God, as Christ was God, because God is Love and Christ and Lenin were all Love.”                                                                                                                                            (Isadora Duncan, quoted by George Seldes in Headquarters: Hotel Adlon, from Tell The Truth And Run)


“Every two thousand years there come certain phases in human conditions and certain forces renew themselves. Ideals incarnate. We have Dionysos and Christ and Buddha – and the force of the present epoch is Lenin. I am certain that in a thousand years from now people from all parts of the world will come to Lenin’s tomb, which will be a shrine. He was the person who embodied the new spirit, the renewal of the force of idealism and the new religion.” (Isadora Duncan, quoted by George Seldes in Headquarters: Hotel Adlon, from Tell The Truth And Run)


“We thought ourselves pretty smart newspapermen: we refused to believe both the Soviet spokesman and the Soviet-baiters. The famine, we thought, was neither an act of God nor a Bolshevik plot to destroy the unreconstructed peasantry; it was most likely due to the failure of the Marxian system (whatever that was, no one knew; no one had ever read Karl Marx) and the inefficiency of the new regime which many thought had committed the greatest crime in all history, the abolition of private business and the profit motive.”                                                                                                      (George Seldes in On To Riga, from Tell The Truth And Run)


“In the world’s evolution from a monkey to a Soviet commissar, you must go through a Labour government.”                                                                                                                             (Karl Radek, quoted by George Seldes in Lenin at the Fifth Anniversary, from Tell The Truth And Run)


“One day Cesare brought me back the answer, ‘Lenin says’, he reported, ‘that a two-party system is the luxury of an old established regime. He has thought seriously of having   two-party system in Russia some day. “But two communist parties, of course,” he added, smiling pleasantly.

Once he said to Cesare: ‘I am not a great man.’ It was said in utter simplicity and sincerity, a matter of fact with no invitation of contradiction.”                                                                                                   (George Seldes in Lenin at the Fifth Anniversary, from Tell The Truth And Run)


“’Bolshevism,’ he [Archbishop Vedyensky] said, ‘ fulfils the mission of Christ.’ The Congress then passed a resolution which began with the phrase: ‘Capitalism is one of the seven deadly sins.’”                    (George Seldes in Expulsion from Soviet Russia, from Tell The Truth And Run)


“Russia is in the midst of a stupendous social experiment. For the first time a political government has dedicated itself to the service of the common people. It has pledged itself to redress the wrongs of the toiling multitudes who have been exploited and oppressed, and to establish on earth a human brotherhood where peace, enlightenment, and comfort shall dwell.

We may not approve of all the means and methods that have thus far been employed; nevertheless I do not see how a Christian Church can do other than give itself sincerely, earnestly, and wholeheartedly to a movement that has so large a Christian ideal in view … The representatives of the Methodist Episcopal Church are here to help … Tell us what you want and so far as our resources will permit, it shall be done.”                  (Bishop Edgar Blake in Moscow, quoted by George Seldes in Expulsion from Soviet Russia, from Tell The Truth And Run)


“The determination of the Soviet Government to prevent the truth getting out of Russia is so strong that all diplomatic and quasi-diplomatic pouches are being searched now…

Under the censorship which now prevails in Moscow, news dispatches for foreign newspapers are absolutely limited to what the Soviet censor considers friendly to the Soviet Government, or harmless, and the world is being limited to such doctored dispatches to form its opinion of what is happening in Russia.”                (main story in Paris edition of Chicago Tribune, April 30, 1923, quoted by George Seldes in Expulsion from Soviet Russia, from Tell The Truth And Run)


“The apathy of the people is enough to make every statue leap from its pedestal and hasten the resurrection of the dead.”                                                 (William Lloyd Garrison, quoted by George Seldes in Conclusion: News, Facts, Perhaps the Truth, from Tell the Truth And Run)


“Soviet Russia today is merely a vast bureaucracy maintaining itself in power – perpetuating itself – seeking world dominion for no other reason than its own continued existence. There is no longer a devotion to the ideal, the emancipation of the working peoples of the world; in fact, under the present Soviet system the people do not count.” (‘Any movement in history which attempts to perpetuate itself becomes reactionary,’ Tito once told Dedijer.)”                                                                                                                                        (Marshal Tito, quoted by George Seldes in Conclusion: News, Facts, Perhaps the Truth, from Tell the Truth And Run)


“In pursuing something that is clearly a failed economic model, we’re doing just what the Communists did in Soviet Russia.”                                                                                                                                                           (Nick Farage of UKIP, quoted in the New Yorker, October 22)


“At dinner a few days after getting back, the topic of conversation is the changing culture of the UK. The headmaster of one of the nation’s top prep schools tells me the following story: he had been in his office one day when there was a knock at the door and his son, a strapping chap in his twenties, dropped in for a surprise visit. Delighted, and proud of his son, the headmaster decided to show him round. Under a tree near the playground sat a group of the younger boys. The head bounded up to them with his son in tow. ‘Now boys, I have someone very special to introduce to you. Can any of you guess who he is?’ The boys looked up and the brightest of them replied, with no hint of insolence or irony: ‘Your partner, sir?’”                                                                                                                                                         (Justin Page, in the Spectator, October 13)


“Xenophilia is as English as Stilton.”                                                             (Philip Mansel, in review of Artemis Cooper’s Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, in the Spectator, October 13)


“To distribute resources evenly will only ruin the Great Leap Forward. When there is not enough to eat, people will starve to death. It is better to let half the people die so that other half can eat their fill.”                                                                 (Mao Tse Tung to Li Xiannian, quoted from The Great Famine in China 1958-1962, edited by Zhou Xun, in the Spectator, October 13)


“My rule is, if it flies, floats or fornicates, rent it. It’s cheaper in the long run.”                                                                                            (British publisher Felix Dennis, quoted in NYT, October 22)


“The eventual platform [of the 1972 Democratic convention] was probably the most liberal one ever adopted by a major party in the United States. It advocated an immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, amnesty for war resisters, the abolition of the draft, a guaranteed job for all Americans and a guaranteed family income well above the poverty line.”                                                                                                                (from obituary of George McGovern in NYT, October 22)


“There are 10 million of them [Jews] there [in the USA] who came from the Soviet Union and new Russia, and they are all prejudiced against our country. All of them influence public opinion, the lawyers, the newspapers, and that is where the intensity of the anti-Russian mood comes from.”              (nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, quoted in NYT, October 23)


Him and that Anthony Blunt

“I do remember Mabel Dodge saying to her guests one night when I was there and [Walter] Lippmann left early: ‘That man will never lose an eye fighting on the barricades.’”                                                                                   (George Seldes in Witness to a Century, Chapter 5)


“Ludendorff in 1919, before my arrival, gave the American correspondents in Berlin an interview. He said, ‘We must abandon not only Jehovah but Christ and Christianity, which have reduced the once strong and powerful people to whimpering and humility. We must go back to worshipping Wotan.’”                  (George Seldes in Witness to a Century, Chapter 16)


“’When we were going through French customs,’ Willie [Seabrook] told me, ‘the guard insisted I open all my luggage – others opened only one piece. He looked at my handcuffs, chains, whips and other paraphernalia.

Voilà,” one inspector shouted to the others, ‘un gangster Américain.”

“Monsieur”, I protested, ‘je ne suis pas gangster Américain, je suis sadist.” I explained the ways of the Marquis de Sade..

Comprends, comprends,” said the chief inspector, who had now taken over. “Entrez, entrez. Bienvenue [sic] en France.”’”             (George Seldes in Witness to a Century, Chapter 33)


“No one in the 1930s dared attack American fascism.”                                                                                                                                      (George Seldes in Witness to a Century, Chapter 37)


“In the year when the main subject was Fascism, Dorothy [Thompson, wife of Sinclair Lewis] would say, ‘If I had to choose between Communism and Fascism, if there were no democratic choice, I would prefer the lesser evil, Communism, but I would choose Fascism. I hate it but I would have to choose it, because I have a son, I have a family, I have a home, and I am afraid everything would be lost under Communism. I would want Fascism only as long as I lived and brought up my son.’”                               (George Seldes in Witness to a Century, Chapter 37)


“There is only one form of government which cannot produce goof writers, and that system is fascism. For fascism is a lie told by bullies. A writer who will not lie cannot live and work under fascism.”                                                                        (Ernest Hemingway, at the second Writers Congress in New York, 1937?, quoted by George Seldes in Witness to a Century, Chapter 40)


“Nevertheless, what Chicote had done [opening a bar in Madrid that ‘liberated’ women] was about as revolutionary as tearing the veils from the faces of Arab women – which is far from completed – or knocking fezzes off Mohammedan heads.”                                                                                                                                        (George Seldes in Witness to a Century, Chapter 60)


“Benn Steil, a senior fellow and director of international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, said readers can see the British Empire ‘disintegrating before your eyes,”’ in the transcript. ‘The Indians are so vociferous that the British are ripping them off. The British are both furious and mortified that their colony would do this to them,’ he said, describing a dispute over debts with the colonies.”                                                                                                                               (from report on the discovery of Bretton Woods transcripts, in NYT, October 25)




“Take this beautiful passage from a letter to his sister Isabel, after she had been dropped by the man she had expected to marry and felt her hopes for her life reduced to ashes: ‘We’re all People, before we’re anything else. People, even before we’re artists. The role of being a Person is sufficient to have lived and died for.’”                                                                      (Charles Isherwood, in review of Penelope Niven’s Thornton Wilder: A Life, in NYT, November 1)


“In a democratic nation state, the voters can throw out the people who have made the mess. In an entity like the EU, the central bureaucracy imposes upon suppose democracies the representatives of its own disastrous decisions. For all their defects, nation states can be so constituted that their governments reflect the broad wishes of their people.”                                                                                                             (Charles Moore, in extract from the Margaret Thatcher Lecture delivered to the Centre for Policy Studies, in the Spectator, October 27)




Religious News

“Hurricane Sandy is hitting 21 years to the day of the Perfect Storm of October 20, 1991 [sic]. It appears that God gave America 21 years to repent of interfering with His prophetic plan for Israel; however, it has gotten worse under all the presidents and especially Obama. Obama is 100 percent behind the Muslim Brotherhood which has vowed to destroy Israel and take Jerusalem. Both candidates are pro-homosexual and are behind the homosexual agenda. America is under political judgment and the church does not know it!”                                                                                                       (Chaplain John McTernan, from story on Huffington Post, October 29)

“God is hastening his work, and he needs more and more willing and worthy missionaries to spread the light and the truth and the hope and the salvation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to an often dark and fearful world.”                                                    (Mormon elder Jeffrey T. Holland, who serves on the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, quoted in NYT, November 3)


“Federal unemployment benefits are one of the most effective stimuli we have.”                                                                                                                                                    (Christine L. Owens, the executive director of the National Employment Law Project, quoted in NYT, November 3)

“If the I.R.S. taxes their [the wealthiest 1%’s] away and distributed it to everyone else, it still won’t help the economy. Without empowering producers and services in our economy, most of this redistribution will be spent buying sustaining innovations – replacing consumption with consumption.”                                                            (Clayton M. Christensen, in NYT, November 4)


“Telling a whole people that they have to commit collective suicide to save the debt is not a policy.”                                                                                            (Zoe Kostantopoulou, a member of Parliament from the leftist Syriza opposition party, quoted in NYT, November 8)


“We must combine centralism on the basis of democracy, with democracy under centralized guidance so that we will create a political situation in the party in which we have both centralism and democracy, both discipline and freedom, both unity of will and personal ease of mind.”                                                                                               (Cai Mingzhao, congress’s spokesman and deputy head of [China’s] Communist Party propaganda, quoted in NYT, November 8)


“If we do it [illegal espionage] and did it, and the Stasi did it, we may wonder what the difference was between us? The answer is that liberal democracies are not the same as Communist dictatorships which regarded liberal states as their enemy. Western liberal democracies are states in which political power can pass peacefully from one group or party to another. This stems from a fundamental belief in the human and civil rights of all citizens to seek to influence the governance of a liberal democracy. Indeed, the need for open political debate to allow power to change hands makes democracies vulnerable.”                                                                                                                                  (Anthony Glees, in The Stasi Files, Chapter 4)


“By acting in this way, the Stasi’s British assets did not simply wound their unknowing targets (some of whom, had the plans worked as intended, would themselves have been recruited), they betrayed an open society to a closed one, doing damage to the national interest of a state which stood foursquare for the liberal values and human rights the Stasi had always sought to destroy.”                                                                          (Anthony Glees, in The Stasi Files, Chapter 15)


“Once again, this means that under British law it is perfectly lawful for British citizens to work for a foreign intelligence agency which regards Britain as hostile but is not at war with us.”                                            (Anthony Glees on the 1989 OSA Act, in The Stasi Files, Conclusion)


“You and your colleagues made an enormous contribution to the preservation of peace, to security, and to strategic parity.”                                                                                    (Alexander Putin in telegram to George Blake on his 90th birthday, reported in NYT, November 12)


“There are not a lot of journalists who would want to be involved in an authorized biography. If you get too close to your subject, you are nothing more than a transcriber, and readers should know that.”                                (Carol Felsenthal, biographer, quoted in NYT, November 14)


“Even a minimal syllabus could achieve the respect for the difference between fact and myth that Americans are so reluctant to acknowledge. What is unspeakable is to accept in the name of choice that Christian academies may teach complete nonsense in place of biology and Afrocentric schools absurdities in place of African history.”                                                                                                    (from Alan Ryan’s Liberal Anxieties and Liberal Education, p 12)


“Today, all manner of unqualified persons, assisted by dubious schemes of affirmative action, attend institutions that charge excessive amounts of money for the inattentive and reluctant efforts of professors who construct eccentric courses, based on no visible principle beyond the accommodation of assorted culturally separate groups ranging from angry lesbians to angry African-Americans.”              (from Alan Ryan’s Liberal Anxieties and Liberal Education, p 154)


“Today we would not define as an ethical scheme a code of morality that could legitimate injustice — racial or class. Yet so it was defined in the Old South. In the South, honor was inseparable from hierarchy and entitlement, defense of family blood and community needs.

All these exigencies required the rejection of the lowly, the alien, and the shamed. Such unhappy creatures belonged outside the circle of honor. Fate had so decreed.”                                                                                                                             (Bertrand Wyatt-Brown, author of Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South, quoted in his NYT obituary, November 16)


“Self-respect was the Evil Genius of half the world’s trouble-makers – of the sectarians and the militants, the nationalists and the imperialists, the captains of industry and the moral reformers.”                                                                        (Louis MacNeice in The Strings Are False, Chapter 19)


“With my heart and my guts, I lament the passing of class. Of class, property and snobbery.”                                                                                                                                    (Louis MacNeice, in I Crossed the Minch, quoted by Jon Stallworthy in Louis MacNeice: a Biography, p 218)


“I am afraid, Mr. MacNeice you as an Irishman, cannot escape from your blood, nor from our blood-music that brings the racial character to mind.”                                       (F. R. Higgins to Louis MacNeice, quoted by Jon Stallworthy in Louis MacNeice: a Biography, p 256)


“When a man collects his poems, people think he is dead. I am collecting mine not because I am dead, but because my past life is.”                       (Louis MacNeice in Foreword to Poems 1925-1940)


“To have been acquainted with Lukács personally, to have studied his writings, is to confront – this time on the plane of individual behaviour – the paradox of the co-existence, of the interpenetration, of the highest intellectual distinction and of moral terrorism. What enables a man to illuminate Goethe in the morning and to be an out-rider of Stalinism in the afternoon? In the studies of Martin Heidegger (the deepest  reader of poetry and language in our time) and of Anthony Blunt…. I come back to this antimony. It haunts me.”                                                                                                          (George Steiner, in his Introduction to George Steiner: A Reader)


“I have not written the book we still require on the tragic intellectual epilogue to Jewish messianic humanism and utopian criticism, the book we need on Prague-Vienna-Frankfurt as the inner capitals of the twentieth century. I have not written the very necessary book in freedom and censorship in the arts, on the servitude which comes of total permissiveness.”                                                                          (George Steiner, in his Introduction to George Steiner: A Reader)


“The simple yet appalling fact is that we have very little solid evidence that literary studies do very much to enrich or stabilize moral perception, that they humanize. We have little proof that a tradition of literary studies in fact makes a man more humane. What is worse a certain body of evidence points the other way. When barbarism came to twentieth-century Europe, the arts faculties  in more than one university offered very little moral resistance, and this is not a trivial or local accident. In a disturbing number of cases the literary imagination gave servile or ecstatic welcome to political bestiality. That bestiality was at times enforced and refined in the culture of traditional humanism.”                             (George Steiner, in To Civilize our Gentlemen)


“A senior Oxford philosopher of impeccable shrewdness, himself a member of the charmed circle of British mandarin socialites, has said to me outright that the Blunt story, as told to the world at large, is in many respects a fabrication. It was devised and revealed precisely in order to lay a smoke screen behind which other eminent characters in the drama could scuttle to safety. Crucial points are ‘in fact the exact opposite of what you have been led to believe.’”                                                                                                           (George Steiner, in The Cleric of Treason)


“The archivist, the monographer, the antiquarian, the specialist consumed by fires of esoteric fascination may be indifferent also to the distracting claims of social justice, of familial affection, of political awareness, and of run-of-the-mill humanity.”                                                                                                                                                     (George Steiner, in The Cleric of Treason)


“From Dreyfus to Oppenheimer, every burst of nationalism, of patriotic hysteria, has focused suspicion on the Jew. Such statistics probably have no real meaning, but it may well be that the proportion of Jews actually implicated in ideological or scientific disloyalty has been high. Perhaps because they have been vulnerable to blackmail and clandestine menace, because they are natural middlemen with an ancient ease in the export and import of ideas. But more essentially, I imagine, because they are pariahs whose sense of nationality has been made critical and unsteady. To a man who may tomorrow be in desperate flight across his own border, whose graveyard may be ploughed up and strewn with garbage, the nation-state is an ambiguous haven. Citizenship becomes not an inalienable right, a sacrament of Blut und Boden, but a contract which he must re-negotiate, warily, with each host.” (George Steiner, in A Kind of Survivor)


“Nationalism is the venom of our age….. Every mob impulse in modern politics, every totalitarian design, feeds on nationalism, on the drug of hatred which makes human beings bare their teeth across a wall, across ten yards of waste ground.”                                                                                                                                                            (George Steiner, in A Kind of Survivor)


“The workers of the world did not unite; they tore at each other’s throats. Even beggars wrap themselves in flags.”                                                            (George Steiner, in A Kind of Survivor)


“Sprung of inhumanity and the imminence of massacre, Israel has had to make itself a closed fist. No one is more tense with national feeling than an Israeli. He must be if his strip of home is to survive the wolf-pack at its doors. Chauvinism is almost the requisite condition of life.                                                                                                   (George Steiner, in A Kind of Survivor)


“To shoot a man because one disagrees with his interpretation of Darwin or Hegel is a sinister tribute to the supremacy of ideas in human affairs – but a tribute nevertheless.”                                                                                        (George Steiner, in Marxism and the Literary Critic)


“Faith in Marxism and a belief in socialism and communism is the political soul of a Communist and the spiritual pillar that allows a Communist to withstand any test. To put it more vividly, ideals and convictions are the spiritual calcium of Communists, and if these ideals and convictions are missing or irresolute, then there is a lack of spiritual calcium that leads to soft bones.”        (Xi Jinping, China’s Communist Party chief, quoted in NYT, November 20)


“The buildings that the Church of England maintains are not just symbols, therefore: they are part of our national identity. They define our spiritual condition even in the midst of scepticism and unbelief. They stand in the landscape as a reminder of what we are and what we have been; and even if we look on them with the disenchanted eyes of modern people, we do so only by way of recognising that, in their own quiet way, they are still enchanted. Hence those who strive to preserve them include many who have lost the habit of Christian worship, and even atheists who detest that habit, and yet see out churches as a part of our ‘heritage’, like the village streets around them and the landscape in which they are set. Indeed, our churches now rely for their survival more on their beauty than their use: but in doing so, they testify to the profound usefulness of beauty.”                          (Roger Scruton in the Spectator, November 10)


“Distortion of the national, historic and moral consciousness more than once led the whole state to weakness, collapse and loss of sovereignty.”                                                                                                       (President Putin, according to Rossiyskaya Gazeta, quoted in NYT, November 21)


“A law like this is just not going to work. I am an old person. I was 25 years old when Stalin died, and I spent my childhood and youth in a totalitarian state. Stalin, in order to create a totalitarian state, brought down an iron curtain around the country. And we’ve just joined the World Trade Organization. So why did we join the World Trade Organization? How are we going to be able to fence ourselves off in a globalized world? No, Putin was born too late.”                                                    (Lyudmila Alexeyeva, 85, a Soviet-era dissident who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, commenting on the ‘Foreign Agent’ law in NYT, November 22)


I knew that!

“An article on Tuesday about the birthrate of stars in the universe misstated the rate of star production today. The current consolidation rate of ‘starstuff’ into stars is about a million tons per minute per cubic light-year, or half a trillion tons per year per cubic light-year. It is not a million tons per year per cubic light-year.’ (from item in Corrections in NYT, November 22)


“Life is terminal, death is not. I think death is just another stage of our development. I honestly believe that we don’t just disappear. We don’t go into a void. I think we’re part of a big energy curtain, an energy wave, in which we are like molecules.”                                                                        (actor Larry Hagman, from a 1980 interview, reported in his NYT obituary, November 25)


“Efraim Halevy, former chief of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, said that Israel had three alternatives in Gaza: to destroy Hamas, leaving the enclave to its more radical groups; to reoccupy the area, which it evacuated in 2005; or to start a process where the hostile environment is slowly reduced by preventing the influx of new weapons into Gaza while allowing Hamas to increase its civilian political role.

‘After the elections are over, Israel will have to sit down and ask itself, “Where do we go from here?’” Mr. Halevy said in an interview.  ‘If you aim for deterrence rather than trying to destroy your enemy,’ he added, ‘that means you accept his legitimacy, I think.’”                                                                           (from NYT, November 25: last sentence was excised from on-line version)


“Life-writing calls for any number of dubious gifts: A touch of O.C.D., a lack of imagination, a large desk, neutrality of Swiss proportions, tactlessness, a high tolerance for archival dust. Most of all it calls for an act of displacement. ‘To find your subject, you must in some sense lose yourself along the way,’ is Richard Holmes’s version. There may well be something parasitic, pathological about the business, which involves peering unapologetically into other people’s medicine cabinets. Certainly it’s an excavation, a resurrection, a hallucination. It also happens to be a vacation, an oasis for the self-involved.”                                                                                                              (from Stacy Schiff’s The Dual Lives of a Biographer, in NYT, November 25)


“We all have selective memories, and discussions with participants about events which took place thirty to thirty-five years ago are bound to carry severe limitations. Churchill himself once observed that ‘memories of the war may be vivid and live, but should never be trusted without verification’, and Sir Llewellyn Woodward, the official historian of British foreign policy in the Second World War, once observed that ‘the memories of persons who have held positions of power tend … to be unreliable … they nearly always exaggerate and antedate their own importance, forget the number of their mistakes, overrate their won foresight.”                                                                           (from Preface to Britain and European Resistance 1940-1945)


“Malcolm Muggeridge, who served in the wartime Secret Intelligence Service, once noted that ‘secrecy is as essential to [SIS] as vestments and incense to a Mass, or darkness to a spiritualist séance’. The cult of secrecy is one of the rituals in a wider sociodrama whereby powerful and informal elite groups exercise and protect their influence in British society. George Simmel, the sociologist, pointed out that the ‘purpose of secrecy is above all protection. Of all protective measures, the most radical is to make oneself invisible.’ Secrecy is maintained less to secure the safety of the sate than to protect those who rule it from the scrutiny of the rules, and helps perpetuate the hierarchical structure of British society in the age of democracy.’”                                                          (from Preface to David Stafford’s Britain and European Resistance 1940-1945)


“I am dying. I can feel it, but what am I dying for?” (final lamentation of cartoonist Saul Steinberg, from review of his biography, Saul Steinberg, by Deirdre Hall in NYT, November 25)


“The BBC and the Church of England are two rather similar institutions, both designed for the comfort and consolation of modest, well-meaning Englishmen who don’t like to be shaken about or threatened by anything disagreeable or jarring.”                                                                                                                                              (Alexander Chancellor, in the Spectator, November 17)


“I was brought up in the Church of England, and although I don’t think I ever believed, I was perfectly prepared to attend irregularly and contemplate my spiritual failings. But there is now no place for quiet, thinking non-believers who are prepared to conform. What is to become of those of us who have the religious temperament but not the faith?”             (from letter received by Alexander Chancellor from ‘a woman in Lincolnshire’, quoted in the Spectator, November 17)


“By far the most interesting motif in The Human Factor is Greene’s suggestion that both Roman Catholicism and espionage provide an instrument of truth and solace which neither Protestantism nor secular rationalism (its fated offspring) can match. There must be eavesdropping upon the soul; there must be occult listeners empowered to chastise and console….

Like Kierkegaard, Greene knows that the loneliest of men is he who has no secret – or, more exactly, who has no one to whom to betray a secret.”        (George Steiner, in God’s Spies)


“I had my first inkling of this [a decisive complicity] when visiting the Soviet Union some time after Stalin’s death. Those whom one met spoke of their survival with a numbed wonder that no visitor could really share. But at the very same moment there was in their reflections on Stalin a queer, subtle nostalgia. This is almost certainly the wrong word. They did not miss the lunatic horrors they had experienced. But they implied that these horrors had, at least, been dished out by a tiger, not by the paltry cays now ruling over them. And they hinted that the mere fact of Russia’s survival under a Stalin, as under an Ivan the Terrible, evidenced some apocalyptic magnificence or creative strangeness of destiny. The debate between themselves and terror was an internal, private one. An outsider demeaned the issues by overhearing it and responding too readily.”                                                                         (George Steiner, in Under Eastern Eyes)


“But he [a minor Hungarian official] also said that Koestler’s name stood high on a very short list (it also included Silone) of those whom the Soviet authorities so loathed that they might come after them even in Budapest. His safety could not be absolutely guaranteed. The K.G.B. had a way of crossing borders. As Koestler and I walked back to the house, under a tumult of stars and in the clear mountain air, I said to him that to be on the list seemed to me a greater distinction than either a Nobel or a Fellowship of the Royal Society.”                                                                                                                                     (George Steiner, in La Morte D’Arthur)


“Did Victorian pundits need less sleep than we do? Consider the facts. They tramped miles over brake and through briar before breakfast or after high tea. At either or both of which collations they would consume flitches of bacon. Grilled kidneys, silver-sides of Scotch beef, a garland of mutton chops, kippers and bloaters in silvery shoals, and half a dozen cavernous cups of Indian tea. They sired more offspring than Jacob the Patriarch. They breathed Homer and Catullus, Plato and Vergil, Hold Scripture and Bradshaw’s Railway Guide through their stentorian nostrils. When they voyaged, it was either through Turkestan with a walking-stick and one change of flea powder or to the spas of Europe with a pride of steamer trunks, portable escritoires, tolled-leather vanity cases, and mountainous hampers. The Sunday sermons that they orated or listened to ran anywhere up to two mortal hours. A second service, with an average of eleven hymns, four homilies, and assorted benedictions, followed in the afternoon. After which there would be Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words” at the piano, a reading out loud of two or three of the shorter epics by Clough or Tennyson, a charade featuring General Gordon’s celebrated descent of a staircase at Khartoum in the grinning face of death.

Between which accomplishments our sages, scholars, boffins, and reformers would learn languages, sciences, literatures, and crafts at a rate and with a mastery to make lesser generations cringe. Victorian memories ingested epics, Biblical family trees, the flora of Lapland, Macedonian irregular verbs, Parliamentary reports, local topography, and the names of third cousins with tireless voracity. Victorian wrists and fingers wrote, without typewriters, without Dictaphones, to the tune of thousands of printable words per diem. Histories of religious opinion in six volumes, lives of Disraeli ditto, twelve tomes of The Golden Bough, eighteen of Darwin, thirty-five of Ruskin, Trollope had composed his daily stint of seven thousand deftly placed words before the professional working day had even begun. Dickens could produce a quire at a time with the printer’s devil puffing at the door. But this was only the half of it; for after the public leviathans came the private immensities – diaries that run to thousands of minutely crowded pages, personal reflections, maxims, and exercises in pious meditation straining the hinges of marbled notebooks folio size, and, above all, letters. Letters of a length and deliberation of which we have no present imagining. Letters in the literal thousands and ten thousands: to cousin Hallam on the Zambezi, to the Very Reverend Noel Tolpuddle concerning the thorny points raised in his nine addresses on infant perdition, letters of credit and discredit, epistles to every member of the family, to the beloved across the street. Written by hand. Very often with a first draft and a manuscript copy (no carbon, mo Xerox). With scratchy pens. In the yellowish, straining aura of gaslight. In rooms getting chillier by the hour.”                                                                                                                              (George Steiner, in Give The Word)






“He gladly left human evolution for others. ‘It’s not a field for gentlemen,’ he said. ‘Those anthropologists are savage.’”                                                                                                                                                         (from the obituary of paleontologist Farish Jenkins, in NYT, December 1)


“Never be guided by a man who has a grievance.”                                                           (Archibald Clark Kerr to Bob Boothby, as related by Donald Gillies in Radical Diplomat, p 18)


“They are only interesting when stark naked: dressed they are the worst of bores.”        (Archibald Clark Kerr on the Swedes, according to Donald Gillies in Radical Diplomat, p 79)


“The King [Ghazi of Iraq], who had been educated in England, retained a childish love of pillow-fights, and as often as possible indulged in bouts with the male courtiers. King Ghazi had modified the rules of his hobby to suit his adult tastes, with the inevitable result that during one such bout with a favourite footman he managed to contract syphilis. This he passed on to the queen, much to her understandable distress, since she had so far escaped unscathed from her own diversions, which had also all but exhausted the male coterie in the royal household.”                                                                                                (from Donald Gillies’s Radical Diplomat, p 82)


“’When the Queen Mum died, at one hundred and one,’ Roger Ailes recalls, ‘I said to Rupert,     “ She had a good run.”’ Murdoch replied. ‘I’d call it an early death.’”                                                                                                  (from Ken Auletta, in the New Yorker, December 10)


“In death as in life, his reputation hinged on one inescapable word: austerity.”                                                                                                                    (from ODNB entry on Stafford Cripps)


“But the time is ripe for all schoolchildren to understand the historic peopling of Britain, ….. when, among Britain’s prominent figures, the Queen has English, Scottish, Danish and German ancestry, as well as a Greek consort; the retiring Archbishop of Canterbury was born in Wales to a Welsh-speaking family; the Archbishop of York has Ugandan heritage; Britain’s prime minister has some German-Jewish ancestry; the leader of the opposition has a Polish-Jewish father born in Belgium; the deputy prime minister has a Dutch mother and a Spanish wife; London’s mayor has some Turkish ancestry; the Governor of the Bank of England has a Finnish-speaking Swedish wife; and the secretary of state for work and pensions has a Japanese great-grandmother – and when, among the wider population, over 350 mother tongues are spoken within Britain today.”                                                                                                                               (Penelope J. Corfield, from Our Island Stories, in History Today, November 2012)


“If the [UKIP] party mantra is, for example, ending the active promotion of multiculturalism I have to think about that.”                                       (Joyce Thacker, Rotherham’s Strategic Director of Children and Young People’s Services, quoted in the Spectator, December 1, 2012)


“Don’t say that as a boy your grandmother used to read to you, unless at that stage of her life she really was a boy, in which case you have probably thrown away a better intro.”                                                                                                                      (Christopher Hitchens, in Mortality, p 50)


“If I convert it’s better that a believer dies than that an atheist does.”                                                                                                                                  (Christopher Hitchens, in Mortality, p 91)


“Addressing the Modern Churchmen’s Union in 1937 when the Stalinist terror was at its fiercest, he [Joseph Needham] declared: ‘the conception of the utmost cultural autonomy for different peoples, side by side with economic union, is  a grand one and we owe it largely to the genius of no other than Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin.’”                                                                                                                                                             (Richard Deacon, in The British Connection, p 124)


“In 1933 Bernal, who had become a pioneer in X-ray crystallography, writing in the Cambridge Left, said that there was ‘no way out through political democracy. The end to strive for can only be the establishment of a classless socialist world state, the only state to which an intellectual could give unqualified allegiance. The USSR is alone among the nations moving on.’”                                                                                             (Richard Deacon, in The British Connection, p 125)


“I am not a member of any political party. I support Russian economic socialism because I think it is a better economic order and nearer Christianity than the capitalist economy of the West.”                                                                                                                                       (The Reverend Dr. Hewlett Johnson in 1948, quoted by Richard Deacon, in The British Connection, p 244)


“Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years.”                                                                                                               (Benjamin Netanyahu, quoted in NYT, December 20)


“You know, Gladwyn, I don’t mind the upper class. As a matter of fact I even rather like the upper class. They may be an abuse but they are often, as like as not, intelligent and amusing. Of course I love the lower class. It’s my class and it’s the backbone of this country. But, Gladwyn, what I frankly can’t abide is the middle class. For I find them self-righteous and narrow-minded.”  (Ernest Bevin to Gladwyn Jebb – Lord Gladwyn, from the latter’s Memoirs, p 177)


“The idea that we could remain the centre of a political and economic Commonwealth was ‘pure nostalgia’, and if the Atlantic Community enthusiasts really thought that we could maintain ourselves as a medium-sized individual state by ignoring the Europeans (whom we did not understand) and playing cricket with the Fuzzy Wuzzies (whom we did) they would have to think again.”                                                                                          (Lord Gladwyn at the April 1964 meeting of the Königswinter group in Christ Church, Oxford, from his Memoirs, p 350)


“I must confess (I told a rather bored House of Lords) that sometimes in the small hours of the night I have a nightmare. Perhaps it is a nightmare which some of your Lordships occasionally share. It is the idea of the emergence, soon perhaps, of a rather down-at-heel, but quite complacent Britannia living ‘on tick’ under the nuclear umbrella of the United States: indulging in quite unrealistic day-dreams; keeping up all her ancient traditions, such as tea-breaks and restrictive practices, football pools, meiosis and the Changing of the Guard; massaging her battered pride by maintaining a few bombers East of Suez; playing the Lady Bountiful with inadequate means in Indonesia, and indeed in Africa; and, in a word, trying to fill the role of a World Power without either the will or the capacity to do any such thing.”                                                 (Lord Gladwyn, describing his speech of 22 December 1963, from his Memoirs, p 351)


“Pooling people in race silos is akin to zoologists grouping raccoons, tigers and okapis on the basis that they are all stripy.”                                                                                                                                                (editorial writer for Nature Biotechnology in 2005, quoted in NYT, December 25)


“I sympathize with a complaint of A. J. P. Taylor, reviewing another politician’s story, that ‘every autobiographer now tells us what was happening in the world instead of what he knew at the time. His own experiences and contemporary records are, therefore, submerged in a narrative drawn from published sources.’”                 (from Hugh Dalton’s Memoirs, 1931-1945, p xv)


“There was no unemployment in the Soviet Union. That was the biggest claim of all that Russian planners could make, in the early thirties, to visitors from the capitalist West, from Britain, or the United States, or Germany, those lands of the despairing dole queues. Here there was no ‘industrial depression’, no ‘inescapable ‘trade cycle’. No limp surrender to ‘the law of supply and demand’. Here there was an unceasing industrial upsurge, based on a planned socialist economy. They had an agricultural problem, we knew, in the Soviet Union. But so had we in the capitalist West, where primary producers had been ruined by the industrial slump.

We knew that in Soviet Russia there was no political freedom.”                                                                                                                               (from Hugh Dalton’s Memoirs, 1931-1945, p 28)


“’In the capitalist countries,’ Molotov had said, ‘in each industrial unit there is a plan, but outside there is general anarchy. In the Soviet Union there is a general plan, but inside each industrial unit there is anarchy.’”                               (from Hugh Dalton’s Memoirs, 1931-1945, p 29)


“The British people, in the mass, differ from many others in their distrust of logic and distaste for doctrine; their cult of the practical and their gift for compromise; their sense of humour; their sense of what they call ‘fair play’, a term notoriously hard to translate into foreign languages; their capacity, gained through long practice, for all forms of self-government, including the art of running every sort of voluntary organisation; their dimness of class-consciousness, alongside their tendency to snobbishness. To talk or act, in politics, as though these qualities were not widespread among us is to court rebuff.”                                                              (from Hugh Dalton’s Practical Socialism for Britain, 1935, related in his Memoirs, 1931-1945, p 58)


“Ian Mackay in the News Chronicle [wrote] that my book was the answer to Cripps, and the difference between us could be summed up ‘in an amusing story which I once heard Dr. Dalton tell. He had a dream in which he saw himself at a Labour Conference moving a resolution to nationalize the Solar System. This was at first regarded as a brilliant idea, but towards the close of the debate a Socialist Leaguer got up at the back of the hall and moved an amendment to add the words ‘and the Milky Way’.”                        (from Hugh Dalton’s Memoirs, 1931-1945, p 59)


“As for the Fifth Column, it isn’t in the workshop; it’s all in the Upper Middle Class.”                                                            (Ernest Bevin, quoted in Hugh Dalton’s Memoirs, 1931-1945, p 341)


“In November, 1940, I had an interchange of Minutes with the prime Minister on the morality of war. I had drawn his attention to an intelligence report that the Albanians had been poisoning the food of the Italian invaders. He replied expressing the hope that our agents had no responsibility for this. I reassured him, but added that ‘the weapons used in “total war” vary with tradition. In Albania, with its semi-oriental background, these weapons seem to include poisoning the enemy’s food. In Western Christendom they include withholding food, unpoisoned, from the enemy, either by blockade or by air and submarine attacks on food ships. Is there any moral difference?’ He replied: ‘It is the difference between treachery and war.’”.                                                                                                   (from Hugh Dalton’s Memoirs, 1931-1945, p 371)


“There are many secrets in us, in the depths of our souls, that we don’t want anyone to know about. There’s terror and repulsion in us, the terrible spot that we don’t talk about. That place that no one knows about — horrifying things we keep secret. A lot of that is released through acting.”  (Charles Durning, in Parade interview, referring to episode where he killed a young German soldier with a rock in hand-to-hand combat, from his NYT obituary, December 26)


“The Great Recession, which continues despite a technical ‘recovery’, can be viewed as the third great economic collapse of the industrial era, following the ‘Long Depression’ of the 1870s-1890s and the Great Depression of the 1930s. The earlier two episodes of global economic crisis witnessed setbacks for liberalism, democracy and free trade and the flourishing of illiberal nationalism, racism, imperialism and beggar-thy-neighbour economics. While slow growth combined with national rivalries have not yet engendered anything like the autarkic economics of the earlier two crises, it would be premature to predict the survival of present levels of financial and economic integration in a world that wobbles between feeble recoveries and renewed recessions.”                                                                                                                                                    (Michael Lind, in The Age of Turboparalysis, in the Spectator, December 15/22)


“The real Christmas – the Christmas of a Christ Child adored by ox and ass, by humble shepherds and by the Magi with their presages of grief and crucifixion, celebrated with joyful Masses from Monteverdi to Rossini and with Gospels in the language of King James – is an essential and treasured part of my cultural heritage, and it matters not at all that belief now eludes me, for the beautiful liturgy speaks of fundamental human truths and, in the right places, the music touches that part of a man that he may think his soul. The nullifidian jollifications of a Christmas that is not even pagan or animist are contemptible, nowhere more so than on the television screen.”                                             (Brian Sewell in the Spectator, December 15/22)


“You get nearer to the shore and you can actually, for the first time, not just make out the dim insubstantial cliff, but you can see the little houses and cars moving.”                               (Jonathan Miller, likening the approach of death to a Channel crossing, quoted by Sam Leith in a review of his biography, In Two Minds, by Kate Bassett, in the Spectator, December 15/22)


“Mendacity is the immortal soul of Communism. They cannot get rid of it. The gap between reality and the façade is so enormous that the lie had become a sort of normal, and natural, way of life.”    (Leszek Kolakowski, from Michael Charlton’s The Eagle and the Small Birds, p 133)


“As the 19th-century neurologist Jean Martin Charcot once remarked (and Freud recorded): ‘Theory is good, but it doesn’t prevent things from existing.’”                                                                                      (Siri Hustvedt in NYT review of Oliver Sacks’ Hallucinations, December 30)



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