Daniel Hannan “bestrides the Atlantic like a majestic combination of Winston Churchill and Piers Morgan,” says Boris Johnson on the dust jacket of this book. The precise form of that disquieting chimera troubled my mind as I began to read the Introduction. But because Boris is an astute appraiser, judicious classicist and discerning patron, I settled down to what he promises will be a feast of anthropological scrutiny, philosophical insight, political polemic and epigrammatic anecdote.
And that is exactly what you get – a narrative survey of a thousand years of evolving liberty expressed in page after page of clear-headed contemplation and premium prose. Hannan’s essential research question is: ‘What made the Anglosphere miracle possible?’, and the answer, in short, is to be found in the peculiarly English conception of liberty which incrementally defined an island nation, helped shape an empire and still interrogates the world. We obviously weren’t the first to free captives: that dispensation is found throughout classical antiquity. But the English and then the British were foremost in the conceptualisation of the principles of self-determination – individual rights, private property and personal liberty – which led inter alia to the common law, jury trials, religious pluralism, representative democracy, free markets, the rule of law and the abolition of slavery. Continue reading →
“You haven’t even got a degree, you’ve got the shakes, and you think you’re God’s gift to teaching,” grunts Algy Herries, Headmaster of Bamfylde Boys’ School, in the TV adaptation of RF Delderfield’s First World War novel To Serve Them All My Days. “I take my hat off to you, I really do. You’ve got your work cut out, but there’s nothing like starting with ambition,” he reassures.
I watched this TV series while I was taking my O-levels, and read the book soon afterwards. It is, to my mind, one of greatest novels of the 20th century. The aspiring teacher is Second Lieutenant David Powlett-Jones, a nervy coalminer’s son from South Wales who has been invalided out of the army with shell-shock. His passion is history; his vocation – he eventually discovers – is pedagogy. Continue reading →
I know more than a few bloggers who have, over recent years, received visits from the police following spurious allegations of Islamophobia, homophobia or racism. Certainly, there are some deeply unpleasant blogs and bloggers out there, but increasingly those who refuse to conform to all the foundational precepts of the equality zeitgeist, or dare to utter a dissonant word against the prevailing orthodoxy, are not merely ‘swivel-eyed’, but often, in the eyes of zealous law-enforcers, just a few increments away from the extremes of political expression. And that expression is, of course, ‘extreme right’. Continue reading →
Of all the cities of antiquity, Pompeii is quite possibly the best known. “It was lost, and is now found; it was destroyed, and is now preserved.” Frozen in time, it provides a unique
window on Roman cultural and intellectual life, and holds a mirror up to so many of our own attitudes, features, gestures and obsessions. Continue reading →
“Due to the continued violence and civil unrest in Damascus and Aleppo, our Churches there have been closed down for the unforseeable future. Your prayers for the congregations and the people of Syria are sincerely requested and greatly appreciated. Please pray for peace throughout the Middle East.”
So reads the website of All Saints Episcopal Church in Damascus. While Christians here fret over issues of gender identity and sexuality, those across North Africa and the Middle East are confronted by a momentous crisis that is nothing short of existential. It is not merely that churches are shut, pews empty and pulpits silent; their schools are being bombed, homes ransacked and businesses burned down. From Algeria in the west to Iran in the east, Christians are being kidnapped, terrorised, tortured, raped and murdered. They are being systematically ‘cleansed’ from the very lands where Jesus preached of the coming kingdom, and the Apostles first carried the gospel of salvation. They have returned to the first-century era of intolerable persecution, martyrdom and the coming apocalypse. Continue reading →
A woman can’t possibly conduct this, bemoaned some. It’s a bit like asking one to reverse-park their Ford Ka into a not-so-tight spot. And an American? Good grief, it’s the end of civilisation as we know it, lamented others. It is as though the spirit of Wallis Simpson had returned from Baltimore to purloin the Crown of England. The Proms are international, sure, but the Last Night is a peculiarly British affair, and at all costs we must preserve this sacred institution from the BBC’s interminable trendy ‘modernising’ and its lefty notions of political ‘progress’. Continue reading →
There is perhaps no more urgent a task for the Conservative Party in the present era than that of renewing democracy – to revive its foundational raison d’être; to resurrect its national framework of membership; and to reform its mode of engagement with party members. A political party that is immune to policy progression and insensitive to the beliefs of its core support-base ceases to be a movement for renewal: indeed, it rapidly becomes a fading testimony to past triumphs and a decaying monument to ancient glories. Reformation leads to enlightenment and revival – in politics as well as theology. Continue reading →
You’re at home, enjoying a summery Saturday afternoon with the bees and nasturtiums on the patio, when the doorbell intrudes. You’re greeted by an impeccably courteous, fresh-faced police officer from the Norfolk Constabulary – ‘Dedicated to this neighbourhood’, according to their website – and he’s come to speak to you because there’s been a complaint.
Not, you understand, about the troubling number of burglaries, rising car thefts, incidences of property vandalism or madhouse music accompanying balmy barbeques. No, someone has reported you for sending them two gospel tracts by email, one entitled ‘Christ Can Cure – Good News for Gays’; and the other ‘Jesus Christ – the Saviour we all need’. Some people might have simply deleted them both and directed all further correspondence from you to ‘spam’, but these people got offended. Very offended. The allegation against you is that of ‘homophobic hate’. Continue reading →
‘Hetero gentile @Adrian_Hilton thinks it’s ok to misrepresent @stephenfry as comparing Putin Russia to holocaust… Imagine being paid to smuther opposition to homophobia. We don’t need bigoted straight people telling us what to do thanks… kindly remove yourself from telling people who suffer an oppression you do not, to shut up about it.’
This was one of the more judgmental but eloquent rants I received from Stephen Fry’s Twitter hordes following my perfectly reasonable question as to why a ban on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics is an ‘essential’ response to Putin’s anti-gay legislation, but no such ban is warranted on the arts. Another of them helpfully advised: ‘Please go jump in a lake. I dare say you can swim, but it might just wash off the stench of smug self-righteousness.’ One of Fry’s more intelligent and articulate followers called me a ‘c**t biscuit t**t’, whatever one of those is. Continue reading →
A free main-evening Prom in the Royal Albert Hall. What a great idea. And before anyone bleats about the outrageous cost of elite arts subsidy to the poor BBC licence fee payer, no musicians were paid in the making of this Prom. In fact, I am assured that no money exchanged hands at all. Tickets were allocated on a first-come-first-served basis, and they flew out of the box office faster than semi quavers in an allegro. This was real orchestral outreach – making music available to anyone and everyone. Sir Henry would have been proud. Continue reading →