Tag Archives: Essay

Individuality in the Age of Heresy

The question of individuality is an important one. What makes us individuals may not be similar in fundamental terms to what makes us people, but it is an essential component of personhood. Being different, being unique – these are facts to treasure, and there is something redeeming in being able to notice such things in others and in oneself. This uniqueness ought to extend beyond the intimately personal and into other areas of life; the right to act individually, without coercion of compulsion, is a vital one. And the ability to go about one’s business uninterrupted and unmolested is a fundamental aspect of living in a free society. The same can be said for the ability to think individually, to harbour different thoughts, some of which will be entirely unique. Even if they are incorrect or offensive to the current orthodoxy, the right to do so must be protected; and it follows that the same rights should be extended to speech. Continue reading

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Samuel Johnson and the Vanity of Human Wishes

Samuel Johnson, the Dr Johnson of national memory, is primarily known for his wit. His epigrams are hardly common currency, but they do have a certain appeal – and a certain constituency. Who has not heard ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel’ or ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’ (a particular favourite of Boris Johnson) deployed in conversation by someone altogether too keen on appearing intelligent? Continue reading

Notions of Nationalism

The formation of nations is not a concept which is too far from public consciousness in the West today; we are certainly aware of the challenges and opportunities associated with ‘nation building’, both in the immediate post-war situation in the 20th century and in the current century. In addition, the question of colonial powers creating nations – all too often portrayed as simply drawing lines on the map in the final rapid dash towards decolonisation – is something that cannot be avoided. Continue reading

The Appeal of Unreality

Recently, and for the first time, I read a copy of Lewis Carroll’s famous book for children Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Its pleasure was undimmed by my (relatively) advanced age, and the whole experience was genuinely delightful. I immediately read Through the Looking-Glass, its successor. Continue reading

The Monumental Beauty of Soviet Art‏

Soviet architecture and ‘socialist realism’ more generally have a poor reputation. These movements and their products are disdained by many, and deprecated in artistic terms. But each, despite their associations with totalitarianism and mass murder, can instead be seen as testament to the power of beauty, even in its monumental form. And all of this can be true despite the designs and intentions of the less than pleasant people who held political power in the Soviet Union. Continue reading

William Gerhardie: The Beauty of Futility

Certain novels and novelists remain unknown for a reason. They lack the basic skills required to hold the attention of readers; they are too pedestrian ever to say anything of value; they lack originality, verve and everything else which can make the written word transcend the ordinary. In rare instances, however, obscurity is simply undeserved, but it has still come to pass. In one particular case, that of William Gerhardie, this fate is – at least initially – somewhat surprising. He had a fortuitous start: his work was acclaimed by critics and esteemed by fellow writers (he was famously praised by Evelyn Waugh); and his work, perhaps more importantly of all, had real vitality, genuine energy and poise. Michael Holroyd highlights the following endorsement: ‘“For those of my generation,” wrote Graham Greene, “Gerhardie was the most important new novelist to appear in our young life.”’ Continue reading

Stalin the Terrible

The century just gone was, in Robert Conquest’s telling phrase, a ‘ravaged’ one. It bore witness, as did millions of people, to some of the most extreme political conditions, most devastating wars and most evil figures in the history of the world – and I believe that word is justified. But more evil, more extreme and more ravaged by war than any other state and nation was the Soviet Union, a creation of the early 20th century which did not survive its close. If anything stands to symbolise those hundred years – more so than the Nazi regime which lasted for a mere twelve – that particular entity, Ronald Reagan’s ‘evil empire’, should do it. Continue reading