Friday, 16 December 2011

(Mis)Remembering Hitchens

Dead, I know he is often a bigot, and makes for terrible tv, but here he is, in great, late form. (And he also liked Luxemburg).

'Sartre is a bag of wind' - George Orwell (via Myrto)

Isle of Jura

Dear Fred,

You will have had my wire by now, and if anything crossed your mind I dare say I shall have had a return wire from you by the time this goes off. I shall finish the book, D.V., early in November, and I am rather flinching from the job of typing it, because it is a very awkward thing to do in bed, where I still have to spend half the time. Also There will have to be carbon copies, a thing which always fidgets me, and the book is fearfully long, I should think well over 100,000 words, possibly 125,000. I can't send it away because it is an unbelievably bad MS and no one could make head or tail of it without explanation. On the other hand a skilled typist under my eye could do it easily enough. If you can think of anybody who would be willing to come, I will send money for the journey and full instructions. I think we could make her quite comfortable. There is always plenty to eat and I will see that she has a comfortable warm place to work in.

I am not pleased with the book but I am not absolutely dissatisfied. I first thought of it in 1943. I think it is a good idea but the execution would have been better if I had not written it under the influence of TB. I haven't definitely fixed on the title but I am hesitating between NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR and THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE.

I have just had Sartre's book on antisemitism, which you published, to review. I think Sartre is a bag of wind and I am going to give him a good boot.

Please give everyone my love.


(Signed, 'George')

(George Orwell, letter to Frederick Warburg. October 22 1948. Adapted from

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Rosa Luxemburg to Matthilde Wurm

Looking forward to our next meeting, here's Luxemburg's famous rebuttal:

Dearest Tilde,
Received letter, card and biscuits-- many thanks. Don't worry, despite the boldness of your parry, even to the point where you declare war, I will remain as fond of you as always. I had to smile: you want to 'fight' me. Young lady, I sit tall in the saddle. No one has yet laid me low, and I would be curious to know the one who can do it. But I had to smile for yet another reason: because you do not even want to 'fight' me, and also you are more dependent upon me politically than you would wish to believe. I will always remain your compass, because your straightforward nature tells you that I have the most infallible judgement-- because with me all the annoying side issues are forgotten: anxiousness, routine, parliamentary cretinism, which cloud the judgement of others. Your whole argument against my watchword-- 'Here I stand, I can't do otherwise!'-- amounts to the following: Good, so be it, but the masses are too cowardly and weak for such heroism. Ergo, one must fit tactics to their weakness and to the axiom: 'Walk softly, and you'll walk safely.'
What a narrow historical view, my little lamb! There is nothing more mutable than human psychology. The psyche of the masses like the eternal sea always carries all the latent possibilities: the deathly calm and the roaring storm, the lowest cowardice and the wildest heroism. The mass is always that which it must be according to the circumstances of the time, and the mass is always at the point of becoming something entirely different than what it appears to be. A fine captain he would be who would chart his course only from the momentary appearance of the water's surface and who would not know how to predict a coming storm from the signs in the sky or from the depths! My little girl, the 'disappointment over the masses' is always the most shameful testimony for a political leader. A leader in the grand style does not adapt his tactics to the momentary mood of the masses, but rather to the iron laws of development; he holds fast to his tactics in spite of all 'disappointments' and , for the rest, calmly allows history to bring its work to maturity. With that, let us close the debate. I will gladly remain your friend. Whether, as you wish, I am to remain your teacher, that depends on you...
That you now have neither time nor interest for anything except the 'single issue,' namely the quandary of the party, is calamitous. For such one-sidedness also clouds one's political judgement; and above all, one must live as a full person at all times.
But look, Lady, since you so rarely get to open a book, at least read only good books and not kitsch like the 'Spinoza-novel' which you sent me. What do you want with this particular suffering of the Jews? The poor victims on the rubber plantations in Putamayo, the Negroes in Africa with whose bodies the Europeans play a game of catch, are just as near to me. Do you remember the words written on the work of the Great General Staff about Trotha's campaign in the Kalahari desert? 'And the death-rattles, the mad cries of those dying of thirst, faded away into the sublime silence of eternity.'
Oh, this 'sublime silence of eternity' in which so many screams have faded away unheard! It rings within me so strongly that I have no special corner of my heart reserved for the ghetto: I am at home wherever in the world there are clouds, birds and human tears...
Your R

(Rosa Luxemburg to Matthilde Wurm. [Written from prison, Wronke]. February 16 1917. Excerpt. Adapted from

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Meeting: 6 December

The reading for next month's meeting is Orwell's 'Notes on Nationalism' (1945) and Luxemburg's 'The Right of Nations to Self-Determination' from The National Question (1909).

You can access electronic versions of these texts by clicking on the links below:

George Orwell, 'Notes on Nationalism'
Rosa Luxemburg, 'The Right of Nations to Self-Determination'

As ever, you can pick up hard copies of the texts from my pigeon-hole.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

after Forster

September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can 
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.  

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again. 

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.  

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire 
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good. 

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love But to be loved alone. 

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife, I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb? 

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die. 

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

-W.H. Auden

Suggested Readings - further additions

Emma Goldman, 'The Psychology of Political Violence'/ 'The Tragedy of Woman's Emancipation'
Bertrand Russell, 'The Elements of Ethics'/ 'Justice in Wartime'/ 'The Ethics of War'/ 'Disintegration and the Principle of Growth'
Georges Sorel, from The Illusions of Progress/ Materials for a Theory of the Proletariat

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Keynes and Forster photocopies

You can now pick up photocopies for next week's meeting from my pigeonhole in the secretaries office - 6th floor, DHT.

Proposed additions

Thanks to all those who responded to our call. The latest additions to our (long, ambitious - but very exciting) list of possible-texts-to-read are:

Max Weber, "Politics as a Vocation"
Beatrice Webb, Wages of Men and Women: Should they be Equal?Labour and the New Social Order

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Meeting: 8th November 2011

Our first meeting will take place on 8th November - 5.30pm, room 2.05, 18 Buccleuch Place.

The reading for this meeting is:

Keynes, J.M. 'Am I Liberal?' [1925] The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes. Vol. 9: Essays in Persuasion. London: Macmillan, 1931. 295-306. 
--- 'Art and the State' [1936]. The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes. Vol. 28: Social, Political and Literary Writings. London: Macmillan, 1982. 341-349.
Forster, E.M. 'What I Believe' [1938]. Two Cheers for Democracy. London: Edward Arnold, 1972. 65-73

For photocopies of these texts, please e-mail me at

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Intellectual History Reading Group: 20th Century Political Thinkers (1900-1950)

This reading group focuses on a number of twentieth-century ‘political’ texts from the period roughly 1900-1950 – meaning texts from this period that directly discuss political ideas, have distinct political bearings, or simply lend themselves to political interpretation.

Our aim is to study such texts in an attempt to gain a broader understanding of the intellectual climate of this time. We hope to foster readings that relate the various ideas expressed in these texts to the literature and the general political, social and philosophical thought of the first half of the last century. We are interested in reading both prominent political thinkers (such as Keynes, Orwell, Gandhi, Churchill) and more ‘peripheral’ figures whose work remains largely understudied (for example, Storer and Gobetti). We are also interested in returning attention to lesser-known works by famous intellectuals – for example, Berlin’s “Soviet Beginnings” or “Generalissimo Stalin and the Art of Government” (actually from 1952). 

While, strictly speaking, there is no thematic unity, our selected texts will discuss one or more of the following ideas: democracy, liberalism, conservatism, syndicalism, socialism, individualism, nationalism, central government planning, violence, humanism and Progress. We may structure the reading group chronologically or thematically – moving, for example, from liberalism onto conservatism, socialism and so on.

We invite interested individuals to suggest readings that ‘fit in’ with the following texts (not all of which will be studied):

Isaiah Berlin, from Karl Marx: His Life and Environment/ “Three who Made a Revolution”/ “Soviet Beginnings”/ “Generalissimo Stalin and the Art of Government” (*1952).
J. M. Keynes, from Essays in Persuasion
Joseph A. Schumpeter, “Aptitude and Social Mobility”/ “Political Leadership and Democracy”
Carl Schmitt, “When Parliament Cannot be Sovereign”
Winston Churchill, “Speech on Rebuilding the House of Commons”
Michael Oakeshott, “Rationalism in Politics”
Edward Storer, Introduction to William Cowper
Piero Gobetti, from On Liberal Revolution
Irving Babbitt, from Rousseau and Romanticism/Democracy and Leadership
George Santayana, from Reason in Society (vol. 2 of Life of Reason)
Ludwig Wittgenstein, “Lecture on Ethics”
Karl Popper, from The Open Society and its Enemies
Hannah Arendt, from The Human Condition
Friedrich Hayek, from The Counter-revolution of Science: Studies on the Abuse of Reason
E. M. Forster, “What I Believe” (from Two Cheers for Democracy)
Karl Jaspers, “Society and the State” (from The Idea of the University)
George Orwell, “Why I Joined the Independent Labour Party”/“Notes on Nationalism”
Edward Carpenter, from The Intermediate Sex
Cyril Connolly, from Enemies of Promise
Gandhi/Tagore/Leonard Woolf/E. H. Carr – texts tbc

As we envisage it, the reading group will comprise of post-graduate students and members of staff from across the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. We will meet once a month beginning from November onwards, with the assigned reading expected to be around 30-40 pages. We hope to be able to provide .pdfs of each reading.

The first meeting will take place at 17.30 on 8th November in room 2.05, 18 Buccleuch Place. The reading for this first meeting is Keynes (extracts from Essays in Persuasion and Social, Political and Literary Writings) and Forster (extract from Two Cheers for Democracy). We will post the readings here shortly.