The Sleepwalkers 

I read Christopher Clark’s 2012 book, The Sleepwalkers, in the Spring earlier this year (here’s a link to Thomas Laqueur’s review in the LRB) and the centenary of the British declaration of war–which is where the book ends its narrative–seems a good day on which to recycle a couple of remarks and post them here.

I thought it was an excellent book, though I was a bit surprised by the title as I made my way through it. The imagery of sleep-walking led me to expect Clark to be arguing that the powers of Europe somehow drifted into a major conflict, without ever quite intending to. But what I was repeatedly struck by were the sheer number of quite extraordinarily belligerent actors that I encountered along the way, and I ended up a bit surprised that continental war didn’t break out much earlier than 1914. My favourite of these was Conrad von Hötzendorf, chief of the Austrian general staff, who in 1913 recommended war against Serbia to his superiors on no fewer than twenty-five occasions.

For general magnificence, though, it is French diplomat Paul Cambon takes the prize:

Underpinning Cambon’s exalted sense of self was the belief–shared by many of the senior ambassadors–that one did not merely represent France, one personified it. Though he was ambassador in London from 1898 until 1920, Cambon spoke not a word of English. During his meetings with [Foreign Secretary] Edward Grey (who spoke no French), he insisted every utterance be translated into French, including easily recognized words such as ‘yes’. He firmly believed–like many members of the French elite–that French was the only language capable of articulating rational thought and he objected to the foundation of French schools in Britain on the eccentric grounds that French people raised in Britain tended to end up mentally retarded.

Clark has now ended up as the new Regius Professor at Cambridge–well done him–which means that whereas a few years ago both the Oxbridge Regius chairs in History were held by people called R. Evans, now they are both held by Australians, with three out of these four straightforward Germanists, and the fourth a scholar of the history of Habsburg Europe.

Filed under: academics, cambridge, central europe, europe on Monday, August 4th, 2014 by chrisbrooke | 1 Comment

Penguin Height Charts 

The splendid Cath Levett, who does graphicksy things for tehgraun, recently produced this excellent height chart, which she called ‘possibly the most satisfying graphic I’ve ever produced':

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This of course immediately reminded me of this earlier attempt at the same kind of thing, from The Times in 2007, which has featured before at the Virtual Stoa:

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Good height charts are terribly satisfying.

Filed under: animals, british politics, newspapers on Monday, August 4th, 2014 by chrisbrooke | No Comments

Podcasts, vel sim. 

Since I seem to have fallen back into a habit–goodness knows how long it will last–of posting here in a low-key way, here are three links to pages through which you can get to the audio files of talks I’ve given over the last few months and years that have found their way on-line, in case anyone is interested.

17 February 2011: ‘Why secular liberals need Roman Catholics (and Marxists)‘, a talk at ‘Republicanism and Religion: a colloquium in memory of Emile Perreau-Saussine’, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.

19 February 2014: ‘Towards a new, gendered history of property-owning democracy‘, a lunchtime Sussex University Lecture in Intellectual History.

15 May 2014: ‘Bees, Ants and Beavers in European Political Thought‘, an informal talk given to the King’s College Apicultural Society in Cambridge.

Filed under: academics, beavers, c18, c19, cambridge, elephants, france, friends and family on Monday, August 4th, 2014 by chrisbrooke | No Comments

Winch on conversation 

Last week I mostly sat at home, watched books by Donald Winch that I’d ordered online pop through the letterbox, and then started to read them. And today I’ve discovered that his 1995 Carlyle Lectures, ‘Secret Concatenations: Mandeville to Malthus’, are available on the web, thanks to the St Andrews Institute of Intellectual History. So that’s my Sunday afternoon sorted out.

This is from the opening discussion of the first lecture [pdf] as, following John Burrow, he presents a view of intellectual history as ‘eavesdropping on the conversations of the past’.

An attractive feature of conversations is that we can continue them at the point where our predecessors left them. The only restriction I would place on such freedom, speaking as an intellectual historian, is that the conversations should be between interlocutors who were genuinely aware of each other’s existence and arguments. This rules out those encounters in which the historian acts as ominiscient host at a kind of celestial cocktail party at which those invited only speak to one another through the intermediation of the host — indeed, can only speak through the host because they had no common language in life. I shall appear to break this rule in one respect only, namely by posing some counter-factual questions of my cast in some crucial instances. In other words, having established that a genuine conversation was taking place, I shall sometimes seek to reconstruct what their responses might have been when more direct evidence is unavailable.

Interesting conversations are usually free from the coercive dualisms that tend to be an occupational hazard of much intellectual history devoted to political thinking. Whigs and Tories have long since been replaced by debating teams bearing more sophisticated labels such as contractarians and anti-contractarians, liberals versus classical republicans, civic humanists versus natural jurisprudentialists, and so on — to mention only those dualisms that are current among students of the period and authors I shall be considering. Narratives that purport to be dealing with past social scientific conversations often attempt to enforce another powerful dichotomy — between positive and normative propositions, between statements of fact and statements of value or rights. As already hinted, one of the negative conclusions I would like to emerge from these lectures is that none of my cast was foolish enough to allow their conversations to be constricted by these dualisms. That is something we have done to them in retrospect and for our own purposes, taxonomic or ideological.

Filed under: academics, c18, c19, oxford on Sunday, August 3rd, 2014 by chrisbrooke | 1 Comment

Marx contra Parsons (Protestant, not Talcott) 

This week I’ve been reading a bit of Malthus (hence the earlier post about ostriches), and some of the nineteenth-century replies to Malthus, and this footnote from Capital is quite something.

It’s long, so I’ve stuck it over the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: books, c19, leftwingery, religion on Saturday, August 2nd, 2014 by chrisbrooke | No Comments

The Guns of August 

On 28 June 1914, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist. On 31 July 1914, as discussed yesterday, Jean Jaurès was assassinated in Paris by a French nationalist. Exactly one hundred years ago, the great powers of Europe were beginning their mobilisation for war. Austria declared war on Serbia on 28 July, Russia and Germany declared war on each other on 1 August, Germany and France, ditto, on 3 August, and Britain entered the war the following day.

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Attention is rightly focused right now on the start of the war, but my post here concerns its end. The photograph, taken from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, is of my great-uncle Lt. Leonard Stopford Brooke‘s grave in Bad Bergzabern cemetery. He served in the RAF, and was reported missing on 25 September 1918, a few weeks before the Armistice in November. He was 23 when he died. I think he is one of only a very small number of British casualties from the war to be buried in German soil.

Brooke’s grave is the one on the left; next to him is 2nd Lt. Alexander Provan, from Glasgow, who was also in the RAF, and who was 19 when he was killed.

Filed under: friends and family on Friday, August 1st, 2014 by chrisbrooke | No Comments

Dead Socialist Watch: Special Centenary Edition 

It’s a long time since I kept the Dead Socialist Watch up to date. But today marks a special, and a sombre, anniversary, being the centenary of the murder of Jean Jaurès in Paris.

Here‘s a piece in today’s NY Times; here’s a cracking 1913 photo from today’s tehgraun; here’s a link to some of his political writings, in English translation; Le Huffington Post (!) has some pics of the café where he was killed; and there’s some bloggage (and more links) from Andrew Coates here.

In other socialists-and-the-First-World-War-related news, this should link to a new article–forthcoming in The Historical Journal–by one of the oldest friends of this blog, Marc Mulholland, on the split in the Second International, and jolly good it is, too.

Filed under: dsw, france on Thursday, July 31st, 2014 by chrisbrooke | No Comments

Malthus on the Possibility that Men might become Ostriches 

A writer may tell me that he thinks man will ultimately become an ostrich. I cannot properly contradict him. But before he can expect to bring any reasonable person over to his opinion, he ought to shew, that the necks of mankind have been gradually elongating; that the lips have grown harder and more prominent; that the legs and feet are daily altering their shape; and that the hair is beginning to change into stubs of feathers. And till the probability of so wonderful a conversion can be shewn, it is surely lost time and lost eloquence to expatiate on the happiness of man in such a state; to describe his powers, both of running and flying; to paint him in a condition where all narrow luxuries would be contemned; where he would be employed only in collecting the necessaries of life; and where, consequently, each man’s share of labour would be light, and his portion of leisure ample.

(T. R. “Bob” Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, 1st ed. [1798], pp. 11-12)

Filed under: animals, books, c18 on Sunday, July 27th, 2014 by chrisbrooke | No Comments

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today 

Filed under: friends and family, oxford on Thursday, February 6th, 2014 by chrisbrooke | 2 Comments

Dinner for One—in Lego 

Filed under: lego on Tuesday, December 31st, 2013 by chrisbrooke | No Comments

A Cat at Christmas 

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Filed under: tkb / tcb on Monday, December 23rd, 2013 by chrisbrooke | 3 Comments

“So-Called Refugees” 

The most celebrated article in the history of the Daily Mail is probably ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’, which appeared on 15 January 1934. But another that lives in the memory is ‘So-Called Refugees: Disgraceful Scenes on the Cheshire‘, from 3 February 1900. It’s best known for one quote–‘they hid their gold and fawned and whined’–but people rarely get to read the whole thing. So I’ve liberated it from the archive, and here it is.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: newspapers, tories on Monday, December 16th, 2013 by chrisbrooke | 1 Comment
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