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.
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.
Country music (including but not limited to Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Allison Krauss, and its relationship to suicide) — Marxism — The war in Iraq — The case the British government made for the war in Iraq — Media coverage of the war in Iraq — Differences between British and American media coverage of the war in Iraq — Dead socialists (including the question of whether or not Paul Sweezy was in fact dead: he wasn’t when we began corresponding on the question, but later he was) — Favourite novels — University admissions — Boycotts of Israelis — Blog technology issues — The paradox of democracy — Paul “The Thinker” Richards — Defamation law — French headscarves laws — International rugby partisanship — New Zealand and whether it is a dull country — Amnesty International — Italian anti-war demonstrations — Christopher Hitchens — The precise distance from Boulder, CO to Birmingham, AL — My Normblog Profile — The number of Red Sox supporters who have Normblog profiles — Where the Wild Things Are — Bob Dylan — Favourite films — A Mighty Wind — Nashville — Joan Baez — George W. Bush — The Hutton Inquiry — Lucio Colletti — Why the film Life is Beautiful is so terrible — The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — Mobile telephones — Cricket — The various ways in which my students used to pronounce the name “Geras” — Rock stars — Exam marking — Arnold Lobel and his Mouse Tales — The Butler report — The Campo de’ Fiori in Rome — Shakespeare plays — Obnoxious right-wing writers (including Mark Steyn and Andrew Bolt) — American airport security checks — Terrorist threats — Socialist Register — The 2004 US Presidential election — Baseball — Visiting Oxford — Thomas Hobbes — Roman libraries — Classical composers (especially Schubert) — Jokes about rational choice theorists — The Tour de France — Etienne Balibar — Favourite actors — The excellence of kittens (and, more generally, cats) — American street names — Wendy Cope — Footnotes in Capital — Umpiring — Passport applications — Margaret Thatcher’s resignation — Margaret Thatcher’s poetry — Jews for Justice for Palestinians — Chavez and anti-Semitism — Academic plagiarism — David Aaronovitch as marathon runner — x-RCP front organisations — Robert Wokler — Academic jobs — Musicals — Australia — The rubbish-collection regime in Oxford — Tony Judt — Whether or not the Euston Manifesto was part of a “common, hysterical defense of the Anglo-Dutch financial system, and their permanent right to loot the economies of the world” — American practices of memorialization on campus — Flooding in Oxford — The Beatles — Jerry Cohen’s valedictory lecture — The New Left Review — Loyalty oaths — A Dance to the Music of Time — Merton College, Oxford — Visiting Manchester — Critical opinions about America — Puzzles involving marbles — Traffic robots — The Beach Boys — Tony Blair’s relationship with God — Bernard-Henri Levy looking funny in photographs — Authorisations to use military force — John Stuart Mill on international intervention — The Eurovision Song Contest — Adam Smith — Nick Cohen’s views about torture — Alfred Hitchcock films — The thorny question of whether seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was on drugs — The problems of travelling between Oxford and Cambridge.
Biggest regret? In July 2004, Norm wrote, “Might you have an interest in watching a Test or some part of one with me?”, and I never took him up on the suggestion.
His final words of the correspondence, from the start of this month: “My own care from the NHS has been exemplary.”
The view from my window, a few minutes ago (apologies for crappy camera phone pic):
Listening to the radio here in Cambridge, the adverts all seem to be public health announcements of one kind or another, warning us against unprotected sex, too much salt in our soup, and driving our cars into fens. Has the recession meant that no-one’s buying radio spots at all, so government agencies (or whatever) are just block-booking them all on the cheap, or is Cambridgeshire a much, much more dangerous and debauched (and, I suppose, salty) place than I’ve been led to believe hitherto?
So I’ve been spending too much time recently reading things by and about Henry Sidgwick:
Most of Sidgwick’s close friends were gay; the best known is John Addington Symonds. This involved Sidgwick in a great deal of delicate counseling about publicity — what studies and poems to publish (or how to modify them to admit safer construals), what risks in private life to take, and, in the case of Symonds’s posthumous biography, based on his frank memoirs, what (massive) excisions to make so that emotional turmoil appears as religious doubt. At one point, the editor of the biography wrote to Sidgwick that “if I came to this book as an outsider I should only gather from the Davos pages indications of a man who made warm friendships with many people not of his own class”…