breaking news from the world of ideas

by Freddie Sayers
Wednesday, 16
October 2019

Hassan Damluji: How to build a global nation

I sat down with author and Deputy Director of the Gates Foundation Hassan Damluji to discuss his new book, The Responsible Globalist.

His central idea is that globalists need to learn from nationalists about the importance of ideas of belonging and identity. The only way they will succeed, he argues, is by replicating those same feelings at a global level.

What I really like about Hassan’s book is that he takes seriously the complaints of populist voters over the past few years – for example, he thinks individual countries must be able to control their own pace of immigration. He doesn’t demonise them as dark regressive forces that need to be put back in their box. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Monday, 14
October 2019

Prince Charles hints at a blueprint for his reign

When Prince Charles becomes King, one of the more dramatic ways in which the monarchy will change overnight is that it will once again become a court of ideas. Charles has an active intellectual life, and is surrounded by favourites and thinkers in different disciplines. In this he is quite unlike his mother, who is known to prefer more down to earth pursuits.

Leading the British delegation to the Vatican over the weekend to celebrate the canonisation of John Henry Newman, Prince Charles also authored a considered essay about the new saint in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

The event itself confirms the sphere of public life where he feels he can be most active: outside politics, but defending the role of faith in public life (see the 2008 controversy over his job title), tradition and heritage (see his foundation’s focus on traditional arts and architecture). In other words, things that matter but don’t make the news. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Monday, 7
October 2019

Is Joker meant to be Donald Trump?

I worry that amid the political furore around Joker, the violent backstory of the iconic Batman character, people might be missing the obvious.

The controversy, understandably, has been about whether the incel-like character irresponsibly glamorises gun violence (for what it’s worth, I think it does).

But what struck me more is how revealing Joker is of Hollywood’s attitude to the American political situation. This adaptation of the character who has been around 80 years is distinctly ‘timely’ – you can imagine the studio discussions about ‘relevance’ in the year following Donald Trump’s election, when Todd Phillips was writing the script. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Friday, 4
October 2019
Seen Elsewhere

Urban Guy versus Flyover Man

OK, so the device of an imagined dialogue between a typical ‘urban guy’ and a typical ‘flyover man’ is a bit silly. But today’s David Brooks column in the New York Times has the ring of truth about it.

‘Urban guy’ is beside himself about Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanours, but ‘flyover man’ isn’t interested in the impeachment story. This passage struck me as particularly on point:

- Flyover Man to Urban Guy
I get it. Trump said some stupid crap on a phone call. But are you going to undo my vote for that? I wouldn’t even rank this among the top 25 worst things he’s done, and I’m a supporter of his!

Listen, do you remember those months just after the election when people like you were briefly curious about people like me? You sent your reporters out on wild safaris into the hinterlands to interview Trump voters. You read “Hillbilly Elegy.” Back then it was fashionable to say that Trump is just a symptom of real problems in America. He’s the wrong answer to the right question. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Thursday, 3
October 2019

Tory MP: kleptocrat “bling” oligarchs should be unwelcome in London

Tory MP John Penrose – the PM’s “anti-corruption advisor” – made a splash at the Conservative Party conference by criticising the capitalist system in such strong terms that members in the audience complained that he sounds like a Labour MP. One quote in particular caught our eye:

You will see an incredible number of flash cars being driven by oligarchs who have got their money by stealing the GDP… They have swiped it. They are now crime lords, drug lords or kleptocrats and they have repatriated it to Britain and we have let them come into the country and they are living the high life, a really bling lifestyle, and they are some of the nastiest people on the planet and we are giving them houseroom.
- John Penrose

This is an interesting and under-explored issue. The Left tend to steer clear of it because it sounds anti-foreigner, and the Right steer clear because it sounds anti-wealth. It’s politically interesting because it’s a symptom of the liberal world order right in the heart of the cities that are supposedly the beneficiaries of it – quite apart from the ‘left-behind’ towns and people that have been the focus since Brexit. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Tuesday, 1
October 2019

Watch: UnHerd goes to Tory Conference

We found a quiet(ish) spot at Conference in Manchester to discuss whether, beyond Brexit, the Tory Party are really answering the demands of Brexit voters…

by Freddie Sayers
Monday, 30
September 2019

The politest man in parliament defends rude words

Last night at Tory Party Conference, Michael Gove was interviewed by Iain Martin at a Policy Exchange event. To watch him in action is to witness all the current contradictions of his party.

On the one hand, Gove is the embodiment of the conservative instinct; famously polite, his sentences are always elegant, his choice of words always precise. In a discussion about the constitution he repeatedly described himself as a “small c conservative”; the supreme court judgement “repays thoughtful reading” – like Alexander Hamilton’s essays at the founding of the American republic, he said, much deeper thought needs to go into any constitutional invention. Caution must always prevail. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Friday, 27
September 2019

Watch: John McDonnell takes a swipe at Ed Miliband

This was quite a moment. First up at the NEF event at the Labour Party Conference this week was Ed Miliband, who gave a lively speech in which he bent over backwards to be complimentary to the leadership and the importance of what “John” was announcing about a four day week.

Next up came John McDonnell himself, who didn’t exactly return the favour.

Looking straight at Ed Miliband, Labour leader until four years ago, seated metres away from him in the middle of the front row, he said:

When you think how, as a movement, only a few years ago how cowed we were, how willing to accept austerity, how willing to accept the ideas of neoliberalism as common sense – just how much over the last four years we’ve been able to reject all that and develop our own ideas, but do it with not self confidence, almost into a cockiness quite honestly.
- John McDonnell

Ouch. You could feel the temperature drop, and Ed left shortly afterwards.

Brutal as McDonnell’s assessment was, it hurts because it’s true. I never accepted the narrative, pushed by many at the time, that Labour lost the 2015 election because it went too far to the Left; in reality, Ed Miliband’s braver instincts lost out, and Ed Balls’ acceptance of the framing of the deficit debate by the Tories lost them their opportunity to offer something different. The final offer was messy and weak as a result (and the election of Corbyn shortly afterwards proved the appetite for something different). ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Thursday, 26
September 2019

Hannah Arendt on Boris Johnson

On Newsnight last night, Paul Mason quoted the philosopher Hannah Arendt on “the alliance of the elite and the mob”, (see 39:55 here) with reference to Boris Johnson’s incendiary language in the House of Commons.

I looked up the relevant passages from her book The Origins of Totalitarianism. He’s right that her description of the shredding of respectable norms is highly pertinent to today, but she is much more nuanced in understanding the appeal, as well as the danger, of that atmosphere. She doesn’t put it down to cynicism but to an initially righteous instinct to burst through a culture of “fake sincerity, fake culture, fake life”: ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Wednesday, 25
September 2019

Mark Thompson: the BBC is the answer to Brexit

OK, he didn’t say exactly that, in his speech last night to the Royal Television Society, but that was the implication of the New York Times CEO’s argument. It’s an interesting one.

He began by asserting that the root causes of the current Brexit impasse were cultural just as much as political:

If you claim that the concerns which led to the Brexit debacle relate to political rather than this kind of cultural sovereignty, my reply is that it’s impossible to separate the two, that national self-expression – recognising your language, your life experience, your community in the prevailing culture – is not just an important element, but a necessary pre-condition for national self-determination and a sense of individual and collective agency.

A society which loses its shared culture loses much of its sense of distinctive identity. A society in which different communities and groups can no longer listen to and come to understand each other’s pasts and presents shouldn’t be surprised if mutual incomprehension and division are the result. If you doubt that any of this connects to big politics and national well-being, you’re not paying attention.

- Mark Thompson

He then goes on to suggest that the BBC, as the only media player that can possibly fulfil the role of protecting a distinctly British cultural voice and projecting that voice internationally, should really be seen as the ally of Brexit voters, not their enemy. He even supportively quotes JM Keynes’ famous “death to Hollywood” remark, before calling for more investment in the BBC to maximise its cultural power: ...  Continue reading