breaking news from the world of ideas

by Giles Fraser
Tuesday, 3
September 2019

William Blake: my kind of madness

Earlier this month, a new gravestone was unveiled in Bunhill Fields. Here is one of those little and hidden patches of London, set between Old Street and the City, where the dead lie as sentinels guarding quiet open space against the encroachments of glass towers, technological progress and furious money-making.

Originally a place reserved for the burial of dissenters, it is a perfect resting place for William Blake: poet, visionary and professional Londoner. Gathered around his grave were a curious gathering of bearded clerics and heavy metal rock stars. And with a new exhibition of his paintings set to open at Tate Britain next week, we are invited to “rediscover him as a visual artist for the 21stcentury”. ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Monday, 2
September 2019

Will Pakistan open talks with Israel?

From Israel

The air hangs hot and heavy over this Tel Aviv morning. An attack by Hezbollah on the northern border is already yesterday’s news – no one was killed. An Israeli election is a few weeks away, and minor skirmishes between Israel and her enemies is regarded, by some at least, as a way for the Netanyahu government to remind voters of the importance of their security agenda.

But the more interesting speculation here is that, over in Pakistan, Imran Khan is giving licence to the highly state-regulated Pakistani press to speculate on the recognition of the state of Israel. What was once a taboo subject is now being openly discussed. This is a bold move by Khan, not least because he has often been on the receiving end of anti-Semitic propaganda, having once been married to Jemima Goldsmith who – though a convert to Islam – had Jewish family. But undeterred, the Pakistani media has apparently been given free rein openly to discuss the subject of Israel. “Why can’t we openly debate pros cons of opening direct and overt channels of communication with the State of Israel” tweeted veteran Pakistani journalist Kamran Khan last week. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Monday, 2
September 2019

East Germany is fertile hunting ground for populists

Saxony and Brandenburg are neighbouring states in what used to be East Germany. In regional elections over the weekend support for the national populist AfD surged in both states, putting the party in a strong second place (to the Social Democrats in Brandenburg and Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats in Saxony).

Fears of a populist victory in one or both elections didn’t quite come to pass. But that doesn’t mean that the established parties should breathe a sigh of relief. Support for the AfD has surged despite party’s constant in-fighting. One wonders what a more a more capable leadership might be able to achieve – think of a German Viktor Orban and shudder. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Monday, 2
September 2019

Vernon Bogdanor: it’s not the Government’s fault

Last Friday, constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor delivered his verdict in an article in the Guardian on the Government’s proroguing of Parliament. He sounded distinctly supportive of the move, and the piece was widely shared among members of the Cabinet and other prominent Brexiteers.

We caught up with him over the weekend at the Big Tent Ideas Festival to see if he stood his ground in the wake of the controversy. Spoiler alert: he does.

He doesn’t think it’s a constitutional crisis and he puts the blame squarely on those MPs who didn’t support the Theresa May’s deal at the time. Punchy stuff. ...  Continue reading

by Ed West
Friday, 26
July 2019

Who is Josh Hawley and what does he believe in?

Is Missouri Senator Josh Hawley for real? So asks the New Republic in a somewhat critical analysis of the 39-year-old Republican senator and his political hinterland.

Hawley is famously an opponent of big tech and, partly for this reason, is touted as the figurehead for post-liberalism, a political philosophy-cum-movement that’s been around for several years on both sides of the Atlantic. As Missouri’s attorney general, he launched an antitrust probe against tech leviathan Google in 2017 and in just six months in the Senate has been responsible for five bills aimed at Big Tech. He previously told The Washington Post, “My great worry … is an economy that works for a small group of billionaires and then everybody else gets their information taken from them and monetized.” That sounds pretty post-liberal to me. ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Thursday, 18
July 2019

Going Home with Wendell Berry

I have such a full-on man-crush on Wendell Berry that I pounce on anything written about him. This article in the New Yorker, titled “Going Home with Wendell Berry” was indeed a pleasure to read – yet coming out in the wake of those disgraceful Trump “go home” tweets – I felt an unusual bat-squeak of discomfort at Berry’s characteristic celebration of place.

The conversation goes as follows, the interviewer first:

A lot of people now come of age in places that feel like no place—a kind of vague American landscape, sculpted in part by corporations—which occasionally makes me wonder if homesickness, as a human experience, is itself on the verge of extinction.Well, part of manners used to be to say to somebody you just met, “Where you from?” And I quit asking it because so many people say they’re from everywhere or nowhere.
- Amanda Petrusich and Wendell Berry

The interview ranges over a range of subjects: the importance of limit, the contrast between those who think the purpose of life is self-realisation and those who think it is self-forgetfulness, and Berry’s admiration of the Amish. All great stuff. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 17
July 2019

Could economics explain rising birth rates?

Fertility rates are pretty low across the developed world (and beyond) – below the replacement level almost everywhere. But in some countries they’re especially low.

Germany and Italy are (or rather were) the stand out examples – with totality fertility rates of less than 1.5 children per woman. But according to The Economist, the Germans appear to be reversing the decline:

Credit: The Economist

“By the early 1980s East and West Germany had a combined fertility rate lower than anywhere in the world except Denmark and the Channel Islands. Far from exploding, Germany’s population seemed doomed to rapid decline. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Monday, 17
June 2019

David Brooks: “Social freedom is not a good feeling”

The NYT columnist discusses how to make life – and politics – more meaningful

When politicians start talking about the meaning of life they often come unstuck. From Gordon Brown’s aborted British values project to Cameron’s doomed Big Society agenda, when our political leaders stray away from economics into questions of what gives a person a sense of belonging or purpose, they often sound absurd, and sometimes sinister. Generally they fail. But since the vote for Brexit, these questions have returned once again into the political mainstream. It seems they can’t be ignored.

David Brooks, perhaps the New York Times’ most famous political columnist, addresses them in his latest book, The Second Mountain. With it, he has turned from the political to this more personal, spiritual territory. The experience of his own mid-life crisis, he says, has given him insight into both individual and societal renewal – how we can identify and climb a second ‘mountain’ of life after losing heart in the first. ...  Continue reading