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Clive James at Last

Here is Orwell, writing in 1941 on H.G. Wells, then 75 years old: “is it not a sort of parricide for a person of my age (thirty-eight) to find fault with H.G. Wells? Thinking people who were born about the beginning of this century are in some sense Wells’s own creation.”

For “H. G. Wells” substitute “Clive James,” and for “thirty eight” substitute “fifty.” This done, the above passage’s first sentence becomes relevant to what the Sydney-born Clive James meant for most of us Australian scribes who emerged during the 20th century’s last two decades. Not merely did we long in vain for James’s mastery of English. We also could not imagine imitating any other Australian author.

What recent local models—outside the monstrously overcrowded Australian annex of the John Berryman bughouse—did we have then? Well, we had Patrick White, whose tortured poeticisms usually resembled the first prize in a Saul Bellow parody contest. We had Roman convert James McAuley, almost forgotten save by his friends, with most of his verse and polemics out of print following his premature 1976 demise. We had a half-dozen female novelists, ranging from gentility to grunge, who reversed the late Nora Ephron’s motto: they achieved more kudos for describing hangnails than their masculine colleagues could for describing cancer. At least all the above were recognizably literate, as was the Americanized and often virtuosic Robert Hughes, who died last year. A far more prevalent danger lay in aping ex-historian Manning Clark, whose fake-scriptural bombast and superhuman carelessness James himself epitomized in seven cruel words: “Let alone rewrite, he doesn’t even reread.”

Then along came James, aged 22 when early in 1962 he reached England. Surmounting initial setbacks, he did what few literary émigrés since T.S. Eliot have done: succeed in Oxbridge and London on his own terms. When you had recovered from his finest journalism’s impact, there was his finest rhymes’ impact to contend with. (Petrarchan sonnets, if you please, or the quatrains of his new translation of The Divine Comedy.) He was polyglot. He was routinely televised. He was prodigiously well-read. He was—and this factor’s charm should never be minimized—bald. Afforded every incentive to adopt Margaret Thatcher’s speech patterns, he still talked like a New South Wales coalminer. So he was, to his compatriots, fundamentally ours. And his wit was like nothing attained in his homeland before or since.

The locus classicus of James’s wit, and the James production which all should read if they read no other, is his Unreliable Memoirs: the best autobiography by an Australian (which will suggest thin praise) and among the best modern autobiographies by anyone (which should not). Its account of James’s conscription—his was Australia’s last pre-Vietnam draft—is so dazzling as to leave the much-lauded Good Soldier Schweik asleep in the sentry-box. Any editor will writhe in sympathy with the book’s account of James’s early days as a broadsheet proofreader:

writing is essentially a matter of saying things in the right order. It certainly has little to do with the creative urge per se. Invariably the most prolific contributors were the ones who could not write a sentence without saying the opposite of what they meant. One man, resident in Woy Woy [50 miles north of Sydney], sent us a new novel every month. Each novel took the form of 20 thick exercise books held together in a bundle. Each exercise book was full to the brim with neat handwriting. The man must have written more compulsively than Enid Blyton, who at least stopped for the occasional meal. Unlike Enid Blyton, however, he could not write even a single phrase that made any sense … It was my first, cruel exposure to the awkward fact that the arts attract the insane. They arrived in relays from daylight to dusk. For all the contact they had with reality they might as well have been wearing flippers, rotating bow-ties, and sombreros with model-trains running around the brim.

Alas, the law of diminishing returns mars Unreliable Memoirs’ four sequels. Nor is James inherently at home in fiction, except with Brrm! Brrm!, as sadistically perfect a novella as Saki could have furnished. Still, to dip into many of James’s non-fiction releases is to be enriched beyond the proverbial dreams of avarice.

On stoicism: We would like to think we are stoic … but would prefer a version that didn’t hurt.”

On the clueless antipodean abroad: “An Australian expatriate in London or New York has only to mention Proust or Rilke and he is greeted as an avatar, as if Paracelsus had come to town.”

On Schwarzenegger: “A condom stuffed with walnuts.”

On a photo of Bill Clinton shaking Nelson Mandela’s hand: “Both these men have highly outspoken wives, but only one knows where her husband has been every night for the last 26 years. Which one?”

On the notorious blank-faced, rifle-toting image of Dallas’s best-known killer: “Lee Harvey Oswald in an early attempt to avoid suspicion.”

On Josephine Baker: “She joined the Resistance during World War II, as distinct from other entertainers who joined it after the war was over.”

On Brezhnev: “Lenin had been injected with formaldehyde after his death. Brezhnev had apparently received the same treatment while still alive.”

(Improbably, Brezhnev made a lasting appeal to James’s critical imagination. His 1978 attack on Moscow’s official Brezhnev biography is among mankind’s greatest book reviews. It starts: “Here is a book so dull that a whirling dervish could read himself to sleep with it. If you were to recite even a single page in the open air, birds would fall out of the sky and dogs drop dead.”)

 

To James, early in the 21st century, something peculiarly bad happened which straightforward memento mori cannot explain. Perhaps the Internet must take the rap. The Internet’s knack for driving into near-extinction “the man of letters”—or, in the comparable 1934 phrase of composer-conductor-critic Constant Lambert, “the disappearing middlebrow”—appears infinite. Bernard Levin, Kingsley Amis: how authoritative their historiographical pontificating sounded in the 1980s, and how easy it is now to demolish most of their allegations after 20 minutes’ Wikipedia perusal.

James can no more be impugned for not predicting cyberspace’s intellectual impact than Passchendaele Tommies could be impugned for not predicting atomic weapons. Where he can more reasonably be queried is in post-Berlin-Wall geopolitics. Upon James, 9/11—rather than being the nightmarish but ultimately foreseeable shock that it was for anyone familiar with Washington’s Middle East policy, or lack thereof—seems to have left that particular spiritual concussion which Molotov-Ribbentrop once left upon Marxists. If 9/11 was James’s Nazi-Soviet disillusion, worse came with the October 2002 Bali bombings. They appear to have formed, for him, the non-Marxist equivalent of Khrushchev’s secret speech and Hungarian invasion combined.

Someday a profound sociological tome will analyze Homo Australianus’s public meltdowns in response to the Bali atrocity. They had no local precedent. Sure, we hated—rightly enough— Hirohito’s Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere for its disgusting crimes. (The emperor’s Australian prisoners included James’s own father, killed in 1945.) But our general cognition did not cease thereby. We had not then acquired what our education system’s subsequent progressive gurus imposed on us: the adamantine conviction that, for Aussies, death is optional. This conviction—as can be confirmed by the oafish mummery which characterizes Australia’s average post-Christian funeral rite—has become, above all since Bali, our cultural default mode.

Indonesia’s 1975–1999 extermination of 180,000 East Timorese inspired in the Australian masses total indifference—and in Australian Prime Ministers from Gough Whitlam to Paul Keating a discreet but active pleasure at having 180,000 fewer Catholics in the neighborhood to disturb the Western Enlightenment Project. Not so the Bali carnage. Over the slaying by terrorists of 88 roistering Australian nightclubbers—the other 114 victims were Lesser Breeds, and thus could be safely ignored—our rent-a-mobs set up the same institutionalized howling with which London’s schmaltzy sans-culottes and their junk-media enablers had greeted Princess Diana’s apotheosis. James had prided himself on channeling Homo Australianus, just as Walt Whitman had channeled Homo Americanus. Now Bali hurled the credo of “the Anti-Death League” (Amis’s terminology) back in Homo Australianus’s face.

Can you imagine James’s resultant anguish? His pre-2001 worldview had exceedingly little room for Kant’s “crooked timber of humanity,” or in non-German language, Original Sin. That it had any transient room whatever is to James’s lasting credit. Pascal would not have been ashamed to write what James once wrote about Satan: “the beast drives a car and knows what time our daughter leaves school.” But from this insight into evil, what did James conclude? It is not altogether evident.

 

A lifetime’s reading is distilled in James’s 876-page Cultural Amnesia (2007). While many habitual essayists have turned to a big book, none can have invested more ardor in the marathon than James did. Had James simply announced, “I hope I earn lots of money for these brief smooth profiles of 106 notables whom I enjoyed writing brief smooth profiles of,” nobody could have had the smallest objection. But when you have grown less interested in art or commerce than in saving the world, a profiler’s dexterity no longer suffices. James wanted Cultural Amnesia to be not just his big book but his Summa Theologica, and indeed his university. Hannah Arendt had her Human Condition and Origins of Totalitarianism, so why should not James join the epic writers’ club? (It is true that James, unlike Arendt, had never got up close and personal with Heidegger, but it is equally true that Arendt, unlike James, had never dared appear on Japan’s trash-television.)

The sad reality is that Cultural Amnesia, notwithstanding its commendable things, suffers overwhelmingly from the Economist Syndrome. As James Bowman said in these pages seven years back: “The Economist is an excellent magazine for keeping informed about subjects you don’t know anything about, but its deficiencies begin to appear as soon as it addresses one you do.” Let us concede that James must have examined Poland’s Witold Gombrowicz and the Franco-Austrian psychologist Manès Sperber more deeply than has any other individual, living or deceased. Meanwhile James continues to display difficulty in getting right the simplest facts about far more distinctive figures. Relying, as he does, on the posthumous Shostakovich “memoirs” is like relying for Holodomor scholarship on Walter Duranty. The research level of James’s references to Richard Strauss, Wilhelm Furtwängler, and Herbert von Karajan would disgrace a sophomore. But then, any overarching theme in Cultural Amnesia amounts to no more than: “liberal secular democrat four-legs good, elitist or even quietist two-legs bad.” “Darkest Zeitgeistheim”—C.S. Lewis’s phrase—is still a prison, even if James is as ebullient within it as were the Blues Brothers in Joliet Penitentiary.

May/June 2013 issue [1]Arendt, in her big books and elsewhere, triumphed on three vital counts where Cultural Amnesia cannot. First, she was from head to toe a scholar, not a publicist, even a prodigiously gifted publicist. Second, she gave her readers the benefits of a stratospheric Mittel-European IQ. Third, being conversant with abstract thought imbued her with what a malign fusion of temperament and Anglo privilege denied to James: an actual operative moral philosophy with which to undermine the commissar.

James has delightfully mocked the commissar, a species now largely confined to Pyongyang, Ottawa, Canberra, and Harvard. But what creed can he set against the mullah, the Beltway chickenhawk, the cyberpornographer, and the therapeutic statist? Mere liberal secular democracy: a phenomenon largely meaningless outside European-derived mores and, at best, intermittently functional within them. It might continue to play in Peoria. Its allure in Tehran, Cairo, Beijing, Harare, Jakarta, or Riyadh (Eretz Netanyahu we shall silently overlook) remains probationary.

Forbear to blame him. The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our Australian stars, including our Australian TV stars, but in our Australian selves. Take away the short-lived influence of B.A. Santamaria’s Catholic-dominated political machine—doomed by its failure to prevent Whitlam’s 1972 election—and Australia’s Cold Warriors consisted disproportionately of tenured Sydney and Melbourne academics whose response to Enver Hoxha’s atheism Mmuseums was to build their own atheism museums, from which they debarred Hoxha on an aesthetic technicality.

 

About the recent developments in James’s hitherto private life—that is, the eight-year extramarital debauch—compassion demands a diplomatic reticence. Apropos James’s leukemia-induced torments, gossip would be unseemly. He himself has confessed that today he needs so much extra oxygen as to render future Australian visits impossible. How desolate this realization must make him can be gauged from Unreliable Memoirs’ glorious final prose-poem:

As I begin this last paragraph, outside my window a misty afternoon drizzle gently but inexorably soaks the City of London. Down there in the street I can see umbrellas commiserating with each other. In Sydney Harbor, 12,000 miles away and 10 hours from now, the yachts will be racing on the crushed diamond water under a sky the texture of powdered sapphires. It would be churlish not to concede that the same abundance of natural blessings which gave us the energy to leave has every right to call us back. … Pulsing like a beacon through the days and nights, the birthplace of the fortunate sends out its invisible waves of recollection. It always has and it always will, until even the last of us come home.

 

R.J. Stove lives in Melbourne, Australia.

15 Comments (Open | Close)

15 Comments To "Clive James at Last"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 24, 2013 @ 12:28 am

I haven’t clue who this author, essayist was until now. I appreciate the introduction — I think.

#2 Comment By D. Scott Lahti On May 24, 2013 @ 3:01 am

Anatole Broyard in 1981, [2] James for The New York Times:

“But Unreliable Memoirs is funny. One keeps coming back to that. When he was a small boy, Mr. James’s head – in the manner of small boys’ heads -stuck out too much in back and he worried about it and studied his profile in the mirror. He says: ‘I envied boys with no back to their heads. Even today I envy James Garner.’

“Looking for heroes, he was troubled by the wrinkles, denoting insufficiency, in the arms and legs of Batman’s costume. He sat in the movies with his widowed mother and watched Cornel Wilde and Jane Russell ‘stare significantly at each other’ in an epic of gypsy life. Constantly throwing himself in the path of a strange girl with whom he was infatuated, he says, ‘My plan was to attract her by the intensity of my walk.'”

#3 Comment By Anthony On May 24, 2013 @ 5:24 am

It’s a measure of James’s relative greatness (really, how many late 20th C. authors are truly great?) that such a quintessentially Sydney writer (despite decades in London) should be so praised by a Melburnian. Praise to you, R.J., for breaking down the cultural barricade, although I suspect very few American conservatives will know what I am talking about!

#4 Comment By Paolo On May 24, 2013 @ 7:49 am

Apropos his private life difficulties, James reflected sadly (on television, recently) that sex makes fools of us all, eventually. Watching him being confronted by his discarded mistress (on tabloid TV), he behaved as well as anybody could under the circumstances. His unwillingness to cast blame on her, or on the television people (you could not call them journalists) who set up the ambush of an elderly and very ill man, also reflected as well as was possible given the circumstances (of his infidelity). Despite these circumstances, I could not help but admire him.

#5 Comment By Brian Doherty On May 24, 2013 @ 12:01 pm

As a libertarian-anarchist fan of James—who clearly recognizes the deep differences in temperament about some core modern political questions with James—I react to this not with horror at the lese majeste, but definitely wishing that there were more evidence and less assertion in this very long piece about the deficiencies it sees in CULTURAL AMNESIA. I felt like I was reading someone trying to BE James but without his density of apercu and sideways brilliance and comedy.

#6 Comment By Brian Doherty On May 24, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

For those that might rob themselves of the deep, deep pleasures and insights of Cultural Amnesia because of this essay, and from someone who never quite got why the “condom full of walnuts” vulgar joke is so popular to some, here are 30 quotes from Cultural Amnesia, of a variety or type you might not have guessed it had from this essay:

1) The polemicist has the privilege of unifying his tone by leaving out complications.
2) It would be a desirable and enviable existence just to earn a decent wage at a worthwhile job and spend all one’s leisure hours improving one’s aesthetic appreciation.
3) It has always been part of the definition of humanism that true learning has no end in view except its own furtherance.
4) I would never have taken a note in the first place except out of the fear that what I was reading would soon slip away: a fear all too well founded.
5) I am showing…the way to a necessary failure: the grim but edifying realization that a complete picture of reality is not to be had. If we realize that, we can begin to be realistic.
6) When we talk about the imponderables of life, we don’t really mean that we can’t ponder them. We mean that we can’t stop.
7) The unearned omniscience of post-modernism depends on its facility for connecting things without examining them.
8) There is no arguing against all-inclusive obscurity except to say that the whole thing means nothing, which few of us dare to do.
9) Camus…was preoccupied by questions of authenticity, as truly authentic people seldom are.
10) The tyrant’s monologue doesn’t want to be interesting, and that’s its point.
11) Mussolini, though he brooked no contradiction, could be entertaining because he could be entertained: an admirer of Fats Waller could never be entirely without bonhomie.
12) It isn’t the man who wants to who continues the tradition, it’s the man who can, and sometimes he’s the man who knows least about it.
13) Orson Welles only appeared to destroy himself: he was still Orson Welles. Plenty of men have been big eaters or borrowed money but we never heard of them.
14) [Fitzgerald’s] disaster robbed us of more books as wonderful as The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night, but we wouldn’t have those if he hadn’t been like that.
15) The talk that counts is the talk that doesn’t matter, and to get that you need time to spare.
16) The natural state of affairs between exponents of the humanities is one of tension, suspicion, rivalry, and, all too often, enmity.
17) Our lives are enriched by people who create works of art better than their personalities: the best excuse for the rogues among them, and the best reason for our raising the virtuous to the plane of worship. The latter reaction might seem extravagant, but we should watch out for those who say so: they are much more short on reverence than we are on judgement.
18) What ensured the eventual fading of [Aleksandr Zinoviev’s] name was that he had been so clamorously proved right when the yawning heights [of Soviet communism] caved in. Suddenly everyone was an expert, and nobody wanted to be reminded of a time when he wasn’t.
19) People who spent a large part of the day either standing in long queues or pulling wires to dodge them would not only lack free time to conspire, they would never trust each other.
20) The main reason a good writer needs a drink at the end of the day is the endless, finicky work of disarming the little booby traps that the language confronts him with as he advances. They aren’t really very dangerous–they only go off with a phut and a puff of clay dust in the reader’s face if they aren’t dealt with–but those aren’t the sounds that a writer wants his sentences to make.
21) Having no real idea of how to do it was the only way to do it….Tom Stoppard has said that the trouble with bad art is that the artist knows exactly what he is doing.
22) It is always encouraging to hear what you know by instinct resoundingly formulated by an authoritative figure, so that you can draw upon the memory for a lifetime.
23) The man who can be counted on for a thousand words by Friday about absolutely anything is always the most pitiable figure.
24) Trotsky’s idea of permanent revolution will always be attractive to the kind of romantic who believes that he is being oppressed by global capitalism when he maxes out his credit card.
25) Shake an aphorism…and in most cases a lie falls out, leaving only a banality.
26) [Stalin] seemed to have heeded Seneca’s warning that you can kill as many people as you like but your successor will be among those who survive. Stalin acted as if he intended nobody to survive.
27) Eventually there will be nobody alive who knows for certain that there was never such a thing in World War II as Richard Burton’s hairstyle in WHERE EAGLES DARE, so why don’t we forget it straightaway?
28) The grand gesture of throwing it all away depends for its effect on having something to throw.
29) George Steiner…persists in talking about [Sartre and Heidegger] as if they were Goethe and Schiller. Those of us who think they were Abbott and Costello had better reconcile ourselves to making no converts.
30) A dance is all [the tango] is. It’s THE dance, and you have to take it seriously or you’ll never dance it, but if you can’t laugh at yourself along the way you’ll crack up before you get there. This is especially true for a man. A woman can learn the steps with reasonable ease, but a man, because he must lead, will be face to face with his own character when he finds out he can’t.

#7 Comment By Ed On May 24, 2013 @ 5:49 pm

Clive James is a very entertaining guy. I have fond memories of his television series on fame in the 20th century.

“Cultural Amnesia” was impressive in its bulk and its retrieval of forgotten Central European writers and thinkers. It wasn’t the cultural encyclopedia that some of James’s enthusiasts made it out to be. What he took from some of his thinkers was thin and tangential to their work. The mixture of high and low to comic effect becomes routine through repetition and loses its punch — as in Woody Allen films.

And while James was right in condemning fascism, Nazism, and Communism it gave his book a musty feel, as though it were written in and for another era. Going after easy targets — even if they were the right targets in their day — and faulting long dead writer for not seeing what he does with the benefit of hindsight makes James look a little smug.

I’m not complaining or attacking James, though, and hope I don’t come off that way. Clive James will be missed when he goes. I join in calling him an international treasure, and look forward to reading “Unreliable Memoirs.”

#8 Comment By Myron Hudson On May 24, 2013 @ 8:05 pm

Thanks for this. Now I have to go out and buy more books.

#9 Comment By Paolo On May 24, 2013 @ 10:39 pm

Thanks for this essay.

I often thought, reading Cultural Amnesia, that CJ’s musings on the way Sigmund Freud could not clearly discern the coming catastrophe from Germany mirrored CJ’s own difficulties in knowing how to face the cultural decline of Europe and, especially, the rise of militant Islam. That lack of a conceptual framework (however incomplete) for understanding human nature (and evil), that theists (or more extreme neurobiological materialists) can have.

Long may you write.

#10 Comment By Fulton On May 25, 2013 @ 12:42 am

I don’t think you can fully discuss Clive James without mentioning The Sunday Times’ television reviews, which he did for ages and became justly renowned for. His tv shows were pretty funny too, I seem to recall him ringing in the New Year with one arm around Elle McPherson, which has to be nice work if you can get it. Pleasant to read an appreciation of him here.

#11 Comment By Kevin On May 25, 2013 @ 6:09 am

“Indonesia’s 1975–1999 extermination of 180,000 East Timorese inspired in the Australian masses total indifference—and in Australian Prime Ministers from Gough Whitlam to Paul Keating a discreet but active pleasure at having 180,000 fewer Catholics in the neighborhood to disturb the Western Enlightenment Project.” – This is so far removed from sanity as to be simply sad (in any event, most Timorese were animists).

“and Australia’s Cold Warriors consisted disproportionately of tenured Sydney and Melbourne academics whose response to Enver Hoxha’s atheism museums was to build their own atheism museums, from which they debarred Hoxha on an aesthetic technicality.” Similarly, this weird private obcession makes no sense whatsoever to normal people.

#12 Comment By Scott Lahti On May 25, 2013 @ 7:19 am

“I don’t think you can fully discuss Clive James without mentioning The Sunday Times’ television reviews, which he did for ages and became justly renowned for.”

Those were actually in The Observer (1972-1982, from which three collections ensued), veteran center-left rival to The Sunday Times.

I was going Google-doc, thence to link for us here, James’s review of a big John Bayley omnibus from 2005, before being reminded that James [3]. Enjoy.

#13 Comment By frank knopfelmacher On May 25, 2013 @ 6:32 pm

Indonesia’s 1975–1999 extermination of 180,000 East Timorese inspired in the Australian masses total indifference—and in Australian Prime Ministers from Gough Whitlam to Paul Keating a discreet but active pleasure at having 180,000 fewer Catholics in the neighborhood to disturb the Western Enlightenment Project.”

For American readers, gough whitlam and paul keating were labor prime ministers who did not object to indonesia’s brutal annexation of east timor in 1975. to say they rejoiced in the killing or starvation of 100,000+ people over the next thirty years, is so utterly deranged as to beggar belief.

Furthermore, Stove somehow forgets to mention that the conservative side of Oz politics from which he comes, also supported the invasion, since east timorese nationalists were communists. As to ‘indifference’ of Australian masses, there was a growing pro-timor campaign from the mid-1990s on, which ultimately forced PM John Howard to intervene on timor’s side.

So judge the article by that standard. the whole thing’s deranged

#14 Comment By Fulton On May 26, 2013 @ 9:40 am

@Scott Lahti – haha, thanks for the correction. It’s been so long since those days that I’d forgotten The Observer existed.

#15 Comment By Scott Lahti On May 27, 2013 @ 1:36 am

“And while James was right in condemning fascism, Nazism, and Communism it gave his book a musty feel, as though it were written in and for another era. Going after easy targets — even if they were the right targets in their day — and faulting long dead writer for not seeing what he does with the benefit of hindsight makes James look a little smug … I’m not complaining or attacking James, though, and hope I don’t come off that way.”

That reminds me of a section from the [4] by Stefan Collini of the Isaiah Berlin omnibus from 1997, The Proper Study of Mankind:

“But has the function of reading [Berlin’s essays] changed in the four decades since the earliest of them were first written?

“Important truths can bear restatement. But the danger is perhaps that the experience of reading Berlin now is likely to take the form of a kind of collective self-congratulation. We like once again to hear these comforting abjurations of positions by which we were not tempted in the first place.

“Consider the most recent piece reprinted here, ‘The Pursuit of the Ideal’, which dates from 1988. In the course of his familiar (but in my view admirable and wholly right-minded) rejection of ideas of a perfect state and similarly utopian ‘final solutions’, and his also familiar (but in my view also admirable and wholly right-minded) insistence on the irreducible plurality of moral values and the ineradicable conflicts between them, he declares that the idea that, once the classless society (or whatever) is established, all such conflicts will resolve themselves is ‘a piece of metaphysical optimism for which there is no evidence in historical experience’. Now, had such an argument about the lack of ‘evidence in historical experience’ been addressed to, say, Christopher Hill or Eric Hobsbawm as part of a public debate in the early 1950s (as it may have been privately, for all I know), it would be easier to see that it was genuinely cutting wood. But, when addressed to, say, the subscribers to the New York Review of Books (where the most recent as well as several of the earlier pieces included here were first published), such arguments tend instead to have some of the reassuringness of a bedtime story.

“In so far as this is so, Berlin himself is not responsible for the putative complacency of his later readers, and it is arguable that easy comfort is to be had from these essays only by overlooking the still challenging nature of his insistence that liberty is not to be confused with other desirable social goals – a message which, if genuinely understood, might be as unwelcome to some of those currently committed to trying to eradicate injustice grounded in differences of race or sex as it apparently was even to some liberal-democratic proponents of socialism in the 1950s.

“It is obviously very important, therefore, to recall the different force and resonance some of the earlier essays had when they were first published.”