Leader: Asking the great questions

Remembering Eric Hobsbawm.

Reaction to the death of Eric Hobsbawm at the age of 95 has taken two forms: admiration for his work as a historian of the modern age and dismay that he never recanted his faith in the Soviet experiment or gave up his membership of the Communist Party. Yet surely it is possible to distinguish between Hobsbawm the Communist militant and Hobsbawm the historian.

As Jonathan Derbyshire notes on page 13, Hobsbawm practiced history in the grand manner; for him, history asked the “great why questions” or it was nothing. Towards the end of his life, he worried that subsequent generations of historians had lost interest in the big questions and the sweeping narrative. On this, at least, one hopes that he was wrong.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Conservative conference special