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22 April 2020updated 09 Sep 2021 3:24pm

Letter of the Week: At risk and confused

A selection of the best letters received from our readers this week. Email to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

I was astonished to learn from Phil Whitaker (Health Matters, 3 April) that people “at risk” from the virus, like me, are to be sorted into two categories: treat and allow to die. Shortly afterwards, I read a statement by the Royal College of General Practitioners and other organisations: “It is unacceptable for advance care plans, with or without DNAR [Do Not Attempt Resuscitation] form completion, to be applied to groups of people of any description. These decisions must continue to be made on an individual basis according to need.” That seems to contradict the remotely conducted triage set out in Dr Phil’s column. So which is it? Am I to be kept in the dark until I am left at home, struggling for breath as the ambulance vanishes into the distance, the paramedic’s words ringing in my ears: “Sorry, you’re on our list as palliative care only”?

Bob Ferguson
Fareham, Hampshire

Liberalism lives on

Gray is, as ever, thought-provoking and eloquent (Cover Story, 3 April). But, as ever, he is predicting and longing for the collapse of the liberal world order and its supposed proudest daughter, globalisation – for him a decades-long sport. His central thesis has two flaws.

First, the liberal dystopia he describes – where contemporary Western governments have “a narrow goal of economic efficiency”, do not “act to curb the global market”, and believe that “humans are no longer part of the natural world” – is a myth. Liberal democracies are not neoliberal nations. Rather, there is a constant juggling of equitable and efficient goals, and social, economic and environmental considerations. Just look at the response to the current crisis. These countries are not shy about using the state, when justified.

Second, his assumption that liberalism necessarily leads to an unedifying individualism is peculiar. Why would free people not pursue the “security and belonging” they crave? It is also without evidence, as the “extraordinary selflessness” during this pandemic reveals. And, for social and religious minorities, there would be no chance of security or belonging without liberal thinking and ideas.

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Gray’s demonisation of liberalism is concerning, especially with an emboldened China and Russia challenging Western ideals. We don’t need to move beyond or abandon liberalism, but supplement and strengthen it with other philosophies.

Ryan Shorthouse
CEO, Bright Blue

The ever-widening franchise under liberalism has merely induced mob conformity: as Aldous Huxley put it, representative democracy allows “the ruling oligarchy… [to] quietly run the show as they see fit”. According to John Gray, the pandemic has indicated that we are part of the natural world and that “permanent changes will have to be made if we are to be less vulnerable in the future”. 

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But he also assumes our politics will stay intact. This is surely a contradiction. It is obvious today that we need, above all, a genuine democracy, not an oligarchy.

David Clarke
Witney, Oxfordshire

It would be good to know on what basis John Gray claims that “the progressive mind detests national identity with passionate intensity”. I think I have a progressive mind but I have always had a strong sense of national identity, home and community too. Many of my friends and family broadly fit into the same category. Could Gray tell us where we fit in to his world view?

Richard Haviland
Drumnadrochit, Inverness

John Gray’s analysis of the EU’s response to coronavirus risks falling prey to the propaganda machines of Beijing and the Kremlin, which are working hard to show that the EU is incompetent. Gray quotes Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic’s comment that European solidarity is a “fairy tale” and that only China can save us all. He does not add that Vucic, under whose rule Serbia has seen the erosion of democracy and human rights, also called Xi Jinping a “true friend and a brother of the Serbian people”. Serbia, by the way, is the  fourth biggest recipient of Chinese direct foreign investment in Europe.

Philip Ball
London SE22

Climate conflict

I am grateful to Adam Tooze for a generally fair representation of my book, Climate Change and the Nation State: The Realist Case (The Critics, 3 April), but have to disagree with him on a couple of points.

While I am deeply disappointed by the failure of Elizabeth Warren’s campaign (and sceptical about Joe Biden), it is too early to declare the death of the Green New Deal in the US or the UK. On the contrary, the economic crisis stemming from the pandemic has created critically important new possibilities. That governments are spending enormous sums demolishes the argument of unaffordability. The British government has committed itself to a programme of income support and job retention, and the state-led economic reconstruction that will have to follow the crisis can be founded on the rebuilding of infrastructure along green lines.

It is true that the Western working classes of today are more heterogeneous than previously, but one should not underestimate the difficulties or the success of uniting masses of ethnically diverse European immigrants into the voting bloc that supported Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Surely modern history indicates that progressive agendas are more likely to succeed when united in a single cause?

I make clear in the book that I believe international agreements have a vital role to play in the struggle to limit carbon emissions. But it is individual states that have to implement them. For states to ask sacrifices of their peoples they need to find a way to motivate and mobilise citizens, hence the need for patriotism.

Finally, I am not arguing for an expansion of nuclear energy, only that it is a betrayal of the fight against climate change to close existing nuclear power stations before alternative energy systems are there to replace them. Here, yes, I am a realist, dedicated to a realistic assessment of comparative risks.

Anatol Lieven
Georgetown University, Washington DC

Adam Tooze’s review of Anatol Lieven’s new book was excellent and well-balanced. Yet it seemed to me to miss one crucial point. Lieven, like a great many in our time, seems to take it for granted that nationality is here to stay, as if humans have always existed in nation states and anything else would be unthinkable. This has always seemed to me to be a fallacy.

Nationalism only became a political force in the 19th century, all but unheard of before the French Revolution. Given that as a phenomenon it is only around 200 years old, it is evidently not a necessary part of human life. This is not to deny that nationality plays a central role in our lives, nor to claim that we can move beyond nationality in the foreseeable future. But this historical short-sightedness helps no one in discussing how we can resolve issues such as the climate crisis.

Rowan Williams
Via email

Ready or not 

Harry Lambert’s article (“Why weren’t we ready?”, 3 April) makes a number of useful points. New Labour did not want to spend money on things that might not happen, but when it did spend money it was not getting to front-line staff.

While spending on the NHS keeps rising, it is not getting to where it needs to be. In a recent interaction with the NHS, a nurse told me that the problem was that money disappeared in management schemes (many of which were started by New Labour). One of the cleaners mentioned vacuum cleaners that were bought without any recourse to the people who would use them, and that were inadequate and left unused.

We weren’t ready because NHS management sees its key task as cutting costs rather than supporting clinical staff.

Dr David Middleton

Prison wisdom

Jonathan Sacks’s Diary (3 April) described Natan Sharansky’s advice after time in the gulag. I am reminded of my ex-father-in-law, who was imprisoned by the British authorities as a Jewish leader in wartime Palestine, along with Arab fellow prisoners. I have had regard all my life to his advice: have patience and keep a sense of humour.

John Gibbs
Newport, Shropshire

Misprint mischief

How touching to read the final sentence of Jason Cowley’s Editor’s Note (3 April): “May I thank you, our readers, for your continuing” – at first, I thought the absence of a full stop indicated a misprint, but then I realised that it was just a neat typographical trick to emphasise that he really cares about our continuing.

Tony Bovaird

The letters’ editor writes: the missing final word of the Editor’s Note was “support”.  

Reading respite

The 27 March issue of the NS was outstanding: the critical praise of Rishi Sunak; the coverage of pandemic issues (including promoting Phil Whitaker to the front half); Jonathan Powell on imminent change; and Nick Timothy’s view of preferred options. Then to balance this with Megan Nolan on sex and seduction! 

I remain in awe of how you pull together such brilliant writers that focus on apposite topics.

Laurence Leader
North Curry, Somerset

As a subscriber, I read my copy cover to cover even though I have limited time. Reading your Spring special while self-isolating gives me the opportunity to take my reading slowly, to reflect more and to consult my dictionary for every word I am not familiar with (and there are often several!).

Sue Pegg

The high-rise life

My “Ballardian” experience (“Why we are living in Ballard’s world”, 3 April) has been reading the NS Spring special while queuing for essential items.

Caroline Holmes
London N17 

The woes of WFH

Emily Bootle may conclude that “The female of the species is more healthy than the male” (Observations, 3 April), but working from home I have discovered that the email of the species is deadlier than the mail.

Canon Mark Oakley
St John’s College, Cambridge

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This article appears in the 22 Apr 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The coronavirus timebomb