Helen Thompson (These Times, 12 March) is right that the common problems of liberal democracies today were born of the utopian delusions that emerged in the 1990s, and that Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man (1992) captured the prevailing attitude that liberal democracy had brought the ideological struggles of history to completion.
But Fukuyama tempered his liberal triumphalism with a warning of the creature that would emerge from the end of history. The “Last Man” occupies a space of perpetual material comfort and a total absence of struggle. Fukuyama questioned whether liberalism creates a deeper, less tangible discontent. He believed that citizens of liberal democracies, living a life without struggle and thus without purpose, would soon choose to struggle against the peace, prosperity and democracy that created their condition.
Thompson concludes that European democracies will not be stabilised by making “losers” out of those who lack faith in secularism and technocracy; we should consider Fukuyama’s lesson that perhaps the prevalence of modern liberal democracy shows we have already lost.
The iron man
In his absorbing essay on Churchill’s “iron curtain” speech (“How the ‘iron curtain’ was misunderstood”, 12 March), David Reynolds mentions the vituperative response it provoked from Stalin. The speech was widely taken as a clarion call; local paper the Fulton Daily Sun-Gazette was first, under the headline “Churchill warns of red bid for power” before the angry reply a week later, “Stalin says Churchill stirs war”. This sequence has been used by some revisionist historians as evidence that Churchill, Truman and the West were responsible for starting the Cold War.
But Churchill’s Fulton speech had been anticipated four weeks earlier by Stalin’s speech of 9 February, declaring an end to the wartime alliance. Where Churchill would blame the war on Western faintheartedness, Stalin blamed it on “monopoly capitalism”. He said that “it was the Soviet armed forces that won. Our Red Army has won,” attributing this to the strength of the “Soviet social system”. Churchill did not want a fight with Stalin, he hoped to make peace with him.
Combe Down, Somerset
Sophie McBain rightly highlights grief (“Mourning and melancholia”, 12 March), but protests doom too much. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on mental health should not be minimised, but we have to remind ourselves that every major loss and conflict in the past 100 years has led to reform of our mental health services by highlighting their deficiencies. Those who are mentally unwell now have a voice that is listened to. In previous years support has only come from a few activists perceived as idealists.
Left by Labour
Rachel Reeves’s essay makes a powerful case for the need to renew Labour’s role in nation-building (“Our search for a national story”, 12 March). I feel that personally: born in Belfast as the Second World War ended, I benefited from the NHS, the postwar reshaping of the school system and access to free university education. With this formation in British democratic socialist achievements, I joined the Northern Ireland Labour Party and campaigned for our progressive, non-sectarian candidates. I could not do that now as the party – which calls itself “UK Labour” – will not let our members in that part of the UK stand for any election at any level on the spurious grounds that it would inhibit taking an even-handed stance on Northern Ireland issues at Westminster. It is not just in northern English towns or Scotland where old comrades believe “Labour has left us”.
Rachel Reeves’s essay contains a number of valuable perceptions. However, I would challenge two assumptions: first, that it took a Labour government to bring about key changes in the national infrastructure. The Attlee government began the process of emasculating local government; the slow death of municipal government has been continued by both Labour and Conservative governments. The second assumption is that post-Covid politics is fertile ground for Labour: in fact the over-emphasis on resources is a historic party blind spot. Post-pandemic politics will need to recognise that the local community is vital for society, and both public service and local government need to be enhanced – values that are more Liberal than Labour.
Barry Wilson (Correspondence, 12 March) thinks that Labour’s Red Wall wants to continue the fight against Brexit. They voted for the Conservatives and to “Get Brexit Done”, not for Labour, more negotiations and another referendum. Keir Starmer was always a Remainer and worked hard for a soft Brexit but now, pragmatically, he is accepting the situation and moving on. He might well win back the Red Wall.
[see also: Our search for a national story]
As a resident of leafy Cheadle, just south of Manchester, I was intrigued by why the editor of the Cheadle and Tean Times felt that residents of Stoke-on-Trent would be interested in our joyous news (The Public Square, 12 March). Still, perhaps if they were to follow our example and elect an MP who religiously follows the party whip, no questions asked, they too could join Rishi Sunak’s chosen few.
Philip Collins is getting his Cheadles confused. Cheadle Hulme (near Manchester) will indeed receive Towns Fund money; Cheadle (Staffordshire, near Tean), a former mining and textile manufacturing town situated in Bill Cash MP’s safe seat of Stone, is not on the list of recipients.
John Gray’s demolition of evolutionary optimism is always readable and salutary (“Humanity vs the virus”, 5 March). No teleology can be found in the process of random mutation. However, that does not prohibit a teleology derived from elsewhere. The Christian one is well-stated in Eucharistic Prayer G:
Blessed are you, Lord God, our light and our salvation; to you be glory and praise forever! From the beginning you have created all things and all your works echo the silent music of your praise. In the fullness of time you made us in your image, the crown of all creation. You give us breath and speech that with angels and archangels and all the powers of heaven we may find a voice to sing your praise.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth
When I was a teacher ten years ago, I would always call out boys who, by saying to other boys “don’t be a girl” or “man up”, I felt were denigrating the girls. My stance was not adopted by my colleagues, who didn’t think it mattered. Listening to the voices today on violence against women and girls, I realise that I was ten years too early – not because misogyny wasn’t around then, but because nobody thought it was such a problem.
East Grinstead, West Sussex
A lot of bottle
As much as Simon Heffer would like to blame Europe for beer sold in 500ml cans and bottles, I’m afraid he can’t (Diary, 12 March). There’s nothing to stop breweries packaging their products in units of a pint should they wish to; some already do. No need to keep going on about Europe, Simon: your Telegraph readers have got their Brexit and are no doubt toasting its success. The rest of us are drowning our sorrows, regardless of the size of the bottle.
Kate Molleson’s review of the Berlin Philharmonic’s recent concert (The Critics, 5 March) presented a fascinating portrait of the diverse and complex music of the 1920s, but mistakenly suggested that “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” (1930) was the last collaboration between Brecht and Weill. It was not. They later created “The Seven Deadly Sins”, a “sung ballet” that premiered in Paris in June 1933, by which point Brecht and Weill had both fled Nazi Germany. This masterpiece, like “Mahagonny”, offered a sharp critique of the rampant capitalism and religious fervour of the country to which they would both eventually emigrate, the US.
I relished the insights in Pippa Bailey’s piece on sexism in the English language (Deleted Scenes, 12 March). A bugbear of my own is that, while I truly appreciate my breakfast egg, when it comes to prenuptial shindigs hens have neither the stature nor the gravitas of stags.
I enjoyed reading Michael Prodger’s article on Joachim Patinir (The Critics, 12 March) and think I may have solved the mystery of the missing “kakker” – the little man “at stool” so often found in a corner of Patinir’s paintings. If, as is believed, the painting is the central panel of a triptych, “the shitter” may well have been on one of the missing two panels, safely away from the teeth of any marauding lion or a hurled rock from a chest-beating saint.
Settle, North Yorkshire
Prim up north
Stuart Maconie hopes the passeggiata of the Leeds and Liverpool canal will continue after lockdown (Diary, 5 March) but he does not need to go back as far as Hardy’s Wessex to find historical precedent. When, as a young southerner, I arrived in Huddersfield in the early 1970s, I thought it was quaint to be asked if I was “courting”. When I was later asked by an elderly friend if I was “walking out” I was delighted.
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