The “Lifelong Gadfly”: Remembering Bernard Crick

In a 2003 review I wrote this about Bernard Crick:

“Living in Edinburgh for the last twenty years of his life, he became almost an honorary Scot. He was proud that his fellows honoured him rather as a “lifelong gadfly” than the conventional (too often constricted) scholar”.
You might like to read his Crossing Borders (2001) or his wonderful biography of George Orwell.

Belfast During the Troubles: This Malicious Little Island

Adrian McKinty in his Sean Duffy police thrillers vividly describes the violence and traumas of Northern Ireland during the “Troubles” of the 1980s.

In a 2017 story Duffy demolishes hopes for the future as “the foolishness of dreams which, in this bellicose corner of this malicious little island, had the ability to change instantly into nightmares”.

[Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly]

Global Warming: Some Background

The great climatologist Guy Callendar died in 1964, so I will briefly sketch some major developments in theories of climate change and global warming since then.

Although climate sceptics have abounded since, the reality of global warming has in reality been firmly established today. This has been reinforced by the scientific analysis of such factors as: change in ocean temperatures, deep sea cores, cycles of planetary change and atmosphere, melting of ice caps and glaciers, rising sea levels.

Calculations showed that a doubling of CO2 levels would cause roughly 2 degrees rise in world temperatures. Symptoms include more extreme events, such as droughts, bushfires and floods, heat waves and unusually cold conditions. We see all this depressingly on the news every day, combined with high death rates and massive waves of refugees and distressed.

Encouragingly, these developments have been much studied by international organisations such as the UN, NATO, the World Meteorological Organisation, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which was set up in 1988.

I recommend reading such as Spencer Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming (1908).

G.K.Chesterton Castigates Eugenics

Chesterton was a noted opponent of eugenics which was the doctrine to go to in the late 19th century, and reached its gory depths with Nazi race theory and the Holocaust.

Eugenics was the controlled breeding of humans. Positive eugenics advocated interbreeding of the “fittest” (usually white, well educated, members of the Establishment), while negative eugenics discouraged the breeding of the “unfit” (usually the poor, the “feebleminded”, habitual criminals, those lower down the evolutionary ladder). Measures proposed included sterilisation, segregation, even “elimination”.

Chesterton, a devout Catholic, attacked the eugenists for having contempt for the masses of humanity. God’s love was directed towards the poor and afflicted (“blessed are the poor”). He asked for more Christian charity and reminded people that the Bible was harsher towards the rich and powerful.

He denounced the “pseudo-science” behind categories such as “imbeciles” or “morons” , such as used in the flawed IQ tests of the day or in treatment of the mentally ill.

As GK said, we no longer burnt witches, but were increasingly punitive towards the poor, attacking the right to strike, or people’s pleasures such as drinking beer ( a favourite activity of his) or smoking. He saw capitalism as in league with eugenics, aiming to produce a plentiful supply of docile workers, getting rid of “wastage” in the system.

Eugenics also used what Orwell later called Newspeak. For example eugenists did not speak of it being necessary to kill off the old, but spoke of “euthanasia” or remedying “the burden of longevity”. They wanted to eliminate the disabled, even when they were highly intelligent (Stephen Hawkins in our day, consumptive Keats and many other geniuses).

Ever the optimist, GK hoped that humans would embrace ideals of caritas, democracy and Christianity, ideals that had not really been tried. Christianity, for example, “has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried”.

Were the Habsburgs All That Bad? The Case for Supranationalism

Much history written about the famous Habsburg dynasty has been written from a nationalistic perspective and that has been consistently negative. Sure the dynasty had its weaknesses and failures, and fell mainly because of “overreach” and strategic mistakes, such as a misguided push into the Balkans, which sparked World War 1.

But the Habsburgs achieved much, showing the advantages of an overarching and cosmopolitan system. Hasn’t out of control nationalism been responsible for mind-blowing world disasters, wars and civil strife? An historian of the dynasty, Benjamin Curtis, speaks of “the small minds and restrictive confines of nationalism”. A loose and largely tolerant, ethnically diverse system gives us something to think about in today’s catastrophic world.

Are Science and Religion Compatible?

Alec Vidler thought so. This distinguished English church historian had respect for science, even though he accepted that it was seen by some as a dissolving agent upon religious belief. Vidler had respect for science. He argued that theology had itself to blame for not keeping up with the achievements of science (including evolutionary biology). Theologians (or many of them) had simply not done the same hard work and research as scientists had done.

Nevertheless science did not have all the answers: “…there still remain mysterious depths in the whole universe and in human existence which mortal man has not fathomed”. It was the function of religion to cast light on those mysterious depths.

Christian Belief(1950).

No Sudden Damascus Experience: Muggeridge

In no point in his life did he undergo any dramatic change:

“I would say that for me at any rate, the process has been not a sudden Damascus road experience, but more like the journeying of Bunyan’s Pilgrim, who constantly lost his way, fell into sloughs, was locked up in Doubting Castle and terrified out of his wits in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, but still, through it all had a sense of moving towards light, moving out of time towards eternity “:

Malcolm Muggeridge Christ and the Media (1977)