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Letters


Maastricht and All That

Wynne Godley (LRB, 8 October) presents a strong case in favour of the view that much more attention should be given to fiscal policy in the debate over European integration. He points out that those who place all the emphasis on the co-ordination of monetary policy often smuggle in the assumption that the real economy will take care of itself and that the only legitimate concern of government is (the rate of change of) the price level.

However, he weakens his argument and gives ammunition to his enemies when he claims Keynes’s support for an ‘inflation tax’ as a method to pay for World War Two. In fact, How to pay for the war was a polemic against inflationary war finance. Keynes advocated fiscal measures, including a compulsory savings scheme, to reduce inflationary pressure in a situation in which there were extraordinary demands on a fully employed economy. Keynes argued that the inflationary financing of World War One had proved to be inefficient and inequitable and had stored up serious problems for the post-war period; his scheme was to be both fairer and more efficient and make demand management easier.

The fact that the first practical application of Keynesian analysis was in such a situation should not be forgotten, especially when circumstances have again arisen in which there are extraordinary demands on the output of the European economy following German reunification and the need for reconstruction further east. If German consumers had been prepared – or forced – to save more, or at least to pay more taxes, reunification might not have put such a strain on German monetary policy. This would have eased the pressure on countries like the UK, France, Italy and Spain which have recently suffered more from high interest rates and appreciating currencies vis-à-vis their non-European markets than they have benefited from higher demand in Germany. Giving in to inflationary pressures would not have helped. What was needed was a temporary redistribution of consumption in time (from present to future German consumers) and space (from German to non-German consumers). Of course, this would have been much easier to achieve if the institutional arrangements for fiscal co-ordination advocated by Godley – and, before him, in a different context, by Keynes – had been in place.

Terry O’Shaughnessy
St Anne’s College, Oxford


What if?

Henry James’s letter to Sarah Orne Jewett about the ‘historical novel’ was tellingly quoted – twenty lines of it – by P.N. Furbank in his review of Hilary Mantel (LRB, 20 August). ‘The case against the historical novel could hardly be better put.’ But what needs to be put right, after all these years and after Leon Edel’s repeated retailings, is the text of the letter: ‘You may multiply the little facts … as much as you like – the real thing is almost impossible to do, and in its essence the whole effect is as nought.’ Yet the ear can hear something wrong, there in the and of ‘and in its essence’. Sense demands that for essence we should read absence – and then this proves to be what the letter itself (in the Houghton Library) reads: ‘the real thing is almost impossible to do, and in its absence the whole effect is as nought.’

Christopher Ricks
Oxford


‘Sex’

Somewhere between the ages of eleven and thirteen I sat quietly through a biology lesson on the facts of reproduction. An elegant woman informed the uncomfortable class of something called a clitoris, about the existence of which the medical profession had not yet reached a consensus. This odd piece of information rested dormant in my unconscious for a decade or so, until I sat down last Wednesday evening with a cup of tea and the latest edition of the LRB (24 September). I turned first to Hugo Williams’s poem, ‘Sex’, which also left me a little uncomfortable. I found that my discomfort, heightened by the last third of John Sutherland’s piece, had provoked this long-stored memory into consciousness. I am not entirely certain of the logic governing the connection between Williams’s poem, Sutherland’s review of Jeanette Winterson’s novel, and being informed of the uncertain existence of the clitoris. But a connection there certainly is. Neither am I certain of the logic governing Sutherland’s assertion that adultery ‘is tied into strict definitions of penile penetration. No penis, no adultery.’ My experience of adultery is at odds with Sutherland’s definition. Adultery is defined according to anxieties about inheritance and paternal identity; penile penetration is only involved if conception is a possible concomitant. Hence penile penetration of another man is also excluded from the legal definition. It can, however, be used as evidence of ‘unreasonable behaviour’.

I was intrigued by Sutherland’s comment on the probable effect of putting Winterson’s passage describing aggression towards her lover’s husband on a practical criticism paper. Surely the projected inability of students to read gender into this piece of text says a lot more about the structure of assumptions governing any practical criticism exercise (relying as it does on crude assessments of genre) than about Winterson’s passage. And that word leads me back to Williams’s poem. There is (at least I hope so) an ironic drive to the lines: ‘ “Sex” seems to be a word that most people understand,/so there is a fair chance that the woman will understand/what the man is getting at when he mentions the subject.’ Williams’s tone is a relief in comparison with Sutherland’s assumption of a readership nodding in assent to his situating of Winterson’s novel as a narrative centred on an idea he ‘still finds odd’. I found equally odd the reviewer’s implication that the idea behind the narrative could cause a ‘snigger’. This sense of oddness became severe irritation when he detailed a list of sexual acts in which the characters in Winterson’s novel might have indulged the reader. I can only assume that Williams’s poem and Sutherland’s review should be read after taking note of Barbara Duden’s remark (in Anne Summers’s article in the same issue): ‘The imagination and perceptions of a given period have the power to generate reality.’ I am as relieved not to inhabit the realities of Williams and Sutherland as I was to discover the fallibility of biology-class ‘facts’.

Ashley Tauchert
University College London


Catholic Skeleton

At the end of her review of Ian Gilmour’s Riot, Risings and Revolution (LRB, 10 September), Professor Colley stressed the factor of popular anti-Catholicism as a phenomenon potentially useful to 18th-century British governments. Not long after the Gordon riots there was an influx of French aristocrats leavened by émigré curés unable to accommodate themselves to the Goddess of Reason. At an influential level that influx helped to allay anti-Papist prejudice. And for the Catholic Church in England the accretion of priests who had of necessity to acquire a working competence in English was very helpful. Statistically, the Catholic Church in England is virtually an Irish apanage. That has had a marked effect on Catholic historians. Positively, they have tended to exaggerate the minimal recusant (Brideshead) tradition as well as the slow drip of High-Church Anglican converts. Negatively, the Irish element has been considerably minimised or ignored. In that framework the French priests were retrospectively welcome to the historians.

Those historians can be congratulated on their success in preventing one particular Irish skeleton from rattling in its cupboard. A handful of men were arrested in May 1798, at Margate, where they were awaiting a passage to France. The Ascendancy Irish government made extensive use of paid informers and agents provocateurs, so it was aware that the thwarted travellers were connnected with the Society of United Irishmen. An insurrection had been planned for the next month, June 1798, so there was at least a reasonable likelihood that the travellers intended to seek military aid from revolutionary France. All those arrested were Protestants, with one exception, James Quigley or Coigly. Not only was he a Catholic, but he was a priest into the bargain. It is difficult to avoid the impression that it was because of anti-Catholic feeling among the jury that he was the only one condemned.

Padraig O Conchuir
London E6


Fascinating Foucault

Richard Mayne’s review (LRB, 10 September) of Didier Eribon’s new biography of the French social theorist Foucault is infuriating. Mayne walks all around the key contradiction in Foucault: namely, that his entire theoretical edifice was designed to attack the Left, yet Foucault himself openly associated with the political Far Left.

Keith Flett
London N17


Grains and Pinches

Michael Mason (Letters, 8 October) is right in saying that Alexander Campbell was converted by Greaves to his Love Law; more important, Robert Owen and Greaves both thought that society could be renewed by communitarian experiments; even the names ‘Harmony’ and ‘Concordium’ are similar. But Greaves and Owen had fundamentally opposed views on the nature of man. The disagreement between them Greaves describes thus: ‘Owen conditionates for the outer man, and draws his resources from the outer world. I would ever conditionate for the inner man, and direct to the resources of the interior world.’ Greaves’s writings are a farrago of mystical assertions, his transcendentalism far removed from Owen’s Rational Society.

Jackie Latham
Richmond, Surrey


Peccavit

‘The impeccably liberal Ernest Barker’ (Perry Anderson: LRB, 24 September)? Would ‘peccably’ be better? In 1937 he made a favourable comparison between Hitler and Cromwell in a swastika-draped hall in Hamburg: see his Oliver Cromwell and the English People (Cambridge, 1937).

William Lamont
University of Sussex


Peccavimus

A printing error made my reply to Charles Fairbanks Jr (Letters, 8 October) say the opposite of what it meant. In my letter I wrote, and meant, the following: ‘My review does not say that Fukuyama himself is a conservative, let alone that Kojève was. On the contrary, I wrote, “there are signs in Fukuyama’s book that he is not firmly convinced that Kojève got everything right,” implying that it is not clear what Fukuyama himself believes. What is clear is that the book is shaped by his Straussian education.’

M.F. Burnyeat
Robinson College, Cambridge