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Letters


Royal Bodies

I’m indebted to Gerald Smith for his expert take on the health of Henry VIII (Letters, 21 March). I don’t in fact endorse the Whitley-Kramer postulate that Henry was Kell positive and went on to develop McLeod syndrome; I just throw it on the table, because it’s an interesting idea that encourages us to think again about the unhappy pregnancies of Henry’s first two wives and his own late-life afflictions. If biology was working against him, his striving for a healthy male heir, which conditioned so much of the history of his reign, was an even sadder enterprise than we have imagined.

If Henry had been the lecher of legend, and had slept with more women and sired more children, we would have more to go on. I think the Whitley-Kramer explanation is maybe overelaborate. As Smith says, the McLeod syndrome is very rare. There are more common conditions that could have led the later Henry to be obese, immobile, suspicious and miserable. And, as I said in my lecture, we should not underestimate the way that chronic pain (in his case from a leg ulcer) afflicts not just the body but the personality and the intellect.

As for the two unhappy wives, there’s no reason to suppose that their pregnancies failed for a shared reason. Henry may have thought so – in each case, God was not pleased with him – but we don’t have to think the same. Again, we don’t have all the information. We can’t be sure how many babies were lost, because the Tudors didn’t ring the bells for a royal miscarriage. Katherine of Aragon’s long history of multiple miscarriages and neo-natal deaths suggests more than common misfortune, but Anne Boleyn’s pattern of two or possibly three miscarriages is harder to read. The third wife, Jane Seymour, died after giving birth to her first child, so we don’t know what pattern might have emerged. And none of Henry’s later wives conceived. It’s interesting that Katherine’s surviving daughter, Mary, was an undergrown child and suffered poor health through her life, while Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth, enjoyed a glowing girlhood and proved to be a tough old bird.

People do tend to believe the worst of Henry, and it’s taken years to shake off the old notion that he had syphilis. So any new ideas are worth airing. And – I speak feelingly, as a person of expanding girth and diverse afflictions – a bit of posthumous sympathy doesn’t go amiss.

Hilary Mantel
Budleigh Salterton, Devon


How well I put my hand on it

In Anne Enright’s diary I was struck by the sentence ‘How well I put my hand on it,’ used by the Irish customs man on discovering Mrs Enright’s contraband tea (LRB, 21 March). This construction, ‘how well’, is one that my parents, both from Kerry, often used and it puzzled me as a child. Here it could easily be read as self-praise on the part of the customs man but, if I understand it correctly, it actually means something closer to ‘It’s sod’s law’ or ‘Isn’t that typical!’

Mick Sheahan
Ely, Cambridgeshire


Lost Words

Tony Judge reports the havoc wrought in James Murray’s scriptorium in 1899 by the ink-wielding schoolboy Cyril Joad, supposedly resulting in the materials for a number of words being lost to the Oxford English Dictionary: the anecdote, which Joad recounts in The Pleasure of Being Oneself, is disputed by Murray’s granddaughter Elisabeth Murray (Letters, 21 March). She observes in Caught in the Web of Words that the Murray family ‘remembered the fat, spoiled small boy, but not this episode. It was probably what Joad would like to have done, moved by the resentment which he says he felt against the “decorous regularity” of the Murray household.’ There certainly appears to have been no decline in the productivity of Murray and his fellow lexicographers in 1899: this was the year the annual total number of Dictionary pages published exceeded five hundred for the first time, an achievement they repeated in 1900 and 1901.

Peter Gilliver
Oxford


A World without States

In his review of my book On Global Justice, Malcolm Bull mischaracterises my argument in several significant ways (LRB, 21 February). First, he claims I have no problem with the fact that ‘a high proportion of the assets of the super-rich are now held in micro-plutocracies where the difference principle is ignored.’ This is plainly false: Bull acknowledges elsewhere that I endorse Rawls’s principles of justice at the domestic level.

Second, Bull writes that I promise ‘to leave the world very much as it already is’. Both Bull and I would be fortunate indeed to live in a world that my theory would leave very much as it already is. In a just world as I envisage it, governments are not only of, by and for their people; they are also trustees of the earth on behalf of future generations. If their people’s basic needs can be satisfied, governments must ensure that future generations’ needs will be too. Governments are partly responsible for the realisation of a duty of assistance to the poor. They must assume responsibility for the maintenance of a just trade system, which considers the interests of those who live elsewhere. They must do their share to foster the flourishing of humanity. They must also account for what they do to fulfil these duties.

Distinguishing among different grounds of justice, my approach dilutes the contrast between domestic and foreign policy. Governments must not neglect their duties with regard to immigration, climate change or future generations even if (given current policies) discharging such duties threatens disproportionately to affect disadvantaged segments of society. Social policy must be reformed to this end, and domestic tax codes adjusted.

Third, Bull claims that I couldn’t possibly agree with Martin Luther King’s dictum that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ In fact I say that King overstates the matter. Since I distinguish among different grounds of justice, not every injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. However, most grounds are global in scope (common humanity, collective ownership, membership in the global order). King’s claim is true for all of those. Bull is in error when he insists that there is no global injustice in my account. But in a just world as I envisage it human potential is unleashed in all its strength and variety. Massive global inequalities would be unlikely to persist. Such a world is like ours only in the sense that it would still be a world of states.

What is true is that I reject the approach to global justice that has become dominant among political philosophers. According to this ‘cosmopolitan’ approach, justice requires that we create a world in which the same principles of justice apply to all human beings: there should be global equality of opportunity, for instance, and economic policies that promote the interests of the globally least advantaged. Such a world would differ enormously from ours. It may therefore sound like the sort of proposal philosophers (as opposed to politicians) ought to make. I disagree. A view like this involves the abandonment of states as we know them. It asks us to theorise a world we understand far too little for such a vision to be action-guiding. If we want utopian thinking to be both intelligible and action-guiding, we must realise that a world without states is outside these limits.

Mathias Risse
Harvard University


We did it

Referring to the controversy surrounding the death of Patrice Lumumba in1960, Bernard Porter quotes Calder Walton’s conclusion: ‘The question remains whether British plots to assassinate Lumumba … ever amounted to anything. At present, we do not know’ (LRB, 21 March). Actually, in this particular case, I can report that we do. It so happens that I was having a cup of tea with Daphne Park – we were colleagues from opposite sides of the Lords – a few months before she died in March 2010. She had been consul and first secretary in Leopoldville, now Kinshasa, from 1959 to 1961, which in practice (this was subsequently acknowledged) meant head of MI6 there. I mentioned the uproar surrounding Lumumba’s abduction and murder, and recalled the theory that MI6 might have had something to do with it. ‘We did,’ she replied, ‘I organised it.’

We went on to discuss her contention that Lumumba would have handed over the whole lot to the Russians: the high-value Katangese uranium deposits as well as the diamonds and other important minerals largely located in the secessionist eastern state of Katanga. Against that, I put the point that I didn’t see how suspicion of Western involvement and of our motivation for Balkanising their country would be a happy augury for the new republic’s peaceful development.

David Lea
London SW1


Go and get killed, comrade

Gideon Lewis-Kraus states that Harry Pollitt turned down Orwell’s request to join the International Brigades (LRB, 21 February). In fact, Orwell wasn’t prepared to make a decision about joining the Brigades until he had been to Spain and seen for himself what was happening there: his request to Pollitt was for some kind of Communist Party documentation that would get him into the country. None of the other volunteers asked for any such privilege, and it isn’t surprising that Pollitt refused to help him. It wasn’t until the spring of 1937, after he’d become disillusioned with the POUM militia, that Orwell requested a transfer to the Brigades. By then, however, he would have been marked down as ‘politically unreliable’ and so was still serving with the POUM in ‘the civil war within the Civil War’ in May 1937.

Christopher Farman
Deddington, Oxfordshire


The Short Cold War

David Runciman’s account of the Profumo scandal includes a passage about George Kennan which is wrong in two respects (LRB, 21 February). First, Kennan did not think ‘the West’, his central concern, was about ‘democracy’, a system fine for, say, Norway but not for Portugal, where his friend Salazar’s authoritarianism was quite appropriate. Democracy in the US? Kennan was not convinced. Second, the primary point of ‘containment’ was to block an expansionist Soviet Union such that, like a thwarted cancer cell, it would suffer the institutional consequences in ten or 15 years. What would destroy the Soviets was stopping their compulsion to expand. Already in mid-1948, a year after he outlined the policy, Kennan had broken with it and begun to argue for real dealings with Moscow. Runciman is right, though, in seeing 1963 as pivotal. It is the moment when the Cold War as a US project comes to an end; after the Sino-Soviet conflict and the Cuba Missile Crisis, it wasn’t viable. The name of the game from then on was great-power management; even Reagan, once he was finished with his Cold War pastiche, realised this.

Anders Stephanson
New York


We blush

It certainly is irritating when people confuse apostrophes with opening inverted commas: shame on the OUP for getting the form wrong – and shame on Colin Burrow and the LRB’s editors for getting the term wrong in his Milton review (LRB, 7 March).

James Fanning
Universität Greifswald, Germany


Poor Thompson

I love the LRB – no facetiousness intended. In what other publication in the 21st century (outside the jihad) could you find an essay (Jeremy Harding writing about Frank Thompson) which concludes that it is better to have died young and bravely for a good cause than to have lived a long life as a bad poet (LRB, 7 March)?

Samuel Reifler
Rhinebeck, New York