Le Roi Jean Quinze
- BuyRoy Jenkins: A Well-Rounded Life by John Campbell
Cape, 818 pp, £30.00, March 2014, ISBN 978 0 224 08750 6
Three hopes or dreams have played important parts in modern progressive politics in Britain in the decades after 1945. The first is the dream of the social-democratic equivalent of the philosopher-king. This expresses the hope that even in contemporary mass democracies a figure will emerge who can work the political machine and at the same time embody intellect, sensibility and liberal values, someone who can win power and then exercise it in the name of reason and enlightenment. The longing of those with intellectual and radical inclinations to be governed by someone like them can, of course, encourage the investment of unrealistic hopes in potential candidates and the chosen champion can become the target of unreasonable blame.
Vol. 36 No. 15 · 31 July 2014
With his study of Roy Jenkins, Stefan Collini gives us another of his beautifully judged portraits of Britain’s 20th-century intellectuals, politicians and scholars (LRB, 5 June). But for me the pleasure was marred on this occasion by the sideswipe in his final sentence at ‘the killjoy bureaucratism of the Webbs’. I tried to dispel this characterisation in a book I wrote more than thirty years ago, Fabianism and Culture, substantial sections of which were devoted to showing how the Webbs sought to resist any such ascetic and mechanistic excesses in their socialist thought – and in their own lives, for all the self-restraint they embodied. David Cannadine, who reviewed the book in the LRB, 15 July 1982, noted that I’d succeeded at least in making the Webbs ‘two-and-a-half dimensional’. It’s sad to see them reduced once more to casual caricature.