Jonathan Rée

Jonathan Rée’s books include Proletarian Philosophers, Witcraft and A Schoolmaster’s War.

None of us can fully disengage from morality: even if we think of ourselves as free spirits we still want our lives to make a good story. But many are foolish enough to be impressed by the cynical bravado of Brecht’s Macheath: Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral (‘Feeding comes first, morals must wait’) – as if morality were a luxury that need not concern us, like fast cars or a top hat.


One of His Tricks

27 July 2023

Jenny Turner reports that Fleur Jaeggy wrote an Italian translation of Thomas De Quincey’s Last Days of Immanuel Kant (LRB, 27 July). It’s worth noting that the opium eater was playing one of his tricks: Last Days is a plagiarised version of a German work published in 1804 by Kant’s last amanuensis, Ehregott Andreas Wasianski.

Opium of the Elite: Hayek in England

Jonathan Rée, 2 February 2023

Markets offered a solution not so much to Adam Smith’s ‘problem of the division of labour’ as to what Friedrich Hayek called the ‘problem of the division of knowledge’. They were fundamentally a ‘mechanism for communicating information’, but unlike newspapers, which operate like a web, gathering and distributing information through a central hub, they function as a centreless net which allows us to ‘avail ourselves ... of knowledge which individually we do not possess’. Markets were, as Hayek put it with uncharacteristic exuberance, a ‘marvel’, co-ordinating economic decisions in ‘a process in which the individual plays a part which he can never fully understand’. They are, you might say, a device for pooling our ignorance. This way of looking at markets may not have been revolutionary, but it was genuinely illuminating, and Hayek would describe it as the only ‘discovery’ he had ever made, hoping it had finally disposed of that ‘skeleton in our cupboard’ – the fiction of ‘economic man’.

In his piece on resistance movements in the Second World War, Malcolm Gaskill mistakenly refers to my father, Harry Rée, as a ‘Lancashire schoolmaster’ (LRB, 7 July). In fact he trained at the Institute in London and was just embarking on his second year as a teacher in Beckenham when he joined up. And he can hardly have spoken French with a Mancunian accent: he was born in Manchester, but...

Ernst Cassirer​ got a warm welcome when he moved to the United States in 1941. He was a near perfect embodiment of the idea of the great European thinker: not only a multilingual intellectual historian, doubtless familiar with every significant document of Western civilisation, but also a synoptic philosopher who had explored the deep questions that animate cultures and give meaning to...

Harry Rée wanted his British audience to understand that the French men and women who had taken part in the Resistance were not superhuman. ‘What I shall try to get across,’ he told a symposium in...

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Jonathan Rée takes some tomfoolery from Shakespeare for his title and uses it to create his own striking metaphor. The middle part of his book is about sign languages for the deaf: voices...

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Thou shalt wage class war

Gareth Stedman Jones, 1 November 1984

Sometime in the late Sixties, I was invited, along with some senior socialist historians, to meet Bill Craik, a veteran and pioneer, so I was told, of independent working-class education. The...

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