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Hegel in Green Wellies

Stefan Collini: England, 8 March 2001

England: An Elegy 
by Roger Scruton.
Chatto, 270 pp., £16.99, October 2000, 1 85619 251 2
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The Faber Book of Landscape Poetry 
edited by Kenneth Baker.
Faber, 426 pp., £25, October 2000, 0 571 20071 0
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... Condition of England writing is the product of a perceived acceleration in the pace of social change. We owe the term to Carlyle, writing in the 1830s, when the ‘Condition of England Question’ largely turned on the nature of the link between a new form of economic activity (then just coming to be termed ‘industrialism’) which promised undreamed of material abundance, and a newly visible degradation in the living conditions of the urban poor ...


Stefan Collini: C. Day-Lewis, 6 September 2007

C. Day-Lewis: A Life 
by Peter Stanford.
Continuum, 368 pp., £25, May 2007, 978 0 8264 8603 5
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... What are poets good for? Are all attempts to speak of ‘the function of poetry’, with that reductive definite article, doomed to pompous failure? In response to these questions, the sentence which precedes Shelley’s over-quoted dictum that ‘poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’ is rarely cited, and one can see why. ‘Poets,’ he writes, ‘are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves ...

Who are the spongers now?

Stefan Collini, 21 January 2016

Fulfilling Our Potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice 
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, November 2015, 978 1 4741 2492 8Show More
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... In​  After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (1981), Alasdair MacIntyre raised the disquieting possibility that what we take to be ‘the’ language of morality now amounts to little more than a collection of verbal remains – husks from which the kernels of coherent moral beliefs have long since been removed. ‘What we possess … are the fragments of a conceptual scheme, parts which now lack those contexts from which their significance derived ...

Unreasoning Vigour

Stefan Collini: Ian Watt, 9 May 2019

Ian Watt: The Novel and the Wartime Critic 
by Marina MacKay.
Oxford, 228 pp., £25, November 2018, 978 0 19 882499 2
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... My​ military career was on the comic side.’ Self-protective irony was Ian Watt’s chosen register when describing his wartime experience some twenty years later. That experience began when the 24-year-old Lieutenant Watt was posted, along with the rest of the 5th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, to the Far East in the winter of 1941 ...

Saint or Snake

Stefan Collini: Ann Oakley on Richard Titmuss, 8 October 2015

Father and Daughter: Patriarchy, Gender and Social Science 
by Ann Oakley.
Policy, 290 pp., £13.99, November 2014, 978 1 4473 1810 1
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... Descriptions​ of Richard Titmuss often drew on the language of otherworldliness. He was ‘the high priest of the welfare state’ according to an assessment quoted in the ODNB. His entry there considers, though judiciously rejects, his frequent characterisation as a ‘saint’; understandably, it doesn’t cite his LSE colleague Michael Oakeshott’s description of him as ‘a snake in saint’s clothing ...

In real sound stupidity the English are unrivalled

Stefan Collini: ‘Cosmo’ for Capitalists, 6 February 2020

Liberalism at Large: The World According to the ‘Economist’ 
by Alexander Zevin.
Verso, 538 pp., £25, November 2019, 978 1 78168 624 9
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... How​  do you write like the Economist?’ a new member of staff asked as he began to compose his first leading article for the paper some years ago. ‘Pretend you are God,’ a senior colleague replied. Given that the deity tends not to comment directly on current affairs these days, the anxious recruit may have struggled to put this advice into practice ...

Kept Alive for Thirty Days

Stefan Collini: Metrics, 8 November 2018

The Tyranny of Metrics 
by Jerry Z. Muller.
Princeton, 220 pp., £19.95, February 2018, 978 0 691 17495 2
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The Metric Tide 
by James Wilsdon et al.
Sage, 168 pp., £19.99, February 2016, 978 1 4739 7306 0
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... How much​ does your spouse or partner love you? Is it more or less than other people love their partners? To find out, we would need to measure the available evidence. Suppose that having identified the relevant population, we count how many times a week partners are brought tea in bed, how many times they are cuddled, how many times they are told ‘I love you,’ and so on ...

Our Island Story

Stefan Collini: The New DNB, 20 January 2005

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 
edited by H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison.
Oxford, sixty volumes, £7,500, September 2004, 9780198614111
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... A dictionary is, first and foremost, a practical resource; its usability when subjected to a variety of everyday scholarly demands must be the chief test of its worth. But a work on the scale of The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is bound also to be seen as much more than a reference tool: as, by turns, a statement of national identity, an occasion for communal pride, a showcase for contemporary historical scholarship, a piece of swagger publishing, and, less directly, a stay against oblivion, a giant memorial slab designed to stir thoughts on fame and obscurity, on mortality and immortality ...


Stefan Collini: Edmund Wilson, 17 November 2005

Edmund Wilson: A Life in Literature 
by Lewis Dabney.
Farrar, Straus, 642 pp., £35, August 2005, 0 374 11312 2
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... Edmund Wilson has become an object of fantasy. A lot of desire is currently invested in him as the representative of a cherished role: the critic-as-generalist, the man of letters as cultural critic, or what in the last decade or more it has become common in the United States to call the ‘public intellectual’. Fantasies are, by definition, about the not-present, and all of these notions are deployed to express a sense of absence or loss, a form of keening for a vanished world ...

Le Roi Jean Quinze

Stefan Collini: Roy Jenkins and Labour, 5 June 2014

Roy Jenkins: A Well-Rounded Life 
by John Campbell.
Cape, 818 pp., £30, March 2014, 978 0 224 08750 6
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... 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 ...


Stefan Collini: Aspiration etc…, 8 April 2010

Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions 
Cabinet Office, 167 pp., July 2009Show More
British Social Attitudes: The 26th Report 
National Centre for Social Research, 294 pp., £50, January 2010, 978 1 84920 387 6Show More
An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK: Report of the National Equality Panel 
Government Equalities Office, 457 pp., January 2010Show More
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... Historians have a taste for labels that capture the character or spirit of a period – The Bleak Age, The Age of Equipoise or, in a recent work on the interwar period, The Morbid Age. It will serve early 21st-century Britain right if it becomes known as ‘The Aspirational Age’. To those who can use the word ‘aspirational’ without wincing, this might seem high praise ...

From Robbins to McKinsey

Stefan Collini: The Dismantling of the Universities, 25 August 2011

Higher Education: Students at the Heart of the System 
Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, £79, June 2011, 978 0 10 181222 1Show More
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... One of the most fascinating yet elusive aspects of cultural change is the way certain ideals and arguments acquire an almost self-evident power at particular times, just as others come to seem irrelevant or antiquated and largely disappear from public debate. In the middle of the 18th century, to describe a measure as ‘displaying the respect that is due to rank’ was a commonplace commendation; in the middle of the 19th, affirming that a proposal contributed to ‘the building of character’ would have been part of the mood music of public discourse; in the middle of the 20th, ‘a decent standard of life’ was the goal of all parties and almost all policies ...

Snakes and Ladders

Stefan Collini: Versions of Meritocracy, 1 April 2021

The Crisis of the Meritocracy: Britain’s Transition to Mass Education since the Second World War 
by Peter Mandler.
Oxford, 361 pp., £25, September 2020, 978 0 19 884014 5
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The Meritocracy Trap 
by Daniel Markovits.
Allen Lane, 464 pp., £10.99, August 2020, 978 0 14 198474 2
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... Once​ upon a time, the distribution of power and privilege was determined by birth. Now, it is determined by merit. And that, in a nutshell, is the history of the long 20th century.It may be a parody, but this little narrative encapsulates one of the structuring claims of contemporary public debate. We can argue over the extent to which merit is, in fact, now the chief determinant of reward, but there is remarkably wide agreement that it should be, and that the operation of this principle is part of what defines a properly modern, even progressive, society ...

Sold Out

Stefan Collini: The Costs of University Privatisation, 24 October 2013

Everything for Sale? The Marketisation of UK Higher Education 
by Roger Brown and Helen Carasso.
Routledge, 235 pp., £26.99, February 2013, 978 0 415 80980 1
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The Great University Gamble: Money, Markets and the Future of Higher Education 
by Andrew McGettigan.
Pluto, 215 pp., £16.99, April 2013, 978 0 7453 3293 2
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... It’s time for the criticism to stop. Whatever you think about the changes to higher education that have been made in recent years, in particular the decision in the autumn of 2010 largely to replace public funding of teaching with student fees, this is now the system we’ve got. Carping about the principle or sniping at the process is simply unhelpful: it antagonises ministers and officials, thereby jeopardising future negotiations, and it wins little sympathy from the media and wider public ...


Stefan Collini, 6 November 2003

The Future of Higher Education 
Stationery Office, 112 pp., £17.50, January 2003, 0 10 157352 9Show More
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... We see a higher education sector which meets the needs of the economy in terms of trained people, research and technology transfer. At the same time it needs to enable all suitably qualified individuals to develop their potential both intellectually and personally, and to provide the necessary storehouse of expertise in science and technology, and the arts and humanities which defines our civilisation and culture ...

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