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Tory History

Alan Ryan, 23 January 1986

English Society 1688-1832 
by J.C.D. Clark.
Cambridge, 439 pp., £30, November 1985, 0 521 30922 0
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Virtue, Commerce and History 
by J.G.A. Pocock.
Cambridge, 321 pp., £25, November 1985, 0 521 25701 8
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... Demolish a much-loved building, and you are left with rubble. Demolish a much-loved piece of political theory, and you find it rising from its own ashes, somewhat changed in appearance, but detectably the same creature as before. The ‘Whig Interpretation of History’ is a case in point. Herbert Butterfield slew it in 1931, and here come John Pocock and Jonathan Clark to slay it again ...

Bertie and Alys and Ottoline

Alan Ryan, 28 May 1992

The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell. Vol. I: The Private Years, 1884-1914 
edited by Nicholas Griffin.
Allen Lane, 553 pp., £25, March 1992, 0 7139 9023 6
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... Bertrand Russell has been dead for twenty years, but his ability to arouse strong emotions seems undiminished. The Economist’s reviewer of these letters – perhaps carried away by pre-election anxiety – offered the opinion that Russell was ‘a moral dwarf’, while others have commented pretty sharply on the disparity between the honesty with which Russell faced the ruin of his intellectual projects and the duplicity and self-deception of his marital and extra-marital dealings ...

Can Marxism be rescued?

Alan Ryan, 17 September 1987

An Introduction to Karl Marx 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 220 pp., £5.95, October 1986, 0 521 32922 1
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Making sense of Marx 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 556 pp., £32.50, May 1985, 0 521 22896 4
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Analytical Marxism 
edited by John Roemer.
Cambridge, 321 pp., £27.50, March 1986, 0 521 30025 8
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... The relationship between philosophy and Marxism has always been an awkward one. ‘Philosophy stands to the study of the real world in the same relationship as masturbation stands to real sexual love,’ said Marx himself. Was this a dismissal of all forms of philosophy, or only of the overblown Idealism of Hegel? Would he have been equally dismissive of pragmatism or empiricism; would Pierce or Mill have received the same short shrift? Marx was unwilling to waste time on such questions ...

Radical Heritage

Conrad Russell, 1 September 1988

Bertrand Russell: A Political Life 
by Alan Ryan.
Allen Lane, 226 pp., £16.95, June 1988, 0 7139 9005 8
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... heirs are not necessarily the infallible custodians of his or her political legacy. The fact that Alan Ryan’s view of Bertrand Russell and my own are very closely similar is not, therefore, proof that we are both right. It is merely proof that our perceptions are compatible with a thorough knowledge of the evidence, and perhaps reason for suspecting ...

Something to Steer by

Richard Rorty, 20 June 1996

John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism 
by Alan Ryan.
Norton, 414 pp., $30, May 1995, 0 393 03773 8
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... construction. Yet he was as romantic and visionary as any philosopher who has ever lived. As Alan Ryan says, ‘the dominant tone of 20th-century cultural criticism has been exactly at odds with Dewey’s.’ That tone has grown drier and more brittle as the century has grown older. Dewey was, throughout his long life, as wet as they come. ...

Bland Fanatics

Pankaj Mishra: Liberalism and Colonialism, 3 December 2015

On Politics: A History of Political Thought from Herodotus to the Present 
by Alan Ryan.
Penguin, 1152 pp., £14.99, September 2013, 978 0 14 028518 5
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Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism 
by Larry Siedentop.
Penguin, 448 pp., £9.99, January 2015, 978 0 14 100954 4
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Liberalism: The Life of an Idea 
by Edmund Fawcett.
Princeton, 496 pp., £16.95, September 2015, 978 0 691 16839 5
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An Imperial Path to Modernity: Yoshino Sakuzō and a New Liberal Order in East Asia 1905-37 
by Jung-Sun Ni Han.
Harvard, 244 pp., £29.95, March 2013, 978 0 674 06571 0
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... Unlike Edmund Fawcett, a former Economist journalist who seems aware of its crisis of credibility, Alan Ryan and Larry Siedentop continue to uphold liberalism as a universal ideology to which all political progress has been leading. ‘The only morally acceptable form of democracy’, Ryan writes, is ‘liberal ...

Who should own what?

John Dunn, 18 October 1984

Property and Political Theory 
by Alan Ryan.
Blackwell, 198 pp., £15, August 1984, 0 631 13691 6
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... subject your own size; affect a style which will readily hold up in your customary social milieu.) Alan Ryan’s Property and Political Theory is thus a bolder venture than it may at first appear. There has been a small handful of serious philosophical or historical works on the nature of property rights published in the last few decades: Richard ...

John Stuart Mill’s Forgotten Victory

Alasdair MacIntyre, 16 October 1980

An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy 
by John Stuart Mill, edited by J.M. Robson.
Routledge, 625 pp., £15.95, February 1980, 0 7100 0178 9
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... and presumably therefore Hume’s – associationist empiricism with the furthering of that cause. Alan Ryan, in his excellent introduction to this edition of the Examination, remarks mildly: ‘One might doubt whether there was any very close practical connection between, say, a Kantian view of knowledge and conservatism on the one hand, and a Humean ...

A Leg-Up for Oliver North

Richard Rorty, 20 October 1994

Dictatorship of Virtue: Multiculturalism and the Battle for America’s Future 
by Richard Bernstein.
Knopf, 367 pp., $25, September 1994, 0 679 41156 9
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... black contemporaries not just by money and life-chances but by a ‘difference of culture’. As Alan Ryan has pointed out, the people who wave the banners of multiculturalism typically pride themselves on their Post-Modernism, but revert to old-fashioned essentialism when they start describing the incommensurable identities of members of diverse ...

Pull the Other One

Ian Hacking, 26 January 1995

The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life 
by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray.
Free Press, 845 pp., £25, November 1994, 0 02 914673 9
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... criticisms. Stephen Jay Gould spoke out in the New Yorker of 28 November. I especially recommend Alan Ryan’s analysis in the New York Review of Books of 17 November, followed in the 1 December issue by Charles Lane’s examination of some of the sources of statistical information in this book, sources closely connected with an Edinburgh ...
The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age 
by Gertrude Himmelfarb.
Faber, 595 pp., £20, March 1984, 0 571 13177 8
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... thought, she is too eclectic and inconsistent in her methodology (as suggested by the savaging Alan Ryan gave her book on Mill); while to hard-nosed historians of political action, she seems altogether too preoccupied with ideology (as shown by the severe criticisms of her attempt to analyse the passing of the Second Reform Bill in these terms). For ...

Towards the Transhuman

James Atlas, 2 February 1984

The Oxford Companion to American Literature 
by James Hart.
Oxford, 896 pp., £27.50, November 1983, 0 19 503074 5
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The Modern American Novel 
by Malcolm Bradbury.
Oxford, 209 pp., £9.95, April 1983, 0 19 212591 5
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The Literature of the United States 
by Marshall Walker.
Macmillan, 236 pp., £14, November 1983, 0 333 32298 3
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American Fictions 1940-1980: A Comprehensive History and Critical Valuation 
by Frederick Karl.
Harper and Row, 637 pp., £31.50, February 1984, 0 06 014939 6
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Hugging the Shore: Essays and Criticism 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 919 pp., £21, January 1984, 0 233 97610 8
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... demands it. The Modern American Novel is an ‘Opus Book’ (General Editors – Keith Thomas, Alan Ryan, Peter Medawar) intended for students. The Literature of the United States is a volume in the Macmillan History of Literature. But no Oxford undergraduate could get by with generalities like this aperçu of Professor Walker’s: ‘Jewish novels ...

Short Cuts

David Bromwich: Romney-Ryan, 30 August 2012

... excitement in a dull election by announcing that he would share the Republican ticket with Paul Ryan: a seven-term congressman, chairman of the House Budget Committee and intellectual guru of the congressional Tea Party. The choice was not altogether surprising. The moderate lawmakers whom Romney might have picked were without popular appeal, and it must ...

Sic transit Marshall McLuhan

Frank Kermode, 17 March 1988

Letters of Marshall McLuhan 
edited by Matie Molinaro, Corinne McLuhan and William Toye.
Oxford, 562 pp., £25, March 1988, 0 19 540594 3
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... now, is a massive and explicit testimony to sensory change.’ A review of Miller’s book by Alan Ryan brought on a correspondence in the Listener, and Miller wrote an article for that journal, thus continuing, said the aggrieved subject, ‘his anti-McLuhan crusade’ and going on like some 19th-century rationalist attacking Catholicism. He even ...

Putting the Manifesto before the Movie

Ryan Gilbey: Ken Loach, 31 October 2002

Sweet Sixteen 
directed by Ken Loach.
October 2002
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The Cinema of Ken Loach: Art in the Service of the People 
by Jacob Leigh.
Wallflower, 192 pp., £13.99, May 2002, 1 903364 31 0
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... Thatcherism and its repercussions. Stephen Frears’s Bloody Kids, Mike Leigh’s Meantime and Alan Clarke’s Made In Britain revealed more about the Tory menace than anything Loach has come up with to date. These films make a statement that resonates. The images of delegates attending the 1982 Conservative and Labour Party Conferences in Loach’s ...

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