Vol. 34 No. 11 · 7 June 2012

Search by issue:

What is the rational response?

Stephen Gardiner’s book on climate change, and Malcolm Bull’s review of it, labour under the widely held but mistaken belief that, ultimately because of a want of moral and political goodwill among the electorates of the Western democracies, no legally binding international agreement about greenhouse gas emissions has been reached (LRB, 24 May). This is not so. An agreement has been reached, but it is an agreement to allow unbounded increase in those emissions. Article 4(7) of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change provides that any policy towards developing countries ‘will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of those countries’. This is a perfectly clear legal permission for these countries to emit as much as they wish.

As the Framework Convention included Brazil, China and India among the developing countries, 4(7) has created an infinitely extendable margin for growth of emissions. This provision informs all subsequent climate change negotiations, which have never placed any obligation at all on the developing countries to reduce or even limit the growth of their absolute emissions. These countries would never have agreed to the Framework Convention if it did not include 4(7), and they have given every indication that they will never agree to any absolute emissions reductions because 4(7) accurately states their priorities. Those in charge of climate change negotiations have agreed this provision in a desperate attempt to get the negotiations going, and to keep them going, it would seem, as an end in itself.

David Campbell
School of Law, University of Leeds

Historical Logic

David and Ricardo Nirenberg suggest that I imply Carlo Ginzburg’s essays lack coherent conclusions; fail to realise that historians averse to intellectual systems must concern themselves with epistemology, as a safeguard against them; and don’t cite any historical rules without exceptions (Letters, 24 May). The first point is a misunderstanding. The swerve at the end of a Ginzburg essay comes not in lieu of a conclusion, but – as I made clear – subsequent to one, and far from troubling me, is a gesture I expressly admire. Their second proposition seems perverse. Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant: epistemology at war with intellectual system? So far as practical historians go, few need much prophylaxis against theoretical temptation: most are as indifferent to one as to the other. Historical rules that admit of no exceptions? Take your pick: all agrarian empires had official forms of worship; mass literacy is an invariable requirement of modern industry; machine guns trump bows and arrows; no European settler society has ever treated local populations equitably or humanely.

Perry Anderson
Santa Monica, California

What Kennan Saw

Unaddressed in Jackson Lears’s review of John Lewis Gaddis’s biography of George Kennan is the view Kennan formed about Russia as it emerged after 1991 even though Kennan wrote about Russia after communism (LRB, 24 May):

It will see the disappearance of the militant spirit, of the immediate, concrete objective, of the ready-made philosophy. Totally untrained to think for himself, unaccustomed to fighting his own mental battles and facing his own problems, guided neither by tradition, example, ideals, nor the personal responsibility which acts as a steadying influence in other countries, the young Russian will probably be as helpless and miserable as a babe in the woods. Introspection and mental perplexity will make short work of his self-confidence, once his faith in the mystic qualities of communism is ruined. From the most morally unified country in the world, Russia can become overnight the worst moral chaos.

The passage is from a memo Kennan wrote from his station in Riga in 1932, at the age of 28.

Bruce Jennings
Bethesda, Maryland

Honourably Embarrassed

Ian Jack questions whether children in the 1950s were still taught that they lived ‘in the greatest empire the world has ever seen’ (LRB, 10 May). I have a vivid memory of a children’s birthday party (mine) in London around 1960 at which a conjuror produced the following final ‘trick’. Four children were invited to step forward and hold crosswise two strings of small flags representing the world’s little nations. The conjuror then laid a large Union Jack over their crossing point and delivered a short lecture on the greatness and superiority of these islands. Even then I was embarrassed.

Matthew Barton

Less than Meets the Eye

It is true, as Yisrael Medad points out, that Marilyn Monroe’s conversion to Judaism was undertaken with the utmost seriousness and never repudiated, even after her divorce from Arthur Miller (Letters, 24 May). Rabbi Goldburg, writing in Reform Judaism, sees her attachment to Judaism as a rejection of the fundamentalist Protestantism she had experienced as a child, in favour of what she saw as Judaism’s ‘rationalism … its ethical and prophetic ideals and its concept of a close family life’. According to Goldburg, her hero was Albert Einstein ‘who represented for her the great scientist-humanist-Jew-Socialist-dissenter’. Monroe, Goldburg writes, identified with the ‘underdog’.

How ironic then that, as Richard Gott tells us, Bill Weatherby’s black lover, Christine, was a man and that he never let on to Monroe (Letters, 10 May). Weatherby reports her as saying apropos Montgomery Clift: ‘People who aren’t fit to open the door for him sneer at his homosexuality. What do they know about it? Labels – people love putting labels on each other. Then they feel safe. People tried to make me into a lesbian. I laughed.’

Finally, in relation to David Thomson’s letter about Monroe’s business acumen and acting talents (or rather lack thereof in his hardly ‘detached’ letter). I was interested in what lies behind appearances, in the relationship between her gifts, her aspirations and her inner life, none of which seems to have a place in his analysis.

Jacqueline Rose
London NW6

Yisrael Medad gives his address as Shiloh, Israel. Shiloh is an illegal Israeli settlement in the northern region of the West Bank. It is therefore in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, not in Israel.

Gabriel Piterberg
Los Angeles

Getting Popper Right

Katrina Forrester reads Popper as if he was a proponent of market liberalism, or ‘neoliberalism’ (LRB, 26 April). But this isn’t the case. Popper certainly valued liberty and markets; but within the broad commitments of the ‘open society’ he was willing to accept considerably more government involvement than neoliberals – or any conservative, for that matter – would. Any account of Popper’s views is complicated by the fact that he found admirers on the left as well as on the right. But today there is no reason to think that support for liberty and (well-regulated) markets alone entails any particular position on the liberal spectrum. Part of the interest of After ‘The Open Society’, the collection of Popper’s writings that Forrester reviews, which I co-edited, is that it shows the extent to which Popper never fully joined with Hayek and other neoliberals. For example, late in his career he proposed that the state take a 51 per cent share in all public companies (but not an active role in management). His attention to the problem of overpopulation and his (curmudgeonly) worry about the effects of mass market television, also tell against a neoliberal interpretation of his views, especially when a more consistent social democratic interpretation is available. Popper was explicitly critical of ‘free market ideology’. But the main contribution of his political philosophy was towards the defence of the widely shared liberal commitments of the ‘open society’, within which more specific policy prescriptions may be worked out through trial and error.

Jeremy Shearmur
Australian National University

The Real Thing

Bernard Porter’s account of the ambiguities of anthropology as it played in our ‘civilising mission’ in Africa brought to mind a story told by the American anthropologist Elizabeth Colson, who has studied the Tonga people of South Zambia for sixty years (LRB, 10 May). In the 1940s some earnest young Tongans told her they’d come to the conclusion that the Bible contained the knowledge that was the secret of European power over them. They didn’t trust the Bibles available from the local missions because they believed that the key passages had been cut out before the Bibles were distributed to Africans. They were hoping she had brought some unexpurgated copies with her.

Derek Summerfield
London SE5

What to say about Lanzmann?

Edward Luttwak claims we misrepresent Rudolf Vrba’s views on Israel, Zionism and Rudolf Kastner’s part in the failure to warn Hungarian Jews of their imminent deportation and murder (Letters, 24 May). Whatever Vrba told Luttwak of his reasons for leaving Israel in 1960, it is different from what he told us as both a family friend and a scientific colleague. And here is what he writes of Kastner in his memoir: ‘It is my contention that a small group of informed people, by their silence, deprived others of the possibility or privilege of making their own decisions in the face of mortal danger.’ Whether the diamonds and gold that Kastner paid to Eichmann as part of the deal to release a small group of Jews should be called a bribe is, of course, a matter of choice – and politics.

Finally, Vrba’s views on Israel. Steven last met him in Vancouver a year or so before he died. What was clear – however contradictory it might seem – was that his support for the Israeli state and his contempt for its Zionist leadership were robust and undimmed by the passing of time.

Hilary Rose and Steven Rose
London WC1

What to say about Fallada?

Philip Oltermann quotes Walter Ulbricht saying to Hans Fallada’s biographers: ‘the less you write about the author, the better’ (LRB, 8 March). No one is any longer quite so adamant, but there is still resistance in Germany to admitting Fallada’s chequered past. After his death in 1947, neither the major German literary archives nor the GDR government took an interest in his writing. But in 1981, literary centres were established in each of the East German provinces, and Fallada’s Nachlass – 35 boxes containing 11 major works and twenty thousand previously unknown letters – was deposited in the archive of Ostmecklenburg-Vorpommern. The centre steered researchers away from anything that might have pointed to his wish to go along with the Nazi regime and towards (mis)representing him as a ‘pillar of socialist culture’. Fallada was to be a poet of the common people, of the ‘little man’. His Selected Works, which left out his 1944 prison diary and Wir hatten mal ein Kind, the novel he thought of as his ‘most beautiful and richest’, were presented with ‘Marxist-oriented commentary’.

I was made aware of these efforts to portray Fallada as a supporter of communist ideas in the course of the 15 years during which I was the principal archivist of Fallada’s literary remains. His drunken fights with his first wife and the morphine addiction he shared with his second weren’t part of the desired image either, and his second wife was enjoined to present her marriage as entirely idyllic. Meanwhile his first wife received a number of visits from ‘unofficial co-workers’, who fed information back to the Stasi. My book detailing what the GDR did to Fallada’s reputation, Fallada – Fall ad acta?, was challenged in a Hamburg court in 2008 on the grounds, among others, that it was excessively critical of the GDR regime.

Sabine Lange

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences