A.J.P. Taylor

As I get older – and I have another birthday coming up – I reflect with detached curiosity on the changes I have seen. The most considerable change has only just occurred to me. When I was young we all believed in Progress and so did a couple of generations before us. We followed the guidance of Dr Coué and chanted in unison: ‘Every day in every way I am getting better and better.’ Progress was a watertight guarantee that, despite temporary setbacks such as world wars, all would come right in the end. Few people believe that nowadays. Take that incomparable achievement of the 19th century: the railways of this country, the finest method of moving about ever devised. Now they are degenerating fast and we are assured that they will degenerate more: fewer stations, fewer lines, fewer trains. Soon they will come to a halt altogether. Roads are an inadequate substitute. A few years ago the motorways were supposed to be triumphs of engineering. Now they are falling to pieces. The Severn Bridge is rusting. ‘Spaghetti Junction’ may soon have to be closed altogether. I am enough of a motorist to have learnt that it is safer and quicker to travel off the motorways than on them, but one hard winter, it seems, has brought havoc even to the ordinary roads of the country. It all sounds like the end of the Roman Empire. Destruction as an ideal has taken the place of Progress, as witness such varied activities as the riots at Toxteth and the manufacture of nuclear weapons. When Malcolm Muggeridge and I were young we used to speculate about the end of civilisation. Little did we expect it would come in our lifetimes.

The full text of this diary is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in

[*] Seeker, 199 pp., £7.95, 22 March, 0 436 42080 5.