Bristling Ermine

Jeremy Harding

  • Look Back in Laughter: Oxford’s Postwar Golden Age by R.W. Johnson
    Threshold, 272 pp, £14.50, May 2015, ISBN 978 1 903152 35 5
  • How Long Will South Africa Survive? The Looming Crisis by R.W. Johnson
    Hurst, 288 pp, £12.99, July 2016, ISBN 978 1 84904 723 4

R.W. Johnson is a long-standing contributor to the LRB. His first appearance was on the letters page in 1981, where he took ‘mild issue’ with a review of his most celebrated book, The Long March of the French Left. In 1984 he wrote a memorable piece about national intelligence agencies, and the following year, a homage to Pierre Mendès France, one of the best pieces the paper has published on postwar politics in France. He has gone on to write more than a hundred pieces for the LRB, as an Oxford scholar whose politics were to the left of the editor’s (Karl Miller favoured the SDP, while Johnson favoured Labour). Nowadays I think he’d still say he was on the left but it isn’t obvious what that would mean, in his case especially. Like many people, he prides himself on describing things as they really are.

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[*] Roger Southall, who reviewed Johnson’s Brave New World in the LRB of 8 October 2009, agrees that the ANC is now ‘a threat to democracy’, along with Mugabe’s Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe and Swapo in Namibia. In a revised edition of his Liberation Movements in Power published last year, he finds that ‘the promise they once embodied is now dead.’ The inexperienced ANC listened carefully to business leaders and multinational CEOs. Too carefully, in Southall’s view: it wasn’t long before the corporates were exercising an undue influence on economic policy.

[†] The World Bank Group’s 2016 Poverty and Shared Prosperity annual makes it clear that Sub-Saharan Africans are not beneficiaries of the ongoing drop in worldwide poverty since 1990. The conspicuous fall has taken place in the Asia-Pacific region.