Author: John Lloyd

Houses of Horrors

In country after country, museums are now undergoing an épuration—a process of confession and penance. Until recently, debate about empire in European and other democratic countries was consigned to historians’ squabbles. Now, the West’s colonial past occupies a central place in the culture wars, roaring for belated recognition of its legacies. At the least, the demand now pressed upon the museums, mainly by their own radicalised staffs, is for greater sensitivity and respect in the display of the millions of artefacts taken from colonial possessions. At the most morally exacting extreme, they are exhorted to adopt a similar posture to that taken by Holocaust museums, acknowledging complicity in organised massacres. On this account, museums must bear witness to past events “where people are killed in their thousands and tens of thousands, when palaces, temples and villages are bombarded, when cultural treasures are looted and sold.” This is the uncompromising posture adopted by Dan Hicks, Professor of Contemporary Archaeology at Oxford University, curator of archaeology at the university’s Pitt Rivers Museum, and author of The Brutish …

The New Age of Empire—A Review

A review of The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World by Kehinde Andrews. Bold Type Books, 288 pages. (March 2021) In the days and weeks following the death of George Floyd, as Americans marched, and in some cases, burned their own cities, the world of public relations swung into action. They advised their clients to take note of these developments, and to be aware that hitherto innocuous attitudes and products might cause unintended offence in the new climate. This produced some surprising and counter-intuitive behaviour. When a happy customer congratulated Yorkshire Tea on Twitter for resisting the urge to make a fashionable political statement, a representative curtly responded that Yorkshire Tea “stood against racism” and then, for good measure, added: “Please don’t buy our tea again.” The PG Tips tea company owned by Unilever rapidly expressed solidarity with its rival. As anti-BLM bloggers and tweeters began demanding a boycott of Yorkshire Tea, Unilever issued a statement: “If you are boycotting teas that stand against racism, you’re going to have to …

Scottish Nationalists in Turmoil

Who would have thought that Scotland’s largest party would be roiled by sex scandals? Sex is not normally seen as part of Scotland’s national brand, but it is now and it has not added lustre. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has, for nearly 90 years, sought the break-up of Britain, believing that the Union of 1707 between Scotland and England was illegitimate. It was attained by bribery of the Scots parliamentarians, thereby destroying the Edinburgh parliament and absorbing political Scotland into Westminster government. The home of eccentrics and literary men and women, nationalism was for a long time regarded by most Scots as a tartan fringe and a wasted vote. Before and during the Second World War, some of its leaders even leaned towards the Nazis, in the cranky hope that a German victory over England would deliver liberation for Scotland. To this end, the most prominent Scots writer, Hugh MacDiarmid, wrote unpublished poems calling for the Luftwaffe to destroy London, “the earth’s greatest stumbling block and rock of offence.” The electorate remained unconvinced. Nevertheless, …

Visions Are Sublime; Social Reform Is Messy

The 2020 US elections and the subsequent inauguration of Joe Biden have returned a centre-Left party to power in the United States, buoyed by a Democratic majority in Congress and the Senate (though the first is thin and the second is only a single vote). The Democrats’ opponents in the Republican party, meanwhile, are poised for an internal struggle over its future direction and character—the raucous belligerence of the Trumpism to which it has lately become accustomed, or moderation that allows for robust opposition and the prospect of deals with a new president whose record suggests he’ll oblige, at least on some issues. The solidity of Biden’s future governance is restricted, however, to the slender majorities the Democrats have managed to secure in Washington. If Trump does decide to remain in politics, boosted by a losing vote higher than any Republican candidate had received in the past, his base will remain, in substantial part, angry, disaffected, and militant. As at least two polls have shown, they are as likely to believe that Trump did win …

Corruption: Greasing the Wheels of the World

One December evening in the late ’90s, I met a friend in a Moscow restaurant. I drank two zero-alcohol beers that night—an eccentric posture, in a Russian-Georgian restaurant—and then drove back to my borrowed flat in a car lent to me by my successor as the FT’s Moscow Correspondent. In Russia, no alcohol is permitted at all when driving—a law fashioned, it would seem, to allow the city’s GAI (Gosurdarstvennaya Aftomobilnaya Inspektsiya, or state traffic police) to supplement their low pay. As I was passing one of the new luxury hotels, a thick bundle of clothes propelled on boots and topped with a badged fur shapka waved his stick before my windscreen and motioned me to pull over. He told me to wind down my window, and stuck his head in. “Dikhnite!” (“Breathe!”) he instructed. Then he smiled, stepped back, saluted, and told me to get out of the car. He asked for my passport, and as he looked at it he told me I had been drinking. Yes, I admitted, but only zero-alcohol beer. …

The Search for a Politics of Community

After COVID-19—when that moment finally arrives—will be a bleak time for most. Debts must be reckoned with; cuts must be made; seasons of possibly violent political struggle will not be avoided. But COVID-19 monopolises so much news media time and content, that it has frozen or put out of most minds large social and political issues with which democracies will have to contend in due course. They may have to deal with them to remain democracies. One of these, which still intrudes into the news, is the migrant issue. Last week, a Kurdish-Iranian family drowned in the English Channel, reportedly forced onto a frail boat for a desperate voyage to the UK. The pity of this tragic incident, which claimed the lives of two adults and three children, kept it in the news for a couple of days. Then the migrant issue receded again. Still, it waits. “The West,” Israeli political scientist Martin Van Creveld has observed, “is rather like a besieged castle, the waves battering against the walls. They [the 80 percent of the …

Is China the Governance of the Future?

In his 2009 book When China Rules the World, Martin Jacques notes with satisfaction that “as a Chinese world order begins to take shape, the American world order is eroding with remarkable speed.” His widely praised book is highly complimentary to the present Chinese polity and to its president, Xi Jinping—Jacques sees the huge nation as an example to developing countries, especially in its creation of what he calls a “proactive, competent, and strategic state.” Jacques is one of the most enthusiastic boosters of China in the West, and his book aims to show that an increasingly dynamic China will soon lay a claim to global hegemony. Since its publication, he has increasingly acted as the country’s promoter, welcoming its growing strength and hoping it will take its rightful throne as soon as may be. His commentary does make clear, although without adverse comment, that China lacks democratic institutions. Nevertheless, his emphasis is on its efficiency and its strategic thinking—an ability, he writes, that the US, “locked in old ways of thinking” and with “hardened …

The Closing of the High Street Theatres

In his book, Think Like Amazon, John Rossman, the former director of Merchant Integration at the everything store, invokes Captain Ahab, “the monomaniacal character at the heart of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.” Ahab, writes Rossman, is a man obsessed with the capture of a great white whale, and each of Amazon’s 560,000 employees worldwide—not to mention those eager to emulate Amazon’s success—should likewise be obsessed, but with perfection, customer satisfaction, and “becoming inspired to develop and expand beyond your current products, services and business model.” This isn’t, he reassures, the kind of obsession that takes Ahab and his ship to the bottom of the sea, “but it’s not bad to have people on board with a little Ahab in them… being ‘nice’ all the time can be a liability for your team.” The Amazon philosophy—more to the point, the Amazon practice—is to dominate every market into which it moves. The hyper-competitiveness cultivated by its executives, the voracious acquisition of every kind of product, and the refusal to be “nice” to staff all take their cue …

The Russia Report

A report released this July by the UK’s House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee is more concerning than its relatively restrained prose appears to indicate. It shows us that Russia is an enemy determined to undermine liberal values and institutions, and it exposes a galaxy of details of Russian malignity—an alarming reminder of just how deep and how dangerous the threat is. Much of the report rehearses what is already known about Russian efforts to hack into democratic states’ networks to influence citizens’ voting, and to produce results which will benefit Russia’s foreign strategy—that is, whatever is bad for the West is considered good for Russia. These hacks included intervention in the 2014 referendum on Scottish Independence, where a vote for secession would have meant the break-up and weakening of the United Kingdom—a plus for Russia denied by a substantial vote to remain in the union, at 55–45 per cent. Then, in 2017, hackers entered the networks of the new French party, République En Marche, and leaked a large number of emails which were …

Twilight of Democracy—A Review

A review of Twilight of Democracy by Anne Applebaum, Doubleday (July 2020), 224 pages. Historian and journalist Anne Applebaum’s new book The Twilight of Democracy sees a democratic world, as Rupert Brooke saw his world at the onset of World War I, “grown old and cold and weary.” So weary of democracy’s institutions and processes, so coldly contemptuous of the liberals of the Left and Right who administered them, that many of those who previously supported these central pillars have instead embraced one or another form of right-wing fundamentalism. This may manifest as nostalgic yet virulent nationalism, or reactionary Catholicism, or an invocation of Great Leader-ism which is, she writes, “at once serious and unserious.” Illustrative of the last of these types, she says, is Santiago Abascal, the leader of the Spanish anti-immigrant party Vox, who was filmed riding a horse to the soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings—unserious, because plundering popular culture for the purposes of rousing self-glorification is so obviously crass; serious, because it is rousing, nonetheless. The title of Applebaum’s book communicates the seriousness …