History tells us that ideological 'purity spirals' rarely end well

Iconoclasm: the beheading of the English king, Charles I, in January 1649. Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart, for his purity, by definition, is unassailable. Author James Baldwin’s words, written in the America of the late 1950s, captures perfectly a feeling in the air that is currently troubling public discourse in many Western countries. Increasingly, questions once treated as complicated inquiries requiring scrutiny and nuance are being reduced to moral absolutes. Just look at Trumpism. This follows a now dismally familiar pattern: two camps are identified, the acceptable “for” and the demonised “against”. The latter are cast beyond the pale, cancelled and trolled. Identity politics has become a secular religion and, like any strictContinue Reading

On democracy, Sir Lewis Namier and the struggles of the super-rich

I SPENT MUCH of this week in the House of Commons press gallery not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Theresa May laying out the case for her deal on Tuesday, her voice so hoarse that it could hardly be heard and her body hunched, was a moment of both personal and national humiliation. The chaos on Wednesday, when Tory MPs were first told that they wouldn’t be whipped and then, at the last moment, that they would, sending them scurrying hither and thither, was a moment of high farce. And what are we to make of Thursday, when Stephen Barclay, the Brexit minister, spoke in favour of a government motion at the dispatch box and then marched off toContinue Reading