Commonplace 2021


“The deal also did little to assuage fears about how the country’s new immigration rules could complicate the lives of E.U. citizens living in Britain. People from other European countries have been allowed to apply for “settled status” in Britain, the right to stay indefinitely, and more than two million of them have been granted that status.” (from article by Benjamin Mueller in NYT, January 2)

“Since the 2016 referendum, the government has alienated many of the 3.5 million European Union nationals in the country, cynically treating them as bargaining chips in their negotiations with the bloc. Such people make a big contribution to British life — not just as City bankers, as they are often caricatured, but also as frontline medical staff, university teachers and entrepreneurs. Without them, the country would be greatly diminished. Alarmingly, large numbers appear to have left in 2020.” (Peter Gumbel, in Op-Ed in NYT, January 2)

“A historian has no right to just take memoirs and articles based on them. They have a duty to examine them critically and to verify them on the basis of objective information.” (Joseph Stalin, according to Geoffrey Roberts in Literary Review, December 2020/January 2021)

“Capitalism might be wrong, but it was right to make the most of the pleasures and comforts that came with it.” (David Pryce-Jones, in review of Richard Greene’s Russian Roulette: The Life and Times of Graham Greene, in Literary Review, December 2020/January 2021)

“Being in love is a complicated matter; although anyone who is prepared to pretend that love is a simple, straightforward business is always in a strong position for making conquests.” (from Chapter 3 of A Question of Upbringing, by Anthony Powell)

“But Mr. Berners-Lee is taking a different approach: His answer to the problem is technology that gives individuals more power. The goal, he said, is to move toward ‘the web that I originally wanted.’” (from report in NYT, January 11)

“Brexit: a triumph of European statecraft? If the Union’s great breakthrough was to advance beyond a politics of rules to one of events, overturning one rule after another in pursuit of financial stability and border security, wouldn’t it have made more sense to concede to Cameron the brakes on migration he was asking for to win his referendum, rather than to risk Britain’s desertion by invoking immovable principles that are continually being moved? If, when necessity calls, the Treaty of Maastricht’s precise and detailed clauses on budgetary discipline and its prohibition of central bank purchase of government debt can be dismissed in the shake of a lamb’s tail, why not the far vaguer provisions of the Treaty of Rome on the free movement of labour? From the Realpolitiker standpoint advertised by van Middelaar, the logic of pragmatically dodging the blow to the EU from across the Channel should have been obvious. No such thought crosses the mind of his book.” (Perry Anderson, in The European Coup, London Review of Books, December 17, 2020)

“There, the enemy is on the contrary just what the elites of Europe themselves decry and fear most: ‘populism’. Democratic systems have effective oppositions that may one day govern. The European Union is organised in such a way that it does not. But since it is good form to regret its ‘democratic deficit’, it would be better if it at least appeared to do so.” (Perry Anderson, in The European Coup, London Review of Books, December 17, 2020)

“In the break-up of a marriage the world inclines to take the side of the partner with most [sic] vitality, rather than the one apparently least [sic] to blame.” (from Chapter 5 of The Acceptance World, by Anthony Powell)

“All this makes Russian Roulette [Richard Greene’s biography of Graham Greene] an absolutely fascinating document, not so much for what it tells us about Graham Greene but for its take on the shifting tides of 21st century public morality. This, you will be interested to learn, is a world in which referring to a character in a 90-year-old novel as ‘the Jew’ is a matter for shocked disapproval, whereas breaking your marriage vows and neglecting your offspring is, well, just something a famous writer does.” (from review in Private Eye, 8-21 January)

“Whereas the Union ‘shall establish’ a highly competitive economy, it will merely ‘contribute’ to free trade. The reality so nicely captured in this distinction is that, not unlike the US or China, the EU is a mercantilist bloc, replete with subsidies (think only of the Common Agricultural Policy) and protections (think only of services) of many kinds, aimed at barricading outsiders from the privileges afforded insiders. That its neoliberal admirers in Britain should burn so much incense in honour of its internationalist calling is not the least irony of the hour, only underlined by the contrast between its practices and the purer free trade dispositions, proceeding to unilateral abolition of tariffs, of mid-Victorian Britain.” (Perry Anderson, in London Review of Books, January 21)

“Ian​ Hamilton once recounted in the LRB (22 October 1992) that ‘when William F. Buckley Jr sent a copy of his essays to Norman Mailer, he pencilled a welcoming “Hi, Norman!” in the index, next to Mailer’s name.’” (Gavin Francis, in London Review of Books, January 21)

“The supposed backsliding on the part of St John Clarke was certainly not because nay potential hostess objected to his being a ‘Communist’. On the contrary, as an elderly, no longer very highly esteemed writer, such views may even have done something to re-establish his name. The younger people approved, while in rich, stuffy houses, where he was still sometimes to be seen on the strength of earlier reputation as a novelist, a left-wing standpoint was regarded as suitable to a man of letters, even creditable in a widely known, well-to-do author, who might at his age perfectly well have avoided the controversies of politics.” (from Chapter 2 of Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant, by Anthony Powell)

“Theological truth combines historical fact with unassailable moral principle and a journey of imagination beyond the reach of experience. It cannot be called untrue – only unproven.” (from letter by Charles Keen in the Spectator, January 9)

“But the fact is that animals are not like us. They are us. We all belong to the same kingdom Animalia. We have tried again and again to deny it across the millennia, but it’s unavoidable.” (Simon Barnes, in the Spectator, January 16)

“I have never said that I want moderate Muslims. That is not my problem. I don’t ask a Catholic to be moderate. I don’t give a damn. When it comes to someone’s religion, that does not concern me. On the other hand, I demand of every citizen, whatever their religion, to respect the rules of the Republic, because he or she is a citizen before being a believer or a nonbeliever.” (President Emmanuel Macron, in NYT, January 30)