David Bromwich

David Bromwich is the editor of Writing Politics, an anthology of political essays. 

Warthog Dynamism

David Bromwich, 19 November 2020

One​ of the undoubted advantages of a Trump rally is that you can get the experience of reality TV without having to stay at home. The star is right there on the podium, just a stone’s throw away, surrounded by a crowd of 20,000 who may claim the status of longtime fans or enthusiastic converts. It should have been predictable that Trump would make no concessions to the pandemic....

From The Blog
5 March 2020

Sanders won’t be quitting. A possibility remains, therefore, that the Democrats will conduct a ‘brokered convention’. Secondary candidates like Buttigieg and Warren had lately put themselves in the anti-popular posture of endorsing such a proceeding (though there’s been nothing like it since the 1950s): at a brokered convention, a candidate with a solid plurality can be denied the nomination on the first ballot and defeated later by a coalition. If Biden now runs far ahead of Sanders, he may sew it up in advance. On the other hand, his verbal gaffes (announcing himself a candidate for the Senate rather than the presidency; saying ‘I was a Democratic caucus’) and his fabricated or false memories (a non-existent arrest in South Africa for demonstrating against the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela) have exposed a cognitive fragility that some people fear could make him ridiculous by November.

Short Cuts: Springtime for Donald

David Bromwich, 20 February 2020

Watching​ Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on 4 February, I felt that we had crossed a line. This president was setting up as the benevolent ruler of – it wasn’t clear what. Not a constitutional democracy. A different kind of country. He had brought along, as guests, individuals who were given honourable mentions in his speech, people who looked up in gratitude as...

On​ 6 October, Donald Trump made a phone call to Recep Erdoğan signalling the withdrawal of around two hundred US troops who were protecting Kurdish soldiers in northern Syria. Trump announced that he would soon make room for Turkey to clear the area and create the buffer zone Erdoğan had long wanted to impose against a hostile political entity. This sudden declaration was doubtless...

Short Cuts: Mueller Time

David Bromwich, 18 April 2019

On 22 March​, Robert Mueller, the special counsel charged with investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and its possible connection with the Trump campaign, submitted his report to William Barr, the US attorney general. Two days later, Barr sent a letter to Congress summarising the two main conclusions of the report. First, he quoted Mueller’s conclusion that the inquiry...

House-Cleaning: I met a Republican

David Bromwich, 7 March 2019

The question remains whether the citizenry – between 35 and 40 per cent of eligible voters – who register across-the-board approval of Trump will accept the removal of a president solely on the grounds that his success was founded on corruption and he won the presidency with a conflict of interest between his business and his country. The word ‘collusion’, which has no legal status, has rooted itself in popular journalism to describe the putative co-operation between Trump and Russia, but the legal term ‘conspiracy’ has a sharper definition and a higher standard of proof. Democrats have made things easier for Trump by droning on about Putin, with the clear suggestion that a written or recorded bargain to subvert the election is waiting to be discovered. That would qualify as conspiracy. But such evidence is hardly likely to exist.

American Breakdown

David Bromwich, 2 August 2018

Aseasonal​ report on the Trump presidency had better begin with a disclaimer. Anything one says is sure to be displaced by some entirely unexpected thing the president does between writing and publication. This has happened once already, with the Putin-Trump press briefing in Helsinki and the strange spectacle it afforded: the almost physical manifestation of Trump’s deference to...

The Age of Detesting Trump

David Bromwich, 13 July 2017

Impeachment is not something to count on. ‘Foreign emoluments’ is the most plausible charge, but the phrase has a distant sound and one of the words will need explaining. And yet, the idea of a left-liberal-engineered overthrow of Trump, assisted by the intelligence community and lawyers of great genius, has a tremendous, unquenchable charm for the media.

Act One, Scene One: Don’t Resist, Oppose

David Bromwich, 16 February 2017

The nat­ional security state that Obama inherited and broadened, and has now passed on to Trump, is so thoroughly protected by secrecy that on most occasions concealment will be an available alternative to lying. Obama’s awareness of this frightening legacy accounts for the unpredictable urgency with which he campaigned for Hillary Clinton – an almost unseemly display of partisan energy by a sitting president. All along, he was expecting a chosen successor to ‘dial back’ the security state Cheney and Bush had created and he himself normalised.

What are we allowed to say?

David Bromwich, 22 September 2016

Two contradictory thoughts now dominate the Anglo-American approach to feelings in the context of public debate. For the speaker, feelings must be restrained – a neutral style of rational euphemism is recommended. On the other hand, the emotion felt by the listener in response to a speech must be treated as authoritative, unarguable, closed to correction or modification by other witnesses.

Short Cuts: Stirrers Up of Strife

David Bromwich, 17 March 2016

This election year​ will be remembered as the one in which two candidates rallied the indignation of millions against the establishment. Both Trump and Sanders actually call it that. The reflexive response of the establishment – proof of its existence, if you needed proof – has been its uniform portrayal of the two. Trump and Sanders alike are called ‘loud’,...

Why do you make me do it? Robert Ryan

David Bromwich, 18 February 2016

‘Angry men​ and furious machines.’ No verb, no explanation – it is the first line of ‘Dutch Graves in Bucks County’, a poem that Wallace Stevens published in 1943. The image may have come from a march-of-time documentary of Americans training to fight in the Second World War. Probably the machines included tanks and a lorry convoy, possibly a squadron of...

A week before the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA, a Staten Island grand jury chose not to return an indictment for the police killing of Eric Garner – a large black man standing on the sidewalk of a street in New York City. The attention of millions had been transfixed by a video that showed the fatal attempt to arrest Garner. Looking on wearily as he saw the police approach, Garner told a cop that he was doing nothing wrong, in fact he had just broken up a street fight (which was why the police were called).

Degrade and Destroy

David Bromwich, 25 September 2014

America​ has now officially embarked on a long war in the Middle East, a war so taxing that officials judge it ill-advised to predict a termination in fifteen years or fifty. If one regards the entanglement as a product of American mistakes – a judgment shared by many observers – the causes in arrogance and ideology go a long way back. Among the culprits are Woodrow Wilson,...

The first year and a half of Barack Obama’s second term has been preternaturally unlucky. The stymied enrolments for his healthcare plan, the multiple errors of computer co-ordination that forced people to wait days or weeks in front of blank screens, marred the new faith in government the plan had been intended to affirm. Just when, around the end of April, the trouble seemed to be halfway resolved, with millions finally insured and several deadlines put off, there emerged stories of faked records of treatment and months-long waiting lists at Veterans Hospitals.

Diary: Putin to the Rescue

David Bromwich, 26 September 2013

The anti-government insurgency in Syria was given an intoxicating vision of triumph by the words President Obama spoke in August 2011 that were translated, correctly, into the headline ‘Assad must go.’ He had earlier conveyed similar messages: ‘Mubarak must go’ and ‘Gaddafi must go.’ Obama may have entertained the idea that he was playing a benign role in the Arab Spring – showing himself ‘on the right side of history’, as he likes to say. ‘Assad must go’ also sounded as if he was channelling the spirit of George W. Bush; but that impression may have been misleading.

Diary: The Snowden Case

David Bromwich, 4 July 2013

Most Americans who know anything about the National Security Agency probably got their mental picture of it from a 1998 thriller called Enemy of the State. A lawyer (Will Smith), swept up by mistake into the system of total surveillance, suddenly finds his life turned upside down, his family watched and harassed, his livelihood taken from him and the records of his conduct altered and criminalised. He is saved by a retired NSA analyst (Gene Hackman) who knows the organisation from innards to brains and hates every cog and gear that drives it.

Short Cuts: Romney-Ryan

David Bromwich, 30 August 2012

On 11 August, Mitt Romney stirred excitement in a dull election by announcing that he would share the Republican ticket with Paul Ryan: a seven-term congressman, chairman of the House Budget Committee and intellectual guru of the congressional Tea Party. The choice was not altogether surprising. The moderate lawmakers whom Romney might have picked were without popular appeal, and it must have...

Diary: A Bad President

David Bromwich, 5 July 2012

I went to see Barack Obama speak in New York, in spring 2007, at a preliminary ‘sounding’ for donors and assorted others. This was a few weeks after he announced his candidacy, and the audience of a hundred or so, in a spacious Upper West Side apartment, were brought in close enough to let everyone have a glimpse. Impartial curiosity was the mood about Obama then. There was no fuss at his entrance; he shook a few hands, chatted with the friendly strangers, and stayed within himself. He talked for something under half an hour.

My son has been poisoned! Cold War movies

David Bromwich, 26 January 2012

‘They’re not going to stop,’ Joe McCarthy said of the Communists. ‘It’s right here with us now. Unless we make sure there’s no infiltration of our government, then just as certain as you sit there, in the period of our lives you will see a Red world.’ So began the 1954 Senate hearings on subversive influence in the army. But those hearings turned out...

The Afghan war looks as if it will outlast the Obama presidency, and if it does the largest single reason will be Obama’s choice of Robert Gates as secretary of defence. Gates worked under William Casey, the director of the CIA at the time of the Iran-Contra scandal. His nomination by Ronald Reagan to head the CIA was thwarted by suspicions of his complicity in covert operations in Nicaragua. The elder Bush later renominated him and got him through. Gates would have struck George H.W. Bush as a sound appointment because he knew the secrets and could be trusted to keep them. When the younger Bush, after the 2006 election, brought in Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld at defence, he would have had in mind that history of loyalty to the Bush family. With Abu Ghraib and Bagram and Guantánamo to think of, Gates was a man to trust. Also, Gates might help to slow and muffle the incessant pressure from Cheney and his circle for an attack on Iran. It is generally supposed that Gates, together with Condoleezza Rice, held Cheney off and gave Bush the institutional backing to resist him.

Short Cuts: Edges of Darkness

David Bromwich, 27 May 2010

The release a few months ago of an American chase-thriller called Edge of Darkness brought to mind the 1985 Edge of Darkness: a BBC film originally shown in six parts, and one of the best political thrillers ever in any medium. Diversely admirable energies went into it: a script by Troy Kennedy Martin, music by Eric Clapton, direction by Martin Campbell (who also directed the Bourne-like...

Diary: The Establishment President

David Bromwich, 13 May 2010

Obama did not come into office a fully equipped politician. He was new to the national elite and enjoyed his membership palpably. This came out in debates and town meetings where he often mentioned that the profits from his books had lodged him in the highest tax bracket. It would emerge later in his comment on the CEOs of Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan: ‘I know both those guys; they are very savvy businessmen.’ One can’t imagine Franklin Roosevelt or John Kennedy saying such a thing, or wanting to say it. Obama has not yet recognised that his conspicuous relish of his place among the elite does him two kinds of harm: it spurs resentment in people lower down the ladder; and it diminishes his stature among the grandees by showing that he needs them.

Obama’s Delusion: The Presidential Letdown

David Bromwich, 22 October 2009

The pattern of the major announcement, the dilatory follow-up and the tardy self-defence has shown an alarming consistency in his administration. Obama ordered the closing of the prison at Guantánamo Bay as the first act of his presidency. Eight months later, Guantánamo remains open and unsolved.

Self-Deceptions of Empire: Reinhold Niebuhr

David Bromwich, 23 October 2008

‘Nations,’ wrote Reinhold Niebuhr, ‘will always find it more difficult than individuals to behold the beam that is in their own eye while they observe the mote that is in their brother’s eye; and individuals find it difficult enough.’ The last six words crystallise the thought. Niebuhr’s political writings are an exhortation – part history, part...

Diary: President-Speak

David Bromwich, 10 April 2008

Late last year, I gave a talk at a university debating society on the subject of ‘Evangelical Democracy and Exemplary Democracy’. I can’t imagine my argument would have been well received by the theorists of globalisation who dominate American opinion on international relations. But these were not IR types or neoconservatives. Young neoconservatives (but ‘young’...

Neutered Valentines: James Agee

David Bromwich, 7 September 2006

Intentions are in one way more satisfying than works. They can grow and change without limit, and, lacking the certainty of a completed thing, will never entirely disappoint. James Agee had a fortunate career on the face of it, as a New York freelance for almost two decades and then as a screenwriter. One of the large talents of American writing in the 1940s, Agee was a Southerner, from...

Magnifico: This was Orson Welles

David Bromwich, 3 June 2004

At 8 o’clock on the night of 30 October 1938, listeners to Orson Welles’s Mercury Theater on the Air might have noticed a short announcement: the show that evening was going to be an adaptation of H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds. A lead-in paragraph followed: ‘We know now that in the early years of the 20th century, this world was being watched closely by intelligences...

Stewart has the weakness of a man who can be wounded. He absorbs many moods: self-pity, cynicism, a compulsion that does not know its name – and always there is a disturbing something left over. It is strange to find such susceptibility in so definite a face.

Julius was the original name, but one may as well call him Groucho, from the ‘grouch bag’ carried by travelling showmen. His parents were Jewish immigrants: Simon Marrix, of a family of tailors from Alsace-Lorraine, and Minna Schoenberg, the daughter of a Dutch magician who emigrated when his work in Germany ran out in the 1870s. All of the Marxes appear to have been clever with...

After a decade or more dominated by special studies of anonymous or bestselling authors now suitable for academic recovery, Philip Fisher’s Still the New World marks a return in some ways to an older and less suspicious idea of ‘classic American literature’. Fisher is a critic who has written extensively on realist prose and painting, and his new book is a commentary on Emerson, Whitman, Melville, James and Twain, among others, with significant asides on Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer. It aims to look freshly at these artists and to ask again why their originality matters. Names like Stevens, Eliot and Ashbery are frequently dropped and sometimes deployed, as well as Jasper Johns, for his painting of the United States that is and is not a map. If the book has a single thesis, it appears to be that American culture is identical with the culture of modernity. In the arts, technology and its social arrangements, America is pictured here as the key to all modernities. Such a thesis cannot be proved, it can only be ‘sketched’ – a favourite word of Fisher’s, and a favourite procedure. He sketches the radical modernity of America in pages on the rise of new forms of representation and commerce, and backs the historical claim by an analysis of aspects of poems, novels and paintings.’‘

From The Blog
4 January 2018

On 13 December, the New York Timespublished an article on the scrubbing of Kevin Spacey’s performance as J. Paul Getty from final prints of the film All the Money in the World. A fast reshoot had slotted Christopher Plummer into every scene that included Spacey; the dazzled reporter, Brooks Barnes, paid homage to the genius and alacrity of the director, Ridley Scott; and they called it in the print edition ‘Daring Act to Save Face’ – a sort of sick pun, and the matter is not so cute when you think about it. Scott was prompted by his recognition that the accusations against Spacey, from unwanted touch to groping to rape – which may turn out to be true, false or exaggerated, in unknown combinations – would damage the box-office take of All the Money in the World. Accordingly, he reworked the film against his original vision, in order to guard against a boycott. The boycott, however, was only speculative; the expunging and substitution were real.

From The Blog
14 July 2017

Donald Trump Jr was approached last summer by a publicist, Rob Goldstone, acting on behalf of a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who offered the Trump campaign ‘very high level and sensitive information’ about Hillary Clinton’s dealings with Russia. The response by Donald Jr was not high-minded: ‘If it’s what you say, I love it.’ Apparently the offer of information turned out to be an empty pretext. The instigator of the meeting was a pop musician, Emin Agalarov, the son of a businessman, Aras Agalarov – a name that also came up in the ‘dodgy dossier’ on Trump collected by the ex-MI6 agent Christopher Steele. Trump Senior had taken money from Agalarov, and in return provided Miss Universe contestants for use in a music video by Emin. American billionaires and Russian oligarchs may be supposed to share an elective affinity. They are members of an international tribe, and snap their fingers at sovereignties.

From The Blog
10 May 2017

James Comey was the acting attorney general of the United States in March 2004 when two emissaries from the Bush White House marched to the hospital bed of the attorney general, John Ashcroft, and asked him to renew the warrantless mass surveillance programme code-named Stellar Wind – a programme whose legality had been questioned by the Office of Legal Counsel. Comey, who is six foot eight, stood between the White House flunkies and the sick man’s bed, and they retreated. Soon after, he informed Bush that if the secret programme were reauthorised over the objections he had seen, he himself and the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, would lead a mass resignation from the justice department. Bush fell back; and a chink opened in the system whose vastness and illegality would eventually be exposed by Edward Snowden. It was one of very few moments in the Bush-Obama years that bore the stamp of civic courage: someone inside government had been willing to sacrifice his career to uphold the constitution. So when, in September 2013, President Obama appointed Comey as the next director of the FBI, the move was generally applauded.

From The Blog
30 September 2016

The Presidential Debate Watch at the Apollo Theater in Harlem – it was a scene. The line wound around the block at 125th and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, but a friend and I were 'VIP' guests of one of the panellists, causing some embarrassment as we tried to figure out the way in; an organiser mistook 'VIP' for 'RSVP' and sent us to the line for aspiring almost-ticket-holders who didn't like the encroachment. Inside, the DJ in the balcony box stage right, DJ Enuff, was dancing to the tracks he played, and forwarding, to a large screen at the front, stills and short video shots of the crowd, taken by himself, plus selfies sent by the crowd, and tweets mostly just saying 'We are here!' but others more expressive: 'The DJ is filling us with love, which we need'; 'Are there any Trump supporters here? Or did all this fine ass melanin scare them off?'; 'READY TO RUMBLE'; 'May the best woman win.' My friend said about Trump and HRC: 'They should be forced to dance together, before they debate.'

From The Blog
9 August 2016

I’ve been thinking about some lines of a poem by Wallace Stevens called 'Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz': There are these sudden mobs of men, These sudden clouds of faces and arms, An immense suppression, freed, These voices crying without knowing for what, Except to be happy, without knowing how, Imposing forms they cannot describe, Requiring order beyond their speech. Too many waltzes have ended. The lines are the work of an American poet writing in the 1930s, and the first thing that may come to mind is the hunger marchers of the Depression. But there were other mobs then, in Germany, Italy and elsewhere.

From The Blog
27 May 2011

Minutes before midnight last night, President Obama, in Paris, by a species of teleportable pen signed into law a four-year extension of the Patriot Act: the central domestic support of the security apparatus devised by the Bush administration, after the bombings of 11 September 2001 and the 'anthrax letters' a week later. The first Patriot Act passed the senate on 25 October 2001, by a vote of 98-1 – the opposing vote coming from Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. In the years that followed, a minority view developed, which said that the Patriot Act 'went too far'; but its steadiest opponents have come from outside the mainstream media: the American Civil Liberties Union, the Cato Institute, and libertarian columnists such as Glenn Greenwald and Nat Hentoff.

From The Blog
10 December 2010

President Obama’s theoretical willingness to continue the Bush tax cuts for the rich was first hinted at in a New York Times column by Peter Orszag on 6 September. Orszag had stepped down a few weeks earlier from his position as Obama’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, and he was known to be close to Obama; such a column, it was plain, would not have been written without the president’s encouragement. The novelty of the Orszag proposal was that Congress should extend the cuts for just two years.

The next day, a Times headline suggested that Obama would never stand for any kind of extension: ‘Obama is against a compromise on Bush tax cuts.’ But there was a complication. Obama wanted to let the lower rates expire for the top 2 per cent of earners, but stay in force for the remaining 98 per cent, whom he called ‘the middle class’. He was presenting himself as a statesman, uniquely concerned with the middle class, yet mindful of the budget deficit. The Republicans, Obama reasoned, by opposing him would show themselves both careless of the deficit and heartless toward the middle class.

What We Have: Tarantinisation

David Bromwich, 4 February 1999

Post-Modernism entered the public mind as a fast-value currency in the late Seventies and early Eighties, in the field of architecture, where its association with gimmicky tropes of visual play (the logo-in-the-sky of the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, the phonejack-in-the-sky of the AT&T Building in New York) gave plausibility to the promotional prose. AT&T was the work of Philip Johnson, the friend of Andy Warhol, and so the publicity came with a background story ready to hand. The Post-Modern would be the art-historical movement that went beyond art by stopping short of art. Where Modernism was enchanted by affinities with the art of the past, and offered itself as a climactic annunciation, Post-Modernism would be ‘traditionalesque’: a little of this tradition, a little of that, whatever pleases the eye (but not too demandingly), or diverts the mind (but not into thought).‘

Shoe-Contemplative: Hazlitt

David Bromwich, 18 June 1998

How they keep trying to bury Hazlitt, and how he keeps coming back. T.S. Eliot said he was guilty of ‘crimes against taste’. David Lodge made him a twee subject of nostalgic research for the English hero of Small World, Philip Swallow, hopelessly outgunned by the vulgar but irresistible American, Morris Zapp. Lodge had got his significant detail wrong – Swallow should be a scholar of Charles Lamb (the ‘gentle-hearted’) – but the broad allusion did pretty much what was wanted, assuring the theoretically advanced that they were now top dogs. Condescension usually has an anxious motive. Eliot, as Tom Paulin is on hand to say, was working from a subtext of his own: Hazlitt’s crimes against taste would have included his unapologetic admiration for Milton, and behind that offence lay a consistent choice of affinities. Eliot was a Dissenter who grew to hate his Dissenting inheritance. Hazlitt belonged to the party of rebellion and never looked back. He went from Unitarianism to political radicalism to the new poetry of his time without a break of stride and without any sense of shifting allegiance. He claimed not to have changed his mind, in principle, after the age of 18. He added – confessing to something keener than stubbornness – that he could not trust anyone who departed much from the ideals he genuinely cherished at 18.’‘

Of the Mule Breed: Robert Southey

David Bromwich, 21 May 1998

Southey was never a ‘marvellous boy’, but he lived a boyish life in books for half a century, and Mark Storey’s Life promises to solve a puzzle about his reputation: how someone so earnest and full of ideals could draw the loyalty of one generation, the livid contempt of another, and the nostalgic indulgence of a third, without any noticeable change of character. Almost all his verse is sensational writing for senses now defunct. Yet his lives of Nelson and Wesley are still impressive performances; and there is a morbid appeal in the eclipse of a career that spun out Thalaba, The Curse of Kehama, Roderick, Joan of Arc, and the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Adepts of cultural studies have found Southey the most open-minded of the Romantics, but the truth is that he was the most serviceable. He cast his eye in every direction, in book-making as in politics, and had the sincerity of a chameleon. Storey, a lively narrator with a mild partiality for his hero, throws down the gauntlet just once: Southey ‘in his lifetime was on a par with Wordsworth and Coleridge – and not just because they were friends and neighbours’. To make a school you need a third, and Southey was the third Lake poet. He surely profited from the neighbourhood.’‘

Rat Poison

David Bromwich, 17 October 1996

Martha Nussbaum is a classical scholar and moral philosopher who in several books and a great many essays has advanced a thesis about the cognitive power of emotions. Feeling, she says, is part of thought. Only accidents of usage and the rationalist prepossessions of modern philosophy could have made us think otherwise. Her evidence covers a wide range, from Plato and Aristotle to Proust and Henry James, and though she takes a critical interest in thinkers, mostly of the Stoic tradition, who have promoted the rival virtues of self-sufficiency, she writes to call attention to those who preach and practise sympathy. These philosophers and novelists expand the limits of association a society takes for granted, and by doing so extend the possibilities of reform, and their commentator frankly declares herself their inheritor. Such is Nussbaum’s project, ‘the project’ as she has called it, for she recognises certain sharers of her aims: among literary critics, Wayne Booth; among philosophers, Bernard Williams and Stanley Cavell; among social scientists, Amartya Sen. Nussbaum explains her discovery of virtues eloquently, volubly, in the manner of a belated Victorian moralist. The reverse of a dry writer, she is fairly often deeply moved, and you come to know not only what she felt but how and when the feeling dawned on her.

Slow Deconstruction

David Bromwich, 7 October 1993

The guru differs from the sage in point of approachability. To experience the sage, you must have read his work; the meeting may come later, and may disappoint. With the guru, personal contact matters most and the first encounter must succeed; the writing need only offer a clue to the presence. Paul de Man said enough memorable things to be quoted like scripture by the susceptible, and one of the things he said was about quotation: Citer, c’est penser. It is fair to conclude that in his last years he was a guru. The effects can be felt in his writing. But he kept talking to those outside the inner circle, as many in such a position do not; and his long career of teaching (at Harvard, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, and Yale) has a satisfying continuity. If his deepest admirers included a few more who did not know him in the classroom, he might qualify as a hermetic late instance of the Continental sage.

Narcissus and Cain

David Bromwich, 6 August 1992

‘Sensibility’ was the name of a faculty before it was the name of a style. On the divide of the physical and mental, it suggested a power to receive life’s pleasures and pains, and a less certain power to judge their worth. Such was the critical usage of the late 18th century, largely derived from Hume. Popular usage went further and has lasted longer. Taste in action, and on perpetual display, good taste, in fact, run riot – sensibility in this range of meaning tended to imply a misplaced connoisseurship. Its fictional heroes and heroines, who thought that ‘moral nuances’ of character could be picked out with the same equipment one used to admire the picturesque gradations of a landscape, got into their usual scrapes with society because they were easily bored. Enemies of routine, they craved what they called the unexpected.’

Thomas Meaney explores the connection between the growth of white nationalism and the effects of the Vietnam War on white soldiers returning home (LRB, 1 August). He emphasises the racial divide they came to know in the army. A separate cause of the movement may have been a craving for some violent stimulus commensurate with the excitement of war itself. The correlation between US combat experience...

Who’s in Charge?

12 July 2017

Jacob Ecclestone finds ‘astonishing’ my assertion that Trump did something unprecedented in publicly boasting that he had delegated total battlefield authority to the generals (Letters, 27 July). The rest of his letter analyses Trump’s decision on 6 April to order the bombing of a Russian airfield in Syria. But that was a piece of calculated political theatre, of no military importance...

A Bad President?

5 July 2012

David A. Bell finds my observations on Barack Obama ‘unremittingly acerbic’ and ‘ungenerous’ (Letters, 19 July). I am sorry to have given that impression, but though I didn’t choose the cover line ‘A Bad President’, I won’t disclaim it. The recurrent pattern in which Obama unveils a grandiose design, leaves the detail to others, and at last pronounces...


27 May 2010

In my Short Cuts about the BP oil disaster, I said the drilling went ‘a mile under the earth’s crust beneath six miles of water’ (LRB, 27 May). A more nearly correct figure would have been ‘three and a half miles under the earth’s crust, beneath a mile of water’.

No Theatricks: Burke

Ferdinand Mount, 21 August 2014

There were at least six great issues on which Burke defended the victims of mistreatment with a steely vigour and an unhesitating sympathy.

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David Lurie, the soured academic who is the protagonist of J.M. Coetzee’s novel Disgrace, earns his living as a professor of ‘communications’ in a Cape Town university (his...

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The centre fights back

Lynn Hunt, 22 July 1993

Thanks to David Mamet’s new play Oleanna, the distracted, bumbling and self-regarding male professor has now become the archetypal victim of political correctness. Mamet’s John is...

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Fiery Participles

D.A.N. Jones, 6 September 1984

Hazlitt is sometimes rather like Walt Whitman, democratic, containing multitudes, yet happy with solitary self-communion. In a pleasant essay called ‘A Sun-Bath – Nakedness’,...

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