W.G. Runciman

W.G. Runciman, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, was the author of Very Different but Much the Same: The Evolution of English Society since 1714, among other books. He died on 10 December 2020.

Diary: City Regulation

W.G. Runciman, 21 January 2016

In​ 2008, Donald MacKenzie expounded to LRB readers with admirable clarity the workings of Libor (the London Interbank Offered Rate), which establishes the benchmark terms on which hundreds of trillions of dollars are lent and borrowed across the world every day.* It sometimes comes as a surprise to the uninitiated to learn that Libor has never been based on transactions which have actually...

The kind of dog he likes: Realistic Utopias

W.G. Runciman, 18 December 2014

Why ‘earthlings’​? David Miller isn’t drawing a contrast with justice for creatures from outer space. Nor is he taking issue directly with Ronald Dworkin’s ‘justice for hedgehogs’ in Dworkin’s book of 2011 with that title, although Miller does say in a footnote that he disagrees with him. He has in his sights the ‘neo-Augustinians’, as...

The Charity Mess

W.G. Runciman, 19 July 2012

It may be too soon to be passing judgment on the Cameron government. But it does sometimes look as if we are back with the impatient legislation of the Blair era, along with the facile soundbites, the eye-catching initiatives, the whitewashed sleaze, the fawning towards the tabloids (in Blairspeak, ‘managing the relationship’), and the unwillingness or inability to think through...

Altruists at War: Human Reciprocity

W.G. Runciman, 23 February 2012

How is it that the members of a species as greedy, quarrelsome, egoistic and deceitful as ours still manage to live together in societies sufficiently harmonious and orderly not to be constantly breaking apart? Mid-20th-century sociologists used to call it ‘the problem of order’, which many of them saw as constituting the raison d’être for the academic discipline of...

Blame Lloyd George: England 1914-51

W.G. Runciman, 27 May 2010

When Oxford University Press commissioned Ross McKibbin to write the volume in the New Oxford History of England covering the years 1918 to 1951, they got more than they bargained for. McKibbin couldn’t contain what he wanted to say within the covers of a single volume, and Oxford wouldn’t agree to the inclusion of a two-volume work in their series. The result was the separate...

Diary: Exit Blair

W.G. Runciman, 24 May 2007

Now that Tony Blair has almost stopped hanging around the office poisoning the chalice for his inevitable successor, the season for political obituaries is wide open. Not that it hadn’t already started, with a raft of more and less uncharitable interim biographies and Alan Franks, in the Times magazine of 31 March, talking of Blake Morrison’s South of the River coming out...

I am old enough to remember listening to the results of the general election of 1945 and sensing the surprise at the size of Attlee’s majority shared by Conservative and Labour supporters alike. And I remember the comment then made by one of my relations to the effect that the problems facing the country in the aftermath of the Second World War were such that no government would be able...

Why are we here? The Biology of Belief

W.G. Runciman, 7 February 2002

Any argument about religion, whether conducted in the seminar room or the saloon bar, is likely to hit the buffers not just because people hold different religious beliefs but because they disagree about what should or should not be counted as an instance of religion in the first place. Nobody will query the inclusion of what goes on at High Mass in Notre Dame or on the prayer-mats of the...

The word ‘meme’, popularised by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, has recently gained entry into the OED as ‘an element of a culture that may be considered to be passed on by non-genetic means, esp. imitation’. But the idea that culture is transmitted by imitation and learning in a manner analogous but not reducible to natural selection has been around for a long time, and many other terms have been used in describing it. Darwin himself, when he came to consider ‘the causes which lead to the advance of morality’, concluded that ‘natural selection effects but little’ and looked instead to such things as ‘the approbation of our fellow-men’ and ‘example and imitation’. Much later, when the mechanism of natural selection had come to be understood in greater depth and detail than had been possible for Darwin himself, the American psychologist Donald Campbell and others began to develop the notion that cultural evolution (including the emergence of such things as theories of cultural evolution) is also driven by a competitive process of variation and selection. Campbell called his Presidential Address of 1975 to the American Psychological Association, ‘On the conflicts between biological and social evolution and between psychology and moral tradition’. But how does cultural evolution actually work?‘

Diary: You had better look out

W.G. Runciman, 10 December 1998

When I published my last LRB Diary in June, I half-expected that it would be not only reprinted but also spoofed by one or another of the broadsheets, as indeed it was. What I didn’t expect was that the Daily Telegraph would try to use it as party-political knocking copy when any reader could tell that behind its even-handed mistrust of all politicians was a genuine pleasure at the displacement of Major Ltd by Blair & Co. Nor did I expect to be reproved, however gently, for indiscretion by Simon Jenkins on the op-ed page of the Times – as if I hadn’t cleared what I proposed to print with anyone quoted directly who might have suffered in consequence, or would have dreamed of disclosing to LRB readers without Simon’s express permission what he had revealed at my dinner table about his tiny little earnings as a hugely well-paid journalist.’

Diary: Dining Out

W.G. Runciman, 4 June 1998

10 June 1993. Fellow-guests with Tony and Cherie Blair at a BBC dinner. Blair says immediately to my wife: ‘Weren’t you kind enough to ask me to a drinks party for Frank Field’s 50th birthday?’ She answers: ‘Yes, and you neither came nor replied.’ ‘Didn’t I?’ says Blair, and subsequently sends a charming letter of apology. The thought that this smiling young Scottish public schoolboy could be the next prime minister doesn’t cross either of our minds. On the other hand, John Birt is suitably impressed when I tell him that I actually met the great Lord Reith on the day of his extraordinary speech in the House of Lords likening commercial broadcasting to the Black Death. It was as if I’d said to the present Chief of me Defence Staff that I’d met the first Duke of Wellington.‘

When, in 1991, I was asked to chair the Royal Commission established in the immediate aftermath of the quashing of the convictions of the Birmingham Six, I was just as surprised as were the media, who on the day it was announced were reduced to projecting my passport photograph on the TV screen for the news programme which, as it happened, I watched in my room in a lodging house in Belfast, where I had just given a long-arranged lecture at the Queen’s University on a totally different sociological topic.

Latent Discontent

W.G. Runciman, 11 June 1992

David Lockwood is the sociologist’s sociologist in the same way that Ken Rosewall used to be the tennis player’s tennis player: he’s the one the other pros turn out to watch. But you need to know the fixture list. To switch to an older metaphor, he is apt not only to hide his light under a bushel but to hide the bushel as well. He never writes book reviews or goes on television or airs his views about the state of the nation on Radio Three. It is typical of him that he should choose, as he has, to publish one of the most effective criticisms of the Marxist theory of action in an obscure American symposium, one of the most illuminating recent comments on the so-called ‘Weber thesis’ in an otherwise unmemorable festschrift, and one of the most valuable discussions of the alleged proletarianisation of clerical labour in a subsection of a postscript to a second edition of his influential monograph of 1958 on The Black-Coated Worker. So when he publishes in book form his long-considered views on some central issues in macrosociological theory, it is an event not only to be celebrated within the cloisters of academic sociology but to be drawn to the attention of anyone interested in the questions about the workings of human societies which have exercised him over more than three decades.

Diary: Like a Prep School

W.G. Runciman, 10 January 1991

The publisher’s launching party for David Cannadine’s Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy in the Moses Room of the House of Lords on 22 October was the third occasion on which I had been inside that curious place since taking my seat as a hereditary member of it. The Moses Room is evidently so called because its walls depict, in tableaux more impressive for their size than their quality, the appropriate Old Testament scenes. But it gave rise, in this context, to ironic reflections about the more or less gentlemanly anti-semitism of many of the declining and falling aristocrats whose stories Cannadine tells, as well as a puzzlement that for no reason which anyone could explain to me the publishers were not allowed to offer us the customary plonk and snacklets then and there. Instead, after Asa Briggs had introduced Cannadine and Cannadine had given us an encouragingly comical puff for his book, Robert Rhodes James reminded us that Lloyd George, despite doing so much to reduce the Upper House to impotence and discredit, had ended his days as Earl Lloyd George of Dwyfor, and then led us off down miles of corridors to a cellar under St Stephen’s Hall where we were finally allowed a drink.

Diary: UK plc v. the Swedes

W.G. Runciman, 22 November 1990

Back in the summer of 1988, I wrote a Diary describing what it had been like as the chairman of a public limited company to fight off an unwanted takeover bid. I ended the piece by saying that although in the opinion of some stockmarket buffs the company’s shares might in due course be valued at double the price of the unsuccessful offer, I did not think that my readers would necessarily be wise to reach for their stockbrokers at once. But they would have been. In April of this year, anyone who had bought the shares at the unsuccessful cash offer price of £3.28 would have received a circular letter from me saying that the Board recommended shareholders to accept a cash offer from a Swedish company which worked out, if you include the grossed-up dividend retained by the offerees, at £7.03.

Ross McKibbin and the Rise of Labour

W.G. Runciman, 24 May 1990

In 1984, Ross McKibbin published an article in the English Historical Review called ‘Why was there no Marxism in Great Britain?’ His choice of title was a deliberate invocation of the celebrated essay which Werner Sombart published in 1906 under the title Why is there no socialism in the United States? It does not, of course, mean literally what it says. There was, and still is, a far from total lack of Marxism in Great Britain. But it has been confined almost exclusively to the chattering rather than the working classes. The creed which was supposed both to explain and to accelerate the impending demise of the capitalist system failed to convince, or even to interest, the overwhelming majority of those who should have had most to gain from taking it seriously. How, therefore, was it that the country which before 1914 seemed ideally suited to produce a working-class political party committed to socialism failed to do so?

Diary: Moneyspeak

W.G. Runciman, 8 December 1988

Readers of my occasional contributions to the London Review who have consulted the Notes on Contributors will know that I earn my living as chairman of a public limited company rather than as an academic. But only those who are also readers of the Business Sections of their newspapers will know that the company in question has recently been involved in fighting off a hostile takeover. I meant, when it started, to keep a proper diary day by day. But the intention soon wilted in the Sturm und Drang of battle, and I am left only with a few internal company memos, a file of press cuttings, a set of circulars to shareholders, and some clear but no doubt imperfectly reliable recollections of particular episodes. When asked, ‘What was it like?’ I generally answer: ‘bad for the schedule but good for the adrenalin.’ But more to the point, it was one of those things like a divorce or a car crash which you think only happen to other people until the day they actually happen to you.

What next?

W.G. Runciman, 27 October 1988

If human history does, indeed, have a structure, it is, as Professor Gellner emphasises, discernible only with hindsight. The path which has led, in his words, ‘from the cosy social cocoon of early man to the expanding, cognitively powerful, and socially disconnected world of modern man’ was not merely invisible to those who were treading it: it was inconceivable. The two prodigious transformations which we now label – a little misleadingly – the Neolithic and Industrial Revolutions were both so extraordinary as virtually to defy explanation. How could they have come about? And what a totally different ideological as well as economic and political world did they both bring into being!’

Diary: Reflections on Tawney

W.G. Runciman, 4 August 1988

I began this series of daries with some reflections prompted by a re-reading of Halévy’s volumes on England from 1895 to 1914, and I propose now to end it with some reflections prompted by a re-reading of Tawney’s Equality. If the conclusion which again suggests itself is plus ça change, that is not because there have not been changes in our society which neither Halévy, Tawney nor anybody else can be claimed to have foreseen. It is because the responses to these changes, whether by academics, journalists, politicians, or the electorate at large, have been articulated within a set of ideological assumptions and constraints which are not significantly different under Thatcher from what they were under Asquith and Lloyd George.

Until a few years ago, unemployment would have been the most implausible possible choice for comment on the theme of plus ça change. Not only was it part of the conventional wisdom that the bad old days of the Thirties had been banished for ever. It was also taken for granted that unemployment on that scale would not again be politically tolerable. Yet here we are with a government which succeeded in getting itself re-elected yet again with a rate of unemployment which, even if on a downward trend, was still running at over three million. And less of a fuss, if anything, was being made about it than when Baldwin was winning an overall Conservative majority of 247 seats in the General Election of 1935.

Diary: On Trade-Unionism

W.G. Runciman, 5 May 1988

In my last Diary I remarked that the game of plus ça change can be played, with the help of selective quotation and anecdote, to point almost any moral you choose. But if there is one topic in the sociology of 20th-century Britain on which the conclusion that nothing changes is inescapable, it is trade-unionism. Ever since 1875, when a Conservative administration removed collective action in furtherance of a trade dispute from the law of criminal conspiracy, successive governments have veered between conciliation and confrontation, successive employers have veered between concession and resistance, and successive union leaders have veered between moderation and militancy. The state of play at any one time has varied with the state of the economy, the competitive pressure on different industries, and the mood of the electorate. The issues have remained the same.

Diary: 1920s v. 1980s

W.G. Runciman, 17 March 1988

To embark, as I have just done, on the writing of a volume on the sociology of 20th-century England is to be struck at once by the contrast between studying events and people in the immediate past and events and people which, for anyone of my age or less, are as remote as the First Reform Bill or the Charge of the Light Brigade. I have started by reading in parallel Peter Jenkins’s Mrs Thatcher’s Revolution and the two concluding volumes of Halévy’s magisterial History of the English People in the 19th Century, which between them take the story from 1895 to 1914. The contrast is not so much between an era of greatness and an era of decline as between – or so it seems at first sight – issues and characters larger and smaller than life. Is it just that distance lends glamour? Or is it fair to say that Parliament in the 1980s is distinguished only by its mediocrity when contrasted with the days when Asquith was at No 10, Lloyd George at the Exchequer, and Winston Churchill at the Board of Trade – and, down on the Bristol waterfront, a young carter called Ernest Bevin was getting himself elected chairman of a newly established carmen’s branch of the Dockers’ Union?’

Viva Alan Knight

W.G. Runciman, 15 October 1987

The Mexican Revolution of 1910 to 1920 defies all stereotypes. It had no vanguard party and no coherent ideology. It owed almost nothing to external influences. It only started because of the gratuitous folly of Porfirio Diaz, whose dictatorial rule had lasted unchallenged since 1876, in failing to make effective arrangements for the succession to himself. Its initial protagonist, Francisco Madero, was as unlikely a revolutionist as it would be possible to conceive – the diminutive, squeaky-voiced theosophist eldest son of a rich landed family whose own grandfather likened his defiance of Diaz to ‘a microbe’s challenge to an elephant’. Its ultimate victors were hardly more sympathetic to the hopes and wishes of those who had borne the brunt of the fighting than Diaz himself. It ended by pitting urban workers in half-hearted alliance with bourgeois constitutionalists against an equally half-hearted alliance of Northern cow-boys and Southern peasants led in the one case by a homicidal, teetotal, illiterate ex-cattle rustler (Pancho Villa) and in the other by a dandified, horse-loving, ex-municipal village president (Emiliano Zapata). It was characterised throughout by a quite astonishing degree of duplicity, cynicism, self-seeking, and uninhibited recourse to violence. Indeed, it so often appears to be no more than a protracted slugging-match between rival caudillos that it can be (and has been) questioned whether it should be called a revolution at all.’

Diary: Serious Money

W.G. Runciman, 3 September 1987

The play Serious Money, now transferred from the Royal Court to the West End, is a disappointment. It is neither farce nor satire, only caricature. The City is a splendid target for mockery, but loud doggerel and insistent overacting are no substitute for wit. The play may well enjoy a steady run simply because its subject is topical and its script full of four-letter words. But if you want to indulge your hatred, envy or disdain, as the case may be, for the wonderful world of financial capitalism, you can just as well stay home and read the ‘Slicker’ column in Private Eye.

The Old Question

W.G. Runciman, 19 February 1987

Books on the theme of society-down-the-ages generally fall into one of two kinds. Either they are a narrative synthesis organised according to some preconceived criterion of historical significance, or they are an attempt to test against the historical evidence some would-be general theory to the effect that demography, class struggle, national psychology or whatever it may be is the master key to the explanation of the whole long story. Michael Mann, however, deliberately places himself mid-way in-between. As a result, he risks being simultaneously attacked by one set of readers for writing potted history at a safe distance from the sources, and by another for theorising at an insufficiently high and abstract level. But this is, in a sense, the point of the exercise. ‘Historical sociology’, so called, needs to vivify the higher theory with the right infusion of historical detail and vice versa, and it is by this that its success or failure requires to be judged.

A title which deliberately echoes that of Darwin’s joint presentation with Wallace to the Linnaean Society in 1858 may appear not only presumptuous but also inappropriate to a commemoration of Radcliffe-Brown, whose lifelong concern was with structure and function rather than with evolution, and whose vision of ‘a natural science of society’ was, it has often been said, more taxonomic than analytical. But the appearance is, I think, superficial, for two reasons. In the first place, as insisted by W.E.H. Stanner in his entry on Radcliffe-Brown in the 1966 Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Radcliffe-Brown’s ‘fundamental viewpoint was thoroughly historical’: if he neglected the study of history, it was not because he thought it unimportant, but because he held the contingencies of human affairs to be too haphazard for effective schematisation. In the second place, a taxonomy is implied by any theory which purports to explain why the structure of different societies is as it is and not as it might have evolved under other conditions: if Radcliffe-Brown’s ‘branch of natural science which will have for its task the discovery of the general characteristics of those social structures of which the component units are human beings’ – as he put it in his Presidential Address of 1940 to the Royal Anthropological Institute – turns out to be barren, that can only be because the characteristics chosen for comparative study are the wrong ones. I shall argue that we do now know what characteristics we have to look for; that they can be related to the concepts of both structure and function in a way which makes systematic explanation possible; and that such explanation will and must rest on a theory of social selection analogous but not reducible to the theory of natural selection. Whether Radcliffe-Brown would have been willing to entertain all three of these propositions I do not know. Perhaps he would have assented to the first two only to baulk at the third. But even so, I do not believe he would have regarded the attempt as inappropriate to his memory.’

Grand Theories

W.G. Runciman, 17 October 1985

What is a ‘Grand’ as opposed to a ‘General’ theory, in the human sciences or anywhere else? Nobody talks about Keynes’s Grand Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, any more than they do about Einstein’s Grand Theory of Relativity. If not frankly pejorative, the term is at best ironic, implying a loftiness of tone, an inflation of aim, and a pretentiousness of content which no serious academic author could possibly want to be charged with. Professor Skinner begins his Introduction by quoting from a celebrated attack on Talcott Parsons by C. Wright Mills, for whom Grand Theory was the most absurd but also the most serious impediment in the way of a sensible, informed and humane understanding of human societies. So one supposes that what is to follow is a carefully mounted assault on what the chosen contributors see as a regrettable revival of the Higher Bogus. But not at all. They, and he, seem if anything to welcome it.

Congenial Aspirations

W.G. Runciman, 4 October 1984

In the bad old days of academic insularity, when Anglo-Saxon philosophers dismissed Continental philosophy as so much hot air, Continental philosophers were equally ready to dismiss analytical philosophy in its Anglo-Saxon form as flippant and trivial. It is a measure of how far things have changed for the better that Professor Habermas of Frankfurt not only commands a substantial following in the English-speaking world but is himself as willing to proffer a citation from Austin or Ryle as from Husserl or Heidegger. He is a frequent visitor to the philosophy departments of American universities. His writings are regularly translated into English and supplemented by commentaries and symposia in which they are exhaustively re-analysed and discussed. This latest volume is the first of two which are announced by his English publishers as his ‘long-awaited magnum opus’. Hazardous, therefore, as it may be to try to assess the significance of so prolific an author on the strength of a single volume which is only the half of a two-part work, the attempt has to be made as best it can. Is this the distillation of a theory both original and profound? Or the manifesto of an emperor with no clothes?

X marks the snob

W.G. Runciman, 17 May 1984

The point of Dwarfs’ Lib is not to convince the world that differences in height are an optical illusion foisted by sinister interests on a gullible public. Nor is it to promote a literal cutting-down to size of anybody over 4’1”. It is to vindicate the right of very small people to be treated with equal respect by their taller fellows. In precisely the same way, the American myth of equality is not a fairy-tale denial of the palpable fact that some Americans have very much less power and money than others. Nor is it a programme for taxing every American down to the poverty line. It is a myth according to which power and money are – or if they aren’t, ought to be made to be – as irrelevant to how people treat each other socially as their physical height.


W.G. Runciman, 20 October 1983

Paul Harrison is at pains to make clear that his impassioned report on poverty and social conflict in the Borough of Hackney is not an academic survey. It is journalism, and proud of it. It would be totally inappropriate for a reviewer to cavil at the lack of cross-tabulations, or details of the conduct of interviews, or sampling techniques which might have proved that his selection of informants is as representative of the disadvantaged as he says it is. He is treading geographically but not methodologically in the footsteps of Charles Booth. His aim is to convey to his readers as vividly as he can just how awful are the lives of the poor and powerless inhabitants of the inner cities of a supposedly civilised nation which ought to be a great deal more ashamed of allowing such conditions to persist than it shows any signs of being.

Henry and Caroline

W.G. Runciman, 1 April 1983

Anthropological method, as classically practised by Malinowski among the Trobriand Islanders, depends in the first instance on patient scrutiny of the details of the daily life of the community under study. But it depends also on the detection in, or behind, those details of what Malinowski himself called ‘the natives’ Weltanschauung’ – that is, the whole unspoken complex of myths, prejudices, values and assumptions through which they interpret the meaning of the world to themselves. It is not easy to do as well as Malinowski did (and he wasn’t perfect). It depends, not on compiling statistics or transcribing official documents or handing out questionnaires, but on knowing how to identify and dissect the archetypal codes and customs, the revealing turns of speech and manner, and the almost imperceptible nuances of life-style, by which the community defines itself in relation to its environment and its past. Where the anthropologist is working in an exotic and alien culture, the task, however daunting at the outset, is made much less so at the point of publication by the simple fact that the audience to whom the reported findings are addressed has no means of checking them against what the natives themselves might have to say. But where the fieldwork has been done in the anthropologist’s very own milieu for dissemination to, as well as about, the natives themselves, publication is a much more hazardous affair. How can you dare pretend to be telling it like it is if the natives are going to turn round and tell you it isn’t?

On the State of the Left

W.G. Runciman, 17 December 1981

Ever since the Industrial Revolution and the first stirrings of socialist political theory, the intellectual protagonists of the Left have started with a twofold debating advantage over their opponents on the right. First of all, they have been able to present socialism as the repository of ideals to which all right-minded people can be presumed to subscribe. It may be that liberty, equality and fraternity can in some forms be carried to excess, and perhaps there comes a point beyond which they conflict with one another. But to be on the side of the poor and oppressed against the rich and powerful is almost by definition to be on the side of the good against the bad. The protagonists of the Right may retort, as they often have, that good will towards the poor and oppressed is not the peculiar prerogative of the Left and that the attempts of revolutionaries and doctrinaires to realise their high-sounding ends by their chosen means are likely to be self-defeating if not disastrous. But they are then confronted with the second advantage enjoyed by the Left – their ability to reiterate their long-proclaimed conviction that history is, in the end, on their side. Mistakes and setbacks there may have been, but time and again it can be shown what not only should be but has been achieved by organised political and industrial opposition from below to the owners and controllers of the economy and state. The arguments may not be conclusive. Such arguments seldom are. But they leave – or at least they used to leave – the spokesmen of the established order permanently on the defensive. To be sceptical of the goal of a more socially just society is – or at least used to be – to be cast either as a cynic and a defeatist or as a self-interested apologist for an all too palpably unequal distribution of rewards and powers.


No, we weren’t

24 January 2008

I assume that it was an editorial decision rather than the reviewer’s to title Steven Mithen’s review of Daniel Lord Smail’s On Deep History and the Brain ‘When We Were Nicer’ (LRB, 24 January). There are good reasons to suppose that our hunting and foraging ancestors were ‘egalitarian’ in the sense that would-be dominant self-aggrandisers were held in check...

Central Questions

3 February 2005

May I add two comments to the correspondence about Nicola Lacey’s biography of H.L.A. Hart (Letters, 17 February)? Although Hart called The Concept of Law an essay in descriptive sociology, it is, as he seems subsequently to have accepted, not strictly descriptive nor very much of a sociology. But in arguing that judicial decisions involve the application to second-order rules of primary rules,...
Stephen Holmes, in his review of Michael Mann’s Incoherent Empire, quotes Mann as saying that America has ‘the first military force deployable over the entire world’ and that ‘this lack of rivals is truly unique in history’ (LRB, 6 May). What about the Roman Empire? The legions were deployable over the whole of the then known world, and their deployment was justified,...
In view of the recent interest in both A.J.P. Taylor and E.H. Carr in the LRB and elsewhere, it may be worth my putting on record what the second of those eminent historians once said to me about the first: ‘He started by believing that the Germans were responsible for everything; then he decided that the Germans were responsible for nothing; then he decided that nobody was responsible for anything.’


4 June 1998

Why on earth does Fred Inglis (Letters, 16 July) suppose that because I publish my recollections of two meetings with the late Enoch Powell, and use the adjective ‘remarkable’ to describe him, I must therefore share his political views? In any case, on the occasion when I remember his scoring points to good effect against his discussants the issue wasn’t immigration policy but the...

Buying and Selling

14 December 1995

I am intrigued by the remark of your reviewer of Ian Simpson Ross’s Life of Adam Smith, James Buchan (LRB, 14 December 1995), that he has ‘absolutely no propensity to barter, truck, or exchange one thing for another’. It is as though a reviewer of a biography of Freud were to claim to have ‘absolutely no propensity’ to engage in any form of sexual activity. Does James...

Homing in

24 February 1994

P.N. Furbank (LRB, 24 February) might not have needed elucidation of my letter in the previous issue if the editor hadn’t cut out of it a phrase about ‘the slippery rhetoric of class’. Furbank’s review of Michael Argyle’s The Psychology of Social Class seemed to me to imply that the rhetoric is, in effect, the reality, and that academic sociologists and social psychologists...


22 November 1990

Lawrence Beyer, writing from the ivory (or, as I recollect them, granite) towers of Yale Law School (Letters, 7 February), tells your readers not to swallow uncritically my account of a corporate takeover (LRB, 22 November 1990). His strictures don’t, as it happens, apply in practice to the particular instance which I described. But they raise some interesting points which deserve a rejoinder.1....

Social Power

19 February 1987

W.G. Runciman writes: I am sorry that Michael Mann should be so upset by a review which sought to convey that despite its failings his book deserves the serious attention of sociologists and historians alike. But failings they are. I see no reason to modify my view that his treatment of ‘power’ rests on a conceptual mistake, that he sometimes (but only sometimes) lapses into misleading...

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Geoffrey Hawthorn, 1 April 1983

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