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Art, language, and politics.

Douglas Murray’s ‘The Madness of Crowds’ promises to exorcise the spectre of woke, but ultimately leaves many issues untouched.

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Published in the early months of the Johnson government, ‘The Madness of Crowds’ reads now like a survey of lines of trenches and barbed wire on the eve of the culture war. Its author, Douglas Murray, is conscious of this. He describes the book as performing the same function as the flailing arms of a minefield clearer. It is an early sortie which will be followed by a larger incursion into the territory held by the ‘woke’. However, rather than engaging in a surgical attack on the ideology of would be autocrats, Murray ends up wandering around the foothills of…

There's some interesting stuff here. I think we might differ on how big of a problem 'woke-ism' is. I would go as far as saying that the term is so thrown about that it isn't really coherent anymore- if it ever was. 'Safe-spaces' has been a conservative talking point for at least a decade, but we haven't seen the collapse of society, and 'cancelling' rarely amounts to right-wing speakers whining about getting flack from having terrible opinions.

That is not to say that there aren't any problems on the left. Any analysis from the left should privilege class and the…

Unable to find a substitute for Europe, Boris Johnson’s government is attacking ‘woke academics’ and the ‘leftist media’.

Photo by Maxim Hopman on Unsplash

These first months of 2021 will be remembered as the time when the ‘culture wars’ began in earnest. There were, of course, a smattering of salvos fired in 2020: a concocted scuffle over singing the anthem at the Proms, the skirmish over whether the National Trust should be more open about the relationship its buildings had to the workings of Empire. And, obviously, the furore in the conservative press over the Black Live Matter protests.

2021, however, has seen the government get really involved in the action. From feigning befuddlement at the very concept of ‘woke’ in early January, Boris…

We are obsessed with shadowy advisors and sinister agents. Here’s why that’s bad.

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It took two bullets, two glasses of poison and the Malaya Nevka River to kill Grigori Rasputin. His killers, the most eminent of whom was Prince Felix Yusupov, were convinced that the man they had murdered was the dark hand behind the Russian throne. They were right. For years, the wife of the Tzar, Alexandra Feodorovna, believed that it was the presence of the peasant mystic from Siberia that was keeping her son from death. The influence the gaunt, bearded holy man worked on the dying Russian Empire has long since become infamous in popular imagination. …

Democracy is still in trouble, though

This is a (long) response to an article by Johan Norberg, published by the Spectator. You can find it here:

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The first years of the 21st century marked the end of history. As the fog of the Cold War rolled back into the collective memory, it seemed to many that the market had delivered not just a victory over the Soviets, but the mechanism of democracy itself. Markets allow information about what is needed to be conveyed quickly, and for that need to be fulfilled without coercion. Unlike the USSR, factories are not handed down directives from the commissar

How medieval art can help us make sense of the wealthy’s quest for eternal life

Photo by Serge Kutuzov on Unsplash

Emissaries of the dead danced with popes, kings and hermits amid the crowds that milled around the tombs at Les Innocents in Paris. The corpses paraded through the medieval social ladder, ushering dukes, sergeants and children into the afterlife.

Funded by an anonymous patron, the mural appeared on the wall of the cemetery between 1424 and 1425 ¹. The ‘Danse Macabre’, as it became known, quickly became a model for those which followed: five years later St Paul’s in London had finished their own, and…

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

‘A cordial reception’

What images appear to you? Perhaps this phrase makes you think of murmured conversation, polite nods, canapés and pursed lips.

How about:

‘A hearty welcome’

For me, I hear laughter and the warm crackle of a fire.

Although the object of these sentences- ‘reception’ and ‘welcome’, are synonyms, they conjure different images and feelings.

I took these examples from a book by Simeon Potter, who talks about an idea that the feelings these two words stir in us are the result of an event that that took place in the medieval period. …

Photo by Ruslan Bardash on Unsplash

Michael Thonet was approaching middle age when he presented his system of laminated veneers to the Emperor of Austria-Hungry. Already a successful cabinet maker, Thonet had spent the better part of the 1830’s experimenting with ways to bend wood, thinking that were he to succeed, he would have the means to mass produce attractive, inexpensive furniture. He was right. The Emperor’s approval led to a patent, and, by the time war broke out in 1914, Thonet’s 7000 factory workers were producing 1.9 million pieces per year ¹. The most successful of these pieces is listed in the MOMA as ‘Chair…


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