One of the mysteries of our age is why socialism continues to appeal to so many people. Whether in the Soviet Union, China, Eastern Europe, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia or Venezuela, it has resulted in the suppression of free speech, the imprisonment of political dissidents and, more often than not, state-sanctioned mass murder. Socialist economics nearly always produce widespread starvation, something we were reminded of last week when the President of Venezuela urged people not to be squeamish about eating their rabbits. That perfectly captures the trajectory of nearly every socialist experiment: it begins with the dream of a more equal society and ends with people eating their pets. Has there ever been an ideology with a more miserable track record?
Why, then, did 40 per cent of the British electorate vote for a party led by Jeremy Corbyn last June? It wasn’t as if he acknowledged that all previous attempts to create a socialist utopia had failed and explained why it would be different under him. There was no fancy talk of ‘post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory’ or ‘pre-distribution’, as there had been by his two predecessors. No, he was selling exactly the same snake oil that every left-wing huckster has been peddling for the past 100 years, and in exactly the same bottle. He reminded me of a pharmacist trying to flog thalidomide to an expectant mother while making no attempt to hide the fact that it has caused the deaths of at least 2,000 children and serious birth defects in more than 10,000 others. And yet, nearly 13 million Britons voted for Corbyn. Could it be that they just don’t know about all the misery and suffering that socialism has unleashed?
That’s a popular theory on my side of the political divide and has prompted a good deal of head-scratching about how best to teach elementary history — such as that more people were killed by Stalin than by Hitler. (To read more, click here.)
Last month, two law professors named Amy Wax and Larry Alexander published a piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer praising ‘bourgeois’ values. They argued that many of the social problems afflicting the American working class, such as the opioid epidemic, are partly due to the decline of these values and that reviving them might go some way to help. They summarised them as follows: ‘Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighbourly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.’
That is a fairly uncontroversial set of precepts and it’s hard to deny that those who follow them are more likely to lead happy, productive lives. The authors pointed out that most successful Americans, including those academics, writers, artists, actors and journalists who preach the gospel of personal liberation, tend to live by these values themselves. They accused the chattering classes of hypocrisy: they espouse an anti–bourgeois, hedonistic philosophy in public, while practising fidelity, abstinence, hard work etc, in private. It’s do as I say, not as I do, which is odd because the liberal intelligentsia claim to care about the least well-off. If they want to help them, why not recommend the values that serve them and their middle-class friends so well? (To read more, click here.)
Graydon Carter will be delighted by the amount of coverage his departure from Vanity Fair has received. Having edited the magazine for 25 years, he is leaving at the age of 68. The New York Times has devoted the amount of space to the story it would normally give to a departing Secretary of State.
It would be inaccurate to describe Graydon as the last of his kind — Anna Wintour is still at the helm of Vogue — but there are unlikely to be many more magazine editors like him. He has homes in New York and Connecticut, part-owns two restaurants, hosts the most glamorous party in Los Angeles on the night of the Oscars and has succeeded in crossing the threshold from cynical chronicler of the world of celebrity excess to eager participant. (To read more, click here.)
I don’t want to come across like Dave Spart, but I am a bit disappointed that William and Kate have decided to send George to a private school. Nothing against Thomas’s Battersea, which is part of a successful, for-profit chain, but there’s no reason to think he will get a better education there than he would at a good state primary.
One obvious choice would have been Kensington Primary Academy, the latest addition to the free school chain I co-founded in 2011. Admittedly, it hasn’t been inspected by Ofsted yet, but the other two primaries in the chain have both been rated Outstanding. He would have received a rigorous, knowledge-based education and could have walked there in 10 minutes instead of facing a daily school run of at least 30 minutes. (To read more, click here.)
I spent Monday morning being taught how to use a shotgun at E.J. Churchill, a shooting ground in High Wycombe. If you’re a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds you probably won’t approve, but it gets worse. I was with my friend Merlin Wright and we had taken our 12-year-old sons with us so that they could learn how to shoot, too. Needless to say, after they’d hit a few clays they were completely hooked and couldn’t wait to take aim at the real thing.
Merlin brought his own gun and is an experienced shot, but I’m a bit of a novice. Until two years ago I’d never been on a proper grouse shoot. Its appeal was immediate. I don’t just mean the sheer sport of trying to hit a low-flying bird travelling at high speed in a wiggly line (the avian equivalent of a North Korean missile). There’s also the beauty of the moorland when the heather is in full bloom, the springy feeling of the grass underfoot, the abundant wildlife. (To read more, click here.)
In Absolute Friends, one of John le Carré’s lesser works, the central character explains his rebirth as a left-wing firebrand, radicalised by Britain’s support for America’s invasion of Iraq. ‘It’s the old man’s impatience coming on early,’ he says. ‘It’s anger at seeing the show come round again one too many times.’ This is followed by a rant about ‘the death of empire’, our ‘dismally ill-managed country’ and ‘the renegade hyperpower that thinks it can treat the rest of the world as its allotment’ (not Russia, obviously, but the United States).
I felt a similar spurt of rage on learning that Le Carré’s most famous show — the seedy world of British intelligence, or ‘the Circus’, as he calls it — is about to come round again. Later this month, the 85-year-old author will publish A Legacy of Spies, which revisits the events of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and resurrects several of his long defunct characters, including George Smiley. Once again, the reader will be plunged into the slightly smelly, morally ambiguous universe of the Cold War and its psychologically damaged protagonists. Once again, Le Carré’s fans will be able to tell themselves how sophisticated they are for rising above the good-vs-evil simplicities of inferior espionage novelists. Once again, they’ll give themselves permission to enjoy what is, essentially, an airport thriller by reassuring themselves that Le Carré is really a literary writer who ‘transcends’ the limits of genre fiction. (To read more, click here.)
The amount of nonsense being talked about the new GCSEs in English and maths, whereby exams have been graded 9-1 rather than A-G, is astonishing. The new grading system is ‘gibberish’ and will cost young people jobs, according to the Institute of Directors. The NSPCC thinks greater differentiation at the top end, with 9 being worth more than A, will take a terrible toll on children’s mental health, while Mary Bousted, the General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, says the new system is ‘inherently ridiculous’. ‘To put 1 at the lowest and 9 at the top when the grades go alphabetically in a different order from A* to G just seems to put the icing on the cake,’ she says.
Let us take these points in reverse order. There are two reasons why 9 is the highest grade and 1 the lowest. First, in most other countries that use a numerical system, 1 is the lowest grade so to do the opposite would create confusion. Second, it makes it easier to add higher grades in the future — a 10, for instance. If Ofqual, the exam regulator, had made 1 the highest grade it would effectively be saying that the most brilliant students of tomorrow can never be better than the most brilliant students of today, which is obviously nonsense. (To read more, click here.)