Profile Books

When World War II began, a defence regulation was issued in Great Britain that enabled the home secretary to imprison anyone who they reasonably believed had hostile associations. One such interned individual, Robert Liversidge, objected to his detention and challenged the validity of the home secretary’s decision. In the subsequent case, Liversidge v Anderson, the House of Lords adopted a deferential approach, holding that in a time of war it was inappropriate for the courts to subject the home secretary’s decision making to much scrutiny. But in a thundering dissent, Brisbane-born Lord James ‘Dick’ Atkin disagreed. ‘In England, amid the clash of arms, the laws are not silent,’ he wrote. ‘They may be changed, but they speak the same language in war as in peace.’

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In ‘that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMON-WEALTH, or STATE’, wrote Thomas Hobbes, ‘Soveraignty is an Artificiall Soul … giving life and motion to the whole body’. This ‘Artificiall man’ was to ensure ‘the peoples safety’, and the means at its disposal were limitless. The sovereign was ‘not subject to the Civill Lawes’ and could abrogate any ‘Lawes that trouble him’. Leviathan was published in 1651, written by Hobbes while exiled in France after fleeing the English Civil Wars. The Wars had already produced almost 200,000 deaths, including that of Charles I, beheaded in 1649 following a conviction of treason by Parliament.

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Musing upon the art of biography, Virginia Woolf bemoaned the constraints that facts imposed on imagination. It is the most ‘restricted’ of all arts, she wrote, limited by ‘friends, letters and documents’. Yet these very restrictions can inspire creativity. Good biographers don’t just accumulate facts; they give us, in Woolf’s words, ‘the creative fact; the fertile fact; the fact that suggests and engenders’. Biography, done well, Woolf concluded, does ‘more to stimulate the imagination than any poet or novelist save the greatest’. By this definition, Julia Laite is indeed a superb biographer.

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‘If you want peace, prepare for war,’ Vegetius wrote in a fourth-century CE Roman military manual. From the classical world to the twenty-first-century Sino-American cold war, Margaret MacMillan’s book is broad in its sweep. Judging by the content, one might gain the impression that war is a purely European invention, but that would be erroneous; it is only because Europeans spent 2,400 years carefully archiving their literary, artistic, and technological endeavours in ‘the art of war’ that so much survives – except the victims. The soldiers and civilians are long gone, their names largely forgotten; what lives on is the representation of war in text, the visual arts, cinema, and oral history.

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In 2011, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed that ‘gay rights are human rights’. This statement, which would seem uncontroversial to most readers of ABR, was widely attacked as a symbol of Western neo-colonialism. Combined with the 2015 US Supreme Court recognition of same-sex marriage, gay rights were seen by many religious and political leaders as a threat to tradition, culture, and religion, even when, as in many parts of Africa and the Pacific, laws proscribing homosexual behaviour are the legacy of nineteenth-century colonialism.

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Long Live Latin by Nicola Gardini & Vox Populi by Peter Jones

by
May 2020, no. 421

What is the value of useless knowledge? One of the by-products of the rise of artificial intelligence is that the realm of what one really needs to know to function in society is ever shrinking. Wikipedia makes learning facts completely redundant. Pub trivia competitions now seem a fundamentally anachronistic form of entertainment, like watching a jousting tournament in the age of artillery. One can appreciate the skill, but one also knows that its time has come and gone.

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The world, according to writer Oliver Bullough, has a problem. One unexpected consequence of globalisation and the liberalisation of financial policy has been an increasing flow of money across borders. This has given rise to a new global élite. Aided by seemingly respectable lawyers, bankers, and real estate agents ...

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What exactly is a National Theatre for? What is its purpose? What form should it take? National theatres come in many configurations. There is the four-hundred-year-old Comédie-Française serenely presiding over French culture from the Salle Richelieu. The Habima Theatre of Israel ...

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Forget the cliché about a week being a long time in politics. Two decades in this super-speed, globalised age is more than enough time, it seems, for even the ‘best’ political system to go pear-shaped.

A growing number of books in recent times have focused on the current travails of Western-style liberal democracy. Its litany of dysfunctions includes corrosive money politics, policy gridlock, and growing citizen uninterest. But it is Francis Fukuyama’s new book that best symbolises the current Zeitgeist of dashed hopes concerning the resilience of the West’s political system.

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It is a brave author who produces a book proclaiming the usefulness of war at a time when most of us are thinking about the horrors and wastefulness of World War I. Ian Morris, British by birth but now the Willard Professor of Classics at Stanford, and author of Why The West Rules – For Now (2010), has done just that and is receiving praise for his efforts. What are the merits of his case?

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