I have just read Professor A.C. Grayling's book The Meaning of Things. The book is a collection of his pieces published as "Last Word" columns in The Guardian. If you feel ideologically out of place in modern Britain you should read it. It will not make you feel less alienated, but it will explain a great deal.
You would not know it from reading this book, but those of us who fear for liberty in Britain owe Professor Grayling a debt. In the very heart of our darkness (the Guardian's Comment is Free columns) he has written strong words against New Labour's attacks on civil liberties. He has exposed the Right Honourable Anthony Charles Steven Lynton Blair's twisted thinking on ID cards and the Database State. He has articulated what so many of us in the British political blogosphere feel in our wrenched guts, which is that New Labour is an enemy of individual freedom. Only an academic could be surprised by that. Almost a century of history has taught the rest of us that those who despise carrots inevitably favour sticks. Yet an English academic capable of writing the following is worthy of our respect:
But no amount of giving away hard-won, long-standing civil liberties is going to defend us against the tiny minority of criminals and lunatics who can, if determined enough, do us harm. The right response to them is not to hide away behind generally ineffective laws that restrict our freedoms but to assert our freedoms boldly and to live them courageously.
He is also sound on the subject of free speech, as this quotation from an online interview at Three Monkeys Online (in which he was asked about the imprisonment of David Irving for holocaust denial) shows:
I have no time for revisionists and Nazi apologists, and in so far as Irving is such (and is provenly at least the former), I have no time for him. But it was quite wrong to put him in prison for his unsavoury views. The freedom of free speech results in our hearing plenty of things we do not like, but the right way to combat bad free speech is with more and better free speech, not with the law and certainly not with imprisonment or censorship.
Professor Grayling took me to task for lack of intellectual rigour when I set out my first impressions of him after hearing him speak at my daughter's school. He commented that:
Evidently you don't read widely enough, listen hard enough, or take enough care over the assumptions you make.
I have tried and will continue to try to respond positively to that rebuke. It is taking a while. I am no aristocrat of academia. The people pay no tithe so that I may read, research and think without distraction. I have a business to run, a heavy schedule of travel and a family with which I like to spend time. I have read more of his writing however and in the light of the articles cited above, I accept that it was entirely wrong to describe him as;
I did not, indeed, take enough care over the assumptions I made when writing that. I apologise unreservedly.
Professor Grayling balks at the extremes to which the Rt Hon. Anthony C.S.L. Blair has taken New Labour thinking. Having read The Meaning of Things, however, I fear he must take his share of the blame. He has, together with so many fellow-academics with "a permanent list to port', helped fertilise the intellectual soil in which Blair's political bindweed has flourished.
TO BE CONTINUED