Political Thoughts and Polemics

Political Thoughts and Polemics

Political Thoughts and Polemics

Political Thoughts and Polemics

Excerpt

I enjoy writing essays more than books, for reasons I explained in the Preface to Essays on Politics and Literature (Edinburgh University Press, 1989), a companion volume to this. Since politics, both as thinking about it and practising it, is an activity (as Hannah Arendt's writings taught me), it follows that an appropriate form of expression to portray such an activity must allow a writer to be flexible, speculative as well as informative, while sceptical about ever being definitive or able to settle an argument conclusively.

Students of politics need to find out and to set down objectively and honestly the facts of a case, and in the past I've done my share of that; but the essayist is more interested in what cases we should take up. Essays may use and exploit monographs but they are not essentially concerned (if there are three logical divisions) with what is the case but rather with what is thought to be the case and with what ought to be the case. Essays can range from amusing gossip, through wise analysis and learned speculation to topical polemic; but they always invite the reader's reaction. The object is to arouse, stimulate and provoke, neither to convert nor to saturate with pontifical fact. Learned essays are somewhat out of fashion, alas. A glance at the pages of the English Historical Review or of The British Journal of Political Science will show one that either research or close textual analysis is king. The answer to all important human problems (of which faint glimmers occasionally penetrate such dark pages) is apparently more research (if funded from outside). So thinking has to take place elsewhere and opportunistically, on any occasion one can find or make; as well as printed books there are seminars, book reviews, letters to the press, informal discussions, conversations, broadcasting and journalism. Of course, if one wishes to be serious and to heard outside the walls, one really must try not to be boring.

In my last years in service at Birkbeck College, a marvellous place because it is all part-time mature students, merry as well as earnest and who can mix learning with experience, I renamed my Political . . .

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