Magazine article New Statesman (1996)


Magazine article New Statesman (1996)


Article excerpt


Despite huge advances in science and technology, the 20th century will strike us as a barbarous time

"What are your plans for the new millennium?" a friend asks. I'd like to say that I'll open a cinematheque in Marbella, or fly a man-powered glider across the Pacific. But I've just entered my three-score-and-tenth year, so reply cautiously: "First, I'll get there. Then look around at the possibilities." A problem is the almost palpable lack of excitement in the air. People 50 years younger than me, who will spend most of their lives in the next century, display all the eagerness of passengers diverted to a brand-new airport on the edge of a desert. Everything is clean and shiny but oddly threatening. Given that we are leaving the 1990s behind, the most corrupt and shabby decade since the second world war, I expected an explosive burst of speed as we approach the final straight.

Despite all the debate, Britain will enter the 21st century with 92 hereditary peers in its legislature. The monarchy, inherited titles and public schools are among other living fossils that seem to thrive in our peculiar geology. The class system, an overt instrument of political control, is more strongly entrenched than in any other western nation.

The Lords may be in the process of reform, but isn't it time to abolish the hereditary principle in the commons? I'm thinking of those Westminster placemen, the jobsworths of party politics, a self-perpetuating caste elected year after year to the same seats and promoted to the same offices of state. If the 1990s was a low, dishonest decade, the era of focus groups and cash-filled envelopes, then they made it possible. Fortunately, a few mavericks still survive.

A curious feature of the coming millennium is how little speculation it has prompted. I remember in the 1960s being rung up by journalists asking, "What will sex be like in the seventies?" They expected something strange and unimaginable, but looking back after 20 years it all seemed much the same. A general rule: if enough people predict something, it won't happen. Even so, I suspect that within a few years there will be a widespread rejection of the 20th century, its horrors and corruptions. Despite huge advances in science and technology, it will seem a barbarous time. My grandchildren are all under the age of four, the first generation who will have no memories of the present century, and are likely to be appalled when they learn what was allowed to take place. For them, our debased entertainment culture and package-tour hedonism will be inextricably linked to Auschwitz and Hiroshima, though we would never make the connection. I hope that a wave of idealism will move through their lives, not the weird mix of new-age slogans and autocue sincerity that is our own substitute for high-mindedness, but a level-headed decision to put the planet to rights. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.