Maurice Cowling

Maurice Cowling was born in 1926 and was educated at Battersea Grammar School and Jesus College, Cambridge, of which he was a fellow between 1950 and 1953.

After short periods in the Foreign Office and on the editorial staffs of The Times and the Daily Express he returned to Cambridge where he was a fellow of Jesus again between 1961 and 1963. Since then he was a fellow of Peterhouse.

He contested the constituency of Bassetlaw as a Conservative candidate in the 1959 general election. In 1970 he was literary editor of the Spectator. In 1989 he was visiting professor of religion at Columbia University.

His works include The Nature and Limits of Political Science, Mill and Liberalism, Disraeli, Gladstone and Revolution, The Impact of Labour, The Impact of Hitler and Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England.

I interviewed him in 1990 and he died in August 2005.

Your early career was quite varied – Foreign Office, The Times, the Daily Express. How did you come to move between these worlds and then into academic life? 

I moved not from them to academic life, but to them from academic life. The thing that motivated me from the start was falling in love with Cambridge when I got there in 1943, deciding that I wasn’t ever going to leave. I was a research fellow in the early 1950s, but then I didn’t get a permanent job. I was determined not to be a lecturer in Hull (or Reading), and that decided me. If I couldn’t stay in Cambridge (or Oxford) I’d go to London. That’s why I tried to become a journalist, then went to the Foreign Office. If I couldn’t be in Cambridge or Oxford, I’d be in London, not Hull or Reading.

I’ve heard it said that you once felt a vocation and began to study for the priesthood. 

It’s not true. That was in the Sunday Telegraph recently. I was never studying for the priesthood at all. I read history as an undergraduate, and thought of being ordained, but decided before there was ever any question of going to theological college that I wouldn’t.

The Cambridge I fell in love with was an ecclesiastical university, but by 1943, of course, Cambridge wasn’t an ecclesiastical university. I was trying to find a role for myself and being a clergyman seemed to be one of the possibilities. If you ask me whether I was deeply Christian, the answer is that I went to a college chapel and had a strong polemical Christianity. Maybe there was something there that could have been built on, but I’m profoundly grateful I wasn’t ordained because the sort of social and intellectual reason that I had for being ordained is ultimately unsatisfactory; and I’m not sure of the depth of reality of my religious conviction. It could well be that it was a polemical conviction against liberalism rather than a real conviction of the truth of Christianity.

What was it that attracted you to the study of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? 

Because I was teaching it is one answer. The other answer is that what interested me were the relations between religion, politics and thought. I’ve always believed for as long as I can remember that something happened between 1800 and today which is important for understanding the present. Both things in fact operated to make me interested in that period.

What do you see as the main reasons for the professional study of history? Do people learn from the past in any real sense? 

I’m an anti-professional don. I strongly disbelieve in and dislike the idea of an historical profession, which is a twentieth-century invention. Historians should be people who, like most of the historians, are reflecting upon the nature of society in general, on religion, thought and politics. History happens to be the form their reflections are given. I don’t think anyone learns from the past in the sense in which you use the expression, because what historians do is make up the past out of the material they have to hand. Any good historian’s past is an embodiment of what he believes about the present. So it’s not that you learn from the past, it’s that you learn from the historians.

I place a very great emphasis on the inventiveness and creativity of historians in making the past up. We don’t know the past; it’s gone. The greater the historian, the wider the range and depth of consideration of the central problems of religion, politics, thought, economic activity; and also the greater the synthesizing capability. Therefore historians, just like philosophers or critics or novelists, have to be understood as contributing to general reflection about the present, though in their case they express themselves through the past. To think in terms of learning from the past is philosophically wrong. The difference between an historian worth attending to and one who isn’t is the depth of his or her understanding of the nature of these questions.

Can there ever be objective truth in history? 

The truth rhetoric is not one I like using at all. As I just said, what the historian does is take the material that is present and make the past that he wants to make and that he thinks is plausible. Obviously truth comes into it in the sense that there can be a misrepresentation of the material, and other historians will tell you if you misrepresent it, but it seems to me that historical writing is a free activity; objectivity is not a useful concept. All there is is the possibility of innumerable statements, made necessary to the historian by his perception of everything that comes under the central body of subjects I term public doctrine. Obviously historians are biased. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be. Other people will correct them. It’s a pluralistic activity.

I hope there isn’t such a thing as a historian free from bias. Macaulay regarded Hallam as the most impartial historian he had ever read, but nobody would agree. Hallam was a manifest Whig with a point of view – a point of view which gave great strength to his historical writing. Of course there are inaccurate historians, but the only sense in which you can usefully employ the rhetoric of truth is that a historian should succeed, without being inaccurate, in conveying to the reader a truth about the position he is holding, I do emphasize in this sense – far too much no doubt – the subjectivity of truth. All one can do when confronted by historical writing is to empathize with it and understand it, accept it or reject it according to whether or not the historian’s general conception of the nature of social and human activity is congenial to you. I not only don’t believe in the objectivity of historical truth, I don’t believe there’s any problem about it either.

You taught as a visiting professor of religion at Columbia University. Do you yourself profess a particular religion? 

I suppose on a census I would describe myself as a member of the Church of England. If you ask me, do I think I ought to be an Anglican, the answer is that I probably ought to be a Roman Catholic, but I don’t see any prospect of that happening. It all depends on a rhythm in writing and thinking. Up to the time I was in my late thirties I didn’t know what I thought at all, about politics or, except for the early Anglican period, about religion. Writing Mill and Liberalism, Disraeli, Gladstone and Revolution, The Impact of Labour, The Impact of Hitler and Religion and Public Doctrine were ways of demonstrating to myself on paper how far I’d got. The position is that I haven’t yet got to the point at which I know what I ought to conclude, and working it out on paper is a necessary process that isn’t yet completed.

I’m not saying at all that I couldn’t become a Roman Catholic. What I’m saying at the moment is that I feel quite a large part of the time that I ought to be a Roman Catholic. If you ask me whether it’s likely that I’m going to become a Roman Catholic, that’s a very different question – I have a very Protestant mind – and one for which I have no answer.

Is it possible to teach religion as an academic subject without seeming to try to shift or undermine the actual faith that students may have as Moslems or Buddhists, say, if the lecturer is an Anglican or a Roman Catholic, for example? 

It’s very subtle the matter, the relationship between teachers and pupils, whether it’s lecturing, tutorial (in the Oxford sense) or supervision (in the Cambridge sense). I don’t think it’s necessary to assume that a teacher will serve the interests of the pupil by proselytizing. There’s a very subtle line between propaganda and critical exposition, but I’m sure it’s possible to draw the line between the two. An Anglican or Roman Catholic, or indeed anyone else, may sometimes be teaching in a way which has nothing to do with his religion, that is to say, he may be teaching in the manner of the academic generation to which he belongs. What is more, every teacher exudes his or her own atmosphere, which isn’t the same thing as instruction or indoctrination; it may just be a way of putting whatever it is that one’s talking about, and may not necessarily issue in commitment or engagement to any particular religion or church or opinion. But there’s obviously a problem.

England often seems to be regarded as the least religiously minded country in Europe. Given that religion so often seems to be a compensation for poverty and therefore unlikely to flourish in an affluent society, could it ever be possible to revive real religious feelings here today? Christ thought it was very hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 

I thought the poor had difficulties as well. So do suburban nations, of which ours is one. The least religious in Europe? That’s true in a sense, but it depends how you regard post-Christian sentiments, which are strongly and deeply entrenched in England, and especially liberal sentiments. If you regard them as part of a religion without creeds and without specific performance, then I would say that the English are, even now, fairly moralistic and are, in a secular sense, a religious nation. They are not now a religious nation in the sense of being ecclesiastical performers. The question really is whether these post Christian sentiments and opinions, of which there are many in England as there are in all the nations of the modern world, are to be regarded as religion, or whether we are to regard their prevalence as evidence that the religious period of English history is over.

I tend on the whole to think that they are to be understood as a form of religion or substitute-religion. That’s why I slightly take issue with you. They run very deep in the English mind, and in that sense England is certainly full of pieties and maybe you could even say full of religion.

My perception of the British Isles as a whole is that the Roman Catholic religion is very evident. 

In its practices.

Is that because it’s a minority do you think? 

Well, some of it is converted, and that is likely to be associated with observance. Some of it is Irish, and that is also to be associated with observance. It may be because it’s a minority, but I don’t really think that is the main reason.

Is it, then, because Roman Catholicism is a much more disciplined religion than the Anglican? 

No. What needs to be explained is not particularly why Roman Catholics go to church, but why Protestants don’t. Somehow the gut seems to have gone out of the English Protestantism. It’s turned into these post-Christian moralistic sentiments. It doesn’t involve or insist on observance, but it may be that the body of sentiment is just as deep as ever it was when it did ask for observance.

But wouldn’t you agree that in an affluent society there is likely to be less religion than in a poor society? 

Empirically that’s probably true. I don’t really see why it should be so. This isn’t exactly an affluent society; it’s a suburban society we live in primarily, and I don’t think any church has managed to address the problem of maintaining religion in a suburban society. Being affluent is part of it, but it’s not only that, it’s also the frame of mind. I can’t really put a finger on it, but I’m sure the problem is that a suburban society has conventions and understandings which haven’t really been resolved in terms of public religion.

But isn’t temptation harder or stronger in an affluent society? If you’re rich, you’re tempted to do things that are not perhaps very Christian? 

Oh, I don’t really think that’s true. The temptation to abandon religion is not really correlatable to the opportunities for doing something else, but correlatable to the frame of mind in which everything that anybody can do is viewed. It’s perfectly possible for the rich to be deeply ascetic. There are rich ascetics.

I admit that there is some sense in which affluence makes the observance of a difficult religion more difficult. But if you want to explain why there is less religion more difficult. But if you want to explain why there is less religion in affluent societies than in poor ones – if that indeed is true – then you have to look at the education being given to affluent societies as well as their affluence. It seems to me to relate to the education and development of the intellectual life of a society quite as much as to the affluence itself. If you’re talking about English religion, the most affluent of English societies was Victorian society, and there was undoubtedly a deep and strong revival of religion in Victorian England which was associated with affluence. There was almost an identity of timing between the affluence and the revival of religion, so that is not a good example.

You once stood as Conservative candidate in a safe Labour seat. What decided you not to persevere in trying to enter Parliament? 

I enjoyed being a candidate, though it was very hard work and elections are like what I imagine having all your teeth out is like. It was simply that I decided in about 1960 or 1961 that I wanted t write a lot of books and at that time I hadn’t written any. The main thing was to live in Cambridge, settle down and write, which I did. I didn’t feel that I was going to get into Parliament, but I half-though that t would be better to write books. In any case, I’d always taught at least six hours a week in Cambridge – in supervision – ever since 1950, even when I was in London. That’s what I wanted to do primarily, and all the rest, the Foreign Office, journalism, certainly standing for Parliament – was really a retreat because I hadn’t got a permanent academic job. As soon as I got such a job in Cambridge, I had no desire to go on my travels again.

I’m still politically interested without being active in any party sense, I’m an intellectual Thatcherite, just as I was an intellectual Powellite, and I think it’s important that the Conservative party should be in good hands and that it should win elections.

But as an academic historian, don’t you sometimes feel at least some ambivalence towards the present government, which on the face of it has shown an attitude bordering on contempt for non-vocational education?

I don’t feel any ambivalence towards the present government, of which I am a warm supporter. The only thing I would say is that when Mrs Thatcher came in in 1979, then the government ought to have grasped the nettle and abolished half a dozen academic universities, or expanded the vocational side of universities and reduced the academic side. I believe the academic community is too big. I’m rather unusual in believing this, but I do. There is a great overlap between academic studies and vocational studies, even in academic universities, but basically the academic community is too big and the nettle ought to have been grasped. It’s because it wasn’t that we are in the mess we’re in now. They really did not face the logic of their own belief.

What do you think ‘the idea of university’ is, to use Cardinal Newman’s phrase? 

I think what dons should do in an academic university, or a college as I prefer to call it, is a combination of maintaining scholarship and learning, teaching undergraduates as directly as possible, and writing. If you ask me what is the use of that, the answer is that it hasn’t necessarily any immediate use, and that’s why the institution shouldn’t be very big – because it is a strange thing for young men and women to be subjected to, and not everybody is suited for it, and it’s not good for everybody. So what I believe is that those who constitute an academic university have a duty to learning and scholarship, to teaching and writing. It’s a self-regarding activity, and so it should be.

You’ll notice that I say ‘a college’. There are many universities in the world in which the only institution is the university and its faculties. In Cambridge and Oxford in my view the university is not the primary institution, except where it is the laboratory, is the college.

Why does a small proportion of the British population go on to higher education as compared with France and Germany? 

The reason is because the usefulness of higher education is not immediately apparent. Higher education ought to be directly vocational over a very wide area of its operation, and the ore directly vocational it is, the more certainly it will attract those who might not engage in it. But they ought to engage in it; it’s useful to them to do so.

A lot of people notice that, for an industrial or advanced country, Britain’s management education is very behind that of Europe and Japan. 

Yes, but that’s because it’s been assumed for a very long time in England that an academic education is superior. Now, I’m not saying it is superior; I am saying it’s a very good thing in itself but not suited to everybody. It can be damaging to some people, and there ought to be higher esteem given to vocational education. The higher esteem that is given it, the more likely it is to be attractive to large numbers of people.

It has been something of a lie’s campaign for you to attack liberalism, which you see as inextricably linked with authoritarianism. Are you saying that liberalism is really a cloak for hypocrisy? 

Yes. There’s a phrase I quote from Sir Edwin Hoskyns at the beginning of Mill and Liberalism about how ‘the liberal is not only convinced that he is right, but is also convinced that other people secretly agree with him’. I’ve never had any desire to use liberal language. When I was a schoolboy I read a lot of Carlyle and a lot of Belloc. I know that Belloc was radical, but his language was not liberal language but a sort of reactionary Catholicism. And Carlyle, in religious terms, was a liberal, but in political terms was obviously not. And that’s just stuck with me. Liberal language has never attracted me and it assumes a higher rectitude in human conduct than I suppose to be normal. And since it assumes a higher level of human rectitude than normal, it’s very misleading as an understanding of the way in which men behave socially, or indeed individually – but particularly socially and politically. I wouldn’t mind if liberalism was just a cloak for hypocrisy. The problem is the people who believe it. They’re much worse than the ones who don’t. Hypocrisy seems to me to be a very minor evil and very necessary for the world. But very large numbers of people actually believe in liberal sentiment, liberal assumptions and liberal ways of thinking. It’s not hypocrisy at all; it’s self-deception.

Examples of those I regard as liberal would be Isaiah Berlin, for one, or David Astor. David Astor is actually the better example. When he was editor of the Observer there was an assumption that somehow all good men where men of good will; that there was a correlation between good intentions and good consequences; that the desire of all men and women to be in harmony with all other men and women and total self-development for everyone were somehow achievable without the difficulties which are inseparable from all political activity. Liberalism is essentially the belief that there can be a reconciliation of all difficulties and differences, and since there can’t, it is a misleading way to approach politics.

The most important feature of political activity is precisely that interests and opinions are in conflict; that people do not mean the same thing when they say different things. Yet the liberal wishes to believe that, when people say different things or are pursuing divergent interests, they are somehow saying the same thing or pursuing the same interest. It isn’t the case, and once you’ve recognized it isn’t the case, then your politics are going to be more realistic than if you believe that it is the case. There you are. There’s liberalism in a nutshell for you.

Your book on John Stuart Mill seems to postulate the idea that Mill wanted to substitute a ‘secular’ religion for orthodox Christianity. Why exactly would that be so objectionable? The story of orthodox Christianity has not always been a kindly or a happy one. 

That book was published in 1963 and was really written out of the frame of mind I was in between 1944 and 1950. To me then it was self-evident that the attempt to rid the world of orthodox Christianity was bad and wrong. I wrote the book in order to point out that, when you replace Christianity by what Mill would have replaced it with, you’re not replacing something contentious by something self-evidently true, but replacing something contentious by something equally contentious. What I was drawing attention to in Mill was the claim that liberalism was what all reasonable men would really believe if they were thinking reasonably. That is a highly contentious claim. Between Christianity and the post-Christian religion that Mill was propagating, there is an incompatibility and conflict. It’s not just a case of something self-evidently wrong being replaced by something self-evidently right.

In other words, what I was trying to say was, first, that liberalism is not as bland as it pretends to be, and secondly, that in relation to historic Christianity the founders of modern English liberalism – not only Mill but a lot of other thinkers as well – were not being bland and self-evident but contentious and controversial. Christians have, on the whole been on the defensive over the last two hundred years – certainly in England for the last hundred years. What I simply wanted to do was to put liberalism on the defensive as well.

You speak at one point of that low-key respectability which is the real religion of the English people. Are you included in that? 

No, I’m an amused observer of the English people. Like you.


There is a difficulty about this. What I believe in politically, I suppose, is a low-key hard line: respectable, faintly nasty edged, but also accommodating. In other words, Conservatism. That seems to me really to be what the Conservative party has usually stood for. There’s been a change in the Conservative party during the past ten of fifteen years, but what I believe in is a bedrock of conservative feeling. I believe it’s there in large numbers of Conservative voters, and used to be, and may still be, in large numbers of Labour voters. That seems to me to be a really good thing, and since you try to identify me with it, I’m happy to endorse the identification.

If you feel with Dr Norman and Enoch Powell that Christianity is not primarily a social doctrine, what value can it have at all beyond its use as a managerial weapon on the pie-in-the-sky principle? 

Now you’re giving me a real reductionism about religion, and I reject it. At the very least, in England and Europe Christianity has historically been a very important and independent part of public thinking, and isn’t to be reduced to the class struggle at all. It’s a matter of conviction, of opinion, of belief, and is not reducible to anything else.

Let me provoke you further. The unsympathetic will surely see your view of Christianity as a call to repentance and as a way of avoiding social responsibilities. 

Three answers. First, the application of Christ’s perceptions is a complicated and long-term business, and it is not to be expected that they will be translatable into the easy formulae of policy or parliamentary or party exchange. Secondly, I’m not calling anybody to repentance. My books, except for Mill and Liberalism, which is a long time ago, are in no sense persuasions to any form of belief. What I had to say about Christianity there I wouldn’t, indeed, say in any form now.

Thirdly, a point that arises from my first book, The Nature and Limits of Political Science, which came about six months before Mill and Liberalism. This was an attack on political science as it was in the 1960s when it had by and large a practical purpose – usually a liberal or socialist purpose. What The Nature and Limits of Political Science said was that academic subjects shouldn’t have political purposes, and that, when they did, they were demeaning to the academic function. In a way, I still half believe that it is impossible in any humane study actually to detach engagement and commitment from explanation.

In fact the account of what an historian is doing which I gave you a little time ago is a complete reversal of The Nature and Limits of Political Science. In the conditions of the 1960s, when what we’ll call in shorthand terms of Liberalism or Lib-Labbism was in the ascendant in this country, it seemed a very good argument against Lib-Lab political science to say that it wasn’t explanatory but was engaged or committed. But I have changed my view almost diametrically because I now really believe that engagement and commitment are unavoidable.

You have argued very persuasively for conservative values over the years, but the practice as opposed to the theory seems to involve poverty at the level of living in cardboard boxes and begging into the streets. 

I wouldn’t say I’ve argued for ‘conservative values’ over the years. Intellectually, I believe in a broad conservatism. Politically, I didn’t have any connection with any political party until the mid 1950s, in addition to having an intellectual opinion which is independent of my party-political opinions. I’ve also been a defender and proponent, in my own deviant way, of the Conservative party – which is not the same thing as ‘conservative values’.

As for living in cardboard boxes and all that, it happens under socialism as well as under a free market economy. But we haven’t got a free market economy. We’ve still got a mixed market economy. And though a good deal has been done since 1979 to desocialize the mixed economy, it is still a mixed economy. Obviously no one wants poverty or anyone living in cardboard boxes, but the argument is – and it may turn out that they are discovering this in Eastern Europe – that a free market economy is better as a cure for poverty than a controlled socialist economy.

Do you see any dangers in the changes in society which are attributable to Mrs Thatcher and her form of government? 

What are the attributable changes?

Hasn’t Mrs Thatcher changed our society radically? 

I don’t think she has. Both Thatcherites and anti-Thatcherites wish to maintain that she has made fundamental changes. She has made some changes in government, in political policies, in the perception and the social constitution of the Conservative party. There is a slightly greater economic toughness in the public mind than there was when she arrived, but when you say she has transformed our society, I don’t believe it.

Well, we used to pride ourselves in Europe, and particularly in this country, on the fact that although money was important to us, it wasn’t everything in life. Now Mrs Thatcher has created what could be called the new spiv in our society, someone bereft of culture and motivated only by money ad self-aggrandizement. 

But everybody said the same about Macmillan. It’s not a debating point I’m making, but a real point. It was even said about the 1951 government that they had given the opportunity to the spiv and estate developers. This will be sad whenever there is a loosening of government economic control, but what you’re saying about today just isn’t true. Public schools, for example, are fuller than ever and more people want to go to them than ever before, and whatever public schools do turn out, it isn’t spivvery that is being aimed at on the whole. The yuppy is really a function of the immense increase in property values in the south of England. There are a very large numbers of people who feel much richer because of the inflation of house values as compared with the rest of inflation. It’s a very complicated thing and is not all to do with Mrs Thatcher or the present government. All she has done is marginally to reverse the frame of mind which believes in the desirability of governmental involvement in the economy. If that has enabled a lot of people to make money, it seems to me entirely unobjectionable, and one can’t tell what the effect will be. It seems to me just propaganda to identify that process or the decision to reduce the taxation of wealth with spivvery. It isn’t the case that the alleviation of taxation has been a licence for spivvery.

But moral values in the City are not as high as they used to be. 

I’m not an authority on moral values in the City. If what you’re describing is the case, I don’t think it’s to be attributed mainly to Mrs Thatcher or to this or any government. Anyway, I’m not sure that what you say is happening is happening.

To many it must look as if what the new Conservatives really want is a mini America, but they do not seem to want to pay that part of the price which requires freedom of the press and access to government information. 

I don’t believe there are Conservatives that want an American economic system here. What this government has done since 1979 is comparatively limited when you consider the vast structure of governmental activity that is still operating. We still have a mixed economy, and although Mrs Thatcher is as a rhetorician is a new market Conservative she is also a responsible party leader. We aren’t anywhere near an American economy and I don’t believe it is a thing that needs to be considered as a matter of practice.

In any case, there’s no reason why a free market economy should entail alterations in the Official Secrets Act. The two things are not connected. I don’t know whether there is too much secrecy in government here or not. There is a long tradition of secrecy in the interests of national security, and no doubt it can be abused. I don’t know whether it is being abused or not. But there is absolutely no connection between a market economy and the liberalization of the Official Secrets Act – none whatever. 

Mrs Thatcher seems adamant that we should know less and less about what’s going on in government. 

I honestly don’t believe that’s true. I don’t feel it as a citizen, so to speak.

They have a go every so often at the BBC. 

The BBC has been one of the whipping boys of Conservative sentiment as long as I can remember, back to the 1940s and 1950s. There’s nothing unusual in that, you know.

With regard to what you call ‘a conservative moral order’, you say that apart from the need for intellectual argument there is an equal need for what you call ‘tone and posture’. Can this tone and posture ever be anything more than theatricality? 

There is a low-key, hard minded conservative posture which is of fundamental importance in English life, particularly in English politics. It embodies a real judgement of what is politically and morally possible, feasible and desirable. It’s not full of large expectations. It’s not Utopian in mind or attention. It assumes that the world is a difficult world and that there are some things which can be done and many things which can’t; in other words, it operates with limited expectations. That seems to me to be entirely admirable and not theatrical at all. I think Mrs Thatcher is going through a bad patch, and I’m not saying that part of the Labour party aren’t capable of embodying the same limited expectations. Certainly if Dennis Healey had ever been leader of the Labour party, that is exactly what Labour would have embodied. It’s the expression of a very genuine and very deep mistrust of high-flown humbugging windbagging politics and morality. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?

In your preface to Conservative Essays, you wrote that the Conservative party would have to promote a sense of history and cohesion among the people. Is that possible any longer, with so many conflicting ethnic and religious minorities? 

There is a difficulty about ethnic minorities, but in the same way that many Scots, Irish and Welshman have become assimilated to England within England, and Englishmen assimilated in Scotland, Wales and so on, so, I think, will a lot of ethnic immigrants be assimilated. Some will remain in ethnic communities and some will not, but there are various ways in which a nation can be governed, and immigration, once it has happened, doesn’t seem to me to be fatal to a political system operating. As to the question of moral solidarity and cohesion, we’ll need to see how things develop over fifty years, but obviously there is a difficulty.

One of the things that the Moslems, for example, are likely to lose if they assimilate is their religion. Assimilation can be the destruction of a religion, and that may happen, probably is happening, to some Moslems. I don’t know whether it is good that it should. On the whole, I’m not keen on the idea of ethnic groups operating as ethnic groups, but I can see that if they don’t, they will lose some of their features in a way which, if I were a Moslem, I would think undesirable.

You ask me whether I share Enoch Powell’s view on immigration, and I have to say that depends on what you mean by Enoch Powell’s view. I regarded the substance of what he said in the 1960s – though not the rhetoric that he used – as being on the whole right. I’ve been surprised at the extent to which the situation hasn’t turned out violently. In some places, of course, there has been a lot of violence. How long it will be before one can tell whether or not the level of immigration has been a bad thing is very difficult to say. It depends on what the relations are between the immigrants themselves and the rest of the community over a span of twenty or thirty years, and it’s not clear yet.

In your recent new preface to Mill and Liberalism, you say that the contradictions produced by immigration were exemplified from a ‘tolerable’ point of view in the case of the Bradford headmaster, Ray Honeyford, but from an ‘odious’ one in the case of Salman Rushdie. 

I’ve read The Satanic Verses and I thought it a nasty, sneering, free-thinking book. I’m not in favour of Moslems executing death threats or using violence, and they have to observe the law when they’re here, but I can understand why the book is offensive and it didn’t seem to me to be anything but offensive when I read it. Some thinking Moslems take a view of the nature of religion, at the incompatibility between Islam and liberalism, which runs parallel to what I’m saying in Mill and Liberalism, and that’s why I mentioned Rushdie in that way.

Your way of interpreting history sometimes seems to arouse great antagonism among fellow historians. A reviewer recently wrote: ‘The real subject is not the assault on Christianity, but Maurice Cowling’s assaults on practically everybody’, and accused you of anti-intellectualism, fuelled by a moral crusade. Do such accusations hurt you? 

I couldn’t stop laughing when I read that. I don’t know what the animus is, but there must be some. All my critic was accusing me of was exactly what I was saying about ten minutes ago that historians always have done. I think he is a professor at the University of Minnesota, and I am deeply grateful to him.

I believe in answering attacks, but I do find it very difficult to be in any way emotionally injured by them. On the other hand, I do depend on having access to a correspondence column. You’ll find there’s a lot of stuff of mine littered about in correspondence columns over the years.

As for being on a moral crusade, no, no, no. I spent the first twenty years of my adult life knowing that I wanted to say something but not knowing what for to say it in, and really not knowing, as it were, which profession to say it through. In the end I found first the form of two polemical books, then three political books, and after that the religious books, which will go on a bit longer. The thing that has to be understood about me is that I’m really very insulated. I have contemporaries from whom I’ve learned a lot, and obviously older people from whom I’ve learned a lot, but there aren’t many of them. Really I’ve been doing what I want to do now for twenty years, and I truthfully don’t care about criticism, thought I do like to answer back.

Who influenced you in your life? 

There was the history master in my sixth form who had been sending people to Jesus College, Cambridge, for fifteen years, so it was perfectly natural to expect to go to Cambridge. I don’t think the substance of his teaching was important. What was important was that he was an absolutely brilliant teacher. Then, in Cambridge, there was Charles Smyth, and when I came back after the army, there was Charles Wilson. He’s important because he was an anti-Keynesian economic historian. Then there was Michael Oakeshott. For a time I wrote in Oakeshottian language but with an unOakeshottian crudeness. The thing about Oakeshott’s writing was that it was subtle and mine wasn’t subtle, but I borrowed the language. And then there was Herbert Butterfield. That’s about it among seniors, and there are contemporaries, like John Vincent, for example.

I understand that Roger Scruton was influenced by you at one time. Are you happy to be allied with Scruton nowadays? 

There was a time when I knew him very well when he was a fellow at Peterhouse. I liked him very much. When he became editor of the Salisbury Review and for a little while afterwards I thought there was something faintly wooden about his politics, but now I regard him as a very, very good thing. It’s not only that he writes about politics, it’s that he writes about politics, it’s that he writes about everything else. He’s written a very good book about architecture and aesthetics, a huge great book about sex, a political book about conservatism, and very good books about Kant and Spinoza. He is a remarkably versatile and intelligent person. I used to have some reservations. I do not have any now. There are things I disagree about, and I have no wish to go to Czechoslovakia and meet all these dissidents. Now he’s trying to found a Conservative party in Czechoslovakia. I’ve no wish to be involved in that.

You have been accused of cynicism, but a more recent suggestion is that you take the view that, in the face of transcendence of God, no moral or political system has any authority. 

I think one needs to put into that sentence ‘no ultimate authority’, because I obviously don’t believe it to be the case that no moral or political system can have authority. One has, I think, to be very mindful of the limits and ignorance of even legitimate government. In Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, for example, there has been a slow subterranean dissent from Marxism-Leninism which has now finally surfaced. It isn’t surprising that the Soviet government had got out of touch and become rigid. It’s taken at least thirty or forty years for this change to happen (it has obviously been going since the end of Stalin).

In a recent newspaper profile in the Sunday Telegraph you were represented as saying that the last war was a catastrophic mistake. What possible alternative was there to going to war? 

I didn’t actually describe it as a catastrophic mistake. I think that was the Sunday Telegraph profile writer. What I did say was that Churchill and Chamberlain were both imperialists who believed in the British Empire, and between them they got us into the war in September 1939. In that sense, they were responsible for the eventual destruction of the British Empire, and that was the point of my book The Impact of Hitler.

It seemed to me singularly ill-contrived for the British government to be going to war with Hitler when Hitler might have been about to attack the Russians, and even more ill-contrived that, when Hitler did attack the Russians, he had already defeated the French army. What I’m saying is that the war shouldn’t have been started in September 1939. Also, although, looking  back, the war looks inevitable, there were in fact a number of alternatives. Historical thought has assumed that nothing is inevitable. On the question of whether Hitler was going to attack the Russians, the one thing that does seem clear is that he didn’t know whether he wished to attack Britain but did know that he wished to attack Russia.

A third question I broached in an article in the Sunday Telegraph in August 1989, and also in The Impact of Hitler, as what would have happened if we’d allowed Hitler to attack the Russians and establish a predominance in east and south-eastern Europe? I simply asked the question, because I think it’s impossible to come to a conclusion about whether a German-dominated Europe would have been better for Britain, whether it would have been better that there should have been no war between Britain and Hitler (assuming that the British Empire could have been preserved intact), and about whether one should welcome the Russian victory over Germany and Russian and American predominance in Europe. I simply ask these questions. I don’t know the answer.

In the same article you suggest that our winning the war paved the way for what you call, ‘priggery Puritanism and permissiveness’. 

The point of the article was that after 1940 the student revolution of the 1930s, which was just like the student revolution of the 1960s only different in manner, got involved in the running of the war. Afterwards there was the appearance of Britain winning and Britain in a sense did win, being on the side of the Russians and the Americans. But, from the point of view of Britain, the war was really not a good thing and I would regard it as, in effect, a defeat.

After the war the whole body of opinion which had been student revolutionary in the 1930s became very respectable through having been involved in the war, and what was a form of defeat was presented as victory. It was a victory for liberal democracy, for anti-totalitarianism, for a sort of emasculated version of everything that the young had believed in the 1930s. I’m not drawing any particular conclusions from this, but simply saying that this frame of mind operated in all parts of the political spectrum, really until the late 1960s. That is what I mean by a wartime consensus which lasted politically right through Macmillan, he being a perfect embodiment of it, though I thought Macmillan a wonderful party-political leader.

It all went on until the late 1960s, when it was destroyed by a combination of student revolution, Private Eye – remember how Private Eye absolutely demolished the circulation of the Spectator, under Nigel Lawson, oddly enough – Powellism, and latterly Thatcherism. Between them, they made the whole of that consensus, which had lasted from 1940 to about the mid 1960s, look anachronistic and old fashioned. I don’t think it has ever quite recovered.

Why did you think the objection, widely shared, to using force in Suez in 1956 was ‘so naive as to be intellectually offensive’? 

First, my objection in 1956 was to people who blew themselves up in indignation. There were prudential reasons for not invading Egypt, and it might have been better not to have done so; also the alliance with the Israelis, though it was a secret, was probably a mistake. My objection to the objectors is that what they were really doing was what the anti-Vietnam war movement did in the United States. If they had only really used their arguments properly, they could have found prudential and political reasons for arguing against invasion. What was wrong that that wasn’t the mainspring of their argument, their mainspring being that force should never be used.

You ask about Christian ethics. I didn’t want to make the point in a Christian ethical way, but if you do, then there is a long history of discussion of the sorts of occasion on which force is legitimate. And it would be very difficult to decide what degree of provocation was contained in Nasser’s occupation of the Canal, whether or not that really was a ground for war. I can’t see any reason of principle why it should not have been. It’s not my business to pronounce on the application of the Christian ethical doctrine of a just war on the Suez campaign of 1956, but it’s simply not the case that Eden’s invasion of Egypt was an open-and-shut case of idiotic or angry aggression. It was the result of a very long series of incidents. The casuistry of the ethical doctrine would have to consider in great detail the relationship between Nasser’s conduct and Eden’s reactions. The important point about it is that it is not an open-and-shut case; and a perfectly good case can be made either way.

Except that at the time Eden was in collusion with Israel and planning even before Nasser acted.

I thought the collusion with Israel was mistaken, not in terms of principle but in terms of prudence and policy. It doesn’t seem to me that if, as Eden rightly or wrongly did, you took the view in 1956 that Nasser was an irreconcilable enemy of Britain’s interests in the Middle East, then there is anything wrong in using the Israelis against him. But there is a lot of reason to think it was politically unwise.

What view did you take of the Falklands War at the time? 

At the beginning I thought, oh dear, I hope there isn’t going to be another Suez, a cock-up. Secondly, although it had to be conducted and had to be won, there was no British interest of any consequence involved. It was a far-away country of which, as Neville Chamberlain said, regrettably we know little. There may be some Antarctic interest involved, but that must be very minimal and probably would have been better got rid of before the war happened.

A reviewer of your Religion and Public Doctrine called you illiberal and extreme. I don’t expect you see yourself in this light, but can you understand why some people react like that? 

Oh, yes. I’m very happy to be able to tell you that I get under the skin of quite a lot of people. They think that I believe more reactionary things than I do because I like to use positions against them which I know will annoy them. Probably, if the truth be known, I’m a much broader and more central figure than even I’m aware of. That’s a good answer to make.

It comes basically, fundamentally and originally from a desire, as I said earlier, to say something I knew I wanted to say before I found the vehicle through which to say it. Some part of what I wanted to say I knew would be antipathetic; it was meant to be antipathetic to the sort of people who regard me as – I don’t know whether the word ‘evil’ isn’t dignifying myself too much; but who regard what I’m saying as very wrong. Sometimes people think it’s very wicked.

You have never married. Did your preoccupation with academic pursuits rule it out, or was there another reason? 

Nothing to do with academic pursuits at all, and there isn’t really any reason.

Your life as an academic suggests a certain stoicism, as if you were not prone to normal human frailties. 

It’s not an accurate impression at all. I have a well-regulated life which is not confined to Cambridge and which is, one might say, low-key and domestic and provides me with much happiness.

Some people are not interested in the pleasures of the flesh of any kind. Are you one of them? 

Absolutely not.

So you’re human like anybody else? 

Oh, I should think so, yes.

Do you feel more comfortable in the presence of women or men? 

There are a small number of women in whose company I am very happy. Peterhouse is still a mainly male college, but when I’m not in Cambridge, the company I keep is mainly female, and that is very good. As a fellow of a college, living in college during term but only during term, there is a sort of semi-domestic atmosphere which is predominantly male; but that is not how I live out of term when I’m not in Cambridge.

Are you, or would you call yourself, a bon viveur?

No. That implies a general inebriation, and a taste for wine and a discriminating taste for food which I don’t have. I have simple tastes in food and I drink whisky or gin in large quantities, but only at certain times of day. I don’t really drink wine, that doesn’t sound like a bon viveur.

Do you agree that religion and sex are the two strongest forces to effect our lives? 

I think you’re on the verge of another reductionism. The sexual drive is very strong in practice, but I’m not sure that it’s as strong in thought. If you look at the content of European thought, it doesn’t seem to me that thought about sex plays a very important part. It’s a very strong and sometimes a sublimating  drive in many thinkers, but it’s not central. There is obviously a great deal of writing about sexual conduct in ethical discourse, in novels and poetry, but it isn’t the central feature of the thought of Western Europe. It doesn’t play such a predominant part in the thought of Western Europe as religion does.

But mightn’t its absence be detrimental to one’s achievement, even intellectually? 

I’ve never felt any frustration in work from that quarter. But perhaps that’s because I lead a well-regulated, cheerful, happy life. I think there are a lot of people for whom sexuality is very strong, but there are also a lot of people, and I suspect particularly that there are a lot of English people for whom it is not strong. I’m not in any way denying its importance. In the lives of some people it’s primary, but not of English people on the whole, and I don’t know any other nation well. For many English people, it is heavily operative when they’re young, and then it becomes domesticated.

Why your obsession with religion? 

I think because, when I arrived in Cambridge, that was the form in which intellectual power presented itself to me. One simply cannot tell what the effect of powerful teaching on a seventeen-year-old will be, but I’m quite sure that the effect of the teaching I had in 1943 is quite indelible and that’s why there is this obsession with religion. If you want the autobiographical explanation, that’s it, but as I said at the beginning, what every historian ought to be concerned about is this area of religion, politics, culture and economic activity. A lot of modern historians, it seems to me, are not concerned with religion, and ought to be.

As you’ve grown older, have you felt you’ve become more religious? 

Neither yes nor no. The process is working itself out in writing the books, and I don’t know what the outcome will be. I feel more convinced now than I was twenty years ago that religion is very central, whatever the form it takes. It should be very central to anyone’s thinking life. But I’m certainly not more observant in religion than I was twenty years ago. In fact I’m less so, but you’re right in a way in saying I have an obsession. But it’s an intellectual obsession, part of the conception of what any thinker ought to be doing, and the fact that it takes historical form is accidental.

Have you an unfulfilled ambition? 

Oh, I want to finish Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England, that’s what I want to do.

Another Cup Of Coffee…

Coffee is without doubt the most popular drink the world over. Socially acceptable everywhere, it is a means for getting to know people, a must have beverage in times of stress, and addictive to those who need to keep alert and fully cognizant of their environment. No one I know can resist having a cup of coffee when offered, whether it is as a sign of hospitality or an energy booster. Now it appears that if your fitness drive needs a kickstart, try a coffee before you exercise. Caffeine can make our workouts seem easier according to a leading psychologist.

‘When we exercise, our nerve cells produce a chemical that makes us feel fatigue, called adenosine, but caffeine is known to block the adenosine, preventing us from feeling physically drained and therefore making us more motivated to continue exercising,’ said Professor Samuele Marcora of the University of Kent.

‘Adenosine also had an impact on how mentally fatigued we feel, making coffee particularly useful for those who often find exercise too much of a chore at the end of the working day,’ said the professor. ‘Taking caffeine before a workout reduces perception of effort and enables people to exercise on average, 11% longer than a placebo.’ He said: ‘It also increases exercise enjoyment and this should motivate people to stick to their exercise programme in the long term. Adenosine is also one of the main causes of mental fatigue and mental fatigue increases perception of effort and reduces exercise performance, so using caffeine before a workout is particularly beneficial to people that go for a run or to the gym after work when they are mentally tired.’

He said drinking 3mg of caffeine per kg of body weight before exercise should be ‘effective without inducing unpleasant side effects in most people.’ For a 65 kg woman (just over 10 stone) two cups of fresh filtered coffee would be right. His comments appeared in the journal Sports Medicine.

I always believed that coffee most have certain beneficial properties if taken in small quantities and my instinct seems to have been borne out by this latest study. So to those who love their coffee, that’s cheering news which we can all share, with the comforting belief that doomsayers who think otherwise can, for all I care, go to hell.

Fed Up With The Whole Shebang

These days I find myself highly irritated by what is becoming an often used terminology such as racism and political correctness, when in fact they invade logic and are used to give shelter to those seeking to clamp down on our right to free expression. It’s high time this paranoia, which is becoming inherent in some parts of our society leave these shores and inflict their so-called prejudices elsewhere.

It reminds me of an incident in 1988 when Quartet published a controversial book of social significance by Russell Lewis called Anti-Racism: A Mania Exposed which carried an introduction by Enoch Powell. This set out to ask the question of whether the anti-racist movement in Britain had become a latter-day witch-hunt. Abhorrence at the crimes of Nazism had been right and proper, Lewis agreed, but he felt it had also set the climate for the establishment and growth of a ‘race-relations industry’ in the country. His thesis was that  legislation designed to foil racial prejudice had invariably had the opposite effect. Tolerance would never be born of legislation or activism, he maintained, but could only flow naturally from the depoliticization of education and the phasing out of those institutions that had a vested interest in racial strife.

Salman Rushdie, as one of the ‘ethnics’ Lewis referred to, took the book apart in his Observer review: In this allegedly ‘fascinating and well-researched’ volume, Mr Lewis offers a series of diagnoses and prescriptions which are, alas, variously risible, inept and predictable. His contention is that anti-racism is a form of witch-hunting, that anti-racist agencies largely create the problems they were set up to alleviate, and that, anyway, it’s all part of the higher craziness of loony-leftism . . . What black Britons must recognize, he concludes, is one thing: precisely because it is colour-blind the free market is their friend . . .

Not long ago a book as poor as this would have had trouble finding a respectable publisher; it’s a sign of the times that it has now found lodgings at Uncle Naim’s Cabin . . . and . . . here is aged Enoch still prophesying civil war: Enoch, to whom the country remains in debt for his great speech about the river of blood.

Salman Rushdie was perfectly entitled to express strong views about theories advanced by an author with whom he clearly disagreed. It was a step too far in his criticism to denigrate the book by claiming that no respectable publisher would have touched it in the past. ‘Uncle Naim’s Cabin’, as he called Quartet, had been responsible for publishing more left-wing books than one could begin to count. We had consistently been champions of the underdog, the dispossessed, the oppressed minorities, the unemployed, and had highlighted a wide diversity of views to create an environment in which debate could replace violence and conflict. We had often disregarded commercial considerations in our pursuit of this aim and had defied convention to our own disadvantage. The book Salman was reviewing carried a valid warning which in some respects seems to have come true. Debate is now muffled by political correctness, which, while well-meaning in concept, has worked against free speech and robbed us of certain civil liberties, for which we are all culturally the poorer. The greatness of Britain stems from its commitment to freedom of expression, and this is now under severe threat of being gagged by accusations of ‘racism’. The new obsession with racism in this context will eventually have the opposite effect to that intended. We are all equal under the legislation, and we should ensure that preserving these freedoms is our main objective and dispense with ‘political correctness’ as it is being interpreted today.

Have we learnt our lesson yet? The answer is ‘certainly not’. We keep harping on the same old theme, a theme that still defies comprehension.


A Bit Of The Other Does You Good

Have women found the elixir of passion or has the sexual revolution gone too far? We are now taught that women are bi-sexual or gay – even those who claim they are only attracted to men are, a recent study has discovered,

Tests showed that the majority of women, who told researchers they were straight, were in fact aroused both by videos of naked men and ones of naked women. But true lesbians remained forthright in their attraction to the female form.

The psychologists asked 345 women, who had an average age of 23, about their sexual preferences. They then showed them videos of naked men and others of naked women and analysed their responses, including whether their pupils diluted – which is a sign of sexual arousal.

The majority of the women had identified themselves as straight – but, of those who did, 69% were strongly aroused by videos both by men and women. Study leader Dr Gerulf Rieger, a psychologist at the University of Essex, claimed this means that ‘when it comes to what turns women on they are either bisexual or gay but never straight.’ He added that ‘lesbians who were much more aroused by the videos of women, than the ones of men, were more like men in their reactions because men tend to show distinct sexual responses to their preferred sex.’

Dr Rieger also looked at links between sexual orientation and behaviour. He found that lesbians who may dress in a more masculine way, may not have more masculine behaviour:

‘Although some lesbians were more masculine in their sexual arousal, and others were more masculine in their behaviour, there was no indication that these were the same women,’ he said. ‘This shows us that how women appear in public does not mean that we know anything about their sexual preferences.’

Previous research by the Office for National Statistics found women are more than twice as likely to be bisexual than men. Some 94% of all adults in the UK said they were straight while 1.1% identified as gay or lesbian and 0.5% as bisexual. But when this was broken down by sex, 0.7% of women said they were bisexual compared to 0.5% of men. By contrast, twice as many men identified as men – 1.5% compared to 0.7% of women.

Some people may doubt the accuracy of this research but more and more we see young women of today, who may not be necessarily lesbians but seem to prefer the sexual comforts of other women, do seem to bond more easily than ever before.

The constant exposure of a woman’s embellished form and what was once her hidden assets have become very hard to resist to both genders. Add to this, I am told by the new liberal generation of young women, that the sexual experience they derive from sleeping with other women is unparalleled in orgasmic longevity and tenderness. Be that as it may, we men can only imagine what it could be like and envy this mysterious and pleasant watershed of desirability.

Diana Athill

I first interviewed Diana Athill in 1986, for my book, Women, and here is what she said to me, under various topics:

Advantages and Disadvantages

I came into the market for jobs as the war was beginning, and there were very few men about, so automatically one ended up head of the department of the little thing I was in at the BBC. There weren’t any men around to be head of it. So there wasn’t the competition.


I think that the basic things were achieved before I was grown up. We had got the vote, and we had got permission, as it were, from society to earn our own livings. Those were the two vitally important things, and they’d been done for me before I started. Having those, it was up to us to manoeuvre our way through. Of course, there is prejudice against women: not exactly a thought-out prejudice most of the time, but simply an attitude, a solidarity of men that certain things belong to them – unthinking, unquestioning. And, of course, women are supposed to be second in command if they get anywhere up at all, and their job is largely supporting their men. You see it all the time. We’re just going to publish a book called Reflecting Men to Twice Their Natural Size, and any woman will agree that is what she is mostly doing when she is with men. And it’s very annoying that one’s fallen into that trap, one can’t avoid it. It’s not a deliberate political kind of persecution; it is conditioning. I think.

If you are in strong disagreement with a man and you argue as emphatically as you feel, you cannot help getting (this is conditioning) the feeling that he is thinking you are a termagant, he will put you down as strident or whatever. And you see yourself a little with those eyes, which is very annoying indeed. Because if you were completely confident, obviously you would say pooh to that. It gets easier as you get older. You become much more confident. At some level you are sacrificing you sexual appeal by coming up against him as though you were two men arguing, and there is something that makes you flinch from doing that. Whether it’s conditioning, or whether it’s a sort of instinct, I don’t know.

I think in England, you always come up against other things as well as sex or gender. You’re going  to come up against class and the way you’re brought up. I was brought up in a puritanical way. For instance, I was always told that men don’t like women who wear a lot of make-up. Well, not being a fool, I could perfectly clearly see that the girl who was wearing her lipstick put on well, got off much better than the one who didn’t, so I didn’t pay attention. But there was the feeling that you mustn’t be affected, mustn’t be seen to be trying to attract the attention of the other sex, because it was common, vulgar. Of course, you wanted to – everybody wanted to. Your grandmother or your mother, who was telling you this, wanted you to get married, but they wanted you to do it in a curiously hygienic and scrubbed English way, and that went rather deeper than one thought. I always felt that girls who evidently manipulated men by their charm or beauty were doing something rather wrong. Of course, men do it too. It puts me off a man at once if he puts on his charm too much: the sort of man who, when he comes into a room, is clearly always going to come on like that. I’ve always had a hostility towards that sort of thing.

I really can’t imagine being a man – I really can’t. I like being a woman, and I always have. There are certain tedious responsibilities that men have, like looking after the money, and if you hear someone creeping about downstairs, it’s the man who is the one who has to get up and go downstairs with a poker and hit him on the head, which I don’t want to do. But seriously, I just feel very comfortable being a woman.


The idea, that absolutely Victorian idea which went back further, that woman doesn’t really need sex but put up with it because men had to have it, already has changed so much. It goes back to the primitive thing, that even in the age of the pill, which is after all a totally artificial thing, each time a woman copulates with a man she could be landing herself with this completely new development: her whole life could change. Low and behold, she can have this responsibility of the child growing and having to deal with it, whereas the man can come and go. Because of that I don’t think you can help making a slight difference in your attitude to sex.

The misapprehensions about sex are not just Victorian and English. I republished once a little Chinese erotic book in which it was widely supposed that what women desperately want was an enormous organ in the man – a huge penis – and she was going to have a lovely time. Absolute nonsense, of course any woman could have told any man who asked. But the Chinese firmly believed that, way back, God knows when; and most English people, most men, still do believe it. Nobody ever asked women or women were too inhibited to say what they like. They went on like this, generation after generation.

When I was young, we were all quite sure we will soon going to go to bed with a man, but it had to be a man you were going to be in love with. We took completely for granted that we couldn’t really, we didn’t want to go to bed with anyone unless we were in love. I am beginning to think now that that was a cultural thing. Basically there is something in a young woman who could conceive that makes her want to find someone who will be there, looking after her if it happens, which will give her a slight wish to be more involved. But as one gets older, one ends up being quite masculine about such things. I know an awful lot of women who, if they want a man, they want a man. And I’ve known women – I wouldn’t do this because I’m so old-fashioned– Who say to a man, I want to go to bed with you, quite cheerfully. On the other hand, I always right from the beginning, recognised two possibilities for sexual involvement with the man. One was that one was going to love him and this was going to be the big thing, and the other was an authentic sexual flash – you know how it is sometimes. If that happened, that happened, and it didn’t matter whether I loved him or not; that was equally a good reason for going to bed with him. I thought that from about the age of eighteen I found it was true. I was quite promiscuous when I was young, but as long as it was authentic, it worked. I hated getting into the position that when one is doing something silly, like going to bed with a man to be polite to him or something. If you really wanted to, it was alright, I reckon. I didn’t have to be in love. If the authentic attraction was there, it could be just friendly, nice, enjoyable.


I had abortions at a very early stage and no sense that what was being terminated was a person. It was an evolution and of cells going on in my body that had reached only a very limited stage. I didn’t, it didn’t, yet know whether it was going to be male, female, what it was going to be. It didn’t seem to be a life, and it still doesn’t, strictly speaking. One could argue that, of course, it was, as a Catholic would, but I still think that’s rather an absurd argument, really I do. It was better for that child not to have ever developed into a person rather than being an unwanted child, which seems to me to be a very bad thing. I’ve seen a great many unwanted children and what happens to them. It certainly was not at all a traumatic thing for me, I’m sorry to have to report. It was sensible, it seemed to me. It didn’t distress me much at all.


Painting and music are both curious, because certainly I cannot be persuaded that most of the women painters I know are as good as the men, although there have been perfectly good professional women painters. And music, certainly, equally not. I think with the word they’re pretty equal, but not in other ways. Whether that is conditioning (it may well be) or whether it is something more profound I don’t know. On a simple level, when I have done extraordinary work and things like embroidery – artefacts which were taken for granted – absolutely wonderful stuff. In music women were very good performers, from way back. Half Mozart’s pupils were young women, and a lot of them he spoke of rather approvingly, They were obviously pretty good. And there have been wonderful singers, wonderful pianists, but they have not become great composers, as far as I can see. It is a curious thing, and I have no explanation. I know that, although I adore listening to music and listen to it a lot, it is Greek to me how you set about composing. I couldn’t begin to do it, so perhaps it’s the mathematical faculty that is more common in men than women. And there’s never been a case of that sort of extraordinary possession that clearly does happen to the great composer. He is a slightly mad being: someone whose head is completely full of it. You’ve only got to read Beethoven’s letters and notes. There’s never been a woman like that. Maybe women’s creative ability is so focused on birth and nurturing. I suppose words are more connected with ordinary life. Writing is talking, which is something one does anyway. A lot of women adore decoration, design, they’ve got visual sense. But musical composition seems to me a much more mysterious thing than any of the other arts.


I’m not at all sure that marriage ought not to be changed, that it ought not to be a renewable contract that you enter into for a period of, say, seven years, to be renewed at the end of that if you like, with built in clauses for the care of the children. That would seem to me to be a much more realistic thing than going through the motions of this is forever and ever. Again, it depends. I’ve known so many very good marriages, really happy marriages, but there, again, they would renew the contract, you see.

To most people, it’s pretty climactic, breaking up a marriage but even so it’s no longer the unthinkable thing, no longer a stigma. It’s no longer simply that you can’t imagine doing it. You see it happening or around you. I’ve never known anyone who did it easily. Usually people have gone into marriage meaning to stay there, And very rarely does the marriage break up easily. There is usually one wanting to hold on while the other wants to go. That’s why I think it is a good idea not to have it such a totally binding thing. I mean, have it absolutely blinding in its duties to each other, to the children, but not so lifelong. It would be much better.

When I was young, the thing that seduced me it was not practical success. I didn’t want him to be rich, but he had to be someone who was successful in that he was getting what he wanted out of life, that he was in control of life. And he had to give me the impression of being a rather happy person who could manage his own life. It could be a bit of a crook perhaps, but had to be on top, you know. I thought I couldn’t ever possibly love anyone who wasn’t like that. Then, as I got older, I began to be attracted by vulnerability and to fall for people who were obviously child substitutes to a certain extent. Then, thank God, I stopped falling in love, I began to dislike people. I think falling in love is a terrible business. It nearly always is slightly neurotic, something you are putting on to that person, not something that person has. A need of yours is embodied in that person, and what happens is that when the person turns out to be him or herself you resent it because you wanted them to be that imaginary thing. But once you’ve managed not to fall in love any more, its bliss. You just like people.

There is certainly a comfortableness you feel with your own sex, old women friends. I remember Ruth Samson, poor woman, once saying to me, I believe that the people one will miss most when one dies are not going to be ones lovers at all, but ones women friends. I’ve thought about that, and I think that it may be true. I have one or two women in my life from way back home I absolutely know as well as myself, and perhaps they are the people I am most easy with, far closer than the man I live with. I’ve got an old boyfriend I share my flat with. By now it’s hardly a love affair, it’s like family.


There is a precariousness over many years in your situation; you depend on keeping on man. If you’re out of that situation, it doesn’t apply. I’ve known some perfectly unjealous woman. The most erratic and jealous people I’ve known have been men, actually. I think silly women get jealous because their self-confidence is threatened. When the love is withdrawn, you think it’s going away; you collapse because you haven’t got what you feel makes you worthwhile. Once you’re out of that bind – a woman is able to earn her own living, do her own thing or feel confident in herself – I don’t think she is any more jealous than a man. And think of all those sensible shrewd French ladies allowing their husbands to have it off, knowing not to fuss. I think a lot of English people do it too, I just think they don’t talk about it so much. I think wisdom teaches you, whether you’re a man or woman, not to be jealous.

There is certainly more aggressiveness in most men, they are more willing to fall into aggressive attitude. I think men are pretty horrible in many ways, they really are quite violent, and women much less so. There are occasions when you really feel it. For instance, I went into a restaurant not long ago, and there was a rugger-club reunion or something going on and something like ten rather large man with slight grants in their voices. They were actually quite frightening to look at, you thought, yes, they’re really not a very nice kind of animal. If you got them individually, they would have been perfectly alright, I’m sure, but there was something rather frightening about them. Of course, women can be a little frightening, too, in that way. They can actually be much more damaging in some ways in a gang, in a gaggle. If you hear women talking in a girls’ gaggle, if they’ve got a little drunk they’re really slicing people up, but clearly there is no physical threat. Men there is the possibility there, always, always. And although the Guardian‘s women’s page attitude in which everyone then they talk about is quivering with fear of rape goes rather far, there is something in it. For instance, in my fairly limited acquaintance, I know three women who have been raped, one of whom was seventy. Two by burglars, and one by a nut who chased her upstairs in a hotel. I don’t know very many people, and three out of those few is quite a lot.

On that miserable subject of rape, quite a lot of men tried to say well after all, what about it? Whereas women know that it’s not sex that they’re talking about they know it is outrage aggression. And an awful lot of men, nice men who have never thought about doing it, think, why should anyone be so flustered just because some poor chap is desperate for it? It isn’t that, you see. Men don’t understand it, so they have a different attitude to their own violence, naturally. Men are sometimes more frightened of being emotional than women because they’ve been brought up: men don’t cry, you know, men don’t do this, men don’t do that. A nice warm person who’s been bought up easily and well, there’s very little difference in the emotions. I know men who adore their children, for instance, as physically, as warmly as any woman, because something in their upbringing has allowed them to do it.

I’ve known a lot of animals in my time. I am very interested in animal behaviour. I think we are all animals, and I do see a continuum. I know people who get so angry when you say this, they can hardly bear it, but I still feel it’s fair. I still feel that women – basically, at some quite deep level – is the creature designed to produce the infant, and the male is designed to be a bit more aggressive. I can’t help feeling that this is as true of people as it is of dogs, lions, cows, horses, to a certain extent. I don’t think it ought to necessarily to go on being true, because now we are conscious, we speak and we think, we can change it a bit as it goes on. But I’m sure it’s there, and I don’t think we can change it too totally. I think that’s pie in the sky, myself, to you believe you can. I really do think it can’t be done. I don’t see why it should be done.

Now, with her new book, Alive, Alive, Oh! published at the age of 97, to great critical acclaim, I thought the readers of my blog may find these early responses quite interesting.

Kiss The Girls Or Make Them Cry….

Women who assert themselves at an early age and bully their classmates could be leaders in the making, according to a chartered psychologist. From Elizabeth 1’s fiery temper to Margaret Thatcher’s habit of ‘handbagging’ people who disagreed with her, many great leaders developed a tendency to bullying.


Suggestingthe young tyrants should be supported by adults rather than just punished, Dr Sam Littlemore said: ‘Alpha females tend to manipulate those around them through fear.’ However, they can learn to be nice and effective through being teamed with kinder leaders, who can help them use power in a less anti-social way. ‘Allow her to spend time with another girl who’s the head of a group who helps with parents’ evenings. Let the girl bully associate herself not necessarily with a good girl but a girl who has had strong leadership skills,’ said Dr Littlemore, who has advised hundreds of schools.

‘This way, the girl can learn to still be strong and influence people and that she can do it in a kinder way without getting into trouble all the time,’ Dr Littlemore, author of Girl Bullying: Do I Look Bothered, also said that alpha females should be exposed to bullying through characters such as Regina George from the film Mean Girls to help them understand the behaviour is unhelpful.

‘It’s not asking her to look at herself directly because that can be scary for many people. By doing that the bully will understand she can change her behaviour and that she has choice.’

Dr Littlemore said in Teach Primary magazine, ‘that a girl bully destroys her victims to show her power because she can. The children learn that it must be OK… because no one challenges her.’ But she said such children are often terrified inside. She emphasised while bullying girls should be given support from adults, there should also be sanctions to determine the behaviour.

Studies show two in three girls say they are bullied. I wonder whether Mrs Thatcher was a bully at school or could have been the victim of bullying. It is often those who experience early bullying, resort to adopting this kind of behaviour later on in life. It is often said that benevolent dictatorship can often achieve much greater results when applied in times of crisis or when the tenants of democracy prove an encumbrance to the detriment of a quick solution.

General Charles de Gaulle, who stabilised France after the chaos of the Second World War, is a prime example of what I would refer to as ‘a dictatorship to suit the times’. He saved France from disintegrating into a shambolic nation unable to govern its rebellious citizens even when the democratic process failed to harness the chaos that followed.


Could Mrs Thatcher have become the equivalent to Charles de Gaulle in similar circumstances is still being the question that historians need to make their unbiased judgements about.

Emily Blunt

Film actress Emily Blunt, 32, who features in Sicario, the action-packed film where she plays a tough FBI agent, has now swopped her bullet-proof vest for a revealing backless dress.


The British beauty showed off her feminine inwardness in Mean magazine after winning praise for her most demanding role in a gritty drama, where she was determined not to get too muscly, despite having to hit the gym for the film. She said, ‘I worked out, not too intensely though, because I didn’t want her to be butch and like a man and that meant less time to the gym which was fabulous.’

Emily, wed to the US Office star John Krasinski, recently opted to become an American citizen, she claims mainly for tax reasons.

Emily, whose looks are truly the kind that reveal a naturally sulky side which can be devastatingly captivating, has sexual hormones by the bucketful, enough to mesmerise men of any generation.

As these pictures clearly show, she brings a freshness coupled with an allure that has potential of a long-lasting glittering star whose horizon looms far and wide.