Saturday, December 24, 2011

A touch of empathy

Accustomed as we are to being reviled in the media and held in low esteem by the public, we politicos can do with such crumbs of comfort as are offered to us.

I am currently reading Understanding the British empire, a collection of essays by the eminent imperial historian Professor Ronald Hyam. Whereas historians often display a studied detachment or even mild cynicism towards the politicians they study, Professor Hyam comments:
...government is about taking almost impossibly wide perspectives, and it is an extremely difficult business. Historians should respect that fact, at least when they are assessing intelligent men [sic] of goodwill and sound mind.
He quotes the imperial proconsul Lord Cromer as writing:
More than forty years experience behind the scenes of poltiical life has led me to be a very indulgent critic on the faults of political men [sic again]. I have come to the commonplace but very true conclusion, stated by Taine in the preface to his great work - namely, that the government of human beings is a very difficult task, and that in dealing with them it is far easier to go wrong than to go right.
Even leaving aside Professor Hyam's empathy with the difficulties confronted by those who have to make difficult decisions, this is an excellent book, both scholarly and accessible and the culmination of a lifetimes work. No doubt it will not sell as well as books by more famous and less knowledgeable authors, but it deserves to reach a general audience.

Perhaps to help shift units, the publishers should highlight the essays that  deal with Hyam's preoccupation with sexuality and empire, including one entitled 'Penis envyand "penile othering" in the colonies and America'.

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