The great divider
Sir: Niall Ferguson (‘Tech vs Trump’, 14 October) draws a parallel between the Reformation — powered by the printing press — and today’s social networks — powered by the internet — in their influence on the established hierarchy. Ferguson astutely observes that the consequence of the Reformation was not a hoped-for harmony but ‘polarisation and conflict’. The difference was then, and is now, between collectivism and individualism. Collectivists always saw the internet as a vehicle for the universal consciousness: the blending of minds. Individualists always saw the internet as an integrator: establishing facts using the principle of non-contradiction. The first is mystical. The second is a demonstration of the scientific method at work.
Bring back diplomacy
Sir: Charles Moore is right to remind us of the importance of our overseas missions (The Spectator’s Notes, 14 October), so beautifully recorded in James Stourton’s new book British Embassies. He is also right when he says that in the light of Brexit we urgently need to bolster our diplomatic efforts. For too long we have been doing diplomacy on the cheap. The budget for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for 2017/18 was £1.3 billion, the cost of building, testing and delivering one Astute Class submarine to the MoD. For those who believe in ‘jaw, jaw’ rather than ‘war, war’, the sooner the FCO budget is revisited the better.
Sir Hugo Swire, MP
(FCO Minister of State 2012-16)
Deniers of free speech
Sir: Rod Liddle has the irritating habit of being right far more than he is wrong (‘Blame the grown-ups for the safe-space tribe’, 14 October). The silencing of unpopular voices in colleges is a frightening sign of our fear of ideas.
In 1970 I went to college. I went because I enjoyed study, I wanted the chance of a better job, and I wanted to expand my life experience. In my three years of study, I met members of so many far-left groups that I can’t remember all the initials. I also met, drank and argued with some far-right nutters. I argued Christianity with gay atheists, and socialism with straight fascists. It was an all-round education. I left college with a degree (a pleasant surprise), but also with a wider knowledge of the world and of people. In summary, I grew up quite a lot.
I never felt the need to be protected from the ideas and words of other people, because I understood that bad ideas have to be heard and fought. The enemy of freedom is not fascism or communism: the enemy is silence. Denying freedom of speech becomes a habit. Yesterday it was the racist, today the sexist. Next week it may be you or me. Those who run the students’ unions may feel that they are controlling the debate, but when they leave college they will be the ones being controlled. They may want to complain about that — but will they be allowed to say what they want to say?
Polski Trambesh, Bulgaria
Sir: I was surprised to read in Jasper Rees’s review of Goodbye Christopher Robin that Beatrix Potter ‘never found love’ (Arts, 30 September). She was very much in love with her publisher Norman Warne and engaged to be married, but sadly he died before their wedding. She loved him for the rest of her life, and wore Norman’s engagement ring even when married to William Heelis — a marriage that seems to have been one of companionship and business interests rather than a great love affair.
When she went to clear out Norman’s things years after his death, she is quoted as saying: ‘There are things I hardly know what to do with like his pipe — I scarcely ought to be keeping them.’ But keep them she did.
The armour in the hall
Sir: Unlike Tristram Hunt I am not a historian (Diary, 14 October), but surely Drake defeated the Spanish Armada? Thus its commander’s suit of armour at Chevening is a very appropriate reminder of being liberated from the potential shackles of Europe.
Sir: It is a pity that Tristram Hunt, observing that the V&A is situated among places of worship (Diary, 14 October), has failed to notice the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Ennismore Gardens. With the Brompton Oratory, and Holy Trinity, Brompton, this makes a perfect triangle of the three great strands of Christianity: Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant.
Give us an index
Sir: In his review of Craig Brown’s new biography of Princess Margaret (‘Princess Uppity’, 14 October), Steven Poole rightly laments the lack of an index. Someone once argued that publishing a non-fiction book without an index should be against the law, and I entirely agree. I would go still further, and suggest that many works of fiction would also benefit.
The end, my friend
Sir: Gregory Corso wrote a poem called ‘Friend’ (‘Kill your friendships’, 14 October). There are two special lines in it which are worth mulling over:
Those who have friends and don’t want them are doomed
Those who haven’t any friends and don’t want any are grand.