Vol. 3 No. 3 · 19 February 1981

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Burke and History

SIR: Owen Dudley Edwards, in reviewing my book Edmund Burke and the Critique of Political Radicalism (LRB, 22 January), criticises harshly my understanding of Irish history. In so doing, he quite misses the point of the book and seriously misrepresents Burke’s ideas. What is important about Burke’s attitude to Irish politics is that he both condemned Protestant tyranny over Catholics in the strongest possible terms and associated himself with moderate reformist solutions. Although Mr Edwards accuses me of ignoring the context in which Burke expressed his views, he insists on joining Dr Conor Cruise O’Brien in attaching overriding importance to a single sentence on defenderism which Burke included in a letter near the end of his life. It does not matter whether Defenders were or were not radical. For Burke certainly was not, the rest of his Irish writings constituting the evidence for this.

Mr Edwards charges me with being unhistorical. This defect of my book may be explained by the fact that it is not a history. It is an attempt to articulate the theory (which, of course, was far from wholly coherent) which underlay Burke’s reflections on various political problems. He is also simply wrong when he says I am convinced I understand Ireland better than the Irish do. I have no such absurd conviction. I was, however, concerned to relate Burke’s Irish views to those he held on other issues. Mr Edwards says nothing to convince me that what I say on this score is mistaken.

Michael Freeman
Department of Government, University of Essex

Owen Dudley Edwards writes: 1. I refer interested readers to my paragraphs on Defenders, which Mr Freeman does not seem to me to refute. 2. Mr Freeman believes that Burke can be understood outside of history. I believe that this is as useful as assuming that a cube is a square. 3. Mr Freeman says he does not pretend to understand Ireland better than the Irish do. I think it a pity that he implies that he understands it better than Edmund Burke did. Edmund Burke probably understood Ireland better than most other Irishmen of his time or since.

Labour’s Programme

SIR: Bernard Crick, in his assessment of the crisis in the Labour Party, argues that any socialist change of British society would ‘take us decades, starting from where we do, if not generations’ (LRB, 22 January), and that Labour now needs years to think out what the sacred name of socialism means. He does not explain what the nation is supposed to do in the interval. Put up with monetarism and mass unemployment, spiced by the spectacle of an opposition capable only of opposing itself? If that is the best Labour can offer, and it may be, then it had better get out of Parliament altogether. This is a programme for debate, not for action. And there are millions of us who believe that the case for an incomes policy, electoral reform and a full and wholehearted British commitment to the European Community is too urgent to wait till the 21st century.

George Watson
St John’s College, Cambridge

Orwell’s Reputation

SIR: It seems that Professor Frank Kermode’s political touch is far from certain. He dredges up an old piece of Cold War theory by stating that there was little difference between the totalitarianisms of Stalin and of Hitler (LRB, 22 January). He goes on to argue (in agreement with Orwell?) that ‘fascism was not “advanced capitalism" but a grim perversion of socialism.’ Perhaps the most recent and thorough investigation of this subject is by Martin Kitchen in his Fascism (London, 1976). In his chapter ‘The Theory of Totalitarianism’ he writes: ‘The most striking difference is socio-economic, and the value of an analysis which ignores the relations of production and the resulting social structure of the two systems is strictly limited. Whereas communist revolutions resulted in a radical change of the economic and political order, fascist regimes hardly touched the private ownership of the means of production and exchange, and by replacing the bourgeois state by the new fascist-leadership state, this private ownership was indeed strengthened.’ Fascism is a possibility of advanced capitalism and Stalinism is a possibility of socialism. We can only begin to guard against them both by being very clear in our definitions as to what they are.

John Norman
East Twickenham

Translating Frege

SIR: Professor Dummett (Letters, 18 December 1980) is not of opinion that uses of the term ‘reference’ divergent from Frege’s use of Bedeutung have by now made continued use of that rendering misleading. It is well-known that such uses of ‘referrence’ are widely prevalent in contemporary philosophy of language. Many contemporary writers practise the dubious art of puzzling out the way a sentence works as follows: pick out what your intuition tells you are referring expressions, and then say what they refer to or whether there is ‘referential failure’. Members of Dummett’s own Philosophy Sub-Faculty have been prominent in spreading abroad this sort of view, ever since Strawson published the article ‘On Referring’ in 1950; logic for PPE Prelims at Oxford is currently taught from a textbook (Wilfrid Hodges, Logic) that continually talks of ‘referring expressions’ and ‘referential failure’. One aim of the new translations of Frege is to dissociate Frege, in the minds of young students, from this kind of theorising, to which my own opposition has been a matter of public record for two decades. A change of rendering was of course projected at the committee meeting on Frege translation policy of years ago, on which Dummett and I both sat; the intention could not be carried out till the second edition of the Geach-Black book was exhausted.

Peter Geach
Department of Philosophy, University of Leeeds

Hitler and History

SIR: In the last issue of the London Review of Books (LRB, 5 February), Hans Keller, in his lofty way, talks of ‘one of our intellectual age’s grand delusions – the belief that Hitler has a specific history in German Romanticism.’ After rebuking the authors of the three other books under review, he takes William Vaughan to task for his assumption that there is a ‘line that runs between the nationalistic assertions of Fichte, Kleist and Friedrich to those of Nietzsche and Wagner and eventually to those of the National Socialists’. Adjoining Mr Keller’s article is a review of Cosima Wagner’s Diaries. Wagner, it appears, had mixed feelings about the performances of his work – or rather about the fact that they had to be performed at all since he found the audiences so disagreeable. ‘Nothing but hooked noses at Tristan,’ he remarked. A fire at the Ringtheater in Vienna ‘delighted’ him and led to a vision of ‘burning all the Jews at a performance of Lessing’s Nathan der Weise’. Anyone can see that there is a similarity here between Wagner’s fantasy and those that Hitler put into practice, and as Wagner’s preceded Hitler’s, it would seem natural to speak of a ‘line’ between them. This does not, of course, establish the case that ‘Hitler has a specific history in German Romanticism.’ Nor would one want to say that German Romanticism grew out of German anti-semitism. But only a delusion of another kind would lead anyone to claim that there was never any connection between the two.

Kate Graham

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