I made a mistake, in the pages of a British magazine last month, by announcing the dawning of an era in which Giuseppe Conte, then the Italian prime minister, would become an essential national figure. This was a mistake in one obvious and chastening way — Conte failed to form another government, he no longer holds office of any kind — but wrong in another sense: one which may mean that, if anything, I undersold Conte’s stock.

On the second count, one could argue with conviction, Conte has been a significant national figure, and a figure of history, for many…


It’s New Year’s Day and, as is traditional, I am laid low by ill health. I am not, to my knowledge, hungover. But no matter, when the year just gone hangs over into the new one, and does so in such an unpleasant, concerning manner.

Now it has been an article of faith, for a long time, and for a large number of people, that this January is going to be rough. This was expected long before the government attempted an amnesty to allow people to give each other covid for Christmas, and before that amnesty was hastily abandoned.

We…


Yesterday or thereabouts, deaf to all the clamour this action created, the Iranian state put Ruhollah Zam to death. Zam was a journalist and blogger of a provocative bent. The Iranian state made sure to say that his work was provoking when defending its decision to end his life.

Zam was in his forties and his death elicited immense, immediate horror — experienced quite broadly. It was bizarre that he was chosen for punishment; and barbaric that the punishment in question was capital. On this at least, the world was uniformly agreed. …


You may have heard about, or more pertinently you may have seen, a recent scrape involving legal commentator Jeffrey Toobin, scion of cable news, eminence of the New Yorker. Like so much else these days, it involved the common rut into which we have all fallen that is ‘working from home’. It didn’t go well.

Toobin was participating in some high-brow discussion, a roundtable, if you will, on the upcoming American election. …


Peregrine Worsthorne died not too long ago, at a great age. A former editor of the Sunday Telegraph and an ensign-bearer in retirement not only of the past, but also of long-passed notions. One of those was aristocracy, something Worsthorne adored and advocated. Yesterday I read his offering on the subject, the slight book In Defence of Aristocracy. This essay, taking in his most cherished notions and his most coherent effort at writing, serves both as review and, after a fashion, as obituary.

It is a terribly muddled book, and lax of definition. Oddly, one never quite knows what Worsthorne…


At the moment, in my old college, there is a campaign being run mainly by current students, but drawing in a few alumni, to reconsider the continued existence of a memorial. The memorial, in itself, is almost nothing, taking up a small space in the hall, totalling the guy’s name, some professional information, and a little coloured glass.

It’s quite hard to see unless you’re looking.

The protesters think it shouldn’t exist, and that the man it memorialises does not deserve to be remembered (‘with advantages’) by the college, and to survive in its spacial memory.

We won’t name him…


This is a version of a brief answer to a question posed by another, written at their request, and not taken up.

An old headmaster of mine, who kindly lent me his copy of E. H. Carr’s What Is History?, had an answer for the question posed by its title. He fondly said that history is ‘the house in which all other subjects live’. That is the natural perspective of an educator, and of a man who read the subject himself and was keen to assert its importance.

On this point, history (perhaps with the first letter capitalised) is the…


There is an unfortunate trend in Britain’s politics which has coagulated into a rhetorical device — the latter used so often that it has congealed into reflex. It’s behind a few unfortunate recent cases, each of which have, in their own way, served to confuse, and to excite anger at precisely the most bottled-up and contorted moment of my life time.

All this has been directed by politicians, journalists, and performers in public life; it may yet hurt a great many of them, and cripple what limited usefulness they as a class have in dealing with the pandemic we all…


In ancient Athens, where the male citizen population gained membership of the assembly upon entering their majority, there is said to have been no such thing as detachment from politics.

Men went to the assembly and spoke and listened. Every qualifying citizen had a fairly good chance of being chosen to serve on the boule, the council of state. And good citizens were involved in the democratic system which was at the time strange and novel, and close to new to the world.

The good and bad among them participated; and good citizens, to paraphrase a charming YouTube summary, held…


There’s a vulgar little thought that keeps intruding when I am trying to think about anything else.

It’s of a piece with other things that have impeded my ability to think and to sit still for many weeks. And it touches on the same themes. But it is motivated less by concern and more by spite.

We ought to take two impulses in turn.

Beginning weeks ago, and ending only recently, I used to lie awake at night or stare into space during the day time, only for my thoughts to jerk in a particular direction. I think these thoughts…

James Snell

Writer, copywriter, copyeditor, editor.

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