Conor Cruise O’Brien (1917–2009) was an Irish historian and politician. He was elected to the Irish parliament in 1969 and served as a Minister from 1973 until 1977. His works include States of Ireland, The Great Melody and Memoir: My Life and Themes.

Buried Lives

It must be said immediately that its first two volumes get The Oxford History of the British Empire off to a strong start.[^*] Both books consist of essays that break much new ground and do so with a confidence based on extensive research and with refreshing lucidity and frankness. The …

A New Ireland?

There are estimated to be over 40 million Americans of Irish or (in most cases) partly Irish origin. Of these, rather more than half are descended from Irish Protestants. But very few of these think of themselves as Irish. Being white, Protestant, and English-speaking, they were eligible to join the …

Nationalists and Democrats

Nationalism and democracy are qualitatively different and incommensurable. Nationalism is a conglomerate of emotions; democracy is a system of government. If nationalism and democracy are fully compatible in any given case that is a most fortunate circumstance. Not all peoples are so lucky. In defining nationalism as “a conglomerate of …

Paradise Lost

Everyone interested in the history of ideas owes a great debt not only to Sir Isaiah Berlin himself but also to his editor, Henry Hardy. It was Hardy who brought together a great many important scattered writings of Berlin’s—hitherto scattered, sometimes in obscure places—and published them in the four-volume series …

A Tale of Two Nations

In the opening paragraph of a review published in The New Republic, Professor Denis Donoghue said, “Tom Wilson’s book is ostensibly an academic study of this situation, but in fact it is an essay in propaganda. He is a Unionist, and writes in support of that position.” In the last …

The Decline and Fall of the French Revolution

It was a splendid idea to compile a critical dictionary of the French Revolution, and the idea has been splendidly executed. Intellectually, the publication of this dictionary was the most significant event of the bicentenary year. In their preface, François Furet and Mona Ozouf define the nature of their enterprise: …

A Lost Chance to Save the Jews?

For many centuries, the grand legitimizer of hatred in our culture was called Religion. Then, after the great surfeit of the Wars of Religion, the power of religion to legitimize war and persecution began to fade. The more optimistic among the thinkers of the Enlightenment—and even the less optimistic in …

The Election and the Future: A Symposium

C. Vann Woodward It was President Reagan himself who suggested that the recent presidential election might be regarded as a referendum on his own presidency. There is much to support his view. “I feel a little like I’m on the ballot myself,” he said, and he campaigned that way. The …

Keeping Up with the Shaws

In his first chapter Michael Holroyd sets out the line he proposes to follow as Shaw’s biographer: Biographies of writers are written in collaboration with the posthumous subject of the biography. What is seen or overlooked, known and forgotten, comes to be shared between them. It is, like the process …

Nobs and Snobs

A shilling life will tell you all the facts, according to Auden. Martin Stannard’s rather more expensive biography will tell you more facts than you probably want to know about Evelyn Waugh. Five hundred pages, for the early years alone, seems a lot. And much of the relevant material is …

Trop de Zèle

The title and subtitle together make up a quotation from Lionel Trilling. The book is made up of nine essays: on the writers of The God That Failed group; on Camus and his critics; on Orwell; on F.R. Leavis; on Henry Adams; on “The Adversary Culture and the New Class”; …

Blood on the Border

This is a funny book, always skirting the edge of horror, and finally going over the edge, but still mainly a funny book. Indeed what I find most impressive about Mr. Kiely is his capacity somehow to put horror in its place: that place remains terrifying, but it isn’t allowed …

Ireland: The Mirage of Peace

Bobby Sands and the Tragedy of Northern Ireland is a 152-page piece of propaganda on behalf of the Provisional IRA. It consists in about equal parts of hagiography and bad history. The hagiographical part, of which I shall have more to say, concerns the story of Bobby Sands—the young IRA …

The Liberal Pope

In 1870, the First Vatican Council publicly proclaimed as dogma something in which many, though not all, Catholics had long believed: that the pope was infallible in matters of faith and morals. In the early 1960s, the Second Vatican Council summoned by Pope John XXIII sought to remove the emphasis …

Virtue & Terror

Nothing, I think, is known with certainty about the relation between Robespierre and Rousseau, except that the great revolutionary always expressed love and admiration for the philosopher. And that in itself doesn’t tell us very much, because virtually everybody in France who could read, in the last quarter of the …

Odd Man Out

Shevchenko was the senior Soviet citizen in the United Nations Secretariat, with the rank of undersecretary general, when he defected to the United States in April 1978. For several years before that—since 1973 apparently—he had been reporting to the CIA on matters coming to his knowledge in the course of …

Wishful Thinking

This is an important and well-written scholarly work, based mainly on official and unofficial archival material, and covering the evolution of British policy toward Britain’s Middle Eastern possessions and their neighbors during the six years following the end of the Second World War. It is a big book—more than 800 …

The Charms of Certitude

Jean-François Revel believes that the democracies are in imminent danger of collapse, because of a failure of will, and of intelligence. According to him, the democracies neither understand the nature of the Soviet threat nor possess the will to resist it. The Soviet system, as represented by this author, combines …

Israel in Embryo

Ronald Sanders’s book is both valuable (with one large reservation, of which more below) and highly readable. It differs from the two previous principal studies of the subject—Leonard Stein’s The Balfour Declaration (1961) and Isaiah Friedman’s The Question of Palestine, 1914-1918 (1973)—mainly in that it takes in a panoramic sweep …