I have always felt uneasy when historians or politicians sound off about sea-changes in history, claiming that the emergence of Islamism, terrorism, globalisation, climate change or whatever has transformed the world. I could not repress a snort of derision when I heard that Francis Fukuyama had published The End of History. But lately, I have been obliged to accept that fundamental changes have taken place in the past two decades, mainly as a consequence of the collapse of the Soviet imperium.
The catalyst for this reassessment came from an unlikely quarter: I was asked by my publisher to revise and update The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History of the Poles and their Culture, a history of Poland which first came out in 1987. When I began writing that book, more than a quarter of a century ago, the study and writing of history had changed little since my schooldays, despite the fashion for microhistory, gender studies and Marxist revision (Eric Hobsbawm was at the height of his reputation). The perspective was relentlessly British, and European history was hardly touched on. When it was, the only countries that figured were those that impinged, one way or another, on British interests: France, Russia, Prussia and, at various points in their history, Holland, Sweden, Spain and Portugal. I was made acutely aware of this since the country I was interested in, Poland, was not among them. One only has to look through the indexes of books on European history published at that time to appreciate this: Poland was usually only cited as an example of what we now call a failed state, a kind of historical joke.
My only comfort was that Italy was also treated as something of a joke and Italy was definitely worth studying, for its own reasons. So, I felt, was Poland. Having travelled widely in it, I knew it was no joke. Indeed, it seemed in many ways to be a more serious place than Britain. It was there and in Czechoslovakia that the vital issue of the day, the contest between human liberty and totalitarianism, was being fought. Sitting down to write its history in the early 1980s nevertheless represented a challenge, to put it mildly. The first step was, clearly, to try and understand how and why it had "failed".
- ONLINE ONLY: Academic Boycotts Teach Us Nothing
- ONLINE ONLY: Send in the Clowns
- ONLINE ONLY: Thatcher, Reagan and the Dictators
- The Resolute Courage of Margaret Thatcher
- America's New Isolationists Are Endangering the West
- An Alternative To Our Reckless Energy Gamble
- The Family is the Key to the Future of Faith
- Persecuted Muslims Who Love Life in England
- They Were the Future of the Tory Party, Once
- The Parable of the Stupid Samaritan
- Pope Frank: In the Footsteps of St Francis
- The Middle Kingdom's Problem with Religion
- We Abandon Christians in the East At Our Peril
- Feminism Or Islamism: Which Side Are You On?
- At Last: Gove Goes For the Culture of Excuses
- Is There a Way Out of the Tories' Modernising Mess?
- Online Only: The Kenyatta Dilemma
- Cameron is the Euro's Best Hope for Survival
- Census That Revealed a Troubling Future
- The Servant of the servants of God Departs in Peace