Doubts and certainties

It has been a year of doubts and uncertainties: fluctuating infection and death rates, empty promises and political false starts, civil unrest, social injustice, abject diplomacy

Early on in the pandemic a new mantra was invoked. Life as we knew it would never be the same, but then, of course, life never is. On reflection, it was a year of doubts and uncertainties: fluctuating infection and death rates, empty promises and political false starts, civil unrest, social injustice, abject diplomacy. In this constant shift we were reminded of Francis Bacon’s maxim: “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” Perhaps this year has told us what we always knew: that it is impossible to perfect life. The clues tend to be buried in the history books.

Standpoint ends the year with a wide-ranging issue: from President Trump’s final days in office to the global significance of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, by way of Argentinian identity through soccer and why Henry James really does still matter. The magazine is, if nothing else, the broadest of intellectual churches.

If the pandemic has brought anything into stark relief, it is that we live in what Andrew Doyle terms “a closed casket culture”. His vital essay on a moribund (and unfashionable) topic asks us to take a more realistic approach to the inevitability of death.

The long-awaited demise of Trump’s presidency has held a global audience captive as any cheap soap opera might. In her dispatch from the US, Madeleine Kearns considers what are, in spite of his recriminatory stance, likely to be Trump’s final days. While any accusation of voter fraud should be taken seriously, the President’s claims do not bear close scrutiny. As a counterbalance, this issue’s guest speaker, Conrad Black, makes the case for President Trump as having one of the most successful first terms in US history, whilst having had to endure consistently negative press.

The US presidential election also revealed certain British attitudes. In his fascinating essay, Dominic Sandbrook assesses Britain’s obsession with the US. Was it the allure of the Entertainer-in-chief’s defeat? And why, given this country’s fanatical stance on Europe (on either side of the debate), Britain remains so ignorant about the Continent politically and culturally. David Swift draws on the rise of the Republican vote, among the Latino, Black and Muslim communities, to understand the shifting political allegiances of ethnic minorities here in the UK.

For all its admirers—the epithetic “the lucky country” was originally used with irony in the 1960s but has since become literal—Australia is little understood. Helen Dale analyses Australian exceptionalism and idiosyncrasy, and explains why its successes may not be as easy to replicate elsewhere. Fitzroy Morrissey’s incisive piece on Islam looks at the challenging relationship between politics and religion, and how Muslims are now living through a battle of ideas.

Closer to home, Louise Perry charts the politicisation of the internet forum Mumsnet and its increased importance as a feminist voice. Nigel Biggar looks north of the border and asks whether Britain can be saved from disintegration and “the Scots from bitter disillusion”.

Lockdown has brought us closer to nature, or so said the endless articles on a hackneyed subject. Ros Coward believes real appreciation of the countryside is severely lacking, due to both disinterest and too much interest. She states, “The widely shared image of the felling of the 250-year-old Cubbington pear tree, inconveniently in the way of HS2, encapsulated this despoliation.”

The 18th-century novelist Pierre Choderlos de Laclos might have inserted a positive adjective in his maxim, “our intentions make blackguards of us all”. Gabriel Gavin examines how reality all too often frustrates the hopes of those with good intentions, and how our interests perhaps narrow over time.

This year we have spent far too much time at home. In his wry Overrated/Underrated column, Stephen Bayley demonstrates why “Abroad” is clearly preferable to “Home”. He reminds us of Hannah Arendt’s clear-sightedness in the matter: “Loving life is easy when you are abroad . . . you are more master of yourself than at any other time.”

This month’s diary, provided by the classicist and broadcaster Natalie Haynes, is a poignant one. Her line—“The lights on London’s Oxford Street, and in Covent Garden especially, have a defiant quality to them which makes me tear up when I go walking through the unseasonably quiet streets”—will resonate with many, wherever they live. Perhaps at the end of this difficult year it is to T.S. Eliot that we should turn and “Little Gidding”:

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
.  .  .
And to make an end is to make a beginning.

In what has been a trying year for any magazine, large or small, Standpoint wholeheartedly thanks its readers for their forbearance and support. It has not been straightforward bringing out a publication during 2020; though we hope that the magazine continues to provoke thought as well as entertain. Standpoint will always stand by those values it holds dear. Donations are not only welcome but also highly prized. Without them we could not exist. Please, therefore, do donate what you can.

Standpoint wishes you all a merry Christmas and all best wishes for a healthy New Year.

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