Anglo-American Attitudes

‘America is a looking glass in which humanity sees itself reflected and, all too often, distorted by fear, envy and resentment’

Manchester Square North America The West

America is a looking glass in which humanity sees itself reflected and, all too often, distorted by fear, envy and resentment. The thrilling prospect of November’s presidential election has already forced the world to think again about American democracy. The stakes are high in this election, and not only for Americans; but it is futile to imply, as some do, that the next White House incumbent should be chosen to please Europeans. At Standpoint, we have enough respect for Americans to trust their judgment, while enlisting the best commentators on both sides of the Atlantic to challenge each other’s stereotypes.

Gerard Baker paints a magisterial portrait of a nation eager to recover an idealism eclipsed by the exigencies of war. It is illuminated on our cover by the ingenious pen of the Israeli artist Noma Bar. The eminent American poet and Islamic scholar, Eric Ormsby, questions our assumptions about the Koran. Since September 11, 2001, one American has been demonised more, perhaps, than any other: Paul Wolfowitz. Now freed of the burdens of office at the Pentagon and World Bank, he reflects on Robert Kagan’s The Return of History, demonstrating a sagacity that may surprise those who took at face value the caricature of him as the evil genius of the Bush administration.

Not all the ideas that arrive from the US are welcome: among them those of George Soros, whose dire forecasts the British have venerated for oddly masochistic reasons, ever since his speculations forced sterling out of the exchange rate mechanism in 1992. Here, Tim Congdon debunks Soros’s jeremiads: there will be no Great Depression, he says — not even a little one.

But most transatlantic cultural imports are taken to heart for better reasons. Ian Bostridge explains how on long singing tours he keeps his sanity by watching The Sopranos, detecting affinities between the American mobster family and Mozart’s Idomeneo. Peter Whittle finds Prince Caspian, the latest Hollywood adaptation of C.S. Lewis, both faithful to the original and — somewhat unexpectedly — uplifting in its celebration of distinctively stoical English virtues.

Those wartime virtues, along with some characteristically English vices of the same vintage, are evident in the extracts from the Trevor-Roper diaries, elegantly edited by Richard Davenport-Hines. The feline wit of Hugh Trevor-Roper, the cleverest and most cultivated historian of his generation, is already apparent. It would later be exhibited to great effect in the weekly letters that he wrote for the Spectator under the pseudonym, Mercurius Oxoniensis. The editor of the Spectator was then Nigel Lawson, whose own formidable intelligence emerges from this month’s Dialogue with the equally brilliant Oliver Letwin on the fraught issue of global warming. Lawson recounts how his book on the subject almost failed to find a publisher; it has now risen to near the top of what (according to Max Davidson) we ought really to call the “better-selling” lists.

There is much, much more in this July issue. The Anglo-American theme will resurface when, on July 16, we invite readers to the first Standpoint Salon at Borders bookshop on Oxford Street to hear the influential American author Philip Bobbitt in discussion with Michael Gove MP. (For details, see page 65.) I look forward to meeting some of the thousands of people who have already discovered Standpoint.

You are all invited to come and celebrate Western civilisation over a glass of wine.