|Oops, poor lady, I hope it wasn't her first tattoo, you have to admire her for going public with this.|
I lifted this (lazily) from the Daily Telegraph Pole and I'm no great fan of Starkey but I am a great fan of history and the occasional rare burst of common sense:
There are two arguments in David Starkey’s new series The Churchills. The first is that for Winston Churchill it was the process of writingMarlborough: his Life and Times in the early Thirties, a million-word megalith about his great ancestor John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, that transformed Winston into the masterful statesman we know. Churchill, Starkey maintains, was immersing himself in a story which in so many ways would anticipate his own: Marlborough, in his wars against Louis XVI and then in the Wars of the Spanish Succession, was fighting a power, France, whose parallels with the growing Nazi Germany Churchill couldn’t fail to acknowledge.
“France was a profoundly militarised power which expressed itself not only by warfare and foreign expansion but also in terms of its aspirations as a hegemonic culture; and also massive internal persecution of a minority – the Huguenots. When you read Churchill’s account of this you think, ‘Is he talking about Louis XVI… or about Hitler?’”
That would be a perfectly juicy thesis, enough certainly to sustain a series. But Starkey is an intellectual unable to resist stirring the pot as much as a toddler in wellies can resist a placid puddle. And so to argument B: The Churchills is about more than just Winston and his 18th-century ancestor. “The series has a not very well concealed propagandistic role on the importance of history – and the catastrophe that no modern politician has this kind of background,” Starkey says.
His point is that it was Churchill’s absorption in history that made him great. And though he says that the timing of The Churchills is accidental, he sees worrying similarities between now and the Thirties.
“I think there is a real sense now that we genuinely don’t know where we are, or what we are or where we’re going. We’ve lost confidence in our leaders in exactly the same way as happened in the Thirties. There’s a sense of some huge indefinable threat which is both from abroad and within our societies.”
The problem, he says, is that our politicians lack the historical perspective to assess the situation and then act accordingly.
“Arguably since the Twenties, but certainly since the Second World War, we’ve tended to try to understand the world through the so-called social sciences. It seems to me, for example, that the 2008 crash was the moment at which we realised that we don’t actually understand economics any more than a bean counter. Mervyn [King] was my colleague at LSE and he’s a deeply nice man. He’s one of the world’s top two or three academic economists. And he has no idea what he’s doing.”
It isn’t just King, or economists in general, that Starkey feels have failed. “It seems to me the same is true with the management of our social policy, the health service… infinite academic resources have been devoted to the so-called social sciences. It’s obvious we have no understanding of how they work at all. I think the so-called social sciences frankly are mumbo jumbo. If you want to begin to understand the strangeness, the patterns – in so far as there are patterns – of human behaviour then there’s only one way of doing it. That’s by looking at what human beings have done before. And if you do it systematically it’s called history.”