Pareto & Co.

On an edition of University Challenge in 2013 there was a question on elite theory. I was pleased and relieved that the student competitors had heard of Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca and Robert Michels, even […]

Universities: a Return to the Dark Side?

A few years ago I was involved in a silly controversy about Shakespeare. I was asked to review a book which claimed that the plays attributed to him could not have been written by him, […]

In Praise of Showing Off

By 1989 I had been teaching in universities for half a lifetime, twenty one years, arguably my entire time as an adult. I had no training in the job and I had never been faced […]

On the Expansion of the Universities

Grade inflation is a universal human tendency. There are badges of esteem, which relate in complex ways to feelings of self-esteem, and the desire to acquire these is always present as is the pressure to […]

Of Essays

Since my early retirement from academic employment in 2004 I have taken to describing myself as an “essayist” and have had the occasional gratification of seeing others use the term to describe me. The reason […]

The Philosophy of the Economics of the Garden

SCENE ONE: (A changing room of a cricket club some time in the 1990s.) Two of the older players are discussing vegetable gardening. A younger man, overhearing their conversation, remarks sarcastically, “Grow-your-own. I bet that […]

The Assessment of Academic Performance

In a lifetime as a self-appointed “essayist” I have published over a thousand articles. There are all kinds of ambiguities about that figure including revisions and syndications, but it a rough indication. Mostly they were […]

The Fundamental Flaws in Internationalism

       As I was leaving the polling station having voted in favour of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union my eldest son was passing on his bicycle. Having ascertained what I had done he […]

Jobexit Strategies

       My first boss, the chairman of my department when I was a young lecturer, was Wilfrid Harrison. Even though there was approximately forty years difference in our ages I would have described Wilfrid as […]

The Curious Fate of the Campus Sexual Revolution

       One day in 1981 I noticed that a woman I had passed in the street and tried to greet, the friend of a friend, had studiously ignored me. A couple of weeks later she […]

Brexit: the Wonderful Options

     My first reaction on hearing about the Brexit vote was apprehension about the short- and medium-term consequences. My second was sympathy for the losers (but where was all that pro-European emotion during the campaign?). […]

Taking (Academic) Liberties

        When I was a visiting academic at Stanford in the mid-1970s the game of laureate spotting was a common practice. I don’t know how many Nobel prizewinners were then on the campus – the […]

The Venal and the Ascetic in Academic life

       In 2014 a former colleague of mine resigned his job as the vice-chancellor of an Australian university. He didn’t have a lot of choice as he had been suspended by the Senate of the […]

Conservatism and Sport

The suffix “ism” has two distinct implications, though they may be combined. The first is doctrinal: “marxists” are defined by beliefs, propositions derived from the thought of Karl Marx, even though the meaning and relative […]

Trump and Corbyn: different chaps, same phenomenon

      Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn are in obvious ways opposites: in the over-used terminology we learned from France’s revolutionary National Assembly in the 1790s one is at the extreme “left” of orthodox politics in […]

Pol Pot Was Right

       We just returned from a first visit to Cambodia. Of course, we visited the temples, but we also read the appropriate stuff, including Edward Short’s excellent biography of Pol Pot ( subtitled The History […]

Philosophy versus Prostate Cancer

When you are diagnosed with prostate cancer you are faced with a number of aphorisms with more than a hint of paradox about them: “You are far more likely to die with it than of […]

Fun with Pareto and Pyramids

       On an edition of University Challenge in 2013 there was a question on elite theory. I was pleased and relieved that the student competitors had heard of Vilfredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca and Robert Michels, […]

In Memoriam (?): the Gentry

Adam Nicolson, Gentry: Six Hundred Years of a Peculiarly English Class, Harper, 2011, pp. 460 My wife was brought up in a house where the number of people exceeded the number of bedrooms by five. […]

Ched Evans – and the state of contemporary ethics

       In forty six years of lecturing I have only had to deal with one protest against the content of my lecture. The subject was coercion; it raised questions about the nature of choice such […]

Whatever Happened to Social Mobility?

Captain E.J. Smith of the Titanic was described as “the highest paid seaman on earth” and “a celebrity in his own right”. He was born in 1850 in a terrace house in Hanley, Stoke, the […]

Are Novels a Waste of Life?

Earlier this year I realised that three months had passed since I last read a novel and that it was the first time in the sixty years I have been able to read that this […]