Political language. . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind… George Orwell


The twilight years : the paradox of Britain between the wars  Richard Overy  New York, N.Y. : Viking, c 2009  Hardcover. 1st American ed. and printing. xxi, 521 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 385-500) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

British intellectual life between the wars stood at the heart of modernity. The combination of a liberal, uncensored society where second sight was more highly valued than second thought and a large miseducated audience for crackpot ideas made Britain a laboratory for novel ways to understand the world.

The Twilight Years opens a window onto this anxious era, the age of the self-styled public intellectual and his fellow traveller – the social scientist: Arnold Toynbee, Aldous and Julian Huxley, H. G. Wells, Marie Stopes and a host of others. Yet, as Overy argues, a striking characteristic of so many of the ideas that emerged from this new age from eugenics to Freud’s unconscious, to modern ideas of pacifism and world government was the fear that the West was facing a possibly terminal crisis of civilization and in reductio ad absurdum became a self fulfilling prophecy.

The modern era promised progress of a kind, but it was overshadowed by a growing fear of decay and death, an end to the civilized world and the arrival of a new Dark Age even though the country had suffered no occupation, no civil war and none of the bitter ideological rivalries of inter-war Europe, and had an economy that survived better than most.

The Twilight Years explores how this strange paradox came about. Ultimately, Overy shows, the coming of war was almost welcomed as a way to resolve the contradictions and anxieties of this period, a war in which it was believed civilization would be either saved or utterly destroyed, and which welcome proves conclusively and finally the bankruptcy of their ideas from start to finish.

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