Corbyn and Hobson’s Choice

Read the book – it’s Hobson’s choice.

Has the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition actually read J A Hobson’s “Imperialism”? That is the question posed by today’s Times.

J A Hobson (not to be confused with J R Hartley) “Imperialism: A Study” 1902. As I remember it was a green book with a black spine or was it a black book with a green spine? I think our copy went in the book cull of 2017 when we moved house. It probably went to Oxfam – going the same way as “Green Eggs and Ham” and the “Very Hungry Caterpillar”. Books from a different era outgrown by our family.

To be fair, I read a lot of Lenin as a student as my course on Russian History required. But pre cursors to Lenin, like Hobson, that was going a bit too far so poor old Hobson, was, I’m sorry to say, earnestly bought but never read.

Also when I was a student there was a seemingly very sincere post grad who went around giving his socialist pamphlets to all those who would stop and listen for a few moments. Having given up and taken one it was only sometime later that I noticed that after a few pages of hackneyed guff about the “commanding heights” of the economy the pamphlet blamed all the world’s ills on China and the “yellow peril”.

So politicians, beware the book you have never read, but sits pretentiously on your bookshelf ready to embarrass you in the future! And if you haven’t read it – best to own up!

Here’s my top 5 of books people of a learned and Liberal persuasion pretend they have read. In reverse order:

  1. The Power of the Powerless – Vaclav Havel
  2. Vindication of the Rights of Woman – Mary Wollstonecraft
  3. The Economic Consequences of the Peace – J M Keynes
  4. Two Treatises of Government – John Locke
  5. And of course, the big Daddy of them all coming in at Number One “On Liberty” – John Stuart Mill

Which ones have I actually read? All the way through? I couldn’t possibly comment. What about you?

* Ruth Bright has been a councillor in Southwark and Parliamentary Candidate for Hampshire East

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11 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 1st May '19 - 9:32pm

    I bought and read some books by Vaclav Havel, in English, when in Prague.
    I also went to a theatre in west London and watched three of his plays in one Saturday afternoon and was therefore not at the Poll Tax demonstration (which became a riot).
    Havel was imprisoned by the communists. the prison governor was asked to keep an eye on him and write regular reports.
    The governor found that writing reports was difficult, and there was nothing to say, so he asked Havel to write the reports. Havel said that he did not want to inform on anyone, especially not himself.
    He became President of post-communist Czechoslovakia and spent his first few hours designing uniforms, so as to graphically demonstrate that there had been a change of regime.
    He received numerous prestigious international awards.
    Every time he was elected President of Czechoslovakia or the Czech Republic he ordered an amnesty for prisoners with short sentences. He visited and spoke to a gathering of Romany Gypsies who had tended to be socially disadvantaged over jobs, housing and recipients of verbal abuse when visiting dance halls.
    He was a heavy smoker, so there were worries about his health, but the British Ambassador assured us that “he was always available when needed”.

  • Daniel Walker 2nd May '19 - 9:53am

    Well, I have read On Liberty, and I’ve read some of A Vindication of the Rights of Women

  • Would anyone dare write a critique of Shakespeare if the same microscope that seems to follow Corby everywhere were used?
    Would Jonathan Freedland write the same Guardian articles were the foreward written about “The 39 Steps”, “Greenmantle”, etc. My childhood ‘William’ and ‘Biggles’ books would not pass such scrutiny and as for the comments about ‘the Margate End of Pier shows’ in “Three Men in a Boat” the less said the better.

    These books represent what passed for mainstream thinking of 100+ years ago ( John Buchan and John Hobson died within months of each other)

    I sometimes thank heaven that my degree did not require such reading as Hobson and that my pleasure in reading Buchan, Crompton, Johns and Jerome are not spoied by their dated format.

  • William Wallace 2nd May '19 - 1:51pm

    I’ve read Keynes, Locke and Mill: does that qualify me for a consolation prize, perhaps? And I once met Havel…. ‘The Economic Consequences of the Peace’ has some good arguments for integrating the European economy, east and west, which I’ve used on occasions in academic and political discussions. Locke isn’t a full Liberal in our terms, but a relevant ancestor. Anyone who wants to question the fully Liberal nature of early ‘liberals’ should read the 1689 Declaration of Rights: it’s virulently anti-Catholic in places.

  • If we’re talking Liberal writers and relevant ancestors, I’d have to include John Donne and Charles Dickens.

    ‘No man is an island’ is a pure statement of what I take to be Liberalism…. and it’s possible to make a case that Donne was the first ‘Liberal’ MP (for Brackley – and then for Taunton). He was not without blemish (but then which of us is not ? ).

    Nor was Dickens without blemish…. but there is a strong social liberal strain in his work – particularly attacks on the chilly utilitarian Benthamites (a parallel with the Orangista tendency ?).

    There’s also a case to be made for William Cobbett. Rural Rides is a classic.

  • Bill le Breton 2nd May '19 - 5:40pm

    ‘No man is an island’ is a pure statement of what I take to be Liberalism.’

    Good spot David.

    And of course, in the words of P.F. Clarke, ‘it was Hobson who hunted down the individualistic fallacy’ of classical liberalism not only in economics but in ‘all its guises’.

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