SPIRITED THINKING SINCE 1888
Robin Aitken

February 07, 2021
One of the things that some people find a bit weird about Catholics is our habit of Confession. And, viewed from a non-religious perspective, I suppose you can see their point; it is an unusual, and for some a repellent, thing to do. To go into “the black box” and tell another human being about
November 17, 2020
I caught an interview with Sir Richard Dannatt on the radio a few days ago. It was a “profile” interview; no reason for it but to hear from a man who climbed to the highest reaches of the British Army. He was asked about courage – very appropriately, considering he is a holder of the
November 11, 2020
“There’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.” Some years ago I was in San Sebastian, in the Basque Country of Spain and to kill a morning (my wife was attending a conference in the city) I set out to walk round that perfect bay to Monte Urgull – the hill which
October 31, 2020
How to make sense of other people’s politics? If you’re one of those, like me, absorbed in the US Presidential election, where do you turn to understand American politics? The problem comes down to this: Americans, like the inhabitants of every country, know their own politics as lived experience. The changing priorities of the parties,
September 06, 2020
Trying to understand what the Happiness Index tells us takes us deeper into the whole idea of what happiness really is. Perhaps back in March when, you were holed-up under lock-down you overlooked publication of the UN’s 2020 World Happiness Report. Or maybe, as the strange contours of the new Covid-reality took shape around you,
August 19, 2020
Face masks have become a question of manners. Near the beginning of the lockdown I was talking to a friend, a retired medical man who likes to keep up with the latest research. Our conversation turned to the subject of wearing face masks. In his considered opinion they were – for the general public at
June 11, 2020
Privilege is a feature of every animal society. The abuse of privilege is treacherous ground. Owen Jones, that reliable bellwether of ‘woke’ left opinion spelled it out for us: “If the British establishment has one signature ethos” he wrote in The Guardian last week “ it is ‘One rule for us and another for everybody
May 29, 2020
The Corporation is not some neutral umpire but a potent actor in the nation’s affairs
January 31, 2019
The BBC has wholeheartedly thrown its lot in with the liberal reformers; there has been no “impartiality” on any of the big moral issues of the past half-century. In every instance, the socially conservative argument has been depicted as callous, reactionary and dogmatic. Any counterargument to the prevailing liberal consensus is now ignored altogether; social
September 13, 2018
The Pope Who Would Be King by David Kertzer, Random House, 512pp, £25 For a 21st-century English Catholic, stepping into the world described in David Kertzer’s new book is to enter a landscape as unfamiliar as it is shocking. Though this work describes events in the mid-19th century, the character of the papacy, which is
August 09, 2018
The Tragedy of Property by Maxim Trudolyubov, Polity, 226pp, £17.99 In the mid 1990s I did a stint in the BBC’s Moscow bureau. It was high summer, some of the resident correspondents were away on leave and nothing much was happening. They were dog days, stiflingly hot, and Moscow seemed a defeated, depressing and occasionally
June 14, 2018
Seven Ways of Looking at Religion by Benjamin Schewel, Yale, 248pp, £35 Like many of us, I suspect, I have not spent much time considering religion, its history and development from a purely intellectual standpoint. It has been enough to spend time in the pew pondering the mysteries of Christianity, my own failings, and how
April 19, 2018
To Fight Against This Age – On Fascism and Humanism by Rob Riemen, WW Norton, 176pp, £15 Is the continent of Europe and the wider world menaced by the rise of fascism? In the view of the Dutch humanist philosopher Rob Riemen it most certainly is, and this short book is his analysis and antidote
February 01, 2018
Rome: A History in Seven Sackings by Matthew Kneale, Atlantic, 464pp, £20 Any writer undertaking a history of Rome must take a very deep breath: here is a historical canvas so broad that most would blanch at the prospect. The longevity of Roman civilisation means that any attempt at a comprehensive linear history would present
November 23, 2017
It seems another age but there was a time when the commentariat hailed George Osborne as a political genius. That was in the early years of the Coalition government of 2010, but after some ham-fisted budgets and an ill-conceived EU referendum campaign (Osborne was the mastermind of the Remain effort) opinions have been revised drastically
August 31, 2017
The Trial of Adolf Hitler by David King, Macmillan, £25 The casual student of history might think that we already know all we usefully can about Adolf Hitler, his rise and fall, but the book industry must know better, for here is another contribution to Führer studies. The Trial of Adolf Hitler is a detailed
August 03, 2017
First Confession by Chris Patten, Allen Lane, £20 In December 1998, as a BBC reporter, I watched Chris Patten chair a hostile public meeting in the port of Larne as part of the public inquiry into policing in Northern Ireland. Larne is a Loyalist town: no place for a Catholic bigwig. I came away, that
October 20, 2016
Reading Quentin de la Bédoyère’s manual on “how to win an argument about abortion” in these pages last month took me back to a time when I tried to do just that in the hostile surroundings of a BBC newsroom. For 25 years I was a BBC reporter. I worked for many different outlets –