Baggini's background and philosophical training gave him the intellectual honesty to be as critical of the biases he and his friends shared as he was of the biases of others. Even before he went to Rotherham, he was wary of the thoughtless anti- patriotism that lay behind David Hare's cry that "most of us look with longing to the republican countries across the Channel. We associate Englishness with everything that is most backward in this country."
Baggini told me he had noticed that when his friends went overseas "they always found something to delight in. ..."
Nick Cohen in the Staggers this week. (Funny that Nick didn't consider that philosophical training helped Ted Honderich with 'intellectual honesty.')
Here is Ivan Hewett in the Telegraph (yes, the Torygraph really does employ a Ivan and a Boris) on the Berlin Festspiele.
It's one of many signs that Berlin takes its culture seriously - as London does too, but Berlin's music scene has a special edge, a combination of innovative daring and stellar quality, which makes it utterly distinctive.
This is partly a cultural difference. German new music often has a dark intensity and political heat reminiscent of German artists such as Anselm Kieffer. But it also reflects the fact that in terms of funding, Berlin really puts its money where its mouth is.
This isn't just the mentality of a high-spending social democratic nation that invests in high culture, though it's partly that.
That fits finding something to delight in perfectly. Good for Ivan Hewett.
The Torygraph also employs the splendid Sam Leith. He's a columnist and their literary editor. In the latter role (I assume) he commissioned Nicholas Blincoe's review of What's Left? and Mary Wakefield's review of Infidel: My Life by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The latter concludes after praising the author's courage:
Most readers of most political persuasions will bow to Hirsi Ali's experience when she tells us that violent anti-Semitism and misogyny is at the heart, not just the fanatical periphery, of Islam. But for a liberal to work for a Right-wing think tank such as the AEI? It's a little weird.
Here's a woman who has put her life at risk to speak out against militant Islam, in the service of the brain-boxes who pushed for the war in Iraq, which served if not to radicalise Islam, at least to consolidate its hatred of the West. Here's a one-time refugee, lit up with admiration for the kindness Holland extended to a Muslim in distress, joining forces with the sort of neo-cons who talk of draining the swamp of the Middle East.
One of the great lessons of this painful and mostly clear-headed memoir is that people are not identical with the nasty ideas they espouse. It would be sad if the AEI failed to encourage Hirsi Ali's most impressive talent - for compassion.
In a slow week, Sam Leith wrote about meeting Nick Cohen. Redoubtable blogger Matthew Turner said in thec comments to a post "I've known Sam [Leith] a little for about ten years and he does not look like David Milliband." Nick Cohen is allegedly (I don't want to be sued over this after all) a political journalist. You'd think he'd know what David Miliband looks like.
A dim memory stirs. Years ago, at a party, I ran into the political writer Nick Cohen. We had been chatting for a while when he peered at me afresh through the gloaming, and goggled. "So sorry," he said. "I thought you were a Miliband."
And now here's another reason for liking Sam Leith and not reading the Staggers, the man's a thoughtless anti-patriot. Of all our moral nonsenses, patriotism is the dumbest.
'Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable sodding rotters, the flaming sods, the snivelling, dribbling, dithering, palsied, pulse-less lot that make up England today," wrote D H Lawrence. "They've got white of egg in their veins, and their spunk is that watery it's a marvel they can breed. They can nothing but frog-spawn - the gibberers! God, how I hate them! Why, why, why was I born an Englishman?" Clear where he stood on the great patriotism debate.
More and more of us, it seems, stand with him. This week a YouGov poll discovered that less than a third of Britons take pride in their Britishness, and around a quarter of us feel a stronger allegiance to their county, town or village. Hooray for that, say I. Of all the moral and intellectual nonsenses available to us, patriotism is among the dumbest. It's not the last refuge of a scoundrel. It's the first resort of a dipstick.
It is, remember, middle-class liberals who hate patriotism. (Orwell, BTW, had some nasty words for 'Jingoes' as he called shallow declarers of love for the mother country.) Though Baggini isn't a typical exemplar:
For Baggini isn't quite the standard middle-class liberal. His mother is from the Kent working class and his father from an Italian farming family.
Well, bully for him! A working-class mother, yet. How could he ever aspire to being an intellectual? Imagine being, say, [t]he fourth child of Arthur John Lawrence, a barely literate miner. Ellis Sharp has some observations of the parentage of some intellectuals. You can almost hear Chris and Martin discussing a certain miner's son.
CH: What what? The fellow doesn't like England! I suspect he's all for Sharia Law and stuff.
MA: Not an Oxford man is he? What did his father do, and why didn't he follow his father into it? That's the way we do things in this country. Not like those dirty Muslims.
CH: Careful Martin, if people didn't know who we are, they might think we're racists.
[Both guffaw at Hitchens' ineffable wit.]
MA: I wouldn't say there's riff-raff down every mine, because I am, after all, a socialist, but there must have been riff-raff down Lawrence senior's mine. And what did he contribute to literature? Did he write about the struggle of defecation with the tenderness I put into my Mohammad Atta story? I doubt it.
CH: No, he wrote about sex.
MA: Well, that's the professional interest coming out.
CH: I'm afraid I don't understand, old stick.
MA: They must have had sex when he was growing up.
[CH looks blank.]
MA: To keep the coal in when the bath was full.
Today, in the Telegraph's review pages (which don't make the web until the following Thursday as a rule), there's a review of the paperback of Ian Buruma's Murder in Amsterdam.
"Messianic violence can attach itself to any creed," he concludes. If only all commentators on the war on terror were as sane.
I've no idea who the review, Alastair Sooke, could be thinking of.