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The Moral Solipsism of Global Ethics Inc

Alex de Waal: Human rights, democracy and Amnesty International, 23 August 2001

Like Water on Stone: The Story of Amnesty International 
by Jonathan Power.
Allen Lane, 332 pp., £12.99, May 2001, 0 7139 9319 7
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Future Positive: International Co-operation in the 21st Century 
by Michael Edwards.
Earthscan, 292 pp., £12.99, September 2000, 1 85383 740 7
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East Meets West: Human Rights and Democracy in East Asia 
by Daniel Bell.
Princeton, 369 pp., £12.50, May 2000, 0 691 00508 7
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... enterprise begins in moral solipsism. Most accounts of the human rights industry – including Jonathan Power’s Like Water on Stone, the history of Amnesty International, timed for its 40th birthday this year – have a whiff of Whig history about them. It is hard for those driven by conviction and concern to imagine what it might be like for those ...

Under the Staircase

Karl Whitney: Hans Jonathan, Runaway Slave, 19 October 2017

The Man Who Stole Himself: The Slave Odyssey of Hans Jonathan 
by Gisli Palsson, translated by Anna Yates.
Chicago, 288 pp., £19, October 2016, 978 0 226 31328 3
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... In the spring​ of 1801 a young man called Hans Jonathan left the mansion in Copenhagen where he worked as a slave. Going for a walk was allowed: despite his status, he had a degree of autonomy within the walls of the city, then a thriving port with around one hundred thousand inhabitants. But this time he didn’t return ...

Three feet on the ground

Marilyn Butler, 7 July 1983

William Wordsworth: The Borders of Vision 
by Jonathan Wordsworth.
Oxford, 496 pp., £25, February 1983, 0 19 812097 4
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William Wordsworth: The Poetry of Grandeur and of Tenderness 
by David Pirie.
Methuen, 301 pp., £14.95, March 1982, 0 416 31300 0
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Benjamin the Waggoner 
by William Wordsworth, edited by Paul Betz.
Cornell/Harvester, 356 pp., £40, September 1981, 0 85527 513 8
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... One evening, declares Jonathan Wordsworth as he begins his new critical book, a poet happened to be walking along a road, when the peasant who was with him pointed out a striking sight:         ’Twas a horse, that stood Alone upon a little breast of ground With a clear silver moonlight sky behind. With one leg from the ground the creature stood, Insensible and still; breath, motion gone, Hairs, colour, all but shape and substance gone, Mane, ears, and tail, as lifeless as the trunk That had no stir of breath ...

Sandinismo

Jonathan Steele, 19 December 1985

Fire from the Mountain: The Making of a Sandinista 
by Omar Cabezas, translated by Kathleen Weaver.
Cape, 233 pp., £9.95, September 1985, 0 224 02814 6
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... too young to have known Sandino as anything but a legend. Yet it is this basic element which the power-brokers of the Reagan Administration cannot understand. The core of Sandinismo is not an ‘imported’ ideology, but its exact opposite: resistance to ‘exported’ foreign domination. Omar Cabezas’s vigorous, funny and self-deprecating account of his ...

Flower Power

P.N. Furbank: Jocelyn Brooke, 8 May 2003

'The Military Orchid’ and Other Novels 
by Jocelyn Brooke.
Penguin, 437 pp., £10.99, August 2002, 0 14 118713 1
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... which happiness could spring into sudden unexpected bloom, like a flower from the bare rock’. Jonathan Hunt, who is at work on a biography of Brooke, argues in his percipient preface to the Penguin edition that, for Brooke’s narrator as a child, the Orchis militaris ‘seems to embody all the desirable qualities of masculinity, which he feels he lacks ...

A Boundary Where There Is None

Stephen Sedley: In Time of Meltdown, 12 September 2019

Trials of the State: Law and the Decline of Politics 
by Jonathan Sumption.
Profile, 128 pp., £9.99, August 2019, 978 1 78816 372 9
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... has for a long time been the view of a neoliberal school of legal thought; but the argument of Jonathan Sumption’s 2019 Reith Lectures, delivered in May and June and now issued in book form, is more accommodating. It is that while law and due process have their place, they owe considerably more respect to the political process than the UK’s courts have ...

Between Jesus and Napoleon

Jonathan Haslam: The Paris Conference of 1919, 15 November 2001

Peacemakers: The Paris Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War 
by Margaret MacMillan.
Murray, 574 pp., £25, September 2001, 0 7195 5939 1
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... gathering at Paris was impressive by any standard. It also promised a more enlightened exercise of power than had been seen at Vienna in 1815, where restoration of the balance of power was the best that could be hoped for. The principle of self-determination would now at last be realised across Europe. This was not to be an ...

Toxin in the System

Michael Peel: In Nigeria, 5 February 2015

... 14 February, is expected to be the most closely contested for 35 years or more. President Goodluck Jonathan and his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are riding on the back of a decade of decent economic growth and there is evidence of better governance in some areas. Jonathan’s supporters claim that if he wins a second ...

Openly reticent

Jonathan Coe, 9 November 1989

Grand Inquisitor: Memoirs 
by Robin Day.
Weidenfeld, 296 pp., £14.95, October 1989, 0 297 79660 7
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Beginning 
by Kenneth Branagh.
Chatto, 244 pp., £12.99, September 1989, 0 7011 3388 0
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Storm over 4: A Personal Account 
by Jeremy Isaacs.
Weidenfeld, 215 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 297 79538 4
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... principles and values, and that it did not have a cat in hell’s chance of achieving national power.’ Nonetheless, his idealism in other areas seems to have survived. Among the more revealing passages in this not particularly revealing book are those in which the author describes his schooldays, which was when he absorbed (from his headmaster) ‘a ...

Was it better in the old days?

Jonathan Steele: The Rise of Nazarbayev, 28 January 2010

Nazarbayev and the Making of Kazakhstan 
by Jonathan Aitken.
Continuum, 269 pp., £20, July 2009, 978 1 4411 5381 4
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... long road to nation-building. Kazakhstan was the last of the 15 republics to declare independence. Jonathan Aitken is an unlikely candidate to write a book on this subject. Since emerging from prison after his conviction for perjury in 1999 he has written books about himself and other public figures who fell from grace: Richard Nixon, his former special ...

The Manchu Conquest

Jonathan Spence, 7 August 1986

The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in 17th-Century China 
by Frederic Wakeman.
California, 736 pp., £63.75, January 1986, 0 520 04804 0
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... It is a complex story to tell, since so many aspects must be considered. The erosion of Ming power took many years, and various Ming pretenders fought on, by land and sea, until the early 1660s. In central and north China rebel groups had chipped away at Ming power for decades, as the state gradually lost its ...

Angelic Porcupine

Jonathan Parry: Adams’s Education, 3 June 2021

The Last American Aristocrat: The Brilliant Life and Improbable Education of Henry Adams 
by David S. Brown.
Scribner, 464 pp., £21.20, November 2020, 978 1 9821 2823 4
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... era defined by simple men of crude force like General Grant and, later, Teddy Roosevelt. The money power was rampant; no one valued ‘trained statesmen’. One theme of the Education is that the juggernaut of government, and its temptations and pressures, ruin all who seize power: ‘the distortion of sight – the warping ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘The Bad and the Beautiful’, 5 April 2012

The Bad and the Beautiful 
directed by Vincente Minnelli.
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... to overdo the flashback. We see and hear three phone calls in the narrative present. A man called Jonathan Shields is trying to reach three Hollywood figures, a director (Barry Sullivan), an actress (Lana Turner) and a writer (Dick Powell), in that order. The first two refuse to take the call, the third takes it and tells Shields to drop dead. Next, still in ...

Footing the bill

Jonathan Parry, 9 June 1994

Aspects of Aristocracy: Grandeur and Decline in Modern Britain 
by David Cannadine.
Yale, 321 pp., £19.50, April 1994, 0 300 05981 7
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... and ‘refined’ life of ease, rather than as ‘the national élite of wealth, status and power’, whose houses were ‘machines to be lived in’, and who were preoccupied with ‘getting and spending money, accumulating and wielding power, and revelling in prestige and authority’. The major theme of the ...

Prince and Pimp

Paul Foot, 1 January 1998

The Liar: The Fall of Jonathan Aitken 
by Luke Harding and David Leigh.
Penguin, 205 pp., £6.99, December 1997, 0 14 027290 9
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... Are we all bare-faced liars?’ The question came from Jonathan Aitken, Minister of State for Defence Procurement, in January 1994. It was put to the then editor of the Guardian, Peter Preston. The words ‘we all’ referred to Aitken himself, his wife Lolicia and his faithful Arab friend Said Ayas. The answer to the question was ‘yes ...

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