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W.G. Runciman: UK plc v. the Swedes, 22 November 1990

... Back in the summer of 1988, I wrote a Diary describing what it had been like as the chairman of a public limited company to fight off an unwanted takeover bid. I ended the piece by saying that although in the opinion of some stockmarket buffs the company’s shares might in due course be valued at double the price of the unsuccessful offer, I did not think that my readers would necessarily be wise to reach for their stockbrokers at once ...

Viva Alan Knight

W.G. Runciman, 15 October 1987

The Mexican Revolution. Vol. I: Porfirians, Liberals and Revolutionaries 
by Alan Knight.
Cambridge, 620 pp., £37.50, April 1986, 0 521 24475 7
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The Mexican Revolution. Vol. II: Counter-Revolution and Reconstruction 
by Alan Knight.
Cambridge, 679 pp., £37.50, April 1986, 0 521 26651 3
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Mexico: Inside the Volcano 
by Alan Riding.
Tauris, 401 pp., £19.50, July 1987, 9781850430421
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... The Mexican Revolution of 1910 to 1920 defies all stereotypes. It had no vanguard party and no coherent ideology. It owed almost nothing to external influences. It only started because of the gratuitous folly of Porfirio Diaz, whose dictatorial rule had lasted unchallenged since 1876, in failing to make effective arrangements for the succession to himself ...


W.G. Runciman: Slums, Unemployment, Strikes and Party Politics, 23 June 1988

... intended unemployment to stay at three million. Nor is it as if Baldwin didn’t also believe that wage rises at the expense of productivity make unemployment that much harder to bring down, whatever the trade cycle is doing. For all the difference in style between conciliatory, paternalistic, undoctrinaire Baldwin and confrontational, populist, strident ...


W.G. Runciman: On Trade-Unionism, 5 May 1988

... Mirage of British Socialism) to see force used in 1948 against dockers seeking to defy Cripps’s wage freeze? Even the most right-wing employer cannot risk industrial relations being made unworkable. Even the most left-wing cabinet minister cannot risk the Government’s authority being made unsustainable. Lloyd George was perhaps the consummate practitioner ...


W.G. Runciman: Reflections on Tawney, 4 August 1988

... I began this series of daries with some reflections prompted by a re-reading of Halévy’s volumes on England from 1895 to 1914, and I propose now to end it with some reflections prompted by a re-reading of Tawney’s Equality. If the conclusion which again suggests itself is plus ça change, that is not because there have not been changes in our society which neither Halévy, Tawney nor anybody else can be claimed to have foreseen ...

X marks the snob

W.G. Runciman, 17 May 1984

Caste Marks: Style and Status in the USA 
by Paul Fussell.
Heinemann, 202 pp., £8.95, May 1984, 9780434275007
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... The point of Dwarfs’ Lib is not to convince the world that differences in height are an optical illusion foisted by sinister interests on a gullible public. Nor is it to promote a literal cutting-down to size of anybody over 4’1”. It is to vindicate the right of very small people to be treated with equal respect by their taller fellows. In precisely the same way, the American myth of equality is not a fairy-tale denial of the palpable fact that some Americans have very much less power and money than others ...

Why are we here?

W.G. Runciman: The Biology of Belief, 7 February 2002

Religion Explained: The Human Instincts that Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors 
by Pascal Boyer.
Heinemann, 430 pp., £20, September 2001, 0 434 00843 5
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... Any argument about religion, whether conducted in the seminar room or the saloon bar, is likely to hit the buffers not just because people hold different religious beliefs but because they disagree about what should or should not be counted as an instance of religion in the first place. Nobody will query the inclusion of what goes on at High Mass in Notre Dame or on the prayer-mats of the Islamic faithful or in a Hindu temple or at a Merina death ritual in Madagascar ...

The kind of dog he likes

W.G. Runciman: Realistic Utopias, 18 December 2014

Justice for Earthlings: Essays in Political Philosophy 
by David Miller.
Cambridge, 254 pp., £18.99, January 2013, 978 1 107 61375 1
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... Why ‘earthlings’​ ? David Miller isn’t drawing a contrast with justice for creatures from outer space. Nor is he taking issue directly with Ronald Dworkin’s ‘justice for hedgehogs’ in Dworkin’s book of 2011 with that title, although Miller does say in a footnote that he disagrees with him. He has in his sights the ‘neo-Augustinians’, as he calls them, like the late G ...

Altruists at War

W.G. Runciman: Human Reciprocity, 23 February 2012

A Co-operative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution 
by Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis.
Princeton, 262 pp., £24.95, July 2011, 978 0 691 15125 0
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... How is it that the members of a species as greedy, quarrelsome, egoistic and deceitful as ours still manage to live together in societies sufficiently harmonious and orderly not to be constantly breaking apart? Mid-20th-century sociologists used to call it ‘the problem of order’, which many of them saw as constituting the raison d’être for the academic discipline of sociology ...


W.G. Runciman: Moneyspeak, 8 December 1988

... an offer of good negotiable paper underwritten with a cash alternative. In the case of Walter Runciman plc, such a multiple of prospective earnings would (in some kibitzers’ estimates) take the shares up to well over twice what they are trading at today. But the only certainty is that anyone who claims to be able to predict a share price twelve months ...


W.G. Runciman: Exit Blair, 24 May 2007

... Now that Tony Blair has almost stopped hanging around the office poisoning the chalice for his inevitable successor, the season for political obituaries is wide open. Not that it hadn’t already started, with a raft of more and less uncharitable interim biographies and Alan Franks, in the Times magazine of 31 March, talking of Blake Morrison’s South of the River coming out ‘just as Blair contemplates his awful decline from resourceful young bushytail to mangy endgame quarry ...

Darwinian Soup

W.G. Runciman: The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore, 10 June 1999

The Meme Machine 
by Susan Blackmore.
Oxford, 264 pp., £18.99, March 1999, 0 19 850365 2
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... at home in topics like class conflict, the formation of states and the displacement of slavery by wage-labour. But there is more to cultural evolution than just the relative psychological attraction of different memes. Blackmore sweepingly asserts that ‘social scientists study the way that people’s lives and selves are constructed by their roles, and by ...

Blame Lloyd George

W.G. Runciman: England 1914-51, 27 May 2010

Parties and People: England 1914-51 
by Ross McKibbin.
Oxford, 207 pp., £20, March 2010, 978 0 19 958469 7
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... it was seriously discomfiting for Attlee’s. After 1945, the union leaders agreed to a measure of wage restraint for a limited time, but by the 1950s Attlee would have had no more success than Harold Wilson was to have in sustaining an incomes policy. It was as unacceptable as compulsory arbitration or, worse still, direction of labour. The unions were not ...


W.G. Runciman: Dining Out, 4 June 1998

... 10 June 1993. Fellow-guests with Tony and Cherie Blair at a BBC dinner. Blair says immediately to my wife: ‘Weren’t you kind enough to ask me to a drinks party for Frank Field’s 50th birthday?’ She answers: ‘Yes, and you neither came nor replied.’ ‘Didn’t I?’ says Blair, and subsequently sends a charming letter of apology. The thought that this smiling young Scottish public schoolboy could be the next prime minister doesn’t cross either of our minds ...

What happened to the Labour Party?

W.G. Runciman: The difference between then and now, 22 June 2006

... but, on the other, could, if the government of the day was sufficiently determined, stand up to wage demands which other employers might be forced to concede because they could not afford the costs of a protracted strike in the way that a nationalised industry could. In practice, the nationalised industries were run in much the same way by much the same ...

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