chapter  11
15 Pages

Is there an Anglo-American Political Tradition?

Historians who are actively concerned with the problems of their own times tend both to gain and to suffer from this concern. Their attention is likely to be called to aspects of history to which the current situation gives a new and hitherto unseen significance. At the same time, they may well be induced consciously, or more often unconsciously, to distort the features of the past in order to render what appears to be a service to the work in hand. In this respect, of course, they are not alone. Those whose business it is to interpret not the past, but the present itself, are all too likely at a time of international tension to stress, for instance, in their portrayal of an enemy country, characteristics that would be passed over in silence were an ally concerned. Nor has this failing been confined to our own contemporaries. At the time of the Crimean War, a French liberal could be shocked at the fact that the British press, which daily denounced the iniquities of Russian Tsardom, maintained a discreet silence about the loss of liberty that the French had sustained at the hands of Napoleon III:

I receive an English newspaper that I read every day honestly from one end to the other as might an alderman. On the first page it tries to move me to antipathy to Russia, showing me a people held in darkness and silence, citizens abandoned to the arbitrary will of a single individual, sent without trial into deserts to die there. I begin to feel moved, and then on turning the page, I learn that a government that I have no need to name, also based upon absolute power, is full of moderation, humanity, and honesty, almost of open-heartedness, in one word wholly worthy of praise and respect.2