In one of his last interviews, the historian Tony Judt lamented his “catastrophic” Anglo-American generation, whose cossetted members included George W Bush and Tony Blair. Having grown up after the defining wars and hatreds of the west’s 20th century, “in a world of no hard choices, neither economic nor political”, these historically weightless elites believed that “no matter what choice they made, there would be no disastrous consequences”.
A member of the Bush administration brashly affirmed its arrogance of power in 2004 after what then seemed a successful invasion of Iraq: “When we act,” he boasted, “we create our own reality.” A “pretty crappy generation”, Judt concluded, “when you come to think of it.”
One cannot but think of the reality it made as mayhem in Asia and Africa reaches European and North American cities. But those of us from countries where many Anglo-American institutions were once admirable models have their own melancholy reasons to reflect on their swift decay.
As another annus horribilis lurched to a close, the evidence of moral and intellectual sloth seemed unavoidable. In the Christmas issue of the Spectator,Rod Liddle described Calais as “a jungle of largely Muslim asylum seekers aching to get into Britain – presumably to be hugged” by “the liberals”. In an interview in the same issue, the prime minister confessed that Liddle “does make me laugh”. The chumminess seemed to confirm Amit Chaudhuri’s strong recent “impression”, acquired from BBC documentaries about India, that Britain comprises “male buddies”, whose “capacity for spontaneous insight isn’t that far away from that of Jeremy Clarkson”.