The Corner

The Way It Was

Today on the homepage, we continue with my series on John Dos Passos. In this installment, we have him mainly in the Soviet Union (1928). What he has to say, of course, is timeless.

I thought I would offer something extra here in the Corner. Dos Passos makes a statement about what life was like in America before World War I. The British historian A. J. P. Taylor wrote a well-known passage about Britain, or England: about the relationship between an Englishman and the state before World War I. I could not quite recall it — I did not have the words to let Google lead me to it — but Sir Charles Cooke did.

Taylor’s passage begins,

Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission.

To read the rest, go here (for example).

Okay, here is Dos Passos:

It’s hard to overestimate the revulsion wrought by the first world war in the minds of a generation that had grown up in the years of comparative freedom and comparative peace that opened the century. It’s hard to remember in the middle fifties today that in those years what little military service there was in America was voluntary, that taxes were infinitesimal, that if you could scrape up the price of a ticket you could travel anywhere in the world except through Russia and Turkey, without saying boo to a bureaucrat. If you wanted to take a job it was nobody’s business but yours and the boss’s. Of course, as the labor people were busily pointing out, if you worked in a sweat shop for a pittance and happened to starve to death in the process it was nobody’s business either. When Woodrow Wilson led the country into the European war, however little we approved of this reversal of American tradition, most of us just out of college were crazy to see what war was like.

Finally, a tidbit: A. J. P. Taylor was David Pryce-Jones’s tutor at Magdalen College, Oxford. But he appalled David, so the young man switched to Raymond Carr, the historian of Spain. Carr died last year at 96. Another historian, Bernard Lewis (a friend of David’s, and a friend of National Review’s), turns 100 this month.

Most Popular


Cold Brew’s Insidious Hegemony

Soon, many parts of the United States will be unbearably hot. Texans and Arizonans will be able to bake cookies on their car dashboards; the garbage on the streets of New York will be especially pungent; Washington will not only figuratively be a swamp. And all across America, coffee consumers will turn their ... Read More
National Security & Defense

The Warmonger Canard

Whatever the opposite of a rush to war is — a crawl to peace, maybe — America is in the middle of one. Since May 5, when John Bolton announced the accelerated deployment of the Abraham Lincoln carrier group to the Persian Gulf in response to intelligence of a possible Iranian attack, the press has been aflame ... Read More

The Merit of Merit-Based Immigration

Having chain-migrated his way into the White House and a little bit of political power, Donald Trump’s son-in-law is shopping around an immigration plan. And if you can get past the hilarious juxtaposition of the words “merit-based” and “Jared Kushner,” it’s a pretty good one. As things stand, the ... Read More
NR Webathon

We’ve Had Bill Barr’s Back

One of the more dismaying features of the national political debate lately is how casually and cynically Attorney General Bill Barr has been smeared. He is routinely compared to Roy Cohn on a cable-TV program that prides itself on assembling the most thoughtful and plugged-in political analysts and ... Read More
Film & TV

Game of Thrones: A Father’s Legacy Endures

Warning! If you don't want to read any spoilers from last night's series finale of Game of Thrones, stop reading. Right now. There is a lot to unpack about the Thrones finale, and I fully understand many of the criticisms I read on Twitter and elsewhere. Yes, the show was compressed. Yes, there were moments ... Read More