The stringent cuts promised in last month’s budget, the continuing fallout from the economic crisis, war, terrorism and the devastating impact of climate change – read a newspaper and it often appears the world is on the brink. But science writer Matt Ridley argues in his latest book, The Rational Optimist, that not only is life better now for the human race than it has ever been before, but globally both the rich and the poor have benefited from rising living standards. The former Chairman of Northern Rock insists that despite blips, like the recent economic downturn, the overall pattern is one of progress and prosperity, and we have never had it so good.The Rational Optimist
The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves is published by Fourth Estate.
In The Uses of Pessimism and the Danger of False Hope, Roger Scruton argues that modern society has been greatly harmed by ‘unscrupulous optimism’. He explores the optimistic belief that human society is perfectable – or at least greatly improvable – and suggests that this thinking has led not to Utopia, but to gulags, Nazism and fundamentalism. He attacks the idealism of the left and the Enlightenment vision of progress, but Scruton argues that pessimism, far from denigrating humanity, encourages respect and stability because it recognises mankind’s fundamental fallibility and weakness.Roger Scruton
The Uses of Pessimism and the Danger of False Hope is published by Atlantic Books.
Somewhere deep beneath the ocean, one of Britain’s four nuclear submarines is out there. In a locked safe on board is a handwritten “last resort” letter from the Prime Minister with instructions for the captain in the case of World War III. Drawing on declassified documents, historian Peter Hennessy’s new edition of The Secret State reveals the full extent of Britain’s Cold War preparations for the brink of destruction. Peter Hennessy talks about life in the age of uranium and how the lessons of the Cold War have shaped our modern security services and the international approach to the War on Terror.The Secret State
The Secret State: Preparing for the Worst 1945–2010 is published by Penguin Books.
The Magna Carta may have enshrined certain basic rights, but Britain is the only modern democracy with an “unwritten” constitution. The historian Linda Colley argues that the British may have failed to write down their own rights and political principles, but they have a long history of drafting constitutions for the rest of the world. She examines this anomaly and discusses whether the new coalition government would benefit or suffer from a written constitution.When did the British Constitution Become Unwritten?
Linda Colley will take part in the discussion When did the British Constitution Become Unwritten? at the Institute for Government in London on 7 July.
Start The Week sets the cultural agenda for the week ahead, with high-profile guests discussing the…