Inquisitor

Sceptical libertarianism and opera

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Location: France

June 29, 2004

Oh, but Mr Knightley, I really did win the cold war

Ah, the incomparable Jane Austen. On any topic, is there anyone to beat her? She now comes to my aid in the debate that is simmering away on whether Ronald Reagan ‘won’ the cold war.

As all of you out there with taste will know, Emma takes great delight in telling Mr Knightley about her ‘success’ in getting Mr Weston and Miss Taylor to marry in Chapter 1 of Austen’s peerless penultimate novel.

Mr Knightley harrumphs. Emma is right, he says, only if one defines ‘success’ as saying idly to oneself ‘wouldn’t it be nice if they got married’ and then watching it come to pass. True, Emma may have made the odd nudge here and there, and smoothed away the occasional misunderstanding. But to say that the marriage is her doing is to have a very curious view of the ways of the world.

As with Emma, so with Ronald Reagan. True, he did little to prevent the cold war from ending, and he was on the winning side when it did come to a close, but to say that he ‘won’ it is flying in the face of both history and early 19th century genius.

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