(Remarks delivered after dinner in the Hall of St. Peter’s College, Oxford on Thursday 28th March 2019 as part of the Kinder Institute-Oxford program, 2019)
On our walking tour of Oxford yesterday, we saw many of the university’s most famous places and buildings: The High Street; Radcliffe Square with, at its centre, the Radcliffe Camera, an eighteenth century cathedral of learning; St. Mary’s, the university church; the Divinity Schools, one of the finest medieval building in England; the Sheldonian Theatre where the university’s many ceremonies are held; the Examination Schools where generations of students have been and are still examined. In short, there are many claimants for the ‘heart of Oxford’.
I spent last semester at the University of Missouri, living in Mark Twain Residence Hall. Comfortable as that was, I couldn’t claim ‘Mark Twain’ as the centre of Mizzou. But what is at the heart of the Mizzou campus? Perhaps Jesse Hall, where the Kinder Institute is situated? The Columns themselves? The wonderful reading room on the 2nd floor of the Ellis Library, a majestic space made for contemplation? The war memorial tower, perhaps? Or the statue of the tiger at Tiger Plaza, which as one wag said to me, looked rather more like a cow than a tiger. (Don’t worry: here in Oxford outside the railway station we have a statue of an ox that looks more like a mule). None of these, in fact. For me the answer is Tiger Grotto in the fabulous Mizzou Rec.
I gave thanks each morning at about 7.00 am as I slipped into the whirlpool at the Grotto that the good people of the great state of Missouri had paid their tax dollars to build Tiger Grotto. I used to drive miles to take my children to such a swimming pool with eddies and currents, slides and plastic palm trees. And here, in the centre of a great university, I could splash about in the shallows and drift up and down amidst the currents, and finish off in the hot tub. Truly, this is the beating heart of Mizzou – at least for me.
There were, of course, the bars and restaurants: take a walk down 9th Street and call into Heidelberg, Shakespeare’s Pizza, Sparky’s Ice Cream a little further up, the Thai Restaurant to the left, and cut across to Sycamore for lunch.
This brief speech will be all about places and geography. Professor Jay Sexton said I could be serious and from now on I will be.
I doubt if one in a thousand Brits could find Missouri on the map, which is a comment on the lamentable state of geographical knowledge in Britain rather than on Missouri. The Brits know New York and Washington DC; they can find Florida on the map because many have been to Disneyworld. Beyond that, they’re probably lost.
But what really struck me in my time at Mizzou was the central importance of your part of the United States to American history and destiny. This year, 2019, is the bicentenary of the great crisis caused by the admission of Missouri which almost broke the Union at that time and certainly set America on the path that led to the Civil War. And I know that at the Kinder Institute, Jeff, Justin, Christa and Jay put on a most successful conference to review those events and have also taken a travelling exhibition on the road around the state. But there is so much more historical geography to admire.
Down the road is Fulton, Missouri, home to Westminster College, where Winston Churchill gave his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in 1946: Jay and I visited and taught a class there.
I gave a lecture on ‘Brexit’ at the Truman Library and took a tour round Harry Truman’s residence in Independence, Missouri. The essential modesty of this house, the place to which Truman returned after seven years in the White House, its simple and homely interior, should make it a compulsory stop for any candidate seeking high office in America as a reminder of true republican values.
I went out of the state into Iowa and visited the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and pondered on the juxtaposition of great deeds and ill fortune. For Hoover was the man who fed Europe after the First World War but who was President when Wall Street crashed and Detroit stopped, to which he had no answer.
Jay and I took a road trip to Springfield, Illinois to see the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum and to visit the Lincoln home there as well. Your greatest president requires no commentary from me.
I drove out to Hannibal on the Mississippi and walked around the remarkable complex of buildings where Samuel Clemens grew up and where, as Mark Twain, the greatest humourist in the language, he set some of his immortal works.
I visited the Great Arch on that great river in St. Louis, and was delighted by the new museum, built underground beneath the arch, telling the history of the west, the river and the city.
On the weekend in November 2018 when across the whole world the centenary of the end of the First World War was commemorated, I found myself at the American national monument to the Great War in Kansas City. I had not known it was there and I was enthralled by its remarkable exhibits, its great platform and tower from where you can see the city below, and the atmosphere around me on that day. Dedicated to the crucial American contribution to the supposed ‘war to end all wars’, in all the world, at that moment, I could not have chosen to be in a more appropriate place.
My message is clear, I hope. You come from the heartland, and it is truly the beating heart of America and its history. Within three hours drive from Columbia there are all these places that are absolutely central to America’s destiny, places where key figures lived, where events played out, and where today, American history is remembered – and if I may say so, as a nation you remember your history in museums, exhibitions, monuments and battlefields so much better than we do here in Britain.
It would be easy enough to show you the many places in Oxford which bear upon our national history. Yesterday on our stroll, we saw the site of Charles I’s Civil War parliament in the Convocation House; the home of the regicide John Martyn, who signed Charles’s death warrant in 1649, which is now the residence of the President of Corpus Christi College where many of you are staying this week; the home of the astronomer, Edmund Halley; Robert Boyle’s laboratory; John Henry Newman’s church, St. Mary’s. But you should not underestimate the place of your geography in your national history. I was amazed and delighted by the history I saw all around me within the compass of Columbia and Mizzou.
To my family and friends, when I told them I was going to Missouri, it could have been anywhere at all in the great American mid-west. But when I reached Columbia I found that I had landed somewhere and somewhere very special from where I could better appreciate the great events that have made America: the ante-bellum secession crisis and the drawing of the Missouri Compromise Line; the Civil War itself; the First World War; the Great Crash and the Slump in the 1930s; the Second World War and the Cold War. Indeed, when I read that great novel Stoner by John Williams, recommended to me by Allison Smythe at Kinder, I found that one of the neglected masterpieces of twentieth century fiction, now happily rediscovered, was set in Columbia, and largely in Jesse Hall itself. If you haven’t read this brilliant study of early promise, disillusion and stoicism, I urge you to.
Now I have used the terms ‘somewhere’ and ‘anywhere’ deliberately because they have entered academic and public debate about the state of Britain following the publication in 2017 of The Road to Somewhere by David Goodhart. Goodhart is the founder of one of our best political magazines, Prospect, and his book is a study of the key divisions today in British society. These are not divisions of class, or income, or race or gender, but concern geography and the values associated with place, captured in the difference between ‘anywhere’ and ‘somewhere’. If you want to understand the deep-lying social and political reasons for Brexit, this is the book for you.
Goodhart sketches the main characteristics of each of these British tribes. ‘Anywheres’ are well-educated, skilled, in well-paid jobs, liberal in their social values, secular in their outlook, younger, and likely to be found in the cities of Britain, especially the metropolitan areas to the south of the country. Conversely, ‘Somewheres’ live in smaller towns and settlements, tend not to be graduates, work in semi-skilled and manual jobs, are older, hold more traditional views, are more likely to go to church, and are, almost by definition, found in places untouched by new technologies. Anywheres are more mobile, able because of their skills to take well-paid jobs in any city. Somewheres are rooted in their localities, like to be close to their families, even at the expense of accepting better-paid jobs. Anywheres voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union from which they have done so well in the past generation. Somewheres generally voted to leave: indeed, Brexit may be understood in some perspectives as the revolt of those who have not prospered in Britain over the past 20 years and who resent the political, cultural and economic domination of London and its Anywhere population.
We here this evening are all Anywheres. By our presence here tonight we signal our possession of several of the key attributes of Anywheres. Though you may come from very specific places and feel a great loyalty to them, the very experience of a university education, especially one that can take you to this remarkable place, the ancient hall of an Oxford college, has or will place you among the more privileged sections of both our societies, British and American.
But Somewheres have strengths also: that loyalty to place and neighbourhood, and to kith and kin, provide solidarity, community and a powerful sense of identity. Yet they have found it difficult to adapt to a society with so many new identities in the past generation and have disliked being either patronised or ignored by Anywhere elites who increasingly dominate our public culture – the key universities, the mass media, the creative industries and the arts.
After four months in America my sense is that this cleavage, which I have simplified and dramatized for our purposes this evening, is also a part of America’s recent and ongoing experience as well: that you are also divided in ways not dissimilar to these. And that was why my sojourn among you in Missouri was so refreshing: because I was ‘somewhere’, somewhere very special, somewhere unknown to almost everyone in Britain, but somewhere so evidently central to American history and development. It was, for me, an object lesson in appreciating the intrinsic strengths of life lived away from the metropolis, away from ‘anywhere’, and I learnt more about America than I ever expected in consequence of landing somewhere, within reach, or so it seemed, of the central events and personalities of American History.
So if I turn to address the students on this trip to Oxford this week, how do we break down this new divide in our societies, so richly rewarding to some and not to others? These are not quite the old cleavages of class and income: they depend on values and geography as much as jobs and money.
Let me try to provide an answer in a little excursion into an aspect of Oxford’s history which is not as well appreciated as it might be and which will provide a different element to your Oxford experience this week.
Between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries I would venture that the efforts of some Oxford graduates did more to break down an earlier set of social divisions than any other group or initiative in British society. Indeed, I would argue that they provide a model of the socially-conscious and socially-aware university, of the university playing its full role in society, whether through investigating social problems, solving them, or bringing social groups together.
Who do I mean? Many, perhaps all, will be unknown to you. We might start with Thomas Hill Green, a tutor and professor at Oxford in the 1860s and 1870s, who died young, but who began the transformation of laissez-faire liberalism which had hitherto dominated the Victorian era, into something more socially aware and socially active through his writings and his personal example. When this great moral philosopher died in 1882, his funeral cortege stretched the length of Broad Street, from Balliol College to Holywell Street.
Green was the dominant influence over Oxford for the next generation and among those influenced by him were a trio of friends, William Temple, R. H. Tawney and William Beveridge, who studied at Balliol in the years around 1900.
William Temple went on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury and the most famous Anglican Christian of the 20th century. He it was who, in 1941, coined the term ‘Welfare State’ in opposition to what he called the Nazi ‘Warfare State’. R. H. Tawney was a very notable historian and political thinker and the author of a famous work, published in 1931, entitled Equality, which influenced a whole generation. William Beveridge, intellectual, social investigator and civil servant, was the architect of the modern British welfare system, the man who in 1942 laid out plans for the social programmes that would support the British after the Second World War. Those programmes were constructed and set in motion by the prime minister of that day, Churchill’s deputy during the Second World War, Clement Attlee, who was another Oxford man, educated at University College, the college to which William Beveridge was to return as Master after the war. The post-war programmes established our national health service, our system of secondary education, our modern welfare system.
Interestingly, all four, on graduation, went to work in the slums of the East End of London at a place called Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel, established so that Oxford graduates could live and work among the poor and give leadership and support to them. Toynbee Hall was a ‘settlement’ so-called, and the model for dozens of similar ventures in American cities of which Hull House in the south side of Chicago, run by Jane Addams, the American social reformer, was the most famous. Jane Addams had visited both Oxford and Toynbee Hall on her trip to Europe in 1888. In settlements, students and young people from privileged backgrounds could meet on equal terms with local residents.
Attlee had also gone to the East End of London on graduation. He lived there, became a local councillor, fought in the Great War, and was then elected the MP for Limehouse, a district in that part of the city, representing thereby some of the poorest people in Britain. Attlee is revered as one of the great British prime ministers of the twentieth century. He is without question the most important and successful Labour prime minister we have had. In their different ways, all four of these men – Attlee, Tawney, Temple and Beveridge – who all knew each other well, were founders of the British welfare state.
We might put it another way: the trajectory of these four Oxford graduates took them to somewhere very particular where they learnt about their fellow men and women who lived very different lives. All four men dedicated their careers to the improvement of their conditions and life chances. Educated at elite schools and at Oxford, they were classic anywheres of their generation. But they went somewhere, learnt from the experience, and in a manner, they swapped identities, becoming the advocates of somewhere in national life and politics.
I hope my point is clear. In Britain, as in America, the divide between anywhere and somewhere is growing wider and threatens our social cohesion. Brexit shows that starkly and is a warning of further divisions to come.
In the eyes of many Britons now, Oxford is the very epitome of elitist disengagement from the rest of society, from the ‘somewheres’. It may have floated loose in recent times, lost its moorings in British society, taken its place on an international stage and high up in international rankings of the best universities, and forgotten its wider social obligations. It is now, in their view, ‘anywhere’. Indeed, in David Goodhart’s book he rehearses two conversations at Oxford high tables over dinner to reinforce the point that the university is losing touch.
But as I’ve suggested, there was another Oxford that for a century and more attempted to bridge these social divisions and, in the process, those who went into the slums and spoke for the inhabitants expanded the very meaning and definition of what a university should be. It is one I find very appealing. Whatever our politics, whether right, left or centre, we should admire the attempt to provide social service and leadership, to speak for those who would otherwise be silent, and to make sure that ‘the somewheres’ are not forgotten.
So when you reflect on your experience in Oxford don’t forget this other side of university life and this other aspect of Oxford’s history as a place that nurtured many students who helped create the social fabric of modern Britain.
When I was in Mizzou I had time to reflect as well, and it helped me produce this book, now published, a book of essays entitled Welfare and Social Policy in Britain Since 1870, a festschrift for Professor Jose Harris, one of my colleagues in Oxford and the biographer of William Beveridge. In like fashion, I hope that Oxford sets you reflecting on your return to Mizzou, which is somewhere, somewhere very special indeed.
Professor Lawrence Goldman, Senior Research Fellow, St. Peter’s College, Oxford, and Senior Fellow, Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy