If Tony Blair’s backbench dissenters on top-up fees cannot be persuaded by any other means, it may be time to appeal to their distrust of America. Continued decline of Britain’s top universities would certainly mean a further brain drain to US colleges and the threat of intellectual and scientific overdependence on America. As David Soskice, one of the architects of Labour’s higher education plans, put it in a Prospect roundtable on the issue one year ago: “Different countries have their own problems. It is frightening to imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have top-class academics thinking about British problems… At the moment, America pays for a vast amount of the basic research in the world. America might one day turn around and say, why are we doing this?”
Jed Rubenfeld’s piece on international law underlines the potential gulf between the American and European wings of western civilisation. Contrary to what many liberals believe, he says, Bushite unilateralism is not an aberration. Yes, things would have been different if Al Gore had won in 2000, but perhaps not that different. Rubenfeld says that even many liberal Americans are suspicious of the elitism and unaccountability of those supranational laws and institutions which are not rooted in national democratic soil. He traces this to the different experiences of the second world war. For many Europeans, the war was a victory against popular nationalism; for almost all Americans, it was a victory for popular nationalism. (European liberals may, however, be relieved by our other piece from the US in which Alan Wolfe argues that America’s Christian conservatives are less Christian and less conservative than they seem.)
Looking eastward across the channel, Tim King’s cover story on corruption in France highlights another surprisingly large cultural gulf, at least when it comes to attitudes to money and the untouchability of the country’s ?narque elite. It would, however, be churlish not to admit that the same elite has had a better record in running France since 1945 than its British counterpart.
Our Christmas present to readers is the permanent expansion of Prospect by eight pages – to permit space for a short story in every issue. Enjoy a perfect gem by Michel Faber in this one.