Gordon Brown's new book "Courage" is a response to the death of his first child. He has transformed his suffering into a lessonby Emran Mian / July 28, 2007 / Leave a comment
This is the sixth article in a six-piece symposium on Gordon Brown as intellectual. Other articles include: John Lloyd on an intellectual in power Iain McLean on other intellectual prime ministers throughout history Daniel Johnson on Brown the unsophisticated bookworm Geoff Mulgan on the American inspiration behind Brown’s thinking Richard Cockett on the question of Brown’s religious faith Kamran Nazeer on Brown’s book Courage
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Courage: Eight Portraits, by Gordon Brown (Bloomsbury, £16.99) How odd—after ten years in waiting, to bring out a book a few weeks before becoming prime minister, a book that is neither autobiography, chronicling the path to power, nor manifesto, setting out how power will be used. Instead, Gordon Brown has published a collection of eight profiles in courage. None of his subjects is a predecessor in the role of prime minister, and few even held government positions. Does this book tell us anything at all about the intellectual outlook of the primus inter pares as he enters No 10?
The opening lines of the first portrait, of the nurse Edith Cavell, certainly seem heavy with hidden meaning: “In every life there are moments when decisions taken set in train a sequence of events that ultimately seal a fate.” As it turns out, this is Brown’s credo for writing history. Courage is, very firmly, a history book in which the choices made by individuals are pre-eminent. There is little discussion of social forces or even ideology, although he does talk of three types of courage: career heroes (armed forces, emergency services); “situational heroes,” people who unexpectedly do something heroic; and “sustained altruists” who devote long periods of their lives to great causes. In the chapter on Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who rescued Jews from Budapest as Eichmann sought to march them to camps, Brown comments that “none of the testimonies of Wallenberg either before his mission or during it suggest that he was a natural-born hero.” He acted in the way that he did, Brown says, because of inspiration—a situational hero. Mandela is depicted as “the solitary man.” Aung San Suu Kyi is “lonely.” There is no room in this book for other people, or for the ideas that may help to form an individual’s moral orientation.
We might say that this makes for a very traditional, even conservative, work of history, in the…