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John Bull’s small ideas

Stefan Collini wittily refutes the claim that Britain has lacked intellectuals. But British culture has been inhospitable to the discussion of general ideas

Absent Minds by Stefan Collini (Oxford University Press, £25)

This ambitious work is about British attitudes to intellectuals. Specifically, it is about why the British have been so reluctant to admit that they have intellectuals. Collini calls it the “denial” or “absence” or “exceptionalist” thesis. The claim to immunity from intellectual influences is part of Britain’s definition of itself. Today hardly anyone bothers to deny that we have intellectuals, because the species is almost extinct. Perhaps a trace of the denial survives in the anti-Europeanism of many commentators.

Collini has little trouble in showing that the “denial” thesis is based…

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