Saturday 17 April 2021
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.theguardian - 2 month ago

Law in a Time of Crisis by Jonathan Sumption review – beyond the lockdown sceptic

The former judge and renowned historian loses his cool on Covid and the culture warsJonathan Sumption has always been more than just a lawyer. For many years he was the brilliant QC and then supreme court justice who somehow found time on the side to write a definitive, multivolume history of the hundred years war: a true Renaissance man. Over the past 12 months he has emerged as a very different sort of public figure: the take-no-prisoners lockdown sceptic. He gained recent tabloid notoriety by telling Deborah James, who has stage 4 bowel cancer, that her life was “less valuable” than that of others with longer life expectancy. Sumption claims that his words were taken out of context, though as a historian he must know that we don’t always get to choose the context in which our words are read. It is certainly a case study in how quickly one sort of reputation can morph into another.This collection of essays, based on speeches Sumption has given over more than a decade, tries to pull the different sides of his intellectual persona together. Though law is their unifying theme, he begins with reflections on history and ends with a blistering attack on the government’s draconian response to Covid-19. It is as a historian that he is at his most urbane and appealing. A believer in the power of history to broaden our minds and constrain our hubris – he says that the world would be in better shape today if Woodrow Wilson, US president 100 years ago, had been a historian rather than a political scientist – Sumption also manages to celebrate his status as a gentleman amateur among the professionals. How, his friends ask him, have you managed to write all those books while doing all that law? By not being an academic, is his answer. The professionals are far too busy being academics to have proper time to reflect. Continue reading...


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