Essays

Relief of the Council of Chalcedon

Reassessing Christian history

While Christianity may strive to sing in a single voice, no one modern denomination ought to claim a monopoly on the truth. The region’s history is in fact far more eclectic.

Fortifications in the style of the brilliant French military engineer Sebastian de Vauban (1633-1701) . Engraving c1890

On guard: the contemporary salience of military fortification

Fortresses, border walls and guard towers – today’s excessively guarded age is on a global scale far exceeding famous past efforts including that of Roman Emperor Hadrian and the Great Wall of China. Often unremarked on, these fascinating structures tell us a story of changing global power struggles and political might.

Steatite bowl with mythological scenes from the Khafalji tribe, possibly of Elamite origin. The figure could be the goddess Inanna.

Uruk and the origins of the sacred economy

Peering into the hearts and minds those living four thousand years ago is an impossible task. However, when it comes to the worship of the Mesopotamian goddess Inanna, it seems clear to be, quite literally, a labour of love and fear.

Czechoslovaks carry their national flag past a burning Soviet tank in Prague, 1968. The JIC failed to foresee Soviet retaliations to the mass protests.

The Joint Intelligence Committee: Reading the Russian mindset

During the Cold War, the British Joint Intelligence Committee was charged with forecasting the actions of states behind the Iron Curtain and the rest of the world. Its record was patchy – the Brits were repeatedly taken by surprise throughout the 20th century.

Graffiti of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in Saint Petersburg is painted over in April 2021. The inscription reads: "The hero of the new times".

The dissident’s dilemma

Dissent is not about the individual; it is about challenging an unjust system. Modern dissidents in authoritarian societies need not echo the West’s assumptions to be worthy of support.

Soviet propaganda at the Cold War museum in Plokstine, Lithuania.

Disinformation in the information age

The line between disinformation, propaganda and fake news is often blurred. This is especially the case when it is unclear whether these untruths or half truths are being disseminated by the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ guys.

A boy speaks on the phone underneath a 10-foot-high statue of former U.S President Bill Clinton on Bill Clinton Boulevard in 2019 in Pristina, Kosovo.

The Balkan Question

The future of the Balkans is being decided by a clash between the liberal idealists and conservative realists. Whichever worldview prevails will determine the region’s geopolitical future.

One of a series of three posters showing British industries served by LMS.

Head, hand and heart

A good society is one with a proper balance between the aptitudes of ‘head’, ‘hand’ and ‘heart’. The modern knowledge economy, however, has delivered higher and higher returns to the cognitive elite and reduced the relative pay and status of manual and caring jobs.

Caricature about the dispute over Africa between the English and French colonial powers. Colour engraving from the French magazine "L'Assiette au beurre", 1904. Paris.

Infernal allies

Over the past century, the Anglo-French relationship has at times been testy, even violent. But when the chips are down, Britain and France find a way of getting along.

Eruption of Vesuvius, by Pierre-Jacques Volaire (1729-1792).

When disaster strikes

Disasters result from vulnerabilities in our social fabric and a lack of preparedness for new threats. Those with the fewest options have the most to lose.

The K-3 Leninsky Komsomol, the first Soviet nuclear submarine, undergoes repairs before being transported to the Museum of Naval Glory in Kronshtadt via the White SeaBaltic Canal.

Ruling the waves

Sea power derives from resources, a direct interest in sea-based trade, and pressure exerted by enemies. In the modern age, the importance of these factors in international affairs remains paramount.

A billboard with an image of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is surrounded by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) flags as supporters gather to celebrate election results outside the BJP headquarters in Mumbai in 2019.

The fake history of civilisational states

So-called civilisational states, including Russia, China and India, invoke fake histories to justify and buttress their contemporary political settlements. But those who cannot let go of the past are always at risk of finding themselves imprisoned by it.

A member of staff removes a file from a depository at The National Archives, London.

The intelligent use of history – what is the past good for?

In times of global uncertainty and upheaval, many people look back to an imaginary golden age of simplicity and stability, or seek to blame a past individual or policy for current ills. Danger lies in both these coping strategies. We need to make intelligent use of history.

A protester attempts to cover the Hong Kong emblem with a British colonial flag after they broke into the government headquarters in Hong Kong in June 2019, the 22nd anniversary of the city's handover from Britain to China.

The flag wars are here to stay

Flags have become synonymous with nationhood, character, spirit, and power. In an age of renewed nationalism, their power should not be underestimated.

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