Haldane: The Forgotten Statesman Who Shaped Modern Britain by John Campbell - review by Jane Ridley

Jane Ridley

He Loved Germany Too Much

Haldane: The Forgotten Statesman Who Shaped Modern Britain


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Few people have heard of R B Haldane today. If he is known at all, it is as an obese Edwardian politician who was sacked from the Cabinet for being pro-German in the First World War. John Campbell is faced with the problem of making a case for remembering him. He argues persuasively that Haldane stood for a type of statesmanship that should give ‘a message of hope for all who despair in our present political climate’.

The first part of the book takes ‘deep dives’ into the personal foundations of that statesmanship. Campbell’s account of Haldane’s family background is masterly. Haldane came from an old aristocratic Scottish family with a strong tradition of public service, especially in the law. Educated in Edinburgh, he was sent to the University of Göttingen aged seventeen, and this was the start of a lifelong immersion in German idealist philosophy. But he didn’t pursue a career as an academic. He went to London and instead became a barrister. A QC at thirty-three, he earned a fortune.

One thing that emerges strongly here is Haldane’s dedication – one might say addiction – to work. He worked eleven- or twelve-hour days throughout his life, and thought nothing of reading until four in the morning. He played no sports but he loved dogs and he enjoyed plodding around his

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