- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 28, 2001

Even in Britain, where political eccentricity is not unknown, Keith Joseph (1918-1994) stood out. Handsome, brilliant, plagued by physical ailments, given to long, brooding silences and debilitating bouts of self-criticism, possessed of a sense of humor so odd that not even his friends or constituents knew when he was joking, Joseph, from his entry into Parliament in 1956, went his own way as an idiosyncratic conservative. Where other MPs were content to skim the surface of an issue, Joseph couldn't get enough facts. During one debate, he complained that a government report had "not quite enough statistics to get one's teeth into," and he was not being sarcastic.
Joseph is generally acknowledged to have been the intellectual godfather of the economic ideas that brought the indomitable Margaret Thatcher to power. Keith Joseph by Andrew Denham and Mark Garnett (Acumen, $39.50, 458 pages, illus.) gives a detailed, blow-by-blow account of Joseph's long political career, and assesses his standing (fairly high, but not at the top) among his Thatcher-era contemporaries. He was not Mrs. Thatcher's "guru," according to the authors, but, rather, a trusted ideological ally who had put into intellectual terms the free-market principles that Mrs. Thatcher herself grasped intuitively.
In a 1976 speech, Joseph offered his view of politics: "Scorn not the vision; scorn not the idea … [a] gun is certainly powerful, but who controls the man with a gun? A man with an idea."
The words "vision" and "idea" have been so abused in politics, there is a tendency to tune out when we see or hear them. Every politician with a contrived slogan says he has a vision, and every candidate who has memorized three facts bellows that he has an idea. But in Joseph's case the words still had their original power to cause controversy. What is more, he meant what he said. Long before George W. Bush ever thought of "compassionate conservatism," Keith Joseph had reached the conclusion, in the authors' words, "that only private enterprise could create the wealth without which no amount of compassion could help those members of society who were unable to support themselves."
Today, such an idea sounds commonplace, or, at least, intellectually respectable, even in Tony Blair's Labor government. But when Joseph began his mission and that is the exact word to convince first his party and then the country of this elementary fact, his ideas were considered scandalous. He was often ignored and just as often ridiculed. But he had always been an outsider a Jew, an intellectual in politics (he was an All Souls Fellow), and a politician who at times said impolitic things - so he persisted in what he called "the battle of ideas."
When Mrs. Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, Joseph's monetarist policies were put into practice. For a time it looked as if everything he had preached had been disastrously wrong. Unemployment rose dramatically, Mrs. Thatcher's popularity plummeted, and her critics, with the odium theologicum that only the Left can generate, turned their fury on her and the new government. But Mrs. Thatcher, of course, gave and asked for no quarter. She did some political maneuvering, bought herself some time, took on the unions mano-a-mano, sneered at her critics (in and out of her party), and was victorious in the Falklands.
Eventually, things turned around. Sleepy Britain, rudely shaken awake by the Iron Lady from the spell of Leftist dogma, was given a chance to compete in the world. But it was a near thing, and a bit too late for Joseph. After undertaking two important ministerial jobs, he resigned, his illnesses and the strain of office wearing him out physically and mentally.
This is a well written, thoroughly researched, fair-minded book, but I would recommend it primarily to readers conversant with British politics in general and the years just before and during the Thatcher Era in particular. There is, inevitably, given the subject matter, chapter after chapter of detailed examination of once important but now forgotten battles between and within the Conservative and Labor parties, and I found some of it tedious.
Note: As I read this book, I thought of former Congressman Jack Kemp. Mr. Kemp, like Joseph, truly believes in the politics of ideas. As a member of the House of Representatives during the Jimmy Carter years, Mr. Kemp was, in the view of some observers, the most influential Republican in Congress. His idee fixe about the need for a return to the gold standard brought him criticism, but he kept on hammering away at the need for what later was labeled "supply-side economics." It should not be forgotten, as I fear it is, that for four years or so, in the late 1970s, many of the ideas that define the Republican party today were being preached in Congress only by Mr. Kemp and a handful of his disciples. In a limited sense, he was to Ronald Reagan what Joseph was to Mrs. Thatcher.

Who ever would have believed that a 900-year old German visionary/composer/polymath nunwould become a recording industry star in the 20th Century? Back in the late 1970s two major cultural trends feminism and the performance of early music on period instruments helped to focus attention on Hildegard of Bingen who, until then, had been revered for her piety and her vivid descriptions of the visions for which she was best known. Manuscripts of her music somehow survived the centuries, they were examined and analyzed, and recordings of her music won prestigious awards and sold well. In addition to being a revered holy woman, Hildegard became something her own time mercifully knew nothing of a celebrity.
In Hildegard of Bingen: The Woman of Her Age (Doubleday, $22,95, 332 pages, illus.), British writer and music critic Fiona Maddocks tells the story of this extraordinary woman, using background about life in the Middle Ages and a scholar's grasp of the history of music to illuminate the nun and her work. The author traces Hildegard's life from her birth in the Rhineland at the turn of the 12th Century, to her beginnings as a cloistered nun (at age eight), through a long life devoted to God, learning, writing, and musical composition.
Although we know specific information about Hildegard's life and times through her surviving writings, there is much we don't know, and the author fills in the gaps with speculation about how this or that event might have, must have or could have taken place. I usually do not like this kind of thing, but Fiona Maddocks manages to make it work with imaginative guesses balanced by scholarly caution. Did Hildegard suffer from migraine headaches, and if, so, were these the source of her visions? Did she write the musical compositions that have made her famous in our time, or did someone else? Where did she, a perpetual virgin, gather the "surprisingly functional and detailed" information about sexuality that marked her writings on the subject?
Even though Hildegard was never officially canonized, is she a saint? The author presents the evidence, sifts it carefully, and, from a feminist viewpoint, offers plausible and thought-provoking answers to these and other questions. This is a serious, solid, informative piece of work, and, as a bonus, the color illustrations are beautiful.

William F. Gavin is a writer living in McLean
, Va.

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