George Orwell famously wrote that with his work he was striving to make political writing into an art. Precious few political writers and commentators have managed to achieve this objective in the decades since Orwell's death more than half a century ago. One who undoubtedly has is Seumas Milne.
His latest book, The Revenge of History, consists of a compendium of his articles stretching over the past decade from 9/11. Together they comprise a tour de force of analysis, clarity, and writing that is a credit to the craft.
Covering the major domestic and international issues of what has undoubtedly been one the most politically and socially convulsive decades since the Second World War, Milne succeeds in achieving that rare thing - joining the dots between cause and effect, action and reaction, as he lays bare the venality, lies, arrogance, and racism that has lain at the root of the imperialist wars of aggression which have defined both domestic and international politics in our time.
Most crucially, he identifies neoliberalism and globalisation as the economic imperative behind this era of imperialist expansion around the globe, sweeping away the oft-repeated paens to democracy, freedom, and human rights on the part of those responsible in the process.
As early as two days after the awful events of 9/11, Milne was warning us of the consequences of Tony Blair's support for US foreign policy and how it "ratchets up the threat to our own cities [and will] only fuel anti-Western sentiment." It is as if he'd looked into a crystal ball and seen the carnage of 7/7 four years hence.
Such prescience is of course nothing to do with anything mystical or otherworldly. It is the result of a deep understanding of the world, based on an accurate rendering of historical events and the true nature of a political and economic elite for whom hegemony is the sine qua non of their existence.
Speaking of Tony Blair, Milne provides a much needed reminder of the egregious role the former Labour prime minister played in the events he explores, events that have devastated the lives of millions. Blair's role in undermining the very concept of international law, wherein 'might is right' became the deciding factor in the actions of the US and its various satraps around the globe, is held up as a timely j'accuse in riposte to a political establishment that has taken the first tentative steps towards rehabilitating him and those for whom the ongoing calls for Blair to be tried for war crimes no longer resonate.
What stands out most throughout the book is the cogency of Milne's analysis over such an extended period. It continually succeeds in cutting through the propaganda of the dominant narrative in article after article, lifting the fog of confusion designed to occlude the crimes being committed under the rubric of humanitarian intervention, the crimes responsible for the economic crisis that has enveloped the West, the hypocrisy of the West in its engagement with the Arab Spring, and so on.
In helping us make sense of a world seemingly in chaos as it lurches from one crisis to another, Seumas Milne has been one of the few beacons of sanity over the past decade. As he writes at the end of an introduction that is worth the purchase price alone, "nothing is ever settled."
The one percent take note.
(The Revenge of History, Verso, £20)Suggest a correction