I have of course been brought up in a culture of ideas in this broad sense. Even the study of stories in English literature was preoccupied with ideas and structured knowledge – the story itself as an imaginative experience was a private matter rather than of interest to the teacher and examiner. History, which was my subject, was concerned first with structuring the story of the past into ideas and then with a developing critical analysis of the competing ideas upon which structures were built. At college, I became fascinated with the history of ideas. The Cartesian identification of thought and being, seemed so entrancing within the walls of the Radcliffe Camera. A world was offered in Oxford which was glamorous; more than that, it offered itself as the standard against which the rest of the world could be judged. The standard was the point at which the noblest and most sophisticated, the most beautiful ideas were fashioned, polished, worshipped. The civil service seemed like an outpost of this safe world, full of missionaries taking their ordering of reality into decision making.
At that time, the most attractive ideas were Marxist. The most brilliant thinkers seemed to be Marxist. This provided a kind of reassurance, I think as I look back, against the fear that this love of ideas was detached from reality, that it was a decoration around the bastion of privilege. It combined compassion for the poor and powerless with the glorious idea that history was determined not by ideas (intellect) but by economics (reality) and that the fundamental requirement was not study but ‘praxis’. This was a kind of justification of my father. He was as a minister of religion, a teacher of ideas and a pastoral figure, active in the care of the old and sick.