For better or worse, there is no American counterpart to Noel Annan: a professor turned academic administrator who moves back and forth between the campus and the world of public affairs; a historian of ideas with a real knack (on display in this country from time to time in The New York Review of Books) for intellectual journalism; an inveterate sitter on boards and committees and commissions; a member in good standing of fashionable society who knows all the gossip worth knowing, and much that isn’t, about everyone in virtually every field of endeavor. To get some sense of his position within British culture, one has to imagine a combination of McGeorge Bundy, Jacques Barzun, Father Theodore Hesburgh, and Truman Capote.

In short, Lord (of course: what else would he be but a life peer?) Annan is the quintessential Establishment figure, and the reason we cannot look upon his like in this country is that, for all...

 
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