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[109] Lecture II. Science and Government: C. P. Snow and the Corridors of Power Let me begin by recapitulating. On May 7, 1959, Sir Charles Snow—​ C. P. Snow—delivered the Rede Lecture in Cambridge under the title The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Snow was a research chemist who had become a successful novelist, and who at the time of delivering the lecture was a civil servant with a career that spanned the Second World War in government scientific administration. In his celebrated lecture he set out to bring to public attention what he considered to be a fatal divide between the ethos, outlook, and practices of the sciences and those of the old humanities. That lecture ignited a debate about the relative importance for British culture of the arts and sciences, and permanently enshrined the phrase the two cultures in popular parlance. Snow’s text was rushed out for publication in the same year and has rarely been out of print since. It generated, and continues to generate, energetic, not to say agitated, debate. In the tradition of long-running disputes, neither side has been prepared to concede much ground, and practitioners in the two intellectual spheres remain myopically as far apart as they were fifty years ago. In spite of the amount of ink that has been spilled on the so-called arts-science culture wars, I want to suggest in this lecture, building upon what I presented in my last, that since almost immediately after it was delivered, Snow’s original lecture has been taken out of context, its real importance as a timely intervention misunderstood. Instead of drawing attention to a potentially fatal fissure within our intellectual and political world, as a matter of urgency, it has been annexed to a parochial squabble between taught arts and sciences, largely conducted within the humanities disciplines in Anglophone universities on both sides of the Atlantic. Properly contextualized, I shall argue, Snow was not interested in whether the plays of Shakespeare or the Second Law of Thermodynamics was the more appropriate starting point for an educational system preparatory for a full and rich understanding of contemporary Britain, its community and culture. Nor was the focus of his attention whether scientists who could explain that Second Law of Thermodynamics or the humanities-trained who could quote Shakespeare at will were to be preferred as pillars of a civilized society. His rallying cry—which will be mine also—was that in an advanced democracy, arts and science education had The Tanner Lectures on Human Values 110 to proceed in tandem, side by side and hand in hand, and that failure to do so was politically dangerous for all of us. Leaving aside the intricate influencing I traced in my last lecture, I suggest here that the lecture Snow gave in 1959 was the culmination rather than the beginning of a postwar debate about the role of science in British society. It was an argument that had begun in the final years of the Second World War, and had been enlarged on and developed in the course of the 1950s, in the context of discussion about the direction Britain should take in manufacturing and technology as the country came off a war footing. That debate eventually crystallized in Snow’s mind in 1960 into a series of lectures he delivered at Harvard (the Godkin Lectures), which were published in 1961 under the title Science and Government.1 In his Richmond Lecture, delivered at Downing College (from which he was shortly to retire), and published in the Spectator in March 1962, Leavis makes no reference to this second stage in Snow’s argument. There is no reason to believe he had even read Science and Government, since it did not raise the rather small-minded Oxbridge-academic themes introduced by the unsuspecting Snow in The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution and seized upon by Leavis in his Richmond Lecture reply.2 The Godkin Lectures were, however, I shall argue, strikingly better thought through and more compelling than the Rede Lecture and far clearer and more specific in their agenda, and in proposals for resolution of the issues raised. Snow’s argument was directly framed in the context of the critical years after the end of the Second World War and was meant as an urgent appeal to those who were shaping the policies and priorities of the postwar English-speaking world. Snow’s awareness of the importance of the question...


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