One of my favorite passages in Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time is this one:
He lay and thought about that England. The England over which the Wars of the Roses had been fought. A green, green England; with not a chimney-stack from Cumberland to Cornwall. An England still unhedged, with great forests alive with game, and wide marshes thick with wild-fowl. An England with the same small group of dwellings repeated every few miles in endless permutation: castle, church, and cottages; monastery, church, and cottages; manor, church, and cottages. The strips of cultivation round the cluster of dwellings, and beyond that the greenness. The unbroken greenness. The deep-rutted lanes that ran from group to group, mired to bog in the winter and white with dust in the summer; decorated with wild roses or red with hawthorn as the seasons came and went.
For thirty years, over this green uncrowded land, the Wars of the Roses had been fought. But it had been more of a blood feud than a war. A Montague and Capulet affair; of no great concern to the average Englishman. No one pushed in at your door to demand whether you were York or Lancaster and to haul you off to a concentration camp if your answer proved to be the wrong one for the occasion. It was a small concentrated war; almost a private party. They fought a battle in your lower meadow, and turned your kitchen into a dressing-station, and then moved off somewhere or other to fight a battle somewhere else, and a few weeks later you would hear what had happened at that battle, and you would have a family row about the result because your wife was probably Lancaster and you were perhaps York, and it was all rather like following rival football teams. No one persecuted you for being a Lancastrian or a Yorkist, any more than you would be persecuted for being an Arsenal fan or a Chelsea follower.
When Francis Fukuyama wrote The End of History, he was arguing that ideological struggle could end with the universalization of Western liberal democracy. Since then, debates about the book have understandably concentrated on this thesis, and whether liberal democracy is likely to become universal or is even ascendant in the regions in which it has heretofore prevailed. But a more fundamental question is perhaps whether, as jobs and churches and families shrink in size and importance in many people’s lives, we have diminishing reserves of life that are outside of History altogether; that fewer of us can be resolutely unconcerned, like the residents of the green, uncrowded (and no doubt imaginary) England in the passage above, with the great events going on around us, the to-and-fro of ideology and political power, and can pay attention most of all to what is outside and largely unaffected by them.
The greatest freedom is always the freedom not to care.