I have no manifestos to propound and I don’t think I have ever drafted a document under that name, although I have drafted equivalent texts. However, I’ve been reading documents called manifestos for the best part of a century and I suppose this gives me some credibility as a commentator on a manifesto marathon. I started my intellectual life at school in Berlin at the age of fifteen with one manifesto – Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto. I have a press-photograph of me in my eighties reading the Italian daily newspaper Il Manifesto, which is, I think, the last European paper to describe itself as communist. Because my parents were married in the Zurich of the First World War among Lenin and the Dadaists of the Cabaret Voltaire, I would like to think that a Dadaist Manifesto issued a loud fart at the moment of my conception, but unfortunately the first Dadaist Manifesto was recited three months before this could have happened. Actually, systematic manifesto-readers are a twentieth-century species. There had been plenty of such collective statements, mainly religious and political, in earlier centuries, but they went under different labels: petitions, charters, appeals and so on. There were the great declarations – the Declaration of Independence of the USA, the Declaration of the Rights of Man – but typically they are statements of very official governments and organisations, like the Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Most manifestos belong to the last century. How will manifestos survive the twenty-first century? Political parties and movements are not what they were in the last century and they were, after all, one of the two great producers of manifestos. The arts were the other. Again, with the rise of the business society and MBA jargon, they have been largely replaced by that appalling invention, the ‘mission statement’. None of the mission statements I have come across says anything worth saying, unless you are a fan of badly written platitudes. You can’t walk more than a few yards through the undergrowth of print without stubbing your toe on some example, almost universally vapid in sentiment, telling you the equivalent of ‘Have a nice day’ and ‘Your call is important to us’.
Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century, by Eric Hobsbawm.