SIR: I am grateful for the review which my book Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England received from the Provost of Kings (Mr Bernard Williams) in the London Review of Books (LRB, 2 April), and in particular for his perceptiveness in knowing how pleased I would be at having it described as ‘clotted and ill-natured’, as bearing an equivocal relationship to its chief argument, as using Christianity as a vehicle of Sarcasm, and as having ‘dark associations’ with the ‘scepticism and distrust of all merely secular improvements which can be found’ amongst ‘the more unreconstructed sort of cardinal’ in the ‘unliberated heartland of the Church of Rome’. I hope I shall not seem ungrateful if I make two critical comments.
At various points in his review the Provost states that I am incapable of arguing my opinions. Given that I have a certain articulateness, it is, it seems to me, quite likely that I can argue them. Argument, however, is not what it seems to me suitable to do with opinions. What one does with opinions – all one needs to do with them, having found that one has them – is to enjoy them, display them, use them, develop them, in order to cajole, press, bully, soothe and sneer other people into sharing (or being affronted by) them. To argue them is, it seems to me, a very vulgar, debating-society sort of activity.
— Maurice Cowling, responding to Bernard Williams’s review of his book (1981). This, I think, offers a master class in how to respond to a negative review.