Yet Steiner has made his peace with British anti-intellectualism. Part of him thinks “it’s absolutely deplorable that this country treats ideology and intellectual debate the way it does. But: we owe to this its ironies. It’s tolerance. Its decision not to take too seriously what in other countries have proved fatal challenges. It is my conviction that had the infinite rhetorical genius of Adolf Hitler been tested at Hyde Park Corner, people would have said, ‘Ah, come off it’, and walked away. And this is magnificent . . . Why is an Enoch Powell so totally ineffective, thank God, thank God? Maybe because he was the only man ever to hold a major chair of ancient Greek at age 25. That’s no good! That alerted unconsciously – I’m saying this lightly – that alerted the body politic . . .” He smiles and puts on a low English voice: “this chap was too clever by half . . .

Christopher Tayler talks to George Steiner