Trendy lefties give moral relativism a bad name

Reviewing the TV show Homeland for The Sunday Times, AA Gill writes, ‘It’s fun and entertaining, but it would also have been warmly appreciated by McCarthy and Beria and Goebbels.’

Mr Gill’s own work, especially his restaurant reviews, also tends to be fun and entertaining, if slightly overcooked. But the second half of the quoted sentence is half-baked. It would not even be worth writing about if mentioning McCarthy among history’s greatest villains were not regarded as de rigueur by the intellectually challenged smart set both here and in the United States.

Beria and Goebbels were servants to the most evil regimes in history. Goebbels was a loudmouth shill for Nazism, which was responsible for murdering about 10 million non-combatants, most of them Jews. Beria led the Soviet secret police, which was responsible for murdering about 60 million Soviet citizens, many of them on Beria’s watch.

Among his other achievements, Beria signed the order to execute 20,000 Polish POWs after the Nazis and their Soviet allies attacked Poland and ignited the Second World War. Both Goebbels and Beria sometimes killed people personally. Goebbels did so when the Nazis were still fighting for power; Beria just for fun when he already ran the NKVD.

Does McCarthy belong in this company? Gill evidently thinks so. As an accomplished stylist he would not have grouped his three bogeymen together unless he thought they all shared some common evil traits. This idea is not just misguided. It is historically ignorant and morally repugnant.

Senator Joseph ‘Tailgunner Joe’ McCarthy became famous in 1950 when he made a speech claiming that the US government, press and entertainment industry were infiltrated by Soviet spies. This speech, followed by many such orations, made him famous with some, notorious with others.

As an immediate result, he became then and remains to this day the incarnation of evil in the eyes of assorted lefties, including those who did not see anything much wrong with Beria’s crimes at the time he was committing them. Lost in their variously hysterical screams is one minor fact: though McCarthy may have been a rather unsavoury individual, he was right – both in his general assertion and in almost all of his specific accusations.

It is true, however, that some of those accusations were based on scant evidence that did not satisfy the legal requirement of being beyond the shadow of a doubt. But then McCarthy, along with the House Committee on Anti-American Activities, was neither judge nor jury. He led a legally instituted board of enquiry that was within its right to interrogate US citizens suspected of subversion.

The usual question was ‘Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?’ If the answer was yes, there were repercussions for the man’s career, severe ones if he still was a communist. If the ‘no’ answer was true, usually there were no consequences, though some overzealous employers still sacked people simply because they had been suspected of treason. For example, Robert Oppenheimer lost his security clearance, and his job on the nuclear project, on the mere suspicion of being a security risk. Yet subsequently uncovered facts have turned the suspicion into a certainty.

If the ‘no’ answer given under oath was a lie, law enforcement got into the act and the liar would be indicted for perjury. No one was shot, tortured or sent off to a concentration camp, though some of those questioned by McCarthy were in due course convicted of espionage.

The underlying assumption was that membership in, or warm sympathy for, the Communist Party ipso facto constituted subversion, and it was this assumption for which lefties still hate McCarthy. If at the time they screamed that good people were being unjustly accused of being communists, eventually they changed their tune. They now claim that there was nothing wrong with being a communist – it was merely an innocent indiscretion that had nothing to do with subversion. In other words, McCarthy unjustly accused good communists of being communists.

The novelist Mary McCarthy famously said about Lillian Hellman, one of the accused, that every word she ever wrote, including ‘and’ and ‘but’, was a lie. The same applies to the claims still made by Hellman’s spiritual descendents. The Communist Party, USA, was disloyal to America and staunchly loyal to the USSR, its inspiration and paymaster. Many of its members were fulltime spies; all were agents of influence.

The entire party hierarchy were in Beria’s employ, and had been Cheka (or Comintern – a distinction without a difference) agents long before Beria left his native Georgia. For example, Earl Browder, one of the party’s founders, went by the Cheka codename Kormchiy (Helmsman), and his subversive activities were recently brought to light by the publication of The Mitrokhin Archives. (As an aside, Browder’s grandson ingratiated himself to the post-perestroika KGB government and was allowed to fish billions out of the troubled waters of Russian finance.)

Any country not bent on self-destruction had a duty to keep such people out of positions of influence, be that in government, press or show business. After all, American communists dedicated their lives to installing in America the same regime that made Beria possible in Russia. McCarthy certainly saw stopping this as his personal duty, and he has since been amply vindicated.

His speech was made three years before the atomic espionage ring was blown, and the Rosenbergs got the chair. The geopolitical damage of their activities was incalculable, for Stalin got the bomb several years earlier than he would have done otherwise.

Among other things, that enabled the Soviets to protect the budding regime of Mao’s butchers in China. It was by paralysing the will to resist the communist takeover of China that American communists did perhaps the greatest damage to the world. The subversive propaganda activities of Owen Lattimore (later Castro’s and Allende’s friend) and his Institute of Pacific Relations, one of many Soviet front organisations, have since been proven, but it was McCarthy who first made them public.

Joseph McCarthy was a crude and simple man who saw the world in largely binary terms. Some of his methods were ill-advised, and he relied too much on sensationalism and headline-making clamour. One suspects he would not have made an A-list guest at a Hampstead party. In any case, his drink was not Bollinger but a slug of bourbon. Too many slugs actually, which eventually killed him.

Not a nice chap any way you look at him, and his excessive ardour probably did as much harm as good to the cause of anti-communism. But the cause was just, and, though rather disagreeable, McCarthy certainly was not evil.

Mentioning him in the same breath as Beria and Goebbels betokens ignorance, moral relativism and general laziness of mind. AA Gill really ought to redirect his attention to fashionable eateries. He is good at that sort of thing.






Stephen Fry needs two chairs to contain his giant intellect

The Out4Marriage deserves our thanks. By asking chaps prominent in show business, politics or, in Boris Johnson’s case, politics as show business to speak out in favour of homomarriage, the organisation effectively applies an intelligence test. So far every one of their spokesmen has failed.

The latest such underachiever is Stephen Fry, whose reputation for awesome brainpower rests on his being good at quiz shows. Here he provided ample proof, if any was needed, that extensive knowledge of trivia should not be equated with intelligence.

I am not going to take issue with the essence of his argument. Doing so would draw accusation of bias, for I oppose homomarriage as resolutely as Mr Fry supports it. Such accusations are part and parcel of modern debating techniques, honed as they are by a society that insists that any argument is as good as any other.

Rhetoric is not taught any longer, and few people these days realise that it is an ad hominem fallacy to argue against one’s opponent and not the specific points he makes. In fact, once an idea crosses someone’s lips it stands on its own legs. It is not the man but the idea and the thinking behind it to which a sound logician can possibly take exception.

Such a person would also not hesitate to commend the quality of his opponent’s argument even if he disagrees with it. For example, I have been known to put forth any number of philosophical, theological, legal and empirical arguments in favour of the death penalty. Yet on occasion others have countered with arguments with which I disagree but whose validity I acknowledge.

Mr Fry’s arguments in favour of homomarriage do not fall into that category. Here is his main point:

‘At least 260 species of animal have been noted exhibiting homosexual behaviour but only one species of animal ever… has exhibited homophobic behaviour — and that’s the human being. So ask which is really natural.’

Surely a man of such widely acclaimed intellect must realise that the argument ‘animals do it too’ is inadequate. Animals do all sorts of things most of us find objectionable: they drink out of puddles, eat faeces, chase one another around the block, kill without hesitation, hump strangers’ legs or bite them off, eat their young and so forth. An appeal to the fauna is therefore not just hollow but unsound.

It is equally unsound to equate what is natural with what is good. The whole purpose of a civilisation is to prevent people from doing many things that come naturally. Many of us, for example, refrain from gratuitous violence even if it comes naturally. We just know it is wrong.

Then again, what is natural about homosexuality? Even if we accept the number Mr Fry cites, and he is the trivia maven, 260 species constitute an infinitesimal minority, considering that the earth is inhabited by about 10 million species, give or take a couple of million. The most extensive research among humans in Britain has put the proportion of homosexuals at about one percent, a bigger chunk than among animals but not big enough to merit the claim of naturalness.

On purely mathematical evidence homosexuality is not natural, and even if it were this would not ipso facto make it morally acceptable. This points at another hole in Mr Fry’s intellectual trousers: man is qualitatively different from other species in that he is the only animal endowed with the capacity for moral choice.

Over the five millennia of recorded history man’s moral choice excluded homosexuality as a valid option. Mr Fry disagrees with this choice and he may be right or wrong, but one way or the other this is irrelevant to my argument that his appeal to the amoral animal kingdom is spurious and ill-considered.

Contextually he equates opposition to homomarriage with homophobia, which is another glaring flaw. ‘Homophobia’ means fear and hatred of homosexuals, yet even many people who are themselves not the marrying kind, such as Brian Sewell, are opposed to homomarriage. Fry’s argument is thus no argument at all – it’s an ad hominem attack worthy of a half-crazed propagandist screaming off a soapbox but not befitting a man of even average intelligence.

It is possible, and I am speaking from personal experience, to have nothing against homosexuals personally while regarding homosexuality as wrong and homomarriage as socially damaging. ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner’ is a founding principle of our civilisation, even though Mr Fry’s enviable erudition clearly does not extend to such trivia. Again, he may not regard homosexuality as a sin, but this does not redeem the intellectual paucity of his argument.

Then he explicitly put the blame for this imaginary phobia at the doorstep of religion, dislike of which indeed comes naturally to Fry and his ilk. The implicit argument is that only ‘the more extreme end [of Christians] screeching with outrage’ can possibly have anything against homomarriage. Yet I know many unbelievers, and so doubtless does he, who oppose this affront to our ancient institution on purely secular and empirical grounds. Surely Fry must have heard from all quarters numerous secular arguments contra. These may be right or wrong, but they are clearly not restricted to religious fanatics.

Out of the blue, Fry then stated that the Olympics and Paralympics Games proved that Britain is an open, generous and tolerant society which is diverse and ‘full of love’. Exactly how did those tasteless spectaculars prove that? What do sporting contests have to do with love? It is best not to ask, for fear of hearing another outpouring of drivel.

If an intellectual proposition can only ever be supported with rhetorically infantile arguments, there must be something basically wrong with the proposition. People are of course entitled to their opinions. But, until they have learned how to support them with sound thinking, they should not be entitled to an audience. 







Congratulations to the EU for a well-deserved accolade

Our beloved EU joins other worthy winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, such as:

Willi Brandt, for his tireless attempts to turn West Germany into a Soviet protectorate.

Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, for delivering South Vietnam to the communist North.

Desmond Tutu, for sharing his name with a skirt.

Mikhail Gorbachev, for murdering merely hundreds and not millions, as he could have done.

Yasser Arafat, for limiting himself to non-nuclear terrorism.

Kofi Annan, for leading an organisation that makes the world such a safe and peaceful place.

Al Gore, for lying about global warming and thereby preventing a global war or an unidentified something that would have been even worse.

Barack Obama, for being the best half-black US president in history and having an all-black wife who loves him to distraction at every Democratic Party conference.

Now the EU has been rewarded ‘for having over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe’. No progressive person could possibly argue with the general sentiment, though a pedant may take exception to the arithmetic. After all, the EU qua EU was only formed in 1992, which by my calculation makes it two rather than six decades ago. But what is a few years here or there among friends?

As to the rest of it, nothing could be fairer. We all know that it is only thanks to the EU that Belgium has so far been prevented from acting on its dastardly aggressive plans towards Norway. But for the EU, Denmark would have attacked Italy long ago. And it is only due to the EU’s vigilance that Luxembourg has not yet annexed Sweden, or indeed vice versa.

Nor can the EU’s wholehearted commitment to promoting democracy be questioned by anyone who gets out of the rut of facile thinking to ponder the very essence of democracy, not just its visible paraphernalia. For the EU not only welcomes its members to cast a free vote on every constitutional change but it actually protects the voters from making hasty and ill-considered decisions. Should a country undermine the very idea of democracy by casting a wrong vote, the EU can be relied upon to give the underachiever a second chance to get it right – a bit like our GCSE exams.

Thus preventing democracy from failing, the EU not only contributes to its advances but effectively corrects the congenital flaws of this system of government. Moreover, the EU selflessly transfers the same principle to its members’ internal politics. For no one can deny that unchecked democracy has been known to elevate to leadership manifestly undeserving people. The EU provides the necessary checks by replacing inadequately elected  leaders with its own appointees, thus preventing democracy from appearing compromised in the eyes of the world.

Nor is the EU’s commitment to human rights in any doubt. Realising that few countries in the world enjoy the same human rights as Western Europe, the EU has made it possible for their nationals to settle in any European country and in any numbers. In the process, the EU has corrected the potentially dangerous religious misbalance in its member countries by making sure most new arrivals espouse Islam and not Christianity. If this is not the cornerstone of a lasting peace, one hesitates to suggest what is.

It is only thanks to the EU that Germany has suppressed its innate urge to attack France every now and then. One can only fume at suggestions, irresponsibly put forth by some, that the real reason could have been the fact that, after her previous attempt to unite Europe, Germany was practically disarmed and had NATO troops stationed on her territory. Yet those same people praise German ingenuity in the same breath. How then can they fail to see that, but for the EU, the Germans would have found a way of using bayonets to defeat France’s nuclear arsenal.

Before the Soviet Union broke up into peaceful and democratic states, it was the EU that prevented it from conquering Europe. It is a fallacy to believe that the American nuclear umbrella had anything to do with this. In fact it is only thanks to the resolute stance adopted by the EU that the USA refrained from launching a first strike against the Soviet Union, thereby plunging the world into a nuclear winter (not to be confused with the Arab Spring).

Yes, one has to admit sorrowfully that there are still some nay-sayers who use words like ‘idiotic’ and ‘cretinous’ to describe the well-merited award. They point out –  spuriously! – that Spain is about to be torn asunder, the Greeks wear Nazi uniforms to irritate Frau Merkel, the usual quota of cars are being burned around Paris by people newly endowed with human rights, the North and South of Italy are a hair breadth away from jumping on each other’s throats, demonstrations all over Europe are getting more and more frequent and violent, troops of various EU members are fighting silly wars in the Middle East and trying to get into a few more.

Little do these misguided individuals realise that all such developments point at the violent nature of Europeans, with the possible exception of those who sit on the Nobel Committee. So much more must we praise the EU for having prevented for some two to six decades such homicidal tendencies from bursting out into another World War.

I, along with the entire progressive mankind, applaud the EU for its unique achievements. My only regret is that this peace-saving organisation has so far been denied the Nobel Prize for economics, which it deserves at least as much.



Dave hits ‘Britain on the rise’

The prospect of moronic, actively subversive Marxists winning the next election is being upgraded from possibility to likelihood. No wonder. After a century of concerted socialist propaganda, voting for that lot comes naturally to most Brits, and they only ever fail to do so when the Tories give them a compelling reason.

As a rule, the Tories manage to do this best after a few years of Labour rule and the devastation of the country that inevitably ensues. Yet this time around Labour did such a thorough job that it would take inspired statesmanship to put Humpty Dumpty together again. Such a reassembling job is clearly beyond Dave and his jolly friends, which means the Tories and, more lamentably, the country must brace themselves for a 2015 Millibandit raid.

The prospect is so awful that the true-blue are in hysterical denial, desperately trying to convince themselves first and the country second that ‘Britain is on the rise’, as Dave put it at the Conference. Incidentally, both Dave and his deputy purport to be tennis players. They cannot be very good for otherwise they would know that the phrase ‘on the rise’ refers to hitting the ball early and hard. Presumably that is not what Dave meant, so the choice of phrase is unfortunate.

One wishes this were the only thing wrong with his mealy-mouthed, cloyingly sentimental speech, in which bad rhetoric happily coexisted with vacuous content. Nevertheless the self-hypnotised Tories, and hacks who live in their pocket, hailed the speech as a brilliant piece of oratory putting Demosthenes and Cicero to shame. Few have stopped to ponder what it was that was actually said. Had they done so, they would have had to come to an unpalatable conclusion: next to nothing.

Not just the speech but also what accompanied it provided an audiovisual demonstration of what is wrong with our politics. I am referring to the inescapable show of our leaders indulging in public foreplay with their wives before or after speaking. They have learned this stage technique from Americans who do bad taste the way they breathe. For the likes of Dave French-kissing his wife on the conference platform makes one’s stomach turn, even if no tongues came into play. Perhaps next time, if there is a next time, he ought to pull Samantha’s knickers down and really show the world how much they are still in love after all these years.

Such phoney displays spring from the assumption that the public will equate a politician’s virile affection for his spouse with his ability to govern. Even supposing against available evidence that this is the case, rather than catering to such feeblemindedness our leaders should seek to discourage it – going against the latest focus-group research if necessary.

Dave’s tear-jerking references to his father who was born with deformed legs and his retarded son who tragically died in infancy fall into the same category. Rather than campaigning for sensible support Dave is angling for the sympathy vote. Again the assumption seems to be that lachrymose voters will be so moved by tragedies in Dave’s family that they will overlook the tragedies in their own lives, many of which are a direct result of our governors past and present.

The ornamentation out of the way, do let us consider whether what Dave actually said justified the triumphant paroxysms his speech produced. On the subject of the economy his boast was ‘Yes, it’s worse than we thought; yes, it’s taking longer – but we are making progress.’ So much of it in fact that the IMF is predicting a 0.4-percent contraction of the British economy. And if it has taken this lot two years to realise how bad the economy is they are not fit to run a furniture warehouse, never mind a serious country.

Against this background Dave’s continuing commitment to increasing foreign aid can only generously be called ill-advised. Ever since Lord Bauer showed, facts in hand, that such aid is a way of ‘transferring money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries’ a horde of third-world despots amassing offshore billions have vindicated this brilliant verdict. Yet here is Dave, pulling on our heart strings: foreign aid makes ‘the difference between living and dying’. ‘How can anyone tell me that’s a waste of money?’ he asks rhetorically. Easily, Dave. Just read your Lord Bauer.

Britain, continued Dave, is the best country in the world, as demonstrated by the Olympics and especially Paralympics in which his late son Ivan would have been qualified to compete had he not tragically died so young. The words ‘manipulative drivel’ spring to mind, but only after one has wiped off the tears streaming down one’s face.

Europe? No more beating about the bush, not with our Dave. He declared resolutely and unequivocally that under the right circumstances he might consider a referendum at some unspecified time, provided it is not of the in-or-out sort. It should be more along the lines of how much we like/dislike EU diktats, and thank you very much, Mr Voter, for letting us know. We now know you are not in love with Barroso and we shall jolly well tell him so.

The whole spectacle was clearly designed to show that Dave feels our pain, while his party can do caring and compassion with the worst of them. Never mind a statesman’s mind and courage – all we need to know is that Dave bleeds like us and his blood is not at all blue. What better reason to vote him in?

If he seriously thinks this sort of thing can swing the 2015 vote, either he is stupid or he thinks the voters are. He may be right – it is conceivable that we do not deserve anything better. If so, we are likely to get something even worse.





James MacMillan’s music makes one think, and not just about music

Stravinsky once said that music expresses nothing but music. As far as aphorisms go, this is no worse than most and better than some. Yet it raises all manner of questions.

Surely a composer must also express his epoch, if only tangentially? Otherwise why do composers, different as they may be individually, usually all write in a similar style at roughly the same time? Where does vocal music fit in, and how much does it depend on the words?

Once we have wrestled with these, we are compelled to delve into the next, deeper stratum where we are confounded with more difficult questions, such as: What makes one composer greater than another? How does music relate to other arts and, more generally, our civilisation?

In every piece he writes, James MacMillan asks all these questions, wittingly or unwittingly, and answers most of them the way no one else does today. Recently I attended the London premiere of Since It Was the Day of Preparation…, MacMillan’s sequel to his 2007 St John Passion, and afterwards, once I caught my breath, I recalled what Schumann said when he first heard Chopin’s music: ‘Hats off, gentlemen, a genius!’

The music, scored for five instruments and five voices, is utterly modern, but the words are anything but, coming as they do either from the Latin of the Vulgate or from the English of the Revised Standard Version. One would think that the form would be at odds with the content, but in fact the two go into each other without remainder: the same grandeur, the same noble, poignant emotion, all achieved with the same laconic means.

Having first relied on Schumann, I have taken a fortnight to find my own words, drag the appropriate ones out of their chaotic whirlwind and arrange them in more or less the right sequence. The most immediate thoughts had to deal with modern art.

Many persons of an aesthetically conservative disposition will decry modern art because they are incapable of separating it from modern artists. As they realise that the latter are mostly charlatans, they think the former is mostly subversive.

This is a forgivable misapprehension, but a misapprehension nonetheless. Since my present medium does not allow musical examples, perhaps I could illustrate the point by a sample of another art, a sublime poem by E.E. Cummings:

anyone lived in a pretty how town

(with up so floating many bells down)

spring summer autumn winter

he sang his didn’t, he danced his did

women and men (both little and small)

cared for anyone not at all

they sowed their isn’t they reaped their same

sun moon stars rain

children guessed (but only a few

and down they forgot as up they grew

autumn winter spring summer)

that none loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf

she laughed his joy she cried his grief

bird by snow and stir by still

anyone’s any was all for her

someones married their everyones

laughed their cryings and did their dance

(sleep wake hope and then) they

said their nerves they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon

(and only the snow can begin to explain

how children are apt to forget to remember

with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess

(and noone stooped to kiss his face)

busy folk buried them side by side

little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep

and more by more they dream their sleep

noone and anyone earth by april

wish by spirit and if by yes

women and men (both dong and ding)

summer autumn winter spring

reaped their sowing and went their came

sun moon stars rain

The orthography is eccentric, the words modern, but one has to have a tin ear and a neutered spirit not to hear the sound of eternity in every line. We begin to realise that, though the language of even great art changes from one epoch to the next, it never prevents a great artist from conveying orthodox truths, which is what makes him great.

For these orthodox truths are both true and orthodox precisely because they are timeless. Thus, though we are aware that the language of Shakespeare, never mind Chaucer, is archaic, the truth of Romeo and Juliet or The Canterbury Tales is no less true in our time than in any other. Eternal verities cannot superannuate by definition.

An artist will always reflect his time, along with his own personality largely formed by his time. However, if he reflects nothing but his own time and personality, he will never rise above mediocrity. Whether the artist’s work is religious or secular, such an ascent is impossible unless he is able to secure a foothold on the flinty slope of eternal truth reaching for heaven.

Just as a man can speak the truth in any language, an artist can express it in any idiom. Conversely, any language can lend itself to mouthing platitudinous nothings. Bach used counterpoint to convey undying prophecy going beyond his own time, possibly even beyond his own art or indeed his own personality. Yet his contemporaries, the Reinckens, Frobergers and Kerlls of this world, used the same idiom only to chain themselves to their time. As the chain could be neither broken nor slipped, they stayed mired in their own slot for ever.

If artists can do no other than speak in the contemporaneous language, why do we pour scorn on the chaps who plonk abominations like the Shard or Centre Pompidou into our great cities? After all, we can no more expect them to use the architectural language of Lincoln Cathedral than we can demand that Eliot or Cummings write in the English of Macbeth.

The answer is obvious: it is not the language those architects use that is objectionable but what they say in it. It is not that their work deviates from tradition, it is that it breaks away from it completely. Antoni Gaudí, to cite one example, showed that timeless architecture can come across in an idiom that the architect’s contemporaries find shocking. Yet as long as a great artist does not set out deliberately and solely to shock, as long as he merely modifies the means without trying to destroy the content, the shock waves will attenuate in time. The greatness will remain.

I do not wish to speculate on the exact place James MacMillan occupies in the pecking order of Scottish, British or world composers. Artists after all are not tennis players: they neither gain ranking points for wins nor drop them for losses. Suffice it to say that in his every work MacMillan manages to use a very modern, atonal idiom of his time to rise above his time, and also above Scotland, Britain or indeed the world. Only very great artists can do that, and I am convinced that MacMillan’s music will be heard on concert platforms long after Elgar’s or SaintSaëns’s has joined Ebler’s or Piccini’s in the footnotes of learned monographs.

MacMillan’s language is modern but not shockingly so. In the 61 years since Schoenberg died, our ears have grown accustomed to unusual harmonies and daring tonal systems. Alas, at the same time our souls have been anaesthetised to eternity, and our minds trained to deny its very existence. Therefore I doubt that MacMillan’s mass appeal will ever approach that of much lesser composers, such as Elgar.

But true music lovers will always marvel at the strands of modernity and eternity for which MacMillan’s work is the counterpoint. And I, for one, shall remain grateful for his musical answers to my extra-musical questions, including those I had not thought of asking.

‘Nice’ can become ‘amoral’ if we aren’t careful

It’s usually accepted by believer and unbeliever alike that our morality, and consequently etiquette, have something to with Jesus Christ. Not everything, perish the thought, not even a lot. But surely something. A teeny-weeny bit.

Now even those who don’t believe that Jesus was the second hypostasis of the Holy Trinity will still agree that he was a nice man. Why, he was even nice to his enemies: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.’ What can be nicer than that?

But then, as if to confuse us in eternity, he had to go and spoil it all by talking to his enemies in a way that can’t possibly be described as nice: ‘Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness.’ Suddenly we realise that Jesus was rude, crude and socially unacceptable. Some may even feel he was inconsistent and contradictory, which must mean he was no God.

This is no place to indulge in homespun theology, but surely what this juxtaposition shows is that Jesus simply didn’t equate loving his enemies with being nice to them. He of course knew firsthand that the earthly realm wasn’t the only one, and this knowledge comes across in the two quotes.

Loving our enemies means praying for their salvation in the heavenly realm. That doesn’t mean we can’t tell them what we think of them here on earth or, should this become necessary, kill them. St Augustine of Hippo and St Thomas Aquinas, reasonably competent interpreters of Christianity, both postulated just war. And St Bernard of Clairvaux, not generally known for rejecting Christ’s dicta, actually preached the Second Crusade.

All this is by way of preamble to our preoccupation with niceness. Being nice, or civilised as the common misnomer goes, is seen as the essential social characteristic. Never mind being ‘civilised’ when disagreeing with someone – we’re even mandated by law to be nice to burglars.

A chap may express views that, if brought to fruition, would spell the destruction of everything we hold dear, including our lives. He may then devote his whole career to bringing those views to fruition. Yet, as long as he’s nice and urbane at a dinner party, these are no reasons for us not to be nice to him, or even have him as a friend.

Elevation of niceness to the highest virtue isn’t an exclusively English trait, but it’s particularly noticeable in England and places culturally derivative from her. This hasn’t always been the case. In a relatively recent past, say three or four centuries ago, the English were prepared to die, and therefore to kill, for their convictions. One’s faith and politics were considered a matter of life and death – or even something more important than that.

Now they are more like a quaint hobby, something one does in one’s spare time when not involved in really important things, like work, DIY or shopping. Why should we be rude to someone whose hobby is different from ours? Mine is DIY, yours is football, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be nice to each other. Forget dying or killing for our convictions. We won’t even be rude.

Somewhere along the way we’ve lost the knowledge that religious or political beliefs may be true or false. The choice between the two is fundamentally moral, and regarding either as an amusing quirk is definitely immoral and possibly amoral.

That brings me back to my theme of the week: eulogies of Eric Hobsbawm. These are perfect illustrations to my theme of today, and I especially wish to focus on comments coming from those who are widely considered to represent the conservative antithesis to Hobsbawm’s Stalinist thesis.

Thus Niall Ferguson: ‘At a time when much smaller ideological differences are regularly the occasion for vituperative ad hominem attacks, Hobsbawm should serve as an example of how civilised people can differ about big questions while agreeing about much else.’

Allow me to launch one of those ‘vituperative ad hominem attacks’ Ferguson decries: his statement is both amoral and stupid. The difference between condoning the massacre of millions and castigating it isn’t merely ideological. It’s moral. Essentially, Hobsbawm devoted his life to advancing the cause of destroying not just millions of people but also our whole civilisation – all in a perfectly civilised way, of course.

This means he proceeded from a set of assumptions that are alien, indeed hostile, not just to Western politics but to everything the West represents. A decent man couldn’t possibly agree with the likes of Hobsbawm on anything of importance. An intelligent man would see the link between his politics and things like aesthetics, philosophy, general view of the world. A moral man would be disgusted by Hobsbawm’s monstrosity. Yet all that matters to Ferguson is that he was nice.

Another supposed conservative Damian Thomson adds his penny’s worth: ‘I’m not suggesting that Hobsbawm’s support for Marxist terror (he once said that the deaths of millions would have been justified if Communism had succeeded) was morally equivalent to the alleged rape of teenage groupies. Hobsbawm was an important scholar, and apparently a charming man.’

I hope I’ve got this right. Contextually, advocating the slaughter of millions isn’t as bad as raping one groupie, if only allegedly. The latter is irredeemable, the former is largely offset by the monster’s being ‘apparently a charming man’. Never mind the monstrosity, feel the niceness. Here we have political correctness meeting a lack of both intellect and moral fibre. If these are conservatives speaking, give me lefties any day. On second thoughts, keep them.

The only way a decent man can talk to a communist is with a gun in his hand – or not at all. Being nice to him isn’t civilised. It’s spineless, amoral and craven. Even worse, it’s stupid.



Whoever wins TV debates, we lose

Mitt Romney’s resounding triumph in the first televised debate with President Obama reportedly has got his campaign back on track. More to the point, it showed yet again the faults of unchecked democracy run riot.

The assumption behind such TV jousts seems to be that they enable people to make up their minds. And the assumption behind the assumption is that the better debater would make a better statesman.

One can infer that the 67 million Americans who watched the debate would consider voting for a candidate simply because he is blessed with quickness on the uptake, acting ability, a gift of the gab, photogenic appearance, good dental work and a knack for talking much and saying little. Yet not only are such qualities not essential to statesmanship but they are nearer to being antithetical.

Debates fail by a long margin to answer two fundamental questions: 1) What will this man do if elected? and 2) Does he have the strength of mind and character to do it? The only matter settled by such a debate is who that day looked better on camera.

Imagine for the sake of argument St Thomas Aquinas and Christopher Hitchens having a televised debate on the existence of a Trinitarian God, with 67 million people voting on the winner.

Hitchens’s gift of the gab was legendary. In his heyday he was handsome, dapper, witty and insouciantly flippant. Moreover, he was a veteran of many such spectaculars, invariably acquitting himself with glory. By contrast, St Thomas’s introspection and taciturnity earned him the pejorative nickname of ‘dumb ox’ at Paris University. He wasn’t outgoing, elegant or particularly handsome, and neither did he ever display much wit or lightness of touch.

My guess is that in such a debate Christopher would wipe the floor with Thomas. Swayed by his facile arguments and seduced by his clever asides, at least 80 percent of the viewing audience would be persuaded: there is no God. Yet, capitalising on the benefit of hindsight, we know that Aquinas was one of the deepest thinkers in history, while Hitchens was an intellectual pygmy.

Also, Aquinas not only had at his fingertips all the scholarship available on this issue, but he also multiplied it and raised it to an unmatched height. Hitchens, on the other hand, was blissfully ignorant and manifestly unqualified to enlarge on this subject, at least this side of fashionable bars in Hampstead or Manhattan.

Admittedly, which of the two candidates would make a better president is a simpler problem than my hypothetical one. Yet reductio ad absurdum is a time-honoured way of pointing out the inadequacy of one proposition and by inference upholding another: no serious issue can be settled by a televised debate. We’ll know who’s the better debater, not who’s the better statesman. The two aren’t the same.

Much more productive would be for each candidate to present, in writing, his proposed programme of action, complete with detailed, factual and specific explanation of the desirability of each point. If he so wishes, he may also point out the differences between his plans and his opponent’s. He should then give a solemn, preferably legally binding, pledge to keep each promise, stipulating the sole possible circumstances that may prevent him from doing so.

After the people have familiarised themselves with the programmes, each candidate would then make any number of speeches in whatever medium is appropriate and affordable, elucidating the more recondite points and reiterating orally the promises he has made in writing. Then the voters would decide.

The obvious objection to this proposal is that a generation that has made reality TV its crowning intellectual achievement would be unable to evaluate the fine points of either programme, or even possibly to read the documents containing them. Fair enough. This objection is perfectly valid, though not as a negation but as an assertion. For it’s a ringing argument in favour of limited franchise.

This is no implied denigration of government by consent. On the contrary, making sure that only those qualified to vote will do so elevates the notion of consent to intellectual plausibility. For only those qualified to vote can elect those qualified to govern.

A frivolous parallel, if I may. Lately we’ve had quite a few rape cases featuring a victim who was drunk at the time of the incident. The prosecutors argue, and the juries often agree, that, though the sex act appeared to be consensual, the woman wasn’t qualified to give consent because her inebriated mental faculties weren’t up to the task. To revert to political lingo, she wasn’t qualified to cast her vote in favour of having sex.

Why then should we assume that anyone, but anyone, is qualified to give consent on the policies that would better serve his country or on the man better able to carry them out? Surely the complexities involved trump the binary yes-no problem of a night on the town?

Meanwhile, our two jousters rode in on their steeds and broke lances over everything under the sun, not so much scratching the surface of each issue as stroking it. Romney strove to prove that he’s human after all – an act of implicitly begging forgiveness for being rich. He also tried to communicate that, though ostensibly a moderate conservative, he’s at heart a liberal softie. Obama wisely eschewed any serious attempts to defend his lousy record in office. Instead he sought to explain that, though ostensibly a socialist, he’s at heart a hardnosed realist.

Romney did the job better, but whoever wins such a contest it’s always the country that loses. One only wishes that we hadn’t learned from the Americans to stage such vulgar beauty pageants. We should develop our own vulgarities.






More thoughts on Hobsbawm, sycophants and sickos

When it comes to the likes of Hobsbawm, nil nisi bonum might as well mean ‘another one bites the dust.’ I wouldn’t have spent two words on the demise of this utterly objectionable man, never mind two articles, if it were his demise only.

Unfortunately, Hobsbawm is symptomatic of a deadly disease afflicting our civilisation in general and Britain in particular: endemic anaemia of mind, will and morality. This is still worth talking about, in the full knowledge that it can’t be talked away.

Newspapers are quoting various things Hobsbawm said at different times, and God knows he said lots of them. However, some of them seem to contradict one another.

For example one paper quotes Hobsbawm as saying that he ‘regarded the suburban petty bourgeoisie with contempt’. That essentially means he despised most Brits he’d ever met, for one doubts he numbered many miners and mechanics among his acquaintances.

Another commentator points out elsewhere that Hobsbawm understood ‘that culture is what shapes the world… [and] that culture is totally democratic and comes from people. [People like Hobsbawm] discovered and popularised the value of popular culture – something so integral to our lives today it seems bizarre it was ever denigrated.’

We also denigrate AIDS, graffiti, puke on the pavement and many other things ‘integral to our lives today’, which doesn’t make them praiseworthy. Of course expecting sound logic from this lot is like expecting celibacy from a prostitute, so nothing new there.

Then Niall Ferguson talks about Hobsbawm’s ‘empathy with the little man’, which seems to tally with the previous panegyric. Until, that is, one recalls that all his life Hobsbawm shilled for regimes that had murdered more than 100 million just such little men.

Ferguson also mentions that he and Hobsbawm both ‘loved modern jazz’. This validates Hobsbawm’s devotion to popular culture, a word combination that can take pride of place among the more egregious oxymorons. Show me a sincere lover of popular culture in general and ‘modern jazz’ in particular, and I’ll show you someone whose hold on Western culture is tenuous at best, but then one expects nothing else from our pop historians.

Anyway, how do we reconcile the different facets of Hobsbawm’s personality, as emerging from these quotes? First, we find out that he despised the common man, which is to be expected from a lifelong communist, and a Hampstead communist to boot. Communists don’t feel empathy with little men, they use them as building materials for their political edifice, and slaughter en masse those who can’t or won’t be used in that capacity. This political affiliation also precludes by definition any excessive affection for democracy, and Hobsbawm never did or said anything to contradict this factual observation.

But then we’re told that he extolled popular culture for being ‘democratic’ and hence popularised its value. Contradictions galore, one would think, but actually it all adds up neatly.

Hobsbawm devoted his life to destroying everything in the West that’s worth keeping. He was also cunning enough to realise that the spread of oxymoronic popular culture worked towards the same end. It was what his idol Lenin called ‘legalism’, which is undermining the West by using the West’s own institutions and breaking no Western laws. In relying on this stratagem Hobsbawm converges with the Frankfurters, who fell out of Marx’s buns (this punning allusion to the hotdog is to establish my own populist credentials).

This is akin to Woodrow Wilson’s campaigning for world government, while proclaiming the sanctity of national self-determination. There was no contradiction between the two: the first was the end, the second the means. Wilson knew that an American-dominated world empire would be impossible to achieve without first breaking up Europe’s traditional empires, the British one emphatically included.

That political democracy, in its modern variant, can act as an aggressive weapon has been amply demonstrated by the democratically elected Messrs Hitler, Perón, Mugabe, Putin, Ahmadinejad and Macîas Nguema (who gratefully murdered a third of the population of Equatorial Guinea that had voted him in). Today’s empire builders of the US neocon species (and their British hangers-on, such as Ferguson) have also inscribed democracy on their banners. Let the world perish so democracy may triumph, is the underlying animus one can infer.

Cultural democracy can be an even deadlier WMD, and Hobsbawm must have felt it in his sick viscera. Had he thought that his purpose would be better served by an advocacy of cannibalism, he would have written tetralogies on the march of man-eating progress through history. As it was, he was a democrat today, a communist tomorrow, an elitist the day after and a populist the day after that. Whatever works.

That’s why the widely asked question, whether he was a member of the Cambridge spy ring in the 30s, is ultimately moot. If he was, how differently would he have acted throughout his life? If he wasn’t, he might as well have been.

This makes me repeat the question I asked yesterday, but so far haven’t answered. How is it that the likes of Hobsbawm and his sycophantic admirers, have come to dominate popular media and, through those, public opinion? The question is too involved for a short piece to tackle, but one can be certain that the answer will have nothing to do with a clash between the left and the right, conservatives and liberals, socialists and capitalists – at least not as those terms are defined today.

What then is the common ground on which the Hobsbawms of this world meet the Fergusons? The answer has to lie in the wholesale rejection of Western tradition, as it has been formed over two millennia. It’s not money that shapes the world, as both Ferguson and Hobsbawm preach, but indeed culture, as Hobsbawm also believed with his usual consistency.

It’s just that when the West was called Christendom, culture, understood here in the broadest possible sense, moved the world in one direction, and today’s cultural simulacrum moves it in the opposite one, towards perdition. One suspects that God alone can reverse this lethal motion. The rest of us can only abhor accolades for its active agents. Such as Hobsbawm.











When all is said and done, Hitler wasn’t such a monster

To be sure, he made some mistakes, and we must learn from them. He’s also said to have killed six million Jews and a couple of million Gypsies, cripples, homosexuals, psychos. Even if this was the case, and the jury is still out, it was all in good cause: improving the lot of the German people and introducing real social justice. Doesn’t the end justify the means?

Let’s not ignore Hitler’s achievements either: social services, free medicine, guaranteed pensions, full employment, brand new infrastructure. Did you know that it was Hitler’s scientists who first established the link between smoking and lung cancer? Many lives have since been saved as a result, and we shouldn’t forget that. In short, the pluses must be weighed against the minuses if we wish to form a balanced view.

Now what would you think of someone who spent all his life preaching the message of the two opening paragraphs? Do you believe such a man could have a successful academic career in Britain? Be awarded a Companion of Honour by the Queen? Be feted as a great thinker and one of the greatest modern historians? Regularly appear on the BBC? Have a widespread influence on our public opinion? Die to the chorus of sycophantic accolades from intellectuals representing a broad spectrum of opinion and scholarship?

Even imagining such a possibility would be preposterous, and rightly so. In any civilised country, a man like that would live a solitary, miserable life somewhere in a bad part of town and vent his hateful views to empty walls in a dingy pub at a quiet time. And if by some miracle such a man, say David Irving, did gain access to a public forum and mouthed a tenth of the drivel along those lines, he’d be ostracised and locked up in jail – to loud cheers from all decent people.

Yet Eric Hobsbawm built exactly the kind of career I describe on offering fulsome justifications for a regime that outmurdered the Nazis about five to one, and also another one that did even better than that. Among them, the communists of Soviet, Chinese, Eastern European, Cambodian and other varieties slaughtered between 100 and 150 million people – and yet Hobsbawm, a lifelong member of the Communist Party, found millions of good words to say and write about that satanic creed.

Hobsbawm used to sit on the advisory board of one of my British publishers. The publisher asked once if I’d like to meet him, to which I replied that I’d refuse to shake the man’s hand. So much more surprising it is then to see our major papers running obituaries produced by people who’d be eager not only to shake that despicable creature’s hand but also to kiss the less visible part of his anatomy.

One expects nothing else from the Guardian-Observer-Independent-Times-BBC crowd. As their worldview is circumscribed by various offshoots of Marxism refracted through the work of multitudes of pseudo-philosophers, these chaps are no better than Hobsbawm. In some respects they’re even worse, for they lack the courage of their convictions. Whereas he proudly wore his cannibalistic views on his sleeve, they cower under the shroud of liberalism, progressivism and whatever else Polly Toynbee extrudes out of her intellectual bowels.

But even those who, one would think, ought to know better toe the same line. For example, Niall Ferguson, described in the Times as ‘a rightwing historian’ talks about Hobsbawm as if he was Thucydides, Tacitus and Gibbon rolled into one. Ferguson’s obit in the Guardian is titled ‘a historian’s historian’, which sets the tone for the whole article.

Letting my eye slide along, I stumble across such pearls of wisdom as ‘his politics did not prevent Hobsbawm from being a truly great historian’, ‘his extraordinary intellectual flexibility’, ‘his best work was characterised by a remarkable breadth and depth of knowledge, elegant analytical clarity, empathy with the little man and a love of the telling detail’, ‘his extraordinary erudition and quick wit’, ‘he saw how important it was to understand the broader forces of historical change’.

Any sensible person would know that Hobsbawm wasn’t ‘a truly great historian’. He wasn’t a historian at all – he was a propagandist. To that end he systematically and knowingly falsified history, as a card-carrying communist always will. Such Soviet monstrosities as the GULAG, unprovoked attack on Finland, complicity in starting the Second World War, general reliance on violence, propensity for genocide were all either downplayed or excused in his books. Others, such as the massacre of 20,000 Polish officers at Katyn and elsewhere were never mentioned by Hobsbawm, for all his ‘love of the telling detail’. His books contain not a single idea worthy of the name, nor one page of sound analysis, and his popularity says more about our society than about him.

Ferguson strikes a girlish pose by saying, ‘It may surprise readers of the Guardian to know that Eric Hobsbawm and I were friends.’ Not being a Guardian reader, I’m not at all surprised. Ferguson himself spares me the need to explain why: ‘He and I shared the belief that it was economic change, above all, that shaped the modern era.’

This belief, Marx’s toxic residue in the world, is false, and any attempt to justify it will be intellectually puny regardless of the beholder’s academic attainment. It’s also ignorant in the fundamental sense of the word, if we define knowledge as a result of learning, not its equivalent. That a communist and a self-professed anti-communist should converge at this point only reinforces my view that the difference between the two is merely that of the mathematical sign. Whether it’s a plus or a minus, they are both cut from the same cloth.

De mortuis nil nisi bonum, the Romans used to say, ‘speak no evil of the dead’. If followed, this adage would effectively mean never saying a word about Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Mao – and Eric Hobsbawm, who was born in the year of the bolshevik turnover and died a couple of days ago at the age of 95.



Journalist and politician: two in one just don’t go

It’s like the same man acting as both judge and defendant in the same trial. No matter how intelligently he goes about his task, his integrity won’t survive intact.

No one demonstrates the accuracy of this observation more persuasively than Boris Johnson. His writing has always been entertaining and reasonably clever, if a bit on the lightweight side. One could never expect being enlightened by his pieces, but one could always count on being amused. A good egg, in other words, if occasionally overcooked.

That changed when Johnson became a politician and especially when he began to harbour the ambition of one day leading his party. Evidently, combining high political office with lucrative moonlighting isn’t against his party’s regulations, though in some quarters the subject of conflicting interests might come up. But that apart, a staggering, if predictable, metamorphosis occurred: overnight Johnson’s pieces stopped being amusing and became frankly emetic.

None more so than his yesterday’s Telegraph article. It neatly encapsulates everything that’s wrong with our spivocratic politicians: cynicism, a distinct lack of either moral or intellectual integrity, willingness to bend the truth beyond breaking point, egoism.

The very title evinces much of this: ‘I’m sorry to say it, but my old school chum isn’t PM material’. Anyone who hasn’t been doing a Rip Van Winkle for the last few months has to be aware of the facts to which the title alludes so flirtatiously.

First, there’s a movement afoot at the Tory grassroots that Dave isn’t up to the job, and only Boris can save the party from being routed at the next election. Second, Boris and Dave both went to Eton, and then to the Bullingdon, a drinking club with a nice little university attached.

Hence the calculated effect of the title, geddit? Boris pretends to believe that any reader would pretend to think that the title refers to Dave, though the reader knows that this would be a sheer impossibility, and Boris knows that the reader knows but chooses to play this silly game nonetheless, both in the title and the whole first paragraph.

The villain of the piece is of course Ed Miliband, not Dave Cameron, he of the classic scholarship fame. Boris proceeds to regale his readers with a few truisms about Ed being a sorry excuse for a statesman, a pernicious leftie redistributor and generally a disaster waiting to happen. Fair enough. The difference between a truth and a truism is that the former needs stating and the latter doesn’t, but hey, it’s only a newspaper piece.

What follows, however, makes one want to fill the proverbial bucket. For Boris then launches into a stupid and disingenuous panegyric to Tony Blair, arguably the worst prime minister in British history, although Gordon and Dave may want to claim that distinction for themselves.

Boris talks, for example about ‘New Labour’s sensible accommodation with the wealth creators of this country’. Excuse me? Are we talking about the same New Labour that created the economic disaster we’re stuck with for at least the next generation? The government that raided the pension funds of ‘the wealth creators of this country’? Raised public spending to suicidal levels? Increased the overall tax burden? Printed more money than in the previous two centuries? Suffocated businesses with red tape, both domestic and especially European? Apparently we are. And it’s a Tory who does the talking.

Hold on, Boris isn’t finished yet. ‘You could vote for Blair and use private medicine,’ he goes on. ‘You could vote for Blair and send your children to fee-paying schools. You could vote for Blair and run a vast multinational corporation… ANYONE could vote for Blair.’

Under Blair, much of the NHS frontline staff were replaced with administrators, which was in line with the overall drive to shift employment into the public sector. If under John Major the country lost 800,000 public jobs, Blair created 500,000 new ones in just his first five years. The immediate effect on the NHS was that even many people who couldn’t really afford private medicine had to use it if they didn’t want to die (spoken from personal experience).

The same applies to fee-paying schools. The destruction of state education in this country, perpetrated by Blair’s parteigenossen and exacerbated during his tenure, made many middle-class people, already impoverished by Labour taxes, spend their last pennies on educating their children privately. The alternative to that was not to have them educated at all.

As to running a ‘vast multinational corporation’, that was indeed possible, but exceedingly difficult unless said corporation had intimate links to Tony and his cronies. In short, ‘anyone could vote for Blair’, provided he only had half a brain, and not the better half.

But, according to Boris, ‘voters aren’t fools’. If he really thinks that, he’d be well-advised to learn what Winston Churchill once said: ‘the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter’. But then Boris already knows it – he just won’t let on that he does.

He ends with a rousing chord: ‘David Cameron will be returned with a thumping majority in 2015’. On second thoughts, perhaps Boris does think we’re all fools.

Dave wasn’t able to win a clear, never mind ‘thumping’, majority in the midst of the worst economic catastrophe in Britain’s history, and standing against the party directly responsible for it. Only an imbecile would think he’ll be able to achieve this feat on the strength of his pathetic record. Even his coalition partners are ready to jump ship, even his close colleagues are plotting behind his back.

But Boris doesn’t believe what he says. Moreover, he’s clearly conducting a surreptitious campaign to replace Dave as party leader. And the campaign may yet succeed because the Tories know what Boris won’t admit for tactical reasons – Dave is a loser.

So of course is Ed Miliband, but the safe bet is that he won’t contest the next election – especially if Labour follow the course kindly charted for them by Boris. Revert to New Labour empty promises, pledge allegiance to the same vacuous policies and they just may get in.

The voters may not be stupid, but they’re certainly not blessed with a long memory. They may well forget the disastrous tenure of New Labour and vote in its successors. Particularly if the competition comes from the likes of Dave and Boris, Tony Blair groupies.