God save us from such priests

Stepping outside his immediate brief, Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier, the Catholic Archbishop of Durban, saw fit to share penetrating psychiatric insights with his BBC audience.

According to His Grace, paedophilia is an ‘illness, not a criminal condition’. People become paedophiles, he explained, because they themselves were abused as children. So when a pervert presses his attentions on a little tot, both are victims and neither is a wrongdoer.

The Archbishop then vouchsafed the information that he personally knows at least two priests who abuse children because they themselves were abused. (What does ‘at least two’ mean? Three? Thirty? Or does it just mean two?)

‘Now don’t tell me,’ thundered the prelate, ‘that those people are criminally responsible like somebody who chooses to do something like that. I don’t think you can really take the position and say that person deserves to be punished. He was himself damaged.’ In other words the criminal act hurts the priest as much as it hurts the child he’s brutalising.

Predictably, this spirited defence of perversion has drawn criticism from the usual liberal quarters, along the lines of ‘I myself was abused as a child by a priest, therefore there is no God.’ The critics are positively glowing: here’s another bullet to fire at Catholicism and, more generally, Christianity and, even more generally, faith.

This is a wrong line of attack. Recounting over and over again the suffering of an abused child is manipulative, touchy-feely sentimental and, even worse, superfluous. Any decent person will know anyway that statutory rape, which is the legal term for sex with a child, is a heinous crime. Nobody with a modicum of moral sense needs to have his heart’s strings tugged to know that the perpetrator ought to be locked up, with the key thrown away.

The Archbishop’s problem isn’t that he’s a bad lawyer. Nor is he ‘ignoring the child’, as one of his critics said. It’s that he’s ignoring the fundamental tenets of Christianity. In other words, Cardinal Napier is a bad and ignorant Christian, and it pains me to say this about one of the 115 men who’ve just elected the new pope.

At the heart of Christian morality lies the doctrine of free will, and it applies to crime as well. A man may be severely provoked to commit evil deeds, and the provocation may indeed come from an inner urge. But such an urge does not trump the ability to make a free choice between good and evil – it can’t turn a human being into an automaton whose buttons are pushed by an invisible and irresistible force.

If there is one scriptural phrase that sums up this divine property of man, it’s John 8: 32: ‘And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ Much of Christian moral philosophy flows out of this one sentence.

If we accept as a given that God loves us, that indeed God is love, then we must find it hard to explain how such love could have been expressed by turning us into puppets, or else pre-programmed robots. God’s is the absolute freedom, but if we are truly created in his image, ours has to be at least a relative one. Only God can be totally free, but that doesn’t mean man has to be totally enslaved.

All this comes from the theological primer, and you’d think that one of the world’s senior clergymen would have graduated to more sophisticated sources. Alas, the primer still seems to be very much needed.

His Grace ought to know the difference between a criminal urge and a criminal act. He may even be right that this particular urge is caused by the criminal having suffered similar abuse as a child. Personally, I’m not sure about this but, devoid of Cardinal Napier’s superior knowledge of psychiatry, I’m prepared to concede this point.

Similarly, a man whose parents beat him up as a child may, as an adult, feel the urge to punch strangers. This psychological quirk is understandable and may even be excusable. But it doesn’t absolve the chap of criminal culpability if he actually attacks people. It’s debatable whether or not people are responsible for their inclinations. It’s indisputable that they are responsible for their acts.

Cancer, diabetes, MS are diseases – one either gets them or not, and there’s little one can do about it. Even assuming that there’s nothing a paedophile can do about his desires – and this assumption is at best suspect in a man of God – he can still choose to control himself. If he chooses not to, he’s a criminal, not a patient.

Pope Francis has his work cut out for him if men like Cardinal Napier find themselves in positions of influence. The immensity of the task facing His Holiness will, one hopes, overshadow his concern for the ownership of a little rock whose name presumably means ‘lousy wine’ in his native language.












Ex-KGB, ex-communists and other exes


I have to admit to a weakness: a general distrust of certain groups of people en masse. This even though I believe that individuals ought to be judged as just that, individuals.

People, I’ve often written, retain the freedom of choice, and their behaviour can’t be explained mostly, and never merely, by their group identity.

This freedom is the most valuable of our possessions, and firm belief in it precludes determinism of any kind, be it national, cultural or biological. Corollary to this is the realisation that even after the choice has been made people remain free. They can in due course opt for a different or even opposite choice, renouncing their past.

This is in theory. In practice, certain choices may taint a person for life, springing as they do from horrendous character flaws. For example, a chap who in his youth made lampshades out of Treblinka inmates is beyond salvation, in this world at any rate.

This judgment may be too cruel, and I may be too vengeful a man. Be that as it may, I simply wouldn’t be able to shake the lampshade-maker’s hand even if in the intervening 70 years he has become an upstanding pillar of society, a multiple and doting great-grandfather and a lifelong member of his church’s PCC.

Now what about those who had told him that turning people into household items was both desirable and commendable? Those who had systematically and deliberately corrupted his mind and soul, dredging evil longings out of the far recesses of his personality and encouraging him to indulge them? I’m afraid my answer would be the same, even if they eventually got to profess enthusiasm for free markets, democracy and lampshades made of less exotic fabrics.

It’s a reasonable bet that most people will agree with me on that. It’s even a safer bet that, if I replaced ex-Nazi with ex-Communist functionaries in my hypothetical example, my support would shrink even among those who know that the Communists out-murdered the Nazis six to one in Russia alone.

This is most unfortunate. True, many Eastern Europeans joined the Party or its offshoots simply to get a better job, and this was as far as it went. Other than the actual act of joining they never did anything reprehensible, and their guilt is only that by association. They can’t become ex-Communists in any meaningful sense because they never were real communists in the first place.

Yet there are those who actively pursued careers within the party or its muscular extension, the secret police. Here we’re talking about a totally different human type, especially in my generation or the next one.

If before the war a Russian asked to cooperate with the secret police had a choice only between accepting or dying, after Stalin’s death it was possible to say no without suffering any repercussions, certainly not fatal ones. Hence actively seeking a career in the Party or the KGB betokened an irredeemably amoral and corrupt individual, scum of the earth.

That’s why I’d describe someone like Vladimir Putin in those terms even if I didn’t know that he’s running a fascist state in which KGB officers like him have fused with the criminal underworld to form the ruling elite. I’d regard him as evil even if I didn’t know that he represents a clear and present danger to everything I hold dear.

Mind you, Putin isn’t trying very hard to get in my good books. Not only has he not renounced his KGB career, but he’s proud of it. ‘There’s no such thing as ex-KGB,’ he once said. ‘This is for life.’ In his speeches, especially those designed for internal consumption, he screams zoological hatred for the West and everything it stands for, which is a trademark of his sponsoring outfit and the party that had spawned it.

Angela Merkel is a different matter. She is regarded by most people, even those who don’t care much about either Germany or the EU, as a mainstream Western politician.

Those who care about such things know that she grew up in East Germany where she belonged to FDJ (Free German Youth), a communist organisation. By itself, they correctly assume, that’s no big deal: most Eastern European youngsters had to belong to such groups. Holding this against her would be like holding his Hitlerjugend past against the outgoing Pope.

However, Merkel wasn’t just any old member. Angie Kasner, as she then was, was a member of an FDJ district committee, and its secretary for Agitprop. That, ladies and gentlemen, brands her as someone rotten to the core. Later she claimed that she had only been secretary for culture and, when caught in that lie, complained about bad memory. Amnesia is more like it. In any case, either post was nomenklatura, and one didn’t get there without doing a Faustian deal.

Frau Merkel, no longer Kamerad Kasner, became an enthusiast for political pluralism only in 1989, when the Wall came down. Until then, and she was 35 at the time, she hadn’t had a blot on her Communist reputation, which means she had an indelible one on her character.

Nothing but hypertrophied opportunism? Possibly, and this trait stands her in good stead in democratic politics, as it has become in the West.

Fair enough, she wasn’t exactly a lampshade maker. But for many years she was morally indistinguishable from those who a decade before her birth would have provided inspiration for this handicraft.

Perhaps it’s time we adjusted the scale of our moral judgment, preferably upwards. This may improve our political judgment as well.

Her Majesty finds herself in a bind

The Queen has signed the new Commonwealth Charter, which states inter alia that ‘We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.’

So would Her Majesty approve of an heir to the throne marrying a Muslim, animist or, God forbid, Catholic? If not, she then opposes not all forms of discrimination but only some of them, implicitly including transgressing against ‘gender equality’ and ‘gay rights’.

Apparently this opposition isn’t as implicit as all that, for the Queen is said to have privately expressed support for such liberal radicalism. The Charter, however, has to relegate it to subtext, albeit a highly transparent one.

The reason for such taciturnity is obvious. In 41of 54 nations that make up the Commonwealth (née the British Empire), homosexual acts are illegal. Nor do they constitute a trivial offence incurring a derisory slap on the wrist. In Nigeria and Pakistan, for example, practitioners of ‘love that dare not speak its name’ can be executed; in Malaysia first flogged and then imprisoned for 20 years.

Are these countries going to change their laws once the Charter goes into effect? I doubt it. Will the 49 Commonwealth members that don’t recognise same-sex marriage join those five that do? Not on your nelly.

Thus the Queen, who may or may not have had her hand forced by her subversive ministers, will be signing a largely symbolic document. But what with her role being largely symbolic anyway, this symbolism is vitally important.

Our monarchy, along with the Church of England, is here primarily to link our generations past, present and future into a cohesive continuum. By signing this awful document, which veers further to the left than even the UN ever has, Her Majesty effectively breaks the continuum. This inadvertently promotes the cause of republicanism, terrifying those of us who have a reasonable grasp of, and affection for, the country’s constitutional history.

At the risk of buying a one-way ticket to the Tower, if not Tyburn Hill, one can detect seemingly incongruous socialist leanings on the part of many members of the Royal family. Demonstrably unqualified to do so, I wouldn’t venture a foray into psychoanalysis by suggesting, say, that this is animated by guilt feelings about the family’s own privileged status. Nor will I ascribe it to any cold-blooded calculation of personal interest – though inherently socialism does limit upward social mobility, thereby protecting aristocratic privilege.

I’ll merely observe that, during Mrs Thatcher’s tenure, Her Majesty could barely conceal how little time she had for her first minister, with her economic and social ideas. That such animosity was at all discernible is especially astounding in the light of the exemplary dignity and noble restraint with which the Queen has served the nation for 60-odd years.

Nor would some other members of the Royal family be automatically admitted into a real conservative party, if we had one.

Prince Charles, for example, once famously declared that, when ensconced on the throne, he’ll regard himself as Defender of Faith, not the Faith. A jack of all faiths, Supreme Governor of none, I’d suggest. Such even-handedness is clearly unconstitutional, what with the realm being constituted along explicitly Anglican Christian lines.

On 2 June, 1953, the Queen answered ‘All this I promise to do’ when asked by the Archbishop, ‘Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England?’

For Charles or any other prince to give a different answer, the constitution would have to be debauched, as our government already is debauched. As it stands, the law of the land doesn’t provide for the monarch’s commitment to any old faith. Such as, for example, pantheism, the echoes of which sounded in the Prince’s recent statement ‘nature is a great deal more powerful than we are.’

If you realise, as I do, that republicanism will destroy what’s left of this country, you’d be more comfortable with the word ‘God’ replacing ‘nature’ in the same sentence. Alas, our comfort doesn’t count for much.  






New Archbishop, same nonsense

It seems churlish to criticise our new Archbishop of Canterbury so early in his tenure. However, the initial signs aren’t good.

First, much to the delight of Dr Miranda ThrelfallHolmes writing for The Guardian, he appointed a woman, the Rev Jo Bailey Wells, Chaplain of Canterbury.

Dr Freefall says this is good news because the appointee is highly experienced and qualified. But this point is irrelevant to the argument. In fact, before the Church developed an irresistible urge to play lickspittle to every newfangled secular perversion, there would not have been an argument.

According to the ecclesiastical tradition established over two millennia, the Rev Jo isn’t fit for the job, or indeed to be a priest, not because there’s something wrong with her sterling intellect or administrative nous, but simply because she’s a woman.

One may take either side in this argument, but this is what the argument is. Of course, it’s silly to expect intellectual rigour from someone as fanatically ideological as Dr Freefall. But her conclusion seems to be accurate: ‘Justin Welby has already signalled his faith in women’s ministry.’ Indeed he has. Whether such faith comes at a cost to the more important one remains to be seen.

Now he has also ‘signalled his faith’ in joining, on the left side of the divide, purely secular debates. Specifically, the Archbishop came out against the government’s plans to cap rises in working-age benefits and some tax credits to 1% for three years.

Not to cut benefits, God forbid. Not even to cap all of them. Just to slow down, by an almost imperceptible amount, the growth of our ruinous welfare state. This, according to the Archbishop, is wrong, and shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper thinks he’s ‘absolutely right’ because the plans are ‘immoral’.

Having Mrs Ball (‘Ms Cooper’ to you) pontificate on morality is a bit like Chris Huhne acting as marriage counsellor. However, her support for any proposition whatsoever ipso facto proves it’s spurious, so she does have a useful role to play in politics.

However, Archbishop Justin doesn’t need Mrs Ball’s support. He can do self-refutation with the best of them.

According to the Archbishop, ‘civilised society’ has a duty to support the vulnerable. That’s God own truth. Where he makes his first mistake is in confusing society with the state. This is characteristic of someone who has neither studied such subjects in any depth nor thought them through properly.

Society and state were indeed coextensive in the Hellenic world, particularly in Athens. The polis was what the Romans later called res publica, public affair. Every citizen had a direct involvement in state affairs, and it was through such involvement that people expressed their innermost aspirations.

By privatising the spirit, Christianity separated society from the state. In fact the two are often, and these days invariably, in conflict – something that was unthinkable in Hellenic antiquity.

So yes, ‘civilised society’ should look after those who can’t look after themselves. But a society where this function is assumed by the state, which in the process vastly increases its own power to destroy said society, is no longer civilised. It’s barbaric.

A man giving money to a beggar helps him, while contributing to his own salvation. The same man giving money to the state that then beggars society for its own sake contributes to social, moral and economic decrepitude.

Looking after the vulnerable is a fundamental Christian duty. But no moral duty requires the mediation of the state to be discharged. For centuries the helpless were helped effectively by hospices, alms houses, hospitals and orphanages run either by religious or secular charities. The best the state can do here is not to get in the way, which our state does with enviable consistency.

Moreover, under no circumstances can most recipients of the state’s largesse be regarded as truly needy. Able-bodied youngsters must work to support themselves, and if the Archbishop is unsure about this, he should glance into the book that ought to carry more weight than the latest Labour manifesto or even a Guardian feature. ‘If any would not work, neither should he eat,’ it says (2 Thessalonians 3: 10).

A system that makes it more beneficial to stay on welfare than to seek work isn’t just economically disastrous – it’s profoundly immoral. One would think this would be basic to a prelate, especially one with much-touted experience in business. Apparently not.

Incidentally, I take exception to the view that such experience is a sine qua non for either clergymen or politicians. For example, our present PM’s detractors put some of his manifest unfitness for the job down to his never having held any job outside politics. This, I’d suggest, is the least of his problems. Anyway, how much business experience did William Pitt have? Edmund Burke? Benjamin Disraeli? Such a lacuna didn’t prevent them from becoming fairly useful statesmen.

Neither were Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Richard Hooker or John Henry Newman held back by their lack of prior experience in the commodities market. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that such experience isn’t essential to becoming a great minister of either God or government. Its absence, if at all relevant, can be made up for by an outstanding mind, character and courage.

The absence of such qualities, however, can’t be compensated by a prior business career. In fact such a career is more likely to do harm, if only by reducing the amount of time devoted to the man’s life work.

Our politicians manifestly lack essential qualities, regardless of whether or not they have done other things before getting into Parliament. So, if his first steps are any indication, does our new Archbishop. The good thing is that he has plenty of time to prove me wrong.

Celebrating Mother’s Day is admitting defeat

On 4 July, 1776, the Thirteen American colonies declared independence from Britain. Americans celebrate this day as a national holiday. The British, understandably, don’t.

On 14 July, 1789, a French mob stormed the Bastille, inaugurating one of the most disastrous upheavals in world history. The French celebrate this day as La Fête Nationale. The rest of us don’t.

On 8 May, 1945, Germany capitulated on the Western front. Western allied powers celebrate the day. Germany doesn’t.

On 9 May, 1945, Germany capitulated on the Eastern front. The Russians celebrate this as their Victory Day. The Germans don’t.

The same day, in other words, can be an occasion some want to remember and others would dearly like to forget. This brings us to Mothering Sunday, a Christian holiday celebrated throughout Europe since at least the 16th century.

On that day, the fourth Sunday of Lent, millions of people would go ‘a-mothering’, that is return to their mother church, the main church or cathedral in the area.

Servants and children would be given a day off. On the way to church, the children would celebrate the reprieve from Latin and Greek by picking up wild flowers and giving them to their mothers. After Mass families would eat traditional cakes and buns.

Obviously, such a reactionary, obsolete tradition had no place in a world of modernity championed by the United States. Hence early in the 20th century Americans began to celebrate Mother’s Day instead. Moreover, using the stratagem perfected by modern vandals, they did so on the same day as Mothering Sunday, piggybacking the new on the old.

This is what constitutes the great larceny of modernity: shoplifting the Christian ethos that formed our civilisation and shoving secular simulacra down people’s throats. Tradition was like a spoonful of sugar that, according to Mary Poppins, helps the bitter medicine go down.

In subliminal reference to the Holy Trinity, even the most pernicious slogans of modernity were usually made up of three elements, either words or phrases. This larcenous tradition began with the French liberté, egalité, fraternité, but it didn’t end there.           

Americans contributed ‘life, liberty and pursuit of happiness’. The Russian ‘vsia vlast sovetam’ (all power to the Soviets). The Germans ‘ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer’ (one people, one nation, one leader). And even a somewhat less significant revolution had to chip in with a vapid ‘Work harder, produce more, build Grenada!

The revolutionaries sensed that the world around them was alive with Trinitarian music. As people’s ears were attuned to it, they were predisposed to respond to similar sounds even if they conveyed a different meaning.

Following in the wake of baseball caps, Coke and verbs made out of nouns, American Mother’s Day had also been making steady inroads on traditional Mothering Sunday until it ousted it. This was ominous.

On the face of it, there’s nothing objectionable about celebrating motherhood – it’s something worth celebrating. We all have mothers after all. Yet in the past we also had a Father, whose bride the Church was. The motherhood celebrated on this day was thus spiritual, not physiological – even though human mothers were also honoured by association. 

This is now gone. A few church-going Christians still celebrate Mothering Sunday. Many others think it’s just an archaic term for Mother’s Day. Most have never even heard of Mothering Sunday.  

So I hope that your joy of celebrating this occasion will be tinged with sadness. For tradition is an anchor that keeps us embedded in our civilisation. Lift the anchor, and the civilisation is cast adrift – this holds true for believer and non-believer alike.

Happy Mothering Sunday to all you fellow reactionaries out there. 









Oh, bummer!

Puns may have been the lowest form of humour to Dr Johnson, but in this instance the one on Obama’s name is hard to resist.

Yesterday it was lovely Michelle, rather than her hubby-wubby, who found herself with egg Benedict on her face, thus inspiring puerile jokes.

As a general observation, Michelle’s thoughts tend not to be as well-shaped as her body. She is driven mostly by burning passion, be that political, racial or feminist. Nothing unusual about that but, when such passion is the driver, embarrassment is often the destination.

Yesterday, as I saw fit to remind you, was International Women’s Day. Michelle doesn’t need such reminders: 8 March is eternally etched in her mind, next to Mayday and other ideological festivals.

For all their chromatic and biographical differences, my new friend John Kerry is Michelle’s natural soul mate. John even believes the soul exists – he’s a practising Catholic, which however doesn’t prevent him from also believing that women have a God-given right to abortion.

Such seeming contradictions don’t bother chaps who devote their lives to enunciating pieties of more recent provenance than religion. Being pro-abortion is modern and therefore Good. Being religious is antiquated and therefore Irrelevant. Except of course when the religion is Islam, which is neither Modern nor Relevant in fact, but is all those things subtextually. The subtext evokes muted echoes of anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism, anti-capitalism, racial and social equality.

Therefore, Islam is Good and Relevant, even though some of its adherents sometimes blow up things they shouldn’t. Hence the likes of Michelle and John will allow themselves the odd mildly disparaging remark about Islamism, while making sure the world knows that Islamism has nothing – not even a teensy-weensy bit! – to do with Islam. Michelle is particularly careful about that because she doesn’t want to upset some of her in-laws.

To commemorate yesterday’s big socialist occasion, our soul mates co-presented the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award to 10 winners, five of them Muslim. Or rather nine winners, for the tenth one had to be hastily denied the prize at the last moment.

The 26-year old Egyptian Samira Ibrahim won her prize for having been abused by the military in 2011. Among other indignities she was given a virginity test. Reports say nothing about the test methodology or indeed finding, but clearly Samira was a prime candidate for the prestigious accolade.

Suddenly, when Michelle and John were practically on their way to the podium, it turns out that Samira regularly tweets texts that clash with the Good subtext. Specifically, she screams hatred for both Americans and Jews, not to mention American Jews, to whom she refers as ‘the Zionist lobby’.

Last summer, after five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver were killed by a suicide bomber, Samira was jubilant: ‘An explosion on a bus carrying Israelis in Burgas airport in Bulgaria on the Black Sea. Today is a very sweet day with a lot of very sweet news.’

As a mob was attacking the US embassy in Cairo, Samira responded with characteristic restraint: ‘Today is the anniversary of 9/11. May every year come with America burning.’

The Saudi ruling family are to Samira ‘dirtier than the Jews’. The beauty of such phrases is that they work the other way around just as well. She could have said ‘the Jews are even dirtier than the Al Sauds’ to the same effect.

The depth of Samira’s erudition matches the purity of her feelings and, unlike some pundits, she generously attributes her sources: ‘I have discovered with the passage of days, that no act contrary to morality, no crime against society takes place except with the Jews having a hand in it. Hitler.’

You’d think that such prose would be a disqualifying factor in being singled out for an American award animated by Good passions. You’d think wrong for, in common with the heretics of yesteryear, Samira was given a chance to recant.

Thankfully she spared Michelle and John further embarrassment by turning the opportunity down: ‘I refused to apologize to the Zionist lobby in America on the previous statements hostile to Zionism under pressure from the American government, so the prize was withdrawn,’ Samira proudly declared.

Clearly the girl is hell-bent on sticking to her guns (and bombs). Her style needs a bit of work though, but then English isn’t her first language.

Will the likes of Michelle and John ever learn? The lesson is fairly simple: their touchy-feely affection for Third World countries, especially of the Muslim variety, is misplaced – this regardless of who their rulers are.

Arab Spring or no Arab Spring, Samira is a child of her country, her religion and her culture. According to a recent Pew poll, 82 percent of Egyptians regard stoning adulterous women as just, 77 percent approve of chopping off thieves’ hands, 84 percent favour the death penalty for apostasy from Islam.

Samira may take exception to some of these practices, but not to the spirit behind them. She reflects the ethos of her world – as, unfortunately, Michelle and John reflect the ethos of theirs.

One last word to John, now we’re friends: crack the whip and kick a few butts back at the ranch, mate. Whoever researches such things at the State Department should be drawing unemployment benefits.   

Happy holiday, dear women!

Or is one allowed to refer to persons of the female persuasion in such a gender-specific way? Being a stickler for political correctness, I must check up on this. Anyway, just to be on the safe side, congratulations to every female-person reader.

On second thoughts, given the general thrust of my prose, perhaps my typical readers wouldn’t mind being called women if that’s what they are (and sometimes even if that’s what they aren’t). Nor are they likely to know what on earth I’m congratulating them on.

No more suspense: today is 8 March, International Women’s Day, originally known as International Working Women’s Day. And if you’re unfamiliar with this highlight of the calendar, this ignorance means… what exactly? That you aren’t international? Not working? Not a woman? Actually, none of these.

It only means that you’re neither a Soviet native nor a socialist nor Germaine Greer, who has celebrated the event so eloquently on Radio 3. So perhaps you ought to be congratulated on what you are not, rather than on what you are.

This day was big in the Soviet Union. At dawn every loudspeaker at every street corner would blare the words I used in the title. The announcer’s soupy voice would shake the male population out of their heavy, hung-over slumber. The men would then kiss their wives and give them some half-wilted mimosas that had been hiding under the bed through the night.

Effusive programmes on radio and TV would continue all day, highlighting women’s achievements in arts, sciences and especially sports. Actually, the Soviet sportswomen who achieved the most were indeed great champions, but alas not necessarily or merely women.

Capitalist imperialist hyenas eventually cottoned on to this hormonal incidental and introduced chromosome testing at all major events. After that the most distinguished Soviet athletes, such as Tamara and Irina Press, Tatiana Shchelkanova and Klavdia Boyarskikh announced their summary retirement. But such mishaps weren’t allowed to detract from the festivity of the occasion.

Less illustrious Soviet women gratefully accepted the mimosas, while lamenting that their real achievement went uncelebrated. This was holding a full-time job, then queueing up at grocery shops for hours, then trying to convert unpalatable ingredients into palatable meals, then washing up, then doing the laundry, then ironing, then cleaning up, then putting children to bed, then – as often as not – looking after the hubby-wubby reeling in at midnight blind-drunk and violent.

Add to this the odd beating, premature ageing and regular abortions, the preferred method of contraception in the USSR, and the true scale of their unsung achievements was nothing short of epic. So it’s not only with pride but also with sadness that they listened to the hosannas for yet another heroine who had in the previous 12 months upstaged the Yanks in discus throwing or shot put.

‘All progressive mankind is celebrating International Working Women’s Day!’ thundered the announcers, thus drawing a line in the sand. Contextually, anyone who failed to celebrate the holiday may still have belonged to mankind, just, but certainly not to the progressive part of it.

It’s good to see that even with the supposed demise of the Soviet Union, 8 March is still celebrated in Russia, and Russian women still astound the world with their fine achievements. Appearances to the contrary, these don’t always involve marrying oligarchs or turning a prodigious number of tricks in London hotels.

No, newly liberated Russian women don’t have to rely on men to express themselves as persons. Anyone seeking proof of this should visit the website of The Sun, a paper known for its enlightened treatment of the fair sex (sorry, I know it’s supposed to be ‘gender’ but it just doesn’t scan in this sentence).

Keeping up with the great festival, this august publication has posted a video of the Russian gymnast Tatiana Kozhevnikova. This remarkable woman shows what’s possible to achieve with years of training, dedication and self-denial in the service of a worthy cause.

The viewers are treated to a neatly choreographed footage of Tatiana lifting heavy kettlebells with the part of her body that in the less progressive times was reserved either for the pleasure of love or the pain of childbirth. Apparently her personal best is 14 kilos (31 lbs), which may or may not be the world record but is a notable feat in either case.

So congratulations are in order. To Tatiana, for dedicating her life to expanding the realm of the possible. To Russia (aka the Soviet Union), for turning 8 March into a truly international holiday celebrated by Germaine Greer. To The Sun for letting us all share in the spirit of the occasion. And especially to all of you, men or women, who don’t know what the hell 8 March means.







Chávez proves it’s not about right, left or centre

These days we’re too hung up on political taxonomy to keep in focus things that really matter.

We imagine that describing someone as ‘rightwing’, ‘leftwing’ or any gradation thereof conveys adequate information. We think that ‘democracy’ is a sufficient condition for a country’s virtue. We accept that ‘neoconservatism’ is a new type of conservatism, though in fact it’s much nearer a new kind of Trotskyism.

Like most political descriptors, these have lost whatever little meaning they once had. From time to time we are reminded of this linguistic debacle by a news item, such as the death of Hugo Chávez. Drawing as they do tonnes of comments from all over the world, such events emphasise where the real watersheds run among both politicians and commentators.

Such dividing lines typically separate not left from right but the intelligent from the stupid, the educated from the ignorant and the good from the evil.

The trouble with Ken Livingston, for example, isn’t that he’s leftwing but that he’s evil and stupid (though not devoid of some cunning), as proved by his admiration for the deceased. Chávez, according to Ken, devoted his life to ridding the world of ‘exploitation’ and ‘colonialism’.

In pursuit of such glorious ends, Hugo supported every terrorist regime or organisation on earth, had his opponents silenced or arrested, nationalised his country’s economy thereby driving its people into unemployment and poverty, and wiped out any semblance of free press. Now you decide whether Ken is stupid or evil or, most probably, both. But just to say he’s leftwing is to say next to nothing.

Ahmadinejad compared the dear departed to Jesus, while our own George Galloway described him as ‘champion of the poor’ – and he wasn’t referring to Chávez’s sustained effort to create as many poor as was possible in oil-rich Venezuela. Now Galloway is probably leftwing while Ahmadinejad probably isn’t. So what? What matters here is that both are evil and quite possibly stupid as well.

As to our broadcast media, I think a law should be passed forbidding them to comment on countries or politicians whose names they can’t pronounce. Thus most American commentators refer to the famous mass murderer as ‘Shay’, as if the chap had owned a French restaurant called ‘Chez Guevara’.

Such an injunction would be a necessary but, as Jon Snow of Channel 4 shows, not a sufficient measure. He pronounces Spanish names properly, which is scarce consolation considering what he says. Such as, ‘Whatever you think of Chávez, Latin America is far more its own continent today thanks to Lula, Chávez and others…’ And Germany was far more its own country thanks to Hitler. If you admire chaps like Chávez, Jon, why don’t you just say so.

That David Aaronovitch tends towards the left goes without saying – he’s a Times columnist after all. So let’s concentrate on his relevant qualities, as manifested in his article The US Was Midwife to Commandante Chávez.

Aaronovitch essentially subscribes to the view jointly held by all Latin American communists, that all the troubles of that continent were caused by the US government and such corporations as Ford, Coca-Cola and the United Fruit. In support the pundit recruits Pablo Neruda, whom he describes as ‘a poet for the young; a poet for love and politics’.

I’d also be tempted to mention in passing what else Neruda was: head of the KGB spy ring in Latin America. Really, Aaronovitch should vet his sources more carefully, otherwise people might think he’s ignorant, in addition to his other sterling qualities.

‘Whatever has happened in Venezuela,’ explains Aaranovitch, ‘might have been different if, for decades before, the United States had behaved better.’

Never mind 70 years of systematic Soviet propaganda, ably augmented since 1958 by Castro and other Soviet stooges. Never mind the huge spy ring run by the ‘poet of love’. Never mind a largely illiterate and idle population. Never mind the mayhem created in Chile by Castro’s proxy Allende. Never mind ‘Shay’s’ subversion. Never mind fascist dictators like Perón in Argentina or Stroessner in Paraguay. It’s all Coca-Cola’s fault.

Aaronovitch then compliments Chávez, ‘who, unlike his heroes [Fidel and ‘Shay’] executed no one and created no concentration camps.’ Well, the boy did what he had to do. He didn’t need death squads and concentration camps because he was democratically elected and re-elected by a thoroughly brainwashed populace. The odd beating and imprisonment did the job famously, coupled of course with Bolshevik-scale propaganda.

This points at Aaranovitch’s inability to tie different ends of his narrative together even in a short piece. ‘The abused neocons, I think, are right where the realpolitikers are wrong. Treat people in other lands… as people deserving liberty, dignity and democracy…’ and everything will be hunky-dory.

First, the neocons are more abusing than abused. This peculiar blend of American nationalism with Trotskyist internationalism has more or less dominated US foreign policy since Reagan’s tenure at least. Second, carrying democracy to every tribal society on earth is the neocons’ pronounced, practically sole, aim.

We are witnessing the results in the Middle East. Democratic elections so beloved of the neocons, instigated by them and made possible by the war they had championed, have destroyed stability in the region, bringing to power the kind of regimes that are rapidly taking the world to a possible nuclear disaster.

Mentioning Chávez and the neocons in the same article, anyone with half a brain and a modicum of moral sense would show how the former testifies to the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the latter. Chávez, after all, was elected as democratically as Perón, Ahmadinejad or for that matter Hitler – as democratically as the neocons desire. Democracy triumphs, so what’s the problem then? Job done.

It’s a moot point whether Aaaronovitch is leftwing. What else he is matters much more. Instead let’s ask the real question: ‘If these are our opinion formers, why are we surprised at the opinions they form?’

Now we know what conservatism means


Sometimes an outsider can see what an insider can’t, thus enabling the insider to get in touch with his real self.

The Times proves that this is indeed possible by first explaining what conservatism isn’t and then, courtesy of Rachel Sylvester, what is really is. Thanks to this vacuous, lefty, moribund paper, we now stand corrected on whatever misapprehensions we might have had.

Commenting on UKIP’s showing at Eastleigh, The Times suggested that the party is weak intellectually. Specifically, as proofs of this cerebral deficiency, it listed such risible policies as opposition to the EU, desire to stimulate growth by cutting taxes and reducing welfare expenditure, support for grammar schools and antagonism to unrestricted immigration. Such policies, said the editorial, aren’t so much conservative as unsound.

Fair enough. But then we must assume that sound conservatism would call for subjugating Britain to the EU, stifling growth by increasing both taxes and welfare spend, eliminating the few remaining grammar schools and inviting the world’s all and sundry to help themselves to our welfare state, which by now would be big enough to accommodate such an influx.

The Times didn’t actually state that in so many words, but in this instance the denotation allows for only one possible connotation. Still, a few things were left unsaid, leaving a gap which Miss Sylvester has now bridged.

In her article Tories Must See the Conservative in Cameron she teaches all us cynics a valuable lesson in penetrating political thought. Dave, according to her, is as conservative as they get. As far as hypotheses go, this one is paradoxical, but then so have been many others. For example, no one could have imagined that matter under some circumstances could act as both particles and field until this paradox was supported by evidence.

So what kind of evidence does Rachel dredge up in support of this counterintuitive proposition?

‘Raised in rural Berkshire, the son of a stockbroker and a magistrate, who went to Eton and Oxford, plays tennis, tends his veg patch and used to hunt…’ Oh well, this settles it then. By these criteria I’m at best a socialist, tennis being the only qualification I possess. Moreover, I now realise that no one I’ve ever met, never mind my close friends, has the slightest claim to being a conservative – they’d fail the Sylvester litmus test in most or all rubrics.

After such a powerful QED argument, it’s surprising that Rachel felt the need to come up with any others. But hey, nothing succeeds like excess. So she continues:

‘His support for gay marriage is based on a deep belief in the importance of marriage’. Crikey. Now we know: all those subversives, who have for millennia taken it for granted that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, have done so because they detested the very institution of marriage. A true conservative can only prove his credentials by supporting marriage between a man and any mammal of his choice. No wonder I don’t number a single conservative among my friends.

Case made, wouldn’t you say? Not yet. ‘His husky-hugging greenery grows out of an instinct to preserve the environment.’ Of course it does. Before long Dave will become so dyed-in-the-wool conservative that he’ll apply for membership in the Green Party and lead it to parliamentary majority in the EU.

‘House of Lords reform is necessary only to protect the credibility of Parliament.’ Such credibility had been sorely lacking for almost a thousand years until Dave’s fellow conservative and role model Tony reduced the Lords to a travesty. It therefore behoves Dave to reassert his credentials by turning the Upper House into a Ye-Auld-England tourist attraction.

‘The ringfencing of aid is a patrician attempt to help the poor…’ Quite. It also betokens aristocratic disdain for wealth (other than his own, naturally), of which most nouveaux are being deprived to keep the ring fence up. Conservatism therefore is all about transferring money from those who earned it to those who haven’t, building up a megalomaniac state in the process.

‘Public service reform is intended to save, rather than dismantle, the NHS and state schools.’ Dismantle those venerable institutions? Perish the thought. God forbid bodies will become healthier and minds better developed. What’s conservative about that?

These deep taxonomic insights were followed by equally profound and original philosophy: ‘Nobody can stop the clocks, still less reverse the progress of time. The world moves on…’

None of my friends would be capable of either such deep insights or such startlingly idiosyncratic turn of phrase. But then we now know that unlike Rachel and Dave they aren’t conservative.

To sum up: conservatism is all about support for homomarriage, espousing the ideas of the Greens, perpetrating constitutional vandalism, building up the welfare state, pumping more money into our exemplary nationalised education and medicine, and expressing oneself in hackneyed platitudes that a generation ago would have earned an F in English at any grammar school.

Oh yes, let’s not forget hunting in Berkshire. Berkshire hunt? It’s best not to go there.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of stupidity

Just one world tour, and US Secretary of State John Kerry is already moving up on the list of my favourite politicians.

I commented earlier on his budding tendency to coin portmanteau names by linking two countries together and thus coming up with a third that doesn’t exist. By fusing Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan he came up with Kyrzakhstan, suggesting that from America’s vantage point all those foreign lands are more or less the same. It’s like a seven-foot giant and a four-foot dwarf appearing equally tiny if you look at them from Mars.

Some may cringe at such ignorance on the part of the world’s top diplomat, but I rejoice. As much as any other man I love to see my prejudices confirmed, and Americans seldom disappoint. I only hope that, if it’s true that war is God’s way of teaching Americans geography, Our Lord won’t instigate a global conflict just to give Kerry a remedial class he so desperately needs.

On that same trip, my idol John spoke to a group of youngsters at a crowded Internet café in Berlin. A girl representing an organisation of young Muslims asked John what thoughts crossed his mind when he espied her co-religionists in America.

John’s response strengthened his claim to my lifelong friendship. ‘In America,’ he said, ‘you have a right to be stupid.’ He then added a few qualifiers about tolerance, thereby weakening said claim. He should have left it at the first sentence, with its refreshing, if possibly inadvertent, candour.

However, the framers of the US Constitution with its 27 amendments somehow omitted the right to stupidity, perhaps realising that voracious exercise of it would render democracy inoperable. This showed remarkable foresight, which is confirmed by every recent survey.

For example, only one American in 1,000 could name all five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances). By laudable contrast, 22 percent could name all five members of the Simpson family.  

Another study concluded that only five percent of Americans could correctly answer three-fourths of the questions asked about economics, 11 percent those about domestic issues, 14 percent those about foreign affairs and 10 percent those about geography. Hence John Kerry can pride himself on belonging to an overwhelming majority, and isn’t this what all modern politicians strive for?

We aren’t talking about the knowledge of recondite facts and arcane references: only about 25 percent of native-born Americans would pass the elementary citizenship test given to immigrants. (Q: Who was the first president of the United States? A: George Washington Bridge.)

It’s therefore not surprising that most US voters don’t know the difference between conservatives and liberals, and in America the distinction is still valid. This explains how someone like Obama could be elected president, finding himself in a position to appoint someone like Kerry Secretary of State.

Lest you might think that the respondents selected for such surveys were deliberately drawn from the particularly obtuse strata of the population, consider the poll conducted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

There the sample was 14,000 randomly selected students at 50 universities around the country. This elite group scored under 55 percent on a test measuring their knowledge of American civic basics. Hence 45 percent wouldn’t qualify for citizenship if they didn’t have the good fortune of being born in the USA. Interestingly, freshmen tested higher than seniors, suggesting that university education isn’t all it’s cut out to be.

Before you run the Union Jack up the pole, consider the fact that similar studies in the UK show only marginally better results. This raises fundamental questions about one-man-one-vote democracy, the kind of questions these days few ask and no one answers.

As Plato and Aristotle postulated and their fellow Athenians showed, even a limited democracy can function effectively only in a nation possessing a high degree of civic and political sophistication. Unless a vote is cast from a position of responsibility and knowledge, it’s at best useless and at worst subversive.

In a constitutional democracy based on universal franchise, a candidate for political office must be weighed in the balance of the nation’s constitutional history and its fundamental principles. It’s reasonably clear that a stupid populace bone-ignorant about such things is incapable of this weighing exercise. In other words, it’s not qualified to vote.

Therefore even a politician with a firmer grasp of his brief and a greater intelligence than John Kerry would be unable to rely on such attainments to appeal to the electorate. Instead of addressing people’s minds he’d have to tickle the bits located some three feet lower.

A few generations of this sort of thing, and a new political class will evolve, including spivs with a knack for cheap demagoguery and excluding anyone with a talent for statesmanship. The politicians will in their turn promote ignorance and stupidity on the part of the electorate, thus squaring the vicious circle of modernity.

The Founding Fathers, apostles of American democracy, along with Tocqueville, their St Paul, were all aware of such pitfalls. But weaned as they were on the ideas of the Enlightenment, they thought democracy would be able to get around them.

They were wrong because the Enlightenment was wrong. Bien pensant ideas divorced from reality will sooner or later reverse the meaning of every term used to denote such notions.

Enlightenment turns out to be obscurantism, liberalism becomes illiberal, equality leads to tyranny. And democracy turns into the rule of the craven and dishonest over the stupid and ignorant. This is an historical law to which there are no exceptions.