Most people can’t think, as opposed to just talk, about politics. And even those who can won’t. Ideology has replaced ideas, which is a distinctly modern phenomenon.
French revolutionaries coined the word idéologie because they felt the need for it. And there was one: as they, inspired by their American, Swiss, German and British role models, led the West away from God, they were steering thought away from truth.
Laissez-faire ineluctably became laissez-penser and laissez-parlez, an encephalophonic free-for-all, with intellectual integrity dumped into the rubbish bin of history, to use another revolutionary’s phrase.
Later the word ‘ideology’ gained tremendous currency, largely through the cannibalistic musings of Karl Marx. It has now become the single currency of political discourse.
If it takes feeble, dishonest, downright lying, ignorant thought to arrive at an ideological end, no one minds. It’s fine with both the subject and object of thought.
How intelligent the speaker and his audience are no longer matters. These days they sign an unwritten pact: one agrees to make appropriate ideological noises; the other, to accept them as real thought. Both undertake to disregard flagrant violations of truth or indeed logic.
My customary whipping boy Peter Hitchens seems to have committed his work to proving these melancholy observations right, at least every time the word ‘Russia’ crops into his narrative. Not a stupid man, he makes sense on most subjects that don’t touch upon his ideology. Russia does, and suddenly this otherwise clever chap starts mouthing turgid gibberish.
To wit, today’s column: “Ministers and others continue to shout and squawk about Russia, a poor, weak country which is no threat to us, and which isn’t even especially interested in us. Is this because they lack the guts to tackle the giant, rich bully China, whose despots are entertained in Buckingham Palace?”
As far as Hitchens is concerned, those who understand Russia better than he does never just talk. They shout and squawk. However, even we poor shouters and squawkers try to avoid logical solecisms, factual falsehoods and lapses of reason.
Hitchens’s short paragraph contains a long list of those, all deserving pride of place in the encyclopaedia of rhetorical fallacies. Here are a few, off the top.
The implication seems to be that because Russia is poor it’s weak, and because it’s weak it’s no threat to us. This is simple ignorance, in addition to being ideologically inspired nonsense.
Hitchens applies Western philistine standards to the definition of poverty. True, most Russians live from hand to mouth and can’t afford to buy what they see in the shops. But Russia’s relevant wealth isn’t in the shops. It’s in the silos.
Russia has more thermonuclear warheads than the US does. Russian Goebbelses, such as Putin’s top TV mouthpiece Kisilev, never cease to remind their audiences that Russia could “turn America into radioactive dust” at the touch of a button. And this isn’t just braggadocio.
Another implication is that an economically poorer country can’t threaten a richer one. This is equally nonsensical. The vandals’ GDP wasn’t a patch on Rome’s, nor could the Turks match the riches of Byzantium. Closer to our own time, Kuwait was wealthier than Iraq. How many more examples would you like of economic Davids slaying economic Goliaths?
Then comes a downright lie: Russia “isn’t interested in us”. On what basis does Hitchens make this assurance? Every page of every Putin newspaper spouts unadulterated hatred for the West, especially the Anglophone West. Hardly a day goes by without open threats being made, along the lines of radioactive dust.
Russia is specifically issuing threats to Nato members we are contractually obligated to defend. Does Hitchens think the Russians have no vested interest in reducing our defence capabilities? Are they waging electronic war against us just for fun?
The answer is, he doesn’t think so. He doesn’t think, full stop. It’s ideology he’s offering, not ideas.
Then comes a non sequitur, straight out of the ‘Don’t’ section of the logic textbook. Yes, China is a despotic bully, and yes, the West doesn’t have the guts to confront it, overlooking the evil nature of communist China for its giant market and endless supply of coolie labour.
And yes, in a better world Chinese despots wouldn’t be invited to Buckingham Palace. (Neither would the Russian despot Putin, who’ll be staying at Buck House next week, and one would think his purloined billions would stretch to a hotel room.)
But what does that have to do with Russia? Are we allowed to have only one bogeyman at a time? One vaguely recalls that, while fighting the Nazis, Britain was also at war with Italy and Japan. In the previous big war, we didn’t just fight Germans – Austrians, Czechs, Hungarians and so forth were also our enemies. On what authority is Hitchens rationing the number of adversaries?
Then he seems to think we are the flat-track bully for picking on poor, weak Russia that can sink the British Isles within minutes. And cowards for not confronting China. The second proposition is true; the first, false. There’s no logical connection between the two.
Hitchens would do well to remember that Russia has launched three wars of aggression under Putin, while China so far limits itself to menacing talk. So if we had to choose one, I’d say Russia should be our first choice of evil to resist. But we don’t have to choose: neither Russia nor China nor Islam has exclusive rights to evil.
Excluding Russia from this company is neither honest nor moral nor clever. Ideology does work in mysterious ways, doesn’t it?