May kind of Brexit

No sooner had my friend Tessa come back from her holiday than she and I met at a quiet Westminster pub. It was an intimate affair: just Tessa and I, her press secretary, make-up artist and six bodyguards.

Ever the traditionalist, Tessa took a sip of that classic English drink Dubonnet and asked me how I thought Brexit was going. There was a mischievous sparkle in her eyes that suggested she knew something I didn’t.

“Well, Tessa,” I said, gulping my Wife Beater down, “it isn’t going, actually. There’s a lot of bickering between the parties and various factions within each. And externally, it has all ground to a stop. I can see some unsolvable conflicts developing. The whole bloody thing is dragging on and on.”

“Alex, you imbecile,” smiled Tessa, using the offensive epithet to conceal the admiration and, well, affection she feels for me. “Don’t you worry your ugly little head about that. I’ve got it all sussed out.”

“You’ve got what sussed out, darl…,” I stopped myself just in time, for Tessa’s retinue were all ears. Using an intimate word like ‘darling’ would reveal that Tessa and I haven’t always been just friends… But a gentleman doesn’t talk about such things.

“Alex, you reactionary swine, I know what you think about democracy, but me, I could scratch anyone’s eyes out who says one word against one man, one vote. I am a servant to Average Man, the voter.

“Remember how you wrote, you bastard, that any man randomly picked out of the phone directory could do a better job of government than my cabinet? Well, I happen to agree. Average Man knows best, that’s what democracy is all about. He commands, we obey. And he commanded we leave the EU. So leave we will. Cross my heart and hope to die.”

“Don’t die yet, Tessa,” I pleaded with mock sincerity. “We need you to drive Brexit through, to take control over our borders and territorial waters, to stop paying money to the EU, to leave the single market…”

“Alex,” smiled Tessa with loving indulgence, “you’re even more cretinous than you look. What did the people vote for?”

“To leave the EU.”

“Right, you got that in one. But they didn’t vote for leaving the single market and the customs union, did they?”

“Well, no, they didn’t, not explicitly at any rate,” I admitted begrudgingly.

“Explicitly is what I’m talking about, you half-witted nincompoop. Right, so we’ll stay,” said Tessa, holding one finger up. “And neither did they vote to keep Spanish fishing boats out of our waters, did they now? So that’ll continue.” Another finger went up.

By then my mind was spinning like a top, so all I could manage was a mumbled question “So what about immigration?”

“What about it?” Tessa signalled the landlord for another bottle of Dubonnet.

“Show me where anybody voted for shutting our borders to European wogs… oops, I mean neighbours. Nowhere. So they’ll be able to come, if with a little detour to Dublin. What old tossers like you don’t understand is that all those Romanians enrich our culture. We’ve only had Shakespeare, Donne and Dickens, while Romanians have had… well, you know what I mean.”

“I do,” I said, though I didn’t. “But money? Are we going to keep paying the EU after we leave it?”

“Alex, let me put it in simple words even a moron like you can understand. People. Voted. To. Leave. The EU. They. Didn’t. Vote. To. Stop. Payments. So. We. Shall. Go. On. Think you get this or shall I paint you a picture?”

“Well, now that you put it this way…”

“And that’s not all,” added Tessa with that triumphant look I remembered from the times when we… well, never mind. “We’ll also join the euro during this parliament.”

“But Tessa, doesn’t Brexit mean we reclaim our sovereignty and therefore keep our own currency for ever?”

“Don’t you know anything? Since when does using someone’s else’s currency mean losing sovereignty? Ever heard of British Virgin Islands, Caribbean Netherlands. East Timor, Ecuador, El Salvador and Marshall Islands?”

“What do they have to do with anything?”

“Trust a retard like you to ask such an idiotic question. They’re none of them part of the US and they still all use the US dollar. No problem with sovereignty, is there? And are we any different from El Salvador?”

“Less and less so, I dare say.  I assume we’ll still continue to obey all EU laws?” I asked with what I thought was devastating sarcasm.

“But of course we will,” nodded Tessa, which movement made her belch quite loudly. “We’ll just call them British laws, that’s all. I get it. We’ll call them common law – common with the EU, that is.”

“Tessa,” I said, helping her up. “What a brilliant plan. That way you can have the Brexit apfelstrudel…”

“And throw it up too,” giggled Tessa in that girlish way of hers. “That’s my kind of Brexit.”

“Or rather May kind of Brexit,” I said, hoping that by then Tessa was too far gone not to mock the feeble pun.

Naughty Trump against PC tyranny

Even many Republicans, especially the neocons, hate Donald Trump because, unlike them, he intuitively opposes tyrannical PC orthodoxy.

I suspect the feeling is indeed intuitive rather than cerebral, for the president doesn’t strike me as a man capable of thinking things through, especially before he talks. Hence, even when his heart is in the right place, his head often goes its own way, trailing in the wake of his tongue. That often gets him in trouble, even when he doesn’t deserve it.

The current outburst of vitriol has been caused by Trump’s supposed ambivalence about the events in Charlottesville, Virginia. The outburst of violence there was ostensibly caused by a protest against plans to remove the statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee from the city centre. The protesters clashed with counterprotesters, and mayhem ensued.

‘Ostensibly’ is the operative word here, for political thuggery is always an aim in itself, with the face value of the argument only ever acting as a pretext. But let’s consider the face issue first.

Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army during the Civil War, was the most brilliant general on either side, winning numerous battles despite being grossly outnumbered and outgunned.

Before that he had served in the US Army for 32 years, distinguishing himself as a talented officer. In fact, Lincoln offered Lee the command of the Union forces, but the latter felt honour-bound to lead the army of his native Virginia and later of the whole Confederacy.

However, Lee’s side lost the war, and the victors wrote its history. According to them, the North attacked the South for the sole noble purpose of liberating the slaves. That’s simply not so.

The issue of slavery was more complex than simply splitting the country along the Mason-Dixon Line. The Southern states, being mostly agricultural, used slaves more than the industrial North, but both sides were tarred with the same brush, as it were.

Most signatories to the Declaration of Independence were slave owners, and one of the most radical egalitarians among them, Thomas Jefferson, not only owned slaves but also increased their number by avidly copulating with some of them.

In his Monticello estate he bred slaves using the same agricultural principles as those applied to breeding farm animals – and had them whipped to raw meat when they tried to escape.  “All men are created equal,” Jefferson wrote – but presumably only if they’re white. Dr Johnson was right when quipping: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”

Many Northern commanders, such as Grant and McClellan, were themselves slave owners, while many Southern generals weren’t. And Lee had actually freed his slaves two years before the war. This emphasises what has to be obvious to any unbiased observer: the war was not just about slavery.

True enough, the Southern states seceded largely because the federal government had put obstacles in the way of spreading slavery into the newly acquired territories. However, Lincoln and his colleagues explicitly stated on numerous occasions that they had no quarrel with slavery in the original Southern states.

Their bellicose reaction to the secession was caused not by slavery but by their in-built imperative to expand the power of central government over state rights.

“If that would preserve the Union, I’d agree not to liberate a single slave,” Lincoln once said. Note also that his Gettysburg Address includes not a single anti-slavery word – and in fact Lincoln dreaded the possibility that he himself might be portrayed as an abolitionist.

In other words, either Lee deserves a statue in his native state or practically none of his illustrious contemporaries does. Slavery is a widely shared blot on American history, and few historical figures were left unsullied.

Therefore the protest against the removal of Lee’s statue was legitimate in general, and it was legal since the state authorities had issued the requisite permit. However, life is lived not in general but in particular. And the particularity in question was such that the marchers were mainly assorted scum: Klansmen, neo-Nazis, white supremacists et al.

I once lived in the South for 10 years and, if I still did, and didn’t detest gangbangs, I might have joined in. It’s possible that some perfectly decent Virginians joined in too, out of respect for their history. But they would have gone home having taken one look at the human refuse who marched with them – or for that matter against them.

For the counterprotesters were as fanatical as the other lot, and their action wasn’t officially endorsed. But it had to be organised: such outbursts are never haphazard. Hard-left ‘community organisers’ did their job, and a crowd of leftie scum looking for trouble turned up on cue, brandishing baseball bats.

The febrile atmosphere was charged with violence and it duly arrived. The two gangs, one mainly Nazi-brown, the other mainly leftie-red, clashed – as their typological ancestors did in the streets of Berlin, Rome and even London. While aware of the chromatic difference, I can discern no other.

Neither could Trump, who offended the PC neo-fascists by saying correctly that both sides were to blame. “What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right?” he asked reporters. “Do they have any semblance of guilt?”

But then Trump pulled off the contortionist trick of putting his foot in his mouth. There were “fine people” on both sides, he said. Moral equivalence was indeed called for, but that was the wrong kind. There were no fine people on either side. They were all scum.

All hell broke loose: Trump violated one of the seminal laws of political correctness, according to which brown scum are the embodiment of evil, whereas red scum are merely impetuous youngsters who may commit regrettable acts, but at least they do so in a good cause.

Political correctness has become a surrogate god, and it’s a wrathful deity devoid, unlike real God, of mercy. Hence the neocon senator McCain tweeted: “There’s no moral equivalency between racists and Americans standing up to defy hate and bigotry.” Even those who favour their own brand of hate, was the unspoken refrain.

McCain’s parteigenosse Marc Rubio chimed in with “White supremacy groups… are adherents of an evil ideology which argues certain people are inferior because of race, ethnicity or nation of origin.” Presumably, as opposed to adherents of another evil ideology whose offshoots claimed tens of millions of lives in the previous century.

Then the former community organiser Obama broke the world record of tweet readership. Yet his contribution is unparalleled in its mind-numbing banality: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin or his background or his religion… People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”

Yes, they can be taught to love neo-fascist political correctness and hate its neo-fascist bogeymen. Hence the enslavement of transplanted Africans by racists continues to rankle much more than the enslavement of half the world by communists.

The latter only committed unprecedented crimes against humanity, while the former wicked lot did something worse: they defied political correctness two centuries before the term even came into being.

The retrospective indulgence issued to communists also covers every other hue of reddish fascism. Bad boy, Trump. He went against the grain of the new cult and got hurt in the process.

Why is a communist a communist?

Some 20 years ago I found myself at a Salisbury Review party, talking to the prominent anti-communist writer Brian Crozier.

The conversation veered towards converts from communism to conservatism, and I casually mentioned that, if they remained communists as adults, I have misgivings about such people.

Brian, who was himself a communist well into his thirties, objected to such scepticism. People can change their mind at any age, he said.

“Brian,” I said, “I have a confession to make. Until my thirties I could only derive sexual satisfaction from killing boys. But then I changed my mind and realised it was wrong.”

“It’s a false analogy,” objected my interlocutor. “Quite,” I agreed. “A pervert like that can only claim a few victims. A communist, on the other hand, is ready to justify a massacre of millions in pursuit of a transparently wicked idea.”

Though facetiously made, the point was serious. Acceptance of ideological democide may or may not involve some rational process. But it always answers a deep emotional need, an innate defect of personality.

Yes, anyone can change his opinions. But I doubt that, barring a Damascene epiphany, anyone can change his personality any more than he can change the colour of his eyes. To put it in clichéd terms, you can take a boy out of communism, but you can’t take communism out of a boy.

This brings me to Tony Blair’s admission that he was a Trotskyist as a student – and Peter Hitchens’s reaction to it.

Blair’s reminiscences of his youthful past lacked any novelty appeal. Anyone who understands modern politics already knew the general picture, if not every sordid detail.

We already knew that throughout the eighties Blair was a member of the parliamentary section of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). That transparent Soviet front advocated Britain’s unilateral abandonment of nuclear weapons and elimination of all US bases.

Against that background, any sensible person would shrug indifferently at Blair’s recollection that, when he first read a biography of Trotsky, it was “like a light going on” and that for a while he was actually “a Trot”. What else is new? New Labour?

Blair is easily the most subversive character ever to disgrace 10 Downing Street. While there, to quote Hitchens, he “tried to abolish sterling, surrendered to the IRA, wrecked our economy, our constitution, our civil service, our defences and much of our education system, and wounded the monarchy, too.”

Blair is an energumen, animated by the same destructive force as that driving communists to murder tens of millions. That Blair wreaked his havoc by legal means and without much violence, at least internally, is an interesting but ultimately moot point.

Political evil can work in various ways, and we should all learn from the master, Lenin. That distillate of evil was a champion of ‘whatever works’ as a way of gaining and keeping power. Thus he advocated a judicious mix of legal, which is to say parliamentary, and illegal activities.

The dominant ingredient of the mix was to be determined by expediency only. If a civilised political order could be destroyed without bloodshed, fine. If that took democide, no problem either.

If Blair had felt that he could only gain power by Trotsky’s methods, and if the situation allowed their use, he would have happily done so. As it was, he didn’t have to. The horde of illiterate lemmings, otherwise known as the electorate, happily followed him towards the edge of a cliff.

Hitchens laudably detests “that Blair creature” with all the gusto of his passionate soul. It’s with the same passion that he responded to Blair’s non-admission.

“Now, years after it is too late to help us, we learn that Anthony Blair was a student Marxist, an admirer of the bloodthirsty advocate of Red Terror, Leon Trotsky. When did he stop thinking this? We don’t really know.”

The words teapot and kettle spring to mind. For, in his own non-admission, Hitchens writes: “I, too, was a Marxist at university and for some years afterwards, a fact I do not conceal and readily discuss…”

In the same spirit of honesty, Hitchens could have mentioned that he didn’t just harbour some vague communist sympathies. He was an active member of the International Socialists, a seditious Trotskyist gang that later became the Socialist Workers’ Party.

How is it any different from what Blair was in his youth? Hitchens seems to believe that his lack of duplicity about his subversive past somehow elevates him to a higher moral plateau.

But then he himself writes that Blair kept shtum about some colourful details of his past only because he didn’t want to hurt his political career: “Now that’s all over, so he can start to tell the truth.”

Using the same logic, one may suggest that Hitchens’s own commendable openness falls into the same category. He only sought political office once, half-heartedly and some 25 years ago. Hence he can afford to be honest about his own subversive past.

If you agree that susceptibility to communism is an incurable character flaw, then you’ll see Hitchens as an instructive case study. For the same fanaticism with which he used to beat Trotsky’s drum now animates his fervent affection for Putin’s Russia.

Following the First Law of Thermodynamics, the evil of Bolshevism hasn’t disappeared – it has merely transformed into the evil of Putinism. Yet Hitchens continues to shill for a regime under which one in four grown men in Russia have been behind bars at some point.

The man calling himself a conservative supports a regime with no concept of the rule of law. Only 0.34 per cent of trials in Russia result in acquittal, as compared to 17 per cent in Britain and, more appropriately, 10 per cent under Stalin.

Nowhere, North Korea apart, is political power concentrated so fully in the hands of a small clique fronted by one ‘strong leader’.

Secure property, that cornerstone of liberty, doesn’t exist under Putin. Any Russian citizen, including the most illustrious oligarchs, can be dispossessed at any moment – or imprisoned on any trumped-up charge, with the guilty verdict predetermined.

Any semblance of free press has been stamped into the dirt, with Russian media emanating practically nothing but the most revolting propaganda this side of Julius Streicher. Journalists who refuse to toe the line are either forced out of the country or imprisoned or ‘whacked’, in Putin’s jargon.

Hardly a day goes by that Hitchens’s panegyrics for that kleptofascist regime aren’t harmonised with the background roar of Russian guns in the Ukraine and Syria, accompanied by incessant threats of nuclear annihilation of the West.

There has to be something fundamentally wrong with a man who, knowing all that, continues to adore the muscular exhibitionist and his criminal junta. We know what that something is: Troskyist fanaticism seeking new forms. Mr Blair, meet Mr Hitchens. 



Going Dutch

In June, our part of France is pestered by mosquitos. In July, one sees the odd snake. And in August, the Dutch come.

They overrun the area, driving their caravans, vans or cars with trailers attached. Like tortoises, they carry their houses on their backs.

These mobile shells are filled to the gunwales with every necessity of life: tinned food, slabs of mediocre cheese, booze and even bottled water. Bread is the only thing they have to buy. The Dutch may be among the world’s wealthiest people, but why waste their hard-earned on frivolous purchases? God created money to keep, not to spend.

Such frugality run riot doesn’t endear the Dutch to the locals, particularly those who sell things, from food to hotel beds. They call them ‘moy-moys’ – this is how the Dutch word for ‘nice’ sounds to the French. Those Netherlandish misers utter that shibboleth when browsing in shops without ever buying anything.

Lately there have been violent rallies against mass tourism in places like Majorca and Barcelona. That’s an extreme manifestation of resentment seething all over Europe.

Locals everywhere detest seeing their home becoming a receptacle for swarms of boisterous, ogling tourists turning streets into bottlenecks and befouling what they see as tourist attractions. What helps the locals put up with the influx without too much grumbling is the soothing thought of the money poured into their pockets by those rampaging throngs.

Since the Dutch offer no such redeeming excuse, one can overhear our villagers describe them in terms covering the entire lower tier of French argot. The Dutch don’t care. They’re proud of their parsimony.

Now German tourists don’t mind spreading around their Deutschmarks disguised as euros. Why are their Germanic neighbours so different?

I’d suggest two reasons: unlike the Germans, the Dutch have little aristocratic past to inoculate them against the extremes of bourgeois ethos; also unlike the Germans, they’re mostly Calvinists.

Actually, the two reasons easily morph into one: Calvin reformed the Reformation, making it even more egalitarian and therefore bourgeois than Luther did.

Calvin pushed Augustine’s idea of predestination married to his ‘prevenient grace’ theology to an absurd extreme. We’re predestined for either salvation or damnation, pronounced Calvin and, as we live in “total depravity”, we can do nothing to affect the outcome. The idea of good works as restitution for sin is dangerous Catholic nonsense, a way of keeping the masses in check.

Frequently asked to put a number on the lucky winners of this divine lottery, Calvin tended to change his mind, presumably depending on his mood. The range varied from a miserly one in 100 to a generous one in five. In any case, how can we know which of us drew the lucky ticket?

It’s Calvin’s answer to this question that led Weber to regard capitalism as a predominantly Protestant phenomenon. God, according to Calvin, gave those to be saved a sign of his benevolence by making them rich.

Their wealth would be acquired not the Old Testament way, as God’s gift; not the aristocratic way, through inheritance, martial valour and pillage; but the bourgeois way, through hard work and thrift.

That’s why God wouldn’t just rain gold on the elect. Rather he’d guide them to a way of life that would deliver wealth as a reward. Hard work would be an important part of it, but frugality and austerity also had a role to play, if only as a way of thanking God for the lucre he had allowed the righteous to make. Virtuous conduct was thus an equivalent of a thank-you note to God.

This was nothing short of a revolution, a crucible of class war. For the first time a major Christian figure upgraded wealth from an object of bare toleration to a sign of divine benevolence. Grace became quantifiable in pieces of gold.

In common with all other successful revolutionaries, Calvin sensed the mood of the masses and told them exactly what they yearned to hear. For the good burghers of Geneva had already come to believe what Calvin so clearly enunciated.

Money was for them a tool of self-assertion and a road to political power. And the only way for them to make money was by offering sweat in return. So they worked their fingers to the bone, resenting prolonged fasts and other Church restrictions on hard work.

Secretly they had always known that God rewarded righteousness with money, just as he did in the Old Testament. Now they no longer had to be secretive about it.

Frugality, spending money only on necessities and never on whims, was an essential part of it. The burghers were happy to eschew opulence both out of inner conviction and also to emphasise the difference between themselves and the idle, degenerate aristocracy, secular or clerical.

Calvin taught other things as well, such as piety and a life of virtue. But those fell by the wayside with the advent of our predominantly atheist modernity. However, selfless, disinterested love of money qua money has survived, having left a particularly adhesive residue in the Dutch soul.

They do pay homage to Calvinist virtue by eschewing curtains on their ground floor windows, letting inquisitive passers-by peek into their drawing rooms. We have nothing to hide, seems to be the message; naughtiness is reserved for the bedroom, and only at night.

In parallel, windows in Amsterdam are used for the less righteous purpose of exhibiting semi-nude whores flogging their wares. Calvin meets Hegel here: thesis – Calvinist asceticism; antithesis – vulgar sleaze; synthesis – a country pioneering every possible modern perversion: euthanasia, legalised drugs, homosexual marriage, even cannibalism on live TV (see my post of 13 January, 2012).

Some American Protestant sectarians sport bumper stickers on their cars saying “Jesus is my navigator”. Replace Jesus with Calvin, and those miserly Dutch tourists would be well-advised to display that message on their caravans. Nothing like truth in advertising.

North Korea or Venezuela?

Some 20 years ago, Barry Levinson made a prescient film Wag the Dog, where spin doctors distract the electorate from the president’s sex scandal by creating a virtual war and flooding every available medium with fake reports and pictures.

Parallels with today’s situation are begging to be drawn. President Trump is in serious domestic trouble, if not of a sexual nature. Hence suspicions are voiced all over the papers that perhaps he wants to muffle the grand jury investigation by sabre rattling. There’s also the danger that he wants to swing the sabre, and neither possibility should be dismissed.

Trump may indeed be issuing bellicose threats with the cynical purpose of deflecting preoccupation with his Russian shenanigans, and he may indeed act on his threats for the same reason. However, if seen in the context of American history, Trump’s actions may appear in a different light.

Talking about the political chaos in Venezuela, the president said that “a military option is certainly something we could pursue.” Why? On what authority?

The riotous chaos in Venezuela constitutes no “clear and present danger” to the United States. There’s much violent turmoil there – yet it’s strictly internal, with little potential of spilling beyond the country’s borders or threatening the US.

That Maduro’s government, so beloved of Comrade Corbyn, falls short of the democratic purity demanded by Americans is undeniable. Equally obvious is America’s belief in her messianic mission to shove democracy down the throats of even the most unfit or reluctant nations.

Any hope that the country would learn the lesson of her disastrous 2003 attempt to inculcate the Middle East with democratic rectitude would be forlorn. Countries in general and the US in particular never heed history’s lessons, certainly not when they teach something contrary to the country’s ethos. America’s ethos is nothing if not messianic, and has been since the time Puritans first settled the Massachusetts Bay colony.

In 1630 their leader, John Winthrop, delivered an oration in which he alluded to Matthew 5:14 by describing the new community as a “city upon a hill”. Thus he implicitly equated it to the beacon that shone the word of God onto the rest of the world, whether or not it welcomed such elucidation.

When the colonies became independent, the new country began to parlay such proselytising intentions into a frankly imperialist policy, at first aimed at her own neighbourhood only.

The 1823 Monroe Doctrine was a statement of geopolitical intent, a quasi-legal justification of US domination over the Western Hemisphere. It was only quasi-legal for being unilateral: other countries both within and outside the Monroe Doctrine sphere never recognised America’s legal or moral right to police the hemisphere.

Thus, for example, when in 1895 the United States insisted on her right to mediate a border dispute between Venezuela and British Guiana, she was rebuked by Britain. Countering the US Secretary of State’s insistence that his country was “practically sovereign” in the Western Hemisphere, Britain responded that the Monroe Doctrine wasn’t international law.

All things considered, Trump’s ill-advised threats of military action against Venezuela spring not only from a transient political need, but also from the formative American ethos, combining elements of democratic proselytism and imperialism. The threats may not be empty: it’s not only its spots that a leopard can’t change, but also its compulsion to devour weaker animals.

The situation with North Korea is entirely different, and here Trump’s behaviour is unobjectionable. Yesterday the president said, speaking of Kim: “And if he utters one threat in the form of an overt threat… or if he does anything with respect to Guam or any place else that’s an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it…”

It’s hard to imagine any American president acting or talking differently in a similar situation. Kim Jong-un has issued several threats of missile attacks against Guam, which is an American territory. Also finding themselves on the receiving end of Kim’s threats are America’s allies, Japan and South Korea – not to mention the West Coast of the US proper.

It would be criminally irresponsible of Trump not to issue a stern threat of massive retaliation should any such attack occur. Acting irresponsibly here are the president’s numerous critics who accuse him of making threats he has no intention of acting on. This is nonsense.

Do they think that, if a North Korean missile hits Los Angeles or even Guam, Trump’s threats will remain empty? If so, they’re not only irresponsible but also insane. Of course, such an act of aggression will be met with overwhelming force – nothing else is imaginable.

Naturally, the best thing to do is not to respond to aggression but to deter it. And how do those critics fancy that can be done, other than by issuing a threat backed up by a demonstration of power, in this case B1 overflights?

By telling North Korea that the US nuclear deterrent is “locked and loaded”, Trump is doing just that, and we should all support him, while holding our breath in the hope that the stratagem works.

The issue of preemptive strike is more complex, but not by much. If intelligence reports prove that an enemy attack is imminent, the president is duty-bound to prevent it by every means at his disposal. The Six Day War showed convincingly that the aggressor isn’t necessarily the side that fires the first shot – it’s the side that makes firing the first shot the only feasible option.

China ostensibly refuses to adopt such a nuanced stance. Her communist leaders promise neutrality only if North Korea pushes the first button. They haven’t specified what they’d do in case of a preemptive US strike, and I for one am curious to know. Are they threatening war against Nato? Somehow I doubt it, and I’m sure Trump’s people are talking to Xi Jinping’s round the clock.

Meanwhile Frau Merkel treated us to one of her stock platitudes, to the effect that peace is better than war, and diplomacy is better than threats. Rebuking her, Trump bizarrely said that, although she’s Ivanka’s friend, she’d better be talking about Germany and not the United States. But then Trump can’t be easily confused with Demosthenes or Cicero.

Does Merkel seriously doubt that every diplomatic effort is being made to avert nuclear holocaust? But a credible threat of military chastisement is a time-proven tool of diplomacy, and Trump is absolutely right to wield it.

This is an interesting time, isn’t it? Actually, a bit too interesting for my taste.

Are Protestants agnostics in disguise?

The historian John Julius Norwich describes himself as an “agnostic Protestant”.

Having read that, I wrote to a close friend, a brilliant theologian, wondering whether that self-description was a tautology or an oxymoron. Now one doesn’t ask such questions, even facetiously, if one doesn’t already know, or at least can predict, the answer.

It duly arrived: “Surely, since Schleiermacher, Baur and Strauss – and arguably Luther – all Protestants have been agnostic. So I would say tautology.”

Now the first three men my learned friend mentioned were Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment Protestant thinkers with liberal leanings. In religion, liberal more or less equals agnostic, so few would take exception to those gentlemen finding themselves on that list.

But putting Luther in that company is more contentious. It’s tantamount to saying that Protestantism has been ab initio a form of agnosticism. Since most of us like to have our views confirmed, that brought a self-satisfied smile on my face.

Indeed, by declaring that “every man is his own priest”, Luther was echoing the humanist noises resonating through Europe since the Renaissance and reaching him via Erasmus. As the anonymous wit correctly put it, “Erasmus laid an egg that Luther hatched”.

Protestantism jammed the square peg of man into the round hole vacated first by the Church and then eventually by God. Man was becoming not just his own priest, but also effectively his own God.

The Church steadfastly resisted that development. Hence it was increasingly seen as a dead weight holding man down in his quest for elevation.

As any reader of Renaissance writers from Boccaccio to Machiavelli will confirm, anticlericalism was already common currency then. The Church was doubted as the depository and teacher of the Revelation because implicitly so was the Revelation.

Depending on one’s presuppositions, the Church is a human institution either wholly or at least partly. As such, it’s fallible. Thus there were many practices that laid the Church open to criticism, and many popes who were weak or corrupt.

Yet criticism can proceed from either love or hate, and it was the latter emotion that animated humanists and Reformers. They focused on things like indulgences, choosing to ignore that the Church was so fused with Western civilisation that the two were well-nigh synonymous. And when it came to popes, they talked about John XII and the Borgias, not Leo the Great or Gregory the Great.

Luther had a knack, shared by all heretics, for refuting himself. On the one hand, he insisted that man was so irreversibly corrupted by original sin that nothing he did during his lifetime could possibly affect his salvation one way or the other. On the other hand, he trusted man to be self-sufficient enough to understand, and communicate with, God.

In other words, what he regarded as a vile, irredeemably corrupt puppet, whose free will was either non-existent or irrelevant, was deemed capable of working out the immensely involved subtleties that had for 1,500 years been confounding some of history’s greatest minds.

Boundless contempt and equally boundless respect for man thus came together within one self-refuting heresy. Luther first brought man down then patted him on the head, and it swelled.

Rather than relying on the aforementioned great minds to guide him, man was invited to tread every spiritual path on his own. The most inviting one led straight to agnosticism.

Cartesian solipsism beckoned at the end: an invitation to self-sufficiency was an invitation to doubt. Descartes was expressing an exceedingly prevalent mood when he urged people to doubt everything – except their own existence manifested through (caused by?) their own thinking.

Just as the Church united Jerusalem and Athens to create Western civilisation, modernity united Luther, Descartes and Rousseau to create history’s only atheist civilisation. Max Weber correctly identified Protestantism as the driving force of capitalism, but it was more than that. Weber’s book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism could have benefited from the broader title of Protestantism and the Spirit of Modernity.

Starting from Luther and proceeding via two gentlemen of Geneva, Calvin and Rousseau, Protestantism exerted a formative influence on the Enlightenment and thus on pan-European agnosticism. The Enlightenment absorbed the Protestant notion of man’s self-sufficiency bordering on self-deification and translated it into every political, social and cultural aspect of modernity.

For example, if every man is equally capable of communicating with God without outside help, then why not assume that every man is equally capable of governing a state by passing judgement on things he knows nothing about? Our politics of universal suffrage democracy is based on this counterintuitive assumption, which explains the abysmally low grade of human material observable in our elected officials.

The profound concept of free choice between good and evil has been replaced by the vulgar notion of free choice between one consumer product and another. Consumer products are all on the table equally, and they include not just deodorants and watches, but also religions and cultures.

I choose Islam, you choose Christianity, he chooses Buddhism, they choose atheism – who’s to say which choice is right? I choose Puccini, you choose Bach, he chooses the Beatles, they choose rap – who’s to say one choice is better than another? In such equations, all things are always equal.

Humanism left man to his own judgement; Protestantism left him to his own devices; post-Enlightenment modernity left him to his own perdition: all these links clasped together to make an unbreakable chain.

Many historical developments have gone into forming what’s these days accurately called ‘post-truth society’. Of these, agnosticism inspired by Protestantism may just claim pride of place.

The Black Prince was whiter than white

Edward of Woodstock acquired his chromatic adjective for his supposed 1370 massacre of 3,000 people in Limoges. Trust the French to besmirch the reputation of a great English hero.

Originally responsible for this calumny of the victor at Poitiers was the contemporaneous French chronicler Jean Froissart, who clearly had it in for Edward. In fact, as the English historian Michael Jones has established, the massacre was perpetrated by French soldiers, who went on a rampage because the denizens of the besieged Limoges had opened the gates to Edward’s troops.

By that time Edward had ruled Aquitaine for 10 years, and his Limoges subjects clearly preferred him to the city’s bishop Jean de Cros, who had treacherously delivered Limoges to the French the previous month.

Actually, the French like to play fast and loose with military history. Possibly driven by the same national inferiority complex that makes them enjoy playing second fiddle to Germany in the EU, they insist on describing most of their defeats as victories – if not of the military, then of the moral kind.

Much as I admire the French, the ability to lose graciously isn’t their most salient trait. Nous sommes trahis (we was robbed, in colloquial English) is their blanket explanation of all French defeats.

They never lose battles to superior, better-led armies. They only ever lose them to treason committed by the enemy, their own generals or, as at Waterloo, God. In any case, the moral victory is always theirs, and surely morality trumps brute force, n’est ce pas?

In that spirit, all appearances to the contrary, Edward didn’t really win the battle of Poitiers. He suffered a crushing moral defeat by using longbowmen of common birth to wipe out the chivalrous French knights. Every ping of those bow strings not only cut down yet another flower of French nobility (la fine fleur de la noblesse Française), but also testified to the triumph of French morality over English perfidy.

For all that, it’s good to see Britain and France for once acting as good neighbours rather than sworn enemies. This has been mutually beneficial.

The French have taught us gastronomy, Gothic architecture, scholasticism, advanced sexual variants, the use of long words that sound weird, tax avoidance, how to stay thin in spite of gorging ourselves (I haven’t learned that particular lesson) and how to sound sophisticated by slipping into the conversation the odd je ne sais quoi or tout court.

They haven’t yet taught all of us that the ‘s’ is actually pronounced at the end of fleur de lis and coup de grâce, but I’m sure they will, given time. It won’t be long before our socially aspiring countrymen will learn that grâce and gras, as in foie gras, sound different in their native habitat. But I’m relieved to see it hasn’t all been a one-way street (sens unique).

The patriot in me rejoices at the evidence of the French learning from us as well. For example, even 10 years ago there were no tattooing and piercing parlours in provincial France, but now they are spreading like chanterelles after a summer rain.

Also, French youngsters now routinely get drunk every weekend, and not just on wine. More and more often they fall into an alcohol-induced coma after consuming gallons of vile concoctions the British have perfected, if not invented. Lager is also becoming a favourite coma-inducer, and it’s good to see that the EU is succeeding in its stated goal of encouraging cultural exchange.

A French friend was commiserating the other day about the growing lager consumption in his native land, and he even chuckled politely at my feeble pun “à lager comme à la guerre”. He was also gracious enough not to suggest that the French are picking up English habits, so it fell upon me to elucidate the point.

It has to be said that, when I pass a group of French youngsters in our local village, they still say “Bonjour, Monsieur”, rather than an equivalent of “You wha’, mate?”, so cultural exchange isn’t as brisk as all that. Manny Macron has work to do, but we can rely on him to do his internationalist best.

Before long French youngsters, who naturally drop their aitches (though admittedly they didn’t learn that phonetic quirk from us), will be shouting “On me ‘ead, son” during their kickabouts, while the English will learn how to enunciate “Sur ma tête, mon vieux” or some such.

But all that is the future. It’s the past that interests me today, and specifically the posthumous reputation of Edward of Woodstock, who must henceforth be called the White Prince.

As Michael Jones writes, “It is time to remove this unwarranted stain on Edward’s reputation and restore one of our great heroes to their rightful position.” Hear, hear (shame about the grammar).

Justice has gone sex-crazy

Yesterday I argued that the jury system is becoming inoperable in the West because it’s increasingly hard to find 12 people who understand what justice is.

To be fair, it’s not just the potential jurors’ fault. More and more of our laws are being devised to project state power rather than protect public safety.

Now which of these crimes should be punished most severely: beating a stranger to death, armed burglary, supplying weapons to terrorists or a woman in her thirties having sex with a 15-year-old boy?

However any sane person arranges these crimes in a descending order of enormity, I bet the last one will be at the bottom of the list. Not so, say our courts, and by ‘our’ I mean not just British but also American since both countries’ jurisprudence is based on common law and the jury system.

In recent years, the first three crimes I mentioned have drawn sentences of around five years. Yet a good-looking Michigan woman, 38, has just been slapped with up to 15 years in prison for having sex with two teenage boys, 14 and 15. The boys, said the judge, were traumatised for life.

It’s only one man’s experience, but a zillion years ago I too was 15 and even 14. Most of my energy in those days was spent on trying, desperately and unsuccessfully, to fulfil assorted sexual fantasies.

Older women figured prominently in those – as they do, I’d suggest at the risk of generalising, for most straight boys. Once or twice I even tried to make a tentative pass at a woman twice my age, only to be rebuked with richly deserved contempt.

Now, indulging in a bit of retrospective fantasy, had one of my advances succeeded, I would have been ecstatic, grateful, proud, elated – choose your own adjective. One thing I absolutely guarantee I wouldn’t have been is traumatised.

It’s hard to believe that today’s teenagers, who are infinitely more savvy and precocious in such matters than I was at their age, will forever bear emotional scars after doing a pretty and, to them, sophisticated 38-year-old woman in the back of her car. More likely they’ll remember her with warmth and gratitude for the rest of their lives.

I’m not suggesting that a grown-up shouldn’t be rebuked for doing something unethical or illegal. Dura lex, sed lex, as the Romans used to say. But the severity of punishment ought to be commensurate with the crime, and surely any just jurisprudence must distinguish between malum prohibitum and malum in se.

The latter, such as murder or theft, is a transgression against higher and therefore universally just law; the former, such as speeding, contravenes only made-up, what Aristotle called positive, laws, not all of which are universally just.

So why are testosterone-drunk youngsters encouraged to report on older women whose favours they’ve enjoyed? Why are such crimes punished more severely than burglary or sometimes even manslaughter?

Why do our broadsheets, to say nothing of tabloids, cover such cases at inordinate length and with obvious approval of any draconian punishment? Do the hacks, many of them young men themselves, seriously think that those teenagers suffered serious trauma?

There’s a one-word answer to all these questions: modernity. Specifically the post-Enlightenment modernity that has to proceed from Rousseau’s assumption that we’re all born perfect.

If most of us demonstrably don’t grow up perfect, it’s somebody else’s fault: our parents’, our schools’, capitalism’s, socialism’s, society’s, the climate’s – choose your own culprit. This puny mind-set naturally encourages seeing everyone as a potential victim, which in turn intensifies a search for perpetrators.

Youngsters are reared in that poisonous atmosphere and, being impressionable, inhale it with their lungs wide open. Victimhood is top of the mind, which naturally makes it top of the news coverage.

This is illogically and hypocritically combined with the blanket sexualisation of education, mass communications and society at large. Children are implicitly invited to plunge headlong into a life of sexual activity, and yet they’re somehow told to see themselves as victims when their paramours are older than they are.

Kindergarten pupils are taught how to use condoms; a few years later they’ll take courses in variously acrobatic sexual techniques. Now can anyone seriously expect that a boy taught at age 5 how to contain ejaculation within a latex sheath will at age 15 be traumatised by having sex with an older woman?

We must also remember that today’s woman in her thirties has received the same education. She too was taught in her infancy about the birds and the bees, or indeed the birds and the birds. She too was taught, implicitly or explicitly, that sexual urges are perfectly natural and should therefore be indulged, provided things like pregnancy and VD can be avoided.

Expecting her in her thirties to remain prim under such circumstances is presuming too much on human goodness, à la Rousseau. By all means, she should be reprimanded, perhaps also punished, for laws are there to be obeyed. But treating her transgression as a worse crime than some I’ve mentioned is hypocrisy at its most soaring.

The culture of victimhood thus gets a steady influx of fresh blood, while similarly educated newspaper readers get their prurient instincts properly satisfied. The circle becomes truly vicious and it’s society that falls victim, not those randy teenagers.

The shot that killed Old Russia

Today is the birthday of the revolutionary Vera Zasulich (1849-1919), whom a French magazine named “the most famous woman in Europe” in 1878 .

Raised in a provincial gentry family, Miss Zasulich was still in her teens when she got involved with a terrorist organisation People’s Reprisal led by Sergei Nechayev (its widely publicised trial inspired Dostoyevsky’s novel The Possessed).

Since Zasulich was only on the periphery of that gang, she spent a mere year in remand prison, followed by a short exile. In took her several more years to become an international star, but she got there in the end.

In 1878 Zasulich was tried for an attempt to murder Fyodor Trepov, Petersburg’s governor, and the case got a wide coverage throughout Europe.

Trepov was chosen for target practice because he had ordered that the prisoner Bogolyubov be flogged for insubordination (refusing to remove his cap when ordered to do so). This although the law banned corporal punishment for noblemen, which Bogolyubov was. That enraged the legally minded Miss Zasulich enough to pull the trigger. On second thoughts, perhaps she wasn’t as legally minded as all that.

More critically, neither was the court. The defence successfully turned the proceedings into a trial not of the terrorist but of Trepov, and the jury found Zasulich innocent on the grounds of her political, rather than simply criminal, motive.

That miscarriage of justice demonstrated the uselessness of jury trial in Russia, and from then on crimes with political implications were mostly tried by military tribunals. Those proved only marginally less lenient, at least until nihilist terror reached pandemic proportions in the early twentieth century.

Russian judges came to their senses then and, in return for the murders of 1,600 officials, including some members of the royal family, passed several thousand death sentences in 1905-1907. But by then it was too late. The country’s madness had flared up, and in a few years she’d go on a murderous rampage the likes of which the world had never seen.

That trial emphasised the brittleness of any political system that isn’t based on the rule of just law – something to which the Russians have been indifferent throughout their history. Characteristically, Nikolai Lossky’s The History of Russian Philosophy devotes 57 pages to the metaphysical thinker Vladimir Soloviov and only two to all the Russian philosophers of law combined.

Those with eyes to see will learn much about Russia from the concluding statement of Zasulich’s defence counsel. Here it is for your delectation (the emphases are mine):

“Gentlemen of the jury! It’s not for the first time that finding herself in this dock of agonising suffering is a woman tried for a bloody crime before the court of civic conscience. There has been many a woman here who punished her seducer by death; many a woman who spilled the blood of her unfaithful beloved or her lucky rival. Such women have left here acquitted. Those just verdicts echoed God’s judgement that takes into account not only the physical act, but also its inner meaning, the defendant’s underlying criminality.

“Yet by exacting bloody vengeance, those women fought for themselves only. Standing before you for the first time is a woman whose crime wasn’t motivated by personal interests, personal vengeance – a woman whose crime reflected her struggle for an idea, on behalf of someone who shared the misery of her young life.

“If the motive for this deed proves less weighty on the scales of civic truth, then her punishment will have to be considered just, a triumph of law, of society – and may your justice be done! Don’t think twice! Your verdict won’t add much suffering to this broken, smashed life. She will accept your decision without reproach, without bitter complaints, without offence, serene in the knowledge that her suffering, her sacrifice might have preempted the possibility that the incident causing her act will be repeated.

“However much one may decry her deed, it’s impossible to deny that it was motivated by an honest and noble impulse. Yes, she may leave here convicted, but she won’t leave shamed. One can only wish that there would be no more provocations causing such crimes, begetting such criminals.

That a country in which such a speech could produce an acquittal isn’t ruled by law is clear enough – moreover, such a country has no concept of what a law is. That makes her ripe for the advent of savage, unrestrained lawlessness, which duly arrived 37 years later and is still going strong.

Zasulich’s bullet fired into Trepov’s stomach didn’t kill him. But it did kill Old Russia, or at least proved she was moribund.

The failure of Russian courts to save the country from ideologically motivated outrages could have taught a useful lesson to posterity even in the West: institutions are only as good as the people who man them. Trial by jury, for example, can’t survive as an instrument of justice in the absence of a broadly based group of people who understand what justice means.

Today’s British criminals, expertly guided by their barristers, recite the mantra “it’s all society’s fault”, knowing that the twelve good men may well nod their assent. Yet no country can have real justice if such statements can be made, never mind accepted. Such a country has discarded individual responsibility – and therefore individual liberty.

Nevertheless, the argument that a criminal had an impoverished childhood has been known to produce mitigated sentences or even acquittals in British courts, race has been seen as an extenuating circumstance, and political motives have been viewed as being more noble than simple brutality.

As a result, courts are beginning to act as rubber stamps of egalitarianism, rather than agents of justice. Society predictably responds by a climbing crime rate that only statistical larceny can pass for anything other than a social catastrophe. One example: in 1954 there were 400 muggings in all of Britain; one month of 2001 produced the same number in Lambeth, a small South London borough.

So happy birthday, Vera. Thanks for the lesson. Shame it wasn’t heeded.


Kim’s slaves and Putin’s masters

Eight US senators have written to FIFA, expressing their “serious concerns about the exploitation of North Korean workers at a World Cup stadium site in Russia.”

Those workers, write the senators, “faced appalling work conditions that almost certainly amount to forced labour. Those conditions may have included inhumane working hours and living conditions, constant surveillance by North Korean agents, threats to workers’ families still living in North Korea, absence of freedom of movement, wage garnishment by the North Korean government, and other similar features. News reports further suggest that one North Korean worker has died… possibly due to overwork. Such working arrangements are completely inconsistent with FIFA’s human rights policy and international law.”

In other words, St Petersburg’s Zenit arena was built by slave labour generously provided by one criminal state to another. Yet again, Putin’s Russia finds herself in refined company, this time forming the new axis of evil with North Korea and Iran. One wonders how long before those North Korean slaves will inspire books like Uncle Soo’s Cabin and Loots.

What I find amusing is the reference to “FIFA’s human rights policy”. It ought to be remembered that, to paraphrase Lord Acton, all international organisations are corrupt, and international sports organisations are corrupt absolutely.

‘Absolutely’ means to the exclusion of everything else, including human rights. Those football chaps aren’t about back passes – they’re about backhanders.

Why do you suppose they awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 one to Qatar? I’ve been looking at the Qatar weather charts in June, when the World Cup is traditionally held, and the temperature there hardly ever drops below 45C.

Playing football in such conditions isn’t just uncomfortable, it’s life threatening. I can confidently predict that many players will suffer strokes and heart attacks. Some will probably die, and so will some fans, especially those unused to such cauldrons.

And some proposed sites for the Russian World Cup are 2,000 miles apart, with most places featuring antediluvian facilities and infrastructure. Conceivably the stadiums can be improved – there are more slaves where those North Koreans came from. But it would take millions of them to make places like Saransk fit for human habitation or indeed for hospitality expected by football fans from civilised countries.

So on what criteria was Russia selected ahead of the other bidders, Portugal/Spain, Belgium/Netherlands and Britain? Or Qatar ahead of the US, South Korea, Japan and Australia? Only one criterion comes to mind. It’s for a good reason that FIFA president Sepp Blatter was banned in 2015 following a corruption scandal.

As to slave labour, Russia in general and St Petersburg in particular enjoy a rich tradition of it, and the conservative in me rejoices at seeing it so lovingly upheld.

The great historian Vasiliy Klyuchevsky (d. 1911) probably exaggerated the human cost of building the city named after Peter’s patron saint when suggesting that more people died in the process than had ever been killed in any war. But modern historians cite a death toll close to 300,000, which is still fairly impressive by the demographic standards of the time.

Nor was it a one-off tragedy: at least another 60,000 were to die erecting Petersburg’s hideous St Isaac’s Cathedral in the mid-nineteenth century. By comparison, Putin’s slave masters look like humanitarians trying to get in touch with their feminine side.

After the revolution, whose centenary the Russians will be ecstatically celebrating later this year, forced labour became co-extensive with the country’s borders. Like Dante’s Inferno, that hell had different circles, of which GULAG proper was the innermost but far from the only one. The whole country was one giant slave camp.

Some of those slaves were imported from countries that fell under the Soviets’ sway during the Second World War, but not only from there. Many British, French and US POWs  were ‘liberated’ from Nazi camps only to find themselves in Soviet ones. At least in the German camps they could receive food parcels from the Red Cross, a privilege that didn’t exist in Russia.

Southeast Asians also experienced Soviet servitude, during and after the Korean and Vietnam wars. In both instances, the recipients of Soviet aid had to pay for it, just like the Spanish loyalists did in their Civil War. The Spanish paid with their entire gold reserves, shipped to Russia and never returned. The Koreans and the Vietnamese were poor in gold but rich in human fodder, which they offered to their Soviet benefactors in part payment.

As to corruption, that too has a fine tradition in Russia, as any reader of Gogol or Saltykov Shchedrin can confirm. When Nicholas I asked another great historian, Karamzin, how things were in the provinces, the latter replied laconically: “Thieving, Your Majesty” (Ils voles, sire).

That again was child’s play compared to what the modern historian Sean McMeekin calls “history’s greatest heist”, when the Bolsheviks looted Russia on a scale never before seen anywhere in the world. History’s second greatest heist came and is still going on after the so-called collapse of communism, with Lenin’s slogan “loot the looter” turned into “loot the looted”.

Russia’s corruption ratings are at the top of every international list, where the country finds herself next to places like Zimbabwe and Gabon. Yet even against the background of rampant corruption from top to bottom, the sports establishment can confidently claim pride of place.

Doping and bribery are rife in Russia’s sports, as witnessed by the wholesale international ban of her entire athletics team. Add corruption to a rich history of slavery, and one can’t think offhand of any moral or legal constraints that could have prevented the Russians from using slave labour – or indeed the North Koreans from providing it. As to FIFA shutting its eyes to this charming practice, that too is par for the course.

In this context, the senators’ appeal looks touchingly naïve. But at least they’ve drawn my, and vicariously your, attention to this outrage.