Alex sends a message to all his readers that he is in hospital for a few days and will resume his blog when he is home again.
“Listen up, class.
“Which four-letter word describes the worst thing that can happen to a woman? Nothing from you, Peter, I know what you’re going to say. I’ll give you a clue: it starts with an R.
“Splendid, it is indeed ‘rape’. Does everybody know how to spell it? Well done, Sharon. R-A-P-E.
“Now I’m going to ask you a tougher question. What’s the second worst thing?
“No, Andrew, it’s not having every bone in her body broken, and I’ll thank you for not indulging your gruesome fantasies. And neither is it being murdered, thank you very much.
“No, Fiona, it’s not losing a husband, a child, an eye or a limb. Anyone else?
“Well, it’s upskirting, and I bet you don’t know what it is. Nothing from you, Peter, I know what you’re going to say.”
Actually, I can well imagine myself being one of the pupils. For until the other day I had never heard of upskirting and hadn’t had the foggiest idea what it meant.
Now I’ve learned. Upskirting describes the crime of chaps photographing the knickers of unaware women in public places.
Sky TV showed some footage of a shop where that crime was caught on camera. A young man carrying a camera furtively approached a woman wearing a short skirt, bent down quickly, aimed the camera under that garment, snapped a shot and ran away.
That’s not how I’d do it. I’d attach a camera to one of those selfie sticks so favoured by Japanese tourists. That would obviate the need for bending, making concealment easier.
And I confess to having done something similar, minus photographic devices. When I was 11 or so, I’d occupy a strategic position under the school staircase to peak under the skirts of girls walking up.
Now a long way from 11, I don’t see the point of either looking or photographing. After all, by the time they reach their late teens, most boys have had a few opportunities to relish the sight of girls’ knickers without having to resort to subterfuge.
And let’s face it, though perhaps not all women accessorise miniskirts with underwear, I’m sure most do. So where’s the fun in taking those snaps? The transgressors won’t see anything they can’t see on a beach, especially if volleyball is being played.
At least exhibitionists derive some sexual satisfaction from flashing, though I don’t immediately see how. Really, life must have passed me by.
Now the question is, what should be done to discourage such acts of petty puerile voyeurism?
A woman would be well-justified to slap the infantile moron in the face. If she’s accompanied by a man, he couldn’t be blamed for punching the idiot.
And if the police get involved, they’ll have any number of charges to bring on the basis of existing laws. One such could be OPD (Outraging Public Decency), although these days public decency must be sufficiently calloused by things like Gay Day parades not to be outraged too easily.
That’s how it would be in a sane world. In our world, an upskirted woman feels “violated, distressed and traumatised for life”. And women can’t be violated, distressed and traumatised for life without creating political pressure groups and launching national campaigns.
Now I don’t see how such a boorish trick can possibly cause life-long trauma. Suppose for the sake of argument that the upskirting picture ends up on the net. Considering that the camera angle doesn’t allow capturing the victim’s knickers and face at the same time, who’s to know that’s her?
Such identification would be impossible unless there’s something extraordinary about the woman’s upper thighs (if, for example, she’s Serena Williams). So, though some harm was done, it wasn’t very much, was it?
I’m being deliberately crass here. I realise that these days a woman is traumatised if she says she is. And if several of them say they are, we need a new law making the act a specific criminal offence.
Such a law was proposed in a private member’s bill the other day, and enthusiastically supported by the government – led by that upskirtable person. Happy snappers would get up to two years in prison and enter the sex offenders’ register for life. I’m amazed the reintroduction of the death penalty wasn’t mooted, just this once.
To everyone’s amazement, the bill didn’t pass: Sir Christopher Chope, the one-eyed man among the blind, shouted “object” and the bill was derailed for the time being, to be reintroduced in a few weeks.
There were screams of “shame!” in the Commons and much other vitriol aimed at Sir Christopher, enough to traumatise him as badly as upskirting could ever traumatise a woman.
Mrs May, doubtless holding on to her own skirt tightly, expressed her dismay: “Upskirting is an invasion of privacy which leaves victims feeling degraded and distressed,” she said. “I am disappointed the Bill didn’t make progress in the Commons today, and I want to see these measures pass through Parliament – with Government support – soon.”
I feel secure in the knowledge that things are going so swimmingly in Britain that our government has the time and energy to throw its weight behind this kind of legislation. I must have been reading the wrong newspapers.
At the same time, I’m outraged (without necessarily feeling violated, distressed and traumatised) at this flagrant display of sex discrimination. My thoughts and prayers go (if that’s the right phrase) to all those Scotsmen who wear kilts with nothing underneath.
What if our liberated females began to commit the heinous crime of upkilting? Perhaps that’s why Sir Christopher stopped the bill from passing – it didn’t cover all eventualities, as it were.
The reason upskirting has received so much attention is that it isn’t just a crime against person. It’s a crime against the ruling ethos, replacing millennia-old certitudes with ersatz nonsense whose sole purpose is to perpetuate the power of the ruling spivocracy.
While crimes against person and property routinely go unpunished and indeed uninvestigated, crimes against the ethos are punished quickly and surely.
How long before an admittedly flippant article like this one is criminalised for making light of people’s suffering? Nothing from you, Peter, I know what you’re going to say.
Few countries ever annex the territory of their weaker neighbours and then tell the world to grin and bear it. They always offer some justification, however flimsy.
The most widespread pretext is a territorial claim presented as valid for historical, ethnic, linguistic and philosophical reasons. The aggressor is both the star and the referee in this game: it’s he who establishes the rules by which the weaker country is supposed to play, but blithely refuses to.
However, if the world accepts the new set of rules in theory, they become a model for everyone else to follow in practice.
For example, once it was accepted, on rather shaky grounds, that every Third World country was entitled to independence, they all claimed it – even those like Algeria, which was an equal province of France, rather than her colony.
That’s why we should sit up and listen whenever a world leader formulates a geopolitical philosophy justifying annexation. As often as not, action may follow.
Donald Trump can’t be easily confused with the philosopher king of Plato’s fancy. His intellectual prowess doesn’t quite stretch to the point where philosophy begins and, though his role is modelled on that of a monarch, he isn’t exactly king.
But, to give him his due, he has strong principles and tends to act on them, God and Congress willing. Hence, whenever he proposes embellishments on geopolitical doctrine, his words ought to be heeded.
His recent contribution to geopolitical theory was to tell G7 leaders that Russia was entitled to help herself to the Crimea because everyone in that peninsula speaks Russian.
Never before had annexation been justified by linguistic commonality alone, although the Anschluss came pretty close.
However, Trump tends to act on his ideas. Hence one has to assume that, rather than limiting that startling discovery to Russia, he believes it has a practical significance for the conduct of US foreign policy.
So if I were a Canadian, I’d be worried. Actually, I’m already worried even as a British subject but, if I were a Canadian, I’d worry even more.
For the fact is that everyone in both Canada and Britain speaks English, although those who’ve heard Sir Kenny Dalglish might disagree. And Canada has the added disadvantage of being right on Trump’s doorstep.
Since the US also enjoys an overwhelming military superiority over Canada, and since Trump is known to hold a dim view of Justin Trudeau and his policies, the stage is set.
Before long the US will annex most of Canada, granting an independent status only to the Francophone Quebec. By the same logic, that province must be claimed by France.
And why stop there? After all, many countries of Africa and Asia speak English too. Some of them do so incomprehensibly, but then no one understands Sir Kenny Dalglish either. This linguistic proclivity makes them ripe for American conquest, presumably led by Trump astride a white steed.
Also, to be fair, the same principle should be extended to other languages as well. For example, every South American country except Brazil speaks Spanish.
I say if Russia is entitled to the Crimea, Spain is entitled to Uruguay. And it’s not just the language either. Uruguay used to belong to Spain, just like the Crimea used to belong to Russia. What better reason for annexation can there be? And fine, Portugal is welcome to Brazil.
Mr Trump added a few glints to his shining concept of linguistic expansionism. We might as well forget Putin’s annexation of the Crimea, he offered magnanimously, because it “happened a while ago”. That’s like a football referee playing advantage, allowing the play to continue after a foul.
This simplifies the task facing the US in Canada, Spain in Uruguay and – as the patriot in me insists on adding – Britain in India. Should these countries claim what’s rightfully theirs, they wouldn’t have to fight a permanent war.
They’d only have to hold on to their acquisitions for four years, after which no arguments against the annexations would have any force.
And speaking of Britain and India, have you noticed a direct parallel with Russia and the Crimea? India belonged to Britain from 1757 to 1948, which is almost exactly the period during which the Crimea belonged to Russia (1783-1954).
Call me a British nationalist and report me to Jean-Claude Juncker, but this makes our claim to India unassailable – especially since most Indians speak English, some of them better than most Englishmen and most of them better than Sir Kenny Dalglish.
Nor is it just about language and prior ownership. According to our philosopher king, the Ukraine is entitled neither to our support nor, by inference, to the Crimea because she’s “one of the most corrupt countries in the world.”
That’s true. The Ukraine is indeed one of the world’s most corrupt nations, finding herself at around Number 130 on that score. Yet Russia, at 195 out of 198 countries in the Verisk Maplecroft corruption rating, is even more corrupt, finding herself next to Sudan and Burma.
My head is beginning to spin. For both Sudan and Burma are largely Anglophone and both used to belong to Britain. If we had the ships to transport a sizeable expeditionary force, I’d say let’s sail and claim what’s ours.
And shouldn’t the Ukraine annex parts of the Russian territory on the basis of being less corrupt than Russia? She should, if she could.
Jokes aside, all 14 former Soviet republics were ruled by Russia until 1991. They all speak Russian and they’re all corrupt, both accomplishments being the inheritance of communism added to some indigenous proclivities.
President Trump seems to be issuing his friend Vlad a carte blanche to recreate the Soviet Union, which is exactly what friend Vlad wants. Nor does Trump seem to see Russia’s aggression as a disqualification from re-entering the civilised community or having all sanctions against her repealed.
I’m not going to add my own collusion stone to those being thrown at Trump, but it increasingly seems that his foreign policy isn’t so much America First as Russia First.
The overriding stratagem appears to be punching holes in all Western alliances, both military and economic – which is Putin’s policy too. Trump clearly sees both NATO and G7 in his sights, and he allows Putin to control the temperature and duration of the Syrian war. That pushes oil prices high and keeps the hydrocarbon-centred Russian economy afloat.
I’m not sure an American invasion of Canada is on the cards, but I wouldn’t bet against more Russian aggression against the neighbouring states. If that happens, Vlad should send a letter of thanks to his friend Donald.
The blurb outside the ruins of this Cluny abbey at Donzy, at the edge of Burgundy, gives the dry facts.
Built in 1103. Destroyed by the Protestants in 1569, then during the Revolution in 1793 and again at the end of XIX century.
Similar stories with similar dates are told by other ruins all over France. That is, when ruins survive.
According to the eminent medievalist Régine Pernoud, some 80 per cent of France’s Romanesque and Gothic buildings were demolished either by the Huguenots or the revolutionaries and their heirs.
One can’t begin to imagine the glory of France as she was when 100 per cent of those buildings were still standing – considering that few countries can match even the 20 per cent she has left. I shan’t even try to strain my imagination.
Instead I’d like to offer those ruins as yet another reminder of what happens when mob instincts are no longer restrained by civilisation. For civilisation is the tether that fetters the beast in us, preventing it from leaping out, fangs bared.
That beast has never been defanged, much less put down. It can only be provisionally tamed by civility, which is a cognate of civilisation. But it’s always there in the background, growling and awaiting its opening.
You don’t have to believe in Original Sin to verify this observation. Empirical evidence over history ought to suffice.
Once some group of people, usually small, always driven, find a way of exploiting mob instincts for their own purposes, the beast pounces and devours all before it – not just the original target against which it was let loose.
Both the rationalisation and post-rationalisation are never in short supply. The people were driven to despair, the typical story goes, by legitimate grievances they could no longer tolerate.
They weren’t. They were driven to overt beastliness by some clever rabble-rousers who knew how to suppress civilisational constraints and appeal to the feral part of human nature.
This isn’t to say that the grievances used as the pretext weren’t legitimate. Since all human institutions are operated by people who are fallen and therefore fallible, none can be held up to absolute standards of goodness. It’s always possible to find something wrong, at times very wrong.
In the run-up to the Reformation the Church indeed indulged in some corrupt practices, although not nearly on the scale claimed by the reformers. But some priests, monks and nuns were indeed as venal, lustful and gluttonous as those depicted by Boccaccio and Rabelais.
Nor was the Church hierarchy free of blame, although, when its enemies wish to attack the Church, it’s always the Borgias they talk about, never Augustine, Leo I or Gregory the Great.
By the same token, Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette weren’t ideal monarchs, even though the latter never really suggested that infamous dietary change to the starving people. Yet neither were they the sadistic mass murderers that their enemies proved to be.
Whatever problems existed should have been pointed out and, if possible, solved – though not by the mob, but by the same groups that were the sole guardians of civilisation.
But even if left unsolved, those problems would have had no calamitous effects in France to match the wanton destruction that began at the Reformation, continued through that great misnomer of the Enlightenment, culminated in the horrors of the Revolution and Napoleonic wars, and still radiated its tectonic waves throughout the nineteenth century.
The same, mutatis mutandis, can be said about every mass popular uprising, whatever its pretext and however expertly it’s enveloped in noble-sounding demagoguery.
Once the beast slips its chain, walls will tumble and blood will flow. Clipping the chain back on may sometimes be possible, eventually, but it’s never easy. And it always takes a long time.
If you look at the great popular revolts of the last 600 years, the Reformation, the two English Revolutions and those in France, America and Russia, each did more harm than good. And even those that did do some good, didn’t do enough to compensate for the blood spilled, destruction wreaked and social order obliterated.
Looking at l’Abbaye Notre Dame du Pré at Donzy, it’s hard to think of anything that has made up for its demise, and especially for what it signifies. That is, unless you regard as sufficient compensation the wind farms that have replaced the wind mills.
For it’s not just the Abbey that lies in ruins. It’s our Western civilisation, debauched, prostituted and systematically supplanted by a vulgar impostor that has the gall to call itself by the same name.
P.S. I’d like to apologise to the Duchess of Sussex (aka Meghan Markle). When the subject of her erotic photos came up at a dinner party the other day, I inadvertently stated it was nothing compared to the scandal involving her maternal great-great-grandmother who had posed nude for National Geographic. That rumour, which I accidentally spread and indeed originated, has no basis in reality.
Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer. This old saw was amply vindicated by the question scientists in North Carolina posed to a sample group of US Christians.
Their answers to the question in the title were used to create a composite ‘e-fit’ picture of God’s face.
Turns out God isn’t at all like he’s usually depicted, a muscular old chap whose shaggy beard neatly matches the cloud he sits on. God, according to those Christians, was an effeminate lad with vaguely black features.
How effeminate and how black depended on the respondents’ own characteristics and also on their politics. In essence, they reversed the generally accepted roles by creating God in the image and likeness of themselves. Everybody was his own God.
This makes me want to ask a different question. Just how Christian is America anyway? Her piety is often held up as an example for all of us to follow, but is it actually true?
I’ve always had my doubts, ever since I lived there (1973-1988), first in Texas then in New York. Being new both to the West and to freedom of worship, I often discussed God with my co-workers.
In Texas, almost the whole staff were self-described Christians. One of them noticed that I looked the worse for wear one morning. Replying to his inquiry, I admitted that I had had a few too many the night before.
“How could you, Al?” asked my devout colleague. “Jesus didn’t drink, you know.”
I objected by offering a few scriptural references testifying to the opposite, from the wedding at Cana, to the Son of Man who drinketh, to the fruit of the vine that was imbibed at every paschal meal, such as the Last Supper.
“That was non-alcoholic wine,” explained the co-worker, aghast at my downfall. “How do you know that?” I wondered. “How can you ask this question, Al? Don’t y’all know what kind of guy Jesus was?”
I honestly admitted I probably didn’t, though he didn’t reciprocate by acknowledging a similar ignorance. However, the thought crossed my mind that he and many other believers I met in the Bible Belt had a tad primitive, not to say vulgar, notion of Christ.
My co-worker in New York was an atheist with strong ideas about the appearance of God in whom she didn’t believe.
That aggressive woman with breasts to match was unequivocal on the subject: “God is a woman and she’s black.” “So do you believe in her?” I wanted to know. “Of course I don’t,” she replied, undeterred by a touch of logical inconsistency there somewhere.
By then I had learned enough about America to know that most of her pious Christians, the Catholic and Episcopalian minorities apart, were sectarians. They belonged to some of the 30,000 sects sprouted by Protestantism over time.
Now, along with Hilaire Belloc, I regard even mainstream Protestantism as a heresy. That makes those American sects heresies of a heresy, with predictable consequences.
One such consequence is ignorant vulgarisation. Encouraged to interpret God as they see fit, those alternative Christians create multiple Gods, reflecting the diversity of human nature. They thereby get perilously close to paganism, replacing worship with idolatry.
Neither doctrine nor dogma means anything to those dubious Christians. They make up their own as they go along.
They do read the Bible, but in the absence of qualified teachers and interpreters they don’t understand what they read. And of course the First Amendment discourages teaching Christianity at state schools. Comparative religion is the best the tots get: Which do you prefer, Johnny, Christianity or Taoism? And have you considered totemism?
Hence we shouldn’t be surprised that the question those North Carolina researchers posed was illiterate. Anyone who can ask such a question, or agree to answer it, hasn’t a clue about Christianity or for that matter any other Abrahamic religion.
The question about God’s appearance presupposes the crude anthropomorphism of primitive creeds. What the inquirer sees in his mind is a demiurge like Zeus or Odin, not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The God Christians worship is outside time and space, which means he can’t have a physical shape. He is the creator and essence of being and existence, but he himself doesn’t exist, in the sense in which we understand the word. It’s because of God that everything else exists.
Since a lower system can’t fathom a higher one, we can’t approach God so closely as to attach any physical characteristics to him. The best we can hope for is a mystical, metaphysical vision, which isn’t a gift given to many.
However, the God worshipped by real Christians (as opposed to, say, Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses) is Trinitarian, comprising three distinct hypostases, one of which lived as a man for some 33 years.
Because during that time Jesus was not only fully divine but also fully human, it would have been perfectly legitimate to ask those respondents to describe their idea of his appearance. There they could have unshackled their fancy because the Gospels left no physical descriptions of Jesus.
This is sometimes put forth as proof that he never existed (otherwise surely one of his disciples would have sketched his verbal portrait). Such beliefs show a poor grasp of human psychology, which can be demonstrated quite easily.
When you next go away from home for a few days, try to remember in detail the face of someone you love (say, your spouse) and someone you merely know well (say, your colleague). You’ll find the second task much easier.
Because our relationship with those we merely know is skin-deep, their outer shell is what we recall instantly. However, our relationship with someone we love goes to the soul of that person, beyond and deeper than the outer shell, which is then pushed into the farther recesses of memory.
The apostles loved Jesus more than life itself, which is why most of his features receded to the back of their minds. They remembered so little because they loved so much.
But Jesus did have a human face, and it can be depicted. However, even there one’s fecund imagination ought to be reined in by some basic knowledge.
Thus it’s yet another exercise in self-deification for the Chinese to portray Jesus with Mongoloid features, for the Scandinavians with Nordic ones or for the Africans with Negroid ones.
Considering where the Incarnation occurred and who his mother was, Jesus had to look Semitic, and his appearance had to reflect the local mores. For example, contrary to Caravaggio’s portrayal of him, he had to have a beard. But other than such details, one’s visual creativity needn’t be restrained in any way.
Had I been one of the respondents in the North Carolina exercise, I would have sketched God as Anubis, the Egyptian deity usually depicted as a man with a canine head. That would have done wonders for their composite image.
In the good if relatively recent tradition, I must declare a personal interest, which in this case may be tantamount to committing social suicide: I like football.
Though I don’t support any particular team other than England, I find the game exciting, when it’s played well. Actually, I wasn’t accurate: I also support any team Chelsea FC play.
I dislike Chelsea because it’s a vehicle for laundering mob money. I also hate its fans, who once a fortnight cover my otherwise nice neighbourhood with burgher wrappers, empty bottles and vomit.
That, however, is no reflection on football itself. I used to play it to a reasonable standard, and I always watch it.
In England, however, affection for footie attaches an indelible social stigma among the PLUs (People Like Us). Rugby, yes. Cricket, most definitely. Football? It’s worse than drinking whisky-and-Coke, wearing legible clothes or driving a brand-new car with extra speakers.
In France, the only other European country I know well, the situation is roughly the same. If you confess you like footie, your best bet is to laugh at yourself before others do. You may just get away with it.
During the previous World Cup I was talking to an old French aristocrat whose title goes back to the Carolingians. When I mentioned that I had just seen a cracking game, a slight shadow came across his face.
“But of course I’m a proletarian,” I hastily added with double-bluff self-deprecation. “Oui, mon cher,” smiled the aristo forgivingly. “Moi aussi”. That turned the whole thing into a joke and saved my social face until the next faux pas.
The reason football can evoke such strong social responses is that it’s no longer just a game. It has evolved not only into a class indicator, but also into a microcosm of society, a living study in social anthropology. Society looks at football and sees itself in this mirror.
Thus if you don’t think we’re reverting to barbarism, look no further than football.
And don’t just look at it synchronically, as football is now. It’s more instructive to examine it diachronically, over time. This sort of cognitive methodology is bound to produce a melancholy conclusion: an age of savagery is upon us.
For footballers don’t exist in a vacuum. Like everyone else they’re a reflection of their time, and these days their time is increasingly a reflection of them.
Comparing the way football is now and the way it was back in the fifties and sixties, one notices that the value society attaches to the game has increased no end.
If Stanley Matthews, England’s top player of the post-war era, earned £5 a week and travelled to matches by bus, today’s equivalent may pocket £500,000 a week and travel to matches by a supercharged Bentley.
TV money and commercial supply-demand don’t quite explain such disparity. If they did, most top clubs wouldn’t be operating at a huge loss. And Sir Stanley wouldn’t have been paid 100,000 times less than today’s equivalent, considering that the pound was then worth only about 30 times more.
This has to affect not just football. If a ball kicker earns in a week what a good teacher earns in 15 years, then the issue is wider than football. If the habitually naked ‘artist’ Rihanna collects $1,000,000 for an hour-long gig, the problem isn’t economical – it’s cultural and social.
Preoccupation with panem et circenses has since time immemorial been regarded as suicidal decadence, something that can destroy a civilisation more surely than any barbarians. When they’re at the door, they can be repelled. When they’re inside the walls, a massacre ensues.
Rome fell not because Alaric was a great military leader, but because chariot racers merited vast fees. This even though, unlike our lovers of football, their fans didn’t use mobile phones to prearrange post-race punch-ups after a few amphorae of Falerno.
If you look at most footballers of Matthews’s generation and the next, the one that won England’s solitary World Cup in 1966, the contrast to today’s lot is striking.
The odd rotten apple aside, they were good working-class lads, modest, well-behaved, neatly dressed, usually taciturn, with a good sense of humour and a strong sense of right and wrong. In other words, they were just like their fans, the salt of the British earth.
If you look at the newsreel of any match from that period, watch the fans. Most of them wear their Sunday best, and they support their team with enthusiasm but without any visible malice towards its opponents.
Unlike them, most of today’s fans are lumpen middle class, affecting what they think are appropriate working-class mannerisms. Hence they wear prole clothes, push their accents down a notch, swear non-stop and look at the other team and its supporters with genuine hatred. And they drink themselves to a stupor both before and after the game.
Then there are the tattoos. Looking at the photograph of the 1966 England team, I can’t spot a single one. I may be missing a couple, but certainly no more.
These days you’ll hardly find a footballer not treating his flesh as a canvas for body art. Some morons, like David Beckham, are densely covered from head to toe.
That stands to reason: it’s hard to expect the general social decline to leave aesthetics untouched. It’s also hard not to notice that tattoos are now seen as the norm, not an unpleasantly asocial eccentricity.
Probably 80 per cent of Premier League players, wherever they come from, sport visible tattoos. The corresponding percentage among the fans is probably lower, but still high.
Nor is this abomination restricted to football. Every other young person one sees in the street has either tattoos or facial metal or both – and that’s just on the visible parts of their bodies.
Such adornments aren’t the exclusive property of the proletariat, lumpen or otherwise. The middle classes, lumpen or otherwise, are close behind.
I don’t know what message body art communicates in places like Easter Island or Sub-Saharan Africa. In the West, this side of gangs and prisons at any rate, it betokens nothing but a cretinous disdain for a civilisation about which the bearers know next to nothing and understand even less.
This is evil, sociopathic anomie, yet no one in the mainstream press will ever dare say so. It’s as if there were nothing wrong with millions desperate to jump backwards into our cave past, or sideways into cultures alien to ours.
The other day the England footballer Raheem Sterling caused an outrage by adding a tattoo of an assault rifle to his existing gallery. Yet every indignant gasp in the press was about the bellicose theme, not the revolting practice itself.
As a British subject, I feel proud of the influence our culture exerts on the world. Though one still doesn’t see as many tattooed yahoos in France, they’re catching up, and many of their textual tattoos are in English.
Here in Auxerre there wasn’t a single tattoo parlour 20 years ago. Now there are five, with most sited in gorgeous medieval timber-framed houses. They were built at a time when people adorned their towns, not their bodies.
Well, to each civilisation its own.
When a government or a single politician goes over the head of the institutions to appeal to the public directly, do we call it populism or rabble-rousing?
The difference is usually determined by how we feel about the result of this stratagem. If we hate it, it’s rabble-rousing. If we like it, it’s populism.
The difference is clear enough, but it’s a subjective difference. Objectively, populism and rabble-rousing are the same thing in their unadulterated form.
In both instances politicians appeal to the base instincts of the mob, for the simple reason that the mob has no other. This was brilliantly shown back in 1895 by Gustave Le Bon in his book Psychology of Crowds, and confirmed by many scholars, not to mention empirical evidence, since then.
No matter how lovely the people in a mob are individually, the mob itself has neither collective morality nor collective reason. The American comedian George Carlin once expressed this in a quip: “You know how dumb the average person is? Well, I’ve got news for you: half the people are even dumber than that.” (Cf. Churchill: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”)
That’s why, when Lincoln orated about government for the people, he was being sensible and appropriately idealistic: this is indeed what government ought to be. But when he talked about government by the people, he was spouting pure demagoguery.
Seventy-odd years earlier, Edmund Burke encapsulated the way a representative government should work. Parliamentarians, he wrote in his Reflections, should be people’s representatives, not their delegates. They should act according to people’s interests (government for the people), but not according to their wishes (government by the people).
That’s why Western countries have wisely, and Britain extremely wisely, over centuries created an intricate lattice of institutions designed to translate people’s interests into action. This is the essence of parliamentarism, practised with various modifications by all Western countries.
The vigour with which it has been practised, however, has steadily abated over the centuries, for reasons too numerous and complex to go into here. (I write about this at length in my Democracy as a Neocon Trick.)
More and more, politicians have begun to give people what they want, not what they need, while peddling the self-serving lie that the two are identical. Our modern government by focus group is a bright example of this political perversion, with governing spivs (the dominant type in modern politics) acting not as statesmen but as sales executives.
This is akin to doctors basing their treatment on what the patient desires. If a patient thinks his cancer can be cured by eating dried apricot kernels, then that’s what the doctor prescribes.
That populism is on the rise all over the West is testimony to the failure of the people who man our traditional institutions, not of the institutions themselves. These institutions were lovingly put together by generations of sages who put public good before their own and, even more important, knew what public good was.
Their only serious mistake was to expect that situation to continue in perpetuity. They didn’t envisage the avalanche of the Tony-Gordon-Dave-Theresa-Jeremys (or their equivalents from any other Western country you care to name) burying traditional government at the bottom of an abyss.
Hence the rise of populism all over the West, with the mob feeling hard done by, and with all sorts of ‘leaders’ appealing to the mob for all sorts of ends, some advisable, some less so, some downright wicked. Hence also the rise of plebiscitary democracy, replacing representative government with a direct appeal to the mob.
When the result pleases us, we applaud, as we did with Brexit. Few of us realise that there’s a downside even to such an obvious upside.
All good and sensible people should despise the EU. There’s every rational reason to feel that way, and not a single rational reason to think otherwise.
The trouble is that many people who feel the right way do so for the wrong reasons. They are neither good nor sensible, and nor are they capable of rational thought.
Good and sensible people are opposed to a loss of sovereignty and too much immigration because such abominations lead to irreversible changes in the nation’s government, demographics, economy, culture, laws, social life and even language: all those things that make up a nation.
Empowering such people may not be a bad thing, for they can be counted on to use their power prudently and wisely.
People who are neither good nor sensible may feel about the EU and immigration the same way, but mainly because they hate other races and foreigners in general. They aren’t patriots, like the other, smaller, group, but jingoists.
A patriot loves his country, a jingoist idolises it and usually hates or at least despises all others. Empowering such people, even on an ad hoc basis, is not only dangerous but potentially catastrophic: once they’ve gained power, they seldom relinquish it – and they’re likely to use it for nefarious purposes.
True enough, decent people have joined forces with diabolical ones throughout history. Witness, for example, the wartime anti-Hitler alliance between the Anglophone West and Stalin. One can argue in favour of it with greater conviction than against.
However, while that alliance defeated Nazi satanism, Soviet satanism was extended to half the world, and it’s still exerting diabolical effects posthumously. When supping with the devil, no spoon is ever long enough.
That our institutions are tottering is beyond doubt. But if we have faith, as we should, in the sound principles on which they’re based, then our efforts must be aimed at restoring them, rebuilding if necessary. Destroying them by rabble-rousing for the sake of an immediate political gain is the kind of cure that’s worse than the disease.
For that reason, even though I’m happy the Brexit referendum came out the way I myself voted, I grieve rather than cheer the rise of ‘populism’ all over the West. “If you open that Pandora’s Box you never know what Trojan ‘orses will jump out,” as Ernest Bevin once said with the rhetorical flourish one expects from socialists.
The Trojan ‘orses galloping around the West now have a distinct piebald tint, with brown spots strewn about lavishly. The rabble has been roused by an appeal to its resentments and hatreds, which is never a good thing – even if good people happen to hate and resent the same things.
The recent wave of protests against mass immigration has brought on its crest governments either run or greatly influenced by faschisoid parties. Hungary, Czechia, Poland, Italy, Germany, France, Slovenia, Sweden, Austria all fall into that category.
In common with all parties that derive political capital out of hatreds, these groups are clear on what they wish to destroy, but hazy on what they’d like to build in its stead. A febrile animus towards not only the ugly contrivance of the EU but also against Western tradition is easy to discern.
Witness the fact that all such parties adore Putin and his kleptofascist state. What exactly do they have in common? Do they think Putin is their fellow populist?
Surely even they can’t be so ignorant. Putin and his KGB Mafia run a gangster state, and criminal organisations don’t care about the public. They may manipulate it by using totalitarian zombifying propaganda to whip up mass enthusiasm, but they don’t count on it for electoral support. They have no elections other than sham ones.
So why this affection for Putin? Some ‘useful idiots’ no doubt buy the image expertly peddled by Putin’s Goebbelses, of a Russia that’s “the only conservative, religious and patriotic country left in Europe,” in the words of my favourite columnist who has few equals in the strident idiocy stakes.
But most, I guess, detect a kinship based not on common loves but on shared hates, with the traditional West taking pride of place among them. Their nerve endings thus excited, they’re prepared to throw out the baby of Europe with the bath water of the European Union.
They don’t realise that, while they may distinguish between the two, Putin doesn’t. The psychosis of hatred for the West being whipped up in Russia now outstrips by a wide margin everything I saw back in the old days.
Those fascisoid parties are greatly helped by assorted PMs and presidents who may love the EU, but are cravenly prepared to do the Faustian deal with Putin, trading their souls for a few barrels of oil. Putin’s hydrocarbons flow into Europe’s economies like heroin mainlined into an addict’s vein, and the euphoria of votes follows.
Hence the West’s commitment to punishing Russia’s crimes with sanctions is growing from tepid to stone-cold. Already Italy’s ‘populist’ government has come out in favour of repealing them, and young Manny Macron, though no populist, is moving the same way.
To refresh their memory, the sanctions were imposed following Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, her waging ‘hybrid’ electronic war against the West and trying to subvert its political institutions (we can do it ourselves, no outside help necessary thank you very much) and practising gangland hits in the West.
So what exactly has changed? Has Russia withdrawn from the Ukraine? Called a truce in the hybrid war? Forsworn ‘whackings’? Stopped helping Iran and North Korea develop their nuclear and ICBM arsenals?
Trump opened the G7 meeting with the regret of not having Russia there, and Macron closed it with the wish to have her at the next one. Why? Expelling Russia was a response to her refusing to act in a civilised manner. Logically she should only be readmitted if she changes her ways. Surely Messrs Donny and Manny don’t think she has?
When talking about Trump’s relations with Putin, the word ‘collusion’ has been bandied about so freely that it has become devalued. Without coming down on either side of the debate, I’d like to point out that everything Trump has said and, more important, done seems to promote Putin’s policy of divide and conquer.
So far Trump hasn’t uttered a single word against Putin, though he has said a few perfunctory ones against some of his policies. Trump was opposed to imposing sanctions, and would certainly have vetoed them had Congress been unable to override the veto.
While Trump’s criticism of the European Nato members is justified, it’s clear he has misgivings about keeping up collective security anyhow. That system is far from perfect, but it has worked so far. Does he not want it to work?
Trump’s first shots in the trade war with Europe are music to Putin’s ears: sowing discord within the West is the crux of his global strategy. And Trump as good as invited Putin to enter the Syrian civil war, on the pretext of combatting terrorism.
At the risk of sounding like a scaremonger, I think’s it’s possible that Trump may be prepared to strike a Yalta-like deal with Putin, dividing the world into spheres of influence. To the populists’ cheers, Europe may well find itself under Putin’s aegis.
They may not realise that, but such a fate would be incomparably worse than anything we can suffer under the EU. It’ll take some more doing, but these chaps may eventually succeed in turning me into a Remainer.
Piece of cake, you’ll say if you live in any large city, especially London. You just walk out into the street in the city centre, and there they are. Whole bevies of them.
Tactile delights may be out of your reach in most instances. But there’s no shortage of visual ones. Aesthetics trumps carnality everywhere.
But notice I said ‘any large city’. I could have said ‘anywhere’ but didn’t, advisedly. For I spend almost half my time in the north-western corner of Burgundy. Between Sancerre and Chablis, to put it into your frame of reference.
Yet there’s no wine industry where we are. Nor, actually, much of any other. Welfare is the biggest industry, with timber perhaps a distant second. Since we don’t get many tourists, there aren’t many service jobs either.
This means youngsters with anything on the ball leave the moment they’re old enough and sometimes before that. The clever boys go where jobs are, and so do the pretty girls. The girls also go where eligible men are, which is usually the same places that have jobs.
The locals who stay do nothing much but drink and sleep with their next of kin, which activity is called le cinéma des pauvres in these parts. That, I’m sure, is a most enjoyable cinematic genre, but it tends to be rather detrimental to the gene pool.
Hence at 5’7” I tower over most local men, and the women tend to be broader than they’re tall. In both sexes the hairline is almost contiguous with the eyebrows, and the chins with the sternums. Both sexes are badly shaven.
This explains my sense of acute visual deprivation whenever I’m here, sometimes three months at a time. There are gorgeous birds everywhere, but strictly of the avian variety.
After a week so, I in my desperation try to espy any good-looking person, regardless of sex. But casting the net wider doesn’t produce a greater catch. The locals are all lovely, courteous people, but they don’t add much to the serene beauty of the undulating landscape.
Our closest big city is Auxerre, and it’s big only by French standards, 30,000 souls or thereabouts. Still, since it’s one of Burgundy’s five regional centres and one of the most beautiful cities this size I’ve seen anywhere, one would expect the situation to improve there.
It doesn’t, not enough to make a difference. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a beautiful girl there, and even pretty ones are a rarity.
Now I know why. They’re all, dozens of them, nurses at the Auxerre Hospital, and they probably stay there all the time.
I found myself in a position to make this observation some four days ago, as a result of suffering a TIA, which the French perversely call AIT. They do have this tendency to get things the wrong way around: NATO is OTAN to them, fancy that.
Anyway, whether you call it Transient Ischemic Attack or Attaque Ischémique Transitoire, it amounts to the next best thing before stroke. Hence, for once, my wife overcame my staunch resistance and dragged me 30 miles to Auxerre.
Penelope probably wouldn’t have managed the feat had she not drawn reinforcements in the person of our charming doctor friend. She magically diagnosed the condition over the phone and explained that I’d be a con if I didn’t go to les urgences immediately. (If you don’t know what con means, I’ll let you guess.)
So I did, partly out of curiosity. This would give me the opportunity, I thought, to compare French healthcare with ours, of which I have rich experience at both the public and private ends.
The Auxerre Hospital is public, but in everything that matters it’s much closer to our private hospitals than to the NHS. Within 10 minutes of arriving at les urgences, I was seen by several nurses, each fit to feature in G&Q magazine.
Another five minutes later I was on a scanner, with several more beauties in attendance. They all called me Monsieur Boot, whereas NHS staff always refer to me as Alex or, if they’re feeling especially diffident, Alexander. I only become Mr Boot in private hospitals, or, as I once found out at High Wycombe, when moved to the private wing of the same hospital.
Half an hour later, I was on a gurney in the corridor, talking to three other gorgeous nurses and a stern-looking doctor. They were ganging up on me, trying to explain why not staying in for a few days would put my life in imminent jeopardy.
After some vigorous resistance I agreed: they were giving me both the chance to go on living and a reason to do so.
Over the next few days I gathered even more basis for comparison. The only aspect of healthcare in which Auxerre Hospital approaches the NHS is the food. Surprisingly for France it was inedible, and I gratefully lost five pounds while there.
But all rooms on my floor were private or semi-private. Some of the semi-private ones, including mine, housed men, some women, but never the two together.
I once spent several nights in an NHS hospital, when the NHS almost succeeded in killing me. I had been delivered there by an ambulance after an attack of gall stones.
When brought up to the ward, I saw something I’d never seen even in Russia, never mind the US: men and women were all jammed together in an open plan room. Those weren’t the circumstances under which I normally like to share a bedroom with a woman.
As to my problem, it wasn’t diagnosed, nor the pain relieved, in the three days I spent there. Eventually I fled for my life, and I don’t mean this figuratively.
The next day a private consultant diagnosed the condition before I finished the first sentence. When they operated on me, they found that gangrene had already set in. Another day at the Chelsea & Westminster, and you wouldn’t be reading my scurrilous prose now.
Nothing like that could ever have happened at Auxerre. If anything, I got as much attention as I needed and more than I could cope with, both from the excellent doctors and the efficient nurses. The latter numbered at least 20 on my floor, with their appearance only covering the range from pretty to beautiful.
So here’s my advice. If you find yourself in this neck of the woods and don’t see any good-looking women around, visit the hospital. You never know your luck.
Every time I promise myself to ignore Hitchens’s sycophantic effluvia about Putin’s Russia (“the most conservative, patriotic and Christian country left in Europe”), he writes something that can’t be ignored.
This time his very first sentence says everything one needs to know about this hack: “How all the Russophobes hurried to believe in the faked death of the Russian Arkady Babchenko in Kiev last week.”
I don’t know if Hitchens deliberately uses every venomous shibboleth spun out by Putin’s Goebbelses, or it’s simply a coincidence, puny minds thinking alike.
But tarring everyone who opposes Putin with the brush of Russophobia is exactly what they all do. If you hate Putin’s kleptofascist regime, you hate Russia because Putin is Russia. Without Putin, there’s no Russia, according to Vyacheslav Volodin, Chairman of the Duma.
And without Russia, enlarged Putin in his usual deadpan manner, there won’t be a world left. In other words, should Putin feel threatened, he won’t hesitate to unleash a nuclear Armageddon.
According to Hitchens and other Putin shills both in and out of Russia, hatred of Russia is the only possible motive for detesting this evil regime. Hence all those hundreds of thousands of Russians who protest by walking into skull-splitting police truncheons, do so because they hate Russia.
Those dozens of courageous journalists who write anti-Putin articles knowing that every word could be their death warrant do so out of irresistible Russophobia. They need Hitchens to teach them Russian patriotism.
“It’s easy to accuse the Kremlin of directly killing people because they are nasty, dishonest, violent and secretive, which they are,” continues Hitchens. Really? And there I was, thinking Putin’s Russia is “the most conservative, patriotic and Christian country left in Europe.”
That’s his standard ruse, designed to ward off accusations of sycophancy, or worse. Having made this sop towards Russophobes like me, Hitchens feels free to shill for Putin in earnest:
“But [Russophobes’] gullibility was turned up to maximum as soon as they heard of Mr Babchenko’s supposed death, a ludicrous fake involving bags of pig’s blood, and the coldly cruel deception of Mrs Babchenko…”
The other day I wrote that every supporter of Putin’s regime is an accomplice to its crimes. But few are more insistently complicit than Hitchens. And few can match his moral callousness and cynical disregard of truth.
How would Hitchens feel if informed by the police that a $40,000 contract has been taken out on him? Try to imagine his reaction, though this would stretch your imagination to breaking point: no one would value Hitchens’s life as highly.
Moreover, he’s the small fry at the top of the list including 30 really big-time marks. And the only way to save himself and others is to take part in a sting operation, which, looking down from his dizzying moral ascendancy, Hitchens dares to call “a ludicrous fake”.
Would Hitchens heroically decline such an offer and proudly go to his death, closely followed by the deaths of many others? If you believe that, there’s a bridge over the Thames I’d like to sell you.
Here’s how movingly Babchenko himself describes his ordeal, in the stream of consciousness style he sometimes uses:
“You come home from the morgue, the stench of blood and formaldehyde can be smelled a mile away, not having slept for 24 hours, having lived through your own murder, having walked about for a month with a target on your forehead, waiting for that shot, a month lived with the realisation that your death is paid for – your death is paid for. This thought is piercing – you hug your wife who’s no longer even hysterical, the hysterical phase ended several days ago, and what’s left now is total, absolute emptiness, deathly senselessness, everything has been squeezed out… you don’t know how long you’ll live, for how long you’ll be followed by bodyguards, you don’t know when you’ll simply be able to live with open curtains and your daughter will be able to play with other children… and those c**** write about this without having a f****** clue about the hell I’ve been through, and may God spare them knowing or living through this, so go on writing, while I’ve just come back from such darkness, climbed out of such abyss…”
That’s Russophobia, as far as Hitchens is concerned. Then comes the didactic bit, from a man Babchenko would describe as a c*** who pretends to know all about Russia, but really knows f***-all (I myself would never use such language):
“Don’t rush to conclusions too easily about this part of the world. The Wild East is a murky place, with more than one villain in it. It’s as likely that such murders (when genuine) are the work of gangsters not under direct government control.”
One has to admire craft, however it’s applied. The parenthetical phrase is a subtle hint at the likelihood that most (all?) political murders may not be genuine.
They have been staged for the benefit of gullible Russophobes, and trust Hitchens to see through the ploy. Verily I say unto you, Hitchens must possess Christ-like resurrecting powers.
Any day now we’ll see walking through the door Anna Politkovskaya, Galina Starovoitova, Boris Nemtsov, Natalia Estremirova, Sergei Magintsky, Alexander Litvinenko, Paul Khlebnikov, Atyom Borovik, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Anastasia Baburova and hundreds of other victims of Putin. Any day now we’ll see the passengers and crew of Flight MH17 smiling from our TV screens.
When it comes to political assassinations, there is indeed only one villain in Russia: her criminal ruling elite, which is an organic fusion of the secret police and organised crime.
The cocktail has been blended so thoroughly that even people who know Russia infinitely better than Hitchens (such as myself, false modesty aside) find it impossible to see where one ingredient ends and the other begins.
No Western government has the same concentration of billionaires as Putin’s clique, led by the good colonel himself, reputedly the world’s richest man. How do you suppose they came by their billions? Saving up by taking bag lunches?
The demarcation line between Putin’s government and gangsters exists only in what passes for Hitchens’s mind. Even JFK’s administration tried to use the Mafia for wet jobs. In Putin’s Russia the gangsters are the administration, and the administration are the gangsters.
Hitchens insists that those blaming this group for political murders have no proof. True enough, the murderers don’t carry in their pockets a licence to kill so-and-so signed by Putin personally. Actually, it wouldn’t matter if they did: they’re practically never caught.
But it takes either a madman or a Putin propagandist (paid or voluntary, makes no difference) not to see the common element over which all Putin’s victims overlap: they detest what he has done to Russia.
Hitchens’ standards of proof loosen up remarkably when it comes to shilling for Putin: “I’d guess [my emphasis] such gangsters probably killed the brave reporter Pavel Sheremet, whose car was blown up… in Kiev in July 2016 shortly after he’d criticised pro-Western Ukrainian militia leaders and their links with organised crime.”
Right. It was the dastardly Ukies what done it, having taken time out from firing missiles at Malaysian airliners. The same Ukrainian villains who had usurped power that rightfully belongs to Putin and his stooges. (That’s how Hitchens routinely interprets the popular uprising in the Ukraine.)
One can only wonder on what basis Hitchen guesses that, considering that, unlike Putin’s kleptofascist gang, Ukrainian leaders have never been suspected of political murder before or since – and Sheremet had had to flee Russia one step ahead of Putin’s goons.
(Babchenko’s reaction at the time was different. Addressing Putin’s gang, he asked in his article: “What did you kill Pasha Sheremet for, degenerates?”)
Yet Putin would be to blame for such murders even if a few of them were indeed committed by individuals driven by personal urges.
For over the last two decades, Putin’s totalitarian propaganda has systematically created an atmosphere of military hysteria and psychotic hatred. Falling victim are millions of zombified Russians, who have been brainwashed to regard every pro-West opponent of Putin as at best their personal enemy and at worst a target.
Or certainly a Russophobe, the term favoured by the most strident propagandists. Such as Hitchens.
To the horror of my conservative friends (which is to say all my friends), I must admit I don’t like Donald Trump.
I find him brash, vulgar, egotistical, uncultivated, impulsive, uncultured, sartorially challenged and surprisingly ignorant for someone who went to all the top schools.
That, however, is neither here nor there because I do like most of his policies. While he wouldn’t be my choice of a dinner guest, he would be my choice of US president, especially considering the options available.
There’s no contradiction there whatsoever. Take the reverse of all the adjectives mentioned above, and I doubt you’d find a single politician in history to whom they’d apply.
For all those reverse qualities would probably prevent a man from seeking political office, and they’d certainly prevent him from gaining one. For such reverse qualities preclude powerlust, which is an absolute sine qua non for an aspiring politician.
So fine, I dislike Trump personally, but I like most of his policies. Most, however, doesn’t mean all, and those I don’t like spring from Trump’s hare-brained take on America First.
This slogan was inscribed on the banners of isolationists in the run-up to the Second World War. Much as I hate to say this, those good people were wrong and the awful FDR was right – on his own terms.
His own terms were set by the entire US policy of several preceding decades. That policy was aimed at achieving global domination, and it was not the isolationists but FDR who was in touch with it.
From the standpoint of that aspiration, Roosevelt was a spectacular success. He managed to push the Lend-Lease programme through Congress, using a spurious, demagogic simile of a ‘garden hose’.
If your neighbour’s house is on fire, wouldn’t you lend him your garden hose? he orated. You would, if not out of altruism then for fear that the fire could spread to your own house.
The Lend-Lease was tantamount to America entering the war six months before Pearl Harbour. After Pearl Harbour, largely provoked by Roosevelt’s policies in the Pacific, the US entered the war formally and started to churn out mountains of armaments both for export and for her own use.
As a result, the US emerged from the war richer than she had been at entry. While the other parties had bled white, the US achieved her imperial goal at a cost of merely 300,000 or so casualties. The British Empire had been killed; the US empire was born; FDR was vindicated.
The world began to be globalised, with the US successfully fighting off one challenge after another to her position at the top of the hill.
Now Trump is viscerally isolationist, but he’s also an American imperialist. Alas, he doesn’t seem to realise that the two desiderata are at odds.
As an isolationist, he has misgivings about Nato, to the point of even threatening to pull out if the other members don’t pay their fair share of military costs.
I agree unequivocally that Europe shouldn’t rely on America for her defence. Defence of the realm from every threat, foreign or domestic, is after all the most, not to say only, legitimate function of the state.
To fulfil this mandate, European countries should at least double their defence budgets. Otherwise they’ll be in default of their duties.
Yet few modern wars have ever been fought, and none won, by one country on her own. Some kind of alliance has always been formed, and I dare say Nato has proved its value more than other military alliances I can think of.
It’s thanks to Nato – and emphatically not to the EU, as particularly inane Eurocrats claim – that Russophones like me are still in the minority among British subjects.
That Europe contributes to Nato three times less than the US in terms of GDP per capita is unfair and, more important, potentially dangerous. But playing the world’s leader is a role that requires expenses, which all previous empires, including our own, can confirm.
Roosevelt realised that, but Trump doesn’t. Hence he must decide whether he wants America to stand on her own two legs or continue in her role of the world’s leader. He can’t have both, not in today’s world.
Trump’s isolationist instincts also push him towards protectionism. Now if his stance on Nato may be debatable to some extent, his slapping tariffs on steel and aluminium imports is downright ignorant – as is the promise Trump made to Macron, that he would not rest until the last Mercedes had disappeared from the streets of New York.
If you don’t want Mercs, Donald, make sure American cars can be made better and cheaper. That’s the only sensible way.
Here too Trump should take his cue (in terms of how not to run an economy) from FDR, specifically the way he tried to fight the Depression.
The depression only began to bite after Roosevelt’s protectionist measures went into effect. And that makes sense.
As von Mises, Hayek and every Chicago economist worth his salt have shown, the success of a reasonably free economy is determined by the consumer, which is to say by a strong, voracious demand.
And what boosts the demand is free competition among suppliers, regardless of which country they come from. In such conditions they are forced to offer better products, lower prices and more efficient services.
It’s demand that decides the issue. You can only help the economy by helping the consumers, says the conventional wisdom. You can’t do so by hurting them.
This can only mean that protectionism can’t help the economy. It almost certainly will cause untold damage, by mollycoddling domestic production behind a protective wall of near-monopoly. That anyone should deem this necessary can only mean that domestic production was ineffective to begin with.
Yet when its incompetence is artificially protected, it’ll have little incentive to get its act together. Quality will go down, prices will head in the opposite direction, funds will be channelled into the least – and away from the most – productive areas, and consumers will bear the consequences.
There is now, or was at the time of the Great Depression, nothing new about any of this. Bright economists from Smith, Turgot and Ricardo onwards had known it and written about it.
Thus, for example, Smith: “To give the monopoly of the home-market to the produce of domestic industry… must, in almost all cases, be either a useless or a hurtful regulation. If the produce of domestic can be brought there as cheap as that of foreign industry, the regulation is evidently useless. If it cannot, it must generally be hurtful.”
Slapping, as Trump has done, protectionist tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminium means that everything made out of those metals will cost US consumers more.
This may protect jobs in the industries that produce steel and aluminium, but many more jobs will be lost in other sectors, whose products consumers may no longer be able to afford. And that’s before the countries on the receiving end begin to retaliate, making US exporters less competitive in global markets.
‘Liberal’ is a dirty modifier when attached to almost everything, but liberalised trade is one exception. It’s a factor of prosperity, and it’s regrettable that Trump is ready to sacrifice it for the narrow political goal of confirming his populist credentials.