The apparat is invincible

The unfolding crisis in Westminster clarifies the nature of British politics.

I’ll give you a hint: it has nothing to do with any claim, slogan or, for that matter, constitution – written or otherwise.

Our monarch doesn’t rule through Parliament, nor indeed in Parliament.

Our government isn’t a democracy in the strict etymological sense of the word, nor even figuratively. It’s not the rule of the people; it’s the rule over the people.

To use Burkean terminology, our MPs are neither people’s representatives nor even their delegates.

Our government has no balance of power – this was replaced by dictatorship of the Commons a long time ago, but now it’s not even that.

The Cabinet doesn’t exercise executive power, and nor does Parliament have legislative supremacy.

The Prime Minister has little control over the Cabinet, which doesn’t matter very much because the Cabinet has little control over anything.

We aren’t ruled by the monarch, the people, Parliament, the Cabinet or the prime minister. We’re ruled by the apparat.

This word of Latin origin but Soviet usage designates a sort of faceless power behind the throne, a collective éminence grise wielding an inordinate control over affairs of the state.

In totalitarian states, the apparat performs a largely bureaucratic function, and its power derives therefrom. The big cheeses usually have neither the time nor the inclination to get into the nitty-gritty of day-to-day government. This is a function they tend to delegate to the apparat.

It’s therefore up to the apparatchiks either to release the devil that’s in the detail or keep him bottled in there. They can surreptitiously undermine any diktat or else make it appear as a flash of genius.

That’s how Stalin gained power in the Soviet Union – unlike Lenin and Trotsky, he didn’t mind getting his hands dirty with bureaucratic drudgery. When Lenin appointed Stalin Secretary General of the Party in 1922, the job was seen as just that, secretarial. Stalin referred to himself with sly self-deprecation as secretarishka (little secretary).

However, the little secretary soon became the big boss. Acting behind the loudmouths’ backs, he built his own apparat brick by brick. And in that edifice there was no room for any of the thundering revolutionaries.

The apparat proved too strong for them, and 30 years later it proved too strong for Stalin as well.

In October, 1952, he was demoted from Secretary General to just one of the Secretaries. Even though he retained much of his power, a fair chunk of it was now in the hands of the apparat. Four months later Stalin died under suspicious circumstances.

In Britain the role of the apparat was traditionally played by the Civil Service, which used to be considered the best in the world. I don’t know if it still is, though I doubt that on general principle. But it’s definitely not the apparat any longer.

That is, some of its members do belong to the apparat, as do some MPs, some cabinet members, some journalists, some businessmen, some all sorts of people. The current apparat is a hodgepodge of different professions, different influences, different groups.

Just as any other apparat, it exerts its power behind the scenes, but that doesn’t make its power any less real. The apparat is invisible but, just as Kepler deduced the existence of some planets from the deflection in the orbits of others, its presence is indisputable.

It’s not a conspiracy in any usual sense of the word. There are no dark smoky cellars with evil men hunched over the floor plan of the Houses of Parliament.

The apparat doesn’t want to blow up Westminster. It only strives to undermine the constitutional principles on which it rests, and it’s getting away with that because those principles are largely forgotten and even more largely ignored.

Yet it’s not just Westminster that lives or dies by the constitution. It’s Britain herself, for politics largely (though far from exclusively) defines Britishness, which, unlike Englishness, is itself a political construct.

Take away the British constitution, and Britain will no longer be Britain. Politics to us is what wine and cheese are to the French.

France has had 17 different constitutions during the period that Britain has had only one – yet France has remained France, kept together by wine, cheese, language and culture in general.

However, Britain won’t survive the collapse of her ancient constitution because she has no wine and cheese to fall back on – and no language, as anyone who has ever heard young people speak these days will confirm.

Margaret Thatcher came out of the apparat, but she tried to turn against it. She didn’t realise that the apparat had become too strong to take on. So it proved. The apparat got rid of her and dragged Britain into the EU.

The reasons for that constitutional treason were both physical and metaphysical. Physically, the politicians within the apparat realised that the EU offered them life after death. After being ousted from Parliament in London, they could still have lucrative political careers in Brussels or Strasbourg, giving them a lifelong membership in the apparat.

But there were also deeper reasons. The apparat lives a life of its own, and it’s supranational by nature. An apparatchik from England has more in common with an apparatchik from Finland than he does with any Englishman who doesn’t belong to the apparat.

Since the apparat doesn’t owe its life to Britain, it owes her no allegiance. It’s parthenogenic; the ovum from which it was born hadn’t been fertilised by any national input.

What happened on 23 June, 2016, was a popular revolt against the apparat. The apparat had permitted it to happen because it had grown so arrogant that a defeat in the referendum seemed inconceivable.

Similar revolts, in various forms, are happening all over the Western world, with their apparats fighting a rearguard action, usually victorious for the time being. The apparat always comes back with reinforcements, and that’s what’s happening in Britain now.

Do you think for a second that those Tory Remainers, led with singular ineptitude by Mrs May, are trying to defeat the referendum they lost because they don’t realise they’re destroying the country? Don’t they know that they’re practically unrolling a red carpet for the Trotskyist evil to settle with catastrophic consequences at 10 Downing Street?

Of course they do. But they don’t care because their loyalty is pledged not to the party, nor, God forbid, to the country, but to the apparat. They aren’t only supranational but also suprapartisan. They don’t care if the Tory Party or even Britain herself dies – as long as the apparat lives.

If we still ran our politics constitutionally, the government would have abided by the solid vote in the referendum regardless of how some members of the government had felt about it.

The people voted to be rid not only of the EU but, even though many of them didn’t realise it, of the apparat as well. The only decent course of action for a truly constitutional government would have been to leave the EU within a couple of weeks of the referendum, and without paying any exit fees.

Whatever negotiations were necessary could have proceeded from that starting point. Some economic sacrifices might or might not have followed but, even if they had, they wouldn’t have been as severe as those made by the British during Germany’s previous attempt to unite Europe.

The British government felt then that no sacrifice was too great to preserve the nation’s sovereignty and therefore her soul. The British government today is British in name only.

The apparat rules and it’s proving invincible, its muscle gradually built by the steroids of surreptitious power. Prime Minister Corbyn, anyone?

That doctor ought to be hanged

Dr Mackereth’s victim

There’s something eerie about a physician committing a crime. Compassion and empathy are doctors’ job requirements after all.

A mechanic or an architect may have those qualities, either out of religious conviction or simply because he’s a nice person. But if he’s neither a believer nor particularly nice, no one is going to say he isn’t fit for the job.

It’s different for doctors. When a medic lacks compassion and empathy, and especially if his callousness leads him to a life of crime, somehow he’s more culpable than a mechanic or an architect would be under the circumstances. We expect higher moral standards from a man who took the Hippocratic oath.

That’s why David Mackereth, a top NHS doctor with 26 years’ experience, should count himself lucky. He committed a heinous crime and merely got sacked.

This testifies to the generous tolerance of modernity. At another time or in another place, the same transgression would send him down for a long stretch. Or, if the death penalty were still on the books, he’d get the chop.

By now you must be anxious to know what kind of crime put an end to such an illustrious career. I won’t keep you in suspense any longer, but do make sure you’re sitting down.

Dr Mackereth believes that – wait a moment, let me get hold of myself – one’s sex isn’t a matter of choice. How about that, have you ever heard anything so outrageous?

Not only that, but he insists on putting this belief, reactionary to the point of being fascist, into practice. Dr Mackereth denies his patients the right to sex self-identification. He obtusely refers to a person born with the XY chromosomes as a man and to one bearing XX chromosomes as a woman.

And he mangles the English language, its present version at any rate, by describing a man as a he and a woman as a she. Is it any wonder that the NHS  described him as ‘unfit to work’. Unfit to live, more like it.

Rather than accepting his punishment with meek submission, Dr Mackereth dared to defend himself, invoking his Christian faith.

“I’m not attacking the transgender movement,” he said, “but I am defending my right to freedom of speech, and freedom of belief.

“I don’t think I should be compelled to use a specific pronoun. I’m not setting out to upset anyone. But if upsetting someone can lead to doctors being sacked then, as a society, we have to examine where we are going.”

How can an educated man get things so wrong? We have ample freedom of belief, with the little proviso that, if your belief happens to be Christian, you keep it to yourself and certainly don’t act on it – especially within the sanctuary of the NHS.

And we have more than enough freedom of speech – but not of any old speech. A Muslim may refuse to shake hands with a female client (a case from my own experience) or insist that all pork products be removed from a school canteen. How much more freedom do you need?

Do you also want a Christian to quote Genesis 5: 2 (“Male and female created he them…”) with impunity? Be reasonable now. This would be not freedom but anarchy, repudiating the authority of modernity altogether. That simply won’t do, will it now?

It won’t. That’s why Dr Mackereth was found to be in violation of modernity’s real Bible, the 2010 Equality Act. Off with his head.

Actually, if I were him, I wouldn’t have mentioned Christianity under the circumstances. After all, every master of rhetoric, from Socrates on, has taught that an argument should be couched in terms one’s audience can understand.

These days any overt reference to Christianity renders the audience not just uncomprehending but hostile. Thus insisting on the truth of one’s beliefs because the Bible says so is an admirable moral stand, but a guaranteed loser in a debate (or a sacking offence, as Dr Mackereth found out).

Mercifully, there’s seldom any need, especially when arguing about tangentially medical matters, such as transsexuality, abortion and euthanasia. Christianity has informed our civilisation on such matters, and its precepts held sway for so many centuries that they’re firmly implanted in Western thought – regardless of how egregiously modernity perverts and abuses it.

The sanctity of human life, for example, is originally a religious concept, but every secular legal or moral code has incorporated it as well. That’s why it’s possible to build an irrefutable intellectual argument against abortion and euthanasia without venturing outside common sense and sequential logic.

Because Christianity is true, it’s supported by a corpus of medical, scientific and legal knowledge to such an extent that it’s no longer necessary to refer to scripture. Purely, or rather seemingly, secular arguments can do the job for themselves.

In this case, Dr Mackereth could merely have cited reams of medical research proving beyond any doubt whatsoever that it’s impossible for a man to become a woman and vice versa. Cutting bits off or sewing them on isn’t going to do the job. Physiology and biology won’t be denied.

Real sexual amorphism does exist, but it affects such a small number of people that it shouldn’t merit public discussion, never mind legislation. The overwhelming majority of today’s transsexuals are disturbed individuals who should be either told to go home and forget that nonsense or, in extreme cases, offered psychiatric help.

Had he taken that line of defence, Dr Mackereth would still have been sacked. Like any other state behemoth, the NHS isn’t about intellectual rigour. It’s about bending people to state control.

But he could have taken it to court and taken his chances. His defence counsel could certainly have brought more tomes of scientific evidence into the courtroom than any other defence could ever boast.

Or perhaps he’d lose the case anyway. A tyrant can forgive any crime, except one against tyranny. And all modern states, regardless of what they call themselves, are tyrannical to an extent unthinkable at any time before Jesus Christ became a superstar.

That’s why Dr Mackereth should count himself lucky. He committed a crime against the modern despotic ethos, yet he’s still at large. Long live liberalism.

Tessa does Brussels

Reverse shot from Tessa Does Brussels

A film script has just crossed my desk, and I do think it has great potential. The financing may be hard to get, and critical support is far from assured, but that’s not taking anything away from the sparkling exuberance of the script as such. But judge for yourself.


TESSA: In an ideal world, I’d like a hard one. But I’ll take a soft one if I have to. Better than none.

BORIS: A soft one is like polishing a turd…

TESSA (DISMISSIVELY): Oh shut up, Boris. You’re the only one here who goes in for coprophilia.

MICHAEL: I don’t know how to take this…

TESSA: The way you always do, Michael. Bend over and take it like a man.

PENNY (WAKING UP): I’ll take a hard one any day. A soft one is useless, worse than none.

TESSA (SARCASTICALLY): Oh good morning, Penny. Glad you could join us. We’re talking about leaving the Brussels home and starting our own. You know, the Common European Home, COM for short? What did you think we were talking about?

PENNY (DISAPPOINTED): Oh that. And I thought…

ANDREA: No one here gives a turd what you thought, Penny. Anyway, all you ever think about is flashing your thunder thighs.

BORIS: And speaking of turds…

TESSA: Oh shut up, Boris. No one here is speaking of turds. We’re talking about keeping our johns well happy after we go freelance. Without getting the Brussels cougar daddy really livid.

ANDREA: I’m with you, Tessa. The soft one will do me. And if you wanted a hard one, that would do me too. COM to think of it, the hard one would do me even better. (GUFFAWS)

MICHAEL: I think I’m speaking for all the rent boys and girls here when I say that we’re all unreservedly, unequivocally and uncompromisingly committed to the hard one. But we are all –  just as unreservedly, unequivocally and uncompromisingly – committed to Tessa, who prefers the soft one. Sorted.

PENNY: The hard one worked for me, last time I did my TA training…

DAVID: What’s that, TA, Penny? Tits and…

PENNY: Not funny, Dave. That’s Territorial Army, I’ll have you know. I’m an officer there…

BORIS: When it comes to TA, you’re a bloody general, Penny.

TESSA: Penny, either listen or go parade your TA somewhere else.


TESSA: Anyway, I did Brussels the other day and I know how we can keep them sweet.

DAVID (SCOWLING): I get it. By poaching their johns.

BORIS: And by polishing a turd.

TESSA (IRATE): Oh, shut your gobs, lads, for crying out loud. They won’t mind it all that much if we poach some of their johns, long as they get their cut. You do us right, we’ll do you right, they told me at the home.

LIAM: Why do we need to leave the home then? If we still kick our hard-earned back their way?

TESSA: So they don’t send the boys in. Get it? Or shall I draw you a picture?

DAVID: I don’t get this. Are we leaving COM or what? I thought we were starting our own home, smaller and leaner.

TESSA: You thought right, Dave. A new home run by the old home’s rules. What’s there not to like?

BORIS:  With you as the bloody madam, no doubt. (STABS FINGER INTO MICHAEL’S CHEST) You said I’d get the madam’s job, you turd.

MICHAEL: I did, unreservedly, unequivocally and uncompromisingly. But seeing that Tessa here is doing such a sterling job…

LIAM: Not a euro one?

BORIS: No one’s laughing, Liam, you turd.

TESSA: Boris, one more ‘turd’ from you, and you’re back to walking Fleet Street. You follow?

BORIS: Yes, madam.

TESSA: So we’re all in agreement then? We’ll hold on to the soft one and wave it at COM? See if they swallow it?

ANDREA: Oh they will. Especially if they can get freebies at our new small home. And come and go as they like.

BORIS (WITH RESIGNATION, OR RATHER WITHOUT IT): Fine, have your soft one, you bloody turd polishers.


TRUMP: So I hear the Limeys beat off Switzerland.

PENCE: It’s ‘beat’, sir, not ‘beat off’. And it’s Sweden, not Switzerland.

TRUMP:  Sweden, Switzerland, ain’t no goddam difference. Don’t be like Tessa, Mike, always correcting my English.

PENCE: I think she’s going soft on you, sir.

TRUMP: Not me, you asshole. She’s goin’ soft on COM.


What have the Romans ever done for us?

That question was hilariously asked in the Monty Python film The Life of Brian. It was hilarious because it was so incongruous.

Everybody knows we got – inter alia, oodles of alia – our plumbing, roads, aqueducts, public lavatories, alphabet and much of our thought and legality from the Romans. Even the notion that a meal should have three courses came from them.

However, as any wizened old cynic will tell you, every silver lining has a cloud.

In this case, recent research shows that the Romans are directly responsible for almost two million people dying of tuberculosis every year – not to mention all those millions who have died over the centuries from the time soldiers wore shiny breastplates to the time they started sporting Kevlar vests.

TB first appeared in Africa some 5,000 years ago and there it stayed until the Romans got going in earnest. When the Roman republic became the Roman Empire, TB began to spread like bad taste.

This ought to have given mankind a pause, best used to ponder the downside of globalism and free movement of people.

The upside, otherwise known as the silver lining, is obvious enough and it’s primarily economic. Some will insist it’s cultural as well and England, say, can benefit no end from the resuscitating cultural input of the 100,000 Somalis now resident here.

Without sounding too reactionary for words, let’s just say that the cultural benefits of global human circulation are open to debate. What’s indisputable is that people from exotic countries bring not only couscous and curry, but also viruses and bacteria.

If you look at two other deadly blights that have afflicted Europe, syphilis and Aids, both were spread due to the Europeans’ unquenchable thirst for expansion.

Syphilis, which reduced the number of Schubert lieder and Baudelaire poems (and, on the plus side, shortened Lenin’s life), was by all accounts brought to Europe by a triumphant Columbus expedition.

So it wasn’t just potatoes, chaps: old Christopher’s ships were also laden with some 30 exotic infections, including smallpox, measles, influenza – and of course syphilis.

I’m not suggesting considerations of hygiene should have put a stop to exploration. And, the day after the great US holiday, I won’t dare insinuate that we should have left America undiscovered and let native Americans (previously known as Red Indians) get on with it.

However… well, I won’t develop this qualifier to its logical conclusion. Suffice it to say that, had those 30 diseases stayed where they came from, Europe might have been spared hundreds of millions of deaths.

A curmudgeon like me may be a bit harsh on the Third World, but then so are the statistics. In 2016, the latest year for which such data are available, 10.4 million people contracted TB, and 1.7 million of them died.

More than 95 per cent of all cases occurred in what used to be called underdeveloped countries. (Are they now called ‘differently’ or ‘alternatively’ developed? Hard to keep up with all the progress.)

And Google helpfully informs me that “Sub-Saharan Africa alone accounted for an estimated 69 per cent of all people living with HIV and 70 per cent of all Aids deaths in 2011.”

Such petty concerns shouldn’t be allowed to stop, nor indeed slow down, the march of diversity. But it wouldn’t hurt raising them from time to time, for not raising them may hurt very badly indeed.

Now what was that about ‘the Aids of March’?

Is Russia Europe or Asia?

Hélène Carrère d’Encausse, Permanent Secretary of the French Academy and a historian of Russia by trade, has written an article in Le Figaro, lamenting that Russia now sees herself as mainly an Asian power.

Her take on history is that Russia has always been like a pendulum swinging between Europe and Asia, and only the West’s bloody-mindedness has kept her from settling at the European end where she belongs.

To drag Russia back into the European fold, Mme Carrère d’Encausse calls for “searching for paths towards real dialogue”, meaning lifting all sanctions against Russia.

The article is so inane and so ignorant on so many levels that it’s tedious trying to comment on them all. Yet the columnist Igor Yakovenko undertakes just that task in one of those on-line journals that are blocked inside Russia because the great leader doesn’t like them.

Writing with his characteristic brilliance and, alas, equally characteristic shallowness (especially when venturing outside Russia), Mr Yakovenko points out that no such thing as a homogeneous Asia exists, although he believes, incorrectly, that a homogeneous Europe does.

“The civilisational barrier between India and China,” he writes, “is no smaller than that between either country and any country in Europe.

“There are different Asias. Towards which does the Figaro writer think Russia gravitates?

“Europe does exist as a whole. In spite of all the differences among European countries, they all rest on the same foundations of values and culture: Christianity, Greco-Roman heritage and the Latin alphabet. Yet no Asia as a whole exists: different religions, cultures and alphabets.”

It pains me to say this about a writer I hold in high regard, but Mr Yakovenko here displays a characteristic Russian reluctance to hold what he writes to rigorous tests of fact and logic.

(Such intellectual standards were firmly established by the most influential Russian thinker ever, Leo Tolstoy. In addition to novels of unmatched genius, he produced 25 volumes of unmitigated rubbish on every conceivable subject: religion, philosophy, morality, politics, agriculture, education, economics, art. I’d refer you to my book on the subject, God and Man According to Tolstoy, but MacMillan published it as an academic volume and charges astronomical amounts for it.)

The unqualified point about the common European alphabet is bizarre, and Mr Yakovenko wouldn’t have made it had he given it a moment’s thought. For many European countries eschew the Latin script either partially (Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia use both Latin and Cyrillic) or wholly (Bulgaria uses Cyrillic; Greece and Cyprus, Greek).

It’s reasonably clear that to Mr Yakovenko the Europe to which Russia belongs is Western Europe, not Bulgaria and Cyprus. Russia to him, and to most of the Russian intelligentsia, is unquestionably Western European culturally, which means unquestionably European tout court. I wish it were as simple as that.

Actually, the question in the title above has been asked for the better part of four centuries, and most persistently since the reign of Peter I (1682-1725). Every theoretically possible answer has been flogged to death: a) Europe, b) Asia, c) both, d) neither.

Yet even most Russians, and Westerners this side of L’Académie française, still struggle with the answer. So perhaps history should offer a clue.

The accounts of Elizabethan travellers to Russia, such as Giles Fletcher, show they didn’t for a second see the Russians as fellow Europeans. In fact, the territory that’s now Russia was identified on the contemporaneous maps as either Muscovy or, more usually, Tartary.

Peter I set out to change that situation in one fell swoop by, as he put it, “chopping a window into Europe”. Chopping is a rapid, violent action, and that’s how it turned out. For example, at least 300,000 died building Peter’s European capital on a Finnish swamp – his window was chopped through human flesh.

Peter’s turn of phrase was unfortunate in other respects as well. For windows are only used by burglars or Peeping Toms. The phrase “opening a door to Europe” would have been nicer, if probably less accurate.

Peter’s idea was that Russia should learn from Europe the better to dominate it – the way he himself had learned from the Swedish generals he later routed at Poltava.

Yet, like most tyrants, he was a man in a hurry. What had taken Europe millennia to accomplish he wanted to compress into his own lifetime.

Hence saplings of the West were imported wholesale and planted in a Russian soil all too ready to reject them. However, in the arts if not much else, the saplings did grow into luxuriant trees. A century after Peter’s death, Russia took her place side by side with other great European cultures, especially literatures.

Yet there’s more to culture, and infinitely more to civilisation, than just the arts. In fact, I’d say that artistic pursuits are perhaps the least important, if most enjoyable. Sweden, for example, is undeniably a European country even though she has made a rather understated contribution to European arts.

Civilisations differ from one another mainly in the way they see God, man and the world the former created and the latter inhabits. This underlying vision, typically based on the founding religion, determines everything else – and certainly the relationship between the state and the people.

Russia got her Christianity not from the West but from Byzantium, and she got it later than Western European countries did. Now the differences between Western and Eastern confessions may seem trivial to a modern observer, but the doctrinal disagreements begat two civilisations going their divergent ways.

One key disagreement, over filioque, seems to be recondite and trivial. In 1054 the West, as represented by Rome, had declared that the Holy Spirit proceeds equally from the Father and the Son. In turn the East, as represented by Constantinople, insisted that the procession was not double but single, from the Father through the Son.

Yet it’s largely (though far from solely) this seemingly inconsequential difference that explains why political liberty found its natural home in the west, and tyranny in the east.

After all, expressed geometrically, double procession would look like an equilateral triangle. The Father and the Son have true equality underpinned by the Holy Spirit. The three hypostases thus possess what today we call equal rights. Translated to a civilisation based on this concept, the triangular Trinity is likely to be reflected in pluralism.

Conversely, single procession from the Father through the Son implies a straight line, an immutable vertical hierarchy, with the Father sitting at the top. The implications of this went beyond theology.

What was at stake was the kind of kingdom Christians wished to build in this world. Hence the schism of 1054 directly led to the violence of 1204.

That clash between Western and Eastern Christians was linked to the disagreement over filioque, although not just to the face value of the matter. The issue of filioque highlighted the growing chasm between the West and the East, even though the two ostensibly shared the same religion.

In any case, Eastern Christianity had always been under a great influence of other Eastern religions, and consequently of the way of life that sprang from Eastern religiosity. For example it was largely for this reason that Eastern Christianity tended to gravitate towards mysticism, a direct sensory link with God that more or less excluded reason.

It’s also largely because of Eastern influences that various deadly heresies were much more prevalent in the East than in the West. Many of those sprang from the Manichean tendency to regard the physical world as evil.

While a Christian has at his fingertips an immediate link between the absolute grandeur of God and the relativity of earthly life, an exponent of an Eastern religion hasn’t. If for a Christian the absolute is unknowable completely, for, say, a Buddhist the absolute is completely unknowable.

Inextricably linked to the Eastern view of the physical world was relative indifference to tyranny – after all, hard as people tried, there was no getting away from evil on earth anyway. Introspection offered the only escape route, and that road could be taken in any social and political environment.

On the other hand, the West, while obviously accepting that Christ’s kingdom was not of this world, still couldn’t be contemptuous about this world. Christianity sought salvation of the world, not from the world.

The notion of a sovereign individual, intrinsically valuable because of his humanity rather than any particular achievement, is uniquely Western, which is to say European. While compromised in Eastern Christianity by both outside influences and Byzantine Caesarism, this notion is alien to all civilisations that actually are Eastern .

In this, regardless of the many significant differences astutely observed by Mr Yakovenko, they are similar, not to say identical.

Eastern mystical, introspective agnosticism, not to mention straightforward Confucian materialism, are as different from Western individualism as the Buddhist transmutation of souls is different from Christian resurrection.

All this determined the core differences in the relationship between man and state. In the West, with minor glitches here and there, that relationship has always been based on inchoate liberties and at least some pluralism.

In the East, tyranny is the congenitally natural form of government. Hence it’s rather facile to cite, as Mr Yakovenko does elsewhere, the example of Japan and the Asian Tigers as paragons of former Eastern tyrannies that saw the light of Western democracy.

Those countries might have borrowed some Western models for purely economic reasons (or else have been forced to do so by a victorious America), but underneath it all their national character survives very nicely. An essential part of it is subjugating the individual to the collective, and the collective to the leader.

Now, just as Russia got her religion from Byzantium, she got her statehood from the Mongols led at the time by Genghis Khan’s grandson. The rule of the Golden Horde continued for centuries, and even Ivan III (d. 1505), nicknamed ‘the gatherer of the Russian lands’ for his attempts to bring all  principalities together under Moscow, continued to pay tributes to the Mongol khan.

If the ideal (alas, no longer the practice) of Western politics is subsidiarity, the devolution of power to the lowest sensible level, Eastern – and therefore Russian – politics is vectored in the opposite direction. Because this is coded into the country’s DNA, Western-style democracy can never succeed there, nor has ever succeeded.

This isn’t to say that Russia can never acquire a veneer of pluralism – Mr Yakovenko is right in saying “If Taiwan and Singapore can do it, why can’t we?” No reason at all, though I for one would be pleasantly surprised if Russia progressed that far.

But veneer is all that could possibly be on offer. Russia can no more adopt the essence of the West (especially at a time when the West itself is destroying it) than a man can change the colour of his eyes.

So, to answer the question in the title above, Russia is Asian in every sense that should count to Mme Carrère d’Encausse – in ways the country interacts with Europe. Russia’s politics, legality, philosophy, view of life, existential instincts, relationship between the state and the people are all, mutatis mutandis, Asian.

But yes, Mr Yakovenko – Pushkin, Tchaikovsky and Repin are definitely part of European culture. No one can deny that.

Enforced absence

When I said the other day that my pieces would be coming thick and fast, I was foolishly overconfident.

It turns out that, contrary to my misconception, regular writing requires a lot of energy, certainly more than I possess at the moment. So I have to take it easy.

Hence my pieces will be coming in a trickle, rather than a steady stream. But one such trickle will appear tomorrow.