Down with glottophobia

Tony (never Anthony) tried, with variable success, to drop his haitches and use the glo’al stop.

If you don’t know what ‘glottophobia’ means, don’t feel embarrassed. The term is still new.

Makes one wonder how we’ve lived without it for so long. After all, we know how all those phobias and isms enrich our vocabulary, actually our whole lives.

Didn’t you feel culturally impoverished before we were blessed with the arrival of words like ‘transphobia’? One can’t resist sin – nor refrain from crime – unless one knows it for what it is.

Hence, for example, Brexiteers are helped no end on the road to virtue when our transgression is diagnosed as ‘Europhobia’.

Spending half my time in France, I didn’t realise I was suffering from an inordinate fear of Europe. I feel much better now that my phobia has been properly diagnosed.

‘Glottophobia’ isn’t, as you might infer from the word’s etymology, fear of language as such. It’s the crime of mocking language spoken with regional accents.

Anyone finding himself on the receiving end of this outrage is instantly traumatised for life, which places glottophobia side by side with homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia and other capital crimes.

That’s why a French MP has proposed that the mockery of accents be outlawed. Why is it that the French are always ahead of us?

This overdue measure was prompted by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the French Corbyn, who mocked a journalist who asked a probing question at a press conference.

Mélenchon lampooned the hack’s Toulouse accent and then asked if anyone had a question in “understandable French”.

That blew to smithereens another of my cherished stereotypes. I thought only elitist conservatives were capable of such snobbery, not tireless fighters for universal égalité and the liberation of the working classes from the capitalist yoke.

Still, the subject of regional dialects is interesting, both as such and in its social and cultural implications.

I grew up in Russia, a country that has no dialectal variety to speak of. Oh, I’m sure a Russian Prof. Higginsky will talk your ear off about phonetic differences between, say, Moscow and Petersburg, 400 miles apart.

But, since I was professionally trained in English, not Russian, I can hear no differences between the two in sound production, although there may be some variations of inflection.

All Russians speak essentially the same way. I grew up a few hundred yards from the Kremlin, but I sound almost identical to someone from Vladivostok, 4,000 miles away as the crow flies (and 6,000 as the car drives).

From there I went to the US, which offers more dialectal diversity. Some accents are quite pronounced, such as those of New York, Boston, the Deep South and the Southwest (with variations within each).

Thus a New Yorker and a Texan will know where each comes from. But I dare anyone other than a professional phonetician tell apart the accents of various Midwestern and Western states. I certainly can’t, and I’ve studied such things academically.

Even though a New Yorker and a Texan will acknowledge their differences, they’ll have no problem understanding each other. And a Russian or a Frenchman wouldn’t even believe it possible for native speakers of the same language to have such problems.

Note also that, though the journalist who offended Mélenchon with his impertinence spoke in a regional accent, the former had no problem understanding – and mocking – the latter.

This brings me to the unique phonetic phenomenon: Britain, a country much smaller than France and positively minute compared to the US and especially Russia. Yet linguists identify 50 major British dialects (five of them in London alone) and God knows how many minor ones.

These aren’t the namby-pamby differences between Moscow and Vladivostok or New York and Boston. Britons living but a few miles apart may not understand one another.

When my wife was growing up in Exeter, she couldn’t understand the farmer living five miles down the road. The denizens of two adjacent counties, Yorkshire and Lancashire, may have similar problems – and neither will effortlessly understand a Newcastle Geordie who lives practically next door.

Clearly some uniformity is vital to allow for smooth communication. That’s provided by the standardised accent variously known as Queen’s English, Received Pronunciation or, in the past, BBC English.

Educated people, even those who retain traces of their phonetic origin, all tend to speak that way and, truth be told, occasionally look down on those who can’t or won’t.

Yet the attitude to regional accents changes. For example, when Samuel Johnson entered Oxford University, he spoke with a pronounced Lichfield lilt, which he kept all his life.

Had he gone to the same university 200 years later, he would have found himself the butt of cruel jokes. Yet in 1728 he was neither patronised nor despised.

Regional accents weren’t yet viewed as a sign of inadequacy. Yet two centuries later the creator of Prof. Higgins observed that: “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.”

What had changed? The nature of British society, is the short answer.

The Industrial Revolution was no less destructive than any other kind, even though Joseph Schumpeter would have doubtless described the destruction it wreaked as largely creative.

As a result, England was no longer a country of aristocrats and peasants, with the middle classes sandwiched in between.

It became a society shaped by the middle class, with the aristocracy marginalised and the peasantry all but eliminated. Middle class sensibilities came to the fore, and a quest for uniformity was prime among them.

The middle classes, especially in Protestant countries, tend to hold a smug belief in their own superiority. Since they’re the acme of creation, it follows ineluctably that everyone should be – and sound – just like them.

Since in Victorian times they fawned on the upper classes, they could forgive some toff idiosyncrasies. But anyone they deemed beneath them was treated with contempt, usually but not always tacit.

It was then that speakers of regional dialects began to be seen as social and cultural inferiors. Eventually that feeling became justifiable, if not excusable.

For good schools insisted on certain standards of not only grammar and vocabulary, but also pronunciation. Thus it was possible to tell an Eton man from a Rugby one, either from the alumni of grammar schools, and all of them from those who never received much education at all.

A good accent, therefore, betokened a good education and a certain social standing, while a regional dialect bespoke ignorance. Glorious exceptions existed, but even they had to overcome their phonetic handicap to acquire recognition.

Then things came full circle. The British educational system was destroyed for ideological reasons, and gradually the teaching of good English faded away.

Proletarian accents became not only acceptable, but desirable and, for a politician, essential. Thus Tony Blair, who went to all the good schools, studiously dropped his aitches and used the glottal stop when addressing wide audiences, although sometimes he forgot, making his speech sound hermaphroditic.

Suddenly people in public life have begun to take elocution lessons to take their accent down, rather than the other way, as they used to. It’s essential to come across as prolier than thou.

Note the progression. First, in Dr Johnson’s time, nobody cared about the accent. Then, when the middle classes became dominant and smug about themselves, local accents became contemptible: the bourgeois dreaded the possibility of slipping a rung or two on the social ladder.

In our time, when everything is dominated by ideology, phonetic slumming has become a sign of ideological PC virtue. And ideological heresies start out being derided and end up being punishable by law.

So think twice before trying to mock the Cockney accent as a party trick. You may be committing the crime of glottophobia.

Virgins await Russians in heaven

“I spy with my little eye a swarm of American ICBMs converging on Lubianka…”

Whenever I talk about gun control, I make the same point: guns aren’t dangerous as such. They only become dangerous in the hands of either madmen or criminals or especially mad criminals.

Extrapolating ever so slightly, the same applies to nuclear weapons. In the hands of sane countries, such as Britain or France, they’re a factor of security. They’re only a factor of danger in the hands of criminal countries, especially those whose criminality is tinged with insanity.

That’s why any sane person ought to be wary of the noises coming out of Russia, all revolving around the radioactive ash into which the Botox Boy could turn the US at the drop of a hat, or rather of a few high-yield bombs.

Threats of wiping out the West with nuclear weapons aren’t new. As a child growing up in Moscow, I remember Khrushchev bragging that the Soviets possessed the kind of bombs that could each annihilate the US with a single blast.

However, everybody knew that was just braggadocio, possibly spouted under the influence of the national beverage. (Khrushchev’s favourite breakfast was an eight-ounce glass of vodka chased with a bowl of rich borsht and some rye bread.)

When Khrushchev began to sound not just boisterous but insane, his colleagues got worried. They didn’t want that red button pushed by a deranged fanatic having a fit.

It was time to act, and they didn’t even bother to kill Khrushchev in the fine Russian tradition. They simply packed him off to a modest dacha and left him to write his mendacious memoirs.

In other words, while unquestionably evil, the Soviet Union retained at least some sanity. Watching the latest news, nay symptoms, coming out of Russia, I’m not so sure.

Just look at Putin’s speech at the meeting of the Valdai Club, the closest equivalent his junta has to our Tory 1922 Committee.

The stage was set by the usual boasts about Russia’s ability to annihilate the whole world should the need arise. Nothing new there, nor in the Botox Boy’s lies about Russia’s strategic doctrine.

“Our concept,” he said, as his nose was lengthening, “is that of a counter-strike.” Nuclear weapons will be used “only when we’re certain that someone, a potential aggressor, is striking against Russia.”

Actually, even in Soviet times the Russians didn’t take the MAD doctrine seriously. They considered a nuclear war winnable, especially if started by their first strike. And Putin’s generals definitely include first use of nuclear weapons into their calculations.

So far I haven’t read anything about their specific plans to unleash a nuclear Armageddon, but there’s plenty of evidence about their reliance on tactical nuclear weapons for ‘de-escalation’.

This means that, if they start a conventional war in Europe, for example by attacking the Baltics, and it turns against them, they envision a nuclear strike on NATO bases or possibly some European population centres.

That would give NATO two options: either to pull back or to respond in kind, thereby risking a full-blown nuclear exchange – and Putin is certain they don’t have the stomach for the second option.

I’m not unduly bothered about the Botox Boy lying – what on earth else would one expect from a career KGB man cum gangster? But then Vlad began to overlay his lies with a note of apocalyptic insanity.

“Any aggressor should know that retribution is unavoidable, one way or another he’ll be destroyed. As victims of aggression, we’ll be martyrs who’ll go to heaven, while they’ll simply croak. Because they won’t even have time to repent.”

The Botox Boy didn’t specify how many virgins each Russian martyr will rate in heaven, but his visionary powers are most impressive. Prophet Jeremiah, eat your heart out. And there was more to come:

“In general, we fear nothing – a country with such a territory, such a defence system, such a population ready to stand up for its independence, its sovereignty. Not every place, not every country can boast such a population ready to lay down their lives for the motherland – and we can.”

I’m not a professional psychiatrist, but even the rankest amateur can diagnose paranoid delusions here. Vlad sees in his mind’s eye a potential aggressor that’ll go nameless (well, if you insist, the US), waiting for the best moment to let go of ICBMs.

One would think it’s the US, not Russia, that’s pouncing on its neighbours like a rabid dog foaming at the mouth. But wait a minute, the Botox Boy is now ready to merge paranoid delirium with more lies:

“We’re not reaching out anywhere, we have a huge territory, we want nothing from anybody.” For sure. But what about the annexation of Crimea, asks a particularly malevolent Russophobe.

But Vlad won’t be caught out: “Crimea is ours. Why ours? Not because we came and snatched something. People went to a referendum in Crimea and voted.”

This sounds as if the referendum preceded the Russian invasion, whereas in fact it was the other way around. When the mock referendum was set up, the turnout was low, with the native Tartar population refusing to take part in that travesty. Those people who voted did so under the watchful eyes of Soviet soldiers cocking their AKs.

So Putin was lying, but it wasn’t just a bog standard lie. A wayward husband who tells his irate wife he had a late business meeting is merely a liar. But one who says he was kidnapped by aliens with feelers on their green heads is also a madman.

I don’t know if Russian martyrs will get to cavort with all those virgins in heaven, but I do fear that, under the Botox Boy’s leadership, they may well turn the world into hell.

Conservative, moi?

One has to sympathise with Jacob Rees-Mogg, who’s not so much painted as fenced into a corner.

It has come to this. No politician can enunciate a cohesive conservative philosophy and get away with it. In every meaningful sense, a conservative politician is now an oxymoron.

Polite Society, priding itself on its tolerance, will just about tolerate the odd droplet of a conservative idea – provided its taste is diluted in a glassful of conformist, progressivist rubbish. But serving such ideas neat is a one-way ticket to political oblivion.

This brings me to Jacob Rees-Mogg, whom I like as much as I’m capable of liking any politician. The other day I watched a dozen of his YouTube videos and found him English, intelligent, articulate, English, witty, well-spoken, lucid, English, well-dressed and viscerally conservative.

Yet the global cooling of the political climate towards conservatism is such that even Mr Rees-Mogg can’t openly challenge the prevailing liberal consensus – even though he has the ability and, I’m sure, a longing to do so.

In addition to being a visceral conservative, Mr Rees-Mogg is a devout Catholic, which puts him in the way of the double whammy of liberal opprobrium.

The only way he can protect himself is to claim that his Catholicism in no way affects his political judgement. That is lamentable.

If he really does keep his religion and his politics in two non-communicating vessels, is he really a devout Catholic? If he doesn’t but pretends he does, is he really an honest man?

One video illustrates these points perfectly. Mr Rees-Mogg was interviewed by a female TV journalist, which is a synonym for a leftist. Paying lip service to the ethics of her profession, the interviewer tried to sound impartial, but that didn’t quite work.

Her unspoken yet clearly discernible aim was to trap Mr Rees-Mogg into saying something that would make him sound like a marginal oddity, an upper-class reactionary completely out of touch with reality.

She knew that was her aim and so did Mr Rees-Mogg. Hence he was as careful to sidestep the traps as she was industrious in laying them.

The interviewer had an important task to perform. Mr Rees-Mogg isn’t just a modest backbencher, which he continued to insist he was. He’s the leader of the parliamentary Brexit group and, some say and he denies, the future leader of the Tory party.

Making him come across as a stick-in-the-mud crank was therefore an important assignment, and the interviewer got to work. Would Mr Rees-Mogg oppose gay marriage and abortion if he ever rose to leadership?

The trap was there and it was gaping. An affirmative reply would put a self-satisfied smile on the interviewer’s face: job done.

And a negative reply would make Mr Rees-Mogg come across as a sleazy opportunist ready to betray his principles for immediate political gain – a typical modern politician in other words.

Mr Rees-Mogg was well aware of the implications. Hence he displayed footwork of balletic agility trying to dance around the trap.

Parliament has spoken on these issues, vox populi has spoken through Parliament, and vox dei has spoken through vox populi, he said, or words to that effect. So there’s nothing more to discuss. Case open and shut.

Yes, persisted the interviewer, who wouldn’t let her wriggling fish off the hook quite so easily. But do you personally oppose those noble causes?

I don’t remember the exact words of Mr Rees-Mogg’s fleet-footed reply, but the gist was that he had no remit to oppose homomarriage or abortion as a politician. However, as a practising Catholic, he had to oppose them, if only in the privacy of his own home.

That reduced his faith to the level of a quaint personal hobby, like bird-watching or collecting socks. His message was the same as that put forth 60 years ago by JFK: I’m a politician who happens to be a Catholic, not a Catholic politician.

Mr Rees-Mogg then began to defend freedom of speech, regretting that it didn’t seem to be extended to Catholics as widely as it was to Muslim preachers of hate.

That was a good and necessary argument, but an irrelevant one – and, what’s worse, an evasive one.

I’m sure if Mr Rees-Mogg and I discussed this subject over dinner, he’d readily agree that it isn’t necessary to evoke Catholicism or any other confession to make a strong argument against homomarriage and abortion.

I’m not saying that such an argument could be confidently won, but it certainly could be plausibly made, and in several ways. An appeal to millennia of tradition would work against homomarriage: marriage in the West has always been a union between a man and a woman.

Something that’s been around for millennia is ipso facto worth keeping, but that’s not the only possible argument. One could also go into the social and biological significance of marriage, the critical importance of that institution to society present and especially future.

Marriage is demonstrably one concept where enlargement begets diminution – and eventually debauchment. Each time a homomarriage is officiated by the state, a chunk is chipped out of the very institution. Repeat this over time, and this building block of society will crumble away completely.

You see, this outline of a possible argument makes no reference to Catholic doctrine. The same is possible with abortion.

Accepting the sanctity of human life might have been a Christian imperative originally, but it can admirably stand on its own two secular legs.

In a civilised, which is to say Western, country, a human life can’t be taken arbitrarily and without due process. Hence the argument isn’t about the Catholic catechism.

It boils down to deciding whether a foetus is part of the mother’s body, like her appendix, or a sovereign human being, like her child.

If it’s the former, she can abort it: not many people raise moral objections to appendectomy. If it’s the latter, she’s committing infanticide, and many people still object to that.

Granted, a foetus isn’t yet fully a person. But here one might invoke Aristotle’s teaching about potentiality and actuality.

A foetus is a person not actually, but potentially. Conception doesn’t produce a person, but it does produce a human life that will eventually become a person.

And human life must be assumed to start at conception because no other point can be pinpointed with reliable accuracy. Hence abortion at any point of gestation is tantamount to the gratuitous taking of human life.

Had I been the interviewee, I would have made such points without making a single reference to Christianity for fear of losing my audience, securely indoctrinated in the tenets of progressivist atheism.

But I’m not a politician, and Mr Rees-Mogg is. That’s why he couldn’t respond in that fashion and hope to remain a politician for long.

This isn’t so much criticism of this immensely able politician as a comment on today’s politics in general. Or, even broader, on our time where the only sound political philosophy, that of conservatism, has no place.

Hate crime (love the state)

This is the scene of gruesome hate crimes committed every rush hour

When I read the Home Office report this morning, I almost fainted with horror. The number of hate crimes has more than doubled in the past five years… wait a second, let me swallow the tears…

And in the past year alone hate crime has grown by 17 per cent to 94,098 cases! Something snapped in our life, and the British have begun to hate one another with unprecedented fervour.

Images of murdered or mutilated persons of non-English ethnicity flashed – nay blazed – through my mind.

They were then kaleidoscopically replaced by other equally appalling pictures: synagogues and mosques burning, Muslims and Orthodox Jews tortured and forced to eat bacon, women pushed on underground tracks, homosexuals tarred and feathered…

Sorry, I can’t write about this without shaking all over. What times we live in! But why, I asked myself, why is so much hatred splashing out so fast and so recently?

In search of an explanation I read on, and the Home Office obliged. The culprits are terrorism and Brexit: “[We record] spikes in hate crime following certain events such as the EU referendum and the terrorist attacks in 2017”.

That stands to reason. Islamic terrorism, and I hope describing it as such isn’t yet punishable by law, can probably be classified as hate crime, though it’s not as criminal as the public reaction to it.

Why, just the other day I heard a mature gentleman use the term Muzzie-Wuzzie when discussing suicide bombings, which is a hate crime if I’ve ever seen one.

And we all know that people who voted to leave the EU did so only because they hate and fear Johnny Foreigner, whatever his ethnic guise. Now they got their way, they take it as a licence to attack anyone who looks and talks funny.

If you seek an analogy, this is a marginally less murderous replay of the 1282 Sicilian Vespers, when the locals got tired of their French colonisers. So they celebrated Easter by killing 3,000 of them, identifying the victims by their foreign accents.

Let’s not discount the religious motive either. It’s common knowledge that, since the British are intensely devout Anglicans, their zealous piety naturally breeds intolerance of other religions. So off they go and kick an alien for Jesus and Archbishop Welby.

One doesn’t see offhand how terrorism and Brexit affect violence against women and homosexuals, but I’m sure a link exists. However, it’s hard to reconcile these types of hate crime with those committed against Muslims.

If I wanted to offer violence to women and homosexuals, I wouldn’t want at the same time to scare off Muslims, for whom this sort of thing is a nice day out. If I saw women and homosexuals as enemies, I’d see Muslims as friends.

You may detect a touch of sarcasm here, and I congratulate you on your perspicacity. For I don’t really think that either Brexit or terrorism explains the steep climb in the incidence of hate crime – not exhaustively at any rate.

But the HO report does contain an exhaustive explanation, even though its authors may not recognise it as such. The increase, says the report, was largely driven by improvements in the way police record hate crime.

Allow me to translate. The Home Office and the police have expanded the meaning of hate crime to include into that rubric things that weren’t there before.

Thus, say, touching a woman without permission is now classified as a hate crime, though, if one wanted to be pedantic about it, it’s closer to a love crime.

Calling an elderly gentleman an ‘old bastard’ is now a hate crime, even though such rudeness doesn’t necessarily betoken hatred – and even if it did, hatred by itself isn’t a crime. For example, I don’t think I’m breaking any particular law by disliking Tony Blair or Dave Cameron.

Hitting a woman is usually a crime, but it may be caused by an explosive temper, not hatred of women collectively. And telling unfunny jokes about Jews and blacks, or even referring to them by their pejorative names, may be tasteless without being either hateful or criminal.

Why is our government doing this, even though this new offensive breeds contempt for the law in general? After all, few of us have never done something that falls under the new definition of hate crime.

(Yes, I know you’re an exception: you’ve never tried to kiss a woman against her will, never uttered an ethnic or racial slur, never demeaned the whole womankind by questioning some woman’s intelligence, never said anything nasty about homosexuals, old people, redheads or fatsos, never commented on the physical attributes of a female colleague.)

Widening the meaning of crime in this fashion effectively criminalises the entire male population (you apart) and much of the female. And in a society where crime can mean anything, it soon ends up meaning nothing. If every citizen is criminalised, the state itself is the criminal.

So why are they doing that? For the same reason I suggested yesterday, when talking about the state imposing taxes that have a ruinous financial, social and moral effect.

With modern states, it’s not the text but the subtext that matters. And the subtext is always the same whenever we gasp with incredulity at any government action: the state’s congenital imperative to bend the people to its will.

Exactly a year ago, and doesn’t time fly, I wrote a piece about this hate crime madness, and I really have nothing to add to it:

The disease has since progressed, which all progress junkies should welcome. Since I’m not one, I grieve.

Thank you, Ma’am, can I have another?

“You’ve been a bad boy. So bend over and grab the edge of this desk…”

The relationship between the state and the people increasingly reminds one of a strict father chastising his naughty children.

There’s nothing new about the underlying paternalistic philosophy, but the scale of its application is steadily growing.

It was some 50 years ago that Richard Nixon said one of the few true things he ever uttered: “We’re all Keynesian now.” That was putting it mildly.

I’d say that all modern Western states tread the short stretch between Keynes and Marx. In other words, they’re all socialist to varying degrees.

Socialism originally proceeds from the assumption that the state knows what’s good for the people better than the people themselves. This is analogous to a father knowing what’s good for his children.

Like the father, the state must impose its will on the people for their own good. Also for their own good, the state may throw its naughty children over its knee and give them a thrashing if they dare challenge its authority.

Yet the founding premise of socialism is a lie: the state doesn’t really know what’s good for its subjects better than they themselves know it. That’s why the duty of paternalistic care the state assumes eventually becomes powerlust for its own sake.

Thus, if we blow away the smoke puffed up by sanctimonious liars to conceal the true nature of socialism, its essential feature, in fact its raison d’être, is a maximum transfer of power from the individual to the state.

To serve this purpose, the state will always try to make more and more people more and more dependent on it: for their medical care, their children’s education and – ideally – their very livelihood.

The nastier modern states use unbridled violence to that end; the more benign ones rely on other expedients. Yet ultimately the desired end is the same.

Taxation is the most widespread method of crowd control in Western countries; it’s the cane in the hands of a strict schoolmaster of yesteryear. Its efficacy goes beyond the obvious outcome of making the state richer and the people poorer, and therefore more in need of the state largesse.

For the masterly use of the cane of fiscal policy can beat crowds into shape in all sorts of subtler ways. A high-taxing, high-spending, inflationary economy doesn’t just affect our bank balance; it alters our behaviour.

Just imagine for the sake of argument that the state uses taxes, say, to double the price of wine and halve the price of spirits. I’d suggest that the incipient oenophilia of the British would disappear faster than you can say: “Let’s drink whisky with dinner, shall we?”

Or, relying on history rather than imagination, consider these facts.

The last 50 years of the nineteenth century produced an overall inflation of a meagre 10 per cent. The corresponding figure for the last 50 years of the twentieth century – when we all became Keynesian – is a whopping 2,000 per cent.

In that first period, income tax was practically nonexistent by our standards, and even that paltry tithe was paid by relatively few people. Public spending and borrowing were consequently low as well.

In the second period, the British government set out to prove the economic maxim that promiscuous state spending causes runaway inflation. Not only the inflation rate but also taxes shot up pari passu with the socialisation of the state.

Furthermore, during the same period, the inflation of assets, mainly properties, outstripped the monetary inflation tenfold.

The behavioural upshot was that Victorians were good savers and conservative investors. After all, a man was unlikely to become a spendthrift or a gambler if he was blessed with an income that he knew wouldn’t diminish by more than 10 per cent over his lifetime.

The reverse was true during the second period I mentioned: there wasn’t much point in saving money if it rapidly lost value. Hence people had to become either profligate borrowers and spenders or else reckless investors. typically in properties.

The 2008 disaster was a direct result, except that this was hardly a disaster for the state if we keep in mind its true desideratum. As people were defaulting on mortgages and declaring bankruptcy under the weight of unsupportable debts, they became more dependent on the state. QED.

Those who somehow managed to stay afloat tended to liberate themselves from the state’s tender mercies, making themselves, in the eyes of the state, disobedient children to receive six of the best.

This is the only context in which the government’s latest outrageous initiative can be understood: the Chancellor has announced a plan to charge VAT on private school fees.

Such promises are the only ones our governments keep unfailingly. Thus parents who now pay, say, £25,000 a year to educate a child can confidently expect to be paying £30,000 soon.

For many parents school fees represent a tremendous sacrifice: I know families who spend half their income trying to shield their children from the toxic effects of our comprehensive non-education.

The state thus gets them coming and going. First, it destroys the excellent two-tier system Britain had until the mid-1960s and creates hatcheries of ignorance, stuffing pupils’ heads with mendacious ideology and no real knowledge.

The children leave school unable to read and write properly, yet convinced of the unmitigated and uninterrupted evil of their country’s history. The only exams on which British children hold their own against their continental counterparts are pregnancy tests.

Second, when desperate parents spend their last pennies on trying to prepare their children for a better life, the state whips out the punitive cane of taxation.

It must be emphasised that it’s not just the EU but all modern states that pursue political ends camouflaged as economic ones. Economically speaking, the state would vastly benefit from making school fees not only tax-deductible but actually tax-free.

This way more children would go to private schools, thereby reducing financial pressure on state education. And, in the long run, more of the properly educated children will become tax payers, rather than tax consumers.

However, the state would lose a measure of its control over the people, which goes against the grain of its very essence. Hence, rather than encouraging parents to educate their offspring privately, it punishes them for having the temerity to do so.

Exactly the same applies to private pensions, another bugbear of the modern ‘Keynesian’ state.

As a proportion of average income, British state pensions, at just over 20 per cent, are the lowest in the developed world (in Holland, for example, they’re over 100 per cent, and elsewhere around 70-80 per cent).

On the plus side, our private pension funds are the largest in Europe, which partly makes up for the pittance we receive from the state. This, however, is an affront to our powers that be.

A private pension may make a person independent from the state for the last decade or two of his life. This simply won’t do.

The same thing happens here as with education. The state is a dog in the manger: it isn’t prepared to solve the problem, yet pounces on those who try to do so for themselves.

That’s why every government, Tory or Labour alike, robs pension funds in every conceivable way, and this government is preparing to follow suit.

Again, the measure makes no economic sense: the more money people have in their private funds, the less pressure they’ll put on social services.

But that’s like saying that a schoolboy would be better off reading, say, Reflections on the Revolution in France on his own, while ignoring the rubbish demanded by the Universal School Curriculum. Yes, he will be better off, but the state won’t.

We should all stuff a thick magazine into the back of our financial trousers and brace ourselves for more punishment. Our Head Mistress and her deputy are really cross with us.

Cult is all that’s left of culture

Banksy’s THE GIRL WITH THE PIERCED EARDRUM is clever. But, call me a reactionary, on balance I still prefer the original.

Looking down on our art scene from wherever they are, Plato and Aristotle must be having a good laugh.

Their guffaws probably have an element of I-told-you-so pride (hubris to them). For they knew that a moral and intellectual catastrophe was bound to ruin aesthetics as well.

The great Greeks considered what Aristotle called ‘transcendentals’ and what Plato specifically identified as Truth, Beauty and Goodness to be the inseparable ontological properties of being.

One can infer that a deficit in any element of the inseparable triad would automatically produce a failure in the other two. And a failure in two elements would leave the third one with nowhere to go but straight into the bin – like Banksy’s Love.

Banksy is a clever graffiti ‘artist’ for whom any wall or fence is a natural canvas. In terms of genuine aesthetic value, he relates to real artists as a subway busker relates to a concert virtuoso.

Yet he isn’t without some wit and ability (including, self-evidently, commercial acumen). Once, for example, he spray-painted PLEASE DRIVE CAREFULLY THROUGH OUR VILLAGE on a naked concrete wall in a particularly nasty London suburb.

Another time he painted a giant word BORING, on the wall of the brutalist Southbank Centre, showing a sound aesthetic judgement.

Of course, in the past, when art was defined as an expression of the ontological quest for beauty, Banksy would have been regarded as not so much an artist as a vandal.

But these days art is defined as anything its perpetrator says it is – provided critics and buyers agree. The actual reality of art has given way to the virtual reality of image, conveyed by smoke signals in the shape of currency signs.

That’s why Banksy has graduated from wall art to art auctions. Critics write serious proselytising articles about his work, and collectors pay serious money for them. Never mind the aesthetic value, feel the cult.

Hence the art world has happily fallen for the neat trick of artistic chicanery played by Banksy at – and probably in cahoots with – Sotheby’s.

His painting, Banksy’s Girl with Balloon, was bought for close to £1,000,000, which by itself is remarkable. After all, a few years ago a Lucas Cranach painting had a reserve price of £800,000 at Christie’s.

In the eyes of modern art connoisseurs, Cranach and Banksy are clearly comparable figures, with the latter slightly ahead of the former.

Admittedly, the price a painting fetches has never been solely a reflection of its artistic quality. But never in the past was the former totally divorced from the latter.

Thus it’s possible that, say, Canaletto’s depictions of Venice were more expensive than Guardi’s, who was the better painter. But neither of them would have faced serious competition from a street dauber, knocking off 15-minute pictures of the Rialto Bridge for the tourists’ delectation.

But Banksy isn’t just any old dauber. He’s a Conceptual Artist. This genre replaces art with ‘concept’, such as an unmade bed or livestock pickled in formaldehyde.

Actually, I wonder if I could make a splash in the art circles by putting a turd on a bathroom tile and calling that conceptual artwork Conceptual Art. Worth exploring, that.

Anyway, in this case Banksy’s concept was to hide a remote-controlled shredder in the painting’s massive frame.

The moment the auctioneer’s hammer fell, some accomplice pushed a button, and the painting was immediately shredded into long strips before the gasping audience.

The shredded fragments transformed one masterpiece into another, this one called Banksy’s Love is in the Bin. (I wonder what the police feel about a little girl described as Banksy’s love.)

One would think that the tricked owner would demand her money back. However, if she were the kind of person who’d do that, she wouldn’t have bought a Banksy in the first place.

The winning bidder wasn’t the last, essential, element in a transaction involving a work of art. She was a follower of a virtual-reality cult and reacted accordingly.

“At first I was shocked,” she said, explaining why she had decided to keep the work, “but I realised I would end up with my own piece of art history.” And obviously, should she want to sell, people will pay through the nose for a piece of art history.

At least the cult appeal of graphic arts is limited, what with the typically one-on-one nature of their transactions. Pop music, on the other hand, has millions of consumers, making it a truly mass cult.

Even in the salad days of rock ‘n roll, music played second fiddle to the cult. Presley in particular became a Christ-like figure, even acquiring aspects of resurrection after his death.

The cult aspect of pop became particularly prominent with the Beatles, who started out as singers of cute songs and ended up as false prophets, cult leaders of the modern world.

Somewhere along the way they acquired the help of musically trained assistants, so their later records display competent harmonies and even direct quotes from real composers, including Bach and Beethoven.

Yet it’s precisely in their late albums that music, even at its most primitive, no longer mattered. No one listened to it any longer anyway.

Instead, hysterical, drug-addled audiences were hanging on to every garbled word of the semiotic infra-musical message they discerned behind the ‘music’: hatred for everything that made the West Western.

In extreme cases, the message was literally understood and faithfully followed. Charlie Manson’s ‘family’ went on a murderous rampage partly as a result of the subliminal signal of hate they had correctly perceived in The White Album.

While the Beatles still tried to preserve a semblance of musicality, their followers have abandoned any such attempts. More and more, pop began to acquire overtly Satanist characteristics.

More and more, it began to appeal not just to the darker side of human nature but to the sulphuric swamp concealed underneath it. The appeal continued to be quasi-religious, in the same sense in which the antichrist is the negative image of Christ.

While Jesus redeemed his followers by dying on the cross, the messengers of the new cult would commit suicide or else die of alcoholism, drug overdose or in due course of AIDS.

In the process, pop has become a big business, perhaps the biggest of all. Tone-deaf adolescents can become billionaires overnight, provided they can tickle the naughty bits of the masses in a particularly effective way.

They belch their anti-capitalist invective all the way to the capitalist bank, and many critics sneer at the alleged paradox. None exists. These ‘musicians’ are expert manipulators of today’s cults, expressed commercially.

Modern commercial shamans don’t make products. They create markets and sell brands. They slap together sub-cultures. They fuse the markets and the sub-cultures into a uniform whole.

Pop music is only a part, although an important one, of what passes for modern culture. It’s the heart of the new Leviathan whose tentacles are numerous and ever-reaching.

Pornography, fashion, show business, a great part of the publishing and record industries, electronic media, drugs – all reach for the immature hearts and minds of modern consumers.

Step by step, the last three letters have fallen off the word ‘culture’. Only ‘cult’ has remained.

What’s wrong with our columnists, in a nutshell

IYIs are out in force

I struggle to remember the last time I learned something from a newspaper column, or for that matter a magazine article, that added anything to my understanding of something.

But I do read them, mainly because columnists have access to newspaper archives from which they pull odd bits of information that might be hard to find otherwise.

Other than that, I divide columnists not into good ones and bad ones, but into those who are extremely offensive and those only mildly so.

Those who often avoid giving any offence tend to concentrate on narrow subjects. Thus I find nothing offensive in what Roger Boyer has to say about Russia or Christopher Howse about religion – although I sometimes disagree with both.

However, no one can write soundly on multiple subjects unless he proceeds from a single sound philosophy. This is no more possible than for a builder to erect a house on a termite-ridden foundation or for an army to vanquish when its rear is weak.

In the absence of a solid philosophical base put together over many years of contemplation and study, a writer will never avoid saying intellectually offensive things – even if he also says some useful ones.

Dominic Lawson is a case in point. He’s a lucid and quick-witted writer, but one showing quite a few holes in his erudition, those that even access to The Times data bank and a virtuosic mastery of Google can’t quite plug.

That by itself is no big deal – show me a man who claims to have no such holes, and I’ll show you a liar. But Mr Lawson’s sketchy erudition is accompanied by no discernible philosophical position, and that’s a more serious matter.

Such drawbacks can be masked by a nimble pen, quick mind and general intelligence, all of which Mr Lawson displays in abundance, but they become glaring when he tries to delve slightly deeper than the surface.

I’m not trying to be beastly to Mr Lawson: he’s actually among the least offensive columnists, even though he’s a scion of a family where girls are named after their fathers. Rather I’ve chosen him as an illustration of the feather-like weight of his profession as a whole.

He too uses the trick I commented on a few days ago: pre-empting what others might say about one by saying it first.

Thus he opens today’s column with a self-deprecating admission that “columnists are, despite our pretension to omniscience, only human.” What, even Peter Hitchens?

Mr Lawson then proceeds to demonstrate the reason for reading newspaper columns by providing all sorts of useful statistics.

I didn’t know the cost of complying with the EU law that mandates an 80 per cent reduction in CO2 levels by mid-century (eventually £2.5 trillion a year), nor that most American soft drinks, including Coke and Pepsi, are kosher even though observant Jews make up only 0.3 per cent of the population.

The latter point was made in support of the accurate observation that vociferous minorities can subvert democracy by imposing their prejudices on the majority. A valid point, although I’d prefer to illustrate it with a similar example closer to home: preponderance of halal meat in British supermarkets.

Mr Lawson also kindly provides a good term made up by the American scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb: IYI (Intellectual Yet Idiotic). I’d say that SIYI (S for Semi-) would be more precise because real intellectuals can’t be stupid by definition.

Still, the term has its uses, as anyone who follows the toings and froings in the academe will confirm.

Mr Lawson then takes advantage of being a Sunday paper columnist by rehashing things many of his colleagues said during the week, including the outrage of sex self-identification.

When the issue first became fashionable, I wondered if I could self-identify as a woman to gain access to the women’s showers at our tennis club, subsequently re-identifying as a man half an hour later.

The case cited by Mr Lawson is more serious. ‘Karen’ White is a criminal man who self-identifies as a woman and therefore was serving his term in a women’s prison. There ‘she’ gratefully raped fellow inmates with ‘her’ penis and got a life sentence for her trouble.

Mr Lawson correctly finds this situation deplorable, as any sane person would. But, having thus shown the good side of Op-Ed journalism, he then says things showing the bad side.

In fact, all the same things could be easily said by all the same people who champion the cause of transgender madness:

“This is not an argument for complete conservatism, opposing all changes in social mores except by means of a referendum. Five years ago this column supported Westminster’s introduction of same-sex marriage as I couldn’t see how the happiness it gave those couples was a problem in the lives of others.”

Only an IYI could write something as irredeemably inane as this. First, conservatism, being above all a matter of temperamental predisposition, can’t be complete or incomplete. It’s like being pregnant: one either is or isn’t.

Then it’s simple ignorance to say that conservatives oppose all social change. We oppose only pernicious change, and all unnecessary change qualifies as such.

A conservative will always agree with what Lucius Cary said almost 400 years ago: “If it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.”

Second, it’s even more ignorant to imply that conservatives would only accept social change as a result of a referendum. In fact, no real conservative has a good word to say for plebiscitary democracy, which is even more destructive than our present dictatorship of the Commons.

My view on this subject didn’t change one bit even after the latest plebiscite produced the result I welcome. But even accepting that some referendums are unavoidable, only an IYI would suggest they’re the only expedient for introducing a change in social mores.

You see, it has taken five paragraphs to give the lie to one IYI sentence. Mr Lawson’s second sentence, on the other hand, shows such an abyss of IYI ignorance that one could write a whole book about it.

The argument for homomarriage put forth by Mr Lawson isn’t so much eudemonic as demonic. It takes an IYI, especially one of the leftish persuasion, not to see that recognising the validity of homomarriage debauches the whole idea of society’s crucial sacrament.

Marriage and family, the building blocks of society, are among those institutions that can’t be redefined. They can only be destroyed, and legalising homomarriage takes a long stride in that direction.

The happiness of the homosexuals involved has no more bearing on the issue than the happiness of the well-hung ‘Karen’ White has on the issue of sex self-identification.

True enough, it doesn’t diminish Mr Lawson individually. However, we’re not only individuals, but also members of society. Anything that damages society diminishes us collectively short-term – and individually over time.

And what about a vociferous minority (in this case homosexual activists) imposing their bias on the majority? How can it be right for them and wrong for ‘Karen’ White’s supporters?

Since I’m only writing a short piece, not a book, on this subject, I’ll leave it at that. Let’s just say that Mr Lawson ought to be careful throwing IYI stones out of his glass house.

Down with England’s past

Poppies are good only to make opium and its derivatives, so popular at our universities.

The young are supposed to be intellectually underdeveloped, for purely physiological reasons. One’s brain isn’t even wired properly before university-leaving age.

However, even considering such low expectations, the students’ union of Cambridge University makes one gasp with incredulity. That body has voted not to celebrate Remembrance Day because it “glorifies war”.

Now if international tables are to be believed, we’re talking about one of the world’s best universities. I can only guess the extent of mental retardation at universities that don’t enjoy such an exalted status.

This dovetails neatly with the piece I wrote the other day, about the cataclysmic deterioration of the post-Christian collective intellect. For my problem with that vote isn’t so much that it’s subversively unpatriotic and morally revolting as that it betokens the inability to use basic logic.

Patriotism isn’t something to be expected automatically, only allegiance is – for as long as one enjoys the country’s protection, one must be loyal to it.

The ancient principle protectio trahit subjectionem, et subjectio protectionem (protection entails allegiance, and allegiance entails protection) is inviolable and non-negotiable. William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw, found that out the hard way in 1946 by becoming the last person hanged for treason in Britain.

That Irish-American Nazi propagandist fled to Germany on a British passport. Even though it was fake, the passport put him under protection of the Crown. Therefore he owed it allegiance.

Had he travelled on his American or Irish passport, he wouldn’t even have gone to prison: neither the US nor Ireland was at war with Germany in 1939, when Joyce absconded there. Hence he was a traitor neither to them nor indeed to Britain, whose citizen he wasn’t.

A citizen’s allegiance to his country is thus a matter of law. His patriotism, however, is a matter of personal taste. Burke expressed it with his usual epigrammatic precision: “To makes us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.”

I happen to think that Britain is indeed lovely, for all her rapidly multiplying faults and tragic failings, such as Jeremy Corbyn. Then again, we like because of something; we love in spite of everything.

With those provisos, I’m satisfied that, on balance, Britain is lovely – which is why I’m a patriot.

Those Cambridge youngsters obviously feel otherwise, and they’re entitled even to their ridiculous opinion (one reason I’m a patriot is that Britain still retains some, if increasingly less, freedom of expression).

But they aren’t entitled to their own logic: like any other of God’s creations, logic is objective, not subjective. Its rules don’t change depending on how well or badly we wield it.

That doesn’t mean everyone is born equipped with a beautifully tuned logical apparatus. No, the ability to think soundly, along with the knowledge of what constitutes sound thought, must be both taught and self-taught.

It’s blindingly obvious that the students of one of the world’s best universities haven’t had the benefit of such tuition.

Otherwise they would never have uttered something as monstrously cretinous as that mourning the country’s fallen soldiers glorifies war. That’s like saying that a woman weeping for her departed husband thereby glorifies the cancer that killed him.

The bereaved wife doesn’t have to weep for her husband. She might have hated him when he was alive and, now he’s dead, she may be dancing with joy.

By the same token, those pimply youngsters are within their right to say they hate Britain, wish it had never won a single war, and therefore detest retrospectively every soldier who died defending such a worthless commonwealth.

That proclamation would have been monstrous, but it wouldn’t have been monstrously cretinous. What they proclaimed instead is both.

I’d wonder what they’ve been taught over some 15 years of institutional education – if I didn’t know exactly what it was. These young savages have had their heads stuffed to the gunwales with the kind of ignorant, malignant leftie rubbish that Jeremy Corbyn feels they haven’t had enough of.

The entire history of England is, according to these ghouls, one uninterrupted chain of oppression, injustice, slavery, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny and every other sin than which nothing worse exists.

Hence we should spit on the graves of those who died defending this awful place, including presumably those 20,000 Royal Navy sailors who laid down their lives trying to stop slave trade in the early nineteenth century.

And it’s not just the military men. If we still have some saliva left after spitting on their graves, we should also spit on the memory of every hero signposting British history.

Merely quoting Churchill at our universities makes one a target for vicious attacks and ostracism. Wellington was nothing but a war criminal, and a white supremacist to boot. How many of his officers were black, lesbian, disabled Muslim women? Say no more.

And that hysterical leftie fanatic Afua Hirsh agitates for removing Nelson’s statue from Trafalgar Square. (I had the misfortune of meeting Miss Hirsh on a BBC programme, where I tried to explain to her – predictably in vain – that prison is a form of punishment rather than education or social work.)

As to that great empire builder Cecil Rhodes, his statue can’t be allowed to befoul the hallowed grounds of Oxford University, which is even higher than Cambridge in the international pecking order. The administration of Oriel College managed to keep the lynching mob at bay in 2016, just, but it’ll be back.

This kind of poison is in the air, yet no antidote is provided. All that’s on offer at our schools and universities is more, and more virulent, poison.

This reinforces my conviction that university education should be provided for not 50 but five per cent of the population. The predominantly left-wing, Anglophobe dons will still spray their intellectual novichok around, but at least they’ll kill fewer minds.

Same old China

So how are they (the dissidents) hangin’, Xi?

In this context, China isn’t Cockney rhyming slang for ‘mate’. It’s a synonym for ‘enemy’, and the Americans sound as if they begin to realise this.

In fact, one detects a note of pique in their response to yet another spying scandal involving China.

President Trump has warned that the higher tariffs imposed on China are only the first step on the punitive path – especially since stealing technologies and spying in general aren’t the only, nor even the worst, crimes committed by China against the US.

According to Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security Secretary, “China absolutely is … exerting unprecedented effort to influence American opinion.”

It appears that hybrid war is something invented by Russia, but perfected by China. Then again, China has more money to spend on undermining the West, and no less desire to do so.

China, says FBI Director Christopher Wray, presents “the broadest, most complicated, most long-term counterintelligence threat we face.”

Vice President Pence thunders that China is running “an unparalleled surveillance state”, having abandoned “the pathway of more freedom”. It uses coercive loans and foreign aid programmes to exert control over vulnerable countries in Asia, Africa and South America.

All things considered, the Trump administration is overturning the Nixon policy of mollycoddling China – and more power to it. This turnaround is long overdue, and one can only hope it hasn’t come too late to stop the Chinese juggernaut.

What I find amusing is the note of bitter disappointment sounded by American officials, the sense they convey of being let down. They trusted China, but China didn’t live up to the trust.

It’s as if they’re saying:

“Look, we’ve given you so much, opened up world markets for you, transferred every conceivable technology, given you all sorts of credits, loans and charitable aid – all in the hope that you’ll become like us.

“Not only as rich as us, but also as free, benevolent and, well, civilised. And is this what we get in return? There we were, extending our hand in friendship, and here you are, alternately biting our hand and spitting on it.”

Now the real problem isn’t that all those Western emoluments have failed to erase the spots from the Chinese leopard. It’s that there was a hope that they would.

This emphasises two fundamental problems with the contemporary Western, and particularly American, mentality.

The smaller problem is the lamentable inability to grasp the nature of the effect communism has on a nation – especially one with no traditions of Western civility.

Communism is misanthropic hatred of our civilisation, expressed as history’s most evil ideology. If practised for a few decades it tends to kill not only millions of bodies but also tens, or in China’s case hundreds, of millions of souls.

It befouls the collective soul of a nation, destroying whatever is good and fostering everything that’s evil. And if there wasn’t enough evil there in the first place, communism makes sure the level is built up to the desired standard.

It’s a cancer, metastasising over a nation’s entire body. Just like an oncological patient, the nation may survive. But it’ll never be the same: its moral fibre will never grow back to cover all the gaping holes.

That’s why abandoning communism fully is impossible: the residual disease will still be there for many generations, gnawing surreptitiously on every organ.

This will be the case even if a country makes a genuine effort to treat itself, thereby attempting to join the civilised world. However, neither Russia nor China has made such an effort.

All those perestroikas, democracies, free markets and other good things in life are used there not to excise evil, but to camouflage it.

And, just as it’s possible to paralyse an army’s HQ  simply by jamming its communications, so it’s possible to deal the West a deadly blow without necessarily attacking it militarily. As long as the will is there, a way will be found.

Inundating the West’s gullible and undereducated population with hundreds of millions of subversive messages may do the trick. And what will happen to the global financial system, if the Chinese and the Russians dump all the trillions they hold in dollar assets? (The Russians are already beginning to do so.)

For biographic reasons, I know – and write – more about Russia than about China. But I know that they are much more like each other than either is like the West.

Since the early nineties, I’ve been banging my head against the wall of post-perestroika demob happiness in Britain, writing (in small conservative journals) that what was going on in Russia wasn’t a transition to democracy. It was a transfer of power from the Party to the KGB.

The country thereby shifted to more subtle and perfidious methods of undermining the West. In parallel, the new elite, made up by a fusion of the secret police and organised crime, could also look after Number One much better than under the crude Politburo.

Russia became not less of an enemy, I was saying, only a less overt one. I wasn’t believed then, and, by and large, I’m not going to be believed now.

The immediate reason for this incredulity is the small problem I’ve outlined: ignorance of communism and its demoralising long-term effects.

Yet there exists another reason, a deeper and bigger one. The West – especially its transatlantic leader – is in the grips of a philistine certainty that everyone is, or yearns to be, just like us.

Countries that are Western only geographically, like Russia, or not Western at all, like China, are supposed to limit their aspirations to achieving the philistine heaven of two cars in every garage and two chickens in every pot.

Cultures that have precious little in common with America are supposed to have produced populations eager to start seeing life as a gradual accumulation of assets, culminating in some suburban bliss.

A philistine man is certain of universal sameness, and so are philistine nations. And when other nations behave in ways that belie that belief, that only means they haven’t had the opportunity to express themselves in Western ways.

Provide that opportunity, open up the paths, give them a helping hand and within a few years they’ll chuck aside thousands of years of their history, their national mentality, their faith (secular or otherwise), their notions of morality – their whole ethos, all incompatible with ours.

Dangle the straw of being like us before them, and they’ll grasp it with both hands. Such has been America’s geopolitical naivety throughout history, but especially since it found itself face to face with crystallised political evil.

A country where only 40 per cent of the population have passports, and where close to 100 per cent have little idea of international history, geography and politics, is ill-equipped to develop a deep and nuanced understanding of lands dramatically different from itself.

The penny usually doesn’t drop until the first bombs do. So it’s to the credit of the Trump administration that it seems to be getting around to realising that non-military weapons can be just as devastating – provided they’re deployed to devastate.

So far Trump and his people have shown a clearer vision of China than  Russia, partly I’m sure for racial reasons. (Until the Mueller investigation has been completed, I’m willing to push more sinister explanations aside.)

It’s easier for Americans to see the Chinese as aliens because they look, well, alien. The Russians, on the other hand, look almost Western, especially now they’ve made some sartorial and hygienic advances.

They look like ducks, walk like ducks, quack like ducks – but they aren’t ducks. One hopes that the Americans will realise this before too long. Meanwhile, let’s congratulate them, hopefully, on the hardening of their stance towards another evil regime.

Without God all things are possible

If only…

The title isn’t a blasphemous attempt to turn around what Jesus said (“…with God all things are possible.”)

It’s rather a paraphrase of a line spoken by Dostoyevsky’s Dmitri Karamazov: “Without God everything is permitted”.

Or rather not spoken by him, as literary pedants point out to establish their scholarly ascendancy over us, ignoramuses.

Fair enough, those exact words don’t appear anywhere in Dostoyevsky. But that exact thought does.

Dmitri says: “And without God and without life everlasting? That means then that everything is permitted, that one can do anything?”

This theme, with variations, is Dostoyevsky’s leitmotif, repeated by Myshkin in The Idiot, Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, Kirilov in The Possessed – and these are only those I can remember offhand.

In fact, one could go so far as to say that the post-Christian moral catastrophe is the thrust of Dostoyevsky’s entire oeuvre. In this, he both agrees and argues with Nietzsche, who largely set the terms of intellectual debate in Russia at the time.

Since then this theme has been flogged to death by every conservative commentator. This doesn’t mean that a few more lashes would go amiss – only that the amorality of atheism is, to me, an observation so obvious as to be boring.

Usually I just cite the empirically verifiable fact that more people died violent deaths in the first fully atheist century, the twentieth, than in all the other centuries of recorded history combined.

I then preempt the inevitable objection by saying that not all of these deaths were caused by advances in killing technologies. Millions were dispatched using the expedients long in the public domain: executions, tortures, inhuman imprisonment, artificial famines, neglect.

Another subject, however, hasn’t been explored as exhaustively, and I’m certainly not yet bored with it. My contention is that the collapse of Christianity as the principal social dynamic has produced not only a moral catastrophe, but also an intellectual one.

In other words, without God all things are possible not only to do, but also to say. If I ever get around to writing a book about this, I’ll doubtless cite many substantiating examples. Regular readers of this space know that these aren’t in short supply.

What I’d like to do here is try to understand why our collective intellect has been declining so steadily and precipitously since the coming together of two great misnomers: the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment.

This isn’t to suggest that the average IQ is lower now than it used to be. I suspect on general principle that the spread of human abilities, including IQ, is roughly similar in every generation.

However, and this obvious point is often ignored, IQ relates to intelligence the way musicality relates to musicianship – it’s potential, not actual attainment.

Many musical people never learn to play musical instruments, or especially play them well. And many people with a high IQ never become intelligent, although they tend to do well in purely practical fields.

What I mean by intelligence is the ability to think through multiple complex ideas, both singly and in conjunction with one another; construct strong logical chains of many links; build multi-storey structures providing access to the truth; successfully rely on reason rather than emotions or ideology in dealing with the vagaries of life; know the differences among a feeling, an opinion, a judgement and an argument.

A brief scan of, say, Victorian newspapers will show that the columnists of the time occasionally wrote wrong things, but hardly ever stupid ones. These days, one can hardly ever find an Op-Ed piece that can withstand the most cursory of intellectual tests, never mind scrutiny.

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this) is a widespread fallacy, and one must be on guard when claiming that it was the demise of Christianity that caused the intellectual decline.

However, in this case one can easily argue in favour of a causal effect.

For any religion, when it’s the dominant force in society, teaches people not only, one could even say not so much, what to think but also how to think. It provides a methodology, discipline and technique without which no intellectual or creative activity can ever succeed.

The Christian thinking methodology blended Athens and Jerusalem together, and fortified the blend with indigenous additives. Over many centuries this produced a collective intellect like no other.

This irrespective of the person’s faith – in Christendom, even agnostics thought like Christians on secular subjects, taking advantage of the Christian methodology.

Christianity is a teleological religion, based on the assumption that life has a specific purpose, an end towards which it moves in eternity. Thus a thinking Christian accepts the existence of ultimate, absolute truth and dedicates his life to approaching it.

Moreover, Christians believe that, since the world was created by a rational deity, it’s rationally knowable and independent of our perception of it.

This explains why real science could only have appeared in Christendom – the Incarnation established an ontological link between God and man, conferring on the latter some of the rational powers of the former.

That was the foundation of Christian thought, on which the subsequent structure was built gradually but ineluctably. For Christian thought reflects Christian faith in that it too is teleological, striving to arrive at the absolute truth, or at least approach it.

That being the desired end, an intricate lattice of various methods and techniques were developed to ease a thinker’s way to it.

The process wasn’t haphazard: not only universities but even schools routinely taught such disciplines as logic and rhetoric, to say nothing of theology and philosophy. These were the mainstay, sometimes the entirety, of every curriculum.

The victory of atheism caused a rapid subsidence in the foundations of Western thought. People no longer believed in absolute truth, which deprived their thought of its vital teleological aspect. Absolute truth was fractured into shards of little half-truths and petty relativities.

Man, declared to be self-sufficient in all matters and therefore in no need of God, was cut away from his intellectual underpinnings and cast adrift.

The Christian idea of equality of all before God was perverted to mean the equality of every opinion, what with the man himself being not only the originator of it, but also its judge. The intellectual weapons of Christianity were decommissioned, leaving man to his own vices and devices.

What used to be Christian individualism became modern solipsism, a tendency to see oneself as the axis around which everything revolves. That meant backtracking to Athenian idealism, but with no Plato anywhere in sight.

As a result, serious thought was replaced by a toxic combination of emotions and ideology – with devastating results, at least 300 million of them, which is how many people were killed during the twentieth century.

If you look at one of the two central activities of Western modernity, politics (commerce being the other one), you’ll know what I mean. It proceeds from the worship of narrow-minded and ignorant egoism.

The key presupposition of modern politics, with democracy not counterbalanced by any restraints that could only come from competing powers, is that every vote, no matter how ill-informed or driven by pernicious appetites, is equally valid.

People are paper-trained to think that, regardless of how many individual wrongs are thrown in the pot, together they’ll produce a collective right.

So they may, once in a blue moon – statistically it’s not impossible. But the underlying proposition is not only false but demonstrably damaging if practised over time.

Give it a couple of generations, and no one will believe any longer that any ultimate political truth exists. Everybody is trained to think in terms of short-term expediency – which is to say no one is trained to think.

That explains democratic politicians routinely delivering speeches that are not only mendacious but, which is worse, intellectually puny.

The latest example is Mrs May’s soliloquy at the Tory conference, in which she first identified the high cost of servicing the national debt as a great problem – and then promised to drive that cost much higher by abandoning ‘austerity’, such as it is.

But this isn’t just Mrs May – it’s the overall collapse of the collective political intellect. Stupid politicians assume that their flock is even more stupid, and they’re usually right.

Rather than responding to political messages as sapient individuals, voters respond like dogs, reflexively. They identify some key stimuli activating their current appetites and jump up on cue.

That intellectual catastrophe produces the upward pull-through: people vote in politicians whose promises make their saliva pump harder, without giving the slightest thought to the veracity of the promises or the possible long-term ramifications.

The same observations can be made about commerce or just about anything else. It’s the staggering collective inability to think through one’s economic leaps before making them that created the 2008 crisis and is about to create another, worse one.

This is noticeable in the behaviour of both the providers and consumers of financial services. The former are incapable of thinking beyond this year’s bonuses, the latter beyond today’s appetites. Neither are trained to think through the potentially disastrous consequences of licentious profligacy.

In fact, when people stopped believing in God, they stopped believing in consequences. A moral failure for sure – but also an intellectual one.

In fact, I tend to see much of modernity as one immense intellectual failure. Rodin’s famous sculpture was merely an exercise in nostalgia for a world long gone.