If you think it odd that thousands of post offices should sell beer, you’ve never lived in Russia, where this innovation has been introduced.
I have and, though in my time post offices didn’t sell beer, I understand why they now do.
It’s no secret that Russians have a certain fondness for drink. Ancient chronicles cite this predilection as one reason Grand Duke Vladimir chose Christianity rather than Islam as the state religion.
Vladimir is alleged to have been turned off by the Muslim injunction against alcohol. “Drinking is the joy of Rus,” explained the prince. “We can’t be without it.”
Quite. In fact, alcoholism is a major problem in Russia, badly affecting such things as life expectancy, demand for medical care, absenteeism, crime rate, breakup of marriages – life in general.
Now one might think that selling beer not only in bars and off-licences but even in post offices would make the problem worse, rather than better.
That’s missing the point, or rather a point. For the problem isn’t just that the Russians drink too much, but that they often drink liquids not manifestly designed for human consumption. Hence officials hope that inducing men to opt for beer will keep them healthier for longer.
According to the Russian government spokesman, window cleaning liquid seems to be the current beverage of choice, closely rivalled by antifreeze, mouthwash and various tinctures.
Many of those delights contain methanol and other poisons, adding a certain frisson to each sip. The trouble is that, if common-or-garden alcoholism takes time to kill, some of those other liquids can do so on the spot.
In fact, rues the same spokesman, every year 1,200 people die for that reason, and I’m sure that number is understated by orders of magnitude. Then, of course, methanol can make you go blind, not just blind drunk.
Call me a soppy sentimentalist, but, reading such reports, I recalled growing up in Moscow with a twinge of nostalgia. Also, call me a reactionary, but I’m a firm believer in the plus ça change version of history.
Russia remains wholly Russia, just as it was back in the ‘60s, when, as ever, drinking was the essential rite of passage for any lad. I was such a lad and, at 16, my liver was bigger than it is now.
It’s important to note straight away that it wasn’t just how much, but what and in what way one drank that mattered.
The redemptive arrival of the consumer age was somehow being delayed throughout my childhood, and the acceptable urban middle-class booze included vodka (Stolichnaya for 3.07 rubles a half-litre bottle, Moskovskaya for 2.87), brandy (Armenian or Georgian 3-star for 4.12) and vile fortified wine named, as the spirit moved the manufacturers, port, cahor or jeres, all costing around 1.40 and bearing just enough resemblance to their illustrious namesakes to turn one off fortified wine for life.
The demographic disclaimer is necessary here because the rural population drank moonshine almost exclusively (as it still does), while urban lower classes seldom elevated their consumption above ‘white wine’, which in their parlance was the cheapest vodka available, and ‘red wine’, which meant the vilest port going.
These represented the upper limit of their tastes but not the lowest, which plunged into the area of dangerous liquids, such as floor varnish, methanol, antifreeze, cologne, deodorants and other arcana.
Benny Yerofeev, the late poet of Russian dipsomania, remarked correctly that while few people in Russia know what Pushkin died of, everybody knows how to prepare floor varnish for drinking.
I hope you won’t find it patronising if I divulge the secret to the uninitiated: you take a three-gallon bucket of floor varnish and empty a four-pound bag of salt into it. The salt will form a blob that will start sinking to the bottom through the dense liquid.
As it sinks, the blob will get heavier with the oils, ethers and other impurities it has absorbed and dragged down to the bottom. In about four hours you’ll be left with a brownish liquid, which would be unlikely to cause any sleepless nights to the makers of Lagavulin, but which can be drunk with relative impunity, at least in the short term.
Since I was definitely urban middle class, I stuck to regulation booze that, as etiquette would have it, was supposed to be consumed either from eight-ounce tumblers in one daring gulp or straight ‘from the neck’. As a concession to one’s wimpish origin one would have been allowed to empty the bottle in several pulls.
Suffering from a rare cardiovascular condition, I spent months in hospital and I still remember the lifts going up and down throughout the night on high holidays.
As Tamara Petrovna, the head nurse, explained to me, those were real men, not wimps like me, who had inadvertently drunk things they shouldn’t have. She then told me to shut the f*** up, which was her usual punctuation at the end of statements.
That was her Mr Hyde part. But Tamara Petrovna also had a Dr Jekyll streak of charity, compassion and camaraderie so characteristic of Russian women.
She knew that men, ill or not, needed their vodka. To satisfy that need Tamara Petrovna always kept in her office several bottles of medical alcohol, which was in such ample supply that no one at the hospital minded her purloining it.
Other nurses would simply sell it on the out for one ruble per 100 millilitres (or ‘grams’, as the Russians refer to alcohol measures). However, Tamara Petrovna preferred to serve not just Mammon but, by relieving the suffering of the patients in her charge, Aesculapius as well.
Her going rate was one ruble or a Prokofievan three oranges for an eight-ounce tumbler of the warm liquid, alcohol diluted to 40 per cent with water. (The chemical reaction between pure alcohol and water releases heat, which knowledge most Russian males acquire empirically before reaching puberty.)
As a gesture of good will, Tamara Petrovna would throw in half a teaspoonful of strawberry jam to stir into the liquid, changing its colour and making it look innocuous to a passing doctor.
You see how a short piece in The Times can bring back such loving memories? The sun must be over the yardarm somewhere, so, my eyes misted over, I’ll have a small Lagavulin, toasting the indestructible Russian character.
Nobel laureate James Watson of the double helix fame is one of the most important modern scientists, and his collection of honorary titles reflects that.
Yet over a couple of decades or so, Prof. Watson has been shedding his gongs through his mouth, with one or two going each time he made a ‘controversial’ remark. (A controversial remark, in case you’re wondering, is any statement that fails the rigorous test of political correctness.)
Now he has lost the last batch, having yet again trodden the minefield of genetic differences among various races, mostly between blacks and whites. These, he maintains, affect not just their appearance but also their intelligence.
Then again, scientists and other specialists are prone to see the whole complexity of life through the prism of their discipline.
Thus an economist may talk about the defining role played by market relationships, a moral philosopher may describe the world as a struggle between good and evil, while a politician may see it as a clash among various political systems and parties.
This reflects a natural human desire to find a simple explanation for everything. Yet, when analysing extremely complex and multifarious phenomena, simple always runs the risk of becoming simplistic.
This is the side on which many thinkers err, and Watson is no exception. As a brilliant scientist, he’s conditioned to look at phenomena from the standpoint of a theory that’s either supported by empirical facts or not.
If it’s not so supported, it’s tossed away; if it is, it becomes scientific fact until refuted by further evidence. Or rather that’s how it should be in a world where intellectual honesty still holds some sway and scientific findings are neither accepted nor rejected a priori for extra-scientific reasons.
Alas, this isn’t the world we live in. Hence, for example, Darwin’s slapdash theory is held to “explain everything” (Dawkins), whereas any theory less politically charged and as factually unsupported would have been discarded a century ago.
Darwin has to be right because otherwise some founding assumptions of modernity are debunked. For exactly the same reason, anyone claiming that one large group may be genetically more intelligent than another has to be wrong – regardless of any evidence.
As far as I know, Prof. Watson first trod that particular minefield in 2000 when he observed that the extract of the pigmentation hormone melatonin had been found to boost sex drive.
“That’s why you have Latin lovers,” he explained. “You’ve never heard of an English lover. Only an English patient.”
Since blacks are conspicuously darker than, say, Italians, Prof. Watson’s observation suggested sexual differences not only between Latins and Englishmen, but also between blacks and everyone else.
Rather than ducking the ensuing slings and arrows, the recalcitrant scientist then made a more general observation, to the effect that ethnic and racial stereotypes may rest on a solid genetic foundation – and not just in sexuality.
Now I’m no scientist, much less a geneticist, but the melatonin story sounds straightforward even to a rank amateur. It can be either proved or disproved experimentally, and to my untutored eye the necessary experiments don’t appear to be devilishly difficult to set up (no, I’m not volunteering as one of the research subjects).
Hence Prof. Watson could have been shown to be either right or wrong, but the point is that his shrill critics didn’t care one way or the other. His statement was wrong (racist, fascist, discriminatory) simply because it had to be.
As to his subsequent comments about whites being more intelligent than blacks, I’m surprised he only lost his titles, not his head. For he committed a capital crime against our glossocratic modernity, one only equalled in its enormity by groping a reluctant rump.
But do let’s look at that argument on its merit, proceeding from indisputable facts: 1) average IQ scores are the most reliable predictor of a group’s practical success; 2) blacks in Watson’s native US consistently score 15 points lower than whites; 3) blacks are demonstrably less successful.
Is there a causal relationship between 2) and 3) or is this a case of post hoc, ergo propter hoc? More facts then:
IQ tests measure the cognitive function, which isn’t intelligence but the potential to acquire it.
Hence, IQ isn’t determinist but simply suggestive. Someone with a genius IQ may not be particularly intelligent or successful, while someone with an average IQ, such as another Nobel laureate William Shockley, can be both.
Music provides a useful analogy:
A prodigiously gifted child may never become a musician unless someone teaches him to play an instrument. If taught to play an instrument, he may never develop virtuosity if he’s too lazy to practise. If he has developed virtuosity, he may never become a great musician unless he acquires a deep knowledge and understanding of the culture that has produced the music.
That’s to say that drawing far-reaching conclusions on the basis of average IQs alone smacks of simplistic, as opposed to simple. Too many other factors come into play.
That’s why in their 1994 book The Bell Curve, Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray hedged their bets: “It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not justify an estimate.”
The authors also explained that their work in no way encouraged discrimination: “If tomorrow you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the cognitive differences between races were 100 per cent genetic in origin, nothing of any significance should change. The knowledge would give you no reason to treat individuals differently than if ethnic differences were 100 per cent environmental.”
Such a reasonable stand didn’t protect Herrnstein and Murray from the same savage attacks to which Watson was subjected later. For they argued, facts in hand, that, whatever the mix of nature and nurture, some genetic component is present. Off with their heads, was modernity’s verdict, and no mitigating evidence could be submitted.
Numerous experiments showed that identical twins, separated at birth and brought up under different social, cultural and educational conditions, still show the same IQ scores decades later.
However, such findings only justify the conclusion that an individual IQ score is immune to such factors – not that the same applies to each generation of a large group. Their average IQ scores may be quite fluid indeed.
Thus Jewish immigrants to the US at the beginning of the twentieth century consistently tested below average on intelligence tests, and there’s little doubt that each one of those scores held constant for life. But later tests show that the descendants of those immigrants score considerably above average.
Even within the same race there can be fluctuations. Thus the West Indian blacks in the US outperform the descendants of American slaves, the Chinese outperform both Mongolians and Malays – to a point where, despite being a discriminated minority in Malaysia, they hold a disproportionate number of high-paying jobs.
All in all, ascribing just to genetics all differences in IQ and achievement between whites and blacks is simplistic, and Prof Watson wouldn’t apply such low standards of proof to his day job.
However, to deny not only the presence of a genetic component but the very possibility that it may exist is much worse. This shows contempt for truth and readiness to sacrifice reason and integrity at the totem pole of political bias.
It’s entirely possible that Prof. Watson is indeed the racist his detractors claim he is. Then again, it’s possible he isn’t.
But even if he harbours secret ambitions of becoming a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, his belief in the genetic basis to interracial IQ differences doesn’t prove this one way or the other.
It’s certainly a subject worthy of serious study because results may influence any number of public policies, regarding, for example, education, welfare and foreign aid.
I doubt that the attention Prof. Watson has paid to this subject qualifies as serious study. But I have no doubt that his critics wouldn’t accept any conclusive results of such a study if they didn’t like them. (A bit like our Remainers actually.)
P.S. A propos Remainers.
Chancellor Hammond assures businessmen that no-deal Brexit is “off the table”. At the same time, it’s increasingly clear that Parliament will derail any sensible deal. So what stays on the table, Mr Hammond?
Also, the same Remainers, who have been diligently working to sabotage the referendum results for over two years, are blaming the Brexiteers for creating the ensuing chaos. Words like ‘teapot’, ‘kettle’ and ‘black’ come to mind, along with ‘breathtakingly shameless cynicism’.
It was a rotten deal that deserved to be trounced on merit, or rather demerit. But it wasn’t about that, was it?
Huge political upheavals tend to be about backstabbing, not face value. Subtext, not text. Connotation, not denotation.
And all those things point at the worst constitutional crisis in my long lifetime, a span that covers Suez and a host of lesser debacles.
Suez was bad; some of the others were no God’s gift to Britain either. But none that I recall has ever threatened the survival of Britain as a political entity – which more or less means Britain as a nation.
Our country is blessed with the greatest, certainly longest, political stability in Europe. For example, France has had 17 different constitutions since Louis XIV was king. During the same period Britain has had just one.
Yet there’s a curse implicit in this blessing. Because Britain was both proud and envied as the world’s greatest political success, politics more than anything else got to define British nationhood.
Throughout kaleidoscopic changes of constitutions, France remained France; Spain remained Spain; even Germany remained Germany. England wouldn’t have survived anything like that.
Britain became a political nation – not because she was obsessed with politics, but because she didn’t have to be. Politics could be taken for granted. It was just there, as Britain was.
That’s why the world’s oldest and best constitution didn’t have to be codified in a single document. The British constitution isn’t a contrivance produced by the fecund minds of today’s flavour in sages.
It’s an organic development, written not on paper but in the people’s hearts. If the people’s hearts remain blank, no written constitution will ever succeed over time.
To get back at Americans, who claim Britain has no constitution because she lacks that single sheet of paper, I often liken a written constitution to a prenuptial agreement stipulating the frequency of sex: if you have to write it down, you might as well not bother. There’s some truth in this, although it’s probably not the whole truth.
What’s undeniably true is that Britain’s nation and her politics became an alloy, with neither constituent removable. Any attempt to remove zinc from copper or copper from zinc would destroy brass – this analogy has pertained for 300-odd years at least.
Government, to replace a metaphor with a simile, was like a relay baton, passed from one party to another without ever interrupting the race.
It never – well, seldom – occurred to anybody that the baton could be stamped into the dirt and the race called off. And when that possibility did occur to some reprobate, he had no chance to be in the race at all.
British politics seemed as indestructible as the British nation itself. But make no mistake about it: what is collapsing before our eyes isn’t just May’s ‘deal’. Not just Brexit. Not just the government. Not just the Tory party.
At deadly peril is the very survival of the British constitution, British politics – the British nation.
Within weeks, months at the latest, Britain may well be governed by a gang explicitly devoted to her annihilation. And this isn’t the only sword of Damocles hanging over the nation’s head.
It may also be chopped off by our abject, tail-between-the-legs crawling back into the EU, begging not to be whipped too hard for that little indiscretion, confining ourselves for ever to that political doghouse.
One way or the other, Britain qua Britain will be finished, irretrievably buried by either domestic subversives or foreign tyrants – or, and this is a very distinct possibility, by both acting in concert.
Suddenly the political self-confidence of the British begins to look like negligent complacency. For too long the nation has let its politics slide, without realising how slippery the downward slope was.
People forgot that any political machine is only as good as its operators. Britain’s politics is so solid and organic that the country can get away with a few governments of nonentities: the system will accommodate and compensate.
But its capacity for accommodation and compensation isn’t infinite. Each subsequent government by nonentities, each new crop of representatives unqualified to represent, leaves a dent – and then suddenly a hole with jagged edges appears.
We see the hole and throw our hands up in despair. But we should have noticed the dents in time and banged them out.
We should have realised that, when a political system constantly elevates to government those unfit to govern, something is getting to be terribly wrong with the system.
Alas, seeing that I’m given to a melange of similes today, our political malaise is like the pre-antibiotic TB: when the clearly visible symptoms appear, it may be too late to do anything about it.
Those of us who love Britain must rue her impending demise. I don’t know how it can be prevented, but let’s hope that cleverer and more practical men do.
I pray for such men and I do hope they realise what’s at stake. Not just Brexit. Not just the government. Not just the Tory party. What’s at stake is the British nation.
When a civilisation is moribund, practically every area of life can be held up as an example, a microcosm of decline.
Just look at sports journalism in general and specifically Martin Samuel, one of its most successful practitioners. Or, to narrow the search even further, scan his spread in today’s Mail.
Samuel writes lucid and almost literate prose, which is nothing to sneeze at in this genre. This, even though some readers may take exception to the supercilious condescension with which he treats them.
Personally, I don’t mind that very much, provided such qualities are displayed in debating the virtues of holding midfielders and split strikers. After all, since such subjects are rather limited in scope, any attempt to jazz them up should be welcomed.
However, and this is where modernity’s malaise comes in, people tend to accept that expertise in one area ipso facto confers on its proud possessor expertise in everything else he turns his mind to.
Thus the gasping public is treated to, well, holding midfielders and split strikers opining that Britain shoulda went into the euro, or pop stars insisting that Hezbollah is kinda cool.
This brings us, first, to Andy Murray, whose knackered hip is about to end his distinguished career.
He’s trying to soldier on, refusing to bow to the inevitable, to accept that his life’s work is about to come to an end. But the end is nigh – he knows it, and so does everyone else.
At my infinitesimal level, I know how he feels. For I played through most of 2016 with a similar hip problem, which was getting worse and worse. In the end I could hardly walk – and still insisted on playing tournaments to keep my rating up.
This though whenever I won a tournament I’d get a cheap trophy and perhaps a T-shirt (they’re usually too small for me, but fit Penelope perfectly). Andy, on the other hand, gets millions, running his net worth up into nine digits.
What for me is a hobby is a lucrative vocation for Murray, so his attempt to deny the facts of life are even more understandable, if just about as silly.
Yesterday he played through pain to lose a close match that might well be his last. There were tears in the end, but then, as a modern man, Andy is always ready to get in touch with his feminine side.
Thus he tends to be lachrymose at the end of every major final, regardless of whether he won or lost. That aside, he deserves utmost respect from every tennis fan, especially in Britain.
Murray is by far the most successful British player since Fred Perry, and one has to be 100 to have witnessed his triumphs. So yes, Murray is entitled to having his statue erected at Wimbledon.
What in my view he isn’t entitled to is any claim to heroism. But, as sages of the past used to say, let’s first agree on the terminology.
Heroism to me isn’t just great bravery potentially involving self-sacrifice and indifference to pain. It’s risking one’s life to serve a high purpose.
Thus a para jumping behind enemy lines in defence of Britain is a hero, while a bungee-jumper isn’t. A man leading soldiers over the top is; a man climbing to the top of a mountain isn’t. A man flying a Lancaster into flak is; a man flying a hang glider isn’t.
Since chasing fuzzy yellow balls is essentially a trivial activity, no mastery of it, nor any bravery displayed in its pursuit, qualifies as heroism.
If you accept these criteria, then Murray isn’t a hero. He’s simply a very good tennis player whose career has been cut short by injury.
Yet that’s not the impression one gets reading the papers, specifically Samuel’s articles. Douglas Bader had nothing on Murray’s gallantry, as far as he’s concerned. Murray’s heroism is so epic that he should be put in charge of… Brexit? The country? The world?
Such possibilities remain in the subtext awaiting their turn. For the time being, Samuel merely wants to put Murray in charge of British tennis. And he gives no quarter to people like me, who happen to define heroism differently:
“Some people get quite upset when the word heroic is used in connection with athletic performance. But what can you do? Some people are idiots.”
Now, I’m prepared to accept that some people’s definition of heroism is different from mine. But I’d never describe them as idiots – unless ad hominems were their only arguments.
But fine, I’m an idiot for having the temerity to disagree with the sports hack. However, the same column suggests that I’m an idiot not once but twice over. For I differ with Samuel not only on heroism, but also on Brexit.
It’s common currency among federasts to impugn the mental faculties of those who wish to leave the EU. Brexit is portrayed as a watershed separating intellectual giants like, say, Martin Samuel from intellectual pygmies like, say, Roger Scruton.
However, Samuel wisely desists from citing Scruton as an exemplar of ignorant moron, choosing instead a target closer to home: Neil Warnock, manager of Cardiff City.
Yet Warnock’s soliloquy that caused Samuel’s snide retort, different though it may be in style, is no different in substance from what Scruton, I or any of my friends say on the subject. And, at the risk of sounding immodest, any one of us can probably hold his intellectual own against even Samuel.
This is what Warnock actually said:
“I don’t know why politicians don’t do what the country wants, if I’m honest… Why did we have a referendum in the first bloody place?
“We’ll be far better out of the bloody thing. In every aspect, football-wise as well, absolutely. To hell with the rest of the world.”
Samuel ignores this passage and quotes just the last sentence: “It was good to see Cardiff manager Neil Warnock welcoming Brexit with the words ‘to hell with the rest of the world’ – neatly demonstrating the keen intellect and awareness for which the Leave campaign is renowned.”
Sarcasm drips off every word. Samuel means that, unlike him and his ilk, people like Warnock, Scruton, me and all my friends (I’ll resist the temptation to drop names) possess neither keen intellect nor awareness.
QED. As far as he’s concerned, the point is made. And people read, mark, learn and inwardly digest this nonsense because Samuel is a good sports hack.
In 1990 John Major succeeded Margaret Thatcher as PM, and this is the only context where ‘John Major’ and ‘succeed’ can be used in the same sentence.
That upheaval was effectively a coup perpetrated by the cabinet members ready to pledge their allegiance to Europe at the expense of British sovereignty.
The group, led by Michael Heseltine , chose Major as their front man (if the coup succeeded) or scapegoat (if it failed).
Major, whose academic attainment in his youth had been deemed inadequate for the job of bus conductor, represented Mrs Thatcher’s tragic mistake. It was she who had plucked this unremitting nonentity out of parliamentary obscurity and elevated him to the post of Chancellor.
Her rationale probably was the same as that of her nemeses: she thought Major was easy to manipulate and too inconsequential to be dangerous. Fair enough, Major did prove easy to manipulate – but not by her.
After all, he couldn’t ride two bandwagons at once. When Heseltine’s and Thatcher’s bandwagons went their divergent ways, Major jumped on Heseltine’s and hence the EU’s.
Though lacking in intellect and integrity, he was richly endowed with the apparatchik’s sensitive nose for where the wind is blowing. Since at the time it was blowing in the direction of Brussels, Major joined forces with other Europhiles to twist Mrs Thatcher’s arm into entering the Exchange Rate Mechanism.
That was widely seen as a prelude to joining the single currency and hence the EU. Margaret Thatcher resisted that step for as long as she could, but the combined weight of Messrs Heseltine, Hurd, Howe, Clark et al squashed her flat.
In 1990 Major became the puppet PM and signed the Maastricht Treaty two years later. In another seven months Britain predictably crashed out of the ERM, shedding an estimated £3.3 billion.
Another five years later Major’s leadership of his party produced its most devastating electoral defeat in modern times, elevating to government an even more venomous nonentity, Blair.
At the time Major affixed his autograph to the Maastricht Treaty, I thought it was treasonous – and I still do.
I was satisfied then, as I am now, that signing that document was tantamount to transferring sovereignty from Parliament to a foreign body, which fits any sensible definition of treason.
This, regardless of whether the foreign body in question is good or bad, and irrespective of any economic gains accrued thereby. In that case, the gains were nonexistent, but that wasn’t the issue – and it still isn’t.
Yet Major’s allegiance to the EU was never classified as treason because he found himself on the winning side. As John Harrington (d. 1612) explained, “Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”
Like the Nazi and Vichy bureaucrats morphing into a homogeneous group that later became the EU by incremental steps, so did the British apparat – with some dissent – merge with its continental counterpart.
By now Major’s undying devotion to European federalism, along with his understated intellect and integrity, has become a pandemic disease spreading from Westminster to such oases of collaboration as Notting Hill, Islington and most of the media.
But not to the country at large. When Major’s spiritual heir Cameron arrogantly called a referendum because he was certain of victory and hoped thereby to put paid to all that talk about leaving the EU, he was in for a let-down.
The people voted by a solid majority of over a million to leave that contrivance and revert to the sovereignty of Parliament, that cornerstone of the British constitution.
Both Houses then overwhelmingly voted to invoke Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, formally notifying the EU of Britain’s departure. One would have thought that the matter was closed. The constitution was back on course.
It was then that a demonstration was staged, if any was needed post-Maastricht, that such things as the constitution, Parliament, the will of the people, democracy and Britain’s entire political history mean nothing to the quisling elite that had in effect usurped power.
Because the government was divided on the matter, the quislings decided to take governing away from the government and transfer it to what they call Parliament, meaning themselves.
They are confident of their majority there, and they’re probably right – because Parliament is no longer the constitutional body evolved over centuries. It has largely become the headquarters of the subversive elite, almost as unaccountable to the British electorate as the EU elite is.
This is the only possible explanation of the very fact that they now have a majority in Parliament. After all, in the last election all but a few dozen of them were returned on the promise issued by both major parties: to comply with the result of the referendum and take Britain out of the EU.
Liars then, opportunists now, self-serving nonentities ever – their true allegiance is pledged to themselves and whichever group is more promising to serve their careers. The EU is hard to beat: it can promise princely employment for productive life and a king’s ransom of a vast pension thereafter.
At that point, Major had to be taken off the mothballs, where he had resided for 21 years. He was asked (tasked?) to explain to the world what parliamentary sovereignty really means in today’s Britain, issuing in the process his own version of Apologia Pro Vita Sua.
Major didn’t disappoint. Article 50, he wrote, must be revoked and a second referendum called. The 17.4 million Britons – more than have ever voted for anything else – who voted to leave proved themselves to be indolent pupils who must re-sit their exams.
They don’t know what’s good for them, but thank God there’s Major to teach them. No-deal Brexit, he hectored, would be catastrophic: “Every single household – rich or poor – would be worse off for many years to come.”
I’ve never been prepared to argue the issue of Britain’s constitutional survival on such a puny basis. Even assuming that Brexit would make us all slightly poorer, our sacrifice for preserving Britain’s historical constitution would be negligible compared to the sacrifices previous generations had to make to the same sacred end.
“This may be politically uncomfortable,” conceded Major, “but any short-term political disruption pales into insignificance when compared with the potential long-term damage that could be wreaked on our country as a whole.”
Let me see if I understand. Burying Britain’s constitution for ever is a temporarily uncomfortable disruption, while potential long-term damage will last in eternity.
I especially like that ‘potential’. The potential for problems or even disasters is ever-present, especially in a country where spivocratic nonentities like Major can become prime ministers.
One can say with equal justification that any election at all, including one for the town librarian, may cause potentially long-term damage. Since in this case the list of confidently predicted disasters includes the debris of satellites falling on our heads, one can safely disregard that inane threat.
What I find particularly refreshing is the gall of our homespun constitutional experts who co-opt Edmund Burke to their own take on parliamentary sovereignty.
Didn’t Burke teach that MPs should be the people’s representatives, not their delegates? Meaning that, once elected, they should act according to the people’s interests (as they see them), not their wishes?
So what’s the problem then? We take the decision away from both the cabinet and the electorate and transfer it to Parliament. That makes this august body truly sovereign, doesn’t it?
Arguing against this idiotic effrontery, Stephen Glover referred to the great Whig as a Tory, but then one expects fundamental ignorance from our commentators.
Chaps, if Burke, one of the greatest constitutional thinkers ever, came back from heaven and saw this on-going Walpurgisnacht, he’d shudder and plead: “Pray, Sir, do take me back whence I came.”
Burke, now forced to cross the aisle to the Tory side, knew different MPs and different voters from today’s lot. Less than five per cent of the population were entitled to vote then (good old days, I say), and some two-thirds of them were in the south.
The voters trusted the MPs to act in their interests because they knew them, often personally, to be sage, accomplished men who dedicated their lives to public service – as opposed to personal enrichment through a career in public services.
It was only in 1911 that parliamentary salaries were introduced. Until then MPs had served pro bono publico, not, as they do today, pro their own bono, and the public be damned.
Instant accountability was guaranteed, and Burke didn’t even have to spell it out. Today, in conditions of our universal franchise run riot, the situation is entirely different.
Today’s crop of MPs are a breed apart from what Burke saw, and himself was. The constitutional arrangement still accentuates parliamentary sovereignty, but it can now only mean independence from foreign legislation – not from the voters’ wishes. For such independence would mean unaccountability.
In any case, today’s lot solve the Burkean conflict between representatives and delegates by being neither. They use voters to advance their own careers, and their pronouncements to the contrary are just camouflage.
Spending my life surrounded by brilliant and erudite British people, and looking at the pygmies who supposedly represent them, I often wonder if de Maistre was right when saying that every nation gets the kind of government it deserves.
I think he’d change his view if he saw the likes of Major. No nation deserves him.
Professor of natural law and legal philosophy John Finnis managed to hang on to his Oxford job by the skin of his teeth.
Frankly I’m amazed at the forbearance shown by Oxford University in the name of academic freedom. For 350 students signed a petition to sack Prof. Finnis and, since students these days are seen as paying customers, their wishes are usually universities’ commands.
What incensed the youngsters was Prof. Finnis’s Collected Essays, in which he allegedly expressed discriminatory views against “the LGBTQ community”, and I’m getting terribly confused with all those initials piling up.
No sooner had I learned what LGBT means than another letter is added to the ‘community’. What on earth does the Q stand for? Queer? Surely not. And they also have Q+ – the mind boggles, as Oxford students say nowadays.
Anyway, in his essay published when most of his accusers were pre-teenagers, the offensive academic argued that homosexuality is “never a valid, humanly acceptable choice and form of life”.
And in another essay, written when most of his accusers weren’t even born, the good professor saw fit to write that “copulation of humans with animals is repudiated because it treats human sexual activity and satisfaction as something appropriately sought in a manner that, like the coupling of animals, is divorced from the expressing of an intelligible common good – and so treats human bodily life, in one of its most intense activities, as merely animal. The deliberate genital coupling of persons of the same sex is repudiated for a very similar reason.”
Now I myself once got in trouble by drawing a parallel between homosexuality and bestiality. I was attacked for not understanding how different those activities are.
But I do. Yet I, and presumably Prof. Finnis, also see a taxonomic similarity. For example, murder and mugging are very different crimes, yet they’re both crimes. And, though homosexuality and bestiality differ in many ways, they’re both perversions.
Actually, given the choice between a nice, fluffy Welsh sheep and, say, Sir Elton John, I’d probably choose… well, neither actually – Penelope needn’t worry. But the taciturn sheep would hold a definite advantage for not pronouncing on political matters, nor banging out awful songs.
Prof. Finnis courageously defended himself by saying that “I stand by all these writings. There is not a ‘phobic’ sentence in them. The 1994 essay promotes a classical and strictly philosophical moral critique of all non-marital sex acts…”
How he didn’t get lynched after that escapes me. Turns out he opposes not only unnatural sex acts, but also the freedom to ‘hook up’, hard-won on the barricades of the ‘60s sex wars and since then enshrined even in official laws.
It’s hard not to notice that the student bodies of British universities are beginning to resemble the student Red Guards during Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Those youngsters called for smashing ‘the dog’s heads’ of those professors who didn’t meet their standards of political correctness.
Those standards were somewhat different from Prof. Finnis’s detractors’, and many of those professorial heads did get smashed in China, while those at Oxford are still in one piece. But one can definitely detect convergence.
Since I’m a sucker for parallels, it’s fun to compare today’s censorship by the mob in Britain to that by church and state in nineteenth-century Russia.
For example, Russian censors routinely redacted the word ‘cornerstone’ from secular texts, explaining that “the cornerstone is Christ; hence this epithet cannot be applied to anything else.”
Also, no Frenchman could be called good because there could be no good people in a commonwealth formed by a regicide revolution.
Branded immoral was any literary work portraying a Jew as a virtuous man because “kikes cannot be virtuous.”
An article mentioning that mushrooms may cause harm was once banned because “mushrooms are the Lenten food of the Orthodox, and thus writing about their harmfulness means undermining faith and spreading faithlessness.”
Also redacted were adjectives like ‘heavenly’, ‘angelic’ and ‘divine’ when used as general terms of praise.
Words like ‘kissed’ and ‘loved’ were off-limits. Instead of “he kissed her”, the censor recommended “he looked at her”, while rather than loving a woman a man was supposed to marry her first.
No emperor, not even Julius Caesar, could be described as murdered lest the readers might get the idea that murdering an emperor was a possibility. Hence Paul I, assassinated in 1801, was officially regarded as having died of a stroke.
Lions couldn’t be described as ‘kings of the jungle’, and no animal kingdom was allowed to exist. In Russian those words are cognates of ‘tsar’, and… well, you know.
One could argue that, while the gap is narrowing, the tsarist censorship was marginally more stringent than that imposed by the modern British mob with the acquiescence, and often active support, of the government.
But then Russia was at the time called ‘the prison of nations’ and ‘the gendarme of Europe’, while Britain is still referred to as a free country, mostly, one suspects, for old times’ sake.
Yet the new totem of political correctness is worshipped with ever-increasing piety, while apostasy is punished with ever-increasing rigour. And not just in matters of sex, race and ‘equality’ all around.
The dictatorship of ‘you can’t say that’ manifests itself in all sorts of areas. Speaking of Oxford, back in 1995 I was an observer at the Byelorussian elections.
One of my co-observers was a professor (reader at the time) who specialised in Eastern Europe, and has since acquired an administrative post reflecting his expertise.
Speaking of Russia, I mentioned casually that, though the windows are dressed differently, the house remained essentially the same, and the much-vaunted glasnost and perestroika merely amounted to the transition of power from the Party to the KGB.
The academic cast a furtive look around, just as Russians did when discussing politics. “You can’t say that,” he whispered. “The most you’re allowed is expressing a regret that democracy in Russia is a bit slower in arriving than we’d like.”
Allowed by whom exactly? The chaps who have since then been regularly inviting the academic to appear on RT? But, unless I’m very much mistaken, they don’t yet have jurisdiction in Britain.
The censoring authority was of course public opinion, or rather those few hundred people who these days decide what public opinion should be and then steer it there. For the sake of brevity, I refer to them as the mob.
Does anyone need any more proof that our dumbed-down populace can’t be trusted to elect good leaders?
Or that years of sustained propaganda can sell any evil nonsense to the masses?
Do you? Well, in that case look no further than the new TV series Icons, in which viewers were asked to choose the greatest political leader of the twentieth century.
The shortlist included Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Nelson Mandela.
In other words, the choice was among the two men who led the victorious anti-Nazi coalition, Britain’s arguably greatest post-war PM who restored the country to some semblance of sanity, and – well, the winner.
These days it’s impossible to talk about Mandela in any other than hagiographic terms. Beatified even before his 1963 imprisonment and canonised to secular sainthood after his 1990 release, Mandela still hasn’t lost his ability to lobotomise people.
At a party some 15 years ago, I took polite exception when a wealthy middle-class woman opined that Mandela was the greatest modern politician.
I even tried to offer a few facts, but didn’t really get the chance. The woman turned puce and told me that she took my insinuations as a personal insult. Though she was an Anglican Englishwoman, her response was as febrile as a Muslim’s would be if someone mentioned casually that Mohammed was a paedophile.
Yet at least Mohammed is the cult worshipped in one of the world’s largest religions. What religion is Mandela the cult of?
Just as a Muslim wouldn’t listen to any smirking references to Fatima’s age, so would Mandela’s worshippers ignore any facts of the secular saint’s life. However, exponents of other religions would find them rather damning.
Apart from the 27-year hiatus mentioned above, Mandela led the African National Congress, a Marxist terrorist organisation committed to replacing the hell of the apartheid government with the paradise of Marxist dictatorship.
Its activities heavily relied on the arms, financing, training and logistic support it received from established Marxist dictatorships, mainly those of the Soviet Union, East Germany and Cuba.
For example, East German Stasi helped the ANC set up ‘Quatro’, the detention centre across the border in Angola. Anti-Marxists were tortured and murdered there, to the silent acquiescence of so-called liberals worldwide.
Even merely aspiring Marxist dictatorships lent a helping hand. For example, in a deal allegedly negotiated by Gerry Adams himself, the IRA sent its bomb-making experts to train ANC murderers.
The ANC also added some indigenous touches, such as the widespread practice of ‘necklacing’, whereby an old tyre was filled with petrol, put around a dissident’s neck and set alight.
However, any evidence of the ANC’s communist nature was routinely hushed up in the West’s predominantly liberal press and denied by Mandela.
This though as far back as the early ‘60s the Special Branch uncovered Mandela’s essay How to Be a Good Communist, in which the saint-to-be promised that “South Africa will be a land of milk and honey under a Communist government.” That too was kept under wraps.
As a true Leninist, Mandela knew that revolution can succeed not only by violence but also by what Lenin called ‘legalism’, using democratic institutions the better to destroy them. Hence, when he emerged from prison, he forswore used tyres and cast himself as the prophet of peace.
As an intelligent man, Mandela sensed that appealing to the world’s illiberal liberals would work much better than necklacing a few more recalcitrant individuals. He was proved right, and that’s how he became the object of hysterical adulation and the ‘father of his country’.
Alas, the child of this father inherited not so much his intelligence and charisma as some of his less commendable traits.
The ANC rule has turned a safe, prosperous country into a corrupt, crime-ridden hellhole. The UN ranks South Africa second in the world for murder and assault, while she comfortably leads the world in rape.
Around 50 people are murdered there each day, which is more by an order of magnitude than 40 years ago. And over 25 per cent of South African men admit to rape, with half of them having raped more than once.
As far as I know, Mandela never shot, tortured, raped or necklaced anyone personally. Yet Lenin never castrated a single priest either, nor did Hitler ever gas a single Jew.
However, by applying criteria universally accepted since the beginning of time, we correctly hold them responsible for the monstrosities committed by their regimes on their watch.
What makes Mandela exempt from such judgement? How did he become a secular saint?
These questions are impossible to answer outside the broad political context, which raises another question. Why did the Soviet Union and its satellites, along with their useful idiots in the West, support the ANC and wage a worldwide campaign against apartheid?
The white South African government was indeed rather unpleasant, but nothing it did was even remotely comparable to the mass murder of millions perpetrated by black Africans in Burundi, Angola and Rwanda at the same time.
I’d even go so far as to suggest that perhaps the present state of South Africa vindicates the apartheid government’s view that the ANC wasn’t quite ready to govern the country.
A sense of proportion was missing then, and it still is now. But then no left-wing campaign against anything Western is ever conducted in measured tones. The purpose isn’t to enlighten brains but to wash them.
Thus racism, however loosely defined, has got to be seen as a vice to trump all others.
Never mind that South African blacks lived better, freer and longer than blacks did in any other African country. Likewise, never mind that Israeli Arabs enjoy greater freedom and prosperity than, say, Egyptian ones.
Once the stigma of racism is attached to a regime, it’s no longer judged according to rational criteria – and neither are its opponents, especially if they’re seen as third-world.
Hence African terrorists led by Mandela and, say, Palestinian terrorists led by Abbas receive much better press than the generally civilised states they see in their sights.
That’s how Mandela thrashed his opponents in the Icons poll, much to the delight of the show’s presenter Sir Trevor McDonald: “In a time of division, I am thrilled that British audiences have voted for Nelson Mandela, a man who brought together a deeply divided nation and changed history.”
Sir Trevor clearly thinks that, no matter how a divided nation is brought together or history changed, a man who performed those heroic deeds is worthy of secular canonisation.
Enter Messrs Stalin, Hitler and Mao, who too ought to qualify on those bases.
The marriage contract, to be signed on 22 January, is called the Treaty of Aachen. The choice of the site for the nuptials is replete with symbolism.
Alternatively called Aix-la-Chapelle, Aachen is a sort of Franco-German half-cast, and it’s only 25 miles down the road from Maastricht, where the two countries last reconfirmed their commitment to each other.
Also, Aachen used to be Charlemagne’s capital of the Holy Roman Empire, which was an early marriage between proto-Germany and proto-France.
Since both Manny and, somewhat incongruously, Angie see themselves as present-day reincarnations of the bellicose Frank, it’s only natural that they tie the knot even tighter in Aachen.
The prenup details haven’t yet been fully disclosed, but the general intent is to strengthen the ties between the happy couple. Joint bank accounts are bound to follow, but for the time being the talk is about unifying “the foreign affairs, defence, external and internal security and development”.
Also, the frontier regions on either side of the border will become androgynous ‘eurozones’. One such will doubtless be Alsace-Lorraine, formerly Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen, formerly Alsace-Lorraine, formerly Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen.
It’s high time the place were renamed to reflect its denationalised status. I think Reichsland Alsace-Lorraine would do nicely, but I’m open to ideas.
Since the new treaty will to all intents and purposes turn Germany and France into a single state, perhaps finding a name for it is also advisable.
The possibilities are numerous: Frankonia, Frankland, Frankmany, Deutschmand, Deutschfrankreich – I’d hesitate to choose just one, though someone will have to.
The long-anticipated step reflects the genesis of the star-crossed lovers. The EU was originally conceived as a result of a passionate affair between Nazi and Vichy bureaucrats towards the end of the war.
When its outcome was no longer in doubt, Hitler’s and Laval’s chaps sat down and devised a plan for post-war Europe. That got the bandwagon rolling, and directly the war ended those like Adenauer and de Gaulle, who were neither Nazis nor collaborators, jumped on.
Coming into play was the collective Stockholm syndrome afflicting the French since 1871 and the Germans since 1945.
Essentially, the Germans no longer wanted to be German, but the French did. So they consummated their affair at some imaginary mid-point.
Once the EU gestated to full maturity, it remained de facto a Franco-German affair. The two countries were locked in a passionate embrace, and they managed either to dupe or to bribe 26 others into accepting the role of Franco-German vassals.
Naturally, ugly words like lords, fiefs and vassals were never used, but the ghost of Charlemagne kept wafting in and out of EU meetings, getting both the French and Germans pleasantly high.
They preferred to talk about all those nations being one happy family, but there was no doubt that Germany was the father, France the mother, and the rest were children – usually obedient but at times unruly.
Thus the forthcoming marriage casts Angie as the bridegroom and Manny as the bride, but then such gender-bending is much in vogue. The conjugal bliss is supposed to serve as the model for all to follow, but some children are rapidly growing up.
Nationalist, populist parties are gaining strength – and in some countries, power – all over Europe. For example, Italy, now ruled by such a government, is proving to be a right brat.
In fact, Italy and like-minded Poland are threatening to enter into a marriage of their own, forming their own Montagues to the Franco-German Capulets.
Italy’s anti-EU deputy PM and interior minister, Matteo Salvini, doesn’t mince words. He openly talks about breaking the “Germany-France axis”, which, given the evocative power of ‘axis’, is a meaty choice of words.
Salvini doesn’t want Italy to become the Kasbah that large tracts of France and Germany have already become courtesy of the EU. That makes him naturally opposed to the very notion of an EU – the logic is ironclad.
Yet he doesn’t want to remain a bachelor – he too is looking for a suitable bride. Casting his net wide, Salvini has chosen Poland, whose ruling Law and Justice party shares his dislike of Muslim colonisation (it has gone beyond mere immigration) and therefore of the EU.
By way of betrothal, Salvini has met with his Polish counterparts, and they’ve agreed to end the wintry Franco-German domination, taking the continent into a “European spring”.
This is making my head spin. I thought the whole idea of the EU was unity.
Yet it increasingly seems that just about the only thing uniting the EU members other than the happy Franco-German couple is their opposition to the newlyweds and, by inference, the whole idea of European federalism.
The only aspect of the EU they seem to find acceptable is its money, but that may be in short supply. Having suffered a catastrophic decline in industrial output, Germany is about to go into a recession, with France sharing its lot, as a devoted wife should (“…for richer, for poorer…”).
Both Angie and Manny are teetering at the edge of a political abyss, with populist uprisings about to push them over. Nationalist populism is on the rise everywhere, much to the dismay of EU, British and even US mandarins and other fruits.
They blame all and sundry for the on-going debacle, except the real culprits: themselves. It’s today’s ruling elites that are destroying not just the traditional order but indeed traditional nations by not merely provoking but veritably begging for a populist reaction.
This leaves only three things for me to do: to wish Angie and Manny much happiness, however short-lived; to wonder whose sick mind produced the idea of British EU membership; and to question the sanity, intelligence and integrity of those who think we’ll be better off staying in this obscene contrivance rapidly heading for an explosive, ignominious end.
Jacob Rees-Mogg sees an ideal world in his mind’s eye, and I don’t just mean the ultimate ideal he must see as a devout Catholic.
As an intelligent man, he probably realises that in this world the ideal is unattainable. As a civilised man, he still thinks we ought to try.
It’s with the resulting charming naivety that he deplores the pandemic replacement of arguments with harangues, as evinced by some thug screaming “Nazi!” at the Remainer MP Anna Soubry.
(Alas, Mr Rees-Mogg undermines his otherwise impeccable conservative credentials by referring to her as “Ms Soubry”. A principled conservative would eschew that ugly newfangled locution in favour of the traditional “Miss Soubry”, but then he wouldn’t remain an MP for long.)
“Shouting ‘Nazi’ at someone with whom you disagree is not only rude but stupid,” writes Mr Rees-Mogg. “Free speech is about making rational arguments and trying to persuade the other person that your opinion makes more sense and is more logical.”
He’s absolutely right. However, had he replaced “is” with “should be”, he would have been not only absolutely right but also realistic.
For the standards of public debate have dropped precipitously. Most people are not only incapable of putting forth a logical and well-structured argument, but are even unaware that such a thing exists.
Both in Britain and the US, thought has been replaced with sentiment, sentiment with sentimentality, and sentimentality with hysteria. This is particularly noticeable in the debates putting each nation asunder: Brexit in Britain, Trump in the US.
The overall intellectual level is such that calling someone a ‘Nazi’ or a ‘Commie’ is accepted as a valid argument.
Some isolated exceptions aside, venom and spittle have replaced logic and wit, with nary a real argument anywhere in sight. As to elementary civility, that went a long time ago.
The snappiest diagnosis would be the failure of public education. Instead of being taught how to think, pupils are indoctrinated in what to think. Typically, they’re brainwashed to mouth progressivist twaddle, without ever attempting to support it logically or indeed think it through.
Not so long ago a university-educated young lady was genuinely surprised when I said “That’s not an argument” in response to her saying “I disagree”. “But of course it is,” she objected. “I disagree means I argue”.
No, it doesn’t, dear. It only means you’d like to argue.
As in most things, there exists an ascending hierarchy in debate. It starts with a feeling, then moves up incrementally to a thought, opinion, judgement – and only then to an argument.
That’s why I rudely yawn when my interlocutor starts an argument by saying “I feel”. “I don’t care what you feel” is my stock response. “Tell me what you think. And then prove why it makes sense”.
The young lady above committed the rhetorical fallacy of argumentum ad lapidem – dismissing a claim without proving why it’s wrong.
The lout screaming “Nazi!” committed another fallacy, petitio principia, closely related to circulus in demonstrando – using what should be the conclusion of an argument as its premise.
However, I suspect that the educated girl and the ignorant lout know neither the exact names for their rhetorical fallacies nor indeed that such fallacies exist.
I’m sure Miss Soubry isn’t a Nazi, but it’s not theoretically impossible that she is. However, before she’s thus branded, it’s incumbent on her accuser to define Nazism and show how Miss Soubry fits the definition.
Alas, it’s not only loutish plankton who’ve reduced arguments to hysteria, but even quite a few commentators writing for respectable publications.
One such commentator recently told me in a private conversation that I shouldn’t support Brexit because Putin supports it.
That chap was unaware that he was committing the fallacy of ergo decedo, wherein someone’s real or implied association is claimed to disqualify his argument.
Using the same line of thought, I could insist that all vegetarians and dog lovers are Nazis because Hitler was both things. Or that anyone who likes the Appassionata is a mass-murdering Communist because Lenin thought, wrongly, it was the best piece ever written.
Alas, at that point I said things I shouldn’t have said. Had I been less angry and more sober, I could have explained that a serious man’s judgements aren’t contingent on what anyone else thinks, pro or con.
A judgement is the destination of a journey whose purpose is a search for truth or, ideally, the truth. This search may be aided by those who’ve successfully made it before, but it’s ultimately individual.
In this case, my support for Brexit results from a lifelong search for political truth, which is inseparable from what I accept as the absolute truth. Therefore it can’t be affected either positively, if everyone agreed, or negatively, because Putin does.
The truth destination can’t be reached by reason only. A perfectly logical structure may still yield a wrong result, or illogical intuition a correct one.
But, if such statistics were available, I’m sure they’d point at reason as being the most successful tool, although it can be helped along by others.
Earlier I said that claiming public education for the failures that so upset Mr Rees-Mogg is a snappy diagnosis. Yet snappy often means superficial.
A reader would be justified to ask why British education, which used to be the envy of the world, has become its laughingstock.
Yet foreigners who laugh at the mote in our education should look at the beam in their own. They’ll discover that the problem isn’t British but universal, which is to say civilisational.
People can’t search for what they don’t believe exists, the absolute truth. Such ignorance inevitably leads them astray in their seeking smaller, contingent truths.
For, if no absolutes exist, everything is relative. Hence things that don’t even qualify as thoughts, never mind arguments, are accepted as such; and any opinion is as good as any other.
Without delving deeper into such matters than this format allows, let’s just say that our civilisation was built on the premise that the absolute truth exists and it takes a sound, structured thought inspired by faith to find it.
I don’t know exactly when this situation changed, but the rot began to set in some time close to the end of the three centuries separating these two aphorisms:
“To impugn human reason is to impugn God” and “Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”
The first one, by Thomas Aquinas, identifies reason as God’s gift, essential to any attempt to grasp the absolute truth – and, by inference, smaller truths. The second one, by Martin Luther, identifies reason as the enemy of faith and all things spiritual.
However, history has shown that faith dies when unsupported by reason – and then reason dies when unsupported by faith.
Thus the collapse of sound argument correctly pointed out by Mr Rees-Mogg may serve as Exhibit 1 in the prosecution’s case against modernity.
Even some of my friends, to say nothing of less educated people, tend to associate the horrors of Bolshevism mainly with Stalin.
He’s considered unequivocally evil, while Lenin is seen more or less as H.G. Wells saw him, “the dreamer in the Kremlin”. Alas, his dream was misconceived, which is why he was forced to resort to tyranny in its pursuit.
Should a trial by public opinion be held today, Stalin would be sent down for life, while Lenin would get away with a noncustodial sentence, or perhaps merely a year or two in prison.
Since any serious student of modern Russian history knows that Lenin was every bit as evil as Stalin or – as I believe – even more so, offering him this free ride is puzzling. Or rather it would be if one didn’t realise that the Western narrative on Russia has always been influenced, and often determined, by, well, Russia.
From 1917 to 1991 the official Soviet line was that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with Bolshevism and therefore its founder, Lenin. However, in 1956 Khrushchev declared urbi et orbi that there had been plenty wrong with Stalin.
Mass executions, tortures and Gulag under Stalin were then officially acknowledged. Yet when I was at school and university (1954-1970), it was impossible to mention publicly, and dangerous to do so even privately, that all those nice things had been not just pioneered but actually mandated by Lenin.
Since Soviet studies in the West were more or less dominated by people in general sympathy with Bolshevism, if at times upset by its worst excesses, this line was proliferated. It survives to this day, although a whole library of books have been written about Lenin’s regime, designed to most exacting Satanic specifications.
One reason for this is that there exists another, larger library that continues to preach the old line of the noble-minded yet unfortunately misguided Lenin whose legacy was perverted by the beastly Stalin.
Such apologetics are still produced by Lenin-worshipers, but these days they know how to envelop their message in a fog of seeming even-handedness. Unvarnished encomiums for Lenin and other communists more or less died with Erik Hobsbaum’s demise.
Yet the genre of subtler crypto-apologetics is still alive, and Catherine Merridale is its truly virtuosic practitioner. Reading her book Lenin on the Train, one begins to understand how good and intelligent people, but those without a special interest in Russia, can be duped into swallowing the old Soviet canard.
The book describes Lenin’s infamous 1917 journey from Switzerland to Russia in a train provided by the German General Staff (not the Foreign Ministry, as Merridale says).
The Bolsheviks were the only major party in Russia that unequivocally preached pulling out of the war. Yet Lenin didn’t want peace – his aim was “to turn the imperialist war into a civil one.”
The Germans didn’t mind that: they wanted Russia out of the war anyhow. To that end they lavishly financed Lenin’s revolutionary activities and then, as Churchill put it,“transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus frim Switzerland to Russia.”
Though Merridale quotes this aphorism, her view on both Lenin and his journey is rather different, and as to German financing, she performs around it a song and dance routine that puts Fred and Ginger to shame.
The trick she favours could be called ‘striking a note’. While describing in minute detail the lavatorial arrangements on the eponymous train or some such, Merridale would drop in a message of love for the Bolshevik butcher, thereby establishing a theme but then not developing it.
For example, one note Merridale strikes and then leaves has to do with Lenin’s preference for Swiss doctors to whom he went for some “stomach complaint”.
The medical theme is thus left hanging in the air, which is a pity. Because, though Lenin might have had some gastric problems too, his principal ailment was the syphilis he caught from a French prostitute in 1902.
It was for that, then deadly, disease that he sought help from not only the Swiss, but also French, German and Russian doctors. However, in those pre-antibiotic days they couldn’t really help, and eventually the disease killed him.
The Russian doctor Lenin used was the world’s leading authority on neurosyphilis, Prof. Margulis. When I was still in Russia, his old widow showed me with trepidation a yellowed letter sent to her husband by Nadezhda Krupskaya, in which Lenin’s wife thanked the doctor “for everything you’ve done for Volodia and me.”
Lenin’s contemporaries knew about his little problem. For example, Ivan Pavlov of the dog fame once wrote that the “revolution was made by a madman with syphilis of the brain”.
Merridale didn’t have to mention Lenin’s medical problems. But once she did, it was sheer dishonesty to say nothing of the one that eventually killed him. But then lying by omission is much subtler than doing so by commission.
In that spirit: “Lenin liked Switzerland… and though the war was forcing the prices up, he could afford the food and rent.”
How? one wonders. How could Lenin and his gang, none of whom had ever had a paying job, afford living in a pricey Switzerland? How could “the great Russian” afford Europe’s most expensive doctors?
This theme neatly overlaps with another one: the mutual hostility between Lenin and the Western socialists of the Second International. Merridale goes into long ideological explanations, and no doubt ideology was part of it.
But it wasn’t for ideological reasons that Lenin’s Bolsheviks were the only major socialist party ever expelled from the Second International. The reasons had to do with the methods the Bolsheviks used to earn a crust.
Those effeminate Europeans were aghast. For the Bolsheviks used sex and blackmail to extort huge amounts from rich men like Savva Morozov. They sent out handsome gigolos to woo rich heiresses, and then made sure the inheritance wasn’t long in coming. They then laundered the proceeds.
And they widely practised robbery, which Lenin euphemistically called expropriations, exes for short. The most illustrious ex was masterminded by “that wonderful Georgian” (Lenin could never remember Stalin’s real name), when a gang of Bolshevik bandits launched a paramilitary raid on the Tiflis Treasury.
Not only Stalin but also some of the other future People’s Commissars were involved in such capers. Evidence suggests it was Krasin (Trade and Industry) who shot Morozov when he finally refused to pay, while Semashko (Health) and Litvinov (Foreign Affairs) were imprisoned in France for trying to launder the Tiflis loot.
The Bolsheviks started as they meant to go on. What followed their putsch was a wholesale robbery of a major country by its own government, the first such heist in history.
The details can be found in Sean Meekin’s important book History’s Greatest Heist. But one detail not mentioned there was provided by an explosive scoop in The New York Times of April, 1921.
Apparently, while looting Russia to help their regime survive, the Bolsheviks also prepared for an orderly retreat in case it didn’t survive.
In 1920 alone, 75 million Swiss francs were sent to Lenin’s account in just one Swiss bank. Trotsky had $11 million in just one US bank, plus 90 million francs in his Swiss accounts. Zinoviev kept 80 million Swiss francs in Switzerland, Dzerzhinsky had 80 million francs, while Hanecki had 60 million francs and $10 million – the list went on and on.
Any one of those accounts could have provided a loaf of bread for each Russian starving to death. Yet that task fell on Herbert Hoover’s American Relief Administration, which saved millions of human skeletons from death by spending just $20 million in 1921-1922.
Such facts would perhaps dampen any honest person’s affection for Lenin. But Merridale’s love is impervious to facts or reason.
Because: “The universe of Marx and Lenin used to be my own… I made my pilgrimage to Lenin’s tomb… I was not one of those who thought all aspects of the Soviet Union evil, false or misguided, but the effects were catastrophic just the same.”
In preparation, she claims to have read all 45-50 volumes of the gems Lenin left for posterity. If so, she must have been reading selectively, for otherwise she wouldn’t have failed to notice the virulent hatred and hardly anything else dripping off every page.
In any case, she would have done better familiarising herself with the basic facts of Russian history. Then she’d avoid such ignorant statements as: “Nicholas II… ignored or actively spurned the Duma while staffing the upper house, the Council of Ministers, with [talentless people].”
That’s like confusing our cabinet with the House of Lords. The Council of Ministers, dear, was an executive body. The advisory upper house of the Duma was called the State Council, which a professional historian of Russia ought to know.
What I really love is the word “pilgrimage”. Evidently Merridale sees the pagan mummy displayed inside a neo-Babylonian ziggurat as a holy shrine. But what’s that coy “used to” bit? She still inhabits the same universe; she only claims a different address.
Still, an inquisitive reader may want to know which aspects of the Soviet Union Merridale doesn’t find evil, false or misguided. Alas, that information isn’t proffered, making the statement meaningless. But she isn’t after meaning – she’s after casually striking notes that may resonate through the reader’s mind.
Some of the notes are lyrical: “Lenin’s countrymen have cooled to him in recent times… no one really loves him now; the corpse has been preserved without a heart.”
But that doesn’t mean Lenin goes unloved. Merridale still loves him, and so does the curator of a Lenin museum who instantly became her soulmate:
“It helps that I once lived, as she did, in the Soviet world. We have a language in common, a language that young Russians do not even know.”
This is rank effrontery. On display here are symptoms of a disease afflicting many journalists, academics and diplomats who once lived in the Soviet Union for a few months or perhaps a year or two.
They led the lives of cossetted, well-supplied, venerated Western visitors who, if the spirit moved them, could hop on the plane and leave at a minute’s notice. Living in the USSR, dear, meant something else: being enslaved by blood-sucking yahoos who could do to you as they pleased.
Using a year’s worth of academic tourism, with KGB providing the tour guides, as grounds for claiming some gnostic insight unattainable not only by Westerners but also by some Russians is revoltingly dishonest.
These are the first intimations of the stratagem used to make Stalin carry the can for Bolshevik crimes, while letting Lenin off scot-free or at least with only a slap on the wrist. I’m writing about this at such length because it’s used widely and effectively by many of Merridale’s colleagues.
Actually, comparing Lenin to Stalin isn’t always helpful. In some ways Lenin resembles Hitler more.
Stalin neither courted nor needed popular support. Because he inherited unlimited power first won and consolidated by Lenin, Stalin’s tyranny relied on a bureaucratic apparat and unlimited violence.
Hence, though Stalin wrote his fair share of Marxist gibberish, he shunned speeches and hardly ever appeared in public. On the other hand, both Lenin and Hitler had to claw their way to power largely by first winning over their own parties and then selling their message to the public.
Both, therefore, were loudmouth demagogues dependent on charismatic appeal. And in fact many things Merridale says about Lenin could be said verbatim about Hitler.
However, if any writer spoke about Hitler with the same gushing, almost erotic adulation, he’d be ostracised for life.
This, for example, is how Merridale ends the book: “This man belongs to the springtime of hope, and it was revolution that defined his life.”
She then argues that the giant statue of Lenin still standing outside Petersburg’s Finland Station captures Lenin’s essence best: “He stands high on an armoured car… and while his left hand has been tucked into the armpit of his bronze waistcoat, the right is thrusting forward: emphatic, strong, forever in command.”
Now try to picture a statue of Hitler still adorning Berlin (an impossible situation, but do let’s allow our imagination to run wild), and a British writer putting on paper exactly the same message, mutatis mutandis.
The armoured car would have to be replaced with a podium and the waistcoat with a tunic, but otherwise every word could remain the same. Now imagine this writer’s subsequent career – and rest assured that Merridale’s won’t suffer in the same way.
“His slogans felt like a sudden electric shock…: a call to life, a blinding glimpse of future…” Is that Hitler or Lenin? Don’t be silly: had she written that about Hitler, she’d be queuing up at the social even as we speak.
“His performance was a tour de force by any standards, but for a man of middle age who had just spent eight days and nights on perilous slow-moving trains, it was miraculous.”
So were Hitler’s performances at Nuremberg rallies; and he too was a middle-aged man who worked himself to exhaustion.
“Hitler has a charisma that still holds many Germans in its grip.” Sorry, my mistake. Merridale actually wrote “Lenin” and “Russians”, but you can understand why I went wrong.
Such passages pervade the narrative:
“Lenin’s ultimate achievement was to turn ideas that Marx had outlined on paper forty years before into an ideology of government… With brief, almost manic strokes of his pen, Lenin sketched out a soviet system… abolition of the police, the army and the bureaucracy.”
Any honest historian would feel duty-bound to add that this was all window-dressing: one of Lenin’s first decrees was to establish the CheKa, history’s most evil secret police.
He also created a huge bureaucracy and, by incremental steps, the world’s largest post-war army. That had to be mentioned just to keep the record straight, but Merridale prefers to keep it crooked.
“Above all else, he had struck upon a kind of truth that people would soon want to hear. The finer details of constitutional change were irrelevant…”
Quite. Only the febrile demagoguery was relevant, and never mind constitutional niceties.
By now Merridale must have realised that even the least critical reader would smell the rat of bias. So let’s keep things in balance, shall we? Hence: “Lenin’s government became as dictatorial and merciless as any industrial baron of the past.”
Another note casually struck; the cause of verisimilitude served. But not very well.
This statement could have been strengthened by providing a list of those industrial barons of the past who created history’s most repressive state claiming millions of victims.
Surely a professional historian must know that no such villains had existed before Lenin not only among industrialists but even among fellow tyrants?
But then of course: “Lenin’s programme offered hope and dignity to many of the country’s poor, not least by granting an unprecedented measure of equality to women.” Fair enough, women were executed and “turned to camp dust” at almost the same rate as men.
We must be grateful to Lenin for having proved yet again that true, pure equality is achievable only in prison. It’s a shame though that this discovery came at such an awful cost.
Anticipating such regrets, Merridale goes into her dance routine, and the technician in me has to admire her nimbleness of step. Only once, on Page 5 of a 300-page book, does she attach a numerical value to the cost, again for the sake of verisimilitude:
“Among the costs were countless human lives, beginning with tens of thousands of murders in Lenin’s lifetime… Over the seven decades of the Soviet Union’s existence the number of its guiltless victims would rise to the low millions.”
This passage is another note struck nonchalantly and left at that. Had she persevered with her actuarial calculations, she would be accused of flagrant lies. For her numbers are low by orders of magnitude.
Directly they grabbed power, Lenin and his fellow ghouls plunged the country into a putrid swamp of blood, epidemics and famines – followed immediately by the internecine civil war so dear to his heart.
When peasants realised that Lenin’s promises of land, bread and peace were lies, they stopped sowing and reaping. No food was reaching the cities, and the people were starving.
Lenin’s CheKa immediately sent out ‘food units’, who routinely machine-gunned hostages and confiscated all grain – along with all other food, including lard and even pickled vegetables.
Faced with deadly starvation, peasants would try to defend themselves by rushing machineguns with axes and pitchforks. Eventually a brush fire of peasant uprisings broke out, which were mercilessly suppressed.
That was the first time in history that a government used battle gases against its own people. How many died is impossible to calculate, but the lowest estimate I’ve seen is 500,000.
This was only one of Lenin’s contributions to the body count. For the starving workers in whose name Lenin’s putsch had been perpetrated did what their colleagues did in the West: they went on strikes. Unlike in the West, however, the strikes were dispersed with live rounds claiming thousands of lives.
Cannibalism was rife in the countryside. Parents were eating their children, scavenging was widespread: corpses were routinely used for nourishment. You can find on the net many harrowing photographs to that effect.
The ghouls didn’t shun direct action either: almost two million were executed judicially on Lenin’s watch. Untold and uncounted millions were simply shot out of hand or tortured to death without even a travesty of justice; millions more perished of starvation and disease; 10 million died during Lenin’s coveted civil war.
Slated for annihilation were whole classes: aristocracy, intelligentsia, professionals, officers, clergy. Of the latter, 40,000 priests were murdered during the same period, and only the lucky ones were simply shot.
The putsch of 7 November, 1917, introduced not just a new regime, but a new concept of a regime: one declaring war on its own people and the rest of the world, and waging that war with inhuman savagery on a scale never even approached before.
As Lenin explained to his acolyte Bonch-Bruevich when the former aristocrat expressed mild misgivings about the destruction of Russia: “Remember, old boy, I spit on Russia. I’m a Bolshevik!”
Altogether, during the 70-odd years they were in business, the ghouls murdered some 60 million of their own subjects, turning the whole country into a blend of concentration and military camps.
Such widely accepted numbers don’t tally with Merridale’s, and by all means she should be free to dispute them. But she doesn’t: she just strikes a note and moves on.
Yet the number of 60-odd million was produced by a painstaking demographic analysis described in Prof. Rummel’s books Death by Government and Lethal Politics. And even Khrushchev owned up to 20 million – a mendaciously low estimate but still a far cry from Merridale’s “low millions”.
The art of striking notes becomes truly virtuosic when Merridale writes about something she simply couldn’t ignore in this context: the German funding of Lenin’s putsch.
The real story is amply documented. The shadowy figure Alexander Helphand, the eminent socialist cum gun-running millionaire better known as Parvus, approached the Germans with the idea of using the Bolsheviks to knock Russia out of the war.
On January 7, 1915, Parvus set up a meeting with Freiherr von Wangenheim, the German ambassador to Turkey, where Parvus was acting as financial advisor to the Young Turks. The message Parvus asked him to convey to the German government, and especially to its military arm, was as simple as the truth itself:
“You want Russia out of the war – so does Lenin. You regard the Russian Empire as an enemy – so does Lenin. Therefore your interests coincide with Lenin’s. But here’s the hitch: you have money, and Lenin has none. And here’s the upshot: you must finance Lenin’s activities for he will be acting not only in his own interests but also in yours. Nicht wahr?”
Generals Ludendorff, Hoffmann and Seeckt cast the deciding vote, and a sum of 50 to 60 million gold marks (in the estimate of Eduard Bernstein, one of the leaders of the Second International and Germany’s deputy minister of finance at the time) was made available to the Bolsheviks in several increments.
Thus began the fruitful cooperation between the more aggressive elements in the German government and the Bolsheviks. It was to last until 22 June, 1941, when Hitler’s Germany attacked Stalin’s Russia.
Parvus set up Hanecki, an agent he shared with Lenin, in an import-export firm in Denmark. From there and Sweden Hanecki shipped German goods, mostly medicines, condoms, surgical instruments and chemicals to Russia.
There the goods were sold and thus laundered through a legitimate company run by the Pole Mechislav Kozlowski, another one of Parvus’s men. Now scrubbed clean, the funds went into various bank accounts to be withdrawn by the ultimate recipient, Lenin.
Thus the Soviet regime had money laundering built into its genetic code at conception, and the resulting expertise is still standing the regime’s descendants in good stead.
As von Kühlmann, the German foreign minister, reported to the Kaiser, the money was well spent:
“…Russia appeared to be the weakest link in the enemy chain. The task therefore was to loosen it, and, when possible, to remove it. This was the purpose of the subversive activity we caused to be carried out in Russia… It was not until the Bolsheviks had received from us a steady flow of funds through various channels and under various labels that they were in a position… to conduct energetic propaganda…”
Lenin kept his end of the bargain too. Three months after his putsch, he took Russia out of the war with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
However, the civil war he started was going badly. The Bolsheviks were getting ready to disappear in the general direction of their Western millions, but the Germans came to their aid yet again.
The German and Austrian General Staffs authorised some 300,000 POWs in Russian captivity to fight on the Bolshevik side. To that end, their familiar German and Austrian weapons were shipped to Russia, and the ex-POWs used them well.
When Gen. Krasnov was about to capture Petrograd and decorate its lampposts with Lenin and his jolly friends, his troops were stopped at Pulkovo by a well-orchestrated artillery barrage, which Krasnov’s officers, all war veterans, instantly identified as German.
Moreover, when desperate Russians fled to the post-Brest German-occupied area, the Germans instantly delivered them to the Soviets, keeping punctilious Teutonic records of all the 40,000 poor souls, some of whom were summarily shot right in front of the impassive German officers.
Thus it wasn’t only German gold, but also German bayonets that propped up Lenin’s regime, and this is a true and amply documented story. The Soviets naturally denied it, but that became difficult after the Allies captured the German archives in 1945.
One would think it would be hard for Merridale to spin the story out of her narrative, and she doesn’t. But the old technique of striking a note comes in handy.
She claims that most of the German archives had been destroyed. That’s true, but enough survived to nail Lenin to the wall, including the above quote by von Kühlmann, which Merridale cites without comment.
The first relevant note is struck on Page 11, when she mentions “Parvus, the enigmatic go between who handled some of Lenin’s German funds”. She then proceeds to describe the Hanecki operation, explaining how the German millions were laundered and converted into the revolutionary fighting fund.
Then, using the familiar trick, she leaves the story until Page 241, hoping that by now most readers will have forgotten. The new twist comes from the Provisional Government’s order to arrest Lenin for being a German spy in receipt of vast sums from Russia’s war enemy.
However, Merridale disavows such heinous accusations out of hand: “The only awkward detail was that no one had a shred of proof.” Never mind what she herself wrote 230 pages earlier. And never mind the 20 volumes of proof she herself mentions in the next breath. All fabricated, was it, dear?
Merridale then shortens the distance between statement and self-refutation. On Page 254 she writes: “…the import-export company for which [Hanecki] worked was owned by Parvus and Sklarz, both known to be German agents.”
However, “Exactly how that cash flowed east remains a matter for speculation. It’s entirely reasonable to suppose that some of Parvus’s German millions reached Lenin’s fighting funds.”
Thanks for the “entirely reasonable to suppose”. But she herself showed earlier exactly “how that cash flowed east”, obviating any need for speculation. And the sentence above leaves the German interest in no doubt.
By now any unsophisticated reader is thoroughly confused. Did Lenin or did he not take German money? Merridale comes down on both sides of the fence, and I hope that didn’t cause any lasting gynaecological damage.
Speaking from the side of the fence where she’s most comfortable, she writes: “Instead of trusting the masses with the truth about his German funds, Lenin opted to lecture them. Instead of confiding in them, he lied.”
Yet there I was, thinking there wasn’t “a shred of proof” for any such transactions. So what did Lenin lie about? (She doesn’t cite the exact lie: “Everybody knows that Parvus had business dealings with Hanecki, but we had none.”)
And so it goes. I hope you realise that I haven’t written this atypically long piece because I’m preoccupied with Merridale and her mendacious but rather entertaining book.
I’ve just used it as an illustration to the subtle exoneration of Lenin that gradually leads even intelligent people to give him a free ride, in addition to the one he got on the train provided by the German General Staff.
By striking her discordant notes, Merridale plays the old tune of an idealist forced by circumstances to do some unsavoury things. Eventually the din becomes so deafening, that the true nature of one of history’s most evil men can no longer be discerned.