Order, word order!

A writer owes a debt to his readers, and they are within their rights to demand repayment.

Paris, circa 2019

The readers agree to offer the writer their time and, in some cases, mental effort. But this is a loan, not a gift.

To repay it, the writer undertakes to offer his readers something worth their time and, in some cases, mental effort. The loan is made up of the principal and accrued interest.

These days, most readers are generous enough, or perhaps realistic enough, to forgo the interest: elegance, verve, refined style, wit, erudition, depth.

But they still must demand a prompt repayment of the principal: lucid, comprehensible communication.

A reader may at times have to make an effort to grasp a complex idea, but he shouldn’t have to make any effort at all trying to force his way through the thicket of turgid, involute style, bad grammar and careless word order.

In other words, a writer is allowed to make his readers stop and think because of what he writes, but not because of how he writes it. If that’s what he does, he’s in default.

In that vein, earlier today I felt cheated by this headline in a daily paper: “Holocaust survivor reveals how the French held thousands of doomed Jews in Paris prison camp and followed Nazi orders with ‘chilling efficiency’ on the 75th anniversary of its liberation.”

I knew that the French, like our own Labour Party, may incline to anti-Semitism, but the headline still gave me a start. For that anniversary is just about now. So, just about now, the French are still running a prison camp in Paris, in which they hold thousands of doomed Jews on Nazi orders.

Fine, some writers do derive the EU’s genealogy from the Third Reich, but surely it’s outrageous to suppose that, 75 years after the liberation of Paris, the French are still following Nazi diktats. I’ve heard of EU tyranny, but this is just too much to absorb.

The two paragraphs above are written in jest. The headline in question actually testifies not to French monstrosity, but to English illiteracy: to make the headline unequivocal, the phrase “on the 75th anniversary of Paris liberation” should have come either at the beginning of the sentence or else after the verb “reveals”.

It took me a few seconds to figure this out, but these were the few seconds I, the reader, shouldn’t have been expected to waste trying to decipher the sentence. The writer cheated me of my time – his loan is thereby foreclosed, and he’s declared professionally bankrupt.

Also, that and another paper used “on his behalf” when they meant “on his part” twice in the same issue. Chaps, when a mistake is made on a person’s behalf, he isn’t to blame, at least not wholly. When it’s a mistake on his part, he is – it’s his own bloody fault.

If you don’t know the difference, you should really look for a different line of work – writing for a living isn’t for you. The same goes for those who use ‘infer’ to mean ‘imply’.

‘Imply’ is what you put in; ‘infer’ is what somebody else takes out. Thus I’ve implied throughout this piece that basic standards of literacy are no longer enforced at our mainstream papers, while you may or may not infer that this is a symptom of a general cultural malaise.

Reasonably clear, isn’t it? Not to some hacks, by the looks of it.

Oh well, I could go on and on, but I can’t wait to get back to my volume of Chesterton’s articles and essays – just to remind myself what a splendid tool English can be, when wielded by a masterly hand.

By the way, confusion between ‘masterly’ and ‘masterful’ is another bugbear of mine, mainly because the former word is regrettably disappearing. That proves yet again that modern vandalism in language and elsewhere is reductive.

Just for the benefit of those professional hacks: ‘masterly’ and ‘masterful’ are cognates but not synonyms. The former means virtuosically skilful; the latter, imperious. And writers who don’t know the difference are neither.

Russia as an ideology

The other day I watched a Russian-language documentary about the British historian Nikolai Tolstoy, Russkiy graf iz angliskoi glubinki (Russian Count from English Backwater).

Russia isn’t just birch trees, golden domes and embroidered shirts

Tolstoy has written a number of interesting and informative works. But he became famous after the publication of his books The Victims of Yalta (1977) and The Minister and the Massacres (1986).

There he dealt with one of the most shameful betrayals in British history: the forced handover to Stalin of hundreds of thousands of Soviets held in POW camps – and thousands of Cossacks who had never even been Soviet citizens.

The handover, handled with ruthless perfidy, violated not only the Geneva Accords but even the Yalta Treaty – in their haste to mollycoddle Stalin, the British delivered more than he had demanded.

In The Minister and the Massacres, Tolstoy actually named those directly responsible for that monstrosity. One of them, Lord Aldington, sued for defamation.

The British establishment closed ranks behind him, some key documents miraculously disappeared from the archives, and Aldington won his suit. He was awarded £2 million in damages and legal costs, driving Tolstoy into bankruptcy.

My sympathies were and still are with Tolstoy. But the documentary, most of it a running interview, depleted much of the goodwill capital his books had built.

For Tolstoy came across as an ideological Russian chauvinist – possibly because his claim to being any other kind of Russian is less than ironclad. The count was born in England to a Russian father and English mother, and his stepfather was the novelist Patrick O’Brien.

Educated at Wellington College, Sandhurst and Trinity College, Dublin, he speaks his mother tongue, English, in perfect upper-class cadences. As to his ideological tongue, Russian, he hardly speaks it at all, beyond a few heavily accented words.

Still, a man is entitled to consider himself anything he pleases. The heart’s genetic memory reinforced by cultural inclinations may trump linguistic deficiencies and the accident of birth.

However, Count Tolstoy’s heart has led him not only to a Russian identity, but also to Russian jingoism, of the kind that defies reason, morality and – lamentable in such a good historian – even elementary education.

The British, complained Tolstoy, have always treated Russia as a backward country, “a land of tyrants and slaves”. Actually, this last phrase comes almost verbatim from a poem by the Russian poet Lermontov (“Farewell to thee, my squalid Russia, a land of masters, land of slaves…”).

So it wasn’t just the dastardly English who noticed the traditional Russian dichotomy of tyrants and slaves – in fact, the list of such perceptive individuals in Russia herself is endless, and it even includes some of Count Tolstoy’s illustrious ancestors.

It takes a woeful misreading of history not to see that the notion of sovereign individuals is alien to the Russians. Power in the country (vlast’, which is a cognate of the English weal) has always been monocentric, concentrated in the hands of tsar, emperor, general secretary or president.

The parallel centres of power that have always, if at times intermittently, existed in the West, such as aristocracy, councils of elders, church, people’s assemblies, have in Russia always been epiphenomenal extensions of the Weal. That’s why the English enjoyed in the thirteenth century many of the liberties the Russians still don’t possess in the twenty-first.

In any case, it wasn’t because of their supercilious attitude to the Russians that the British committed the crime that Count Tolstoy correctly regards as such, the forced repatriation of people seeking freedom.

But, said Tolstoy, the West is still looking down on the Russians. After they got rid of communism, the West still commits aggression against Russia: the Ukraine is being drawn into NATO, Western soldiers are stationed in the Baltics, missiles are based in Poland – all because Russia is regarded as backward.

At this point, we enter the realm of madness caused by maniacal chauvinism. The West, sir, takes precautions against Russia not because it’s backward, but because it’s dangerous. She has shown willingness to pounce on her neighbours, while keeping the West at bay by nuclear blackmail.

Getting rid of communism also meant getting rid of the communist Soviet empire. The good count touts the former but clearly wishes Russia had kept the latter – one can’t help detecting a logical solecism there.

His chauvinist heart simply can’t accept that the Ukraine and other fiefdoms of the Russian, then Soviet, empire are now sovereign nations. As such, they are free to join NATO, the EU, NAFTA or even, if accepted, the Organisation of African States.

Preventing this exercise of independence by brute force, which is Russia’s wont, shows contempt for international law and common decency.

If Tolstoy could read Russian, he’d know that the official media (all others are suppressed) are spouting nuclear threats against the West in a continuous stream of effluvia.

There are signs that Putin’s kleptofascist gang is preparing to test NATO’s resolve by trying to reconquer the Baltics, all NATO members. Both Putin and Patrushev, his Secretary of the Security Council, issue threats every day, repeating endlessly that a nuclear war is both possible and winnable.

But of course, Putin can do no wrong for the Tolstoys – he’s just the kind of ruler the family cherishes. In fact, the count’s son Dmitri attacked me some time ago for saying about Putin the sort of things I’ve just said. In several idiotically febrile e-mails, he demanded that I go back to Russia (which I left long before he was even born) and fight for its future.

Now, I’m considerably more British than any of the Tolstoy clan are Russian, and Russia’s future interests me only inasmuch as it presents a threat to everything I hold dear. Dmitri (who’s only a quarter-Russian, by the way) and his father feel differently, but one still detects no willingness on their part to settle in their ideological motherland and share its destiny.

But never mind Russia in general, continued Nikolai Tolstoy. Even the Russian peasants were far from being primitive. As proof of their cultural attainment, he held up a shirt beautifully embroidered in the nineteenth century.

I can only put this down to the count’s advanced age, a condition known to cause lachrymose sentimentality. By his chosen criterion, no such thing as a primitive culture exists: even some African tribes with objectionable dietary habits are eminently capable of producing beautiful artefacts.

Russia, boasted Tolstoy, created a great culture, which America, with all her money, has been unable to do. It’s true that during the century in which most of Russia’s great culture was produced, roughly 1820-1920, it was second to none.

Yet the Russian literary language was created by Francophone writers. They transposed into Russian the French lexical and grammatical patterns, much to the amazement of the perceptive writer Prosper Mérimée, who translated Pushkin’s prose into French.

In a letter to Pushkin’s friend Sobolevsky, Mérimée wrote: “I find that Pushkin’s phraseology is completely French… Could it be that you boyars first think in French and then write in Russian?” Well spotted.

Russian culture was created by perhaps one per cent of the population, the thoroughly Westernised elite most of which came from the same social stratum as the Tolstoys. That tiny group produced a sublime sub-set of European culture, and it’s in Europe that their antecedents are to be found.

This isn’t to deny the sui generis genius of Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Levitan, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and many others. It’s just that the presence of such giants in no way protects a country at large from backwardness – nor prevents it from plunging into evil.

Anyway, it’s pointless arguing serious points with the likes of the Tolstoys. Russia to them isn’t a real country in flesh and blood – it’s an idol and, even worse, an ideology. And when ideology speaks, reason is silenced.

Controversy (n): sanity

Radio presenter John Humphrys sparked controversy yesterday by suggesting that perhaps Hitler was on to something, that the idea of guillotining a queen could work in Britain, and that the Labour Party ought to be outlawed.

Girolamo Savonarola, new chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority

Got you going there, didn’t I? Actually, the controversy was caused by something even more heinous: talking about baby care, Mr Humphrys dared suggest that women “by and large do a better job of it than men.”

He could have dug even a deeper hole for himself by insisting that women also do a better job of giving birth and breastfeeding, but the hole he did dig was deep enough.

The subject came up during a Radio 4 discussion of two TV commercials, one for Volkswagen, the other for Philadelphia cheese, both banned for ‘gender stereotyping’. One commercial showed men being hopeless at baby care; the other depicted women being good at it.

The delinquent Mr Humphrys (far from a conservative, by the way) first defended the ads and then showed no repentance: “To whom is it causing harm if you show a woman sitting next to a baby in a pram? Lots of women sit next to babies in prams. How does this sort of advertising harm people?”

If he has to ask, he doesn’t belong in civilised society, as defined by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and all other progressive bodies and individuals. ASA’s Jessica Tye made that abundantly clear.

Such offensive advertising, she explained – as if patently obvious things needed an explanation! – could lead women astray by affecting their aspirations and career choices.

Implicitly, the danger is that women will start bearing children and looking after them, rather than leaving that task to men or, better still, transsexuals, while they themselves seek rewarding careers as fighter pilots or boxers.

Following a groundswell of indignation at the grassroots, ASA simply had to ban those affronts to humanity. Or perhaps ‘groundswell’ is not only a cliché but also an exaggeration.

All in all, just one person objected to the cheese ad, and a whopping three to the Volkswagen one. But, as I never tire of pointing out, numbers shouldn’t affect a principle.

However, they could perhaps elucidate the principle, as they do in this case. The insanity pandemic infecting our society spreads from top to bottom, not from bottom to top; it’s institutional, not individual.

ASA pulled the commercials after just four cretins found them controversial – out of millions of viewers. Thereby that watchdog caused commercial damage to the advertisers, along with their various agencies and TV stations, but they have only themselves to blame.

The juggernaut of modernity rolls on, and one can’t get into its wheel spokes without getting crushed. All we can do is await new developments with trepidation.

Or else, even better, propose them. In that vein, I think the Arts Council should take a good, long look at all those Virgin and Child paintings befouling our museums. If that’s not gender stereotyping, I don’t know what is.

Such offensive canvases ought to be expurgated and, ideally, burned in a new, progressive Bonfire of the Vanities. Girolamo Savonarola, call your office.

A bad premise can make anyone go wrong

There’s a story that makes me think of aspiring philosophers. A young man, lost in the countryside, asks a crusty old local how to reach his destination. “If you want to get there,” says the man, “I wouldn’t start from here.”

Post-Enlightenment modernity isn’t just about antibiotics and I-Phones

Like that youngster, a philosopher travels the road to a destination, truth. Sometimes he runs, sometimes he walks, sometimes he crawls – and his chances of getting where he’s going may be better or worse. But they’ll be non-existent if he doesn’t get on that road at all.

This line of thought is inspired by the obituaries for Prof. Agnes Heller, describing her as a remarkable woman and a significant philosopher. Well, one out of two isn’t bad.

A Holocaust survivor whom neither the Nazis nor the communists in her native Hungary could break, and who lived to 90, remaining active until the last moment, indeed has to be an amazing person.

Such people are rare, but real philosophers are rarer still, and it takes more than a lifelong study to be one. More even than teaching the subject and writing the usual quota of books, although these seem to be sufficient qualifications nowadays.

A real philosopher finds the road to truth and signposts it for others. To do so, he has to start from the right place.

Prof. Heller’s formative influences are listed as Marx, Lukács, Freud and Hegel. The poor woman never had a chance: with mentors like those, she was lost before she left.

Her confusion is evident from the task she set for herself: “I promised myself to solve the dirty secret of the 20th century, the secret of the unheard-of mass murders, of several million corpses ‘produced’ by genocides, by the Holocaust, and all of them in times of modern humanism and enlightenment.”

Just to think she was so close to the perfect starting point and yet missed it by a mile. All she had to do was replace the words “in times” at the end of her sentence with the word ‘because’. Then suddenly she would have seen the road sign TRUTH THIS WAY.

According to one obituary, Prof. Heller started “from the view that modernity is founded on freedom.” It may be or may not be. But in either case, freedom isn’t an absolute – when it comes up, one is within one’s rights to ask a few probing questions, such as ‘freedom for whom, from what, from whom and to do what?’

For example, freedom from political oppression is desirable, but freedom from just laws isn’t. Freedom for thinkers is essential, but freedom for criminals is in itself criminal. Freedom from evil prejudices is creative, freedom from good ones is destructive. Freedom from biases may or may not be clever, but freedom from presuppositions is always dumb – and so forth.

Since Prof. Heller clearly equated Enlightenment humanism with freedom, one wonders how she would have fielded such subversive questions. Not very convincingly, is my guess.

She didn’t realise that the principal desiderata of the ‘Enlightenment’ were destructive.

Ostensibly les philosophes and their students targeted l’Ancien Régime, but in fact they set out to annihilate ancien everything: religion, metaphysical (which is to say real) philosophy, sound political thought, social structures and conventions, morality, law, understanding of man’s nature and his place in this world, the very concept of reality.

In that undertaking they succeeded famously. Where they, along with their heirs, failed miserably is in the attempt to build a solid replacement structure on the ruins. They placed man in the spot hitherto occupied by God, at the centre of the universe. As a result, man’s head first swelled and then imploded.

To replace God, even in secular life, man had to be godlike: perfect and sinless, only made imperfect and sinful by the dastardly ancien everything (see above). Remove those offensive obstacles, and Rousseau’s view of man perfect in his primordial beauty would be vindicated.

Man was no longer fallen and therefore fallible. He was both perfect and, tautologically, perfectible.

But Rousseau’s view was a gross and, more important, demonstrable fallacy. The demonstration came from all those things that vexed Prof. Heller so: “several million corpses ‘produced’ by genocides, by the Holocaust”.

The ‘Enlightenment’ empowered man to be the sole judge of his actions; it dispensed with the arbitrage of a supreme authority infinitely higher than man. Fair enough, some people can indeed be trusted to be both players and referees. But they are in an infinitesimal minority – most can’t navigate their way through life without a guiding hand.

Prof. Heller endured much suffering from fascism and communism, but she failed to notice their genealogy. Yet neither of them had existed before the ‘Enlightenment’, and this isn’t a case of post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

The Enlightenment removed the adhesive bond of “neither Jew, nor Greek” universalism, thereby encouraging divisiveness. And it warped serious thought by divesting it of teleological striving for the absolute. Man’s thought no longer followed a brightly lit road; it began to meander in the dark.

Thereby the ‘Enlightenment’ opened the sluice gates in the stream of unbounded evil, while shutting off all the intellectual byways. Man lost the ability both to sense evil and to think it through.

In due course, humanist modernity bifurcated into two strains: predominately philistine and predominantly nihilist. Since both are materialist and at the same time equally hostile to the world hated by the ‘Enlightenment’, ‘predominantly’ is the key word: the philistines are possessed of some nihilist animus, and vice versa.

The philistines have replaced real love with love of material possessions; the nihilists replaced it with hatred. But the important thing is that both have replaced it.

In that undertaking they join forces, although the nihilists’ contribution is more immediately obvious: red is a more visible colour than grey.

A real philosopher deals with first causes and last things. As a by-product, that enables him to understand derivative causes and quotidian things – such as in this case the carnage perpetrated by post-‘Enlightenment’ modernity.

Where others see an accidental deviation, he sees causation; where others see isolated events, he sees the links in the chain binding them all. Prof. Heller wasn’t such a philosopher – but she was a remarkable woman nonetheless. RIP.

Joe Biden reveals hidden depths

The leading Democratic contender to unseat Donald Trump isn’t known as a phrase maker, although his reputation as a phrase borrower is second to none.

“As I once said, you’ll know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Mr Biden has been mocked for plagiarising other politicians and especially for choosing the wrong politicians to plagiarise, such as Neil Kinnock. I myself had some fun at Mr Biden’s expense a few days ago, which I now wholeheartedly regret.

For, belying his reputation, Mr Biden has come up with an epigrammatic insight of rare depth. He displayed an ability only the great thinkers possess: that of encapsulating a complex phenomenon in a poignant, penetrating aphorism.

I’m man enough to admit that he made me ashamed of my own prolixity. While I had to write several books trying to come to grips with the nature of post-Enlightenment modernity, Mr Biden managed to do so in one spiffy phrase.

Campaigning in Iowa, Mr Biden eschewed the apophatic trick of defining his liberalism (in the modern, American sense) simply by what it isn’t. Instead, he boldly came out and stated what it actually is:

“We got to let him [Trump] know who we are. We choose unity over division. We choose science over fiction. WE CHOOSE TRUTH OVER FACTS.”

I emphasised the last sentence out of sheer admiration for its brilliance. Seldom – possibly never – has such an exhaustive insight been expressed in just five words. (If you don’t believe it possible, see for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15RjcRJ3Z70)

Just ponder the implications. First, truth has nothing to do with facts. Second, in case of conflict, truth has precedence over facts. Third, Mr Biden hints at possessing the answer to the question once posed by Pontius Pilate: “What is truth?” (John 18: 38)

All three components elucidate expodentially, to use one of Mr Biden’s own creative neologisms, the very nature of modernity.

For modernity treats facts as the trees for which one can’t see the wood of virtual reality, which alone is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Now, throughout his distinguished career Mr Biden has drawn inspiration from other politicians, which is a sign of a humble and quietly confident man. Typically, his role models come from the left reaches of what I call the philistine end of modern politics.

Hence he can’t be accused of borrowing from Joseph Stalin, the epitome of what I call the nihilist end, and any coincidence between his thoughts and Stalin’s has to be purely coincidental. But that isn’t to deny that a coincidence exists.

In 1932, at the height of yet another murderous famine, Stalin turned his mind to literature. Displaying a genius prefiguring Joe Biden, his namesake Uncle Joe laid down the doctrine of ‘socialist realism’.

Its essence was that the sole function of literature was to reflect the current line in party propaganda. Everything else (style, character development, structure, imagery, psychological depth and credibility) was strictly optional and only allowable inasmuch as it didn’t contradict the ‘general line’.

As an example of new art in action, while millions starved to death in the Ukraine and cannibalism was rife, a socialist realist poem of the time boasted that “our Ukraine is hard to beat, there’s things to drink and things to eat.”

However, some writers were slow to grasp the nature of socialist realism. They begged the Great Leader to provide guidance in a personal meeting, and he magnanimously agreed.

“What is socialist realism?” asked the top writers admitted into the inner sanctum. “Write the truth,” explained Stalin. “That’s what socialist realism is all about.”

Since in those early days it was still possible to express mild misgivings and live to tell the tale, someone quoted John Adams’s saying about facts being stubborn things. “Well,” frowned the Great Leader, “if facts are stubborn things, then so much the worse for facts.”

That was the first attempt to define truth as discrete from facts, yet it took another 87 years and Joe Biden to put this staggering discovery into a nutshell. Being a sublime metaphysical concept, truth soars above the crude physicality of facts.

To Mr Biden’s credit, he provided an instant illustration to this philosophical postulate by warning that another eight years of Trump’s presidency would change America beyond recognition.

That’s the ultimate, metaphysical truth – even though the constitutional fact is that, even if Trump wins the 2020 election, he only has five, not eight, more years in the White House.

The list of truths negating facts is long, and it comprises every cherished belief of modernity. I can offer a brief random sample, in the certainty that you can easily expand it no end.

Truth: Unlimited democracy elevates to government those fit to govern. Fact: It demonstrably doesn’t.

Truth: The composition of a government must reflect the demographic makeup of the population. Fact: Ability to govern is relevant; race and sex aren’t.  

Truth: To relieve poverty, the state is justified to redistribute wealth. Fact: High taxation rates make more people poor.

Truth: A nation’s sovereignty isn’t compromised by being vested in a foreign body. Fact: It’s not so much compromised as destroyed.

Truth: It’s only because of racial discrimination that most prison inmates come from ethnic minorities. Fact: They commit more crimes.

And so on, ad infinitum. You see how a tersely worded aphorism can unshackle one’s imagination?

Some may argue that Mr Biden came up with his insight inadvertently, that he didn’t know what he was saying. My reply to those sceptics is a resounding ‘so what’.

Think of Archimedes in his bath, Newton and his apple, Mendeleyev and his dream – many great men stumbled on truth seemingly by accident. That diminishes neither them nor their discoveries. And now we can mention Joe Biden side by side with those intellectual giants.   

Aren’t Americans lucky to have him as a possible future president.

Now let’s plug in 10 million cars

Regrettably, Britain stayed in the dark both about and on my birthday.

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind… Or perhaps not.

That the country was ignorant of so momentous an event is understandable. That more than a million Britons were plunged into darkness by a National Grid failure is worrying.

Boris Johnson has ordered an investigation into the power outages, and until it has been completed one shouldn’t venture too many guesses.

However, troglodytes who love to find fault with renewable energy will gloat because the blackout was made worse by Hornsea Wind Farm cutting off from the grid.

Yet this will in no way dampen my enthusiasm for saving the planet (aka the Earth) from global warming. We’re in the midst of this cataclysm, caused by aerosol sprays, hydrocarbons and Margaret Thatcher.

The goal of saving the planet is so noble that I’m prepared to freeze in the dark if that would help. However, some people don’t share my selfless commitment to this cause. They bitch about their lives being disrupted, as if spending a few pleasant hours stranded in traffic jams or on tube trains has ever hurt anybody.

They forget that it’s largely because of their selfishness that National Grid failed in the first place. Those egoists don’t think twice about the consequences of their actions.

They callously turn on their chandeliers at mealtimes, ignoring the romantic appeal of a candlelit supper. They sybaritically take public transport to work, even though they could score a double whammy by walking.

The exercise they’d get by a brisk 10-mile walk would improve their health and reduce pressure on the NHS, whereas National Grid wouldn’t have to overstrain its every sinew wheeling them around.

And as to people who drive to work, or for that matter anywhere else, don’t get me started on this. Leeches! Hedonists! Global warming deniers! Criminals! Sorry, I can’t remain dispassionate when this subject comes up.

Oh well, until our next government criminalises self-interest, I suppose cars will be with us for a while. However, in common with all other planet-savers, I look forward to the time when all our cars will be electric.

This is what our government wants, and whatever our government wants has to be good and just. Especially since that commitment is shared by our high nobility, such as the Duchess of Sussex. So we can confidently look forward to the near future, when all 32.5 million cars in the UK will be replaced by their electric equivalents.

However, playing not so much devil’s advocate as the devil himself, one may mischievously juxtapose this coming bliss with the seams at which National Grid is creaking. This yields a chastening question: where’s the extra energy going to come from?

I don’t know exactly how much more energy will be needed. But, in round numbers, it has to be an awful lot.

Hence, if National Grid is at the end of its tether now, it’ll have to be boosted tremendously to cope with millions of cars recharging their batteries at the same time.

Where will the boost come from? I know it’ll have to come from somewhere because surely our wise government must have considered all the ramifications of its policy.

Let’s see. Nuclear is out because it’s deadly – even though there has never been a single fatal accident at a nuclear power station anywhere in the West. But facts shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with a noble principle and anyway, there’s always a first time.

Coal, oil and gas are the work of the devil because they, along with aerosols and Margaret Thatcher, are responsible for destroying the planet in the first place. So they’re out as well.

That leaves the sun and the wind as the clear winners. Scientists, those who work for neither governments nor the UN and therefore have no vested interest in saving the planet, doubt that those turbines and panels can do the job even if they densely cover every square inch of Britain.

But even those hirelings to capitalists and planet-rapists can’t deny that wind and solar energy is friendly to the environment, making its efficacy a moot and subversive point.

So let’s hear it for electric cars and Elon Musk – they are our near future. Also in our near future is a vastly increased mining of lithium, cobalt, nickel and other rare metals involved in the production of those zillions of car batteries.

Most of the world’s supply of such metals comes from places where the miners are slaves or as near as damn. But we planet-savers are blessed with a sufficiently elastic conscience to look on the bright side: those Congo miners may be digging themselves into a premature grave for a pound a week, but without those cobalt mines they’d die of hunger even sooner.

Then of course there’s the polluting effect of all the extra mining, which makes global warming deniers question the net effect on the planet. Naysayers! Virtue must be impervious to actuarial calculations – it has to do with high morality, not low arithmetic.

However, undeterred by my wrath, those enemies of the planet keep piling on questions. Mercifully, answers are always close at hand.

Q. What happens to those who can’t afford the expensive Elon Musk products? A. Patience. In due course, they’ll become cheaper.

Q. What if some of us can’t afford the £7,000 cost of replacing a car battery? A. Patience. The cost is bound to come down.

Q. What will happen to those tens of millions of discarded batteries full of acid? Won’t disposing of them hurt the environment? A. Patience. Our government will think of something.

So you see, patience is the answer to every doubt, provided one’s heart is in the right place and one’s head isn’t.

Corbyn must learn from Stalin

Now that the possibility of a Marxist in 10 Downing Street is looming large, perhaps we should remind ourselves of the more endearing features of Marxism.

“Call yourself novelists, Mr Barnes and Mr McEwan? Well, I have news for you…”

First, a general point: Marxism tries to force society into the procrustean bed of a contrived political philosophy based on a monstrously fake view of human nature and reality in general.

Both human nature and reality tend to be stubborn: they resist the surgical procedures required to squeeze them into the bed of Procrustes, and they’ll never submit voluntarily.

Hence, for a Marxist government to hold on to power, it has to be totalitarian, meaning using unrestrained coercion to control every aspect of life – with every being the operative word.

Mention totalitarianism to most people, and they’ll have images of concentration camps flashing through their minds. Such images are true to life, and they are perhaps the most horrific pictures ever painted on the canvas of history.

But history isn’t a single canvas; it’s a kaleidoscope with multiple pictures. Thus there’s more, much more to fear from totalitarianism than just its satanic violence.

The first warning was sounded by that great anti-totalitarian in the early days of the Roman Empire: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

That means, in today’s parlance, fear Marxist totalitarians, for if they are unable to destroy the soul, it certainly won’t be for any lack of trying. We all know how they destroy the body, but their other aspiration is sometimes ignored.

Here the experience of people like me, those whose souls were subjected to totalitarian assault and somehow managed to survive, may prove instructive.

Now I was only five when Stalin died, but totalitarianism didn’t die with him. It was going strong when I left Russia 20 years later, and it’s still discernible today.

Let’s forget for a minute the 60 million victims massacred by the Bolsheviks (as if it were possible to forget that). Instead let’s just look at some more vegetarian aspects of totalitarianism, here illustrated by three stories.

The first one goes back to 1957, when I was first forced to study physics at school. Our textbook, produced when Stalin still ruled the roost, taught that nuclear physics was a “bourgeois science” and “the atom is the smallest and further indivisible particle of matter”.

Though my interest in natural science was tepid at best, even I knew that wasn’t so. Rutherford split the atom in 1932, and his discovery had been put to good use in Japan 12 years before my teachers were insisting that the atom was indivisible – but I did tell you that Marxism is all about fake reality.

Two other stories didn’t involve me directly, but their indirect impact was huge. For Comrade Stalin, along with other comrades both before and after him, took a hands-on interest in things that more or less circumscribed my life: art, history, literature, linguistics, philosophy.

Not so long ago I read a volume of correspondence between Stalin and his second-in-command within the Party, Kaganovich. The letters were exchanged in 1934-1936, a time when millions were starving as the country was feverishly preparing for war. Yet I was amazed to find that the two leaders devoted perhaps a third of their epistolary space to the arts, particularly theatre.

Knowing this, you won’t be unduly surprised by these two stories.

The first one involves the celebrated basso Mark Reizen, the Bolshoi star and a permanent fixture at Kremlin concerts, whose programmes were endorsed, and often dictated, by Stalin personally.

During Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaign against “rootless cosmopolitans” in 1948-1953, many of those Jews who weren’t executed or imprisoned were summarily purged from their jobs, which fate, unbeknown to Stalin, also befell his favourite singer, Reizen.

A few days after he was sacked by order of Kharchenko, Chairman of the Committee for the Arts, Reizen received a phone call from Poskrebyshev, Stalin’s secretary, inviting him to perform at the Kremlin that evening.

“I can’t,” replied the singer. “Why on earth not?” wondered Poskrebyshev. “Because Kharchenko fired me.”

Poskrebyshev swore and asked Reizen to wait by the telephone for a few minutes. He then rang back to tell the singer that Comrade Stalin would like to see him in the Kremlin, and a car would pick him up in an hour.

When Reizen walked into Stalin’s study, Kharchenko was already there, ashen and sweaty.

“Who’s this?” Stalin asked him in his heavy Georgian accent, pointing at the singer. “This is Mark Reizen,” replied Kharchenko, trembling.

“Wrong,” frowned Stalin. “This is Mark Osipovich Reizen, People’s Artist of the Soviet Union, Laureate of the Stalin Prize and soloist of the Bolshoi Theatre. Repeat.”

Kharchenko made a heroic effort to get the words out: “This is Mark Osipovich Reizen, People’s Artist of the Soviet Union, Laureate of the Stalin Prize and soloist of the Bolshoi Theatre.”

“Correct,” nodded Stalin. “And who are you?”

“I’m Kharchenko, Chairman of the Committee for the Arts.”

“Wrong,” said Stalin. “You’re shit. Repeat.” “I’m shit,” shouted Kharchenko with alacrity.

“Correct,” agreed Stalin, pointing at Reizen again. “And who’s this? Repeat.” “This is Mark Osipovich Reizen, People’s Artist… [and so on],” mumbled Kharchenko, looking at Stalin but seeing barbed wire.

“Correct,” said his tormentor. “And who are you? Repeat.” “I’m shit.” This time Kharchenko made no mistake.

“Correct,” said Stalin again. “You can go.” When Kharchenko staggered out, the Great Leader said to Reizen: “Mark Osipovich, I look forward to your performance tonight.” Like Göring, Stalin reserved the right to decide who was and who wasn’t Jewish.

Another story involved similar vocabulary, but a different art: literature.

In 1946, Alexander Fadeyev, Chairman of the Writers’ Union, published a novel The Young Guard about the wartime Komsomol underground in the city of Krasnodon. Having read the novel, Stalin was unhappy: the role of the Communist Party didn’t come across vividly enough.

He summoned Fadeyev to the Kremlin and asked his lapidary question: “Who are you?” “I’m the writer Fadeyev.”

“Wrong,” said Stalin. “Chekhov, now that was a writer. And you’re shit.” He then ordered that the novel, that had already sold hundreds of thousands of copies, be rewritten.

From what I’ve heard, Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell don’t quite share their fellow Marxist’s keen interest in art. But, if they find themselves running the country, they should learn fast: Marxists can’t afford to leave any turn unstoned.

Men who get pregnant are women

In 1970, Charlie Saatchi (of Nigella Lawson fame) produced a powerful ad for the Family Planning Association. The power derived from the shock value of an impossible situation.

The Pregnant Man ad won many first prizes, but today it wouldn’t merit a second look. Reality outpaces not only satire but also, on this evidence, advertising. A man getting pregnant? So what? No big deal.

To date, 228 transsexual ‘men’ have given birth, which brings into focus such disciplines as physiology, biology, philosophy, sociology, jurisprudence and – most interesting to me – lexicology.

One is forced to reconsider the meaning of not only ‘man’, ‘woman’, but also of ‘transsexual’ (I don’t use ‘transgender’ on principle). Starting from the end, ‘transsexual’ used to designate a person who underwent certain surgical operations and hormonal treatments.

I’m in sympathy with the view that one’s sex is determined by a set of chromosomes only. Thus a man can’t become a woman and a woman can’t become a man, although either can become a freaky sideshow.

But leaving aside this impregnable argument, as it were, the wrong body in which the unfortunate individual was trapped could for many years be replaced with the right one by following the procedures I’ve outlined so sketchily.

That’s the general concept. But modernity can always be relied upon to come up with embellishments. Hence, according to Dr Lauren Rosewarne of the University of Melbourne, someone who is biologically female can become male even without surgery.

“They may not have necessarily had an operation, but they now identify as male,” she explained.

Let me see if I’ve got this right. A woman can keep all her primary and secondary sexual characteristics, use them the way they were designed to be used, and still be considered a man simply because she says so.

In that case, one would think that neither ‘man’ nor ‘woman’ has any definable meaning whatever, other than the perfectly arbitrary one anyone wishes to assign to it. This constitutes a trailblazing breakthrough in linguistics: words can mean whatever we want them to mean.

Thus a chap can be allowed to carry a pistol through an airport scanner because, as far as he’s concerned, it’s a pencil. A driver can beat a speeding fine because his car is to him actually a dog he was taking walkies. A man can insist there’s nothing wrong with squeezing a canary into his Bloody Mary because the bird is actually a lemon.

Some may think that such linguistic latitude makes discourse impossible, for who can guarantee that both parties agree that a canary is actually a lemon or a Ford is in reality a dachshund?

Dr Rosewarne proved to be as alert to that possibility as she was undaunted by it. When queried on the meaning of masculinity, she said: “Masculinity means different things to different people… It’s not just about what bits you have.”

For once I have to agree. For example, Jake Barnes, a character in Hemingway’s book The Sun Also Rises, lost his ‘bits’ to a war wound. That, however, didn’t turn him into a woman: he remained a man, but one without his ‘bits’ – and we must thank the Aussie academic for using such a precise medical term.

It’s also true that, like atoms with a high valence, words may have many different meanings, some of them mutually exclusive. (If you’re in the market for recondite terminology, linguists refer to the sum total of a word’s meanings as its ‘paradigm’.)

For example, ‘liberal’ used to designate an advocate of a small state incapable of infringing on personal liberties, such as freedom of speech. The way it’s used now, the word means its exact opposite: a proponent of an almighty state eager and able to silence every proponent of personal liberties, such as freedom of speech.

Therein lies the problem: when the valence is too high, words get to mean so much as to mean nothing. That’s precisely what will happen to ‘man’ and ‘woman’ if they lose their strict chromosomal definition: XY, you’re a man; XX, you’re a woman.

Being a simple chap, I like to keep things simple. A woman can call herself a man or anything else she wishes, including, say, a dachshund, a gazelle or a hummingbird. But if she gets pregnant, she’s nothing but the female of the Homo sapiens species.

If she calls herself anything else, she’s still both a female and a Homo, but she’s definitely not sapient. And neither is anyone who, like Dr Rosewarne, has set out to make the world even madder than it already is.

Exactly how, Mr Khan?

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has tweeted a message I struggle to understand offhand: “African cultures have shaped London into the vibrant city it is today.”

All those dull Elizabethans, Shakespeare, Jonson, Sidney, Byrd, Gibbons. Call that cultural vibrancy?”

I’m convinced that a man occupying such an important post would never utter an unfounded statement. And, as a multiculturalist of lifelong standing, I sincerely hope Mr Khan is right.

Hence, if queried, he’ll doubtless be able to produce ample support for his assertion. My point is that such support is necessary because some naysayers, especially those whose commitment to multiculturalism is less robust than mine, may question Mr Khan’s veracity.

Especially pedantic reactionaries might even argue that the mayor’s statement is more correct politically than factually.

There are also a couple of semantic points worth pondering. First, the underlying assumption seems to be that vibrancy is an invariably desirable characteristic.

But is it really? The public at a football match is considerably more vibrant than at a classical concert, but the latter group is less likely to have a mass brawl after – or perhaps even during – the proceedings.

Closer to the business at hand, the annual Notting Hill carnival is hard to beat for vibrancy, yet last year it featured a stabbing and 30 assaults on police. De gustibus… and all that, but on balance some people may feel that vibrancy just may have its downside.

Then there’s the implicit suggestion that, before a massive influx of people from Africa and the West Indies, London had been a stagnant cultural backwater with no vibrancy whatsoever. Multiculturalists like me will welcome this notion, but they’d have a hard time finding historical proof for it.

Quite the contrary, London has been one of the world’s cultural centres for centuries, with magnetic attraction for outlanders like Holbein, Rubens, Van Dyck, Handel, Haydn and Mozart (who was stopped from emigrating to London only by his untimely death).

And when in the 1960s the word ‘culture’ acquired – laudably! – a broader meaning than in those staid times, the city got to be known as ‘Swinging London’, not ‘Sleepy London’.

Yet one struggles to recall a black, much less specifically African, input to that development that can even remotely match Carnaby Street, mods and rockers, the miniskirt, Twiggy, the King’s Road, Jean Shrimpton, the Rolling Stones and other rather monochromatic icons.

There were black singers like Shirley Bassey and Cleo Laine, but only a Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon would regard those gifted British women as culturally African. Miss Laine did sing much jazz, but she was no more African than her husband and co-performer John Dankworth.

I’ve now lived in London for 31 years, yet other than once being driven out of a West Indian restaurant by its deafening reggae din, I don’t recall ever coming in contact with any African culture, even, as in that case, at one remove.

One man’s experience is always limited, but one’s power of observation and ability to absorb statistical data are less so. Activating those faculties, and sharing information with friends and acquaintances, I can’t detect any noticeable African component in London’s cultural life.

This saddens me no end, for every political instinct in my soul screams that it can’t, shouldn’t be so.

I’m even more upset by the demographic breakdown of crime statistics. But before we plunge into those, I must state emphatically and almost hysterically that race has nothing to do with a propensity to commit crimes.

As a multiculturalist of lifelong standing, I’m convinced that black people are disproportionately represented in crime statistics not because of any failing on their part, but because of racial discrimination, poverty that’s no fault of their own, Tory austerity in general and Margaret Thatcher in particular.

It’s with this understanding and a heavy heart that one finds out that, according to the latest data available, though blacks make up just over 13 per cent of London’s population, they account for most men accused of violent crimes.

According to the Metropolitan Police Service, blacks represent 54 per cent of those accused of mugging; for robbery, that proportion stands at 58 per cent; and for gun crimes, 67 per cent.

I’m sure that this isn’t the cultural vibrancy Mr Sadiq Khan had in mind, but there’s no denying its high amplitude.

Then of course there’s also the most unfortunate olfactory aspect: it’s mostly heavily ethnic areas of London that display graphic signs banning public defecation and urination. The need for such signage in the King’s Road or even Carnaby Street apparently hasn’t yet arrived.

This is simply an observation, for which I’m sure there must be a perfectly innocuous explanation. But it’s off the topic, for bodily functions tend to be rather static and with little potential for vibrancy.

In fact, everything I’ve written here is either a personal observation or an implicit request for our mayor to clarify his point by answering the question in the title.

Otherwise, even I, the founder, chairman and so far the only member of the Charles Martel Society for Multiculturalism, can get terribly confused.

Bums on pews and how not to get them

As a Christian non-golfer, I’m happy to announce great news for non-Christian golfers: the nave of Rochester Cathedral is being converted into a nine-hole golf course.

“And have you forgotten your clubs, my son?”

The likely outcome of this pioneering effort is that lovers of the game will deepen their affection for golf, while developing none for Christ’s message to the world.

This is all especially galling because Rochester Cathedral is one of the oldest and most important seats of English Christianity. St Augustine himself founded it in 604, and over the centuries the cathedral has boasted a long list of great bishops and martyrs.

The Catholic St John Fisher was martyred by the Protestants during the Reformation, while the Protestant Nicholas Ridley was then martyred by the Catholics during the Marian Counter-Reformation.

And some 10 years ago, Michael Nazir-Ali, the 106th Bishop of Rochester (who kindly wrote a flattering preface to one of my books), resigned his seat to do what he can for the persecuted Christians in his native Pakistan.

Prostituting any church is an outrage; doing so to a site as venerable as Rochester Cathedral is a crime. This cheap, blasphemous gimmick isn’t going to fill the pews, even if it may fill the golf course.

As part of the secular crusade, each hole will be decorated with a model of a different type of bridge, which according to those chaps will serve a dual purpose, both educational and symbolic.

Andrew Freeman, from the Rochester Bridge Trust, says: “The idea behind the course is to try and encourage young people and families to come into such a beautiful place to learn about the structures of different bridges.”

And, presumably, to work on their swing at the same time. Worthy ends, both, but it’s not a cathedral’s core function to act as either a golf club or a school of architecture. But silly me, I didn’t grasp the implied symbolism.

Cathedral spokesmen have corrected this failure of perception: visitors will learn how to build “both emotional and physical bridges”. Much as I deplore my own lack of sensitivity to subliminal messages, somehow I doubt many golfers will think about emotional bridges when teeing off.

But the Rev Rachel Phillips, canon at Rochester, disagrees: “We hope that, while playing adventure golf, visitors will reflect on the bridges that need to be built in their own lives and in our world today.”

Quite. Alternatively, they may associate golf links with links between them and God. Or associate an eagle with the bird symbolising the Holy Spirit. Or think of getting closer to Jesus when hitting an approach shot.

The Rev Rachel must be a hit at parties that involve playing charades, but she does little to make me reassess my view of female clergy.

I haven’t made any surveys, so I’m sure exceptions must exist, but every female priest I’ve seen is as unfit to serve God as she is to provide the kind of services that, according to Herodotus, women used to offer in Babylonian temples.

Another Rochester canon, Matthew Rushton, invoked a higher authority: “The Archbishop of Canterbury said to us that if you don’t know how to have fun in cathedrals then you’re not doing your job properly.”

I’d say that not doing his job properly is any priest, never mind a prelate, who’s capable of mouthing such vulgarity. Cathedrals aren’t places to have fun, although they can bring joy – a nuance that some clergymen evidently can’t grasp.

Sinking a long putt is fun; feeling the presence of God is joy, which may be further enriched by the beauty and majesty of his bride, the Church. Our churches are empty largely because so many prelates and priests debauch the dignity and splendour of worship, which alone can fill the pews.

People who don’t yet believe are more likely to attend services that raise them conspicuously higher than their everyday life – not those that strain to provide a phoney imitation of it.

Priests can only attract communicants by doing their real job well, not by loosening the strings on a bag of obscene tricks. To do their job well, they must help people to sense a reality that goes far beyond this world – to rise from the transient to the transcendent.

If the end is thus defined, the means will suggest themselves, and they won’t include pop music, raves, golf or priestesses in sexy cassocks.

(This isn’t a flight of mocking fancy: the designer Camelle Daley specialises in sexing up female clerical garb. According to her, the Church of England’s 2,000-odd priestesses have been “complaining about the boxy, shapeless shirts on offer.” She satisfies the holy ladies’ demand by offering “clothes that accommodate the female shape in cut and fit.” Alleluia.)

One just hopes that whoever decides such matters at Rochester Cathedral will curtail his fecund imagination at driving golf balls under miniature bridges. I for one would hate to see that great altar converted to a bar complete with inverted bottles and beer pumps.