How to say democracy doesn’t work without actually saying it

Sacred cows can be milked, but they can’t be slaughtered – such is the pitiful nature of today’s political discourse.

The casino will open on 12 December

One of those bovine creatures is the NHS: one can bemoan its difficulties, lack of funds, shortage of qualified medical staff, overlong waiting times – whatever. But, on pain of hitting the career buffers, one can’t say there’s something wrong with the very idea of socialised medicine.

The NHS thus leaves the domain of serious discussion and enters one of totemistic worship, with reason excommunicated.

That was evident in yesterday’s debate. Every time Corbyn accused Johnson of planning to do awful things to the NHS, the PM reacted the way St Athanasius would have reacted to charges of Arianism.

The same goes for democracy. You can point out all sorts of symptomatic problems, but never the underlying systemic one. Finding anything wrong with the very notion of indiscriminate, unqualified, universal suffrage is strictly off limits.

Daniel Finkelstein illustrates this simple rule in today’s article This Isn’t the Election Politicians Think It Is.

Drawing on statistical data and on the material gathered in the book Democracy for Realists by Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels, Lord Finkelstein proves that most voters vote for spurious reasons. They know little about the candidates, even less about their policies and next to nothing about the issues on which the elections are decided.

For example, only one per cent of the respondents to a current poll have heard of the suppressed Russian report that’s very much in the news. And 42 per cent truthfully admit they haven’t noticed a single election story over the past few days.

Half the respondents have never heard of Shadow Chancellor McDonnell, which means they don’t know this rank communist is the eminence grise of the Labour Party. Only 18 per cent can place Dominic Cummings’s name, and he’s believed to pull Johnson’s strings.

“So,” asks Lord Finkelstein not unreasonably, “if people aren’t following much, what determines election results? Do elections actually hold politicians to account at all?”

No, is the answer to that, if one reads Democracy for Realists, which analyses reams of statistical data. Evidently most people hold contradictory or even mutually exclusive views on many political subjects.

Nor do they know what the politicians’ views on these subjects are. For example, half of German voters didn’t know whether a party called Die Linke was on the left or right. That’s like not knowing whether the Brexit Party supports Leave or Remain: Die Linke means The Left in German.

Here in Britain many people support nationalisation, but oppose Labour policy on this issue because they don’t know nationalisation is Labour policy. Similarly, they are indifferent to Johnson’s promise to increase state spending because they don’t realise this represents a dramatic change of Tory policy.

The book shows, numbers in hand, that policies don’t really affect how people vote. Nor does the government’s record.

“The problem,” writes Lord Finkelstein, “is that voters aren’t very good at working out who to blame when things go wrong or who to credit when they go right”.

And they judge whether things have gone right or wrong almost exclusively on the basis of their income over the past two quarters – not even over the lifetime of the current parliament.

Other factors coming into play have nothing to do with politics at all. For example, a natural disaster, such as the current floods, damages the incumbent, while England’s success in a football tournament benefits him by increasing the ‘feel-good’ factor. 

Another important, practically decisive, factor is the herd instinct: people vote a certain way because that’s how they believe the PLUs (People Like Us) vote now or have voted traditionally.

Since the previous generations of one’s family usually qualify as PLUs, Lord Finkelstein concludes that: “This election could be decided by the extent to which grandparents are left spinning in their graves.”

Yet to me this isn’t the conclusion of the argument, but its starting point. Lord Finkelstein doesn’t seem to be aware of this, but his informative article punches an irreparable hole in what I earlier described as “indiscriminate, unqualified, universal suffrage”.

He shows persuasively that most people cast their votes for utterly frivolous reasons, reducing elections to a roll of the dice. Because a chap hasn’t had a rise in the past six months, and because his Grandpa voted for Harold Wilson, he may vote in a communist (well, Corbyn’s) government without realising that’s what he’s doing.

A few years later he’ll look at the smoking ruins of everything Britain used to be and will perhaps change his vote. That is, provided he realises that the destruction has been caused by certain policies – and, for that matter, assuming he’ll be allowed to vote at all.

Democracy etymologically presupposes self-government, with the demos trusting its most qualified representatives to look after its interests for a few years. But if, as Lord Finkelstein shows so well, the demos is manifestly unqualified to act in that capacity, doesn’t that undermine the whole concept?

His findings tally with both my observations and thoughts on this subject. Unlike me, however, he isn’t prepared to draw the conclusion his facts demand. That’s shoddy, timorous thinking.

Daisy the Sacred Cow is so lovely, and she moos so cutely, that she’s impossible to slaughter. And if a politician or a pundit dares to suggest such a thing, he’ll instantly stop being a politician or a pundit. Lord Finkelstein knows this very well.  

Andrew of York gave battle in vain

For those who played truant when literature and physics were taught, the title implies a parallel with Richard III, the protagonist in both Shakespeare’s play and the mnemonic for the colours of the spectrum.

“The face is mine,” says HRH, “but the hand isn’t.” I believe him.

The parallel doesn’t work on all levels, even though Richard and Andrew were both war heroes. One could resort to feeble puns by suggesting that Andrew’s battle cry was “A whore, my kingdom for a whore!”, but that would be pushing it.

First, the kingdom isn’t Andrew’s to barter away. Second, if his Newsnight interview is anything to go by, he has never had the slightest interest in ladies of easy virtue. Third, I told you it was a bad pun, didn’t I?

One does wonder why HRH decided to do that interview in the first place. He said his aim was to clear the air. Others say it was to lay a smokescreen. They all agree that neither objective was achieved.

And both groups refuse to believe HRH, much to my dismay. What’s there not to believe?

Andrew was friends with Jeffrey Epstein, but that doesn’t mean they had the same predilections. Penelope and I are closer than Andrew and Jeffrey ever were, yet our tastes differ. I like oysters; she doesn’t. I like my white wine cold; she likes it practically at room temperature. I drink vodka with Russian food; she drinks champagne.

Thus, though Jeffrey liked pubescent girls, it’s illogical to insist on Andrew’s guilt by association. Especially when he tells us he never sampled the goods on offer at Epstein’s residences, other than room and board.

HRH stopped talking to Epstein in 2006, which shows laudable prudence. After all, Jeffrey was at the time investigated for having sexually abused 36 underage girls, and Andrew didn’t want to be tarred with the same brush.

Then Jeffrey served a 13-month sentence in prison, and it would have been unseemly for a prince to visit him there just to maintain friendly contacts. So far so good.

When Jeffrey was released, Andrew displayed commendable loyalty by resuming their friendship and his use of Epstein’s townhouse in Manhattan.

Granted, he couldn’t have helped noticing many nubile girls, otherwise known as jailbait, floating through the premises. But, as he truthfully stated, he paid no attention to that backdrop.

Andrew didn’t connect those young ladies with Epstein’s having just served a term for paedophilia. After all, he was used to having staff around. So he naturally assumed that’s what those girls were and left it at that.

That brings into question the hiring policy at Buckingham Palace. Somehow I doubt Her Majesty employs a bevy of scantily clad nymphets to move about the palace with nothing to do. But then Andrew lives there and I don’t, so don’t listen to me.

One of the erstwhile nymphets, now 31, claims Andrew not only noticed her, but in fact knew her intimately. As proof of that insane allegation, she has produced a photo of Andrew with his arm around her waist and his hand on her bare midriff.

The interviewer asked HRH about the picture, and he honestly said he didn’t remember it being taken. No problem there: I don’t remember when and by whom every photo of me was taken, do you? What better proof does one need?

Was the photo perchance a fake, persisted the inquisitive interviewer, repeating the claim previously made by Andrew’s retainers. I can’t prove it is, nor that it isn’t, replied the prince, to my satisfaction. If that’s not an exculpating statement, I don’t know what is.

Anyway, when Jeffrey came out, and both his friendship and hospitality again became available to HRH, the bond between the two men blossomed again. Except that apparently prison hadn’t had its universally expected rehabilitating effect on Jeffrey.

He kept reoffending and being charged, which was more than HRH could bear. Driven by his royal sense of propriety, he decided never to speak to Jeffrey again.

To make sure the paedo got the point, Andrew chose to make it in person, rather than by phone or letter. As he explained, the decision was based on his exaggerated sense of honour, and, as someone whose own honour is rather understated by comparison, I applaud him with admiration.

To make the point even more telling, Andrew then spent four days in Epstein’s mansion, which stands to reason in view of his decency. HRH is too sensitive a man to have given it to Jeffrey cold turkey. It was much kinder to soften the shock by revealing the message gradually, bit by wounding bit.

As to then attending a party at Epstein’s place, Andrew explained that he didn’t do parties. The next day all papers were full of photographs of Andrew boogying the night away at different stages in his life.

That was a woeful misunderstanding of what HRH had actually said. What he meant was that, as a member of the royal family, he didn’t do political parties, which is consistent with his constitutional role.

Then the ex-nymphet also claimed that Andrew had sweated profusely when dancing with her before taking her to bed, and the interviewer had the bad taste to bring that up. That gave HRH the chance to remind us of his war record.

When I fought heroically for our country in the Falklands, he explained, I produced so much adrenaline that my sweat glands shut down. Now, even though anhidosis is usually caused by diabetes or alcoholism, ‘usually’ is the operative word.

Who’s to say the condition can’t also be caused by Argie bullets? As to the numerous pictures showing HRH dripping with sweat on many a dance floor, that’s ridiculous to mention in the age of Photoshop. Give me five minutes, and I’ll give you a picture of an Egyptian mummy sweating bullets.

To cap it all, today’s papers display 60-point headlines screaming “Andrew used the n-word”. I read on, expecting a revelation that the word had come up during HRH’s audience with Nelson Mandela, but was bitterly disappointed.

Apparently, he merely referred to a possible pitfall as “a nigger in the woodpile”, which expression only became taboo a few years ago. I agree he should have said “a person who identifies as someone of Afro-Caribbean descent in the woodpile”, but he chose brevity over probity.

I can’t blame him, though I’m in favour of expunging every hint of the offensive term, in words like ‘niggardly’, ‘niggle’ and ‘renege’. That means we’ll have to rename Nigeria, the Niger River and my friend Nigel, but the task wouldn’t be beyond us.

Meanwhile, let’s leave the Duke of York alone. He shouldn’t have given that interview, but he acquitted himself with the courage of a Falklands hero and the honesty of George Washington.

Russian filth column

“Britain has been infiltrated by an ugly strain of Russia phobia,” complains Evgeny Lebedev, owner of The Evening Standard, The Independent and other media interests in Britain.

Boris Johnson’s best friend

Anyone else would have written not Russia phobia but Russophobia. The difference is important – the latter is an irrational fear of Russians; the former, only of Putin’s Russia and those who do her bidding.

Lebedev’s name-calling was prompted by the current scandal of rich Russians meddling in British elections, just as they’ve been proved to meddle in US ones.

He himself has suffered traumatising abuse: “Newspapers that pride themselves on tolerance… have written… that Russians like me are a ‘fifth column in modern Britain’. One obscure publication… has called me a Russian spy.” Wounding words indeed.

Now, groundless accusations of a crime, such as spying for a foreign country, strike me as libellous and defamatory. Is Lebedev going to sue? He should, for otherwise some sceptics might think the accusations aren’t as libellous as all that.

He then proceeds to unravel his own argument by uttering two seemingly innocuous phrases: “I have lived [in Britian] since I was eight years old” and “I bought The Evening Standard in 2009 and The Independent in 2010.”

Lebedev has such long residency in Britain because his father, Alexander, was a KGB spy working at the Soviet embassy under diplomatic cover. Actually, the past tense in that sentence contradicts Putin’s frank admission: “There’s no such thing as ex-KGB. This is for life.”

If Vlad is to be believed, Alexander Lebedev only ever left his KGB/FSB job supposedly. Like many other KGB officers, including Putin himself, he was infiltrated into legit life by his lifelong sponsor. Lebedev was, according to cynical Muscovites, appointed oligarch.

Following in the footsteps of Putin and his colleagues, Alexander became a billionaire overnight, ostensibly displaying a business acumen that puts to shame the likes of Bill Gates and Jim Ratcliffe, who both took years to make their fortunes.

In fact, they all – including Putin – acted as conduits for transferring KGB and Party funds, along with oil revenues, out of Russia and into the West. They are welcome to live high on the hog off the proceeds, but they only have the use of their money, not the ownership of it.

Theirs is the leasehold, with the freehold remaining in the firm grasp of the ruling KGB camarilla. Those people know that money can do so much more than buy yachts and palaces in the West.

It can also serve their nefarious ends in all sorts of other ways: by enabling them to penetrate political circles, skew Western elections, draw influential Westerners into blackmailable activities, spread Putin propaganda – and in general poison the air with the emanations of their putrid cash.

Lebedev’s “I bought…” is a barefaced lie exposed by a simple question: Where did the money come from, Evgeny? Where did a man still in his 20s and without any lucrative business experience find the funds to acquire major British media?

Oh well, he actually ‘co-owns’ the papers with his KGB father. In other words, those media outlets are in fact double-fronted. Evgeny acts as the front for Alexander; Alexander provides the same service for the KGB/FSB camarilla running Russia.

That’s why Lebedev’s indignant protests along the lines of “I have never met Vladimir Putin” are risible, if true. I don’t think Kim Philby ever met Stalin either, and I doubt Robert Maxwell ever broke bread with Andropov. Yet they both served the Soviet cause each in his own way.

The influx of filthy lucre pilfered by the ruling kleptofascist gang from the Russian people has a deeply corrupting effect on the host country. British politicians and other influential figures are being seduced and bought, wholesale or retail.

Buying legitimacy comes with a higher price tag, but no expense is spared. Thus the transparent gangster and Putin’s confidant Abramovich had to pump hundreds of millions into Chelsea FC to become accepted as a fixture of London society – until even the pliant British government caught a whiff of his malodorous wealth.

Abramovich had his visa revoked and for a while could only watch Chelsea games on television. HMG also threatened to invoke unexplained wealth orders (UWOs) to seize the assets of rich Russians suspected of having profited from the proceeds of crime.

But there’s nothing unexplained about their wealth. No one can make billions in Russia without being in cahoots with, and accountable to, the KGB camarilla. The wealth of every ‘oligarch’ is contingent on Putin’s good graces, which are in turn contingent on their toeing the line.

How they do so varies. I doubt, for example, that many of them engage in common-or-garden spying. More typically, they are agents of influence, talent spotters or simply bacilli of corruption slowly dripped into the veins of our society.

The new arrivals come bearing billions, and we welcome the loot. But, contrary to Emperor Vespasian’s adage, the Russians’ money does smell. It comes packaged with global laundering, regular assassinations and other criminal activities.

Thanks to Russian ‘oligarchs’, London has become the money laundering capital of the world, which corrupts the whole society. Filthy money sullies every hand that touches it.

Those purloined and laundered billions buy political clout, not just Belgravia mansions (the Russians purchase close to 80 per cent of London houses worth £10 million-plus). Today’s politicians lack the moral fibre to steer clear of ill-gotten loot.

This is a cross-party phenomenon. A few years ago, Osborne and Mandelson enjoyed hospitality on the yacht belonging to the mobster Deripaska (banned from entry in the US, by the way). Later, when Osborne lost his cabinet job, he had a soft landing as editor of Lebedev’s Standard.

And last year, Boris Johnson stayed with the Lebedevs at their Umbrian estate. “I am proud to be a friend of Boris Johnson,” boasts Evgeny. That’s no doubt true. But if Mr Johnson is equally proud of this association, he ought to remember what friendship with Putin and his emissaries has done to Trump’s entourage.

The Conservative Party follows its leader’s lead and avidly accepts campaign contributions from Lebedev’s friends, if not, if he’s to be believed, from Lebedev himself.

Those figuring in the unfolding scandal are Alexander Temerko, formerly of Russia’s Defence Ministry; Lyubov Chernukhina, the wife of  Russia’s former Deputy Finance Minister; financiers George Piskov, Alexander Knaster and Lev Mikheev, all with FSB connections. There are, no doubt, many others.

Those accepting their donations ought to remind themselves that the Conservative Friends of Russia (later renamed the Westminster Russia Forum) was launched by the senior diplomat Sergey Nalobin, who was subsequently expelled from Britain for espionage.

“If you don’t touch ordure, it won’t stink,” says the Russian proverb, which our politicians ought to learn in the original language (Не тронь говно, не завоняет). They should tell those Russians in no uncertain terms to stay away from British politics, ideally from Britain – and to keep their filthy money to themselves.

And Evgeny Lebedev should spare us his bogus indignation. He knows what’s what, and so do we. Well, some of us do, at any rate.

Was Hobson Jewish?

I haven’t bought a copy of The Spectator since Charles Moore was its editor, about 30 years ago, and the odd piece reaching me through Facebook vindicates the wisdom of such abstinence.

The face of Jew-baiting, according to The Spectator

The most recent one was last week’s article Utterly Betrayed: Britain’s Jews Are Now Politically Homeless by Tanya Gold.

To begin with, Miss Gold is such a shockingly bad writer that at times one struggles to understand what she’s trying to say. However, as far as I can surmise, her general point is that British Jews are facing a political Hobson’s choice: vote Labour or not at all.

And, since Labour is anti-Semitic, not at all becomes the only option. British Jews will never vote Tory, will they? As far as Miss Gold is concerned, the question is rhetorical.

One wonders on what basis she feels authorised to speak on behalf of all British Jews in this matter. It can’t be statistical evidence: 63 per cent of them voted Tory in 2017. And this percentage is likely to go up in December because, as Miss Gold herself states, only seven per cent of British Jews plan to vote Labour.

Hence the honest title to the article would have been As a British Jew, I Feel Politically Homeless. However, one can’t discount the possibility that Miss Gold’s mind isn’t attuned to such nuances.

Trying to hack my way through the impassable thicket of her prose, I can deduce that British Jews, that is she, can’t possibly vote Tory because she doesn’t like the look on Jacob Rees-Mogg’s face.

At least that’s my inference from the incoherent paragraph below. Conceivably Miss Gold meant something else and, if so, please help me figure out exactly what:

“That they made us choose makes me weep, for I have not considered voting Conservative before. But I won’t. There is a respectable strain of Conservatism, but this is not it, not for me – one glance at Jacob Rees-Mogg’s face is enough; and all racism thrives under inequality. The Tories cannot save us; that is a laughable sentence. That Labour call themselves progressives, and yet are imbued with the infection of ancient Christian Jew-hatred – the murder of God was our original sin – is equally laughable. We have returned to our settled place; too proud, in every sense, to assimilate; rather, we drift across the world to where we feel safe: the Syrian border for some; Muswell Hill for others.”

Miss Gold must be endowed with psychic powers to grasp the rotten core of conservatism with “one glance at Jacob Rees-Mogg’s face”. Being myself less perceptive, I can’t for the life of me detect the mark of racist Cain on that rather pleasant and intelligent visage, but it must be there if Miss Gold says so.

If I understand her correctly, she ascribes Labour anti-Semitism to “Christian Jew-hatred”. This is certainly one of the tributaries feeding the anti-Semitic stream, but somehow one doubts it flows mighty within Labour ranks.

The Labour Party is leftist and therefore doctrinally atheist. A strain of Christian socialism exists there, but it’s a tiny one, and one doubts it contributes much to the anti-Semitism of today’s Labour Party.

At the heart of this phenomenon lie the Marxist roots of today’s Labour. Marx either sublimated his virulent anti-Semitism into the hatred of blood-sucking, profit-grabbing capitalists or it might have been the other way around.

By whatever route he arrived at that destination, the equal sign between Jew and capitalist permeated his whole being and much of his writing. That chiselled in stone the lapidary equation of socialism: the more socialist, the more anti-capitalist and therefore anti-Semitic.

That’s why by far the worst modern atrocities against the Jews were committed neither by conservatives nor by Christians nor by Christian conservatives but by godless socialists of either the red or brown hue. It’s in that tradition that the most toxic varieties of anti-Semitism are to be found in today’s Labour Party, which is Marxist through and through.

This isn’t to say that no anti-Semitism can be found within the ranks of the Tory Party. But both its roots and therefore its virulence are different.

Part of it is indeed Christian resentment of those who rejected Christ. These days, however, it’s rather rare, what with Christianity no longer being a major cultural and social force. When it does occur, this sub-emotion mostly haunts the lower intellectual layers of the Tories, Christian or otherwise.

Much more widespread is the kind of Tory anti-Semitism that goes back to the modern party’s Victorian roots, when it was still the party of aristocracy. It’s a form of snobbery and contempt for the upstart, which is closely related to the wider disdain for all nouveaux riches in general.

The same Tories who felt that way about Jews also petitioned their children’s public school to stem the influx of pupils from ‘trade’. The two phenomena are related, although their temperature may vary.

The Conservative Party has long since ceased being either aristocratic or indeed conservative. But the survivals of snobbish anti-Semitism persist, no doubt about that.

Yet there’s a major difference between that and Marxist anti-Semitism. A Tory thus inclined would like to keep Jews out of some Pall Mall clubs (although the roster of the Tory Carlton club includes many Jews). A Marxist would like to kill them.

That anti-Semitism is more prevalent among Labour hasn’t escaped Miss Gold’s attention. Yet she brands Rees-Mogg as a physiognomic Jew-baiter, while still insisting that “all racism thrives under inequality”.

Then how come the party doctrinally committed to equality, understood in the pernicious Enlightenment sense, is beset with anti-Semitism, while the party personified by Mr Rees-Mogg’s Savile Row suits and patrician accent isn’t?

Sorry, I realise how tactless it is to put such questions to the mentally challenged who still deserve their rightful place in society. And, by the looks of it, on the pages of our formerly conservative magazine.

One wonders if Miss Gold realises that, in the passage cited above, she repeats the worst anti-Semitic rhetoric one hears these days. The British Jews aren’t really British; they “are too proud to assimilate”; they feel more at home in Israel or, which is worse, Muswell Hill.

Speak for yourself, dear. Many of my friends are British Jews who are British first and Jews a very distant second. But then they are intelligent people who think before speaking or just think in general.

Anyway, I can’t promise to desist from buying The Spectator for another 30 years, but only for purely biological reasons. Barring those, I would.

There’s no light in Enlightenment

“Communism thrives in our moral vacuum,” writes my friend Melanie Phillips, one of our most lucid and perceptive columnists.

Before we became enlightened, certain things had been unthinkable

As is her infuriating habit, she’s absolutely right yet again: we do have a moral vacuum and communism does thrive in it, especially among the young who may yet saddle Britain with a communist government.

In fact, I agree with every sentence in her article, except one: “It is part of an assault on the liberal values of the Enlightenment, such as truth and reason.”

Now, the number of times I’ve disagreed with Miss Phillips can be counted on the thumbs of two hands. Hence my experience in this endeavour is so scant that I’ll have to tread very carefully.

What exacerbates matters is that she then cites with disapproval Theodor Adorno’s view that “the pursuit of rational enlightenment led directly to the extermination camps”. It would take even fewer digits to count the number of times I’ve agreed with Marxists, especially those as dangerous as Adorno, but I’m afraid this is one of them.

First, a general statement: no content can exist without form. The most obvious example is a glass of wine. Remove the glass, and, however redolent the wine’s nose, long its legs or rich its bouquet, it’ll become an annoying puddle on the tablecloth.

Extrapolating from there, however mellifluous its sonorities and catchy its melodies, music can’t exist without a rigid structure. Remove that, and you’ll get cacophany.

Thought too depends on structural integrity. History’s greatest thinkers, from Plato and Aristotle onwards, devoted much effort to developing the structural forms into which ideas could then flow. Remove the formal basics of logic and rhetoric, and you’ll get Richard Dawkins.

Society without structure is chaos, liberty without discipline is anarchy, religion without its framework of dogma and doctrine is a shamanistic cult – and so on.

Everything people do, create or think relies on morphology. And the morphology of vast, intricate entities such as society, with its ethos and institutions, takes centuries to develop.

Destroying it, however, can be done, in historical terms, overnight. This isn’t always a bad thing: as Schumpeter showed, some destruction can be creative. That happens when the destroyed forms are instantly replaced with other, better ones.

More often than not, however, that task proves impossible. What takes centuries to build can’t be rebuilt quickly with the best of creative intentions – and not at all when the intentions are mainly destructive.

This brings us to the “truth and reason” of the Enlightenment, signposted by outbursts of diabolical violence. Its objective, both implicit and explicit, was above all to destroy every traditional form wherever it could be found: politics, social organisation, morality, thought, aesthetics.

All of them in the West had at least to some extent grown out of Christianity, and the ‘Enlighteners’ hated that tree root and branch. Hence they pulled it up and tried to plant a more luxuriant tree in its place. That proved impossible.

Both morality and thought depend on the acceptance of the absolute as the measure of all things – it was the absolute that prevented society from becoming an amorphous, deracinated mass devoid of high morality, noble principles and profound intellect.

Dostoyevsky’s message that without God everything is permissible was moral in nature, but it also applies to thought. Western thought, in order to remain both Western and thoughtful, has to be teleological: it’s a pathway to absolute truth.

To embark on that path, a thinker must as a minimum believe that absolute truth exists. That belief shapes his thought, gives it a form within which it can acquire not only real power but also real freedom.

Replacing the absolute with an endless supply of puny relativities has the opposite effect: it shallows out the thought and turns freedom into chaos. That’s why the West relegated pursuits requiring feats of real intellect and imagination to the status of quaint hobbies.

Coming to the fore instead was THE FACT, that is knowledge of the physical world acquired through the five senses. Intellectually, the Enlightenment was a step from the sublime to the sensory.

Faith in God was replaced with faith in science, accompanied by widely encouraged hostility to things beyond science’s reach. Physics triumphed over metaphysics, which is another way of saying that sublime aristocratic thought was ousted by turgid philistine musings – in the same way as the aristocrat was ousted by the bourgeois as the hub of social life.

This delivered a materialist world, whose principal characteristic was the philistine’s self-righteous smugness. The picture of the world lost its formal structure: it became a kaleidoscope of rapidly changing half- and quarter-truths, all dealing with things material.

By losing the absolute, the world also lost mystery: the vanquishing philistine had enough conceit to believe that his own resources were ample to solve every little puzzle of life in due course.

In the same way he felt that, in the absence of absolute morality, his own understanding of right and wrong was absolute – for the time being at least, until he replaced one quasi-absolute with another.

Materialism, which is a child of the Enlightenment, is as morally defunct as it is intellectually feeble. It’s also socially divisive and therefore sooner or later politically tyrannical.

By empowering the common man politically, materialism in due course enriched him economically. It replaced the traditional hierarchical structure based on high birth or high achievement with another, one based on wealth.

However, it turned out that, while the erstwhile inequality of status was tolerable, the new inequality of wealth was much less so. The pre-Enlightenment West promised people solace in the higher things in life and it kept its promise: such things were equally available to all, if not equally appreciated by all.

The post-Enlightenment modernity, on the other hand, promised people something more tangible and immediately desirable: material well-being. That too was equally appreciated by all – but alas not equally available to all.

A man who at the end of his day’s work gets down on his knees and prays to God is freer from envy, resentment and hate than a man who checks his bank balance and finds it smaller than his neighbour’s.

Such a man is likely to feel that somehow the world is in default of its promise, and it’s scant consolation that he’s much better-off compared to his great-grandparents, and infinitely richer than their great-grandparents. As far as he’s concerned, he is the poor man at the door of the rich man’s castle, which – in a world ruled by philistine materialist concerns – is terribly unfair.

In the post-Enlightenment world, social tranquillity is always short-lived. For evil demagogues preaching seductive messages are never short of grassroots resentments to exploit, nor of underdeveloped minds to dupe. 

Having lost both high reason and high morality, people can instantly turn into rabble inspired by slogans that in the past would have been dismissed as the gobbledegook mouthed by a madman.

Transparent charlatans like Marx and Darwin became the intellectual leaders of the amorphous post-Enlightenment mob, and their political counterparts are seldom far behind.

The Enlightenment has turned people deaf to both truth and reason, while giving their hearing bat-like acuity to voices promising some kind of redress for perceived injustices. Those they can hear in every tonal detail.

Their formless minds and shapeless emotions become moulding clay in evil hands. What the people’s grievances are and what kind of recompense is promised doesn’t really matter.

It could be taking from the rich and giving to the poor – that is, to you, Mr Disgruntled Philistine. Or else elevating your race or class, Mr Disgruntled Philistine, above all others. Or even simply taxing the rich so much that they won’t be any richer than you, Mr Disgruntled Philistine.

What rose out of the ashes of Christendom wasn’t the Phoenix of “truth and reason”, but the carrion of falsehoods, pent-up resentments and small thoughts.

That’s why both Soviet and Nazi extermination camps are indeed direct consequences of the Enlightenment. That’s why the first century completely cleansed of Christendom, the 20th, produced more victims of institutional violence than all the preceding centuries combined.

And that’s why the world is indeed in danger of extinction – not from aerosols, but from certain scientific discoveries put into the hands of the evil by the silly, immoral and gullible.

Polishing history

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is cross with Netflix. His specific gripe is with the documentary series The Devil Next Door about John Demjanjuk, accused of being an infamous guard in a Nazi death camp.

According to Mr Morwiecki, the series features a map that “falsely places several German Nazi concentration camps within modern-day Poland’s borders… As my country did not even exist at that time as an independent state, and millions of Poles were murdered at these sites, this element of The Devil Next Door is nothing short of rewriting history.”

I sat down to pour some salt on Mr Morawiecki’s wounded national pride. But then by chance I stumbled on an article I wrote in January, 2018, where all my possible arguments were made.

Since they are as relevant today as they were then, and since I’m congenitally lazy, and since I believe in responsible recycling, I’m hereby republishing much of that piece:

The Soviets left Lwów on 29 June, 1941, and the Nazis occupied it a day later. During that interregnum, the Poles and Ukrainians inhabiting the city were left to their own devices – and vices.

One such vice was the almost universal hatred of their 200,000 Jewish neighbours. The glowing embers of that unenviable sentiment were fanned into a violent flame when the locals broke into the three NKVD prisons, only to find out that their 8,000 inmates had been massacred by the Soviets before their retreat.

The mob blamed the Jews, even though many of the victims were themselves Jewish. However, when the heart speaks, reason falls silent – especially when people renounce their individuality to join a herd.

That particular herd went on a stampede, and, when the Germans entered the city, they found out that much of their work had already been done. Some 10,000 Jews had been murdered by their gentile neighbours in ways that must have made the victims beg to be simply shot.

But the job wasn’t finished yet. Einsatzengruppen and the local collaborators began to round up and shoot Jews. Most of the firing squads didn’t include a single German – there was no shortage of local volunteers. By the end of the war, only a couple of hundred Lwów Jews were still alive.

Thus three times the number of Jews were killed in that one city than in the whole of occupied France, where local enthusiasm wasn’t exactly in short supply either. Why such disparity? What made Lwów so much more efficient?

Actually, it wasn’t just Lwów. Simply compare the numbers of massacred Jews relative to their overall numbers in a small sample of European countries.

Western Europe: Germany, 142,000 out of 565,000; Austria, 50,000 out of 185,000; Denmark, 60 out of 8,000; Finland, 7 out of 2,000; Italy, 7,500 out of 44,500; France, 77,000 out of 250,000.

Eastern Europe: Greece, 65,000 out of 75,000; Hungary, 550,000 out of 825,000; Latvia, 70,000 out of 91,500; Lithuania, 140,000 out of 168,000; Czechoslovakia, 78,000 out of 118,000; Poland, 3,000,000 out of 3,300,000.

You’ll notice that a much higher percentage of Jews were killed in Eastern Europe than even in Germany, which after all initiated the Holocaust and built the death camps.

Why? I can think of only one answer: Eastern Europeans didn’t mind the Holocaust as much, and were more than willing to lend the Germans a helping hand.

Another question: why did the Nazis set up all the extermination (as opposed to concentration) camps in Poland? Auschwitz, Belzec, Chełmno, Jasenovac, Majdanek, Maly Trostenets, Sobibor and Treblinka were all there.

To some extent, it must have been a matter of logistics: most of Europe’s Jewish population lived there or thereabouts, in what used to be the Pale of Settlement.

But it couldn’t have been just logistics. After all, the Nazis didn’t mind using hundreds of trains badly needed for military freight to transport Jews from, say, France all the way to Poland. It would have been more efficient to kill them in situ.

Also in the back of the Nazis’ mind must have been the issue of post-war deniability for the Germans. Had those crematorium chimneys been spewing clouds of black smoke in, say, Hamburg, it would have been hard for its denizens to claim they didn’t know.

As it was, such claims weren’t all that credible anyhow, as Daniel Goldhagen demonstrates convincingly in his instructive book Hitler’s Willing Executioners. But he also shows that the Nazis were wary of a potential backlash from the Germans had they had to watch mass murder committed on their own doorstep. No such fears in Poland.

This is the backdrop to the bill recently ratified by the Polish parliament that will outlaw any public association of “the Polish nation” with crimes committed by the Germans. In other words, had a Pole written the previous paragraphs, he could get three years in prison – the kind of literary prize that’s rapidly gaining popularity in the low-rent part of Europe.

Poland’s president Andrzej Duda navigated the perilous undercurrents with laudable celerity. Yes, he admitted magnanimously, some individual Poles did do “wicked” things to their Jewish neighbours (like burning them alive or hacking them to death with shovels, but the president didn’t go into such graphic detail). But there was no institutional Polish participation in the Holocaust.

Actually, as far as I know, no one has ever suggested that the Polish government in exile issued an order to kill Jews. So Mr Duda is on safe grounds there.

But he then went on to bemoan that Poles are being “vilified” with “false accusations”. I suppose Mr Duda believes that any accusations against Poles ipso facto constitute unfounded vilification.

He also objects to the death camps being referred to as ‘Polish’. I agree that ‘German camps in Poland’ would be more accurate. But those camps wouldn’t have been in Poland if the locals had detested them.

They didn’t. At best, they shrugged their shoulders with indifferent acquiescence. At worst, tens of thousands of them took an active part in the atrocities. And those who deny these facts are the murderers’ accomplices after the fact.

The Poles are Catholics, so perhaps they should begin to act accordingly in this painful matter. Redemption won’t come from denying their sins – it can only come from confession and repentance. Especially since history lays their sins bare for all to see.

Norman and Dominic, schoolmates

From time to time, I point out the lamentable ignorance of the Russian liberal opposition to Putin (most recently, in http://www.alexanderboot.com/why-russia-has-no-chance/). Their hearts are in the right place, but their minds haven’t been trained to run things they say and write through a rigorous inner test.

However, Vladimir Abarinov stands out even against that dim background. Today’s Grani, one of the online magazines blocked within Russia, runs his article about Russian meddling in the British general election, where he refers to Dominic Cummings as “Norman Stone’s classmate at Oxford”.

Well, Cummings was born in 1971, when my late friend Norman (b. 1941) was a fellow at Cambridge. He got his undergraduate degree not from Oxford but from Cambridge, and he did so in 1962, when Cummings wasn’t even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye.

If Mr Abarinov is aware of some mysterious educational establishment in Oxford where Norman and Dominic cribbed from each other, he should by all means reveal that information. Barring that, he ought to seek treatment for the traditional Russian disease of speaking with an air of authority on subjects about which he knows next to nothing.

I can only repeat what I said in the article mentioned above, that, just as the world began with the Word, a successful opposition must start with a great idea, which itself has to be a product of informed and enlightened thought. That’s not in evidence among the Russian opponents to Putin, which is why the world won’t be spared his malevolent presence for a while yet.

Hell hath no fury like a scholar scorned

The news that a Petersburg professor of history killed his mistress in a rather Baroque manner didn’t really surprise me.

The only thing that’s missing is a hacksaw in his hand

Over the past century, Russian universities, at least their humanities departments, have been acting as conduits of the dominant political ethos. Since today it has a distinctly thuggish tint, it’s no wonder that thugs are in a position to shape young minds and, on this evidence, dismember young bodies.

Putin and his flunkeys express themselves in the argot of crime-infested slums, which is par for the course considering their background (“I was a common Leningrad thug,” boasted Putin once). That mentality now pervades even academic institutions, especially Putin’s own alma mater, Petersburg University, the hatchery of the ruling kleptofascist gang.

Enter Oleg Sokolov, 63, associate professor at that university, historian of Napoleonic wars, member of the Russian Society for Military History, confidant of Culture Minister Medinsky (himself Putin’s confidant), lecturer at ISSEP (Lyon’s political institute founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s granddaughter and reflecting the family’s values), recipient of the Légion d’honneur.

Yet one couldn’t complete the list of Prof. Sokolov’s credentials without mentioning his little eccentricities: he’s a brute and a murderer.

Those aspects of his personality first came to light in 2008, when his student mistress presented at a police station with her face beaten to a bloody pulp. According to her testimony, when she tried to leave Sokolov, he tied her to a chair, beat her up and threatened to kill her:

“…When the iron got red-hot, he held it so close to my face that I could feel the heat and threatened to disfigure me for life. After that he began to punch me metronomically in the face, also hitting me in the chest and stomach. In response to my pleas to stop, he hit me even harder and then threatened to kill me and bury the corpse at a nearby building site where it would never be found.”

Sokolov was in trouble, but not for long. Putin’s jurisprudence operates on two tiers: one for his own people, the other for everybody else. Loyalty and typological affinity are the principal criteria of guilt or innocence, and by such standards Sokolov was pristine.

That little pugilistic escapade didn’t even damage his academic career, as it would have done at any other university in the world: academic authorities may overlook affairs with students, but not using love interests for punching bags.

Yet Sokolov never missed a beat, as it were. He continued to pontificate to students about 1812, sometimes sporting costumes from that epoch for the sake of verisimilitude. Alas, he tended to borrow not only his ancestors’ clobber but also his colleagues’ work.

Last year another historian of Napoleonic wars, Evgeniy Panasenkov, sued Sokolov for plagiarism, alleging, with ample justification, that the latter had ripped off Panasenkov’s theory of that period.

Although the claim was obviously true, the court found for the defendant, thereby upholding the sacred principles of Putin’s legality. The judge could have cited a precedent: Medinsky, Sokolov’s patron, put someone else’s work in his doctoral dissertation. But then a culture minister is too busy with the affairs of state to waste time on such trivia as academic work.

A little later, as Sokolov was delivering a lecture in the university auditorium, a student got up, pointed out indisputable instances of plagiarism in Sokolov’s work and asked him how he felt about it. The intrepid youngster got an instant reply.

Turning up the volume of his proletarian voice, the academic screamed: “Get lost!”. When the pedantic student balked at following that advice, the recipient of the Légion d’honneur ordered his loyal retainers to “explain to the young man what’s what.”

That they did, by punching the student and bodily dragging him along with his classmate out of the auditorium. “Like priest, like parish”, as the Russians say. (For those who are interested, the incident appears on YouTube.)

Then the libidinous scholar embarked on another affair with a student, Anastasia Yeshchenko, 40 years his junior. On 7 November, the couple celebrated the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, and the festivities turned sour – possibly because Anastasia hadn’t learned the lesson of her predecessor and announced her decision to leave.

The scorned scholar then shot her dead with a sawn-off shotgun, as one does. Quite apart from anything else, that’s not a weapon widely used in academic circles, but this is Putin’s alma mater we’re talking about.

Sokolov then hid the body in his flat and the next day resumed the celebrations, this time with more loyal friends. Once the binge was over, on 9 November he decided to dispose of the body, which had begun to smell bad.

Not being a DIY fanatic, Sokolov didn’t have the necessary tools at home, so he had to go out and buy a hacksaw. Using that implement, he carved up the corpse, sawing off the head and the limbs.

Since he was unused to that type of work, Sokolov had to fight nausea by drinking steadily and eventually getting drunk. Leaving the unused portion of the body at home, he put the other parts into a backpack and went out to the Moyka embankment.

When I told Penelope about this, she quipped, “A man of many parts,” thereby reenergising our marriage. Anyway, proceeding methodically, as befits a researcher, Sokolov then threw the girl’s legs in the river.

But then the booze caught up with him and, still holding the backpack with Anastasia’s arms, he fell into the ice-cold water. By chance, somebody fished him out and delivered him to hospital where Sokolov almost died of hypothermia.

Speaking to the police, he explained he had killed Anastasia because she disliked his two daughters. Oh well, that’s all right then.

You might say that deranged murderers can be found anywhere, including any university. That’s true. However, much as I despise our own academic life, somehow I doubt that a chap with Sokolov’s previous would continue his profitable career at, say, Oxbridge or for that matter Sciences Po.

Do you sometimes feel we’re missing out on the academic freedom of Petersburg University and ISSEP? Well, by the looks of it, there’s now an opening at both institutions — although with Putin’s courts one never knows.

To Lagos, to Lagos!

London’s flagship theatre, the National, is starting a run of a modern, multi-culti – RELEVANT! – version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters with an all-black cast.

Olga, Masha and Irina, just as Chekhov saw them in his mind’s eyes

As you recall, the play is about three women from a gentry family who grew up in Moscow, but are now stuck in a provincial town. Though they live more than comfortably and enjoy a brisk social (and other) life with the officers garrisoned there, they desperately want to return to Moscow, with its brisk cultural (and other) life.

The leitmotiv of the play is the recurrent phrase “To Moscow, to Moscow!” repeated in variably febrile tones. In fact, the great poet Osip Mandelstam once quipped: “Someone ought to have given those girls three rail tickets for Moscow at the beginning of Act I.”

Three Sisters is quintessentially Russian in a way in which, say, Shakespeare’s plays aren’t quintessentially English or Ibsen’s quintessentially Norwegian. It reflected the general contempt cultured Russians felt for country life, and still do.

Having to live anywhere other than Moscow or St Petersburg was seen as cruel exile, no matter how luxurious the exiles’ country estates, or how stimulating the company of their similarly confined neighbours.

That’s why British (though not French) audiences often respond to Three Sisters with consternation. Their desire to get away from Moscow, for which read London, is at least as widespread as the craving vectored in the opposite direction. Give a Londoner a mansion with a large park somewhere in Gloucestershire, and he’ll happily leave behind his chicken coop of a flat somewhere in Chelsea.

Yet somehow London audiences make the requisite leap of imagination, and Three Sisters seldom stays off West End stages for long. In my 30-odd years here I’ve seen various productions so many times that, as far as I’m concerned, the play should be renamed Thirty Sisters

Now call me a racist, a snob or a stick-in-the-mud, but I’m unlikely to see this one: my imagination just can’t leap that far.

From what one can glean reading the previews, the play is now set in a 1967 Nigeria just before the Biafran Civil War. Hence, rather than Olga, Masha and Irina, the eponymous, chromatically different sisters are named Lolo, Nne Chukwu and Udo.

To be culturally consistent, I’d think the ubiquitous battle cry must now be “To Lagos, to Lagos!”: portraying Moscow as the object of geographical craving would require one’s imagination to break every conceivable long jump record.

This attempt to attune classical plays to modern cultural and political sensibilities is by no means unique to this production. Nowadays just about every Shakespeare production features modern dress, modern music and modern accoutrements, such as computers, planes and tanks.

To be entirely up to date, many cast black actors playing white roles, women playing men and men playing women. Sometimes, as in the recent production of Richard II, the same actors play both female and male characters in the same play — confusing the hell out of the audience (well, me).

When I first saw Ophelia wearing torn jeans and gyrating on her bed to the sound of a boombox, I suffered a shock from which I still haven’t recovered – especially since it has been exacerbated by many subsequent atrocities in the same vein.

The problem with applying such a makeover to Shakespeare is that all those transvestite transculturalists continue to deliver Elizabethan lines, albeit as a rule not very distinctly. Surely any director, no matter how hubristic, should be put off by the tasteless dissonance? Fat chance.

Today’s directors worship in the temple of modernity, not art. The word ‘vandalism’ never crosses their minds – they don’t care what kind of aesthetic atrocities they perpetrate by catering to the warped tastes of today’s audiences and, especially, critics.

Reading the previews of the Nigerian Three Sisters, I recalled a crude but accurate Russian joke about a modernist production of the same play.

The dress rehearsal is under way. Forestage is Masha, fellating her love interest Vershinin. The director, sitting in the front row with a notepad in his lap and a pained expression on his face, winces. “Tania!” he shouts at the actress. “Stop champing! This is Chekhov!”

I’ve tried the same joke on my English friends, replacing Masha with Ophelia and Vershinin with Hamlet. They always laugh ruefully: the joke works because it’s only a slightly grotesque take on gruesome reality.

I’d be curious to hear the actresses in the upcoming production shout “To Lagos, to Lagos” in Nigerian accents. But £150 for two tickets is too much to pay for satisfying perverse curiosity.

A church against the Church

As the last two millennia show, Christianity can survive heresy, agnosticism and atheism. I’m not so sure about its ability to resist systematic vulgarisation within itself.

Well, you understand wrong, chaps.

This melancholy thought was brought on by the poster outside St Martin-in-the-Fields, one of London’s most central churches. “We understand…,” it begins.

The first part of the sentence is dubious theology; the second, pernicious politics. Both are so irredeemably vulgar that I’d almost prefer a message saying that the rector of that venerable institution doubts the existence of God.

Since the poster’s first statement is theological, it can only be discussed in theological terms. Being the supreme science, theology is the epitome of reason in that it’s impeccably logical. Yet the poster takes the ‘logical’ out of ‘theological’.

The cliché of everyone being equal in the eyes of God is the curate’s egg: good in parts. But those parts are much smaller than those where it’s wrong.

Is one to assume that, say, Adolf Hitler and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (the pastor killed in a Nazi concentration camp) are equal in the eyes of God? Or, say, Lenin and the thousands of priests murdered on his orders? Or St John Newman and Jack the Ripper?

If they were, one would find it hard to justify the Christian doctrine of heaven and hell. Surely God displays the ultimate discrimination by consigning bad people to one destination and good ones to the other? Verily I say unto you, on that evidence alone it’s hard to claim God to egalitarianism.

Equality before God exists to begin with, but it expires some time after a person leaves infancy behind and starts to make free choices between good and evil, virtue and sin, right and wrong.

Mankind’s ability to exercise free will in that fashion is God’s great gift, and one struggles to understand why he’d bother to give it to us if we had nothing to gain from good choices, nor nothing to lose from bad ones.

I don’t know what God’s ledger sheet looks like, but I do know that some people are more good than bad, some the other way around, and some have no discernible good traits at all. To claim equality among them all is tantamount to claiming equality among the choices they’ve made, which strikes me as illogical.

The poster would have been theologically unassailable had it said that God loves us all. But that would only mean ensuing equality if we all loved God in return and tried not to transgress against his commandments too much.

Since that’s demonstrably not the case, the unqualified egalitarian claim collapses – but not as loudly as the second, secular part of the poster about everybody being equal in the eyes of humanity.

What does it even mean? Clearly the chaps who displayed that bunkum hadn’t asked themselves that question before putting pen to paper.

Since, not being myself divine, I can’t vouch for God, I can only rely on prayer, doctrinal sources and my own reasonable conjecture to grasp his feelings. But – and I know some may disagree – I do see myself as fully human.

Moreover, in the course of a long life I’ve met thousands of people who could make the same claim with equal validity. Yet neither I nor anyone I know has ever regarded everybody as equal in our eyes.

Murderers and their victims? Savants and ignoramuses? Geniuses and hacks? Statesmen and spivs? Athletes and weaklings? Hard workers and parasitic idlers? Everywhere we look, people are unequal in our eyes, morally, intellectually, physically – you name it.

None of us can claim equality of outcome. And, since we are all born with different genes and to different families, we can’t even claim equality of opportunity. If at birth we are indeed equal in the eyes of God, we can’t claim even such short-lived equality in the eyes of humanity.

I try – with variable success, it has to be said – using my free will to stay in God’s good graces. But, at 5’7’’, I’ve never had a shot at playing goalie for a Premiership team, and no amount of effort would ever have addressed this glaring inequality.

By the same token, I doubt that any degree of application would enable many Premiership goalies to do what I do, so where’s the equality in that?

In other words, if the first part of the poster is highly debatable, the second part is simply idiotic – and ideologically idiotic at that. But it would be wrong to think the two parts aren’t connected.

The key message, one that the authors really wanted to convey, is the political statement of secular equality. The preceding nod in God’s direction is there merely to add verisimilitude to the subsequent deep bow in the direction of left-wing politics.

I don’t know what sort of liturgy, if any, St Martin-in-the-Fields uses, but I suspect its clergy probably think that 1642 is a PIN code, and I’m sure the female Bishop of London doesn’t mind.

If the Anglican Church used to be called the Tory Party at prayer, it has certainly changed not only its prayers, but also its political allegiance. On the plus side, Anglican churches are emptying so fast that not many parishioners will be affected.

Thank God for small favours.