Himmler portrait adorns Berlin police station

How likely is this headline to be true to life? On a scale of zero to minus ten?

Genrikh Himmler

Correct. Even if a German were a crypto-Nazi, he’d never advertise that so blatantly. Otherwise, it’s hard to tell whether he’d be thrown out first, or the portrait.

If, on the other hand, both the cop and his take on interior decoration remained intact, wouldn’t we be justified to draw some far-reaching conclusions not only about him and his immediate superiors, but also about today’s Germany?

This brings me to Alexei Navalny, who was arrested on his arrival in Moscow. The dissident flew in from Germany, where he had undergone extensive treatment after being poisoned with a toxin produced by the FSB poison lab.

That Putin’s junta arrests, murders, maims and in general harasses dissidents isn’t news to anyone who has the minutest of interests in Russia. My interest in it is more than minute, and one would think nothing about that place could still surprise me. Yet something did.

Everybody knew Navalny would be arrested on arrival. No surprises there. It was also predictable that his plane would at the last moment be rerouted from Vnukovo airport, where a crowd of his supporters had gathered, to Sheremetyevo, where he was greeted only by cops and FSB.

Reading about that, I almost had to stifle a yawn. But then I came across a telling detail, of the kind where the devil lives: the wall of the nearby police station where Navalny was taken prominently exhibited a portrait of Genrikh Yagoda, head of the OGPU/NKVD in the 20s and 30s.

It’s hard to compare this ghoulish mass murderer with Himmler on any moral criteria. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. But Genrikh (the Russian version of Heinrich) probably outscored his near namesake in the sheer number of victims.

Heinrich Yagoda

Yagoda became OGPU’s deputy head In 1926, but his boss, Menzhinsky, was permanently incapacitated. Hence it fell upon Yagoda to build that sinister organisation, later known as the KGB and now as the FSB, to its worldwide prominence.

His achievements in that post were numerous, but one of them ties him symbolically to Navalny. For Yagoda supervised the OGPU poison laboratory, which by the looks of it keeps his legacy alive.

Yagoda himself liberally used its products in his daily work. Thus in 1934, on Stalin’s orders, he dispatched Menzhinsky who, though ill, was stubbornly hanging on to life. Yagoda is also widely credited (if this is the right word) with the poisoning of the writer Gorky and his son Max, whose wife was Yagoda’s mistress.

It was then that OGPU became NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs), with Yagoda as its head. So in fact he was in charge of the Soviet secret police for about 10 years until his dismissal in 1936. And, compared to his overall achievements, a few poisonings here or there aren’t even worth mentioning.

During the 1945 Potsdam Conference, Churchill commiserated with Stalin about the millions of Soviet casualties during the war. Stalin waved the condolences away: “We lost more during the Collectivisation”.

He was referring to the effective enslavement of the Russian peasants, whose land was nationalised and who were all attached to collective farms. In the good Russian tradition, the dispossessed and enslaved peasants resorted to jacquerie, with dozens of revolts dotting the country’s map.

It was under Yagoda’s leadership that these were suppressed with inhuman brutality. How many died? No one knows – the Russians aren’t big on actuarial practices. But if Stalin said that the number was greater than the 20-odd million killed in the war, he ought to have known.

As part of this campaign, Yagoda engineered Holodomor, the 1932-1933 artificial famine that didactically killed at least 5,000,000 peasants in the Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The survivors learned their lesson on the benefits of collectivised agriculture.  

It was Yagoda who turned a few scattered concentration camps into what Solzhenitsyn called the Gulag Archipelago, whose islands densely covered the country. How many millions died there? No one really knows, and in any case I wouldn’t be able to count that high.

Yagoda was the first who spotted the vast economic potential of Gulag as an endless supplier of slave labour, the mainstay of the Soviet economy. One of his most spectacular, but perhaps least significant, coups was the construction of the White Sea-Baltic Canal built on the bones of the tens of thousands of GULAG inmates.

Add to this massive purges complete with the first show trials, organised and supervised by Yagoda, and the full scale of his toil begins to emerge. But he wasn’t all work and no play.

Unlike the ascetic Himmler, Yagoda was no stranger to the fine things in life. He and his comrades staged regular drunken orgies, where, on top of the usual orgiastic activities, they used priceless icons for target practice. When Yagoda himself was arrested, found in his possession were hundreds of pornographic films, piles of similar literature and a small collection of dildos.

By the time Himmler made his first tentative steps, Yagoda had already established himself as one of the most evil personages in world history. Yet it’s wrong to ascribe all those crimes to his own villainy. For Yagoda wasn’t a free agent – he was an agent to Stalin, a blunt instrument in the tyrant’s hands.

Again, those who follow Russian affairs know that Stalin’s reputation is being gradually rebuilt in Putin’s Russia. His portraits and busts are popping up like mushrooms after the rain, and he’s widely extolled as an empire builder and victor in the war.

Putin’s propaganda portrays Stalin as a harsh but fair leader, who sometimes had to resort to tough measures out of dire necessity. Though it’s impossible to conceal Stalin’s crimes altogether, they tend to be dissociated from him and externalised in his hangmen, such as Yezhov, Beria – and Yagoda.

That’s a variation on the old Russian theme of good-tsar-bad-ministers: the executors of Stalin’s orders are vilified, while he himself is glorified. This is all par for the course.

But the prominent display of a Yagoda portrait at a Moscow police station signals a new development: it’s not just the Butcher-In-Chief but also his junior butchers who are now being put on the pedestal.

That gets me back to my original question. If we’d be hypothetically worried about seeing a Himmler portrait in Berlin, shouldn’t we be worried for real about seeing an actual Yagoda one in Moscow? And shouldn’t those of us who still harbour illusions about Putin’s Russia wake up and smell the novichok?  

Mme Macron against sexual abuse of children

M and Mme Macron

As more and more cases of such abuse in general and incest in particular come to light in France, a campaign to put an end to these crimes is gathering speed.

Specifically, campaigners want to change laws implying that children can give sexual consent.

At present, a child is presumed to have given such consent in the absence of “violence, threat, constraint or surprise”. Campaigners want to end this law, along with a 30-year statute of limitations for sexual abuse of children. A child, they object, can’t consent to sex by definition.

“It’s brave to speak out,” said Mme Macron in a TV interview. “Victims’ silence ‘kills off the act’. So these acts absolutely must be reported and not be stifled.”

It’s even braver of  Mme Macron to speak out. Her support will doubtless add momentum to the much needed campaign. Bien joué, Brigitte.

British Lives Matter

Isn’t that what the acronym BLM stands for? No? There you go then, just goes to show the infinite possibilities of the English Language.

90,000 dead and counting

In any case, the new meaning incorporates the old one because British lives do come in various hues. That makes the acronym more inclusive, and isn’t inclusivity the name of the game, even if it’s sometimes rigged?

British lives do matter and, now that some 90,000 of them have been lost to Covid, it’s time to ponder how much. People do ponder, and two opposite views emerge, one pragmatic, the other libertarian.

The government clearly wishes to save as many lives as it can. The cynics may ascribe this impulse to purely political considerations, the idealists opt for nobler motives, and all of them, cynics and idealists alike, agree that HMG doesn’t go about its task in the most efficacious manner.

However, the pragmatists allow that the overall thrust of its policies is laudable. They ask themselves what they’d do if they were HMG, and tend to accept that it wouldn’t be strikingly different from what HMG is doing.

That some sweeping measures are desirable is proved by Sweden that haughtily adopted a laisser-faire approach to the pandemic. As a result, she ran up a death toll 10 times higher than in her more dirigiste Scandinavian neighbours. King Carl XVI Gustaf even had to apologise publicly for his government’s approach to Covid, which he correctly described as a failure.

Since this is the only European benchmark on which the validity of stringent measures can be assessed, one is justified in believing that their absence in Britain might have increased the death toll by an order of magnitude. That would mean close to a million victims, roughly twice the number of casualties the country suffered in the Second World War.

The libertarians, on the other hand, also have a point or two. First, they say that nothing about the pandemic is known for sure: its aetiology, treatment, prophylaxis, the efficacy of masks, social distancing and lockdowns, the likelihood and duration of immunity, the long-term effect of vaccination.

What is known for sure is that the people’s civil liberties have been severely and intolerably curtailed, to the point of confining Britons to house arrest without due process. This is especially objectionable in the absence of ironclad data clarifying every jot and tittle of coronavirus.

Yes, come back the pragmatists, co-opting Guy Fawkes to their cause. Desperate times call for desperate measures, don’t they? People’s civil liberties were even more curtailed during the Blitz, when a mere 43,000 died. So much more the reason to accept such restrictions now that the death toll is already more than twice as high. And we don’t even have to have blackouts yet.

Neither group invokes Christianity for support, sensing that no religion is relevant to the quotidian concerns of modern man. Progress has left Christianity in its rearview mirror, whereas the view through the windscreen unfolds in all its electronically enhanced beauty, complete with mushroom clouds billowing on the horizon.

However, just to keep the irrelevant record straight, Christ did attach value to every human life, while deemphasising the importance of civil liberties. “Render unto Caesar…” and all that. And when he said “the truth shall make you free”, he didn’t mean the kind of freedom that’s conferred by government decree.

But do let’s get back on the terra firma of unadulterated secularism. I am in general agreement with the pragmatists there, especially since they can also invoke arguments based on the outdated, but to me indisputable, notion of the sanctity of human life. Yet the libertarian argument can’t be dismissed out of hand.

The parallel lines I’ve drawn between Covid and war are long, and they don’t stop once the original reason for them has been eliminated. A trivial illustration of this tendency is the 55mph limit on US motorways introduced in 1974 during the oil crisis.

The crisis soon ended, but the risible speed limit didn’t. On the federal level it survived until 1995 and it still operates in many states. That proves yet again the immutable law of the universe: governments never relinquish everything they’ve claimed.

All modern governments, regardless of their political doctrine, are innately centralising, which means authoritarian at least latently. Authoritarianism means the state divesting the maximum number of people of the maximum amount of power.

Civilised countries have in place any number of checks on the state acting according to this inner imperative, but the state feels time is on its side. It patiently looks out for any pretext to grab more power.

Hence, the state sees an opportunity in any crisis, especially one in which large numbers of people die. Wars are ideal in that respect, but pandemics will do at a pinch.

You’ll notice that state power in Britain (and most other civilised countries) increased exponentially after both World Wars. Emergency measures were introduced during the hostilities, and after the wars ended so did many of the measures – but far from all.

No concession of power to the state can ever be entirely temporary. Even if most emergency powers run through the sieve after the emergency ends, some residual powers permanently settle between the holes.

That’s why Covid, while being the reason for temporary restrictions, may well become a pretext for permanent ones. Putting it bluntly, we may lose some important liberties in perpetuity.

On balance, I support the group I’ve described as pragmatist. But it can’t be gainsaid that a balance exists and it must be considered.

Perhaps the best course of action is to leaven acquiescence with vigilance. Do let’s comply with masks, lockdowns and so forth – while keeping an eye out for a permanent power grab by the state. Believe me, it’s eminently capable of it.      

Putin’s useful idiot rides again

Anyone – especially a Westerner – who disseminates Putin’s propaganda is complicit in his crimes.

Not all democratically elected leaders are legitimate

Cue in Peter Hitchens, who has been reticent on this subject for a while. Even he must realise that, after a spate of poisonings and other murders around the world, extolling Putin’s regime openly has become socially awkward.

But Hitchens’s adoration of the KGB colonel has finally managed to circumvent common decency. True love will find a way, thereby vindicating Virgil’s adage, omnia vincit amor.

Passion makes people do and say insane things, and Hitchens is no exception. Thus, in today’s article he equates the revolting jacquerie in Washington the other day with the 2014 popular uprising in the Ukraine that toppled the Yanukovych government.

In support, the rattling train of Hitchens’s thought has resumed its runs in his one-track mind. His favourite trick is to vindicate his beloved tyrants by first issuing a disclaimer about their nastiness and thereby trying to preempt a charge of bias (or worse) for the subsequent panegyric.

For example, a few years ago he wrote: “[Putin’s Russia] is a sinister tyranny where those who challenge the president’s power or expose his wrongdoing suffer very nasty fates.” But then, in the same article: “Mr Putin’s Russia [is] now astonishingly the most conservative, patriotic and Christian country left in Europe.”

This is a recurrent device, and today it recurs: “The toppled government of President Viktor Yanukovych was ugly and corrupt, beyond doubt. But by the standards of Ukraine’s young democracy, it was still legitimate.”

Hence, toppling it was wrong, as I hope you understand the implication. Quite apart from repeating Putin’s propaganda almost verbatim, this statement shows a foolhardy belief in the redemptive power of the ballot box über alles.

Yet some unpleasant characters have been known to rise to power by democratic means. Springing to mind are, among others, Messrs Hitler, Perón, Mugabe and Macîas Nguema (who then murdered a third of the population of Equatorial Guinea that had voted him in).

Such examples make it hard to argue both the absolute ipso facto virtue of any democratic regime and the absolute ipso facto evil of removing it from power. Call me a moral relativist and a democracy hater, but I think an assassin putting a bullet through Hitler’s head in, say, 1938, would have done mankind a favour.

But what would be hard for you and me to argue is a doddle for a man in the throes of passion. Thus Hitchens: “I found them [the 2014 events in Kiev] repellent and wrong. Almost alone among Western journalists, I argued that this had been a violent putsch.”

That second sentence is another recurrent theme. For while professing contempt for Trump, Hitchens suffers from the same contemptible trait: propensity for tooting his own horn. In practically every piece Hitchens portrays himself as a sort of Don Quixote, singlehandedly charging the windmills of liberalism with the lance of I-told-you-so. Still, one wishes bad taste were his worst fault.

Backtracking, I think calling Hitchens a useful idiot was wrong. An idiot does bad things out of ignorance, but surely even Hitchens can’t be ignorant of the true nature of the Yanukovych government.

It wasn’t just “ugly and corrupt”. It was a stooge to Putin and a high-ranking member of his crime family, to which Yanukovych owed loyalty in preference to the Ukraine’s national interests. That betrayed the country’s sovereignty won in 1991. Under Yanukovych, the Ukraine was independent only de jure. De facto it remained a satrap of Putin’s Russia.

Hence, rather than being a “repellent putsch”, the 2014 events in Kiev were a popular uprising against an evil tyranny. Any decent person of any political persuasion (other than lickspittle sycophancy to Putin, that is) should have rejoiced.

Hitchens’s reaction? “Nice liberal-minded Western governments, especially the American one, along with nice liberal media, rejoice at the outcome of these events, the overthrow of an elected government by unconstitutional means and mass intimidation.”

They resorted to such means because the chances of removing that petty criminal from power democratically were slim to nonexistent. Not to Hitchens though: “Elections were due within a year, which could have removed those in power lawfully. The mob did not wish to wait…”

Allow me to complete this sentence with something truthful for a change: “…for another blatantly fixed election.” If Hitchens is unaware of the near-certainty of such an outcome, he ought to study the records of every Russian poll from 1996, when Yeltsyn was elected fraudulently, onwards.

The Putin junta had refined the appropriate techniques and was more than happy to share the experience with its puppet. Tyrants may rise to the summit by democratic means, but they never fall from it in that fashion. They need to be pushed, or putsched if you’d rather.

This stands in contrast to how things are done in civilised countries, such as the USA. There no need for mob justice exists precisely because constitutional means of redressing grievances are in ample supply.

Hence, comparing the pathetic thugs who tried to take over the Capitol building to the Ukrainian people who rose en masse to regain their independence is morally corrupt, intellectually defunct and borderline insane.

Hitchens’s fiery concluding diatribe against his bogeymen is worth a long quotation:

“So answer me this, all you lofty liberals. I have always despised Donald Trump and the empty-headed movement he created, and I am here quite happy to say that the invasion of the halls of the US Congress by Trump supporters was a grotesque, evil and criminal enterprise, which I utterly condemn without the tiniest reservation.

“But will you, even now, say that the violent putsch in Kiev, six years ago, was just as wrong?

“No, you won’t. Because – as your failure to defend liberty shows – you have no real principles.”

Quite. Anyone who disagrees with Hitchens on anything is an unprincipled lofty liberal. That’s what I am then, even though I’ve seldom been described as either unprincipled or liberal or lofty.

We, the lofty liberals of Hitchens’s febrile imaginings, are sane enough not to mouth arrant, crazy nonsense, such as equating the events in Kiev and Washington. We won’t say the former “was just as wrong” as the latter because it wasn’t.

We repudiate the mob violence in Washington while celebrating the revolution in Kiev precisely because we have principles, among which is the defence of liberty. I may be biased, but to this lofty liberal that beats adulation of evil despots – and especially doing their bidding in the Western press.

Culture vultures are circling overhead

‘Culture vulture’ is often misused to mean ‘art lover’, which, in that sense, is dubious ornithologically. However, the term gains validity as it moves closer to its literate meaning.

The vulture and her culture

Vultures are, after all, scavengers that mainly devour the carcasses of dead animals, but at a pinch will prey on the wounded and the sick. Hence, if you agree that our culture is dead or at least ailing, the dictionary definition snugly fits HMG’s culture functionaries.

Such as Maria Balshaw, director of the Tate galleries and museums, a culture vulture par excellence. For outlanders among you, Tate is one of Britain’s most venerable and important cultural institutions. That’s why its director is appointed by the prime minister personally.

Since Miss Balshaw ascended to that post during Dave Cameron’s tenure, he must have felt she had the necessary qualifications. That’s par for the course.

In my charitable mood I’d call Dave’s own cultural tastes demotic. In my more normal mood I’d call them barbaric.

For example, he names Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon as his favourite album of all time. That by itself should have disqualified him from 10 Downing Street – if only because the resident at that address may choose the director of Tate.

If the PM is himself a culture vulture, he can be confidently expected to choose another vulture as his appointee. Birds of a feather… and all that.

To vindicate this proverb, Miss Blashaw implicitly restates her commitment to cultural subversion in every word she utters publicly. She has no regard for the great art of the past and much admiration for modern ‘conceptual’ perversions.

And it isn’t just words. In her previous job as director of Manchester City art galleries, she left her mark on every one of them, including Whitworth. That gallery isn’t blessed with too many masterpieces, but one of them is a The Crucifixion, attributed to Duccio.

Since Miss Balshaw has never seen a masterpiece she couldn’t hate, she mothballed The Crucifixion so thoroughly that today’s staff don’t even know what it is or where it is. Thus nothing could distract grateful visitors from what passes for art these days.

Miss Balshaw is strong on ideology, but her grasp of her field is tenuous. This she proved by her selections on Desert Island Discs, a radio programme first heard in 1942.

Again, if you don’t happen to be British, the programme’s guests are asked to select eight records they would take with them to a desert island, where they could conceivably stay for the rest of their lives.

It’s a jocular proposition, but it can yield serious insights into the guest’s personality. For example, a politician whose selections include the Horst-Wessel-Lied and other works in the same vein may raise legitimate doubts about his fitness for office.

Miss Balshaw’s choices for her insular solitude certainly prove she isn’t fit to lead Tate, In fact, she ought to be barred even from visiting it. For she’s prepared to spend the rest of her life listening to nothing but Ghost Town by The Specials and Crown by Stormzy, with these two albums serving as bookends for six other similar ones.

I have no way of reproducing the neurologically murderous sound of this ‘music’, but I can give you a taste of the lyrics Miss Balshaw would be prepared to hear every day of her life.

Thus Ghost Town:

Some day we gon’ set it off
Some day we gon’ get this off
Baby, don’t you bet it all
On a pack of Fentanyl

And here’s Stormzy’s Crown:

You can’t hold me down, I still cope
Rain falling down at the BRITs, I’m still soaked
Tried put a hole in our shit, we’ll build boats
Two birds with one stone, I’ll kill both (What?)
Pray I never lose and pray I never hit the shelf (Two)
Promise if I do that you’ll be checkin’ on my health (Cool)
If it’s for my people I’ll do anything to help
If I do it out of love…

These verses make sense, don’t they? As much as the music Miss Balshaw enjoys and the art she favours, which leaves me in two minds.

I can’t decide whether her appointment constituted a greater insult to culture or to public administration. What do you think?

The EU hates Orbán and he isn’t even British

Simple logic based on an ancient adage makes Hungary’s PM Orbán Britain’s friend: after all, the EU treats both as enemies. This makes Orbán an interesting object of study – after all, Britain isn’t blessed with a surfeit of friends in Europe.

Neither one is smiling

Orbán comes across as a Hungarian version of Trump: nasty, demagogic, crude, nationalistic, populist, controversial, contemptuous of due process and liberal axioms, suspicious of internationalism – and right on most issues.

The issue on which he isn’t right is his professed choice of role models, such as Turkey, Russia and China, which he often cites, along with Singapore and India, as examples Hungary could profitably follow. That makes one wonder whether Orbán’s commitment to Christian values is as staunch as he claims.

Also, his oft-proclaimed passion for national sovereignty and self-sufficiency seems hard to reconcile with Hungary’s continued membership in the EU, whose passions are diametrically opposite. One has to admit with chagrin that Orbán’s reservations about the EU don’t seem to extend to her handouts, which isn’t the most principled stance in God’s creation.

All this raises legitimate questions about Orbán’s political and human virtues, but these aren’t the questions I’ll try to answer here. What interests me is Orbán’s policies, proposed or already realised.

Many of them hit EU functionaries (and other leftish ideologues) with such force that those golden stars begin to spin kaleidoscopically before their eyes. Just look at his views on immigration.

Orbán champions the Great Replacement theory of mass immigration, which tallies with school maths. Schoolchildren the world over are tortured by problems of communicating vessels, or else swimming pools with two pipes, one filling, the other emptying.

Unlike me, Orbán must have excelled at such problems. He knows that, if the flow rate in the incoming pipe is greater than in the outgoing one, the pool will be filling up, but the water in it will be totally replaced in due course.

Extrapolating from maths to demographics, Orbán states a self-evident fact: if the rate of immigration exceeds the rate of birth in the indigenous population, sooner or later the indigenous population will be replaced. And if the immigrants are culturally alien to European values, then this development will be catastrophic not only demographically but also culturally.

Orbán put this theory into practice during the 2015 migrant crisis, when he had a razor wire fence erected along the Serbo-Hungarian border to stem the inflow of illegal immigrants, many of whom were indeed culturally alien.

This was in marked contrast to the EU policy, which Orbán pointed out: “Europe’s response is madness. We must acknowledge that the European Union’s misguided immigration policy is responsible for this situation.”

Such statements and policies put Orbán on a collision course not only with the EU, but also with that great champion of untrammelled migration, George Soros, who said: “His plan treats the protection of national borders as the objective and the refugees as an obstacle.”

Truer words have seldom been spoken, but where Messrs Orbán and Soros differ is in their assessment of the situation the latter described so epigrammatically. What Orbán sees as a virtue, Soros sees as a vice. That difference has triggered an amply justified outburst of anti-Soros diatribes in Hungary, many regrettably tinged with anti-Semitism.

In general, Orbán and many members of his Fidesz party have been known to express anti-Semitic sentiments, which is abhorrent. However, recent surveys show that Jews feel safer in Hungary than, say, in France. And Orbán has been a good friend to Israel, a distinction not all EU members can claim. I did say he’s controversial, didn’t I?

Then of course there’s homosexuality, which, proceeding from an unimpeachable scriptural base, Orbán regards as contrary to Christian values. Of course, Christian values are contrary to the EU, and that creates another flashpoint.

To begin with, Hungary’s constitution doesn’t recognise homomarriage and specifies that “the mother is a woman, the father is a man.” Just a couple of decades ago, only certifiable nutters would have found this statement objectionable, but times do change, and I can’t honestly say always for the better.

According to Orbán, children are born either male or female, and so they’ll remain for life. “That,” according to him, “ensures the upbringing of children according to Christian culture.” I don’t know about ensuring – such upbringing must have a few other components as well. But this would be a good start.

In the same vein, Orbán also amended Hungary’s constitution to ban same-sex couples from adopting children. I can’t argue against this ban, but the EU can. Its gauleiters don’t seem to mind poor tots being confused about who’s Mummy and who’s Daddy, especially if such parents alternate their roles from day to day.

If Great Replacement is basic maths, this ban is basic common sense. Alas, sense isn’t common within the ranks of the EU, or for that matter in any Western officialdom.

According to some, that commonsensical amendment was somewhat compromised when its author, MEP Jozsef Szajer, was busted in a police raid on a homosexual orgy in Brussels. This is a vivid illustration to the 17th century adage “Do as I say, not as I do”. I hope Mr Szajer objected to his arrest by saying “Hypocritical? Moi?”

But whatever his personal predilections, Hungary’s policies on such matters are sane, whereas the EU’s (and Britain’s) aren’t. Orbán’s government has also banned university courses on gender studies, a subject that in Western European countries is taught at kindergartens. And a ban on legally changing one’s sex was put into effect last May.

The EU and LGBTQ groups are up in arms. Orbán’s policies, they scream, constitute an attack on democracy and the rule of law. These terms are so often uttered in the same breath that one might think they are synonymous and interchangeable. Yet they are often closer to being mutually exclusive than identical.

In this case that doesn’t matter, because Orbán violates neither, at least by the policies mentioned so far. From what one hears, these policies are widely popular in Hungary, meaning that democratic consensus is upheld. As to the rule of law, the last noun should be modified with the adjective ‘just’ for the concept to make sense.

Laws must be respected and obeyed, but only insofar as they are just. For example, telling political jokes was against the law in the Soviet Union, as was being a Jew in Nazi Germany. More honoured in the breach than the observance, wouldn’t you say?

The EU may have laws obligating every country to accept an unlimited number of aliens, to sanctify every perversion under the sun and teach children in that spirit, and to violate every traditional practice based on common decency, common sense and traditional values. But only a mind addled by modern propaganda would regard such laws as just.

Orbán may occasionally overstep the line separating reasonable restraints from tyrannical tethers, and in that sense he is a marginal figure. But one way or the other he represents another fault line threatening a major EU earthquake.

Hence he’s an enemy of the EU and, considering her hostile treatment of Britain, our friend. You aren’t going to take issue with this ancient logic, are you?   

Where is America going?

Just a couple of years after I moved to America from Russia, I was discussing my career prospects with a friend, head of humanities at a Texas university.

My training and inclination naturally pointed to life in the academe, but my friend Peter warned against it: “It’s assumed that everyone at every humanities faculty will be at least broadly liberal.”

Since I knew I couldn’t be liberal even broadly, I began to look for different paths to economic survival. My academic career died before it got a chance to live, and my biggest illusion followed it to the knacker’s yard.

Everyone, Peter? There I was, thinking that pluralism in politics ipso facto promoted plurality of views, certainly in the intellectual arena. Yet according to my friend it fostered uniformity instead. I hoped he was wrong, but sensed he wasn’t.

Now, almost half a century later, an English friend also named Peter asked me about my “thoughts on the outlook for the USA”, and that made me recall the other Peter and the paradox at which he hinted.

It wasn’t the only one. The other paradox was the dichotomy between ‘public opinion’ and opinions of the public. The former was opinion with a public voice, produced by the vocal chords of “everyone at every humanities faculty”, the major newspapers, TV networks, publishers and assorted celebrities.

The latter was opinion enunciated in the public bar, an institution enjoying an overwhelming numerical superiority over the other one. Yet no war for a nation’s soul is ever decided by the large battalions so dear to Napoleon’s heart.

Those who think otherwise ought to remind themselves that the greatest revolutions of modernity, American, French and Russian, were each perpetrated by a few hundred revolutionaries, a few thousand at most. The majority either remained silent, or was seduced into joining the chorus of ‘public opinion’.

What matters is the specific weight of opinion, not its demographic spread. Thus I discovered that the public generally didn’t share ‘public opinion’. Long before terms like ‘political correctness’ entered the lexicon, the American public rejected ‘public opinion’ on all its pet subjects: race, taxation, foreign intervention, the role of the state, guns, contempt for American grassroots and history.

The rejection was visceral, rather than rational. Public bar opinion was happy to rail against ‘pinko preverts’, racial strife shoved down its collective throat, growing taxes and so forth. But for as long as ‘public opinion’ didn’t interfere too much with the pursuit of happiness also known as the American Dream, public bar opinion was happy to remain confined to its natural venue.

And when such interference overstepped a certain threshold, public bar opinion tended to find able enunciators, such as Reagan and, well, Trump. Those mouthpieces got themselves heard – and elected – by putting public bar opinion into words capable of converting it into a political force.

‘Public opinion’ was always aware of that danger, which is why it curbed its more extreme, totalitarian tendencies. Such self-restraint reflected a tactical consideration, not an inner need. Public bar opinion had to be kept in check, and that desideratum was best served by seeming moderation, not unbridled extremism.

With a beagle’s olfactory sense and a sapper’s eye for the landmines, ‘public opinion’ developed an intricate system of verbal control mechanisms, something I call glossocracy, government of the word, by the word and for the word.

‘Public opinion’ learned how to come up with words that public bar opinion wouldn’t perceive as too extreme. Thus ‘health insurance for all’ is better than nationalised health; ‘state investment’, than state control; ‘social justice’, than expropriatory taxation, ‘affirmative action’ than reverse discrimination; ‘identity politics’, than social atomisation – and so forth.

The glossocrats avoided certain words the way anglers avoid noise, and for the same reason: they didn’t want to scare off their prey. But for all the dominance of ‘public opinion’, words and realities can’t go their separate ways entirely.

Immoderate policies can’t hide their whole body behind moderate words: an elbow or a toe is bound to stick out. Hence, it’s not just extreme words that were off-limits, but also, to some extent, extreme policies. ‘You can’t say that’ isn’t the same as ‘you can’t do that’, but some link usually perseveres.

This long introduction was necessary for me even to attempt to answer my English friend’s question about the outlook for the USA. That outlook, I’m afraid, is grim, made ever so much grimmer by the Trump tenure.

Throughout his presidency I’ve been as complimentary about Trump’s policies as I’ve been scathing about his personality. Alas, his good policies are more easily reversible than the damage done by his bad personality.

Those seeking significant political shifts need both their gods and their demons, with these entities existing in binary glossocratic opposition. It could be proletarians and capitalists, Aryans and Jews, monarchists and republicans, liberals and racists or anything else.

To what extent such binary entities reflect reality doesn’t matter. What matters to budding glossocrats isn’t that they are real, but that they are plausible.

Thus, for example, Reagan had his opponents and even haters, but, hard as their tried, they couldn’t attach the devil’s horns to his public image. Reagan was too obviously a good chappie, or at least made a damned good show of being one.

His haters from the ranks of ‘public opinion’ had their gods, but they lost a great deal of their omnipotence without the plausible dialectical antithesis of an obvious demon. That dulled the cutting edge of glossocracy and delayed its triumph: dialectics won’t be defied.

Yet Trump is no Reagan. His repulsive personality, especially its post-November manifestations, gave the glossocratic ‘public opinion’ the demon it sought. For people blessed with easy command of language it’s child’s play to establish a link between Trump’s rotten character and the ethos that gave rise to his good policies.

That Trump’s undertakings will be undone by the Biden administration within months, not to say weeks, has always gone without saying. Yet much more damaging is the increase in the volume of ‘public opinion’ with a pari passu muting of public bar opinion.

Glossocratic ‘public opinion’ now doesn’t have to hide behind the smokescreen of moderation. It no longer has to forswear extreme words because it no longer has to forswear extreme policies. Since Trump is a plausible demon, ‘public opinion’ can easily demonise, and thereby silence, public bar opinion.

In practical terms, this means a forthcoming leftward turn in American politics, with every destructive consequence such an excursion will inevitably entail. The consequences would be hurtful even without the Covid pandemic devastating the country’s economy and denting its spirit. As it is… well, as it is, I can’t find many hopeful words.

All I can do is pray that the devastating effects of the extreme policies will only shake the foundations of America, rather than implode them. Public bar opinion has been shamed into silence, but it’s still there, waiting for a gentler, more persuasive voice than Trump’s to appear. I pray that it does, soon.

Nowt so queer as folk

This expression, common in the north of England, gave rise to the title of Russell T Davies’s TV series, where the adjective is used in its sexual, or rather homosexual, sense.

Russell T Davies (left) has the power of his convictions

Now Mr Davies, himself a lover of male beauty, has come out against casting straight actors as homosexuals. His reasons, he explains, are professional, not woke.

“It’s about authenticity,” he says. “You wouldn’t cast someone able-bodied and put them [sic] in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t black someone up.”

Far be it from me to argue with a professional about his area of expertise. If Mr Davies says that a straight man can’t capture every nuance of homosexual demeanour, I have to accept he knows what he’s talking about.

But then Cate Blanchett is a professional too, and, though straight, she happily played a lesbian in the film Carol. Miss Blanchett disagrees with Mr Davies: “I will fight to the death for the right to suspend disbelief and play roles beyond my experience,” she says.

This rings true: an actor’s craft is all about creating characters detached from himself. Few would expect a thespian playing Richard III to be a hunchback in real life, one performing Macbeth to be a serial murderer or one playing Lear to have his eyes gouged out.

On the subject close to Mr Davies’s heart, many straight actors have excelled playing homosexuals: Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, Hugh Grant in A Very English Scandal. And Sean Penn got an Oscar for such a role in Milk.

Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor played homosexuals in I Love You Philip Morris, which gave Ricky Gervais an opening when he presented the Golden Globe Awards.  “Two heterosexual actors pretending to be gay,” said the comedian in his deadpan voice. “So the complete opposite of some famous scientologists then.”

A collective gasp from the audience greeted that transparent reference to John Travolta. “My lawyers helped me with the wording of that joke,” reassured Gervais. Then, after a perfectly timed pause, he added: “They’re not here.”

Jokes aside, I’ll let professionals sort out the issue of authenticity, although, getting back to Mr Davies’s statement, I can’t for the life of me see why an able-bodied actor couldn’t be believable in a wheelchair. And, as both Hanks and Penn showed, conveying homosexuality isn’t beyond the capacity of an accomplished straight actor either.

Alas, when Mr Davies says “you wouldn’t black someone up”, he belies his claim of not being woke. Blackface used to be a standard practice in productions of Othello. Actors like Lawrence Olivier were indeed blacked up without in any way lowering the dramatic tension of the role.

That practice has now been abandoned. Any production featuring a blacked-up actor as Othello would be picketed faster than you could say ‘racism’ and ‘cultural appropriation’. By the same token, you won’t see many men playing female roles, and when they do it’s usually for a valid reason.

Such transsexualism was de rigueur in Elizabethan times, when women weren’t allowed on stage for fear of offending public morality. But since actresses, even those who insist on calling themselves actors, are now in ample supply, it would be churlish to cast, say, Jason Statham as Ophelia.

So far so good – I am agreeing with Mr Davies and his likeminded friends, if only for the sake of argument. But they betray themselves by showing a lamentable lack of consistency.

If, as they maintain, a white actor can’t be convincing as a black character, nor a male performer as a woman, then logic demands that the reverse apply as well: blacks shouldn’t play whites and women shouldn’t play men.

However, when ideology talks, logic falls silent. Thus the same people who protest against ‘whitewashing’, welcome ‘blackwashing’, the casting of blacks in white roles (and, for that matter, actresses as men).

Examples are numerous. Off the top, in the TV series Bridgerton, black actress Golda Rosheuvel plays Queen Charlotte, and in Anne Boleyn the title role is played by equally black Jodie Turner-Smith – with no cultural appropriation mooted within my earshot.

In fact, there have been rumours about Queen Charlotte’s African ancestry, although no consensus among historians exists. But that’s neither here nor there: even if there was a drop of black blood in the Queen, this doesn’t explain the profusion of other black actors in Bridgerton: the court of George III wasn’t exactly known for its commitment to multiculturalism.  

Such casting is strictly ideological. The audience is expected to pretend it’s not distracted by the spectacle of, say, Anne Boleyn as a black woman. Yet any intelligent viewer is bound to look for some hidden meaning in such casting, and most would be frustrated at their inability to find any.

These days it goes without saying that Cleopatra must always be played by a black actress on the British stage. Now the queen of Egypt was a member of the Greek Ptolemaic dynasty, whose members could be suntanned, but never black. Portraying her as a black African makes no sense historically or artistically, but to modern directors it makes every sense ideologically.

The production I saw at the National featured not only transracialism but also transsexualism. Many male roles, including that of the warrior Agrippa, were played by women. Utterly confused, I walked out after the first act, a feat of escapism I’ve since repeated many times whenever I couldn’t figure out whether a woman actually was a man, or merely pretended to be one.

One such expensive exit (two theatre tickets will set you back some £150 in London) was from the play Raven, about the chess match between Fischer and Spassky. Many of the historical male characters were played by women, who would then revert to their own sex in subsequent scenes; blacks played whites; I headed for the exit, confused to the point of distraction.

It’s too much to hope that our directors stop using stage and screen as ideological battlegrounds. These chap are among those who inhale reality and exhale zeitgeist. Even if they have artistic sensibilities, they willingly trade them for woke rectitude, and no one can stop such transactions.

However, I do suggest Mr Davies attend a spiritualist séance and try to communicate with the spirit of Stanislavsky. I bet Konstantin Sergeyevich will see nothing but madness in Davies’s method.

What’s wrong with colonialism, anyway?

Now it’s Clive of India (d. 1774) whose name has to be expunged for being offensive to our brittle sensibilities.

Let’s rename it after Greta Thunberg

This military leader in the employ of the East India Company (EIC) did much to establish the British presence on the subcontinent, largely and satisfyingly at the expense of the French. He became the British governor of Bengal, and his tenure was controversial even in his own time.

Working with Warren Hastings, Clive laid the foundations of the British Empire, but both of them came under attack for mismanagement and corruption. Their most vociferous critic was Edmund Burke, who eventually redirected his animus towards the bigger target of the French Revolution.

Though both men were eventually acquitted at their trials, historians still argue about Clive’s career. This is a debate I’m neither willing nor indeed qualified to join. Yet those who wish to erase Clive’s name from history don’t join the debate either. They simply put their tyrannical foot down.

Their syllogistic thought proceeds from general principles. Thesis: Clive was a colonialist. Antithesis: Colonialism is evil by definition. Synthesis: Clive was evil.

Therefore his statue outside the Foreign Office should be toppled and, more immediately, his name must be taken off a house at Merchant Taylors’ School for Boys. According to headmaster Simon Everson, “Robert Clive has always been a controversial figure.”

True. But if we censor ex post factum every controversial figure in history, we’ll soon run out of heroes. In fact, we’ll soon run out of history.

For example, the Houses of Parliament are adorned by the statues of Richard I and Oliver Cromwell. Applying our exacting modern criteria to both, we find them not just controversial, but downright criminal. Richard offended our commitment to multiculturalism by leading a crusade, while Cromwell butchered the Irish – not something our Equalities Commission would countenance.

Like most modern perversions, such a retromingent approach to history’s giants is ignorant, immoral and inane. This goes to show yet again that any thought or action inspired by a wrong premise will itself be wrong.

In this case, the wrong premise is that colonialism is bad ipso facto. This belief is inspired by an ideological commitment to the equality of everything and everyone. If all civilisations are equally good, then there can be no moral justification for any claim to civilising interference.

Logically following from this is the insistence that, say, British settlers committed a crime against egalitarianism by colonising North America and wiping out, or at least segregating, the indigenous civilisation. Those Red Indians were every bit as civilised as the white colonisers, albeit in different ways.

There’s no denying that the colonisation of America entailed much brutality, some of it regarded as criminal even at the time. But on balance one would have to admit that the continent has derived a few benefits as well.

History is written not so much by the victors as by the victories. And victories outnumber defeats in the history of colonisation by a wide margin. For some civilisations aren’t just different from others, but also superior to them.

British civilisation, for example, was made greater when the Isles were colonised by the Romans in the first century and the French Normans in the eleventh. The Romans also civilised most of the Mediterranean peoples they colonised, including the rather brutish Franks. The Spanish and the Portuguese left Latin America better off than it had been before their arrival, while ending such multicultural practices as Aztec cannibalism.

And India still benefits from the institutions left behind by the British colonisers, for all their occasional cruelty, venality and corruption. They too put paid to some objectionable aspects of multiculturalism. For example, even the staunchest champions of diversity will find it hard to hail as charmingly idiosyncratic the ritual of immolating the widow together with her dead husband.

Even John Stuart Mill, not widely seen as a champion of tyranny, defended British presence in India. According to him the British promoted the protection of legal rights, tolerance of conflicting opinions, and an economy better equipped to handle natural disasters. In our own time, India wouldn’t have become the world’s largest democracy and one of the biggest economies without the legacy of British colonialists – including Clive.

I’m not suggesting that a pair of wings be attached to the bronze back of Clive’s statues in London and Shrewsbury – he was no saint. But the statues of saints adorn cathedral façades, not public squares. These tend to favour sculptural representations of soldiers and statesmen, few of whom would pass through the fine sieve of modern scrutiny.

Yet their names signpost our civilisation, making it a living organism. The opposite of that is historical amnesia, severing the country’s roots. And severed roots have the same effect on civilisations as they do on trees.

None of this is to imply opposition to historical revisionism as such. As new archives are found or opened, new facts come to light. Dispassionate historians use such discoveries for retrospective threshing, separating the wheat of historical fact from the chaff of historical myth. This may lead to a reassessment of past events and personages, something to be welcomed by everyone who values truth.   

But no new facts have been uncovered about Clive, Rhodes or other Empire builders. Frenzied attacks on their memory are inspired by a Procrustean attempt to squeeze history into the framework of a fly-by-night ideology. This, I suggest, is rather the opposite of truth.

George Clooney’s insight

Not being a subscriber to The Independent, I haven’t read the whole article. But the title told me everything I needed to know: George Clooney Says Capitol Riots Have Put Trump Family into ‘Dustbin of History’.

George and his mentor

Venting the effluvia of the likes of Clooney must be one reason for the paper’s paid circulation languishing at around the 50,000 mark. But the problem goes beyond this scurrilous sheet.

Many other news outlets also provide a forum for ‘celebrities’ to share their insights into subjects they know nothing about and understand even less. Clooney, for example, is constantly egged on by his pseudointellectual wife to pontificate on matters cultural, and he is never short of conduits into which his newly acquired wisdom can flow.

So empowered, he has agitated for the return of the Elgin Marbles to… whom exactly? Here’s how George joined the battle some seven years ago: “I had to do a little bit of research to show I’m not completely out of my mind. Even in England the polling is in favour of returning the marbles to the Pantheon.”

Which Pantheon, George? The one in Paris or the one in Rome? Perhaps a wee bit more research would have come in handy, although these days it’s fashionable to plug holes in education with ideology – provided it’s the right, which is to say left, ideology.

What his ideology is comes across in Clooney’s choice of phrase. The destination he envisages for the Trump family was first mentioned in a similar context by one of history’s most sinister monsters, Leon Trotsky. When on 25 October, 1917, the Menshevik faction walked out of the Congress of Soviets to protest against the Bolshevik coup, Trotsky shouted: “Go where you belong from now on – into the dustbin of history!”

It hardly needs saying that George isn’t familiar with the provenance of the phrase. He may not even be able to tell Trotsky from a casting director. But he must often have heard that expression bandied about by his friends, who also got it third-hand, as a distant echo of a heart-warming manifesto.

In the same vein, someone who is steeped in Western culture will often use scriptural phrases even if he may be unaware of their origin. For example, the sentence “I’m at my wit’s seeing Western culture falling by the wayside or, at best, hanging on by the skin of its teeth” contains three biblical expressions that not everyone will identify as such.

Then there’s the issue of that proverbial repository awaiting not just Trump, but his whole family. How many generations of it? Perhaps the body text answers this question but, as far as I know, neither Ivanka nor Jared nor their children were implicated in inciting the Washington debacle.

Perhaps in this instance George takes his cue not from Trotsky but indeed from Scripture, with himself acting in the divine capacity: “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations…”

There’s no doubt that Trump’s incitement of the riot, which he didn’t have the courage to lead, was a disgusting act – regardless of whether or not some electoral irregularities had indeed favoured Biden. The president’s delusional solipsism is such that in his own mind he can never lose fair and square. If it appears that he indeed lost, he must have been cheated or betrayed.

In that he’s closer to the French than to the English. When the French lose a battle, they utter the stock phrase nous sommes trahis – we’ve been betrayed. The English know, or at least used to know, how to win and lose with grace and dignity.

Grace and dignity just aren’t part of Trump’s makeup: his experience in real estate development and presenting a reality TV show instilled in him a different set of character traits. This came to the fore throughout his presidency, but especially since he lost it. Trump’s appalling behaviour has besmirched his legacy, there’s no doubt about that.

But this doesn’t mean there is no legacy. I’m not sure if his tenure was indeed the most triumphant first term in history, as Trump has claimed with his typically unpleasant braggadocio, but it was generally a success.

The economy was ticking along nicely until Covid arrived and effectively lost the election for Trump. The government can do little to affect a relatively free economy positively, but it can do much to affect it negatively – and Trump didn’t do anything like that. His tax-cutting policies were especially beneficial, but then his career had trained him to detest taxation.

Trump’s foreign policy had its share of victories too. Though his natural tendency is to treat international relations as a business transaction, he managed to restrain himself long enough to put a squeeze on Iran and North Korea, even though his record of dealing with Russia and China leaves something to be desired.

He also took America out of several corrupt international setups, such as the Paris Accords and UNESCO. The latter departure was prompted by that organisation’s several anti-Israel resolutions, and Trump was perhaps the best friend Israel has had among US presidents.

He certainly did more to normalise relations in the Middle East than any other president since Carter, who was instrumental in bringing about the Egypt-Israel peace treaty in 1977. And, though seemingly contemptuous of Nato, Trump strengthened this guarantor of Western security by forcing European governments to beef up their commitment to defence.

Throughout Trump’s presidency I praised most of his policies without making much of an effort to disguise my contempt for his personality. Unfortunately, the latter eventually overrode the former, and last Wednesday Trump came perilously close to any reasonable definition of sedition.

Yet professional Trump-haters, who number in their ranks most media and academic types along with intellectual giants like Clooney, should have been careful what they wished for. Having got rid of Trump, they’ve handed unchecked political power to the blatantly socialist Democrats, who now control not only the White House, but also both Houses of Congress.

Those of us who understand both the destructive potential of socialism and the vital role America plays in the well-being of the West, can only hope that the country won’t follow Trump into the Trotskyist receptacle invoked by Clooney.