Russia is winning the war

No, Russia is nowhere near victory on the battlefield. Putin’s troops have managed some tactical advances in the Lugansk province, but the Ukrainian army is making them pay dearly for every inch.

With friends like these…

The Russians have learned their lesson in the ABC of offensive strategy: concentration of forces. At the beginning, they tried to advance in nine different directions, something that first-year students of military academies get marked down for suggesting.

Now the Russians have progressed beyond the freshman year and focused all their resources on two sections of the front, creating a sizeable numerical advantage. That has enabled them to push the Ukrainian forces back a few miles here and there.

However, having scraped the bottom of their military barrel, the Russians don’t seem to have the reserves to turn tactical gains into a strategic breakthrough. Therefore my title above refers to another war, where they are indeed reaping a more bountiful harvest.

That war is fought not in the steppes of the Ukraine, where Putin and his KGB government are out of their depth. The battle is raging in the arena where their stock in trade really comes into its own: propaganda, blackmail, recruitment.

Swarms of Russian agents, propagandists, ‘useful idiots’ and sympathisers do Putin’s bidding, screaming about the cataclysmic consequences of offering help to the Ukraine.

The main thrust of their efforts is easy enough to understand. The Ukrainian army has shown the world it has the skill, courage and motivation to send Putin’s bandits packing – and it can do so on its own, without any direct involvement of Nato forces.

All they need is weapons, and those they can’t procure on their own. They depend not just heavily but absolutely on Western supplies. That’s why President Zelensky keeps appealing to Nato with impassioned paraphrases of Churchill’s plea to FDR: “Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.”

Alas, some Western powers are a great deal less accommodating than Roosevelt was. And much of their reluctance to act on their stated commitments to Ukrainian defence is down to Putin’s agents working overtime to seduce, bribe, threaten or cheat Western leaders into insisting on the Ukraine’s surrender.

Macron and Scholz are openly agitating for the Ukraine to give up territory in exchange for a ceasefire the Russians need to refresh their offensive vigour. The catchphrase is “Let’s help Putin save his face”, and they don’t mean paying for Vlad’s next Botox.

The fascist Russian regime can supposedly avoid painful humiliation only by grabbing even more Ukrainian territory than it has stolen already. Anything short of that will rankle so badly that Vlad may just push that proverbial red button.

Macron is the third French president to feel Putin’s pain as his own. His predecessors Sarkozy and Hollande were equally sensitive – and equally disposed to appease the fascist dictator as a way of sparing his self-esteem.

As to Scholz, he is a political child of the former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, whose name should replace Quisling’s as the proverbial personification of treason and collaboration. Scholz too comes from a long line of collaborators, starting from Willy Brandt and all the way to ‘Putin’s favourite woman’ Angela Merkel.

I don’t want to venture a guess about the true allegiances of those French and German leaders. Suspicions were indeed voiced about Brandt, whom many counterintelligence experts treated as a Soviet agent.

Merkel too wasn’t above suspicion, considering her full-time youthful career in Freie Deutsche Jugend, technically a young communist organisation, but in effect the Stasi breeding farm. She was active in Leipzig at the same time Major Putin served in the KGB’s Dresden station, just 70 miles down the road.

What matters to me, however, is action, not its motivation. It’s possible, for example, that Merkel did all she could to increase Germany’s dependence on Russian energy out of her misguided understanding of political economics. It’s also possible that Scholz is driven by short-term economic considerations only. It’s even possible that Macron is too stupid to realise that Russia is waging war not just on the Ukraine, but on the West at large.

What’s not possible but definite is that they don’t understand the nature of Russian fascism, which leads them to believe that some peaceful accommodation is possible. It isn’t.

The situation has gone binary, with every shade and nuance blown to bits by Russian rockets. Either the Ukraine wins the war or the first phase of Putin’s war on the West triumphs, and he can start setting up the next phase. That’s it. Nothing in between.

This gets us back to the tools necessary to finish the job. So far the Ukrainians have been fighting mostly with Soviet heavy weapons, either those they already had or those they received from the former Soviet colonies in Eastern Europe. The ordnance for such weapons is manufactured in Russia only, and the Ukrainians have already depleted not only their own stocks, but also those of their Eastern European allies.

They, especially Poland, Czechia and the Baltics, give the Ukraine their own T-72 tanks (the numeral refers to the year they entered service – hardly state of the art), which Nato has undertaken to replace with up-to-date Western weapons.

The first part of the programme is ongoing, if only in fits and starts; the second one, much less so. The Poles have already complained that their own defences are being denuded by the West’s sluggishness in replacing the weapons Poland sends to the Ukraine.

Russian blackmail, boosted by Macron’s and Scholz’s inexplicable desire to appease the fascist regime threatening all of Europe, succeeds in spreading scaremongering propaganda about ‘red lines’.

This imaginary line supposedly separates weapons enabling the Ukraine to fight hit-and-run guerrilla action from those she desperately needs to win the war. Manny and his German colleague are panic-stricken at the thought that some Ukrainian weapons may have the range to hit Russia proper.

Now, Russian bases on the other side of the border are clearly legitimate military targets. That’s more than one can say for Ukrainian schools, hospitals and apartment blocks the Russians are reducing to rubble.

Denying the Ukraine weapons she needs to engage the enemy properly is yet another exercise in appeasement, tinged with secret admiration for Putin’s muscular approach to international affairs. The Ukrainians are cast in the role of the bull in the ring. They are allowed to fight, but they aren’t allowed to win.

Nor is it just Germany and France. Having made a big show of passing the Lend-Lease bill, the Biden administration is dragging its feet on fulfilling its own commitments. Specifically, it has refused to transfer to the Ukraine the long-range MLRS and HIMARS rocket systems, the ‘long-range’ modifier being the hold-up.

At the same time, the Americans are sabotaging the transfer of Polish Mig-29 fighters to the Ukraine for fear that the Ukrainians will use them to attack Russian territory. God forbid they’ll save a few thousand Ukrainian lives by strafing Russian rocket launchers on just the other side of the border.

The once and, he hopes, future President Trump is also doing his best for his friend Vlad. We must spend our money, he declared the other day, on our own schools, not the Ukraine. Let’s just say that, had FDR attached a similar relative value to public education and geopolitics, Hitler would have won the war.

Over the past two months Germany has sent just two arms shipments to the Ukraine. These included only anti-tank mines, machinegun parts, hand grenades and other explosives. The Ukrainians are begging for German Leopard tanks, but they get nothing but procrastination in response.

Israel is in the same appeasement boat. The other day the US requested that Israel supply to the Ukraine the Spike anti-tank rockets. Israel refused, saying that, should Israeli weapons be used to kill Russian soldiers, Russia would respond by “damaging the interests of Israeli security in Syria”.

All in all, the Ukraine has received many promises of heavy weapons, but precious few heavy weapons. Every time the planned delivery deadline approaches, it’s pushed back – from late May to June, from June to July, now from July to August. One can confidently predict that, come August, a new deadline will come into play.

The Ukrainians, and all anti-fascists around the world, are grateful to the West for its shipments of armaments, without which the war would have been lost already. Yet, should the West continue to honour the ‘red lines’ being touted by Russian agents, witting or unwitting, all those hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians will have died for nothing.

Evil would triumph, and the world would never be the same. Dreams of going back to business as usual will turn to the nightmares of more and wider wars.

Your calendar is wrong, ladies and gentlemen. We live not in 2022, but in 1938. With one minor difference: we can still make sure 1939 doesn’t happen.

P.S. A few years ago, I diagnosed perseveration as Peter Hitchens’s psychiatric problem. Such patients repeat endlessly the same words and phrases.

In his case, it’s his ubiquitous mantra that the current war was caused by the ousting of the Ukraine’s legitimate (meaning Putin-run) government in 2014. I wonder why he doesn’t bemoan the 1989-1991 removal of similarly legitimate governments of Eastern Europe.

But even supposing that the Yanukovych government was overthrown illegally, that doesn’t justify Russia’s invasion. The Ukraine is a sovereign country, and how she goes about her politics is her business and no one else’s – unless she threatens other countries, which she manifestly doesn’t.

But those Putin stooges will say anything, however idiotic. It doesn’t bother them that shilling for evil is evil in itself.  

Another day, another massacre

The school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, united the world, especially the writing part of it, in a new anti-gun crusade. Statistics, both pro and con gun ownership, are being shuffled and reshuffled with the deftness of a chap playing three-card Monte at a street corner.

People take an obligatory bow towards the US Constitution, specifically its Second Amendment, and then flash the smile of a mature adult talking to a slow child.

Even assuming, they say in the spirit of accommodation, that you may want to have a handgun to protect your family, surely you don’t need a military-grade assault rifle for that purpose? These are only ever used for mass shootings.

Before we get to the crux of the matter, a minor point: rifles available to American civilians, such as the AR-15 used in Uvalde, aren’t military-grade. They have no full-auto capability, meaning the shooter has to pull the trigger each time he fires a round.

Another minor point: rifles are used in an infinitesimal proportion of all American shootings. Even in mass shootings, since 1988, rifles alone have been used only in 14 per cent of such incidents. In 13 per cent, the killers used both a handgun and a rifle – but in 56 per cent they used a handgun only.

Yet another minor point: anti-gun enthusiasts tend to talk about gun deaths in general, lumping together murders and suicide. Using the same trick, I can truthfully claim that this week I’ve had three pounds of chicken and foie gras.

This statistic may give you a distorted view of my wealth unless I specify how much of the whole was chicken and how much was foie gras. The former was nearly all of it; the latter, a small slice, and even that I have only a few times a year.

By the same token, gun suicides in America far outpace gun homicides. For example, in 2019 (the most recent year for which full data are available) there were 14,414 gun homicides, but 23,941 gun suicides. And people who want to kill themselves can easily do so just by jumping off a tall building, saving the cost of a firearm.

As an aside, in the same year of 2019, 36,096 Americans were killed in car accidents. However, few people are demanding that cars be banned – this, though car ownership isn’t protected by the Constitution, and gun ownership is.

This takes us back to the Second Amendment, and all I can suggest is that people should read its text attentively, along with The Federalist Papers, in which the framers of that amendment explained the reasons for it. Even a cursory study will show that the Second Amendment had little to do with keeping burglars at bay.

Here’s its text: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The key word there is ‘free’. People must be able to form an armed militia whenever their freedom – not their TV sets or home computers – is threatened. Who can pose such a threat?

Certainly not freelance burglars, rapists or muggers. People’s freedom can only be threatened by a state, foreign or especially their own.

James Madison, who was to the Constitution what Thomas Jefferson was to the Declaration of Independence, saw the armed population of individual states as another check on the power of the federal government.

State militias, he wrote in The Federalist Papers, “would be able to repel the danger” of a federal army gone despotic. “It may be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops,” he added.

Since Madison had a first-rate mind, he realised that any central state, be it republican, democratic, monarchic or whatnot, carries seeds of tyranny within its body. A successful, free country is one in which those seeds aren’t allowed to sprout, and an armed population can be an effective herbicide.

Madison and the other framers also knew that guns in private ownership could also be used for criminal purposes.

They realised that gun ownership came at the cost of gun murders. Yet they were convinced this price was worth paying. Freedom, they felt, was worth dying for, and for most of them these weren’t empty words. When they rebelled against George III, they knew their lives were on the line, yet to them the benefits outweighed the costs.

Before and after they declared independence, American settlers had to conquer their continent, expanding westwards from their original colonies. Guns were thus a building block of the US, and this knowledge sits side by side with the Second Amendment in the people’s viscera.

Guns are an essential part not only of the American Constitution, but also of the American’s genetic makeup and historical memory. Whatever we may think of any of those things, blithely advocating a gun ban there betrays a woeful ignorance of the issues involved.

Considering that Piers Morgan lived in the US for a long time, I’m surprised he displays such ignorance. But none so ignorant as those who won’t learn.

Thus Mr Morgan writes: “Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about school shootings in Britain because of the decisive action we took to prevent them by introducing some of the toughest restrictions in the world.”

Britain, Mr Morgan, didn’t start life as a revolutionary republic formed by armed revolt. Even though the roots of the Second Amendment go back to the 1689 English Bill of Rights, the two countries have very different cultures, histories and mentalities.

Banning guns in Britain was a simple matter – it was like pulling a tooth. Doing so in America would be more like drastic brain surgery with an uncertain outcome.

Changing gun laws is easy; changing a country’s deeply ingrained culture isn’t. It’s much harder than changing one’s innermost convictions, which Mr Morgan does regularly, depending on which media outlet is paying his wages.

Welby should learn from Gervais

I’m sure you’ll agree that archbishops like Justin Welby and comedians like Ricky Gervais should satisfy different job requirements.

New Archbishop of Canterbury?

Archbishops preach the sacred truth of God, while comedians hold nothing sacred, including God. An archbishop’s job is to lead people to Jesus Christ; a comedian’s job is to make them laugh.

Archbishops are supposed to believe in God; comedians (or humourists and satirists) aren’t, although they may do so in the after-hours. For archbishops, the church is their workplace; for comedians, it’s a legitimate target.

This was the case even when the church still wielded a considerable secular power. Yet it was viciously lampooned by satirists, such as Boccaccio (d. 1375), Rabelais (d. 1553) or Aretino (d. 1556). And even that venerable Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Jonathan Swift (d. 1745), didn’t spare the institution he served.

Their readers laughed and sometimes cried. For some of those lampoons concealed a serious message that was a cause for tears, not guffaws. Humour, unless it’s limited to pratfalls or one-line puns, can often act as a medium for moral messages, and these are often scary.

Getting back to Gervais, a reader of mine correctly identified him as an anti-theist – Ricky’s contempt for faith transcends common-or-garden atheism. So much more surprising it is then that his mockery of women with penises conveyed the kind of moral stand more befitting an archbishop.

With a few expertly delivered jokes Gervais skewered the whole trans mania by showing how utterly ludicrous and destructive it is. Gervais thus trespassed on the territory signposted for Archbishop Welby, doing the job His Grace should be doing.

However, His Grace is doing a very different job, that of kowtowing to the worst aspects of modernity – including the one Ricky Gervais sent up so mercilessly.

A woman, said the Archbishop of Canterbury, is “someone who is sexually a woman, who is born and identifies as a woman or who has transitioned”. There was no mention of women’s penises that so amused Gervais, but it was clear contextually that His Grace sees no problem there.

Where he does see a problem is in the moral equivalence (superiority?) that transsexuals are sometimes so regrettably denied. There is, he said, “a difference between how you identify a woman and how you ensure that trans people are valued and cared for in exactly the same way as every other human being. They’re not less, they have their particular challenges, every human being has their particular challenges.”

His Grace’s convoluted English makes it hard to grasp his meaning. But I suppose he means that transsexuals are in no way inferior to people who muddle through life with the organs normally associated with their sex.

This is a message one would expect from a Guardian columnist, a BBC commentator or indeed a comedian – not from a prelate in the established Church of a formerly Christian country.

Yet Welby disagrees with that description of Britain: “I don’t think we ever were a Christian country… In the 19th century, there was a very strong Christian morality, but there were 80,000 child prostitutes in London… It’s always been that tension between how we should behave and how we do because people are human.”

This is poor even by his standards. This Christian prelate doesn’t seem to know what a Christian country is. For the tension he thinks disqualified Britain from that distinction even in the past will only ever be eliminated in heaven.

Heavenly goodness is the ideal towards which a Christian country should strive, not something it can be realistically expected to achieve in this world. A Christian country is one that makes that effort, not one that invariably succeeds.

We are indeed human, the Archbishop is right about that. That means we are fallible sinners, but some of us, increasingly few, rely on God and his Church for the propitiation of our sins. A country where such people set the tone of public life is a country with “a very strong Christian morality”, which Britain used to be.

It no longer is, which isn’t surprising when its spiritual leader doesn’t know what makes a country Christian. His Grace seems to be more interested in transient politics than in transcendent truth.

According to Welby, “…every decision we make is a political decision”. And there I was, thinking every decision is moral, not political.

But His Grace persists in pronouncing on political matters, leaving moral judgement to the likes of Ricky Gervais. Alas, the Archbishop’s grasp of political matters is wholly informed by the small cadre of Guardian readers and writers.

Hence he approves wholeheartedly HMG’s attempt to spend its way out of economic trouble. Yet any literate economist knows that a drastic reduction in taxation and public spending is the only way out of the inflationary doldrums.

Our (Conservative!) Chancellor is doing exactly the opposite – he is spending like a beached sailor and taxing like a street mugger. The government hopes to mollify the suffering voters enough for them to let the Tories hang on to power a while longer.

The message is that there’s no point voting for any other party because the Tories can out-Labour Labour. Chancellor Sunak openly boasts that he is spending more than any Labour colleague ever would, which fiscal promiscuity is supposed to be a real feather in his cap, rather than a metaphorical bullet through his head.

One would think that, once His Grace has decided to barge into the kingdom of this world, he would be scathing of such a cynical, self-serving attempt at economic suicide. One would think wrong. He approves wholeheartedly: “I think the moves are really positive about the cost of living – very brave moves politically.”

Quite. And every decision in life is political and nothing but that, if I understand His Grace correctly.

I wonder if Ricky Gervais is contemplating a career change. He couldn’t possibly make a worse Archbishop of Canterbury. Or perhaps Chancellor of the Exchequer.

No misses at Wimbledon

By this I don’t mean that henceforth every tennis shot struck in anger will clip a line. Nor that every serve will land in the box, avoiding the net en route.

No Miss for Chris

I do mean, however, that the All-England Tennis Club has gone nauseatingly, as distinct from revoltingly, woke. The club went revoltingly woke three years ago, when it decided to drop the honorifics ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’ before the names of female players when the score was announced after each game.

Now the club has progressed (if that’s the right word) to the emetic variety of wokery by applying the same perversion to the names of the past winners etched on the honours board. The laws of the land have no retroactive power, but the laws of wokery do.

Tennis clubs in England are in general that way inclined. My club, for example, made the papers a couple of months ago when it updated its membership renewal form. Where the members were expected to fill in their sex, the form stated ‘Female (no longer valid).’

It went on to offer the valid options: ‘Female, including trans woman’, ‘Male, including trans man’, ‘Non-binary’ and ‘Other’.

That last option looked a bit too open-ended for me. I should have insisted that all the remaining 70-odd sexes be listed as well. Instead I wrote to the club, telling them I won’t renew my membership next year unless that “foul obscenity”, as I put it, is eliminated.

The club manager bizarrely explained that the board had to comply with the NHS guidelines. And there I was, thinking I belonged to a private club. Yet even supposing that it somehow falls under the aegis of the government, what on earth does the NHS have to do with anything? A tennis club isn’t a hospital, after all. (It’s merely a hospital anteroom, judging by the frequency of my injuries.)

I wonder if members of the Millwall FC supporters’ club have to wrestle with the same problem. I suspect not. Many of their fans come from a social stratum still deemed too low for the wokers to plumb. Tennis, on the other hand, is seen as a ‘posh’ sport.

In fact, the newspaper reports described my club as “upmarket”. Actually, as far as London tennis clubs go, it’s anything but. One doesn’t have to be especially wealthy to manage £25 a month for unlimited playing time, which is what our membership fees are.

I suppose the term transcends purely economic criteria. Rather than a measure of wealth, it implies heightened receptiveness to any faddish orthodoxy touted by such ‘upmarket’ (meaning woke, green and left-wing) media outlets as the BBC and The Guardian.

In a parallel development, the comedian Ricky Gervais is being exposed to hysterical shrieks demanding that he be cancelled. In his Netflix special, Ricky cracked a few funny jokes about one of the categories highlighted on my club’s renewal form, trans women.

He focused his humour on certain appendages that are more naturally found in men’s trousers than under women’s skirts. Since Ricky’s comedy is mostly about delivery, no printed version would do justice to his unprintable remarks. Suffice it to say I laughed out loud.

Yet Mr Gervais doesn’t seem to realise that the newly hatched orthodoxies are no laughing matter. They are stricter in imposing grave seriousness than Jesus Christ was.

He told the multitudes that they were free to mock anything, as long as they left the Holy Ghost alone. (“Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.)

In the woke mind, therefore, women with penises enjoy the same sacred status as the Holy Ghost used to do, but no longer does. Mr Gervais and his colleagues tell jokes, often obscene ones, about Biblical characters every chance they get, but our Guardian readers don’t mind.

(Jimmy Carr was asked how come he didn’t mock Muslims the way he mocked Christians. “Because they can kill me,” replied the honest comedian.)

Even the Pope can’t escape the watching eye of the woke brigade. Explaining to the Americans the vital role played by Catholic immigrants, His Holiness said the other day: “The Irish brought you whiskey and the Italians brought you the mafia. Always look at the roots.”

If his message was that, since the roots of America grew out of drunkenness and organised crime then I’m not sure this interpretation tallies with recognised history. It’s also wide of the mark as a claim to the eternal gratitude Americans should feel for the Catholic diaspora.

Neither am I sure that it was the Irish who first graced America with that nectar. Long before a massive Irish migration, some sort of raw whisky had been brewed in America by English and Scottish settlers. But the Italian, or more specifically Sicilian, provenance of the mafia can’t be gainsaid.

Yet no one took issue with the historical accuracy of the Pope’s remarks. Instead, the papers, including Catholic ones, attacked him for what they perceived as his “ethnic slurs”.

True enough, both the Irish and the Italians have enriched their new country with more than just the two things mentioned by His Holiness. Yet his fault is only rhetorical clumsiness, not racism (ethnicism?).

Our woke brigade evokes my fond memory of KGB snitches recording every word one said and then analysing them for any possibility of subversive subtext.

Sticks and stones, chaps, sticks and stones. Leave words, jocular or otherwise, alone – they won’t break your bones (although I might, if pushed over the edge). You don’t want to resemble Orwell’s dystopian fantasies too closely, do you? If you are short of literary models to follow, I could recommend a few better ones.

London exposes EU lies

First the dry facts. The Global Financial Centres Index ranks the competitiveness of 119 financial powerhouses of the world.

The 2021 ratings (based on 150 factors) are just in, and London comes in second, marginally behind New York. Yet not a single EU city even makes it into the top 10 – Paris is 11th, Frankfurt 16th, Madrid 18th, Amsterdam 19th. Only eight European cities make it into the top 25, and four of them (London, Zurich, Edinburgh and Geneva) are outside the EU.

Nor is it just finance. London also tops the rankings as Europe’s most technologically advanced city, even though those who have ever travelled on its underground may wonder how that came about.

In absolute terms, such facts have some curiosity value, but not much of any other. They are certainly no grounds for triumphalism, nor even for optimism. The British economy is a long-term basket case, for the bomb of promiscuous public spending and burgeoning sovereign debt is bound to explode sooner rather than later.

The country spends £60 billion a year just to service the existing debt – by way of comparison, our defence spending is a mere £42 billion. Something tells me that the first number will be growing much faster than the second, or indeed any other number in the budget, except perhaps the bottomless pit of the NHS.

This is bad news for it’s after all public spending that is the major contributing factor of inflation. And inflation has the same effect on the economy as Covid has on the stamina to run the London Marathon.

One doesn’t have to boast a degree in economics to know how suicidal this trend is. In fact, such a degree may be an obstacle on the road to even rudimentary understanding of the harsh realities of life.

But relatively speaking, we may not be doing well, but we are still doing better than the EU, and not by a narrow margin. So what kind of effect is this going to have on diehard Remainers, who of necessity have become Rejoiners?

Precious little. If anything, they will redouble their efforts to drag Britain back into that defunct contrivance. For even if facts may sometimes interfere with a good story, they’ll never even leave a dent in a bad ideology – and no good ones exist.

For the founding principles of the EU lie outside reason, and I’m using the word ‘lie’ advisedly. The EU embodies the old socialist ideology of a single world government. However, following Jean Monnet’s prescription, this shining ideal is to be sold to the public in incremental steps, each camouflaged as purely economic.

This ideology is socialist because it calls for a steady increase in the centralisation, size and power of the bureaucratic state. I’d suggest that, once we’ve stripped socialism of its sharing-and-caring waffle, this is an accurate and exhaustive definition of its essence.

The veracity of economic or any other claims made for an ideology doesn’t matter. What matters is the incessant repetition of slogans, mantras and shibboleths, ideally married to the burgeoning ignorance of the population.

Even in theory, anyone with a modicum of intelligence and economic nous will know that any attempt to blend together the political, economic and social interests of dozens of countries can only ever produce an unpalatable concoction.

A single country will always have more flexibility to respond quickly and dynamically to the twists and turns of global economy, and this is something no economic Leviathan will ever be able to achieve. Its arteries are certain to become sclerotic, its joints arthritic, its muscles atrophied.

Economic practice supports the theory. Contrary to the Remainers’ doomsday predictions, Britain hasn’t collapsed after Brexit. Quite the opposite: she has begun to do better, if not spectacularly well.

Britain also responds to geopolitical challenges much better than the EU. Witness our support for the Ukraine’s valiant effort to save Europe from fascism. Again, we may not be doing as much as some (well, I) would like, but there is no denying that our response was instant and resolute, which is more than one can say for the EU.

That Union is anything but united on this issue (and most others), with various countries representing every gradation of response. Scared out of their wits by Russia’s banditry, Sweden and Finland want to be fast-tracked into Nato, a bloc that France regards as an instrument of Anglo-Saxon imperialism.

Germany and France are desperate to force the Ukraine into at least a partial surrender. Poland and the Baltics are straining every sinew trying to help the Ukraine to victory. Hungary is doing her best to sabotage their efforts because its prime minister sees Putin as his role model. Bulgaria, ditto, with an added dimension of her historical links with Russia (which didn’t prevent Bulgaria from being on the other side in both World Wars).

A simulacrum of this discord is clearly visible whenever a crisis arises, and in this world we aren’t blessed with crisis-free politics and economies. So, if the EU is failing both economically and politically, what are its successes? What is it for?

Instead of economic freedom, it has delivered protectionism. Instead of political unity, a hodgepodge of clashing interests. Instead of internationalism, thriving jingoism. The only aspect of the EU that’s going on strong is its ideology, with contradicting facts bouncing off it like arrows off a tank.

This vindicates my belief that no enterprise built on a lie will ever succeed. And every ideology is a lie by definition.

Let’s get real about realpolitik

Dr Kissinger gives hope to all of us, old geezers. At a post-mature age of 98 he can still advocate surrender to evil as lucidly as 50 years ago.

Old dog, old tricks

The Ukraine, he declared at Davos, should sue for peace, in the realpolitik sort of way. “Ideally, the dividing line should be a return to the status quo ante,” Kissinger said, meaning to the demarcation line as it was on 24 February. “Pursuing the war beyond that point would not be about the freedom of Ukraine, but a new war against Russia itself.”

Lying “beyond that point” are the territories grabbed by Russia’s previous bandit raid, in 2014. They include the Crimea and chunks of the Donetsk and Lugansk provinces.

Since Ukrainians will never stop trying to recover their stolen property, heeding Kissinger’s recommendation wouldn’t so much bring peace as create a rich potential for never-ending wars. But as long as Kissinger’s pet notion of realpolitik is upheld, we should all be happy.

Realpolitik is essentially cynical amorality. Or if you wish to be kinder than I am, it’s approaching international policy strictly from the pragmatic view of selfish national interests.

In the American context, this philosophy was epigrammatically worded by John Quincy Adams. America, he said, “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

This sounds wise and indeed realistic. Every nation should look after its own interests first, and possibly last. Who could argue against that? Yet there’s a minor snag: understanding exactly where national interests lie is often difficult.

Determining that even in today’s context is hard enough. But how will things develop next year? Three years from now? Ten? A fair argument can be made that there are so many variables coming into the long-term equation that even Dr Kissinger’s gigantic intellect can’t take all of them into account.

For example, the US systematically equipped the young Soviet Union to build its economy from the ground up. Yes, those Bolsheviks looked a bit, well, bolshie. But their gold was as good as anyone else’s, and American industries needed new markets.

America first, right? And sure enough, US companies made millions first nurturing the Soviet state, then financing its war effort, then helping it rebuild after the war, then doing brisk business throughout the lifetime of the USSR.

Yes, millions. But how many billions has it cost to counteract the Soviet war machine once it got strong enough to threaten the world? For every million of realpolitik profits, the US had to pump a billion into defence – and still fail to eliminate the risk of global confrontation.

And the Soviet Union wasn’t the only evil regime suckling at the tit of American realpolitik. Nazi Germany was another recipient of US technologies and finance. Henry Ford, for example, profited handsomely on both sides of the Second World War – and American conservatives still see him as one of their own.

Had America (and the rest of the West) replaced realpolitik with moral judgement, refusing to nurture inchoate evil regimes, millions of lives could have been saved. And fine, if human lives don’t figure in realpolitik calculations, then there are also trillions of dollars that wouldn’t have had to be spent.

The problem is that national interest is both subjective and fickle. It’s subjective because what some people see as vital for the country, others may see as a blueprint for disaster.  It’s fickle because what’s in the national interest today may run against it tomorrow – and it’s almost guaranteed to do so ten years from now.

Moral judgement, on the other hand, is more universal and less changeable – especially if it’s passed by an authority widely accepted as such.

Thus, had the American, British and French governments decided that the Bolsheviks were evil (there was enough evidence to make it the easiest decision ever), refused to deal with it, and instead supported the anti-Bolshevik forces, the midnight terror that even now is still threatening to blow up the world wouldn’t have survived to maturity.

A similar judgement about Nazi Germany could have enabled the same three countries to starve it of resources and enforce the terms of the Versailles Treaty. Instead… well, you know what happened instead.

My point is that moral politics is in most cases the best politics – even in the most pragmatic of terms. Whereas Dr Kissinger’s much-touted amoral realpolitik leads to the triumph of evil and potential disaster as often as not.

Just look at his track record. It was largely due to Kissinger’s diplomacy that communist China has risen to its present status of a global, aggressive economic powerhouse. It was also thanks to his policy of détente that the Soviet Union managed to hang on longer than it should have done – and then come back as Putinism.

In his heyday Kissinger was once overheard saying that the West had lost the Cold War, and it was up to him to negotiate the best terms of surrender. Some called it realpolitik then, but I’d prefer a different term that I’d rather not utter in a public space.

In January, 1973, Kissinger scored another realpolitik victory by negotiating a ceasefire in Vietnam. Peace has arrived, clamoured the papers. Realpolitik triumphed yet again.

In fact, what Kissinger and his counterpart, the communist cutthroat Le Duc Tho, had negotiated was the annihilation of South Vietnam, which duly followed less than two years later. But not so soon as to deny Kissinger his Nobel Peace Prize, shared with Le Duc Tho.

The latter, however, had the decency to turn the honour down – he knew what was what. Kissinger knew it too, but no such scruples for him. He gobbled up the Nobel, and his head swelled so much his cranium almost burst. Chalk up another one for realpolitik.

At about the same time, there was much brouhaha about the Soviet Union refusing to let Jews emigrate and generally stamping human rights in the dirt.

A great deal of pressure was applied in the US, and not just by American Jews. Senator Jackson and Congressman Vanik were trying to push through an amendment to the Trade Act, denying the USSR trade privileges should it continue to abuse human rights, including that to emigration.

When asked to comment, Kissinger provided another perfect example of realpolitik. “The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” he said, “and if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern.”

At least John Quincy Adams refrained from expressing a related thought with the same refreshingly amoral cynicism. No such limits for our champion of realpolitik.

Now Dr Kissinger has added his cracking voice to the chorus of Macrons and Scholzes of this world who are all effectively calling for the Ukraine to surrender. Putin’s face must be saved come what may, and no slice of Ukrainian territory is too big a price to achieve that outcome.

Realpolitik at work again. These chaps don’t realise that twisting the Ukraine’s arm into unacceptable concessions won’t bring lasting peace in Europe. It’ll bring a succession of small wars at least – and possibly one big, ultimate war.

I wish Dr Kissinger gave his restless mind a well-deserved rest. He ought to be satisfied with the damage his misconstrued political ideas have already wreaked. Let Macron, Scholz and Orbán have their own go now. They know all there’s to know about realpolitik.

“Auf Wiedersehen, pet”

That was the name of an old TV series that, to my shame, I never saw. I don’t even know what it was about, although I’m fairly certain it wasn’t about a man killing his dog.

WANTED: Glenn McCrory

I suspect the word ‘pet’ was merely a term of endearment widely used by Englishmen of a certain age and class when talking to younger women. It’s no more of a putdown than the similarly used ‘love’ is a protestation of undying affection.

The show ended in 2004, and little did its producers know that today the title of the series would be classed as incitement to criminal behaviour. The former boxing champ Glenn McCrory, 57, didn’t know that either, which got him in a spot of trouble.

Glenn attended a £5,000-per-head VIP dinner, served by a bevy of young waitresses. Failing to weigh his words with the exactitude demanded by today’s heightened sensitivity, Glenn addressed two of them as ‘pet’.

The girls called the police (as one does), who instantly arrived at the scene. It makes me proud to be British, knowing that our police have enough free time on their hands to fight even such seemingly insignificant infractions. Obviously, things like murder, burglary, mugging and theft have already been eliminated from Her Majesty’s realm.

The aging pugilist was arrested and charged with threatening and abusive behaviour. The maximum punishment for this is six months in prison, which testifies to the ill-advised liberalism of our legal system.

After all, the two young ladies may be traumatised for life, and how do you measure decades of anguish against any term of imprisonment, especially such a derisory one? Lock him up and throw away the key, I say.

I also wonder what would have happened had Glenn called the waitresses ‘love’, ‘darling’ or the archaic ‘flower’?  Are these better or worse than ‘pet’? Don’t ask me, I’m no legal expert. I am, however, an occasional transgressor, known at times to call younger women ‘sweetie’, and most women are younger these days.

I’ve been told off a few times, but so far not prosecuted. If tried for that crime, I’d probably cite the extenuating circumstance of being foreign-born and therefore deaf to the fine nuances of the English language.

Since Glenn doesn’t have that excuse, he may be looking at some hard time. The rest of us may repeat after Alice: “Curiouser and curiouser”. Or rather crazier and crazier.

Everything about modernity is progressive, including, by the looks of it, its lunacy. Our whole society is being driven bonkers by a madcap idée fixe that words are more injurious than sticks and stones – and it’s up to every individual to decide which words are hurtful.

Such subjectivity has nothing to do with justice. Laws are supposed to be objective, with breaches tightly defined. Murder is murder, theft is theft, robbery is robbery. They are subject to investigation and proof, but not to personal idiosyncrasies.

A defence counsel may argue that his client didn’t commit the murder in question, but not that there is nothing wrong with it because the victim didn’t suffer very much.

The crime for which Glenn McCrory was arrested is different. Subjectively, some woman may be offended by the same word that most of her sisters would find warm and cuddly. Does this mean the man will get off for committing the same crime against some women, but not others? If so, justice isn’t so much abused as prostituted.

It’s not just words either. Transport for London has posters on the tube warning commuters that “intrusive staring” is sexual harassment, and sexual harassment is a crime. Not bad manners, not rudeness, not even a misdemeanour – a crime. That being so, anyone reporting staring would be doing her civic duty, not snitching.

The whole idea is expressed with the coruscating stylistic brilliance we’ve learned to expect from our civil servants: “We want to know about that staring because that is the behaviour that suggests to me that someone is thinking about a sexual behaviour that supports that staring. We will record them as crimes and we will investigate them.” [My emphasis]

Guilty as charged, m’lord. If an attractive woman sits opposite me on the train, I may try to look away, but I’m not sure I’ll succeed every time. The thought “of a sexual behaviour” may sometimes cross my mind, though not as often as in my youth.

At other times, I may look at her simply because she is indeed sitting directly opposite. If the ride is long, constantly looking away may crick my neck, a condition to which I’m prone. And if it’s not one attractive woman, but two side by side, then avoiding them would involve sustained contortions that might tax my flagging athleticism.

Thus, one of the two ladies, or perhaps both, may interpret my looking as staring or even leering. If that’s how they see it, they seem to be duty-bound to call the Transport Police and have me nabbed.

Our government should just be open about its aim. It intends to make the two sexes not complementary but hostile. One way of achieving this noble purpose is to destroy any normal interaction between men and women, which in the old days might even have involved mild flirtation.

Or not, as the case may be. A man may appreciate an attractive woman, or a woman an attractive man, aesthetically, with nary a dirty thing in mind. Looking thus becomes a wordless compliment, to be accepted with a noncommittal smile of gratitude.

But that sort of thing would go against the desideratum of annihilating society, turning people into atomised individuals resentful and suspicious of one another. Hence all links keeping those atoms within the social molecule have to be severed.

Divide et impera, said Julius Caesar twenty-two centuries ago, when he was fighting the Gauls. Our modern state also wants to divide and conquer. And it’s us that our spivs are fighting.

Change sex, go to heaven

Sit up and listen, all you transphobes. For I’ve made a startling discovery that proves you are all heathen reprobates.

The secret is out

It’s especially you, so-called Christians, who are in for a shock of your miserable lives. You keep using Scripture as an offensive weapon against saintly people who transition from one sex to the other (or rather another, for, as every decent person knows, there exist 76 of them, at latest count).

Your problem is that you read Scripture selectively, starting with the kind of Scripture you select to read. That’s indeed your problem, but it’s not all your fault.

It’s the fault of that awful institution, the Church, which arbitrarily picked just four Gospels out of many lower-case gospels in circulation. The intention behind that legerdemain is clear: to dupe the masses into believing in the loving Jesus who led people to salvation by inviting them to believe in him and imitate his own goodness.

That’s why the Church suppressed many other gospels painting a different and therefore true picture, two of which were written by St Thomas the Apostle. The first one dealt with Jesus’s infancy, the second with his mature years.

And let me tell you, Jesus was one naughty brat (I’m choosing a mild adjective not to offend anyone). If another child upset him in any way, little Jesus would use his divine powers to smite him on the spot. Still think he was all lovey-dovey? Think again.

However, it’s the second Gospel of St Thomas that’s relevant to today’s topic, the divine nature of transsexuality. Behold:

“Simon Peter said to them, ‘Mary should leave us, for females are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, ‘Look, I shall guide her to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter heaven’s kingdom’.” (Gospel of St Thomas 114)

What are we to make of this passage? First, Simon Peter was a rank misogynist on speed. Implicitly, he felt that all women should be exterminated.

Contextually, this also makes that bedrock of Christianity a champion of homosexuality. After all, men would only have one another if every woman were killed. So let’s just make a mental note that Peter wasn’t totally out of synch with our time and press on.

The same context also suggests that Jesus agreed with Peter’s premises. But, being divine, he didn’t just identify the problem. He also offered a solution.

A woman may save herself from the extinction she richly deserves by transitioning. Even though Jesus was omniscient, he mentioned no specific procedures involved in that metamorphosis. Not a word about surgery, transplants, hormone treatment and so on. But hey, this is Scripture, not a medical manual.

Note that Jesus didn’t even mention the possibility that a man also might wish to transition, in the opposite direction. The thought that some men might be that way inclined didn’t even occur to him.

This casts doubt on his omniscience, but that’s a subject for another day. Perhaps I’ll ask my friend Richard Dawkins for a comment, he’s up on the Church’s sharp practices.

Meanwhile, let’s stop this levity and express a sombre regret that some people still give credence to the ‘lost’ apocryphal gospels. They weren’t lost. They were rejected for the obvious sinister fakes they were.

Many of those gospels have been discovered relatively recently, in my lifetime. But Fathers of the Church repudiated them directly those forgeries appeared, from the second century AD onwards.

They immediately identified the true authors of the apocryphal gospels as Gnostic heretics, not the apostles whose authorship was claimed. Thus, for example, Irenaeus of Lyons: “They adduce an unspeakable number of apocryphal and spurious writings, which they themselves have forged, to bewilder the minds of foolish men, and of such as are ignorant of the Scriptures of truth.”

Since then, Gnosticism has expanded from the domain of spurious religious knowledge to enter one of equally spurious secular claims. But it appeals to essentially the same types of men: foolish, ignorant, seeking simplistic solutions to complex problems.

The most obvious illustration is helpfully provided by assorted conspiracy theories, all based on claims to secret knowledge off limits to hoi-polloi.

Jews get together with Masons, the Bilderberg Group, the CIA, MI6, and NASA hoaxers who faked the moon landing. They then murder Kennedy and Diana, blow up the World Trade Centre, spread Covid – and in general conspire against whatever our modern Gnostics hold dear.

The appeal of such theories is easy to understand. Life has a tendency to throw up an endless variety of challenges, many of which present serious factual, moral or intellectual problems. That doesn’t make them unsolvable, but it does mean that solving serious problems requires serious study and analysis.

Alas, most people are unable, or at least unwilling, to make such efforts. They look for quick, simple, or rather simplistic, solutions, and well-wishers are always on hand to provide them.

Those well-wishers are in possession of secret knowledge vouchsafed to them by those who can’t be named for security reasons. But being well-wishers, they are ready to share those gems with you – and they won’t even have to kill you afterwards.

“Everything secret will become manifest,” taught real Scripture. It also taught something else: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

Beware, in our secular life, of promulgators of false knowledge, out to inject venom into people’s brains. They have no real secrets to share, except those of their true aims.

And speaking of Peter Hitchens…

It didn’t start with Putin

Kremlin propaganda insists on stressing the similarity between the Russians and the Ukrainians – the latter are supposed to be merely a subset of the former. That turns the on-going bandit raid into a legitimate attempt to reunite two parts of Russia torn asunder by her enemies.

That’s a lie. The real issue isn’t that the Ukraine is too similar to Russia to exist as a sovereign country. It’s that the Ukraine is too different.

The problem Putin really has with the Ukraine isn’t that she used to be part of the Russian Empire. It’s that, as the westernmost part of the Empire, she is sullied with corrupting influences that make her existentially incompatible with Russia.

The Russians suffer from a malignant condition: a Gnostic belief in their own exclusivity, posing as holiness, saintliness or whatnot. Some will describe this as delusions of grandeur; others as typical provincial insecurity.

Whenever this condition flares up, the Russians detest everything the West stands for because they think themselves superior. Whenever the disease is in remission, they detest everything the West stands for because they think themselves inferior.

However, hostility to the West is constant. It pervades every pore of what goes into the making of Russia: politics, philosophy, religion, economics – even indigenous music, which was more or less begun by the chauvinistic composers of the ‘Mighty Handful’ as a reaction against Western musical perversions, as exemplified by the likes of Beethoven and Brahms.

You’ll find manifestations of this tendency in most Russian writers and philosophers of the Golden Age, from Tolstoy to Dostoyevsky, from Pushkin to Soloviov.

Sometimes this attitude is masked by fulsome protestations of affection. Thus Dostoyevsky wrote in his Karamazovs about going down on his hands and knees to kiss “the sacred stones of Europe”, and Soloviov dreamt about the reunification of Western and Eastern churches.

Yet Dostoyevsky’s affection for the inanimate objects of the West coexisted with his virulent hatred of anything Western that moved. Soloviov’s version of ecumenism left one in no doubt as to which church should absorb which. And though Tolstoy professed to loathe the state as such, in fact it was the Western state – and its elements in Russia – that he mostly abhorred.

All those men had in their sights, some would say justifiably, a West irredeemably sullied by mercantilism, amorality and understated spirituality. Russia was by contrast considered an exemplar of spiritual purity, a claim that was difficult to sustain even in the nineteenth century, never mind later.

But it didn’t need to be sustained. This was an article of faith, not a product of reason or empirical observation.

There is a mystery to the glorification of the Russian people, so widespread among the intelligentsia. Actually, the mystery starts with the very words ‘Russian people’.

As one wades through the works of Russian writers, one realises that they apply the term only to the poorest and least educated tiers of the population. Such exclusivity is unique: teachers, doctors and even businessmen aren’t denied their nationality in, say, England or France. “He isn’t British; he’s a gynaecologist” is something one is unlikely to overhear on a London bus.

The implication is that, since education in Russia was either nonexistent or Western, the educated classes were tainted to a point where they no longer qualified as the Russian people. In other words, by deifying the peasant the cultured Russians were demonising the West.

Thus the historical class conflict in Russia is largely, though not exclusively, xenophobia in disguise. Characteristically, classical Russian literature shows not a single sympathetic portrayal of a Westerner, at least none that I can recall offhand.

Both Russia and the Ukraine originated in Kievan Rus’, a hodgepodge of ethnic, cultural and religious inputs. Its ruling dynasty descended from the Swedish Viking Rurik, but the local population was mostly Slavic.

In the 10th century, the Rurik prince Vladimir baptised Rus’ in the Eastern rite, having rejected Catholic proselytising. He sensed that the kind of statehood gestating in the Catholic West was ill-suited to Rus’. However, considering the geographical proximity to the West, objectionable cultural influences couldn’t be kept at bay completely.  

By the beginning of the thirteenth century, Kievan Rus’ had broken up into many independent – and generally hostile – principalities. The conflict between East and West was particularly ferocious: eastern princes must have felt that contaminating proximity to the west made western principalities less than Russian.

Witness the fact that, when the Vladimir Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky captured Kiev in 1169, he gave the city to his host for a three-day rape and pillage – a treatment that in Rus’ was reserved only for foreign cities. For Andrei and his troops Kiev was as foreign as any Polish or German town.

The pivotal figure of medieval Rus’ was Prince Alexander Nevsky, canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1547, almost 300 years after his death. Alexander’s claim to sainthood stems from two battles (in fact, mere skirmishes) he fought against the militant Catholic orders trying to westernise Rus’.

Characteristically, although Alexander wouldn’t accept even a mild compromise with Catholicism, he was more than willing to submit to the Mongol invaders from the east.

Rather than fighting them, he fraternised with Khan Batu’s son Sartaq, thus becoming the Khan’s foster son. In that capacity, Alexander collected tribute for the Mongols from his fellow Russians, ruthlessly punishing those who wouldn’t pay.

Having their eyes poked out and their tongues cut off were the mildest of the punitive techniques favoured by the great hero, and his Mongol masters approved (thank goodness our own dear Inland Revenue is so much more civilised).

Mongol political influences survived until the 16th century. But culturally they left an indelible mark that has never been erased.

Erasing Western influences, on the other hand, was a natural pastime of Russian princes, later tsars. The most pro-Western principality was that of Novgorod, a Hanseatic city with the parliamentary traditions Russia could have developed. Instead she saw Novgorod as a bugbear – precisely because it was pro-Western.

In January, 1570, Ivan the Terrible captured Novgorod. By way of a warm-up, all Novgorod monks were clubbed to death. Then Ivan summoned the city’s boyars and merchants, accompanied by their wives and children. They were all tortured “unimaginably”, as a contemporary described it, and then murdered in all sorts of creative ways.

Meanwhile, what is now the Ukraine was part of the Catholic Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In 1654, Hetman Khmelnysky submitted his Cossacks “to the Russian hand”. That was unacceptable to Poland, and after a subsequent war the Ukraine was divided between Russia and Poland. After the three partitions of Poland, Galicia (Western Ukraine) became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Quite apart from the strong Catholic influences west of the Dnieper, the Ukraine has always been more Western than Russia. Even her Orthodox bishops were culturally and intellectually closer to their Western colleagues than to the Russian clergy.

In fact, when Peter I set out to westernise the Russian Church, he had to rely on two Ukrainian bishops, Stefan Yavorsky and Theophan Prokopovych, to provide the theological and philosophical impetus of the reform.

Even the peasantry was westernised in the Ukraine, eschewing as it did the communal practices of Russian agriculture. Unlike their Russian counterparts, Ukrainian peasants were enterprising individualists, similar to Western farmers.

That was a formative experience of the Ukrainian nation, and even when in 1783 Catherine II extended serfdom to the Ukraine (it had existed in Russia since the 17th century), the spirit of independence survived.

That’s why Ukrainians resisted Stalin’s collectivisation of agriculture so resolutely. Stalin solved the problem in his inimitable manner, by deliberately starving millions of Ukrainians to death in 1932-1933. That did nothing for the prospects of enduring cordiality between the two peoples.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Ukraine has been steadily (if not on a straight line) moving towards the West, following the path well-trodden throughout her history.

That’s the immediate reason for Putin’s aggression. But the conflict didn’t start, and neither will end, with him.

We disagree to disagree

Totalitarian and liberal regimes aren’t exactly meeting one another halfway. The latter are bridging most of the gap.

Decency kicked into touch

One key sign is the accelerating attrition suffered by freedom of conscience (and its derivative, freedom of speech), that key civil liberty without which no political, social or cultural virtue is possible.

Granted, absolutes never exist even in the most absolutist of realms. All societies impose some limits on self-expression.

The difference between decent and vile societies is that in the former such mandates are proscriptive, while in the latter they are prescriptive.

Decent societies only ever tell people what they can’t say or do. Vile ones, on the other hand, tell people what they must say or do. And if such demands go against the people’s conscience, then so much the worse for the people.

France kindly provides an illustration by her treatment of Idrissa Gueye, the footballer plying his trade at Paris Saint-Germain. He refused to celebrate in the prescribed manner the seminal date in the calendar: the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

On that day all French teams, including PSG, were ordered to wear shirts embossed with a rainbow design, along with rainbow shoelaces. Being a pious Muslim, Gueye refused. He comes from Senegal, where 97 per cent of the people believe homosexuality is wrong.

Both the regional council of Ile-de-France and the French Football Federation almost suffered a collective apoplexy. The footballer, they croaked, will be punished, although they didn’t specify the severity of the punitive action.

In a parallel outrage, footballers in England are mandated to genuflect at the start of a match as a gesture of solidarity with drugged-up black criminals who pass counterfeit banknotes and then get killed when attacking policemen.

All our ball-kickers except one are complying dutifully, and the lone holdout refuses to take the knee only because he doesn’t think the gesture goes far enough. What would? Hanging cops in effigy? Or for real perhaps? Our national pastime could do with a bit of ritual sacrifice.

Come to think of it, Islam isn’t the only Abrahamic religion that has a dim view of homosexuality. Both Testaments, Old and New, issue similar injunctions. They refer to homosexuality as an “abomination”, even if they don’t command that guilty parties be thrown off tall buildings.

Not many English footballers I’ve ever watched are Orthodox Jews. Yet many of them, including those who’ve probably never seen the inside of a church, cross themselves in the Catholic manner before kick-off. Now imagine the brouhaha if one of them refused to express solidarity with sexual perversions, citing his Christian faith as the reason.

At least Gueye has a modicum of protection based on a clash of pieties. He is a black African Muslim, which gives him perfect credentials. Our love of the Third World may just cancel out some of our commitment to promoting homosexuality.

But someone like Raheem Sterling, one of those inveterate self-crossers, may be black, but he is a London black, which strips away a vital protective layer. If Sterling did a Gueye, he’d probably be eviscerated.

What happened to our much-vaunted democracy? We are still allowed to vote our conscience in various elections, but not to act on it wherever a newly hatched orthodoxy is involved.

But wearing rainbow clothes or taking the knee are both political statements. After all, it’s not for nothing that woke fanaticism is called political correctness – not, say, moral or social. And yet we are allowed to write “none of the above” on a ballot paper, but not to act on our conscience in other political situations.

While punishing dissent, modernity extols effusively any act of abject conformity. The other day, for example, the 17-year-old Blackpool forward Jake Daniels came out of the closet in which other homosexual footballers have been hiding since Justin Fashanu fessed up in 1990.

The outburst of enthusiasm over young Jake’s admission even exceeded the decibel level of opprobrium over Gueye’s crime. Daniels has been called heroic, brave, courageous and a full thesaurus of other synonyms for fearless.

That makes me wonder what words we reserve for the defenders of Mariupol who fight against Russian fascists to the last man, preferring death to surrender. If a youngster admitting to a sexual preference for other men is a hero, then words no longer mean anything. They outdo our finances in suffering runaway inflation.

A regime can be legitimately described as totalitarian (or heading that way) not because it punishes dissent with bullets and concentration camps, but because it does punish it. Having found myself on the receiving end of hysterical campaigns (complete with death threats) in social media, I know how trying such an experience can be.

Boycotts, suspensions, destroyed careers, offensive howling coming out of thousands of lead-lined throats are all punishments. They are milder than bullets and GULAGs, but that’s only a difference of degree.

I left Russia in 1973, having experienced the delights of unvarnished totalitarianism first-hand. But even in the Moscow of my youth, we could say whatever we wanted when having a drink with friends. True, some of those friends might have ratted us out afterwards, but at least no one would hiss “you can’t say that” at a party.

Yet this is a stock phrase in today’s England, and not just at parties. The bien pensant phrase is bouncing off the walls of media outlets, courts, pubs, schools and universities – everywhere where people communicate with one another.

And if you still dare utter things “you can’t say”, you’ll suffer consequences. They would be milder than those young Soviets might have suffered in the sixties, but they would be more certain in coming.

Disagreement is no longer an option. Contrary to Umberto Eco’s view, liberal democracies discourage the critical faculty as fiercely as totalitarian regimes do. They just haven’t quite graduated to unrestrained violence yet.