Fascism at our doorstep

Some seven years ago, I spoke to a conservative gathering on the dangers of Putin’s fascism. (http://www.alexanderboot.com/russian-fascists-and-british-conservatives/)

Umberto Eco knew the signs

My point was then, as it is now, that the word ‘fascist’ shouldn’t be used as a desemanticised term of abuse. It’s something concrete and identifiable.

The same people who may use the word loosely often confuse cause and effect. They scan a country’s landscape, find no concentration camps and mass graves of freshly murdered thousands, and conclude that the country under investigation isn’t fascist.

On that criterion, Mussolini’s Italy wasn’t fascist, even though the term was coined to describe his political movement. Yet no network of death camps existed there, political prosecutions were few, and there were no mass executions (until the Germans took over, that is).

Fascism is an ideology; it’s a cause producing a whole panoply of effects. If we focus on effects rather than causes, we may find that Abraham Lincoln was more fascist than Il Duce. He imprisoned 13,535 Northerners for political crimes in just over three years. Mussolini, on the other hand, only managed 1,624 political convictions in two decades.

In that talk I mentioned a few essential characteristics of fascism, making the point that Putin’s Russia matches each one. My listeners were largely unconvinced, and from what I’ve heard, some of them still are. But then those diehards would probably praise Putin’s strong leadership even if Russian missiles rained on London.

Since then I’ve come across Umberto Eco’s exegesis of fascism. He identified twice as many telltale signs as I did, 14 in all. So I applied them to Putin’s Russia and what do you know: the fit was again perfect. Judge for yourself:

The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”

The key word there isn’t ‘tradition’ but ‘cult’. Conservatives cherish tradition, but they don’t turn it into a pagan cult. In Russia that cult does exist, and has existed since the 16th century, when the country began to describe itself as The Third Rome.

The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”

Since Eco was a man of the Left, the rejection of post-Enlightenment modernism was to him an ipso facto sign of fascism, not of conservatism, as it is to me.

The Age of Reason was indeed the beginning of modern depravity. But conservative rejection of it proceeds from a rational premise, free of occult undertones. Fascist opposition to modernism is indeed irrational, appealing to dark instincts, rather than minds.  

Putin’s propaganda is a prime example. It doesn’t even attempt to construct sequential arguments. Pavlovian rather than Cartesian, it subsists on slogans, sound bites and shibboleths, not logic or factual analysis.

The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”

Putin’s Russia is a prime example of this. Serious reflection has been expunged from its mass media, and it’s actively discouraged in the population.

Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”

Eco is woefully wrong about discernment being a characteristic of modernism. Quite the opposite: modernism actively promotes, encourages and rewards uniformity.

But treating “disagreement as treason” is indeed a sign of fascism, and Putin’s Russia puts a big fat tick into that box. It recently passed a law equating any criticism of the ‘special military operation’ with treason, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”

Russia is easily the most racist country I’ve ever known. The affectionate term ‘blackarse’ is applied — to their faces — not just to black people, but to everyone born to the south of old Muscovy.

As to the blacks proper, they are routinely attacked in the streets. People swear and sometimes spit at a Russian girl walking with an African. Russian supremacism is rapidly becoming the Kremlin’s principal ideology, with Ukrainians held up as sub-human, or at least sub-Russian.

Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”

Russia doesn’t have much of a middle class but, other than that, Eco’s description fits it like a glove. Russians are taught from their early days that, whatever deprivation they may be suffering is the fault of some externalised evil: Nato, America, the EU, capitalism, globalism and so forth.

The obsession with a plot. “Thus at the root of the Ur-Fascist psychology there is the obsession with a plot, possibly an international one. The followers must feel besieged.”

This could have been written about Putin’s Russia. It presents the world as a constantly expanding conspiracy against saintly Russia.

The enemy is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”

Another perfect fit. On the one hand, the West is depicted as a decadent, rotting organism unable to defend itself. On the other hand, enfeebled though it is, the West presents a deadly threat to Russia.

Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”

In today’s Russia, anyone displaying a ‘down with war’ sign can be arrested and possibly charged with treason.

Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”

Again, this is a left-winger talking. ‘Elitism’ is modern slang for any attachment to hierarchies of birth, status, expertise, intellect. Respect for these is conservatism, not fascism. But contempt for the weak (it’s more like yawning indifference in Russia) is indeed fascism. Since Western conservatism is rooted in Christianity, such contempt is impossible.

Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”

Burying the enemy under an avalanche of Russian corpses is a time-honoured strategy of Russian warfare. This is faithfully pursued in the ongoing conflict.

As to the cult of heroism, this Russian and then Soviet tradition is lovingly maintained today. Every Russian pupil, even if unable to name the four Evangelists, will instantly name dozens of heroes from the Second World War. I was such a pupil myself, and today’s lot are no different.

Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”

Conservatives aren’t crazy about “nonstandard sexual habits” either, but they don’t go around beating up homosexuals, a standard and tacitly encouraged practice in Putin’s Russia. Hate the sin, love the sinner, is the guiding conservative principle. As to machismo and weaponry, just look at a selection of Putin’s photographs over the years.

Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”

In Russia, this is a feature of the present, not the future. Putin’s stormtroopers prance about wearing T-shirts decorated with truncated swastikas. This is passed as vox populi, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy – the more it’s touted, the wider it spreads.

Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”

This is definitely a characteristic of Putin’s Russia, although, lamentably, not its exclusive property. Modernity in general creates its own half-witted cant, but, since fascism is an extreme wing of modernity, it pushes that tendency to a nauseating extreme.

As you can see, Eco and I proceed from different starting points, but still reach similar conclusions. And all our conclusions apply to Putin’s Russia in spades. His country is the flag-bearer of European fascism. Or quasi-European, to be exact.

“The more I see of men, the more I like dogs”

The wording of this aphorism changes slightly every time it’s used. Its attribution is uncertain.

Anubis, Egyptian dog of the underworld

The French put forth Madame de Sévigné and a few others. The English, Thomas Carlyle. The Americans, Mark Twain. And even the Russian actor Vasily Kachalov (d. 1948) has a claim to the authorship.

Whoever said it first, and whatever the exact wording, the meaning is crystal clear. Dogs are generally superior to humans.

A recent poll shows that this view is widely shared in Britain. Two out of three respondents say their dog is their best friend, and a quarter prefer their pet to their other half. Asked why they felt that way, 60 per cent said that, unlike their spouses or lovers, dogs don’t judge. They also like to cuddle, which respondents’ inamoratos don’t.

No poll in recent memory has saddened me more. None has even come close. For I can’t imagine a clearer proof of a civilisation sinking into rampant, infantile paganism.

To begin with, a halfway intelligent person would simply refuse to answer such a question. He’d say it’s based on a false premise, that of humans and canines being in any way comparable. That’s like asking someone whether he prefers BMW or Beaujolais.

This reminds me of an enterprising American adman, who back in 1975 came up with the concept of a ‘pet rock’. He packed a small rock in a box and enclosed a clever brochure, to the effect that the rock makes a perfect pet. You don’t have to take it walkies, feed it, bathe it or paper-train it. All you have to do is love it.

The clever marketing ploy worked: he sold four million boxes at a dollar each and became a millionaire. My point is that a pet dog is infinitely closer to a pet rock than to a human being. It’s basically a rock that can bark, run around the garden, urinate and defecate, chase cats and drink out of puddles.

Yes, it can cuddle, but it can also bite strangers or kill their fowl or cats (spoken from personal experience in both cases), which may put the owner into an awkward and a financially embarrassing position.

In short, dogs are beasts, and their similarity to rocks or trees is much more pronounced than any resemblance to human beings.

The lives of minerals, plants and animals are predetermined by their chemical or biological makeup. Thus dogs are slaves to their genes. They have no option of changing their behaviour in any way because they have no free will.

Dogs may be trained to guard a house, guide a blind person across the street, fight other dogs, hunt or even, if one is so inclined, have sex with people. But that only means that their trainers impose their will on the animals – they still have none of their own.

Some of my friends have hunting dogs, mostly Golden Retrievers, trained to, well, retrieve. When not picking up dead game out of the grass, these dogs are well-behaved and unobtrusive.

Their owners treat them kindly but without any cloying sentimentality I detest so much. The dogs are functionally related to their owners’ shotguns, not their wives.

One could cite any number of scriptural references supporting the towering superiority of man over beast. Concepts like soul, the image and likeness of God, moral sense (and absence thereof) will be mentioned, but they would cut no ice with those respondents.

They self-evidently don’t believe in God. They do believe in Darwin though, and a man to them is only an animal. He may be cleverer than other animals, but that’s a difference of degree, not principle.

Moreover, these poor people show what happens to a civilisation cut off from its religious underpinnings and cast adrift. Such a civilisation replaces mature reflection, love and intelligence with childish anthropomorphism.

What miserable lives those people must lead if they depend on dogs for tactile tenderness. They don’t get it because they are incapable of giving it.

Mature love is like a piggybank: you can take out only what you put in. The stunted emotional growth of those respondents prevents them from developing and expressing real feelings, real commitment – real love.

Their intellectual development is equally stunted. If it weren’t, they wouldn’t be so panic-stricken at the thought of being judged.

The judgement of others is a test for our thoughts, behaviour and personality. As with any tests, this one is only frightening to those who are certain not to pass. Real people may fear God’s judgement, but not man’s.

A lifelong effort in refining one’s mind, improving one’s behaviour and developing compassion would turn a man into a confident test-taker. He’d know he could pass muster and, more important, wouldn’t care if he didn’t.

This is another thing about those respondents: they must be chronically insecure. That makes them unable to develop normal relationships with friends or the opposite sex. All such things have been replaced with surrogates.

If I may be allowed the bad taste of quoting from myself, this is what I wrote in one of my books:

“We have replaced religion with (at best) religionism, freedom with liberty, wisdom with cleverness, sentiment with sentimentality, justice with legalism, art with pickled animals, music with amplified noise, statecraft with politicking, love with sex, communication with sound bites, self-confidence with effrontery, equality before God with levelling, respect for others with political correctness, self-respect with self-esteem – in short, everything real with virtual caricatures.”

Because human canophilia is infantile, it was widespread at a time when the human race was in its infancy. Many early civilisations not only anthropomorphised dogs but even deified them. When I myself was a child, I too loved dogs to distraction.

I once spent several summers in the company of five Dachshunds and an Alsatian. The latter used to be known as the German Shepherd, but, in an early display of political correctness, that name was changed in 1914. Because Americans entered the war later, they kept the original designation.

There were no children of my age around, and I spent many hours either reading or playing with those cuddly creatures. Most of my time I tried to keep the Dachshunds from digging up the roses. Again, that was biological determinism at work: the dogs were bred to dig into fox holes, and they were genetically compelled to dig even when there were no foxes in the vicinity.

Then they began to die one after another, and my response to that was so tragically shattering that even at that early age I decided never to own a dog. Life provides enough tragedies as it is, I thought, in my first act of emotional self-defence.

Yet I continued to like dogs, with that affection slowly attenuating as I grew older. What eventually turned diminishing affection into mild disgust was the soupy, maudlin affection so many people have for their pets.

There’s nothing wrong with liking one’s dog. There’s plenty wrong with treating the dog as if it were a member of the family, which is to say human. That only shows that, though civilisation has grown up, some people haven’t.

P.S. On a lighter note, I notice that in most idioms featuring the word ‘dog’, it can be profitably replaced with ‘wife’. ‘Let a sleeping wife lie’, ‘work like a wife’, ‘wife’s dinner’, ‘sick as a wife’, ‘can’t teach an old wife new tricks’ – they all work, don’t they? (I admit that ‘wife’s bollocks’ doesn’t, not yet at any rate.)

Russia’s worst enemy isn’t Nato

First a general observation, borne out by the entire history of Russia.

“Do cry for me, Russia”

When waging war, the country’s rulers always see the Russian people as their secondary – and sometimes primary – enemy. That’s why every Russian war, whatever its official designation, is also a civil war.

Hence, even though the harrowing stories told by Russian POWs have much shock value, they have no novelty appeal. Apparently, Russian officers routinely shoot their wounded soldiers rather than retrieving them from the battlefield.

For example, one lieutenant-colonel solicitously asked a wounded private if he could walk. When the man replied he couldn’t, the officer shot him without giving the matter a second thought.

The colonel might have been a sadist aroused by killing. More likely though was that he simply didn’t want to waste time just to save a useless human life. After all, a seriously wounded soldier was unlikely to return to the ranks before the war ended. So he had no value. Unlike industrial waste, he couldn’t even be recycled.

You may think that captured soldiers are saying what their captors want to hear. Perhaps. Yet the salient thing about these revelations isn’t that they are unquestionably factual. It’s that they are eminently believable.

For Russian people aren’t sovereign human beings to their rulers. They are bricks, a material the rulers can use to build whatever structure they desire. When a brick is broken, it becomes useless. The builder tosses it aside and picks up another brick.

Just look at the two wars meriting the soubriquet of ‘Patriotic’ in Russian historiography. The first one was fought against Napoleon in 1812. Except that it wasn’t just fought against Napoleon.

Before retreating from Moscow, the Russians burned the city to cinders on orders from Field-Marshal Kutuzov and Governor General Rastopchin. Yet no attempt was made to evacuate the 20,000 to 30,000 wounded soldiers in Moscow’s hospitals who all perished in the flames.

At the same time, peasant uprisings broke out in practically every province of the country. The people were killing their masters, not the French. They were burning down manor houses, not Napoleon’s supplies.

Though Kutuzov’s army was depleted, he had to dispatch large units to fight peasants armed with pitchforks. Celebrated heroes of 1812, Paskevych, Deibitsch and Wittgenstein, had to lead thousands of much-needed soldiers to kill their fellow Russians.

Yet the Russia of Alexander I was irredeemably liberal compared to the Russia of Stalin. In the ‘Great Patriotic War’, Stalin had to defeat not only the Germans but also, and not necessarily in that order, his own men.

The Red Army was surrendering en masse in 1941, with the Germans taking four million POWs in just five months (my father among them). Many of those soldiers didn’t put up any resistance – they’d drop their guns, tear off their insignia, run away into the forest and keep running until picked up by German patrols.

Whole columns of Soviet POWs were marched into captivity by a handful of Wehrmacht soldiers, who were frankly perplexed by that kind of warfare. Even the French had put up a stiffer resistance.

That wasn’t a situation Stalin could countenance. He declared that every Soviet POW was in fact a traitor, to be treated as such.

Thus, instead of fighting the Luftwaffe, the Red Air Force began to strafe columns and camps of Soviet POWs. At the same time, the NKVD was busily – and sadistically – murdering inmates kept in the prisons of the cities the Soviets were abandoning.

Many prisoners, including those not yet convicted of anything, weren’t just shot. They were nailed to the wall, eviscerated, flailed, had various parts of their anatomy cut off. Even the Nazis were appalled when entering cities like Lvov, to find them reeking of the stench of decomposing corpses.

Stalin also explained to the population that the soldiers’ families were hostages to their men’s valour. The family of a soldier taken prisoner was deprived of ration cards, which usually meant a death sentence. The impetuous Zhukov actually ordered that such families be executed, but Stalin countermanded the directive. That was too much even for him.

Zhukov was also too much for Eisenhower. In his memoirs, the Allied commander describes his shock when his Soviet counterpart casually mentioned that, when his armour was bogged down in a minefield, he’d simply march some infantry across to clear the way.

The gallantry of Soviet soldiers was also enhanced by the so-called ‘blocking detachments’, at least a company for each regiment. They were positioned behind regular units and used machinegun bursts to block any retreat.

Plus, Soviet commanders and commissars were encouraged to execute any soldier whose courage they deemed below par. Soviet war novels are full of such stories: a heroic commissar or a SMERSH officer shooting a broken, shell-shocked soldier.

How many were killed by their own officers and the blocking units? No one counted because no one cared. Most guesses run into hundreds of thousands.

But those executed by court martial verdicts were indeed counted. There were 157,593 of them during the whole war. Ten full divisions. And a half.

To be sure, no army in the world has ever treated traitors and deserters kindly. Some are always executed, and the other warring nations were no exception.

Still, Descartes taught (wrongly, by the way) that all knowledge is comparative. So let’s compare.

The Nazis executed 7,810 of their own soldiers, to be outscored by the Soviets 20 to 1. And the scores of Britain and the US, 346 and 147 respectively, don’t even register.

Any army is a microcosm of society. A country where human beings have no value is a natural breeding ground for cruelty and sadism. When those corrupted in that manner find themselves bearing arms, they get what they see as a legitimate excuse to indulge such tendencies.

The army raping the Ukraine acts in the fine tradition of Russian history. Even the universal, millennia-old custom of carrying the bodies of fallen comrades back for honourable burial is wantonly ignored.

The fields of the Ukraine are strewn with the rotting, putrid corpses of Russian youngsters left behind like so much refuse. So when Russian POWs say that officers slaughter their own wounded, I believe them. Why wouldn’t I?

If they behave that way towards their own, their casual sadism towards Ukrainians isn’t surprising. Thus, 650 civilians were shot in Bucha alone, and thousands more elsewhere. Many had been brutally tortured before they died; women have been found raped and mutilated (I’ll spare you the details).

We all have good and bad qualities. We are all capable of kindness and brutality; love and hate; charity and crime. The difference among nations isn’t that some are genetically angelic and others are diabolical.

It’s just that some societies encourage our good qualities to come out and the bad ones to remain dormant. Some others have it the wrong way around, and Putin’s Russia is one such.

She has committed heinous crimes against the Chechens, Georgians, Syrians and Ukrainians. But perhaps her worst crime was committed against the Russian people, turned by totalitarian brainwashing into a stampeding herd of rampaging beasts, bleating along with Orwell’s animals “Four legs good, two legs bad”.

Heroic holdouts exist. They go into exile; some accept the martyrdom of prison, or worse. But Nazi Germany also had her Bonhoffers, Reck-Malleczewens and Stauffenbergs. Yet that didn’t change the satanic nature of that regime.

A Col. Stauffenbergsky may yet place a bomb next to Putin’s chair. But that won’t undo the colossal moral and mental damage done to the nation, not quickly at any rate.

The Germans took decades to expunge Nazism from their bloodstream, but they were helped by the Allied occupiers. Because Russia won’t be occupied by Nato, she’ll take much longer to heal the disease of Bolshevism, Stalinism and Putinism. A century for sure, several centuries possibly. If at all.

How can Remainers remain Remainers?

Like any ideology, affection for the EU resides in the heart which, as Pascal correctly observed, has its reasons that reason knows not of (Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point).

Manny Micron, third from right

And now I’m in a quoting mood, the Russian proverb says you can’t give orders to the heart. It feels what it feels, and that’s that.

However, if we move the think-tank from the cardium to the cranium, surely the current events in the Ukraine should destroy any federalist illusions, nay delusions. For no modern union this side of the Soviet one has ever been so disunited.

Just look at Hungary and Poland, which both ought to feel about Russia what a lamppost feels about dogs, and for the same reasons.

The Russians partitioned Poland four times, if you count the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Then, in 1940, they hastily shot 25,000 Polish officers, administrators, teachers and priests. And towards the end of the war, they languidly sat back for two months, watching the Nazis raze Warsaw after the uprising of Armia Krajowa.

After the war the Soviets imposed a communist government on Poland, which ruled until 1991, in the style we all know and love. Nothing surprising about that – but what’s truly astonishing is the massive support Poland is offering the Ukraine.

In fact, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the leader of Ukrainian Cossacks, placed the eastern part of the Ukraine under Russian control in 1654 specifically because he and his jolly men hated the Poles, reciprocally. (They also hated Jews and murdered almost 300,000 of them in various pogroms. That record stood unchallenged until Hitler.)

The western part of the Ukraine remained within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and acted largely in the manner of today’s radicalised Muslims in Europe. That part of the country eventually passed on to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then, after Versailles, back to Poland.

The Ukrainian nationalist movement was at that time active mostly in the west of the country, and its bogeyman was Poland, not so much Russia. The activity was mostly of the terrorist kind, with many top Polish officials assassinated and many Ukrainian militants executed for their trouble.

Their leader Stepan Bandera was sentenced to death for the murder of Poland’s interior minister. He was liberated by the advancing Nazis, who, after a short hiatus, put him into Sachsenhausen, where he stayed for the duration of the war. Bandera survived that, but not the cyanide pistol fired in 1959 by a KGB hitman in Munich.

Given this history of mutual enmity, it’s amazing how staunchly the Poles are helping the beleaguered Ukraine, at a considerable risk to their own security. Or perhaps it’s not so amazing after all.

It’s that FDR garden hose again. The Poles are aware that the fire engulfing the Ukraine will spread to their own house if allowed to rage on. So they are keen to stop its spread by supplying metaphorical firefighting equipment to the Ukraine and lending their territory to Nato as its beachhead.

The Poles may dislike the Ukrainians, but they hate – and, more to the point, fear – the Russians more. And they don’t have to look too far back to justify such sentiments.

Closer to our own time, the Russians lied about the massacre of Poles at Katyn and elsewhere until 1990, when Gorbachev was trying to seduce the West with his much-vaunted glasnost. In that spirit, he confessed.

Recently, however, Putin retracted that confession, reviving Stalin’s canard of German responsibility for the massacre. That really got the Poles’ gander up, and their feelings about the Russians didn’t become any warmer on 10 April, 2010.

On that day a Polish Tu-154 aircraft crashed near Smolensk, killing all 96 people on board. Among them were Poland’s top government officials including the country’s president Lech Kaczynski.

A subsequent investigation established that the plane had been blown apart by a bomb, and a Polish panel found that the Russians were responsible. Putin is lying about this the way the Soviets lied about Katyn, but the Poles are no more credulous now than they were then.

The Poles actually rebelled against the Soviets in 1956, the same year the Hungarians did. But the outcomes were different.

In Poland, the Soviets backed off a bit, loosened the reins and allowed the Poles a small measure of sovereignty. Their response to the Hungarian uprising was more in character. Soviet tanks moved in, turning Budapest into a bloodbath.

The Soviet papers of the time explained that mass atrocity as a preemptive strike that barely managed to beat a West German and American invasion to the punch. If you’ve followed Putin’s propaganda, you know that this stock excuse outlived the Soviet Union.

In the post-war years, Hungary has suffered even more Russian brutality than Poland has. And yet Hungary, under the leadership of the hideous Viktor Orbán, has been trying to sabotage every pro-Ukraine and anti-Russia initiative of Nato.

Orbán is a prominent member of the fascisoid International Putin has been trying to cobble together. Under Orbán’s tutelage Hungary is barely managing not to overstep the line beyond which her continued membership in Nato will become untenable.

Yet both Hungary and Poland are members of the EU, with the ‘U’ initial implying some commonality of interests and principles. No such thing exists, nor will it ever exist.

Eastern European members of that ideological contrivance (Hungary and Bulgaria apart) are all on Poland’s side – they too know that their proximity to Russia makes them potential targets for Putin’s fascism. And yet the two EU leaders, France and Germany, are both as pro-Putin as possible.

Actually, I’m planning to start a petition to change Manny’s surname from Macron to Micron. His puny attempts to understand Putin’s concerns and engage him in bien pensant chinwags are as risible as they are futile.

Manny’s German counterpart, Scholz, is another Putinversteher, someone who feels Putin’s pain more acutely than he feels the pain of Ukrainian civilians, killed, maimed, robbed, raped and made homeless by Russia’s righteous wrath.

The populations of both countries predominantly don’t share their leaders’ empathy to Putin. But who cares what they think?

The underlying purpose of the EU is precisely the de facto disfranchisement of national populations.  Manny Micron is desperate to ride the EU horse to some sort of Napoleonic self-aggrandisement, and Scholz’s feet haven’t been under the desk long enough for him to run Manny close. Give him time though.

Rather than being a reflection of pan-European solidarity, the EU is in fact a bureaucratic plot hatched against pluralism and national sovereignty. If anyone had harboured any notions to the contrary, they ought to have been expunged by Russian bombs falling on Ukrainian schools and hospitals – and by yet another EU failure to solve any serious problem.

Yet Remainers remain Remainers. They still wish Britain hadn’t left that impotent yet megalomaniac setup giving the lie to the ‘Union’ in its name.

Say what you will about Boris Johnson’s selfish motives, but at least he dragged the country out of the EU, with the Remainers kicking and screaming every inch of the way.

Considering Britain’s role in training and equipping the Ukrainian army, Ukrainians must thank God that Britain has shaken the EU dust off her feet. I add thanks of my own every day.




Dress to depress

“Apparel oft proclaims a man,” wrote Shakespeare. Yet these days, methinks, it also doth proclaim a cultural catastrophe.

If you wish to take issue with this melancholy observation, just look at former MP Tracy Brabin, who is now mayor of West Yorkshire. In her new job, she is trying to criminalise misogyny and “everyday sexism”, having herself allegedly fallen victim to that outrage.

In 2020, Miss Brabin, a soap opera actress by original trade, showed up for a parliamentary debate wearing a £35 off-the-shoulder dress. She was then traumatised for life by troll attacks along the lines of “a slag”, “hungover”, “a tart”, “about to breastfeed”, “a slapper”, “drunk”, and “just been banged over a wheelie bin”.

That, according to Miss Brabin, “uncovered this split in the universe where the misogynists just fell on my head”. Now, though I realise that any criticism of a woman is a manifestation of misogyny, I doubt her critics hated women. They just hated Miss Brabin’s sartorially expressed contempt for the Mother of All Parliaments.

I’m sure no such opprobrium would have come her way had she worn that dress to a party. Some people might have been put off by a sixtyish woman dressing like a working-class teenager out on the town, and words like ‘mutton’ and ‘lamb’ might have crossed a few minds.

But that’s where such words would have remained. Dressing badly isn’t offensive; only dressing inappropriately is. Horses for courses and all that: a bikini is fine on a beach, but not in a City bank; jeans are wearable in the street, but not at a Buck House reception; a very décolleté blouse is for the evening, not office hours.

Yet these days many women turn themselves into walking mouse traps, with their secondary (and sometimes primary) sex characteristics on blatant display to act in the capacity of cheese. When such a woman catches a man making a frivolous comment or even just looking lower than her eyes, the trap slams shut.

He is a sexist, misogynist and – by confident extension – also a xenophobe, racist, homophobe and transphobe. He ought to have his collar felt; a mere reprimand wouldn’t do.

Two paths are diverging, and women try to perform the unlikely contortionist feat of following both at the same time. First, they wear inappropriately revealing clothes in situations calling for some decorum. Second, they insist that all men nevertheless suppress their God-given tendency to notice the more visible attractions – and men of discernment ignore the clash between dress and occasion.

I like the sight of female flesh as much as the next man, and my most unfortunate CV should immunise me against charges of prudishness. Yet I’m scandalised to see, as one example, female newsreaders on morning shows flashing more breast than they should when reporting on, say, mass murder or, even worse, a Labour conference.

As to Miss Brabin, how was she elected to parliament in the first place? What credentials did she possess for running the country? Her face was known to soap watchers, but is that sufficient to qualify her for deciding which laws should govern the nation?

Nor was she just a backbencher. Jeremy Corbyn appointed Miss Brabin as Shadow Secretary for Culture, no less, which should give you an idea of how culture is defined these days.

I’m not saying that no soap actress should serve in parliament, although thespians in general aren’t known for the prudent sagacity that job requires. But if a soap actress does become an MP, she should dress as an MP, not as a soap actress. That would be a sign of good taste and respect for the institution, which is still, in spite of everything, worthy of respect.

Oh well, that ship has already sailed, and it might even have been blown up like that Russian cruiser in the Ukraine. I’m looking forward to the House of Commons retraining as a house of ill repute. And let’s bring Tracy Brabin back as madam (unless she prefers a more hands-on role).

Hate vaccines, love Putin

How come anti-vaxxers tend to be pro-Putin? A close friend made this astute, if interrogative, observation the other day.

That made me cast an eye over the people I know, either personally or vicariously, only to find that my friend was right yet again, to a large extent. The overlap between the two groups isn’t total: some anti-vaxxers are also anti-Putin and vice versa.

Yet such sentiments reside in the same breast often enough to rule out random coincidence. This brings me to Rand Paul, US senator from Kentucky, who is trying to sabotage the Lend-Lease bill designed to help the Ukraine and stop Putin’s aggression.

Whatever Dr Paul’s ostensible reasons, it’s possible he doesn’t like this bill, which enjoys a wide and rare bi-partisan support, precisely because it enjoys a wide bi-partisan support. Some people, both on the right and on the left, feel the urge to regard every received opinion as wrong because it’s received, not because it’s wrong.

I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Dr Paul, but I knew his father when I lived in Texas. He was a congressman, most of whose views appealed to me at the time, even though even then I considered some of them as rather eccentric.

Paul père belonged to what I call the hermetic strain of American exceptionalism, which is sometimes called isolationism. The other, crusading, strain is best exemplified by the neoconservatives.

Both groups share the messianic view of America first enunciated by John Winthrop in 1630. Quoting Matthew 5:16, Winthrop informed his attentive listeners that it was the new country in the making that would become the city on the hill mentioned by the evangelist. America would shine her light on the world whether or not the world was in need of such illumination.

This self-image has since become widespread in the US, mostly among real or putative conservatives, paleo- or neo-. But that genus eventually bifurcated into two species: hermetic and crusading.

Exponents of the former believe America should enjoy her unmatched virtue within her own borders only. On the other hand, the crusaders are convinced America is duty-bound to export her virtue globally, by force if necessary.

Both groups, especially the former, make some good points and some bad ones. Most of the bad ones come from pushing a sound idea to ridiculous extremes, what rhetoricians call reductio ad absurdum. By way of illustration, drinking a lot of water is good for you. But drinking too much of it can kill you.

Paul père was a hermeticist on speed. His thunderous mantra was “No foreign aid!”

“How about millions of people starving to death?” I once asked him. “No foreign aid!” “How about the need to cultivate strategic allies?” “No foreign aid!” “How about our allies being attacked?” “No foreign aid!” “How about helping Mexico deal with the consequences of a major earthquake?” “No foreign aid!”

One got the distinct impression that, had Ron Paul been around in 1941, when the original Lend-Lease Act was debated in Congress, he would have told Roosevelt to stick his garden hose you know where.

(Trying to push the Act through, FDR came up with the metaphor of a neighbour’s house being on fire. You’d want to lend him your garden hose because, if you didn’t, the fire might spread to your own house).

At the time, I regarded Ron’s extreme isolationism as odd. Now I regard it as sometime vicious and always silly.

His son Rand is marginally saner. In fact, I’d happily sign my name to most of his ideas on the economy, medical care, abortion, immigration, homosexuality and other sexual perversions, crime – you name it. Yet he is still the apple to his father’s tree.

Rand Paul is a doctrinaire libertarian, and I oppose doctrinaire everything, even when I’m in sympathy with the original idea. It’s that ideology that he brought to bear on the Covid pandemic.

Dr Paul is a medical man, which I’m not. Hence, even though his speciality is ophthalmology, not immunology, his arguments against Covid vaccination should carry some weight.

Or rather they would do so, had he made them on the grounds of clinical efficacy. But he didn’t. Most of Dr Paul’s arguments came from the standpoint of doctrinaire libertarianism, which in this case is indefensible on various grounds, moral, legal and rational.

Contrary to his view, imposing mandatory vaccination in extreme circumstances isn’t dictatorship as such. It’s the government assuming dictatorial power in extreme circumstances, when millions of lives are at stake.

That’s what governments do, that’s what they’ve always done, and one could argue that’s what they are instituted to do. Yes, imposing things like mobilisation and blackouts at wartime or masks and vaccination at a time of a deadly pandemic is self-evidently tyrannical.

But this is a necessary and therefore acceptable tyranny – provided that a) the danger is real, b) the government’s measures can be expected to be effective and c) the government will relinquish its emergency powers once the emergency has passed.

I happily listen to arguments against a) and b) and I think extra vigilance is required to ensure c). I’m aware of my own limitations when it comes to discussing technical medical issues. Unlike so many of our hacks, I didn’t instantly become an expert epidemiologist when Covid struck.

Yet even an ignoramus like me could see that the benefits of vaccination far outweighed the risks. Dr Paul kept citing isolated instances of unpleasant side effects but, as a medical man, he ought to know that drugs that have no side effects have no effects either. Regulatory bodies approve a drug when convinced that it’ll do more good than harm – not that it’ll never cause any harm at all.

Dr Paul knows all this better than I do, but his argument was in essence ideological, not evidential. I suspect the same goes for his arguments against the current Lend-Lease bill.

He is blocking the bill giving the president the power to provide up to $40 billion in aid to the Ukraine. Dr Paul cites the need to create a special inspector general to oversee how the money is spent, and in general I share his commitment to fiscal responsibility.

But we aren’t dealing with a general situation. Staring us in the face is a bandit raid launched by a fascist state against an independent European nation. Moreover, the bandit doesn’t even hide the fact that he is at war with the West, not just the Ukraine.

As the driving force behind Nato, America is the lynchpin of European security. The garden hose metaphor works in this case too: if America does nothing to resist Putin’s aggression (we already know that the EU is totally impotent in this respect, as it is in all others), then it may well succeed in setting first Europe and then the world ablaze.

Hence the Lend-Lease bill reflects not only America’s commitment to abstract humanitarian values, but also her self-interest. Only those who refuse to see will fail to see this.

Dr Paul has form in supporting the Kremlin’s line. So much so that the late Sen. John McCain was forced to say that “the senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.” That was a comment on Dr Paul’s fighting tooth and nail to block new admissions to Nato.

When Sen. McCain pointed out in 2017 that Putin was pouncing on his neighbours. Dr Paul just shrugged: “The countries that were attacked were part of the Soviet Union since the 1920s.”

I won’t dignify the underlying idea with a cogent argument (Danzig used to be part of Germany too, which didn’t justify Auschwitz). Let’s just say that my friend had a point: anti-vaxxers are often, if not always, Putinistas.

I only hope Dr Paul will only succeed in holding this bill up a few days, not in torpedoing it altogether. I wish him every possible failure.

Holy See no evil

It’s worse than I thought, although what I thought was bad enough.

“Does this look like I’m smiling, Your Holiness?”

Yesterday I wrote about a senior Vatican diplomat who blames the ongoing war on a global conspiracy led by Nato and the Jews.

Russia isn’t at fault, and in fact the elderly archbishop thought Vatican should join the KGB patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.

This reminded me of the ecumenical Council of Florence held in the 15th century to heal the 1054 rift between West and East. The Council failed to reach a workable union, possibly because the contemporaneous Eastern Church predated the KGB.

It thus hadn’t yet developed an ability to seduce, not to say recruit, senior Western clergy. That knack has now been honed so finely that I can see a time when Catholic priests will grow shaggy beards and start reporting every juicy confession to the FSB, as it now is.

Still, the diplomat’s ideas could be dismissed as the senile ramblings of a deluded octogenarian. However, as my friend Peter pointed out yesterday, those delusions reach all the way to the top, where the Vicar of Christ sits on his throne. After a quick search, I found out Peter was right, as he always so infuriatingly is.

Granted, Pope Francis avoided the insane extremes suggested by his former nuncio. He didn’t allude to any global conspiracy against Russia, and neither did he mention Jews as the main culprits.

Instead, he chose the marginally saner narrative favoured by Putin himself. The war, said His Holiness, is a “scandal” caused by “Nato barking at Russia’s door” and forcing Putin “to react badly and unleash the conflict”.

As a writer, I like the attempt at the evocative imagery of a dog barking at outsiders. I’m not sure it quite works though, not the way the Pope intended.

Dogs do their barking to scare potential intruders away. There is no canine threat to legitimate visitors and passers-by. Those ferocious beasts stay inside the fence protecting their masters’ property.

Is this what His Holiness meant? If so, he has a point. Since 1949, Nato has indeed been acting in the capacity of a guard dog keeping Russian robbers, rapists and murderers at bay. So far it has done its job well – Russia hasn’t yet pounced on a single Nato member.

She has, however, started a murderous full-scale war in Europe, burdening Russia’s soul, already slated for perdition, with tens of thousands of corpses and threats to produce millions more. Extending the Pope’s metaphor, he seems to believe that the murderer scaled the fence because the dog barked at him when he had still been outside.

I don’t know how closely His Holiness has ever observed guard dogs, but his understanding of the current situation is woefully wrong. Suddenly, that crazed archbishop begins to sound as if he is enunciating the Vatican’s policy, with a few nice touches of his own.

The only saving grace is that the Pope wasn’t pronouncing ex cathedra on matters of doctrine. His comments on the argy-bargy (almost no pun intended) came in an interview with the popular newspaper Corriere Della Sera.

Hence one can hope he was merely expressing his own opinion, which in this case he is manifestly unqualified to have. This he himself admitted when asked about Nato’s arms supplies to the Ukraine.

“I don’t know how to answer – I’m too far away – the question of whether it is right to supply the Ukrainians,” said His Holiness.

Far away how exactly? Geographically? But that’s like saying that no American would have been justified to pass judgment on Hitler in September 1941. After all, America is even farther away from Poland than Italy is from the Ukraine.

No, the Pope had to mean that he hadn’t studied the issue deeply enough to form a definite idea. If that’s the case, he is in default of his mission.

Abrogating any interest in a major war, especially one involving Christians on both sides, would ill-behove the spiritual leader of world Christianity (even Orthodox bishops accept the Pope as a primus inter pares). So rest assured: that isn’t the case.

The Pope’s doubt about the advisability of supplying the Ukraine is his polite way of saying that no such supplies should be sent. If an unsupplied Ukraine is raped by Putin the way Ukrainian women are being raped by his bandits, then Nato has only itself to blame.

“The clear thing,” added the Pope, “is that weapons are being tested there.” The implication is that Nato deliberately barked at Putin to create a massive testing ground for its weaponry. This isn’t a million miles away from the archbishop’s rant about Nato’s perfidy.

I can only hope that the pontiff’s comments on this subject come from ignorance, not an inability to distinguish between good and evil. Ignorance is bad enough, but moral torpor is far worse. So let’s just say His Holiness is taking bad advice and leave it at that.

Catholic prelate goes Putin one better

Since the Catholic Church isn’t a magazine, I can’t cancel my subscription. So the Church should instead cancel Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò.

Viganò and his enemy

By that I don’t mean the Church should silence His Excellency. He has a God-given right to air his views, no matter how preposterous.

It’s just that Archbishop Viganò has forfeited his right to air his views urbi et orbi as a Catholic prelate. He should be unfrocked and excommunicated.

Nothing in Viganò’s CV pointed to this melancholy conclusion. He is a holder of two doctorates and a successful Vatican diplomat. At retirement he was papal nuncio to the US, one of the top posts of that kind.

The archbishop had solid conservative credentials. He is critical of Vatican II, disparaging of Pope Francis and scathing of priestly immorality. All good.

But lately the archbishop began to go off the rails. First, he joined the anti-vaxxer campaign with nothing short of crusader’s zeal.

I happen to disagree with the anti-vaxxers, but there’s nothing shameful about refusing to be jabbed or doubting the efficacy of vaccines. The problem starts when such views attach to a fervent belief in some deep-state cabal conspiring against everything good. Suddenly a man making a dubious but possible argument turns into a febrile fanatic with a dangerous gleam in his eyes.

Once getting on that path, Archbishop Viganò quickened his step. Now he has come up with a “Declaration on the Russia-Ukraine Crisis”, in which he vindicated the title of this article.

His Excellency sounds as if he used the services of Messrs Gundyaev, Putin, Solovyov, Kisilyov and a prominent Mail columnist as his ghostwriters. The first name on that list belongs to the chap alternatively known as ‘Agent Mikhailov’ of the KGB and ‘Patriarch Kirill’ of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).

His Holiness has an excuse: he is doing his job. As a lifelong KGB agent infiltrated into the ROC, he is duty-bound to follow Christ’s teaching that no man can serve two masters. Since Gundyaev’s master is the KGB/FSB, its giant bulk leaves no room for serving God.

However, Archbishop Viganò’s allegiances are supposed to be different. Or so I thought. In fact, the archbishop unveiled in his pamphlet the whole kit and most of the caboodle of Putin’s propaganda.

“The Biden Administration, Nato and the European Union” provoked “the Russian Federation to trigger the conflict”. Now those evil-doers “deliberately want to maintain a situation of obvious imbalance, precisely to make impossible any attempt at a peaceful resolution of the Ukrainian crisis”. They are assisted in that undertaking “by the gross falsifications of the mainstream media”.

And, most ominous: “This is the trap set for both Russia and Ukraine, using both of them to enable the globalist elite to carry out its criminal plan.” It’s that deep state again.

So far, so Putin. Watch any programme on Russian TV or listen to any speech by Putin, and you’ll get all the same stuff chapter and verse. Or, if you want it in English, read The Mail on Sunday.

What you won’t get from Putin, not yet anyway, is a direct attribution of those dastardly crimes to a Jewish conspiracy. Putin’s Foreign Minister Lavrov did make some anti-Semitic remarks the other day, but Putin has so far restrained himself.

Not so His Excellency: “These Ukrainian billionaires wearing kippahs are those who are selling out Ukraine to the corrupted and corrupting West, trading their own well-being for the enslavement of their compatriots to the usurers who are taking over the world, using the same ruthless and immoral systems everywhere.”

Call me an inveterate idealist, but I don’t expect such rants from senior Vatican figures, especially those burdened with two doctorates. The Catholic hierarchy has its fair share of anti-Semites but, since Auschwitz and Treblinka, they have tended to keep such feelings to themselves.

Yet here is a retired papal nuncio adapting The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf to the needs of modern fascism. What happened to “…neither Jew nor Greek”, Your Excellency?

But never mind Galatians 3:28. The good archbishop also shows woeful disdain for many other parts of Catholic doctrine.

When a Catholic, especially a prelate, supports a war, he must believe it is just. The doctrine of just war goes back to Augustine, but it was neatly summarised by Thomas Aquinas.

Such a war must be declared by legitimate authority; its cause must be just; it must be waged with good intentions. Three centuries later, Fr. Francisco de Vitoria, considered the founder of international law, explained the doctrine in greater detail:

“The sole and only just cause is when harm has been inflicted.” However, “not every or any injury gives sufficient grounds for waging war.” Specifically, causes of just war can’t include “difference of religion”, “enlargement of empire” or “the personal glory or convenience of the prince”.

Allow me to translate from canonical into English. Viganò’s support of Putin’s war can only be doctrinally legitimate if he believes that his pet culprits, Biden, Nato, the EU and the Ukraine, planned to invade Russia. Since any sane person knows that no such plans were being hatched, Putin’s bandit raid doesn’t qualify as just war.

It qualifies as murderous, unprovoked aggression, making it the moral duty of any decent man, and the institutional duty of any priest, to come out against it with everything he has got.

Anyone endorsing fascism is himself a fascist – and a fascist can be neither a Christian nor any kind of believer nor, more generally, a righteous man. All he can be is scum.

It’s not only His Excellency’s antediluvian anti-Semitism that out-Putins Putin. He also turns his back on his Church, along with its whole history and dogma. In fact, I can’t recall offhand any other such heretical and schismatic pronouncements by a Catholic prelate, not in recent memory at any rate.

For His Excellency accepts the Moscow Patriarchate of the ROC as the ‘Third Rome’, a claim going back to the 16th century and still acting as the article of faith in that KGB Church. Hence Archbishop Viganò believes that the Catholic Church should renounce its heretical ways and dissolve itself in the ROC by placing itself under the aegis of ‘Agent Mikhailov’.

As an educated theologian, His Excellency expresses this idea with the benefit of his erudition: Perhaps Providence has ordained that Moscow, the Third Rome, will today in the sight of the world take on the role of κατέχον (2 Thess 2:6-7), of eschatological obstacle to the Antichrist”.

God help us, the man is off his rocker. Give him a general’s rank in the FSB, an archbishopric in the ROC, his own talk show on Russian TV – and a column in The Mail on Sunday.

It’s bad to talk

Alone among Western leaders, Manny Macron has an insatiable desire to talk to Putin. A little tête-à-tête, he seems to believe, and things will go back to normal.

Destroyed Ukrainian cities, along with their blown-up hospitals, schools and kindergartens, will rise from the ruins. Tens of thousands of murdered Ukrainians will do a Lazarus. Thousands of raped women will be unraped. Tortured POWs and civilians will instantly recover. Parents will return to their orphaned children. Possessions looted out of Ukrainian homes will come back. The Russians will withdraw, their honour intact. Ukrainians will rejoice, but without gloating.

Happiness all around – amazing what a little gobfest can achieve. In fact, Manny himself has experienced the hey, presto magic of talking to Putin.

If you can remember that far back, when Manny was first elected in 2017, he was making some thunderous anti-Putin noises. He was positively enraged about Putin’s cavalier treatment of civil liberties and his tendency to pounce on Russia’s neighbours.

Then that magic moment arrived. Manny met Putin at some summit, and the two spent 10 minutes in seclusion. When Manny emerged, his feelings about Putin instantly did a full 180. He became what the Germans call Putinversteher, loosely (very loosely) translated as Putin toady. And so he has remained to this day.

Now, we are used to our politicians displaying a certain elasticity of principle. Yet usually it takes them longer than 10 minutes to do a complete turn-around. Even making allowances for the magnetic force of Putin’s personality, one would have expected Manny to hold out for at least an hour.

The cynic in me can’t help thinking that Putin’s personality was made even more irresistibly magnetic by his wielding of what the Russians call kompromat (compromising material). The one-sided conversation must have gone along these lines: “Change your tune, Manny, or tomorrow every newspaper will have a front-page headline screaming about [your fiscal or amorous indiscretion]. You’ll kiss your career adieu, is this what you want?”

The rumours about Manny making the rounds in France make this scenario highly plausible. One way or the other, ever since that quick exchange Manny has been toeing the line.

He has been doing his best trying to delay and soften any sanctions imposed on Russia. He has been talking to Putin regularly, and I’ve never figured Vlad for a scintillating conversationalist. And he has been trying to sabotage Western help for the Ukraine, especially since the effort is spearheaded by the two countries Manny loathes as much as he loves Putin: Britain and the US.

The other day he openly defied Nato, whose declared mission isn’t only to help the Ukraine drive Putin’s orcs out, but also to degrade Russia’s military and economic capability to do evil deeds in Europe ever again.

To that end, Nato countries have imposed a cordon sanitaire on Russia in general and personally on Putin and his gang. As more and more sanctions come on stream, and especially when the West gets around to imposing an embargo on Russian hydrocarbons, Russia will become a pariah state, a jumped-up North Korea, excluded from every community of civilised nations.

France is a Nato country too, technically speaking. But Manny’s ideas are at odds with those enunciated by Britain and America.

“We will have a peace to build tomorrow, let us never forget that,” he said. “But it will not be done in denial, nor in exclusion of each other, nor even in humiliation.”

Right. God forbid we humiliate Vlad, Manny’s good, if possibly coercive, friend since 2017. Putin must emerge from the conflict with his bloated face saved.

Never mind that he has committed the worst atrocities in Europe since Hitler and Stalin. Never mind that he has openly declared war on the West and threatened a nuclear holocaust. His brittle sensitivity must be protected at all costs.

Manny then displayed the kind of syllogistic Cartesian thinking for which he is so widely known. “We are not at war with Russia,” he explained. “We work as Europeans for the preservation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

Actually, that wasn’t a syllogism. It was a rhetorical fallacy that can be refuted with a syllogism.

Thesis: We work to preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ukraine. Antithesis: Russia is using criminal carpet bombing to destroy both, along with most Ukrainians. Synthesis: We are indeed at war with Russia. Not legally, but factually – even as America effectively entered the war not in December, 1941, but in March that year, when Congress approved the Lend-Lease Act.

One gets the impression that Manny’s desire not to humiliate Putin would only be satisfied if much of the Ukraine is reduced to a sort of Vichy, while the rest of the country will be covered with brothels for the Russian occupation contingent.

Having thus selected Zelensky for the role of Pétain, Manny then came up with an inspired idea borrowed from the ancient rulers of Persia. They saw the world as concentric circles of virtue. Persia herself was in the middle, with the virtue of other countries attenuating in inverse proportion to their proximity to the inner circle.

Manny, who sees himself as the leader of Europe, a hybrid of Napoleon and Merkel, came up with a new way of putting his foot down. The Ukraine, he explained, isn’t yet ready to join the EU as such. Neither are a few other unfortunate countries and one wicked one: Britain, which had the temerity to turn her back on Manny’s perceived fiefdom.

But that doesn’t mean those outcasts should remain, well, out. Manny proposed adding a couple of outer circles of EU hell… sorry, I mean paradise. These will accommodate countries lacking the blessing of full membership, but aspiring to some novice status in a Europe united under Manny’s aegis.

They will have to obey all EU laws, that goes without saying. But they’ll be spared the rigamarole of having to take part in any parliamentary wranglings  involved in the passing of such laws.

Again I smell a logical rat. Since Manny palpably loathes Britain, he should be ecstatic that the EU is now spared her toxic presence. Yet here he is, trying to draw Britain back in by hook or mostly by crook, but with a status vastly inferior to one Britain tossed aside.

Manny didn’t specify whether Russia will be welcomed into this EU Lite. Perhaps he believes she should be fast-tracked to full membership the moment the shooting stops. One never knows with him.

There’s only one thing worse than a self-serving nonentity in government. A self-serving nonentity with delusions of grandeur. Perhaps that’s why Manny sees a kindred soul in Putin.

You like WHAT, Camilla?

In a recent interview, HRH Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, proudly admitted to lumpen proletarian tastes in food.

Asked to name her favourites, she came up with… Caviar? Truffles? Foie gras? No, none of the above.

“One of my favourite foods is baked beans on toast. Always Heinz. And freshly cooked fish and chips, wrapped in paper. That smell. You cannot beat proper fish and chips.” And of course: “I avoid chilli and garlic”.

Probed more deeply, Camilla also came up with frozen chicken pies as another gourmet treat for special occasions. I’m glad she wasn’t asked about her favourite tipple. It would have been a shame for our future Queen Consort to name Strongbow cider or some vile fortified wine, ideally drunk out of a brown paper bag on a park bench.

Considering that Camilla grew up in a wealthy aristocratic family, regularly travelled to Italy as a child and was mostly educated on the continent, her taste, or rather lack thereof, calls for an explanation. I can think of several.

The simplest and least awful one is that she simply has no taste for food. This kind of aesthetic illiteracy is quite widespread among Britons of her generation, and some are actually proud of it, to the point of jingoism.

Appalling taste in food is held up as proof of national superiority, something to separate Britons from the garlic-breathed, hairy-arsed Johnny Foreigner, especially if he is of the froggish persuasion.

The implication is that Britons devote so much time and effort to higher spiritual pursuits that they have none to spare for vulgar corporeal concerns. They do make an exception for drinking and sex, but that’s as far as it goes.

The claim to monastic spirituality doesn’t quite tally with my empirical observations, but it’s nonetheless innocuous enough. Then again, those who grew up during or immediately after the war experienced food rationing, which made gastronomy one of the casualties.

My beloved mother-in-law, for example, grew up in a household served by a staff that included a cook. As a youngster she ate well and her taste buds were quite refined. Then came the war, she became a WREN and spent her days peeling potatoes to feed hungry sailors at a Royal Navy base.

The rationing years followed, she married an academic of modest means, bore three children and had to do her own cooking. The culinary shock to her system was so powerful that she developed tastes similar to Camilla’s. I remember once complimenting her on the garlic aroma coming out of her saucepan. “There’s no garlic in my kitchen!” she said indignantly.

Having said that, she happily ate the food I cooked and didn’t at all mind the taste of such offensive condiments as garlic. Often she’d say, “Oh I remember eating this at home”. Though I’m sure Camilla never suffered post-war shocks to her system, it’s conceivable that she identifies prole grub with true Englishness.

Another possibility is reverse snobbery, common to English aristocrats and rich Anglophile Americans, especially in New York and New England.

Such people eschew, indeed despise, common pleasures, of which tasty food is the most democratic. Anyone with a tenner in his pocket can slap together a delicious meal for two, and I’d even suggest that a fiver may do if you know what you’re doing (wine not included).

Food thus finds itself in the same category as bowling, raves and T-shirts with messages like “Two world wars, one world cup, so fuck off”. Heinz baked beans, on the other hand, become a class statement – gastronomic inferiority acting as social superiority. (Driving cheap old bangers is the automotive equivalent – brand-new BMWs aren’t quite… quite.)

This sort of thing isn’t exactly innocuous, but neither is it too bad. We all display some sort of badges of identity, ethnic, social or professional. The same people who may sneer at reverse snobbery wouldn’t be caught dead with a single thread of any artificial fibre anywhere near their bodies, for example.

The third possibility is so bad, it’s deadly. Camilla is lying. She actually does prefer caviar to fish and chips, truffles to Heinz and foie gras to frozen chicken pies. But she has succumbed to the overall egalitarian tendency of modernity.

Her advisers must have done some private polling and found out that the monarchy’s best chance of survival is pretending to be less, well, monarchic. Eating Heinz baked beans, getting pissed in pubs, professing an affinity for rap, supporting unlikely football clubs (William, for example, claims to be an Aston Villa fan) are all seen as prolier-than-thou signals the royals must send out to the multitudes.

If that’s the case, then we are no longer talking about Camilla’s personal idiosyncrasies. At issue now is the lethal malaise of society, something for which even the odd spoonful of caviar would offer no cure.

I for one would hate to see a By Appointment stamp on a can of Heinz beans. Not that I’ve ever bought any such abomination.

P.S. If HRH likes baked beans so much, she ought to try this trick. Soak a pound of dry cannellini beans in salted water overnight. Then put them in a roasting dish with a glass of white wine, a head of garlic, unpeeled and cut in half, a few slices of lemon and some black pepper. Cover with foil, punch a hole in the middle to let the steam escape, then bake at 400F for an hour. If she still prefers Heinz after that, she’s beyond help.