Media event, Russian style

Would you be able to watch a video of a man forcibly castrated? And should your stomach prove strong enough, would you put a ‘like’ on it? Thousands of Russians did both.

The face of terror

The video proves the eclectic nature of the Russians, who seamlessly join archaism with modernity. As a tribute to the former, several Russian soldiers held a Ukrainian POW down, while the man in the photograph castrated him with a Stanley knife.

That foray outside the Geneva Convention has old antecedents. Prisoners were sometimes mutilated in the Byzantine Empire, Africa, ancient Japan and elsewhere.

That such practices are still extant in our post-industrial age testifies to the Russians’ commitment to what Putin lovingly calls “traditional values”. I too admire conservatism, but not irrespective of what it is that’s being conserved.

Yet such traditionalism effortlessly blends with the Russians keeping an open mind to the technological advances of modernity. Thus, while some soldiers castrated the prisoner, others were filming the action, doubtless with their smartphones.

Having completed the procedure, the soldiers waved the severed genitals before the smartphone camera and then, in a sudden flash of inspiration, called the victim’s wife to spread the fun more widely. They then shot the prisoner in the back of the head.

The man wielding the knife is a Kalmyk, a member of the only Buddhist nation that has settled in Europe. Many other Mongolian peoples have fused with the Finno-Ugrian and Slavic Russians to create a nation that, according to the first Russian philosopher Chaadayev, inherited the worst features of both Europe and Asia.

One of Russia’s greatest poets, Alexander Blok (d. 1921), celebrated this heritage with gusto and pride:

You are but millions. Our unnumbered nations
Are as the sands upon the sounding shore.
We are the Scythians! We are the slit-eyed Asians!
Try to wage war with us – you’ll try no more!

War brings out the worst in even civilised nations, never mind the descendants of the Scythians. But the worst in some nations is much worse than in some others.

Isolated instances of inhuman savagery happen in all wars. But in the on-going bandit raid on the Ukraine, such instances aren’t isolated. They are what passes for Russia’s military strategy.

Lest you may think that it’s only the ethnic minorities, such as the Chechens, Kalmyks and Buryats, who are guilty of inhuman atrocities, listen to the few survivors of Bucha. Retreating Russian troops left that city near Kiev strewn with mutilated, tortured, often raped corpses of women, men and children.

Those few denizens whose luck was good testify that simon-pure ethnic Russians were the worst. Even Chechen militants, known for their cruelty, weren’t a patch on them.

In this context, calls for peace talks sound especially, inhumanly callous. Thus a Mail columnist who’ll go nameless (I’ve named him often enough before) writes: “If anyone suggests we try to make peace in Ukraine (as I do), he is immediately denounced as an ‘appeaser’.”

I wouldn’t denounce him as an appeaser. I’d denounce him as an accomplice.

How do you make peace with murderers, rapists, castrators and looters? How do you even sit down to talk to them? Would you negotiate with someone who has done such things to your family? I wouldn’t.

When your brothers, sisters, children, spouses and parents fall victim to such satanic atrocities, you don’t talk. You fight – and continue fighting until only one side is left standing.

The only kind of peace the Ukraine can accept after all this is Russia relinquishing every inch of stolen Ukrainian territory and submitting to an international tribunal on war crimes. Pushing the country into any other arrangement means promoting the victory of Putin’s evil regime.

I can only regret that the Russians have allowed themselves to be brutalised to such an infernal extent. That part of their nature had to be close to the surface to have burst out so quickly and to such an effect.

It is our sacred duty to help the Ukraine in every possible way. In doing so, we’ll also be helping ourselves, for marauding Scythian hordes don’t stop until they are stopped.

And if you don’t believe me, re-read Blok’s poem. He understood his own people much better than even Mail columnists do.

Fascist International gathers speed

If you get a distinct sense of déjà vu, you know your modern history. The part I have in mind is the 1933 election in Germany that brought Hitler to power.

Who’s Salvini’s friend then?

For it wasn’t the German electorate that chose Hitler. It was Stalin, acting in the capacity of führer-maker.

The Nazis were the largest single party elected. But the Social Democrats and the Communists had more votes, put together. And together they should be, clamoured the progressives at the time. They are both parties of the Left, aren’t they? Then they have more in common with each other than either has with Hitler. A marriage made in heaven, nicht wahr?

There was a minor difference between the two parties though. The Social Democrats were a legitimate (if misguided) political institution. The Communists weren’t.

They were part of the Communist International (Comintern) run out of Moscow. Ernst Thälmann, the party’s general secretary, was Stalin’s agent, which he didn’t mind advertising by donning the Red Army uniform on his frequent visits to Russia.

And Stalin didn’t want a wishy-washy coalition led by the Social Democrats. He wanted a revanchist Germany that could smash the West and pave the way for the Red juggernaut to roll in. He wanted Hitler.

Hence Stalin forbade Thälmann from forming a coalition with the Social Democrats, whom the Soviet press routinely called “social fascists” . Thälmann complied, thereby signing his own death sentence (the Nazis murdered him in Buchenwald in 1944). Hitler came to power.

The current situation in Italy is eerily similar. The other day, Matteo Salvini’s League Party pulled out of Mario Draghi’s coalition, thus bringing his government down. The League Party was joined by two others, including Sylvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

Both Salvini and Berlusconi have been cultivated by Putin for years. I don’t know the exact nature of the relationship between Matteo and Vlad, and it may well differ in some details from the one between Thälmann and Stalin. Yet there’s no doubt that a relationship exists, and it’s more than amicable.

Italian papers report that Salvini’s decision followed immediately after a meeting between his close adviser Antonio Capuano and Oleg Kostyukov, billed as a Russian embassy ‘political officer’.

Since we’ve already established that you know your modern history, you don’t need me to tell you what that job description actually means. If some doubts still linger, then here’s a little detail omitted in our newspaper reports. Oleg’s father, Gen. Igor Kostyukov, is head of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence.

Salvini has been doing Putin’s bidding for a long time. Thus in 2019, when the photograph above was taken, he acted on Vlad’s request (order?) to ban a strike at a Russian-owned Lukoil refinery in Italy.

Neither Salvini nor Berlusconi is a one-off aberration in European politics. Putin’s KGB government may be weak on economics, human rights and, by the looks of it, military strategy, but it knows how to develop the rich legacy of Stalin’s NKVD.

Ever since Putin took over in 2000, he has been systematically cultivating Western politicians, especially extremists of both Left and Right (if these terms mean anything, which they really don’t). Centrist politicians, such as Angela Merkel, were also targeted, but they had to be recruited one by one.

Extremist parties, on the other hand, could be bought wholesale, lock, stock and oil barrel. The communists under different guises certainly, but especially various fascisoid parties, such as France’s National Rally, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Hungary’s Jobbik, Austria’s Freedom Party, Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland are all recipients of Putin’s largesse.

Various British groups are also seen as potential recruits, and they can be pernicious enough. However, the ‘first past the post’ system of British politics makes it hard for extremist parties to exert a substantial influence on political outcomes. (Unless you see, with some justification, Labour as an extremist party.)

The European system of proportional representation, by contrast, fosters governing coalitions, often made up of numerous parties. Such coalitions can be brought down by one or two parties withdrawing for whatever reason – including possible interference by a hostile foreign power.

Putin is clearly trying to create his own version of Stalin’s Comintern, a fascist International rendering European countries ungovernable and impotent to counter Russia’s imperial expansion. And Italy shows how that strategy can succeed.

The collapse of Draghi’s coalition leaves the frankly fascist Brothers of Italy (which descends from Mussolini’s Black Shirts) as the country’s biggest party. Traditionally allied with Salvini’s League Party and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the Brothers may well lead the next coalition, with Putin a shadow partner wielding veto power.

Perhaps the party ought to be renamed the Sisters of Italy, considering that it’s led by a pretty blonde girl, Giorgia Meloni. If she becomes Italy’s first woman prime minister, I’m sure feminists will rejoice. So, more to the point, will Putin.

A bad joke is a crime

What do you call a woman who has two black eyes? Nothing. She’s already been told twice.

Do you find this joke funny? Never mind answering. What you or I think doesn’t matter because, by telling it, I’ve already committed an imprisonable offence. A crime, in other words.

It’s for exchanging such jokes on a private WhatsApp group that three Met officers are being tried at Westminster magistrates’ court. They are accused of sending “grossly racist, sexist, misogynistic” messages, sometimes when on duty.

One member of the group, PC Wayne Couzens, actually abducted, raped and murdered a woman, for which he is now serving a whole-life sentence. Personally, I’d have him strung up, but we’ll leave that aside for now.

Most people, even those who are less bloodthirsty than I, would agree that doing such things is a crime. However, all sensible people should realise than joking about them shouldn’t and – in a sane country – wouldn’t be criminalised.

But who has ever said we are living in a sane country? Or, for that matter, a sane world?

To give you a selection of the officers’ crimes, they referred to rape as “struggle snuggle”. They joked that victims of domestic violence “love it… that’s why they are repeated victims more than often.”

Describing three such incidents, one of the cops wrote: “I bet they all had one thing in common. Women that don’t listen.”

They also opined that all Muslims are terrorists and suggested that people with Down’s syndrome should be used for “target practice”. For fear of traumatising you for life, I’ll spare you any references to their racial and homophobic slurs. No one will be forced to read such filth, not on my watch.

The prosecuting QC said the public would be “grossly offended” by the comments. (Don’t you just love the subjunctive mood?) And there was no doubt that “each of the messages was plainly grossly offensive by any objective standard.”

Calling such standards objective suggests that the poor chap doesn’t even know what the word means. Thus neither I nor Penelope nor any of my friends would be “grossly offended” by any of those comments. Some of us would find them unfunny and tasteless. However, if bad taste were to be criminalised, I’d suggest we’d instantly fill every prison to the gunwales and then have to build hundreds more.

For example, the group mentioned in the previous paragraph would send down anyone sporting tattoos and facial metal. All attendees of pop concerts and raves. People who wear ‘brown in town’ (shoes, that is) or socks with sandals. Anyone wearing legible clothing of any kind, especially T-shirts. Anyone who has ever referred to the Earth as “our planet”. Anyone who thinks Greta Thunberg is right. Anyone who has ever used words like ‘homophobia’, ‘transphobia’ or ‘misogyny’. Anyone who thinks animals have rights.

So much for objectivity. For tastes can’t be objective. They can only be good or bad, and it takes subjective judgement to decide which is which. That, by the way, doesn’t mean that all subjective judgements are equal. They aren’t. But they are all indeed subjective.

I always hesitate to say that Britain is as bad as the Soviet Union of my youth, or, God forbid, even worse. On balance, it isn’t.

But the balance is definitely tipping that way. In my university days (1964-1970) one could be reprimanded for cracking a political joke or mocking one of the Soviet leaders, usually the eminently mockable Brezhnev. Repeat offenders could possibly be expelled, especially if they showed no remorse.

But they wouldn’t be arrested and imprisoned. In my parents’ generation, yes. A wrong sense of humour could easily earn the wag a one-way trip to Stalin’s death camps. But during the more vegetarian period of Soviet history, politically incorrect jokes weren’t treated as a capital offence.

On the evidence of the on-going trial, and many other such gross abuses of justice, Britain is currently somewhere between Brezhnev’s and Stalin’s USSR, but moving backwards towards the latter.

Now have you heard the one about women getting paid less than men? That’s because a woman’s work is never done.

Do you think I’ll get off with a suspended sentence?

Apology not accepted

His Holiness reminded me of how much I have to apologise for.

Paleface speak in forked tongue

As a human being, I apologise for Adam and Eve, who queered the pitch for all of us.

As a man, I apologise to all oppressed women, including, but not limited to, those I might have inadvertently oppressed myself.

As specifically a white man, I apologise for white racism, leaving it for chromatically different persons to apologise for any other kind.

As someone born in the Soviet Union, I apologise for the Gulag.

As a (lapsed) American, I apologise for slavery, Hiroshima and Joe Biden.

As a British subject, I apologise for colonialism.

And as a Catholic… Well, mercifully I don’t have to apologise for anything as a Catholic. The Pope is doing a good job of it without my help.

On his visit to Canada, he apologised to “the Indigenous peoples” (formerly known as Canadian Indians) for the abuse they had suffered in residential schools, created and funded by the government, but mostly run by Catholics.

The schools existed from the 19th century until the 1970s. The government forcibly separated Indian children from their families and sent them out to be converted to Christianity, taught English and assimilated into Canadian society.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) published a report in 2015, which stated that children in those schools “were abused, physically and sexually, and they died in the schools in numbers that would not have been tolerated in any school system anywhere in the country.”

Some 4,000 children died in those 139 schools, mostly from tuberculosis that was rampant at the time. That’s about 30 a year, and I assume that number is higher than the statistical average.

Any physical and sexual abuse that happened is undoubtedly criminal. If any perpetrators are still with us, they should be prosecuted. However, considering that the schools have been out of business for half a century, such longevity is unlikely. For all I know, those criminals are burning in hell.

However, I struggle with the full extent of the Pope’s apology. The impression I get is that he agreed with the full list of charges put forth in the TRC report. “The residential school system,” said that document, “was based on an assumption that European civilisation and Christian religions were superior to Aboriginal culture.”

Call me a racist and report me to the police, but that assumption seems justified to me. For the aboriginal culture in question is too primitive to prepare children for life in a modern Western society. And surely a practitioner of any religion has to believe it’s superior to others.

Had those children remained within their ‘indigenous’ culture, they would have spent their lives on reservations, drinking rotgut, smoking things that aren’t good for you and acting as ethnographic exhibits for gawking tourists.

As it is, many of them ended up with advanced degrees from McGill University, having acquired the means of accusing the white establishment in good English full of scholarly references to the critical theory.

The possibility of such a positive outcome doesn’t justify the use of force in removing children from their families. However, the TRC confirms it wasn’t the Catholic Church but the government that applied such force. To his credit, the Pope did refer to that fact, if only obliquely.

However, he made it sound as if what calls for an apology isn’t just various abuses of the assimilation system, but the system itself. That got me confused.

I thought integrating ethnic minorities into society was a Good Thing. Surely that’s better than consigning them to a life of cultural, political and economic exclusion?

Undeniably, the Catholic Church has supported the system of conversion and assimilation since at least the Middle Ages. Such is its institutional remit, laid down in numerous proselytising verses of the New Testament.

Thus, for example, Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Or Matthew 10:7: “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’.”

His Holiness didn’t separate the policy from its abuses clearly enough, although he did make a meek attempt to do so: “I am here because the first step of my penitential pilgrimage among you is that of again asking forgiveness, of telling you once more that I am deeply sorry. Sorry for the ways in which, regrettably, many Christians supported the colonising mentality of the powers that oppressed the indigenous peoples.”

“Many Christians”? What about the Church as a whole? Or the entire white civilisation? Such papal equivocations were wide of the mark, judged the TRC types.

To them and those they represent, that humble pie was too small to satisfy their hunger for humiliating the Church and, more generally, the West. To make things even worse, the Pope apologised for those children having suffered “physical, verbal, psychological and spiritual abuse.”

The outcry was thunderous: he left sexual abuse out! Doesn’t he realise that this is what the Church is all about?

The general reaction to the Pope’s effort can best be summed up by the cliché of too little, too late. Yes, ran the consensus, it was good that the Pope showed willing.

But he omitted to apologise for so many things (possibly including some I mentioned at the beginning) that his “penitential pilgrimage” has to be put down as a missed opportunity. Nor was his sincerity sufficiently persuasive. As one of his detractors put it, his song didn’t come from the heart.

All in all, the season of apologies is in full swing, and it’s not the best time in our cultural calendar. The victims, real or putative, are never satisfied. Rather than reducing their quest for divisive insularity, apologies make it more fervent. On balance, they do more harm than good.

Talking specifically about North American Indians, the white settlers treated them with savage brutality, which I can’t condone. Progress is often held up as justification but, to me, it doesn’t justify much of anything, and certainly not inhuman cruelty.

Closer to our own time, the abuses suffered by the pupils of those residential schools are unpardonable. But they won’t be undone by fulsome apologies. If anything, their aftermath will continue to fester longer as a result.

Let’s just make sure such things never happen again, shall we? Contrition is best kept for our penitential prayers. Their recipient will accept them with more grace than any woke warriors ever will.

In France, the EU is their NHS

The French have, for all intents and purposes, suffocated our Channel ports with a go-slow strike.

Post-Brexit, the French insist on stamping our passports before boarding the Dover ferry or the Folkestone channel train. That obviously requires more border officials to keep the traffic flowing.

However, rather than beefing up their staffs, the French drastically reduced them. That created tailbacks taking from eight to 21 hours to clear. Some inveterate British travellers slept in their cars. Many just turned around and went home cursing a certain species of reptile all the way.

Now, about 200,000 Britons (including us) own houses in France where they spend much of their time. On top of that, millions of British tourists travel there every year.

This creates mighty streams of revenue flowing into France’s coffers, at a time when they aren’t necessarily bursting at the seams. (To give you an idea, Penelope and I spend perhaps £25,000 in France every year, and I’d say we are about average British homeowners.) So why are the French so bloody-minded about this?

Because some things in life are more important than money. One such is religious faith, whether real or of the ersatz secular variety, otherwise known as ideology. People have been known to sacrifice their lives for it, never mind a few million euros here and there.

Blind secular faith allows no exegesis, no heresy, no apostasy. It relies on visceral, gonadic biochemistry, not rational thought.

Now that real religions have lost their street cred, surrogates reign supreme. In Britain, that’s NHS. On the face of it, it’s nothing but a method of financing medical care. As such, it should be compared with other methods, with the pluses and minuses assessed and weighed in a dispassionate manner.

But that doesn’t happen, does it? Like a demiurge, the NHS sits on a lofty moral peak that reason can’t even approach, never mind scale. Otherwise bright people put their intelligence on hold and refuse even to discuss the issue. If you are against the NHS, you aren’t just a chap with an argument. You are a traitor, or else an apostate.

What the NHS is for the British, the EU is for the French. When we first bought our house over 20 years ago, I still tried to argue with our French friends about that wicked contrivance.

It must be said that they are all without exception intelligent, erudite and cultured people. They can put forth a nuanced and rational argument on atomism and Thomism, Bach and Offenbach, the Fifth Republic and the Third Reich, first principles and last things.

Yet try to engage them in a serious discussion of the EU and – whoosh! – their minds fly out and secular piety takes over. You can argue until you are puce in the face that there isn’t a single rational, moral, economic or empirical argument in favour of the EU – they don’t want to know. The EU is a secular god and as such is owed unquestioning, genuflecting devotion. That’s all there is to it.

This mindset explains the spirit of vindictive revanchism wafting through France’s smart salons and government offices. By leaving the EU, Britain didn’t just opt for restoring her ancient sovereignty. She committed apostasy. And apostates must be punished, if only pour encourager les autres.

That’s why the French waited so patiently for the start of the peak holiday season to create a bottleneck at the ports. For punishment to work, it must really hurt.

Their officials don’t even bother to conceal their motives. “If you want a smooth crossing, rejoin the Schengen zone,” they smirk. The blighters don’t even know we were never in it.

Some sort of reciprocal agreement, similar to the one we have with another EU member, Portugal, would be easy to work out. That would benefit both parties, except that one party doesn’t care about benefits. It has to indulge its infantile craving for revenge.

My area of London is crawling with French people, and their number hasn’t noticeably dropped since Brexit. The three French schools around us are still open, and French children still spill out into the neighbourhood parks to kick footballs about. (What’s the French for “On me ‘ed, son”?)

The Kent town of Ashford is still more French than English, what with many Frenchmen opting for British taxes even if they have to catch the Eurostar every morning to go to work in France.

We could, probably should, make life difficult for all of them, in the hope that they’ll put some pressure on their own government to see sense. Oh well, not much chance of that. The British are too docile to retaliate, and the French are too committed to care.

Secular gods are athirst, and they demand sacrifices. One such could well become any goodwill between these two neighbours.

Tory debate without Tories

Aren’t these debates fun? A knee-slapper, if you ask me.

“There’s nothing I can say about my opponent that hasn’t already been said about herpes. He has the intelligence of a doorknob, the moral sense of a skunk and the preening egotism of a B actress. He is the scum of the earth, which is why I’ll appoint him to a Great Office of State if I win.”

That’s a slight embellishment of what Dizzy Lizzy said about Fishy Rishi in yesterday’s debate, but she did utter words to that effect.

Sunak, said Miss Truss, is “unfit for office”. But of course she’d give him a post in her cabinet if she won. We wouldn’t want to waste talent like that, would we now?

How does that even add up? Is he fit or unfit? Is she? One thing for sure: such verbal jousts aren’t the way to answer questions of this kind.

Miss Truss, who used to make rousing speeches at LibDem conferences, held Mr Sunak’s wealth and schooling against him. This son of immigrants became a millionaire by working hard and then a prospective billionaire by marrying well.

I could understand someone like Corbyn making hay out of this, but an aspiring Tory prime minister? Since when do Tories attack people for going to a public school and then making a lot of money? Since the Tory Party stopped being a Tory Party, I suppose.

I’m surprised Truss didn’t ask Sunak if he knew how much a pint of milk costs, although I’m sure he must have looked it up not to fall into that bog standard trap.  

As a backdrop to this, a supposedly conservative paper ran a whole feature about the £3,500 suits and £400 shoes Sunak wears. The implication was that such sartorial excesses mean he is out of touch with the poor people who know the price of milk without having to look it up.

I do hope next time Mr Sunak will have the good sense to turn up wearing torn jeans and a legible T-shirt, ideally saying “Two World Wars, one World Cup, so fuck off”. That would establish his patriotism, populist credentials and an ability to appeal to the burgeoning segment of the electorate.

Meanwhile, he attacked Miss Truss’s proposals as economically illiterate, while being rather reticent about his own. She in turn called him a “bean counter” whose economic ideas, whatever they are, would push Britain into a recession.

A friend of mine, who, unlike me, is a member of the Tory Party, asked my advice on how she should vote. I suggested a coin toss, taking off the mothballs my stock phrase I keep for such occasions: the evil of two lessers.

But let’s be fair: for all I know, both candidates may be great statesmen, whose ideas will rejuvenate Britain, turn her into an economic powerhouse and a bastion of freedom while, most important, enabling her to cock a snook at the EU.

It’s just that a silly show like that isn’t going to let them reveal such a potential, in the unlikely event they have it. Having taken part in many debates, if less momentous ones, I know that the only gift it takes to win one is that of the gab.

These aren’t intellectual contests played by strict rhetorical rules and designed to arrive at truth. Our political debates are shrill slanging matches long on irrelevant ad hominems and short on serious arguments.

The candidates’ record in the offices they held in the past isn’t much help either. Truss’s record as Trade Secretary was better than Sunak’s as Chancellor, but her tasks were easier. He had to contend with Covid and a prime minister hellbent on buying people’s votes with their own money.

Looking at the scraps of information the two candidates do provide on their economic plans, I can confidently predict a resounding victory for Labour in two years’ time. From what I can gather, Sunak wants to increase both taxes and spending, while Truss plans to lower the former but raise the latter.

A recession may well ensue whoever wins, but a high inflation rate is worse than any recession because it inculcates suicidal economic habits. Since both candidates propose to hike public spending, inflation will continue its crippling rise whoever wins – and so will the national debt.

We are already paying some £80 billion a year to service it, which too drives the inflation rate upwards because we have to take on more debt to service the existing one. But courtesy of Keynesian economists, who dominate both in government and the academy, we have little fear of a runaway public debt.

“We owe it to ourselves” is the fallacy making the rounds. That nonsense already existed in Adam Smith’s time, who cited it as an example of “the sophistry of the mercantile system”. Above all, it’s not even true: we owe it to the money markets, which charge interest.

As far as I’m concerned, little separates the two candidates in their economic thought. Perhaps sensing that, Sunak slyly pointed out that most Tory voters are Leavers and, unlike Truss, he had voted the right way.

But here’s a paradox that, if you look at it closely, isn’t at all paradoxical. Most Tory Leavers support Truss even though she voted Remain; while the Remainers are solidly behind the Leaver Sunak.

The reason is that they know how little principles mean to either candidate. They suspect both Sunak and Truss would campaign to rejoin the EU or even join the Russian Federation if they thought there were votes in it.

So yes, it’s back to my coin toss suggestion. Heads, Labour wins. Tails, Labour wins. And if the coin lands on edge and stays there, we’ll have a real Tory government.

It’s all culture’s fault, m’lord

The matter of collective responsibility is very much in the news these days, as it was in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Kharkov, 2022

Can all Germans be held responsible for the crimes of Nazism? Can all Russians be held responsible for the crimes of Bolshevism and Putinism?

The issue is multifarious. On the one hand, since it’s individuals and not groups that are moral agents, only individuals can be morally culpable. On the other hand, when people act within and as a group, they create a new quasi-homogeneous entity, whose characteristics may have little in common with those of the individual members.   

Those interested in the problem could do worse than read Karl Jaspers’s 1947 book The Question of German Guilt. Jaspers identifies four categories of guilt: criminal, political, moral and metaphysical. He then analyses each and pronounces his verdict on the eponymous question.

Meanwhile, I’d like to touch on a related issue. To what extent does the national culture, as a constituent of the national character, precipitate the savagery of modern totalitarian regimes?

Unfortunately, most of you will be unable to watch a Russian-language lecture on this subject by Andrei Baumeister, brilliant young professor of philosophy at Kiev University. (When a man in his early 50s looks young to you, you know the clock is running down).

I’ve listened to many of his YouTube streams, and, as a former lecturer myself, I can testify that he is one of the best I’ve seen. Baumeister’s presentation is lucid, erudite, well-argued, free of rancour and as simple to follow as the subjects allow.

What caught my eye the other day was Baumeister’s position on the role of culture, especially philosophy, in nudging a nation towards criminal behaviour. Understandably, he relies mostly on Germany and Russia for illustrations.

Speaking of the former, many commentators draw a direct line of descent from German philosophy all the way to Hitler. Nietzsche and Wagner are usually the first names to come up in this context, but Baumeister correctly mentions a few others, such as Fichte and Schopenhauer.

For once, his conclusion leaves me unconvinced. Without the thinkers who dominated the Romantic period of German culture, says Baumeister, Hitler wouldn’t have happened. Yet it’s wrong to say that Hitler happened because of them.

The nuance escapes me. I suppose Baumeister is arguing against historical determinism, the fallacy that says that, if things happen, they were bound to happen. In other words, the German philosophy of that period did eventually produce Hitler, but, had the cards fallen in a different way, it could have produced something entirely different.

The subjunctive mood makes me uncomfortable. If German philosophy indeed produced, or largely contributed to, Nazism, that’s a fact. What else, if anything, it could have produced is speculation. Such conjecture can be most entertaining, but facts are more reliable.

I’m interested in a different causality, one between philosophy (or culture in general) and the national character. Which produced which? Which is the chicken and which is the egg?

The earliest commentary on the German, or rather Germanic, character I’ve read came in Caesar’s Gallic War. After a major battle, Caesar walked through a Gaul field strewn with corpses. He noticed that the faces of the dead Germanic warriors were contorted by savage, defiant scowls, so different from the peaceful expressions of the other dead.

So half a century before Christ, the ancestors of today’s Germans already displayed the martial qualities that later were to make the country so belligerent. This goes to show yet again that national character develops over millennia, a process that can’t be profitably attributed to just a handful of events.

German mythology, full as it is of sylvan goblins like the murderous elf Erlking, is different from its counterparts in other European cultures, such as French or English. It doesn’t take X-ray vision to discern its dark pagan mysticism in, say, the Nuremberg rallies so poetically filmed by Leni Riefenstahl.

The culture of German exceptionalism is ever-present in German philosophy, though Kant and Hegel weren’t afflicted by it. Thus Hegel saw the 1806 Battle of Jena as one fought between culture and intellect, as personified by Napoleon, and spiritless barbarism as embodied in the Germans.

Yet one can hear the intimations of Nietzsche’s coming Superman in Hegel’s adoration of Napoleon: “…I saw the Emperor Napoleon, the World Soul, riding through the town… It’s a marvellous feeling to see such a personality dominating the entire world… He is capable of doing anything. How wonderful he is!”

Add this deification of a fallible man to Fichte’s German (and incidentally socialist) chauvinism and Nietzsche’s Superman, and you can see the ingredients of Nazism coming together. Hitler’s anti-Semitism was also rooted in German philosophical idealism.

Mainstream German thought was barely touched by Christianity, and the Reformation represented not so much a Christian reaction to clerical corruption as a pagan reaction to Christian discipline. The strict monotheism of the Jews also went against the grain of pagan self-deification implicit in Protestantism.

That partly explains the rabid anti-Semitism of leading Protestants, starting with Luther. Jews were to him “devil’s children” whose synagogue was a “defiled bride… an incorrigible whore and an evil slut”. Jews were full of the “devil’s faeces… in which they wallow like swine.”

He didn’t sit on the fence, did he? From Luther, anti-Semitism eventually drifted into German idealist philosophy, either implicitly, as in Kant and Hegel, or explicitly, as in Fichte, Nietzsche and Wagner.

Curiously, many commentators ascribe the rift between the last two to Nietzsche’s rejection of Wagner’s virulent anti-Semitism. They should read Nietzsche’s essay Antichrist, the most anti-Semitic tract I’ve ever read this side of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

The German cultural soil was amply sown with seeds of Nazism. And, though Baumeister is right in saying that they didn’t have to sprout to such awful maturity, it was always likely that they would.

A similar argument applies to Russia, different though she is to Germany in so many respects. Russian supremacism has always been vaguely Christian and messianic, ever since the monk Philotheus of Pskov (d. 1542) pronounced Russia to be the sole heir to Byzantium and the Third Rome (“and there will not be a fourth”).

That was odd, considering that the Russian peasantry has always been deeply pagan in its outlook, using Christianity as merely a vessel containing their wild superstitions. But culture in Russia was always more divorced from the masses than in Germany.

If in Germany most people never read Fichte and Nietzsche, in Russia most people never read, full stop. Even at the beginning of the 20th century, when literacy in Germany was practically 100 per cent, some 80 per cent of Russians remained illiterate.

Yet that didn’t mean that culture had nothing to do with Russian imperial expansionism, so much on show at present. It’s just that the illiterate masses have never had any input into the country’s behaviour. This was determined and mandated by the cultured élite, whose ideas were largely formed by Pushkin, Dostoyevsky et al. – and I am mentioning only the most benign influences.

Just a few days ago, I wrote a piece about this (It Didn’t Start with Putin), so I won’t repeat myself. Suffice it to say now that all those founders of Russian culture assumed and preached the innate superiority of saintly Russia over the decadent, materialistic West.

Yet Baumeister lets Russian culture off the hook much too easily. He acknowledges that, say, both Pushkin and Dostoyevsky produced some jingoistic works full of aggressive hatred. But, he says correctly, these formed only a small part of their output.

Yes, Pushkin might have written his chauvinistic poems Stances and To Slanderers of Russia, but he also wrote Eugene Onegin. And Dostoyevsky wrote Crime and Punishment, not just anti-Semitic, supremacist rants.

That’s a curious line of argument. For example, a naturally violent man usually doesn’t commit violent acts every day of his life. He may spend years and years never even getting a parking ticket. However, when that fateful midnight comes, there he is, plunging a knife into a lonely passer-by.

True, says Baumeister, Dostoyevsky was an anti-Semite, and true, he did write A Writer’s Diary, a book spewing hatred at Jews, Catholics, Westerners in general and everyone else within reach. But he, Baumeister, could show you reams of things written by the Germans that were much worse.

So could I. But, much as I despise clichés, since when do two wrongs make a right?

Great writers and philosophers exert an immediate influence only on those who read them, which in Russia has always been a small group. But those readers then act as lightning rods, transmitting the electric charge of a great culture into the social earth of the population at large.

Writers and thinkers of genius thus shape, if only at several removes, the country’s ethos. And the ethos shapes them in return, for such men are endowed not only with unusually fecund minds but also with uncannily sensitive noses. They sense the unspoken cravings of the people, put them into words and reinject them into the masses.

Putin’s missiles raining on Ukrainian targets in 2022 are an expression of Russian culture by other means – just as Hitler’s bombs falling on the same targets in 1941 expressed German culture. Baumeister is right in saying that this link is neither total nor predetermined. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

That racist Enlightenment

The stand on the Enlightenment is the principal battleground in the war between those on the right and those in the wrong. And people fighting a war will search for friends wherever they can find them – just look at the wartime alliance of Britain and America with Stalin.

David Hume, famous white supremacist

In that spirit, I open my arms wide to the woke chiefs of Nottingham Trent University who have placed trigger warnings on the works of Enlightenment philosophers.

A bunch of racists, the lot of them, as it turns out. Students must be spared the trauma bound to result from their exposure to the “appalling views on race” promulgated by Locke (d. 1704), Hume (d. 1776), Kant (d. 1804) and Hegel (d. 1831).

I’m actually surprised the uni chiefs didn’t ban the offending works altogether. There’s still time: the trigger warnings have to be merely a first palliative step.

Now, those four philosophers, along with their French epigones, are the founders of liberalism, both in its classical form and its modern perversion. Far be it from me to claim that racism is a natural by-product of liberalism, and I’m sure those Nottingham chaps don’t think so.

Yet anyone scanning the works in question to support that view will be richly rewarded. In a moment you’ll be able to judge for yourself.

But first, a disclaimer is an order. It wasn’t the zeitgeist that spoke through those thinkers. They did their own talking.

The quotations I’m about to cite didn’t reflect the unchallenged received wisdom of the time. English Tories, to name one group, routinely mocked those liberal thinkers for their illiberal views.

Thus Dr Johnson, David Hume’s contemporary, sneered: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?”

He meant American colonists, for whom John Locke was the principal inspiration. They must indeed have been inspired by Locke’s essay The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina.

It pains me to quote from it, but duty calls: “Every freeman of Carolina shall have absolute power and authority over his negro slaves.”

In the good tradition of selective quoting, we should disregard a conflicting sentiment expressed in Locke’s First Treatise on Government: “Slavery is so vile and miserable an estate of man … that ’tis hardly to be conceived.”

Let’s just say that at the time American colonists found the second sentiment less inspiring than the first. Still, scholarly integrity demands the acknowledgement that Locke repented his verbal crime.

That’s more than can be said for David Hume. If he lived today, he’d be imprisoned, not merely cancelled. Here, in no particular order, is a brief selection that would be cited in the indictment.

“I am apt to suspect the negroes and in general all other species of men (for there are four or five different kinds) to be naturally inferior to the whites.”

“There never was a civilised nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences… On the other hand, the most rude and barbarous of the whites, such as the ancient GERMANS, the present TARTARS, have still something eminent about them, in their valour, form of government, or some other particular.”

“Such a uniform and constant difference could not happen, in so many countries and ages, if nature had not made an original distinction betwixt these breeds of men.”

“Not to mention our colonies, there are NEGROE slaves dispersed all over EUROPE, of which none ever discovered any symptoms of ingenuity; tho’ low people, without education will start up amongst us, and distinguish themselves in every profession.”

“In JAMAICA, indeed, they talk of one negroe as a man of parts and learning; but ’tis likely he is admired for very slender accomplishments, like a parrot, who speaks a few words plainly.”

Did I say cancelled and imprisoned? Lynched, more likely. However, hamstrung as he was by the dearth of mass media, Hume missed an interesting example closer to home.

There lived in Vienna at the time a black man named Angelo Soliman (original name Mmadi Make), who was born in what today is Nigeria, brought to Europe as a child and raised in princely Viennese households. Soliman grew up a cultured and cultivated man, whose academic attainment was much respected by his contemporaries.

He was a tutor to many young princes and a friend to Emperor Joseph II. Soliman also belonged to the same Masonic lodge, Zur Wahren Eintracht, as Mozart, and pushed it in a more scholarly direction. Mozart used Soliman as the prototype for the character of Bassa Selim in The Abduction from the Seraglio.

Nevertheless, when Soliman died in 1796, his body was stuffed and exhibited in a natural history museum. I don’t know how the exhibit was labelled taxonomically, but I bet it wasn’t Homo sapiens.

Lest you accuse me of prejudice against the Anglophone racists, the Germans were no better. For example, Hegel believed that Africans were a “race of children that remain immersed in a state of naiveté” and living in “a condition of savagery and unfreedom”.

I’m sure if he visited Africa today, he’d change his mind faster than you could say ‘necklacing’. Nor would he stick to his belief in the “right of heroes” to colonise and civilise those savages.

Hegel must have taken his cue from Kant in the previous generation, who wrote that: “Americans and Negroes cannot govern themselves. Thus, [they] serve only as slaves.” (I hasten to reassure my American readers that, by Americans, Kant meant American Indians, who, he wrote “are incapable of culture”.)

He graciously acknowledged that “the inhabitants of India can be educated”. Alas, “this does not extend to the use of abstract concepts, and hence they are incapable of being magistrates.”

Meanwhile, black people “have by nature no feeling that rises above the Ridiculous.” Actually, Kant didn’t limit himself to theoretical postulates. He also offered practical advice: “One gets the Negroes by having them catch each other, and one has to seize them with force.”

I could quote many such passages, but I’m sure you get the picture already. Those Nottingham academics certainly do, and I’m sure all our universities will soon follow in their footsteps.

My heart goes out to them though. They may have to burn gallons of environmentally unfriendly midnight oil, looking for quotations that would disqualify philosophers and writers of the past from holding academic positions at present.

Since most of them are culpable, our academics have their work cut out: Hercules with his Augean stables would look positively idle by comparison. But I propose a solution that will make their lives infinitely simpler, while sparing students the pain of having their innermost feelings offended.

All thinkers and writers (with a few individually stipulated exceptions) from the centuries before ours must be summarily cancelled, with their books expunged from the curricula and, ideally, burned in university quads. As a side benefit, this would provide a cheap, if not necessarily renewable, source of heat for the upcoming winter months.

Alas, our favourite philosopher, Karl Marx, will have to go too, what with his views being even more racist than those quoted above. But we must take the rough with the smooth – any real principle demands sacrifices.

What’s the opposite of woke?

Amazing what a single letter can do. Change just one vowel in Caitlin Moran’s surname, and you get an aptronym, a name that suits its owner perfectly.

Caitlin Moran: woke and proud

The Times columnist invites such a misspelling with every word she writes. This time, in her article Duh! Of Course I Am Woke, she set out first to define such terms as ‘woke’ and ‘liberal’, and then to announce how proud she is to be both.

Thus a liberal is to her someone who is “willing to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own; open to new ideas”.

Words these days mean whatever we want them to mean – Humpty Dumpty’s approach to lexicology has triumphed. And few words are as open to falsification as ‘liberal’ and all its cognates.

For example, Miss Moran’s liberalism and that of “the metropolitan liberal elite”, to which she is proud to belong, is exactly, diametrically opposite to the definition she puts forth. This she proves by providing a synonym of ‘liberal’, which is ‘woke’, and also suggesting a few antonyms.

To begin with, she enlists the help of “national treasure Kathy Burke”, some kind of actress, who “put it succinctly on Twitter, ‘I love being woke. It’s much nicer than being an ignorant f***ing twat’.”

Having thus established a solid, if borrowed, base of operations, Miss Moran mounted her own foray into pseudo-nominalism. The only alternative to wokery is to her being “a raging racist, homophobic, transphobic, woman-hating antisemite”.

So much for willingness “to respect or accept behaviour or opinions different from one’s own”. So much also for basic decency, intelligence and education.

Rather than accepting the expression ‘metropolitan liberal elite’ as pejorative, Miss Moran sees it as a term of praise, something to be proud of: “And as for ‘elite’? Well, cheers! I graciously accept the compliment! I worked my knackers off on the journey from a council estate to The Times, so thank you for noticing.”

She may have joined the elite, as it’s defined today, professionally and financially. But culturally and intellectually, she is still mired in the council estate of the mind, or rather the gutter running through it.

“How could any of this be an insult? You might as well start shouting about a ‘City-dwelling reasonable success person’.”

‘Liberal elite’ is an ironic term, used by sensible people to describe a small group of trend-setters in our rapidly degenerating world. We tend to look for words that define and elucidate, not just demonise.

Yet the likes of Miss Moran refuse, perhaps are unable, to understand irony. In fact, they are unable to understand just about anything, and certainly not anyone who despises them and every fake virtue they proclaim as real.

This illiterate hack has figured us out: “Most ‘anti-woke’ warriors tend to be slightly scared, ageing people who don’t like young people changing all the words all the time – because it makes them feel out of touch – and who are playing to a gallery of similarly confused and tetchy people for viewing figures and/or votes.”

Slightly scared? I am terrified of the wanton destruction of everything sublime, beautiful and graceful perpetrated by fascisoid ignoramuses out to annihilate things they can’t understand. Each of them is a naked savage who turns a Stradivarius violin this way and that, only to decide that the best use for it is to kindle a pyre around which he could perform his ritual gyrations.

Savages like Moran look at history’s greatest civilisation and see nothing in it except racism, colonialism, oppression and a commitment to destroying ‘our planet’. These sins are to them irredeemable, and they are certainly not offset by any achievements.

They then take those awful things and use them to define their own world, with the minus sign attached to each. They are anti-racist, anti-colonialist, anti-this, anti-that.

Real virtues are thus ousted by fake ones, based on all these antis. That leaves no one in doubt of what they hate, but real virtue proceeds from love, not hate.

What is it that they love then? Well, themselves of course, what else. They “work their knackers off” to turn everything good, like the formerly great newspaper The Times, into the sort of thing that sticks to your shoe sole, making it stink on a hot day. And they are proud of it.

Rather than being open to ideas and respecting other people’s opinions, they indulge their powerlust by stamping into the same substance everybody and everything that contradicts their hare-brained notions.

Their woke ‘liberalism’ begets cancel culture, the cudgel with which they bust recalcitrant heads. Miss Moran’s scurrilous piece represents another swing of that weapon, but it misses its target. Instead it turns into a boomerang, smashing her own smug face.

She is right about one thing though, inadvertently letting the cat out of the bag. The cudgel is, for the time being, verbal. The stormtroopers of the fascisoid world created by the likes of her are indeed “changing all the words all the time”.

That’s Humpty-Dumpty all over again, a tyrant putting his foot down:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”

Lewis Carroll, along with many great thinkers, knew that whoever gains control of language will become a master of minds as well. And the best way to control words is to deprive them of any real meaning.

This realisation lies at the root of every modern, fascistic tyranny. And when one such vanquishes, the victors no longer have to conceal their true aims and ways of achieving them. That’s a telltale sign: when they start to speak frankly, you know they have won.

Thus Miss Moran’s piece is indeed a triumphant ritual dance around the fire consuming a great civilisation. Except that she may be too moronic to realise this.

We are inviting Putin to press on

First, the facts. On 11 July, Putin stopped the gas flow to Europe through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, claiming routine maintenance.

A friend in need

That started a panic in the EU, especially in countries like Germany that are almost totally dependent on Russian gas. What if Putin stops it for ever? The thought was too frightening to contemplate, especially since “Putin’s best woman” Merkel had done all she could to destroy all realistic alternatives to Putin’s hydrocarbons.

Routine maintenance on that pipeline normally takes 2-3 days. This time it took 10, and only yesterday did Putin magnanimously agree to continue taking his billion euros a day, a payment for gas that makes his bandit raid on the Ukraine self-financing.

Meanwhile, though Russian troops are taking a breather (an operational pause, in technical parlance), Putin has stepped up genocidal raids on cities. The other day Russian missiles struck the centre of Vinnytsia, killing over 20 people, including children.

Vinnytsia is a city in west-central Ukraine, far from the frontline. It’s a hub for the flow of humanitarian aid, something that interferes with Putin’s genocidal designs.

At the same time, Foreign Minister Lavrov announced that, now that Nato was supplying long-range weapons to the Ukraine, Russia was no longer going to be satisfied with just Donbas. She was now going to claim other chunks of Ukrainian territory as well. That statement of intent sounded sinister even though it lacked novelty appeal, what with the Russians having tried to take Kiev in the first days of the war.

Summing up, Russia again uses her gas as a blackmail weapon. In parallel, Putin continues the indiscriminate murder of civilians as a terrorist tactic designed to break the spirit of the Ukraine and her friends.

All that unfolds against the backdrop of greedier territorial claims that remain open-ended. The implication is that Putin’s thirst may have to be slaked not only by the Dnieper, but also possibly the Vistula or even the Rhine.

Before I tell you what the West’s response was, I’d like to suggest what it should have been. First, most Western governments have a policy of never negotiating with blackmailers and terrorists. That principle should have pertained in this case.

Hence, when Nord Stream stopped pumping, EU leaders should have told Putin in no uncertain terms exactly where he could stick that pipeline and whatever flows through it. Don’t bother reopening it, Vlad, the message should have been.

A new package of stiff sanctions should have been brought on stream, showing Putin that the West was ready to stand fast, whatever it takes. Yes, some economic hardship would have ensued, but this has traditionally been accepted as a fair price to pay for freedom.

In reality, having doubtless considered such options, the West has gone for their exact opposite, demonstrating yet again its craven spinelessness.

Rather than telling the Russians to eat their gas and drink their oil, the EU heaved a collective sigh of relief and thanked Putin, so far only inwardly, for renewing his tender hydrocarbon mercies. In addition, Putin’s Hungarian stooge Orbán continued to undermine Western unity by striking his own private deal for discounted Russian gas.

While Nord Stream was down, Canada returned to Russia the sanctioned Siemens turbine. The EU also broke its own sanctions by restoring Russia’s ability to transport sanctioned goods from the mainland to the Kaliningrad enclave.

At the same time, the US has removed the ban on Russian trade in fertilisers, food and medicine. Not to be outdone, the EU has introduced the seventh package of sanctions, whose principal function seems to be mitigating the effect of the previous six.

The Council of Europe issued a statement, saying that: “We are also extending the exemption of transactions for agricultural products and transfer of oil to third countries. Because the EU is doing its part to ensure we can overcome the looming global food crisis.”

Like prison sentences, sanctions are designed to punish past crimes and deter future ones. Yet, rather than deterring Putin, this geopolitical travesty is likely to encourage him.

If the West refuses to accept any economic discomfort for the sake of stopping Putin’s aggression with a united front, his criminal instincts will slip into a higher gear. He may well decide that the West is so weak that it’ll put up only token resistance should Vlad’s bands sweep into, say, Lithuania – or start exterminating Ukrainians with nuclear weapons.

The awful machine that passes for Putin’s brain has no reverse gear. Having spent his youth running with street gangs, he still thinks in the same terms: if you retreat, you lose face. And if you lose face, you lose your life.

The gravest error Western politicians can make is believing that Putin’s thought follows a normal rational path. His logic isn’t that of a human being, but that of a jungle beast. That’s why residually civilised Western leaders can’t make heads or tails of it.

Just look at Russia’s relations with Israel, the only Western country that maintains friendly, or at least not overtly hostile, relations with Putin. Since Israel has so far refused to join many Western sanctions, it remains the only narrow conduit through which sensitive Western technology can trickle into Russia.

In spite of that, Russia has announced that the offices of Sohnut, the Israeli organisation set up 100 years ago to facilitate Jewish migration to the Promised Land, will be shut. This though Sohnut has operated in Russia since 1989, helping thousands to emigrate without having to jump through too many bureaucratic hoops.

That announcement coincided with Putin’s return from Iran, where he tried to enlist that country as a member of his anti-Western coalition. Obviously, the ayatollahs’ participation is contingent on Russia’s support of their militants fanning the fire of terror in Syria. Since Israel is methodically wiping those thugs out, Putin had to show willing.

If the Russians still had some mental faculties uninfected by Putin’s stupefying propaganda, they’d be asking how an alliance with a fundamentalist Islamic regime tallies with Putin’s professed commitment to Christian values.

Alas, people capable of asking such questions are few in Russia, and are getting fewer. Rather than merely dominating the media, such propaganda now owns them outright. And thinking people are fleeing Russia in droves, many never to return.

Good riddance, as far as Putin is concerned. An aggressive, fascist Russia has no need for thinkers. All she needs is murderous, thieving sadists created in their leader’s image — along with a supine West unwilling to stop Putin’s juggernaut in its tracks, and unable even to understand its evil driving force.

We are practically begging him to carry on.