Life after death

Those who believe in life after death will feel vindicated. They’ll also feel reassured that life everlasting doesn’t have to be strictly celestial.

José Antonio, age 33

Apparently, a man may die and still continue to age normally, pursuing his life’s work, gathering accolades, attracting criticism and – if The Times is to be believed – even sitting for portraits.

Such as the portrait accompanying today’s article on yet another disinterment and reburial of José Antonio Primo de Rivera in Spain. The portrait showed a fiftyish man in a general’s uniform bedecked with the requisite sash and medals.

In 1933 José Antonio founded the Falange, a nationalist party later allied with Franco during the Civil War. In 1936 he was hastily arrested, tried and executed by the government of Largo Caballero. Caballero’s nickname was ‘Spanish Lenin’, which should leave you in no doubt about his government’s political affiliation.

Franco certainly had no such doubts and acted accordingly. He took charge of the nationalist, anti-communist revolt… and, well, you know the rest. But every violent political movement requires its martyrs, and José Antonio did nicely.

When Franco became Il Caudillo, he had a spectacular basilica built in the Valley of the Fallen, and that’s where José Antonio was interred in 1959. In 1975 Franco’s tomb joined José Antonio’s in what became a national shrine.

Actually, though he endorsed the revolt when it broke out, José Antonio did all he could to stop the ensuing civil war. But his endorsement was enough for the ‘Spanish Lenin’ to have him executed, before the coup turned into a full-blown war.

Yet here’s the thing: José Antonio was 33 at the time of his death. Hence it took me, in round numbers, a nanosecond to know that the portrait in The Times couldn’t possibly have shown that nationalist martyr, as the caption underneath claimed.

Another nanosecond, and I knew that shown there wasn’t José Antonio, but his father, Gen. Miguel Primo de Rivera, dictator of Spain in the 1920s. If I knew it, how come the paper’s editors and subeditors didn’t?  

Now we all – even I, incredible as it may sound – make mistakes. So, let him who is without sin… and all that.

Some mistakes are caused by negligence, others by that last port the night before, still others by simple ignorance. One way or another, a newspaper published to the feverish beat of deadline drums is bound to contain the odd typo or error.

Yet there are errors and errors, as there is ignorance and ignorance. In this case, whoever ran that picture with that caption had clearly never heard of either Primo de Rivera.

In the unlikely event he had, it was probably next to the word ‘fascist’, and to today’s lot all fascists look alike. The only good one is a dead one – unless it’s José Antonio and Franco. They remain bad even when dead.

I mentioned the odd error as an unavoidable adjunct to newspaper publishing. However, such good-natured permissiveness doesn’t extend to the profusion of errors in today’s papers, including such venerable ones as The Times.

One would have had to take a magnifying glass to the same newspaper of 100 years ago to find an error or even a typo. These days it takes the aforementioned time unit of a nanosecond to spot numerous typos, factual errors and instances of the English language mercilessly mauled.

Anyone who has ever had to deal with today’s papers and publishers knows that editorial standards are slipping at an ever-accelerating speed. We also know that this downward trajectory has a reliable explanation: a massive influx of semi-literate youngsters into the profession.

Most of them, by the way, are women, which observation shouldn’t be taken as a manifestation of misogyny. Women can make excellent writers or editors, and in fact I’ve known quite a few. However, it’s statistically unlikely they’d far outdo men in producing such overachievers.

The normal split would be 50-50 with, say, a five per cent margin of error either way. Hence the current domination of women on editorial staffs suggests that the normal split doesn’t apply.  What does apply is a positive, which is to say woke, recruitment policy, with women hired simply to boost the paper’s credibility in places like Notting Hill, Camden and Islington.

Never mind the editorial standards, feel the feminism — such is the implicit refrain. Girls raised to the journalistic Olympus in that fashion are short of education, but long on both ideological fervour and unbridled ambition fuelled by a sense of entitlement.

Not for them the meticulous labour of checking facts and English grammar. They don’t want to do any sub-editing. They want to share their insights with the world, and today’s papers oblige by fast-tracking them to positions of editors and staff writers. The result is for all to see: badly argued, sloppily written articles showing no involvement by sub-editors, a function that’s rapidly becoming extinct.

This is illustrated by both the error in today’s article and its hasty correction. Just as Penelope was trying, unsuccessfully, to make me write a comment to the editor, someone else did. José Antonio regained his real appearance and stopped aging after death.

But the text wasn’t touched, which is unfortunate. The Socialist government of Spain, says the article, converted “the controversial monument to a civil site that would no longer exalt the victors of the civil war”.

Actually, it never did. Those who bothered to visit the basilica saw the inscription there, stating it was dedicated to all victims of the Civil War, both victors and losers. And José Antonio was shot before the war even started, a tragedy he had tried to prevent.

Overheard at mental hospital

Earlier this morning I went to a psychiatric clinic to visit a good friend, passionate eco campaigner. In fact, it was our shared commitment to net zero that had brought us together in the first place.

Before he fell ill, we used to come up with radical but perfectly realistic schemes, such as confiscating all cars, including electric ones, and replacing them with horses, donkeys and mules.

But then my friend went off the rails. He kept insisting that our planet was on its last legs, and the only way to save it was to clone Greta Thunberg in a billion copies and use them as fuel for power stations.

This morning he asked me if I had got in touch with Greta. When I told him she wouldn’t return my calls, he accused Greta and me of complicity in the plot to murder our planet. He then tried to bite me, which was my cue to depart.

Yet on the way out I caught some snippets of a conversation between a doctor and a patient. By the looks of him, the psychiatrist came from somewhere on the Subcontinent, whereas the patient’s heavy accent betrayed him as my former countryman.

DOCTOR: And how are we this morning?

PATIENT: We would be fine, but for the Yanks.

DOCTOR: And what have they done now?

PATIENT: They are being ungrateful bastards.

DOCTOR: There, there, let’s not get agitated. How are they ungrateful?

PATIENT: You see, it’s only because of Russia that they exist at all. We pulled them out of the [EXPLETIVE DELETED] several times. First, during their revolution. Then during their civil war. Then in both world wars. But for us, they wouldn’t even have their [EXPLETIVE DELETED] country.

DOCTOR: It’s fascinating. Learn something every day.

PATIENT: Too bloody right. And now Mexico is about to reclaim all the territories the Yanks grabbed in 1848. So they’re going to turn to Russia again, begging us to help them keep their country together. And what will we say? You want to keep arming the [EXPLETIVE DELETED] Ukies? So you can go [EXPLETIVE DELETED] yourselves.

DOCTOR: Yes, I suppose fair’s fair.

PATIENT: Even if the Mexicans don’t get them, they’ll still fall apart – soon. The South will split away from the North, and without our help this time around the North will be able to do [EXPLETIVE DELETED] all about it.

DOCTOR: Another civil war then?

PATIENT: You bet your bottom rouble. And not just in Yankland either.

DOCTOR: Oh really? Where else then?

PATIENT: In the EU, that’s where. The krauts will go for it again, and we’ll just sit back and watch. No help from us this time. The frogs will be welcome to help themselves. And [EXPLETIVE DELETED] themselves.

DOCTOR: So what’ll happen to the EU then?

PATIENT: It’ll fall apart. And Russia will dominate Europe. As she has always done. Both under the tsars and under the Soviets. Dominating Europe is our [EXPLETIVE DELETED] birthright.

DOCTOR: And what will you do when you take over Europe?

PATIENT: We’ll crosspollinate them with the Russians to make those Europeans more spiritual and less homosexual. You see, the Russians have an extra gene of spirituality and none at all of homosexuality.

DOCTOR: Yes, I know, you’ve told me before. And you are also great warriors, aren’t you?

PATIENT: Too [EXPLETIVE DELETED] right. Russia has never lost a war in her history, and never [EXPLETIVE DELETED] well will. Those subhuman Ukies are going down.

DOCTOR: Of course. But here’s the thing. I remember reading somewhere about the Crimean war, then the one with Japan, then Afghanistan…

[At that point, the patient started frothing at the mouth and reaching for the doctor’s throat. The latter sidestepped the attack expertly and, as if by magic, burly men in white coats appeared, waving a straitjacket in the air. I beat my retreat.]

FOOTNOTE: I made up that whole scene and indeed my visit to that hospital. Yet I didn’t make up the claims made by my fictional Russian patient.

Every one of them comes from a recent speech by KGB General (ret.) Nikolai Patrushev, long-time chief of Russia’s Security Council, and one of the candidates mooted as a possible successor to Putin. He didn’t make up those claims either. This is all the standard fare of Russian propaganda, constantly peddled by senior Russian officials and Putin himself.

I could offer a few comments, but there’s really no point, is there? Putin and his merry men are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves.  

Heaven save us from some little girls

You know, those who decide they are really boys and then go and shoot up a school, killing three pupils and three grown-ups.

Audrey Hale, as she once was

That’s what Audrey/Aiden Hale did in Nashville, Tennessee, at the same school where she was once photographed as a cute eight-year-old. You can use your own adjective to describe that act. Just look up monstrous, adj. in your trusted thesaurus and you’ll find some fifty synonyms, most of which would fit.

What interests me isn’t so much the mass murder itself as everything that surrounds it, especially the press coverage.

What wasn’t covered in the press is the increasing frequency of such incidents in the US. When I lived there long ago, mass shootings were much rarer than these days… The moment I wrote that I decided not to go by personal impressions but actually look up the statistics.

Sure enough, between 1982 and 2011, a mass shooting occurred roughly once every 200 days. However, between 2011 and 2014 that rate tripled to at least one such crime committed every 64 days.

In 2023 alone there have been 130 mass shootings already, and the year is still young. This sort of acceleration begs for an explanation, yet our ability to find one is greatly curtailed by extraneous factors, mainly of a political nature.

Conscientious objectors to the Second Amendment blame American culture in general and the ready availability of guns in particular. Modern America, they claim, can only be understood against the background of the westward expansion, Indian Wars and the way those events have been depicted in Western films.

It’s John Wayne and not Woody Allen who portrays your quintessential American, they claim. And a quintessential American is gun-crazy, which madness is encouraged by the Constitution with its politically incorrect amendment.

Even assuming that a direct correlation exists between the availability of guns and the murder rate (which assumption, by the way, was convincingly dispelled by John Lott in his 1998 book More Guns, Less Crime), this still doesn’t explain the lighning-speed acceleration in mass shootings over the past two decades.

Guns are no more available now than they were, say, in the 1950s, when many men had already tasted blood in the Second World War followed by Korea. And yet not a single school was shot up during that decade.

Dismissing this argument as lazy and politically motivated, let’s look at the next batch, featuring the shooters’ mental health. We are getting warmer: as the National Rifle Association correctly maintains, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill People”.

Yes, but what kind of people would carry two rifles and a handgun into a school and start firing indiscriminately? Crazy, possibly. Evil, definitely.

Yet evil is a difficult concept for our post-Enlightenment modernity to get its head around. And the media have been affected by that regrettable cultural shift even more than the population at large, certainly in middle America.

Hence the word ‘evil’ seldom appears in crime reports. Most journalists, even those who have never read Rousseau, implicitly accept his fallacy of man being good to begin with and only ever going bad under the malignant influence of civilisation – specifically of Western, which is to say Christian, civilisation.

The concept of innate evil is thus awkward. Accept that, and before long you’ll start talking about original sin, which simply won’t do.

This leaves mental health as the clear winner among the possible explanations of mass shootings. This isn’t wrong per se: I doubt too many such crimes are committed by perfectly balanced, well-adjusted individuals. However, the general notion of mental disorders has many subsets, both internal and external.

The coverage of Audrey/Aiden’s shooting spree is typical in that it concentrates on the external factors affecting her/his/its psychiatric health. And in the good Freudian tradition, the principal external factor is Audrey’s parents who treated her perverse nature without due sensitivity.

When that sweet girl grew up, she declared she was a lesbian first and a man second. That came as a surprise, although, according to the neighbours, Audrey was always a bit of a tomboy. Yet they, along with her parents, missed her ‘transitioning’ from tomboy to putative boy.

It has to be said that Audrey herself didn’t make it easy for the neighbours to see her as a man. She always introduced herself as Audrey and didn’t correct those who treated her as a woman.

But it’s the parents who are the real culprits. You see, they are devout Christians, which is suspect in itself and oh so yesterday. Worse still, they take their religion seriously, which is why they refused to accept Audrey for what she insisted she was. Why, they even forbade her to wear men’s clothes at home.

After that the poor person simply had to go to her erstwhile Christian school and start spraying bullets around her.

I know how she felt because I had a similar problem with my parents. They too refused too accept my teenage transitioning from a well-read boy raised in a good family to a drunk. My mother in particular threw an insensitive wobbly every time I staggered, or was carried, home.

And she wasn’t alone. All of my drinking mates had similar mothers and suffered from a similar lack of understanding and acceptance. However, and I know this is inexplicable, none of us committed mass murder, nor indeed any other crime either (except perhaps running a red light in later life).

Audrey was born 28 years ago and grew up during the same decades when mass murders in the US shot up, as it were. If we agree that it’s emotional instability that impels young people to whip out semi-automatic weapons, then logically we have to believe that in the past two decades young people have become crazier.

Coincidentally or otherwise, it was in those same decades that public education, indeed the whole public ethos, went haywire throughout the West, including America. Specifically, things like homo- and transsexuality have come to be treated as a perfectly normal exercise of free choice.

Young people are now encouraged to express their innermost urges, whatever they might be, freely and without any fear of opprobrium. The worst thing is to suppress such urges. There’s no need: they are perfectly normal. Thus if an Audrey insists she is really an Aiden, any disagreement will make her go off the rails.

Such a laissez-faire attitude is based not on facts or reliable medical evidence, but on politically inspired make-believe. For youngsters who want to change sex don’t become unstable when their parents refuse to accept it. They want to change sex because they are unstable to begin with.

And since they are taught the opposite at school and by most media, they can’t handle the resulting dichotomy. The pressure gets to be too much, and a youngster’s head explodes – along sometimes with the heads of the innocent bystanders on the receiving end of his bullets.

We’ll never know how far-gone Audrey was – she was shot dead by the police. It’s possible that no amount of psychiatric treatment would have helped her. Then again, she could have been a more marginal case, where doctors could have helped. The problem is that even suggesting that homo- and transsexuals have mental problems is these days impossible, borderline criminal.

I detect a causal relationship between the Walpurgisnacht that goes by the name of public education and the rapidly accelerating rate of mass shootings. This may or may not be a case of post hoc, ergo propter hoc. But the issue certainly requires further and deeper study – something I confidently predict it’s not going to get.  

Wrong gods to worship

No secular ideal, no matter how lofty and shining, should be taken on faith, much less worshipped.

Idealism is best reserved for the church or its typological equivalents in other religions. Everything else, including such glorious things as democracy and free markets, should be subjected to merciless, dispassionate analysis based on concrete factors, not generalisations.

Even cracking the door ajar to let political idealism in leads to appalling errors of judgement, sometimes to disasters. However, as I write this, I realise how alien this line of thought is even to Europeans, not to mention Americans.

By way of a personal aside, when I was leaving the Soviet Union for the US, I was bogged down in a quagmire of bureaucratic snags holding me back. One was having to have my university diploma copied and notarised, which wasn’t easy in Moscow at the time. Nothing was, come to that.

Yet I persevered, feeling my survival in the West depended on my educational credentials. And you know what? In the 50 subsequent years never once have I been asked to show my diploma. Not in America, not in Europe, not in a single personnel department. Even those responsible for recruitment policy would simply take me at my word, spoken or written in the CV.

Such credulity is obviously appealing, but just as obvious is its potential for abuse. At the micro level of someone claiming to have a degree he never earned, that potential is trivial. At the macro level of a country’s foreign policy, it could come to fruition as a catastrophe.

Western politicians often profess devotion to realpolitik, but it’s nearly always mitigated by their latent idealism. Thus every American politician I’ve observed over the past half-century genuinely believed in the redemptive value of political democracy and economic freedom.

Some of them have taken practical steps towards jeopardising such ideals even domestically, but that happened because they made specific mistakes, not because they abandoned their secular faith. The faith persevered, as strong as it was misplaced.

Political pluralism is good, and economic freedom is a sine qua non of national prosperity. Yet countries practise political pluralism and economic freedom because they are essentially good. They don’t become essentially good because they practise pluralism and freedom.

Belief that they may, especially if it’s not subject to constant verification, doesn’t create goodwill in the world. It creates monsters.

I can prove this point in three words: Iraq, Russia, China. These are the arenas in which the West, especially America, has paraded its naïve idolatry most recently and disastrously.

Neoconservative agitation for the 2003 attack on Iraq focused on the noble goal of nation-building and introducing democracy to the Middle East, complete with bicameral parliaments, division of power and general elections.

That proceeded from the faulty causality I mentioned above. The neocons (and a population all too eager to accept their message) actually believed that, once Saddam was ousted, and the Iraqis formed a beeline for the voting booths, the country would instantly become a heaven inhabited by angels.

What followed was a horrendous, and still ongoing, bloodbath in the Middle East, accompanied by an upsurge in global terrorism, the migration of millions of cultural aliens to the civilised parts of the world, and a growing power of such evil states as Russia and China.

That power has also been to a large extent fostered by misplaced – and hence, in geopolitics, criminal – idealism on the part of the West. Starting with Russia, she became a giant extrapolation of a dishonest applicant finagling a job on false pretences.

Coming into play there was Western formalism, that ubiquitous feature of modernity. When served up an attractive form, today’s Westerners often can’t be bothered to look for any real substance behind it. Show them the outer paraphernalia of their own ideals at work elsewhere, and their triumphant shouts will muffle any words of caution.

In fact, that much vaunted collapse of the Soviet Union and Russia’s subsequent ascent to the heaven of democracy and free enterprise amounted to nothing but a transfer of power from the Communist Party to a unique blend of secret services and organised crime. But the West didn’t see that because it didn’t want to.

All it saw was the outer shell of elections, private companies popping up like mushrooms after an autumn rain, and statues of communist ghouls publicly pulled down. Hats were being thrown up into the air all over North America and Europe, followed by corks exploding out of champagne bottles.

The most intoxicated dupe among the neocons even wrote a book claiming that the first general election in Russia ended history. Democracy had triumphed, all debates had ended, there was nothing else to talk about. Having realised the error of its ways, the whole world would now follow suit.

The public bought that gibberish because it chimed with its own innermost belief in the redemptive power of democracy. Few people realised that political pluralism has to be nurtured by centuries of moral, religious, philosophical and political finetuning. If it isn’t, it’s almost guaranteed to be stillborn.

For the West, the collapse of the Soviet Union vindicated the wisdom of Nixon’s (more appropriately, Kissinger’s) détente. The Russians had been led to goodness by trade with the West and an injection of Western capital and technology. Now they could become just like us because, at base, they already were.

Coming into play there was another delusion, one of a slightly different origin. By then, the West had become utterly philistine, with all the self-satisfied smugness that entailed. A philistine sees himself as the acme of creation. His ways aren’t just the best, but the only ones possible. Hence those whose ways are different are simply lost lambs, desperate to reach philistine virtue. All they need is a little help.

The West was effectively turned into that personnel manager hiring a fraud. Its unshakable faith in the universal virtue of its own values encouraged it to nurture an evil, cynical regime that knew how to capitalise on idealism. Ukrainians are now paying for that naivety with their blood, and the long-term consequences are as unpredictable as they are probably grim.

China is another case in point. There, her evil rulers refused to serve up even the outer shell of democracy, but the West was duped anyway. China now has at least a semblance of free enterprise, doesn’t she? That’s it then. Everything else will follow with the certainty of summer following spring. And if you don’t believe that, you inveterate cynic you, read your Mises, Hayek and Friedman. They’ll tell you.

China became the West’s manufacturing base and its vital trading partner. She has also become, as a direct result, the fulcrum of a new evil axis out to dominate the world. If in the past the West could have prevented that axis from appearing by a simple exercise of rational prudence, now the choice may well come down to either surrender or nuclear holocaust.

Idealism, though an important factor in such developments, wasn’t the only factor. Also playing a role was a quest for a material pay-off coupled with fear of confrontation. Yet in life metaphysics comes before physics, not after it as do the eponymous chapters in Aristotle’s book.

There is nothing wrong with ideals – in fact, they give life a meaning, a teleological aspect. But there is plenty wrong with idealism, especially when it serves as a substitute for historical understanding, dispassionate analysis and a hardnosed calculation of odds.  

Parallels do converge, sometimes

These days people like to compare any politician they dislike to Hitler. Such comparisons seldom work, but seldom doesn’t mean never.

Putin proves this by turning Russia into a Nazi state that in essence overlaps with Hitler’s Third Reich practically without remainder. All we have to do is put down the distinguishing features of Nazism and see how they apply to Putin’s Russia.

Umberto Eco once identified 14 features of fascism common to all regimes so described. That was a noble effort, although Eco listed as fascist some qualities that are also associated with conservatism, such as traditionalism. I’m not sure the great man distinguished between the two, but that’s a separate matter.

My own classification avoids such pitfalls. Let’s see if it works.

Sacralisation of the state. The good of the state, as defined by its leader, becomes the highest virtue.

Mussolini, who was a fascist rather than a Nazi, put it epigrammatically: “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.” As did Hitler, Putin preaches the same doctrine of statism run riot, with individuals seen as merely the state’s raw materials.

Hitler and Mussolini appealed to their countries’ pagan pasts, whereas Putin uses the Russian church as his propaganda arm, an enunciator of the sacral grandeur of Putin’s Nazism.

Populism combined with chauvinism. All fascist and Nazi regimes rally the masses by redirecting their national resentments into the conduit of jingoism.

It’s the regime’s task to correct an historical wrong and restore the nation to her past grandeur. For Hitler that was the Germanic conquest of the Roman Empire, for Mussolini the glory of ancient Rome.

In the same vein, Putin uses the most thunderous and nauseating propaganda this side of Stalin to rally his largely impoverished population to the banners of Russia’s past redemptive glory, under both the tsars and the Bolsheviks. He declares that his goal is to restore the Russo-Soviet empire stolen from Russia.

Externalising evil. Since Russia herself is a priori perfect, whatever privation people have ever suffered has to be put down to the perfidy of outside enemies.

All fascist and Nazi regimes, including Putin’s, cast the West in that role, especially those ‘Anglo-Saxon’ vermin inhabiting Wall Street and the City of London. Other enemies are always described as hirelings of the West.

Racist dehumanisation of enemies. Nazi regimes invariably depict their enemies, real or perceived, as not just evil but also subhuman – while seeing themselves as superhuman.

In the same vein, every war started by Putin proceeded under such slogans. Russians are supposed to be racially superior to Chechens, Georgians and especially to Ukrainians, who, unlike the other two groups, are denied their separate status not only as a state, but also as a people.

Russians, with their DNA featuring an extra gene of spirituality, are also physiologically superior to Westerners. Here Putin goes further than Hitler, who afforded near-parity to other Nordic peoples, and, at weak moments, even the English. For Putin, other Slavs, who are ethnically related to Russians, are their racial inferiors.

Seeing geopolitics as nothing but Darwinian struggle for survival. Nazi and fascist leaders see international relations as an eternal struggle among powerful nations. Power and physical brawn are the only things that matter. Nations weak of muscle are only grist to the mill.

They aren’t entitled to sovereignty, nor, under some circumstances, even to nationhood.

Internalising the good of the nation within the person of the leader. In Russia such idolisation of Putin is reaching Stalinist proportions, though his public support is still somewhat short of the 105 per cent Stalin tended to score.

Militarisation. This can be used either for actual aggression or blackmail. It also has an internal use: the unfortunate necessity to maintain a vast army is used as a justification for general poverty.

Acquisitive aggression against neighbours. Fascist regimes see expansionism as self-vindication. They equate greatness with size, the bigger the better. War also acts as a relief valve, bleeding off some of the internal pressure in the regime.

Yet Nazi regimes differ from fascist ones in their justification of aggression. They use as a pretext their former ownership of an adjacent country or parts thereof, or else the plight of their ethnic brothers in that country, such as Hitler’s Polish and Czech Germans – or Putin’s Russians in the Ukraine and, increasingly, in the Baltics.

State control of the media and their almost exclusive use for propaganda purposes. Sustaining public enthusiasm requires a population house-trained to respond on cue. Hence the use of media for that purpose, accompanied, as it is in Russia, by the suppression of dissenting publications and broadcast channels.

Any criticism of the state, however mild, is treated as enemy propaganda, treason or ideological sabotage. In today’s Russia, any journalist describing the war in the Ukraine as a war (rather than a ‘special operation’) is thrown in prison, where he is joined by the intrepid hacks who uttered the word ‘peace’ in public.

The more recalcitrant critics of the regime are simply murdered, both at home and abroad. There too Putin outdoes Hitler, who tended to stage sham trials before killing his political enemies. Putin often dispenses even with such parodies of legality.

The leader’s will replacing the rule of law. This refers to international and domestic law alike. Like other Nazi and fascist chieftains, Putin despises the rule of law not only in deed but also in word.

There he builds on solid foundations: contempt for the law is a traditional Russian feature. This is seen as an aspect of Russian spiritually, infinitely superior to Western legalistic casuistry. That theme is the leitmotif of many Slavophile writings, such as those by Dostoyevsky.

Creating or, if they already exist, cultivating likeminded groups around the world. The Nazis did that by financing their own network, including such organisations as Friends of New Germany, the German American Bund and the British Fascist Union.

Following the example set by his role models, Putin is actively cultivating neo-fascist groups in Europe, such as France’s National Rally, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, Germany’s AFD, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Hungary’s Jobbik, Austria’s Freedom Party and so forth.

Taking his cue from the Nazi-fascist Axis, Putin is also allying Russia with other evil anti-Western regimes, such as those in China and Iran.

Corporatist economy. Unlike socialist or communist states to which they are closely related, fascist and Nazi regimes typically eschew de jure nationalisation in favour of de facto control.

In Putin’s Russia it’s possible to amass a large fortune only by Putin’s permission, which is granted only to his henchmen. What he calls ‘the vertical of power’ goes right through the economy, with the so-called oligarchs having only the leasehold on their wealth.

When they step out of line, their businesses are either destroyed or taken over by Putin’s cronies, while they themselves are killed or imprisoned or, if they’re lucky, allowed to flee abroad.

Allowing political opposition for window-dressing only. Or, increasingly in Putin’s Russia, not even that. Russia is de facto a one-party state, with its parliament as nothing but a clumsy theatrical production with no power whatsoever.

So far Putin’s Nazism hasn’t been adorned with such Hitlerite accoutrements as concentration camps, but one can confidently predict that they won’t be long in coming.

Should, God forbid, Putin win his war, the camps will be mostly filled with Ukrainians and their friends. amd we are talking millions. Should he lose, Putin will lose his claim to legitimacy. The only way for his regime to cling on to power, would be to unleash mass terror on a Stalinist scale.

One way or the other, even the minutest differences between Hitler’s and Putin’s regimes are going to disappear. Something to look forward to.  

Prude comes before a fall

A rueful admission: I badly need a crash course in modern morality. I simply can’t keep up with its finer points on my own.

St Peter of Exeter

The other day the head mistress (called ‘principal’ in colonial English) of a Florida school was sacked for exposing 12-year-old pupils (‘students’ in colonial) to pornography. If you gasp and feel short of breath, let me put you at rest.

The offensive material didn’t show what in some quarters is called full-pen intercourse. It didn’t exhibit a graphic depiction of condom use. Nor did it even instruct the pupils in the delights of sex change and sodomy.

In fact, if Governor DeSantis has his way, Florida pupils will soon be deprived of such invaluable education. Hence they’ll find themselves at a disadvantage compared with the tots in other states, indeed also in Britain, who come to grips with all that stuff at kindergarten level. By the time they are 12, they are ready to put the theory into practice and live miserable ever after.

No, what led to the dismissal of the head mistress was a complaint from some parents that their children’s morals were being corrupted by a class in Renaissance art. Specifically because it was illustrated with reproductions of Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.

The article I’ve read about this doesn’t specify the cultural and educational credentials of the offended parents. So I’ll venture a confident guess that they are the kind of savages who shouldn’t be allowed to procreate in the first place.

Not knowing the difference between pornography and sublime art should be a capital offence, punishable by banishment from civilised society (I’d suggest the death penalty, but that might be seen as a tad too extreme). But what about the school board that acted on the complaint so decisively?

One would expect those sitting on it to have obtained higher education and perhaps visited a museum or two. Why, they even might have seen that expanded Disney World called Europe with its Uffizi, Louvre and Prado. If not, surely they’ve ventured as far north as Washington with its National Gallery or even New York with its Met.

In that case, they must have seen hundreds of depictions of female and male nudes that have for centuries been ranked among the greatest achievements of the human spirit. I don’t know if those educators have also seen at least some pornography, but that’s the way to bet.

So do they know the difference? If they do, it was their professional duty to tell those savage parents to shut up, go home and read a few books (one assumes they know how to read). If they don’t, then the only board they should be allowed on is the surfing variety.

Coincidentally, just the other day I was in Exeter, Penelope’s home town. The combined efforts of the Luftwaffe and, especially, the municipal council have turned this ancient city (the Romans called it Isca Dumnoniorum) into an eyesore. Yet its glorious medieval cathedral has survived.

Thus we could admire yet again its magnificent vaulted ceiling, the longest in the world, and smile at the famous bas-relief showing a woman with two left feet (oops! – I wonder if the sculptor ever lived down that blooper). And, more to the point, standing high above the west portal is a full frontal sculpture of St Peter, in all his proud nudity.

I am not sure when that sculpture was put up but, whenever it was, it clearly didn’t offend the bishop, priests and parishioners of the time. Neither has it done so since, although Penelope insists the statue wasn’t there when she was a child.

Well, it is there now, and the sensibilities of the Christians who work and worship in the cathedral aren’t so brittle that anyone is offended. Yet Barney Bishop III (he can’t be royalty, can he?), the chairman of that school board, sacked the head mistress for exposing the pupils to works of art infinitely greater than that pedestrian Exeter statue.

Apparently, last year the head mistress warned parents that their little ones would be shown that offensive material. Yet this year she has neglected to do so, which, according to King Bishop III is an “egregious mistake”.

“Parents,” he explained, “are entitled to know anytime their child is being taught a controversial topic and picture”. Right. So Michelangelo and Botticelli are controversial, I get it.

However, since DeSantis’s law hasn’t yet come into effect, that same school has to teach those same pupils the nuances of condom use, homosexuality and free choice among an infinite number of sexes. Nothing controversial about that, as far as Bishop III is concerned.

This worthy educator can be accused of any number of sins, but inconsistency isn’t one of them. Banning Michelangelo is in no conflict with teaching kindergarten pupils how to pull a condom on a weewee. Both serve the same purpose: churning out barbarians who combine pagan worship of graphic, amoral sex with abhorrence of Western culture and its greatest achievements.

Treating human sexuality in the matter-of-fact way of a farmer with his livestock numbs children’s moral sense, while banning David and Venus has the same effect on their aesthetic discernment. Job done. Education has delivered its desired product: a deracinated pagan, but one without the Hellenic taste in high art.

In my fondest dreams Bishop III will suffer the fate of Charles I and Louis XVI. In our grim reality, the newly unemployed head mistress is sending out her CVs. Perhaps she should retrain as a masseuse with extras or a pole dancer, to get in touch with modern morality.

One way to get rid of rubbish

Paris rubbish collectors haven’t really been on strike since 1944, when the Germans left. It only looks that way.

Uncollected rubbish with its thousands of pallets has turned the city into mountainous terrain dotted with malodorous hills up to four meters high. That’s 13 feet, give or take.

Mercifully, that change to the urban landscape coincided with yet another round of riots engulfing the whole country and, of course, its capital. You see, French rioters have always suffered from the Herostratus syndrome, an inordinate liking of fires.

Yet a major city isn’t a forest – there is little inflammable material on open display. Hence starting a satisfying bonfire becomes a labour-intensive undertaking. Rioters have to break into restaurants and offices, toss furniture out into the street, pile it up and douse it with petrol, perhaps also kindle the fire with books, ledgers and other printed matter.

All that is eminently doable, but involving an effort, which negates one reason for riots – shirking work. However, the piles of rubbish turn arson into easy fun. Just strike a match, toss it in, and you’ll feel the same exhilaration Herostratus experienced when he burned down the temple of Artemis at Ephesus.

Since rubbish hills have spread all over Paris, opportunities for indulging such passions are rife. Yet the denizens of Bordeaux showed those stuck-up Parisians how to mix business with pleasure. In addition to rubbish, they’ve set fire to the city hall. If reports are to be believed, the building burned well, thereby putting forth a strong argument for a paper-free office environment.

It’s not all fire and brimstone either. The usual business of rioting is also proceeding unabated. Tens of thousands of rioters close ranks to confront the police, who respond with tear gas barrages and baton charges.

The defenders are much more numerous, what with their number reaching six digits in Paris alone. But the attackers are putting their technological advantages to good use, and it’s touch and go for the time being. After all, most rioters are old hands at this sort of thing. They come equipped with gas masks and home-made shields, making their defences so much sturdier.

Meanwhile, filling stations are running dry all over France, especially in Brittany, Normandy and around Paris. However, reports that the shortages are caused by too much petrol being used to start bonfires and burn public buildings ought to be dismissed as malicious rumours. The real cause is massive strikes, which can be described as incendiary only figuratively.

Usually, rioters run out of gas, as it were, within a couple of days. This time they are showing much greater staying power, what with the fun entering its ninth day and still going strong.

So far the casualty numbers are approximately equal, with 172 rioters arrested and 149 security personnel injured. Yet chaos reigns, and the pendulum can both swing either way and increase its amplitude.

Meanwhile, the country is suffering economic damage. Ports and airports are blocked, train services are disrupted by people having a well-deserved rest on the tracks. In short, rioting is the only business proceeding as normal.

As a result, Penelope and I have found ourselves in the same boat as Charles and Camilla. (Let me emphasise that I’m in no way implying any other parity between the two couples.) The royal couple were planning to visit Paris and Versailles this Sunday, whereas we planned to decamp for France Sunday week. Both plans are now under review if not yet in disarray.

“It’s not the right time,” warned Jean-Luc Melenchon, and I was fairly sure he was addressing King Charles and his consort, not Penelope and me. That the leader of France’s loony Left confirmed by saying: “Mr King, listen, we have nothing against you here, but you’re the king of the English – that’s your business – but you should stay away from Versailles”.

Comrade Melenchon is clearly unfamiliar with the facts of royal life. Mister King? In French the proper form of address is either votre majésté or sire. Our monarch isn’t one of those piddling Mr Presidents – and neither is he the king of just the English. He is the King of the United Kingdom, which, in addition to England, also includes Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Yet Comrade Melenchon can be forgiven his lapses of knowledge and etiquette. He, along with the entire French Republic, comes from a tradition where monarchs find themselves on the receiving end of the guillotine, not deference.

That, I believe, explains the frequency and ferocity of riots and other demonstrations of civil unrest in France. The professed reason for them is immaterial: rioting is the sole reason for riots, just as the murder of masses is the sole reason for mass murder.

In this case, the pretext appears to be trivial: Manny Macron has raised the pension age from 62 to 64, which is hardly tantamount to enslaving the population. The French aren’t exactly overworked by our standards.

They work about 25 per cent fewer man-hours annually, and it’s a tribute to their productivity that they still manage to turn out about the same GDP. Offices typically knock off at lunchtime on Friday, and the whole country is on holiday throughout August (toute la France est en vacances has become national folklore). If the French were forced to take just two or three weeks off every year, they’d burn the whole country, not just some rubbish and the odd city hall.

The ringleaders of the current festivities explain that their problem isn’t what Macron did, but that he did it without parliamentary vote.

It has to be said, however, that at other times the French attachment to parliamentary democracy is rather understated. Half the time the president practically rules by decree, and no one minds. And you’ll find very few committed democrats among rioters anywhere.

What we see here is something else: it’s the country’s political DNA coming to the fore and overriding the constitutional documents whose cultural impact is minimal. The French republic started with fire, barricades, civil war, regicide, mass murder of whole classes. Such heredity is difficult to live down, even with the best of intentions.

That’s why, rather than airing their grievances in a letter to the local MP, the French take to the streets at the slightest provocation, no matter how trivial. They don’t need a real reason. They need a ready outlet for innate passions.

We still haven’t decided if we are going to France in 10 days. Let’s wait and see – and hope the French will go back to the more traditional methods of garbage disposal.  

Maggie Thatcher, the Nazi

Don’t know about you, but I find our political taxonomy imprecise, misleading and generally tedious. By way of illustration, both Adolf Hitler and Margaret Thatcher are routinely described as extreme right-wing.

Since that implies a great degree of similarity, let’s compare the two – keeping our minds as open as possible without letting our brains fall out.

Hitler was a Nazi, with all that this nomenclature entails. Hence, to test our terminology, let’s dress Lady Thatcher in that dashing Hugo Boss uniform complete with a swastika armband and see if it fits.

Hitler believed in an omnipotent totalitarian state run by fiat, controlling every aspect of life and allowing next to no freedom to the individual. Thatcher believed in a small state run by parliament and ruled by law, with the individual given maximum freedom to run his own life. Hitler was a dictator accountable to himself only. Thatcher was a constitutional democrat accountable to parliament and therefore the people.

Hitler believed in economic corporatism, with enterprise remaining private only nominally. In fact, the owners were turned into managers, doing what the state ordered them to do. It was the state that told them what and how much to produce, how much to pay their employees and how much to charge for their products. It was socialist nationalisation in all but name.

Thatcher believed in private enterprise, unbridled initiative, denationalisation and a state acting only as a referee in the economic game, not a player.

Hitler despised international law and was a nationalist. Thatcher upheld international law and was a patriot. Hitler was a militant atheist who hated religion. Thatcher was a Christian, guided by her faith in most aspects of her life and work.

And so on, ad infinitum. Anywhere we look, Hitler and Thatcher aren’t just different but diametrically opposite. Thus, if the same term puts them both into the same political category, there’s something wrong with the term.

This also goes for the word ‘liberal’ and all its cognates. Lady Thatcher’s political beliefs – minimum power to the state, maximum power to the individual – would have been described as liberal in the 19th century. Yet today’s liberals preach exactly the opposite: burgeoning state power, with the corresponding diminution of individual liberty.

National liberation, when applied to, say, the Ukraine, means defending the country’s sovereignty in the face of evil aggression. When applied to, say, Uganda, it means a transitional stage between colonialism and cannibalism. In Australia, ‘liberal’ means conservative. In the US, it means socialist.

‘Conservative’ doesn’t fare much better. Both Stalin and Churchill were conservatives in that they sought to preserve as much of the existing order as possible. Yet few are the intrepid individuals who would see them as ideological twins.

In Britain, the word ‘conservative’ has acquired a typographic definition, to distinguish a real, lower-case, conservative from a member of the Conservative party. That’s a tacit admission that the party is these days known by a misnomer. Incidentally, the Liberal Democratic Party is neither liberal nor democratic in Britain and downright fascist in Russia.

The upshot of it is that politics is too fickle to inspire any sound taxonomic system. Right and left converge too often to lend the two concepts to any sensible definition. Sometimes they converge within the same breast and at the same time. Thus Hitler was a right-wing extremist in his jingoism and racism. Yet in his political dirigisme and economic centralism, he was a rank socialist, which is to say left-wing.

Any classification should earn its keep by elucidating both similarities and differences. If it doesn’t do that, it’s in default of its remit and should be dismissed with contempt. Yet some classification is essential to understanding and proper discourse, as long as it isn’t based on the two meaningless and widely misleading poles of right and left.

With those, we ought to consider the source. The term goes back to the French Revolution, when the Jacobin faction in the National Assembly sat to the left of the aisle, and the Girondins to the right. Both were revolutionary parties, typologically presaging the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in the Russian revolution. In each case, the difference wasn’t qualitative: it was in more or less of the same thing.

The classification I proposed in my book How the West Was Lost treated politics as only a subset of the real division, and not the most significant subset either. Rather than talking about political movements, I talk about the dominant sociocultural, or civilisational types.

I distinguished between two overarching ones, which I called Westman and Modman. That dichotomy was based on historical observation and analysis. These led me to believe that one type built the house of Western civilisation, while a totally different one, hostile to the first, inhabits it now.

In fact, the energy that ousted the first and produced the second was mainly negative and destructive. Modernity was brought to life by the urge to annihilate, ideally without trace, the traditional Western civilisation, starting with its religious and philosophical foundation.

A creative impulse also existed but, unlike the destructive one, it was rather nebulous, only expressible in vague slogans, along the lines of liberté, égalité, fraternité. None of the constituents of that unholy trinity would withstand five minutes of casual examination, never mind scrutiny. But it did nicely as the inspiration and vindication of mass slaughter and destruction.

Westman lost his dominant status in our civilisation, but individual Westmen still survive, just as some royalists survived the French revolution and some anti-Bolsheviks the Russian one. And the traditional Western ethos, though marginalised, hasn’t been expunged.

That’s why my classification is still useful. For example, I’d describe both Hitler and Stalin as nihilist Modmen, while, say, Biden and Starmer as philistine ones. This would highlight both the convergence of ultimate goals and the divergence of immediate means.

If Hitler is a nihilist Modman, then Thatcher is a residual Westman. Suddenly, we no longer run the risk of lumping them together into the same taxonomic category. But, say, Starmer and Sunak do belong together – both are philistine Modmen, as distinct from nihilist ones, such as Putin or Corbyn.

There exist any number of nuances, impossible to cover in a short article – which is why I wrote a longish book on the subject. Yet one point is indisputable: anyone is in for a let-down who hopes to understand modern politics, or modernity in general, by pondering such categories as left and right, or liberal and conservative, or even democratic and authoritarian.

Those terms have lost whatever meaning they ever had, which wasn’t much. New ones are needed, and I’ve done my bit.

Nation, police thyself

One is amazed at our government’s tireless efforts at impoverishing the people not only financially, but also intellectually and morally.

Role model for every Briton

Coming on stream in May will be an app converting smartphones into dashcams. That will enable drivers to snitch on traffic violations and report them to the police in real time.

At launch, the app will work on 21 different offences, such as running a red light or failing to indicate, but the ability to clock other cars’ speed will also be added shortly. This technological breakthrough goes a long way towards the goal of turning us into a nation of snitches and spies.

We are already encouraged to denounce people suspected of tax evasion and ‘hate crimes’, such as saying it’s women and not men who give birth. Now we’ll be able to get rid of the traffic police, with every driver taking up the slack.

The app will inform the transgressor to the police in under a minute. And it’ll come with features ensuring that the evidence will stand up in court. No need to buy an expensive dashcam. Just put your finger to the touch screen, and another driver gets done.

It’s good to see that enterprising creativity isn’t yet extinct in Britain. One only wishes that talent were applied to a worthier end.

We are steadily moving to a bright future of no real policing. His Majesty’s subjects are already joining the ranks of volunteer informants, and before long they’ll be encouraged to arrest suspects and presumably rough them up if they resist. Yes, I know that the concept of a citizen’s arrest exists, by so far it hasn’t extended to such crimes as changing lanes without indicating.

If our officials believe that the new app will reduce the number of traffic offences, they may be right (although constantly checking other cars’ speed may well reduce the control of one’s own). However, if they think that such DIY policing will foster good community relations, they are grossly, catastrophically wrong.

Britain’s roads are far and away the safest in Europe. Thus, by trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, HMG aggravates one that’s already pernicious: the declining moral health of the nation.

When people begin to treat one another with suspicion, before long they’ll treat one another with hatred. This isn’t a theoretical postulate, but a confident observation by someone who has seen it all before.

For I grew up in a country where citizens were legally required to denounce one another at the slightest suspicion of political crimes. Those they denounced, millions of them, would often vanish without a trace, never to come back.

Hearsay was enough; evidence, hard or even soft, was strictly optional. That provided a perfect stratagem for getting rid of love rivals, neighbours whose room the snitch coveted, other candidates for the same promotion, spouses opposed to a divorce, strict parents and so on.

The scripture Soviet children grew up on was the story of Pavlik Morozov, a 13-year-old peasant who denounced his father to a GPU murder squad and was consequently lynched by his surviving family. The story is largely apocryphal, but that’s not the point.

The point is that all Soviet children were brainwashed to see Pavlik as their role model. Snitching was raised to a civic duty and the highest virtue. In short order, that produced a population of deracinated individuals treating one another with suspicion, often hatred, and with a pandemic lack of trust.

Granted, a Briton caught jumping a red light isn’t going to suffer the same consequences as did a Russian guilty of telling a political joke in mixed company. A stiff fine is as far as we’ll go, at least for the time being. But the real damage will be done not to the finances of the denounced, but to the morality of the denouncers.

It is indeed one’s civic duty to report a felony, planned or committed, especially when people’s property and lives are at stake. Yet most of us go through life without ever getting the chance to do something like that.

Yet every one of Britain’s 30 million drivers witnesses (and, truth to tell, commits) dozens of traffic violations every time he takes to the road. How many drivers stick to the 20 mph limit on some of London’s major roads? I know I don’t.

Suddenly we’re no longer talking about doing one’s civic duty. We are talking about perverse, sanctimonious nastiness encouraged by the government with little regard for the damage done to collective morality.

Such damage is easier done than undone. Give it a generation or two, and it’ll seep into the national DNA, producing a social disaster. And I’ve already lived in a nation of Pavlik Morozovs, thank you very much.

It’s official. But does it matter?

The International Criminal Court has charged Putin with war crimes and issued an arrest warrant. If he now visits one of the 123 countries recognising the ICC’s jurisdiction, the local authorities will be able, possibly obliged, to arrest Putin and extradite him to the Hague to stand trial.

Predictably, the Russians are furious. Former president Medvedev screamed that the warrant has no other than lavatorial use. And Duma speaker Volodin matched Medvedev’s decibel level by shouting: “Yankees, hands off Putin!”

Considering that the US isn’t one of the 123 ICC countries, that entreaty was ignorant, but one should consider the source. The word ‘Yankees’ has been largely desemanticised in Russia – and to a smaller extent in the rest of the world too.

The world doesn’t acknowledge its original and enduring meaning of strictly Americans living north of the Mason-Dixon line. Those who apply the term to all Americans should go to a barbecue joint somewhere in Alabama, call their fellow diners ‘Yankees’ and see what happens.

The Russians expand the term even further, to designate all Americans, most Westerners and, generally, the forces of evil in the world. The word Yankees gained currency during my Moscow youth. In those days mobs were recruited, equipped with Vietcong (or Cuban) flags, taken to the US Embassy and told to shout “Yankees, go home!” at the top of their lungs.

More serious commentators dismiss the warrant as a purely symbolic gesture. Putin isn’t going to travel to Europe in any foreseeable future, is he? Well then, this symbol is meaningless.

Some of the same people argued that Putin was justified to pounce on the Ukraine because he was genuinely worried about Nato’s westward expansion. When asked if those experts genuinely thought Nato planned to attack Russia, they’d say: “Of course, not. But Putin was right to detest the symbolic value of that expansion.”

So do symbols matter or don’t they? You can’t have it both ways. My way is arguing that the fence provides a perfect seat in this one. Some symbols matter more, others less, but they should never be ignored.

The ICC warrant is far from meaningless even if it doesn’t lead to arrest and trial. For one thing, it’s now not just individuals, however numerous they may be, who consider Putin a war criminal, but a legally constituted international body.

Henceforth, any foreign leader dealing with Putin will be shaking hands not just with a nasty piece of work, but with a war criminal evading justice. That may put a new spin, for example, on the upcoming visit to Moscow of the newly crowned Chinese emperor Xi.

Xi is palpably trying to create an anti-Western coalition, starring China, the feudal warlord, and her vassals Russia and Iran. Both are under Western sanctions, but only Russia is led by an indicted war criminal on the run.

I’m sure Xi will be put off by this development, though probably not enough to cancel the visit. He’ll forge ahead to cement his status as a peace-making leader of the anti-Western forces, who nonetheless wants to do business with the West.

Xi strengthened his claim to that status the other day, when he brokered a peace treaty between Iran and Saudi Arabia or – looking at it from another angle – between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam. There’s also another angle of vision, doubtless favoured by the Israelis. To them, the treaty means that the two major sponsors of anti-Israeli terrorism have joined forces under China’s aegis.

I’m sure the Israeli high command are seriously considering an immediate air strike to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities. That action has always been in the back of their mind, but it now must have moved up to the very front.

Xi will next try to broker some sort of ceasefire between Russia and the Ukraine. The Ukrainians correctly regard any treaty not predicated on a complete withdrawal of Russian troops from their territory as giving Putin a victory he failed to gain on the battlefield. It’s a total non-starter, in other words, as it has been all along.

But the ICC warrant makes it even more so. If Xi starts any meaningful negotiations with Putin, he’ll no longer be able to don the mask of a benign elder statesman. He’ll be seen, certainly in the West, as someone who is aiding and abetting a criminal.

If he does deal with Putin as if nothing has happened, Xi can demand further concessions from Russia, chiselling her vassalage in stone. Recently published Chinese maps list all Russian cities between Vladivostok and the North Sea (their name for Lake Baikal) under their original Chinese names.

That reflects the reality of Chinese businesses and settlers slowly colonising the Russian Far East. Yet that process may now pick up pace, with Putin’s dependence on Xi’s good graces having just grown no end.

The ICC warrant also weakens Putin’s position at home, what with the Russian ruling elite not exactly a solid bellicose monolith. The other day, Putin addressed the so-called oligarchs, explaining to them that Russia’s economic isolation was actually a good thing. They could now concentrate on home industries and markets, presumably selling oil to one another.

Most of his listeners have already lost billions in the past year, and their prospects of rebuilding are far from certain. They left the indoctrination session with strained expressions on their faces, matching, I’m sure, the mien of many generals and government officials.

Some of them don’t fancy a future without any contacts with the West, but with China increasingly relegating Russia to the status of a supplicant vassal, if not yet a colony.

The warrant may well make it easier for them to consolidate opposition to Putin within the Kremlin. I can just hear them whisper: “Putin has got us into this mess, and now he won’t be able to get us out. Who the hell will want to do business with a war criminal under an arrest warrant?”

So yes, it’s official, and yes, it does matter. So yes, it’s symbolic, and yes, symbols count. The ICC has got the snowball rolling downhill, and it’ll gather size as well as momentum.

The warrant only mentions the deportation and re-education of Ukrainian children, which is definitely a war crime, but just one of the many committed by Putin’s hordes. It’s distinctly possible that before long an international tribunal will be convened to indict Putin and his gang for mass murder, plunder, rapes, deliberate bombing of civilian targets and so on.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see Wanted posters with Putin’s mug on them pasted all over every European capital? I’d love the display, symbolic though it may be.