Farmers against the EU

I pity Gabriel Attal, newly appointed French prime minister.

At a barely postpubescent age of 34, he has suffered from both homophobic and anti-Semitic abuse.

That double whammy didn’t stop his political rise, but it must have left plenty of scar tissue.

Gabe likes to boast that he has become the first “prime minister while openly assuming [my] homosexuality. In all that, I see the sign that our country is moving, that mindsets are evolving.”

On that issue, perhaps, although he’d be ill-advised to put that observation to a test in rural France inhabited by farmers. Those traditionally conservative and fiercely individualistic chaps aren’t for evolving, which has to put them on a collision course with the EU, the opposite of everything conservative and individualistic.

So it has transpired. Yet, while young Gabe is strong enough to take it, he can also dish it out. Faced with angry farmers who have besieged and blockaded Paris with their tractors and hay bales, Gabe lashed out with a furious counterattack.

He stigmatised the protesting farmers with the worst insult an EU apparatchik can think of: likening them to Brexiteers. That’s what I’d call faintly praising with damnation.

Now, I don’t know if Gabe is capable of factual accuracy and logical thought, although I rather doubt it. But even if he is, such faculties fall by the wayside whenever he or any other EU creature feels his cherished contrivance is under threat. To begin with, Attal contradicted himself in two consecutive sentences.

First, he accused the uppity farmers of angling for Frexit in disguise. Then, after barely a full stop, he claimed that “not a single French person” wanted to leave the EU. One has to infer that young Gabe doesn’t regard those farmers as French, which has to be an inference too far.

It’s just that he left out two words, “I know”, after “not a single French person”. The sentence would then ring true: I’m sure he knows few people other than EU bureaucrats, which is to say people in or around the French government.

By contrast, I’ve met only a few people in that coterie, but fair enough: they all adore the EU with a blindness characteristic of true love. But I must have the advantage over Gabe of knowing quite a few other French people as well: farmers, artisans, tradesmen, small businessmen. And most of them detest the EU with the passion of the Brexiteers Gabe loathes.

“Less Europe is less power for France,” said Gabe. And he could prove that with a single-word example: “Brexit. Its supporters promised happy days for the British economy and the British people. Last week, because of Brexit, Britain’s last blast furnaces shut. No more steel is made in the UK. In France on the other hand, notably because of investments from Europe, industry is reviving.”

I must compliment Gabe on his ability to squeeze so many lies into a short paragraph. He has got what it takes to become the next president of the EU Commission.

First, people voted for Brexit not because they wanted new riches, but because they wanted old sovereignty. Second, those blast furnaces were shut not because of Brexit, but because of the global warming zealotry common to all Western countries, including France and, lamentably, Britain. Those furnaces, however, are being replaced with electric ones to make sure Britain will still be able to make steel, if at an exorbitant cost. Third, Britain’s manufacturing output, though deplorably low, is still higher than France’s.

Blaming Brexit and, by implication, les anglo-saxons for France’s ills is a time-honoured sport, with every participant ending up on the losing side. The farmers’ problems are caused not by Britain but by the EU and its French quislings suffocating French agriculture with rotten policies and imbecilic regulations.

Most of the latter have to do with madcap environmental diktats, each producing an avalanche of forms, that raison d’être of bureaucracy in general and EU bureaucracy in particular. Instead of sowing and reaping, French farmers have to take a full day each week to fill in rubric after rubric with information on the putative damage their subversive activities cause ‘our planet’.

They have been hit hard by EU measures to cut nitrogen emissions, ban CO₂-emitting vehicles by 2035 and return a proportion of arable land to nature. In parallel, the government announced a rise in diesel duty, cutting deeper into the already low margins of tilling the land.

The farmers are also protesting against the artificially low wholesale prices imposed on them by supermarket chains.

Here I must display disinterested selflessness by saying that, though food makes up a big chunk of my own expenditure, its cost is still artificially low. Westerners have never spent such a small proportion of their income on food, a situation made possible partly by cartel-like pressures on farmers.

Back in the 90s we used to spend our holidays in a small Tuscan house we hired from a local farmer. Once we noticed a whole field of peppers rotting on his land. We asked Sergio if he’d object to us picking up a few for our supper. Not at all, he said. Take all of them if you wish.

Turned out he had planted the peppers because the EU had given him a subsidy to do so. However, the wholesale price he could command was artificially kept at, in our money, £10 for 100 kilos. That made it cheaper for Sergio to let the peppers rot than to harvest them.

The French farmers are also demanding protectionist measures against unfairly cheap foreign imports, such as grain and poultry from the Ukraine. That creates a clash of my innermost convictions.

First, the Ukraine’s need for exports is greater than the farmers’ need for higher prices, although I realise how little ice this argument would cut. Second, it has been known since Adam Smith at least that protectionism hurts the protectors more than their targets. Consumers of protected goods have to pay more for them, which reduces their fiscal power to patronise successful industries not requiring protection.

As Smith put it: “To give the monopoly of the home-market to the produce of domestic industry… must, in almost all cases, be either a useless or a hurtful regulation. If the produce of domestic can be brought there as cheap as that of foreign industry, the regulation is evidently useless. If it cannot, it must generally be hurtful.”

Let’s thank the great man for his qualifier “…almost…”. Agriculture is a vital industry not only to the French economy but also, even more so, to the French psyche. It’s like the motor industry in Germany and the financial industry in Britain. If it faces demise, even a conservative government (which Attal’s isn’t) would weigh its affection for classical economics against its commitment to the country’s people.

Attal has hastily offered some concessions to the farmers. He put on hold the increase in diesel duty, promised new subsidies for wineries, tax breaks for dairy farmers, and putting pressure on supermarket chains. So far such promises have failed to lift the blockade around Paris but, even when it’s removed, the underlying problem won’t have gone away.

For, as I’ve mentioned above, the collectivist, modernist, bureaucratic ethos of European federalism is existentially incompatible with the conservative, individualistic mindset of farmers – and not just in France. The same jacqueries are breaking out all over Europe, in Holland, Germany, Romania, Poland and Belgium, with cities like Antwerp and Hamburg also besieged.

That’s bad news for the EU and good news for ‘right-wing populist’ (in fact, variously fascisoid) parties. In France, Le Pen’s Rassemblement National is leading Macron’s party by 10 points, with a similar trend observable across Europe. Farmers do pack a mean political punch in Europe.

One is tempted to think that, when Paul wrote to the Galatians, he also had EU bureaucrats and their local quislings in mind: “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”  The language is suitably agricultural; the warning is suitably dire.

We are asking for war

Some 600 years ago, Desiderius Erasmus formulated a fundamental principle of medicine: prevention is better than cure.

The idea is sound – so sound, in fact, that it goes beyond medicine. Relevant to my theme today is its extension into the field, or rather battlefield, of war. For anyone in his right mind will agree that ideally it’s better to prevent war than to wait until it has piled up countless corpses.

However, like all idealistic notions, this one runs headlong into the stone wall of the lapidary question: how? Yet for once this wall is easy to breech. For the Roman writer Vagetius had answered this question almost 1,000 years before Erasmus: if you want peace, prepare for war. The idea migrated into the Western psyche via Plato and there it has stayed, for people to ignore.

I’d suggest that the reverse of this adage also works: if you want war, prepare for peace. Modern Western governments have been toiling tirelessly to prove this inversion true to life.

I have now lived in the West for over half a century, in the US, England and, part-time over the past 23 years, also in France. Hence I’ve seen dozens of budget statements issued by assorted Secretaries, Chancellors and Finance Ministers.

Each has been different in details, but similar in general principles. In areas where allocations should have been cut, they were increased – and vice versa. The first category has almost invariably included the cost of increasing the state’s power over individuals: things like welfare, free this or that, now also ‘climate change’.

Such a self-empowering mission necessitated cuts elsewhere. And one state after another has looked at defence budgets the way a Hollywood starlet looks at herself in the mirror before a party to decide what else she could take off.

Each state has treated serving itself at the people’s expense as mandatory, but protecting the people as strictly optional. Defence budgets have been frozen or shrunk in the permafrost conditions of self-serving irresponsibility.

That outrage has been gift-wrapped in the tissue of lies about the constantly diminishing threat to world peace, the different nature of warfare enabling countries to defend themselves on the cheap, monsters thirsting for blood supposedly turning into angels pining for trade.

However, the threat has steadily grown, the monsters have become thirstier for the congealing liquor, and the nature of warfare, while undoubtedly changing, hasn’t obviated the need for more and better armaments and more and better soldiers. Yet Western governments have treated this fact with blithe disregard.

I remember Dave (now Lord) Cameron proudly announcing the reduction of our armed forces to the risible pre-Napoleonic level of 70,000. Today’s armies no longer need to be large to do the job, he explained. I wonder whether Dave, now Foreign Secretary, has changed that inane opinion looking at Putin’s war on the Ukraine.

As the money got tighter, the will got slacker. So did the understanding of history, geopolitics and, above all, human nature. Rousseau’s fallacy of man’s innate goodness has, against all evidence, been accepted as fact. Evil was still acknowledged to exist individually, at the level of a wayward chap knocking off a corner shop, but not collectively, at the level of nations.

At the heart of this lamentable misapprehension lay the typical smugness of the middleclass philistine certain that everyone is, or craves to become, just like him – and all classes in the modern West gravitate towards the middle. Hence the people were amenable to that message; it tallied with their self-perception.

Since all people, and hence all countries, were presumed essentially good even if temporarily bad, all we had to do was open the paths they could take to the shining ideal of our own virtue.

In that spirit, instead of arming ourselves against the manifestly evil states, we continued to rebuild their economies through subsidies and preferential trade. We ignored the growing evidence of their nastiness and treated our sworn enemies as friends in the making. Alas, when you open your arms to an enemy, you leave your body unguarded against his knife.

Thus the West has systematically rebuilt the economies of two evil states, Russia and China, while largely ignoring the steady rise of Iran as the leader of the Islamic crusade against the West. To his credit, Donald Trump tried to do something about that third threat, if not the other two. Yet the nature of modern democracies is such that bad policies effortlessly float from one government to the next, while good ones fall prey to short-term political gain.

One lesson that the West refuses to learn with pig-headed obstinacy is that, unlike our own politicians, evil dictators say what they mean and mean what they say. Thus Putin’s de facto declaration of war on the West, otherwise known as his 2007 Munich speech, was dismissed as empty rhetoric.

Yet Putin clearly stated his intention of using NATO’s eastward expansion as a pretext for future aggression. “I think it is obvious,” he said, “that NATO expansion… represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended?”

Why, against the very same country that has throughout history pounced on its western neighbours, succeeded in enslaving some, and has given few indications that she has changed, should have been the response, followed by a massive rebuilding of NATO defences. Instead George W. Bush notoriously looked into Putin’s eyes and saw his virtuous soul lurking underneath.

Bush was a Republican, Biden is a Democrat, but the issue is civilisational, not partisan. The West refuses to follow Vagetius’s and Erasmus’s advice and deploy the only strategy capable of deterring aggression: building up its own strength to a level guaranteed to turn any evil assault into a pointless suicide mission.

As a result, Putin acted on his threat, in Georgia first, then in the Ukraine. His full-blown war on the latter gave the West the unique opportunity of gaining victory by proxy. Instead of sending its own soldiers into battle, all NATO had to do was send enough tools for the Ukrainians to do the job. Yet Western countries, led by Biden’s America, adopted the cowardly strategy of doing just enough to prevent Russia’s immediate victory but not enough to ensure her crushing defeat.

The level of American supplies has been steadily diminishing and, step by blood-dripping step, the Russian advance has been growing in inverse proportion. This puts NATO members in the direct line of Russian assault, and the West’s craven response is almost guaranteed to embolden Putin. Sooner or later, the West will lose peace because it has failed to prepare for war.

The Chinese gun is locked and loaded in the east, pointing at Taiwan to start with. That threat has manifestly increased since the start of Putin’s war, as has the threat posed by Iran in the Middle East. This suggests that the new, real axis of evil acts in a coordinated fashion, spreading the West thin.

Iran has served up the latest demonstration by killing three American soldiers at the US base in Jordan, the sixtieth such attack on US bases since 2022 and, miraculously, the first lethal one. The reasons for this increased hostility are clear.

The Biden administration, arguably the worst and certainly the weakest in my lifetime, abandoned Trump’s hard stance on Iran, while acting in the spirit of Trump’s faith in the power of a deal. But, as Golda Meir once remarked, you can’t make a deal with those who want to kill you.

Let’s wait for the forthcoming US response – and hope it’ll go beyond a mere token. Now is the time to downgrade Iran’s ability to threaten the West by a massive strike on its infrastructure, military facilities and nuclear reactors.

Considering that the Iranians are less enthusiastic about the mullahs than the Russians are about Putin, such an action could conceivably put paid to the current regime, knock Iran out of the axis of evil and give the West one less problem to worry about. Yet I doubt that Biden has what it takes to respond in this way – in fact, I’m sure he doesn’t.

Instead we can expect new, heavier strikes against Iran’s proxies, all those infernal terrorist gangs gnawing at peace from different directions. However, Iran itself is a proxy, of Putin’s regime with which it enjoys a most cordial friendship. And any strike at any proxy, of either Iran or Russia, will be merely a palliative.

NATO could still vindicate Vagetius and Erasmus by striking at the principal promulgator of evil west of the Urals, Putin’s regime. All it would take is giving the Ukraine a couple of hundred warplanes and a few hundred long-range missiles, while stepping up our own preparations for war.

That, and not hopeful trust in innate human goodness, will prevent a catastrophe. Anything short of that will invite it.

One sentence says it all

A couple of months ago, Donald Trump boasted he would end the war in the Ukraine “in one day. I would tell Zelensky, no more [aid]. You got to make a deal.”

Anyone who hopes for the Ukraine’s victory must tremble at the prospect of another Trump presidency. Such a hopeful person, however, should tremble just as much at the prospect of another Biden presidency.

Either candidate will spell bad news for the Ukraine, inasmuch as she depends on US aid. Biden’s policy of drip-feeding armaments and munitions clearly comes from his reluctance to see the Ukraine win. He’ll do the bare minimum to show that America is on the side of the PR angels, but that’s all he’ll do.

Whether this policy comes from cowardice or from a gross misunderstanding of Russia’s threat is open to conjecture. What is clearcut is that the Biden administration doesn’t feel that the Ukraine’s victory is a matter of vital national interest for America. Or else it cares less about America’s vital interests than about its own, which is to stay in power for another four years.

In any case, picking on Biden ill-behoves a sporting man. Throughout his half-century in government, he has never risen above mediocrity, and that’s on a good day. Trump is a more inviting target, mainly because of the exorbitant claims made by him and about him.

To paraphrase Tolstoy, every man is a fraction where the numerator is what he is and the denominator what he thinks of himself. The larger the denominator, the smaller the fraction, and in Trump’s case it’s minute.

I can’t recall a single president in my lifetime who has inspired so much fanatical love in some and fervent hatred in others. I feel neither extreme, though when I look at Biden as the alternative I become better-disposed towards Trump. If I could still vote in US elections, the choice would be a no-brainer.

Having said that, Trump displays a concentrated version of many qualities I despise in a man and fear in a leader. The sentence above serves up a perfect illustration.

It’s a cliché to describe Trump as a self-aggrandising narcissist, but he gives other self-aggrandising narcissists a bad name. First, he knows he is omnipotent, and he doesn’t care who else knows it. Hence his boast that he could end in one day a war that has been going for almost two years, or actually 10, if we count from the annexation of the Crimea.

Second, he clearly sees life in purely transactional terms, as a series of ‘deals’. This is sheer vulgarity, which shouldn’t unduly surprise anyone. Trump, after all, is an exceedingly vulgar man, which is largely the nature of his appeal to the broad masses who see his vulgarity as a redeeming counterpoise to his wealth.

But when it comes to geopolitics, Trump’s faith in the power of a deal betrays not only his vulgarity but also his smug ignorance. For a deal presupposes a compromise, a bit of give and take, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

That sort of thing works in commerce, where both parties are usually driven by nothing but pecuniary interests. However, when one country commits an unprovoked aggression against the other, making it hang on for dear life while its towns are razed, its infrastructure is wiped out, its civilians are murdered, tortured, looted and raped, the stumbling block has nothing to do with money.

The choice is between the attacked nation’s life or death, and there is no possibility of compromise built into that dichotomy. That’s how Ukrainians see it, and hence that’s how Zelensky has to see it: unlike Russia, the Ukraine is a functional democracy.

Then notice that Trump’s idea of ending the war is twisting Zelensky’s arm: “You got to make a deal” or no more aid. That’s how one talks to the party that started a war, not to one on its receiving end. How about telling Putin he has to make a deal? After all, Trump has always expressed his unreserved admiration for the ghoul in the Kremlin, a feeling that has been gratefully reciprocated.

Trump doesn’t seem to realise – or pretends not to realise – that Putin didn’t pounce on the Ukraine like a rabid dog because he wanted some mythical deal. The only deal he would accept is extinguishing the Ukraine’s sovereignty and turning the country into a part of Russia or at least her satellite.

Even if Zelensky agreed to freezing the war in the present position, Putin wouldn’t even consider such a ‘deal’. He wants to rearrange the post-war world order of which NATO has been the guarantor. Putin has always portrayed the war as one against NATO, not just one against its proxy, the Ukraine.

Neither would such a deal be possible for Zelensky. Delivering a third of his country’s territory to Russia is worse than just accepting defeat. It’s accepting the Russian boot stamping Ukrainian national pride into the dirt. Anyone who thinks any such thing is possible may not know that Ukrainians fought a guerrilla war against the Russians for at least 10 years after the Second World War – against prohibitive odds.

Many Westerners readily agree that nations or races are perfectly justified in feeling resentment against, and seeking restitution for, oppression they suffered centuries ago. Yet some of the same people refuse to accept that Holodomor, the systematic and deliberate starving to death of millions of Ukrainians by the Russians in my parents’ generation, has left no lasting scars.

Take the word of someone who doesn’t just know Ukrainians from hearsay: it has. Even back in the ‘60s, I remember how Ukrainian Soviets resented Russian Soviets – long before Russia became a fascist state and the Ukraine a free one. More to the point, before the Russian fascist state perpetrated the new, current round of unspeakable atrocities against the Ukraine.

Note also the method by which Trump proposes to force Zelensky into a deal: blackmail. If he doesn’t play along, no more aid – fend for yourself, see if I care.

That’s the talk of a self-obsessed bully, not of a statesman. But the Ukraine doesn’t strike me as an easy mark for bullying.

If he gets re-elected, Trump should think twice before trying to withdraw all American aid for the Ukraine. That could end up meaning withdrawing America from her present position as the Leader of the Free World. If Europe takes up the defence slack left by the US (which I think it should do one way or the other), America’s claim to that status and the benefits it confers would be weakened.

If you surf the Internet for comments made by the MAGA lot, you’ll see a ubiquitous leitmotif: what matters is what Trump does, not what he says. That would barely be true even about you or me. But anyone who says that about the leader of a major nation doesn’t understand that every word uttered by such a man constitutes a deed.

So yes, in the early stages of Putin’s aggression against the Ukraine, Trump did supply a few Javelins to the Ukraine, had a few Wagnerians killed in Syria and acquiesced (not without some kicking and screaming) to the first batch of sanctions against Russia.

But that was before the full-blown war started in February, 2022. It’s anyone’s guess whether Trump would have sustained the aid for the past two years, even at the miserly level delivered by Biden. My guess is that he would have thrown the Ukraine to the wolves, but, that indeed being a guess, I wouldn’t insist on it too passionately.

His words are the only thing we have to go by. And when they form a sentence like the one above, they really tell us all we need to know.

This travesty goes beyond politics

A New York jury has ruled that Donald Trump must pay $83.3 million to E. Jean Carroll, a writer he was found to have defamed by denying her allegation of sexual assault.

 Trump immediately described the verdict, with his usual contempt for punctuation, as a “Biden Directed Witch Hunt”. In other words, the trial and the verdict were politically motivated.

I wish it were as simple as that. If the jury of seven men and two women had found for the plaintiff simply because it abhorred the defendant’s politics, that would represent a gross travesty of justice. A fair jury should judge the facts put before it, not politics.

However, unless that practice became endemic, one could only deplore that particular miscarriage of justice, without extrapolating to a much wider cultural and civilisational malaise. Yet my fear, nay near-certainty, is that the jury genuinely believed Trump was guilty. If that’s so, then one is justified in pondering a civilisational collapse, not just a flawed justice system.

Anyway, even if the judge had had a political grudge against Trump, which is probable, it wouldn’t have been an easy matter to appeal to the jurors’ sense of political rectitude. Especially if Trump’s defence had done its job during the selection.  

Granted, New York City is as likely to vote for the KKK Grand Wizard as for any Republican candidate, never mind one as unapologetically divisive as Trump. Yet even in that thoroughly ‘liberal’ city it should be possible to find nine people who aren’t obsessed with Leftie zealotry.

Trump’s problem had to be the one I touched on the other day. People have been so thoroughly brainwashed that they automatically assume anyone accused of any sex crime is guilty as charged.

Had they gone strictly by the evidence of the case, they would have found for the defendant in, appropriately, a New York minute – expressing into the bargain their disbelief that so flimsy a case had been brought to court in the first place.

According to Miss Carroll, Trump had persistently defamed her by calling her a liar. I don’t get this.

If he didn’t bring her veracity into question, that would be tantamount to admitting rape. Had Trump done so, he would have faced a criminal trial, not a civil one. And he would have been sentenced to a prison term that, considering his age, would have meant life without parole.

Trump would have been a madman not to call Miss Carroll a liar, although I’m sure he must have used rather intemperate language in doing so. Old Donald isn’t exactly known for subtlety and refinement.

This was another case of a retrospective rape the claimant suddenly recalled years after the event. Thirty years ago, to be exact, was when Miss Carroll ran into Trump at an upmarket department store.

According to her, they had briefly met once before; according to Trump, they hadn’t. That’s a moot point: either way, they were total strangers. Even if she is right, Trump can be forgiven for having forgotten the single encounter. I for one can’t remember everyone I met 30 years ago, and Trump’s circle of contacts is wider than mine by orders of magnitude.

Having bumped into the woman he barely knew if at all, Trump nevertheless asked her to help him choose lingerie for a girl. He then picked up a see-through body suit and asked Carroll to model it for him.

That’s a rather forward request, and Trump was presumptuous in making it. Too mild a term? Fine, call him ill-mannered, lascivious or vulgar. But what do you call an educated woman in her late forties who agrees to model see-through underwear for a stranger?

She claims they then went to the fitting room, where Trump pounced and had his wicked way with her. Miss Carroll says she tried to fight Trump off, but in vain. That makes Trump a champion-calibre rapist, for nothing short of such qualification would have enabled him to do the dirty in a cramped fitting room, while keeping his victim silent throughout.

Had she cried out “rape!”, there would have been dozens of people on the typically crowded floor to come to her rescue: sales clerks, store detectives, other customers. Yet Miss Carroll withstood her ordeal in stoical silence, which she then kept for decades.

Why wait so long? It has to be hard to rape a woman without leaving physical evidence, DNA or some other. Presenting such evidence to the police immediately after the fact would have strengthened Miss Carroll’s case no end.

However, she waited 25 years before first crying out in 2019. Usually this sort of thing happens when an alleged rape is perpetrated by a man of modest means who goes on to make a fortune in the ensuing decades. The victim then sees the chance of a lifetime and grabs it, suing her supposed assailant for zillions and typically settling for millions.

Yet Trump was already rich 30 years ago, perhaps even much richer than he is now. So why did she have to wait until his seventies and her eighties to bring her lawsuit? There are so many possibilities, I’m not even going to speculate.

Perhaps Miss Carroll has fallen on hard times in her dotage and urgently needs a cash infusion. Or else she may indeed be politically motivated. Or she has got to hate Trump more over the years. Or… well, I did say I wasn’t going to speculate.

When I first wrote about this case almost a year ago, this is what I said: “If Miss Carroll indeed suffered that crime, my commiserations. Moreover, I wouldn’t put it past Trump to do something like that.”

However, “Whatever we may think about Trump, I do hope American justice has enough residual sanity left to dismiss this case with the contempt it deserves. And if it doesn’t, that’ll be proof positive it’s no longer sane.”

That proof has now been served. American – and not just American – justice isn’t sane when it comes to crimes arousing woke indignation.

That means any woman can get rich by making false accusations (or unprovable ones, which legally should amount to the same thing) against any man rich enough to pay the exorbitant damages. Judges and juries will helpfully comply lest they may be accused of crimes against woke humanity.

In this case, politics may or may not have been a factor. If they had been, that’s something I’d be inclined to see as the lesser evil.

Presumed innocent? Yes, but…

Presumed guilty

The organisers of the Australian Open, one of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, are heaving a great sigh of relief even as we speak.

To their delight, Alexander Zverev of Germany has lost his semi-final match today. They were hoping he’d lose earlier, but this later exit will have to do to be going on with. As long as he isn’t feted as the champion.

Why are they so anti-Zverev? Is it because they hate Germans, which is his nationality? Or Russians, which is his ethnicity? No, neither of those. Nevertheless, throughout the tournament there sounded increasingly shrill demands that Zverev not be allowed to play at all.

Now, when people object to Russian citizens playing international sports, one can understand. Russia is after all waging a criminal, aggressive war in the heart of Europe. Moreover, the Russians have a long history of using sport successes for propaganda purposes.

Hence I’d welcome imposing a total boycott on Russian performers in either sports or arts. However, no sensible person would demand a similar injunction against a chap born in Hamburg, just because he happens to be Russian genetically.

To the Aussies’ credit, they don’t stoop to such racism. Their problem with Zverev is different. You see, he is currently under indictment for abusing his former girlfriend. However, the court date is set for May, so the player hasn’t yet been tried and found guilty.

Australia is ruled by some version of the English common law, and hence the country’s population must be familiar with the ancient concept of the presumption of innocence. Moreover, I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that even Western nations playing in the lower legal leagues, those governed by Justinian or Napoleonic codes, tend to wait for the verdict before demonising the accused.

So why not wait until May to decide what to do with Zverev? If he is found guilty, drum him out of tennis, throw him under the bus, have him drawn and quartered. Or else agree that to forgive is divine and let him ply his trade, after perhaps some sort of suspension. But do wait in any case: the chap is innocent until proven guilty. Isn’t he?

This is where the ‘but’ in the title above comes from. Or perhaps ‘that depends’, if you’d rather. For the presumption of innocence works in some crime categories, but not in others.

Not that the letter of the law has changed. It hasn’t. But in all Western countries there now exists a parallel legal system: mob rule. And not just any old mob, but specifically one out to override the law of the land and enforce in its place the interlacing system of pernicious fads collectively known as wokery.

The woke mob doesn’t object to holding a thief, a burglar, even a murderer innocent until proven guilty. Those felons commit crimes only against individual victims, which is regrettable but variously tolerable. By contrast, anyone transgressing against one of the cherished woke fads strikes against the whole ethos.

This kind of pecking order is nothing new. In fact, it’s a ghastly parody of Judaeo-Christian morality. There the first four of the Ten Commandments, prioritised in the descending order of importance, proscribe lapses in worship. Injunctions against murder, theft, perjury and so forth are further down the list.

However, the Decalogue came from a good and loving God who knew that people stigmatised by original sin needed a constant reminder of what it meant to be good. The commandments of wokery, on the other hand, come not from those who love but from those who hate.

They have no real virtue to signal, so they come up with alternative commandments underpinning their parallel ethos, one they hope will swallow up the real, traditional one they detest. You don’t need me to remind you of which fake virtues make up the new canon. Suffice it to say that feminism is right up there.

A sinner against feminist diktats isn’t innocent until proven guilty. He is guilty the moment he is charged, and the standards of required proof range from loose to non-existent.

If the constitutionally instituted bodies balk at following that logic, then punishment can be meted out by the expedients that come naturally to crazed mobs. Prime among them is the attempt to destroy the defendant’s life and career by launching a shrill campaign in every available medium.

That’s exactly what has happened to Zverev. If he were charged with beating up an elderly passer-by within an inch of his life, he would stand accused of a crime against both that individual and the law designed to protect individuals. The presumption of innocence is part of that law, and it’s a cornerstone of Western justice. Since Australians are Western (and I shan’t entertain any denials of that fact), I’m sure they’d have no problem with Zverev playing in Melbourne before his trial date.

But the Australian woke mob, just like its equivalents throughout the world, lives by different justice. Crippling a passer-by is unfortunate, but judgement can be deferred. However, slapping a girlfriend or a wife demands summary justice – the putative crime has been committed not against one woman, but against womankind, the minority group believed to have been oppressed throughout history.

It’s pointless arguing that women haven’t always been oppressed, and neither are they a minority. That’s like trying to persuade a Muslim that there is a god other than Allah, and Mohammed isn’t his prophet. We aren’t talking historical evidence, arithmetic or physical facts here. We are talking what’s believed to be higher, metaphysical truth to which only the initiated are privy.

Thankfully, the Australian Open organisers didn’t go along with woke demands. They waited until Zverev lost his semi-final to send him back to Germany – as the rest of us will wait for the court verdict. They have, however, tried not to make any fuss about Zverev’s tennis throughout the tournament, limiting their press releases to the bare minimum.

I wonder how they reconcile their coyness with what’s going on in another country practising the English common law, the US. There a man currently under several separate indictments is competing not just in a tennis tournament, but in the presidential race. Not only is he allowed to compete but, if early indications are anything to go by, he will probably win. Oh well, different strokes for different folks, as Americans say.

“A dog, a woman and a walnut tree…

“I asked for it”

…the more you beat them, the better they’ll be,” says the English proverb going back to at least the 17th century.

Here’s a more contemporary contribution to the same genre: “What do you tell a woman who has two black eyes? Nothing. She has already been told twice.”

Exculpating advance notice: finding this joke funny doesn’t in itself constitute an endorsement of the practice alluded to. I certainly find it abhorrent – yet also useful as a gauge of the level of civilisation in society.

I hope saying this doesn’t brand me as a militant feminist, but the more civilised a man, the less likely he is to beat his wife. Civilisation is after all a cognate of civility, the ability to settle conflicts without resorting to violence.

Any lack of it is a triumph of the beast lurking in a man’s breast. Much as I may fume about this or that woke academic, he is less prone to give his wife a black eye than your average football fan, especially one holding a season ticket.

Extrapolating from individuals to populations, the more widespread wife-beating is, the more savage is the society. I haven’t seen any sociological studies to that effect, but, as far as wild guesses go, this one strikes me as plausible.

It’s in this context that you may appreciate the ingenious marketing trick deployed by a make-up shop in Kazakhstan. It has created a video teaching women how to use proper cosmetics “if your husband beats you”. The video was instantly watched by 1.6 million women, which testifies to the magnitude of the problem (the Kazakhstan population is about nine million).

Now, I have a cursory familiarity with Kazakhstan because my uncle used to run the Almaty opera and ballet theatre there. Neither my personal impressions nor especially his stories testify to a cosmically high level of civilisation in that country.

Nevertheless, the video surprised me, and not because I found it incredible that so many Kazakh men treat their wives like dogs or walnut trees. What caught me unawares was the women’s reaction to that abuse.

The shop proprietor dubbed as the talking (and bruised) head in the video. “If you’ve developed a bruise like I have,” goes her helpful advice, “let’s just get a good eye cream, a base, and a high coverage foundation.” But then comes a mea culpa that strikes me as a non sequitur: “I mean, it’s not his fault – it’s mine.”

She then signs off by referring to herself as a “happy wife and loving mother”. Also a forgiving, self-deprecating soul, if I may add.

Kazakh legislators propose laws reinforcing this take on dual responsibility for domestic violence. One member of the ruling party has put forth a bill saying that, if a man is sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest for wife-beating, his wife should get the same sentence for “provoking” the incident.

I wonder what the Kazakh is for “it hurts me more than it hurts you”, but whatever it is, Kazakh men should learn to say it, thereby bridging the gap between their civilisation and ours. At the moment, the gap is rather wide, as I’m sure you’ll agree. Even if some English brutes beat their wives, I doubt the women blame themselves for provoking such treatment.

Both the Kazakhs and the Russians bear the stigmata, ethnic and civilisational, of the Mongol invasion. The ethnic aspect is more pronounced among the Kazakhs, but the European appearance of most Russians doesn’t cancel the nation’s indebtedness to the Golden Horde.

This is especially apparent in the country’s politics, a classic example of Asian tribal totalitarianism with a good measure of Byzantine Caesarism adding a quasi-Christian touch. Scratch a German, Adenauer used to say, and you’ll find a Slav. Well, scratch a Russian, and you’ll find a Mongol.

The Mongols left as much of a civilisational imprint on the Russian nation as they did on the Kazakhs. That’s why wife-beating is as widespread in Russia as it is in Kazakhstan, and always has been. Russian women may not be as ready as their Kazakh sisters to take the blame for their men’s brutality, but they do tend to accept it with stoicism, treating the odd black eye as a force majeure, a bit like bad weather.

In A Writer’s Diary Dostoyevsky describes in terrifying detail the characteristic savagery of a peasant taking a belt or a stick to his trussed-up wife, lashing at her, ignoring her pleas for mercy until, pounded to a bloody pulp, she stops pleading or moving – only to come to the next morning and, moaning every step of the way, stagger out to work in the field. However, according to the writer, this in no way contradicted the brute’s inner spirituality, so superior to Western materialistic legalism.

This is a matter of taste, but I’d take materialistic legalism over spirituality any day, if the latter manifests itself as unrestrained savagery. Anyway, people who know the Russians are seldom surprised at any acts of unspeakable cruelty they commit, such as the way they’ve been waging war on the Ukraine.

That’s why I find the Germanic separation of culture and civilisation so useful. The former is only a subset of the latter, and cultural excellence may well coexist with civilisational backwardness. The Russians are (or rather used to be, in the 1825 to 1925 century) easily one of the world’s most cultured nations – and one of the least civilised.

This is something to keep in mind when trying to understand their behaviour. And something tells me that before long such understanding will be at a premium.  

Let’s not be nasty to Hamas

Liberalism on the march

Guidance for museums issued by an Arts Council charity provide yet another argument for a massive cull of every bearer of a liberal arts degree.

(Those with degrees in English should be exempt, especially one elderly chap cursed with a life-long devotion to arts and humanities.)

The Collection Trust, funded by the Exchequer, has issued the Inclusive Terminology Glossary, instructing museum curators that Israel only has herself to blame for being on the receiving end of Hamas’s righteous wrath.

Yes, conceded the guide, we should rebuke Hamas for its excesses. However, it “remains important to recognise the anti-colonial, freedom-fighting motivation of any attacks against a settler colonial state.”

And let’s not be wanton in bandying the term ‘terrorist’ about: “In modern history, we have seen the ‘terrorist’ label applied to those who have fought against colonialism, oppression and apartheid, perhaps most notoriously Nelson Mandela, winner of the Nobel Peace prize.”

Quite apart from their subversive wokery, the authors of the Glossary share with their ‘liberal’ brethren a well-honed knack for committing several rhetorical fallacies in one sentence.

One such is petitio principii, ‘begging the question’ in English. (By the way, some people use ‘it begs the question’ to mean ‘it raises the question’. This is a lexical felony, but I’ll let you decide on the commensurate punishment.) It describes an argument in which the premises assume the conclusion without supporting it.

In this case, the premise is that no winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and certainly not Nelson Mandela, can possibly be a terrorist. Now, another winner of that accolade was Yasser Arafat, whose terrorist credentials are seldom denied even by his friends.

As to St Nelson, officially canonised in the atheist anti-Western church – but of course he was a terrorist, and a Marxist one to boot. The African National Congress, led by Mandela until his 1963 trial and after his 1990 release, was a Marxist terrorist organisation committed to the violent overthrow of the apartheid government.

In that undertaking the ANC was assisted by the Soviets and their satellites, mainly Cuban and East German. It was after all committed to armed struggle, and the arms had to come from somewhere. Nor was it just arms.

East German Stasi helped the ANC to set up ‘Quatro’, the detention centre across the border in Angola. There dozens of anti-Marxists were tortured and murdered.

In the same spirit of international cooperation the ANC also received assistance from our own dear IRA. In an arrangement allegedly negotiated by Gerry Adams himself, the IRA sent its bomb-making experts to train aspiring ANC murderers, which greatly improved their efficiency.

However, the ANC didn’t just adopt foreign techniques. Some indigenous touches were added, such as the widespread practice of ‘necklacing’, whereby an old tyre was filled with petrol, put around a dissident’s neck and set alight.

In the view of our liberal intelligentsia, any motivation consonant with their own ideology justifies mass murder and torture, which is fair enough – we are all entitled to our prejudices. But in the distant past, anyone wishing to impose his prejudices on other people had to come equipped with sound arguments.

No such need these day: utter shibboleths like “fighting against colonialism, oppression and apartheid”, and everybody is supposed to spring up and salute. All is forgiven, all is justified – all is praised.

Our museums used to be curated by great connoisseurs and historians of art like Kenneth Clark (d. 1983), who got to run the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford at 27 and Britain’s National Gallery at 30. Today’s curators need no such credentials. Their intellectual equipment makes do with professed hatred of colonialism, racism, homophobia and so on, all the way down the list.

Paintings at most exhibitions come with commentary by art scholars who offer no insights into the art on show. Instead, viewers are told, say, that Hogarth, an 18th century artist, was mainly concerned about  “the entrenchment of racist, sexist and xenophobic stereotypes.” However, he had to be careful about his criticism because of “…his wealthy patrons many of whom benefited from a culture based on colonial exploitation.”

No doubt visitors to such exhibitions will feel that their appreciation of art has been broadened and deepened. Another, likelier, possibility is that they walk out more ignorant than they were on the way in.

And this is before we even consider the moral decrepitude of describing Israel as a “settler colonial state”. I doubt those ‘experts’ have read Exodus, but they must have heard what it was about. If so, they must know that Jews have been living on that land for over 3,000 years and, unlike any other group I can think of, throughout that time they have worshiped the same God and spoken the same language.

At the very least, that should give those Glossary authors pause to think and realise that the issue of settlement is far from being as clear-cut as they seem to believe. What is clear-cut is the monstrosity of Hamas and what it did on 7 October.

Using iffy (actually ignorant and malevolent) politics as justification for disembowelling babies is itself monstrous. Someone must have placed a magnet next to those chaps’ moral compass to make it go haywire.

Their problem with Israel isn’t that it’s a “colonial settler state”, but that it’s a Western country fighting rearguard action against horrific third-world barbarism. That makes Israel their enemy, daring to defend itself against their fellow West-haters.

It’s sickening to think that my taxes pay for this outrage. Perhaps culling every bearer of a liberal arts degree is a little excessive. But defunding them would be just – let them signal their virtue at their own expense. Oh well, that’s enough wishful thinking for one day. I’m now going to go and reread Exodus.

Happy anniversary, Russia!

Red Square, yesterday

Yesterday marked the centenary since Lenin’s death, and I think not only Russia but the world at large should celebrate the demise of that ghoul.

But of course, the Russians celebrate Lenin’s life, not just his death (from syphilis). His mummy still adorns Red Square, and people still queue up to pay homage, although nowhere near in the numbers I remember from my childhood.

The Russians tend to reserve their special affection for the bloodiest of their tyrants. This is called respect for traditional values, a quality mandated by today’s fascist government.

The milestones on the path of their historical worship are Ivan IV (the Terrible), Peter I (the Great), Lenin, Stalin and – if the Russians know what’s good for them – Putin. Vlad himself feels he belongs in that company, and I think he is right, although not necessarily in the way he means.

His predecessors are now portrayed as stern, sometimes cruel rulers who nevertheless devoted their lives to making Russia great. Yes, they committed a few unfortunate excesses, but the net result of their reigns was undeniably positive.

My take on history is different. All those men were (Putin still is) blood-thirsty tyrants who anchored Russia, securely and eternally, in the morass of unrestrained savagery. Now I’m sure you know enough about Lenin and Stalin not to take issue with this view. But what about Putin’s other two predecessors?

Ivan ruled Russia from 1547 until his death in 1584. This contemporary of Elizabeth I began his reign by opening large-scale hostilities against his own people, whose devotion he doubted.

First he struck out in the north-westerly direction, systematically sacking every Russian town in his path. Klin and Tver in particular suffered the most hideous outrages.

Apart from having all the more prominent citizens murdered, Ivan’s oprichniks robbed everyone else and, as a final touch later to be duplicated by Lenin and Stalin, either confiscated or destroyed their stores of grain. This stratagem worked to perfection in the way of a delayed-action bomb: those spared the oprichniks’ axes would succumb to starvation during the winter.

It was early in the campaign that the tsar’s strategy of plunder and murder was refined. After capturing Tver, the oprichniks first robbed and murdered all the clergy from the bishop down. Two days later, they robbed all other denizens of their possessions, trashed every house, looted what appealed to them and burned everything else.

Finally, the oprichniks burst through the streets, murdering everyone they could see or seize: young and old, men and women, children and even pets. This they repeated in their subsequent conquests: there were 1,500 people murdered in Torzhok alone, and it was a small town.

In January 1570 the tsar captured Novgorod. This pro-Western Hanseatic city with parliamentary traditions had long been a burr under Ivan’s blanket, and finally he had had enough. The three-prong punitive strategy had already been tested, so the tsar knew what he was doing. First the place had to be decapitated by the destruction of its elites. Second, it had to be robbed of any means of sustenance. The knowledge was immediately put into practice: the first two prongs stabbed home with a most satisfying effect.

By way of a warm-up, all Novgorod monks were clubbed to death. Then Ivan summoned the city’s aristocracy and business elite, the boyars and the merchants, accompanied by their wives and children. They were all tortured ‘unimaginably’, as a contemporary described it. Many were burnt by a diabolical chemical compound personally developed by the talented tsar, who had an aptitude for science as well as for aesthetics. Those men who were still alive were then drowned in the Volkhov river, followed by their wives who were tied to their babies and pushed under the ice.

The third prong went in when Ivan ordered that every house and shop be cleared of all possessions and food. These were then destroyed, along with every grain silo, all domestic fowl and cattle. So on top of the 60,000 killed directly, whose corpses were swelling the Volkhov, the denizens of the whole region had to suffer horrendous famines and epidemics. Cannibalism was rife; corpses were dug out of their graves and devoured – and Lenin and Stalin were still long in coming.

Another epic hero, Peter, is credited with having “chopped a window into Europe”, in the words Pushkin attributed to the tsar. Now a window, as opposed to a door, is used by two types of people: burglars and Peeping Toms. One could argue that it was in those two capacities that Russia has been dealing with Europe ever since.

As to Peter’s reign, there is little I can add to the sketch expertly drawn by Russia’s greatest writer, Leo Tolstoy:

“The most staggering and the most familiar horrors of Russian history closest to us began with Peter I.

“For a quarter of a century that crazed, drink-sodden animal rotting from syphilis murdered, executed, buried people alive, imprisoned his wives, wenched, buggered, boozed, amused himself by beheading people, blasphemed, drove around with a cross made out of wooden male organs and copies of the Gospel, glorified Christ with a crate of vodka, demeaned faith, crowned his slut and his male lover, executed his son and died of syphilis – and people don’t just forget his crimes but extol the greatness of this monster and erect endless statues of him.”

Peter beggared whole provinces and reduced their population to starvation by his insane drive to build the city named St Petersburg after his patron saint. Some 300,000 perished erecting those pretty bridges and sumptuous palaces on a swamp.

The rest of the country was exhausted by the incessant wars Peter fought against all and sundry. Now he is mainly remembered for his victory at Poltava against Charles XII of Sweden, but Peter’s other campaigns were less successful and many were outright disasters.

He is also hailed as the founder of the Russian navy, although during his lifetime and for at least a century thereafter the country lacked a blue-water navy in the fullest sense of the word. The actual ships Peter had built at a tremendous cost in lives didn’t outlive him: their wooden hulls either rotted away or were crushed by ice in the northern ports.

I can’t think offhand of a single Western country that venerates its mass murderers with the same gusto. Yesterday, for example, red flags were flying all over Moscow, when those Lenin worshippers indulged their nostalgia for another monster.

I’d rather see the blue-and-yellow flags of a country heroically defending herself against Russian invaders. But anyone unfurling one of those in Russia will be killed by today’s heir to the long line of ghoulish rulers.

Global warming claims another 3,000 victims

Long live ‘our planet’

You shouldn’t be bracing yourself for yet another horror story about ‘our planet’ being shallow-fried, or else about water levels rising to swallow women and children.

The 3,000 victims have only lost their jobs, not yet their lives. And the culprit isn’t non-existent global warming but the swindle that uses it for nefarious purposes.

One such purpose seems to be downgrading, ideally destroying, domestic industry, leaving us at the strategic mercy of foreign suppliers who aren’t always our friends. In that spirit, Tata Steel has announced that 2,800 jobs will be lost at its Port Talbot plant over the next 18 months, with another 300 to go soon thereafter.

By putting 3,000 men on the street Tata Steel hopes to save ‘our planet’ from looming disaster. You see, its blast furnaces and coke ovens emit too much carbon dioxide for Greta Thunberg’s taste. Hence they must be replaced with an electric arc furnace, which reduces emissions to the planet-saving levels.

The new furnace is set to cost £1.25 billion, with the government chipping in to the tune of £500 million. Rishi Sunak is happy to contribute half a billion quid of our money, plus however much it will take to provide for another 3,000 unemployed. That was to be expected. Being woke seems to be not only an ironclad requirement for our politicians, but increasingly the sole qualification they must possess.

Yet Mr Sunak has gone beyond such a limited job description by also displaying an enviable knack for demagoguery. You know how shops pass spending for saving? You must have seen hundreds of ads saying: “Now you can save £150…” by spending £2,000, is the unspoken refrain.

Well, our Rishi-washy PM used the same logic to justify this blow to 3,000 families: “The alternative, by the way, was it, the entire plant, will be closed and all 8,000 jobs will be lost, but the Government worked with the company. The company is investing more money in order to safeguard thousands of jobs, and that’s something that the UK Government has done.”

You see, this isn’t about dumping 3,000 jobs. It’s about saving the remaining 5,000. Well done, Rishi. The former adman in me applauds, while the present commentator boos.

There is a distinct possibility that, by trying to achieve net zero emissions in heavy industry, we’ll end up with net zero heavy industry. Meanwhile, what are those 3,000 men going to do (I’m assuming most of them are men)?

They probably had the benefit of the low end of our generally abysmal public education. Hence they won’t be able to retrain as systems analysts or financial advisers in a hurry, if at all. My guess is that most of them won’t be able to feed their families without some assistance from the public purse.

I’m sure that, as they go to the social for their meagre cheque every week, they’ll feel happy that ‘our planet’ is out of imminent danger. That’s more than one can say for their country.

Britain is on her way to becoming the only major economy unable to produce its own steel. Juxtaposing this fact with the daily expert predictions of an approaching war with Russia, one gets the picture of a country at a huge strategic disadvantage.

We’ll have to depend on outside suppliers, mainly China, the world’s biggest steel producer. Such outsourcing is unlikely to benefit ‘our planet’ because the Chinese aren’t unduly bothered about carbon emissions. They are more interested in the strategic and economic advantages of producing enough steel for both domestic needs and export. ‘Our planet’ can take care of itself as far as they are concerned.

Our insane drive for net zero will lead to any number of disasters, but the damage done to heavy industry is among the worst ones. Wind farms and solar panels may keep an average semi-detached house going, but believing they can fuel steel plants, auto works, ship building and chemical plants is cloud cuckoo land.

Since our need for the products of heavy industry is only ever going to increase, more and more manufacturing will be outsourced to variously tyrannical countries seeing us as existential enemies. Such supplies could be cut off at a moment’s notice, with predictable dire results.

We are probably beggaring ourselves and definitely exposing ourselves strategically to comply with stupid demands based on slapdash, not to say larcenous, science. ‘Our planet’ has always had periods of warmer or colder climate, and it has been warmer than now for 85 per cent of the earth’s existence.

The global warming swindle is just another prong in a sustained attack on our civilisation, specifically in this case on how it has made itself so uniformly prosperous. The same people who march against nuclear energy or for Muslim terrorism also scream about ‘our planet’ being killed by greedy capitalists (if you don’t believe me, read some of Greta Thunberg’s harangues).

Our politicians obediently sit up and listen lest they may be accused of being insufficiently woke. The media, predominantly staffed with marginally better educated Gretas, go along with alacrity. The combined efforts of government and media spivs produce torrents of propaganda drowning the few voices of reason, which are muffled with ease.

People like the 3,000 Port Talbot workers fall immediate victims; the rest of us will follow in due course. See you on the bread line – if I don’t see you in the foxholes first.

We don’t celebrate our geniuses

We do celebrate our noblemen

William of Ockham, he of the razor fame, was one of Europe’s – which is to say the world’s – most important medieval thinkers.

He was born in 1285 or thereabouts in, as the name suggests, Ockham. I’ve always known this trivial fact, and I must have driven past the Ockham exit off the A3 hundreds of times. Yet bizarrely it never occurred to me that William came from that very same unremarkable Surrey village.

Somehow, Surrey isn’t associated in my mind with a centre of scholastic thought. Paris, yes. Bologna, perhaps. Canterbury and Oxford, fine, if we wish to be patriotic. But Surrey is a place where footballers live, not scholastic and nominalist philosophers of the High Middle Ages.

However, once I finally put William and Ockham together, I felt the urge to drive to that village, not just zip past the road sign pointing in its direction. I don’t know what I expected to see. Some sort of homage, I suppose. A statue perhaps. A plaque, definitely. Or maybe a square named after the pride of Ockham.

Anyway, I can tell you exactly what I did find: nothing. Not a single reference of any kind to – I’m taking a stab in the dark here – probably the only great man to have come from Ockham. William didn’t even rate a lousy plaque.

He isn’t the only one. We don’t tend to honour our cultural figures the way the French honour theirs. In Britain, such plaudits are more likely to go to aristocrats than to writers, painters and composers.

Granted, there are several streets around the Tate Gallery named after English painters. But I can’t think offhand of a single street, close or square named after William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Henry Purcell or for that matter John Donne, Christopher Marlowe or Samuel Richardson.

Chesterton once wrote an essay comparing the street names in London’s central Charing Cross area and Paris. He pointed out that the side streets running into the Strand are all named after noblemen, whereas few Paris streets are.

The duke of Norfolk was thus honoured twice, in the streets bearing his title, Norfolk, and his family name, Arundel. As to George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham, his lover James I was so smitten with the handsome lad that he had six streets named after him: George, Villiers, The, Duke, Of, Buckingham.

As to the Dukes of Grosvenor, they own much of central London, which fact is immortalised in at least a dozen place names I can think of, and there must be more.

To be fair, the French used not to be so different in that respect. It’s just that they had that little fracas in 1789, which played havoc with the names of streets and squares. Thus Place Louis XV had to become Place de la Révolution, and so it remained until Louis-Philippe decided to split the difference and called it Place de la Concorde.

And the stately Place Royale, which is still adorned with the equestrian statue of Louis XIII, had to suffer the indignity of being renamed Place des Vosges, after the first province that supported the revolutionary army with its taxes.

Now many Paris streets bear the names of Bonaparte and his multiple battles, although no Rue Waterloo springs to mind. Also commemorated in this fashion are salient dates in the political calendar, such as the 14 July, 25 August or 4 September. And of course uncountable streets and squares are named after great cultural figures.

And it’s not just Paris either. A couple of week ago we spent a night in Rouen, one of our favourite places in France. That’s of course where Flaubert comes from, and the city doesn’t let you forget that fact for a second. Probably not everything in Rouen is named after the writer, but one can easily get that impression.

The city centre has kept much of its beautiful old architecture, and one can just see Madame Bovary doing the dirty in the back of a carriage trundling along the cobbled streets. Or perhaps Penelope is right and it’s just my dirty mind.

You can see that sort of thing throughout France. Close to us are two villages, Toucy and Saint-Sauveur. The former is the birthplace of the lexicographer Larousse, and his statue proudly sits in the town square, whereas a local pâtisserie is known for its Larousse cake.

The other village is native to the strictly mediocre writer Colette. Except don’t you dare call her – or any other French writer – mediocre when talking to the French. As far as they are concerned, all their writers fall into the range between brilliant and universal genius.

If you dare describe any French writer, including that giftless girlish scribbler Colette, as anything outside that range, even your French friends will snap your head off, a fate that almost befell me on numerous occasions (I’m seldom reticent in expressing my cultural judgements). And of course her native village has a huge Colette museum, which I’ve never visited in the 23 years that we’ve been in the area.

Drive a couple of miles down the road from us on the way to Auxerre and you’ll cross a Rue Debussy in the back of beyond. And the centre of Auxerre lavishly commemorates Marie Noël, a poetess I’m man enough to admit I had never heard of until we moved into the area.

And the point? Well, it’s fairly obvious. Culture, in its narrow meaning of high culture, clearly plays a greater role in France than in Britain. Even minor figures like Marie Noël are honoured in the way our giants like William of Ockham aren’t.

That doesn’t mean French culture is greater than ours – it isn’t. However, culture has a stronger adhesive power in French history, gluing together the nation’s past and present. If English place names reflect at least a millennium of political continuity, the country’s salient contribution to Western civilisation, the French tend to buttress their society with their cultural ethos.

You understand I’m talking about general tendencies emerging out of numerous exceptions. But the tendencies are discernible, and they help to understand two great countries so similar in many respects, yet also so different in spite of their proximity.

Things we see help us understand things we don’t see. And understanding two of the most important parts of our civilisation will help us understand the whole thing better. Such understanding is worth having, I think.