The mosque that converted Russia

The title is slightly disingenuous because, at the time of Russia’s baptism in 988, Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia wasn’t yet a mosque.

It was a majestic, ineffably beautiful cathedral, built during Justinian’s reign in the 6th century. That made Hagia Sophia the world’s second-oldest cathedral and easily the largest, which it remained for another 1,000 years.

Hence, by the time the Kievan Grand Duke Vladimir decided to stop worshipping the pagan god Perun, Hagia Sophia had proudly stood for 400 years. At that point, according to the Primary Chronicle, Vladimir decided to switch to an Abrahamic religion, but he wasn’t sure which one.

We don’t know how deeply Vladimir pondered comparative doctrines when weighing his options. Not very, would be my guess: the ruler was illiterate, which usually precludes a deep study of theological subtleties. He clearly needed help.

Hence Vladimir summoned emissaries representing Islam, Judaism, Western and Eastern Christianity and asked them to make the case for their religion.

The Primary Chronicle says that Islam was rejected outright because of its injunction against alcohol. “Drinking is the joy of the Rus’,” Vladimir is reported to have said. “We can’t be without it.” The conservative in me is happy to see that his legacy perseveres.

Judaism was unacceptable because, says the Chronicle, the Jewish emissaries confessed that their land had been taken over by the Christians. Actually, Palestine was ruled by the Muslims at the time, but the Primary Chronicle is a Russian document and therefore can’t be accused of pedantic attention to every casuistic detail.

Nor is it entirely trustworthy in its explanation of why Vladimir rejected Catholicism. The real reason was his enmity to the West, whose inchoate pluralism was repellent to the proto-Russians (as it remains to their descendants). However, the reason the Chronicle does cite rings true aesthetically, even though it’s probably apocryphal historically.

Vladimir is supposed to have sent his own emissaries to both German lands and Byzantium to compare the beauty of their cathedrals. The ambassadors’ reports were unequivocal: the German churches were fine in their own way, but the splendour of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople had taken their breath away.

One can understand how they felt, for the cathedral continues to have this effect on today’s travellers as well, even those jaded by exposure to the glory of Europe’s Romanesque and Gothic churches. I was certainly stunned when I first saw it, and by then I had seen most of the great cathedrals of Christendom.

Except that Hagia Sophia was no longer a cathedral in the 1990s, when its lofty beauty swept me off my feet. It was converted to a mosque in 1453, when the Ottoman Turks overran Constantinople. Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the secular Turkish republic, turned Hagia Sophia into a museum in 1935. And now, 85 years later, Erdoğan has made it into a mosque again as part of his drive to abandon Atatürk’s secularism.

I’d like to accuse Erdoğan of desecrating a great Christian cathedral, but that would be unfair to Sultan Mehmet II, who conquered Byzantium in 1453 and first turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Fair game being an essential, if moribund, British virtue, we must give credit where it’s due.

Now London is the proud site of the West’s largest mosque, the Baitul Futuh. Built as it was in 2003, it doesn’t quite have the pedigree of Hagia Sophia, and nor can it rival its beauty – no temple can. However, it’s still the centre of Muslim worship in Britain, just as Hagia Sophia used to be the centre of Christian worship in Europe.

Hence, in the same spirit of fairness and out of my innate sense of balance, I propose that the Baitul Futuh be converted to an Anglican cathedral, providing a seat for the most multi-culti bishop in the Church of England (there are many to choose from).

Alas, should my proposal be acted upon, my imagination doesn’t quite reach as far as picturing the ensuing global outcry, and not just among the Muslims. The din would be thunderous, the accusations of white supremacy scathing, the gnashing of teeth dentally ruinous.

Nothing comparable is heard following yet another heinous crime perpetrated against the world’s most aesthetically beautiful and historically significant church. Reports in the papers are so dispassionate that one might think the conversion in question is that of, say, the Millennium Dome into a wholesale fish market. Possibly newsworthy, but at base no one cares.

We really don’t deserve to survive.

Confucius and the archbishop

Sometimes one wonders if our powers-that-be actually understand the words they use. I hope they don’t, for otherwise I’d have to accuse them of lying.

Confucius say: “If the notions aren’t true, neither are the words… A sage won’t tolerate disorder in words.”

One word that consistently gives rise to such doubts is ‘equality’ and all its cognates. Show me a man who uses it to designate a desirable goal, and I’ll show you either a fool or a knave.

You’ll have to decide for yourself which term applies to Stephen Cottrell, who was yesterday confirmed as the new Archbishop of York. But he did utter that e-word afterwards: “I think we can build a better world, a fairer world, a more just world, a world where status and privilege don’t count so much, where everybody has an equal opportunity.”

I’d suggest that such an ambitious programme, being too this-worldly, falls outside His Grace’s purview. This might explain the looseness of thought shining through. The archbishop seems to see his task as eliminating, or at least trivialising, earthly hierarchies. Perhaps he missed his true calling; one can see him as a Labour councilman somewhere up north.  

True, Christendom’s goal was the ultimate equality of all, the kingdom of God. Yet there was never much doubt that it took a hierarchical society to get there. Earthly hierarchy was seen as a vertical structure enabling man to climb to heavenly equality.

This may sound paradoxical, but in fact isn’t. For true equality can only exist in heaven; in earth, the belief that all men are created equal is wishful thinking at its most fanciful. On the contrary, if we believe what we see around us, men are demonstrably created unequal in size, strength, intelligence, talent, character, willpower, industry, perseverance, appearance, sexuality – in fact, in everything.

Most of these qualities are conducive to achieving greater success in various fields. Thus earthly inequality is a natural order of things, and it can only be distorted by unnatural means. Even then it won’t disappear; it’ll either be replaced by a worse type of inequality or else camouflaged by demagoguery.

For example, His Grace would probably agree that equality of result is an indigestible pie in the sky. However, he sees equality of opportunity as a goal both laudable and achievable. In fact, it’s more or less the other way around.

Equality of result can indeed be achieved by enforced levelling downwards (the only direction in which it’s ever possible to level).

It’s possible to confiscate all property and pay citizens barely enough to keep them alive (this was more or less achieved in the country where I grew up). It’s possible to create dumbed-down schools that will make everybody equally ignorant (this has been more or less achieved in the country where I grew old). It’s possible to provide equal healthcare for all that has little to do with either caring for most citizens or keeping them healthy (both countries have achieved this).

What’s absolutely impossible to achieve is equality of opportunity.

A child with two parents will have better opportunities than a child raised by one parent. A boy who grew up surrounded by books will have a greater opportunity than his coeval who grew up surrounded by crushed beer cans. A child of two professional tennis players will have a better chance of becoming good at the game than a child of two chartered accountants. A young businessman who inherits a fortune will have a better opportunity of earning a greater fortune than someone who has to start from scratch.

Yet equality has become such a sacred shibboleth for the post-Christian classes that they are prepared to deny obvious facts in its name. Take IQ for example. Whoever dares to observe that different groups, be that class or race, have different median IQ scores will be immediately accused of racism, fascism, elitism or any other ism that happens to be the faddish bogeyman at the time.

However, facts invariably show that IQ scores do differ from one group to the next, and they are the most reliable predictor of practical success in any occupation (except perhaps, on current evidence, public service).

Yet the bogus equality of the modern world has to presuppose parity where none exists: practical ability. Lies are the only way out of this conundrum: as empirical evidence destroys this presupposition everywhere we look, the evidence must be either falsified or, better still, hushed up. In this modernity displays more ruthless consistency than Christendom ever did in opposing, say, the heliocentric theory.

An important thing to remember about egalitarianism is that levelling downwards isn’t merely the only possible direction but, for its champions, the only desirable one. To Burke “compulsory equalisations” could only mean “equal want, equal wretchedness, equal beggary.” To modern egalitarians they are the shining beacon.

Yet it would be wrong to say that equality, in whatever sense of the word, is a pipe dream. In fact, every country in the world has achieved it in small enclaves where people’s clothes, food, lodgings and indeed rights are not merely equal but identical.

The people may or may not work, but their way of life isn’t affected either way. Their medical care and education are free, and things like TV sets and sports facilities are equally available to all. These perfectly egalitarian places are called gaols, and indeed prison is the epitome of egalitarian aspirations, the ideal towards which they strive.

This sounds facetious, but in fact it’s just an illustration of an immutable truth: the relationship between earthly freedom and equality can only ever be inverse. The more of one, the less of the other. Total tyranny is a precondition for total equality (that is, below the level of the tyrant, who stands above the equal masses the same way the unequal warder stands above the equal prisoners).

But I shouldn’t be beastly to His Grace. I’m sure he ran through such arguments in his head and rejected them in favour of more sound ones. I’m just desperate to find out what they are.

Statist way isn’t the way out

Few things give me as much pleasure as watching socialists squirm. This morning’s Sky interview with Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds didn’t disappoint.

Our next PM? Many commentators think so, on a mysterious basis

Asked to comment on the measures announced by Chancellor Sunak, the poor woman found herself between a rock and a hard place.

The rock was the keenly felt necessity to criticise the Tories and guarantee that Labour would do much better. The hard place was the certainty that Labour would do pretty much the same things.

The presenter Kay Burley tried to help Dodds out as best she could. Referring to the Chancellor’s raising the ceiling of stamp duty on house sales from £300,000 to £500,000, Burley tried to throw her interviewee a lifeline: “But that will benefit the rich, won’t it?”

But Dodds sighed wistfully and swept the line away. While appreciating that a Sky presenter was even more left-wing than she herself (which is going some), she didn’t want to appear more stupid than strictly necessary.

She knows, as does everybody else this side of Sky TV and BBC studios, that the asset inflation has been so horrendous that the proposed ceiling rise would benefit not just the rich, but most house owners in any other than depressed areas.

For example, the average terraced house in Fulham, where I live, costs £1.3 million, which is 602 per cent higher than in 1995. People who could afford such a house 25 years ago didn’t have to be rich, and those who bought it 40 years ago might have lived on a modest income.

All Miss Dodds could manage was a suggestion that, while borrowing as much as Mr Sunak’s proposed £350 billion a year, Labour would ‘target’ its spending differently. That word represents the Labour consensus established in advance, and the poor woman was endlessly repeating the word ‘target’ in response to every question, in and out of context.

Psychiatrists refer to such compulsive repetitiveness as ‘perseveration’, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’ll be telling her husband to improve his targeting tonight.

The trouble with Sunak’s stimulus package is that it’ll stimulate nothing but rapacious growth of the state. That being the ultimate goal of all modern governments, either Labour Lite (aka Tory) or Labour Full Strength (aka Labour), the two parties agree on the principle, even as they may quibble about the details.

Doubtless some extra borrowing is required at a time of crisis. Yet borrowing in one year more than the country’s annual GDP, however the money is targeted, will create more problems than it solves.

Mercifully, the prematurely popular Chancellor didn’t mention the giant infrastructure projects so beloved of Boris Johnson. After a brief initial spike, this panic-inspired trick has backfired everywhere it has been tried, most emphatically in Roosevelt’s America and Hitler’s Germany. But for the war, both economies would have lain in ruins (which might have been one of the reasons for the war).

But what Sunak did mention amounts to the state taking over the economy. For, and I know this sounds terribly old-fashioned, the borrowed billions will eventually have to be repaid. When reminded of this unfortunate necessity, the government spouts the mantra about the interest rates being so low that borrowing costs next to nothing.

That, however, doesn’t obviate the need to pay back the principal. Nor does it invalidate the observation that interest rates fluctuate. It doesn’t take a cosmic flight of imagination to realise that this kind of traffic is two-way: if interest rates can plummet, they can also soar.

At the present level of borrowing, even a slight increase in lending rates, say two or three per cent, would bankrupt the country instantly. But even barring such a calamity, how is the Chancellor planning to repay the principal?

The answer is, by using taxation to squeeze every drop out of the economy and bringing it even more under state control. Public spending will have to come down in parallel, but that’s where that ‘targeting’ comes in.

The NHS is sacrosanct. So is social spending, other than the ad hoc coronavirus relief. So are the ruinous and foolhardy green policies.  Where then will the government pinch?

The answer is, mostly in defence and law enforcement. In particular, the already risible defence budget will be cut down to nothing. And even that won’t solve the problem – a predominantly statist economy won’t come out of the crisis for generations, if ever.

The very fact that our socialist parties of both strengths are in agreement shows how intellectually and morally corrupt the proposed measures are. The Chancellor has taken the coward’s way out by refusing to make unpopular decisions that alone can pull us out of the morass.

Such decisions would all be based on freeing up the economy, and they’d lead to initial pain followed by growing prosperity. However, the initial pain would scupper the next election, with the likes of Dodds at last being able to zero in on a clearly visible bull’s eye. And modern governments are ever ready to let the country die so that they themselves can live.

Rather than just selling to the public the snake oil of lower stamp duty (for just a short spell, mind you) and £10 eating-out vouchers, the Chancellor should talk about turning Britain into a tax haven and an ideal country for investment, both foreign and domestic.

Red tape, including the ideological and unscientific drive to eliminate carbon emissions, ought to be rolled up and thrown away; the corporate tax rate, currently at 19 per cent, should be halved or, for start-ups, suspended for several years. Manufacturing companies should be given every conceivable incentive to set up and thrive in Britain.

I shan’t try to work out every specific – we still have enough resident expertise in the country to do that better than I could. Yet history shows that only that kind of approach can stop the doldrums – but not in a country as thoroughly corrupted by socialism as Britain is.

This was the strategy adopted by West Germany in the aftermath of the war, which produced an ‘economic miracle’ by the mid-fifties. Britain took the statist road, and the crisis continued until the 1980s.

Those old enough to remember the 1970s know what to expect. I just hope they’ll share that knowledge with the youngsters.

Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents

Such was the title of Edmund Burke’s 1770 pamphlet, in which the great Whig pondered the nature of the contemporaneous grievances and public disorders.

They do, but the protests aren’t about that

Those were rather different from today’s. Burke had in his sights a cabal of rival Whigs whose closeness to George III, he felt, distorted the proper relationship between court and parliament.

Today’s discontents, on the other hand, go beyond such particulars. They target, explicitly or implicitly, the legitimacy of both court and parliament, indeed the validity of our whole civilisation.

Burke wrote at a time when modernity was making its first tentative steps, and the people were still unaware of the very possibility of wider discontents. However, they were soon to learn.

The thunderously proclaimed promise of equality was understood, as it was supposed to be, in the widest possible sense. Equality was presented as a sacred right; inequality, as its egregious violation.

Any grievance, no matter how trivial or unfounded, was seen as an affront. And every affront was regarded as a mortal sin, committed not just against any specific individuals, but against an abstract notion, a secular God of Equality.

That was an awful parody of Judaeo-Christian morality with its commandments proscribing murder and adultery in the same breath, or rather on the same tablets. In the eyes of men, murder was a terrible crime, while adultery was just par for the course. But in the eyes of God both were equally sinful.

The four revolutions defining modernity, American in 1776, French in 1789 and two Russian ones in 1917, were all perpetrated against the least tyrannical governments in those countries’ history: those of George III, Louis XVI, Nicholas II and Russia’s first attempt at liberal democracy.

The mild nature of the regimes they hated didn’t matter to the revolutionaries. The God of Equality had been offended, and he was athirst. Discontents, once planted, had sprouted luxuriantly, and all it took was adroit operators to exploit them to full potential. Such individuals aren’t thick on the ground, but there’s never any need for many of them. A couple of dozen or so can do the job, provided they are sufficiently devious and ruthless.

The God of Equality eventually created a widespread view of the world as inherently unjust, but whose injustices could be corrected by concerted action, be it a violent revolution or purposeful attrition.

If the masses are thoroughly brainwashed to see themselves as victims of injustice, their discontents can be easily channelled into destructive conduits. This is exactly what we are witnessing at present.

Whether it’s global warming or nuclear energy or the indignities allegedly suffered by women and some races, what’s at issue isn’t the proclaimed grievance. It’s a demand for the redress of the inherent injustice of the world, apostasy to the God of Equality.

If the world is seen as fundamentally unjust, then those who succeed in it have taken advantage of those who don’t. They can be easily targeted as objects of derision, rancour or even violent hatred.

When such is the point of departure, the destination is always in sight. That could be Jews to some, capitalists to others, white or straight people to some others, men to others still.

Pet hatreds naturally cluster together – no one is limited to just one. Thus those who hate capitalists often also hate Jews, and indeed equate the two groups, as Marx and Hitler did. Those who see women as an oppressed minority are practically guaranteed also to hate globe-warming, air-polluting capitalism.

And can you imagine a genuflecting champion of Black Lives Matter who isn’t certain that women are oppressed, and money-grubbing capitalists are destroying ‘our planet’? I can’t, because such an animal doesn’t exist.

That’s why it’s pointless engaging such people in a rational, fact-based discourse on their proclaimed grievance. Their underlying faith is impervious to reason or facts. They worship the God of Equality who commands them to hate every heretic and apostate.

While one can argue with opponents, one can only ever fight enemies. That explains the advice I recently gave to a friend of mine, who was upset as a result.

He was about to appear on a radio show, arguing with a fire-eating equality zealot. My friend was trying to anticipate the likely arguments, one of which could have been that the Israelis’ treatment of Palestinians and our treatment of blacks are no different from Hitler’s Holocaust.

What would I say in response, my friend wanted to know. “Go f*** yourself,” I replied without hesitation. “What kind of answer is that?” asked my irate friend. “The only possible one,” I replied. One can respond reasonably only to a reasonable statement.

The statement my friend anticipated not only was unreasonable but it also had nothing to do with the sentiment overtly expressed. Underneath the actual words was a scream of hatred brewed on discontent. Christians are taught to love their enemies, but that doesn’t mean letting them get away with murder.

If Welby is the tree, here’s the apple

If you wonder why the Church of England is haemorrhaging communicants, look no further than its two most senior prelates.

“Jesus was black, but not yet a woman”

I wrote about the Archbishop of Canterbury not so long ago, but Stephen Cottrell, the recently installed Archbishop of York, complements his ecclesiastical superior perfectly.

His background is newly typical for the hierarchy of our established church. His Grace describes himself as an “oik from Essex”, who was an atheist until age 19 or so, when he saw the TV series Jesus of Nazareth and consequently the light.

Now, many paths lead to Christ, but the box isn’t widely known for acting as the road to Damascus. However, the mysteries of faith are beyond the imaginings of poor mortals.

For this poor mortal, the greatest mystery isn’t so much His Grace’s teleconversion as his current belief that “Jesus was a black man”. After all, Robert Powell, who played the title role in Jesus of Nazareth, is unquestionably, irredeemably white.

On the positive side, His Grace doesn’t seem to believe that Jesus was a black lesbian woman or, if he does, he hasn’t yet made that insight public. However, I’m interested in the one he did vouchsafe to his flock.

The archbishop matriculated at the Polytechnic of Central London, and perhaps his perception of biblical demographics was affected by the racial mix at that institution. Or else a part of his revelatory TV experience was the ability to see beyond Robert Powell’s skin to find the black man inside.

Then of course it’s possible that he has studied the Bible, patristic sources and subsequent theological literature as deeply as his post requires, which is much more deeply than I have. In that case, I for one would be grateful if His Grace were to refer us to the source from which he learned of Jesus’s negritude.

To a layman like me, Jesus was a Jew, a race that’s depicted as diabolical by some, God-chosen by others, but hardly ever as black. Even Middle Eastern Jews, which Jesus was, can’t be readily confused with, say, Jamaicans.

Yet I’m sure His Grace goes beyond chromatic incidentals. He senses, as I do, that negritude is no longer a factor of mere race but one of ideology. Black equals good, worthy and ipso facto virtuous. The syllogism is unassailable: Black is good, Jesus was good, therefore Jesus was black.

If that’s how he sees it, then one can only hope His Grace won’t start celebrating Black Mass as an extension of his parallel faith in a black Jesus.

“The world is not how it’s meant to be,” says the archbishop. “I’ve always been a passionate person and I do want to change the world.”

Again I applaud: the world indeed leaves much room for improvement. However, in my experience, passionate people who openly state such an ameliorative intent, are usually mad.

Still, one man’s experience is always limited, and perhaps His Grace does have it in his power to make the world a better place. He intends to start from his own backyard, the church.

“One of the failings the church has made has been a form of tokenism without addressing the deep systemic issues of exclusion and prejudice.” As a curative, he wants to celebrate Black Lives Matter – one hopes in addition to, rather than instead of, mass.

More than that, His Grace plans to attack prejudice with the wrathful energy of the black Jesus chasing the money-changers from the Temple. “The leadership of the Church of England is still too white,” he says, “and I hope under my watch we’ll see further changes on that”.

Actually, the man he replaced was black, which sets the church way back on the road to equality. A penitent prayer to the black Jesus is in order: not only is His Grace shamefully white, but he also drove a black man out of a job.

His Grace expresses himself with so much eloquence that one is amazed he was educated at the Polytechnic of Central London and not, say, at the University of Paris when Albert the Great was teaching there.

To wit: “But one of the things I’ve seen change in my own time has been the inclusion of women. I am very frustrated often at the pace of change, but equally I’m not going to apologise much because actually there has been such a lot of change that has been so positive. The inclusion of women in leadership has made such a difference and I’m determined to continue that with the BAME community.”

And, as you could easily guess, he’s a great admirer of same-sex relationships. In that respect he differs from bishops who earlier this year made the faux pas of stating that civil partnerships, whether homosexual or straight, “fall short of God’s purpose for human beings”.

They were simply reiterating the scriptural teaching on this subject, expressed unequivocally in both Testaments. But unlike them, His Grace knows that the Bible is woefully obsolete.

While magnanimously allowing that people with traditional views shouldn’t yet be excommunicated, he is also “thinking of LGBTQ+ Christians and their experience; I don’t want them to be disenfranchised or excluded, so we’re going to have to find a way of living together with disagreement.”

His Grace is obviously unfamiliar with the concept of hating the sin while loving the sinner. Homosexual Christians shouldn’t be excluded; but that doesn’t mean that the church should countenance, say, homomarriage, which His Grace probably does.

Still, as a firm believer in upward mobility, I’m happy to see that a man of such humble background could rise not only to the second-highest position in the Anglican Church but also to deep musical insights.

“I’ve been listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations,” says His Grace, “and they’re really interesting because you start with a basic musical line, and then it’s almost like endless variation…” So that’s why the piece is called Variations? I’ve always wondered and now I know.

Looking at the hierarchy of the Church of England, I can’t help paraphrasing the old joke: “Will its last communicant to leave please turn off the lights and lock the door.”

A hell of a speech, Mr President

Donald’s Trump speech on the eve of Independence Day got right up The Guardian’s nose, which alone would have sufficed for me to regard it as a great piece of oratory.

Trump knows they aren’t kidding

But the speech also passed an even more stringent test: Trump said many of the same things I write, as I did yesterday and on countless other occasions. A greater tribute to his (or his speechwriter’s) intelligence, insight and eloquence is hard to imagine.

“Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children,” Trump said. “Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities.”

They wish, he continued, “to cancel culture, driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees. This is the very definition of totalitarianism, and it is completely alien to our culture and to our values…

“… In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted and punished.”

I seldom quote at such length, and I’m doing so now only because I would have willingly signed my name to every word. Yes, these are just words. But, compared to millions of other words uttered on this subject, they have the advantage of being intelligent, courageous – and true.

None of these adjectives apply to The Guardian’s reaction to the speech or, for that matter, to anything else. Unless of course that objectionable sheet set out to prove that Trump was right in his ringing accusations.

The president, according to the paper, didn’t speak. He “railed” and – brace yourself – he did so “to the overwhelmingly white crowd”. A rank idiot or a Guardian reader (I use these descriptions interchangeably) might get the impression that persons of less fortunate races were barred from entry.

But of course that was a political rally, which events are hardly ever attended by anyone other than core supporters. And it’s no secret that Trump’s core support is predominantly white: other races have been so thoroughly brainwashed by left-wing totalitarian propaganda that their knees invariably jerk in the direction of, well, left-wing totalitarians.

Actually, this is a tautology: totalitarianism, as opposed to authoritarianism, is always of left-wing origin, and I don’t just mean communist regimes. Fascist and Nazi ones qualify too.

Mussolini was one of the top Marxist propagandists in Europe long before his March on Rome. And Hitler openly and gratefully acknowledged his indebtedness to Marx.

Indeed, replacing class with race and capitalists with Jews, Hitler’s rants faithfully follow Marx’s line of thought. And the economics of Hitler’s Four-Year Plan was pure corporatist socialism, indistinguishable from Roosevelt’s New Deal.

In fact, Western intellectuals only tarred Hitler with the right-wing brush belatedly, when he attacked his former ally, the Soviet Union. Since Stalin was undeniably left-wing, the binary minds of ‘liberal’ hacks had to tag Hitler as right-wing, proving yet again the fickle, and usually useless, nature of political taxonomy.

“The president,” continues The Guardian, “has shown no sign of embracing the public mood”, as, presumably, gauged by The Guardian.

The public mood in Britain, as perceived by the paper, is manifested only in a few London postcodes, mostly clustered around Notting Hill, Hampstead and Islington. Transferring the same sociology to the less familiar terrain, the American public mood can only be reliably assessed in Washington’s Georgetown, Manhattan’s East Side (apart from the Trump Tower) and Los Angeles’s Beverly Hills.

The denizens of less fashionable neighbourhoods can be safely omitted from any sample investigated by The Guardian or its ideological kin in the US. Those chaps are routinely seen as racist savages who simply don’t count and who must be shut up at any cost.

What else? Oh yes, the “president enflames national tensions” by proposing a celebration, rather than vilification, of American heroes. And his remarks “offer little by way of reconciliation.”

If I were Trump, I’d send a thank-you note to The Guardian for supporting his speech with such valuable evidence. The paper consistently champions those who wish to topple every statue that doesn’t conform to their subversive ideology – The Guardian is the British branch of those who, in Trump’s words, strive “to wipe out our history, defame our heroes”.

Such people are enemies of our civilisation, not our opponents in debating jousts. One can argue with opponents; one can only fight enemies. Good and evil can’t meet halfway, they can’t be averaged out and no conciliation between the two is possible.

As regular readers of this space know, Trump isn’t exactly my tumbler of vodka. But credit where it’s due: he refuses to bend his knee, literally and figuratively, to left-wing fascism, and he seems impervious to its shrill slogans.

One can only wish he displayed the same courage and perspicacity in his response to the kleptofascism of Putin’s Russia. But we all have to start somewhere.

Totalitarians finally get Starkey

If you still think we live in a free country, you are an incurable romantic. This isn’t an accusation that’s often levelled against me, but even I sometimes sound unduly optimistic.

More sinned against than sinning

For example, I often say that Britain is moving towards totalitarianism. Wrong tense, ladies and gentlemen. Totalitarianism isn’t coming. As the treatment of Prof. Starkey shows, it’s already here.

The eminent Tudor historian has lost all his academic positions and publishing contracts (including for two books about to come out) over his video link interview on BLM.

“You cannot decolonise the curriculum because you, Black Lives Matter, are wholly and entirely a product of white colonisation,” said Prof. Starkey, which alone would have sufficed to nail him to the woke cross. But he didn’t stop there. 

The viewing public, and the institutions that kowtow to it, were also appalled by another statement: “Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain, would there?”.

Hysterical shrieks greeted both the substance of this statement and its form. But then of course spittle-sputtering convulsions have become the preferred tool of intellectual debate.

Do his detractors think that even if the British Empire had never existed, or collapsed, we’d still have some seven million people of African or Asian origin living here? Taking paroxysms of shamanistic, ideological fury out of it, this part of Prof. Starkey’s interview seems factually unassailable.

Or do those publishers and academics believe slavery actually was genocide? One would think that those chaps would display more intellectual rigour than that.

All genocide is mass murder, but not all mass murder is genocide. The relevant terminology and the thinking behind it were introduced by the late Prof. Rummel in his seminal books Lethal Politics and Murder by Government.

He distinguishes between democide and genocide. The former is ideological mass murder by category, usually class or political affiliation. The latter is mass murder by ethnic, racial or religious category, with mere belonging to one such qualifying people for annihilation.

First, neither slavery nor colonialism involved mass murder by definition, either democide or genocide. Regardless of how reprehensible they may be in other respects, both exercises mostly aimed at using cheap labour for pecuniary gain.

Murdering cheap labour en masse would have rather defeated the purpose, don’t you think? That would be akin to buying a stable full of Arab thoroughbreds and then slaughtering them all.

There’s no doubt that many Africans died in, for example, the Zulu Wars, but those were indeed wars, and people do get killed. We may regard those wars as unjust, but they’re still a far cry from systematic murder by category.

Genocides in Africa have always been committed by other Africans. For example, in 1972 the Tutsi majority in Burundi murdered a quarter-million Hutus. In 1994, the Hutu majority in Rwanda got its own back by murdering about a million Tutsis. Nothing like that can be put at the door of the British Empire.

Except it is. Assorted intellectually challenged fanatics claim that Africans resort to genocide (which since the end of Western colonialism has claimed between 10 and 20 million lives) because they were thoroughly brutalised by the colonisers.

That line of thought betokens the kind of racism Prof. Starkey would never countenance. For the implication is that black Africans aren’t free moral agents endowed with free will. This effectively denies their humanity, which goes against every known take on basic decency, even of the secular kind.

Speaking of Rwanda, it figures in one typical comment on Prof. Starkey’s transgression. Would he “feel similarly,” asks the commentator, “about the Armenian, Rwandan and Cambodian genocides?”

Khmer Rouge perpetrated not genocide but democide in Cambodia – 2.5 million Khmers (out of the population of eight million) were murdered not because of their ethnicity, but because Pol Pot and his gang had studied communism at the Sorbonne, and they were good students.

However, this valid distinction doesn’t really matter because none of the three atrocities mentioned was perpetrated by British, or any Western, colonisers, and none had anything to do with slavery.

When the interviewer referred to slavery as “terrible disease that dare not speak its name”, Prof. Starkey replied that the disease was “settled nearly 200 years ago”. That too caused a verbal equivalent of St Vitus’s dance.

Why? Do the people so afflicted think slavery still exists in Britain? They don’t. However, as fully paid-up totalitarians they are prepared to pounce on anyone who fails to deliver the mandated shibboleths in an appropriately pious tone.

Since the content of Prof. Starkey’s remarks would be unassailable in any society still retaining vestiges of sanity, let’s consider their form. The good professor denied that Britain committed genocide in Africa because otherwise there wouldn’t be “so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain”.

As far as arguments go, this one is rather feeble. His enraged opponents have never suggested that the putative genocide completely emptied Africa of its native population. And if it didn’t, then the survival of many blacks doesn’t ipso facto negate the possibility of genocide.

Here Prof. Starkey didn’t display his customary intellect, but hey, nobody scores 100 per cent every time. In any case, it wasn’t what he said in this case that raised a public outcry, but how he said it. Specifically, our delicately sensitive masses objected to his modifying ‘blacks’ with ‘damn’.

Now, I probably wouldn’t utter that word in this context, but ‘damn’, along with ‘bloody’ and ‘f***ing’, is a desemanticised intensifier routinely used, perhaps overused, in colloquial speech.

Thus, when we say “it’s bloody freezing today”, we don’t suggest the frost comes with a red mist. And when we say “there are too many f***ing cars in London”, we don’t mean that the objectionable vehicles engage in sexual congress.

Prof. Starkey doubtless used his unfortunate intensifier in the midst of polemical fervour, exasperated as he was by the inane questions he faced and the idiotic comments he anticipated.

I might take exception to that on general grounds: most intensifiers don’t really intensify; they are just verbal parasites. But I myself have been known to lose my rag in debates, using the kind of language one would expect from a Millwall FC supporter, not an elderly, reasonably cultured gentleman.

Are those casting stones at Prof. Starkey themselves without that particular sin? If so, I congratulate them. But I suspect that’s not the case.

The destruction of Prof. Starkey’s distinguished career isn’t as bad as what happened in Stalin’s Russia. But it’s every bit as bad as what happened under Brezhnev, the time I remember.

People were no longer “turned to camp dust”, to use Stalin’s expression, for dropping an incautious word or even generally disliking communism. But their careers could be obliterated, with eminent scientists reduced to working as doormen or rubbish collectors.

Since we seem to be retracing the totalitarian steps, I hope I won’t be around when the next stride is taken. For those who wonder where it’ll lead, may I suggest The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn?

Another sly dig at genius

Talent, wrote Schopenhauer, hits targets no one else can hit; genius hits targets no one else can see. He didn’t add that such marksmanship puts genius in direct conflict with philistines.

Morrison is right: Hewitt is no Gould

For one defining characteristic of philistines is smugness, unshakeable belief in their being the apex of creation. Anyone who isn’t like them is therefore automatically suspect – especially a genius hitting targets the philistine can’t even see.

This serves as an unwelcome reminder that the philistine isn’t really the apex of creation. There exist human genera that are superior to him in every respect.

That’s especially intolerable now, when the philistine’s congenital smugness is reinforced by ideological egalitarianism. Nowhere is this tendency more glaring than in the philistine’s response to music, both its composition and especially performance.

What the philistine really wants to hear is the kind of music he himself would compose and play if he knew how. Many are amateur musicians or simply concert goers who dismiss true genius because it’s outside their ken.

JS Bach suffered that fate throughout the 18th century and beyond. In fact, his sons, good composers who nonetheless weren’t fit to copy their father’s scores, were universally regarded as his superiors.

Following Mendelsohn’s 1829 revival of St Matthew’s Passion, Bach’s music got to be played more often, and he began to be treated with begrudging respect (mostly for the technical aspects of his work) if little appreciation for the ineffable genius he was.

In fact, I know many Englishmen today, even some who have had musical training, who rate Handel’s music higher than Bach’s. The rather pompous and banal Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah is much preferred to the sublime finales of Bach’s two Passions.

That’s understandable. Handel, though a great composer in his own right, doesn’t assail the philistine’s self-perception the way Bach does. A Handel oratorio is an excellent prelude to a post-concert supper, whereas a Bach cantata is much too demanding to get the gastric juices flowing.

Glenn Gould, the greatest interpreter of Bach (and just about everything else he played), also yanked the philistine out of his comfort zone. He wasn’t the only instrumentalist who ever saw targets no one else did, he just saw more of them.

Gould is the only pianist, or instrumentalist in general, I’ve ever heard whose genius approaches that of the composers whose music he played. He could soar above a work until he got a bird’s eye view of it. That enabled him to see how all the elements fit together into cohesive architecture. And Gould’s unparalleled structural integrity allowed him to take any number of liberties with details – he was confident that nothing he did would make the structure totter.

While popularly known as an interpreter of Bach, Gould also regaled posterity with profound insights into the music of other composers, from Byrd and Gibbons to Mozart and Beethoven to Brahms and Strauss to Schoenberg and Hindemith.

Originally trained on the organ, he left recordings on that instrument too, but his piano technique shows no signs of a neophyte. Every note Gould played was poignantly expressive, something few other Bach players have ever been able to combine with architectural vision.

Obviously, a man who hit targets no one else, and especially no critics, could see wasn’t allowed to get away with it. A whole school of anti-Gould criticism appeared, and his performances were described as interesting but frivolous curiosities. The adjective ‘eccentric’ was permanently attached to his name – he would have been justified in changing his name to Glenn Eccentric Gould.

Eventually Gould, a deeply sensitive and indeed eccentric man (as opposed to an eccentric performer) was hounded off the concert platform. He retreated to the recording studio and kept producing one masterpiece after another, much to the delight of those who not only like but also understand music.

This is the context in which The Times critic Richard Morrison produced a review of Angela Hewitt’s Bach recital. Miss Hewitt, a Canadian like Gould, has made a career of playing mostly Bach, one of the few pianists who have ever done that.

That the review is laudatory goes without saying: Hewitt is one of the newly canonised performers who wouldn’t get a bad review even if they had an off day technically.

Yet to someone who has spent a lifetime listening to great playing, she is a well-meaning pianist capable of playing all the notes in the right sequence without causing too much offence. In other words, she plays Bach the way a typical philistine would if he had the fingers. If there is any true inspiration in her playing, I haven’t yet been able to discern it.

But fair enough, Morrison may look for other things in music, and, if he finds them in Hewitt, more power to him. Some people seem to prefer boring performances.

However, a philistine will out sooner or later; this isn’t a trait that can be concealed for long. Hewitt, writes Morrison, plays an instrument “that Bach wouldn’t have recognised, and utilises a range of expressive devices that simply weren’t available on the keyboards of his day”.

At the risk of sounding reactionary, I’d suggest that Bach knew more about musical instruments than either Hewitt or even Morrison. His genius was such that he could foresee where keyboard instruments were going – and write for the future.

In fact, when he taught his most talented son, Wilhelm Friedemann, to play the clavichord, Bach stressed the need for cantabile, the singing tone the harpsichord couldn’t produce and the clavichord could only to some extent.

In general, Bach saw beyond specific instruments. He would often transcribe the same pieces for keyboard today, violin tomorrow, flute the day after. And his crowning achievement, The Art of Fugue, the only work in which he encoded his own name B-A-C-H, mysteriously was written for no instrument in particular, being playable by a string quartet, orchestra, organ, harpsichord or piano.

Having praised Hewitt for finding expressive means Bach couldn’t even imagine, Morrison then compares her, by implication favourably, to Gould, “her eccentric compatriot… whom she resembles in no other respect”.

That magic ‘e’ word again – Gould has been dead for 38 years, but the philistines still have to kick him posthumously, if surreptitiously.

It’s aesthetic, and I dare say moral, sacrilege to mention Hewitt and Gould in the same sentence, especially when presenting them as comparable figures. That’s like comparing Shakespeare to Webster or, closer to this field, Wilhelm Furtwängler to Simon Rattle.

Still, if Hewitt differs from Gould in most respects, what would they be? One assumes that Morrison implies that none of the superlatives he attaches to Hewitt’s playing would apply to Gould’s.

I’ll just cite a few attributes singled out and praised by Morrison: “taste, technique and insight”, “energy and wit aplenty”, “her instinct is always to make sense of the music”, “awe-inspiring”, “she isn’t afraid to use the pianistic techniques of the romantic era to bring out the music’s shapes and patterns”.

Right. Hewitt has all those things and Gould didn’t. His instinct was just to be eccentric.

I remember talking about Bach to the dean of one of our major cathedrals. “Gould,” he delivered the mantra, “is eccentric”. “It’s not Gould who’s eccentric,” I replied. “It’s Bach.”

That exchange was par for the course. To a philistine, a target he doesn’t see just doesn’t exist. Hence a genius who hits it appears to have missed the centre, the bull’s eye. That indeed is eccentric.

Sorry, Jean-Claude

When Jean-Claude Juncker was still President of the European Commission, I was often beastly to him.

My new hero

I made fun of his drunkenness and variable ability to stay upright, I castigated his euro fanaticism, I found logical faults in his arguments – and I’m now sorry about all that.

For I’ve just come across a spiffy aphorism Jean-Claude made long before his ascent to the top of the EU Olympus. The year was 2007, when he was still finance minister at that European powerhouse, Luxemburg.

Speaking on economic reform, my new friend Jean-Claude made a statement of astonishing wit and depth: “We all know what to do, we just don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it.”

I don’t know if he was fully aware of the profound implications of that statement. But one way or the other, the truth of that aphorism is enough to restore Jean-Claude in my good graces.

Seldom in the history of rhetoric has so much been said in so few words. For that statement lays bare in one fell swoop everything that’s wrong with modern politics and politicians.

The aphorism deserves painstaking exegesis before its meaning is fully grasped. First, one can infer that politicians’ manifest failure to do the right things testifies to a failure of character, not just of intellect.

Surely representative democracy, the predominant political method in the West, depends on elected representatives doing the right things, ideally every time.

Granted, some politicians may not know what the right things are, in which case their failure to do them is understandable, if not necessarily forgivable. Yet my new friend stipulates this isn’t the case: “We all know what to do…”.

Then why don’t they do it? Because, explains Jean-Claude, doing the right things would scupper a politician’s chances of staying in power. Hence one infers that politicians neglect bono publico for their own bono, and the public be damned.

This to me constitutes betrayal of trust and an appalling failure of character. Elected representatives may be in a position to demand that thousands of young people sacrifice their lives for their country. Yet they themselves refuse to sacrifice even their careers. I smell a certain deficit of moral legitimacy there.

We can proceed from the specific to the general and look at wider implications. For, when a political system fails to elevate to power those who can selflessly work towards public good, there’s something wrong with the system, not just the individuals.

Such a situation means that voters aren’t fit to vote. After all, our unchecked democracy run riot effectively involves everybody in the business of government. The only qualification necessary is that of age, which gets younger and younger.

More sweeping generalisations are in order. Such as that those who know what the right things are and are capable of doing them are unlikely to get elected.

Moreover – and this is the most damning part of Juncker’s epigram – if politicians decide to act out of character and actually do the right things, the voting public will throw them out at the next election.

That means the voting public emphatically doesn’t want the right things done, and it will punish mercilessly those who disobey its diktat. The question is, why?

Surely people would stand to benefit from sage government? Surely a government that doesn’t do what it knows is right hurts everybody? Here we are entering the inner circles of politics, and they are vicious.

The voting masses by definition possess no intellectual tools to decide what the right things are. The business of government is more intricate than just about any other, involving as it does at least some understanding of such disciplines as political science, economics, history, philosophy, jurisprudence, rhetoric, logic and so forth.

Since no electorate in the world can boast such collective understanding, they all differ from a herd of livestock only on physiological and, if you will, theological technicalities, not in their ability to cast a vote intelligently and responsibly.

Public education everywhere in the West and certainly in Britain provides no help. The disciplines mentioned above are taught badly or, typically, not at all. On the contrary, our educators actively corrupt their pupils by pumping their heads full of idiotic, subversive and immoral rubbish.

British pupils are taught how to use condoms, not their heads. At an age when youngsters of yore still thought of such matters in terms of storks and cabbage patches, today’s lot are taught advanced sexual techniques and the amoral nature of sex and gender-bending. Considering that many graduates of our comprehensive schools can’t even read properly, one gets the distinct impression they are taught nothing else.

It gets worse. For our young are raised in a culture of despair, with the future uncertain or – given the canonical status of the global warming hoax – nonexistent. Therefore, since most of them are also taught atheism, they can’t conceive of a good greater than their own immediate benefit.

This combination of moral and intellectual shabbiness makes them vulnerable to demagogic slogans – and unreceptive to reasoned arguments. That’s why politicians who wish to get elected and re-elected have to communicate with the electorate in five-second soundbites, each containing a simple solution to what really is a complicated problem.

Alas, complicated problems hardly ever lend themselves to simple solutions. They require serious thought and reasoned arguments. Unfortunately, as Swift once wrote (I’m quoting from memory), you can’t reason people out of something they didn’t reason into.

Hence, a politician proposing a serious, rational policy will only succeed in scaring away voters weaned on a steady diet of simplistically primitive messages. Such a politician had better start retraining for a different career.

This hidden depth of Juncker’s aphorism makes me feel sorry about all my past scathing attacks on his person. Well done, Jean-Claude, didn’t know you had it in you.

Boris me name, erection me game

Which cowboy built this economy then? No way, gov, can’t pin this one on me. It’s all corona, like, djahmean?

Boris the Builder back in business

But that’s cool, Boris the Erector will take care of you. Anything I erect you respect, djamean? You’re like, Boris, erect me a tower block or a dam or an airport or a sky bleedin’ scraper, and I’m like, right you are, gov. I erect, you inspect, no defect, I collect – sorted. Boris me name, erection me game, djahmean?

But lately me erections are way down on account of that bleedin’ corona. Blighters don’t want to work, don’t want to build, don’t want nothing. So me firm is well wobbly, high overhead and all. Then I get this idea, sudden like.

The other day I’m having me cuppa Rosie with me trouble Carrie, all quiet like. Then me nipper cries and it sounds like Dom, Dom, Dom. Dom’s me mate, does scaffolding for me. Any booger needs shoring up or sorting out, Dom’s your man, djahmean?

So me nipper must be on to something. I say to myself, give Dom a bell on the bone. Ain’t nothing Dom can’t shore up. So I ring Dom and I’m like, giza hand mate. Can’t get a single erection up, this bloody corona well buggers me firm up.

So Dom me mate says, Boris, your erections must pick up, me old china. No erections, you lose elections, djahmean? Got to build, mate. But no more Austerity scaffolding for you. There’s other brands, like New Deal. Well popular, that.

And I’m like, Dom, I feel you. But who’s gonna pay? Where’s the dosh going to come from?

And Dom’s like, Boris you’re well daft, he says. When you want to get food you go to a food market, right? And when you want to get money, you go to a money market. Get as much as you want, don’t worry about a thing. There’s more where that came from. You feel me?

I feel you, mate, I say. But you have to pay at the market. Sooner or later, like.

You said it, mate, says Dom. Except you said it wrong: it’s got to be later not sooner. Off you go to the money market like a goodun, get all the dosh you want, that’s a right doddle, mate. And then you just pay interest – let the other lot worry about the principal.

What other lot, Dom? I ask. And he’s like, you know, your competitors, the Labour Destruction Company. When all your erections fall down, they’ll step in, get the contract and bugger it up even worse. But that won’t be your problem, right?

So down the pub I go, to have a swift pint of Bolli wifebeater with Rish, me accountant. I’m like Rish, we don’t build I’m out of a job, but you first, djahmean? So we gotta build, build, build. Power to the people, mate, and you, me and Dom are the people.

And Rish, he a good bloke in spite of being, well, Rish, goes right you are, gov. I’ll sort it out. You build, all problems killed.

Next day I ring my customers on conference call, saying me erections are back, and we’ll build, build, build. We’ll build, you’re thrilled, skilled or unskilled. And I’m like, you know what the best thing is? Nobody has to pay for nothing. Except, you, know, your little ones when they’re well big.

Sorted.