Blog

Whose impeccable spy was Sorge?

Comrade Stalin expressed himself in rather robust language (see the article for translation)

Anyone who not only knows Russian history but has also lived it will agree that many Western commentators know little about this subject and understand even less.

Yet Dominic Sandbrook doesn’t know it at all, if his review of Owen Matthews’s book An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin’s Master Agent is any indication.

You can judge a book neither by its cover nor by its reviews. However, if Sandbrook’s effort has anything in common with Matthews’s, the book must be irredeemably ignorant.

Unlike most Western writers, Sandbrook isn’t even conscientious enough to do some basic research, which is most unfortunate in a man who calls himself a historian. Hence the review bulges with factual errors bespeaking nothing but an eagerness to collect a few hundred quid for a piece of slipshod hack work.

For example, Sandbrook writes: “In the summer of 1941, [Sorge] had repeatedly warned Moscow that Hitler was planning to invade the Soviet Union, only for disbelieving Stalin to tell his security chief: ‘You can send your ‘source’… to his f****** mother’.”

Sorge did issue several warnings to that effect, and Stalin did write something along those lines. However, Sandbrook could have been saved from an ignorant error had he actually read Stalin’s remark in its entirety.

Allow me to fill in this blank, using the attached autograph that has been reproduced in countless books and articles. “To Com. Merkulov [head of the NKGB, later KGB]: You can tell your ‘source’ at the Ger[man] Air Force General Headquarters to f*** off. He’s not a source but a disinformer.”

Sorge of course never went anywhere near the Luftwaffe General HQ. At that time he operated in Tokyo, where he had unlimited access to the German embassy with all its documents. Also, he spied for military intelligence, not NKGB, and Merkulov wasn’t the one who processed his reports.

Hence Stalin’s obscene comment couldn’t have had anything to do with Sorge, and it didn’t. The source in question was Oberleutnant Schulze-Boysen, a Soviet agent codenamed Starshina (‘Sergeant-Major’), who indeed served in the Luftwaffe.

Stalin was at the time receiving scores of such warnings from all sorts of sources, including those two, the Rote Kapelle spy ring, Winston Churchill and many others. He ignored them all, yet his disdainful treatment of Sorge had a particular explanation.

Stalin was weeding out his officer corps, including military intelligence. Thousands of officers were imprisoned and executed, including two intelligence chiefs, Artuzov and Berzin, who handled Sorge personally, and many other spymasters.

Whole Soviet networks were being recalled to Moscow, where most officers shared the fate of their bosses. Sorge was recalled too, in 1937 (not 1936, as Sandbrook seems to think), but he was smarter than most.

He refused to go back, explaining, not in so many words, that he was too busy to face a firing squad just yet, thank you very much. Hence in Stalin’s eyes he became a defector, what the Soviets called a ‘non-returner’.

All support for his network, including financing, was cut off, and Sorge was left to his own devices. Yet, hoping to return to Stalin’s good graces, he continued to finance his operations out of his own funds.

However, Stalin did believe his information that Japan wasn’t going to attack the Soviet Union. The reason for that sudden outburst of credulity was simple: having broken the Japanese diplomatic codes, Moscow already knew that no Japanese attack was on the cards in 1941.

Sorge therefore provided only a confirmation, but it was doubtless a valuable confirmation. As a result, Stalin no longer needed to keep vast contingents (18 divisions, 1,700 tanks and over 1,500 aircraft) in the Far East, and they could be used elsewhere.

This is how Sandbrook describes this breakthrough: “Stalin promptly transferred thousands of troops from Siberia towards Stalingrad. It is no exaggeration to say that Sorge’s information changed the course of the war.”

Neither is it any exaggeration to say that Sandbrook is most refreshingly ignorant. Dates alone should have tipped him off.

Sorge issued his confirmation of SigInt in mid-September, 1941, after which the Far Eastern troops were immediately transferred. Yet the battle of Stalingrad only began on 23 August, 1942.

In the interim, another event happened that “changed the course of the war”: the battle of Moscow that began on 2 October – and it was this battle that the Soviets won largely thanks to the infusion of the fresh Far Eastern divisions.

In other words, Sandbrook doesn’t know when Sorge issued his warning, when the troops were transferred and – most staggering – when the battles of Moscow and Stalingrad were fought. The chap would have to resit the history exam at any Russian primary school.

Sandbrook doesn’t mention the really interesting facts about Sorge, which probably means that neither does Matthews. That’s a pity, for Sorge was a much more mysterious figure than the review would lead one to believe.

Sandbrook correctly mentions that the Japanese hanged Sorge for espionage after he was eventually busted. But he doesn’t say why they did so, nor, critically, when.

Sorge was arrested in October, 1941, and executed in November, 1944. And there’s the rub: the Soviet Union didn’t declare war on Japan until 8 August, 1945.

This chronology should have saved Sorge, for Japan’s laws were rather lenient on espionage. A spy risked only a couple of years’ imprisonment – unless he spied for a country with which Japan was at war.

Since the USSR wasn’t at war with Japan at the time, Sorge couldn’t have been executed as a Soviet spy. Yet executed he was – but in a different capacity.

It’s common knowledge that Sorge was a double agent from 1929, when, according to Sandbrook, he “was recruited by Red Army Intelligence [because] he had a flair for courting Nazi diplomats.”

That flair was a dubious distinction at the time, what with precious few Nazi diplomats being available for courtship in 1929, but let’s not be too pedantic about this. It is, however, well-known that Sorge was a servant to two masters – at least.

Otherwise it would be hard to explain how he got such easy access to Nazi secrets. Sorge’s great-uncle was a close associate of Marx and Engels, and Sorge himself, born in Baku to a German father and Russian mother, was a well-known communist who kept shuttling between Berlin and Moscow.

Though he eventually joined the Nazi party (as did many other communists), his biography should have made the noses of Nazi counterintelligence twitch. So it did.

At one point the spy was vetted by SD intelligence chief Walter Schellenberg – and yet Sorge was allowed to indulge his “flair for courting Nazi diplomats”. The reason is simple: he passed intelligence not only to the Soviets but also to the Nazis.

Yet Germany wasn’t at war with Japan either. Only one country with which Sorge was associated and where he had lived for a while was fighting Japan at the time: Britain. Hence there’s only one explanation: Sorge was hanged as a British spy.

If he was indeed hanged, that is. All sorts of stories surround this shadowy figure, including one saying that the Soviets exchanged Sorge for some Japanese spies and then summarily executed him in Krasnoyarsk.

Though never verified, this rumour tallies with Sorge’s status as a ‘non-returner’ and also with his rather confused professional allegiances. It also explains why Sorge’s name was never mentioned in the Soviet Union until 1964, when he was suddenly catapulted from oblivion onto postage stamps and into articles, books, films and TV documentaries.

Sandbrook should really learn Russian history, if only its modern period. Coming to the subject afresh, he’ll find it fascinating. At the very least, he might be saved from displaying embarrassing ignorance.

Neil Kinnock for president

Neil Kinnock is ready to answer America’s call

Why is it that Americans run for public office and the British stand for it?

Does it testify to the more dynamic nature of American politics? Or to the soporific ineptitude of British politicians?

One way or the other, the two approaches are different in deed, not just in word. However, running for president back in 1987, Joe Biden set out to bridge the gap.

The span he chose was a speech plagiarised from that towering intellect of British – now European – politics Neil Kinnock.

Whatever one may think about the ethics of plagiarism, the choice of source says as much about the pilferer as the act of pilfering itself. For history offers a wide choice of oratorical powerhouses, each providing promising rip-off possibilities.

Demosthenes, for example, was pretty useful. So was Cicero. So, closer to Mr Biden’s own language, was Churchill, although I’m not sure hedonistic Americans would have been sufficiently inspired by a promise of blood, sweat and tears.

Or, closer to Mr Biden’s party affiliation, how about JFK? He could really deliver a line, and never mind its content. His inaugural entreaty, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country!”, was the most unalloyed statement of rampant statism, but the oratory was so fiery that nobody noticed.

And, if you’re a foodie like me, you must have wondered what JFK would have said if his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner!” speech had been delivered not in Berlin but in Hamburg or Frankfurt. But it was a rousing piece of oratory nonetheless, and Mr Biden would have positively sounded like a sophisticated polyglot, screaming “Ich bin ein Delawarean!”

Plagiarism opportunities were endless, and I’m sure Mr Biden had considered them all before tugging on Americans’ heartstrings with a verbatim rendition of a Kinnock speech in which he only changed the speaker’s name for his own:

“Why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go a university?…” and so on, until the question was answered to everyone’s satisfaction: “It’s because they didn’t have a platform on which to stand.”

It has to be said that the first Biden to go to university wasn’t above playing fast and loose with his academic record. Thus he claimed that he finished in the top half of his class at Syracuse Law School,  whereas in fact he graduated 76th of 85. But then politics has its own arithmetic.

Anyway, when the story of Biden’s plagiarism broke, so did his presidential bid. Yet Joe bounced back and has been bouncing every since. At the top of the current bounce he’s about to have another go at the White House, an intention he all but announced in a recent speech.

As far as I can tell, that soliloquy was Mr Biden’s own. However, it makes one understand his earlier impulse to choose someone else’s words.

Perhaps feeling that he may not get another chance, Mr Biden crammed two messages into one speech, not realising that they go together like top hat and tracksuit.

The two targets of his wrath were a “white man’s culture” and a history of violence against women, between which Mr Biden discerned a causative relationship, though he did find each repellent on its own.

One has to accept with some chagrin that, much as the countries of North America and Europe might want to try, they’d find it hard to replace the delinquent culture with a black man’s variety. All sorts of factors, historical, cultural and numerical, would conspire against such a desirable development.

At the risk of being tarred with a racist brush, one might also dispute the causality Mr Biden seems to see so clearly with his mind’s eye. Looking at women’s status in, say, the Middle East and Africa, one would be hard-pressed to argue that abusing women is the unique domain of “white man”.

But this was a minor inconsistency compared to what followed. In an outburst of almost sincere-sounding mea culpa, Mr Biden lamented his role in the 1991 confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

Mr Thomas was a conservative, which meant that all progressive people had to join forces to block his ascent to that lifelong position. A woman, Anita Hall, was found who tearfully accused Mr Thomas of sexual assault, and a scuffle ensued.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, whose chairman Mr Biden then was, was supposed to bury Mr Thomas’s candidature but failed to do so.

“I wish I could have done something,” repented Mr Biden. “To this day, I regret I couldn’t come up with a way to get [Miss Hall] the kind of hearing she deserved, given the courage she showed by reaching out to us.”

So why didn’t he? Oh well, “We knew a lot less about the extent of harassment back then, over 30 years ago.” And even had such knowledge existed the Committee might not have acted on it anyway because “They were a bunch of white guys”.

They were indeed. But, in a delicious twist of paradox, Mr Thomas wasn’t. Not only did he have the temerity to be conservative, he also had the privilege to be black.

If he hadn’t in fact assaulted Miss Hall, but was accused of that crime simply to derail his bid, then the Committee acted properly, and there’s nothing for Mr Biden to apologise for.

Conversely, if Mr Thomas had indeed forced his attentions on Miss Hall, it’s not immediately obvious how that testifies to a “white man’s culture” of violence against women.

Mr Biden simply can’t win. If he rips off other people’s speeches, he gets it in the neck. If he concocts his own, he mouths gibberish.

On balance, he’d be better off retaining Mr Kinnock’s speech-writing services, what with the latter’s job of EU Commissioner conceivably coming to an end. But I have a brighter idea.

Perhaps Mr Kinnock should cut out the middleman and stand – sorry, I mean run – for US president himself. He could then retain the services of that Syracuse legal star Joe Biden to get around the ensuing constitutional problems.

Mr Kinnock’s socialist credentials would fit right in with the prevailing ethos of today’s Democratic party. And his oratorical skills have received the most sincere form of flattery Mr Biden could offer. Worth a try, that.

Free to choose exactly what?

In 1933, Germans made their free choice. So who are we to argue against it?

Free to Choose was the title of Milton Friedman’s book, a sort of gospel of free markets providing endless consumer choice and thereby making everyone better off.

However, the same title could also introduce a broader argument, that free choice is the ultimate, increasingly only, creed of modernity. Like so many other creeds, this one has Judaeo-Christian antecedents, albeit torn off their original moorings and cast adrift.

Before Darwin created the world, it was understood that man possessed free will and therefore the ability to make a choice between virtue and vice, good and evil, beauty and ugliness.

Good choices were understood to assist salvation, while bad ones could well lead to perdition. Since the difference between the two still hadn’t been reduced to a mere figure of speech, freedom was understood as an unfettered opportunity to be the best one could be, to overcome every obstacle blocking one’s path to salvation.

Ever since Christianity privatised the spirit, such obstacles have been defined not just as outside barriers but also, perhaps mainly, as internal failings – including wanton indulgence of excessive and unworthy appetites.

Western civilisation was at the time teleological, one with not only a clearly defined beginning, but also with a universally understood forthcoming end. Everything, including freedom, was seen in terms of either advancing or hindering man’s progression to the ultimate goal.

In other words, freedom was a means, not the end. If it delivered good choices, freedom served its purpose; if not, freedom undermined it.

Logically, the value of a choice had to be judged by an arbiter external to man and infinitely higher than him. Man himself could no more act in that capacity than a footballer can act both as player and referee in the same match.

When that arbiter, God, was removed as an authority, the essence of freedom disappeared, and only the shell of liberty remained. One’s choices could no longer be arbitrated by anybody but oneself, and self tends to be a lenient judge.

To be sure, man was encouraged to accept external limitations to freedom, those imposed by the law and consonant with political liberty – with again no distinction made between just and unjust laws, or indeed between just and unjust authority to impose laws. But any internal checks on one’s appetites got to be deemed first intolerable and then unfathomable.

Free choice stopped being a means to an end and became an end in itself, the blanket vindication of modernity. What people chose no longer mattered, that they chose was enough to satisfy modern sensibilities.

Free market principles were taken out of the market and got to be applied to areas of life that had hitherto operated on different principles altogether. Politics is one such.

People have been taught to believe that by voting every few years they exercise their free choice, thereby serving the new concept of virtue and in effect governing themselves.

No one seems to mind that the quality of the political goods on offer has been steadily declining for decades – as a direct result of people making choices most of them aren’t qualified to make. Then again, causes have been excommunicated as worthy subjects of ratiocination; only the effects matter, and the processes by which they are produced.

We don’t question any choice as long as it was freely made by half the voters plus one (unless, of course, the choice flies in the face of modern pieties). Paradoxes abound, such as the possibility that the electorate may freely vote to put itself into bondage.

(This isn’t just fanciful speculation, as anyone will agree who has pondered the full consequences of Britain getting a Marxist government after the next general election.)

But even barring such disastrous possibilities, none of our last four prime ministers would ever have got anywhere near government at a time when free political choice was still informed by moral and intellectual constraints of responsibility.

Even in the economic arena, free choice unchecked by prudence, wisdom and humility, creates not only riches but also a rich potential for disaster. As a random example, in the 20 years before the calamity of 2008, consumer spending in the US – the reference point of free choice – had exceeded consumer earning by a factor of three.

The balance was financed by promiscuous borrowing, which paradoxically turned economic freedom into economic slavery, what with almost every free chooser becoming a beggar to assorted loan officers.

If questions can be raised about the advisability of unqualified consumer choice even in its natural habitat, its calamitous effect in other areas is in plain view.

Free choice not just trumps any other virtues, but pushes them into extinction. Thus children are given a full menu of available sexual variants and are encouraged to choose among them freely, devoid as they all are of any moral connotations.

If their physiological makeup keeps certain choices off limits, the tots are invited to change their sex, choosing whatever suits them best among a dozen or so possibilities (and I didn’t even know that all but three or four actually existed). Free choice is a jealous god, and it’s always athirst.

Abortion, which is certainly not without a whole raft of moral implications, has been reduced to the simple matter of a woman’s free choice – even at a stage when abortion visibly becomes infanticide.

Ditto assisted suicide: a man’s life is his own and he can freely choose how to end it, with no moral millstone around his neck weighing him down. If he’s in no position to make such a free choice, not to fret: the privilege simply passes on to his family or doctors.

It’s not just matters of life or death. If a youngster chooses to cover his body with the kind of tattoos that would have put an aboriginal Polynesian c. 1800 to shame, it’s his free choice and no one can tell him he’s but a cretinous barbarian. If his girlfriend roams the streets sporting a pound of facial metal and hardly anything else, the god of free choice grins and never mind anyone or anything else.

A scientist creating test tube monsters is encouraged by the reassuring thought that he’s perusing free scientific inquiry – that demiurge’s grin gets wider. If our genetic pool somehow seems deficient, we can freely choose to clean it up with a bit of engineering or even eugenic homicide.

Scientists working in different fields feel no moral compunction to desist from developing toxins that can make Black Death and Spanish flu seem like a slight cold, or for that matter bombs exceeding Little Boy’s yield by several factors of magnitude.

Dostoyevsky’s Dmitri Karamazov summed it all up neatly: “And without God and without life everlasting? That means then that everything is permitted, that one can do anything?” Today he wouldn’t have to ask the same question. It would go without saying.

How atheism poisons everything

That great poisoner, according to Christopher Hitchens

I’ve borrowed this title from the subtitle of Christopher Hitchens’s book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything that I espied in the window of a second-hand bookshop this morning. (Remind me never to go there again: my pieces become long as a result.)

Atheists treat both logic and facts as malleable clay their nimble hands can knead into any shape they wish. In that spirit, Hitchens clearly neglected to ask himself a simple question: Do I really mean everything?

Since the late hack wasn’t without cultural pretensions, he must have heard the odd bit of Bach, visited a Gothic cathedral or two, and perhaps even admired some Giotto frescoes. Are they part of the everything that religion poisons?

How about all those hospitals, orphanages, hostels, soup kitchens and countless charities that had never existed, nor could have existed, until the early Christians founded them, as they later founded universities? Still poisonous?

Also, what specific religion are we talking about? That of the Masada defenders or that of their pagan attackers? That of the Byzantine emperors or that of their Muslim conquerors? That preached by Christian missionaries to African animists or that practised by the animists who ate the missionaries?

Hitchens is no longer with us to answer such questions, and I admit I couldn’t read his puerile book beyond the first few pages. But I suspect his reply would have been that, though all those admirable artefacts were produced within Christendom, that happened not because of Christianity but almost in spite of it.

On the other hand, it goes without saying that any violence perpetrated during the same period was a direct consequence of Christian doctrine, what with its blood-curdling emphasis on love, charity and mercy.

As to the second question, there’s no valid need to differentiate among religions: they’re all equally toxic, especially Christianity. The minute differences among them pale into triviality before their shared monstrosity.

Conversely, the infinitely greater and indiscriminate violence perpetrated by secularists, especially by Hitchens’s fellow socialists, had nothing to do with the underlying doctrine, other than being its lamentable perversion.

I’m reducing Hitchens’s thinking to a caricature, but the job isn’t unduly hard: whenever atheists try to substantiate their atheism, they draw a vicious caricature of themselves. God punishes his detractors by making them sound idiotic on this subject, even if they make some sense elsewhere.

Yet all those wonderful things created in Christendom I’ve listed need to be put into perspective too. Seen in isolation, they can no more vindicate Christianity than indict it.

For they all – buildings and hospitals, cantatas and orphanages, frescoes and soup kitchens – derived from a new, revolutionary understanding of man, reality and the universe that had overturned the existing notions the way Newton’s astronomy overturned Ptolemy’s.

Man especially took a fresh look at himself and saw something hitherto obscured: a person.

The word has gained much currency these days, what with sex-specific nomenclatures having fallen into risible disrepute. Yet its pedigree in the West goes back to times immemorial.

However, in pre-Christian times ‘person’ meant something different, and the Russian language, closely aligned as it is with Greek, gives a clue to just how different.

The cognate word persona does exist there, and Yuri Tynyanov (d. 1943) put it in the title of his novelette Voskovaya [wax] persona, where the eponymous ‘person’ was Peter the Great’s death mask.

That, now archaic, usage broadly hints at how the word functioned in Hellenic antiquity. It originally meant a funerary effigy reflecting the social standing of the deceased.

Only those who had a conspicuous social presence rated one – only such precious men (more rarely women) were genuinely seen as persons, and their value depended on their status, wealth and achievement.

On the other hand, though slaves were regarded as fully human (unlike, incidentally, in some American states as late as the mid-nineteenth century), it would never have occurred to anybody to see them as persons.

The concept was strictly contingent and not intrinsic to humanity as such, a perception that Christianity ousted in one fell swoop. God became fully human for a while so that man could become partly divine for ever, which instantly elevated every human being, no matter how lowly, to personhood.

Everyone acquired unearned dignity and sovereign value simply because everyone was created and saved by the same God. Having the same father made all men brothers, even if some of them were indigent, ill, old, deformed, retarded or depraved.

Hence, say, eugenic euthanasia (often dispatching unwanted children, usually girls, via the agency of wild beasts and rubbish heaps) that was widely practised in pre-Christian Greece and Rome became unthinkable: any child’s life was sacred because it carried a particle of God within it.

That the Christian revolution didn’t affect everybody goes without saying, and God-given free will continued at times to lead man to wicked choices. But it equally goes without saying, or should do, that Christianity elevated man to a plateau not only unseen but even unimaginable in antiquity. 

The Christian revolution changed the perception not only of man, but also of his world. The prevailing mood in late antiquity was that of despondency. The world was seen as a prison of the spirit, an evil or at least unpleasant place to escape from, not to rejoice in. Christianity changed that view as well, by shifting the vantage point of vision.

The world was seen as a glorious creation of a loving God, his generous, plentiful gift to man that, like any gift, entitled the donor to gratitude. Moreover, not only was the world beautiful and fecund – it was also rational, created as it was by divine reason.

Therefore it was knowable, open to study, experimentation and general inference. Knowing a priori that nature was created by a universal, rational lawgiver, man could deduce that it was therefore governed by universal, rational laws. That knowledge created the preconditions for all the scientific discoveries for which Christianity has been larcenously denied credit.

By fusing Athens with Jerusalem, and touching both of them with its own revelation, Christianity created by far the greatest civilisation in history – one that people have been destroying at an accelerating pace over the past few centuries.

The easiest way of bringing down a structure is to undermine its base, and this is what has happened to Christendom. Nietzsche, that great coroner to divinity, diagnosed the condition: God was dead, in the sense that educated people could no longer believe in him.

Nietzsche gloated at this demise but, being a serious thinker, he was also saddened. Christian civilisation had died when its founder had lost his wide credibility. But what will replace it? Nietzsche correctly surmised that the possibilities gave cause for fear: God’s morality would be buried with him. 

T.S. Eliot later echoed that concern: “If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully again, and you cannot put on a new culture ready-made… You must pass through many centuries of barbarism.”

We are living through these centuries of barbarism now, and those great men were right to be concerned. For post-Christian civilisation, such as it is, has stifled creative imagination, while letting moral imagination run wild.

Things that were unimaginable for centuries are now seriously debated and often practised. Euthanasia, for example, eugenic or otherwise, is moving to the forefront of modern conscience. People like Peter Singer, who barely a century ago would have been considered insane degenerates, express touching concerns about the deterioration of our genetic stock, which is badly in need of weeding out.

Progress is now seen in strictly material terms, which ignores the calamitous potential of physical growth if unaccompanied by a moral discipline. The same energy that can heat our houses can also incinerate them; the same machine that enables us to fly on holiday can rain bombs on our heads; the same company that gave us aspirin also gave us Zyklon B.

What was the stuff of dystopic science fiction but a generation ago, mad scientists creating monsters in their labs, has now become, or is about to become, a reality hailed in mainstream papers.

Christian morality does survive in our still extant ancient laws and, suitably perverted, in the ethos of human rights nauseatingly shoved down our throats by the same people who bemoan the poisonous effects of Christianity.

The concept of innate, non-contingent rights with which every person is endowed, regardless of his position in life, would have been unintelligible to Plato, Aristotle or Seneca. It springs from the Christian reassessment of man, and only in the wake of Christianity could the concept appear.

Yet the secular ethos of human rights relates to the Christian sanctity of every person as secular economic levelling relates to Christian equality of all before God. Wielded by Hitchens’s ideological twins, this post-Christian notion is turned into a hoe uprooting the last remnants of past grandeur.

And atheism is the herbicide then sprayed on the soil the way Roman legionnaires once scattered salt over the fields of Carthage to make sure nothing would ever grow there again.

Call yourself a driver?

Admit it: you can’t be trusted to drive your own car

If you suffer from such inexcusable lack of awareness, trust the state to disabuse you.

You can’t be allowed to operate your own vehicle because you’re a fallible human being.

The state, on the other hand, is infallible, which is why it can eliminate road accidents by driving your car for you.

The EU has announced that from 2022 all new cars (those that aren’t self-drive anyway, that is) will be equipped with automatic speed limiters. If a lawbreaker oversteps the limit, the device will instantly slow the car down to the required level.

Mrs May has wasted no time to announce that, Brexit soft, hard or none, Britain will follow suit, which is true to form. The more asinine an EU law, the more our government likes it, and vice versa.

Thus we’ve abandoned plans to bring our motorway speed limit in line with France’s, where it’s 81 mph. Since most British motorists drive at 80 anyway, allowing them to do so legally would deprive the state of all those fines, which simply won’t do.

Taking control of the car away from the driver smacks of carefully preplanned homicide, with several ways of achieving the desired goal.

Wreaking havoc on our roads by introducing the mad EU scheme of taking control away from the driver is a different matter. That’s just the kind of law Mrs May loves, based as it is on the paternalistic certainty that the state knows what’s good for you.

For example, temporary speed limits are widespread these days, as is the practice of tailgating. Now imagine driving on the M25 at the legal speed of 70 mph, with an old BMW driven by a youngster who has just got his licence about two feet from your rear bumper.

Suddenly a gantry in front of you flashes a temporary 60 mph limit. Your computer reacts instantly, but the youngster behind you doesn’t. You slow down, he doesn’t – wallop!

In fact, possible homicidal scenarios are too numerous even to list. Let’s say your passenger is having a heart attack; every minute can be a matter of life or death; you try to accelerate – but your car doesn’t let you. Or a juggernaut with Lithuanian number plates is shifting lanes just in front of you and you need to get out of trouble faster than the bossy device lets you. Or… etc.

Yet by far the biggest threat will come from the catastrophic gridlocks that’ll inevitably result from this drive-to-rule madness. For, anyone who has ever driven in a major city will know that it’s impossible to obey every traffic law, including speed limits, all the time.

You approach a traffic light, it turns to yellow. Stop gradually, says the Highway Code. Yet you’re so close to the light that you can only stop abruptly, and that BMW youngster whose loving attention you managed to escape on the M25 is still on your tail. So you step on the accelerator and zip through the light just as it turns red.

I won’t strain my imagination and your patience by thinking up dozens of scenarios where a traffic law clashes with the law of self-preservation. You can do it as well as I can, as you can imagine what our – already sclerotic – roads would be like if everyone stuck to the speed limit without ever exceeding it by, say, 10 per cent.

The more jams there are, the more nervous and impatient do drivers become – the likelier they consequently are to do stupid things. And most road fatalities are caused by people driving badly, not by them driving fast.

In fact, last year only 202 people were killed by excessive speed in Britain. ‘Only’ sounds like a callous word in this context, but considering that we have over 30 million drivers travelling billions of miles, the number is trivial. 

In any case, it’s possible to be a bad, slow driver and a good, fast one. For example, the most accident-prone motorway driver I knew was a colleague of mine who always chugged along under the speed limit.

(He often drove to Brussels on business, and one day we went together with me at the wheel. He fell asleep at Calais and woke up in Brussels, refusing to believe the clock. Apparently I had got there in half his usual time – and unlike him I’ve never had a motorway accident in my life.)

Now British roads are already among the safest in Europe. The French, for example, have twice as many road fatalities – this though France has roughly the same population, 2.5 times the territory and 10 times the number of road miles per car.

The area in and around Paris apart, France has, by our standards, empty roads everywhere, and yet the French create a regular vehicular carnage. And the US, which has five times our population and 40 times our territory, suffers 15 times the number of road deaths.

I’d suggest that perhaps HMG could show more trust in British drivers who, by my observation, are by far the best in the world. But it’s not about trust or lack thereof. It’s about empowering the state at the expense of the individual, and the government would introduce this awful law even if no one ever died on our roads.

Nor is it just a speed limiter. Also being installed are automatic breathalysers.

Your car will sense when you’ve had three glasses of wine instead of the allowable two and won’t start. That’ll kill social life in the countryside, but that’s not the state’s problem, is it?

I’m only sorry to see such artificial limits placed on modern technological advances that are, as we know, limitless. I think that breathalyser should take on new functions.

The car should indeed start, but then go into self-drive mode and deliver the culprit to the nearest police station. Then the vehicle could snap handcuffs on him and perhaps even slap him around, to save the police precious time.

If you think I’m joking, you ought to have more respect – not for me, but for the state’s infinite wisdom. Coming soon: a bathroom robot forcing you to wash your hands after relieving yourself.


What makes a good PM?

"Listen, mate, the same deal I'd give
“Listen, mate, the same deal I’d give my own mother I’m gonna give you, djahmean?”

Dominic Lawson, he of the family where girls are bizarrely named after their fathers, is convinced that, whatever it takes, Mrs May doesn’t have it.

I couldn’t agree more – which only goes to show how the same conclusion can be reached by different paths.

Mr Lawson’s statement would be meaningless if he didn’t list the qualities that Mrs May so lamentably lacks. So here’s his complete answer to the question in the title, and I’m not omitting anything:

“He, or she, should relish the challenge of debate. They should delight in the market place of political ideas, preferably with strong views of their own.

“They should have immense powers of persuasion, or at least be highly articulate. They should be able to inspire people to follow them and to work with them. They should have the ability to charm – both privately and publicly.”

Oh dear, those personal pronouns are a veritable minefield now, aren’t they? Man no longer embraces woman grammatically, and he can find himself in deep trouble if he does so in any other sense unless first procuring a properly notarised release form.

The choice one faces is between incurring the wrath of editors (and, increasingly, the police) or opting for ugly, jarring usages, such as following “he or she” with “their”.

Mr Lawson chose the latter, even though I’m sure he knows how awful it sounds. But I do wonder if he’s aware that he has drawn a perfect set of qualifications for a mid-level telemarketing manager, a used car salesman or perhaps a PR executive.

It’s also interesting that he describes the place where political ideas are exchanged as a market place, which is exactly where a person blessed with those talents would nowadays excel. I mean, we aren’t in Athens circa 400 B.C. now; our agoras are different. It’s all about wheeling, dealing and shilling, isn’t it?

Mr Lawson ought to be commended for his meiotic realism if perhaps slightly rebuked for his low expectations. For the qualities he mentions wouldn’t make my list at all or, if they did, would find themselves close to the bottom.

Before a PM displays his (their, Mr Lawson?) ability to sell, persuade and lead, he ought to have a clear and correct idea of what ought to be sold and where others should be led.

Hence I’d start with intelligence, the ability to extricate the good choice out of the pile of bad ones. Then perhaps courage, the strength to defend the right choice even at a detriment to oneself. That’s closely related to patriotism, love of one’s country and selfless commitment to bono publico before one’s own bono. It’s also closely related to honesty and moral integrity. A solid (not necessarily outstanding) intellect would come in handy too, refined by working knowledge of political science, economics and history. Related to that is a deep understanding of the country’s constitution, an unwavering commitment to upholding it – and perhaps the knowledge where and how today’s government fits into the constitutional continuum.

You see, a long paragraph and none of the shilling, spinning, selling qualities so dear to Mr Lawson has so far got a mention. Perhaps they do merit a look in at this point, but I suspect a person endowed with the qualities I’ve listed would be able to hold his own anyway, even without special oratorical or debating talents.

I do realise that I’m reaching for a pie in the sky, rather than meekly accepting the meat and potatoes of modern politics. Yet if we look backwards, and not too far backwards, just a couple of centuries or so, we’d find that what today sounds like sheer idealism was then par for the course.

In those days, PMs boasting no intellectual, moral and educational qualifications for the job whatsoever were rather a rarity, not the norm. Today, we simply can’t get any other kind even as a theoretical possibility. Messrs Pitt, Wellington, Disraeli or Gladstone would have no chance of passing the vetting filters of today’s political machines.

Yet even today one hopes we could do a bit better than Mrs May, who doesn’t even pass muster as the canny spiv idealised by Mr Lawson. However, even such a modest hope will probably prove forlorn.

On second thoughts, I’m going to exonerate Mr Lawson of his reductive requirements for modern politicians. The fault lies not with Mr Lawson but with modern politics.

Addictive drugs sold at every corner – legally

Let suffering patients writhe in agony,
see if we care

Opioids are bad news, aren’t they? Of course they are.

First, they’re addictive. So much so that trying to go cold turkey creates awful withdrawal symptoms.

Opioids change the addict’s personality, making him unable to function. And, if the reports are to be believed, an overdose of such drugs kills people on a pandemic scale evoking the memory of the Black Death.

You’d think no man-made substance can possibly be worse. But you’d think wrong.

Prepare yourself, for I’m about to tell you something that should make every decent person shudder and then rise in revolt. For there exists an addictive drug that punishes withdrawal much more severely than any opioid.

That drug too can instantly kill in overdose but, unlike opioids, it can also kill with moderate use over time. Hence it’s no wonder that it claims many more victims than opioids, by a factor of magnitudes.

And you know what the most terrible thing is? Unlike opioids that are tightly regulated, available only on prescription and under medical supervision, this drug can be scored at every street corner – legally and in any amount.

It’s no wonder that, while opioids have relatively few users, this drug is consumed by most people on most days, occasionally to excess. And – rage is constricting my throat even as I write – the makers of this awful substance are never prosecuted.

But enough suspense. This diabolical concoction is alcohol, and everything I’ve written about it so far is true.

You might say that alcohol has acquired a patina of time. After all, we know that even Noah got legless after the Flood, establishing a tradition that has since been faithfully followed.

But then opioids and other psychotropic drugs aren’t necessarily newcomers either.

The Therapeutic Papyrus of Thebes of 1552 B.C. lists opium among other recommended medicines. Even further back, Sumerian ideograms of about 4000 B.C. describe poppy as the ‘plant of joy’.

Helen passed illegal substances on to Telemachus and Menelaus and, if she lived today, would be nicked faster than you can say ‘let’s see what’s in your amphora, sunshine’. And Avicenna, that great medieval medic, himself died from an overdose of opium.

Nor can even a conservative plausibly object to drugs on political grounds: not all users are left-wing. For example, though Byron and Shelley were a bit pink, Coleridge, who popped opium and drank laudanum like nobody’s business, was as conservative as one can get.

Freud, who snorted cocaine like a suction pump, was indeed politically unsavoury, but surely Queen Victoria was no subversive, and yet laudanum figured prominently on her diet.

Even though adverse consequences of narcotics were common knowledge, drug use in Britain was unrestricted until the 1868 Pharmacy Act and uncriminalised until the 1920 Dangerous Drugs Act, and we can’t seriously believe that what was moral in 1919 all of a sudden became a sin in 1920.

Now, ethical (meaning prescribed) opioids are widely used for pain relief, and we should all go down on our knees and thank the manufacturers for them. For it’s largely because of them that so many of us are spared horrific pain.

Pain comes in various degrees of severity, and doctors routinely judge it on some kind of scale. All sorts of remedies can work at the lower, mild or mild-to-moderate end. But, as any doctor will tell you, severe pain can only be alleviated by opioids.

At the extreme end, for example in some cases of advanced cancer, such drugs are used in huge, sedating doses. Yet patients prefer that to writhing in agony, and I can testify to that from personal experience.

Iatrogenic addiction is fairly widespread, and no doubt some doctors respond to patients’ entreaties for drugs with too much alacrity. Even ethical drugs can be prescribed unethically.

All this is a follow-up to the article I wrote the other day about the hysteria around the Sackler family, one of whose companies makes OxyContin. (http://www.alexanderboot.com/opium-for-hedonistic-people/)

Since then the pitch of that hysteria has gone through the roof. Recipients of huge charitable donations from the Sacklers, such as our own National Portrait Gallery and Tate have told the family to keep its blood money.

This though, say, the National Gallery thankfully accepted a whole wing from the Sainsbury family that flogs highly addictive booze on an industrial scale. Nor are Seagram’s donations ever thrown back into the donors’ faces.

The Sacklers have now been sued in a New York US District Court because their “ruthless marketing of painkillers has generated billions of dollars – and billions of addicts”.

“Eight people in a single family,” continued the lawsuit, “made the choices that caused much of the opioid epidemic. They got more patients on opioids, at higher doses, for longer than ever before. They paid themselves billions of dollars. They are responsible for addiction, overdose and death that damaged millions of lives. They should be held accountable now.”

On this evidence I’d suggest that the epidemic of madness is more widespread than drug addiction. Chaps, the Sacklers haven’t got a single patient on opioids – it’s doctors who prescribe drugs, not pharmaceutical companies.

And if such drugs are bought in a dark alley, it’s not the Sacklers but pushers who sell them. In either case, medical or recreational, the initiative for use often comes from the user himself.

No doctor would prescribe an opioid if the patient says his pain isn’t that bad. No pusher will flog a single pill of Oxy unless the user sneaks into the aforementioned dark alley.

And, even though I can just about imagine that perhaps some ignoramuses have never heard of the opioids’ addictive potential, I can’t for the life of me imagine a doctor who doesn’t know it. And yet Oxy is prescribed.

I don’t doubt that, when the Sacklers applied for a licence, they accentuated the positives of their product rather than its negatives. Such is the nature of marketing, and we could debate the morality of it till the doctors come home.

But I also know that, before the FDA or our own dear NICE and the BMA issue a licence for any drug, never mind an opioid, they demand to see enough trial evidence to fill a large van. Having invested years and millions into developing the drug, the manufacturers are happy to oblige, giving themselves a chance to recoup their investment.

The proverbial fine-toothed comb is then passed over every letter, every word, every graph or chart, every bit of experimental and clinical evidence. Platoons of outside consultants are drummed up to supplement the efforts of the thousands of experts working for the regulatory bodies.

If a bad or dangerous drug gets through, which happens extremely rarely, who’s at fault then? Surely the FDA should appear as a co-defendant on that lawsuit? Or, since I’m convinced – and know from personal experience – that Oxy is a wonderful medicine, shouldn’t the overprescribing doctors be sued too?

If a drug has effects, it has side effects. Blaming the manufacturer for the way a licensed drug is used, misused or abused isn’t only idiotic – it’s also counterproductive for the medicine’s effects may as a result be denied to those who need them badly.

Let’s get tough on gender crimes

If you don’t understand these posters, you’re not progressive

Don’t you feel sick each time a criminal gets off with a perfunctory slap on the wrist – or even without one?

That happens, for example, to burglars, who, on average, commit dozens of break-ins before they’re even arrested, never mind convicted.

But, as a progressivist of long standing, I don’t mind that very much. After all, burglary is only a crime against property, which is, as we all know, theft. Hence a burglar does what the government should really do for him: redistribute wealth.

To be fair to the government, it does try, but only half-heartedly. People still have some wealth left, and that’s what burglars prey on. If our government did its job more efficiently, those poor lads would have nothing to burgle and would thus be saved from a life of crime.

But not to worry, this oversight will be sorted out when Jeremy Corbyn moves his Trotsky portrait into 10 Downing Street, which, the progressive in me hopes and the realist predicts, will happen soon.

Meanwhile I can’t get too worked up about yet another toff on £3,000 (!) a month losing the TV he purchased by squeezing the lifeblood out of the united workers of the world. What does get my goat is lenience shown to crimes against the very essence of our progressive ethos to which I’ve pledged eternal allegiance.

Such as that heinous crime of misgendering, for which there can be no excuse in this world, nor any redemption in the next (if you happen to believe in such reactionary hogwash, which no progressive person like me does).

And please don’t tell me you don’t know what misgendering is. By acknowledging such ignorance you’ll only brand yourself as a fascist, and that’s putting it mildly.

Misgendering, in case you’re indeed such a ghastly person, is describing a transgender person by the personal pronoun that had been appropriate until that free and commendable choice was made.

Let’s stop beating about the bush (no pun intended). Referring to a woman who was wrongly born in the body of a man as a ‘he’ is a crime worse than burglary or  mugging.

The repossessed I-Phone or watch can be replaced, but the emotional trauma caused by criminal misgendering leaves a lifelong wound that’ll never stop festering. Therefore this crime should be treated as something falling just short of murder – and prosecuted with the full severity of our new-fangled law.

Alas, our government is lamentably soft on this offence, and the miscreant can only get two years in prison at most. That’s laudably longer than what most burglars get, but clearly not long enough.

Still, it’s better than nothing. Yet – and I weep even as I write this – nothing is precisely what the Catholic journalist Caroline Farrow got for the crime of misgendering she had committed on twitter.

Yes, according to the statement issued by Surrey police at the time, “A thorough investigation is being carried out to establish whether any criminal offences have taken place. A 44-year-old woman has been asked to attend a voluntary interview in relation to the allegation as part of our on-going investigation.”

A voluntary interview, officer? This, although a burglar caught after merely his 25th act of redistributing ill-gotten gains has handcuffs slapped on? Miss Farrow should have been arrested and held on remand without bail.

But wait, I still haven’t described the enormity of her crime. The tweet in question was posted after Miss Farrow appeared on ITV with Susie Green, chief executive of Mermaids, a transgender charity that recently received £500,000 of lottery money.

When Miss Green’s son was 16, he decided to become Miss Green’s daughter. Since Britain still hadn’t become sufficiently progressive to legalise such conversion at such a young age, Miss Green took her son – as she then was – to Thailand.

There the procedure was still legal then, which it no longer is because the Thai government has since betrayed its multicultural virtue and reverted to pre-progressive legislation.

Anyway, Miss Green’s daughter Jacqui (as she now is) became a full-fledged woman, as feminine in every respect as, say, Penny Mordaunt and more so than Andrea Leadsome.

Yet that unrepentant papist had the gall to refer to beautiful Jacqui as – hold on, let me compose myself – a ‘he’!

And look at her feeble, pathetic defence when justly brought to account: “I have pointed out to the police that I am a Catholic journalist/commentator and it is my religious belief that a person cannot change sex.”

Excuse me? She openly admits to a crime against everything progressive people like me hold dear and then puts forth some antediluvian superstition as a defence? How brazen can one get?

Next thing you know she’ll start citing scientific evidence about all those chromosomes. XX – you’re a woman; XY – you’re a man, that sort of thing.

Don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a chromosome. But even if they do exist, surely they can’t override that most sacred right of our progressive world: freedom of consumer’s choice.

We’re free to choose our socks, CDs, cars, alfalfa over meat – and certainly our sex… sorry, I mean gender. (One sometimes finds it hard to keep up with our rapidly changing language, but keep up one must since all change can only be for the better.)

And anyway, as a Catholic, which Miss Farrow claims she is, she ought to believe in free will and the primacy of consciousness over physicality. Even at her barely post-pubescent age, Jacqui struck a blow for the triumph of the will – Leni Riefenstahl, eat your heart out.

It saddens me to report that justice wasn’t done. Though investigated, Miss Farrow wasn’t prosecuted for her crime, partly because her victim didn’t want to give her a public platform from which to air her incendiary views.

My preference would have been for that evil-doer to be clapped into prison and ideally gang-raped by transgender women whose raping tools haven’t yet been removed. Oh well, there’s always next time…

…As you realise, I’ve written this in jest. But do you also realise that the same sentiments are now routinely expressed in our mainstream press, with most of the opposition silenced? That’s progress for you.

Theologians wanted: job opportunities galore

Home Office, now at a new location

A whole new world of exciting career prospects opens up for theologians, professional or amateur, lay or ordained.

Until now, their job prospects have been limited at best, bleak at worst. Academic openings have been few, and those for religion columnists fewer still.

The study of this discipline could of course be part of pursuing a priestly vocation. Yet ordination isn’t a path open to everybody and, truth be told, today’s churches tend to discourage excessive interest in theology. God forbid an initiate starts pondering the meaning of Christianity, only to realise that, say, the Archbishop of Canterbury has neglected to put in the same effort.

But, if you’ve decided to dedicate your life to the study of this subject, worry not. There are now many vacancies at the Home Office for theologians ready to use their recondite expertise in their daily work.

An Iranian convert to Christianity has found this out the hard way. According to him, the man converted to Christianity because it’s a religion of peace, whereas Islam, contrary to what our politicians tell us, isn’t.

Since the Iranians, in compliance with their sacred texts, take a rather dim view of apostasy, the new Christian justifiably feared for his life. Hence he applied for asylum in Britain – only to be turned down on theological grounds and thereby effectively sentenced to death.

Evidently the first intake of theologians at the Home Office has already settled in, and they pointed out to the poor chap the error of his ways. Islam may or may not be a religion of peace, they explained, but Christianity certainly isn’t.

And it wasn’t just a matter of opinion frivolously expressed. In the best tradition of exegetic scholarship, the Home-spun theologians supported their postulate with textual evidence, nailing the misguided Iranian to the wall of folly.

They helpfully elucidated their point by citing numerous violent passages in both Testaments. The Book of Revelation, for example, is “filled with imagery of revenge, destruction, death and violence”, they wrote to the applicant.

And even before we get to that book, didn’t Jesus himself say that he brought not peace but a sword? Of course he did, if you believe in the Gospels as much as you claim you do. There you go then. Case closed.

As to the Old Testament, don’t get them going on that sanguinary narrative. Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy all depict violent scenes, with some violence meted out by God, some visited by some people on others, but all appalling.

In his letter of rejection, a Home Office theologian explained to the hapless Iranian that: “These examples are inconsistent with your claim that you converted to Christianity after discovering it is a ‘peaceful’ religion, as opposed to Islam which contains violence, rage and revenge.”

I don’t know how the recipient reacted to these profound insights, but I for one am impressed. Theologians unattached to government offices have been interpreting the Bible for millennia, but seldom have they been able to express themselves so lucidly and unequivocally.

Yet a modest and still anonymous theologian blessed by the laying of Home Office hands was able to overturn the traditional understanding of Scripture – including the Book of Revelation with its apocalyptic visions, whose allegories have been known to baffle even the most learned of saints.

Heirs to those inadequate interpreters will doubtless try to hold their ground. They’ll argue that the Bible is written in the language of poetic imagery that doesn’t always lend itself to a literal reading.

It’s also an historical document that depicts real events as refracted through revelation. And history is violent because human nature is.

The Bible depicts a never-ceasing struggle between good and evil and, while showing a clear path for good to triumph, it also shows that evil has never ceded its position easily, nor ever will.

Pagan cults widely practised at the time the two Testaments were written involved rituals like both male and female prostitution, and also human sacrifice at the altar of multiple gods.

God punished such evil, either directly or through human agents, for timidity in the face of evil would have guaranteed its victory. But God also visited grace on the righteous and he was merciful to sinners.

His commandment was to love others as oneself, but he and those through whom he spoke knew that, on the way to reaching that ideal, many would try to sabotage it and extinguish the light of love. Such evil had to be resisted, by violence if regrettably necessary.

However, to see the Old Testament, traditional theologians would claim, as a call to violence or its endorsement is the same as suggesting that it glorifies polygamy (practised by the kings and patriarchs), drunkenness (Noah), incest (Lot) and killing people with slingshots (David).

As to the New Testament, it’s full of love and grace. Unlike Mohammad who, by way of introduction, decapitated several hundred Jews with his own sabre, Jesus submitted to agonising crucifixion as a way of redeeming the world.

Yet he and his apostles knew they were adumbrating the most sweeping (and, I’d suggest, the only successful) revolution ever. It was to change the fundamental understanding of man and everything human life involved, including morality, aesthetics, social and political organisation, religious worship, economic activity – everything was to be created anew.

Yet there was destruction implicit in that creation, for the new ways could only vanquish if the old ways were ousted. Thus the sword Jesus mentioned was symbolic in two ways.

It symbolised the severing of all ties with the evil of the old world – and also the knowledge that the old world would fight every step of the way. Hence the great Christian revolution was to rend asunder not just creeds and tribes, but even members of the same families – such was human nature, and the Scripture acknowledges it sometimes with chagrin, sometimes with joy, but always realistically.

It shows the human soul as it is, but also shows how it can become better than it is – how it can be healed and ultimately saved.

Both Testaments prescribe steps to be taken on the road to salvation. And, though both acknowledge the existence of violence and sometimes a necessity for it, their commandments call for loving our friends and even, in the Sermon on the Mount, our enemies.

In neither Testament will one find commandments specifically calling for violence, such as those in the book on which the rejected applicant was brought up.

“Slay them wherever ye find them…”, “Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends…”, “Slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush”, “…If they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them…” – these are the explicit commandments that indeed made the Iranian convert turn renegade and risk being slain.

Yet his desperate act couldn’t penetrate the wall of theological expertise now resident at the Home Office. As Christians are being slaughtered throughout the Islamic world, those savants chose to shove another one towards a sword that, alas, has nothing symbolic about it.

What a lovely clash of pieties

Oh the good old days, before Brigitte fell in love with animals

When I was a youngster, I could have been arrested for some of the fantasies I had about Brigitte Bardot. Now the French actress herself may well face prosecution for inciting racial hatred.

In her dotage old Brigitte developed a hysterical love of all living things, having thus expanded her repertoire from just the male of Homo sapiens.

That febrile emotion found a natural outlet in activism and strident attacks on anyone who doesn’t subscribe to Miss Bardot’s anthropomorphic love of everything that walks, flies or crawls.

This particular piety is normally confined to the Left of the political spectrum. Yet Miss Bardot supports Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, which is routinely described as right-wing.

That shows two things: first, that true love knows no political boundaries; and second, that our political taxonomy is grossly inadequate. However, that’s by the bye.

Let’s just say that animal worship ranks high on the list of modern virtue-signalling pieties, especially if linked to the underlying belief that man is just another animal, no better than others if perhaps cleverer than most.

But exactly how high does it rank? All things in life are arranged in some kind of hierarchical order, and pieties can’t possibly be an exception.

This of course only ever becomes relevant in a conflict of pieties, since in the absence of such an order it’s possible to enjoy them all at the same time.

By way of illustration, Islam is good because it’s sort of anti-Western, Third World and hence a victim of white supremacy and colonialism, which are among the worst evils. On the other hand, Muslims tend to treat their womenfolk in ways that don’t exactly fall into the category of virtuous.

This creates a problem for a virtue-signaller, a conflict for which it’s hard to find a peaceful solution. Say something nasty about the way Muslims treat women, and you’re a racist who lacks sensitivity to the beauty of multiculturalism. Say that Islam is wonderful in every respect, and you’re a misogynist.

Not being a pious modern, I can happily be both if I so wish, a racist and a misogynist – and also a misandrist, homophobe, xenophobe, transophobe, misgenderist, ageist, Brexit supporter and anything else that catches my fancy (provided I’m able to self-censor such sentiments carefully enough not to get arrested).

All utterly reprehensible, as I’m painfully aware. But at least I’m unlikely to find myself gored by the horns of piety dilemmas. Alas, Miss Bardot has suffered just such a misfortune.

Appalled at the mistreatment of animals in the Indian Ocean island of Réunion, she described its denizens as “degenerate savages” and likened the island’s Hindu community (about a quarter of the population) to cannibals.

Implicitly this equates people with animals, for cannibals devour human flesh while the Réunion French Hindus only mistreat dogs and cats, and perhaps sacrifice the odd goat to comply with the demands of their religion (that’s otherwise superior to Christianity for being more spiritual and less God-centred).

Equating people and animals goes beyond virtuous – it enters the Olympus of modern secular sainthood. There’s only one snag: the people who have drawn Miss Bardot’s ire are – how shall I put it not to run the risk of censure or perhaps summary execution? – not quite white.

Hence saying anything nasty about them, if only by implication, is tantamount to stepping into a minefield. One just might negotiate a safe path, but there’s always the danger of a massive bang.

And there was nothing implicit about Miss Bardot’s diatribe. She explicitly described off-white persons as degenerates, savages and cannibals. Even though she did so for all the good, that is virtuous, reasons, there’s no excuse – the actress got the pecking order of pieties hopelessly wrong.

She uttered a racist statement, and evidently her believing that animals are at least as good as people can’t even begin to redeem that cardinal sin. The prefect of Réunion informed Miss Bardot that he had filed a lawsuit against her for incitement to racial hatred.

This could blow the former sex bomb to pieces, for she’s a recidivist. Miss Bardot has quite a bit of previous, having had five prior convictions on the same charge.

Perhaps her venerable age may save her from a custodial sentence, especially if her barrister argues that she was carried away by her love of animals, not her hatred of Hindus, who aren’t just equal to French people but, in all respects but one, superior to them.

However, judging by the public reaction, copping such a plea may not be easy.

Marlène Schiappa, the minister for gender equality (one wonders who held that vital post under Colbert or Guizot or even de Gaulle), explained that: “No form of racism is acceptable, in the name of any cause.”

The holder of that key post, without which no modern government is imaginable, must be commended for clarifying the aforementioned pecking order of impieties: nothing offsets racism, not even concern for animal welfare and the inalienable rights of goats.

Journalist Jérôme Talpin added his centime’s worth by clarifying that Miss Bardot’s tirade “reveals a thought process profoundly anchored in xenophobia and hostile to different ethnic or religious groups”.

That’s telling her. I do think that a CRS unit must be pulled off the gilets jaunes duty and sent to arrest Miss Bardot, for all her iconic presence in French cinematography.

I have to admit I’m enjoying this. Nothing pleases me more than observing from the sidelines yet another clash among pieties.

Schadenfreude isn’t a particularly Christian sentiment, but I’ve consulted my priest and he says in this case it’s justified. Genesis 1:28 and all that.