“What’s wrong with nationalism?”

This question was once put to me by an American interviewer of the MAGA persuasion, whose innermost belief was that nationalism was invariably commendable.

I gave him a longish answer centred around the fundamental difference between patriotism (good) and nationalism (bad). The second, I said, is the extreme form of the first.

And extremism – contrary to what Barry Goldwater once said – is always wrong because it tends to narrow one’s field of vision, causing intellectual and moral glaucoma. That renders a nationalist blind to the nuances and complexities of life, making him as primitive of thought as he is febrile of emotion.

The question was general, and so was my reply. But if we keep things concrete and ask what’s wrong with the nationalist populist parties making headway all over Europe, my answer can be short if not necessarily sweet. They are all pro-Putin.

Some leaders and members of such parties spread Kremlin propaganda because they are paid agents of Russian security services. Others do so because they are unpaid agents, shilling for Putin out of the disinterested badness of their hearts. Still others are simply useful idiots.

Not all such parties are identical in every respect. Some of them, such as Germany’s AfD, are full of neo-Nazis; others, such as our Reform Party, aren’t. Some, such as Le Pen’s National Rally, are known to have taken Putin’s rouble; others, such as Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, aren’t (that doesn’t necessarily mean they haven’t, only that we don’t know they have).

But there exists a common thread running through all of them. They all sacralise their nations, which is half a step removed from sacralising power – and strong leaders who wield it with no-holds-barred conviction. The weaker the actual leaders of their own nations, and today most of them are vacillating, self-serving wimps, the more likely our nationalists are to look outwards in search of an ideal model.

That makes them intuitively attracted to Putin, even though he no longer flashes his naked torso. A little pecuniary or other incentive from the Kremlin may intensify such affection, but in many cases it’s not even necessary. A Putinista’s heart can do the job on its own, and that organ, as Pascal explained, has its reasons that reason knows not of (Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point).

This brings us to Nigel Farage, a Putinista of long standing, which he kindly reminded us of in a BBC interview yesterday. Not that I for one have ever forgotten this little failing on his part.

“We provoked this war,” said Mr Farage, as he already knew we would back in 2014. “My judgement,” he added with characteristic self-effacing modesty, “has been way ahead of everybody else’s in understanding this.”

Now, to draw an obvious and close parallel, predicting a world war in 1934 would have been prophetic. Doing so after 1939 would have been idiotic because the war was already in full swing. By the same token, in 2014 Putin’s stormtroopers annexed the Crimea and established puppet ‘republics’ in the Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk provinces.

The Ukrainian side responded with limited military action, and the war has been raging ever since. What happened in 2022 wasn’t the beginning of the war but its proliferation to a full-scale engagement. Hence Mr Farage’s contortionist slap on his own back is only testimony to his bad taste, not proof of his status as a present-day Cassandra.

He then reiterated his remark first made in 2014 that he admires Putin, albeit only as “a political operator”, not as a person. Let’s not be coy about this, Mr Farage. Aforementioned admiration is really unqualified, isn’t it?

So well, all right, we provoked this war. But how?

Mr Farage’s reply came right out of the PR briefings at the FSB, formerly KGB: “It was obvious to me that the ever-eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union was giving this man a reason to say to his Russian people, ‘They’re coming for us again’, and to go to war.”

Now, Mr Farage tends to use English with precision if, to my taste, a slightly strained demotic colouring. Hence I’m sure he must know the difference between ‘reason’ and ‘pretext’. The former means the real cause of an action, whereas the latter is a false reason given in justification.

Had Mr Farage said ‘pretext’, there would be no argument in these quarters. But do let’s give him credit for lexical accuracy and accept that NATO’s “ever-eastward expansion” was in his view Putin’s real reason for embarking on the mass murder of Ukrainians.

In that case, Putin had to believe (not just claim) that, say, Estonia’s membership in NATO and the EU presented a real danger to Russia. Granted, a country with a population of 1.3 million couldn’t possibly be seen as a formidable adversary. But her territory could be used by NATO as a beachhead from which to invade Russia, putting paid to her “1,000-year-old state”.

One can see a boozy Russian mechanic somewhere like Vologda sharing that view with his mates over a bottle of the national drink. But Putin has one definite advantage over this hypothetical individual: he has instant access to a vast corpus of intelligence data.

Therefore NATO’s eastward expansion could only have been the reason for the war if the GRU and SVR had produced evidence of NATO preparing or at least contemplating such an aggression.

Since no such data exist, nor can possibly ever exist, said expansion wasn’t the reason for the war. It was merely the pretext Putin and his Goebbelses used to justify their attempt to spread Russian fascism over all of Europe, starting with its eastern part.

Again, Mr Farage clearly has a warm spot in his heart for Putin’s fascism or at least its propaganda. Spreading it without even bothering to change a single word may be seen as treasonous by some, since the Ukraine is our ally and Russia our self-proclaimed enemy.

For me, ‘Farage’ is yet another concise answer to the question in the title – and yet another reason (not pretext) why I’ll never vote for Reform or any other party he heads.

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