Morality in art and ignorance in journalism

One doesn’t really expect erudition or, God forbid, depth from a professional journalist.

This doesn’t mean that hacks never possess such fine properties – only that they are incidental to their day job.

The very nature of writing short pieces to order and under the pressure of deadlines runs contrary to serious contemplation. Coming to the fore instead is the ability to encapsulate any issue, no matter how involved, within a paragraph or two.

This requires much aptitude, perhaps even talent, and God speed to those who possess it. But, belying the pedantic definition of ‘gift’, this one comes with a price tag.

The price, usually if not universally exacted, is relinquishing any chance of acquiring the depth of thought and knowledge required to tackle issues that won’t be squeezed into the capsule of a paragraph or two.

Fortunately for the hacks, few readers demand profundity, and fewer still know how to deal with it if they do get it.

Hence many pundits slide along the surface all the way to popularity, which in our fast-moving world has become a synonym for excellence.

Specifically British journalists, especially political commentators, join politicians in forming our ruling elite, an arrangement that has any number of consequences.

One is that they forget, if they ever realised it, how shallow their knowledge is, how superficial their thought. As a result, they feel entitled to enlarge on issues that manifestly take them out of their depth.

Take Dominic Lawson’s article on the British Museum’s loan of Elgin marbles to Russia. He makes a valid point, in fact quite a few of them, along the lines that this outrageous act won’t turn Putin into an Anglophile.

So far so good – the writer stays within his level of competence, making accurate observations, reaching correct conclusions, writing with pace and verve.

But being a member of the ruling elite, one of the Masters of the Universe to use Tom Wolfe’s phrase (he applied it to financiers), Mr Lawson feels qualified to broach subjects that are beyond his level of competence.

The result is as unfortunate as it is predictable.

Here Mr Lawson describes his conversation with Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum: “I put it to him that, with the exception of literature, high art had no intrinsic connection with morality. …Unsurprisingly, MacGregor did not share my opinion, although… he allowed it was ‘interesting’.”

Now, say anything you wish about Mr MacGregor, and there is a lot to be said about him. But he has three redeeming characteristics: he is civilised, cultured and British.

As such, he expresses himself with polite understatement. His ‘interesting’ in this context really meant ‘ignorant’, but that word wouldn’t have crossed Mr MacGregor’s lips.

Nor would it cross mine if I were talking to Mr Lawson face to face. But, strictly between you and me, that’s exactly what the opinion, of which he sounds so proud, was.

To say that aesthetics in general, and art in particular, have nothing to do with morality unless they preach a moral message overtly, as in some literature, betokens an infra-zero understanding.

Properly considered, this subject would take us to the nature of beauty and therefrom to moral philosophy.

One of the first and greatest moral philosophers, Plato, knew this: “Music,” he wrote, “is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”

Plato’s disciple Aristotle even went so far as to warn against the moral damage music could do to society: “Any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole state, and ought to be prohibited… when modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the state always change with them.”    

Both Greeks regarded what Aristotle called ‘transcendentals’ and what Plato specifically identified as Truth, Beauty and Goodness as the inseparable ontological properties of being.

Leaving theologians to decide whether or how this prefigured the Holy Trinity, one can still infer that a deficit in any element of the inseparable triad would automatically produce a failure in the other two.

Hence that intrinsic link to morality that Mr Lawson claims ‘high’ art doesn’t have. (Must one infer that ‘low’ art has such a link?)

The Greeks conveyed a moral message in art, specifically in their sculpture, such as the River God currently on display in Petersburg. To them, the perfection of form conveyed spiritual and moral perfection.

The Romans shared that view, hence Juvenal’s “Mens sana in corpore sano” – we should all pray for a sound body housing a sound mind impervious to the fear of death.

In other words, a sound form can contain a sound content – and communicate a moral message. The Greeks and the Romans thus established the link of which Mr Lawson is so woefully ignorant.

What was already known in Hellenic antiquity became an indisputable fact in Christendom.

Only an ignoramus can fail to discern a moral message in the icons of Byzantium, the paintings of Giotto, Fra Angelico and Piero della Francesca, the music of Gregorian chant and later Palestrina, Bach and Mozart – all the way to our own James MacMillan.

The moral message there is conveyed not just in the subject-matter, but also in the form used – in fact it’s the symbiosis of content and form that achieves this artistic and therefore moral purpose.

One suspects Mr Lawson hasn’t pondered such things as deeply as they require. If he had, he wouldn’t have come up with the utter vulgarity of the second part of his statement:

“German pride in its culture – especially musical – enhanced the notions of racial superiority that informed Nazism.”

If he is hinting at German Romanticism as one of the streams feeding the putrid swamp of Nazism, then this topic is worth discussing – but at a much higher level than that.

But it’s simply ignorant to suggest that the Germans welcomed Hitler because they felt that Bach was a better composer than Couperin. The French, after all, are second to none when it comes to pride in their cultural attainments, yet they didn’t become Nazis, at least not en masse.

German musical culture is superior to anyone else’s, and the Germans were perfectly justified in feeling proud about it. After all, the English are proud of Elgar, who, by German standards, is strictly third-rate.

What produced Nazism is… Well, I was about to commit the same sin of which I accuse journalists: that of trying to cover a multitude of subtleties in a sentence or two.

Still, though I can’t cover the problem here, at least I can point at it. The Germans betrayed the Christian roots of their culture and reverted to their pagan, sylvan past. Because of that they made three transitions they otherwise wouldn’t have made:

First, from the feeling of legitimate pride in their attainments (not just cultural ones) to the feeling of racial superiority; second, from that to the feeling of natural entitlement to institutional superiority; third, from that to the certainty they must do something about it.

That’s what’s to blame for Auschwitz, Mr Lawson, not the widespread appreciation of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven.

Still, the rest of the article wasn’t bad at all, and nowadays we must thank God for even such small favours.


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It’s not Nigel Farage who is a real boob

Mr Farage made an innocent remark that has attracted criticism that’s far from innocent.

All he said was that it’s “just a matter of common sense” that a breastfeeding woman should do so discreetly, for example by retreating to a corner or covering herself with a napkin.

I have to disagree. It’s not just a matter of common sense. It’s also one of taste, decorum, upbringing, manners and concern for others.

Of all those things, in other words, that have no place in our increasingly barbarous society. And barbarians tend to create their own ethos, their own rules.

Such as: being a member of an arithmetic majority but existential minority, a woman may breastfeed twins, one for each breast, in the middle of Trafalgar Square if she feels like it.

Presumably such unrestrained behaviour communicates to the world that the woman is free of inhibitions (particularly those of the bourgeois kind), at one with nature, proud of her body, comfortable in her femininity, basking in the glory of motherhood, and all those wonderful things.

Actually one doesn’t have to presume. All those points are being made at hysterical pitch by Mr Farage’s detractors.

The leitmotif of every bit of criticism is that, because breastfeeding is natural and healthy, its practice must in no way be restricted.

Now what about urination and defecation? Both are undeniably natural and healthy. Both have a clear-cut advantage over breastfeeding because no painless alternative exists.

Does this mean we should all relieve ourselves in the King’s Road? (Actually Chelsea FC fans do so on every match day, but at least this isn’t yet officially condoned.)

This argument may seem to be reductio ad absurdum, but it actually isn’t. It simply shows that, by itself, an appeal to a practice being natural and healthy is rhetorically unsound.

We can’t avoid referring to such, admittedly obsolete, notions as culture, civilisation, convention and etiquette. And in our residually Western civilisation, when a woman appears in public her breasts must be covered at least partially, and her nipples completely.

If they aren’t, the exhibitionistic woman violates the etiquette that has held sway in the West since God was young. She also offends the aesthetic sensibilities of those who still stubbornly cling to tradition – or else prefer to see female breasts used for a less utilitarian purpose.

The usual argument, that just a few decades ago this subject simply would not have arisen, doesn’t cut much ice with the modern lot, those who see tradition as something to despise and, ideally, destroy.

Things have changed, they declare, from those antediluvian times when women’s breasts had to be at least flimsily covered in public. Since every change is for the better to these progress junkies, no appeal to conventional decorum will make a dent in their savage smugness.

In that respect today’s Times editorial is second to none.

In the very first sentence it helpfully informs us that “Women have breasts”. Eliciting our agreeing nod, the editorial presses on – while I, realising where this is going, make a mental note that, even though I have a penis, I don’t object to its public use being regulated.

“Babies,” continues the article, “don’t necessarily wait till they get home to ask for their sustenance.” True again.

But then all grown-ups have urinary tracts and bladders. The latter are sometimes so full that waiting till one gets home is even harder than for a baby to postpone his repast. Would this justify urinating on a pavement in broad daylight?

“It’s not common sense for a mother to waste time worrying that feeding a baby in the most natural way possible might offend” is the next pearl of wisdom.

How much time would be wasted if a mother tossed a napkin into the pram before going out and then used it to cover herself? That’s a bit of a nuisance, but having children usually is.

Short of truths, the editorial offers another truism: “Britain is not Saudi Arabia.” Indeed it is not. But then neither is it subequatorial Africa, where women don’t think twice before happily posing nude for National Geographic.

“We value manners but not subservience. In any case, we value freedom more.”

Well, well, well, aren’t we waxing downright libertarian now. Freedom, chaps, is two-sided. On one side you’ve got freedom for something. On the other, freedom from something.

I’d suggest that the latter should supersede the former, at least in this case. A woman’s freedom to expose her lactating breasts in public impinges on my freedom to be protected from this gross violation of millennia-long tradition.

I’d further suggest that my freedom is more in keeping with our civilisation and therefore must be protected – just as a woman’s freedom must be protected from the sight of me exercising my freedom to urinate on a parked car.

More banalities are coming our way: “Social mores do change but they have been changing for a while.”

Which, to The Times, obviously means that they’ve been invariably changing for the better.

Tastes differ, but I for one don’t rejoice at the sight of drunk women brawling in a pub, a sight all too common in our changing world and relatively rare in the past.

Nor do I welcome having the pavement outside my house densely covered with vomit every Saturday morning. Hearing people of all ages swear at the top of their voice isn’t too pleasing either, and don’t get me started on facial metal and body art.

Now comes a helpful suggestion: “Anyone… offended or embarrassed by it this deep into the 21st century… can always look the other way.” The same protective measure would also work for public defecation, yet even The Times doesn’t countenance it – so far.

And as to the 21st century, can we please stop the bloody thing before it’s too late? Otherwise God only knows the depths of barbarism to which we’ll sink – to the sound of thunderous applause coming from our progress-happy ‘liberals’.   


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Sportsmanship, Russian style

There I was, thinking that nothing the Russians do can possibly surprise me. How wrong I was, and I thank Putin’s sports establishment for reminding me of the dangers of complacency.

In this instance what surprised me wasn’t so much the revelation that Russian athletes cheat, but the scale of this activity – quantity rather than quality.

The fact itself is yesterday’s news, or even the day before yesterday’s. For example, one remembers the glory days of the Soviet Union and its satellites, when a dozen women athletes turned out to be something else.

Oh they were athletes all right, but they weren’t quite, well, women. Some were hermaphrodites, some practically men, and none really qualified for the women’s events they had been dominating.

When chromosome testing was first introduced at international events in 1966, many ‘female’ athletes from communist countries (the Soviets Tamara and Irina Press, Tatiana Shchelkanova, Klavdia Boyarskikh, the Rumanian Iolanda Balàzs, the Pole Ewa Klobukowska and many others) announced their retirement.

It wasn’t just sex, or rather trans-sex, games. Soviet fencers were caught rigging their foils to set off the touché lamp when no contact was made. Doping was rife. Soviet judges routinely cheated in gymnastics, figure skating and diving competitions.

The wartime slogan ‘Everything for victory!’ was naturally shifted into the sports arena, and nothing was off limits.

For example, when Soviet sports scientists established that a woman’s body is at its physical peak shortly after terminated pregnancy, this opened all sorts of exciting opportunities.

Shortly before the 1968 Olympics the gymnast Natalia Kuchinskaya was impregnated by her coach, and made to abort the baby, specifically to enhance her performance. She repaid the loving attentions of the Soviet state by winning four gold medals.

The East German swimming bosses found a better way: turning women into men. In general, East Germany was a true pioneer of doping on a massive scale, way ahead of her Soviet masters who had a lot of catching up to do.

Between 1964 and 1988, the GDR, a country of less than 17 million citizens, won 454 medals in the summer Olympics alone, and many of those went to their women swimmers.

Except that many noticed that the young ladies displayed none of the secondary sexual characteristics associated with women, while many of them spoke in the kind of basso profundo that would have made Shalyapin proud.

When this was pointed out to their coach, he responded with the kind of retort communist officials thought was the acme of wit. “My girls,” he said, “came here to swim, not to sing.”

True enough. Alas, when the GDR was no longer in business, many of those girls came out with harrowing stories of how their bodies were mutilated forever with massive doses of steroids. Most of them couldn’t function as women, some had to get trans-sex operations, some ended up in mental institutions, some killed themselves.

Here I have to compliment my friend Vlad Putin for his honesty. Speaking at last May’s military parade in Red Square, he proudly declared that “Continuity of generations is our chief asset.” It most certainly is.

Not to let the national leader down, the Russian sports establishment dutifully retained and built on the Soviet version of sportsmanship.

An extremely well-documented German documentary has just alleged that as many as 99% of Russian athletes are guilty of doping.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) possibly, and the Russian Athletics Federation (RAF) definitely, have been accused of being in cahoots with the scheme.

The latent (extremely latent) Russian patriot in me desperately wants to believe that the country’s sports officials acted purely for the glory of the motherland, with no pecuniary interest anywhere in sight.

Alas, that’s not exactly the case. For example, Liliya Shobukhova, winner of the 2010 London Marathon, admits paying the RAF €450,000 to cover up a positive drug test.

The Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko denies the allegations, but then he would. Such baseless slander, he said, is yet another attempt on the part of the West to besmirch the pristine honour of Russia.

Recorded testimony of both athletes and former anti-doping officials counts for nothing, as far as Mr Mutko is concerned. It’s all baseless (goloslovnyie, for the Russophones among you) allegations.

Perhaps. Allegations of wrongdoing, baseless or otherwise, are a standard weapon of Cold War, something that’s unfolding in front of our eyes.

It’s just that some allegations are more, and some are less, credible than others. For example, my friend Vlad made a number of allegations in his yesterday’s speech.

One of them was that the West is trying to dismember Russia the same way it has already dismembered Yugoslavia. However, since such dastardly perfidy wasn’t supported by any documentary evidence, certain incredulity is justified.

I, for one, find it hard to believe that Western countries are actively conspiring to detach, say, Voronezh or Novgorod from Russia. Believing that Russia is trying to detach Donetsk and Luhansk from the Ukraine is much easier, considering that both are currently occupied by Russian troops and their proxies.

By the same token, few would take on faith an allegation that 99% of, say, British athletes are doped up to their eyeballs every time they compete. Yet the same allegation about Russia, given both its history and current evidence, rings true.

The Russian sports establishment is run by the same amalgam of the KGB/FSB and organised crime that runs the whole country, but even more tightly. Expecting probity, sportsmanship and fair play from that lot is like expecting gentlemanly manners from David Mellor.

I’d go as far as to suggest that even in the absence of such sponsorship, Russian and Eastern European athletes would be doing all the same things, if possibly on a smaller scale.

For example, most doping bans in professional tennis have been imposed on Eastern European players – even though they are relatively independent from their federations (relatively is the operative word).

Westerners simply don’t comprehend the full scale of moral degradation suffered by a nation under communist rule. Four generations of Russians and two of Eastern Europeans were brainwashed to believe that morality is coextensive with the good of the state.

Even assuming that things then changed drastically, which they may or may not have done in Eastern Europe, and certainly haven’t in Russia, it’ll take at least as many generations – and I’m being uncharacteristically generous – for these countries to recover from the trauma.

They haven’t yet, not by a long chalk. This should (but won’t) give our own rulers some second thoughts about all those Eastern Europeans, millions of them, settling in Britain.

One hears many well-meaning and good-natured people saying that, when all is said and done, those people are products of Christian civilisation. Hence we shouldn’t be unduly concerned about being inundated with them.

Wrong, my friends. These people come from a civilisation so corrupted by communism that lawlessness has penetrated their DNA.

There are exceptions of course; there always are. But as their version of sportsmanship shows, these exceptions are the kind that prove the rule.


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Good speech, shame about the economy

The secular God of democracy has been served with a fitting sacrament. Since that deity is about form above substance and make-believe above truth, so was the Chancellor’s speech.

George Osborne, whose life’s interest is electoral strategy, with economy a distant second, faithfully reflected these priorities in his oration.

Every word was designed to improve the Tories’ chances next May. None addressed the fundamental problems facing the nation.

Oh to be sure, George was too clever to do an Ed Miliband and omit the deficits altogether. He touched upon them, but only tangentially, on the way to boasting about Britain’s economic growth, which puts to shame minnows like the USA, Germany and France.

But growth is a tricky thing, which can be best demonstrated on the example of a humble family of four.

The Smiths’ combined gross income is, say, £30,000 a year, barely sufficient to cover everyday expenses, never mind the new ones looming on the horizon.

The family’s knackered Ford costs more in repairs than it’s worth, the children need braces, the roof is leaking – above all, the huge overdraft needs paying off to keep bailiffs at bay.

The only way to thwart bankruptcy is to remortgage the house, and thank God for the house price bubble. Mr Smith goes to his bank and, what do you know, comes back with £90,000 in freshly minted electronic transfers.

The Smith’s income has thereby tripled, and that’s 10 times the growth rate of which the Chancellor is so proud. All problems solved then?

The question is rhetorical. Everyone knows they haven’t been solved. They’ve only been deferred. Before long ruinous interest payments will come in and, unless the Smiths increase their income the old-fashioned way, by earning more, they’ll go to the wall.

Yet that’ll happen tomorrow. Tonight Mr Smith goes down the pub and brags to his mates that his income has tripled this year. His friends, not being the envious sorts, are happy for him, especially since he buys the first round.

None of them asks Mr Smith to what he owes such an upsurge in fortunes. Such questions would be indiscreet and decidedly un-English. Happiness all around – until that time, soon, when Mr Smith won’t be able to afford going down the pub.

Sorry for such a lowbrow analogy, but our real chancellor has done exactly what my fictitious Mr Smith is supposed to have done. He glossed over the fact that, under his stewardship, our deficit spending has almost doubled compared to the profligate Labour government’s.

At the same tempo of borrowing, our public debt will hit £2 trillion in two years, three at most. And the only way to prevent this is neither to cut spending nor to hike taxes.

It’s to change drastically the whole approach to the economy in particular and political life in general.

As I argued yesterday, higher taxes will serve a most satisfying punitive purpose but no other. What happens when a government tries to plug budget holes by extorting more tax is that the tax base shrinks.

People either flee to greener pastures elsewhere or devote their creative energy to earning a crust off the books. As a result, while the ‘rich’ are squeezed till their pips squeak, to borrow a Labour phrase, the public purse doesn’t get any fatter.

When I talk about the futility of cutting spending, I only mean cosmetic cuts, little nicks designed not to solve the problem but to appeal to conservative voters.

George ticked that box by promising to reduce public spending by a staggering £5 billion.

To you, me and the Smiths this sounds like an awful lot of money. But to a nation planning to spend £731.4 billion next year, it’s worse than nothing – it’s a purely cosmetic nick constituting not sound economics but boldfaced deceit.

The budget deficit, and hence the national debt, will continue to grow until the bailiffs knock on the door to repossess the family silver and the I-Pad.

Even those who criticise George for this subterfuge, implicitly accept his way of thinking, for in our thoroughly corrupted polity there is no other.

They describe as wasteful this or that infrastructure scheme, such as the planned construction of a North-South high-speed railway or – I’m not kidding – the current effort to reinforce motorways’ central reservations.

No one seems to object, for example, either to ringfencing the NHS budget or to pumping a guaranteed extra £2 billion into it, as George promises to do. And only masochists relishing political ostracism would ever dream of suggesting that there exist better ways of paying for medicine. 

The underlying assumption is that we can buy evenly spread immortality by frittering money away on this inherently inefficient and ultimately unworkable socialist monster.

But I don’t mean to single out the NHS specifically – what needs dumping is the pernicious philosophy that made the NHS, and the whole ruinous, corrupting welfare state, possible. And if you think we’ll ever have a leader capable of this, there’s a bridge across the Thames I’d like to sell you.

Instead the chancellor unveiled a devilishly clever scheme to cut stamp duty, and I use the word ‘devilishly’ advisedly.

Anyone buying a house for under £925,000 will henceforth save a few thousand, supposedly making it possible for first-time buyers to get on the housing ladder.

The announcement was followed by a few rent-a-crowd interviews, of which one impressed me especially because the happy beneficiary of the chancellor’s largesse is buying in my part of London.

This girl, in her mid-20s by the look of her, was gasping with delight. She thought she wouldn’t be able to buy the £400,000 flat of her dreams but, now she’ll save £2,000 on stamp duty, it’s a doddle.

I must congratulate the young lady on her ingenuity. Being able to find a flat for that amount in my neighbourhood is like finding a virgin at a WAGs’ party. Finding a loose £400,000 (or being able to pay mortgage on that sum) is another glorious achievement at her age.

Now, my young friend, hand on your shapely breast, considering the overall outlay, does £2,000 really make the difference between buying and not?

George gave the impression it was more than that: it was almost the difference between life and death.

His conservative, smaller-state credentials thus established, George explained that the rich, those blood-sucking top 2% buying houses costing a million or more, which is to say buying in London, will pay more – in some cases £100,000 more – in stamp duty.

That makes George the sharing, caring type so popular on council estates and in Notting Hill. He is punishing the rich, stealing Labour’s mansion-tax thunder and improving his own electoral chances. Isn’t that what a responsible economic policy is all about?

But there’s some arithmetic involved, not just mass psychology. George is banking on the likelihood that this measure will heat up the already overheating housing market.

Since no one has yet repealed the law of supply-demand, house prices will go up, killing two birds with one stone.

Since property is by the far the greatest asset most families possess, they’ll welcome the increase in the paper value of their house.

At the same time they won’t mind very much that, should they want to convert paper value into cash, all other houses will have followed the same road, meaning our buyers will have to find an extra £75,000 to buy what was a workman’s cottage a generation or two ago.

Devilishly clever, my friend George. So clever that he’ll never have stupid little me vote for him and his equally clever friend Dave.

And you know what the most tragic thing is? Compared to the other lot, Dave and George just may be the lesser evil.
















Another skirmish in the class war, with Mark Garnier another casualty

Speaking of his beloved American democracy, Tocqueville wrote back in the 1830s that “the American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

Actually, the prophesy hasn’t come true: the American Republic has long since mastered the trick and she’s still kicking.

Moreover, the same trick has been used and refined by all Western democracies, republican or otherwise, which also survive – even though on purely moral grounds they don’t deserve to.

The refinement comes from creating a broad two-way street of corruption, with the government and the public feeding off each other.

Politicians use bribery (going by the misnomer of welfare) to create vast blocs of voters beholden to the state either partially or, increasingly, wholly.

The public repays the favour by corrupting politicians in return. Since the appetite for bribes grows pari passu with their availability, the public lets politicians know in no uncertain terms that their elective careers are contingent on the amount of bribes on offer.

Since all governments regardless of their political affiliation have done their best to increase the size of the spongers’ bloc, it has now gone beyond a critical mass. Two-way corruption is a gift that keeps on giving, and there’s no way to ask for it back.

Whoever plunders the Exchequer with nary a thought for the future, or credibly promises to do so, will get the votes. Whoever doesn’t, won’t – it’s as simple as that.

That is clearly immoral, not to mention financially ruinous. Because successive governments have used either borrowing or the printing press to get the bribery money, we have a public debt edging towards two trillion.

We are already paying more in interest than for defence, and one can confidently predict that in the next generation servicing the debt will become the greatest rubric in the budget, right next to ‘the social’ and the saintly NHS.

You understand it, I understand it – most important, our politicians understand it. But even assuming against all available evidence that some of them would really like to do something about it, they wouldn’t be able to – the corruption has gone too far.

So have the attendant lies. Few people are prepared to come out and say “Yes, I’m corrupt and proud of it.” It comes more naturally to suggest that what appears to be corrupt is virtuous underneath it all.

Hence the universal effort to hide the inherently wicked welfare state behind the smokescreen of self-righteous, sanctimonious, moralising verbiage.

All major parties have entered into a tacit agreement: if one wants to talk about some mechanical glitches in the operation of the welfare state, fine, provided care is taken not to offend.

But woe betide anyone who dares to utter a variation on Tocqueville’s theme by suggesting, however timidly, that using the public purse to bribe the public is – and I apologise for using this passé word – wrong. Morally. In principle. Fundamentally.

Tory MP Mark Garnier transgressed against this unwritten agreement and now he is paying the price.

He dared to suggest that high earners should be reassured that the government won’t introduce higher marginal tax rates to extort more of their money and use it for bribing ‘the poor’ (meaning those largely subsisting on state handouts).

“We need to be giving a much clearer message to them [high earners],” said Mr Garnier, “that they don’t have to worry about politicians mucking around with tax rates in order to attract a few, sort of dog-end voters in sort of outlying regions of the country.”

Personally, I would have chosen more polite and – especially – more precise words to convey the same message. But the message would have been the same: robbing an industrious Peter to pay an indolent Paul is wrong.

But, rude or polite, such pronouncements will always activate the four words I regard as the most destructive in the English language: YOU CAN’T SAY THAT.

You can’t say, for example, that progressive taxation violates one of the most sacrosanct principles of our constitution: equality before the law.

It goes without saying that those who earn more should pay more tax – in absolute terms. But to make them pay a higher proportion of their income isn’t only unjust and immoral: it’s counterproductive.

Serious economists unaffected by egalitarian afflatus have shown, figures in hand, that a flat tax rate of close to 20 per cent (I don’t remember which side) would generate higher tax revenues than the present system – while offering the additional benefit of redirecting into productive areas the vast army of chaps who busily help others avoid tax.

But taxation is no longer just a means for the government to get enough cash to cover its expenses. It has become a punitive measure, a poisoned arrow in the quiver of class war.

Punishing ‘the rich’ used to be a strictly secondary objective of taxation. Now it has become primary.

The same serious economists, for example, have shown that Labour’s darling, the mansion tax, would produce trivial revenues, if any at all. But those scholarly chaps are missing the point: the purpose of taxation is no longer just economic. It’s mainly punitive.

In committing his rhetorical faux pas Mark Garnier stepped on the toes of modernity, and modernity screamed. Labour spokesmen predictably described his call for fiscal justice as another unveiling of “the true, nasty face of David Cameron’s Conservatives”.

I’d like to come to my friend Dave’s defence: nasty he is, but not in the way Labour mean it. He’s as prepared as they are to bribe his way into 10 Downing Street. Unlike them, however, he has to pretend to be different not to alienate the core support of his party.

Consequently, Mr Garnier has been made to grovel and apologise profusely. He didn’t mean it the way it sounded, he said, and all voters are equally important.

They aren’t: there are infinitely more voters utterly corrupted by socialist bribery than there are high earners. And in our democracy of one vote for every man, woman and increasingly child, more also means more important.

Our government isn’t about justice any longer. It’s about numbers.

Mark knows it, Dave knows it, Ed knows it. But they won’t tell.



My new book, Democracy as a Neocon Trick, is available from Amazon and the more discerning bookshops. However, my publisher would rather you ordered it from, in the USA,



















Liberalisation, Putin style

What does economic liberalisation mean?

Ever since the repeal of the Corn Laws in the mid-19th century, the answer to that question is so clear-cut as to be self-evident.

Free home market. Free trade. Removal of protectionist tariffs. Reduction of state interference in the economy. Less red tape. Lower taxes. Unrestrictive labour laws. Incentives to businesses. Denationalisation…

Well, you know. All those worthy things that collectively add up to shifting economic activity away from the state and towards the individual.

Yet we must acknowledge that there are states and there are states, and not all of them will find this version of liberalisation to be indisputable.

Some states have a yearning for economic liberty coded onto the DNA, as part of the overall freedom genome.

For some others, economic liberty is a novelty, and not always a welcome one. Such states care more about their own power than the wellbeing of their people.

They find it psychologically hard to liberalise the economy, or anything else for that matter. Yet hard doesn’t mean impossible, as brilliantly demonstrated by the so-called Asian Tigers.

Those states managed to overcome their natural inclination towards tight control because their leaders at the time knew they had to. No other path to prosperity existed.

The results were quite spectacular, on a par with the German post-war economic miracle (Wirtschaftswunder for short, and don’t you just love the German language).

Now imagine for the sake of argument that the state in question is neither a socialised Western control freak nor a traditionally regulated Asian polity. Picture in your mind a great superpower whose economy is so indelibly fused with organised crime that it can proudly boast a unique status: the first ever Mafia state.

I know this sort of thing is hard to imagine, so I’ll give you a little visual aid. Just look at today’s Russia: it’s precisely such a state.

Crime in Russia is organised, and it’s the state that does the organising, with economic corruption radiating from centre to periphery. No business in Russia, from a lingerie shop to an oil company, can survive without paying massive amounts in bribes and kickbacks.

Since we are into visualisation, think of a snowball rolling down a ski slope and getting bigger as it goes along. Now play the mental picture back in reverse, with the snow ball becoming smaller as it climbs up to the top.

That’s exactly how the Russian economy works. The lowest tier won’t be allowed to operate unless it kicks back some of its profits to the next level up.

Some of the money settles there, along with the income that level generates by itself. The rest, including some of the indigenous profits, is punted up the ladder – and so on, all the way to the Kremlin.

By the time the snowball scales the Kremlin wall, it will have become quite small. But, considering that there are thousands of such snowballs, one can understand why Russia is being ruled by a government of billionaires, and why Col. Putin himself is reputedly one of the world’s richest men.

The arrangement is similar to a Mafia family being paid off by every retail outfit in, say, a part of New Jersey, but the scale is vastly greater.

So what would economic liberalisation mean in such a state? If rumours emanating from the Kremlin are to be believed, Col. Putin will explain this on Thursday.

Since the state exercises control over the economy through a pyramid scheme of bribes and kick-backs, these will have to be reduced.

The Russian economy, otherwise known as the Mafia, is suffering from Western sanctions a little and from the drop in oil prices a lot.

Its access to foreign money markets greatly reduced, and its hydrocarbon imports (three quarters of the total) reeling, Russia has to rely on a brisker economic activity at home.

Hence Putin will decree that the tens of billions in protection money, kickbacks and bribes that every business has to pay will have to be reduced. Actually, he’ll use the word ‘eliminated’, but both he and everyone else in the country will know it’s only a figure of speech.

Apparently Putin made the decision to deliver the epoch-making speech after a conversation with Alexei Ulyukayev, Minister for Economic Development.

A major recession is inevitable, complained the minister. Look, Mr Putin, the rouble has lost 40 per cent of its value in the last few months, and so have the oil prices.

The inflation rate is climbing like a vertical take-off Mig, and the sanctions are beginning to bite. We need to borrow heavily, yet we can’t. We really must have those bloody sanctions repealed.

And do you have any idea how we could do that? wondered Peter Hitchens’s idol. Er, I don’t, admitted the minister. But I was hoping you did.

In fact, both interlocutors know exactly how. Stop the aggression against the Ukraine, foreswear any future forays, and Western countries will be falling over themselves proffering credits, exports, financing and lucrative markets.

But such words can’t be spoken by, or to, the KGB colonel in the Kremlin. Ulyuakayev knew this, hence his evasive reply.

The only other way of preventing a total economic collapse is to activate the domestic entrepreneurial resources, and there is every indication that Putin is aware of this.

Hence his earlier diktat to stimulate domestic food production to a point where Russia won’t have to rely on imports. Hence also the speech he is alleged to be planning for Thursday.

The measures to be proposed are the crime-syndicate version of traditional economic liberalisation. For lower taxes, read smaller bribes. For reduced red tape, read less money extorted in kickbacks. For allowing more economic freedom, read fewer murders in dark alleys.

This is an eerie simulacrum of the real thing, but Putin may find it’s easier said than done.

The only way to make a Mafia family loosen its grip is to ‘whack’ (to use Putin’s favourite expression) its godfather, his immediate cronies and consiglieries. This option just isn’t on the cards, not if Putin and his retinue can do something about it.

A bossy but generally lawful state can be reformed, but as the Soviet Union found out, a criminal state can’t. It can only be destroyed – unless it succeeds in destroying its opposition.

I’ll leave you to ponder the possible scenarios on your own. Personally, I find none of them appealing and some of them scary.


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