Russia isn’t good because China is bad

Most people can’t think, as opposed to just talk, about politics. And even those who can won’t. Ideology has replaced ideas, which is a distinctly modern phenomenon.

French revolutionaries coined the word idéologie because they felt the need for it. And there was one: as they, inspired by their American, Swiss, German and British role models, led the West away from God, they were steering thought away from truth.

Laissez-faire ineluctably became laissez-penser and laissez-parlez, an encephalophonic free-for-all, with intellectual integrity dumped into the rubbish bin of history, to use another revolutionary’s phrase.

Later the word ‘ideology’ gained tremendous currency, largely through the cannibalistic musings of Karl Marx. It has now become the single currency of political discourse.

If it takes feeble, dishonest, downright lying, ignorant thought to arrive at an ideological end, no one minds. It’s fine with both the subject and object of thought.

How intelligent the speaker and his audience are no longer matters. These days they sign an unwritten pact: one agrees to make appropriate ideological noises; the other, to accept them as real thought. Both undertake to disregard flagrant violations of truth or indeed logic.

My customary whipping boy Peter Hitchens seems to have committed his work to proving these melancholy observations right, at least every time the word ‘Russia’ crops into his narrative. Not a stupid man, he makes sense on most subjects that don’t touch upon his ideology. Russia does, and suddenly this otherwise clever chap starts mouthing turgid gibberish.

To wit, today’s column: “Ministers and others continue to shout and squawk about Russia, a poor, weak country which is no threat to us, and which isn’t even especially interested in us. Is this because they lack the guts to tackle the giant, rich bully China, whose despots are entertained in Buckingham Palace?”

As far as Hitchens is concerned, those who understand Russia better than he does never just talk. They shout and squawk. However, even we poor shouters and squawkers try to avoid logical solecisms, factual falsehoods and lapses of reason.

Hitchens’s short paragraph contains a long list of those, all deserving pride of place in the encyclopaedia of rhetorical fallacies. Here are a few, off the top.

The implication seems to be that because Russia is poor it’s weak, and because it’s weak it’s no threat to us. This is simple ignorance, in addition to being ideologically inspired nonsense.

Hitchens applies Western philistine standards to the definition of poverty. True, most Russians live from hand to mouth and can’t afford to buy what they see in the shops. But Russia’s relevant wealth isn’t in the shops. It’s in the silos.

Russia has more thermonuclear warheads than the US does. Russian Goebbelses, such as Putin’s top TV mouthpiece Kisilev, never cease to remind their audiences that Russia could “turn America into radioactive dust” at the touch of a button. And this isn’t just braggadocio.

Another implication is that an economically poorer country can’t threaten a richer one. This is equally nonsensical. The vandals’ GDP wasn’t a patch on Rome’s, nor could the Turks match the riches of Byzantium. Closer to our own time, Kuwait was wealthier than Iraq. How many more examples would you like of economic Davids slaying economic Goliaths?

Then comes a downright lie: Russia “isn’t interested in us”. On what basis does Hitchens make this assurance? Every page of every Putin newspaper spouts unadulterated hatred for the West, especially the Anglophone West. Hardly a day goes by without open threats being made, along the lines of radioactive dust.

Russia is specifically issuing threats to Nato members we are contractually obligated to defend. Does Hitchens think the Russians have no vested interest in reducing our defence capabilities? Are they waging electronic war against us just for fun?

The answer is, he doesn’t think so. He doesn’t think, full stop. It’s ideology he’s offering, not ideas.

Then comes a non sequitur, straight out of the ‘Don’t’ section of the logic textbook. Yes, China is a despotic bully, and yes, the West doesn’t have the guts to confront it, overlooking the evil nature of communist China for its giant market and endless supply of coolie labour.

And yes, in a better world Chinese despots wouldn’t be invited to Buckingham Palace. (Neither would the Russian despot Putin, who’ll be staying at Buck House next week, and one would think his purloined billions would stretch to a hotel room.)

But what does that have to do with Russia? Are we allowed to have only one bogeyman at a time? One vaguely recalls that, while fighting the Nazis, Britain was also at war with Italy and Japan. In the previous big war, we didn’t just fight Germans – Austrians, Czechs, Hungarians and so forth were also our enemies. On what authority is Hitchens rationing the number of adversaries?

Then he seems to think we are the flat-track bully for picking on poor, weak Russia that can sink the British Isles within minutes. And cowards for not confronting China. The second proposition is true; the first, false. There’s no logical connection between the two.

Hitchens would do well to remember that Russia has launched three wars of aggression under Putin, while China so far limits itself to menacing talk. So if we had to choose one, I’d say Russia should be our first choice of evil to resist. But we don’t have to choose: neither Russia nor China nor Islam has exclusive rights to evil.

Excluding Russia from this company is neither honest nor moral nor clever. Ideology does work in mysterious ways, doesn’t it?

Perfect timing, Donald

Trump’s budding romance with Putin can quickly degenerate from worrying to catastrophic. Actually, a step in that direction has just been made.

The US is lifting the latest raft of sanctions on the FSB/KGB, which will enable American high-tech companies to sell computers to that sinister organisation.

(The Times seems to think that the B in FSB stands for ‘bureau’. It doesn’t. It’s the initial of the Russian for ‘security’ – ‘bezopasnost’, as in Federal’naia Sluzhba Bezopasnosti. Our papers’ ignorance is most refreshing.)

Now I’ve expressed restrained misgivings about this Trump-Putin foreplay before. The misgivings have been based on:

Trump’s frequent – and reciprocated – words of admiration for Putin; Trump’s son’s admission that “a disproportionate amount” of the family’s income comes from Russia; Trump’s campaign staff packed to the gunwales with chaps enjoying lucrative links with Russia (one of them has just become Secretary of State); the FSB’s attempts to sabotage the US elections in Trump’s favour by computer hacking; Trump’s reference to Nato as ‘obsolete’; unconcealed joy in the Duma over Trump’s victory and indecent triumphalism in Putin’s media celebrating the ascent of “our man”.

The restraint has come from the fact that none of the above amounts to prima facie evidence of Trump’s complicity in any FSB wrongdoing. Nor can he be held responsible for Russia’s reaction to his victory.

Deeds, not words, give clues to a politician’s mind, character and intentions. Trump’s words about Putin’s kleptofascist junta could be put down to his manifest ignorance. After all, even more learned men than Trump (Peter Hitchens, Norman Stone and Christopher Booker, to name a few) have said asinine things about Putin. My refrain has been let’s wait and see what the president actually does.

We haven’t had to wait long: the lifting of sanctions against the FSB is a deed all right, and a foul one at that. What’s offensive about this unilateral action, at odds with the policy of every American ally, isn’t just ‘what’ but also ‘when’.

For the news has come in a week when Putin’s rockets and heavy artillery pound the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, killing hundreds and leaving thousands without water, electricity and a roof over their heads (in -20C frosts).

In another development, Putin’s opponent Vladimir Kara-Murza, 35, is on death’s door in hospital suffering from poisoning. His internal organs are failing, and tests show that his body contains an abnormally high concentration of the heavy metals inaccessible to private individuals.

This is the second such attack on Kara-Murza. The first one occurred in 2015, when he stayed in a coma for a week and then underwent treatment for several months. Roughly at the same time Kara-Murza’s friend Boris Nemtsov was shot dead a few feet away from the Kremlin. It’s not a great stretch to connect these events, and also the radioactive poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London, with the FSB and Putin personally.

Finally, our defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon yesterday delivered scathing comments about Russia, specifically about FSB hacking. In the past two years, Fallon said, Russia has targeted the US, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Bulgaria and Montenegro.

“Today we see a country that, in weaponising misinformation, has created what we might now see as the post-truth age. Part of that is the use of cyber-weaponry to disrupt critical infrastructure and disable democratic machinery,” added Sir Michael.

Speaking on behalf of Britain and other American allies in Europe, Sir Michael threatened retaliation in no uncertain terms. His speech amounted to a declaration of electronic war, and quite right too. I for one can’t see any valid difference between “disrupting critical infrastructure” by hacking and doing so by aerial bombardment.

Now let’s see. First, Russia is attacking the West with electronic weapons. Second, such warfare requires state-of-the-art computers. Third, Russia is incapable of producing such hardware and therefore has to import it. Fourth, the West therefore has a vital interest in not exporting such computers to Russia.

All right so far? Well, then Trump’s allowing US firms to sell electronic equipment to history’s most murderous organisation, showing no signs of mending its ways, is… Choose your own predicative. Stupid? Irresponsible? Crass? Criminal? Just about any one will work, or a combination of several.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s advisable to maintain civilised relations with a country possessing more nuclear warheads than the US, no matter how objectionable we may find it. But to merit such treatment, Russia has to act in a civilised way.

Instead it’s clearly on the warpath, creating all over the world troubled waters in which Russia can profitably fish. There are only two ways of dealing with such escalating hostility: firm resistance or weak-kneed appeasement.

Trump’s decision suggests he prefers the second way, which, in the light of modern history, is grounds for serious criticism. And if he’s appeasing Putin for some ulterior motive, that’s grounds for summary impeachment and probably imprisonment – regardless of how wonderful a president he may be in every other respect.

Appeasing Putin today, for whatever reason, is likely to produce the same effect as appeasing Hitler did 79 years ago. America didn’t manage to sit out the ensuing carnage then – and neither will it be able to this time. Isolationists and interventionists will be dying together in the same trenches.

Beyond reasonable

When talking the other day about knees jerking all over in response to Donald Trump, I argued that reason had nothing to do with that neurological phenomenon.

Our intellectually castrated masses are aghast not at Trump’s actions qua actions, but at the blasphemy implied by his actions. The president won’t worship modernity’s cult growing out of that pernicious misnomer, the Enlightenment.

If before the Enlightenment our civilisation was driven by man worshiping reason higher than his own, thereafter he has decided that no such thing exists. Man’s own reason alone is sufficient to solve every little problem of life. Man no longer worships God; he worships himself.

As a result, reason suffered the fate of Icarus – it took on an impossible task and died in the attempt. Reason was replaced by emotions, ideas by ideology, thought by sloganeering.

A virtual intellectual universe has been created, one in which all men are created equal; the masses are too stupid to run their own lives but smart enough to affect state affairs; the state can spend our money more wisely than we ourselves; the old religion was opium for the people, while opium is an essential part of the new religion; Muslims can improve our countries, though not demonstrably their own.

A hodgepodge of fallacies were stitched together to form a new patchwork cult, which quickly began to resemble a snowball rolling down the hill at an ever-increasing speed. It gets bigger until it goes over the edge and shatters.

Chesterton wrote: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” By contrast, the new cult is easy. It excommunicates reason and therefore truth. Everything goes; nothing is off limits.

In the past, people assumed that, if A was true and B differed from A, then B was false. Worshippers of the new cult assume that, if A is true, then every other letter of the alphabet is differently true. The simple logic escapes our huddled post-reason masses yearning to be equal: if everything is true, everything is false.

This intellectual catastrophe has befallen every field of endeavour, but few as devastatingly as politics. Real life is going on, but political life unfolds in a parallel, virtual universe.

The same people who in real life display uncanny intelligence, will avidly mouth any hare-brained nonsense dictated by their emotional attachment to the modern demiurge.

We’ve been conditioned to think about politics in terms of meaningless, emotive twaddle. Truth doesn’t matter – we agree with Pontius Pilate’s rhetorical question “What is truth?”, implying that it’s either nonexistent or unknowable or irrelevant.

Take the EU, whose toxic dust one hopes we’ll shake off our feet following yesterday’s vote in Parliament. I haven’t yet heard a single rational argument in favour of that abomination – and won’t because none exists.

Every argument I have heard, and their name is legion, is purely emotional, even if put forth by manifestly intelligent people. The French and the Germans, for example, describe the EU as therapy for the psychological post-war trauma.

The Germans recoiled from the horror of what they had done; the French, from their defeat and subsequent collaboration. Having looked into their respective wardrobes, the two decided to merge them and cross-dress. The Germans no longer wanted to be German, but the French did.

To be honest, I don’t do psychological trauma, certainly not on a vast collective scale. Recognising this as an emotional failing on my part, I’m prepared to accept that explanation as valid. What I’m not prepared to accept is the tissue of transparent lies into which this explanation is wrapped.

The EU, they say, is a purely economic union – a lie, as anyone will confirm who has read the architects of that contrivance, all those Gasperis, Monnets and Schumans. Back in the ‘40s, when the EU was still a twinkle in their eye, they succinctly explained that their goal was a single European state, something that current events amply prove.

The EU, the say, is all about free trade – another lie. The EU is a protectionist bloc, which is the exact opposite of free trade.

The EU, they say, has kept peace since the big war – yet another lie, and one hard to sell to the people of Yugoslavia, Georgia, Armenia and the Ukraine – or to the families of those murdered by terrorists as a direct result of EU policies. What has prevented a major European war is Nato’s – or, not to cut too fine a point, America’s – nuclear umbrella.

Anyway, the British can’t claim a similar PTS disorder: the country acquitted herself rather well in the war. And yet one hears all the same arguments from our own people, including the 114 intellectually challenged MPs who yesterday tried to derail Brexit. Not to be obvious copycats, our lot are throwing their own inanities into the hat.

We need to be in the EU, they say, to trade with European countries, which is a lie, and an ignorant one at that. At no time in history, and certainly not in the heyday of British economic power, has it ever been necessary for a nation to abandon its sovereignty to trade with other nations.

We need to be ‘part of Europe’ to travel freely, they say – another lie. Back in Victorian times the English practically owned such French resorts as Biarritz and Nice. Why do you suppose Nice’s picturesque walk has been called La Promenade des Anglais since 1860? Because English travellers were banned?

The modern secular cult is athirst; it demands sacrifices. The biggest one is reason, wantonly abandoned even by many who are otherwise capable of it.



Meet Bolek, the Polish saint

Lech Walesa is the Zeus in the Olympus of democracy, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Poland’s Solidarity leader and former president. However, that’s not all he is.

It has long been alleged that under the communists this secular saint was a secret police informer codenamed Bolek. Walesa and his passionate supporters have always denied the charges. However, dispassionate observers have stubbornly insisted on the old saw about smoke and fire. Well, the fire has been found and it’s blazing.

Having compared Walesa’s handwriting to Bolek’s signature adorning money receipts for his spying activities, forensic experts have proved that Walesa and Bolek are the same man.

The findings are so overwhelming that even Walesa’s admirers no longer bother to dispute them. Instead they dismiss that biographical detail as insignificant and overshadowed by his subsequent leadership of Poland’s transition to democracy.

So what if, before his entry into hagiography, Walesa had informed on his friends for money? The Służba Bezpieczeństwa could twist anybody’s arm into collaboration, they aver.

After all, if one saint, Paul, can be forgiven his pre-sainthood persecution of Christians, why can’t Walesa be afforded similar leniency? Don’t you believe in epiphany?

No such incredulity for Radek Sikorski, former British subject, former Bullingdon man at Oxford, former Poland foreign minister and present husband to poor Anne Applebaum. Addressing Walensa, Sikorski tweeted: “You are a greater man than your critics.”

Would Walesa still be a great man if he had murdered, rather than just informed, for the Służba Bezpieczeństwa? Come to think of it, those two activities were often a distinction without a difference: many poor souls turned in to the secret police never came back. Can anything besmirch Walesa in Sikorski’s eyes and other champions of liberal democracy über alles?

They say that discrediting Walesa, and vicariously other champions of liberal democracy über alles, plays into the hands of the present government. That’s meaningless if true: truth doesn’t become a lie because it benefits those we dislike.

So what does this particular truth mean? A minor point first: the secret police couldn’t coerce anybody into betraying his friends. Having grown up under the aegis of a considerably more murderous organisation than the SB, I knew men who flatly refused to inform.

I also knew some who succumbed to threats and did inform. Yet none of them collaborated for cold cash, as Bolek did. There we’re talking about a witting career agent, not a poor coerced soul.

Now a more important point. Unlike wide-eyed Western champions of liberal democracy über alles, those who know the USSR not from hearsay have always discerned a certain pattern in simultaneous transition to democracy throughout Eastern Europe.

The mid-eighties, when Walesa ascended to secular sainthood, was the time when power in the Soviet Union was passing from the Party to the KGB, a process later called glasnost and perestroika.

That message was communicated unequivocally in 1982, when the KGB chief Andropov became Secretary General, dictator for all practical purposes.

It was Andropov who decided to act on the ideas first put forth by his mentor Lavrentiy Beria, the secret police chief murdered in 1953. Beria advocated loosening Party control over Russia and Soviet control over Eastern Europe. That, he believed, would dupe the West into acquiescence and perpetuate Soviet de facto influence.

Such a flexible KGB policy, developed to its logical end by Andropov’s protégé Gorbachev, was resisted by the Party to the bitter end, both in the USSR and its satellites. Echoes of that resistance could he heard distinctly.

For example, the last two months of 1984 saw the demise of the defence ministers of five Warsaw Pact countries, including the Soviet Union itself. They all died of cardiac arrest. Would it be preposterous to suggest that such a concentrated outbreak of fatalities bucked statistical odds?

Assuming that the sudden epidemic of cardiac arrests wasn’t entirely coincidental, one is entitled to see it as a visible result of that invisible struggle – at least this is the only way I can make sense of the statistics.

Also, no deposed Eastern European dictator was killed by the vanquishing democrats – with one exception. Nicolae Ceaușescu couldn’t get his rigid mind around the new flexibility. Hence he had to be shot, along with his whole family.

There’s much indirect evidence to support this version of recent history – enough to convince me, for one. I’m certain that the KGB saw its chance and grabbed it. (In today’s Russia 85 per cent of the top government officials, including Putin, are KGB officers.) It’s debatable whether it maintained control all along or at some point lost it and let matters go further than intended.

But what matters in the Bolek affair isn’t the end but the beginning. If it’s true that the KGB directed the whole liberalisation movement from the start, then Walesa also acted as an SB agent in his saintly incarnation.

Such a role isn’t unlikely historically, psychologically or morally. A man who shops his friend for money is certainly capable of doing his masters’ bidding all along.

Many revolutionaries of the past, most famously Gapon and Azef in tsarist Russia, had secret police links. We know that more recently Gorbachev and Yeltsyn were in bed with the KGB. Do we disregard forensic evidence and believe Walesa is a virgin? I don’t.