Lies, barefaced lies and democracy

After decades of compulsory and comprehensive secondary education, the people have become putty in demagogues’ hands.

No limits exist any longer on the ignorant idiocy of political falsehoods uttered by politicians and swallowed by their flock. By far the greatest falsehoods involve democracy, raised to the status of pagan demiurge.

People everywhere, especially in the US, react to various word combinations featuring ‘democracy’ with Pavlovian alacrity. Some such combinations have attained idiomatic stability. For example, no one sees anything wrong with intellectually unsound phrases like ‘liberal democracy’.

Democracy refers to a political method used to decide who governs the country. Liberty, with its various cognates, refers to a desired effect of government, no matter who forms it and by what method.

Democracy is a physical technicality; liberty mainly has metaphysical connotations. It describes the amount of latitude the individual enjoys, his autonomy in the face of pressures exerted both vertically (by the state) and horizontally (by society).

Accepting the two components of ‘liberal democracy’ as mutually indispensable betokens an inert mind. The underlying assumption is that liberty is an integral property of democracy and vice versa.

But this assumption doesn’t stand up even to cursory examination, never mind scrutiny – either in theory or in practice.

In theory, 50.1 per cent of the electorate may well vote for selling the nation into slavery, provided the price is good. The remaining 49.9 could scream themselves hoarse about the monstrosity of it all. Their protests would go unheeded: democracy has been served.

Nor is it justified to believe that democracy precludes tyranny. This is simply not the case, as the democratically elected Messrs Hitler, Perón, Mugabe, Putin, Lukashenko, Ahmadinejad, Yanukovych and Macîas Nguema (who gratefully murdered a third of the population of Equatorial Guinea that had voted him in) demonstrate so vividly.

In fact, no serious political thinker, from Plato and Aristotle to Machiavelli and Montesquieu, from Burke to Lecky, from Jefferson, Madison and Adams to de Maistre, Tocqueville and even Mill (the last two both talked about ‘the tyranny of the majority’), was unaware of the despotic potential of democracy. They all had misgivings about democracy; most of them were downright hostile to it.

The subjects of King George (choose any numeral) or King Louis (ditto) enjoyed the kind of individual freedom that isn’t even approached by the citizens of any ‘liberal democracy’ of today. To use one, far from the most important, example, no Western monarch would have dreamed of extorting over half of his subjects’ earnings – something that’s accepted as a fair privilege of any ‘liberal democracy’.

No Western monarch could have conceived intruding on the people’s private lives to the same extent as modern ‘liberal democracies’ routinely do for ‘the common good’. (Michael Gove, supposedly the intellectual giant among the Tories, has foolishly praised Mrs May for using those words at every turn. He doesn’t seem to realise that ‘common good’ is the self-vindicating buzz phrase of every modern tyranny.)

It wouldn’t have occurred to, say, Charles I to dictate what the good yeomen of Suffolk or Yorkshire should eat or drink, how they should raise and educate their children or what kind of help they should employ.

Not only do modern democracies exert an intolerable (if often unnoticed) vertical pressure, they also corrupt or coerce societies into applying the even worse horizontal kind. For example, no lords or magistrates of the past imposed such tyrannical diktats on language as do today’s enforcers of political correctness. No government censorship of the past was as despotic as today’s self-censorship demanded by society.

The state throws its weight behind such demands, with any ‘liberal democracy’ prepared to punish people not for what they do but increasingly for what they say. This blurs the distinction between state and society, yet not many see this as a factor of tyranny.

Having destroyed the content of Western civilisation, modernity has become obsessed with its form. Hence people are brainwashed into worshipping the democratic method without fully understanding what it is. Ask your average American what the difference is between democracy and republicanism and he’ll think you’re talking about the two political parties (an Englishman would fail the same test with ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’).

Actually, there exist two types of democracy: direct and indirect. The former is people voting for policies by plebiscite, without mediation by institutions. The latter is people electing their representatives and trusting them to govern.

Representative democracy also has two types: democracy proper and republicanism. Burke dreaded the first type: parliamentarians being not people’s representatives but their delegates, committed to act not just according to people’s interests but also their wishes. The second type, republicanism, involves representatives governing according to their own conscience.

Direct democracy, as the dominant method of government, clearly can’t function in communities larger than a few thousand inhabitants. If it tried to do so, complete anarchy would ensue.

As to the two forms of indirect democracy, the much touted checks and balances of modern politics involve a combination of them. After all, as Machiavelli argued in his Discourses, taking his cue from Aristotle, no political arrangement can exist in its pure form without degenerating into something unsavoury.

The republican element is historically aristocratic, going back to the erstwhile councils of elders, such as our own Witenagemot. In the crypto-republic of our constitutional monarchy this is the role played by the House of Lords. Thus accusing it of being undemocratic, as ignoramuses do all the time, is like accusing the courts of being judgemental.

But ours isn’t the only undemocratic constitution. The republican (a simulacrum of aristocratic) element in the US political mix comes from the Senate. Those who think it’s a representative democratic body ought to consider the fact that California (p. 38,332,521) and Wyoming (p. 582,658) each have two senators.

The modern tendency, which both Plato and Aristotle predicted with uncanny prescience, is to eliminate or at least emasculate the republican elements, letting democracy run riot. Hence our modern government by focus groups: spivs elected by manipulating blocs of voters expect to be re-elected by pandering to voters’ whims.

It’s critical to realise that therein lies the structural flaw of democracy. This is what turns democracy into a lie and those in government into liars. If you wish to contest this comment, simply compare today’s politicians with yesterday’s statesmen.

Where are the Pitts, Burkes, Washingtons, Madisons and Disraelis of yesteryear? Water under Westminster Bridge. May and Trump are the best we can do these days, and we’re happy to have them rather than Tony-Dave-Hillary-Barack.

Hilaire Belloc wrote about such joy with his customary brilliance: “We are tickled by [the Barbarian’s] irreverence, his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond; and on these faces there is no smile.”

LSE makes a Jolie tit of itself

The London School of Economics was founded by the Fabians Sidney and Beatrice Webb, who hated the English class system but loved Lenin.

That established a certain intellectual capital, and the LSE has been living off the interest every since. I remember many years ago, when Margaret Thatcher was PM, my son studied at the LSE for a semester, and I took him there on his first day.

A poster in the lobby advertised a scholarly debate on the subject of “Resolved: this house will assassinate Thatcher”. I was appalled at such a cavalier omission of the honorific. Surely it should be ‘Mrs Thatcher’, I thought.

I also thought a few other things, too robust to cite here. Suffice it to say that the faculty and students were evidently attached to the notion of upholding the university’s fine Marxist tradition.

Having said that, for all its gauche (or is it sinister?) leftward bias, which these days isn’t that different from most major universities, the LSE has also enjoyed a sound academic reputation. Why, it has even boasted some prominent conservative scholars, such as Michael Oakeshott and my dear late friend Ken Minogue.

That reputation, whatever little is left of it, lies in tatters. For, now that Oakeshott and Ken are no longer with us, the LSE has filled the gap by appointing the heavily tattooed Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie as visiting professor on Women, Peace and Security.

It’s good to see that Angelina has been able to retrain for a new career. Having undergone a prophylactic double mastectomy, she has lost the two most salient aspects of her talent and had to reinvent herself. Ideally, she ought to have chosen Bristol University though (if you aren’t English, you won’t understand the allusion; if you are, I apologise).

I don’t know how diligently Angelina has kept abreast of the current academic trends, but then her professorship has to be mostly titular. Then again, perhaps it isn’t, for there can’t be too many other scholars around to answer the LSE’s urgent need for academic exegesis on Women, Peace and Security.

In fact, I can’t think offhand of any great thinkers of the past who distinguished themselves in this subject, but this may be ignorance speaking. I’m sure there must have been whole groves densely populated by scholars doing extensive research and coming to the conclusion that, when there’s peace, women enjoy greater security.

The actress admitted “feeling butterflies” before the first lecture, which isn’t surprising in such an unfamiliar setting. To get rid of the stage fright, she should have imagined she was shooting a nude scene and dressed accordingly, but that was no longer an option for purely surgical reasons.

As it was, she was wearing “a simple yet sophisticated longline coat” highlighted in all the newspaper accounts of Angelina’s foray into the academe. This must be a new trend in academic critique.

I mean, I don’t recall anyone mentioning Ken Minogue’s “sober yet well-cut charcoal-grey suit”. Reviewers tended to focus on what he was saying more than on what he was wearing.

But, as the latest Nobel Prize winner for literature has discovered, “the times, they are a-changing.” Anyway, to be fair, some accounts did mention things other than the new professor’s sartorial excellence.

To quote one such account, “The course helps scholars, practitioners, activists, policy-makers and students to develop strategies to promote justice, human rights and participation for women in conflict-affected situations around the world.”

Also mentioned was “the aim of promoting gender equality and enhancing women’s economic, social and political participation and security.” My, admittedly non-academic, advice to women finding themselves in such situations would be to get the hell out before they get raped or killed, and never mind ‘social and political participation’.

But that’s because I haven’t studied this academic discipline as deeply as Angelina has. And sure enough, her scholarly exploits drove the students to paroxysms of delight the professor hasn’t enjoyed since doing those nude sex scenes (film references available on request).

‘Wonderful’ was the adjective most widely used, and one post-graduate student enthused: “She’ll make an amazing visiting professor. So honoured to hear her inaugural lecture at LSE on sexual violence, rape, working with refugees”.

It’s a safe bet that Angelina’s advice on rape didn’t include that tired ‘relax and enjoy’ cliché, and nor could she have possibly drawn the students’ attention to the well-documented fact that, in Europe at least, it’s refugees who commit most sexual violence.

Actually, this unmitigated tosh is itself an act of violence, raping as it does not just a formerly reputable university but indeed the very concept of academic life. Any boob could see that.

George Clooney, the centaur

Fooled you, didn’t I? Actually, this photograph depicts not the handsome actor but me. It was taken this morning off the terrace of the Acropolis Museum, and that’s where Mr Clooney comes in.

But first things first. The museum is the most amazing structure of this kind I’ve ever seen, and certainly the newest. No major Athenian museum predates the 1970s, but the Acropolis museum is barely 10 years old.

Its 25,000 square metres are used with little regard for economy of space: only three floors are taken up by exhibits and, since there aren’t many of them, they’re hardly crowded. The third floor is entirely given to a full-size replica of the Parthenon frieze, as it was before most of its marble bas reliefs were removed by Lord Elgin.

The frieze features the few remaining originals, mostly depicting Greek chaps fighting centaurs, and quite a bit more blanks filled in by the poorly done plaster casts of the marbles now adorning the British Museum. The plaster casts are accompanied by write-ups stopping just short of diatribes accusing Lord Elgin of theft.

There’s a movement under way to return the Elgin marbles where they once belonged, or rather to the museum next door. The movement is spearheaded by Amal Clooney, George’s heavily pregnant wife, whose restless conscience easily embraces any cause, worthy or otherwise. George himself is adding the weight of his celebrity status to the undertaking, and one can only guess his motives.

Solidarity with his wife must figure most prominently for, had he remained single, George probably wouldn’t know the Elgin marbles from the ones children play with. Just a couple of years ago he spoke with well-rehearsed passion about the urgent need to return the marbles to “the Pantheon”. Pantheon, Parthenon, what the hell does it matter as long as the cause is just and offers good photo ops?

Then again, George may sense inner kinship with centaurs, himself fitting the technical definition of one: half man, half horse’s arse. Mercifully, however, he limits himself to broad strokes only, leaving it for Amal to sweat out the legalities, which are far from straightforward.

I’m not going to argue the intricacies of the international law involved, simply because, not being a celebrity, I only ever try to talk about things I know at least something about.

However, I’m willing to accept that the Greeks may have a valid legal claim to get their marbles back. Then again, they may not. What is absolutely undeniable is that, in view of their history, our moral right to the sculptures is unimpeachable.

The Earl of Elgin first got involved with them in 1799, when he was appointed His Majesty’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, of which Greece was then part.

Upon his arrival he went into the archives and noticed that many of the sculptures listed were no longer extant. An utterly civilised man, Lord Elgin decided to finance the salvation effort, starting with cataloguing the sculptures in the Parthenon and elsewhere in the Acropolis.

He then discovered that the Turks, whose reverence for such things wasn’t the same as Lord Elgin’s, were burning the marble sculptures to obtain lime for construction purposes. Aghast, Lord Elgin began to have the sculptures removed in 1801, completing the project in 1812.

This cost him £70,000 (almost £70 million in today’s inflated cash), a huge outlay partly offset when Lord Elgin sold the sculptures to the British Museum. That he was driven not only by aesthetic appreciation but also by patriotism is evident from the fact that he rejected much higher offers from Napoleon and others.

It’s a fair bet that, had the marbles remained in Greece, which is to say in the Ottoman Empire, they wouldn’t have survived. As it is, they delight six million people every year, all of whom ought to be grateful to Lord Elgin.

Since viewing the exhibits didn’t take long, I had plenty of time on my hands to ponder the fate of the marbles before going on one last walk in Athens. Striking out west, we walked along a pleasant residential street lined with orange trees bending under the weight of fruit. I nicked an orange out of curiosity, wondering how come I was the only one with such larcenous inclinations.

When we passed a street market, where the very same oranges were selling at 40p a kilo, I stopped wondering. As we walked, the centre of Athens was overflown by some 20 fighter-bombers flying nap-of-the-earth at supersonic speeds, complete with deafening booms.

Back in the First World, city centres are spared such entertainment, but Athenians didn’t bat an eye. In their long history they’ve seen worse.

Love at first sight

People often talk about one glance being all it took. In my own modest experience a second glance was usually necessary, this one at the girl’s face.

No such dawdling with Athens: I instantly loved what I saw. And instantly regretted I had been reluctant to come here all these years.

Too many people told me Athens was dirty, chaotic, smelly and rather Third World. Actually it’s no dirtier or smellier than any major city, although chaotic it undeniably is. As to being Third World, perhaps. So much the better.

The First World has been neutered by modernity, dragged into uniformity, denatured and deodorised into vapid commercialised mediocrity, its formerly great cities turned into lifeless pictures drawn by numbers for the delectation of tourists.

Athens must depend on tourists for its sustenance, but it’s refreshingly contemptuous of them, as if saying, “Fine, I’ll take your money. But don’t expect special privileges in return.”

Now I don’t suffer from the journalistic hubris of claiming gnostic insights on the basis of a flying visit. Hence I can only offer one smitten man’s fleeting, dishevelled observations.

The first thing I loved about Athens is its palette. None of the dark, heavy grimness of some northern cities: Athens never moves too far from white, and then only in the direction of either pink or custard.

Endearing signs of third-worldliness are everywhere. One immediately realises that no evaluation of Athens can be squeezed into the framework built on the experience of other Mediterranean cities. It’s unlike any of them.

For one thing, one would look in vain for the demarcation between the right and wrong sides of the track: it doesn’t exist. Compared to, say, Barcelona or Genoa, all of Athens is the wrong side of the tracks.

Oh, to be sure, one finds the odd pocket of carefully combed gentility here and there – but invariably in the vicinity of government buildings, such as the President’s residence or immediately to the southeast of the Acropolis.

The rest of it is densely covered in graffiti, resembling in style and spread those adorning the N train on the New York subway of my youth. Some convey cogent messages, usually those of sexual intercourse with either police or the EU; most are purely decorative.

Crossing the street in Athens is all one’s life is worth. Pedestrians are given no more than 10 seconds to cross even the widest avenues and, if you lose a precious second to indecision, it’s your hard luck. Cars will rush in at twice the posted speed limit, and woe betide the ditherer.

This is another reminder that one is in the Third World: drivers assume social ascendancy over walkers, for until recently only the very few could afford cars. However, provided one survives the first encounter with a pedestrian crossing, survival skills don’t take long to develop.

One detects that feminism hasn’t quite reached Athens, which is another appealing sign of third-worldliness. Cafés are full of men well below pensionable age playing cards or backgammon, with no women any nearer than the old lady bringing them another litre of house red (typically €5).

Some of these chaps must be married, so what are their wives doing while they deal the next hand? Well, the usual things: working, looking after the house and children, carrying heavy bags. I mean, if women don’t do those things, they won’t get done, will they?

Wine and food are functionally different in Athens, compared to, say, France or Italy. The French build their meals around great wines. Italians cook great food and find wines to match. Both strive for perfection, while Athenians are just out to have a good time and shout ‘opa!’ to the sound of ubiquitous Sirtaki music.

On the first night, I ordered a pricey bottle and then, old hand that I am, a glass of house red for comparison. Tasting no appreciable difference, I’ve since stuck to the cheap stuff.

And the food? Well, I’ll give you a hint: they don’t call the country Greece for nothing. Combined with the rotgut, Greek fare is instant heartburn for a neophyte and, one suspects, even for those who consume it every day. But no one minds: Athenian men, ideally stag, are out to enjoy one another’s company: the food and drink are just there to oil the wheels.

Yes, Athens is chaotic, but so is life. The city used to be considerably less chaotic than life, a long time ago. Some 2,500 years ago rigorous intellectual discipline came to Greece, but has since left.

That it was there is evident not just from their philosophy but also the surviving architecture. No extemporising, no deviation from strictly enforced norms: straight lines, right angles, all capitals on every column in the same building exactly identical. Not for the ancient Greeks the playful licence afforded Gothic builders: just look at the capitals in any French cathedral and see if you find two identical ones.

The discipline of ancient Greece didn’t outlive ancient Greece. First the Christians took over with their accent on the individual, alien to the public-spirited Hellenes. Then the Muslims bossed the country for 400 years. Then modernity smashed its way in, now fronted by the EU (whose sick mind decided that Athens and Berlin belong in the same state?).

As a result, the Greeks have lost a sense of direction. They no longer know what the purpose of life is, but so much more are they determined to enjoy its process. The architecture of Athens says all this loud and clear.

By the looks of it, no construction happened in the city between 200 BC and the nineteenth century AD. When it resumed, chaos prevailed, but it’s a delightful chaos.

No two houses are the same, but somehow they all look similar. The joyous palette pulls them together, and little variation of height. The streets convey the message of modern free-for-all, but not without hinting at classicist uniformity, long since gone.

Life is bustling everywhere, with women hurrying about their business without seeming to mind being shunned by the men. Actually, looking at Athenian womankind, one can’t really blame the men for their androcentricity.

One doesn’t see too many graces about, and today’s Helens mostly have faces that could sink a thousand ships. But the sexes must come together at some point, for one sees a lot of prams pushed along by women whose husbands attend to the serious business of backgammon.

Another form of life that’s in abundance is stray cats, millions of them – those toms definitely don’t shun their females. Now I’ve seen stray cats before, but never in such numbers, nor so well-fed. These creatures are all the size of overfed cocker spaniels, which spells bad news for the pigeon population.

Somehow the contrast between the old and the new isn’t as annoying as it is in other places. Possibly that’s because the old and the new are in Athens separated by so many centuries, indeed so many civilisations, that they don’t really clash. Or else the gushing life of Athens is so appealing that one is reluctant to judge.

A few yards from the Agora, still majestic in its ruinous state, there’s a shop called JIMMYS TATTOOS. I was appalled: the people who invented the word apostrophe have forgotten how to use it. But then the sign wasn’t in their mother tongue.

There are mercifully few signs in English anywhere, some quite comic. For example, a rip-off restaurant in the main square strikes a blow for truth in advertising by calling itself TRAP, while a bar next door to my hotel honestly refers to itself as DIVE.

Whenever I return from my travels, my friend Tony asks a lapidary question: Could you live there? Anticipating the same enquiry about Athens, the answer is, probably not. But I wish I could.




The stones are seen but unheard

The stones of cities talk. They tell stories – of great men who trod their pavements; their prophets, saints and villains; the blood that flowed into their drains; civilisations born, dead or forever alive; the trees of great cultures growing to luxuriant splendour only then to shed their leaves one by one.

The stones of Athens talk louder than just about anywhere in Europe. And they aren’t the only ones who do the talking.

This I discovered the other day when asking the concierge at our hotel what, apart from the Acropolis, he’d recommend we see. This led to a quarter-hour’s discussion of the relative merits of Plato and Aristotle, something one seldom expects to have with hotel staff.

The young man strongly advised us to steer clear of Aristotle’s Lyceum in favour of the groves of Plato’s Academy – even though the proverbial groves are all that remains of it. This because Aristotle was the much inferior philosopher to begin with, even before he was eternally compromised by his subsequent, if unwitting, incorporation into Christianity by Aquinas and other scholastic subversives.

Christianity, he explained, took the great Hellenic civilisation, squeezed it dry, drank up the juices and then discarded it like used-up lemon halves. Yes, but… I objected meekly and with an ingratiating smile. Can’t one say that by incorporating first Plato and then Aristotle into its own philosophy, Christianity gave them a new life? Take Neo-Platonism, for example…

My interlocutor refused to take Neo-Platonism even as an example. The less said about that profanation, that sacrilege, that vulgarisation, the better. His own smile was pleasant but far from ingratiating.

I must say that in all my travels I’ve never before encountered a Platonist concierge, nor one who could direct me towards the ruins of one particular philosophical school in preference to another. One more readily expects directions to a restaurant that gives the concierge a kick-back (“Just tell them Mario sent you”), a shopping district or, if one is so inclined, a brothel.

Thus inspired by the realisation that Athens is different, we did what every tourist does first: climb Acropolis Hill, all the way up to the Parthenon, followed by a descent to the Agora and then another, shorter, climb to Pnyx Hill.

Few stones in the world talk as eloquently, but they do need an interpreter or perhaps a language teacher, for not many people these days understand stone. Looking at the throng of tourists attacking the Hill, most of them young and showing few signs of a cultured family background, one could see that the language of those stones was, well, Greek to them.

True enough, each highlight along the way is accompanied by a board with a short write-up about the place. But the information provided is exclusively archaeological, structural and architectural. Talking to cultural innocents, the boards leave their virginity intact.

Who cares when and how the Theatre of Dionysus was dug up? Who cares whether the columns of the Parthenon are Doric, Ionic or Corinthian? Oh some people do, as they should. But, given the little space available, wouldn’t it be better to tell them that the theatre is where Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles and Aristophanes premiered their plays? Or, at the risk of incurring the concierge’s wrath, that St Paul spoke on the Hill?

It’s nice to know the exact dimensions of the dais on Pnyx Hill, but wouldn’t it be more useful to tell the visiting children (chronological or cultural) that Pericles and Demosthenes delivered their orations from there?

In the Agora every little stone is accompanied by recondite information about technical matters, with nary a word about what happened there. Chaps, this was every Athenian’s real home, with his house merely, and not invariably, his bedroom.

This is where they all rushed every morning to discuss, and determine, the future of the city. This is where Socrates, old and looking half-mad, would accost strangers with silly and irrelevant questions – you know, the kind that lay the foundation of Western thought.

Unfortunately, the contemporaneous powers-that-be realised that the questions weren’t silly and irrelevant, that they indeed were laying the foundation of the kind of thought that was at odds with Athenian democracy.

Democracy, Athenian, modern or any other, has no place for sages mouthing nasty things about it. So the democrats locked Socrates up in prison – and there it is, a caged hole cut into the rock of Pnyx Hill. It’s mercifully identified as Socrates’s dungeon, though no information is provided of why he was put there – or subsequently killed.

I would have been tempted to include the words ‘first great victim of democratic tyranny’, or, as a minimum, to say that Socrates’s friends offered to spring him on the eve of his enforced suicide, but he refused as a matter of honour, and not to give his prosecutors the satisfaction of such an implicit admission of guilt. Wouldn’t it have made a more interesting story than structural information?

Perhaps it wouldn’t. As the concierge told me mournfully, even Greek children are nowadays only told that their heritage is great, without explaining what makes it so. Socrates was charged with perverting the minds of the young; his accusers’ typological descendants succeed in keeping those minds perpetually empty.

So the stones keep silent. The Acropolis and its environs are merely tourist attractions, a sort of vaguely historical Disneyland, minus the rides. An opportunity missed, yet another generation lost.

(Tomorrow I’ll tell you of my impressions of the city itself, which I love.)




Elective government and selective schools

Between 1965 and now British education slid downhill from being the envy of the world to becoming its laughingstock.

The pre-1965 11-plus exams would confound most of today’s 18-year-olds, including many entering university. Even basic literacy is nowadays seen as an achievement, with some 80 per cent of school leavers having reading problems. Subtracting 1/3 from 1/2 is seen as a pie in the sky, and being able to figure out change in a shop as a sign of uncanny talent.

Why? In a word, democracy.

Or rather modern democracy of one-man-one-vote raised to an absolute and transferred into all areas, including those that in a sane society should have nothing to do with politics. Such as education.

Our crypto-republic is confirming an ineluctable law of nature: all modern republics gravitate towards democracy, all democracies gravitate towards ideological egalitarianism. And, Midas in reverse, egalitarianism turns to shambles everything it touches.

Those 11-plus exams separated academically promising children from those who were better suited to more practical careers. The former went to grammar schools (superior to most of today’s universities), the latter to secondary moderns (superior to most of today’s comprehensives). Thus 25 per cent of the pupils were well-educated, and the rest sufficiently competent to handle themselves in the rough-and-tumble of adult life.

Then, in 1965, in rode the Labour egalitarian brigade led by Education Secretary Anthony Crosland on his high horse. He took an oath, hand on Das Kapital: “If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every f***ing grammar school…”

So he did. The downhill slide began, proving yet again that it’s only ever possible to equalise things at the lowest common denominator. Comprehensive education means comprehensive ignorance, rendering millions of people unfit to function in modern life.

Mrs May, herself a grammar school girl, has vowed to bring grammars back, which is laudable. Yet the genie of egalitarianism has acquired a life all its own. It won’t be pushed back into the bottle whence it came.

Egalitarian education has over three generations mostly spawned egalitarian teachers, those who see nothing wrong with the system, realising they wouldn’t do well in any other. Many of them are products of comprehensives themselves.

Over time they’ve formed a whole alphabet soup of unions, organisations, associations and what have you. These are committed to cutting the cables on any lift capable of carrying our education back to the top.

When Education Secretary Justine Greening tried to defend the expansion of grammar schools to a gathering of head masters, she was mercilessly heckled. Educators who don’t educate screamed “Rubbish”, “Shame” and “No” in voices doubtless built up at party rallies and CND marches.

Such strident opposition reminded the government of the aforementioned ineluctable law: egalitarianism has to triumph over sanity; ideology has to trump reason. Hanging its head down in shame, HMG has set out to expiate its mortal sin of elitism.

Plans are being hatched to lower entry marks for children from poorer backgrounds. If such children fail at age 11, they’ll be given other chances with 12-plus and 13-plus exams. That way everyone will be able to benefit from grammar school education.

These ideologised creatures don’t realise that trying to enable everyone to benefit from grammar school education is tantamount to making sure no one will. Making grammars egalitarian will effectively turn them into comprehensives by another name.

That’s just fine for today’s lot, as it was for Crosland and his fellow wreckers. Ideology creates a virtual world, as divorced from reality as the manic delirium of a schizophrenic.

Yet reality does exist, and it’s unsentimental. Contrary to the silly pronouncement adumbrating modernity, all men aren’t created equal. Some are taller than others, some are stronger, some are more aggressive, some are braver, some are kinder. More to the point, some are cleverer than others and better able to absorb academic disciplines.

Such people tend to do better in practical life, and they usually marry within the same group. Their children, on average, are better equipped genetically and culturally for academic pursuits than children from less successful households.

Trained by Marx to ascribe everything to social demarcations, today’s Britons talk about such things in terms of middle class or working class, even though it’s the ‘middle classes’ who these days do most of the work. The same toxic egalitarianism transferred to economic activity has enabled the ‘working classes’ not to work, turning them into déclassé pariahs.

Whatever you call these groups, for all the efforts of our fully paid-up egalitarians, children growing up in households full of books will be better educated than those whose, typically single-parent, households are full of crushed beer cans and discarded syringes. And even those who grow up in families closer to the working classes of old will be at an educational disadvantage.

Free grammar schools are designed to help the brighter of those children overcome such disadvantages. The design doesn’t always work out – perfect systems don’t exist. However, it succeeds often enough, while turning grammar schools into misnomers never will. But that doesn’t matter to our ‘progressives’.

The march of progress is inexorable, as Mrs May with all her good intentions is finding out. Ideologised ignorance will prevail.

What comes after Montenegro?

Theresa May is “deeply disturbed” about the failed coup in Montenegro staged by the Russians, and with good reason. Putin’s kleptofascist junta, mostly made up of KGB officers, is challenging the West all over the globe.

The methods used so far are more KGB than Red Army: using hybrid forces to annex the Crimea and other parts of the Ukraine, a coup to prevent Montenegro’s joining Nato, blackmail, recruitment of agents and ‘useful idiots’, electronic hacking aimed at disrupting Western politics and paralysing the will to resist, disinformatsia and so forth.

The West, specifically Nato, even more specifically the US, faces a vital challenge, and the world’s shape, indeed survival, may well depend on how successfully this challenge is met.

Putin’s immediate goal is to undo what he calls “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century”, the breakup of the USSR. To do that he must first neutralise Nato, of which three former Soviet republics are members.

What with the US financing 75 per cent of Nato’s budget, the position of the American administration is critical. Hence it’s hard not to be concerned about the frankly pro-Putin position adopted by Trump and his people.

Some of them have been compromised by their intimate links with the Russians; some lied about the contacts and had to be sacked. One wonders about Trump’s motives in surrounding himself with people like Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Rex Tillerson, who’ve all made such vast fortunes in Russia that it’s hard to expect them to stay impartial.

The first two, along with National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, have been sacked. Considering that Trump himself has made billions out of Russia, one may well doubt his own objectivity. In fact, by way of a parting shot, Carter Page admitted that Trump himself had authorised the contacts in question.

Lately, the president has had to keep much of his affection for Putin to himself, what with many in his own party, to say nothing of the Democrats, being opposed to any unilateral rapprochement with the Russians. However, for all his meandering, Trump hasn’t really changed his initial pro-Putin course.

But it’s not a course he himself charted. Here one must mention a rather sinister influential figure: Dimitri Simes, president of the think tank The Centre for the National Interest and publisher of the journal The National Interest. That Simes serves national interests is indisputable, the question is whose.

He and I got out of Russia at about the same time, and the mauvaises langues among the émigrés insisted then that Simes was a KGB plant to begin with. I have no idea whether that’s true, but one fails to see how he’d be covering Russia differently if he were indeed Putin’s man.

Back in December he published A Blueprint for Donald Trump to Fix Relations with Russia, a lengthy tutorial for Trump in the art of appeasement and giving Putin a free hand in gluing the Soviet empire back together.

Simes wrote exactly what Putin’s propagandists are screaming off TV screens and newspaper pages, except he couched his rhetoric in the jargon of American political punditry. The hope must have been that such subterfuge would make the propaganda more digestible, but it still causes dyspepsia.

First Simes wrote: “In selecting individuals for key positions dealing with Russia, it will be important to appoint those both willing and able to implement your policy.” Trump has followed that advice faithfully, as Messrs Page, Manafort, Flynn and Tillerson could testify.

Moving right along, Simes reiterated Putin’s nuclear blackmail that has become Russian television’s stock in trade: “First and foremost, Russia remains the only nation that can erase the United States from the map in thirty minutes.”

I doubt that this is technically feasible, but it’s the thought that counts, and it comes right out of Putin’s head. The inevitable conclusion is that, if the USA wants to stay on the map for a while longer, it should get out of Putin’s way.

From nuclear blackmail on to the terrorist kind. Without Putin, claims Simes, the West wouldn’t be able to control international terrorism. He didn’t go so far as to suggest that some of this terrorism is inspired and expedited by Russia herself, but Russian dignitaries routinely drop broad hints to that effect.

Putin’s prime minister Medvedev’s hint was the broadest of all: “terrorist acts in the EU and the rest of the world happen because Western countries pursue the policy of isolating Russia”.

An influential Russian MP has added that he “isn’t sure that one terrorist act in Paris would suffice to initiate [the West’s] talks with Putin.”

The hints shouldn’t be taken as blustery braggadocio: Russia does have some influence with jihadists. Many Isis chieftains are former Iraqi officers trained by Moscow; weapons and training mainly come from Russia; Russia’s Muslim outskirts, especially Chechnya, provide a steady stream of Isis rank-and-file and also of terrorists.

Specifically, one wishes the FBI were more upfront about the obvious links between Russia and brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsranayev, two Chechens who in 2013 launched a murderous attack on the Boston Marathon. The former probably and the latter definitely were trained in Russia, which is kept relatively hush-hush.

Putin’s propaganda, of which Simes is an adept mouthpiece, is bearing fruit, and not just among Trump’s immediate circle. Here’s, for example, what former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said about Putin’s possible aggression against Estonia:

 “The Russians aren’t gonna necessarily come across the border militarily. The Russians are gonna do what they did in Ukraine… I’m not sure I would risk a nuclear war over some place which is the suburbs of St Petersburg.”

At its closest point, Estonia, a country roughly the size of Denmark, is 85 miles from Petersburg. Finland is the same distance away, which proximity was used by Putin’s typological predecessor Stalin as a pretext for attacking Finland in 1939.

Gingrich’s statement sounds suspiciously like advice to Putin: do some more hybrid stuff, Vladimir. Pretend it’s Estonians themselves attacking their own country, with the help of Russian paramilitary volunteers over whom Putin has no control.

Simes’s ‘blueprint’ does the same job, though with greater subtlety: “We should put an end to the illusion that… the U.S. commitment to defend even the newest and smallest NATO members must remain unconditional… The goal must be to prevent incidents that could provide a temptation – or excuse – for Russian intervention. There should be no illusions that America accepts responsibility for allies who provoke conflict and then request assistance and reassurance to deal with the consequences.”

Get it? America shouldn’t defend a Nato member that ‘provokes’ conflict. Of course manufacturing such a provocation, or anything construed as such, is a doddle for the Russian KGB junta: there’s plenty of experience, specifically in that region.

The aforementioned attack on Finland started with the Russians shelling their own border village Mainila and claiming that the fire had come from Finland. This was used as a casus belli, even though the evidence of the true origin of the shelling was incontrovertible (shell fragments disperse in the direction of the shell’s trajectory, which in that case came from the south, not north).

Knocking off a dozen Russians living in Estonia and subsequently coming to the defence of the consanguine minority could also do nicely – that sort of thing worked famously for Hitler in 1938 and 1939. Estonia’s brutal insistence that the resident Russians learn the country’s language could also be interpreted as sufficient cause.

Simes co-opts to his cause the nonagenarian Henry Kissinger, who in his dotage has become even more of an appeaser than he was back in the Nixon days: “Kissinger’s alternative – with which we strongly agree – is to seek to integrate Russia into an international order that takes into account Moscow’s minimum essential interests.”

Moscow’s ‘minimum essential interests’ are to divide the world into spheres of interest, with Russia directly controlling half of Europe and ‘Finlandising’ the rest. Incidentally, both the Finns and the Swedes are alert to that threat.

Throughout the Cold War Sweden remained neutral and Finland for all intents and purposes a Soviet satellite (hence ‘Finlandisation’). However, in the face of non-stop Soviet overflights violating their airspace, the two countries are drawing closer to Nato. Both are hastily rearming, and Sweden is reintroducing conscription.

Simes doesn’t mention that, but he keeps stressing that Russia is in the forefront of armament technology. As proof of the Russians’ technological attainment he offers “the cofounder of the most advanced digital company in the world, Google, is Russian-born Sergey Brin.”

Now Brin’s parents emigrated from Russia when he was six. Sergei grew up as an American and has little to do with Russia. One wonders how he’d feel if he knew his name is being used for the purposes of pro-Putin propaganda.

So far Trump hasn’t deviated from Simes’s ‘blueprint’ one iota. One hopes there are enough checks and balances in US politics to keep the president from acting on some of the more cataclysmic veiled recommendations.

This budget is visceral, not rational

It took our pseudo-Conservative government 24 hours to backpedal on the new tax penalising entrepreneurs.

It’s clear why the reverse gear was engaged: the budget has singled out for fiscal punishment precisely the groups that are viscerally Conservative. Realising that, many Tory MPs began to fear for their seats.

A revolt was brewing, and Mrs May decided it would be prudent to put brakes on her Chancellor. What is less straightforward is why Mr Hammond, doubtless with the PM’s support, introduced this budget in the first place.

It helps to imitate God and start with the word. In this case, the word is capitalism, the economic method supposedly practised by Western governments. It’s impossible to understand our state’s motives without first realising that ‘capitalism’ has become a mendacious misnomer.

Western economies are no longer capitalist: they range from corporatist to frankly socialist. For the goal of all modern Western governments is self-aggrandisement by gaining maximum control over the people.

There are obvious differences among, say, totalitarian, socialist and liberal-democratic governments, but these are differences of method, not principle. Some modern regimes rely on coercion, some on brutality, some on more subtle levers of power. But they all have levers, and they all operate them with single-minded focus.

Totalitarian regimes cultivate a sort of mass Stockholm syndrome: they enslave the people and use non-stop propaganda to make the people like their servitude and depend on it. Liberal democracies also cultivate a culture of dependency, mainly by extorting so much of the people’s money that many of them have to beg the state for alms.

This is accompanied by bien pensant jargon of share, care, be aware, with the state subliminally equated with the loving, merciful, occasionally wrathful God. Modern states extort, on pain of imprisonment, a lion’s share of people’s earnings, while brainwashing the robbed into believing the loot serves the common good.

The state’s efforts to rob industrious Peter to reward indolent Paul are portrayed as a form of Christian charity. Today, in a staggeringly disingenuous article, Michael Gove had the gall to argue that Mrs May’s politics can only be understood in the light of Catholic social thought to which the PM is privy thanks to her Anglican background.

That’s why she supposedly uses the phrase ‘common good’ so often. This is either a misunderstanding or a lie. Mrs May uses the phrase in exactly the same sense in which all modern politicians, regardless of party affiliation, use it: common subservience to the state.

The phrase is a calculated lie, designed to make people accept parting with over half of what they earn through backbreaking work. This overall lie spins out a multitude of small ones, such as ‘welfare’ or ‘social security’.

Our dear National Insurance is yet another misnomer camouflaging an extra 12 per cent income tax. That way the government can boast that our base tax rate is 20 per cent, rather than the 32 per cent it actually is.

Add to this local, property, car and road taxes, VAT, TV licences and whatnot, and a person in the lowest tax bracket is robbed of about half of his earnings. And the higher the bracket, the bigger the robbers’ loot.

Before figuring out the politics involved, Mrs May had defended our taxation system for being ‘progressive’. This is like praising paralysis for being progressive. That people who earn more should pay more tax in absolute terms is fair. That they pay proportionately higher rates of tax is gross injustice, but Mrs May’s statist DNA precludes her from understanding that.

Whatever she may be in private life, as a public figure she’s a dedicated, visceral statist. Once we’ve realised this, the budget, inspired by Mrs May and enunciated by Mr Hammond, becomes easy to understand.

Just look at the groups hit the hardest: entrepreneurs, savers, private pensioners, inheritors. What do they all have in common?

Entrepreneurs implicitly rebel against modern corporatism. Their independence of mind and freewheeling approach to life go against the psychosocial type modern states try to spawn: that of a dependent.

Savers and private pensioners display some of the same undesirable characteristics as the self-employed. They realise that a government that does a lot for the people will inevitably do a lot to them. So rather than relying on the state’s tender mercies, they try to take care of their own future.

And of course things like inheritance tax and death duties are meat to our visceral statists. God forbid a successful man can provide not only for himself and his wife but also for his children and grandchildren. Inheritance is the bête noire of the modern state, and the greater the chunk the state can bite out of it, the better shot it’ll have at making more people dependent on government handouts.

The same logic explains why our already crippling social expenditure is going up, even though this makes it impossible to reduce our appalling £1.8 trillion debt. Foreign aid also goes up, extending welfarism to other countries, in the hope that this will increase our ability to control them (it won’t, but this is a different story).

How one wishes for a Tory government… hold on: my wife is telling me we already have one. Could have fooled me.


We now celebrate communist holidays

I forgot that yesterday was International Women’s Day and hence neglected to commemorate it properly. Since I’m busy today, I’m going to re-run last year’s piece, to which I really have nothing to add.

First we had Mothering Sunday, a religious holiday Western Christians celebrate on the fourth Sunday of Lent.

Then, under the influence of the US, Mothering Sunday was largely replaced by Mother’s Day, a secular holiday without any religious overtones whatsoever. That’s understandable: our delicate sensibilities can no longer accommodate any Christian festivals other than Christmas Shopping.

Now that secular but basically unobjectionable holiday has been supplemented by International Women’s Day (IWD), celebrated by all progressive mankind on 8 March. Our delicate sensibilities aren’t offended at all.

Actually, though the portion of mankind that celebrates 8 March calls itself progressive, it isn’t really entitled to this modifier – unless one accepts the propensity for murdering millions just for the hell of it as an essential aspect of progress.

For, not to cut too fine a point, 8 March is a communist event, declared a national holiday by the Bolsheviks in 1917, immediately after they seized power and started killing people with the gusto and on a scale never before seen in history. A few wires were expertly pulled after the war, and IWD also got enshrined in Soviet satellites.

The event actually originated in America, where the Socialist Party arbitrarily chose that date to express solidarity with the 1909 strike of female textile workers. Yet the holiday didn’t catch on in the States, doubtless because the Socialist Party never did.

Outside the Soviet bloc, 8 March went uncelebrated, unrecognised and, until recently, unknown. I remember back in 1974, when I worked at NASA, visiting Soviet astronauts made a big show of wishing female American employees a happy 8 March, eliciting only consternation and the stock Texan response of “Say what?”

The event was big in the Soviet Union, with millions of men giving millions of women bunches of mimosa, boxes of chocolates – and, more important, refraining from giving them a black eye, a practice rather more widespread in Russia than in the West.

But not on 8 March. That was the day when men scoured their conscience clean by being effusively lovey-dovey – so that they could resume abusing women the very next day, on 9 March. For Russia was then, and still remains, out of reach for the fashionable ideas about women’s equality or indeed humanity. As the Russian proverb goes, “A chicken is no bird, a wench is no person.”

Much as one may be derisory about feminism, it’s hard to justify the antediluvian abuse, often physical, that’s par for the course in Russia, especially outside central Moscow or Petersburg. Proponents of the plus ça change philosophy of history would be well-advised to read Dostoyevsky on this subject.

In A Writer’s Diary Dostoyevsky describes in terrifying detail the characteristic savagery of a peasant taking a belt or a stick to his trussed-up wife, lashing at her, ignoring her pleas for mercy until, pounded into a bloody pulp, she stops pleading or moving. However, according to the writer, this in no way contradicted the brute’s inner spirituality, so superior to Western materialistic legalism. Ideology does work in mysterious ways.

The Russian village still has the same roads (typically none) as at the time this was written, and it still has the same way of treating womenfolk – but not on 8 March. On that day the Soviets were housetrained to express their solidarity with the oppressed women of the world, or rather specifically of the capitalist world.

As a conservative, I have my cockles warmed by the traditionalist way in which the Russians lovingly maintain Soviet traditions, including the odd bit of murder by the state, albeit so far on a smaller scale. Why we have adopted them, at a time when communism has supposedly collapsed, is rather harder to explain.

But why stop here? Many Brits, especially those of the Labour persuasion, already celebrate May Day, with red flags flying to symbolise the workers’ blood spilled by the ghastly capitalists. Why not spread the festivities more widely? I mean, May Day is celebrated in Russia, so what better reason do we need?

The Russians also celebrate 7 November, on which day in 1917 the Bolsheviks introduced social justice expressed in mass murder and universal slavery. I say we’ve been ignoring this glorious event far too long. And neither do we celebrate Red Army Day on 23 February – another shameful omission.

But at least we seem to be warming up to 8 March, an important communist event. At least we’re moving in the right direction.

A reader of mine suggested that those who celebrate IWD should perform the ballistically and metaphysically improbable act of inserting the holiday into a certain receptacle originally designed for exit only. While I don’t express myself quite so robustly in this space, I second the motion.

Cherie (Mrs Tony) Blair predictably expressed her support for IWD, ending her letter to The Times with “Count me in”. Well, count me out.


‘Noble rot’? No, ignoble twaddle

“Accident of birth is no reason to be handed a seat in the House of Lords”, says The Times editorial Noble Rot. What follows is an impassioned rant, as opposed to a reasoned argument, in favour of an elected upper chamber.

Actually, if the writer had a modicum of constitutional understanding, he’d know that ‘accident of birth’ is the only valid qualification for the Lords. But since such understanding isn’t to be found at either the left or the right end of the political spectrum, the House of Lords is under attack from both ends.

The rubbishy editorial has two gripes against the Lords: first, it’s undemocratic; second, its members are old. Yet both putative minuses are in fact huge pluses.

Being ‘undemocratic’ is the whole point of the upper chamber, not its drawback. Its historical function is to counterbalance any possible excesses of the Commons, keeping it on the straight and narrow.

In theory at least, their Lordships are impervious to partisan pressures – their appointment doesn’t necessitate currying political favour. They therefore can pass judgement only on the basis of their conscience and vested interest in the country their families have served for many generations.

This isn’t to say that an elected upper chamber can’t work. It can, elsewhere. For example, the US Senate, loosely modelled on the House of Lords, is a reasonably functional institution born out of necessity. After all, all titles of nobility were abolished immediately after the colonies became independent.

But introducing a replica of the US Senate in Britain is tantamount to mocking and abandoning centuries of constitutional tradition. Advocating such a measure is a sign of gaping ignorance enhanced by trendy anomie.

According to the editorial, Blair’s subversive reform of the Lords wasn’t subversive enough. After all, 92 hereditary peers still kept their seats. We don’t want that. We want spivs like Blair and Cameron to inhabit both chambers.

The other gripe, that their Lordships are too old, is another example of left-leaning idiocy. After all, it’s councils of elders, not youngers, that are the oldest form of government, and with good reason.

Few people acquire at an early age the wisdom required for statesmanship, something even the revolutionary framers of the US Constitution realised. That’s why they introduced minimum ages for all political appointments, 35 for the president. I’d suggest that, what with the average life expectancy now being twice what it was 200 years ago, no one under 60 should be qualified for high political office.

We may argue about the specific cut-off points, but not the general principle: in affairs of the state, age is an asset, not a detriment. This principle, however, doesn’t cut much ice with our paedocratic modernity promoting infantilism as a political tool.

If there’s one common feature among different tyrannies, autocratic, totalitarian or democratic, it’s their accent on youth. Tyrants realise that impetuous, unformed brains can be putty in their hands, mouldable into any shape. Brainwash them early, and they’re yours for life.

For example, Trotsky once described young people as “the barometer of a nation”. That may be true, but history shows that the barometer inevitably falls off the wall and shatters, with grown-ups cutting their feet on the shards of glass.

Democratic tyranny of the majority, in Tocqueville’s phrase, is just as paedocratic, and for the same reasons. Wiser, older heads may just notice that a modern politician can pack even a short speech with solecisms and every known rhetorical fallacy. People in their 60s are less likely to scream themselves hoarse with cretinous gusto every time a democratic tyrant utters a meaningless platitude.

If a formerly respectable paper is attacking our constitution from the left, good people on the right do their bit too. There’s even a petition making the rounds on Facebook calling for the abolition of the Lords.

My Brexiteer friends are aghast at their Lordships’ two rulings clearly aimed at slowing and diluting Brexit or, ideally, killing it stone-dead. The rulings are indeed abominable, but the proposed treatment is worse than the disease.

Calling for the abolition of an ancient institution because it has done something we don’t like is neither grown-up nor clever. My fire-eating friends should ponder why they want to leave the EU in the first place.

If the idea is, as it should be, to restore the ancient constitution of the realm, then they must see that what they’re proposing will destroy that constitution with even greater finality than anything the EU can muster. Emotions, however laudable, are a poor guide to political judgement. The mind works much better, chaps; you should try using it.

My zeitgeist-bucking proposal is to reduce House of Lords membership to hereditary peers only, ideally to those whose peerages go back 100 years or more. As a parallel measure, I’d recommend raising the voting age to 25, the minimum age for MPs to 40, 50 for cabinet members and 60 for prime ministers.

This won’t improve our politics appreciably – things have gone too far. But at least it may slow down the decline and delay a gruesome end.