Solomon on the downfall of the EU

KIng Solomon, the political theorist

King Solomon is rightly regarded as a wise man.

Bearing testimony to this reputation is his Book of Proverbs, in which he repeatedly stresses the perils of pride (in the sense of hubris, not self-respect), the seventh and the gravest of the deadly sins.

Thus: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”

This and many other similar adages teach a vital difference between intellect and wisdom. The former is usually part of the latter, but not necessarily the other way around.

Wisdom leavens intellect with a humble recognition of the limits of intellect. It thus acts as a safety valve of the mind, preventing it from too much folly and enabling it to be effective.

One wonders if European politicians ever dip into Scripture. I’m sure they don’t, for otherwise they would never have concocted an idea as unwise as the EU (or, for that matter, as criminal as communism, fascism and Nazism).

The problem goes deeper than just that awful contrivance. It also explains why England has had a much more successful political history than, say, Germany or France.

The English aren’t cleverer than the French or the Germans. But the English are wiser – they do appreciate the difference between wisdom and cleverness.

A widespread belief exists on the continent that a successful state can be built on a brilliant idea springing from the fecund minds of savants. Once that idea has taken shape, they feel, everything else will be a mere technicality.

Alas, the world seldom works that way, and politics never does. Organising and governing the life of a nation is a task with more facets than simple cogitation can ever fathom.

Brilliant men may knock their heads together and devise a perfect system for a perfect world. But no system can really be perfect because the world isn’t.

On the other hand, wise men, who may or may not be dazzlingly brilliant, know that people are fallible because they’re fallen.

Imperfect human nature will thus scupper any perfect political idea. Wise men realise that human agency can’t create heaven on earth. The best we can hope for is preventing hell on earth.

Germany and France, combined or perhaps even singly, might have produced as many or more brilliant statesmen than England. But they never produced as many wise ones – in fact, arguably they’ve hardly produced any.

Their statesmen have an exaggerated faith in both the power of the mind (especially their own) and the goodness of man. They really do take seriously Rousseau’s nonsense about man being perfect to begin with and ready to be tautologically perfected by clever teachers.

The noble sauvage, beautiful in its primordial virtue, is an idea that doesn’t stand up to even the most cursory empirical investigation. Solomon, on the other hand, knew that man has a good side and a bad one, and a wise government is one that encourages the former and discourages the latter.

A great mind has to construct a political picture of the world, one that makes it intelligible. But, if acting on its own power alone, it’ll fail every time. For this picture will paint the world not as it is, but as the brilliant mind wishes it to be.

Hubris takes over: a supremely intelligent man knows he’s cleverer than just about everyone he meets, individually. That leads him to the gross error of thinking that he understands something that mankind has never grasped, collectively.

He’s like a scientist who has so much faith in his hypothesis that he doesn’t care if it’s contradicted by empirical data.

The English political mind is the opposite of that. The English distrust the capacity of any man or small group, no matter how brilliant, to solve all the little problems of the world. No one but the English often use the word ‘clever’ pejoratively; no one else could have come up with the expression ‘too clever by half’.

The edifice of English government traditionally rested on what Burke described as prejudice, which is intuitive knowledge; prescription, which is truth passed on by previous generations; and presumption, which is inference from the common experience of mankind.

Thus the English have never organised their political life on the Damascene experience of any one man or group. It has always reflected a gradual and respectful accumulation of precedents – not only in law, but in every aspect of government.

A dispassionate, analytical look at what had worked over centuries and what hadn’t created the wisest and most stable government the world has ever known.

While seldom as fervently religious as most people on the continent used to be, the English borrowed from Scripture the notion of the sovereignty and intrinsic value of every individual, regardless of his wealth, status or intelligence.

Thus just government, as the English used to understand it, works from the bottom up, from low to high, from small to big. Its core unit is the individual and his immediate extension, his family.

It’s to this unit, and the local government built in its image, that wise governments devolve as much power as realistically possible. Localism, a maximum shortening of the distance between the governed and the government, is the essence of any just English government.

Centralism, the state assuming most power, is a profoundly un-English – and I dare say un-Western – way of running a country. That’s so not because it goes against the grain of some political theory, but because time and again it has been shown to be less effective and more tyrannical .

As the distance between the governed and the government increases, the former have less and less affinity for the latter, and the latter less and less affection for the former. Tectonic faults appear, and an earthquake may soon follow.

Empowering the state at the expense of the individual explains, more than anything else (such as more sophisticated killing technology), why more people were killed in the twentieth century than in all the previous centuries of recorded history combined.

While abandoning the founding tenets of our civilisation, modernity – even, alas, in England – has also discarded its political wisdom. Hence the modern tendency is to replace localism with centralism, which is to say replace the product of millennia’s worth of experience with an idea proved to be catastrophic.

The logical development of centralism is reductio ad absurdum: an urge to centralise political power within a supranational entity, thereby increasing even further the distance separating the government from the governed.

Hence the EU, a deeply flawed idea that lacks even the benefit of originality. For at least the past couple of centuries, clever Europeans have tried, in the words of T.S. Eliot, “to escape from the darkness outside and within by dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will have to be good.”

One such ‘perfect’ system is a supranational government that can dissolve all national identities, and therefore animosities, in a giant state ideally covering the whole world or just Europe to begin with.

Yet any attempt to come up with a United States of Europe will end up producing a Yugoslavia of Europe. Sooner or later individuals will realise they’re no longer sovereign, and even their national government isn’t.

A nationalist reaction is bound to follow, which may be violent and in any case will never be painless. The EU is thus a ship sailing for the rocks, with its skipper shouting “full speed ahead”.

Many clever continentals are capable of understanding this. But they won’t acknowledge it: their intellectual pride won’t let them. One doesn’t discern many Solomons in the European Commission.

Freedom from speech?

As I was saying…

When it comes to freedom of speech, the spectrum of opinion is demarcated by libertarians on the violet end and the post-modern brigade on the red one, with many gradations in between.

Libertarians are opposed to any restrictions on speech, no matter how much offence it gives to how many people.

Post-modernists support multiple restrictions on speech, no matter how little offence it gives to how few people.

The second group is easy to dismiss because their arguments just don’t make sense. Nor do they really try to argue; they simply want to put their jackbooted foot down.

Post-modernists see the world in binary terms, as an everlasting clash between the oppressors and the oppressed, with the second group to be protected from any insult to their delicate sensibilities.

The intellectual dilemma that gores these people with its horns has to do with definitions. They shoehorn mankind into prefabricated tribal groups, a few of which are supposed to oppress and most of which are deemed to be oppressed.

Their raison d’être demands an on-going expansion of the second group and the never-ending vilification of the first. Yet they can’t really define either with anything resembling intellectual rigour.

One example off the top: post-modernists regard women as an oppressed group, which logically makes men the oppressors. At the same time they see sex-change as a natural right. So, if an oppressed woman becomes a man, is she now an oppressor?

And what if a woman is a self-made or, worse still, hereditary billionaire? Does she then belong to the oppressed and oppressors at the same time? Does the same go for a black and/or homosexual company director? And what about a black, Muslim, lesbian fund manager?

The problem is that everybody, with the possible exception of maniacs, belongs not to one tribe but many. Should we all be protected from ‘hate speech’ in one capacity, but not the other?

This cat’s cradle is impossible to disentangle without losing every vestige of intellectual credibility.

Then how do you define ‘offensive’ or ‘hate’ speech? Does a joke making fun of some group qualify? For example, Jews come across as crafty in many jokes. Does this mean that anyone who tells them hates Jews?

Also, does anyone who refers to any tribe by a term other than the one this tribe favours at the moment hate every member of the tribe? No, I have it on good authority that some people who call the French froggie-woggies actually like them.

‘Offence’ is just as problematic. Let’s say I address a group of 300 and say something about it that one sourpuss finds offensive, while no one else does. Am I guilty of offending the whole group?

Our government, acting in the capacity of Solomon, solved that problem with the elegance characteristic of modern governments. An offence, it ruled, is anything the person on the receiving end perceives as such.

This legal definition strikes me as a tad too broad. That’s tantamount to saying that a crime is anything the government says it is, which concept of jurisprudence doesn’t sit well with the English Common Law.

And this is indeed a legal definition, with the weight of the state punitive power thrown behind it. A loyal subject of Her Majesty can be punished for saying something someone else deems offensive.

Actually, attacking this whole post-modern perversion complete with its political correctness is hardly sporting because it’s too easy. It’s a bit like angling with a stick of dynamite.

But the libertarian argument at the other end is harder to dismiss. There’s a strong internal logic to it.

Freedom of speech, say libertarians, only means something when it covers speech we dislike. After all, speech we like hardly needs protecting.

Some libertarians go so far as to insist that, say, libel and incitement to murder shouldn’t be illegal either, and even this specious argument is more buoyant than any PC nonsense mouthed by the post-modernists. But forgetting this extreme end, the bulk of the argument sounds reasonable.

There has to be an authority, say libertarians, that’s empowered to decide what constitutes ‘offensive’ or ‘hate’ speech. That authority can only be the state because it alone can enforce compliance.

Yet even cursory knowledge of history and human nature shows that a government empowered to ban speech we dislike will sooner or later start banning speech we like, including our own. Such a government has a green light on the road to tyranny – and one doesn’t have to be a card-carrying libertarian to deplore that.

So who decides? And if no one can, then isn’t any injunction against any kind of speech absurd?

Here I deviate from the libertarians, with whom I agree up to this point. For they proceed from a purely secular, which is to say anti-historic, premise and I don’t.

Both the post-modern brigade and their opponents preach, and try to impose, a certain system of moral coordinates. But no such system can succeed in earth unless it ultimately comes from heaven.

Hence injunctions against murder and theft are immutable in every civilised society precisely because they have divine antecedents. They fall into the category of malum in se – evil in itself.

Some other transgressions are malum prohibitum: they only transgress because they are arbitrarily banned. Thus a man driving without a seat belt commits a lesser offence than a man who steals the careless driver’s car.

I agree with the libertarians that no human authority should be trusted to decide what constitutes offensive speech. But ‘human’ is the operative word.

There has to be an authority that sits above human beings and is empowered to pass judgement on moral matters – including free speech. We used to have such an authority. It was called the Church, and for almost two millennia it applied divine law to sift human laws.

When it came to free speech, it proceeded from the legal principle laid down by the founder of our civilisation: “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.”

That authority presupposed censorship, but it also allowed almost infinite latitude. After all, most of the great literature was produced when the Church kept a watchful eye on speech.

By contrast, since the West freed itself from the shackles imposed by that institution it has clearly put in place other, tighter tethers. If you don’t believe me, just look at the rubbish adorning the windows of today’s bookshops.

Freedom of anything will turn into chaos if not subjected to a rigid discipline. That’s why some discipline is always imposed – the questions are by whom, by what kind of authority and what kind of discipline.

What speech should be restricted? Well, certainly not the kind that upsets the PC crowd – but some. Hence my reply to my libertarian friends who put forth their sound arguments in defence of free speech is always the same: “Yes, but…”

Manny’s lesson on social cohesion

This is me, studying a visual aid to Macron’s lecture

One should always heed lessons taught by experts.

Ignoring them is a sign of arrogant hubris, something that makes real knowledge impossible.

Armed with this wisdom, we should listen closely to my friend Manny Macron when he tells us all he knows about social unrest, which is a lot.

I certainly hung on to his every word the other day, when he explained to me how the world works – or rather should work.

After every sentence, Manny would cast a quick glance at the First Foster Mother, to make certain she approved.

Brigitte, I have to say, looked particularly assertive in her man’s suit (Size 36 Regular). She sat there impassively, occasionally adjusting the cuffs of her shirt to make sure exactly a quarter-inch showed, and smiling indulgently each time she felt her pupil had done well.

Thus reassured, Manny pressed on.

It’s impossible for a society to maintain tranquillity in a country that finds herself outside the EU, he taught.

Thus, if Britain leaves the EU without the kind of exit deal that negates the exit, we must brace ourselves for disturbances, if not for an out-and-out popular uprising.

Every weekend for months our city centres will be gridlocked by hundreds of thousands of protesters wearing funny garments, banging on buckets to produce the mère of all ruckuses, building barricades, ripping cobbles out and using them as projectiles, looting shops, writing graffiti disrespectful of the government and doing all sorts of other disruptive things.

Our police will have to respond with tear gas, baton charges, mass arrests. That will incite the protesters even more and trouble will escalate.

The state of the economy won’t help, what with it constantly teetering at the very edge of recession and tipping over from time to time (de temps en temps). We’ll have to keep raising taxes on fuel and essential services, adding fuel taxes to the fire of riots, as it were.

Meanwhile, our industrial production will go down, as will the people’s living standards.

Heading fast in the opposite direction, however, will be unemployment, especially among the young. Manny could confidently predict it’ll reach 25 per cent, driving millions of young Britons into the ranks of rioters.

The only thing that can save us from such disasters is a continued membership in the EU, in whose loving care Britain will prosper as much as all the other members have. Just look at France and Greece, he said. Nary a protest in sight, with people really having nothing to protest against.

Social cohesion will reign supreme and, if the British ever feel like wearing lurid waistcoats, it’ll be to make a sartorial, rather than a political, statement. Cobbles will remain in the roadways, the police will have no need for tear gas and batons, no barricades will be built.

“Do you think you get zis?” asked Manny at the end. “Well then, make sure to convey zis message to les sales Anglais. EU – social cohesion; no EU – social unrest. And stop wearing zis silly yellow waistcoat, will you? It doesn’t become you.”

I shook hands with the royal, sorry, I mean presidential couple (Brigitte’s handshake was considerably firmer, went well with her suit) and rushed to my computer to do as ordered, sorry, I mean taught.

Along the way I stopped at a huge graffito that goes to show how the French fail to appreciate their regal saviour Manny and, by association, the EU. Bunching Macron together with the quasi-communist Mélenchon and the quasi-fascist Le Pen, it screamed: “Out with all of them!”.

Knowing that you won’t believe people can be so ungrateful after all that Manny has done to, sorry, I mean for them, I asked Penelope to snap the validating picture opposite. Really, there’s no understanding the French.

Venezuela, Corbyn’s amour

“Viva Presidente Maduro! Abajo con el capitalismo!”

As Nicolás Maduro fights for survival with the help of 400 Russian ‘private military contractors’, Venezuela is rapidly turning into yet another flashpoint capable of conflagrating the world.

Venezuela has severed diplomatic relations with the US after the Trump administration recognised the opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president.

Both the US and Britain are trying to impound Venezuelan assets, and President Trump refuses to rule out military intervention. As far as America is concerned, the Monroe Doctrine has never been repealed.

Both Putin’s and Xi’s governments are rather unhappy about this. Putin threatened that any such interference would spell a “direct path to bloodshed”, and he didn’t just mean the odd shootout between his ‘private contractors’ and the 82nd Airborne.

But I don’t want to talk about such nasty things. I want to talk about love, especially of the type that can hurt.

Indeed, politicians like Putin, Xi, Tsipras, Mélenchon love Venezuela.So do ‘celebs’ like Sean Penn, Oliver Stone and Michael Moore.

Even Pope Francis harbours warm feelings about that country, although he doesn’t express them in the same forthright manner.

However, all these gentlemen have something good going for them. None of them can become the prime minister of Britain.

Jeremy Corbyn can, and in my gloomier moods I feel certain he will. That’s why his love of the regime begotten by Chávez and Maduro worries me.

It has to be said that Jeremy’s heart has a huge capacity for love, but not necessarily of the kind taught by Christ.

Jeremy has never seen a terrorist organisation he couldn’t adore. Hezbollah, Hamas, IRA, ETA, ISIS – you name it, Jeremy loves it. He does dislike Jews, but his multiple loves shine so much brighter against the backdrop of that darkish animosity.

Yet none of his love objects runs a country. But Chávez did and Maduro does.

Hence Jeremy’s love of their regime suggests that he sees it as a model he’d like to replicate in Britain, should he get the chance. I can’t take credit for this insight because he isn’t at all reticent about it.

Thus, when Jeremy was overcome with grief over Chávez’s death, he spoke from the heart:

“Thanks Hugo Chavez for showing that the poor matter and wealth can be shared. He made massive contributions to Venezuela and a very wide world.”

“In Chavez let’s remember someone who stood up, was counted, was inspiring, is inspiring, and in his death we will march on to that better, just, peaceful and hopeful world.”

“Chavez showed us that there is a different and a better way of doing things. It’s called socialism, it’s called social justice and it’s something that Venezuela has made a big step towards.”

Jeremy’s voluminous heart easily accommodates love of the poor, something he has in common with all socialists, including Messrs Chávez and Maduro. In fact, they love the poor so much, they make sure their numbers grow exponentially.

Just 20 years ago Venezuela was one of the world’s richest countries, with proven oil reserves 20 per cent greater than Saudi Arabia’s sloshing underfoot.

The country had a content, prosperous and reasonably well-educated population living in peace both internally and externally. And then Jeremy’s role models took over.

Following the economic principles they shared with Corbyn, they instantly pumped oil revenues into relieving poverty, including naturally their own. Blood-sucking capitalists were expropriated, just as Marx prescribed, and their industries nationalised.

All those measures were introduced overnight, with the exuberance so characteristic of the Latin temperament. And they worked the same way such measures always do.

In short order Venezuela became an economic basket case, with food disappearing from the supermarkets and people queuing for hours just to buy a handful of flour. Even the oil production steadily declined, from 3.5 million barrels a day in 1998 to 1.5 million barrels now.

To make matters worse, the government banned private plots and even fishing – the state had to enjoy a monopoly. Chavez’s goons roamed the coast, arresting fishermen and confiscating their catch.

Starving people looked for food anywhere they could find it, shooting wild creatures like flamingos and even raiding zoos to kill the animals. For it takes money to buy even flour, and that became a problem.

The bolivar, the national currency, was crushed by inflation. Quite a lot of it, actually: this year it’s expected to reach 10,000,000 per cent.

Given their subtle understanding of economics, Corbyn and his shadow chancellor McDonnell probably see this as an opportunity for enrichment. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every pound you own became ten million within a year?

Wouldn’t you like to drive a hundred-billion-pound car? I know I would.

Alas, Venezuelans didn’t quite see it that way. Hungry and desperate, they tried to take to the streets, which urge was nipped in the bud.

In the good socialist tradition, the democratic government quickly turned into a totalitarian dictatorship. Public protests were banned, dissidents thrown into prison, some quietly disposed of – well, you know how socialism operates in all its glory.

Unable to protest, Venezuelans  went on to vindicate the immutable law of history: when socialism comes in, people run away. Millions fled, mostly to the adjacent countries, creating a refugee crisis of their own.

What used to be a prosperous, peaceful country has become a hellhole ridden with poverty, disease and crime. Caracas’s murder rate is twice that of Cape Town and 80 times that of London. With a murder rate of 111 per 100,000, Venezuela puts to shame the US, by a factor of 25.

When the time came to pay lip service to democracy, Maduro’s gang rigged the 2018 elections without even bothering to throw a smokescreen around it.

Now Juan Guaidó, head of the National Assembly, is trying to depose Maduro’s gang, and his alternative government has already been recognised by the US, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Australia and most Latin American countries.

Yet Maduro has his champions too: Russia, China, Cuba, Iran, South Africa – and Jeremy, who may soon be given the chance to turn Britain into Venezuela in the name of socialism, social justice and love of any tyrants who hate the West as much as he does.

Those who say that Corbyn can’t possibly become PM or, even if he does, will be unable to destroy Britain to the Venezuelan blueprint, are much too complacent.

They don’t realise how brittle our institutions are, how wafer-thin is the partition separating every civilised country from institutionalised evil.

It takes insomniac vigilance to preserve our civilisation, whatever is left of it. Looking at our youths, who block city centres stampeding in their thousands to see a performance by a ‘genderless’ freak, one doubts such vigilance is top of their minds.

How will they vote next time around? I’m convinced that, unless Parliament passes an emergency decree raising the voting age to 30, we’ll have the British answer to Maduro at 10 Downing Street.

And then our only salvation could come from a latter-day Thomas Pride. Where are you, colonel, when we need you?

Things I don’t get about Brexit

Identify one thing wrong with this picture and win a valuable prize

What’s the attraction of EU membership?

One has to pay membership fees at any club. Just take my word for it: I belong to two tennis clubs, one in London, the other in Burgundy, and both charge for the privilege.

Weighing the debits against the credits, I’m satisfied that the balance is in my favour. In return for the modest fees, I can have unlimited court time at both clubs, and there’s no shortage of other members to play with – and have a beer afterwards.

The EU is a larger club than either of mine, and it costs more to belong. The membership fees are partly denominated in pounds sterling, at least £10 billion a year net – and that’s the least costly part.

My tennis clubs don’t try to dictate how I live my life outside their grounds, and nor do they prevent me from joining other clubs. The EU is different.

It insists that Britain surrender her sovereignty, including the right to join other clubs.

About 60 per cent of the new laws by which Britain is governed come down from the EU, and this proportion will reach 100 per cent when the EU becomes a single state de jure, rather than just de facto.

I’d say that any club demanding such exorbitant fees must be able to offer the kind of service that offsets the outlay. Moreover, that service has to be unavailable elsewhere, certainly not for free.

What is it then?

It can’t be the cash: the very fact that we pay more than we get knocks that argument for six.

It can’t be the chance to trade with other European countries. That service is useful, but, since we’ve had it for free since God parted the Red Sea, we shouldn’t have to pay for it.

It can’t be the chance to travel to the continent – ditto.

It can’t be relying on stronger economies to pull ours out of the morass by the bootstraps. That argument might have had some merit back in the ’60s and ‘70s, when Germany was a powerhouse, France not far behind, and Britain was in the doldrums.

But not now, when both countries are slipping into a major recession, their industrial output dropping – hope you’ll forgive a crude simile – like a whore’s knickers, and their employment rate not even a patch on ours. As to other EU members, most of them are the European answer to Venezuela (with a revolutionary potential to match).

It can’t be collective defence. On the contrary, belonging to a single European army, presumably led by Angie as generalissimo and Manny as the chief of staff, is sure to compromise our position in NATO, proven to be a reliable guarantor of our security.

And so on, so forth. I’ve been asking numerous EU fans, both here and on the continent, that same question for years – and never once have I received an answer whose intellectual content would satisfy even a 10-year-old with learning difficulties.

And that’s not all.

What’s the problem with the referendum result?

Now I’m opposed to plebiscitary democracy on principle, but that’s neither here nor there. My feelings are demonstrably not shared by those who called the referendum, those who took part in it, and those who vowed to abide by the result.

So what’s the problem then? The people were asked to speak; they spoke; job done.

Now we’re told that the result is divisive. I agree: of course it is.

But I’ll let you in on a secret: I’ve now lived in the West for 46 years, and I’ve taken part in numerous elections at different levels.

Yet in all this time I’ve never seen a single election yielding a unanimous result. And most of them were decided by a few percentage points here or there.

Thus any democratic election is by definition divisive: it divides those in the majority from those in the minority. Those in the second group swear, grind their teeth and go along with the result – that’s what democracy is about, isn’t it?

The election of every president or PM in my lifetime has been divisive, as has been every referendum I know about. That being the case, the word ‘divisive’ has no meaning whatsoever.

Uttering it in justification for neglecting the referendum result is tantamount to arguing against the very notion of plebiscitary democracy, or for that matter any other.

If that’s the point, fine. I myself have strong reservations about one-man-one-vote democracy, and have argued against it in books, articles and beery chats at my tennis clubs.

Yet those who decry the divisive referendum profess unshakeable faith in majority voting. Frankly I don’t get this.

What on earth does ‘People’s Vote’ mean?

Those who are impervious to the oxymoronic contradiction I’ve pointed out are demanding that the referendum result be ignored and another referendum, which they call People’s Vote, be held.

This can only mean two possible things.

One, the people didn’t vote the first time around. But they did: 17.4 million of them voted to leave the EU, more than have ever voted for anything else.

Two, those who voted in the first referendum weren’t people. Rather than homo sapiens, they represent some other, presumably inferior, species. At the time the EU was conceived, the term Untermenschen was in vogue, so should we resurrect it now?

Implicitly only those who want to stay in the EU qualify as full-fledged human beings, which startling anthropological discovery hasn’t been sufficiently documented to my satisfaction.

That’s another thing I don’t get. There are still many others; just tell me where to stop.

What makes leaving the EU so complicated that we’d better forget about it?

This claim is made by the very people who have tirelessly worked for over two years to make it so complicated.

That again strikes me as specious. Someone who stabs a taxpayer just for the hell of it is in a weak position to complain about knife crime being rife, or am I missing a logical point?

Once the people (I’m using this term in its traditional meaning) voted to leave, and Parliament voted to invoke Article 50, the whole thing became, or rather should have done, as easy as leaving any other club.

However – I’ve already used one crude simile, so I might as well use another – the EU seems to be like a certain part of a dog’s anatomy. Once a member is in, it slams shut and there’s no getting out.

Democratically elected people join forces to defy democracy, thereby making the canine simile work. Really, I don’t get it. Can somebody help me out please?

Prince William: Let it all hang out

One should wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve, provided the tailor is ‘by appointment’

The word ‘modern’ is seldom used in this space as a term of praise. So it pains me to have to apply it to our future king. But alas that’s what Prince William is, an utterly modern man.

He professes love for Aston Villa, and for the sake of our monarchy I hope he only professes it.

In his younger days, he used to be regularly photographed drunk in the wee hours, rolling out of the kind of nightclubs where a normal person wouldn’t be able to stay a minute.

He routinely uses demotic language, which I’ve lampooned a couple of times:

And he blames the war generation’s stiff upper lip for what he sees as the nation’s mental health crisis.

Now, and I mean this with every bit of respect for the institution HRH represents, he’s a man of rather modest intellect. That by itself is no disqualifying trait for becoming a successful king, provided that deficit is offset by nobility, honour, a sense of duty – and the very quality of dignified restraint that HRH wishes to expunge.

I’m afraid Prince William doesn’t display such qualities as often as he shows a certain lack of mental acuity. To wit:

“Completely by accident they [his grandparents’ generation] passed that [emotional restraint] on to the next generation [that of his parents]… So the whole generation inherited that this is how we deal with problems – we don’t talk about them. Now there’s a generation realising this is not normal and we should talk about them.”

One doesn’t know where to begin. However, obeying the royal command, I’m prepared to talk about my problems – specifically the one I have with drivel like that.

To me, emotional restraint, refusal to shove one’s feelings under others’ noses, has to be the most endearing national trait of the English. Underpinning it are the qualities of delicacy, tact and respect that lie at the foundation of civility.

Sparing one’s interlocutor the burden of one’s problems comes from the understanding that, since he has many problems of his own, one should ease his burden, not add to it.

A problem shared is a problem doubled – this version of the proverb is closer to the truth than the original. “Pull yourself together and get on with it” ought to be inscribed on the royal coat of arms, next to Dieu et mon droit.

Prince William’s statement is ignorant on more levels than those possessed by the kind of buildings his father rightly despises.

Character traits aren’t passed on from generation to generation “completely by accident”. Has HRH heard about such things as heredity, gene pool, national character, culture and history?

Apparently not. But he has clearly heard the echoes of Freudian psychobabble reverberating through the more fashionable social circles and unfortunately bouncing on to the less fashionable.

Freud’s fraudulent theories have been thoroughly discredited, and in fact he never achieved a single clinical success in his lifetime, other than those falsified either by him or by his worshippers.

That, however, didn’t prevent Freud from spawning whole generations of therapeutic leeches sucking money out of the gullible. Being in therapy has become de rigueur for the kind of chaps who accessorise Armani suits with scarves rather than ties, or the sort of women who wear sunglasses on top of their heads even at night.

They set the trends, one of which is generational anomie: belief that the dial is reset in every new generation, and no ideas, principles or traits developed by previous generations are worthy of respect.

Another trend is an artificially cultivated emotional incontinence. Let it all hang out, seems to be today’s motto, like Prince William’s shirt used to hang out of his trousers at the end of those nightclub sessions.

Many English people go with the Zeitgeist and against their nature to wear their hearts on their sleeves – forgetting that before long that vital organ will be caked in grime.

For the English have to force themselves to do things that are innate to, say, Italians. A loud, wildly gesticulating Italian doesn’t irritate (not much, at any rate) because one realises he’s naturally acting in character. An Englishman doing the same things, or forcing himself to have loud, garrulous fun, looks ludicrous.

Also, if “there is now a generation realising [stiff upper lip] is not normal”, how is it that we’re plagued by a mental health crisis that upsets Prince William so?

First, I’d like to see the evidence testifying that a crisis exists. I suspect that such data, if they exist, are hugely inflated by classifying as mental illnesses things that Prince William’s grandparents would describe as sadness, worry or simply a rotten mood.

But if it’s indeed true that the emotionally incontinent generation is madder than the previous ones, this rather compromises the underlying supposition, doesn’t it?

And surely one could think of much more valid reasons for this pandemic than the inherited reluctance to pester all and sundry with one’s little problems?

The widespread use of drugs is one. I suspect Prince William has witnessed this activity more often than his paternal grandmother, God bless her. Yet he hasn’t discerned a link between that and madness.

However, any competent psychiatrist, as opposed to a Freudian quack, knows that cannabis, to say nothing of hard drugs, can produce mental disorders – even (especially?) among people who don’t bottle up their feelings.

And then there’s the major reason: the rapid depletion of mental, spiritual and moral resources, a problem that seems to be accelerating with each subsequent generation.

Our godless, ill-educated, deracinated young are left with little to look up to, so they’re encouraged to delve into their own psyche, in the hope of finding peace.

Yet all those homespun solipsists find there is a kaleidoscope of puny thoughts and base feelings – the sort of things that are indeed better off staying bottled up inside.

On balance, one wishes Prince William had inherited more from his paternal grandparents than from his mother. Alas, that’s not how heredity has worked out – and it’s no accident.

What do they have to hide?

Are you watching, Poland?

“For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest,” wrote St Luke. Not in Russia it won’t. There nothing is manifest that shall not be made secret.

The Russian government has just decided to keep the Soviet wartime archives classified until 2040, and the NKVD archives until 2050.

That raises the question in the title above. After all, the war started in 1939, and 100 years is a long time for a victor to keep many of its heroic deeds under wraps. Moreover, the Soviet Union no longer exists. So what makes its records so sensitive 74 years after the war ended?

There’s something vital here that one has to understand. For the Allies, victory in that war is just history to be proud of. For Germany, it’s just history to be ashamed of.

But the Russians have been not just brainwashed but brain-scoured to treat the war as the basis for a unifying state ideology, or rather religion.

Practically every speech by Putin and his henchmen contains a reference to the war as the distillate of Russia’s greatness, proof of her redemptive saintliness. And they didn’t start this idolatry – the picture of the war peddled, nay preached, to the Russians has remained just as I remember it from my childhood.

The Soviet Union was the only country seeking peace. Not only the Nazis but also Britain and France actively sought war.

Peace-loving Stalin tried to assuage Hitler’s aggressiveness by signing the Non-Aggression Pact, hoping to buy some time to build up Russia’s defence capability.

However, Hitler broke the Pact and attacked the Soviet Union that was unprepared for war. Using their superiority in tanks, planes and personnel, the Nazis won a few initial victories – only to be defeated by the heroism of the Soviet people who closed ranks behind Stalin.

In the process, the Soviet people suffered great losses. The estimates of exactly how great vary from eight to forty million, depending on who’s counting, and how. Thus the Soviet Union is a collective martyr redeeming the sins of the world, and certainly its own, few as they were.

Now if the classified archives agreed with this picture, there would be no need to keep them classified for 100 years after the war started, and almost certainly beyond. Those dusty dossiers, if opened, would prove iconoclastic.

They’d paint a different picture, and it certainly wouldn’t be an icon of the state religion. Russians would be put into a position to reflect, not to genuflect.

Now thanks to the work of many brilliant historians, both Western and Russian, feeding on official records and some archival crumbs tossed their way, we can already reconstruct much of that mosaic picture, piece by piece.

We know that the Soviet Union started the Second World War not on 22 June, 1941, but on 17 September, 1939, when Soviet troops attacked Poland from the east as their Nazi allies were attacking it from the west.

Moreover, the German attack launched on 1 September was made possible by the Pact signed on 23 August. Not only did the two predators divide Europe between them, but the Soviets also provided the supplies without which Germany would be unable to attack the West.

It was Germany that was really unprepared for war, not the Soviet Union. In fact German factories started to work in a wartime mode only in 1942, after almost three years of fighting. By contrast, Soviet factories switched to a three-shift round-the-clock mode in 1929, churning out armaments and everything it took to produce them.

The whole country was turned into a giant concentration cum military camp; millions were sacrificed to keep the wheels of the Soviet war juggernaut turning over. Tens of millions were toiling away behind barbed wire, but the difference between them and those technically at liberty was slight.

Soviet mines, pits, smelters, oil wells and refineries, mostly operated by slave labour, were taking full advantage of Russia’s rich natural resources. And, while Soviet citizens, including children, starved to death, millions of tonnes of grain and other food were exported – much of it to Nazi Germany.

It was vast Soviet exports of raw materials that initially enabled the Nazis to fight. Otherwise even the Poles, once they recovered from the original shock, could have probably held on because the Germans were running out of essential ordnance, especially aircraft bombs.

The Soviets provided those even before stabbing Poland in the back, as they later did during the Battle of Britain. Thus many of the bombs raining on London were Soviet-made.

Stalin started the war as Hitler’s only important ally. Yet neither side saw their friendship as a permanent arrangement.

Both had designs on all of Europe; both saw the Pact as a breather required to prepare an attack. It’s for that purpose that the Soviets concentrated on their western border by far the largest and best-equipped army the world had ever seen.

The Nazis did the same thing on their eastern border, but their army couldn’t match the Soviet numbers in men and equipment.

For example, the Soviets had a seven-fold superiority in tanks (four-fold in those deployed close to the border), and the Germans had nothing that came even remotely close to the Soviet T-34 and KV models. They only acquired something comparable by the time of Stalingrad, when it was already too late.

Similar ratios existed in every item of materiel, and of course in numerical strength. The Soviet army facing the Nazis across the border was twice as large, with practically unlimited reserves backing it up.

Both armies were deployed in similar battle orders. The Soviet force was arranged in two long salients, one at Lviv, the other at Białystok. The German army filled the spaces between the salients, thus forming ‘balconies’ of their own – it was like interlocking knives ready to stab through.

Obviously whoever struck the first blow would enjoy a huge strategic advantage by cutting off the salients at the base and effectively surrounding the armies marooned there.

The Germans beat the Soviets to the punch, and historians disagree by how much. Estimates vary from one day to a couple of weeks – so much for Stalin’s peaceful intentions.

Having struck, the Germans quickly proved yet again that tanks and planes don’t fight wars. People do, and it was in that department that the Germans were much better equipped.

Their soldiers, from privates and NCOs to officers and generals, were infinitely better trained and educated. Their logistic support guaranteed smooth supplies of war needs, something the Soviets couldn’t do.

Above all, German soldiers wanted to fight for Hitler, while their Soviet counterparts didn’t want to fight for Stalin. That’s why they eagerly surrendered – by December, 1941, 4.5 million were in German captivity.

Soviet tanks and planes suffered their greatest losses not to the Luftwaffe, as is erroneously believed, but to desertion – they were simply abandoned as the Soviet army ran away like so much stampeding cattle.

Many machines were left behind simply because in their feverish rush to produce millions of tanks and planes the Soviets had never bothered to make enough mobile fuellers to keep them going.

After the horrors of the collectivisation, the predominantly peasant Soviet army didn’t want to defend those who had murdered and starved their families. And, though many historians have managed to glean such facts, the Russians don’t want them widely known to those who don’t habitually read history books.

Yet eventually the Soviets were made to fight, partly by the Nazis’ brutalities in the occupied territories and partly by their own regime’s savagery – and this is another page of history that the Russians want to leave unread.

The Bolsheviks had systematically waged war against their own people, eventually running up the score of their victims to 60 million. That cull reached its fever pitch during the war, especially at its beginning.

As the Soviets retreated, they systematically murdered hundreds of thousands of inmates in the prisons they left behind. Even the Nazis were appalled at the sight of the piles of mangled corpses they found in the wake of fleeing Soviet troops.

At least 22,000 of those corpses were of Polish officers murdered at Katyn and elsewhere. The Nazis invited an international commission to validate that Soviet crime, which the Russians denied until 1992.

At the same time, the retreating Soviets were shot or hanged by their own people. More than 157,000 were thus executed by kangaroo court martials – with easily twice as many either machine-gunned as they ran or shot out of hand afterwards. The Soviets probably inflicted more losses on their own troops than Britain suffered altogether.

Stalin delivered his infamous speech, explaining to the soldiers that their families were hostages. Not only would reluctant soldiers be executed, but their families would either be shot or starved to death, by depriving them of ration cards.

The nameless graves of the victims are scattered all over Russia, while their numbers are also buried – in those same archives Putin’s men keep secret. (Joachim Hoffmann’s book Stalin’s War of Extermination is particularly good on this. This is essential reading for those interested in the subject, along with books by Solonin, Mel’gunov, Suvorov and a few others.)

Then there’s another shameful story buried in the same collective grave, that of the Soviets’ savagery when they began to win the war. For, facing the choice of dying to an NKVD bullet or noose, as opposed to in battle, Soviet soldiers began to fight – and die in their millions.

Stalin’s ill-educated and cruel generals, made in the image of their supreme leader, were burying German armies under an avalanche of Soviet corpses. Soviet casualties ended up outnumbering the enemy’s by a factor of four at least, and probably more.

(Dwight Eisenhower recalls in his memoirs the horror he felt when told by Zhukov, Stalin’s second-in-command, that his chosen way of clearing a minefield was to march some penalty battalions over it.)

If the Soviets treated their own people like that, you can imagine what they did to others. As Stalin’s hordes were swamping Germany, his propagandists, Ilya Ehrenburg particularly bloodthirsty among them, were issuing a blank licence to rape, pillage and murder (Hoffmann cites pages upon pages of such articles).

Millions of women were raped by Soviet soldiers – and not only in Germany but in all the Eastern European countries lying in the path of the Russians’ advance. All those countries, and certainly Germany, were also looted on an unprecedented scale.

The capacity for plunder increased with rank. Privates and NCOs were limited to a suitcase or two, staff officers to perhaps a railway carriage, and generals to whole trainloads. Zhukov took this trend to its logical conclusion by turning his dacha into a grandiose display of venality.

The marshal was partial to egg-sized gems, so the forty-odd Old Masters he had also looted were by no means the most valuable part of his collection. At the other end, the collection even included 2,000 pairs of women’s stockings, and one hopes they weren’t for the marshal’s own use.

Obviously I’m mentioning only the facts that have made it into the public domain. There have to be many others, those jealously guarded by today’s heirs to Stalin and his NKVD.

These days they’re devoted to amassing personal wealth, rather than mass murder. But they have to put something on their banners both to rally the populace and to establish their own historical legitimacy.

That’s why they derive their genealogy not only from the Russian Empire, but also from the Soviet Union. And that’s why they try to defy St Luke by keeping their dirty secrets for ever – the icon of the ‘Great Patriotic War’ will not be besmirched.

Seatbelts are a royal pain

Just try to keep her wheels-down next time, Your Royal Highness – and God bless you

Britain and the rest of the world must be in great shape, judging by the amount of space our papers see fit to devote to Prince Philip’s road accident.

Though the police haven’t confirmed this yet, it’s generally assumed that the accident was his fault. After all, HRH is 97, so who else can possibly be to blame?

Complaints against HRH vary in pitch and vituperation, depending on the paper’s feelings about the monarchy. But in essence they say either that 1) old people shouldn’t drive, 2) he should have been wearing a seatbelt, 3) His next Land Rover shouldn’t have been delivered the next day when the rest of us have to wait longer, and consequently, 4) Britain should be a republic.

Dismissing 3) and 4) as ideologically driven and therefore inane, let’s concentrate on 1) and 2).

On the subject of 1), I agree that drivers who present danger to others shouldn’t be driving – and I hope you appreciate the effort it has taken me to say this.

For I myself am serving a year-long ban, having suffered a (one hopes temporary) health setback that entails the risk of passing out at the wheel. Fair enough, I have to admit, teeth gnashing.

Yet it’s that medical problem that got me banned, not my age. Actually I’m a much safer driver now than I was 40 years ago.

When I was 30, I routinely impersonated a race driver on public roads, and was often drunk when doing so. “If you can walk, you can drive,” I’d say with the stupid arrogance of waning youth.

That sort of thing was irresponsible, and I’m glad that age (and Penelope’s screams) has brought some sense into my life. And I bet many people my age can say similar things.

I do know that older drivers have fewer accidents and traffic violations than youngsters, yet I’m not proposing that young drivers should be banned.

The upshot of this is that dangerous drivers shouldn’t drive, and safe ones should. As to the speed of one’s reflexes, then yes, it does diminish with age.

Yet that statement would only mean something if everybody’s reflexes were equally fast to begin with. But they aren’t.

My reflexes, for example, started out fast and then were further quickened by a lifetime of trying to volley balls hit at 90 mph. However, if my reflexes of 40 years ago were 100 in some imaginary units, they may well be 90 now.

But I’m still quicker than someone whose reflexes are 85 at their fastest. So why should I be banned on that basis while he still drives whistling a merry tune?

Moreover, someone with decades of driving experience is better equipped to avoid situations where quick reflexes are necessary.

Thus I know that only my reflexes kept me alive when I and my cousin would race each other through New York, each of us a bottle of booze in the bag. My need for super-quick reactions doesn’t arise nearly as often now, if ever.

I do think it sensible that older drivers should submit an annual self-assessment of their health, as I did, knowing that a 12-month ban would follow. And perhaps it would be sensible to assess drivers over 80 individually.

But there’s no reason for advocating a blanket ban. As to the outcry about Prince Philip not wearing a seatbelt, that’s even sillier.

Seatbelts do merit discussion, but not in this context. For, even assuming that HRH was at fault in the accident, it certainly didn’t happen because he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.

In fact, by neglecting to do so, he was endangering no one but himself, and I don’t think laws should protect us from ourselves. They’d do well protecting us from wrongdoers, a task in which they’re demonstrably remiss.

When I first came to England all those decades ago, I made that very argument to a good friend of mine, doctor cum journalist.

His counterargument was that, since a driver suffering an injury as a result of not wearing a seatbelt puts extra pressure on the NHS, the state has a right to make such negligence illegal.

That, I said, is an excellent argument against socialised medicine – when the state does a lot for you, it feels entitled to do a lot to you. My friend almost snapped my head off, but I’m happy to report that he has since moderated his views on the NHS.

Wearing a seatbelt may be a good idea, but that doesn’t mean the law should make it obligatory. It’s also a good idea to get regular exercise, avoid stress and eat sensibly, but that doesn’t mean failure to comply should be punishable by law.

One can understand when such attacks on HRH appear in papers like The Guardian, which are socialist and therefore ideologically committed to shifting as much power as possible from the individual to the state.

But when someone like Stephen Glover echoes the same din in a residually conservative Mail, it’s upsetting: “Why shouldn’t they [the royal couple] buckle up like the rest of us? We tell our children to do so, and expect to be chided by police, even prosecuted and fined, if we don’t wear seatbelts.”

Quite apart from what I think of that law, this has nothing to do with the subject under discussion. So why bring it up?

I do wish Prince Philip many more active years, and I trust him to decide for himself when it’s time to turn in his driving licence. He has earned the right.

P.S. Now that we’ve touched on one of my pet gripes, here’s another. The Australian Open is under way, and I marvel at the commentators’ ability to buck statistical odds.

One would think that, having dealt thousands of times with the devilish task of pronouncing Russian names, they’d get one right just once. Yet so far they haven’t. It’s Sha-RA-po-va, chaps, not Sha-ra-PO-va.

And commentators do only marginally better with French names. Yet they, and many other Englishmen of a similar background, bizarrely insist on enunciating the interdental sound in Spanish names like Muguruza.

First, even many Spanish speakers don’t pronounce it Mugurutha. And second, why single out this one phoneme for such pedantry, while ignorantly mispronouncing most of the others?

Incidentally, Englishmen of a certain class tend to replace ‘th’ with an ‘f’. Adding this defect to their selective knowledge of Spanish phonetics, they amusingly pronounce the name of their favourite island as Ibiffa. Go with the ‘z’, lads, and damn the torpedoes.

The Declaration of Independence, as read by a revisionist

Thomas Jefferson: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of Sally Hemings”

This document is the first of its kind, the original statement of intent coming from a near-triumphant modernity.

Almost every word there can yield a rich crop, especially in the first two paragraphs where the moral justification for independence is established.

The colonists insist on their right to “…the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…” They “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Every word there pits modernity, supposedly inaugurated in the name of reason, against actual reason.

Thus, regardless of what Locke and Paine had to say on the subject, ‘separate and equal station’ can’t be derived from ‘Laws of Nature’.

No law of nature says a colony is entitled to independence from the metropolis. There exists, however, a tendency among revolutionaries to pass their aspirations as rights.

A ‘separate and equal station’, desirable though it may be to some, can only be achieved either by agreement or by force. No group has equality built into its reclaimable biological make-up. Portraying independence as a right that somehow supersedes the law was modern demagoguery, in its embryonic stage.

‘Nature’s God’ is clearly there to mollify believers of a more primitive type, those who react to the word ‘God’ by reflex and for whose benefit wise people (who were, of course, above such nonsense themselves) had to put the word in.

The deist author of the Declaration himself illustrates the pitfalls of such a utilitarian treatment of God. For Thomas Jefferson had a selective approach to Christian doctrine: some of it was acceptable to him, some wasn’t.

So, like Tolstoy did later, he clipped the acceptable passages out of the Bible and pasted them into a notebook, thus creating his own Scripture. One can argue that possibly all Protestants and certainly all deists go through the same exercise in their minds, if not literally.

Collective atheism is the inevitable result, even if it’s masked, as in America, by individual protestations of piety and a statement of faith on banknotes.

God is the only truth that can be regarded as ‘self-evident’ in that, by definition, it’s either taken on faith or not at all. Any other truth, before it can be accepted as such, needs to be proved.

Words like ‘self-evident’ are thus either a sign of intellectual laziness or, worse, an attempt to dupe the gullible with falsehoods.

That ‘all men are created equal’ is, self-evidently, rather the opposite of truth. It’s an attempt to pass wishful thinking for a fact.

All men are created unequal physically, intellectually, morally, socially. What the phrase actually means is this: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if all men were created equal? We’d then be able to stamp out Western tradition in the name of equality.’

Apart from displaying intimate familiarity with the works of Thomas Paine, the use of this phrase echoes the theories of the noble sauvage beautiful in his state of primitive grace, a tabula rasa on which modernity can scribble its message to the world unless the state has been soiled by Christendom.

It’s questionable whether the term ‘rights’ has any value in serious discourse on political matters.

Today we’re served up any number of rights: to marriage, education, health, development of personality, leisure time, warm and loving family or – barring that – warm and loving social services, employment and so forth.

These ‘rights’ are bogus since they fail the test of not presupposing a concomitant obligation on somebody else’s part. When a ‘right’ presupposes such an obligation, it’s not a right but a matter of consensus.

Thus one’s right to employment would mean anything only if there were someone out there who consents or is obligated by law to give one a job.

One’s right to a developed personality (guaranteed by the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, which was signed by such authorities on human rights as Stalin’s Russia) presupposes an obligation on somebody else’s part to assist such development.

One’s right to a fulfilling sex life… this can get too silly for words. Far from being natural, all these rights become tangible only if they’re granted by others; and anything given can be taken away, so there go all those pseudo-rights alienated right out of the window.

The right to outward political ‘liberty’, as opposed to inward spiritual freedom, is also bogus, since it too derives from consensus.

‘Liberty’, along with all its cognates, is a word fraught with semantic danger: one man’s liberty is another man’s licence and yet another’s anarchy. For example, is the absence of anti-homosexuality laws a factor of liberty or licence?

If the answer is the former, then we ought to ponder why the first modern country without such laws was Soviet Russia between 1917 and 1934, a place and period not otherwise known for a laissez-faire attitude to life.

The right to life mentioned in the Declaration is indeed natural. But is it terminologically useful?

The English Common Law, in force in America at the time, provided adequate provisions for the protection of life, which would seem to have rendered any invocation of this right redundant.

And all redundant terms have some potential for casuistic abuse. For example, is the death penalty a violation of the natural right to life? Is abortion? How is it that the proponents of the latter are almost always opponents of the former and vice versa, with this right invoked in each case?

‘Happiness’ was at the time a vogue term denoting a secular substitute for virtue as the purpose of life.

Whatever meaning one chooses to assign to happiness, and there are many possibilities, the word describes the exact opposite to Western tradition. This is about the pursuit of truth, inner freedom and salvation, which is more likely to result in suffering than happiness.

As used in the Declaration, the phrase derives from Locke’s “life, liberty and estate”. The Constitution of Virginia, signed in the same year of 1776, replaced ‘estate’ with ‘property. And, though the Declaration coyly used a more general term ‘happiness’, in reality it meant the same thing: money.

Now the right to the pursuit of money, if it doesn’t involve arbitrary separation of other people from theirs, is legitimate. But it too is redundant.

Laws against theft, fraud and the rest derive from the Decalogue and don’t need a modern term to bail them out. On the contrary, it was the separation of such laws from their true source and their shift into the modern area of ‘rights’ that made their enforcement so difficult.

The right to property, one of the few real rights, is a case in point. Born out of the ethos of ‘rights’, the modern political state has elevated judicial confiscation of people’s property to a level unthinkable, say, in the Hellenic world.

For example, Caracalla who, according to Gibbon, “crushed every part of the empire under the weight of his iron spectre” by increasing the inheritance tax from 5 to 10 per cent (thankfully, “the ancient proportion was restored after his death”) was a babe in the woods compared to a modern democratic parliament that’ll hit one for 40 per cent faster than one can say ‘classless society’.

Of course, for the nascent American state, the pursuit of fiscal happiness was crucial. It was, after all, an important part of what brought most Americans together.

However, the qualities involved in the pursuit of money are often diametrically opposite to those that formed our civilisation. For business activity, central to this pursuit, has to become amoral in a modern, secular state.

Not doing anything wrong disappears as an in-built starting point, to be replaced by not getting caught. However, many clever people spend their time, and waste ours, by thinking up cloying moral encomiums for what they call ‘free enterprise’.

However, freedom is a child of responsibility. When ‘responsible’ walks out, ‘free’ becomes an orphan.

If certain of impunity, a modern businessman would market potassium cyanide instead of potassium chloride, this to the chorus of ‘conservative’ economists singing hosannas to both the merchant and his victims for striking important blows for freedom of choice.

One should never forget, even when extolling modern achievements, that the same company that gave us aspirin also gave us Zyklon B.

These days the inherent amorality of business, when conducted in a secular society, is dressed up by elevating it to a moral high ground it never used to occupy in Christendom. (Free enterprise is indeed moral when compared to manifestly wicked socialism, but that’s a wrong reference point.)

‘Conservative’ (in reality libertarian) economists, such as Milton Friedman, will drive us to distraction, explaining that free enterprise has more to do with charity than with acquisitiveness.

In that sense they resemble their supposed antipode Marx who also had a knack for creating in his head a picture of economic life that had little to do with reality.

One wishes people studied modern economies as they are, rather than the idealised picture of them they see in their mind’s eye.

They’d then realise that the welfare state corporatism that dominates the pursuit of happiness today has as little to do with free enterprise as the Korean People’s Democratic Republic has to do with Korea, democracy or republicanism.

And rather than glorifying the founding documents of modernity, they’d perhaps see that this freedom-stifling corporatism is directly traceable back to the pursuit of happiness laid down in the Declaration of Independence.

Wholly Russia

“Shall we pop in for a swift half?”

If you think it odd that thousands of post offices should sell beer, you’ve never lived in Russia, where this innovation has been introduced.

I have and, though in my time post offices didn’t sell beer, I understand why they now do.

It’s no secret that Russians have a certain fondness for drink. Ancient chronicles cite this predilection as one reason Grand Duke Vladimir chose Christianity rather than Islam as the state religion.

Vladimir is alleged to have been turned off by the Muslim injunction against alcohol. “Drinking is the joy of Rus,” explained the prince. “We can’t be without it.”

Quite. In fact, alcoholism is a major problem in Russia, badly affecting such things as life expectancy, demand for medical care, absenteeism, crime rate, breakup of marriages – life in general.

Now one might think that selling beer not only in bars and off-licences but even in post offices would make the problem worse, rather than better.

That’s missing the point, or rather a point. For the problem isn’t just that the Russians drink too much, but that they often drink liquids not manifestly designed for human consumption. Hence officials hope that inducing men to opt for beer will keep them healthier for longer.

According to the Russian government spokesman, window cleaning liquid seems to be the current beverage of choice, closely rivalled by antifreeze, mouthwash and various tinctures.

Many of those delights contain methanol and other poisons, adding a certain frisson to each sip. The trouble is that, if common-or-garden alcoholism takes time to kill, some of those other liquids can do so on the spot.

In fact, rues the same spokesman, every year 1,200 people die for that reason, and I’m sure that number is understated by orders of magnitude. Then, of course, methanol can make you go blind, not just blind drunk.

Call me a soppy sentimentalist, but, reading such reports, I recalled growing up in Moscow with a twinge of nostalgia. Also, call me a reactionary, but I’m a firm believer in the plus ça change version of history.

Russia remains wholly Russia, just as it was back in the ‘60s, when, as ever, drinking was the essential rite of passage for any lad. I was such a lad and, at 16, my liver was bigger than it is now.

It’s important to note straight away that it wasn’t just how much, but what and in what way one drank that mattered.

The redemptive arrival of the consumer age was somehow being delayed throughout my childhood, and the acceptable urban middle-class booze included vodka (Stolichnaya for 3.07 rubles a half-litre bottle, Moskovskaya for 2.87), brandy (Armenian or Georgian 3-star for 4.12) and vile fortified wine named, as the spirit moved the manufacturers, port, cahor or jeres, all costing around 1.40 and bearing just enough resemblance to their illustrious namesakes to turn one off fortified wine for life.

The demographic disclaimer is necessary here because the rural population drank moonshine almost exclusively (as it still does), while urban lower classes seldom elevated their consumption above ‘white wine’, which in their parlance was the cheapest vodka available, and ‘red wine’, which meant the vilest port going.

These represented the upper limit of their tastes but not the lowest, which plunged into the area of dangerous liquids, such as floor varnish, methanol, antifreeze, cologne, deodorants and other arcana.

Benny Yerofeev, the late poet of Russian dipsomania, remarked correctly that while few people in Russia know what Pushkin died of, everybody knows how to prepare floor varnish for drinking.

I hope you won’t find it patronising if I divulge the secret to the uninitiated: you take a three-gallon bucket of floor varnish and empty a four-pound bag of salt into it. The salt will form a blob that will start sinking to the bottom through the dense liquid.

As it sinks, the blob will get heavier with the oils, ethers and other impurities it has absorbed and dragged down to the bottom. In about four hours you’ll be left with a brownish liquid, which would be unlikely to cause any sleepless nights to the makers of Lagavulin, but which can be drunk with relative impunity, at least in the short term.

Since I was definitely urban middle class, I stuck to regulation booze that, as etiquette would have it, was supposed to be consumed either from eight-ounce tumblers in one daring gulp or straight ‘from the neck’. As a concession to one’s wimpish origin one would have been allowed to empty the bottle in several pulls.

Suffering from a rare cardiovascular condition, I spent months in hospital and I still remember the lifts going up and down throughout the night on high holidays.

As Tamara Petrovna, the head nurse, explained to me, those were real men, not wimps like me, who had inadvertently drunk things they shouldn’t have. She then told me to shut the f*** up, which was her usual punctuation at the end of statements.

That was her Mr Hyde part. But Tamara Petrovna also had a Dr Jekyll streak of charity, compassion and camaraderie so characteristic of Russian women.

She knew that men, ill or not, needed their vodka. To satisfy that need Tamara Petrovna always kept in her office several bottles of medical alcohol, which was in such ample supply that no one at the hospital minded her purloining it.

Other nurses would simply sell it on the out for one ruble per 100 millilitres (or ‘grams’, as the Russians refer to alcohol measures). However, Tamara Petrovna preferred to serve not just Mammon but, by relieving the suffering of the patients in her charge, Aesculapius as well.

Her going rate was one ruble or a Prokofievan three oranges for an eight-ounce tumbler of the warm liquid, alcohol diluted to 40 per cent with water. (The chemical reaction between pure alcohol and water releases heat, which knowledge most Russian males acquire empirically before reaching puberty.)

As a gesture of good will, Tamara Petrovna would throw in half a teaspoonful of strawberry jam to stir into the liquid, changing its colour and making it look innocuous to a passing doctor.

You see how a short piece in The Times can bring back such loving memories? The sun must be over the yardarm somewhere, so, my eyes misted over, I’ll have a small Lagavulin, toasting the indestructible Russian character.