Lord Burnett’s scatological humour

As his remarks on unisex lavatories show, Lord Chief Justice Burnett has a wicked sense of humour. For surely he can’t be serious?

A sight for sore minds

That Lord Burnett sees nothing wrong about unisex (‘gender-neutral’, in today’s perverse parlance) loos doesn’t by itself indicate flippancy. Many impeccably humourless people hold such subversive views.

However, defending that abomination, such people can usually come up with arguments that make sense within the intellectual system wherein they reside. The system itself is warped, but that’s a different matter.

Such unisexists proceed from the assumption that one’s sex is determined not by some set of chromosomes, but by social convention and personal choice. The social convention is to them ludicrously obsolete, while the personal choice is fluid.

Someone with a full bladder may usually identify as a woman, but, on seeing a long queue outside the women’s loo, she may choose to re-identify as a man, thereby finding instant relief in the adjacent facility. New identity or no, using the urinals may still be tricky, but the cubicles should pose no problem.

So far, so good. This argument makes sense on its own terms, whatever we may think of the terms, which one hopes is nothing complimentary.

But Lord Burnett’s defence of the proposition fails even such a skimpy test of sound reasoning. Unisex lavatories, he said, are perfectly acceptable because they have always been used in France.

In the process, His Lordship firmly established his credentials as a well-travelled man of the world: “Have you travelled much in Europe, for example? I mean, unisex loos in France have been my experience ever since I was a small boy, so I do not think there is any jumping of the gun.”

This is a version of argumentum ad populum, a widespread rhetorical fallacy. The way Lord Burnett wields it, he seems to be saying that because some things are done in some countries, they should cause no controversy in any others.

To answer his question, I have indeed travelled in Europe quite a bit, and have been spending half my time in France for years. And yes, when Lord Burnett was little, many French cafés did feature unisex cubicles encasing ubiquitous squatting holes in the ground.

However, Lord Burnett was little a long time ago, and the French have grown more lavatorially sophisticated since then. These day the only unisex loos there consist of one cubicle and one urinal, where no man’s shortcomings risk overexposure, and no woman’s virtue is in any imminent danger.

That’s not the sort of facility Lord Burnett had in mind. The matter came up over the plans to convert all lavatories in public buildings to unisex use. Hence one visualises a large room with, say, half a dozen men and as many women intermingling in the spirit of equality.

One can’t even begin to enumerate the offences such an arrangement would cause to elementary decency, decorum, tradition, taste – well, you can continue the list ad infinitum.

But do let’s extend Lord Burnett’s logic. For example, one can’t drive on French N- or D-roads without seeing men, their backs decorously turned towards the traffic, urinating by the roadside. No one seems to mind.

Would Lord Burnett regard such sights equally inoffensive in more puritan Britain? We need a ruling on that, M’lord – and let’s not forget the unisex aspect. Should we also look forward to the delectable visions of women squatting along the A40?

Perhaps we should extend not only Lord Burnett’s logic, but also his geographic horizons. For example, in some Asian countries both men and women relieve themselves (both ways) where they stand in city streets, using their long gowns to protect their dignity.

If they can do it, why can’t we? We live in an age of ideological uniformity, which has become synonymous with virtue. Hence we can’t discriminate against other people’s customs. We should give them as much headroom as it takes for all nations’ customs to converge – sooner rather than later.

I hope you can forgive my levity in commenting on Lord Burnett’s pronouncement. It’s either that or sheer dread at the thought of seeing the same logic applied to other, non-lavatorial, matters.

This is accompanied by the disgust at observing our top judge unable to avoid the kind of rhetorical fallacies that schoolchildren used to be marked down for in decent schools. O tempora o tsoris, as my Jewish friends would say.

Russians will say anything

A corollary to this statement is that Russians will also believe anything, which just may explain the catastrophe the country suffered in 1917, and from which it has never recovered.

Vasily Rozanov, very brilliant and very Russian

These days it’s unfashionable, practically criminal, to highlight differences among nations and races, especially in matters of the intellect. That, however, doesn’t mean such differences don’t exist – only that we’d rather not talk about them.

However, having lived my first 25 years in Russia, the next 15 in the US and the past 32 in England (time-sharing with France over 20 of them), I find this subject fascinating and therefore unavoidable.

Of the four peoples I know first-hand, the Russians are second to none in innate talent. Yet it’s a peculiar talent, manifesting itself mostly in creative areas, including mathematics and natural sciences.

Stepping outside, into the domain loosely described as the humanities, one is struck by the deficit of intellectual rigour the Russians habitually display. It’s easy to get the impression that words, and hence ideas, have so little value to them that they’ll try anything on for size.

That explains why they’ve produced many brilliant philosophical essayists, but precious few philosophers. This is an important distinction, for the first group aren’t scientists and the second are.

Perhaps the greatest specimen of the first group was Vasily Rozanov, who starved to death in 1919, which is what talented writers did in the neonatal Bolshevik paradise.

Rozanov used to write for both conservative and, under a pseudonym, left-wing publications, displaying the same dazzling gifts in articles defending mutually exclusive propositions.

In the same vein, he was capable of producing virulently anti-Semitic tracts one day and philo-Semitic ones the next. (The former sounded closer to his heart.) He also swung with the same ease between pious Christianity and anticlerical deism, or between monarchism and socialism.

Facts meant little to Rozanov: if they contradicted his idiosyncratic thoughts, he’d either ignore or even distort them. Sometimes he simply got them plain wrong, often knowingly.

I don’t think any of Rozanov’s English contemporaries could match his virtuosity of style and originality of thought, although perhaps Chesterton came close. Yet few of the contemporaneous English thinkers were as slapdash in their thinking and treatment of facts.

This points at a key difference between the English and Russian minds. The latter is at least equal to the former in brilliance, but it displays a lack of intellectual rigour, integrity and, if you will, responsibility.

That may be why the Russians so easily jump on any bandwagon that comes rattling in: they lack the constraints that prevent the English mind from running too wild. It would be simplistic to ascribe Russia’s political and economic disasters solely to this trait, but I have no doubt it plays a part.

What triggered these observations was a video lecture I clicked on the other day because the title caught my eye: How Language Determines the Perception of Colour.

The speaker was a professor of comparative philology working for the Vinogradov Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, which is as high as one can go in his field. I’m not naming him because what interests me here isn’t the particularity of this gentleman but the generality he represents.

The lecturer didn’t take long to stagger me with an amazing statement. To a Russian speaker, he said, the spectrum has seven colours; whereas an Anglophone has to make do with only six.

Being bilingual in those languages, I knew he was wrong. Still, I had to allow for the possibility that the good professor knew something I didn’t.

Well, he explained, the fact is that in Russian the dark-blue and light-blue colours are denoted by two different words (синий and голубой), whereas in English the word ‘blue’ covers both.

Springing to mind instantly was the mnemonic for the colours of the rainbow that any English pupil learns (well, used to learn) at an early age: Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain.

Each initial capital stands for a colour, and the ‘I’ is a reminder of indigo, which is the English for синий. Hence the only one with a perception problem here is the professor himself, who clearly can’t tell a certain portion of his anatomy from a hole in the ground.

We all make factual errors, and I’m no exception. For example, preparing the second edition of my book How the West Was Lost, I found to my horror three or four utterly avoidable bloopers in the first edition.

Yet none of those errors acted as the basis for any theory or logical structure. Here, on the other hand, a celebrated academic discussing the effect of language on the perception of colour shows disdain for fundamental facts on which his whole lecture rests.

The professor probably doesn’t know English very well, but he still could have checked his facts on Google in five seconds flat. The reason he didn’t is simple: as a Russian, he didn’t feel the need.

Those of you who don’t read Russian publications, nor watch Russian academic videos, will have to take my word for it: the situation I describe is widespread, reaching pandemic proportions.

As Comrade Stalin used to say (quoting John Adams, probably unwittingly), “If facts are stubborn things, then so much the worse for facts.” Also so much the worse for the people whose thinking reflects this maxim.

Justinian came back as Cyrus Vance

Mr Vance, in case you’re wondering, is Manhattan’s District Attorney. Yet the generations to come will never wonder about Mr Vance’s identity.

Justinian, eat your heart out

His will be a household name. For Mr Vance made the most staggering breakthrough in jurisprudence since Codex Justinianus was compiled in 529-534 AD.

Jurists, both before and after Justinian, have always struggled with the standard of proof required for criminal conviction. Most countries practising the adversarial trial system have settled on the concept of proof beyond all reasonable doubt.

And the general consensus in Britain, the US and other residually civilised places is that some forensic evidence is required to remove such doubt from the jurors’ minds.

As recently as the 18th century, that was seen as not only protection against unjust verdicts, but also as a way of saving the jurors’ souls from the damage done by passing them. You see, in those unsophisticated times, legality in the West still hadn’t been cut adrift from its biblical antecedents.

Now that progress has severed such antediluvian links, in comes Cyrus Vance. He made a startling discovery that rape cases must be exempt from casuistic technicalities.

Commenting on the verdict in the Weinstein trial, the trailblazing Mr Vance issued a statement that flips common law on its head: “It’s rape even if there is no physical evidence. Even if it happened a long time ago.

It took me some time to grasp all the implications of this momentous discovery. And when I did grasp them, I shuddered with fear.

What if a man’s old girlfriend claims that he raped her by way of starting the relationship all those years ago? Now, the man himself would know she’s lying. But would the police, the prosecution office and – should it come to that – jury know it? How could he prove he didn’t rape her?

Such a task would fly in the face of elementary logic: it’s impossible to prove a negative. It would also fly in the face of our justice because he shouldn’t have to prove any such thing.

The burden of proof is on the prosecution, for another feature of our law is called presumption of innocence. The defendant is considered innocent unless proved otherwise beyond reasonable doubt.

My sympathy is with the prosecutor in such a case. In the absence of any forensic evidence, be it witnesses, bruises, CCTV footage or DNA testing, the only thing he has to rely on is the alleged victim’s word against the alleged rapist’s.

Even if the claimant weeps convincingly and the defendant looks like a cad, such a confrontation can’t possibly remove all reasonable doubt from the minds of the unbiased jury.

The italicised words are the key. For a guilty verdict under such circumstances could only be passed by a biased jury regarding all possible doubts as unreasonable. In other words, the jury has to decide, or be instructed, that the woman’s word ipso facto weighs more than the man’s.

Such an unbalancing act isn’t historically unprecedented. In the Middle Ages, for example, a woman’s testimony was worth half of a man’s. Such weighing by sex went hand in hand with weighing by religion.

At the time of Magna Carta, the courts accepted an Englishman’s oath only when corroborated by eleven witnesses. By contrast, a Jew’s testimony was accepted without any further validation.

However, times have changed, and equality before the law has become the cornerstone of Western legality. And it’s this cornerstone that Mr Vance knocked out with one mighty blow.

When this happens to a structure, in this case justice, it tends to collapse. But Mr Vance is clearly driven by higher concerns than the rule of law, which is still somewhat unexpected in a lawyer.

If medieval jurists worried about the potential damage to the jurors’ salvation, Mr Vance too is driven by metaphysical desiderata. He wishes to protect and advance the currently fashionable ideology.

It doesn’t take a flight of fancy to foresee an extension of his breathtaking ruling into other, and eventually all, trials. If, say, a defendant accused of murder is obviously a nasty bit of work, he must be convicted even in the absence of any evidence. That would drive the thin end of the wedge all the way in, until the wall cracks in half.

Yes, it is indeed unfair that a rapist may go free. His victim may be reluctant to report the crime for some reason (fear, embarrassment, an attempt to blank the trauma out). Then, when years later such inhibitions no longer pertain, she does report it – only to find that the case never reaches trial for lack of evidence. Or, if the reprobate does find himself in the dock, he is acquitted for the same reason.

Yet, it’s unfair. But the law should concern itself not with fairness but with justice, and sometimes the two are at odds. Unfairness doubtless hurts its victim. But injustice hurts us all.

Every day, a criminal goes free somewhere because the prosecution doesn’t have enough forensic evidence to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. We regret such outcomes, but also rejoice at the same time: the backbone of our body politic, the rule of law, remains intact.

Break that, and none of us will be safe from arbitrary prosecution. Having lived the first 25 years of my life in a country where a phone call from the local party secretary or KGB officer predetermined court verdicts, I can testify to the unmitigated horror of it.

There, in the Soviet Union, ideology trumped justice too. Is this the ideal Mr Vance sees in his mind’s eye? Perhaps. Or else he simply wants to keep his job in a hysterical atmosphere created by frenzied ideologues and their ‘liberal’ champions.

Harvey Weinstein, political prisoner

Those who think the trial of Harvey Weinstein was anything but political are deluding themselves. His real crimes were committed against a faddish ideology, not a bevy of young women.

This isn’t to deny he’s a revolting vulgarian who richly deserves opprobrium, perhaps ostracism. But he doesn’t deserve years in a hellhole of a prison, the insides of which he would never have seen had his trial been less politically charged.

His conviction would be regarded as unsafe in any just court unsullied by ideological bias. The trial was compromised from the very beginning, starting with the jury selection.

By the time 12 of Weinstein’s good and true peers were selected, the defendant had already been tried and convicted in the press. The prosecution itself admitted it was impossible to find 12 people who hadn’t “heard about Harvey Weinstein”.

The phrase is mendacious. It’s not just Harvey Weinstein that potential jurors were familiar with. They also had dined on the hysterical MeToo campaign that had for months regurgitated every dirty morsel, shoving it in the ears of everyone willing or unwilling to listen.

The prosecutors did their best to continue the press campaign by quasi-judicial means. They had a string of ‘victims’ sobbing on cue with professional skill and bandying about more sleaze than one could find in a brothel on a busy night.

Take Weinstein’s supposed deformity, making him a fully paid-up hermaphrodite. I must say he doesn’t look like any hermaphrodite I’ve ever seen, but admittedly the ladies involved had a clearer view of the situation.

But what was the relevance of such anatomical details? To validate their familiarity with Weinstein’s nudity? But the defence didn’t deny he had had sex with the witnesses, which made such graphic realism superfluous to the cause of justice.

As to the testimony that secured the conviction, it’s frankly risible. The key victim-witness was the aspiring actress Jessica Mann. After her alleged rape by Weinstein, she carried on a five-year affair with him, evoking Queen Berenice, whose passionate affair with Emperor Titus also allegedly started with a rape.

I don’t know about Berenice, but the mechanics of the rape in question look odd. According to Mann, she sat on the bed as Weinstein forced cunnilingus on her. How is it even possible?

I may be sexually naïve but, from what I’ve heard, the woman on the receiving end of such attentions could just wiggle her hips or simply shift her position to stop the crime. Why didn’t Mann do that?

More to the point, why did she continue her trysts with Weinstein for five years, regaling him with admiring letters along the way? After all, we’ve been taught that rape is the worst thing that can happen to a woman – worse than even mutilation or murder.

How then could a victim of that heinous crime, to which death would have been preferable, write this note to her assailer: “As always happy to see your smile and I hope to see you sooner than later. I hope some of your genius rubs off on me.”

Harvey’s genius didn’t rub off on Miss Mann. Other parts of him did, on numerous occasions.

On one such occasion, Mann and the Italian actress Emanuela Postacchini were “tricked” into a threesome with Harvey. He invited them to his hotel suite, ordered them to undress and then directed the scene, telling them what positions he wanted them to assume.

Disgusting, isn’t it? Yet the question remains: why didn’t they refuse to comply and walk out? The prosecution didn’t mention any physical coercion on Weinstein’s part, and no account emerged of him holding a gun to the women’s heads.

Mann said she was scared that Weinstein would destroy her career, or rather wouldn’t launch her on one (she never had any career in Hollywood). The fear was doubtless real, but surely that would have been a small sacrifice to make when the alternative was the worst thing that could happen to a woman/man/other?

This whole thing strikes me as a fair sex-for-favours exchange, in which both parties are immoral, but neither is criminal. That is, if we define crime as it has been defined over millennia of jurisprudence.

A woman sleeping with a powerful man to advance her career is a scenario as commonplace as one of a powerful man demanding sex for such favours. If there is a moral difference between such a transaction and one taking place between a streetwalker and a curb-crawler, it escapes me.

Hollywood in particular has always been run that way. Every year, tens of thousands of pretty girls from all over America descend on Los Angeles, harbouring hopes of stardom.

Most of them can’t act well enough to play characters. They can only play themselves, pretty girls. Inevitably they are treated as a commodity, with one as good as another and all them interchangeable.

Under such conditions, there’s really only one way they can get an agent, a screen test and ultimately a role. In a buyer’s market, they only have one thing to sell.

Even gifted actresses are thick on the ground: there are hundreds of them plying their trade in films, TV series, commercials and so forth. Not many (Hollywood insiders claim none) ever manage to bypass the casting couch on their way to stardom: even in this narrower market, the supply far exceeds the demand.

Today’s papers feature full spreads of photographs of well-established stars wrapping themselves around Weinstein, fawning on him despite his body being more dining room than bedroom.

How many of them slept with him to get roles? All? Many? I don’t know. But definitely some.

And now those women, many of whom owe their careers to Weinstein, are converging on him like howling hyenas, signalling their sanctimonious virtue and parading a moral decrepitude that in my book is worse than his.

“Women will no longer be silenced,” they scream. Have they ever been? I’ve never met a man who has succeeded in this task, although many have tried.

Such shouted slogans vindicate the title above. Harvey Weinstein was tried not for what he did, but for what he represents: an affront to an ideology. If that doesn’t make him a political prisoner, I don’t know what would.

“I’ve got nothing to live for”

A man I’ve known for a long time uttered that awful phrase a couple of years ago, after he had almost succeeded in killing himself.

The self-help book of yesteryear

Alas, many suicides choose quicker and surer methods. Thousands of Britons kill themselves every year.

The method he chose was bizarre: he stopped eating. By the time his brother realised what was happening and took him to hospital, the man had lost half his weight. It was touch and go for two months, but the doctors managed to save him.

Three quarters of suicides are men. Those aged 45 to 49 are at the highest risk, but suicide is also responsible for the greatest number of deaths among younger men, edging out cancer and car crashes.

In this area, as in so many others, women are treading the path to equality: suicides in girls aged 10 to 24 have soared by 83 per cent in six years. Boys in the same age group registered a mere 25 per cent increase, so the lines are converging.

Statistics are helpful in answering questions beginning with “How many…”, but they aren’t much use in answering queries introduced by “Why…”

Such answers are kindly provided by psychologists, professional or amateur. They explain that the problem is caused by mental illness.

Alas, like so many concepts whose definition is expanding ad infinitum (such as rape, racism, art, hate crime, music), mental illness is now defined more broadly than ever before – too broadly to have any claim to rigour.

Most commentators ascribe such elasticity to advances in diagnostic techniques. Old naysayers like me are more likely to bemoan the modern tendency to medicalise phenomena that used to have non-medical explanations.

It doesn’t really matter one way or the other. Doctors continue to dispense antidepressants like Smarties, and, even if some (most?) patients only think they need them, the situation is bad enough.

Some 70 million such prescriptions are written in the UK every year, and over 25 million Americans have been on antidepressants for two years or longer. Whether real or merely perceived, the problem is dire.

What causes this supposed pandemic of emotional instability? Writing in today’s Times, a psychologist explains helpfully that it’s the British tendency to keep it all inside that’s to blame.

If so, this proclivity isn’t new. The British have always had the good taste and manners not to pester others with their problems. And no one has ever accused Americans of being too reticent, and yet the problem is even worse there.

No, suicidal depression isn’t caused by keeping it all inside. The problem is that too many modern people have too little to keep inside, other than envy, a sense of being hard done by, wounded pride and other unenviable emotions.

If life is seen in purely philistine, materialist terms, it becomes a game with few winners and a whole throng of losers. Many people feel that life has defaulted on its promise of success, thereby forfeiting its meaning, such as it is.

Modernity discourages, indeed mocks, questions about the purpose of life. The prevailing dogma is that life is its own purpose, which defies elementary logic. That’s like believing that nature somehow created itself, which belief is also mandatory for anyone seeking social acceptance.

Yet derision doesn’t make such questions go away. When my granddaughter was 10 or so, she asked her mother if everyone would eventually die. On hearing the truthful answer, she asked: “So life means nothing then?”

Questions in that vein are ontologically unavoidable: they are an inseparable part of being human. Yet the answers have to be metaphysical because the questions are.

In the distant past, before Jesus Christ became a superstar, life was seen as a gift presented by a donor. One had to show gratitude by getting close to that donor morally, by observing his laws, and intellectually, by making his plans intelligible. That gave life a specific and universal purpose: becoming at one with God.

Since that end is unachievable within our three-score and ten, the concept of life everlasting was a logical necessity. There was no happy end to one’s life. If it was happy, it wasn’t the end.

That worldview reduced quotidian injustices and deprivations to trivialities, annoying as they might have been. Man was conditioned to think beyond – his problems, his body, his very material existence. The meaning of this life was to him outside this life.

If a time machine miraculously dragged, say, Thomas à Kempis (d. 1471) away from writing his book De imitatione Christi and transported him to Britain, circa 2020, he’d shudder with incomprehension, soon replaced by revulsion.

He’s see widespread prosperity beyond his wildest imaginings – not that he had many imaginings about prosperity – accompanied by what to him would be incomprehensible despair. People would become melancholy (depressed, in today’s parlance) and suicidal over silly incidentals, such as getting sacked or having investments go sour.

Some would kill themselves over bereavement, which too would look as odd to Kempis. Don’t they know that, just as there is death in life, so there is life in death?

No, they don’t. They have been indoctrinated to examine every little quirk of their psychology, a word Kempis would find baffling (it was coined some two centuries after he died). As ordered, they look inside themselves for answers – and, to their despair, find nothing but themselves there.

What is hell, he’d ask, if not being abandoned to nothing but oneself? These people have consigned themselves to life in hell – a nice, comfortable hell, but hell nonetheless. No wonder they want to kill themselves.

This doesn’t mean that materialism inevitably leads to mental disorders and suicidal feelings. It doesn’t. Many people are perfectly satisfied with a life of philistine bliss and don’t mind seeing existence as accumulation of assets.

But in many others despair and despondency set it. Paraclete, the great comforter, isn’t there to comfort them, but, even though they don’t realise it, they need him badly.

What Dostoevsky called ‘accursed questions’ keep buzzing in their minds; sometimes the buzz becomes constant and intolerable, like a kind of spiritual tinnitus. Yet no answers are harmonised with the noise, and there is only one way to turn it off.

French sex scandal, made in Russia

The French tend to be insouciant about politicians’ amorous indiscretions. The sort of shenanigans that cause outrage in Britain only rate mirth in France.

Artist at work

Yet even against that backdrop, Benjamin-Blaise Griveaux, candidate for Paris mayor and former spokesman for Macron’s party, went too far.

That he had a mistress, Alexandra de Taddeo, 29, was par for the course. He is a French politician after all. But he also sent her a masturbatory video of himself, which spelled trouble.

The quality of our leaders everywhere never ceases to amaze me. Any man capable of sending such videos to a woman as a sort of Valentine is a vulgar barbarian. A politician doing so, especially in the midst of a campaign, is also a moron. I wouldn’t call this combination of qualities ideal in a politician, but it’s certainly widespread.

The video promptly appeared on a new website set up by the Russian refugee Pyotr Pavlensky, who had inherited Miss de Taddeo’s favours and hence the clip. A scandal ensued, and Mr Griveaux removed his candidature, probably scuppering Macron’s hope of his party gaining control of Paris.

As Manny watched his ratings plummeting towards 20 per cent, his ministers accused Putin of a deliberate attempt to destabilise France’s government. Actually, Vlad does have some previous in such activities.

Yet one would think that, considering that Macron is Putin’s staunchest ally among European leaders, this kind of action looks counterproductive. But only at first glance.

For Putin has a vested interest in sowing chaos and discord throughout the West. He seeks to create troubled waters out of which he can fish his status of a global statesman, acting as king-maker and playing politicians and countries against one another.

Still, the overall picture is murky, but looking at the personalities involved may clarify it. Prime among them is Pavlensky, either the key player or possibly a pawn in the hands of the key player.

With the ignorance of Russia so typical of Western papers, The Financial Times described him as the “patron saint of Russian dissidence”. This is an insult to all the heroes who’ve given their lives fighting Soviet and post-Soviet fascism.

Pavlensky is no dissident. He calls himself an artist, capitalising on the fashionably elastic definition of the word. His chosen genre is public self-mutilation and other publicity stunts, which he performs with both insane abandon and a talent for self-promotion.

His coups included sewing his lips shut, wrapping his naked body in barbed wire, lying naked in Red Square with his scrotum nailed to the cobbles and finally setting fire to the KGB/FSB headquarters at Lubianka.

Rather than being a real dissident, Pavlensky’s madness only served to mock and trivialise genuine dissent, thereby diffusing it. Using such lightning rods is Putin’s standard practice, although Pavlensky’s role remains only plausible conjecture.

Altogether he spent seven months in prison, which was remarkably lenient by Russian standards. But then in 2017 Pavlensky was accused of raping an actress at knifepoint, which could mean years behind bars.

Crazy or not, he assessed the situation and slipped out of Russia, fuming that the charge was trumped up. France kindly offered Pavlensky refugee status, which hospitality he immediately abused.

By way of gratitude, he set fire to the door of the Bank of France, an institution he clearly considers as oppressive as the KGB. That peccadillo earned him a year in prison, this time a French one.

Pavlensky is now at large, awaiting trial for “breaching privacy” and “divulging images of a sexual nature without consent”. His and Mr Griveaux’s paramour de Taddeo, a left-wing activist of long standing, was arrested with him.

Commenting on his motives, Pavlensky explained that he was protesting against the hypocrisy of Western politicians in general, and Mr Griveaux specifically. There Griveaux was, banging on about family values and parading his children on TV, while being such a naughty boy.

Pavlensky’s website is now shut down, but while it was active, he made no bones about his action being motivated not only by moral but also by political considerations.

He posted the video to take revenge on Mr Griveaux for betraying the ideals of the French Socialist Party and selling out to the “neoliberals” – just like his boss Macron. It’s not immediately clear how Mr Pavlensky reconciles his loyalty to socialist ideals with his assault on Lubianka that has a glorious history of acting on those ideals.

Anyway, this is as far as newspaper accounts went in commenting on Pavlensky’s motives. But they left out a key piece of circumstantial evidence that may throw light on the choice of Mr Griveaux as the target.

I’m not suggesting that the pool is large of French politicians who send onanistic videos to their mistresses, but an inquisitive person looking for evidence of sexual impropriety within that group wouldn’t have to look long.

Moreover, some potential targets might well occupy more prominent posts than poor Mr Griveaux, with a greater potential for causing damage to Macron. In fact, Pavlensky has indicated he has much juicy kompromat on many others. So why pick on Griveaux first?

The answer is so obvious that our papers were bound to miss it. When in 2018 Mr Griveaux served as spokesman to Macron’s party, he banned Putin’s propaganda channels RT and Sputnik from presidential briefings and press-conferences.

That was throwing down the gauntlet, and the KGB colonel isn’t the type to leave it on the floor where it fell. Revenge was in order, and it’s possible that Pavlensky was chosen as its instrument.

Hence Macron’s people who openly blame Russia for this action may well have a point. Putin’s sponsorship can explain how Pavlensky took only a couple of years to become so well-connected in Paris as to gain access to a wealth of compromising material on prominent politicians.

I do hope the French send Pavlensky down for years, and then deport him. But I have no hope of seeing full revelations in the French press. Manny wouldn’t want to upset his new friend Vlad – even if Vlad might have upset Manny.

The worst slogan ever

If you sometimes wonder what’s wrong with modernity, look at the façade of any public building in France.

Replacing egalité with aligoté would make more sense

Proudly exhibited there is the calling card of modernity: liberté, egalité, fraternité. I regard it as the worst slogan ever, even though it sounds innocuous.

It implies a natural affinity among the three constituents, where none exists. For the centrepiece of the triad flagrantly contradicts the other two.

This isn’t just a point of semantics. For this contradiction in the adumbrating pronouncement of modernity is directly responsible for the ensuing social, intellectual and cultural collapse.

As blanket promises of a new order go, equality means nothing, certainly nothing positive. When first emblazoned on the revolutionary banners, it was shorthand for the on-going massacre of traditional hierarchies.

Even those who see little wrong with that (such wretches do exist) would struggle to describe mass murder as a positive goal. Necessary, yes; satisfying, possibly; richly deserved, definitely. Positive, no.

But we are talking about the intrinsic value of the slogan, not its practical application. So what kind of equality did the revolutionaries mean?

Equality before God? Surely not. The whole metaphysical premise of modernity was issuing a redundancy note to God.

Equality before law? Worthy as that promise was, it wasn’t new. Every European monarchy had made it. True, human nature being what it is, the promise wasn’t always kept, but it took a self-confidence nothing short of cretinous to believe that the new order would produce a new human nature.

Equality of condition designed to produce equal outcomes? This conveyed the supposedly self-evident truth that all men were created equal. Thus, if they all took off from the same starting blocks, they’d lunge at the finish tape together.

But that’s arrant nonsense. Moreover, it’s the kind of arrant nonsense that makes society impossible by atomising mankind into resentful individuals.

For no society can exist without a vertical structure, which concept implies hierarchy. In feudal societies, such structures were hierarchies of birth or learning, and, if manned by sage people, they didn’t automatically breed resentment.

This isn’t the case in modern democracies, for all the conformism they invariably try to shove down people’s throats. Democrats glorify common men because they know that uncommon ones threaten their raison d’être.

Yet for all their attempts, people don’t end up, and consequently their children don’t start out, as equal. The gaps of intelligence, drive and industry are too wide to bridge.

Hence, modernity finds itself in default of its promise of equality, and those who feel cheated resent that. To be true to its undertaking, the state has to step on the overachievers in an attempt to push them down a few steps in the hierarchy.

This, however, spells tyranny. The more conscientiously does a state enforce a semblance of equality, the more despotic it has to become. The difference in this respect between totalitarian and democratic states is that of the means deployed, not the ends desired.

This makes egalité incompatible with liberté by definition, as anyone other than a frenzied demagogue should agree. Yet fraternité fares even worse.

Brotherhood implies a familial relationship, and families are always arranged hierarchically, in tiers. The formative idea of our civilisation was that we are all brothers because we all have the same father, God.

That relationship is based on love, and the same holds true for the family. Brothers love one another, and the elder ones care for the younger ones until the latter grow up and can return the gift of care.

Love and care are both vectored outwards, away from oneself and towards others. Brotherhood is thus altruistic, which presupposes self-denial if necessary. The elder brother offers his love to the younger sibling out of an innate charitable impulse, not because he recognises the tot’s inalienable right to love.

Equality, on the other hand, is perforce selfish – it’s a demand for status and redress of grievances. Coming to the fore there aren’t basic virtues, but every one of the cardinal sins, most prominently pride, envy and greed.

Fraternity also comes in conflict with liberty, as distinct from freedom (this crucial distinction doesn’t exist in French). For the proto-modern revolutionary, liberté implied antagonism not just to royal or clerical authority, but to authority as such.

This condition doesn’t exist in families, which either enforce authority or disintegrate. Since brotherhood is a familial notion, it’s at odds with liberty – there go all three elements of the French triad, dropping out one by one.

Marginalising authority (other than that of the state) is a distinguishing characteristic of modern democracies, all erected on the subsiding intellectual foundation of the inaugurating triad. This includes liberty from intellectual authority too, and suspicion of those qualified to exert it.

Having politicised every walk of life, modernity has sold to the masses an awful canard, that political equality implies parity among opinions. Since the vote of a philosopher weighs the same as one cast by an ignoramus, the latter is encouraged to believe he’s equal to the former.

This creates a climate of widespread, practically universal stupidity, which alone can foster a modernity proclaiming liberté, egalité, fraternité as its slogan. Too few people are equipped intellectually to see this pronouncement for the pernicious, destructive nonsense it is.

Thus the much-touted Age of Reason was tantamount to an assault on reason. Reason nowadays operates mainly at the lowest level, as an instrument for satisfying materialist appetites.

This compromises the gift of humanity, indeed turning man into nothing but a cleverer ape. What a terrible waste.

A game of EU marbles

As a keen student of language, I’m always happy to learn a new word or, barring that, a new meaning of an old word.

A message to the EU: the Elgin Marbles are ours. Get used to the thought.

Hence I’m grateful to the EU in general, and Greece in particular, for expanding my vocabulary. It turns out ‘save’ is a synonym for ‘steal’.

When used that way, the verb refers to the Parthenon sculptures, the Elgin Marbles, which the eponymous Lord Elgin saved from extinction at a vast personal cost.

When in 1799 he was appointed His Majesty’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire (to which Greece then belonged), the Earl of Elgin noticed that many of the sculptures supposed to be at the Parthenon and elsewhere in the Acropolis were no longer there.

He then discovered that the Turks, whose appreciation of such treasures was less heightened than Lord Elgin’s, were burning the marble sculptures to obtain lime for construction purposes.

A civilised man, Lord Elgin appealed to the British government for help in preserving the masterpieces. Finding no sympathetic ear there, he decided to finance the effort himself.

It cost him a whopping £70,000 (some £70 million in today’s money), but he did manage to ship the surviving sculptures to Britain between 1801 and 1812.

He then sold them, for a fraction of his outlay, to the British Museum, where they have remained every since. There, the masterpieces saved from the vandals are admired by six million visitors every year.

Lately the Greeks have been demanding the sculptures back, claiming Lord Elgin stole them. ‘Stole’ is thus a synonym of ‘saved at a ruinous cost to himself’.

Their cause has so far been championed only by assorted leftist ignoramuses, such as George Clooney and his activist wife. George’s appreciation of fine culture was highlighted when he insisted that the sculptures belonged in the Pantheon – presumably to be buried next to Voltaire, Rousseau and Zola.

All that is par for the course. Those as restless of conscience as they are feeble of mind will always find a way of signalling their virtue. However, now the EU itself has got into the act.

At Greece’s insistence, that awful contrivance has made the return of the Elgin Marbles one of the bargaining chips in the negotiations about the post-Brexit trade deal. “Return the Marbles or no deal,” is the message.

“This is just not happening,” responded a No 10 spokesman, “and it shows a troubling lack of seriousness about the negotiations on the part of the EU.”

The spokesman is wrong: the EU is dead serious. That would become clear if we put the word ‘negotiations’ in quotation marks.

A negotiation is a process by which two parties arrive at an equitable solution acceptable to both. This is only possible when they both negotiate in good faith, a condition that’s manifestly not met in this case.

The EU doesn’t want an equitable trade deal. It wants to make Britain’s life so difficult that other disgruntled EU members will think twice before following suit.

Hence the marbles game, used as yet another wrench tossed into the Brexit works. If that doesn’t work, the federasts will think up something else.

Anything at all will do. They may demand free access to Carrie Symonds’s bedroom. Putting Her Majesty on public display in a cage. A permanent presence of the EU flag on Big Ben. Prince William switching his allegiance from Aston Villa to PSG. It really makes no difference.

That they’ll hurt their own economies by sabotaging the deal won’t matter to them as long as they’ll also hurt ours. The EU, as I never tire of saying, is a political project, not an economic one. If the economy has to be sacrificed for political gain, then so be it.

Nor does it matter to them how idiotic they sound in the process. Thus, responding to Mr Johnson’s reasonable suggestion of a Canada-type arrangement, Michel Barnier, chief EU negotiator, cited Britain’s “close geographical proximity” to the EU as a disqualifying characteristic.

Since when does geographical proximity preclude a trade deal? If anything, it should facilitate it. After all, our goods only have to cross the Channel on the way to the EU, not the Atlantic, as Canadian goods must.

Since I can’t believe Mr Barnier is mentally retarded, he must believe we all are. Otherwise he’d say honestly that: “Britain isn’t like Canada not because it’s closer to the EU geographically, but because it was an EU member and then had the audacity to leave.”

Then the whole world would see that what’s going on isn’t a bona fide trade negotiation, but an underhanded attempt to prop up a misbegotten ideological construct.

Yet only a naïve romantic would expect honesty from EU officials. That organisation is a pack of cards balanced on a pack of lies. And, as the Russians say, like priest, like parish.

However, we must be reasonable and accommodating. So I suggest we do return the Elgin Marbles to Greece – provided France and Belgium return to the original owners the works of art Napoleon looted from all over Europe. Fair’s fair, eh, Mr Barnier?

Tory isn’t a synonym for good

Admittedly, I can’t think of many sensible ideas coming from any other than the Conservative Party during my lifetime. However, numerous examples of inane ideas generated by that party aren’t hard to find.

A statesman or a politician? Sometimes one has to choose

It has all been a bit hit and miss, mostly miss. And even if you contest the ‘mostly miss’ part, it’s hard to argue against the proposition in the title: Tory doesn’t always mean good.

However, it does always mean Tory. Yet Boris Johnson’s grandiose plans make one doubt that lexical relationship.

In a way one can understand his motives. One can’t be a statesman in the absence of power. And, in a parliamentary democracy, power can only be acquired and maintained by deploying a full arsenal of political weapons.

Hence, even assuming generously that the PM is a statesman in the making, he has to find a workable balance between his statesmanship instincts and the rough-and-tumble of political life.

Boris Johnson may or may not be a statesman; it’s too early to tell. But there’s no denying he’s a politician, and some of his political steps contradict the concept of a statesman, certainly a Tory one.

As a politician, Mr Johnson feels called upon to reward the traditional Labour areas in the north of England for voting Tory. That intention doesn’t bother me; the mooted methods do.

The government has come up with the term ‘levelling up’, making every pair of Tory eyebrows go up. Real Tories are suspicious of the word ‘levelling’, and scathing when it’s followed by ‘up’. For large-scale state programmes only ever succeed in levelling down, not up.

In any case, it takes two to level: levelling implies catching up. Hence, even if one party to it grows richer, it’ll only achieve parity if the other party grows poorer or at least stagnates.

That, however, may be just a matter of sloganeering semantics. Mr Johnson may simply mean he’d like to inject new energy into the economies of the northern counties, hit hard by the arrival of the post-industrial age.

That’s a worthy goal. Yet its worthiness may be compromised and even obliterated by the methods chosen to achieve it.

Mr Johnson seems to favour regeneration through giant infrastructure programmes financed out of the public purse. Since that container can only be replenished by either taxes or borrowing, and since the PM seems to dislike the latter, taxes will have to go up.

In fact, considering the amounts involved, they’d have to rise way beyond the presently mooted ‘mansion tax’ and reductions in pension tax relief. The recently approved HS2 alone will cost £150 billion (in reality, probably more), which is a steep price to pay for shaving an hour off the journey from London to Manchester.

All this should be worrying to Mr Johnson, a student of history. One wonders, however, if he has studied modern times as deeply as Hellenic periods.

If he had, he ought to know that all this has been tried and found wanting. The two politicians involved both came to power in 1933 and, though Roosevelt and Hitler differed in many essential respects, their approach to the economy was startlingly similar.

Both had depressed economies to contend with, and both chose the socialist way of dealing with the problem. Both achieved an immediate success, but it was short-lived.

Leaving Hitler out of it for the time being, the New Deal did provide some temporary relief. All those publicly financed construction projects relieved unemployment, or so it seemed.

Roosevelt, waving the megalomaniac Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in one hand and the National Relief Administration (NRA) in the other, rode in on his white steed and saved the day. At least that’s what many thought.

They were wrong though. After Roosevelt’s hasty and ill-advised measures had run out of steam, trouble came back in force.

By 1938 unemployment was again nearing 20 per cent, recession returned, and suddenly it became clear that the depression hadn’t really gone away. It had merely been camouflaged.

Henry Morgenthau, Roosevelt’s Treasury Secretary, admitted as much: “We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. I say after eight years of this administration, we have just as much unemployment as when we started… And an enormous debt to boot!”

America’s economy was saved by the war, while Germany’s was destroyed by it. That distorted the results of the economic experiments both countries had tried in the 1930s.

Yet, operating in that notoriously suspect subjunctive mood, one can be sure that, but for the war, both economies would have failed. Certainly when the time came to rebuild the Federal Republic, Erhard and Adenauer chose a distinctly non-socialist path, which proved spectacularly successful.

History is a useful but not infallible teacher, and analogies can’t be allowed to go too far. Yet some lessons must be drawn.

Mr Johnson hasn’t inherited a depressed economy, but there are some tectonic tremors capable of producing an earthquake. Most of them deal with excessive taxation, spending and public debt – the same problems that produced the 2008 crisis.

Experience shows that such problems can’t be alleviated, nor a crisis preempted, by higher taxation, more promiscuous spending and greater debt. Yet this is what Mr Johnson seems to have in mind.

None of this is necessary to improve the economy of the North. The government has at its disposal many economic weapons known not to backfire.

It could turn the North into a haven for investment and free enterprise by offering companies – especially manufacturing concerns – tax and financing incentives to operate in the region. Off the top, lowering the corporate tax to, say, 10 per cent or even suspending it altogether for a few years could work miracles.

Whatever the Exchequer would lose in immediate revenue would come back ten-fold as the tax base expands. This isn’t speculation but a simple reference to the great success stories provided by low-tax economies everywhere, including Britain.

Tight money, fiscal responsibility, stimuli to private initiative, encouragement to hard work and thrift – these are essential parts of Toryism. Throwing public money at a problem is the socialist way, and it spells disaster, certainly in the long term.

No, Tory isn’t always a synonym for good. But in this area they overlap, and Mr Johnson could do worse than remember it.

Can you guess which country inspired Greta?

Greta Thunberg and other ecologically sound people must have a certain ideal in mind, a country that shares their views and does its best to act accordingly.

Ideals are, alas, unachievable in this life. But one country came so close that it established in eternity its claim to being regarded as the greenest ever.

Since we are playing a guessing game here, see if you can figure out what that virtuous country was. I’ll give you a few hints.

This nation’s commitment to green politics was presaged by a man who protested against the environmental vandalism of the inchoate Industrial Revolution. In 1815 he wrote: “When man sees nature in all its connections and interconnections, then everything is equally important – a bush, a worm, a plant, man, a stone – nothing is either first or last, everything becomes a single whole.”

It was this seer’s countryman who in 1867 coined the word ‘ecology’ and began to establish it as an academic discipline devoted to a study of links between man and environment.

Moving right along, in 1913 a practitioner of the new science wrote a seminal essay that was later hailed by his colleagues:

“The essay Man and Earth presaged practically every theme of the modern ecological movement. It castigated the accelerated disappearance of species, the distortion of the global ecological balance, deforestation… and the general alienation of people from nature. The essay condemned in no uncertain terms Christianity, capitalism, economic utilitarianism, overconsumption… It even decried the ecological destructiveness of unrestrained tourism and whaling, while demonstrating a clear view of the planet as an ecological whole.”

In due course, a party animated by these visionary ideas formed the country’s government and stated its principles forthrightly:

“Anthropocentric views must by rejected as such. They would be valid only if we supposed that nature was created for man only. We categorically reject this supposition. According to our concept of nature, man is but a link in the living chain of nature, just like any other organism.”

The leader of the ruling party agreed: “When people try to rebel against the iron logic of nature, they find themselves in conflict with the very principles to which they owe their existence as people. Their assault on nature is bound to bring about their own downfall.”

The same politician confirmed his green credentials by writing back in the 1930s that fossil fuels would eventually be replaced by renewable sources of energy: “Hydro-, wind and tidal energy are the energy of the future.”

The country’s minister of agriculture put environmental principles into practice. He introduced large-scale organic farming, described as “land-tilling in accordance with the laws of life”.

Under his influence, the nation’s environmentalists secured a level of state support for ecologically sound agriculture that had no analogues in a single country before or since.

Some of the country’s policies, such as forest renewal, protection of animal and plant species, restraints on industrial development, were without a doubt “among the most progressive measures at the time”.

Yet the country’s virtue, as signalled to the world, wasn’t limited to ecology. Many of its leaders, including its head of state, were vegetarians, animal lovers and champions of homeopathy.

Vivisection, experiments on animals and general cruelty towards them were outlawed. The country’s anti-smoking campaign was supported by the government: smoking was banned for all women, enabling the country’s womenfolk to maintain Europe’s lowest rates of lung cancer well into the 1960s. Moreover, it was the country’s doctors who first established the link between smoking and that disease.

How are you doing so far? Have you guessed the name of the virtuous country yet? If you haven’t, I can’t keep you in suspense any longer.

That El Dorado of goodness was Nazi Germany. The quotations I’ve cited came from the writings of Hitler, Hess, Rosenberg, Darré (the agriculture minister I mentioned), Heidegger (the greenest of all philosophers) and their precursors in the 19th century Blood and Soil movement.

All of them were fire-eating nationalists and virulent anti-Semites. Darré described Jews as “weeds”, characteristically choosing a term from his agricultural brief, while the German sylvan romanticists of the 19th century tended to prefer more robust names.

Jews were seen as despoilers of the German race, using as their tools capitalism and rampant industrialisation. The Nazis, especially their green wing ably led by Hitler, Himmler and Hess, were anti-capitalists to a man – it’s not for nothing that their party had Socialist in its name.

They saw industry and technological progress as necessary evils and insisted that, if such pernicious activities had to go on, they should not be allowed to cause any damage to the environment.

That was part of the Nazis’ general commitment to a biological basis of their Weltanschauung. In fact, their movement has been aptly described as a political extension of biology.

At the heart of it lay their atheism, liberally laced with paganism, which saw man – other than the Aryan demigod – as nothing but a part of nature’s continuum. The Genesis teaching that nature is there only to serve man was repugnant to the Nazis. To be fair, they had no time for the rest of the Bible either.

When the Nazis came to power in 1933, German ecoactivists instantly saw kindred souls. A study of various conservation groups (Der Naturschutz) shows that, by 1939, 60 per cent of their members had joined the NSDAP – as opposed to only 10 per cent in the overall male population.

None of this is to say that any of today’s ecofanatics are by definition fascists. Yet many of their premises and desiderata overlap with the Nazis’ – and the overlap is neither small nor inconsequential.

Journalists who like to juxtapose a photo of Greta with a Nazi poster of a young fräulein do have a point, although this particular horse ought not to be flogged to death.

P.S. The seminal work on Nazi environmentalism is Ecofascism Revisited, by Janet Biehl and Peter Staudenmaier.