Lament for “liberal conservatism”

Judging by David Aaronovitch’s review of Anne Applebaum’s upcoming book Twilight of Democracy, both he and Applebaum are unhappy with what they see as the decline of liberalism, especially east of the Rhine.

‘Liberal conservatism’ at work

In 1999 Miss Appelbaum and her husband Radek Sikorski, who later became Poland’s Defence Minister, entertained their friends in his native country. All of them were then “classic liberal conservatives”, whatever that means, which isn’t much.

Since then most of the couple’s guests have become xenophobic, anti-Semitic “active supporters of right-wing populist and authoritarian parties”. The principal reason for that metamorphosis is, according to Applebaum, despair about such things as, in the words of one of her disowned friends, “massive demographic changes… that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don’t like.”

Such apostates to the cause, adds Aaronovitch, aren’t “just to be found in Poland. They bolster Viktor Orban in Hungary, the new far-right Vox party in Spain and Donald Trump in America.”

Tragic, that. Then again, perhaps Miss Applebaum ought to have been more selective in her choice of friends. For example, none of my conservative friends has become a fascisoid populist.

The problem is that neither Applebaum nor Aaronovitch has a clear understanding of what conservatism means. Otherwise they’d know that Appelbaum’s former Polish friends never were conservatives in any clearly definable sense of the word.

They were anti-communists who rallied under liberal slogans they saw as an antithesis to totalitarianism. To their horror, once the Berlin Wall fell, they found out that their countrymen took to liberal democracy like a duck takes to acid.

In Eastern European history, those countries knew liberal democracy for only about 20 interbellum years. The rest of the time they were ruled by empires, be it Austro-Hungarian, Russian, Nazi or Ottoman. And for over 40 post-war years they were lorded over by the Soviet Union and its satraps.

None of that precluded the subsequent shouting of liberal slogans, that was the easy part. The difficult part was building a new body politic by fleshing out a skeleton pieced together from scattered bones.

Liberal slogans had to become liberal policies, but that transition has proved impossible to sustain in countries where liberty was seldom the predominant concern. Moreover, outside observers, including those who, like Applebaum, had an inside track, grossly underestimated the lasting corrupting effect of communism.

Communism was poison dripped in the nations’ bloodstream, and detoxification was always going to take longer than the period of exposure. Writing liberal constitutions on paper takes hours; writing them in people’s hearts takes generations.

The situation is different in the West, and lumping Duda, Oban, their Spanish counterparts and Trump together obfuscates the problem, rather than elucidating it.

“Liberal conservatism” has never failed in the West for the simple reason that it has never existed: it’s an oxymoron. Appelbaum and Aaronovitch attach that term to whiggery, which gradually lost the conservative features it used to have.

Traditional British Whigs differed from the Tories mainly by their focus. If the Tories were mainly the party of aristocracy, the Whigs also represented the emergent middle classes.

Hence they placed a slightly softer accent on traditional hierarchical values and a slightly greater one on such classic liberal desiderata as free trade, pluralism and civil liberties. ‘Slightly’ is the operative word there: the Whigs weren’t out to destroy tradition, and the Tories weren’t opposed to civil liberties.

On the Continent, things were different. For the Enlightenment wasn’t concerned with preserving tradition. It was out to crush it and replace – rather than complement – the old political, social and cultural order with liberté, égalité, fraternité. And the Enlighteners didn’t even realise that the middle element of that triad made the other two impossible.

Unlike Whig liberalism, the Continental kind wasn’t even remotely compatible with conservatism. For it’s a truism oft-repeated (by me, among others) that conservatives are defined by what they wish to conserve. Hence the only definition of conservatism that seems to defy any rational disagreement is the emotional, intellectual and visceral need to preserve the legacy of our civilisation, Christendom.

As the name implies, Christianity was the cornerstone of that civilisation, and it was that cornerstone that European liberals successfully knocked out. In fact, I see the Enlightenment as above all a revolt against Christianity, and in due course British liberals joined in.

If that great Whig Edmund Burke saw the hand of divine providence in the workings of the world, new, secular liberals saw nothing but their own hands at the tiller of history. They mistakenly thought they could get rid of Christianity and still keep the civilisation it had begotten. That didn’t work out, predictably.

The new secular state born out of atheist revolts and built on the foundation of liberté, égalité, fraternité or its equivalents, has proved to be vulnerable to totalitarian upheavals – not only physically but also ideologically.

The two cataclysmic revolutions of the 20th century, Soviet and Nazi, came in the wake of attempts to create liberal democratic states in Russia and Germany. The ease with which that was reversed is understandable.

Liberal democrats and totalitarians are as close in their slogans as they are different in their methods. Both the Bolsheviks and the Nazis touched the right chords in liberal democratic hearts by their touting of equality, free this and that, elimination of traditional hierarchies, their replacement with meritocracy, the rights of citizens and so forth.

Some of those promises were mere ruses designed to grab power, but some others were genuine. And both groups were united in their hatred of conservatives, defined as anyone who couldn’t bear to see the traditional civilisation of Christendom stamped into the dirt.

Socialism follows unchecked liberal democracy as naturally as liberal democracy follows atheism. In the end, true, as opposed to ‘liberal’, conservatives find themselves politically, culturally and socially homeless.

All mainstream parties in the West are what Appelbaum and Aaronovich call “liberal conservative” and what I call variously socialist, which is to say hostile to conservatism. So what options do conservatives have if, unlike me, they wish to take part in political life? Precious few, which explains their drifting towards assorted populist parties.

In Eastern Europe, where commitment to liberal democracy is of a more recent and less robust vintage than in the West, the ideological possibilities are wider. Their fascisoid demagogues can appeal to Christianity and attack post-Christian liberalism the way Western populists can’t.

Neither Aaronovitch nor Appelbaum is intellectually equipped to rise above the simplistic binary view of ‘liberal democracy good, everything else bad’. They don’t discern the structural flaws in the democratic edifice, and accuse those who do of heresy and apostasy.

Simplistic views have caused much damage throughout Western history. And they have a rich potential for causing much more.

Let’s raise taxes

There I was, thinking these words would never cross my lips. Yet on this subject I agree with the chancellor, which is another thing I thought I’d never say.

When in a hole, keep digging

Clearly, the giant hole created in public finances has to be filled, and promiscuous borrowing creates a bottomless pit by filling with one hand while digging deeper with the other.

Where that nice young man Rishi Sunak and I diverge is on how taxes must be raised. In fact, judging by his announcement yesterday, we may even define higher taxes differently.

Mr Sunak, who for some unfathomable reasons and on no apparent evidence is widely seen as the saviour of Britain, has ordered a review of capital gains tax (CGT). A review doesn’t always mean a rise, but something in the chancellor’s language suggested that in this case it might.

Experts believe he’s considering raising CGT rates to the levels of income tax, which he hopes could bring in £90 billion over five years. Therein lie our disagreements.

Mr Sunak is planning to increase tax rates; I’d like to see an increase in tax revenue. And the two aren’t at all the same thing. In fact, they are usually at odds.

Here I’m going to state some blindingly obvious things that any sensible person knows already. Moreover, I’m going to take Arthur Laffer’s name in vain without the sneering accompaniment that these days is de rigueur in some circles.

But first a historical observation. If high tax rates in general and those on assets in particular improved the health of the economy, then Harold Wilson’s tenure back in the ‘70s would have gone down in history as a period of unprecedented prosperity.

After all, he introduced a top marginal tax rate of 83 per cent on earned income – and 98 per cent on the ‘unearned’ variety. Yet such economic sagacity earned Britain quite a different reputation, that of ‘the sick man of Europe’.

The matter was clarified by Arthur Laffer, an American economist endowed with that rare quality in his profession: common sense. He pointed out that a 100 per cent and zero per cent tax rates have something in common: neither will produce any tax revenue. Hence the optimum tax rate lies between those two extremes, somewhere between 15 and 20 per cent.

Lying underneath Laffer’s simple curve based on that observation is the understanding that taxation is the mightiest instrument the state has for affecting people’s economic behaviour. A man who knows he’ll get to keep 90 per cent of what he earns will work harder than one who’ll have to make do with a measly 40 per cent.

By the same token, a man who knows his investment gains will be taxed lightly will be more willing to invest than to spend. All this is basic.

Delving to an even greater depth, the state’s appetite for taxation also affects the state itself. If rapacious, that appetite is guaranteed to make the state more conceited and less accountable. For, the greater the proportion of the people’s money does the state control, the more control will it exercise over people’s lives tout court.

So yes, the Exchequer definitely needs higher tax revenues. That means it needs lower tax rates.

The best way to deliver higher tax revenues is to widen the tax base by stimulating the economy to grow and produce more people generating high taxable incomes. Similarly, the best way to get more CGT revenues is to encourage people to invest more. And extorting a smaller proportion of their profits is more likely to achieve that end.

All of this is too simple for most economists to understand. They climb on top of a mountain made up of their models, paradigms and graphs, and from that vertiginous height they laugh at Laffer.

Yet the principles he outlined are unassailable, based as they are on that most uncommon commodity, common sense. However, principles aren’t to be confused with a panacea.

The Laffer curve won’t work by itself and it won’t pay for itself. When Ronald Reagan first waved the curve as a magic wand, he used it as an election tool in his campaign for the Republican nomination. His opponent, George Bush, called it “voodoo economics”, and indeed it can be just that.

The Laffer curve, as Reagan eventually found out the hard way, can only work in the context of public thrift and general economic prudence. It will neither stimulate the economy nor increase the tax base without significant parallel reductions in public spending.

That’s where economics clashes with politics, and in that contest there can only be one winner. For, like drastically lower tax rates, sweeping reductions in public spending clash with the mentality of modern Western governments. Since such measures defeat their inner imperative of acquiring ever greater control over the people, economic sanity has to retreat, tail between its legs.

Whenever an economy is in crisis, the treatments prescribed by modern governments tend to make the disease worse. That was the case with the 1929 stock market crash that only became the Great Depression as a result of governmental meddling. And, much as I hate to play Cassandra, it’ll be the case with the measures proposed by Messrs Johnson and Sunak.

Still, I’d rather be a Cassandra than a Pollyanna – that way I’d be less likely to be disappointed than pleasantly surprised.

SS, KGB, BBC and other instruments of tyranny

My contention is that all modern states are tyrannical, aspiring to become totalitarian. The difference between the two types is that of degree: a merely tyrannical state has some residual checks on its power, while a totalitarian one doesn’t.

It doesn’t say ‘Arbeit macht frei’. But don’t be misled.

Both types strive to increase their sway over their flock, but they do vary in the mechanisms they activate to that end. These fall into two groups: physically coercive and what I call glossocratic.

The former group is one most commonly associated in people’s mind with tyranny, either totalitarian or not quite yet. It includes arbitrary arrests, trials on trumped-up charges, draconian sentences including the death penalty, criminalisation of free thought, police control over people’s movements.

The glossocratic methods are subtler but just as essential and no less effective. These have to do with exercising control over language and therefore over thought. For words aren’t just free combinations of sounds and syllables. They designate concepts, attitudes, sensations – constituents of cognition.

Thus, whoever controls language controls the populace. Hence glossocracy: government of the word, for the word, by the word.

All modern states use both groups of power mechanisms, and they differ only in the composition of the mix. States relying principally on physical coercion, with glossocracy playing a subservient if important role, are widely called tyrannical or totalitarian.

Others change the make-up of the mix: glossocracy is their main tool, with physical coercion bringing up the rear and picking up the pieces falling through the glossocratic mesh. Such states are usually called liberal democratic.

The important thing to realise is that both types of states are tyrannical. They just impose their tyranny in different ways.

The BBC is perhaps the most powerful glossocratic tool employed by our powers that be; it’s the loudspeaker through which our ruling elite shouts its diktats. And being a glossocratic tool, the BBC is mainly in charge of reshaping English into a language of slaves overseen by their masters.

The other day the BBC managers cast their eagle eye over their staff and calculated that some 400 of them, two per cent of the total, ‘identify’ as transgender.

That’s twice the national proportion, but then this ratio is typical of the Corporation when it comes to enforcing woke edicts: ethnic minorities account for 23 per cent of BBC screen time, but only for 14 per cent of the population. And the proportion of LGBT employees on the BBC production staff is twice that in the population at large.

Making gender-benders feel at home has moved to the top of the broadcaster’s desiderata. As part of that drive, they should be protected from the egregious insult of being addressed by the wrong personal pronoun.

This grammatical category is the sharpest burr under the glossocrats’ blankets. Masculine personal pronouns have already been outlawed for all practical purposes. BBC sports commentators, for example, may talk about a “ManU striker who left their shooting boots at home” – this, though one can safely assume that every player in the Premier League is male.

That this tyrannical obsession makes the language ugly, jarring to anyone with a modicum of an ear for mellifluousness, doesn’t bother the glossocrats one iota. On the contrary, they welcome ugly distortions because they enforce their power to dictate. Ugly is the new beautiful.

Hence the BBC is ‘encouraging’ (in effect, commanding) all staff to add their preferred pronouns to their e-mail signatures, such as ‘he/him/’, ‘they/their’ and so forth. For some inexplicable reason ‘it/its’ hasn’t yet been recommended, although one would think it has an irresistible gender-neutral appeal.

That, according to the BBC official intranet, constitutes a “small, proactive step that we can all take to help create a more inclusive workplace”, making sure that trans and non-binary people don’t feel marginalised.

“It lets colleagues know your pronouns and shows that you respect other people’s too. It’s really simple,” the document states. This way BBC staff will “help to create a culture where everyone feels comfortable introducing themselves with pronouns”.

Just to think that for a century or so millions of people around the world (including me, in times antediluvian), learned English from the BBC World Service, then considered as the faraway star to reach up for. What will they learn now? How to follow the singular antecedent ‘everyone’ with the plural pronoun ‘themselves’? I used to mark my students down for that sort of thing, in times slightly less antediluvian.

However, we must understand that this has nothing to do with grammar or style and everything to do with glossocratic tyranny, with the glossocrats putting their foot down yet again. Ordering people how to speak is a way of telling them how to think and, eventually, how to act.

Like any other glossocracy, the current one is backed up by punitive coercion. The ruling elite, of which the government proper is but a subset, blows zeitgeist into any direction it wishes and mercilessly punishes those who refuse to be swept along.

A writer suggesting that a woman is born, not made, or a scholar pointing out that black slavery wasn’t genocide aren’t yet shot or thrown into a re-education camp. But they are still punished professionally by losing their livelihood and – even worse – being forced to recant.

At first glance, mentioning the BBC in the same breath as the SS or the KGB sounds far-fetched. But only at first glance. They are all instruments of tyranny. They just work in different ways, although in time the differences may well disappear.

One word speaks volumes

Max Hastings, widely believed to be a reliable historian, belied that reputation by writing two self-refuting passages in one short article.

Both point in the same direction

Reviewing Keith Lowe’s book about controversial war statues, Hastings talks about the Russians’ obsession with war memorials:  

“To put the matter bluntly… Russia’s only indisputable successes since the Bolshevik Revolution have been Sputnik and victory in 1945. This makes it unsurprising that the Kremlin is driven to make much of the latter.”

I shan’t argue against the cited number of Russia’s post-revolution achievements, although some people might. But ascribing the country’s sacralisation of the war just to the dearth of other successes is too facile for words.

The war has been used by the Soviets and their heirs to rally the undernourished masses at home and to scare the overfed masses in the West. That’s why, every Victory Day, there are thousands of cars driving around Moscow with ‘We can do it again’ bumper-stickers. That’s why every Russian chieftain, from Stalin to Putin, has been dropping broad hints to the same effect: we ended up in Berlin once, we can do it again.

That theme is harmonised with detailed accompaniments. Thus Khrushchev was forever reminding Americans that the Soviet nuclear arsenal could annihilate the world many times over. And Putin’s mouthpieces like to talk about turning American cities into radioactive dust.

Hence the story of Russian war memorials and statues is quite a bit more sinister than Hastings fancies. It’s not just about a feeling of inferiority about an underachieving economy.

But that’s a minor glitch, although perhaps not so minor for a historian. What comes next is worse. For, writing about the continuing worship of Stalin in Russia, Hastings effectively refutes his previous statement: “Putin and many of his people still revere Stalin, who presided over a tyranny almost as murderous as that of Hitler.”

The very fact that an eminent journalist and historian felt called upon to slip the modifier ‘almost’ into that sentence, testifies to another success scored by Russia and her acolytes, one that towers above all others: a triumph of global brainwashing propaganda.

‘Almost’ suggests that, though Stalin’s tyranny was murderous, it didn’t quite manage Hitler’s body count. If that’s what Hastings believes, he’s ignorant. If he says that knowing it’s untrue, he’s a liar.

For Hitler is usually ‘credited’ with about 10 million non-combatant deaths. That’s less than half a million for every year he was in power. An awful, gruesome number, but one that doesn’t even approach Stalin’s hit list.

According to the most reliable calculations, between November, 1917, and March, 1953, the year of Stalin’s death, the Soviets murdered over 61 million of their compatriots. About 15 million were slaughtered on Lenin’s watch, before Stalin took over. That leaves the blood of 46 million on Stalin’s hands, a stain accumulated over roughly 30 years in power.

As you can see, ‘almost’ applies neither to the absolute number of victims nor to the murdering rate. So why is Stalin’s tyranny only “almost as murderous as that of Hitler” to someone who’s supposed to know better?

Both regimes, Hitler’s and Stalin’s, were socialist. The difference, at least in the PR sense, lay in the modifiers. Hitler’s socialism was national; Stalin’s, international.

It stands to reason that an ideology preaching the innate superiority of the Germans over everyone else would by definition have a rather narrow appeal. And whatever international appeal it might have had at the beginning (Britain’s Cliveden set springs to mind) didn’t survive the exposure of Nazi crimes.

To be sure, that line of thought, with the concomitant warm feelings about Hitler’s gang, could work elsewhere, with some other race or nationality replacing Aryan Germans. But wherever they come out of the woodwork, most neo-Nazis are perceived as ill-educated cranks, creepy-crawlies at the margins of society.

Admittedly, the margins are getting wider in many European countries, and this is worrying. Yet nowhere do neo-Nazi parties (sometimes called ‘extreme right-wing’ or ‘populist’) belong in the mainstream.

Not so their international counterparts, be it the oxymoronic democratic socialists or even those further to the left. These are definitely in the mainstream, and in fact one can go so far as to say that socialism is the dominant ideology throughout Europe, practised even by parties that describe themselves as conservative or Christian.

Unlike Nazi rants, the language of traditional, international socialism rings all the right bells. Equality, social care from cradle to grave, the state looking after its citizens, free everything (medical care, education, transport, you name it), disappearing divisions between the rich and the poor – you know the glossary as well as I do.

That happened to be the language spoken by the Soviets, mainly because they wished the intellectual and cultured mainstream in the West to get that feeling of kinship. Cultivation of ‘useful idiots’ in the West was Lenin’s declared goal, and it was pursued throughout the existence of the Soviet Union, and beyond.

One of the first acts of the young Soviet republic was to start a global radio service beaming basic socialist messages to an audience already primed to receive them. When Comintern was formed in 1919, it quickly became the biggest and most successful propaganda machine ever.

News of horrendous crimes being committed by the Bolsheviks was reaching the West, but it was dismissed as sour grapes on the part of the dispossessed capitalists and aristocrats.

When Khrushchev delivered that so-called ‘secret’ speech (it was immediately circulated to millions of party members and to Western wire services) in 1956, Soviet crimes could no longer be hushed up – especially since they continued, and not only in the USSR but throughout Europe, from East Germany and Poland to Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

At that point, the communist faction of socialism was, throughout most of the West, pushed into the margins too. But the warm glow emanating from those beautiful words about equality or some such left a residual effect. They continued to tickle the naughty bits of Western intellectuals, even those who sincerely repudiated their erstwhile affection for the Soviet Union.

That’s why so many respectable, anti-communist gentlemen still can’t suppress a slight wince when parallels are drawn between Lenin or Stalin and Hitler. After the wince comes the jerking knee, and the old reflexes kick in. Yes, of course both the Nazis and the Soviets were wicked, but surely the latter never touched the evil depths of the former?

Just like their pro-communist forefathers, Lenin’s useful idiots, the new anti-communist lot won’t be swayed by facts, such as those I mentioned above. Even if they don’t deny the accuracy of such facts (which is rare), they’ll still find some ‘yes, but…’ extenuating circumstances.

And even if they don’t, Hitler will forever retain sole possession of the summit of evil, out of reach for the “almost as murderous” Lenin and Stalin.

‘Almost’. One word. Six letters. Two syllables. And they say, to those able to listen properly, more than many a learned tome.  

The mosque that converted Russia

The title is slightly disingenuous because, at the time of Russia’s baptism in 988, Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia wasn’t yet a mosque.

It was a majestic, ineffably beautiful cathedral, built during Justinian’s reign in the 6th century. That made Hagia Sophia the world’s second-oldest cathedral and easily the largest, which it remained for another 1,000 years.

Hence, by the time the Kievan Grand Duke Vladimir decided to stop worshipping the pagan god Perun, Hagia Sophia had proudly stood for 400 years. At that point, according to the Primary Chronicle, Vladimir decided to switch to an Abrahamic religion, but he wasn’t sure which one.

We don’t know how deeply Vladimir pondered comparative doctrines when weighing his options. Not very, would be my guess: the ruler was illiterate, which usually precludes a deep study of theological subtleties. He clearly needed help.

Hence Vladimir summoned emissaries representing Islam, Judaism, Western and Eastern Christianity and asked them to make the case for their religion.

The Primary Chronicle says that Islam was rejected outright because of its injunction against alcohol. “Drinking is the joy of the Rus’,” Vladimir is reported to have said. “We can’t be without it.” The conservative in me is happy to see that his legacy perseveres.

Judaism was unacceptable because, says the Chronicle, the Jewish emissaries confessed that their land had been taken over by the Christians. Actually, Palestine was ruled by the Muslims at the time, but the Primary Chronicle is a Russian document and therefore can’t be accused of pedantic attention to every casuistic detail.

Nor is it entirely trustworthy in its explanation of why Vladimir rejected Catholicism. The real reason was his enmity to the West, whose inchoate pluralism was repellent to the proto-Russians (as it remains to their descendants). However, the reason the Chronicle does cite rings true aesthetically, even though it’s probably apocryphal historically.

Vladimir is supposed to have sent his own emissaries to both German lands and Byzantium to compare the beauty of their cathedrals. The ambassadors’ reports were unequivocal: the German churches were fine in their own way, but the splendour of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople had taken their breath away.

One can understand how they felt, for the cathedral continues to have this effect on today’s travellers as well, even those jaded by exposure to the glory of Europe’s Romanesque and Gothic churches. I was certainly stunned when I first saw it, and by then I had seen most of the great cathedrals of Christendom.

Except that Hagia Sophia was no longer a cathedral in the 1990s, when its lofty beauty swept me off my feet. It was converted to a mosque in 1453, when the Ottoman Turks overran Constantinople. Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the secular Turkish republic, turned Hagia Sophia into a museum in 1935. And now, 85 years later, Erdoğan has made it into a mosque again as part of his drive to abandon Atatürk’s secularism.

I’d like to accuse Erdoğan of desecrating a great Christian cathedral, but that would be unfair to Sultan Mehmet II, who conquered Byzantium in 1453 and first turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Fair game being an essential, if moribund, British virtue, we must give credit where it’s due.

Now London is the proud site of the West’s largest mosque, the Baitul Futuh. Built as it was in 2003, it doesn’t quite have the pedigree of Hagia Sophia, and nor can it rival its beauty – no temple can. However, it’s still the centre of Muslim worship in Britain, just as Hagia Sophia used to be the centre of Christian worship in Europe.

Hence, in the same spirit of fairness and out of my innate sense of balance, I propose that the Baitul Futuh be converted to an Anglican cathedral, providing a seat for the most multi-culti bishop in the Church of England (there are many to choose from).

Alas, should my proposal be acted upon, my imagination doesn’t quite reach as far as picturing the ensuing global outcry, and not just among the Muslims. The din would be thunderous, the accusations of white supremacy scathing, the gnashing of teeth dentally ruinous.

Nothing comparable is heard following yet another heinous crime perpetrated against the world’s most aesthetically beautiful and historically significant church. Reports in the papers are so dispassionate that one might think the conversion in question is that of, say, the Millennium Dome into a wholesale fish market. Possibly newsworthy, but at base no one cares.

We really don’t deserve to survive.

Confucius and the archbishop

Sometimes one wonders if our powers-that-be actually understand the words they use. I hope they don’t, for otherwise I’d have to accuse them of lying.

Confucius say: “If the notions aren’t true, neither are the words… A sage won’t tolerate disorder in words.”

One word that consistently gives rise to such doubts is ‘equality’ and all its cognates. Show me a man who uses it to designate a desirable goal, and I’ll show you either a fool or a knave.

You’ll have to decide for yourself which term applies to Stephen Cottrell, who was yesterday confirmed as the new Archbishop of York. But he did utter that e-word afterwards: “I think we can build a better world, a fairer world, a more just world, a world where status and privilege don’t count so much, where everybody has an equal opportunity.”

I’d suggest that such an ambitious programme, being too this-worldly, falls outside His Grace’s purview. This might explain the looseness of thought shining through. The archbishop seems to see his task as eliminating, or at least trivialising, earthly hierarchies. Perhaps he missed his true calling; one can see him as a Labour councilman somewhere up north.  

True, Christendom’s goal was the ultimate equality of all, the kingdom of God. Yet there was never much doubt that it took a hierarchical society to get there. Earthly hierarchy was seen as a vertical structure enabling man to climb to heavenly equality.

This may sound paradoxical, but in fact isn’t. For true equality can only exist in heaven; in earth, the belief that all men are created equal is wishful thinking at its most fanciful. On the contrary, if we believe what we see around us, men are demonstrably created unequal in size, strength, intelligence, talent, character, willpower, industry, perseverance, appearance, sexuality – in fact, in everything.

Most of these qualities are conducive to achieving greater success in various fields. Thus earthly inequality is a natural order of things, and it can only be distorted by unnatural means. Even then it won’t disappear; it’ll either be replaced by a worse type of inequality or else camouflaged by demagoguery.

For example, His Grace would probably agree that equality of result is an indigestible pie in the sky. However, he sees equality of opportunity as a goal both laudable and achievable. In fact, it’s more or less the other way around.

Equality of result can indeed be achieved by enforced levelling downwards (the only direction in which it’s ever possible to level).

It’s possible to confiscate all property and pay citizens barely enough to keep them alive (this was more or less achieved in the country where I grew up). It’s possible to create dumbed-down schools that will make everybody equally ignorant (this has been more or less achieved in the country where I grew old). It’s possible to provide equal healthcare for all that has little to do with either caring for most citizens or keeping them healthy (both countries have achieved this).

What’s absolutely impossible to achieve is equality of opportunity.

A child with two parents will have better opportunities than a child raised by one parent. A boy who grew up surrounded by books will have a greater opportunity than his coeval who grew up surrounded by crushed beer cans. A child of two professional tennis players will have a better chance of becoming good at the game than a child of two chartered accountants. A young businessman who inherits a fortune will have a better opportunity of earning a greater fortune than someone who has to start from scratch.

Yet equality has become such a sacred shibboleth for the post-Christian classes that they are prepared to deny obvious facts in its name. Take IQ for example. Whoever dares to observe that different groups, be that class or race, have different median IQ scores will be immediately accused of racism, fascism, elitism or any other ism that happens to be the faddish bogeyman at the time.

However, facts invariably show that IQ scores do differ from one group to the next, and they are the most reliable predictor of practical success in any occupation (except perhaps, on current evidence, public service).

Yet the bogus equality of the modern world has to presuppose parity where none exists: practical ability. Lies are the only way out of this conundrum: as empirical evidence destroys this presupposition everywhere we look, the evidence must be either falsified or, better still, hushed up. In this modernity displays more ruthless consistency than Christendom ever did in opposing, say, the heliocentric theory.

An important thing to remember about egalitarianism is that levelling downwards isn’t merely the only possible direction but, for its champions, the only desirable one. To Burke “compulsory equalisations” could only mean “equal want, equal wretchedness, equal beggary.” To modern egalitarians they are the shining beacon.

Yet it would be wrong to say that equality, in whatever sense of the word, is a pipe dream. In fact, every country in the world has achieved it in small enclaves where people’s clothes, food, lodgings and indeed rights are not merely equal but identical.

The people may or may not work, but their way of life isn’t affected either way. Their medical care and education are free, and things like TV sets and sports facilities are equally available to all. These perfectly egalitarian places are called gaols, and indeed prison is the epitome of egalitarian aspirations, the ideal towards which they strive.

This sounds facetious, but in fact it’s just an illustration of an immutable truth: the relationship between earthly freedom and equality can only ever be inverse. The more of one, the less of the other. Total tyranny is a precondition for total equality (that is, below the level of the tyrant, who stands above the equal masses the same way the unequal warder stands above the equal prisoners).

But I shouldn’t be beastly to His Grace. I’m sure he ran through such arguments in his head and rejected them in favour of more sound ones. I’m just desperate to find out what they are.

Statist way isn’t the way out

Few things give me as much pleasure as watching socialists squirm. This morning’s Sky interview with Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds didn’t disappoint.

Our next PM? Many commentators think so, on a mysterious basis

Asked to comment on the measures announced by Chancellor Sunak, the poor woman found herself between a rock and a hard place.

The rock was the keenly felt necessity to criticise the Tories and guarantee that Labour would do much better. The hard place was the certainty that Labour would do pretty much the same things.

The presenter Kay Burley tried to help Dodds out as best she could. Referring to the Chancellor’s raising the ceiling of stamp duty on house sales from £300,000 to £500,000, Burley tried to throw her interviewee a lifeline: “But that will benefit the rich, won’t it?”

But Dodds sighed wistfully and swept the line away. While appreciating that a Sky presenter was even more left-wing than she herself (which is going some), she didn’t want to appear more stupid than strictly necessary.

She knows, as does everybody else this side of Sky TV and BBC studios, that the asset inflation has been so horrendous that the proposed ceiling rise would benefit not just the rich, but most house owners in any other than depressed areas.

For example, the average terraced house in Fulham, where I live, costs £1.3 million, which is 602 per cent higher than in 1995. People who could afford such a house 25 years ago didn’t have to be rich, and those who bought it 40 years ago might have lived on a modest income.

All Miss Dodds could manage was a suggestion that, while borrowing as much as Mr Sunak’s proposed £350 billion a year, Labour would ‘target’ its spending differently. That word represents the Labour consensus established in advance, and the poor woman was endlessly repeating the word ‘target’ in response to every question, in and out of context.

Psychiatrists refer to such compulsive repetitiveness as ‘perseveration’, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’ll be telling her husband to improve his targeting tonight.

The trouble with Sunak’s stimulus package is that it’ll stimulate nothing but rapacious growth of the state. That being the ultimate goal of all modern governments, either Labour Lite (aka Tory) or Labour Full Strength (aka Labour), the two parties agree on the principle, even as they may quibble about the details.

Doubtless some extra borrowing is required at a time of crisis. Yet borrowing in one year more than the country’s annual GDP, however the money is targeted, will create more problems than it solves.

Mercifully, the prematurely popular Chancellor didn’t mention the giant infrastructure projects so beloved of Boris Johnson. After a brief initial spike, this panic-inspired trick has backfired everywhere it has been tried, most emphatically in Roosevelt’s America and Hitler’s Germany. But for the war, both economies would have lain in ruins (which might have been one of the reasons for the war).

But what Sunak did mention amounts to the state taking over the economy. For, and I know this sounds terribly old-fashioned, the borrowed billions will eventually have to be repaid. When reminded of this unfortunate necessity, the government spouts the mantra about the interest rates being so low that borrowing costs next to nothing.

That, however, doesn’t obviate the need to pay back the principal. Nor does it invalidate the observation that interest rates fluctuate. It doesn’t take a cosmic flight of imagination to realise that this kind of traffic is two-way: if interest rates can plummet, they can also soar.

At the present level of borrowing, even a slight increase in lending rates, say two or three per cent, would bankrupt the country instantly. But even barring such a calamity, how is the Chancellor planning to repay the principal?

The answer is, by using taxation to squeeze every drop out of the economy and bringing it even more under state control. Public spending will have to come down in parallel, but that’s where that ‘targeting’ comes in.

The NHS is sacrosanct. So is social spending, other than the ad hoc coronavirus relief. So are the ruinous and foolhardy green policies.  Where then will the government pinch?

The answer is, mostly in defence and law enforcement. In particular, the already risible defence budget will be cut down to nothing. And even that won’t solve the problem – a predominantly statist economy won’t come out of the crisis for generations, if ever.

The very fact that our socialist parties of both strengths are in agreement shows how intellectually and morally corrupt the proposed measures are. The Chancellor has taken the coward’s way out by refusing to make unpopular decisions that alone can pull us out of the morass.

Such decisions would all be based on freeing up the economy, and they’d lead to initial pain followed by growing prosperity. However, the initial pain would scupper the next election, with the likes of Dodds at last being able to zero in on a clearly visible bull’s eye. And modern governments are ever ready to let the country die so that they themselves can live.

Rather than just selling to the public the snake oil of lower stamp duty (for just a short spell, mind you) and £10 eating-out vouchers, the Chancellor should talk about turning Britain into a tax haven and an ideal country for investment, both foreign and domestic.

Red tape, including the ideological and unscientific drive to eliminate carbon emissions, ought to be rolled up and thrown away; the corporate tax rate, currently at 19 per cent, should be halved or, for start-ups, suspended for several years. Manufacturing companies should be given every conceivable incentive to set up and thrive in Britain.

I shan’t try to work out every specific – we still have enough resident expertise in the country to do that better than I could. Yet history shows that only that kind of approach can stop the doldrums – but not in a country as thoroughly corrupted by socialism as Britain is.

This was the strategy adopted by West Germany in the aftermath of the war, which produced an ‘economic miracle’ by the mid-fifties. Britain took the statist road, and the crisis continued until the 1980s.

Those old enough to remember the 1970s know what to expect. I just hope they’ll share that knowledge with the youngsters.

Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents

Such was the title of Edmund Burke’s 1770 pamphlet, in which the great Whig pondered the nature of the contemporaneous grievances and public disorders.

They do, but the protests aren’t about that

Those were rather different from today’s. Burke had in his sights a cabal of rival Whigs whose closeness to George III, he felt, distorted the proper relationship between court and parliament.

Today’s discontents, on the other hand, go beyond such particulars. They target, explicitly or implicitly, the legitimacy of both court and parliament, indeed the validity of our whole civilisation.

Burke wrote at a time when modernity was making its first tentative steps, and the people were still unaware of the very possibility of wider discontents. However, they were soon to learn.

The thunderously proclaimed promise of equality was understood, as it was supposed to be, in the widest possible sense. Equality was presented as a sacred right; inequality, as its egregious violation.

Any grievance, no matter how trivial or unfounded, was seen as an affront. And every affront was regarded as a mortal sin, committed not just against any specific individuals, but against an abstract notion, a secular God of Equality.

That was an awful parody of Judaeo-Christian morality with its commandments proscribing murder and adultery in the same breath, or rather on the same tablets. In the eyes of men, murder was a terrible crime, while adultery was just par for the course. But in the eyes of God both were equally sinful.

The four revolutions defining modernity, American in 1776, French in 1789 and two Russian ones in 1917, were all perpetrated against the least tyrannical governments in those countries’ history: those of George III, Louis XVI, Nicholas II and Russia’s first attempt at liberal democracy.

The mild nature of the regimes they hated didn’t matter to the revolutionaries. The God of Equality had been offended, and he was athirst. Discontents, once planted, had sprouted luxuriantly, and all it took was adroit operators to exploit them to full potential. Such individuals aren’t thick on the ground, but there’s never any need for many of them. A couple of dozen or so can do the job, provided they are sufficiently devious and ruthless.

The God of Equality eventually created a widespread view of the world as inherently unjust, but whose injustices could be corrected by concerted action, be it a violent revolution or purposeful attrition.

If the masses are thoroughly brainwashed to see themselves as victims of injustice, their discontents can be easily channelled into destructive conduits. This is exactly what we are witnessing at present.

Whether it’s global warming or nuclear energy or the indignities allegedly suffered by women and some races, what’s at issue isn’t the proclaimed grievance. It’s a demand for the redress of the inherent injustice of the world, apostasy to the God of Equality.

If the world is seen as fundamentally unjust, then those who succeed in it have taken advantage of those who don’t. They can be easily targeted as objects of derision, rancour or even violent hatred.

When such is the point of departure, the destination is always in sight. That could be Jews to some, capitalists to others, white or straight people to some others, men to others still.

Pet hatreds naturally cluster together – no one is limited to just one. Thus those who hate capitalists often also hate Jews, and indeed equate the two groups, as Marx and Hitler did. Those who see women as an oppressed minority are practically guaranteed also to hate globe-warming, air-polluting capitalism.

And can you imagine a genuflecting champion of Black Lives Matter who isn’t certain that women are oppressed, and money-grubbing capitalists are destroying ‘our planet’? I can’t, because such an animal doesn’t exist.

That’s why it’s pointless engaging such people in a rational, fact-based discourse on their proclaimed grievance. Their underlying faith is impervious to reason or facts. They worship the God of Equality who commands them to hate every heretic and apostate.

While one can argue with opponents, one can only ever fight enemies. That explains the advice I recently gave to a friend of mine, who was upset as a result.

He was about to appear on a radio show, arguing with a fire-eating equality zealot. My friend was trying to anticipate the likely arguments, one of which could have been that the Israelis’ treatment of Palestinians and our treatment of blacks are no different from Hitler’s Holocaust.

What would I say in response, my friend wanted to know. “Go f*** yourself,” I replied without hesitation. “What kind of answer is that?” asked my irate friend. “The only possible one,” I replied. One can respond reasonably only to a reasonable statement.

The statement my friend anticipated not only was unreasonable but it also had nothing to do with the sentiment overtly expressed. Underneath the actual words was a scream of hatred brewed on discontent. Christians are taught to love their enemies, but that doesn’t mean letting them get away with murder.

If Welby is the tree, here’s the apple

If you wonder why the Church of England is haemorrhaging communicants, look no further than its two most senior prelates.

“Jesus was black, but not yet a woman”

I wrote about the Archbishop of Canterbury not so long ago, but Stephen Cottrell, the recently installed Archbishop of York, complements his ecclesiastical superior perfectly.

His background is newly typical for the hierarchy of our established church. His Grace describes himself as an “oik from Essex”, who was an atheist until age 19 or so, when he saw the TV series Jesus of Nazareth and consequently the light.

Now, many paths lead to Christ, but the box isn’t widely known for acting as the road to Damascus. However, the mysteries of faith are beyond the imaginings of poor mortals.

For this poor mortal, the greatest mystery isn’t so much His Grace’s teleconversion as his current belief that “Jesus was a black man”. After all, Robert Powell, who played the title role in Jesus of Nazareth, is unquestionably, irredeemably white.

On the positive side, His Grace doesn’t seem to believe that Jesus was a black lesbian woman or, if he does, he hasn’t yet made that insight public. However, I’m interested in the one he did vouchsafe to his flock.

The archbishop matriculated at the Polytechnic of Central London, and perhaps his perception of biblical demographics was affected by the racial mix at that institution. Or else a part of his revelatory TV experience was the ability to see beyond Robert Powell’s skin to find the black man inside.

Then of course it’s possible that he has studied the Bible, patristic sources and subsequent theological literature as deeply as his post requires, which is much more deeply than I have. In that case, I for one would be grateful if His Grace were to refer us to the source from which he learned of Jesus’s negritude.

To a layman like me, Jesus was a Jew, a race that’s depicted as diabolical by some, God-chosen by others, but hardly ever as black. Even Middle Eastern Jews, which Jesus was, can’t be readily confused with, say, Jamaicans.

Yet I’m sure His Grace goes beyond chromatic incidentals. He senses, as I do, that negritude is no longer a factor of mere race but one of ideology. Black equals good, worthy and ipso facto virtuous. The syllogism is unassailable: Black is good, Jesus was good, therefore Jesus was black.

If that’s how he sees it, then one can only hope His Grace won’t start celebrating Black Mass as an extension of his parallel faith in a black Jesus.

“The world is not how it’s meant to be,” says the archbishop. “I’ve always been a passionate person and I do want to change the world.”

Again I applaud: the world indeed leaves much room for improvement. However, in my experience, passionate people who openly state such an ameliorative intent, are usually mad.

Still, one man’s experience is always limited, and perhaps His Grace does have it in his power to make the world a better place. He intends to start from his own backyard, the church.

“One of the failings the church has made has been a form of tokenism without addressing the deep systemic issues of exclusion and prejudice.” As a curative, he wants to celebrate Black Lives Matter – one hopes in addition to, rather than instead of, mass.

More than that, His Grace plans to attack prejudice with the wrathful energy of the black Jesus chasing the money-changers from the Temple. “The leadership of the Church of England is still too white,” he says, “and I hope under my watch we’ll see further changes on that”.

Actually, the man he replaced was black, which sets the church way back on the road to equality. A penitent prayer to the black Jesus is in order: not only is His Grace shamefully white, but he also drove a black man out of a job.

His Grace expresses himself with so much eloquence that one is amazed he was educated at the Polytechnic of Central London and not, say, at the University of Paris when Albert the Great was teaching there.

To wit: “But one of the things I’ve seen change in my own time has been the inclusion of women. I am very frustrated often at the pace of change, but equally I’m not going to apologise much because actually there has been such a lot of change that has been so positive. The inclusion of women in leadership has made such a difference and I’m determined to continue that with the BAME community.”

And, as you could easily guess, he’s a great admirer of same-sex relationships. In that respect he differs from bishops who earlier this year made the faux pas of stating that civil partnerships, whether homosexual or straight, “fall short of God’s purpose for human beings”.

They were simply reiterating the scriptural teaching on this subject, expressed unequivocally in both Testaments. But unlike them, His Grace knows that the Bible is woefully obsolete.

While magnanimously allowing that people with traditional views shouldn’t yet be excommunicated, he is also “thinking of LGBTQ+ Christians and their experience; I don’t want them to be disenfranchised or excluded, so we’re going to have to find a way of living together with disagreement.”

His Grace is obviously unfamiliar with the concept of hating the sin while loving the sinner. Homosexual Christians shouldn’t be excluded; but that doesn’t mean that the church should countenance, say, homomarriage, which His Grace probably does.

Still, as a firm believer in upward mobility, I’m happy to see that a man of such humble background could rise not only to the second-highest position in the Anglican Church but also to deep musical insights.

“I’ve been listening to Bach’s Goldberg Variations,” says His Grace, “and they’re really interesting because you start with a basic musical line, and then it’s almost like endless variation…” So that’s why the piece is called Variations? I’ve always wondered and now I know.

Looking at the hierarchy of the Church of England, I can’t help paraphrasing the old joke: “Will its last communicant to leave please turn off the lights and lock the door.”

A hell of a speech, Mr President

Donald’s Trump speech on the eve of Independence Day got right up The Guardian’s nose, which alone would have sufficed for me to regard it as a great piece of oratory.

Trump knows they aren’t kidding

But the speech also passed an even more stringent test: Trump said many of the same things I write, as I did yesterday and on countless other occasions. A greater tribute to his (or his speechwriter’s) intelligence, insight and eloquence is hard to imagine.

“Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children,” Trump said. “Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities.”

They wish, he continued, “to cancel culture, driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees. This is the very definition of totalitarianism, and it is completely alien to our culture and to our values…

“… In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted and punished.”

I seldom quote at such length, and I’m doing so now only because I would have willingly signed my name to every word. Yes, these are just words. But, compared to millions of other words uttered on this subject, they have the advantage of being intelligent, courageous – and true.

None of these adjectives apply to The Guardian’s reaction to the speech or, for that matter, to anything else. Unless of course that objectionable sheet set out to prove that Trump was right in his ringing accusations.

The president, according to the paper, didn’t speak. He “railed” and – brace yourself – he did so “to the overwhelmingly white crowd”. A rank idiot or a Guardian reader (I use these descriptions interchangeably) might get the impression that persons of less fortunate races were barred from entry.

But of course that was a political rally, which events are hardly ever attended by anyone other than core supporters. And it’s no secret that Trump’s core support is predominantly white: other races have been so thoroughly brainwashed by left-wing totalitarian propaganda that their knees invariably jerk in the direction of, well, left-wing totalitarians.

Actually, this is a tautology: totalitarianism, as opposed to authoritarianism, is always of left-wing origin, and I don’t just mean communist regimes. Fascist and Nazi ones qualify too.

Mussolini was one of the top Marxist propagandists in Europe long before his March on Rome. And Hitler openly and gratefully acknowledged his indebtedness to Marx.

Indeed, replacing class with race and capitalists with Jews, Hitler’s rants faithfully follow Marx’s line of thought. And the economics of Hitler’s Four-Year Plan was pure corporatist socialism, indistinguishable from Roosevelt’s New Deal.

In fact, Western intellectuals only tarred Hitler with the right-wing brush belatedly, when he attacked his former ally, the Soviet Union. Since Stalin was undeniably left-wing, the binary minds of ‘liberal’ hacks had to tag Hitler as right-wing, proving yet again the fickle, and usually useless, nature of political taxonomy.

“The president,” continues The Guardian, “has shown no sign of embracing the public mood”, as, presumably, gauged by The Guardian.

The public mood in Britain, as perceived by the paper, is manifested only in a few London postcodes, mostly clustered around Notting Hill, Hampstead and Islington. Transferring the same sociology to the less familiar terrain, the American public mood can only be reliably assessed in Washington’s Georgetown, Manhattan’s East Side (apart from the Trump Tower) and Los Angeles’s Beverly Hills.

The denizens of less fashionable neighbourhoods can be safely omitted from any sample investigated by The Guardian or its ideological kin in the US. Those chaps are routinely seen as racist savages who simply don’t count and who must be shut up at any cost.

What else? Oh yes, the “president enflames national tensions” by proposing a celebration, rather than vilification, of American heroes. And his remarks “offer little by way of reconciliation.”

If I were Trump, I’d send a thank-you note to The Guardian for supporting his speech with such valuable evidence. The paper consistently champions those who wish to topple every statue that doesn’t conform to their subversive ideology – The Guardian is the British branch of those who, in Trump’s words, strive “to wipe out our history, defame our heroes”.

Such people are enemies of our civilisation, not our opponents in debating jousts. One can argue with opponents; one can only fight enemies. Good and evil can’t meet halfway, they can’t be averaged out and no conciliation between the two is possible.

As regular readers of this space know, Trump isn’t exactly my tumbler of vodka. But credit where it’s due: he refuses to bend his knee, literally and figuratively, to left-wing fascism, and he seems impervious to its shrill slogans.

One can only wish he displayed the same courage and perspicacity in his response to the kleptofascism of Putin’s Russia. But we all have to start somewhere.