Totalitarians finally get Starkey

If you still think we live in a free country, you are an incurable romantic. This isn’t an accusation that’s often levelled against me, but even I sometimes sound unduly optimistic.

More sinned against than sinning

For example, I often say that Britain is moving towards totalitarianism. Wrong tense, ladies and gentlemen. Totalitarianism isn’t coming. As the treatment of Prof. Starkey shows, it’s already here.

The eminent Tudor historian has lost all his academic positions and publishing contracts (including for two books about to come out) over his video link interview on BLM.

“You cannot decolonise the curriculum because you, Black Lives Matter, are wholly and entirely a product of white colonisation,” said Prof. Starkey, which alone would have sufficed to nail him to the woke cross. But he didn’t stop there. 

The viewing public, and the institutions that kowtow to it, were also appalled by another statement: “Slavery was not genocide, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain, would there?”.

Hysterical shrieks greeted both the substance of this statement and its form. But then of course spittle-sputtering convulsions have become the preferred tool of intellectual debate.

Do his detractors think that even if the British Empire had never existed, or collapsed, we’d still have some seven million people of African or Asian origin living here? Taking paroxysms of shamanistic, ideological fury out of it, this part of Prof. Starkey’s interview seems factually unassailable.

Or do those publishers and academics believe slavery actually was genocide? One would think that those chaps would display more intellectual rigour than that.

All genocide is mass murder, but not all mass murder is genocide. The relevant terminology and the thinking behind it were introduced by the late Prof. Rummel in his seminal books Lethal Politics and Murder by Government.

He distinguishes between democide and genocide. The former is ideological mass murder by category, usually class or political affiliation. The latter is mass murder by ethnic, racial or religious category, with mere belonging to one such qualifying people for annihilation.

First, neither slavery nor colonialism involved mass murder by definition, either democide or genocide. Regardless of how reprehensible they may be in other respects, both exercises mostly aimed at using cheap labour for pecuniary gain.

Murdering cheap labour en masse would have rather defeated the purpose, don’t you think? That would be akin to buying a stable full of Arab thoroughbreds and then slaughtering them all.

There’s no doubt that many Africans died in, for example, the Zulu Wars, but those were indeed wars, and people do get killed. We may regard those wars as unjust, but they’re still a far cry from systematic murder by category.

Genocides in Africa have always been committed by other Africans. For example, in 1972 the Tutsi majority in Burundi murdered a quarter-million Hutus. In 1994, the Hutu majority in Rwanda got its own back by murdering about a million Tutsis. Nothing like that can be put at the door of the British Empire.

Except it is. Assorted intellectually challenged fanatics claim that Africans resort to genocide (which since the end of Western colonialism has claimed between 10 and 20 million lives) because they were thoroughly brutalised by the colonisers.

That line of thought betokens the kind of racism Prof. Starkey would never countenance. For the implication is that black Africans aren’t free moral agents endowed with free will. This effectively denies their humanity, which goes against every known take on basic decency, even of the secular kind.

Speaking of Rwanda, it figures in one typical comment on Prof. Starkey’s transgression. Would he “feel similarly,” asks the commentator, “about the Armenian, Rwandan and Cambodian genocides?”

Khmer Rouge perpetrated not genocide but democide in Cambodia – 2.5 million Khmers (out of the population of eight million) were murdered not because of their ethnicity, but because Pol Pot and his gang had studied communism at the Sorbonne, and they were good students.

However, this valid distinction doesn’t really matter because none of the three atrocities mentioned was perpetrated by British, or any Western, colonisers, and none had anything to do with slavery.

When the interviewer referred to slavery as “terrible disease that dare not speak its name”, Prof. Starkey replied that the disease was “settled nearly 200 years ago”. That too caused a verbal equivalent of St Vitus’s dance.

Why? Do the people so afflicted think slavery still exists in Britain? They don’t. However, as fully paid-up totalitarians they are prepared to pounce on anyone who fails to deliver the mandated shibboleths in an appropriately pious tone.

Since the content of Prof. Starkey’s remarks would be unassailable in any society still retaining vestiges of sanity, let’s consider their form. The good professor denied that Britain committed genocide in Africa because otherwise there wouldn’t be “so many damn blacks in Africa or in Britain”.

As far as arguments go, this one is rather feeble. His enraged opponents have never suggested that the putative genocide completely emptied Africa of its native population. And if it didn’t, then the survival of many blacks doesn’t ipso facto negate the possibility of genocide.

Here Prof. Starkey didn’t display his customary intellect, but hey, nobody scores 100 per cent every time. In any case, it wasn’t what he said in this case that raised a public outcry, but how he said it. Specifically, our delicately sensitive masses objected to his modifying ‘blacks’ with ‘damn’.

Now, I probably wouldn’t utter that word in this context, but ‘damn’, along with ‘bloody’ and ‘f***ing’, is a desemanticised intensifier routinely used, perhaps overused, in colloquial speech.

Thus, when we say “it’s bloody freezing today”, we don’t suggest the frost comes with a red mist. And when we say “there are too many f***ing cars in London”, we don’t mean that the objectionable vehicles engage in sexual congress.

Prof. Starkey doubtless used his unfortunate intensifier in the midst of polemical fervour, exasperated as he was by the inane questions he faced and the idiotic comments he anticipated.

I might take exception to that on general grounds: most intensifiers don’t really intensify; they are just verbal parasites. But I myself have been known to lose my rag in debates, using the kind of language one would expect from a Millwall FC supporter, not an elderly, reasonably cultured gentleman.

Are those casting stones at Prof. Starkey themselves without that particular sin? If so, I congratulate them. But I suspect that’s not the case.

The destruction of Prof. Starkey’s distinguished career isn’t as bad as what happened in Stalin’s Russia. But it’s every bit as bad as what happened under Brezhnev, the time I remember.

People were no longer “turned to camp dust”, to use Stalin’s expression, for dropping an incautious word or even generally disliking communism. But their careers could be obliterated, with eminent scientists reduced to working as doormen or rubbish collectors.

Since we seem to be retracing the totalitarian steps, I hope I won’t be around when the next stride is taken. For those who wonder where it’ll lead, may I suggest The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn?

Another sly dig at genius

Talent, wrote Schopenhauer, hits targets no one else can hit; genius hits targets no one else can see. He didn’t add that such marksmanship puts genius in direct conflict with philistines.

Morrison is right: Hewitt is no Gould

For one defining characteristic of philistines is smugness, unshakeable belief in their being the apex of creation. Anyone who isn’t like them is therefore automatically suspect – especially a genius hitting targets the philistine can’t even see.

This serves as an unwelcome reminder that the philistine isn’t really the apex of creation. There exist human genera that are superior to him in every respect.

That’s especially intolerable now, when the philistine’s congenital smugness is reinforced by ideological egalitarianism. Nowhere is this tendency more glaring than in the philistine’s response to music, both its composition and especially performance.

What the philistine really wants to hear is the kind of music he himself would compose and play if he knew how. Many are amateur musicians or simply concert goers who dismiss true genius because it’s outside their ken.

JS Bach suffered that fate throughout the 18th century and beyond. In fact, his sons, good composers who nonetheless weren’t fit to copy their father’s scores, were universally regarded as his superiors.

Following Mendelsohn’s 1829 revival of St Matthew’s Passion, Bach’s music got to be played more often, and he began to be treated with begrudging respect (mostly for the technical aspects of his work) if little appreciation for the ineffable genius he was.

In fact, I know many Englishmen today, even some who have had musical training, who rate Handel’s music higher than Bach’s. The rather pompous and banal Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah is much preferred to the sublime finales of Bach’s two Passions.

That’s understandable. Handel, though a great composer in his own right, doesn’t assail the philistine’s self-perception the way Bach does. A Handel oratorio is an excellent prelude to a post-concert supper, whereas a Bach cantata is much too demanding to get the gastric juices flowing.

Glenn Gould, the greatest interpreter of Bach (and just about everything else he played), also yanked the philistine out of his comfort zone. He wasn’t the only instrumentalist who ever saw targets no one else did, he just saw more of them.

Gould is the only pianist, or instrumentalist in general, I’ve ever heard whose genius approaches that of the composers whose music he played. He could soar above a work until he got a bird’s eye view of it. That enabled him to see how all the elements fit together into cohesive architecture. And Gould’s unparalleled structural integrity allowed him to take any number of liberties with details – he was confident that nothing he did would make the structure totter.

While popularly known as an interpreter of Bach, Gould also regaled posterity with profound insights into the music of other composers, from Byrd and Gibbons to Mozart and Beethoven to Brahms and Strauss to Schoenberg and Hindemith.

Originally trained on the organ, he left recordings on that instrument too, but his piano technique shows no signs of a neophyte. Every note Gould played was poignantly expressive, something few other Bach players have ever been able to combine with architectural vision.

Obviously, a man who hit targets no one else, and especially no critics, could see wasn’t allowed to get away with it. A whole school of anti-Gould criticism appeared, and his performances were described as interesting but frivolous curiosities. The adjective ‘eccentric’ was permanently attached to his name – he would have been justified in changing his name to Glenn Eccentric Gould.

Eventually Gould, a deeply sensitive and indeed eccentric man (as opposed to an eccentric performer) was hounded off the concert platform. He retreated to the recording studio and kept producing one masterpiece after another, much to the delight of those who not only like but also understand music.

This is the context in which The Times critic Richard Morrison produced a review of Angela Hewitt’s Bach recital. Miss Hewitt, a Canadian like Gould, has made a career of playing mostly Bach, one of the few pianists who have ever done that.

That the review is laudatory goes without saying: Hewitt is one of the newly canonised performers who wouldn’t get a bad review even if they had an off day technically.

Yet to someone who has spent a lifetime listening to great playing, she is a well-meaning pianist capable of playing all the notes in the right sequence without causing too much offence. In other words, she plays Bach the way a typical philistine would if he had the fingers. If there is any true inspiration in her playing, I haven’t yet been able to discern it.

But fair enough, Morrison may look for other things in music, and, if he finds them in Hewitt, more power to him. Some people seem to prefer boring performances.

However, a philistine will out sooner or later; this isn’t a trait that can be concealed for long. Hewitt, writes Morrison, plays an instrument “that Bach wouldn’t have recognised, and utilises a range of expressive devices that simply weren’t available on the keyboards of his day”.

At the risk of sounding reactionary, I’d suggest that Bach knew more about musical instruments than either Hewitt or even Morrison. His genius was such that he could foresee where keyboard instruments were going – and write for the future.

In fact, when he taught his most talented son, Wilhelm Friedemann, to play the clavichord, Bach stressed the need for cantabile, the singing tone the harpsichord couldn’t produce and the clavichord could only to some extent.

In general, Bach saw beyond specific instruments. He would often transcribe the same pieces for keyboard today, violin tomorrow, flute the day after. And his crowning achievement, The Art of Fugue, the only work in which he encoded his own name B-A-C-H, mysteriously was written for no instrument in particular, being playable by a string quartet, orchestra, organ, harpsichord or piano.

Having praised Hewitt for finding expressive means Bach couldn’t even imagine, Morrison then compares her, by implication favourably, to Gould, “her eccentric compatriot… whom she resembles in no other respect”.

That magic ‘e’ word again – Gould has been dead for 38 years, but the philistines still have to kick him posthumously, if surreptitiously.

It’s aesthetic, and I dare say moral, sacrilege to mention Hewitt and Gould in the same sentence, especially when presenting them as comparable figures. That’s like comparing Shakespeare to Webster or, closer to this field, Wilhelm Furtwängler to Simon Rattle.

Still, if Hewitt differs from Gould in most respects, what would they be? One assumes that Morrison implies that none of the superlatives he attaches to Hewitt’s playing would apply to Gould’s.

I’ll just cite a few attributes singled out and praised by Morrison: “taste, technique and insight”, “energy and wit aplenty”, “her instinct is always to make sense of the music”, “awe-inspiring”, “she isn’t afraid to use the pianistic techniques of the romantic era to bring out the music’s shapes and patterns”.

Right. Hewitt has all those things and Gould didn’t. His instinct was just to be eccentric.

I remember talking about Bach to the dean of one of our major cathedrals. “Gould,” he delivered the mantra, “is eccentric”. “It’s not Gould who’s eccentric,” I replied. “It’s Bach.”

That exchange was par for the course. To a philistine, a target he doesn’t see just doesn’t exist. Hence a genius who hits it appears to have missed the centre, the bull’s eye. That indeed is eccentric.

Sorry, Jean-Claude

When Jean-Claude Juncker was still President of the European Commission, I was often beastly to him.

My new hero

I made fun of his drunkenness and variable ability to stay upright, I castigated his euro fanaticism, I found logical faults in his arguments – and I’m now sorry about all that.

For I’ve just come across a spiffy aphorism Jean-Claude made long before his ascent to the top of the EU Olympus. The year was 2007, when he was still finance minister at that European powerhouse, Luxemburg.

Speaking on economic reform, my new friend Jean-Claude made a statement of astonishing wit and depth: “We all know what to do, we just don’t know how to get re-elected after we’ve done it.”

I don’t know if he was fully aware of the profound implications of that statement. But one way or the other, the truth of that aphorism is enough to restore Jean-Claude in my good graces.

Seldom in the history of rhetoric has so much been said in so few words. For that statement lays bare in one fell swoop everything that’s wrong with modern politics and politicians.

The aphorism deserves painstaking exegesis before its meaning is fully grasped. First, one can infer that politicians’ manifest failure to do the right things testifies to a failure of character, not just of intellect.

Surely representative democracy, the predominant political method in the West, depends on elected representatives doing the right things, ideally every time.

Granted, some politicians may not know what the right things are, in which case their failure to do them is understandable, if not necessarily forgivable. Yet my new friend stipulates this isn’t the case: “We all know what to do…”.

Then why don’t they do it? Because, explains Jean-Claude, doing the right things would scupper a politician’s chances of staying in power. Hence one infers that politicians neglect bono publico for their own bono, and the public be damned.

This to me constitutes betrayal of trust and an appalling failure of character. Elected representatives may be in a position to demand that thousands of young people sacrifice their lives for their country. Yet they themselves refuse to sacrifice even their careers. I smell a certain deficit of moral legitimacy there.

We can proceed from the specific to the general and look at wider implications. For, when a political system fails to elevate to power those who can selflessly work towards public good, there’s something wrong with the system, not just the individuals.

Such a situation means that voters aren’t fit to vote. After all, our unchecked democracy run riot effectively involves everybody in the business of government. The only qualification necessary is that of age, which gets younger and younger.

More sweeping generalisations are in order. Such as that those who know what the right things are and are capable of doing them are unlikely to get elected.

Moreover – and this is the most damning part of Juncker’s epigram – if politicians decide to act out of character and actually do the right things, the voting public will throw them out at the next election.

That means the voting public emphatically doesn’t want the right things done, and it will punish mercilessly those who disobey its diktat. The question is, why?

Surely people would stand to benefit from sage government? Surely a government that doesn’t do what it knows is right hurts everybody? Here we are entering the inner circles of politics, and they are vicious.

The voting masses by definition possess no intellectual tools to decide what the right things are. The business of government is more intricate than just about any other, involving as it does at least some understanding of such disciplines as political science, economics, history, philosophy, jurisprudence, rhetoric, logic and so forth.

Since no electorate in the world can boast such collective understanding, they all differ from a herd of livestock only on physiological and, if you will, theological technicalities, not in their ability to cast a vote intelligently and responsibly.

Public education everywhere in the West and certainly in Britain provides no help. The disciplines mentioned above are taught badly or, typically, not at all. On the contrary, our educators actively corrupt their pupils by pumping their heads full of idiotic, subversive and immoral rubbish.

British pupils are taught how to use condoms, not their heads. At an age when youngsters of yore still thought of such matters in terms of storks and cabbage patches, today’s lot are taught advanced sexual techniques and the amoral nature of sex and gender-bending. Considering that many graduates of our comprehensive schools can’t even read properly, one gets the distinct impression they are taught nothing else.

It gets worse. For our young are raised in a culture of despair, with the future uncertain or – given the canonical status of the global warming hoax – nonexistent. Therefore, since most of them are also taught atheism, they can’t conceive of a good greater than their own immediate benefit.

This combination of moral and intellectual shabbiness makes them vulnerable to demagogic slogans – and unreceptive to reasoned arguments. That’s why politicians who wish to get elected and re-elected have to communicate with the electorate in five-second soundbites, each containing a simple solution to what really is a complicated problem.

Alas, complicated problems hardly ever lend themselves to simple solutions. They require serious thought and reasoned arguments. Unfortunately, as Swift once wrote (I’m quoting from memory), you can’t reason people out of something they didn’t reason into.

Hence, a politician proposing a serious, rational policy will only succeed in scaring away voters weaned on a steady diet of simplistically primitive messages. Such a politician had better start retraining for a different career.

This hidden depth of Juncker’s aphorism makes me feel sorry about all my past scathing attacks on his person. Well done, Jean-Claude, didn’t know you had it in you.

Boris me name, erection me game

Which cowboy built this economy then? No way, gov, can’t pin this one on me. It’s all corona, like, djahmean?

Boris the Builder back in business

But that’s cool, Boris the Erector will take care of you. Anything I erect you respect, djamean? You’re like, Boris, erect me a tower block or a dam or an airport or a sky bleedin’ scraper, and I’m like, right you are, gov. I erect, you inspect, no defect, I collect – sorted. Boris me name, erection me game, djahmean?

But lately me erections are way down on account of that bleedin’ corona. Blighters don’t want to work, don’t want to build, don’t want nothing. So me firm is well wobbly, high overhead and all. Then I get this idea, sudden like.

The other day I’m having me cuppa Rosie with me trouble Carrie, all quiet like. Then me nipper cries and it sounds like Dom, Dom, Dom. Dom’s me mate, does scaffolding for me. Any booger needs shoring up or sorting out, Dom’s your man, djahmean?

So me nipper must be on to something. I say to myself, give Dom a bell on the bone. Ain’t nothing Dom can’t shore up. So I ring Dom and I’m like, giza hand mate. Can’t get a single erection up, this bloody corona well buggers me firm up.

So Dom me mate says, Boris, your erections must pick up, me old china. No erections, you lose elections, djahmean? Got to build, mate. But no more Austerity scaffolding for you. There’s other brands, like New Deal. Well popular, that.

And I’m like, Dom, I feel you. But who’s gonna pay? Where’s the dosh going to come from?

And Dom’s like, Boris you’re well daft, he says. When you want to get food you go to a food market, right? And when you want to get money, you go to a money market. Get as much as you want, don’t worry about a thing. There’s more where that came from. You feel me?

I feel you, mate, I say. But you have to pay at the market. Sooner or later, like.

You said it, mate, says Dom. Except you said it wrong: it’s got to be later not sooner. Off you go to the money market like a goodun, get all the dosh you want, that’s a right doddle, mate. And then you just pay interest – let the other lot worry about the principal.

What other lot, Dom? I ask. And he’s like, you know, your competitors, the Labour Destruction Company. When all your erections fall down, they’ll step in, get the contract and bugger it up even worse. But that won’t be your problem, right?

So down the pub I go, to have a swift pint of Bolli wifebeater with Rish, me accountant. I’m like Rish, we don’t build I’m out of a job, but you first, djahmean? So we gotta build, build, build. Power to the people, mate, and you, me and Dom are the people.

And Rish, he a good bloke in spite of being, well, Rish, goes right you are, gov. I’ll sort it out. You build, all problems killed.

Next day I ring my customers on conference call, saying me erections are back, and we’ll build, build, build. We’ll build, you’re thrilled, skilled or unskilled. And I’m like, you know what the best thing is? Nobody has to pay for nothing. Except, you, know, your little ones when they’re well big.