Je suis Brian Sicknick

Every revolution has its martyrs, a tradition upheld by Wednesday’s Walpurgisnacht in Washington (WWW for short). Police officer Brian Sicknick died this morning, after some rampaging thug had struck him on the head with a fire extinguisher.

RIP

The mob will doubtless claim its own martyrs: Ashli Babbitt, shot in the head when clambering into the Capitol building through a smashed window, another woman trampled to death by the stampeding mob, and two other rioters who couldn’t handle the excitement and suffered cardiac events.

Yet they have no right to that claim. A martyr is someone who willingly gives his life for a good cause, the adjective being the operative word. Hence, say, those who died in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising were martyrs; the SS soldiers killed there were not.

We can argue whether the low number of casualties among the thugs was due to the restraint shown by the police or their incompetence. All I can say is that, had I been in charge when the Capitol building was breached, I would have ordered the police to fire at will.

Lest you accuse me of being a crypto-leftie, I would have issued a similar order last summer, when BLM and Antifa mobs were turning Minneapolis, Portland and Manhattan into a pogrom orgy of arson, looting and violence.

Our information on WWW is woefully scant. We need to know who organised it, for example. We already know who inspired it: Trump, with his incendiary messages and entreaties for all ‘true patriots’ to demonstrate against Biden’s congressional rubber-stamp.

“Be there, be wild,” screamed Trump on Twitter, and the mob complied with alacrity. How could it not respond to such an elegant appeal?

To be fair, Trump didn’t specifically call for violence, and neither did he take care of the organisational details. Yet someone did – a hundred people may act on the spur of the moment, but never thousands.

Exactly how many took part in WWW is another datum we haven’t got yet. Moments before she went through the window towards the fatal bullet, Ashli Babbitt shouted: “Three million plus people here. God bless American patriots.”

Maths couldn’t have been her forte for TV footage shows a crowd smaller by several orders of magnitude. But even that mob had to be enrolled, coordinated, kitted with posters and so forth. Someone evidently did all that, and we should know who.

Until we have all the facts we should refrain from making specific comments, a wise policy regrettably disdained by many commentators. But general comments ought not to be off limits.

First, I can’t accept the view that WWW threatens to bring American democracy down. Riots may put paid to a political regime, but a political system of long standing can’t be destroyed by anything other than itself.

Thus WWW won’t upend unlimited democracy. It has, however, emphasised this system’s congenital defects.

A democracy of near-universal and constantly expanding suffrage based on birthright was brought to the fore by the American and French Revolutions, which, among other things, vindicated the eternal law of political upheavals:

Every revolution produces consequences unintended by its perpetrators. The likelihood of such consequences being the exact opposite of such intentions is directly proportionate to the temperature of the perpetrators’ stridency.

The democratic revolutions of the 18th century, just like the quasi-republican ones of the 17th and the socialist ones of the 20th, are a case in point. They too produced unintended consequences that gradually assumed a significance arguably greater than the intended ones (which were bad enough, but this is a separate subject).

One such was assigning an overriding importance to national politics, something that never existed in any pre-Enlightenment dispensation. People were given an illusion that they had the power to affect national affairs, rather than merely elect every few years this or that increasingly inane member of an increasingly homogeneous elite.

Another by-product is a gradual, eventually almost total, shift of political power from local to central government. That empowers the chaps in the capital to an extent unimaginable to even the absolute monarchs of Western polity: Louis XIV’s famous pronouncement on the nature of the state was more wishful thinking than reportage.

The democratically elected operators of central government can make the claim that people who put them into office consent to anything the politicians will then do in their name. Hence the shibboleth “consent of the governed”, which, like most other shibboleths, is often enunciated but seldom analysed.

Since neither Locke nor his followers could pinpoint the granting of ‘consent’ to any specific historical event, they had to talk about some nebulous ‘social contract’, to use the term first popularised by Democritus and later by Hobbes and especially Rousseau.

An important aspect of ‘consent’, as understood by Lockeans, is that it’s irrevocable: once given, or presumed to have been given, it can’t be reclaimed by any peaceful means.

Yet in no conceivable way could it be true that those voting in, or at least accepting, a government ages ago gave perpetual consent on behalf of all future generations. For example, I don’t recall ever consenting to the state extorting half my income, and I find it hard to accept, say, the Glorious Revolution of 1688, as the time when such consent was given on my behalf.

Any real contract includes terms under which it may be terminated. Yet no ‘social contract’ can have such a clause. Therefore violence is the only recourse either party has, meaning that in a modern state a revolution – or at least a mini-coup like WWW – isn’t so much an aberration as a logical extension of the ‘social contract’, the only way for the people to withdraw their ‘consent’.

Conservative thinkers realise this inherent flaw of unrestrained democracy. That’s why they seek to mitigate it by opposing political extremism of any kind, an effort akin to trying to tame a wolf cub into growing up to be a cuddly pet. Alas, this side of Jack London’s White Fang the beast’s true nature may burst out at any time.

It’s pointless trying to plead with the masses that relatively benign politics doesn’t really matter, provided it stays benign. The notion that everyone is qualified to steer the political ship even in the absence of any navigational skills (Plato’s metaphor) has been indelibly etched into people’s minds.

Those minds are bound to become agued whenever they feel strongly, whether positively or negatively, about the figurehead of national government, its elected leader. They are inclined to think that their lives will be inexorably affected by yet another fool or knave governing in their name.

Elementary tradecraft can easily turn such febrile passions into violent action, and Brian Sicknick, may he rest in peace, fell its victim. Now I hope that some American conservative pundit, if there’s any such animal, will explain to the Trump fanatics involved that they are typological twins of the BLM mob. Hope springs eternal, doesn’t it?      

An old man and DC

He’s an old man, and he has gone 367 days without  catching Covid…

I don’t know why allusions to Hemingway have crept into my mind. Biden doesn’t really resemble Santiago from the novel with whose title I’ve taken liberties. And I don’t even like Hemingway.

Yet there may be similarities there. As you recall, Santiago, the eponymous old man, is a fisherman who has gone 84 days without catching a fish. But then a huge marlin takes his bait, and Santiago strains every sinew in his dilapidated body to fight the fish for two days. Finally he manages to harpoon it and win his potentially lucrative victory. But it turns out to be short-lived.

The old man straps the fish to the side of his boat and sails home. Alas, sharks, smelling the marlin’s blood, pounce and devour the fish, leaving only a bare carcass for the despondent Santiago to cry over. In the end, he realises he’s too old for such robust challenges.

Would it be too far-fetched to suggest that echoes of this plot may soon reverberate through Washington? For the marlin read Trump, whom Biden defeated square if perhaps not unequivocally fair. That fish is still thrashing about, but for now the old man can be satisfied with his work.

But who are the predators? The thugs who tried to storm the Capitol yesterday at best qualify as lantern sharks, the smallest species. They smelled a weakness and attacked, yet only managing to blemish, not to reverse, Biden’s triumph.

However, there was a weakness to smell, and sooner or later the whale sharks of China and Russia may catch a whiff. And closer to home are lurking other giant predators, in the shape of the US economy, international markets and currency speculators. All of them are sure to pounce on any sign of weakness, real or perceived.

It’s time now to get on the terra firma of politics and economics. Roaming that terrain are numerous challengers and adversaries who can smell even a droplet of blood with nothing short of shark-like acuity.

They won’t have to sniff for too long. Biden will be one of the weakest presidents in US history, as he would have been even had he ascended to power in 1988, when he first ran for president. Now 78 and showing signs of senility, he’s a walking target not only for his foes but, more important, also America’s and, even more important, the West’s.

Age isn’t a disqualifying factor in itself. Yes, as any septuagenarian, especially one in the later stages of that period, will confirm, advanced age brings about a diminution in cognitive ability, memory and energy levels. The numerical expression of this decline must vary from one person to another. Ten per cent? Twenty? Thirty? More?

Hard to tell, but then percentages don’t tell the whole story anyway – it all depends on the initial height from which the faculties descend. Thus, Aquinas would have remained an extremely intelligent man had he lost, say, 20 per cent of his intellectual capacity. Yet the same loss in an average Millwall FC supporter might produce a clinical idiot.

There have been examples of statesmen functioning effectively at an old age. Konrad Adenauer, for example, presided over Germany’s economic miracle (Wirtschaftswunder for short) well into his 80s. But the baseline of his abilities was drawn immeasurably higher than Biden’s. Joe is no Konrad Adenauer, as I’m sure even his late mother would have acknowledged.

He is a typical DC apparatchik, of a leftward bent. In a political career spanning the best part of half a century, Biden has shown no sign of any discernible ability for anything resembling statecraft, although he’s doubtless a shrewd backroom operator in both Delaware and Washington.

Biden’s supporters call him a centrist Democrat, a designation Hemingway would describe as a movable feast. Being a centrist Democrat today isn’t the same as being one in the 1950s – the whole spectrum has shifted towards the red end. For lying to the left of Biden aren’t Adlai Stevenson types but the likes of Ocasio-Cortez, hard-left extremists who in the past would have been outside the party and now find themselves in its mainstream.

Biden’s VP to be, Kamala Harris, will be that group’s envoy to the White House during his presidency. In all likelihood she’ll act as de facto president or at least as a powerful éminence grise. She’s sure to drag Biden in the right, which is to say left, direction, not that he’ll be grabbing the railings along the way.

All the good policies of the Trump administration will be reversed, such as cutting corporate taxes and leaving the Paris Accords, UNESCO and WHO. Obamacare will be back, and this time it’ll be firmly ensconced in law. The word Only will be implicitly added to the slogan Black Lives Matter.

The global warming hoax will acquire a religious status, along with politicised ecofanaticism. That’s bad news for the fracking industry that was making America, and potentially the West at large, free from the clutches of unsavoury hydrocarbon producers.

Nor is it just the economy. For Biden, who didn’t mind touting his Catholicism during the campaign, is an avid supporter of every un-Catholic, not to say anti-Catholic, policy. He champions homomarriage and unlimited abortion reinforced by a repeal of the Hyde Amendment (banning the use of federal funds to pay for abortion).

All that is bad enough, but, getting back to the original metaphor, the real danger will come when the whale sharks of China and Russia begin to circle around the Biden administration.

At a time of existential global threats, America, the self-appointed Leader of the Free World, must respond with intelligence, courage, energy and resolve. The president should embody such qualities at their most crystallised, and I doubt that even Biden’s staunchest champions really believe he fills that particular bill.

I for one fear that avoiding Covid so far will go down as the president-elect’s greatest achievement.

Lend English an ear

Modernity is remiss not only intellectually and morally, but also aurally. How else could one explain the current profusion of ugly, jarring usages?

For example, no one with a good ear would ever use the construction to be sat, as in I was sat next to the hostess. Since this usage is rapidly gaining currency, the conclusion is inescapable: an increasing number of people suffer from a tin ear for language.

Otherwise, depending on what they want to communicate, they’d say I was seated, I was sitting or simply I sat. One could vindicate such preferences by referring to the entire history of English, especially its transition from the Middle to the Modern period.

When languishing for several centuries after the Norman Conquest in a secondary, almost dialectal status, English underwent massive changes. Most of them gradually made the language more streamlined and compact, with some grammatical categories (such as the cases and genders of nouns) becoming extinct and some others highly suspect.

One such category was the passive voice, which offended the emergent structure of the English sentence revolving around an active verb. Since language constantly interacts with the national mentality, alternately reflecting and forming it, this tendency probably sprang from the dynamic, pragmatic English character.

The same goes for the uncompromising demand for an active, rather than nominal, subject in an English sentence, one assuming responsibility for the action conveyed by the verb. By contrast, a Russian sentence can thrive without either a verbal predicate or a subject, possibly reflecting the characteristic Russian vagueness the West perceives as ‘the mysterious Russian soul’.

In English, however, these two allies, the subject and the predicate, join forces to relegate the passive voice to a suspect status. It’s to be avoided whenever possible, and only brought in from the cold in dire necessity (as in this sentence, for example).

One could enunciate one’s objections to I was sat in this rational manner, avoiding any allusion to aural acuity. But the better argument against this abomination is that it’s jarring to the ear – in the same way that a wrong note hurts the ear of anyone blessed with a sense of pitch.

In his presidential campaign of some 25 years ago, Bill Clinton asked the voters to “give Al Gore and I a chance”. That led to a lively argument on The Firing Line between the host William F. Buckley and his guest, who had just published a popular book advocating linguistic permissiveness.

The guest defended Clinton’s usage by asking a question he considered rhetorical: “Are you accusing this Rhodes scholar of being illiterate?” “No,” replied Buckley, “I’m accusing him of having a bad ear.”

Such an accusation would clinch the argument for anyone who heard language in the same tonal detail. A musician may also point out to a tone-deaf listener that the piece he has just heard is in the wrong key. The former requires no rational proof for his remark – he just knows it’s true. But the latter may wish to dip into the area of acoustics, wishing to know, for example, what frequency corresponds to D Minor.

Similarly, Buckley heard the false grammatical note, but his guest didn’t, or rather wouldn’t. He tried to excuse the Rhodes scholar’s illiteracy by offering a factually correct but conceptually irrelevant defence. Clinton, he explained, must have been taught as a child that it’s wrong to say Me and Hilary both want to be president. He should say Hilary and I

That compromised in his mind the usage of me altogether, and Clinton, along with millions of others, felt one always had to opt for I to be on the safe side. In the same vein, many Englishmen taught not to drop their aitches as children actually pronounce the tricky letter as haitch, thinking they sound ‘well posh’ thereby.

Buckley’s guest didn’t explain why Clinton’s impressive transatlantic credentials didn’t cover the difference between subject and object. To Buckley that difference was self-evident, to his guest irrelevant, to Clinton nonexistent.

I would have been tempted to backtrack even further, to the same transition from Middle to Modern English, during which the whole category of the case came under attack. As a result, it suffered attrition, but still managed to hang on in personal pronouns.

Interestingly, Buckley also tried to make his point by suggesting that no one would say give I a chance. He was using an argument borrowed from transformational grammar, a useful teaching tool if nothing else.

But his crystal ball was murky: these days one can hear many Americans, and a growing number of Britons, saying things like they invited I to a party. Tin ear is a contagion spreading as fast and wide as some pandemics we’ve grown to know and love.

Buckley’s guest then tried to unsheathe a rusty truism as his defence weapon. “Language,” he said, “is constantly changing”. Like most truisms, as opposed to truths, this weapon ought to have been decommissioned a long time ago.

We’ve known since the time of Heraclitus that everything changes, emphatically including language. Hence a modern reader finds Shakespeare hard to read in places, Chaucer maddeningly so, and Beowulf well-nigh impossible.

That language changes is indisputable. However, the pernicious presumption of progress misfires here as badly as it does everywhere else. For not all change is for the better; much of it is for the worse. Its direction depends on who initiates the change, why and on what basis.

English used to be a club with a qualified open-door policy. Outsiders could be admitted, but they had to be vetted by the club members first.

The metaphorical club included the cultured elite endowed with the education, sensitivity – and yes, ear – to judge which newcomers should be admitted and which blackballed. They managed to keep undesirables at bay, sometimes forever, sometimes at least for a long time.

That elite used to be small in number, but it was never culturally marginal. Now it is. The masses broke the club doors down and rushed inside, trampling underfoot the linguistic treasures lovingly collected over centuries.

That onrush is these days growing exponentially, especially under the influence of social media. Increasingly, verbal communication gives way to either cryptic acronyms or hieroglyphics, all those smileys, emoticons and emojis.

The prerogative of using the written word to affect the usages of millions has been stolen from the elite and usurped by our comprehensively educated masses who don’t know the passive voice from a holding midfielder.

English has never had a single regulatory body like the French Academy. In the past the speed and temperature of change were on a short lead, but the lead wasn’t nonexistent. Now it has fallen by the wayside, and a game played by loose but definite rules has given way to an anarchic free-for-all.

Rather than becoming richer and bigger as a result, English has become poorer and smaller. For anarchic change is always ugly and reductive – in language and everywhere else.

Her Majesty’s government against Her Majesty’s subjects

I often find much that’s despicable in the news, but hardly ever anything that’s surprising. When one has lived for… well, a long time, one can’t help becoming somewhat jaded.

Mr Joyce, meet Mr Pierrepoint

Hence I must thank Sarah Broughton, the head of consular affairs at the Foreign Office, for shaking me out of my torpor. In a few clear, unequivocal words she left me speechless, with my mouth open wide enough to accommodate my heart and what’s left of my other internal organs.

The words that had such a shattering effect appear in Miss Broughton’s letter to the lawyers acting for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliff, a Briton of Iranian descent languishing in a Tehran prison on a trumped-up charge.

British subjects, explained Miss Broughton, “have no legal right to consular assistance” or the government’s diplomatic protection even if falsely accused and tortured. This is the most revolting statement I’ve seen emerging from the government, and the list of candidates for that distinction is long.

It has been assumed since time immemorial that any British subject arrested oversees has the right to at least consular access. If falsely accused (like Mrs Ratcliff), the subject must be secure in the knowledge that the government will seek every possible diplomatic and legal redress to secure his release.

Such is the nature of the ancient compact between the state and the citizen: protectio trahit subjectionem, subjectio protectionem (protection entails allegiance; allegiance, protection). The Foreign Office statement breaks the compact, leading to a logical conclusion: if the government withdraws its protection, we can withdraw our allegiance.

Interestingly, HMG won’t do what it asks of others. Here, I’ve opened my passport to read these words on the inside cover: “Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.”

Not only requests but also requires, eh? If I were a foreign official, I’d just say “Look who’s talking. Why should I assist and protect waylaid Britons if even their own government won’t do that?”

If the aforementioned legal principle is now null and void, we should campaign for the posthumous rehabilitation of William Joyce, known as Lord Haw-Haw. In 1946 that Nazi propagandist went to the gallows on a technicality.

Though Joyce was a US and Irish citizen, he managed to obtain a British passport on false pretences, developing a phony upper-class British accent in the process. That was the passport he used to travel to Nazi Germany, and that was the accent he used when becoming Goebbels’s Anglophone voice.

The prosecution was able to charge Joyce with treason and invoke the principle of protectio trahit subjectionem, subjectio protectionem. Since he used a British passport to go to Germany, Joyce was entitled to the protection of the Crown, while the latter was entitled to his loyalty.

Had he used one of his other passports, he would have got off. Since neither the US nor Ireland was at war with Germany at the time Joyce went there, he couldn’t be judged a traitor to those countries. And Joyce couldn’t be a traitor to Britain because, as a non-subject, he didn’t owe her any subjectio.

What I found as astounding as the FO statement itself is the muted, nonchalant reaction to it. Thus The Times only mentioned that “the government’s position has profound implications for all British citizens travelling abroad”. I daresay those implications go quite a bit wider than that.

The government’s position brings into question the very nature of government, along with the factors of its legitimacy. It breaks the bilateral compact balancing rights and duties that lies at the foundation of any civilised state. This position implies a unilateral arrangement hitherto associated only with tyrannies: the citizens owe the state everything, while the state owes them nothing.

I’m not trying to distract public attention from genuflecting to the thunderous din of Black Lives Matter. All I’m trying to say is that other things matter too, and some, at the risk of being smitten with a woke lightning, may mean even more.

Prime among them is the constitutional relationship between the state and the people. When that disintegrates, so do a whole raft of erstwhile certitudes on which statehood rests. Its legs buckling, the state may go plop on its belly, crushing us all under its weight.

Vulgarity, high and low

“All crimes are vulgar, all vulgarity is a crime,” wrote Oscar Wilde in his typically brilliant yet facile manner. Like most of his aphorisms, this is one is to enjoy, not to analyse.

David Hume, a superb writer but…

Any attempt at decortication will show, for example, that not all crimes are vulgar – and nor, contrary to Hanna Arendt’s observation, all evil banal. But Wilde unwittingly raises an interesting question: What is vulgarity?

I’d suggest it exists on two planes: low, instantly obvious; and high, elucidated only by subsequent thought. Only the first type of vulgarity is perceived as such in common usage.

Typically it’s associated with a propensity for telling unfunny salacious jokes or peppering one’s speech with expletives based on sex organs and their use. This is so widespread, not to say universal, that there’s really no point belabouring it any further – not here at any rate.

What interests me is the higher, intellectual vulgarity, especially of the epistemological variety. For we can’t really acquire knowledge if we don’t understand what knowledge is. If such understanding is poisoned with vulgarity at inception, knowledge itself will be vulgar – which is another way of saying that the baby of knowledge will be stillborn.

This is a very serious matter indeed, for, if vulgar definitions of knowledge gain wide acceptance in a society, the society will become intellectually and morally diseased. This is worth pondering because it’s exactly the crossroads at which modernity has arrived after an orgy of crepuscular obscurantism going by the misnomer of the Enlightenment.

For a start, look at chess as a simplified epistemological model. A game is in full swing, one side is attacking, the other defending, and the position is complex. Looking at the weaknesses around his opponent’s king and the deployment of his own pieces, the attacker knows there’s a winning combination there somewhere.

He knows it intuitively, but in this very simple case his intuition is probably based on the recognition of some patterns that have occurred many times before in other games, his own and other players’. One way or another, he knows a killing blow is within sight. But, with the chess clock ticking away, he can’t find it.

The game fizzes out to a draw, and only in the post-mortem analysis does the player uncover the winning continuation he missed at the board. Does this mean he acquires knowledge only then? Or was the knowledge already there during the game, when he sensed its presence intuitively?

The answer is both. It’s just that any cognitive process starts from an intuitive impulse. Archimedes’s bathtub, Newton’s apple and Mendeleyev’s dream may all be apocryphal, but they still ring true. The scientists’ intuition was activated, and the intuition then galvanised a rational process.

Unlike our hapless chess player, they managed to rationalise, or rather post-rationalise, their intuitive knowledge successfully. But knowledge had existed before they managed to do so, just as an oil formation exists before an explorer finds it.

What an intuitive hypothesis is to science, metaphysical intuition is to faith, the knowledge of God. As St Anselm put it, “I believe so that I may understand, not understand so that I may believe”.

This adage alludes to the same cognitive sequence as that activated by Archimedes, Newton and Mendeleyev to such an effect: an intuitive knowledge successfully post-rationalised.

I’d go so far as to suggest that the higher the knowledge, the more it depends on the initial actuator of a powerful metaphysical intuition. Even if the desired outcome of knowledge is tangibly concrete, it descends to that level from the higher plateau of abstraction and intuition.

This gets us back to the subject of epistemological vulgarity, the dominant (mercifully, still not the only) feature of post-Enlightenment thought. Its principal characteristic is contempt for metaphysical intuition and metaphysics in general. This destroys the cognitive sequence of metaphysical intuition descending to the level of rational thought and thereby closing the cognitive loop.

Eventually that leads to the utmost vulgarity of defining knowledge in strictly material terms, to the turgid musings of Feuerbach, Marx, Compte and all the way down to Popper, Ayer et al. Yet not all epistemological vulgarity is vulgar stylistically – David Hume is a case in point.

One of the best writers of English treatises, Hume couched his epistemological vulgarity in the beautifully shaped prose of his essays. That makes them eminently enjoyable, without in any way mitigating the underlying vulgarity of Hume’s epistemology. To wit:

“If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”

My friend Peter Mullen points out that Hume’s statement is contradictory to the point of being nonsensical because it itself contains neither experimental nor abstract reasoning. That’s true, but the statement is also vulgar.

Therein lies the problem no materialists can solve. They can be brilliant people, but their understanding of life forces them to push their thought down to the quotidian level, away from first principles and last things, where post-rationalised metaphysical intuition reigns supreme.

That’s why a materialist philosopher is as much of an oxymoron as, say, an atheist theologian. Materialists can be physicists, physicians or physiologists, and they can even be social commentators. But whenever they venture into the discipline circumscribed by its quest for the truth of first principles, they sound out of their depth and, well, vulgar.

Is this the kind of vulgarity Wilde would describe as a crime? Probably not. But it’s the kind that has a lethal effect on the collective intellect, including its practical manifestations in morality, politics or economics. Intellectual vulgarity explodes at the epicentre, but its shockwaves travel wide.   

Let’s get Britain undone

I fear that Boris Johnson’s battle cry of “Let’s get Brexit done” will in effect be replaced with the notion in the title above.

“Boris, and don’t forget animal welfare whatever you do”

Say what you will against the EU, and God knows I said a fair bit, but it offered HMG an invaluable asset: a scapegoat. Our leaders could effortlessly blame many of Britain’s ills on that pernicious contrivance, with its red tape, restrictive trade practices and swarms of infra dig immigrants inundating our shores.

However, that chalice was poisoned. Rather than reducing the whole issue of Brexit to its core, regaining sovereignty, Johnson et al. dragged in a wide raft of economic benefits supposedly to be accrued as a direct result of leaving the EU.

Such benefits can indeed come our way, but not against the backdrop of the government’s asinine home-spun policies. New opportunities are there, but it takes wisdom and resolve to take advantage of them.

Thanking, as we all should, Boris Johnson for getting Brexit done, we must still keep a watchful eye on his plans, to make sure that Britain won’t be undone should they come to fruition. Alas, what I’ve seen so far comes close to that tired cliché: a recipe for disaster.

“This government has a very clear agenda to use this moment to unite and level up and to spread opportunity across the government,” writes Mr Johnson, making one wonder whether he meant to say “across the country”. After all, the government is already replete with opportunities for its members and their staffs.

And, if I read Johnson’s intentions correctly, it’s there, and not among common folk, that the best opportunities will remain concentrated. For that’s the inexorable consequence of any attempt by any state to ‘level up’.

If the trimillennial experience of recorded history is anything to go by, a state can only level down, not up. A government may succeed in making everyone (except its own members and their retinue, naturally) equally poor, but it’ll never be able to make everyone equally prosperous.

The very nature of market economy precludes upward levelling because, for the economic activity to remain robust, economically active people must compete for higher rewards. And any competition has its losers as well as winners.

Granted, a civilised society mustn’t let its people lose too badly, by, for example, leaving them to starve to death. But that desideratum falls far short of the levelling up inscribed on the banners of our newly sovereign government.

Free markets may at times be cruel to some people, but they have been proven historically to be the only guarantor of a prosperity spread widely, if not equally. History also shows that any attempt to interfere with the free operation of markets in the name of equality will only spread penury.

Edmund Burke knew this more than two centuries ago: “The moment that government appears at market, the principles of the market will be subverted.” The intervening period has done nothing to disprove this statement.

So far HMG hasn’t regaled us with many concrete plans, but even the general outline vouchsafed to the public makes me cringe. There are broad hints at giant construction projects financed out of the public purse, whose strings will be loosened to reduce unemployment and increase equality.

This stratagem has failed, except in the very short term, everywhere it has ever been tried, be that within the framework of Stalin’s Five-Year Plan, Hitler’s copycat Four-Year Plan or Roosevelt’s New Deal. Such is the brutal truth of every hue of socialism: it fails.

Whether the chains binding the economy are made at home or abroad, they are just as restrictive and painful. And the early indications are that HMG is deaf to the clanking sounds of those tethers. For another big project mooted by Johnson is frankly couched in Rooseveltian terms: the Green New Deal.

This again constitutes what Burke described as economic subversion, and it would be destructive even if undertaken at a time of economic boom. Even thinking of something like this when the country has been crippled by Covid is tantamount to sacrificing the economy at the totem pole of ideology. It’s with avuncular pride that Comrades Lenin, Stalin and Mao may be looking at Comrade Johnson out of their graves.

In the same article, he mentions in passing that his Brexit deal “perhaps does not go as far as we would like” on financial services. Allow me to translate: British financial institutions will only be granted access to EU markets if they continue to be bound hand and foot by EU regulations.

Labour critics spotted the problem with their eagle eye, but they didn’t comment on the true depth of the pitfall. Being institutionally more concerned with employment than economic success, they gnashed their teeth at the potential problem for those employed in financial services, about seven per cent of our total labour force.

But the real problem is that those seven percent generate almost a quarter of Britain’s GDP, making the City both the most important and the most vulnerable of our economic institutions. Hence the EU’s continuing ability to lord it over our financial services exposes Britain’s economy to grave risks.

Germany and France have been toying with the possibility of replacing London with Frankfurt even when Britain was still in the EU. Now they may see that possibility as a punitive measure, much needed to prevent further exits.

And make no mistake about it: EU leaders still think in those terms. In one of his increasingly strident speeches, Manny Macron said two astonishingly insane things the other day. First, France’s sovereignty is more secure when vested in a supranational setup; second, Brexit threatens the sovereignty of the EU in general and France in particular.

While showing a feeble grasp of political theory, the speech is a veiled statement of practical intent: for all the reassurances of lasting friendship, the EU sees Britain as a direct threat to be thwarted. Johnson’s failure to protect the City thus takes on dimensions vaster than merely the need to protect one in 14 British jobs.

None of this should imply that my enthusiasm for Brexit is in any way diminished. Since EU membership made mockery of Britain’s history, constitution and her whole political ethos, stopping that abomination was the just thing to do.

I only hope HMG won’t live to regret losing the ready EU excuse for its own ineptitude.

Life as its own satire

The other day the comedian Rory Bremner said: “I give up. You think you’re being satirical but the reality is even more farcical.”

At least he wasn’t publicly executed

When professional wits acknowledge that everyday life throws up scenarios even they couldn’t make up, we know we are in trouble. My previous article is a case in point.

I was lampooning today’s obsession with woke language, which has stopped being merely absurd to become clinically certifiable. In particular, I feigned apology for my use of words like niggling, niggardly and renege (a friend has since also suggested ‘negate’).

Yet before the proverbial and nonexistent ink dried on my final full stop, the Football Association proved Rory Bremner’s point. It banned the Uruguayan ManU striker Edinson Cavani for three matches and fined him £100,000 for using insulting and improper words. He’ll also have to attend a “face-to-face” education programme, eerily reminiscent of China’s re-education camps in the ’60s.

I wrote about this some time ago, when Cavani was first charged, but by way of a reminder his crime was responding to a friend’s twitted message of congratulations with “gracias negrito”. Whatever the etymological undercurrents, in Cavani’s native River Plate Spanish this sentence merely means “thanks, mate”.

Yet our berserk modernity is running amok. Its FA specimens, who can barely string a grammatical English sentence together, took it upon themselves to police not only their own language, but also other nations’.

Their mastery of their mother tongue was amply demonstrated by the final ruling in Cavani’s case. Writing in their inimitable bureaucratese, they decreed that his post was “insulting and/or abusive and/or improper and/or brought the game into disrepute”. His “comment constitutes an aggravated breach which included reference, whether express or implied, to colour and/or race and/or ethnic origin”.

I’d suggest that this statement is cretinous and/or ignorant and/or schizophrenic. For Cavani’s post contains no such reference. If it does, then so do words like blackberry, bête noire, blackguard and Nigeria – to say nothing of those I mentioned before.

In the good tradition of China’s Red Guards, Cavani was forced to issue a profuse apology. “It was intended as an affectionate greeting to a friend, thanking him for his congratulations after the game,” he wrote.

“The last thing I wanted to do was cause offence to anyone. I am completely opposed to racism and deleted the message as soon as it was explained that it can be interpreted differently.”

In a desperate attempt to prevent Cavani from incurring an even lengthier ban, his team Manchester United stated: “Despite his honest belief that he was simply sending an affectionate thank you in response to a congratulatory message from a close friend, he chose not to contest the charge out of respect for, and solidarity with, the FA and the fight against racism in football.”

The lunatics aren’t just running the asylum – they’ve extended it to the whole world. On pain of severe punishment, sane people now have to pretend to be as deranged as the lunatics themselves. Solidarity with what exactly?

It’s certainly not with any fight against racism. Rather Cavani and his employers meekly genuflected before tyrannical, psychopathic maniacs trying to impose their disease on the whole of society.

If you think this judgement is too harsh, just consider the BBC comment on the incident: “There is sympathy for the Uruguayan in what was an innocent personal post. However, there is simply no excuse for not being aware of the wider aspect of the society he is living in – and either he should have been aware, or the club should have made him aware of the offence it could cause.”

I used to teach English for a living, but I can’t get my head around the preventive measures the BBC may have in mind. Cavani’s English is, to be charitable, rudimentary — after all, he has only been in the country a few months. So how could he or his club have created the requisite awareness?

Should the club have compiled a list of all potentially offensive morphemes and letter combinations? This task may be feasible in English, just. But, considering that the Premier League attracts players from every corner of the globe, the maniacs would have to do the same job on each of the world’s 6,500 languages.

Even the FA’s resources don’t stretch as far, although modernity does have a vast reservoir of surprises it can spring at any moment. Could it perhaps issue an injunction against players communicating in any language other than woke English?

Yes, perhaps that’s it. Actually, an historical precedent for such a measure exists, although it’s of an earlier provenance than China’s Red Guards.

Many Russian aristocrats took part in the December uprising of 1825 and were imprisoned as a result. Their everyday language was French, even though, since most of them were officers, they knew how to communicate with the rank-and-file in Russian as well.

However, many of their wives found it hard to converse in Russian (a problem satirised by Tolstoy in War and Peace). Hence they talked to their husbands in French on visiting days, which created a problem for the screws, who couldn’t understand a word. The women were consequently banned from using French, and many of them had to take courses in Russian to be able to speak to their men.

Combining the experience of Imperial Russia and Red China, the FA can possibly find a way out of the linguistic conundrum. The rest of us will be watching on from the sidelines with – with horror or, in my case, with mirth.

Satire may have been superseded, but we can still laugh, can’t we? As Seneca put it, “None of this can be helped, but all of it can be despised.”