Manny’s Napoleon complex

Manny Macron has always identified with Napoleon Bonaparte, but until recently he indulged that aspirational self-image only in the privacy of his palace. Lately, however, he has become more open about it, clearly wishing his electorate to see the similarities.

Judging by the ‘Macron out’ demonstrations spreading all over France, the electorate fails to discern any. That’s not fair because similarities do exist, two of them: Boney and Manny share a fondness for older wives (much older, in Manny’s case, so he outdid his role model there) and a hatred of Britain.

C’est, as they say in France, tout. Yet Manny is using every trick of both direct and subliminal communication to help voters see him as today’s Napoleon. If Boney were alive today, he’d be just like Manny, goes the encoded message.

It’s tempting to accuse Macron of megalomania, and perhaps that’s part of it. But most of it is politicking.

The presidential election is coming, and Manny is neck and neck with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, a right-wing (as discrete from conservative) group. Since Manny’s tenure has been rather the opposite of a rip-roaring success, and his handling of Covid downright disastrous, there’s every possibility he may lose.

His core support is more or less secure, if only because they’d as soon vote for Le Pen as they would for syphilis. But the periphery around the core looks shaky. Hence Manny must seduce enough right-wingers to siphon some votes from Marine. This need explains all his recent posturing.

For example, he has done an about-face on Putin – from fierce critic to effusive admirer. Why? Because French right-wingers are Putinistas to a man. The Kremlin is openly financing the National Rally, and no bad word about the KGB colonel is tolerated in those circles.

(I found it out the hard way the summer before last, when I recorded a 90-minute interview with the right-wing radio station Radio Courtoisie – in French too, which taxed my modest linguistic ability no end. Then, 10 minutes before air time, the station manager spiked the broadcast, explaining that it would upset the Russian embassy. No one was left in doubt as to who called the shots in right-wing circles.)

Napoleon is another holy relic with Marine’s voters. Left-wingers tend to be uncomfortable with some of Napoleon’s bellicose peccadillos, especially his attempts to secure new colonies for France at the expense of the kind of people who are now in fashion, and also his tendency to have POWs shot out of hand.

But Napoleon’s muscular patriotism appeals to the Right, as does his commitment to making France great by controlling Europe and keeping la perfide Albion out. Marine’s voters tend to equate goodness with greatness, greatness with size, and they are smarting from the realisation that, in that sense, France is no longer great. (They can’t appreciate the senses in which she still is.)

That’s why Manny felt duty-bound to deliver a rousing oration at the celebration of the bicentenary of Napoleon’s death the other day. “We love Napoleon,” declared Manny, “because his life gives us a taste of what is possible if we accept the invitation to take risks.”

Actually, the taste is quite acrid. When Napoleon accepted “the invitation to take risks”, he twice abandoned his army to its fate, first in Egypt, then in Russia; led over a million young Frenchmen to their deaths; had his navy routed by Nelson at Trafalgar; lost every battle his troops fought against Wellington, including the ultimate one at Waterloo; ended his life as a British captive on a godforsaken island.

True, in between those debacles he did conquer most of Europe, and the Right are still dining on that legacy. Napoleon’s hatred of the British also appeals to them, which is why Manny has to demonstrate that little predilection too.

Alas, he falls short of his hero’s scope, quite pathetically. If Napoleon managed to blockade all of Britain, Manny merely tried to do that to the Channel island of Jersey, a British dependency. And even in that modest undertaking he failed, when his flotilla of fishing boats escorted by a warship was chased away by the Royal Navy.

But Manny didn’t really want to blockade Jersey. He just wanted to take a bow to Marine’s voters, and especially those Gaullists who can’t decide whom they despise more, Manny or Marine.

Macron has also sharpened his anti-Muslim and anti-immigration rhetoric, without giving any tangible indication of what, if anything, he is going to do about it. But Manny isn’t about doing. He is about sending appropriate signals to appropriate groups.

If his most serious opposition came from the communist party, he’d be quoting Marx, Lenin and Gramsci in every speech. He’d also be photographed having a meaningful dialogue with a bust of Maurice Thorez, as he was snapped talking to a marble Napoleon the other day.

P.S. I’m happy to report that it’s not just oral but also written commentary on football matches that refines my knowledge of English. Thus The Telegraph: “Sergio Ramos… is, of course, not adverse to the dark arts himself.” One can only hope that those on the receiving end didn’t suffer any averse consequences. In the same paper: “Tuchel… scored any talk about… a goalless draw.” Good job then that his team scorned two goals.

Don’t you just hate hate crimes?

The Law Commission feels that hate crimes are, well, hateful. Hence they have no place in the socially engineered machine that’s stubbornly clinging to its old name, Britain.

The problem, according to the Commission, is that the current laws don’t provide a broad enough coverage. Fair enough, a delinquent who as much as jokes about a victim’s race, religion, disability or sexual/transsexual proclivity is covered by existing legislation, with not so much as a toe sticking out.

Thus Bernard Manning, to name just one late comedian, would be looking at serious prison time for one of his stock jokes. I have to overcome my own revulsion over Bernie’s blatant, criminal racism to repeat it here: “A black chap with a parrot sitting on his shoulder walks into a pub. ‘Where the hell did you get this?’ asks the landlord. ‘In Africa,’ replies the parrot. ‘There’s fucking loads of them’.”

Since race is classified as a ‘protected characteristic’, the wages of Bernie’s sin would today be a custodial sentence and a hefty fine, though I happen to think it would be an excellent idea to reintroduce the death penalty for just such transgressions. Well, give them time.

Meanwhile, the Commission is debating how to stretch the hate crime laws – and God knows they do have enviable elasticity built in – to cover misogyny, age, sex workers (aka prostitutes), homelessness, alternative subcultures and philosophical beliefs.

So make sure you refrain from cracking silly jokes about old, homeless whores deeply immersed in punk deconstructionism. None of the wisecracks starting with: “This old bitch is turning tricks by day and reading Derrida by night on a park bench to the accompaniment of Cybergoth music…”

I am specifically talking about jokes here because assault and physical threats are already criminalised under existing, ancient laws. But what’s even a grievous physical injury compared to the lifelong psychological trauma suffered by, say, an LGBTQ+ person when clobbered with a joke? Just imagine: “Q: How do you know you’re in a gay bar? A. The stools are upside down.”

If you were an LGBTQ+ person, you’d dial 999 faster than you could say hate crime. I know I would.

I’m proud of Britain. Nowhere else are people so protected from life-destroying insults and silly jokes whose sole purpose is to traumatise.

You may ask how Britain can devote so much time and attention to hate crimes. After all, isn’t our legal system already creaking at the seams under the load of other, more traditional crimes, such as burglary?

Funny you should say that. You seem to be unaware that burglary, to name one such crime, puts no pressure on our law enforcement because we’ve made it legal.

Well, perhaps not exactly legal in the de jure sense, but certainly unprosecuted and even uninvestigated de facto. That way our cops are free to hunt down criminals spouting inappropriate statements and wags telling injurious jokes (such as the ones I reproduced above over my own inner objections).

Quite right too. After all, burglary is only a crime against property, the sort of thing old, reactionary laws were devised to protect. But hate crimes, while doubtless traumatising their victims, also assail the whole progressive ethos, the mainstay of liberal ideology.

And every progressive country in history, such as the Soviet Union or Cuba, has always punished crimes against the ideology more severely than those against property. Property, after all, is theft, according to such progressive thinkers as Marx and Proudhon.

Hence a burglar merely robs the robbers, assisting the state in its noble mission of redistributing wealth. An offensive joker, on the other hand, hurts the state by kicking dents in its ideological body.

So is it any wonder that the Law Commission has nothing better to do than pondering hate crimes? Social engineering is a serious matter, and no effort dedicated to it is ever wasted. I just hope that new laws will also protect white, heterosexual, Thomist freeholders.

P.S. Another lesson in the English course taught by football commentators. They all adore the word ‘amount’ and loathe the word ‘number’, although that doesn’t qualify as a hate crime. And when they do utter the despicable word, they have to augment it with their preferred one.

Thus, a commentator praised a team the other day for “throwing a great amount of numbers in the box”. I would have just said “great numbers”, but then I wasn’t born to the language.

Ivan wasn’t terrible at all

So says Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia’s Security Council, displaying the kind of sensitivity to historical truth we’ve learned to expect from Russian security services.

Actually, ‘Terrible’, though it describes Ivan IV accurately, is a mistranslation of the Russian Grozny. The nickname is closer in meaning to Wrathful or Fearsome. Yet Patrushev, a career KGB officer, was making a point of substance, not semantics.

For him and his lifelong friend and colleague Putin, there was nothing terrible about Ivan. All Russian bloodthirsty tyrants, from Ivan to Stalin, are making a PR comeback there because the present rulers see them as their role models.

When the news broke yesterday of Patrushev explaining that it’s only Russia’s enemies, namely all Westerners, who regard Ivan as terrible, I sat down to write about that. But then I realised that doing so would be a case of self-plagiarism, for I had already written that piece – five years ago.

So I’ve decided to rerun the same article, putting my faith in Marie Antoinette’s adage “There is nothing new except what has been forgotten”.

Every country honours its iconic personages, those seen to have served the nation particularly well. And the choice of icons is telling.

The English erect statues to Nelson. The French, to Louis XIV. The Italians, to Garibaldi. Acting in the same spirit, Putin’s government has unveiled a statue to Ivan the Terrible. That’s like Boris Johnson honouring Jack the Ripper.

Vlad obviously traces his geopolitical and spiritual lineage back to the first Russian tsar, as did Stalin. Yet even Stalin never went so far as to commission a statue to the crazed monster.

Though later known for rabid attacks on Russia’s neighbours, Ivan began his reign by declaring war on his own people: “From time immemorial, the Russian people [wanted] to wipe out our whole dynasty…” To preempt that calamity, Ivan launched a punitive campaign against the perfidious culprits, the Russian people.

Before striking, he had presciently tried to secure a fall-back position. To that end Ivan had his shaggy-bearded emissaries approach Queen Elizabeth of England to propose marriage or, barring that, a mutual guarantee of haven if their respective subjects rebelled.

Her putative virginity must have been a factor in Ivan’s proposal, for he prized chastity in his brides. In fact, when on their wedding night his fifth wife turned out to be not quite virginal, Ivan had her drowned in a pond, as one did.

Elizabeth wasn’t so much reluctant to accept the proposal as perplexed: she had only a vague idea of Ivan or indeed Tartary, as contemporaneous English maps identified Russia. Hence she didn’t let Ivan’s wooing succeed where Leicester’s had failed.

(Giles Fletcher, Elizabethan traveller to Russia, renders this offer more eloquently, if a bit archaically: “Further, the Emperor requireth earnestly that there may be assurance made by oath and faith betwixt the Queen’s Majestie and him, that yf any misfortune might fall or chance upon ether of them to go out of their countries, that it might be lawful for ether of them to come into the other countrey for the safeguard of themselves and theyr lives…”)

Undeterred by amorous rejection, Ivan pressed on with his campaign regardless. To begin with, he created the first oppressive institution in Russia: oprichnina, the somewhat more liberal precursor of Putin’s own KGB.

The oprichniks ransacked the land, torturing and murdering anyone who offended against the tsar’s ‘word and deed.’ In fact, those became the magic words that opened the doors of oprichnina barracks to any snitch willing to denounce anyone he wished.

Those denounced would be first tortured and then, with few exceptions, cut to pieces or broken on the wheel – this even if their crime was only to have uttered a sentence beginning with “If I were tsar…” The just punishment would ensue inexorably even if the sentence then said “…I’d be even tougher on treason.”

However, the oprichniks were more even-handed than the KGB: they tortured not only the accused but also the accuser, to make sure he hadn’t borne false witness – biblical commandments had to be enforced.

Ivan, after all, was a pious man who knew the Scripture by heart. Nevertheless he murdered priests wholesale and practised rituals that openly mocked Christianity.

For example, Ivan set up a sham monastery for his cronies, in which they impersonated monks, with him as the abbot. There they alternated religious rituals with massacres, tortures of prisoners and orgies (the tsar boasted of having raped a thousand girls, many of whom he then killed in a fit of post-coital aggression).

The new statue appropriately shows Ivan raising the Orthodox cross – by serving as an extension of Putin’s (and before him Soviet) oprichnina, the hierarchy of today’s Russian church lives off Ivan’s blasphemous legacy.

Ivan also had a heightened aesthetic sense. He especially enjoyed the spectacle of his victims being sautéed in oil, to which end giant frying pans were erected in Red Square. As people were being evenly browned on all sides, the tsar would laugh and applaud whenever the executioners displayed more than average creativity.

Having thus hardened himself, Ivan opened large-scale hostilities. First he struck out in a north-westerly direction, systematically sacking every Russian town in his path.

The oprichniks murdered all prominent citizens, robbed everyone else and, as a final touch later duplicated by Lenin and Stalin, either confiscated or destroyed all grain. This worked by delayed action: those spared the oprichniks’ axes would succumb to starvation during the winter.

After capturing Tver, the oprichniks first robbed and murdered all the clergy, including the bishop. Over the next two days they sacked every house, looting what appealed to them and burning everything else.

Finally, the oprichniks rampaged through the streets, murdering everyone they could seize, including women and children. This they replicated in their subsequent conquests: 1,500 people were massacred in Torzhok alone, and it was a small town.

In January, 1570, Ivan captured Novgorod. That Hanseatic city with parliamentary traditions had always irritated Ivan, and finally he had had enough.

By way of a warm-up, all Novgorod monks were clubbed to death. Then Ivan summoned the city’s aristocracy and trading elite, accompanied by their wives and children. They were all tortured ‘unimaginably’, as a contemporary described it.

Many were burnt with a chemical compound personally developed by the talented tsar, who had an aptitude for science too. Those men who were still alive were then drowned in the Volkhov river, followed by their wives, tied to their babies and pushed under the ice.

Then Ivan had all food in the city destroyed, along with all grain silos, fowl and cattle. Consequently, on top of the 60,000 corpses already swelling the Volkhov, the denizens had to suffer horrendous famines. Cannibalism was rife. Corpses were dug out of their graves and devoured.

A true pioneer, Ivan can also be credited with one of the first Jewish pogroms in Russia. When in 1563 he captured Polotsk, he massacred all the Jews living there.

Countries are like people: whatever they learn in their youth stays with them for ever. Ivan’s lesson on government has since entered the nation’s viscera. Rather than trying to expunge it, Putin gleefully shows it’s there to stay.

Keep Russian trolls from British papers

A headline in The Times stopped me dead – “Raab: Putin’s trolls are targeting national newspapers”.

Keep up the good fight, Mr Raab

“Britain,” ran the opening paragraph, “is to launch an international effort to combat Russian propaganda this week, after a new study found that a network of trolls is targeting national newspapers to spread pro-Moscow views.”

Now, I’m not sure Peter Hitchens, Rod Liddle and their ‘conservative’ admirers add up to an actual network of trolls, but they definitely spread pro-Moscow news. So at last, I thought, here’s a kindred soul. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is on to them.

I read on: “Research funded by the Foreign Office has found that pro-Russian trolls are posting provocative statements in the online comment sections of The Times, the Daily Mail, The Sun and the Daily Express to give the false impression that the public supports Russian aggression towards Ukraine.”

Now that’s what I call a let-down. Online comment sections? What about the Op-Ed pages? Just about every Sunday, readers of The Mail are regaled, courtesy of Hitchens, with a vindication of Putin and his aggression towards the Ukraine. (In France, Eric Zemmour provides the same service at Le Figaro.)

The 2014 revolution was, according to Hitchens, a “putsch”, which is a nicely evocative word. One thinks of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, with Hitler and Ludendorff marching at the head of a motley Nazi gang through the streets of Munich.

‘Putsch’ is neatly harmonised with Kremlin propaganda, where the movement that secured the Ukraine’s independence from Russia’s KGB junta is routinely described as ‘fascist’. Any musician will tell you that harmonies don’t happen accidentally: they need to be meticulously developed and eloquently brought out.

Yanukovych’s puppet government, criminal through and through, was, according to our Op-Ed troll, democratically elected and therefore anointed by God. Hence, in addition to being unlawful and generally ghastly, the ‘putsch’ was practically sacrilegious.

Then, of course, Hitler’s regime was also democratically elected. One has to assume that, had Hitchens et al. been writing in the 1930s, they would have fought tooth and nail for the inviolability of the Third Reich. Oops, sorry. I forgot that Nazi analogies are reserved for our ally, the genuine Ukrainian democracy.

Putin is routinely described as a strong leader our Op-Ed trolls wish Britain had, while his murderous regime gets away with only the odd slap on the wrist. Yes, it’s at times naughty, but nevertheless Russia “is the only conservative, Christian country left in Europe.”

I wish Dominic Raab had turned his attention to Op-Ed trolling, although the problem he did highlight is serious too, especially if ignored.

The FSB, previously known as the KGB, must be praised for the ingenuity of their operation, and Russia in general for her progress in public education. In my day, people who could write native-quality English were thin on the ground. Yet the success of Putin’s trolling op shows things have improved no end.

Then of course the Petersburg troll factory may also employ native speakers of English, either full-time or freelance. Some of them might even offer their services free of charge, out of heartfelt commitment to the conservative and Christian values embodied in the KGB.

One way or the other, the trolls compose messages of support for Russia’s crimes and, having signed them with English names, post them in the comment sections of British papers. The comments are then recycled by RT, Sputnik and other propaganda arms of the FSB, and used as proof of a groundswell of British public opinion in favour of Putin.

(I’m singling out Britain for obvious reasons, but the same attacks are being launched in 14 other countries. I’m sure they too have their Hitchenses and Zemmours, augmenting this noble effort in the Op-Ed pages.)

Dominic Raab described this recycling exercise as Russia “behaving exceptionally badly”.  Britain, he said, was in an “attritional struggle” with Putin’s regime. In other words, Russia is waging war on Britain, for, any way you cut it, war of attrition is still war.

If so, it must be fought by both sides. And the first sine qua non of informational war is that enemy propaganda must be stopped.

This can only be done at some cost to that fundamental virtue of civilised society, freedom of the press. However, I see no problem with this at war time, and neither has any Western country throughout history.

If we acknowledge that Putin’s junta is indeed waging war on Britain, then it’s hard to discern any substantive difference between today’s trolls and William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw, eventually strung up for spreading Nazi lies.

I’m not suggesting that the same fate should befall our own trolls, Op-Ed or otherwise, nor that Putin’s regime is every bit as evil as Hitler’s. It isn’t, yet, and our response to a threat must be commensurate with its severity. That’s why I propose the blue pencil, not the gallows, as the defence weapon.

Our editors should realise we are at war and temporarily suppress their libertarian impulses. They know how to do so already, as I can testify from personal experience. Now they should put that expertise to good use and keep Putin’s propaganda off their pages, readers’ comments or Op-Ed. Desperate times, dangerous measures and all that.

P.S. I’m continuing to expand my English vocabulary by listening to football commentators, native speakers to a man (and these days increasingly woman).

One of them mentioned the other day that a certain team likes to “keep their fullbacks intact”. My first reaction was surprise that the team should limit its concern for the players’ health to fullbacks only.

But then I realised he meant keeping them in place, i.e. limiting their attacking instincts. Isn’t it marvellous how flexible English is? Words can mean whatever we want them to mean.

Economic problem, sorted

Archimedes with his bath, Newton with his apple – and I. We all had a flash of genius, and I use this word advisedly. Theirs was displayed in physics, mine in economics, and that’s the only difference.

Or rather, false modesty aside, I’m an even greater genius than those underachievers, because their eureka moments followed years of thought, whereas mine took barely a minute or two.

Some naysayers may demand proof of my status next to those giants, and I can just see those smug yeah-yeah smirks on their faces. Wipe them off, you negativists – proof is on the way.

The problem is serious. Our greengrocers are in danger of having nothing to sell, while our pubs and restaurants may have no one to sell their wares.

The first group suffers from a severe shortage of fruit pickers, meaning that this year’s crop may well rot unpicked. The second group also faces a recruitment crisis, with no one to fill roughly 350,000 vacancies for waiters and kitchen staff.

Both problems, according to our analysts, are caused by a mass exodus of Romanians, Bulgarians, Spaniards, Italians et al. due to a combination of Covid and Brexit. Facing a hiatus in their employment, with the hospitality business temporarily out of business, and fruit taking its time to ripen, those foreigners have upped their sticks and decamped back to their native lands.

Sea resorts are about to reopen in the sunnier European climes, and those money-grubbing ingrates think they can make a better living out there than over here. Moreover, they may inexplicably prefer, say, Portofino to Portchester and decide to stick around, leaving their former British employers in the lurch – after all we’ve done for them.

If our eateries run out of staff, they won’t reopen their doors, and if greengrocers run out of fruit, they’ll close theirs. But you can count on me to solve such seemingly insurmountable problems with room to spare.

I took my tattered thinking cap off the mothballs, put it on and sat down to mull the problem over. Since robots can’t yet to be programmed to be rude to customers and still demand tips, while fruit can’t be trained to pick itself, there’s no substitute for hands on deck.

And since those hands have hitherto belonged to foreigners who have now gone home, the employment pool must draw on homegrown talents. Yet here’s the rub, according to one of London’s prominent Italian chefs: “There is no chance of finding a Brit to do this job.”

Hence the problem appears to be tripartite. Part 1. Restaurants and pubs have 350,000 jobs to fill, and orchard owners perhaps another 50,000. Part 2. These jobs used to be done by foreigners who are no longer available. Part 3. Britons (a better locution than ‘Brits’, by the way) can’t be bovvered to do those jobs.

The solution is also a multi-stage process, which starts with three questions. Why won’t young Britons wish to be gainfully employed, if only in menial jobs? Do they have better jobs? If not, don’t they need food? (See St Paul to the Thessalonians: “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”)

It turns out that 575,000 young people aged 16-24 are currently unemployed. And yet one hardly ever encounters a starving native-born youngster stumbling down the street. Ergo, as Newton might have said, they don’t work and still eat.

Then I posed a follow-up question. Assuming that most of these youngsters can work and yet don’t, how do they feed themselves? The answer came to me in an instant: they don’t feed themselves. We do.

Acting as the intermediate stage in this process is the Exchequer, which makes us pay taxes and then uses the realised revenue to feed 575,000 youngsters who don’t want to work but still want to eat, thereby defying St Paul.

It took me about 30 seconds of juxtaposing all those numerals before a bolt of lightning struck.

If the Exchequer removed their welfare cheques without reducing their appetite, those youngsters would have to look for money elsewhere. And what do you know: money is on offer, in the shape of the roughly 400,000 vacancies  mentioned above – and they won’t even have to risk prison by stealing.

There we are, all the dots connected, job (or rather 400,000 jobs) done. Pubs and restaurants reopen, greengrocers don’t close, all those youngsters are no longer humiliated by handouts, finding instead the pride of honest work.

All that’s left to do is for someone to nominate me for a Nobel prize in economics – or, more realistically, to report me to the authorities as a crypto-fascist badly in need of re-education and possibly incarceration. Any volunteers?

P.S. Greta Thunberg has been half-vindicated. Since this month is the coldest April in 99 years, climate is indeed changing. Alas, it’s changing in the wrong direction. Please, Lord, can we have global warming back?