Living argument against democracy

After the collapse of most Western monarchies, democracy got to be seen as the best political system imaginable, perhaps the only decent one possible. But this adulation didn’t start yesterday.

Franchise has been steadily expanding in all Western countries, with democratically elected institutions acquiring more and more power. It has got to a point when no argument about, and especially against, democracy seems to be imaginable.

Well, not as far as I am concerned. I can start and finish a credible argument against democracy with two short words: Joe Biden.

A political system can be judged on many criteria, but surely the most important one is its record in elevating to government those fit to govern. And, comparing unchecked democracy with even absolute monarchy, I’m not convinced the former emerges the clear winner.

Actually, the extreme, absolute form of monarchy hasn’t existed anywhere in the West for the best part of three centuries, longer in England. Democracy, on the other hand, has been absolute everywhere in the West for at least a century.

Still, even allowing for an impure comparison between a system long since extinct and one well-nigh dominant, monarchy more than holds its own. The usual argument against it is that there’s no guarantee that hereditary succession won’t throw up an incompetent monarch.

True. In this world we aren’t blessed with perfect systems. T.S. Eliot pointed this out in poetic form when he decried “dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good”.

However, while thanking people for pointing out the woeful imperfection of monarchy, one can still take exception to the implication that democracy is conspicuously better in that respect. That’s when it helps to utter the two words I mentioned: Joe Biden.

Moreover, I’d suggest that a man who is from early childhood trained to govern by the best minds of his time stands a better chance of getting good at it than someone who has to learn on the job. Especially if he happens to be a chap who became a professional politician soon after graduating from a provincial law school.

Joe Biden is such a man. He graduated 76th in his class of 85 at Syracuse University. Part of the reason for such a low ranking was a paper he wrote, or rather plagiarised, from a law review article.

That wasn’t a one-off lapse: when Biden first stood in a presidential election in 1988, he similarly ripped off a speech by Neil Kinnock, who himself couldn’t be easily confused with Demosthenes or Cicero.

Biden’s career in the Senate was marked mainly by soporific speeches that even Obama, himself not the sharpest chisel in the box, found crushingly boring. He also liked to wear his Catholicism on his sleeve, while voting with remarkable consistency for every anti-Catholic measure (such as public financing for abortions).

That such a man could eventually be elected president in his dotage is a poor advertisement for democracy. Even in his prime, Biden didn’t come within a million miles of the level expected from the Leader of The Free World.

But he is well beyond his prime now. Two brain aneurisms and malignant tachycardia Biden has suffered have severely hampered his cognitive ability, which wasn’t of sterling quality to begin with.

Take it from me – all old men suffer some decline. Yet much depends on their starting point. An intelligent man with an IQ of 160 may lose a quarter of his top level and still end up with an IQ of 120, way above average. The same decline in a man with an IQ of 100 will produce an idiot.

I don’t know what Biden’s IQ was before he went gaga, but hardly a day goes by without him coming across as a confused man who doesn’t quite realise where and what he is, nor recognise the people around him.

He can’t even read the teleprompter fluently and, whenever he has to say a few words off the cuff, he sounds incoherent and pathetic. At his press conference the other day, instead of answering a question, he assumed a praying position by bowing his head down on his hands.

Joe Biden is incompetent at even running the routine business of quotidian governance. When a crisis arrives, he becomes what Americans call a clear and present danger.

All this was already evident during his campaign. And yet the electorate put him into the White House where he manifestly doesn’t belong.

Why? All sorts of spurious reasons, the principal one being that he wasn’t Trump.

Now, for all my reservations about the previous president, I doubt he would have handled the current situation in Afghanistan in Biden’s craven and inept way. That too was predictable, but the electorate wasn’t sufficiently smart to predict anything.

Nor is it just an American problem. In fact, I can’t think offhand of many great Western statesmen in my lifetime. Adenauer, perhaps. Thatcher, with a few reservations. Reagan, maybe, with even more reservations. De Gaulle? Fine, I’ll give you that. Anyone else? Well, you get my point.

Speaking specifically of American presidents in my lifetime, I can’t think of anyone who could be described as a statesman without fulsome generosity. Yet in the 17th century, during the period as long as my lifetime, France had Richelieu, Mazarin and Colbert – outstanding statesmen every one of them.

And that was during the reign of two absolute monarchs, Louis XIII and Louis XIV. Moreover, if you insisted, I could perhaps name a few others during the same period, who each stood head and shoulders above any modern politician, as far as human material is concerned. Manny Macron, anyone?

The idea that democracy doesn’t depend as much on individual brilliance doesn’t quite wash. It may not need statesmen of Colbert’s standard, but it’s certainly vulnerable to chronic and, what’s worse, ideologised idiots like Biden. If you don’t believe me, ask those Afghanis at Kabul airport. Or, better still, the families of the 13 US soldiers brought home in coffins.

The greatest political thinkers from Plato and Aristotle onwards, all the way to Burke, De Maistre and Tocqueville, were well aware of the congenital drawback of democracy. They knew that, to be successful, democracy heavily depends on a highly educated and limited electorate.

In Athens, the required quorum was only about 5,000 men. And both great Athenians suggested that this was not only the minimum acceptable but also the maximum desirable number of active participants in a democracy. Burke believed that only 5,000 Britons were qualified to vote in his day. Anything more, and democracy turns into mob rule (“deviant constitution”, as Aristotle described it).

And a mob made up mainly of functionally illiterate philistines can’t vote intelligently and responsibly. Bono publico? They don’t even know how their own bono could be served best.

It’s worse than just having nincompoops at the helm. For, after several generations of democracy run riot, a certain type of politician evolves, one who knows how to get elected but neither has a clue how to run a government nor gives this matter much thought until he has to. By then it’s too late.

Then the vicious circle closes: an unqualified electorate cultivates unqualified leaders, who in turn condition the electorate to remain unqualified. Rather than merely producing the Bidens of this world, this vicious circle practically guarantees that first mostly and then only Bidens will spin out. It’s only by an increasingly rare accident that this circle is ever broken.

So do our politicians and political scientists spend sleepless nights trying to think of wise and just ways to limit democracy and counterbalance it with other mechanisms of power? Quite the contrary.

Instead they talk about expanding the franchise even further, to include 16-year-old children, though not yet their pets (canine Americans?). And their public pronouncements are full of sycophantic praises of “the people”, who are invariably commended for their goodness and sagacity.

Are you surprised that a Joe Biden comes out at the other end? I am not.


What’s the missing word?

An article in The Times has 950 words, all about Sweden having become “Europe’s gun crime hotspot.”

Gun crime in Sweden, explained in one word

That factual point could have been made in a short paragraph citing a few comparative figures. Juxtapose the number of shot victims in Sweden (114 killed since 2019, 290 wounded) with that in other countries, and Bjorn is your uncle. Job done.

A longish article, however, has to offer a semblance of analysis. Instead The Times offers dissemblance.

Among the 950 words the piece contains you won’t find one that explains the problem. That key word is Muslim.

For most (or at least a disproportionate number) of shootings and other crimes perpetrated in Sweden have been imported from the Middle East and North Africa.

Thus Malmö, a city of 350,000 souls of whom 40 per cent are Muslims, boasts more murders than the rest of Scandinavia combined. Muslims also commit 85 per cent of all rapes in Sweden.

The same happens in other countries too. In Germany, Muslim refugees commit 250,000 crimes a year. Muslims perpetrate two out of three rapes in Oslo and three out of four in Copenhagen. And in London, the areas that have the highest Muslim population also happen to boast the highest crime rates.

So how is it possible to omit the word ‘Muslim’ out of an article that length? Simple. What we are witnessing is a phenomenon I’d describe as the Woke Choke.

The Woke Choke is applied to (or, increasingly, by) writers to squeeze the truth out of the narrative, forcing it to conform to woke diktats. Hence there can be no suggestion of anything wrong with any group of people, whether defined by race, culture, religion or country of origin.

If some group stubbornly refuses to be forced into the egalitarian Procrustean bed, then it’s not to blame. We can blame anything else: capitalism, social injustice, insufficient social spending, income gap, Margaret Thatcher – anyone or anything, but not the group itself.

The article in question spends most of the space on soppy human-interest titbits, describing the anguish of parents whose children have been hit by stray bullets and some such. Yet only 60 words are devoted to an oblique attempt at some explanation. Here they are:     

“Now a range of factors, from an increase in availability of firearms to the failed integration of immigrant communities, have combined to put guns in the hands of angry young men. The majority are from non-Swedish backgrounds – often born and raised in Sweden to foreign parents.”

Leaving aside the dubious link between availability of guns and crime, Sweden has some of the tightest firearm laws in the world. So how come this “increase in availability of firearms” has coincided in time with the influx of Muslim immigrants over the past decade?

One can’t help sensing that the old law of supply-demand hasn’t yet been repealed. Availability of illegal guns has increased because gangs of mostly Muslim “angry young men” drive the demand up. And economics tells us that a voracious demand will always find a supply, legal or otherwise.

I especially love this business with “failed integration of immigrant communities… from non-Swedish backgrounds – often born and raised in Sweden to foreign parents.”

Which immigrant communities? Which non-Swedish backgrounds? American? French? English? German? And whose failure is it?

For example, I know a French family living in Sweden. I speak either English or halting French to them, so I have no way of judging the success of their integration. However, taking a stab in the dark, I’d still venture a guess that, even if they are less than wholly Swedish, they are unlikely to go on the night-time prowl, gun in hand.

And what kind of people born and raised in a country – even if their parents are from elsewhere – won’t adopt the local mores? Some of my Russian friends have children born and raised in America, England or France, and take my word for it: they are indistinguishable from the locals.

If you’ll pardon a personal reference, my own son was seven when he emigrated to America. He had no trouble integrating – to a point where he became a successful journalist, who, alas, doesn’t even speak Russian.

There’s only one condition that would prevent native-born people from feeling at home in the country of their birth: refusal to do so. True enough, Muslim children often grow up not so much in a cultural ghetto as in a cultural prison cell.

Some children, for example, don’t even realise that Britain isn’t a Muslim country (yet). They read only Muslim papers, watch only Muslim TV channels, go to Muslim schools, have no non-Muslim friends – in fact, may not even know any non-Muslims.

To create such a bubble in a predominantly English-speaking environment takes concerted effort and alert vigilance. That way children born and bred in Britain – or for that matter in Sweden – can grow up so alienated from their country that they’ll happily see their compatriots as enemy combatants, to be blow up, stabbed or shot.

This is how I would have written a Times article on this subject. Yet something tells me I won’t be asked.

Rubber rooms provided at US Open

Looks like Naomi Osaka got the mental health ball rolling. One of the world’s top female players, she flipped out of both the French Open and Wimbledon, citing mental health problems.

One of this year’s top seeds

Had the authorities paid attention to Miss Osaka’s declining mental health, they would have noticed the early onset of her condition. During last year’s US Open, she had the names of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and other black Americans killed by police embroidered on her face masks. 

This was a clear demonstration of a split personality. You see, Miss Osaka is half-black American and half-Japanese. Predictably, she is torn between her two identities, with the two races battling each other within her brittle psyche.

Thanks largely to her endorsements of Japanese products, she is the world’s best-paid female athlete. Hence the Japanese in her lands a crushing blow on the black. But the black comes back with a flurry of social conscience, attacking the Japanese with unrestrained ferocity. Early symptoms of schizophrenia appear as a result – and Miss Osaka isn’t the only player showing such signs. 

That’s why I am happy to see that at last tennis authorities are beginning to pay attention to the outbreak of emotional instability among tennis players. As ever, it’s the US Open that first put its finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist.

The tournament has responded to this deeply worrying pandemic by providing rubber rooms, presumably equipped with straitjackets, for players who can no longer cope with the pressure of hitting fuzzy yellow balls over the net. Qualified psychiatrists will be on hand to offer emergency care, stabilising the players before their transfer to hospitals and other institutions.  

“Our goal is to make mental health services as readily available to athletes as services for a sprained ankle – and with no stigma attached,” says Dr Brian Hainline, a USTA first vice president. “We will provide an environment that fosters wellness while providing the necessary resources to readily allow mental health care seeking.”

While different from the Covid pandemic in some respects, a collapse of mental health also has much in common with it. For an afflicted person doesn’t just suffer on his own – he also presents a danger to others.

Many are the cases of tennis players smashing their racquets or, worse still, using them to attack their opponents, umpires and spectators. In their nimble, muscular hands, that implement becomes a deadly weapon – this even if they refrain from punching, kicking, biting and scratching.

A combination of a rubber room and straitjacket will provide a welcome restraint, preventing the players from causing grievous harm to themselves and others… Hold on a second, Penelope is trying to say something…

Oops, mea culpa. Looks like I’ve misread a newspaper account yet again. It’s not rubber but quiet rooms that the US Open is providing. The objective isn’t to restrain players with failing mental health, but to help them meditate, presumably about their endorsements.

But at least I got the other part right: psychiatrists will indeed be on tap to offer qualified medical help. Players will be encouraged to talk frankly about their relationships, sexual or otherwise, with their parents and also about the pressures of seeking more lucrative endorsements. So who says the papers bring nothing but bad news?   

P.S. In another welcome development, Princess Anne is to open her house to the paying public. That’s another step in the right direction: monetising the monarchy.

However, as a former adman I wish the family were more creative in merchandising royal memorabilia. Off the top, here’s one idea to consider: the Queen Cuckoo Clock.

The face would feature the Union Jack colours and those of the royal standard. Every hour on the hour, a window would open at the top of the dial. A tiny Queen figurine wearing a crown would pop out and hoot: “Cuckoo-ooo”. American and Japanese tourists would happily pay 50 quid or more for this premium item, thereby contributing to the upkeep of our head of state.

P.P.S. Our supermarket shelves are emptying out because of a severe shortage of fruit and veg pickers, meat, fish and poultry processors, and lorry drivers.

In a flash of lateral thinking, typical of former admen, I juxtaposed that datum with the number of British families below pensionable age who live off benefits: more than 4,000,000. This places a tremendous pressure on the Exchequer (even greater than that driving tennis players to insanity).

Both problems could be solved in one fell swoop, but I won’t tell you how. It’s time for you to activate your own creative resources, and I’ve given you enough clues to guide you to the threshold of the solution.

A plaque on all their houses

I should have seen this plaque before – after all, I’ve been visiting Bourges Cathedral at least once a year for decades.

Yet it was only the other day that I peeked into one of the chapels – and there it was, the plaque commemorating three senior clergymen martyred in 1794, during the Terror. They were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995, together with 97 other victims of revolutionary afflatus, all but one priests.

The plaque got me thinking about the four most pivotal revolutions in Europe: in England (began in 1642), America (1776), France (1789) and Russia (1917).

Different years, different countries, different revolutions really – but they all had something in common. Each one was at least partly inspired by hatred of apostolic religion, or, in the case of the latter two, of religious faith in general.

The English revolutionaries led by Cromwell were Calvinist sectarians. Their American and French counterparts were mostly deists, if not atheists. The Russians were atheists to a man.

That Cromwell’s men foamed at the mouth at the very mention of Roman Catholicism is par for the course. But one would think they’d have reasonable respect for Anglo-Catholicism, the dominant confession in England at the time. One would think wrong though – their Puritan hearts hated both apostolic confessions with almost equal fervour.

Most of the American Founding Fathers were deists at best, but they were concerned about America’s history, begun as it was by English Protestant dissenters. Hence they couldn’t express animus towards faith.

However, apostolic confessions, not just Catholicism but also Anglicanism, were fair game. The Founders detested them, which feelings were expressed in the First Amendment to the US Constitution adopted in 1791.

It coyly eschewed the phrase ‘separation of church and state’. Instead the First Amendment stated only that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

But in his comments both before and after the ratification Jefferson was unequivocal: this amendment, he gloated, built “a wall of separation between Church and State”.

Implicitly, this was a dig at England, which Jefferson and most of his colleagues cordially loathed. They wanted to transplant onto the American soil the trees of the English Common Law, while severing their roots nourished by England’s Trinitarian faith.

Jefferson’s views on religion were greatly informed by Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration, preaching equanimity towards all creeds, except naturally Trinitarian Christianity.

Yet American revolutionaries didn’t cull priests en masse – they merely removed them from any influence on public affairs. Their French and Russian counterparts went the Americans one better.

The French exiled 30,000 priests and murdered hundreds more, including the three martyrs commemorated at Bourges. The Russians upped the ante: over 40,000 priests were murdered in all sorts of Satanic ways on Lenin’s watch (d. 1924), in the first few years of the Bolshevik regime, and before Stalin took over.

Any attempt to understand the reasons for such hatred, shared by revolutions that are otherwise so different, will lead us to a more general understanding of revolutions as such.

A revolution is distinct from a coup d’état in that it doesn’t just want to change a government. It seeks to change man. And man is an amalgam of the physical and metaphysical, of body and soul.

Any revolution worthy of the name is out to claim dominion over both, the physical landscape of governance, economics, social pecking order and what have you, but also the innermost essence of man, his whole outlook on life.

This too must undergo changes, some, as in England and America; considerable, as in France; total, as in Russia. And this is where any revolution finds itself in direct competition with the Church – this even if clergymen have no appreciable involvement in government.

And revolutionaries are less benevolent towards their competitors than, say, businessmen. The latter may be cutting a few economic throats during work hours, but afterward they’ll happily meet the possessors of those throats for a friendly drink. Revolutionaries are different. They are in the throes of an all-consuming passion, and they hate those who stand in the way.

To be fair, the four revolutions I mentioned didn’t reserve all their hatred for apostolic confessions. They had quite a bit left over for monarchs and aristocrats.

All four were dedicated to the elevation of the common man, who supposedly suffered great oppression at the hands of titled reprobates. That aspiration was but a fragment in their general commitment to changing human nature.

For, left to its own vices and devices, human nature will always arrange society along hierarchical lines. Those occupying the lower tiers of a social structure may have better or worse lives, but, in either case, their condition will never destroy the vertical structure, though it may replace one with another.

Christianity, with its founder stating that his kingdom is not of this world, encourages humility and discourages envy. For revolutionaries, on the other hand, humility doesn’t even come into consideration, while envy is their meat and drink.

That deadly sin is encouraged by revolutionaries because it paves their way to power. Since they act in the name of the common man, they have to whip up resentment against those seen as social superiors – that’s basic.

But there is a deeper reason for that stratagem. All four revolutions had to resort to violent tactics and fraudulent slogans to rally the masses. Yet the firebrands were also envious – of those whose claim to legitimacy was transcendent, and therefore organic, in origin.

All monarchies have such a claim. It may or may not be worded as divine right, but in any case it’s a reflection of the Christian understanding of power: it always comes from God.

That may be debatable, but Joseph de Maistre (d. 1821) settled the debate. He argued that traditional institutions, such as monarchy and aristocracy, go so far back that they disappear in the haze of time – we can’t trace them back to their historical origin. Therefore we might as well assume they come from God.

That’s what revolutions lack, this timeless quality. Hence they have to kill, or at least cheat, their way to power. Even the American Revolution is no different.

The colonists were invited to the Boston Tea Party, a violent protest against the duties on tea imposed by the English. Yet even with those duties, tea in America cost half of what it cost in the metropolis.

And the American slogan of no taxation without representation, borrowed, along with much other revolutionary effluvia, from Locke, was mendacious on several levels.

Philosophically, it wrongly claimed representation as the essential legitimising factor of taxation – yet most Englishmen weren’t represented either. That didn’t prevent them from paying taxes, which were higher than in America.

Moreover, implicit in that slogan was a promise of lower taxes, which didn’t quite work out. Immediately after the revolution the taxes skyrocketed – for the colonists to find out they hated them even with representation.

This explains why revolutionaries always look at the traditional, organic regimes they oust with outward hatred but secret envy. Those regimes didn’t have to base their legitimacy on phrasemaking.

It’s just a small stone plaque attached to the wall of a 13th century cathedral. Yet one look at it triggers all sorts of thoughts about, well, everything. One such thought is about revolutions, which hardly ever bring out the best in human nature.

Yo, Blair! Who are you callin’ imbecile?

“Yo, Blair” was the way George W. Bush liked to address Her Majesty’s first minister. Dubya must be thanked for not referring to him as Fido or Rex.

Snazzy haircut, Tone. Now let’s do something about your mouth

For it was with canine obedience that Blair sent British soldiers to die next to Americans in Iraq. The only conceivable rationale for that incursion would have been to get rid of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and in fact that explanation was bandied about at the beginning.

However, since it soon turned out that Iraq had no such weapons, another explanation was urgently needed. That was helpfully provided by the neoconservatives, who inscribed on their flags words like ‘nation-building’, ‘democracy’ and ‘free elections’.

Apparently, the US and Britain went into Iraq because it was a despotic dictatorship. As a gesture of good will, the allies would eliminate Saddam, a figure they themselves had manufactured as a counterweight to Iran.

Rid of this clearly undemocratic person, Iraq would become like Norway. Or, barring that, at least like Portugal. And while at it, Bush and Yo Blair would perform a similar service for other Middle Eastern nations bending under the yoke of undemocratic rulers: Syria, Egypt and Libya — but not Saudi Arabia that has a lot of oil.

It was time they too were introduced to the delights of Western democracy, bicameral parliaments and independent judiciary. Once they were graced with such gifts, they’d instantly see the light that had somehow failed to shine on them for the previous 1,400 years.

That was arrant, wicked nonsense, and acting on it could only have had the disastrous effects it did indeed produce. A bloodbath ensued, the more impassioned Muslims groups began operating from a base of wide popular support, all of the Middle East was set aflame, jihadist groups like Isis and Muslim Brotherhood sprang out, a window was open for Russia to climb in.

True, neither Saddam, nor Gaddafi nor Mubarak was indeed a democrat. They were all variously unpleasant tyrants. However, they managed to instil a semblance of order in their rather savage lands. When they were ousted, order disintegrated.

Emerging out of the chaos weren’t Muslim answers to Lincoln, Churchill and Mother Teresa. Jihadists moved in, and the Middle East exploded into internecine wars waged under the green banner of Islam. As a side benefit, Europe has been inundated with an influx of refugees, most of them not only alien to Western culture but downright hostile to it.

Any leaders blessed with even average intelligence and a modicum of education would have known that such an outcome was entirely predictable – while no other was imaginable. Yet neither Dubya nor Yo Blair possessed such requisite assets.

Blair, whose photo should be in the dictionary next to the entry for spiv (n), was different from Bush, however. He complemented his mediocre intellect with such qualities as perfidy, sleaziness and maniacal conceit.

It’s from this base that he has now launched an attack on Biden and Johnson, whose withdrawal from Afghanistan Yo Blair described as “imbecilic”. Takes one to know one, I suppose.

Upon closer examination, however, one discovers that it’s not withdrawal as such that meets with Yo Blair’s disapproval, but the hasty manner in which it was executed.  

Yes, our involvement in that country wasn’t a “hopeless endeavour”. On the contrary, it was a qualified success. And the death of 457 British and 2,433 American soldiers “was not in vain”. Still, nothing wrong with leaving if that’s what we felt like doing. However, withdrawing hastily betrayed “all those who need to be evacuated”.

Yo Blair has to choose. Should we have stayed for a long time because our mission was a rip-roaring success? Or just a few more days because we owed it to friendly Afghanis?

His love affair with himself, made so much more fervent by certain failings of mind and morals, won’t let him say what should be obvious to everyone. The truly imbecilic thing to do wasn’t coming out. It was going in.

There’s no doubt that a country lending its territory to gangs of terrorists having the West in their sights must be discouraged. But, as both common sense and empirical proof show, putting boots on the ground isn’t the right way to go about it.

Such countries could be cut off from the world’s economy with boycotts, not just a few sanctions. They could be blockaded and thus denied basic supplies. Their communications, from the Internet to the telephones could be jammed. Their utilities could be sabotaged. They could be hit with punitive bombing raids, of a severity commensurate with the crimes committed by the gangs they harbour.

Before long the governments of those countries would decide that perhaps they’d like to be our friends after all. And that means getting rid of the jihadist gangs, using the weapons I’m sure we’d be happy to provide.

That doesn’t mean that the West should never send its troops abroad. But this should be done for strategic reasons, not because some foreign leaders don’t conform to our idea of governance.

Even as we speak, the US alone is keeping the better part of 200,000 of its soldiers in various countries around the world, such as South Korea, Cuba, the Philippines and quite a few others. British involvement is smaller, only about 2,300 soldiers, mostly deployed in Eastern Europe to act as tripwire in case of Russian aggression.

An extra 2,000 Americans and a few hundred Britons that supposedly would suffice to keep Afghanistan out of Taliban’s clutches wouldn’t have made much difference. And after all, no allied soldier has been killed there for 18 months.

In that sense, Yo Blair had a point, even though he ignored the much bigger one, that we shouldn’t have sent our troops to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the Middle East.

Looking at the state of that region, not to mention Europe, that has transpired as a direct result of the two decades spent by Anglo-American soldiers there makes it hard to argue that invasion is the way to go.

It takes a remarkable absence of any self-critical faculty for someone like Yo Blair to throw stones out of his glass house. He should stick to making his millions out of assorted tinhorn dictators, some of them not conspicuously better than Saddam or, for that matter, the Taliban.

I for one would love to see him answering some pointed questions at the Hague. But then few of my dearest wishes ever come true.    

Should America fight ‘forever wars’?

Afghanistan is very much in the news, specifically America’s hasty withdrawal that left the country at the mercy of Muslim fanatics.

A city upon a hill

This action followed from first Trump and then Biden decrying ‘forever wars’ America has to fight on behalf of those who won’t fight for themselves.

This elevates the argument from the specific Afghan context to the level of general principle: making America great again means her taking care of the internal business first. Let others fend for themselves.

Leaving the specific Afghan arguments to others, I’d like to comment on the general principle, which I think springs from insufficiently deep thinking on such matters. For messianic proselytism lies at the very foundation of America.

This was demonstrated by the first batch of English settlers who colonised Massachusetts Bay. As early as 1630 their leader, John Winthrop, delivered an oration in which he alluded to Matthew 5:14 by describing the new community as a “city upon a hill”.

Let’s consider the contextual implications of these words from the Sermon on the Mount: “Ye are the light of this world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.” This proselytising verse issues both a promise to the world and an entreaty to the listeners: by following Christ they would light a lantern illuminating the righteous path for the rest of mankind.

Not only would they acquire an ability to do so, but they would also acquire the duty. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works…,” continued Jesus.

Thus, when Winthrop likened the new colony to a city upon a hill, he implicitly equated it to the beacon that shone the word of God onto the rest of the world. And since he did so in a secular context, the religion based on this premise could only be secular.

The new nation was to become a secular simulacrum of God as an object of worship. This was a curious example of amour propre: America was to worship herself.

The Biblical phrase immediately entered the American lore and there it remains to this day. The underlying spirit cuts across party lines: the phrase “a city upon a hill” was used by both the arch-Democrat John Kennedy and the arch-Republican Ronald Reagan.

America isn’t just different from all other countries; she is saintlier and therefore better. While other lands amble aimlessly through life, it’s America’s right and duty to carry out a messianic mission, to give “light unto all that are in the house” by spreading the ideals of democracy, republicanism or any other voguish political term denoting the underlying virtue.

In 1809 Jefferson expressed the principle of America as a beacon without relying on biblical references: “Trusted with the destinies of this solitary republic of the world, the only monument of human rights, and the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government, from hence it is to be lighted up in other regions of the earth, if other regions of the earth shall ever become susceptible of its benign influence.”

Tastes differ but facts shouldn’t: America wasn’t “the only monument… and the sole depository… of freedom and self-government”. Britain, to name one other country, had form in those areas too. But then the puffery of political pietism knows no bounds.

In due course the “city upon a hill” was helped along by other words from the lexicon of American exceptionalism. In the 1840s the journalist John L. O’Sullivan coined the term ‘manifest destiny’ to describe America’s messianic mission in the world. Said manifest destiny was according to him “divine”: it was incumbent upon America “to establish on earth the moral dignity and salvation of man”.

Like Christianity, in due course its secular simulacrum, the American creed, also split into two streams, both based on the underlying premise of American exceptionalism: hermetic and crusading.

The hermetic stream (these days called isolationism) prefers to practise its unmatched virtue internally. Others, if they know what’s good for them, are welcome to follow, but the hermeticists are more concerned with protecting their own cloister from strangers than forcing them to join.

Conversely, the crusaders (usually called interventionists) are ever ready to strike out, converting others not just by setting glittering examples of virtue, but also by setting stubborn infidels on fire.

Both streams have issued countless statements of intent, but I’ll quote only two, made by two US presidents a century and a half apart.

Encapsulating the ethos of hermetic American exceptionalism, John Quincy Adams declared: “Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

Yet John Fitzgerald Kennedy communicated the opposite view in his inaugural address: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

This specimen of demagogic logorrhoea was making a promise of eternally escalating imperialism, going back to Winthrop with his ‘city upon a hill’. And it’s this crusading streak of the bifurcated American religion that has made the US the success she is today. Though from time to time the American pendulum swings towards the hermetic end, the overall tendency towards crusading invariably takes two steps forward to every backward one.

This innate crusading spirit has established America as ‘the leader of the free world’, a status that confers benefits, while also imposing responsibilities. The benefits are mainly economic: America has supplanted the British Empire as the most economically virile Western nation.

That wasn’t an entirely haphazard development: much of America’s elevation at the expense of Britain’s demise was a matter of deliberate and consistent policy. Hence, while fighting the Axis powers during the Second World War, America always had in her sights Britain as a secondary target.

Thus America’s wartime arrangements with the moribund British Empire were different from those with Stalin’s Russia. If billions’ worth of US aid given to Stalin was free, Britain had to pay for everything in cash, IOUs being accepted only grudgingly and with the understanding that no defaults would be allowed. (Britain only finished repaying her US wartime loans at the end of 2006.)

The entire gold reserves and foreign investments of the British Empire had to be used up to pay for American supplies, especially food and medicines. The victory was ultimately won at the expense of Britain’s post-war economic prospects.

Churchill knew this was coming. On 7 December, 1940, he wrote to Roosevelt, pleading that the terms on which American aid was being proffered would consign Britain to post-war penury: “Such a course would not be in the moral or economic interests of either of our countries.” Roosevelt acknowledged receipt and promptly collected Britain’s last £50 million in gold.

Churchill pretended not to understand that “such a course” was precisely in America’s “moral and economic interests”. Morally, the demise of the traditional British Empire, the last major stronghold of Christendom’s political order, played into the hands of the American crusading ambitions of leading the post-Christian world. And economically, British cash helped America double her GDP during the war.

Moreover, as a result of the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement, the US dollar became the world’s reserve currency. That’s how America has been able to run up a $27 trillion national debt without, so far, catastrophic economic consequences.

Generally speaking, this vindicates the crusading communicants in the secular American creed. Yet after each geopolitical setback the hermetic confession comes back into its own, and this is exactly what we are witnessing now.

Both Trump and Biden have made pronouncements along hermeticist lines, which proves that this strain, like the crusading one, is impervious to the presidents’ personalities or stated principles. However, we can be certain that before long the crusading spirit will come roaring back to “make America great again”, in the primitive way in which greatness is understood nowadays.

Where will the crusaders strike next? I don’t know. But I’m sure they will.

History as a prostitute

Archivists preserve facts. Historiographers record them. Historians explain what the facts mean. And then ideologues barge in, turning history into a prostitute and themselves into pimps.

Kevin Spacey as Richard III. Note the twisted, crippled body

History begins to service all comers on a Procrustean bed. Facts that can’t be squeezed into the ideology are either lopped off or stretched to bizarre interpretations. Then history continues to put out for generation after generation. Eventually no one remembers its dissipated past.

Examples of this worldwide prostitution could fill many thick volumes. For brevity’s sake I’ll cite only three, one from England, two from Russia.

The English example involves William Shakespeare, whose libellous portrayal of Richard III became historical orthodoxy and has persisted in that capacity ever since.

In 1485, Richard lost his battle and his life to the man who thus became Henry VII, the first Tudor king of England. Writing his Richard III drama during the reign of Henry’s granddaughter, Shakespeare was working to what the Soviets later called ‘social order’.

The order was twofold: first to besmirch Richard, then to glorify Henry, whose actual rights to succession were rather tenuous. The first objective was achieved by depicting Richard as an evil hunchback who murdered those little princes in the Tower. Both parts were mendacious.

Richard had one shoulder slightly higher than the other, that’s all. A real hunchback wouldn’t have been able to wield a heavy 15th century sword with the athletic agility required to stay alive in many battles, which Richard did.

As to the two young sons of Edward IV murdered in the Tower of London, there isn’t a shred of evidence to connect Richard with that crime. Shakespeare based his play on Sir Thomas More’s account that solely relied on cui bono conjecture.

Richard was supposed to have murdered his two nephews because their claim to the throne was stronger than his. By the same logic, Henry could have been indicted with even greater justification: his claim was much shakier than Richard’s.    

Let’s just say that, if that charge were brought in today’s England, the CPS wouldn’t even open the case. And, if by some oversight the flimsy case did reach the court, the jury would take minutes to acquit.

The second objective, glorifying Henry, was achieved in the last scene, where Shakespeare produced a soliloquy whose lickspittle sycophancy wouldn’t have been out of place in Stalin’s Russia.

However, in spite of its ideologically inspired falsehood, Shakespeare’s version of Richard has been taught to schoolchildren ever since. A message to our Department of Education: children would do better learning their history from historians, not playwrights, even those of genius.

Or for that matter from novelists, which gets me to the way the Russians learn about an event misleadingly called the Patriotic War of 1812. The novelist in question is Leo Tolstoy, who in War and Peace put forth a version of history that falls somewhere between ignorant and mendacious.

Tolstoy’s ideology wasn’t politically motivated, but it was none the weaker for it. In common with most great Russian writers of that period (Chekhov being one notable exception), he glorified the sainted Russian peasant as the embodiment of the nation’s unmatched spiritual strength.

Hence he portrayed Field-Marshal Kutuzov, a French-speaking aristocrat, as a leader who derived his genius from the soil and soul of Russia. Napoleon, by contrast, is depicted as a megalomaniac nincompoop. In fact, Napoleon was one of history’s best generals, who defeated Kutuzov in every battle they fought, from Austerlitz to Borodino.

Tolstoy lovingly shows Kutuzov dozing off during the pre-Borodino military council at which the order of battle was determined. To Tolstoy, Kutuzov derived his strength from an extrasensory link with Russia’s grassroots, not from any strategic considerations. To any modern court-martial, such somnolence would be grounds for a guilty verdict, especially since the battle was lost and so, consequently, was Moscow.

Above all, the moniker ‘Patriotic’ is a misnomer, and in fact the 1812 war didn’t acquire it until decades later. Tolstoy writes that the sainted Russian peasants “picked up the cudgel of people’s war and began to flail at the French with it.”

The serfs, which most Russians were at the time, did indeed pick up a cudgel, but it wasn’t the French they hit with it. It was their own masters, the landlords. Baronial estates were being sacked and burned, with their owners killed, all over Russia.

Peasant uprisings broke out in practically every province of the country, and Kutuzov had to dispatch large units he could hardly spare to put them down. Celebrated heroes of 1812, Paskevich, Deibitsch and Wittgenstein, had to divert thousands of much-needed soldiers to kill their fellow Russians.

The war should have been more appropriately called Civil, not Patriotic, yet Tolstoy makes much hay out of the partisan warfare the Russians conducted behind enemy lines. That indeed took place, but the partisans weren’t sainted peasants armed with axes and pitchforks.

Their detachments were units of regular light cavalry led by aristocratic landowners, which all 1812 officers were. That was by no means an expression of spontaneous popular fury, and it had nothing to do with the Antaean properties of Russian soil.

Yet not only do all Russian schoolchildren learn the Tolstoy version, but their textbooks actually cite War and Peace as a reliable historical source. Still, a novel is better than a film, which brings us to a current development.

The Novosibirsk professor of history Sergei Chernyshev has been summoned to the regional office of the Investigative Committee, a sort of police regulator answerable to Putin personally.

Prof Chernyshev’s crime was teaching the history of Alexander Nevsky on the basis of archival documents rather than of Eisenstein’s eponymous film. The film was produced in 1938 to establish historical continuity from one epic hero, Nevsky, to another, Stalin.

The country was then feverishly preparing for war against Germany, and the populace had to be rallied with both an icon to worship and a bogeyman to hate. Hence the mythical Alexander Nevsky accompanied by Prokofiev’s rousing score.

The film focuses on the 1242 Battle on the Ice of Lake Preipus, which Nevsky allegedly won against the overwhelming forces of the Livonian Order seeking to convert Russians to Catholicism.

Eisenstein draws on his bag of cinematic tricks to show endless hordes of Germanic knights with buckets on their heads slain by Nevsky, laying about him with some élan. At the climax, the ice cracks and dark waters swallow up hundreds of those Bucket Heads.

The actual, well-documented battle wasn’t like that at all. It was no more than a skirmish, and contemporary sources estimated the knights’ losses at 20. Hence that engagement only had iconic, not strategic, value.

It’s true that Nevsky didn’t have much time for Germanic Catholics. Mongol pagans were more to his liking.

When they invaded Russian principalities in 1240, Prince Alexander became one of the worst collaborators. He raided adjacent principalities to collect tributes for the Mongols, and he suppressed Russian uprisings with characteristic Asiatic savagery.

Chronicles of the time talk about such niceties as eyes gouged out, ears cut off – and of course the usual complement of beheading, quartering and impaling. This last punishment was a Mongol contribution to Russian culture, along with the uncompromising absolutism of central power.

Nevsky went so far as to fraternise with Sartaq, son of the Mongol Khan Batu. He thus became the Khans’ foster son, not just a faithful servant. Some 700 years later Gen. Vlasov was hanged for less.

Yet Russians aren’t supposed to know the real Alexander Nevsky. They are taught to worship Eisenstein’s prefiguration of Stalin, a staunch fighter against all encroachments by the degenerate West on the holy soul of Russia.

Two months ago, the Duma passed a law inculpating “besmirchment of Russian history offensive to the memory of the Motherland’s defenders”. The law was put into effect mainly to kill the true account of Stalin’s role in the beginning of the Second World War.

The only acceptable version is one put forth by Stalin: a peaceful nation quietly going about its business only to be treacherously attacked by an evil aggressor. That the peaceful nation was more militarised than the rest of the world put together, with its forces being primed for a massive offensive on Europe, can’t be taught – and historical evidence be damned.

And of course the delicate sensibilities of the few surviving veterans of that war must be spared any intimation that Stalin and Hitler were ideological brothers, if not exactly twins.

Now it appears that the surviving veterans of the Battle on the Ice must also be protected from the truth about Alexander Nevsky. In comes Eisenstein, out goes Prof. Chernyshev – out and quite possibly down. One Russian historian posted a funny comment: “I’m working on the history of the Mesopotamian Interfluve, c. 3000 BC. I wonder if it’s safe enough.”

The scholarly bespectacled gentleman is fading away as the embodiment of history. He is increasingly being replaced in that role by a whore accosting passers-by at a street corner. How much, love?

Cherie Blair goes Groucho Marx one better

Groucho had problems with any club that would accept him as a member. Cherie Blair, she of the letterbox mouth fame, is different. She is desperate to destroy any club that wouldn’t accept her.

Her mouth does look like a letterbox, doesn’t it?

Her immediate target is Garrick, one of the oldest gentlemen’s clubs in London, which probably means in the world.

Back in 1976 Cherie, then a trainee lawyer, applied for membership there and was predictably turned down: if gossip is to be believed, her credentials as a woman were already amply established.

The Garrick Club was founded in 1831 by a “group of literary gentlemen”, and since then has been the home away from (or instead of) home for many such men. Dickens, Trollope, Thackeray were members and, as a black mark against the club, so was H.G. Wells.

The tradition of gentlemen’s clubs is venerable, typically English and gloriously quaint. However, to disclaim any personal interest, I don’t belong to any of them, and nor have I ever sought membership.

Sometimes I’m invited for lunch at such establishments, which invitations I accept with gratitude. But it would never occur to me to try and force any club to adapt to my personal idiosyncrasies (one of which is being bored at any all-male gathering).

Letterbox Mouth is cut of different cloth. Cherie was the female half of easily the most objectionable couple ever to disgrace Downing Street. Inconceivably, she was actually to the left of her husband, which is saying a lot.

Tony cut his political teeth in the CND, a well-known Soviet front. Many members of his cabinet shared the same background, yet Cherie was straining every muscle in her robust body to push them and her hubby-wubby even further to the left.

She describes herself as a socialist, which is probably the only honest thing she has ever uttered. Cherie has never seen a traditional institution she couldn’t hate, nor any left-wing or New Age cause she couldn’t love.

For example, when Tony was PM, the merry couple visited Mexico, where they took part in a ‘rebirthing’ rite: sitting in a steam bath and smearing mud and fruit over their semi-naked bodies. Not bad for a woman who claims to be a pious Catholic.

And of course she champions the cause of Muslim terrorists. After a suicide bombing that killed 19 people in Jerusalem, Cherie displayed her sensitivity honed on the socialist barricades: “As long as young people feel they have no hope but to blow themselves up, we’re never going to make progress, are we?”

Compared to that sort of thing, her crusade against gentlemen’s clubs, especially the one that had the audacity to turn her down, is innocuous if annoying. Amazingly she tries to attack the case from a high ground, both moral and legal.

Now, a private club is an association that should be free to limit its membership in any way the members see fit. The charter of the Garrick calls for a two-thirds majority to overturn any of its articles and, though the issue of female membership comes up for vote occasionally, it always falls short.

Forcing a private club to admit members it doesn’t wish to admit is similar to forcing a private dinner party to invite anyone who wants to attend. Either action would constitute a gross infringement of privacy and fundamental rights.

Well-schooled in casuistry, Cherie argues that keeping women out puts them at a competitive disadvantage because they can’t take part in all-male networking. That argument is so false on so many levels that I’m amazed an experienced advocate would see fit to make it.

First, exactly the same thing could be said about a private dinner party, for many a business deal has been struck in people’s homes. Would Letterbox Mouth insist that crashing such parties is a fundamental right to be protected by law?

Second, one would think that an extremely successful (and wealthy) lawyer is in a weak position to claim discrimination. Her own career hasn’t been unduly damaged by those port-imbibing chaps at the Garrick, and neither have uncountable thousands of other careers.

Third, if clubland networking is so essential, what’s to prevent women from creating their own clubs to which men wouldn’t be admitted? In fact, Letterbox Mouth has done just that, as she herself says: “I have my own foundation for women entrepreneurs, and we promote this as a way for a woman to gain skills and experience to progress in her business.”

So what’s the problem then? Oh well, you see, men’s clubs are an affront to equality, than which no greater virtue exists.

This argument ignores the very definition of a club. The whole point of any club is bringing together people who are similar to one another and perceive themselves to be different from other groups.  

For example, my tennis club compromises equality by not admitting players below a certain standard. I’m sure a cooking club must discriminate against bulimics, and nor can I see an angling club admitting people who feel that hook, line and sinker violate the rights of fish.

I’m sure that Letterbox Mouth is perfectly capable of putting forth a cogent and, God forbid, even intelligent argument – she wouldn’t be a successful barrister if she weren’t. But the resentment she and her ilk feel against any tradition predating the current Walpurgisnacht invalidates whatever intellectual faculties they may possess.

Hatred of our civilisation with all its traditions is the animating force of modernity in general, and especially of its left flank. And, because this hatred is irrational, no rational arguments can defeat it. Thus Letterbox Mouth doesn’t really want the Garrick to admit women – she wants to destroy the club as a way of annihilating everything it represents.

Speaking in support of her initiative, one Garrick member, the actor Nigel Havers, said: “Surely it is time for the Garrick to haul itself into the 21st century”.

Quite. And the best way of doing so would be for one half of the club’s members to identify as women and then marry the other half. What can be more 21st century than that?

Fourth time unlucky

We ought to have learned the lesson by now: if at all possible, leave Afghanistan alone. After all, we don’t want to put too many British soldiers in a position where they have to take Kipling’s advice:

It took them 20 years – and a few days

“When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to your gawd like a soldier.”

Kipling died in 1936, so he knew nothing about the 457 British soldiers killed in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. Yet he knew the past, that most reliable predictor of the future.

For this isn’t the first time that Britain put her soldiers in harm’s way on those accursed plains. The first time was between 1839 and 1842, when the British Empire lost a war regarded as her worst military disaster in the nineteenth century.

The next Afghan war was fought in 1878-1880, when Britain played her Great Game against Russia. That war was moderately successful in checking the Tsar’s southward expansion. (The Russians tried to get their own back in 1979, but had to retreat after 10 blood-drenched years.)

Then came the war of 1919, after which Britain had to accept Afghanistan’s status as an independent nation. And yet, in spite of all those wars, our media are talking about the current events as if they had a novelty appeal.

True enough, one aspect of this conflict is indeed new. If in all the previous Afghan wars Britain stood on her own as a mighty empire, this time around she played poodle to America. Some people may describe this alliance more kindly, but I can’t.

One way or another, it was a terrible muddle – strategically, politically and philosophically.

Having inherited Britain’s imperial mantle, the US also assumed what Kipling called the White Man’s Burden, and his more prosaic contemporaries described as liberal interventionism. Yet there was a significant difference: Britain is an insular nation with a naturally expansive mentality, while the US is an expansive nation with a naturally insular mentality.

The post-9/11 events have shown that there’s little appetite in America for the messianic mission of carrying democracy to tribal societies. Nor were Americans especially hungry for stopping Vietnamese communism in the 1960s, even though that goal was indeed worthy.

Since idealism isn’t a sufficient inducement, any war has to be sold as a strategic necessity. Hence America went into Afghanistan in 2001 because the country gave al-Qaeda a sanctuary. And she went into Iraq in 2003 because it supposedly threatened the West with WMDs.

In both cases, Britain’s Labour government went along with canine obedience, hoping no doubt to trundle to global strategic prominence in America’s wake. That way the US got a dog in the fight: the British poodle.

Cold-blooded strategic considerations didn’t hold sway for long. Both in Afghanistan and in Iraq (especially after it turned out Saddam had no WMDs), the occupiers began to take the language of liberal interventionism off the mothballs.

Words like ‘nation building’, ‘democracy’, ‘equal rights’ and so on poured out in a veritable torrent. Neocons, both American and ours, were particularly strident (see my book Democracy as a Neocon Trick).

But we’ve already seen that neither Americans nor Britons like to send their young men to die in faraway lands for the sake of abstractions, especially those so groundless that they are doomed to failure. A surgical strike is one thing; a 20-year slog quite another.

Thus both Trump and Biden heard the clarion call of American isolationism loud and clear. And the lyrics were unequivocal: let Taliban have that damn country, see if we care.

Hence the present debacle. Once the Western bayonets were sheathed, it took Taliban days to overrun the country. The Anglo-American forces moved out because they couldn’t stay forever – not without giving their own people persuasive reasons for doing so.

Jack Straw, Blair’s Foreign Secretary, tried to do just that in this morning’s TV interview. Instead, he achieved exactly the opposite purpose by re-emphasising the muddle that goes by the name of Britain’s foreign policy.

Mr Straw tried to create a cocktail by mixing the whisky of strategic necessity with the treacly syrup of liberal objectives. The resulting beverage predictably turned out unpalatable.

First, he stated that he didn’t regret going into Afghanistan in the first place. After all, that country harboured bin Laden and his jolly friends. Yet a minute later he contradicted himself by letting the truth slip out: it was Pakistan that was the culprit, not Afghanistan.

What Mr Straw didn’t say was that, if the West can’t allow iffy countries to act as a base of terrorist operations, then neither Afghanistan nor Iraq should have been in the crosshairs. It’s Iran, Saudi Arabia and indeed Pakistan that should be the prime candidates for didactic mayhem.

Yet the West acts as a flat-track bully by choosing scapegoats that can be safely milked. Afghanistan has neither the oil of Saudi Arabia nor the nuclear weapons of Pakistan, so it was seen as a soft target.

Anyway, the whisky was poured, now came the syrup. It was crucially important to invade Afghanistan, explained Mr Straw, because the Talibs haven’t yet awakened to the delights of feminism. Why, they don’t even allow their women to be educated.

Now, both America and Britain commit the same atrocity on their own people, women and men. What most of them get can’t be described as education even charitably, with assorted government ministers doing the Taliban job with admirable efficiency.

That aside, Mr Shaw made it sound as if educating Afghan women was the principal aim of the occupation. I wonder if he has read Kipling’s poem.

Afghan women, as truthfully depicted by the poet, tended to cut wounded British soldiers to shreds, which their descendants also did to the wounded Soviet soldiers in the next century. In fact, both the Britons and the Soviets feared those furies even more than their men. Too many pale-faced soldiers had ended up with their genitals in their mouths.

We, meaning NATO, must decide what we really want. Is the objective to nip Muslim terrorism in the bud?

If so, we won’t succeed by furnishing every Muslim woman with a primer. Severe economic sanctions followed by massive punitive raids will do a better job, especially if we stop pretending that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are our friends.

An argument often heard, that we must be nice to that region to keep it out of China’s hands, doesn’t quite wash either. The West’s policy towards China resembles America’s policy towards Taliban in the 1970s.

First we build them up, China economically, Taliban militarily. Then we panic and begin to wonder what on earth we could do to stop them. Looking further ahead would help – and even the odd glance backwards wouldn’t go amiss either.

For few developments are historically sui generis. More or less everything that can happen has happened before. All we have to do is break history books. Or perhaps a collection of Kipling’s poems.

P.S. By way of light relief, the prize for the Best Inadvertent Aphorism of the Week goes to footballer Jessy Lingard: “In the bad periods I bottled up so much that I resorted to drinking.”

What’s under a kilt?

“Shoes,” replies a literal sort of person.

“How dare you ask such a question?” snaps a prude.

“Let the child decide,” instructs the Scottish government.

Under its sage guidance, tots as young as four will be able to change their sex at primary school, and they won’t even have to ask Mummy’s and Daddy’s permission.

Since, according to the SNP government, “recognition and development of gender identity can occur at a young age”, a child should be able to announce a sex switch, assume a new name and insist on being addressed with a new set of pronouns.

This welcome innovation also means that teachers and administrators in primary and secondary schools will have to change their ossified ways – and none too soon.

To begin with, they’ll be obliged to accept a child’s decision without demurring or even questioning. If they dare ask even something as innocuous as “Are you sure that you want to become Isla, Angus?”, that’s all their job is worth. And if they go so far as to say “No, Freya, you can’t become Finlay”, they can kiss their whole career good-bye.

Then teachers will have to put books featuring transsexuals on the curriculum. This reminds me of my experience teaching English and American literature in the Soviet Union.

There an ironclad requirement existed that any curriculum had to feature, and give much prominence to, the oeuvre of communist writers. I recall that the same number of hours was to be allocated to Theodore Dreiser (who joined the CPUSA in the last year of his life) as to William Shakespeare, who somehow neglected to establish such an affiliation.

The task was difficult, but not insurmountable. Scraping the bottom of the English barrel, for example, one could dredge up someone like James Aldridge, a great (meaning communist) English writer, who was only unknown to most Englishmen because of the capitalists’ perfidy. And Alan Sillitoe, though not formally a communist, described the “plight of the oppressed British worker” vividly enough to pass muster.

Yet the task facing Scottish teachers is more formidable. For, scraping that proverbial bottom or even knocking it out altogether, I can’t for the life of me recall a single example of a transsexual among literary protagonists. So best of luck to those teachers – they’ll need it.

Then children will have to be allowed to use whichever lavatory or changing room they wish. Again, I can foresee problems there.

If yesterday’s four-year-old Angus walks into the girls’ changing room as Isla, something tells me the girls who have been Islas, Avas and Freyas from birth just may scream bloody murder and possibly hyperventilate. Especially if Isla’s wee-wee is still intact.

There’s no easy way out of this conundrum that I can see, but then I’m not a member of the Scottish government. If I were, I’d think of something.

Perhaps all changing rooms could be open to both boys and girls. The earlier they start to observe and explore one another’s genitals, the sooner they’ll become modern, well-adjusted grownups. Yes, they could go bonkers, but that’s fine too: the earlier people go crazy, the more time will psychiatrists have to treat them.

The last requirement, that schools should introduce gender-neutral uniforms, is unlikely to cause undue hardship. This gets us back to kilts, which can function as both boys’ and girls’ garments.

Thus an Angus wouldn’t even have to cross-dress to establish his credentials as an Isla. However, not to make the transition too abrupt, perhaps he/she/they/ze should consider wearing some gender-masking underwear…

No, scratch that. If yesterday’s Angus chooses to abide by the custom of wearing nothing under the kilt, he/she/they/ze has a right to be considered a girl even in the presence of physical evidence to the contrary.

And anyway, troglodytes like me shouldn’t be allowed to pronounce on such delicate matters. Let the Scottish government speak instead: “Some young people are exploring their gender identity in primary school settings. Primary schools need to be able to meet the needs of these young people to ensure they have a safe, inclusive and respectful environment in which to learn.”

To learn what exactly? How to function as patients in a loony bin? I’m sure such establishments are “safe, inclusive and respectful” enough to satisfy modern sensibilities.

The upshot of all this is that I’m beginning to reassess my staunch opposition to Scottish separatism. A few more such initiatives, and I may consider sending the SNP a modest contribution.