We are all Pontius Pilates now

When Pilate asked Jesus “What is truth?”, the question was rhetorical.

Pilate didn’t expect an answer and neither did he believe a universal answer was possible. He was a Hellenic Roman, and truth to him was strictly relative. What’s true for the goose might not be true for the gander, and vice versa.

Thus the good Procurator held it as true that Jesus wasn’t guilty of the charges brought up by the Sanhedrin. However, he acknowledged that Annas and Caiaphas perceived truth differently, and they were entitled to enforce their own version.

Pilate’s truth was relative; Jesus’s was absolute. That gives us two possible starting points for any ratiocination, and the choice of one or the other will eventually get us to very different intellectual destinations.

Western civilisation, which term I use interchangeably with Christendom, based its thought on one metaphysical premise; the civilisations that both preceded and followed it, on another.

The Christian metaphysical premise was based on the certainty that there is such a thing as absolute truth. Not everyone knew it, but everyone knew it was knowable.

That certainty started in the church, but it didn’t end there. Belief in ultimate truth gave Western thought in general a discipline unique to it. It channelled the intellect into a teleological conduit, one not only with a beginning but also with an end.

Christendom gave Greek philosophy a new, probably longer, life, by streamlining it into a shape that fit the new conduit. It was in that sense that “Aquinas baptised Aristotle”.

The art of rhetoric is an essential adjunct to philosophy, or thought in general. Rhetoric turns knowledge into argument – it’s the cutting edge of thought, lopping off everything extraneous to the truth or detrimental to it.

The realisation that there exists such a thing as the ultimate and universal truth affected rhetoric as well. It acquired a new reservoir of energy, more clout to its punch.

All this is seldom talked about. People acknowledge effortlessly that Christianity created a new way of life. Yet they sometimes fail to realise that it also created a new way of thought – and it continued to provide that service long after the original inspiration was no longer acknowledged.

Natural sciences, for example, owe so much to Christian thought as to owe it practically everything. Even scientists who don’t believe in the existence of a universal, rational law-giver still have to believe in the existence of universal, rational laws, for otherwise their work would be impossible.

That’s why scientific progress is a uniquely Western phenomenon, or as near as damn. Like the light of a faraway star reaching the Earth millions of years after the star died, Christian thought continued to sustain the Western intellect for a long time after Christianity lost its commanding influence.

Yet for a long time doesn’t mean indefinitely. As the Western intellect moved further and further away from its source, the gravitational pull of that source weakened. Weakening in parallel with it was the intellect itself – not to cut too fine a point, Westerners were becoming dumber.

Ignoring Thomas à Kempis’s entreaty to imitate Christ, modern people choose to imitate Pilate instead. They too are perfectly capable of asking Pilate’s sneering question. They too have allowed the absolute truth first to be smashed into the fragments of little relativities, and then to be buried underneath them.

Not everyone can diagnose the resulting intellectual malaise, nor understand its aetiology. But everyone can observe its symptoms: most people happily spout rubbish on every subject under the sun.

The phrase “I’m entitled to my own opinion” has gained the currency it never used to have. Such entitlement used to be contingent on knowledge and wisdom. It wasn’t a natural right held by everyone equally.

That phrase can be transformed, without changing its meaning, into another: “There is no such thing as truth; there’s only individual perception of it.” You have your perception, I have mine, they have theirs, and those are all equally valid because each of us has an equal right to his own opinion. Let’s agree to disagree.

I’ve seen studies showing a steady decline of median IQ scores over the past few generations. I’d be surprised if this weren’t the case, but it’s not IQ scores that matter. For IQ measures the potential, not the actual ability, to think – and certainly not the knack for basing judgement on sound ratiocination.

Without that ability the cutting edge of thought, rhetoric, becomes hopelessly dull. Listening to most people argue these days, one realises that they don’t differentiate feeling from opinion, opinion from judgement and judgement from argument.

Yet these are all unskippable stepping stones on the path to truth. Anyone trying to jump over them will splash down into an intellectual mire every time. And anyone will launch himself into such a daring leap who doesn’t believe truth exists – ultimate, universal and unvarnished.

If you insist that I illustrate such sweeping observations with specific examples, all I can suggest is that you pick at random any of my posts over the past 10 years. They all focus on examples of idiocy in public life and in public media.

Having closely followed the Western press for half a century, I’m struck by a steady decline in its intellectual content – this irrespective of the publication’s politics. Rhetorical fallacies, specious arguments, illogical conclusions, slipshod argumentation abound, the way they didn’t 50 years ago.

And the process has an accelerator built in. Western thought is like a snowball rolling down the mountain slope and getting bigger and bigger until it goes over the edge and disintegrates down below.

My new year’s wish is for more people to stop imitating Pontius Pilate, even if they aren’t ready to imitate Christ. And to my readers specifically I wish a Happy New Year marked by looking for and finding the truth.

Welsh attack English

What’s the ubiquitous instrument of tyranny?

God bless you, please, Miss Anne Robinson

Firing squads? No, some tyrannies are quite vegetarian. Concentration camps? No, some tyrannies don’t have them. Torture? No, some tyrannies don’t do that.

There’s only one stratagem they all pursue: control of language. Despots know in their bone marrow that he who controls language controls thought, and he who controls thought controls the populace.

Yes, they all use it, but, because not all tyrannies have totalitarian aspirations, they use it to different extents. And in modern times totalitarian aspirations are only typical of socialist tyrannies, either national or international.

Acting in that spirit, the Welsh Labour ‘government’, née Assembly, has banned its civil servants from using the word ‘Brexit’. Instead it has mandated a snappy term that really rolls off the tongue: “transition period to refer to the time between February 1 and December 31, 2020”.

Why? It’s pointless asking socialist governments this question. They do things for the same reason dogs lick their privates: because they can. If socialists can put their foot down, they will, and that’s all that matters.

It’s also pointless looking for some sensible rationale behind their actions. What’s wrong with the word ‘Brexit’? They may hate the concept, but that shouldn’t affect the terminology. I may hate socialism, but I don’t try to call it something else, do I?

Even more incomprehensible is the next Welsh fiat: ‘able-bodied’ is out, ‘non-disabled’ is in. Whatever next? Shall we call healthy people ‘non-ill’, tall ones ‘non-short’ or thin ones ‘non-fat’?

Disabled some people may be, the erstwhile Assembly will allow, but they are never vulnerable. That is, they may be vulnerable, but civil servants are prohibited from using that word.

In this case, the language guide does proffer an explanation, but it leaves me unsatisfied: “Anyone can become vulnerable for different reasons at different times in their lives. Disabled people are often described as vulnerable and this is often wrong and does nothing to promote equality.”

I hate to break the news to the Welsh supremos, but promoting equality isn’t a traditionally recognised function of words. It isn’t even a traditionally recognised function of governments. Hence when governments do use words ostensibly to that end, they seek to tyrannise, not to equalise.

Tyrants don’t mind using and enforcing patently idiotic terminology. In fact, the more idiotic it is, the better it serves their purposes. That way tyrannies override people’s own good sense, to drive home the salient point: they can do so and therefore will.

The same guide tells civil servants never to refer to Her Majesty’s government as such. Only the term ‘UK government’ is allowed.

I understand that the Welsh ‘government’ is devolved, but to the best of my knowledge devolution doesn’t mean secession. Hence Her Majesty the Queen is still head of the state that includes Wales, and the government of that state is thus Her Majesty’s. What part of HMG don’t they understand?

Again, socialists of any kind, and those in the Celtic fringe especially, loathe monarchy in general and our monarchy in particular. That’s their privilege – but playing fast and loose with the English language isn’t.

Now, in common with about half of her subjects, Her Majesty is a woman. But not as far as Welsh ministers are concerned. Last week they banned the use of the word ‘women’ in sex education classes.

I’d rather they banned sex education classes, though I’m aware how unrealistic and objectionably reactionary this wish is. But out of curiosity I’d still like to know what alternative designation meets Welsh requirements.

‘Non-male’? No, that doesn’t work. Out of the currently known 72 sexes, 71 are non-male, which makes that term imprecise.

‘Persons self-identifying as women’? That’s better, but what this term gains in propriety it loses in concision. I mean, one has to be a member of Welsh ‘government’ to prefer “frailty, thy name is a person self-identifying as a woman” to what Shakespeare actually wrote.

Some 20 years ago, the TV presenter Anne Robinson caused an outburst of indignation by refusing to see the point of the Welsh. “They are always so pleased with themselves, aren’t they?” she said. “I’ve never taken to them. What are they for?”

That’s clearly a joke when applied to the Welsh people in general. However, when applied to the Welsh ‘government’, it becomes a serious question. To which there doesn’t seem to be a serious answer.

You call that libel?

Brigitte ‘Jean-Michel’ Macron is suing unidentified defendants for libelling her good name.

On second thoughts…

According to the rumours spread on social media, Mme Macron is a trans woman, born male under the name Jean-Michel Trogneux.

The rumours are certainly at least half-right: Brigitte’s maiden name definitely was Trogneux.

Her family has owned a patisserie next to Amiens Cathedral since 1872, and their celebrated speciality is macaroons, macarons in French (I can testify to their superior quality). I once suggested that it was Manny’s surname, almost homophonic with the source of her family’s riches, that first attracted the 40-year-old Brigitte to her 15-year-old pupil.

Since Brigitte hasn’t sued me so far, either that theory is true to life or she doesn’t consider the suggestion damaging. It may also be possible that she has never heard either of me or of my musings, but my brittle self-esteem can’t accommodate this option.

As to the Jean-Michel innuendo, Brigitte is indeed suing over it, which may be a mistake on several different levels.

First, the legal action means she takes the allegation more seriously than the mainstream publications think she should. That in itself gives the rumour some credence.

Suppose for the sake of argument that an on-line publication observed that Brigitte looks like a senescent kitten, insisting on that basis that she was born feline under the name Tubby. Would she sue then? Would she produce a body of evidence proving she was born human, if with a heightened taste for macaroons?

She wouldn’t. She wouldn’t dignify such ridiculous rumours with any response at all, not even the odd catty remark. So is the trans allegation less ridiculous?

Also, for a contention to be classified as libel, it’s not enough for it to be false. It must also be demonstrably damaging.

For example, if someone wrote that Brigitte doesn’t look a day older than her hubby-wubby, that would be untrue, but it wouldn’t be actionable. On his way to the ophthalmological clinic, the writer might justifiably insist he was paying Brigitte a compliment.

The lawsuit proves that Brigitte regards the trans allegation as defamatory, injurious to her reputation. One can infer that she thinks gender dysphoria is hideous, and transsexuality is a bad thing.

Now that’s what I’d call real damage to her reputation. Did Brigitte hurt her head when she fell down from a faraway planet?

Here on Earth transsexuality is a badge of honour, proof of the bearer’s courage in striking a blow against the establishment and for the sacred freedom to choose. This badge is to be displayed with pride, tactfully concealed by false modesty.

This issue is close to my heart. As a man trapped in a body that increasingly acquires female characteristics, I identify with the suffering of the trans community – and welcome whatever suffering it inflicts on the square community, be it social, mental or aesthetic.

I also support drawing a thick line of separation between the trans community and the homosexual community, even though I’m not always sure exactly where that line should be drawn, nor what ‘community’ means when it’s at home.

But enough about me. It’s not my feelings but Brigitte’s that are coming under the microscope. And one doesn’t even need that optical instrument to realise that Brigitte is – brace yourself – a transphobe. Because she thinks transsexuals are freaky sideshows, she is ready to sue anyone who as much as mentions the name Jean-Michel.

Does she remember that the presidential elections are just round the corner? If she does, Brigitte must do everything necessary to protect Manny’s reputation from such reflected infamy.

True or not, she must come out and shout from the roof of the Elysée Palace that yes, sacré bleu, she is trans and proud of it.

Henceforth she wishes to be called Jean-Michel-Brigitte Macron or, better still, Madame-Monsieur La/Le Président(e). And of course she must drop that lawsuit like a pomme de terre chaude. Blow with the wind, Brigitte – it’ll take you in the right direction.

Between Fourth Reich and Fifth Republic

The Polish government increasingly resembles those young girls who happily allowed themselves to be seduced by Jeffrey Epstein’s money, only then to moan about being used and objectified.

Orban and Kaczynski are making my life harder

What did they expect? A quid without a pro quo? Life isn’t like that.

Extending the simile, when Poland complains about the EU’s “bureaucratic centralism”, that’s like those girls complaining that Jeffrey had a penis. The nature of the beast, that.

This brings me to Jarosław Kaczynski, head of Poland’s ruling party, PiS. Mr Kaczynski has made a startling discovery: if Brussels can overrule the Polish government, then Poland is “not a sovereign state”.

Hello? What else is new, Jarosław? Of course, Poland isn’t a sovereign state. None of the EU members is – that’s the whole point of that political contrivance, as it was in 2004, when Poland joined. From its very inception, the manifest objective of the EU has been the creation of a single European state.

In the early 1950s, one of the EU godfathers, Jean Monnet, explained both that objective and the smokescreen designed to conceal it:

“Europe’s nations should be guided towards the superstate without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose but which will irreversibly lead to federation.”

Words to live by. All the members are to pool, or rather dissolve, their sovereignty in a Brussels bureaucracy dominated by Germany and France. For the EU isn’t a German project, but a Franco-German one. It was hatched in the dying days of the Third Reich, when the Nazi and Vichy administrators realised they were so much in love they had to stay together come what may.

Mr Kaczynski went on to say that Germany is trying to turn the EU into a Fourth Reich, which was both imprecise and unnecessarily emotive. That said, there are indeed some similarities between Nazi Germany and the EU.

These come from the traditional German quest to be the dominant continental power. Ever since Prussia unified Germany under her aegis in 1871, the country has been seeking to lord it over Europe. The Germans felt their talents and industry entitled them to pursue that quest at the expense of nations less gifted or driven.

However, apart from the 1918-1939 interbellum, Germany also was by far the most muscular military power in Europe. She was so strong that, in the years outside that demarcated period, it took the combined efforts of the rest of the world to subdue her. Since 1945, however, Germany’s war machine has had its speed artificially limited.

The Federal Republic may be the most virile economic power in the EU, but she certainly isn’t the strongest military power. France’s Fifth Republic is. The two countries dovetail naturally, with Germany perhaps the senior partner, but France not far behind.

Hence Poland has nothing to fear from German panzers. They aren’t going to roll towards Warsaw to turn Poland into a Generalgouvernement Mark II, and nor is Germany going to establish another network of death camps in Polish places like Oświęcim, Sobibor or Treblinka.

If Mr Kaczynski sought an historical parallel, he should have cited the less emotive but more accurate Zollverein, the customs union used by Prussia to bring all German principalities under her sway. They eagerly traded their sovereignty for the bribes Prussia was generously dispensing, and no coercion was needed.

The only exception was Schleswig-Holstein, and there Prussia had to flex her military muscle. But by and large the technique of bringing Germany together provided a useful model for the EU.  

Poland’s sovereignty wasn’t wrenched from her at gunpoint. At play there was a business transaction, not conquest. And any business contract, including the one in question, has to have a clause for its termination.

If Poland wishes to regain her sovereignty, all she has to do is activate Article 50 of the EU Treaty, thereby starting the process of leaving the EU. Britain showed the way in 2016, and Poland can learn both from our achievement and our mistakes made along the way. Is this what Mr Kaczynski wants?

Well, not quite. Although Europe’s variously named ‘populist’, ‘conservative’ or ‘right-wing’ politicians huff and puff about the loss of their sovereignty, they judiciously stop just short of calling for exit. They may dislike the EU, but they still like the euro (the Deutschmark by another name).

Such parties also like the rouble, which currency, suitably converted, either pours or at least drips into their coffers. Putin bankrolls, partly or wholly, all European forces he sees as disruptive, which, in Mr Kaczynski’s case especially, creates a cognitive dissonance.

In 2010, the plane carrying his twin brother Lech, Poland’s president, and other high officials crashed trying to land in Smolensk, killing all 96 people onboard. The Poles were flying there to commemorate the 24,000 Polish officers murdered by the Soviets at Katyn and elsewhere.

Jarosław Kaczynski immediately declared that the crash was no accident, and he was right. A meticulous analysis conducted by the Russian historian Mark Solonin, an aircraft engineer by training, showed beyond any doubt that the plane was blown apart by an onboard bomb.

Mr Solonin’s analysis doesn’t show who planted the device, but the ancient cui bono principle should make the conjecture fairly easy. Yet, though Mr Kaczynski is confident that his brother was murdered, he doesn’t press the case with much persistence. His party, and that of his Hungarian ally Orban, needs Putin’s support.

His cognitive dissonance thus becomes mine as well. On the one hand, I welcome every tectonic tremor threatening to engulf the EU in an eruption. On the other hand, I see Russia as the greater evil, one I wouldn’t like to see strengthened by the EU weakening.

I don’t know if Mr Kaczynski’s animadversions are helping Poland, but they are certainly not helping me.

What an ungodly messe

Messe de nuit is the midnight mass at Christmas Eve, which in France is hardly ever celebrated at midnight. That’s why these days it’s simply called ‘night mass’, but even that is a misnomer.

Our priestless church

At our local church, night is defined as 6 pm, which was the kick-off time yesterday. The church is quite modest, by French standards.

We used to go to one of the most glorious churches in Christendom, Abbaye de Fleury at St Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire. Since the seventh century, the Abbey has housed the relics of St Benedict, whose name the French perversely gallicise to St Benoît.

The midnight mass there starts closer to midnight, at 11 pm to be exact. The monks sing Gregorian chant, not quite to professional standards, but movingly nonetheless.

That Romanesque church has two drawbacks though. It’s an hour’s drive away from us, and it’s unheated.

Since people come there from all over central France, one has to arrive at least an hour in advance to have any hope of a seat in a pew. The mass itself lasting over two hours, that’s three hours to be spent in a fridge at its maximum setting.

Those factors combined to trump our aesthetic longings, so off to our local church we went. Modest it may be, but it’s nearby and heated, which is nothing to sneeze at when one is no longer in the first flush of youth nor, truth to tell, even the second.

A quarter of an hour before the start, L’Eglise Saint-Ferréol was already filled to the gunwales with the local worthies in their finery. Ten minutes later it was standing room only.

At six on the dot, the amateur choir conducted by its own ever-present worthy went into a rendition of Silent Night. The accompaniment was provided by two guitarists and an electric keyboard player, whose mind was perpetually open to the variety of keys he was using, sometimes within a single phrase.

Still, a mass isn’t a concert. Music is merely a side dish to the meat and potatoes, and we waited for the arrival of the main course: the priest and his retinue.

Half a dozen songs and twenty minutes later, we were still writhing on tenterhooks. There was no priest anywhere to be seen, no one to tell us in whose name we were gathered.

Finally, we examined the order of service only to realise that the mass, though advertised as such, wasn’t a mass. There was no priest, no communion – no anything that makes a mass what it’s supposed to be. We felt cheated.

No one else seemed to mind. The worthies joyously sang along, and they commendably knew all the lyrics by heart. We didn’t, but that wasn’t the real problem.

We were seething, but Penelope, whose delicate nature balks at rocking the boat, was reluctant to leave in mid-song. But then we remembered that there was a mass in another village, some 15 miles down the road.

So we left, walking up the aisle under the weight of the disapproving glances our fellow non-communicants were casting at those two obvious heathens who didn’t even look French.

We hopped in the car, and I went on to break not only the speed limit but also conceivably the speed record on the D956. The other church turned out to be full too, but it was blessed by the presence of not just one priest, but two.

One was its usual curé, a man who has served the parish since before the Catholic Church suffered the indignity of the Second Vatican Council (c. 1962). Now in his nineties and extremely frail, he was assisted by a locum sent over by the diocese.

I shan’t describe the ensuing Christmas mass, lovely as it was. If you’ve ever attended one, you’d be bored. If you haven’t, you’d be uninterested. But in either case, I hope you’ll lament the collapse of Christianity in one of its erstwhile strongholds.

France officially went secular in 1905, when the law on the Separation between the Church and the State ushered in laïcité. That was simply codifying the fait accompli: the Enlightenment had reigned supreme for almost two centuries, and that’s plenty of time to brainwash people in the delights of materialism.

Now church attendance in France is about as low as in the UK. But there is a salient difference: in Britain people who don’t go to church don’t mock church-goers. In France they do.

A couple of years ago I was invited to play doubles on Easter Sunday. I wish I could, I said, but I’ll be at mass. That caused an outburst of mirth among my partners, none of whom was a youngster. “Bonnes cloches”, they laughed (have good bells, literally).

Rural France suffers from a dire dearth of priests. One curé has to cover 20, 30, sometimes even 50 churches. That’s why regular masses are a rarity, though until now high festivals have tended to be celebrated properly.

That leads to situations straight out of Catch 22. A few years ago, a friend of ours, the local châtelain and a devout Catholic, died. Since he was the mainstay not only of the village church but of the whole diocese, the Vicar General himself wanted to officiate at the funeral mass.

But the bishop said non. There are so few priests, he explained, that not everyone can have his last rites. And if everyone can’t have them, no one will. Our friends’ soul must have cried foul.

Isn’t modernity wonderful? Perhaps French Catholics should do what their ancestors did to save their churches during the Revolution. They declared them Temples of Reason, reconsecrating the churches to the new deity. Many churches, including the magnificent Chartres Cathedral, were saved that way.

Now there’s an idea. I don’t know if Richard Dawkins speaks French but, if he does, I can’t think of a better priest to celebrate Reason, as defined by strident atheists. Do you know his phone number?

Anyway, Merry Christmas!   

Lip service is better than none

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting,” wrote Chesterton. “It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

The great man was right in every absolute sense. No society has ever organised itself in complete agreement with Christ’s commandments. But there used to exist palliatives, little relativities that still had some mitigating effect on human nature.

People might not have spent their lives imitating Christ, but a residual fear still gnawed at the back of their minds. What if? What if they’ll really have to pay for their sins in perpetuity? Perhaps it’s better to take Pascal’s wager and assume God exists. If he does, we have a lot to gain; if he doesn’t, we have nothing to lose.

Oh yes, people still killed – they always kill. They kill in the name of Mohammed and Moses, Buddha and Confucius, they kill in the name of every political creed you care to name. And of course they killed in the name of Christ. Give them a killing opportunity and they’ll find a cause.

Yet one has to believe that, but for that fear of God to whom many of them paid only lip service, they would have killed more. In fact, one doesn’t have to believe that. We know. We’ve confirmed that supposition empirically.

For at some point, 300 or so years ago, people decided that God didn’t merit even lip service. The Enlightenment shone its light on them, and they turned their backs on their tenebrous past. They emerged out of the shadows full of self-confidence.

They didn’t need God any longer. They could rely on their own resources to squeeze as much as possible out of this life, for there was no other. Nothing higher than human reason existed, and it could guide people to higher morality than that incomprehensible Sermon on the Mount. It’s not the meek who shall inherit the world, but the strong, clever and enterprising.

Yet Darwin created man in such a way that, no matter how clever he is, or how materialistic, he still needs to believe in something higher or at least grander than himself. Having discarded God, Darwin’s creatures had to look for surrogates.

Those they found in blood and soil nationalism and socialism, ineluctably born out of the original slogan of liberté, égalité, fraternité. No longer united by their faith, people decided to come together on the basis of their politics or their blood.

Both strains have flourished since then, sometimes singly and at odds with each other, sometimes in a happy union. That ultimate experiment on human nature has had three centuries to produce tangible results – and tangible results it has produced.

The first century that was atheist from beginning to end, the 20th, densely covered the earth with more mangled corpses than all the previous centuries of human history had managed. Without God, wrote Dostoyevsky, everything is permitted – yet even he couldn’t envisage the full scale of that everything.

In hindsight, some people are beginning to think that, though of course God doesn’t exist, perhaps paying some lip service to him wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. Maybe, just maybe, the church has a useful social function to perform, if no other.

The anticlerical believers of yesterday have given way to the clerical atheists of today (the late Roger Scruton is a good example of the breed). Christianism has replaced Christianity, but it’s a poor substitute.

Since our clerical atheists don’t believe Christ is the truth, they want to build a new society on a lie. But that foundation is always termite-eaten from the very beginning. Any structure built on it will sooner or later start tottering within an increasing amplitude – and then it’ll come tumbling down like the walls of Jericho.

There is no substitute for truth, and there is no substitute for Christ. Here in the West our choice isn’t between a Christian civilisation and some other. It’s between a Christian civilisation and none.

Merry Christmas to all of you – and a Happy New Year, unsullied by Covid, inflation or the gremlin in the Kremlin.

“The last true Tory”

The other day I wondered if there was a single Tory in our Tory cabinet. The profile of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in The Times answers that question in the affirmative, in so many words. She is, the last one ever.

Against her favourite backdrop

And Miss Truss is “in pole position” should Boris Johnson’s leadership be challenged by the party. As, believes the author, it’s likely to be, given the PM’s plethora of sins.

Yet I’m still convinced that these days few people, and none writing for The Times, would know a true Tory even if he crawled up behind them and bit them on… well, you know. Not that a true Tory would ever commit such an asinine outrage.

I define this type mostly in terms of temperament, mentality and tastes, not so much any set of ideas or proclaimed beliefs. Unlike one’s personality, these may be transient and sensitive to the needs of the moment.

Miss Truss’s ideas make her an ideal conservative – in the US sense of the word, that is. She is an economic libertarian: “low tax, work not welfare, slash red tape, shrink the public sector, reduce workers’ rights.”

I’m not suggesting that these desiderata would be alien to a British conservative. Not at all. It’s just that, while economic libertarianism more or less circumscribes American conservatism, in Britain it’s strictly secondary. But fair enough: “Truss is heavily influenced by American Republicanism.”

Thanks for telling us; we’ve already figured that out. But is she influenced by Republicanism all the way to republicanism? In her youth, before she awakened to the delights of free markets studying economics at Oxford, Miss Truss was virulently anti-monarchist. Is she still? If so, she is also virulently anti-Tory.

She says that, of the three PMs she has served, her current boss is the one she is “closest to ideologically”, “but with lower tax and spend”. Is that a rat I’m smelling?

Far be it from me to accuse Miss Truss of sycophancy, but if she thought Johnson is ideologically alien to her, would she say it? Somehow I doubt that.

But congratulations to her on being able to pinpoint what Johnson’s ideology is, this side of unquenchable powerlust and contortionist pliability. Others have tried to grasp it, only to find his ideology slipping out of their hands like a live eel on amphetamines.

What else? She never misses an opportunity to be photographed next to the Union Jack, which may be either true patriotism or sensitivity to the feelings of her core electorate.

One way or the other, this demonstrative, obtrusive adulation of the flag is more American than British. Next thing you know, Miss Truss will start putting her right hand on her left breast when God Save the Queen is played, and finish every speech with “God bless Britain” or “Let’s make Britain great again”.

That’s not quite… quite. Quite conservative, is what I mean.

Speaking of God, not one of the article’s 3,000 words mentions Miss Truss’s religion, nor even the absence thereof. Her equally long Wikipedia entry, ditto. The issue simply doesn’t come into her life.

At least she isn’t American in that department: a US conservative wouldn’t be elected proverbial dog catcher if he didn’t affect fervent piety. Even a lifelong lefty like Biden has to scream his Catholicism from the Capitol’s dome – before voting in yet another pro-abortion law.

Before we see whether Miss Truss possesses the sine qua non of a true Tory, let’s mention her record on another salient issue: Brexit. She voted Remain in the 2016 referendum. Not only that, but, in the words of a fellow Remainer, “her pitch for Remain was incredible. It was so believable and passionate.”

Now, that’s a black ball at least three feet in diameter. No true Tory would vote for Britain to be governed by any political body other than her own parliament. Miss Truss had better have a good explanation if she isn’t to be drummed out of the Tory ranks.

She did have an explanation, but not a good one: “Every parent wants their children to grow up in a healthy environment with clean water, fresh air and thriving natural wonders. Being part of the EU helps protect these precious resources and spaces.”

At the risk of sounding unchivalrous, I’d describe this explanation as bilge. The underlying assumption seemed to be that outside the EU we’d all suffocate on polluted air or be killed by cholera-infested water.

Her reason for changing her position in 2017 is less foolhardy, but only marginally. “I believed there would be massive economic problems but those haven’t come to pass and I’ve also seen the opportunities.”

An intelligent person would have figured out that Brexit hinged on sovereignty, not any product of double-entry accounting, and a true Tory would have sensed it viscerally. That unfortunate volte-face suggests Miss Truss is neither.

Finally, by this circuitous route, we get to what really defines a conservative, character. The profile helpfully mentions a long affair Miss Truss had with a fellow MP, although both were married.

Feel free to cast the first stone, but I won’t, especially since the MP in question was male. Few of us meet the original requisite qualifications for heaping opprobrium, and these days no one in Britain really believes that a bit of hanky-panky should keep a person out of office. (In France, such peccadilloes are almost an ironclad requirement.)

Now comes the clincher. “Before Liz Truss [delivers a speech, she’ll] spend a few moments engaged in positive self-talk.” Any true Tory would sneer at such motivational mumbo-jumbo. “Sometimes she’ll plug in ear pods for a blast of upbeat pop.” Any true Tory would run away from such sounds at an Olympic speed.

Then she has “a disarming habit of asking abrupt questions and dismissing the response as ‘bollocks’.” A true Tory would dismiss unsatisfactory responses with more intellectual rigour and better manners.

A colleague also describes Miss Truss as “the least judgmental person I’ve ever met, even though she has incredibly strong opinions”. If I understand correctly, she has strong opinions but no judgement. A bad combo for a conservative, that. It betokens a truculent nature unattached to an intellect searching for the truth.

Then she liked to hold “karaoke parties… These were legendary – a place for MPs to let their hair down. They were where George Osborne could be found rapping, where Jeremy Hunt belted out Elvis’s Suspicious Minds, and where Truss could be found doing her best Madonna, sometimes in a pink wig.”

And “she was necking a Smirnoff Ice [at a party conference] and dancing at midnight at an LGBT+ event at the Cruz 101 club in Manchester.” Was her partner male or female?

A true Tory would neither do karaoke nor attend an LGBT+ event even if he himself belonged to the sponsoring group, which Miss Truss demonstrably doesn’t. And then she went on “a boozy girls’ night out” with “Lubov Chernukhin, wife of a Russian oligarch, who had paid £135,000 for the pleasure of their company in an auction at a Tory fundraiser.”

That means Miss Truss doesn’t mind acting as a conduit for Russian mafia money flowing into the veins of our government. This definitely confirms that she has no judgement, while making one doubt the conservative nature of her strong opinions.

And finally, she “doesn’t like being told what to do, particularly by a man”. Do I detect a touch of strident feminism there? Why particularly by a man?

Miss Truss was converted to ‘conservatism’ by studying free-market economists. Who were they? Smith? Ricardo? Hayak? Mises? Friedman? Does this mean that if one of those objectionable men came back to life, Miss Truss wouldn’t listen to him?

Sorry to have kept you for so long on such a trivial subject. It’s just that I’m desperately searching for a true Tory in our cabinet. By the sound of it, the search will have to continue.

Why Putin wants war

The stakes are going up like a helium balloon.

Just a couple of days ago Putin issued an ultimatum similar to those Stalin delivered to the Baltic republics in 1939, the day before invading them.

There was no give and take in Putin’s ultimatum, which would be an essential part of any sensible treaty proposal.

For Putin it was all take and no give, with the West ordered to destroy its collective security or else. Nonetheless, the jumped-up KGB colonel kept insisting that Russian troops were concentrating on the Ukrainian border strictly for training purposes.

Yesterday he changed his tune. He threatened the West with a “military response” and insisted that Russia is capable of taking “adequate military-technical measures” should NATO reject the banditry going by the name of a proposed draft treaty.

Specifically, Putin threatens to respond militarily to any siting of NATO missiles in former Soviet colonies. He singled out for special injunction hypersonic weapons that only Russia possesses at the moment.

However, should NATO develop such missiles and instal them in the Ukraine, he explained, they could reach Moscow in five minutes. A scary prospect, that, especially considering that, according to Kremlin propaganda, US generals have their fingers twitching just over those red buttons.

Putin’s chief propagandist Dmitry Kisilyov, affectionately known in Russia as ‘Putin’s Goebbels’, yesterday reiterated his favourite promise of turning any potential adversary to “radioactive ash”. He didn’t specify what would merit such a holocaust, but there was no need. The message was contextually clear.

The West simply can’t win here, as Putin announced to his Defence Ministry yesterday. On the one hand, he demands that the West issue “long-term legally binding guarantees”. On the other hand, such guarantees are worthless.

“But you and I know them well,” he said. “They and their legal guarantees can’t be trusted because the US blithely breaks any international treaties it no longer deems useful for whatever reason.”

Damned if we do, damned if we don’t. The West isn’t allowed even to surrender gracefully: acceding to Putin’s blackmail may not prevent that radioactive ash.

Russian kleptofascists conveniently ignore why the West offers military help to the Ukraine, miserly though that help is. What turned the country into a crucible of bubbling international tensions was Russia’s 2014 occupation of the Crimea and east Ukraine.

Even a morally weakened and demob-happy West will still be appalled at banditry committed in the middle of Europe. Even the dimwitted know that bandits and blackmailers are never satisfied; their demands will always escalate.

Hence, even though the West clearly lacks gonadic strength, it still feels called upon to make a show of resistance. It’s either that or eventually delivering all of Europe, and not just its easternmost part, to the kleptofascist gangsters.

It’s useful to remember that words have to become actions at some point. When military threats reach a certain critical mass, Putin will have no option but to march. “If you call yourself a mushroom, get into the basket,” says the Russian proverb (the corresponding English saying has crude lavatorial overtones).

But why is he so bellicose? He has to realise that thousands of KIA notices reaching Russian families may spell the end of his regime. Putin’s Ukraine may well turn into Brezhnev’s Afghanistan, and yet he seems ready to go all out. Why take such risks?

The current economic data provides an answer, or rather a part of it.

In December, the Russian inflation rate, calculated on the price of a typical consumer basket, reached 17.7 per cent. And many Russians believe hyperinflation of 30 per cent or higher is just around the corner.

Overall, Russians are 10 per cent poorer now than they were before the 2014 invasion of the Ukraine. But the situation with food staples is even worse.

According to the Russian Ministry for Economic Development, over the past 12 months chicken has become 29.3 per cent dearer, beef 15.15 per cent, buckwheat 24.8 per cent, eggs 20.9 per cent, carrots 35.6 per cent, potatoes 62.55, cabbage 124.21 per cent.

Considering that there’s no margin built into the budgets of most Russian families (40 per cent of them live on less than £200 a month), the pressure in the cauldron of public resentment is building up. It has to be bled, along with thousands of Russian soldiers if need be.

The Russians often quip that they are in the midst of an ongoing conflict between the fridge and the TV set. The emptier the former, the more militant the latter.

This method of diverting public attention from pauperisation lacks novelty appeal. Many a tyrant has resorted to ratcheting up war hysteria as a way of making people ignore the growling in their stomachs. Actual war may or may not follow, but the tyrant can cling on to power in either case.

And clinging on to power isn’t a goal of Putin’s policies. It’s his only goal, and he will joyously murder millions to achieve it if that appears to be the only way.

His stooges openly snigger that Westerners aren’t prepared to die for the Ukraine. True. But they may find out the hard way that neither are the Russians.

P.S. You may notice that lately I’ve been writing about Russia more often than in the past. For as long as Russia remains the principal existential threat to the West, I’ll continue to do so. I can’t leave my readers at the mercy of Putin’s quislings in our press – even if my readers don’t care one way or the other.  

Omicron arithmetic doesn’t add up

In recondite technical areas, one has to rely on expert opinion. That’s why I’ve always refused to approach the Covid issue from general principles. Nor do I trust views (including my own) informed by popular publications only.

This is how I know

Too many cracker-barrel epidemiologists have come out of the woodwork touting strong opinions for me to wish to add to their number.

Alas, such reticence has drawn the wrath of some readers, who claim, and quite possibly possess, greater technical knowledge than mine.

One of their laments has to do with my excessive credulity. How dare I believe what the experts are saying? After all, they don’t even agree among themselves.

Mea culpa. Being acutely aware of my own ignorance in most areas (other than those in which I’m not ignorant), I do tend to trust the experts. And if their judgements vary, I rely on my own common sense to take sides.

One minor proviso though: for the experts to be trusted, they have to be trustworthy. When they spout arrant nonsense, my innate credulity gets a blow and I no longer know what or whom to believe.

That’s exactly what happened yesterday, when I was watching Sky News. Those who have followed this space for a while know this means I’m in France.

For it’s only here that I watch any TV news at all, appalled as I am by its invariable shallowness, vulgarity and unconcealed left-wing bias. But those English voices on the tube serve as an umbilical cord 400 miles long, tying me to the womb of London.

So I suppress my usual revulsion and watch, at breakfast. As I did yesterday, having managed to beat by a couple of days the travel ban imposed by France on British travellers, a measure more political than medical.

The hysterical reaction of the French government (as opposed to the French people) to Brexit makes me fear that before long they’ll start putting British holiday makers in refugee camps and hold them to ransom. I can’t even discount the possibility of summary executions.

For the time being they voice a fulsome concern about the spread of Omicron, which gives them a pretext for being bloodyminded towards the British. My response to that is strictly second-hand: “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

It’s only one man’s observation, but everyone I talk to in France (and this time around I’ve only so far talked to fellow tennis players) either has had Covid or knows dozens of people who have. I didn’t hear a single such story at my London club, even though infections must be more prevalent there than in my French backwater.

Still, Omicron has appeared in the UK and it is spreading. But how fast and how widely?

Sky News provided an answer to this gnawing question. It emerged out of an interview with a consultant to the SAGE Committee, Prof. Someone-Or-Other (the name didn’t register).

That amiable sixtyish man exuded steely authority leavened with smiley bonhomie. That put me on guard straight away.

“Omicron cases,” he said, “currently number 30,000 and they double every day. And they’ll continue to do so for any foreseeable future.” Normally, when an expert cites precise numbers, I don’t dare question him.

Mercifully, however, I remembered the legend of how chess was invented. When the inventor showed the game to King Shirham of India, the latter was so impressed that he told the man to name his own reward. Gold? Jewels? Palaces?

No, nothing like that, replied the man. Just put one grain of wheat on the first square of the chessboard, two on the second, four on the third and continue to double all the way to the last of the 64 squares. Then give me the wheat and we’ll call it even.

The king laughed, but then got angry. How dare he ask for such a paltry payment? “Give him his sack of wheat and throw him out,” he ordered.

A week later he asked his retainers if they knew where the inventor was. “He is still here, Your Majesty,” they replied. “We are still counting the grains.”

To cut a long story short, at work there was geometrical progression with common ratio 2. It yielded a total number of 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains. This is the amount of wheat harvested by the whole world in several decades.

Armed with that knowledge, I calculated on my ten fingers that, if the good professor was right, the whole population of Her Majesty’s realm would have been infected by New Year’s Day. Not even the Black Death could have claimed such a score, and it was much more virulent.

Thus the good professor’s projections can only be described in crude terms, either testicular or excremental. He indisputably was talking rubbish. But does that mean all expert opinion should be dismissed out of hand?

I don’t think so. It only means that expert opinion must be taken with a grain of salt. Or a grain of wheat, if you’d rather.

Will the real Tory minister please stand up?

They all remain glued to their seats. Lord Frost, the token Tory among them, would have got up on his feet, but he has resigned in disgust.

If only this were the only problem

This emotion is universally shared by all those who thought, or in my case hoped, that they had elected a Tory government. That means Conservative, if only with a capital initial (the lower case has gone the way of all flesh).

Now that Johnson’s cabinet is succeeding in out-Labouring Labour, such voters feel betrayed, or in my case vindicated. I knew the original hope was forlorn, but something in me demands clinging on to lost causes.

Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, resigned because he didn’t wish to serve in a socialist government. True enough, if you compile a list of policies indigenous to socialism, you’ll find Johnson’s government ticking every box.

Runaway taxation? Tick. Promiscuous welfare spending? Tick. Increasing regulations? Tick. Destructive social policies? Tick. Commitment to uncosted projects, such as net zero carbon emissions, that are likely to beggar the country? Tick. Bossiness? Tick. Burgeoning statism? Tick. A vacillating domestic and foreign policy? Tick. A general aura of irresponsibility? Tick. Making populist noises while looking down on the population? Tick.

Compiling a similar list of Tory traits will yield a different result. Every box will remain blank, with your pen staying suspended in the air, while your other hand reaches for a bottle of Scotch.

Now, every ticked box above deserves its own comments, and duly gets them from all and sundry, including, occasionally, me. And that’s before all and sundry, including, occasionally, me, have even touched on the subject of the government’s response to Covid.

For libertarians, it’s draconian. For autocrats, it’s lackadaisical. But for everyone it’s indecisive and inconsistent, with HMG swinging wildly from one end to the other like that naughty girl in the Fragonard painting. Thus both the libertarians and the autocrats are sometimes right and sometimes wrong.

Life is like that: journalists and bloggers tend to be excited by tactical specifics rather than strategic generalities. British people in particular are bored with far-reaching philosophical ratiocination tinged with doomsday prophesying.

Germany is a perfect breeding ground for thinkers so inclined, chaps like Nietzsche with his Also Sprach Zarathustra or Spengler with his Der Untergang des Abendlandes. So it’s at the risk of sounding un- or perhaps even anti-British that I’d suggest that all those socialist characteristics of Johnson’s government are small beer. Compared, that is, to the heady brew of final civilisational surrender.

Boris Johnson, co-star of the new Carrie On film, has betrayed not only Tory voters in general but also, especially, real conservatives – which is to say the guardians of our civilisation – fighting desperate rear-guard action against the barbarian onslaught.

That battle has been fought on many political and economic fronts, and for every skirmish conservatives have won there have been ten they’ve lost. Yet the embers of our civilisation can still continue to smoulder, just, after such defeats.

What douses them with a downpour of cold water is a defeat in cultural battles, those fought in school classrooms, university halls, newspapers and other media – and even casual conversations among friends.

In any pitched clash, the side that chooses the battlefield affording it a dominant high ground has a winning advantage. Exiting the military metaphor, the side that manages to impose its own terms of debate will win the rhetorical, and therefore cultural, contest every time.

And the Johnson government not only accepts the terms of debate set by those seeking to undermine Western civilisation, but it goes them one better in making those terms grander and more irreversible.

Every core premise of the Left goes unchallenged, and we can argue pointlessly about details till we are blue, or rather red, in the face. If subversive principles are allowed to reign supreme, capitulation has been signed. This can be illustrated by any number of random examples from any walk of life.

One of Lord Frost’s stated objections to government policies had to do with Johnson’s Carrie-inspired commitment to net zero carbon emissions. That goal is to be achieved by 2050, while all internal combustion cars are to be driven into a dump by 2030, and all gas heaters replaced with something or other.

Lord Frost correctly points out that no one has a clue how much this project will cost, with most estimates pointing at ruinous consequences. That’s a legitimate complaint, as far as it goes.

But what if the cost of this programme were to be accurately calculated, and it could be shown that the British economy will still be able to limp on having absorbed it? Would that take care of his objections?

It certainly wouldn’t take care of mine. For the whole climate swindle is but a prong in the aforementioned onslaught. Its target isn’t a diesel car or a gas heater, nor every molecule of atmospheric carbon, but the very essence of Western economies, something we call capitalism courtesy of its proto-hater, Marx.

Economic dynamism is as organic to Western societies as self-contemplative stupor is to Buddhist monks. Hence anyone who detests the West would seek to put brakes on that essential tendency, and climate mongers know that in their viscera, just as all leftists always have done.

Anyone who cedes to them the point that a problem exists has already betrayed the West – regardless of how many concessions he could wrench from the other side.

I don’t know why I singled out that particular illustration. Any other would have done as well, some with even greater clarity.

One could talk about churches mandated shut during the Covid pandemic while they remained open even during the Black Death – this though medieval doctors had no means whatsoever of combatting the disease.

Or about the government doing nothing substantial about the outpouring of black bile on the entire history of the West, routinely portrayed as unremittingly criminal or, at best, regrettable.

Or about a sustained attack on another cornerstone of our civilisation, free expression. People who strain to detect a traumatic effect in every word that somehow deviates from the dictated norm don’t do so because they love potential victims. They ban free speech because they hate the West, and such freedom is its cornerstone.

Johnson’s government does nothing to put an end to this orgy of hatred. At times it makes a feeble attempt to mitigate its savagery at the margins, yet without ever questioning its validity at the core.

That’s what bothers the real conservatives among Tory voters. That’s why they feel betrayed and despondent. That’s why they are running scared.

And now by all means, let’s talk about cabinet members and their families having an unauthorised drink in the garden. You know, the subject that so preoccupies the media at the moment (see the photo above).