Useless, as in UN

Yesterday found UN Secretary-General António Guterres in Kiev, where he went after his visit to Moscow to hear the other side of the story.

António’s luck is good

Putin celebrated that momentous event with a two-rocket salute. Those projectiles were fired at the city centre, killing a few civilians and missing Guterres by what in missile terms was a whisker.

If that was a message of contempt for that august organisation, then for once I share the Moscow monster’s sentiments. I despise international organisations like the UN as much as I respect defence alliances like Nato.

The latter were created by nations wishing to pool their concrete geopolitical needs for mutual benefit. The former were created as an embodiment of abstract bien pensant ideas, such as that perennial socialist dream of a single world government.

However, all international organisations, whatever their stated missions, were created for the implicit purpose of providing more sinecures for a motley crew of international bureaucrats.

They live high on the hog in places like Geneva and New York, where they drive the local cops crazy by not paying their parking tickets. Other than that, they just talk and pass meaningless resolutions, mostly against Israel and the US, the country hosting their headquarters.

I was a boy when I first began to follow the UN, specifically its 1961 fiasco in the Congo. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld tried to intervene in the ongoing massacre, only to die in a plane crash that the CIA believed was engineered by the KGB. Even in my adolescence I wondered why the KGB had to bother.

Since then, every attempt by the UN to mitigate similar massacres all over the world has only succeeded in making them worse. Kashmir, Cambodia, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Burma, now the Ukraine – take your pick.

To single out one typical event, in 1995 the Serbs murdered more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, the UN-declared safe zone. As the genocidal massacre went on, UN troops were looking on in sheer impotence.

At least, the UN’s precursor, the League of Nations, had the guts to expel the Soviet Union for its aggression against Finland in 1939. The gesture was purely symbolic, but symbols do matter sometimes.

Guterres’s UN can’t even do that, and it wouldn’t have expelled Russia even if those two missiles had been more accurately aimed. After all, Russia is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. As such, she can veto any resolution Putin doesn’t like.

The UN has so far failed in its attempts to facilitate evacuation of civilians from the ruins of Mariupol and other places Russia has de-Nazified and demilitarised into the ground. It’s all just talk, which, as we know, is cheap. Cheaper even than human lives in the areas Putin fancies.

The EU is another international organisation beneath contempt. It was perceived by its founders as a first step towards creating a single European state, a prelude to going global. The EU too is useless at best, pernicious at worst.

All this talk about a single defence policy and even a single European army is staggering in its schizophrenic divorce from reality. And the reality is that, while they spend billions providing aid for the Ukraine, the same EU members are paying tens of billions into Putin’s coffers.

They impose sanctions, only to watch some of their members flout them with blithe disregard. Large gas companies in Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary have announced their intention to open accounts with Gazprombank in compliance with Putin’s order that they pay for his gas in roubles.

That would involve greasing Putin’s war machine with billions in real currencies that will then be converted to the wallpaper that the rouble has become. In other words, four EU members, including its de facto leader, Germany, are circumventing international sanctions designed to curb Putin’s savagery.

Russia’s ability to survive as an expansionist power, if at all, is wholly contingent on her hydrocarbon revenues. The higher the price of a barrel or cubic metre, the more aggressive will Russia be – and vice versa.

Hydrocarbon prices in the 1990s were a fraction of what they are now, which made Russia relatively docile. ‘Relatively’ is the operative word here for Russia still managed to start a murderous war in Chechnya and probe for weak spots elsewhere.

But war against Europe and the West in general was still beyond Russia’s means. Her aggressively messianic spirit was as willing as now or ever, but her economic flesh was weak.

Like his successor Putin, Yeltsyn dreamt about dominating Europe. In that spirit (and also vodka), he once addressed Bill Clinton with this plea: “All I’m asking is that you give Europe to Russia… You can take all other countries, defend their security. I’ll take Europe and provide for its security… Bill, I mean it. Europe has never felt as close to Russia as now.”

That sounded like drunken muttering but, as the Russians say, what a sober man has in his mind, a drunk one has on his tongue. Yet Yeltsyn was in no position to act on his dreams – cheap oil held him back.

Yet now the EU is actively doing all it can to help Putin make those dreams come true. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t thank God that we in Britain are shot of that vile contrivance.

Yet whatever I think of international organisations, congratulations to António Guterres personally on his narrow escape. We wouldn’t want him to suffer the same fate that Dag Hammarskjöld suffered – and at the same hands.

Another day, another nuclear threat

As the living conditions in Russia continue to decline, irrepressible Muscovites resort to jokes, their default antidote of long standing. Here’s one such.

Sergei Lavrov yesterday

Kim Jong-un addresses his multitudes, saying: “If you don’t work hard, you’ll end up like Russia.” Alas, it’s not only in jokes that Russia and North Korea increasingly begin to appear in the same sentence.

“Tell me who you friend is, and I’ll tell you who you are,” says the old proverb. If that’s true, then Russia’s closest – increasingly sole – friend is indeed North Korea. It’s the only other country that threatens a nuclear attack on the world.

The world doesn’t take Kim’s threats seriously. But how seriously should it take Putin’s?

Very, writes Stephen Glover. Now that Nato foolishly didn’t heed his warnings against its eastward expansion, Mr Glover believes Putin’s nuclear threat is as real as it’s “spine-chilling”. That’s what the world gets for not listening to Mr Glover’s platitudes.

He quotes Foreign Minister Lavrov as promising a “lightning-quick” response against any country that dares “meddle in ongoing events”. Putin supported his mouthpiece: “We have all the weapons we need for this. No one else can boast these weapons, and we won’t boast about them. But we will use them.”

Yet one of Putin’s top Goebbelses, Vladimir Solovyov, doesn’t mind boasting about the hypersonic Sarmat missile, tested the other day: “One Sarmat missile means minus one Great Britain,” he announced with a gleeful guffaw, leaving his viewers in no doubt that Mr Solovyov would welcome such an outcome, if only for purely aesthetic reasons.

For the sake of balance he ought to have added that such a nuclear strike would mean not only minus one Great Britain, but also minus one Russia. Any nuclear mass murder perpetrated by Russia would in fact be murder-suicide.

I don’t know whether the zombified Russian masses are fully aware of the underlying meaning of nuclear threats. Those with their finger on the button certainly are, and it’s not Putin’s finger I’m talking about.

He can issue the order, but at least 20 stages of authorisation separate him from the proverbial button. At each stage, the order could be countermanded, and it’s highly probable it would be.

Even during the 1962 Cuban crisis, Vasyli Arkhipov, deputy commander of the Soviet B-59 submarine, was one of the two officers who had to authorise the captain’s order to launch a nuclear torpedo. That Arkhipov refused to do – and he had been trained under Stalin, when unquestioning obedience was more deeply ingrained than now.

Nevertheless, we should take Putin’s threats seriously, Mr Glover is right about that. According to him, such a sombre attitude doesn’t mean we should abandon the Ukraine to Putin’s tender mercies. However, Mr Glover refrained from explaining what it does mean. Probably listening to him more attentively next time, if I may venture a guess.

Neither did Lavrov explain what he meant by meddling. Even though these days he is nothing but a Solovyov with a jumped-up title, he used to be a career diplomat. Hence he might not have lost his erstwhile habit of using words advisedly.

Neither Lavrov nor Putin specified that they regarded armament supplies to the Ukraine as meddling that warrants a nuclear response. They left their meaning open to interpretation, and one such is the likelihood that they were referring only to a direct involvement of Nato forces in the Ukraine.

That isn’t going to happen, but the Ukraine will continue to receive more and more of the heavier weapons she needs to drive the Russians back whence they came. That was confirmed yesterday at a meeting of defence ministers from 40 countries.

According to the Ukrainian authorities, such supplies will have reached critical mass by late May. It will then take the Ukrainians another month or so to incorporate the new systems into their war effort. After that they will be ready to go on the offensive, which the Russians, their own arsenal severely depleted and not easily replenishable, will find hard to repel.

This leaves Putin a relatively narrow window of opportunity to leave the war with some of his bloated face saved. But he does have a few options, ranging from sane to lunatic.

At the lunatic end is the possibility of using a tactical nuclear strike either against the Ukraine or Poland, the main clearing house for Western supplies. This option is insane because its consequences are unpredictable.

Even if Nato doesn’t respond in kind immediately, eventually an escalation may become unavoidable. A nuclear murder-suicide beckons.

Since everybody realises this is on the cards, Putin may skip the intermediate stage and attack Nato countries with strategic nuclear weapons straight away. Not being an expert in defence matters, I don’t know how well-equipped Nato is to deal with such an assault.

I hope well enough to prevent total annihilation of the world, or at least its more civilised parts. Yet experts agree that, even if the destruction isn’t total, it will be considerable. Russia, on the other hand, will definitely cease to exist as a recognisable country, and I hope enough people within its high command dread that certainty.

At the other, saner, end we find something that seems likelier to me, but then the road to hell is paved with those who have tried to second-guess Putin. He has already promised to deliver a triumph by the Victory Day parade on 9 May. But a triumph can mean any number of things.

Traditionally, a victory in a war is defined as realising its original objectives. Yet Putin has already shown he is ready not merely to move such goalposts but to use them for firewood.

He started out under the slogan of de-Nazifying the Ukraine, an objective tantamount to turning the Ukraine into a Russian territory or at least satellite. Yet that objective fell by the wayside after a fortnight of hostilities.

Putin’s army has only succeeded in wreaking havoc on Ukrainian cities, murdering Ukrainian civilians, raping Ukrainian women, looting washing machines and blenders from Ukrainian households. Such methods of warfare are known to be counterproductive.

Rather than breaking the defenders’ spirit, unrestrained brutality towards civilians can only strengthen the resolve of every Ukrainian soldier, including those who are ethnically Russian. That’s exactly what happened: Ukrainians know what they are fighting and dying for, and their commitment to defending their homes and families is stronger than the Russians’ quest for free washing machines.

Even though the West was tardy in supplying offensive weapons, Putin’s original objective vanished. However, showing the flexibility for which the KGB is justly famous, he announced that wasn’t the objective at all.

He supposedly started the war only to take over all of Donbas, thereby saving its Russophone population from the depredations visited on it by Ukrainian Nazis, which is to say all Ukrainians. However, even that new aim is beginning to look like an undigestible pie in the sky.

Since the full-fledged offensive in the east of the Ukraine started a week ago, the Russian army has been able to advance only 10 to 20 kilometres, and only in a few sectors of the front. By comparison, in the summer of 1941, the Wehrmacht was advancing through the same terrain (in the opposite direction) at a speed of 20-30 km a day – this though most of the German infantry had only their feet for transport.

Hence it’s far from certain that even the new, modest objective will be realised. But not to worry: Putin can still have his triumph. He can solidify his modest gains, declare victory and have his rapists and looters prance through Red Square, tamping its cobbles down with their goosestepping.

In any civilised country such legerdemain would spell an instant end to the leader’s career and the resignation of his whole cabinet. But Russia isn’t a civilised country. It has no public opinion, nor even a public worthy of the name.

It has a herd of dumbed-down, zombified Yahoos ready to scream themselves hoarse on the nation leader’s cue. (The existence of a few heroic dissidents doesn’t vindicate Putin’s Russia any more than the presence of Bonhoffer, Reck-Malleczewen and Stauffenberg vindicated Hitler’s Germany.) The likes of Putin, Lavrov, Solovyov and Kisilyov have done a sterling job over the past 20 years to produce such an educational masterstroke.

A positional war of attrition will then start, and, as Lynne Truss has predicted, it may well go on for years. Putin, however, won’t – if half the credible rumours of his health are true.

When he goes, the Russians will probably be treated to a show, similar to that staged by Khrushchev three years after Stalin’s death. Putin’s crimes will be widely criticised, which will give the West the pretext it desperately wants for dropping all sanctions.

Russia will proclaim itself to be liberal and democratic, another useful idiot will write a book about the end of history, and the world will be able to relax for a decade or two. And then another Putin will come out of the woodwork to ratchet up the tension.

Plus la Russie change, plus c’est la même chose, to paraphrase the French saying. The more Russia changes, the more she remains the same.

Britain is a Nazi country

I can just see a look of incredulity on your face. You clearly aren’t going to accept such an outrageous accusation on my say-so.

Here’s proof

Well, if you don’t believe me when I say that Her Majesty’s realm is in the throes of institutionalised Nazism, I can happily provide irrefutable evidence, both verbal and pictorial.

The photograph on the left shows a Liverpool rally of the National Action Group that describes itself as “white jihadist”. The chaps in the picture are calling for “race traitors” to be “gassed”.

Both the language and the proposed method of punishment are unmistakable. Still not convinced?

Then get your head around this. Back in the 1930s, Britain had not one but two fascist parties. One of them was founded by a knight of the realm, Sir Oswald Mosley.

Not only that, but a large swathe of British aristocracy were pro-Nazi, including King Edward VIII, Lady Elizabeth Montagu Douglas Scott, the Duke of Hamilton, several Mitford sisters (those who weren’t communists), Viscount Astor’s whole Cliveden set – and let’s not forget Lord Rothermere, the owner of The Mail.

In January, 1934, he wrote a Daily Mail editorial entitled Hurrah for the Blackshirts, in which he praised Oswald Mosley for his “sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine.”

And five years later Rothermere wrote to Hitler, congratulating him on the annexation of Czechslovakia and praising his “great and superhuman work in regenerating your country.” While he was at it, Rothermere also encouraged Hitler to invade Romania.

Add to this the fact that, before our reigning dynasty resorted to the subterfuge of changing its name to Windsor, it was called the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas. Get it? What more proof do you need?

Britain is a Nazi country through and through, wholeheartedly committed to exterminating all inferior races, starting with you know whom. Open and shut case, if you ask me. Our only hope is to be invaded by Putin’s Russia, Europe’s most conservative and Christian country.

Can you take issue with my logic? Yes? Sorry about that. You are absolutely right. This logic is indeed like a colander, full of holes.

My only excuse is that the logic isn’t mine. I simply borrowed it from our Putinistas, from Atkinson to Hitchens and everyone in between.

They don’t even need to be asked to provide a rollcall of Ukrainian Banderite fascists from the same period when many Britons were that way inclined too. And if you object that these are things of the past, they’ll flash a QED smile and unfold a whole album of photographs showing today’s Ukrainian Nazis doing exactly what those Scouse lads are doing in the photo above.

Some of such Putinistas are actually the kettle calling the teapot black. Given half the chance, they’ll talk your ear off about the British being innately superior to certain objectionable racial groups, and one of them often regales his Facebook audience with laments about Hitler’s Nazis getting an undeservedly bad press. He also doesn’t bother to hide his own virulent anti-Semitism.

Yet even Putinistas who are less objectionable don’t seem to notice the gaping holes in their intellectual trousers. For all nations have their fair, sometimes unfair, share of Nazis. Even though these days such proclivities are low on street cred, go back some 85 years and you could tar practically all Western nations with the same brush.

Nazism, along with other brands of evil, has permanent residence in the human heart. So does good. It’s just that some civilisations, during some periods of their history, encourage the former more than the latter.

Having made a mental note of this demonstrable fact, look at the current events in the Ukraine and decide which side is closer to your idea of Nazism. To help that reflection along, look at the history of the Ukraine since she dropped the Russian yoke and compare it with the history of Russia during the same period.

Count the comparative numbers of political prisoners in both countries, victims of political assassination, beating and torture, the instances of naked aggression committed or underwritten by either side all over the globe. Then compare the elections in the Ukraine and Russia to see which is fairer. A comparison between their media wouldn’t go amiss either.

Finally, look at the moral fibre of the persons at the helm in both countries. And of course consider the way the two sides are conducting the current war under the leadership of their presidents.

Have you gone through this exercise? Splendid. Now you can tell those Putinistas where to shove their dirty pictures. Don’t forget to apologise for the ensuing proctological nuisance.

It’s not about Right or Left

A French friend said casually over dinner the other night that Macron, or any other modern president or prime minister, has infinitely more power than any king of yesteryear.

Other public buildings can burn as well as the Reichstag

I agreed enthusiastically, for that was an observation I myself make whenever the subject comes up. However, unlike the economy or education, political power is a zero sum game.

It’s like a pie – the bigger the slice grabbed by the central state, the less is left for everyone else. In other words, if Macron (Scholz, Biden, Johnson et al.) has more power than, say, Louis XIV, then French citizens have less power in the 21st century than French subjects had in the 17th.

That means they were freer than today’s Frenchmen (or any other denizens of a modern Western country). And yet European monarchies, whose subjects were freer than today’s citizens, were swept away or at least emasculated in the name of more liberty, not less.

One may say that the law of unintended consequences was at play here. Fine, the consequences might have been unintended. But they certainly weren’t unpredictable.

All people had to do was to delve beneath the surface of political toing and froing. They ought to have considered their presuppositions to select those that reduced politics to the real essentials.

Just look at France’s election that concluded last weekend. The general consensus is that the top three candidates covered the whole political spectrum.

Le Pen hugged the right, violet, end; Mélenchon resided in the left, red, area; Macron sat somewhere in the middle, halfway between yellow and green. Yet none of those descriptors convey any real meaning.

People stubbornly cling to the political taxonomy they learned at school. Because the taxonomy is faulty, so is their political nous.  

They should try to soar over received conventions to get a more panoramic view, not spacially but historically. They’d then realise that there’s precious little difference among today’s political parties and their inner imperatives.

Oh, some trivial divergences exist, but these never go to the core of political thought, nor rise above personal idiosyncrasies. The real gulf is that separating modern Western politics from the traditional Western variety.

If we looked for terminology that elucidates distinctions, which is after all what terms are for, then the two poles signposting the territory of political thought wouldn’t be right and left. They would be centralism and localism.

Traditional Western states, including those as recent as Louis XIV’s , practised localism, devolving political power to the lowest sensible level. The king’s power was thus limited in every area that counted.

He couldn’t exact exorbitant taxes at will, meaning he had only a weak lever of economic control. He couldn’t conscript the whole population, no matter how dire the need. And he certainly couldn’t tell his subjects how to conduct their private affairs, where or how to work, what to read or think.

The king could acquire some more power in some of those areas, but to do so he had to descend down the intricate multi-tiered structure of local institutions separating the royal court from the royal subjects. He could coerce some of them, but only within narrow limits. Most of the time, he had to negotiate for more power in each case, trying to build the required consensus.

That’s why the king’s power derived from the consent of the governed in the true sense, not the bogus one based on the ballot box. When today’s citizen drops a piece of paper into that container, he henceforth relinquishes every morsel of the political power routinely claimed by his ancestors.

Louis XIV’s famous pronouncement on the nature of the state was more rueful than tyrannical. He knew that his power was absolute only over his courtiers at Versailles. The further down the political ladder he had to descend, the more was his power mediated and attenuated.

None of this applies to modern governments, which reduces to insignificance the differences among them. Whether they are called democratic, authoritarian or totalitarian, they all strive to concentrate most of the political power within the confines of the central state.

A modern president like Macron or a prime minister like Johnson, never mind a dictator like Putin, can do all those things a king couldn’t do.

They can tax people at more than half their income – even the most absolute of monarchs could never do that. They can conscript the whole population into the army if the need arises. They can dictate the minutest details of people’s private lives. They can even dictate how people must speak, which comes close to dictating how they must think.

Depending on the country or its current political situation, the power of the central government may be diminished by constitutional constraints. But it can’t be diminished all that much. All those branches of government so dear to the Western heart grow on the same trunk.

They don’t represent divergent but balanced interests the way traditional institutions did. They don’t even represent different classes or trades. Depending on the country’s constitution, some of those institutions are manned by elected or appointed officials. But they are elected from, or appointed by, exactly the same group of people, regardless of whether they are right, left or centre.

They are all equally committed to the infinite centralisation of politics, which isn’t just the dominant modern trend, but the only one. That means they are all equally committed to appropriating political power at the people’s expense.

That’s not to say there are no differences among them. However, these are mostly rhetorical or, at best, procedural. At base, they are all tyrannical.

Thus, to use the economy as an example, one among many, all three major parties in Britain are equally committed to usurping maximum power by extorting much of the people’s income. (Total control over money supply, impossible in the old days, serves the same purpose.)

When Gordon Brown was Chancellor, he inadvertently made a statement of tyranny the likes of which no king could have afforded, or even wished, to make. We’d like, said Brown, to “let the people keep more of their money”.

You can let someone keep more only of something that belongs to you. Hence that statement could be paraphrased to say that all your money belongs to the central state, which can then decide in its munificence how much you’ll be allowed to keep for your family.

Some Western politicians are more careful about what they say. But the logic of the modern state always pulls in the same direction: ever-greater centralisation of power.

Some modern states are more benign than others. Any sane person would rather live in Macron’s France than, say, in Putin’s Russia. However, if modern history teaches anything at all, it’s that any modern state can move from benign to evil at the drop of a hat.

Just look at what happened to Germany, France and Italy in the first half of the 20th century. Three of the most seemingly civilised countries in the world instantly shed every such vestige to turn into evil tyrannies. At least France was pushed that way by a military defeat; the other two needed no such prompting.

Only smug individuals would think that their own country is eternally immune to a similar metamorphosis. The only question is how, not whether, it may happen.

A transition from a traditional state to a modern one could only be effected by a violent bang – the two types were too fundamentally incompatible.

On the other hand, a transition from one type of modern state to another can happen so gradually, smoothly and effortlessly that people wouldn’t even realise what’s going on. Not with a bang but a whimper – Eliot was right about that.

Let’s hear it for the lesser evil

The French celebrated Macron’s victory in their inimitable manner: with riots. As clouds of tear gas lay a smokescreen over central Paris last night, I was saying a quiet prayer 120 miles away.

The President of France is on the right

Thank you, Lord, for letting us dodge the bigger bullet. A major European country has been spared a fascisoid government in Putin’s pay. Yes, such a government is bound to creepy-crawl out of the swamp somewhere. Soon, I fear. But – and I’m wiping my brow even as we speak – not yet.

Instead, France got a mainstream nonentity of the type Germans call Putinversteher – someone who understands Putin. In this context, ‘understand’ is a caustic euphemism having nothing to do with cognitive acuity.

‘Appease’ would be less sarcastic but more accurate. ‘Acquiesce’ or ‘collaborate’ would be even more to the point.

As you notice, over the past two months I’ve found it hard to look at European politicians outside the Ukraine’s frame of reference. Hence, as far as I was concerned, the choice facing the French was between Manny Macron’s recent accolade (“Putin respects France. He sets it apart from the rest of the West.”) and what Marine said during the 2008 crisis (“This crisis will enable us to turn away from America and towards Russia.”).

Both are repulsive, but Manny’s statement is marginally less so. Yet no such qualifications apply to what he and his German counterpart are actually doing.

It has been revealed that over the past few years several EU countries, but mostly Germany and France, have supplied €273 million’s worth of military hardware to Russia — in circumvention of international sanctions. And since the hostilities started, the EU has been paying a billion euros a day for Putin’s gas.

At least, neither Germany nor France is a signatory to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. The US, Britain and Russia are, which means they guaranteed the Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for her relinquishing her offensive weapons, including nuclear ones.

The relative worth of such documents, as compared to the paper they are written on, is self-evident. But here’s an interesting twist.

The Russians are running out of most types of land-based tactical missiles. They do, however, have ample stocks of air-based ones. It so happens that these are exactly the rockets the Ukraine transferred to Russia in compliance with the terms of the Budapest Memorandum.

The upshot is that Ukrainians are being killed with weapons either supplied by Germany and France or tricked out of the Ukraine by the US and Britain. At the same time, Russia’s war effort is being largely financed by the EU’s single currency. A comforting thought, that.

At least the US and Britain are doing their best to arm the Ukrainians now. Had this effort started a few weeks earlier, the war could already be over, and thousands of lives might have been saved. But the Americans and Britons did see the light, if only belatedly.

The Germans, on the other hand, are refusing to help the Ukraine in any substantial way. Their justification for this craven behaviour is two-fold: military and historical.

Chancellor Scholz explained the other day that transferring any offensive weaponry to the Ukraine would denude Germany’s military capability so much that she would be unable to defend herself against any possible aggression. It’s good to see that the EU’s dominant member is governed by someone blessed with such a firm grasp of strategy.

The only country in Europe that could conceivably threaten Germany’s security is Putin’s Russia. The only way Russia could do so would be for Putin’s army to roll through the Ukraine, then gather momentum and keep going across Poland.

Ergo, Germany has a vested interest in the Ukraine either defeating Russia or at least checking her advance. And the best way to serve that interest is to arm the Ukraine. A statement of unwavering commitment to Nato wouldn’t go amiss either, and the same goes for France.

Yet it’s the historical argument against arming the Ukraine that raises my blood pressure some 30 points (diastolic). That was put forth by Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and her spokesmen.

They argue from historical guilt: “Many Germans find it hard to accept the idea that German weapons could again be used to kill Russians,” explained one of the spokesmen.

Until recently I had thought that German education is superior to ours, at least as far as the teaching of history is concerned. Now I’m not so sure.

The youthful Annalena must be too busy pursuing the destructive objectives of her Green Party to crack history books. Allow me to plug the most obvious gaps in her education.

In 1941-1945 Germany was at war not with Russia but with the Soviet Union. It was made up of 16 constituent republics at the time, of which the Ukraine was the second most populous one, after Russia qua Russia.

Hence German weapons were killing not only Russians qua Russians, but also people of other nationalities, including Ukrainians. In fact, the latter suffered greater military casualties than Russians in per capita terms – and far greater civilian ones.

This stands to reason: the Nazis occupied only six per cent of Russia’s territory and 100 per cent of the Ukraine’s. Therefore, Annalena would have a hard time explaining why Germans would object to supplying weapons to the Ukraine, while finding nothing wrong with supplying them to Russia.

A closer examination will reveal that in the current conflict it’s Russia and not the Ukraine that acts as the typological equivalent of Nazi Germany. Annalena could thus assuage her guilty conscience by repudiating Nazism and helping those who fight against it.

It has been clear to me for some time that the commitment of every EU member to the Ukraine is inversely proportional to its dependence on Putin’s gas. Germany’s is high enough to have turned her into a de facto client state of Russia.

France’s is lower, which is why Manny can afford the luxury of leavening his understanding of Putin with mild criticism and even some begrudging assistance to the Ukraine. Still, beats the alternative.

Félicitations, Manny!  

Where are the Nazis of yesteryear?

Commentators are arguing about the real reasons for Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine.

Ask this Ukrainian woman

I can settle those arguments once and for all: Putin invaded the Ukraine for the sole reason of confusing me. He has scored a resounding victory: I am all at sixes and sevens.

When the invasion began, Putin explained that the purpose of the “special operation” was to “de-Nazify the Ukraine”. My soul strings got tugged, producing a ringing tone of anti-Nazi sentiment.

The mission sounded noble. Who wouldn’t want to ne-Nazify a major European country in need of such purification? Since it’s the Ukrainian government that was tarred with the Nazi brush, that noble aim could only be achieved by a regime change. So was the regime really Nazi?

I looked for the evidence supporting the claim that the Ukraine has fallen into the hands of heirs to Hitler. Yet fascisoid parties only ever poll somewhere between 0.1 and 2.0 per cent of the Ukrainian electorate.

This is considerably lower than in France, Germany, Italy and a few other respectable countries. If Putin is serious about exterminating Nazism wherever it can be found, those countries would be well-advised to beef up their armed forces.

And if he is really serious, he should oversee a massive domestic purge of all Russian quasi-Nazi groups, which typically get over 20 per cent of the national vote. That done, perhaps he ought to take a look at his own party, whose dignitaries like to proclaim the innate superiority of the Russian race over everyone else.

Some even ascribe it to a microbiological difference: the Russians, explained one of Putin’s top MPs, possess an extra gene of spirituality enabling them to soar over those Westerners. The implication is that the extra-spiritual Russians owe it to mankind to pollinate all inferior races by first conquering them. Sorry, but this sounds more Dr Goebbels than Dr Schweitzer to me.

Then I looked at the Ukraine’s constitution and found it to be almost identical to those of all those unfortunate Western countries that feel the need to put their constitutions down on paper. But perhaps the constitution is ignored?

It isn’t. The Ukraine holds presidential elections every few years, no ballot boxes are stuffed, and the loser leaves office without demur. The country scrupulously observes all the usual civil liberties, and it neither imprisons nor kills nor maims dissidents. That is more than I can say for Russia herself.

Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of the rally in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square, when tens of thousands of Russians disagreed with Hitchens’s claim of Russia being the most conservative and Christian country in Europe.

The police charged, and hundreds ended up with busted skulls and broken limbs. Dozens were arrested, and the template for dealing with such protests was set.

Since then only isolated heroes dare to take to the streets, and there are more political prisoners in Putin’s Russia than even Brezhnev’s USSR could boast. And hundreds of dissidents have been murdered without even a travesty of justice. Prisoners are routinely tortured, raped with empty bottles or broomsticks and beaten to death. What’s that about missing the beam that is in thine own eye?

All in all, de-Nazification didn’t really sound like a plausible casus belli. That’s where my confusion began. Because, having been frustrated in his attempt to effect a regime change, Vlad seemed to agree with me.

De-Nazification faded away from his banners. Perhaps he felt that his rockets had already blown Nazism to bits by killing tens of thousands of civilians, while his virile soldiers had banged that energumen out of the wombs of all those raped Ukrainian women.     

Then Putin declared that his sole desire, nay cherished dream, was to drag Eastern Ukraine out of the clutches of Eastern Ukrainians. All he now wanted was to liberate the hitherto unliberated portion of the Donbas.

I heaved a sigh of relief, an involuntary impulse common to people whose conundrums are solved. However, before I could re-inhale, the confusion deepened.

Putin’s spokesman Gen. Rustam Minakeyev, commander of the Central Military District, explained the other day that: “One of the objectives of the Russian army is to establish total control of the Donbas and Southern Ukraine. [My emphasis] This will provide a land corridor to the Crimea and also impact the vital parts of the Ukraine’s economy.”

This last part means that the Ukraine would become a landlocked country by losing access to the Black Sea and hence to the ports through which she could run her exports. In simple terms, the country would be beggared.

But “total control over Southern Ukraine” also means rolling all the way to the borders of Transnistria and Moldova. The former is a Russian satellite, the latter an independent republic. Both – even the former – are scared out of their wits.

Moldova immediately began to beg the EU for admission. Its leaders, having been trained in Soviet schools, have noses of bloodhound acuity. Unlike some Western politicians, they know that the chances of the Russian juggernaut braking at their border equal, in round numbers, zero.

The good general then gave the world the benefit of his (and Putin’s) historical insight by saying: “Judging by everything, we are now at war with the whole world, like it was in the Great Patriotic [Second World] War: all of Europe, the whole world was against us. It’s the same now – they’ve never liked Russia.”

Can’t imagine why. Let me guess. Could it be because Russia tends to pounce on anyone within reach and then threaten to evaporate the world with nukes?

This shows that Putin not only re-lives Stalin, but also revises him. His idol was grateful for the invaluable help the Soviet Union had received from the Anglo-American allies. In fact, he admitted that without that help the war would have been lost.

Little did Stalin know that the USSR had fought alone against the whole world, with no allies anywhere in sight. He stands corrected now, and one can only regret that Stalin is no longer around to benefit from this lesson.

So has the fairy tale of a Nazi Ukraine sunk into oblivion? Not at all. This theme has simply moved out of the propaganda mainstream and into the loony fringe, not only Russian but also Western.

Putin stooges, of whom Rodney Atkinson is both the most hideous and the most cretinous, are slow in realising that the Nazi horse has already bolted. They still treat their credulous readers to a pitch like “Oy, mate, wanna see some dirty pictures?”

The dirty pictures in question show portraits of Ukrainian wartime nationalist leaders, such as Bandera and Shukhevych, prominently displayed in some Ukrainian cities, streets named after them, statues erected in their honour.

These are interspersed with photographs of the skeletal remains of the Jews murdered by Ukrainian collaborators with Hitler. Pictures of soldiers in some Ukrainian military units, such as the Azov regiment, displaying Nazi insignia are also quite popular.

Verily I say unto you, the Atkinsons of this world have to think their audience is made up of idiots. That’s not to say that those pictures are fabricated or photoshopped. They aren’t.

Ukrainian nationalists (whose two major groups were led by Bandera and Melnyk) were indeed Nazis, as anyone who has read their draft constitutions will confirm. (Bandera pushed his nationalism too far for the Germans’ taste, which is why he spent most of the war at Sachsenhausen.)

And they indeed were guilty of genocidal atrocities. Ukrainian Jews feared them more than they feared the Germans, if only because Ukrainians were better at identifying Jews at a glance.

Yet they weren’t the only guilty party. During the same period, a whole Nazi country existed that made the extermination of Jews its key desideratum. Moreover, unlike those Ukrainians, that country was strong enough to occupy most of Europe and paint its monstrous picture on a much wider canvas.

That country is Germany, which has shown that even the most heinous of crimes can be atoned and redeemed. Germany renounced Nazism and has done her utmost to rejoin the civilised world. No, she hasn’t been able to guarantee that some of her youngsters, as low on intellect as they are high on testosterone count, won’t be attracted to Nazi slogans or aesthetics.

Such underground groups exist, and crypto-Nazi parties even take part in national politics, with no hope of success. So is Germany still a Nazi country then?

If you agree that she isn’t, then neither is the Ukraine. She produced her fair share of murderers in the past, not only Nazi but also Soviet ones. But, like Germany, she has been trying to cast that past away and rejoin civilisation.

Yes, some Ukrainians, mostly in the west of the country, cherish the memory of Bandera et al., mainly because the nationalists continued to fight the Soviets after the war. The nationalists were their enemy’s enemies, which made them their friends. I hope in time the Ukrainians will reassess those historical figures, but that’s unlikely to happen while the Russians continue to murder and rape them en masse.

And yes, the fighters of the Azov regiment (not battalion, as Atkinson calls it) liked to send out the semiotic signals of Nazism before the war. This is deplorable, and their youth may only explain but not excuse such behaviour.

But once the war started, those youngsters redeemed themselves by shielding women and children with their bodies, and fighting to protect them to the last bullet, the last drop of blood. They do so under Ukrainian flags, not swastika ones.

Messrs Atkinson et al. should put away their beloved pictures (which they probably got from Moscow) and look at a much thicker set, photographs showing murdered – and deliberately targeted – civilians, tortured and raped women, destroyed cities, blown up kindergartens, schools, hospitals and churches.

Then they should ask themselves which side is Nazi here. If they have a modicum of conscience and honesty, they’ll know there’s only one answer. But they haven’t and they won’t.

P.S. Both Atkinson and Hitchens are giftless siblings to their talented brothers. I hate to wax Freudian, however…

Monarchy on the monarch’s birthday

The other day Her Majesty turned 96, and she has been on the throne for 70 years.

This is a perfect occasion to ponder the nature of the state, both traditional and modern. Or, as I prefer to call them, organic and contrived.

The first term accurately describes all European monarchies, including our own. Now, many different adjectives have been attached to the type of state emerging towards the end of the feudal order. Historians have called it monarchic, absolutist, theocratic, autocratic, tyrannical, primitive and many other things, except the one that really matters: organic.

Rather than being a contrivance resting on abstract (and typically wrong) principles, it was an organic development of the Christian ethos as refracted onto secular life. There were no savants getting their heads together to sort out an elaborate constitution with all its riders, provisos and amendments.

The organic state appeared so seamlessly, and without any visible involvement of any human agency, that it was tempting to take a cue from St Paul and believe it was indeed willed by God. In fact, both Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre interpreted it that way. According to Burke, the same God “who gave our nature to be perfected by our virtue, willed also the necessary means of its perfection. – He willed therefore the state.”

This sounds like a rhetorical flourish on the philosophy of natural law going back to Aquinas and other scholastics, or Aristotle before them. It shows, among other things, the dangers inherent in any attempt to apply theology to politics directly.

From there it’s an easy transition to the idea of theocracy: after all, ‘perfecting human nature’ for future salvation is the institutional domain of the church, not of the state. If, as Burke suggested, the state has the same purpose, then it’s either redundant or else can act only as an adjunct to the church.

Rather than merely keeping an eye on the state’s behaviour and judging it on the basis of Christian tenets, the church would then in effect have to run it. That is neither its natural function nor even its doctrine: salvation is personal, not collective. It is as individuals, not as citizens, that people can be saved.

To what extent the state of any type can be seen as God’s tool of perfecting human nature is thus open to debate. So it will remain because few of us have a two-way line of communication to God, and only He would be able to clarify the matter.

Until then we can safely assume that it’s not the state’s function to create paradise on earth. Its purpose is only to prevent hell on earth.

De Maistre was perhaps more accurate than Burke in his phrasing when he argued that traditional institutions go so far back that they disappear in the haze of time – we can’t trace them back to their precise historical origin. Therefore, we might as well assume they come from God.

Looking at Western states in their present form, we see some that are more or less organic and some that are more or less contrived. None has retained the same form it had centuries ago, all have developed.

But while some are to a large extent evolutionary, some others are primarily revolutionary. Most had their organic development violently interrupted in the past; but some more than others.

To see which is which we can apply a simple test that will work in most cases: unlike the origin of a contrived state, the origin of an organic one can’t be pinpointed to a single historical event or any precise date.

We can say with certainty that the American republic started in 1776, the French one in 1789, the unified German state in 1871, the Soviet one in 1917 (or more accurately in 1922, when the Soviet Union officially came into being), post-Soviet Russia in 1991, Israel in 1948 and so forth.

But when did the English state begin? We can’t be sure.

All we can do is suggest any number of milestones on the road to its present form, such as its baptism, the Roman and Norman conquests, Magna Carta, the Civil War, the Restoration, the Glorious Revolution – take your pick.

Advocates of the primacy of any such event will present their arguments; we may agree with some and dismiss others. But the very fact that there are many such events vying for the honour, and that they are scattered all over the historical continuum, points at the organic nature of the English state.

The same can be said, mutatis mutandis, about the states of Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and to a large extent Spain. They have all developed organically over the turbulent, meandering, violently swerving pathways of history, and where exactly those pathways began is not much clearer than where they will end.

Aware of this continuity, the people of all those organic realms have preserved their monarchies (with minor hiatuses here and there), even though they may have divested them of any executive power.

However, they understand intuitively that dispensing with even the seemingly powerless monarchs would represent an irreplaceable loss. Contrary to what Walter Bagehot thought, they know that monarchy is so much more than just “the decorative aspect” of the constitution.

As all those countries are now enthusiastically secular and ideologically democratic, few people there would be able to identify what it is that they’d be reluctant to lose. If pressed, they are likely to refer obliquely to ‘tradition’, without fully realising what that means.

Many would resent the thought that monarchies link their secular present with their Christian past, yet this is precisely what monarchies do. They are Christendom’s envoys to modernity, and even those people who would throw up their arms in horror at this suggestion will still hear vague, intuitive echoes in their souls.

Royal families remind them of the origin of their own families – kings and queens are their link to the past they ostensibly no longer cherish, and to God in whom they ostensibly no longer believe. This is whence they derive their sense of organic continuity, something they desperately, if often unwittingly, crave – and something that’s denied to nations where monarchies no longer exist or have never existed.

Those nations may not know exactly what they are missing, but rest assured that deep down they all know they are missing something vital, something they won’t get from any secular creed. Secular creeds may be liked, respected and praised. But they can hardly ever be loved.

This points at the principal function of traditional monarchies in a modern world. It isn’t to rule, pass laws, declare wars and send criminals to the Tower or Tyburn Hill. It’s to be loved.

However, to paraphrase Burke, for a monarchy to be loved, it has to be lovely – and it can only be as lovely as the person on the throne. This brings us to the Queen, who merits that modifier more than any politician I can think of, and most monarchs.

Even the most rabid republicans tend to exempt our monarch from their diatribes against our monarchy. The Queen exudes so much dignity, fortitude, good cheer and commitment to service that, paradoxically, one has to fear for the future of the dynasty.

For sometimes one gets the impression that most Britons love not so much the throne as the person occupying it. Looking at the upcoming generations of the reigning dynasty, one can look forward to the future with more hope than expectation that they will merit the same affection. And if they don’t, the monarchy may lose its raison dêtre.

The Queen can be succeeded, but it’s far from certain that she can be replaced. So much more fervent should be our prayers that she should continue to reign over us for years to come.

Happy birthday, Your Majesty! Many happy returns – please.

Morality pays in politics

“We need more religion in politics, not less,” wrote David Aaronovitch, catching me off guard. For the first time ever, I found myself in agreement with him.

This religion, Mr Aaronovitch?

I don’t think Mr Aaaronovitch has finally found God. It’s just that someone must have told him that the two Testaments are the only reliable source of public morality in the West. And it’s public, rather than private, morality that has a bearing on politics. The distinction is vital.

A naturally good man doesn’t have to consult Exodus or Matthew to act morally. He just knows what’s right and tries to lives accordingly.

But what if his idea of right and wrong differs from mine, mine from yours and yours from theirs? How do we settle our differences without resorting to violence? The answer is that some universal moral standard is essential for society to stay cohesive, and such universality can only come from one source.

Since the Church is the depository and guardian of Christian morality, one of its legitimate functions is to sit in judgement over politics, pointing out its deviations from moral commandments.

After all, when Christ said that his kingdom is not of this world, he left his audience in no doubt that his kingdom is higher than this world. That empowered his church to act as a sort of high-court judge of morality.

This is reasonably straightforward. But that’s where Niccolò Machiavelli comes in, the tomes of The Prince and Discourses tucked under his arm. A government, he says, must be guided by state necessity, which takes precedence whenever it’s in conflict with conventional morality.

Machiavelli’s books are – or should be – compulsory texts of political science, and his thinking was much more nuanced than those who haven’t read him believe. But it’s true that sometimes a moral political act by a statesman may have tragic – ultimately evil – consequences for his flock.

Yet my contention is that morality and political expediency overlap more often than not. We are so used to politicians cynically pursuing short-term electoral gains at any cost that we lose sight of morality as a possible exercise in political pragmatism.

Had European governments put morality above what they mistakenly perceived as raison d’état in the early 20th century, the First World War wouldn’t have broken out. Millions of lives would have been saved, and Europe wouldn’t have signed its collective suicide note.

Then the countries of the Entente had both the legal right and moral duty to crush Bolshevik Russia at birth. Lenin had allied himself with the losing side, making Russia a legitimate target for rough treatment. Instead, European governments chose to make political hay while the sun of their demob-happy populations shone.

The most evil regime in history was thus weaned to maturity, and its close rival for that distinction appeared just over a decade later.

That pushed the button for the Second World War, which again could have been prevented by moral action on the part of France and Britain. Instead, the West grabbed the instant profits resulting from a massive transfer of technology to Stalin, which enabled him to build the world’s most formidable military machine.

That was an even-handed policy, for at the same time Western financial and industrial corporations were doing brisk business with Hitler too. The fact that Hitler was openly preparing for war was swept under the same carpet that already covered Stalin’s similar preparations.

At any time between 1936 and 1939, resolute, morally motivated action by Britain and France could have prevented an all-out war. However, they chose… well, you know what they chose. Munich.

Since Mr Aaronovitch has never before advocated more religion in politics or anywhere else, one has to assume that those events of modern history failed to awaken his moral sense. That awakening must have been prompted by Putin’s bandit raid on the Ukraine, what with its endless supply of gruesome photos and TV sequences.

It’s not just the immorality of Western policies towards Russia that has produced the fascist regime now threatening us all. The issue is multifaceted, with some facets reflecting Russian history, others her national character, still others the evil gang forcing its way to power.

Yet what is beyond doubt is that the West had the power to make sure Putin’s regime, however wicked it may be, stayed on the straight and narrow. For it was Western transfers of finance and technology that put muscle on the bare bones of post-Soviet Russia. And it’s Western billions exchanged for gas that are still injecting red plasma and testosterone into the veins of the Russian monster.

Not only is the ensuing situation fraught with every manner of danger, including that of a nuclear holocaust, but, even barring that, it will now take the West trillions to counter the Russian threat – not the mere billions it realised from unrestricted trade with the evil regime. (Everything I say about Russia also goes for China, which could potentially become even more dangerous.)

It would have been both expedient and moral to tie any injection of capital or technology to verifiable and enforceable guarantees of good conduct. In 1999, when Putin took over, the West was in a position of power, able to dictate terms.

At the same time, it would have been both expedient and moral to eliminate any dependency on strategic materials supplied by evil regimes, especially those harbouring aggressive designs. Above all, this concerns energy, the most vital strategic resource of modern economies.

Had Western governments not pursued their suicidal and therefore deeply immoral ‘green’ policies, had they refused to kowtow to political pressures (largely financed by evil regimes with a vested interest in our reliance on their hydrocarbons), had they not wantonly destroyed or severely compromised their own energy sources, we wouldn’t be heading for a massive recession. And Putin’s war monster would have been exsanguinated.

The same way of thinking applies to domestic policies as well.

It would be both moral and expedient to foster individual responsibility, not collective security. It would be both moral and expedient to withdraw unlimited financial assistance from young able-bodied people. It would be both moral and expedient to reduce the state’s share in the economy. It would be both moral and expedient to punish crime with deterrent severity. It would be both moral and expedient to return to a system of selective education, in the knowledge that the ideologically motivated non-selective kind creates an illiterate population.

This anaphora of expedient morality comes from scriptural sources directly or indirectly. Therefore, one would agree with Mr Aaronovitch that our established Church should be in an ideal position to hold the state to account, to judge its morality and find it wanting.

Yet popping into my mind is the lapidary question posed in Griboyedov’s great comedy Woe to Wit: “And who are the judges?”

The Church of England used to be described as ‘the Conservative Party at prayer’. Now it’s more in the nature of the Labour Party on an Extinction Rebellion march, or on a rally flying rainbow flags.

Looking at its prelates, such as Welby and his predecessor, who honestly called himself a “hairy Lefty”, one isn’t imbued with confidence in their capacity to act as moral judges of politics.

I can’t think offhand of a single destructive, and therefore immoral, social policy they have condemned. The list of such policies that they condoned, on the other hand, is as long as the distance between London and either Athens or Jerusalem.

So, while I agree with the sentiment expressed in Mr Aaronovitch’s headline, I think it should be profitably edited to read: “We need more real religion in politics, not less”. There, it makes sense now.

Reason – higher, lower and none

People who argue that faith in God is irrational must have in mind a system of thought that, by contrast, is a paragon of rationality.

The only alternative to faith is the absence of faith, which implies an ability to explain the world in some other, purely empirical and materialistic but nonetheless rational, terms.

Those who attempt to do so are so intellectually lame that they have to lean on the crutch of science, which to them means natural science only. Yet Jacques Maritain shows in many of his books that both philosophy and theology are sciences too – and higher ones, specifically because they use a tightly structured intellectual apparatus to investigate first principles: causes, not just effects.

Dostoyevsky described first principles as ‘accursed questions’. It’s the job of philosophers and theologians to provide rational, or if you will scientific, answers.

But for now let’s agree to use ‘science’ in a strictly natural meaning. We then arrive at two pairs of words setting an intellectual barrier that no science can ever scale.

For anyone familiar with Wittgenstein’s work, one pair is the words ‘what’ and ‘that’. For anyone familiar with the work of Wittgenstein’s predecessors, the two words are ‘essence’ and ‘existence’.

Wittgenstein postulated that the realm of natural science is what the world is, not that it is – and especially not why it is. Philosophy is a higher science because it takes inquiry beyond what, and theology is higher still because it leads inquiry all the way up to why.

It was Aristotle who first began to investigate the juxtaposition of ‘what’ and ‘that’ or, to use the philosophical terms, ‘essence’ and ‘existence’. His work was developed and taken to the next level by Thomas Aquinas, arguably the greatest philosopher, and definitely the greatest theologian, in history.

Darwin’s slapdash theory of evolution by natural selection is these days touted by ignoramuses like Dawkins as the explanation of everything. He’d know how ridiculous this sounds had he taken the trouble to read the most basic of philosophical texts.

Evolution is a gradual rearrangement of the existing biological material. But that material has to exist to begin with. After all, before things evolve, they have to be. Or, to use Thomistic terms, before we ponder their essence we need to explain their existence.

Even if we accept the Darwinist dogma of a steady evolutionary progress from primitive organisms to more complex ones, that won’t even begin to explain the provenance of the original substance whence it all began. Whether that primary substance is described as a single cell or some mysterious primordial soup is only a question of semantics.

“Even if” in the previous paragraph communicates doubts about the validity of Darwinism even on its own terms. I’ve commented many times on the evidence con, which stands to reason much better than the evidence pro.

Since this isn’t my purpose here, I’ll only cite one statement that seems sufficient to end this discussion before it even began: “When we descend to details, we can prove that no one species has changed; nor can we prove that the supposed changes are beneficial, which is the groundwork of the theory.”

Which obscurantist creationist said that? Actually, this is a quotation from an 1863 letter written by Darwin himself. Alas, neither he nor his fanatical followers were willing to “descend to details”. What attracted them was the destructive political and cultural clout of Darwinism, not its scientific accuracy.

The essence of physical life is within the domain of natural science. The existence of it isn’t. Yet even natural scientists have to proceed from metaphysical assumptions they borrow from the higher systems of thought.

Above all, they have to be confident that the laws of nature they study are rational and universal. The honest thinkers among them, those whose minds are free of ideological biases, realise the sheer impossibility of a system of rational and universal laws ever appearing haphazardly in the absence of a rational and universal law-giver.

They may be able to explain the essence of, say, gravity – what it is. But they can’t explain its existence, how and why it came about in the first place. If they are indeed honest thinkers, they will realise this isn’t just something science hasn’t yet got around to explaining. They’ll know that metaphysical questions can’t have physical answers by definition – which doesn’t obviate the need for answering them.

A neurophysiologist equipped with sophisticated scanners may know the makeup of the brain, its functions, what intensity of thought produces what blips on the scanner displays. But give him another thousand years and infinitely more sophisticated scanners, and he still won’t be able to describe the mind in purely empirical terms, nor even define thought.

Though such things are outside the range of science, they undeniably exist. They may be ignored or dismissed, along with all philosophy and theology, but that would be tantamount to cowardly intellectual surrender. If things exist, man’s mind will seek to understand them – such is our ontological essence.

That’s why great scientists see no contradiction between their discipline and faith. Those inclining to philosophy, which is to say most great scientists, also realise that faith is an essential part of epistemology, even as applied to their own fields.

All rational inquiry starts with intuition. Theologians will describe it as faith; philosophers, as a premise or presupposition; scientists, as a hypothesis. Call it what you will, but this is the start-up mechanism activating reason.

Once activated, reason holds its premise to the tests of the relevant discipline. For the scientists, the test will consist in gathering and analysing empirical evidence. Philosophers and theologians will apply the testing equipment indigenous to their disciplines, of which logic is the most basic one.

They will also use the scientist’s tools of empirical evidence, seeking to find evidence that will either support their premise or refute it. Once they’ve found adequate support and no refutation, they are satisfied that the premise is true – just as the scientist is satisfied his hypothesis is valid once he has found that his experiments are sound and repeatable.

The difference is that the scientist may make a mental note of the metaphysical nature of physical laws, but he’ll then tuck that note in the back of his mind. In the front of his mind will be his day job: analysing the natural phenomena within his immediate sphere of expertise.

A thinking believer will build his intellectual structure on the foundation of intuitive faith in God. Such faith is a gift, akin to the intuition of a scientist who knows in his gut, before setting up any experiments, that his hypothesis is true.

The word ‘gift’ presupposes a donor, which is what theologians mean when saying it’s God who chooses people, not vice versa. Yet, just like a scientist, a thinking believer will then test the value of this gift both empirically and intellectually.

For his faith to survive intact, he has to be convinced that it activates a system of thought that explains the world to his satisfaction, or at least better than any other system.

Thus my lifetime of study and contemplation has led me to be convinced that man in general and Western man in particular can only be properly understood by someone who understands Christianity – and Christianity can only be properly understood by someone who knows it’s true.

Someone looking at quotidian problems from high above can see their interlinks more clearly than someone who is mired in their midst. That’s why an atheist philosopher is a contradiction in terms – if he really is a philosopher, he can’t be an atheist.

The nature of Christian intuition is mystical, its onset often sudden. Yet the intellectual history of the world proves that high reason, that of a philosopher, is a structure that can only be erected on the foundation of a mystical longing.

Low reason, that of an accountant, needs no such thing. This is the dominant type of rationality fostered by modernity, which explains its moral, aesthetic and intellectual decline.

Modernity brainwashes its adherents to believe that low rationality is all there is. This has an element of self-fulfilment to it: because people think so, low rationality is all they can get. And while a higher system can understand the lower one, the opposite isn’t the case.

One can’t despise a person for having no religious feeling any more than one can despise someone who has no ear for music. Compassion is more appropriate — and quiet amusement when an atheist talks about Christianity being irrational.

If opposites attract, they aren’t opposites

All over the world, extremists on the putative Right and the so-called Left have more in common with one another than either has with the political mainstream.

It may be that time again

This isn’t an intellectual deduction. It’s merely an empirical observation, borne out throughout history and highlighted by the current elections in France.

More than half of the French voted for assorted fascisoid parties in the first round. All but one, Le Pen’s National Rally, have been eliminated.

Those rioting students of France’s best universities didn’t get their way: their Trotskyist darling Mélenchon failed to get into the runoff. The choice is now between Macron and Le Pen, as it was in the previous election.

Yet a funny thing happened on the way to 2022. Five years ago, once Mélenchon got eliminated, most of his support shifted to Macron, who then romped to a landslide. Now a crowd of Mélenchon voters are dropping into Le Pen’s lap.

It’s hard to know the exact size of that crowd or whether or not it’ll be big enough to produce the national (and international) catastrophe of a Le Pen presidency. The polls aren’t reliable because the French are reticent about admitting to a preference for Le Pen.

My département de l’Yonne has been going to various Le Pens by a wide margin in one election after another. Yet no one ever admits to having voted that way for fear of committing a social faux pas.

I’m not qualified to make an accurate prediction of the outcome. I’m not sure anyone is. However, certain trends are observable one way or the other, and not only in France.

These days, people all over the West tend to opt not for the greater good but for the lesser evil. They vote not for one candidate but against the other. Come election time, and voters in the three countries I know intimately, the US, Britain and France, sing the same song in unison: X is useless, but it’s impossible to vote for Y.

So far the Y category has predictably included fascisoid extremists, whether tagged Right or Left. The mainstream parties may be perceived as infernal, but most people in the age groups likeliest to vote would rather be stuck with the devil they know, whichever hue he is painted.

That may be changing. Throughout Europe and, as it appears from afar, elsewhere, people feel (and resent) that the gap separating them from the ruling elites is turning into an unbridgeable abyss.

Some of this resentment has to do with the growing economic chasm separating the uppers from the lowers. One example: the income difference between board members of US corporations and their lowest-paid employees is now some 12 times greater than it was in the second half of the 19th century, a period known in popular mythology for its bloodsucking robber barons.

Yet the primacy of economics, the dominant superstition across the political board, is a Marxist fallacy. Most people can’t judge the economic implications of voting for this or that candidate anyway.

They don’t just want more money, although they certainly want that too. But above all, they crave more respect from the candidates, and closer emotional kinship with them.

The more acute that need, the wider the opening that clever demagogues can exploit – and the narrower the path to popular appeal that mainstream parties can tread. At some point that need overshadows whatever differences exist among various fascisoid parties, if any.

What they appear to be becomes more crucial than what they are. If they can believably claim to feel and share the voters’ pain, the people will focus on what unites the extremists, ignoring whatever sets them apart – especially when the pain is excruciating.

A point is reached sooner or later when political nomenclatures lose whatever little meaning they ever had. People are no longer willing to play the game of political Hokey Pokey, putting the right foot in or the left leg out.

It no longer matters to them that, say, Le Pen is supposed to be on the Right or, say, Mélenchon on the Left. People may not be able to explain, political philosophy and academic economics in hand, that neither term means anything at all. But they begin to sense it viscerally.

Then what psychologists call confirmation bias kicks in. Voters post-rationalise their intuition by looking for similarities in the two brands of extreme politics on offer. These aren’t hard to find: even a cursory glance uninformed by a degree in economics will show that, in that area at least, Mélenchon and Le Pen are dizygotic twins – as near as damn.

More important, both are perceived to be of the people and with the people, whereas Macron is seen as more up the people’s. Replace Macron with Johnson or Biden, and the popular sentiment will be identical.

People drift away from the mainstream, sailing towards what is called populism. Like most political terms of modernity, this one is a misnomer. All parties competing in more or less fair elections are populist – they can’t be anything else. They all depend on putting together blocs of votes, which can only be done by making attractive promises to large swathes of the populus.

However, when the mainstream parties are consistently in default of their promises, the minds of the electorate slam shut – and they are seldom wide-open to begin with. People start thinking with their viscera, which increasingly resemble a cocktail of resentments and insecurities.

Suddenly, politicians who appeal to that humour directly, either bypassing reason altogether or only using it in an auxiliary capacity, have a fighting chance. In that respect, there is little difference between your Hitlers and Mugabes, Peróns and Trumps, Le Pens and Mélenchons.

Some of them may have something of substance to offer, others may not. But when people refuse to use whatever reason they possess (and, when it comes to millions of voters, it’s never much), substance no longer matters. Only what today’s lot call ‘memes’ do.

That’s why, if Le Pen moves to the Elysée on Monday, I’ll be appalled and scared. But I won’t be surprised. The combined effect of such blights as Covid and Putin is producing a sweeping change in the world, and such changes, produced by such factors, are never for the better.

A major Western country is again bound to turn to fascisoid politics in the near future, and France is a likely candidate – if far from the only one. I can only hope this won’t happen this weekend, nor at any time when I’m still around.

I’m beginning to understand Madame du Barry who, when she was about to be beheaded by the guillotine of victorious modernity, cried: “De grâce, monsieur le bourreau, encore un petit moment!” – “One more moment, Mr Executioner, I beg you!”