Moral equivalence in Vatican

Ever since Augustine taught that war must be condoned if it’s just and condemned it if it’s not, Christian doctrine has frowned on indiscriminate pacifism.

However, the present Pope has revived it to justify his implicit support for Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine and his explicit hostility to the West.

After all, any influential person who claims that aggressor and victim are equally to blame for bloodshed is effectively working for the aggressor. This, no matter how many bien pensant shibboleths he lays as a smokescreen.

Alas, the pontiff is barely visible through the billowing smoke of his empty words full of moral equivalence (which is an oxymoron if I’ve ever seen one). For example, this is what he had to say last Wednesday about Russia’s aggression in general and the death of Darya Dugina in particular [the emphases are mine]:

“I think of the children, of the many dead, of the numerous refugees – many of them here in Italy – of the multitudes of the wounded and the multitudes of the orphaned children, Ukrainian and Russian. Orphanhood has no nationality, they have lost a father or a mother – Russian or Ukrainian… I think of that poor girl killed in Moscow by a bomb exploding under her car seat. It’s the innocent, the blameless who are paying for the war. Let’s ponder this reality and say to one another: war is madness. And those who profit from the war and arms trade are criminals murdering mankind.”

I’m not aware of any, or at least many, Russian mothers killed in the current war, which is fought exclusively on Ukrainian territory. It’s not Russian cities, hospitals, schools, churches, theatres and residential areas that are being indiscriminately bombed – only the Ukrainian ones. Nor do I think the invading Russian army has in its ranks many women with children.

Russian fathers are indeed dying, but only because they’ve come to conquer, murder, rape and loot their peaceful neighbours. Their demise is tragic for their children, but it takes moral blindness to equate their plight with that of the Ukrainian children left orphaned in their thousands and homeless in their millions by a savage aggressor.

Saying under such circumstances that “orphanhood has no nationality” is crass to the point of being cynical, an effect multiplied by the munificent cant. And “that poor girl” Darya was far from “innocent” and “blameless”.

Whatever we may think of the manner of her passing, she and her father (who probably was the intended target of that car bomb) have agitated for war over the past decade at least. To quote from the book His Holiness must be familiar with, they have sown the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind.

Any Christian is duty-bound to pray for the salvation of Darya’s soul, but that’s a far cry from mentioning her in the same breath with those orphaned Ukrainian children. They are the ones who are truly blameless and, if we disregard original sin for a moment, innocent.

The statement that “war is madness” is factually incorrect, intellectually shallow and morally suspect. Considering that there has hardly been a year in history without a war raging somewhere in (or all over) the world, I’d say war is the norm rather than a psychiatric deviation from it.

But lumping all wars together means that His Holiness doesn’t differentiate between, to use a random example, Argentina attacking sovereign British territory and Britain defending it. Or, closer to the matter in hand, between Russia’s bandit raid on the Ukraine and the Ukraine’s heroic resistance to it.

Such indiscriminate, blanket humanism is in fact moral relativism masquerading as moral absolutism. One expects better from the Vicar of Christ.

As for the last sentence in the pontiff’s soliloquy, this, I’m afraid, is his recurrent theme. Its overtones are unmistakable.

Since Russia is using arms of her own manufacture, it’s Western countries who have to be the criminals profiteering from selling arms to the Ukraine. But, unless His Holiness possesses information denied to us poor mortals, we are giving arms to the Ukraine, not selling them.

That makes it an act of charity rather than a commercial transaction, and this charity costs the West a lot, both directly, in the face value of the supplies, and indirectly, in the skyrocketing cost of some commodities. If the West has selfish motives, they certainly aren’t commercial in nature.

And how is that “murdering mankind”? Those weapons are targeting Russian invaders only and, contrary to the claims made by Putin’s propagandists, the world isn’t exactly co-extensive with Russia.

The theme is indeed recurrent, but at times His Holiness improvises some variations. Asked a few months ago how he felt about Western supplies of arms to the Ukraine, the Pope said he didn’t really know because the Ukraine is “too far”.

One would have expected his moral judgement to leap over the 800 miles separating the Vatican from the Ukraine, but the Pope did know one thing for certain: “What’s clear is that the country is used as an arms testing site. Wars are fought to test the weapons we have created.”

Right. So the Hundred Years’ War was fought for the sole purpose of testing swords, lances and longbows. One wonders how widely His Holiness has studied such matters, how deeply he has thought about them  – and how well he is familiar with the true reasons for the on-going conflict.

Yet West-baiting comes from the soul, not the mind. Hence the Pope once vouchsafed to Corriere della Sera his view that Russia’s attack on the Ukraine was caused by “Nato barking at Russia’s doorstep”. His Holiness wasn’t sure that “Putin’s wrath was provoked”, but he had no doubt that it was “facilitated”. The difference is too subtly nuanced for my understanding.

Christians, especially Catholics and most especially Ukrainian Catholics, rely on the Pope for moral and spiritual guidance. In view of his comments on Russia’s bandit raid, I’m not sure how long this reliance will last.    

Those treasonous translators

Traduttore, traditore, goes the old Italian saying. To translate is to betray.

Lancelot Andrewes, the best translator — and worst

This phrase both identifies and illustrates the immensity of a translator’s task. Its English version conveys the meaning of the original, but misses out on the alliteration and rhythm.

Now imagine a coruscating novel of 142,000 words, where every sentence is written in idiosyncratic vernacular and every page teems with untranslatable aphorisms. Add to that countless cultural allusions making little sense to foreign readers, and you’ll know why Gogol’s Dead Souls can never be properly rendered into English.

Nor can Dickens easily go into Russian. Back in the early 1960s, every self-respecting Russian family had (if not necessarily read) a 30-volume collection of his works adorning their bookshelves. The translation was practically word for word, which rendered the books dull and barely readable.

That showed the shortcomings of the so-called ‘literal school of translation’, which is so faithful to verbatim phrasing that it ignores its style and often even its meaning. The other school preaches ‘adequate’ translation. Its aim is to produce in the target language the stylistic effects of the original. On balance this is a better idea, provided it works, which it doesn’t very well with many books and not at all with some others.

So far I’ve been talking strictly about prose. Multiply the difficulties by any factor you choose, and you’ll begin to grasp the problems of translating poetry – or for that matter poetic prose.

There have been notable successes, such as some translations of Pushkin into English and French. Also, Bunin’s translation of Longfellow is one of the few examples of every original word preserved without damaging the poetry. Neither does Pasternak’s Shakespeare lose much in Russian, which isn’t to say it loses nothing. (For the sake of rhythm, the Russian Richard III offers merely half his kingdom for a horse, not the whole shebang.)

This brings me to the hardest task of the genre: translating Scripture. Enter Lancelot Andrewes (d. 1626), bishop, scholar and poet, who during the reign of James I oversaw the translation of the Bible into English.

His team didn’t work in a vacuum: they relied heavily on the earlier work by William Tyndale (d. 1536). He had translated good chunks of the Bible before being burned at the stake for his trouble – his effort was indeed a burning offence at the time.

Tyndale worked from Hebrew and Greek originals, and also from the Latin Vulgate translation. His work formed the basis of Myles Coverdale’s first complete English translation of the Bible, which in turn acted as reference for Andrewes and his friends.

What they produced is in my view the finest translation of the Bible into any language I know. I’m also willing to take a stab in the dark and bet that the King James Version is also the finest such translation even into the languages I don’t know.

It’s also a sample of the most beautiful, poignant and poetic English prose ever. Which is why C. S. Lewis thought it’s no good.

His arguments against using the KJV, and in favour of using modern translations, in today’s churches are so persuasive that I find myself nodding even though I disagree.

I could paraphrase his arguments, but C.S. Lewis was perfectly capable of speaking for himself: “The truth is that if we are to have translation at all we must have periodical re-translation. There is no such thing as translating a book into another language once and for all, for a language is a changing thing.”

Beautiful and solemn? Of course the KJV is. But that’s why “we must sometimes get away from the Authorised Version, if for no other reason, simply because it is so beautiful and so solemn. Beauty exults, but beauty also lulls… we may only sigh with tranquil veneration when we ought to be burning with shame or struck dumb with terror…”

The original Greek of the New Testament, writes Lewis, was the language of the streets, not of sublime poetic prose. That stands to reason, considering that of the four evangelists only Luke was an educated man, and of the epistle writers only Paul.

Hence rendering the New Testament in the language of sublime poetic prose is bad precisely because it’s so good. This also runs the risk of misunderstanding.

“Does the word ‘scourged’ really come home to us like ‘flogged’?” asks Lewis. “Does ‘mocked him’ sting like ‘jeered at him’?”

In other words, wonderful though the KJV is as literature, it, according to C.S. Lewis, is a bad – what my Russian professors would have called ‘inadequate’ – translation. We must have new translations from time to time, to keep up with a changing language and a diminished capacity of modern worshippers to understand archaic words.

Now, I regard C.S. Lewis as one of my teachers of both English style and Christian apologetics. Yet in this case I disagree with him, or rather both disagree and agree.

It’s true that a translator’s task isn’t to improve the original but to render it ‘adequately’, to use the term of my professors of literary translation. If the original speaks in a rough-and-ready dialect, then so must the translation.

And yes, language is indeed a living thing and words often swap their old meanings for new ones. However, living, especially these days, comes precious close to dying.

Thus we have versions of the Bible aimed exclusively at particular groups. One renders the commandment “honour thy father and thy mother” as “don’t dis your mum and your dad, it ain’t cool.” In the same version “thou shalt not kill” comes across as “don’t waste nobody”.

C.S. Lewis didn’t see this version but, had he lived another 30 years, would he have condoned it? If not, where did he draw the line in his quest for up-to-date, easily understandable Scripture?

Would he have abandoned the Book of Common Prayer phrase “with this ring I thee wed” for the modern version “this ring is a symbol of our marriage”? His own ear for English was so finely tuned that I find that hard to believe. But he also had such a splendid mind that his arguments are hard to dismiss.

But they can be countered. Yes, language changes, as does everything else. Yet, to borrow the logic of the argument from contingency, this both necessitates and proves the need for a factor of immovable constancy.

Language changes, writes Lewis irrefutably. But that doesn’t mean that liturgical language must follow suit and keep pace. Lancelot Andrewes realised that, which is why the KJV speaks in an English people didn’t speak in the streets of Jacobean London.

The way I was taught to translate was to look at a paragraph and keep looking until I’ve memorised it. Then I was to push the book aside and write down what that paragraph meant for me, the effect it had produced. That done, on to the next paragraph.

Scriptural translation requires more textual precision, granted. But is it possible that Lancelot Andrewes, and Tyndale and Coverdale before him, did precisely that? They kept looking at the Greek (and Hebrew) text until their eyes hurt. Then they pushed it aside and wrote down what the text meant for them.

The effect was so explosive that they could only express it in a prose of sublime and solemn poetry, thereby rejecting the prescriptions of my professors of literary translation and, alas, C.S. Lewis. Then again, God is the first and last source of all beauty, and those men were so close to Him that His Book must have lived within them as eternal truth, not just text.

A personal lament if I may: having converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism years ago, I desperately miss the KJV (and the Book of Common Prayer). This is the version I always quote from – not just because it’s the most beautiful one, but also because that was the first Scripture I knew.

If I can’t have it, I’d rather have St Jerome’s Latin Vulgate than any of the modern translations into English. But that choice is as scarcely available as, these days, the choice of the KJV in Anglican churches.

I don’t think the beauty of the KJV has ever lulled me into complacency, although I’m sure that C.S. Lewis was right to say that it had such an effect on others. Nor have I ever had any trouble understanding any of the archaisms. Adding beauty to a translation is a sin, but it’s more forgivable than subtracting beauty.

Lewis’s view, expressed whenever he spoke to novice priests, was that Scripture shouldn’t be instantly accessible only to educated people. That’s true, but surely it’s a priest’s task to educate his flock, regardless of the educational qualifications of every parishioner?

Scriptural texts should unite, not put asunder (which is one reason I’m in favour of Latin Mass). Yet people can come together at different levels, and my preference is for it to be as high as possible. Having said all that, Lewis made some good points that are worth pondering at length.

Better Redwood than dead wood

The rumour that, should Liz Truss become our next PM, Sir John Redwood may enter her cabinet is the best political news I’ve heard for a long time.

He would add something to our frontline politics that has been missing for decades: strength of character and intellect. Sir John is often likened to Margaret Thatcher, but the past politician I think he most closely resembles is Enoch Powell, if perhaps in a lighter version.

The same logical mind, a similar education (Redwood holds a PhD in history), the same passion breaking through the veneer of intellectual aloofness, the same slightly wild glimmer in his eyes – sometimes it sounds as if Enoch Powell came back as John Redwood.

Just like Powell, Redwood is staunch in defence of his principles, which by itself makes him different from his colleagues, most of whom don’t seem to possess any discernible principles whatsoever.

Sir John lacks the lightness of touch that many consider de rigueur for popular appeal. The assumption people are supposed to make is that a great statesman lurks behind the mask of louche flippancy. In fact, there is usually nothing behind it but louche flippancy.

We aren’t going to have a real conservative government no matter who moves into Number 10. But at least we’ll have one real conservative in it, should Sir John get into the inner sanctum.

The only other cabinet post he has had before was that of Secretary of State for Wales in John Major’s government. There he committed a bit of a gaffe at the Welsh Conservative Party conference, where he tried to mime singing the Welsh anthem whose words he didn’t know.

Well, at least Redwood made an effort to pretend, which isn’t his core strength. More important, in 1995 Redwood returned to the Treasury the unspent £100 million of Wales’s block grant. I can’t think offhand of any other politician who would voluntarily relinquish his budget for public good.

Sir John is a consistent Thatcherite who, as far as I know, has never deviated from that allegiance. Thus he fought tooth and nail against Britain’s entry into the EU under Major, and just as passionately for her to leave it under Cameron.

Unlike so many Brexiteers, Redwood objects to the very concept of the EU, not just Britain’s membership in it. He correctly regards that contrivance as an artificial construct bound to implode sooner or later, burying its members under the rubble. That’s why Redwood once remarked that leaving the EU was “more important than which party wins the next election or who is the prime minister.”

Again, that’s not a typical politician speaking, is it? That statement was a pledge of allegiance to the national good even at the expense of his own career. Would Boris Johnson ever say something like that? Would Sunak? Would Truss?

Sir John stood for Tory leadership a couple of times in the 90s. He would have been my first choice hands down, but no one asked me.

Those who were asked were put off by exactly the same qualities as those that appeal to me: substance over charisma, commitment to principles rather than to populism, conservatism barely diluted with compromises to socialism, some deficit of flexibility, the tendency to speak about serious matters seriously, without adopting the persona of a jolly-hockey-sticks Englishman.

Perhaps Sir John doesn’t appeal to our thoroughly corrupted electorate – he is too different from others to come across as a modern politician. But God knows we have enough politicos happy to offer voters change for a £9 note, all in threes. They are so ready to steer the country towards disaster that a heavy foot on the brake wouldn’t go amiss.

It’s perhaps an indication of the lamentable state of our politics that someone like John Redwood comes across as an exception. His standard should be about average in a government of statesmen. In a government of self-serving spivs, it’s way above top drawer.

P.S. One hears shrill calls for peace in the Ukraine, mostly coming from people who had salivated over Putin for years until realising that such excretions would peg them as either madmen or Russian agents. But translation is in order: when these chaps talk about peace in the Ukraine, what they really mean is surrender of the Ukraine.

French ‘argent’ isn’t like our money

When Liz Truss was asked whether France’s president Macron was friend or foe, she replied, “The jury is still out”.

Friend or foe?

That predictably got Manny’s culotte in a twist and he said testily that “the United Kingdom is a friendly nation, regardless of its leaders, sometimes in spite of its leaders.”

Friendly, yes. But with reservations, which go beyond Manny treating Brexit as a personal affront to be avenged, annoying though that is.

I often tell our French friends, some of whom are politicians, that I like everything about France except her politics.

They dismiss such statements with indulgent, good-natured smiles, as if both expecting les anglo-saxons to be slightly eccentric and at the same time not minding such quirks. But the way I use the word ‘politics’, it transcends the mechanics of putting together and running a government.

Politics to me defines the power balance between the government and the governed, which in turn defines the amount of liberty in the country. And French liberté isn’t quite like our liberty – just like their argent isn’t exactly like our money.

All modern states have a claim to our income that would have been unthinkable in times pre-modern. At base, they believe that our money really belongs to them, and it’s up to them to decide how much of it we should be allowed to have.

When he was Chancellor, Gordon Brown inadvertently expressed that philosophy in so many words. “Our government,” he said, “lets the people keep more of their money.” You can let someone keep anything only if it belongs to you. So thank you, Gordon, for spelling it out.

This approach is common to all modern states, but there exist individual differences in how much the central state can get away with. And in France it can get away with a lot more than in Britain or America.

That goes to the core of the country’s political history and the mentality that history has produced. Without exceeding the scope of a short article, let’s just say that the French accept more power on the part of the central state than the British (or Americans) will countenance.

The word ‘statism’ conjures up largely negative connotations in the Anglo sphere, especially among conservatives. By contrast, the French word étatisme, while not always laudatory, is hardly ever pejorative.

You may think that all this is theoretical. So it is, until the theory is put into practice to affect your life. Two examples, one having to do with friends of ours, the other with us personally, illustrate this point well.

Our friends had a house in the South of France and paid about €3,000 a year in property tax. Then some five years ago, the authorities began charging them an extra €500 as tax on some garden structure that didn’t in fact exist.

Rather than refusing to pay, our friends dutifully coughed up the money, and then asked the local notary what they could do to get it back. He did some research and informed them that the tax authorities would only stop the charge if they investigated the matter. However, they preferred just to have the money rather than spending precious man-hours on superfluous groundwork.

The wrangle went on for five years, as did the annual €500 shakedown, and finally our friends refused to pay. Not a problem: the government simply took the money out of their account. That extortion only stopped when they sold the house and closed the bank account.

What happened to us is as typical – and as hard to imagine happening in Britain. We’ve had an account at the branch of BNP-Paribas in our village for 22 years. As happens with all local tradesmen, we’ve established personal ties with our bankers, making life more pleasant (agréable).

Then a couple of months ago, BNP informed us that the accounts of all British homeowners in France were being transferred to a central Paris branch. It’s all for our own good, we were told. Now we’ll be able to talk to English-speaking bankers, and isn’t that wonderful.

Well, no, it isn’t. We have no difficulty transacting all our business in French, although we realise that not all Britons in France feel the same way. In that case it’s good for them to have the choice of moving their money into the hands of Anglophone clerks – just as it’s good for us to have the choice of keeping our account where it has been for 22 years.

Except that we haven’t been given the choice. We were simply told where our money was going, and thank you very much for doing business with us. Penelope, in her incarnation as Pénélope, has fired off an indignant letter to BNP, knowing in advance that we have no recourse whatsoever.

No big deal one way or the other, you might think, and on some level you’d be right.

Yet both examples I’ve chosen illustrate something that goes deeper than the exact location of our bank account or even the extra tax our friends were unfairly made to pay. The two stories point to the kind of relationship between the state and the individual that’s fundamentally alien to les anglo-saxons.

What bright spark decided that Britain and France could comfortably snuggle up together within a single state? Whoever it was, and one could name several culprits, knows little about the two countries’ political history – and understands even less.

Vive la différence, for sure. But let’s never forget that la différence does exist – and that it’s fundamental to the point of being irreconcilable.  

Mimicry run riot

Fr Pavel Florensky, the polymath philosopher murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1937, wrote a remarkable book The Pillar and Ground for the Truth.

Leonid Slusky, speaking at the memorial service for Darya Dugina

In it he argued that thinking in trinitarian categories is an ontological property of the human mind. The argument is long and involved, featuring things like the three spatial dimensions, three basic grammatical tenses, three phases of biological life, three movements of the sonata form and so forth.

I like to apply this argument to the observation that most political slogans of modernity are tripartite, consisting of three words or phrases rhythmically arranged. Since the wielders of such lines were intractably secularist (we are talking about modernity after all), they couldn’t have been accused of appealing to the religious feelings of their flock.

Of perhaps they did, cynically. But Florensky’s observation is more plausible. The one-two-three view of life – including political life – indeed has to be an intrinsic, innate property of the human mind.

Thus, American “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness”, French “liberté, égalité, fraternité”, Russian “vsia vlast’ sovetam” (all power to the Soviets), German “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer!”. And even a less prominent modern regime came up with “work harder, produce more, build Grenada”.

Florensky’s argument was of course that this tendency was an unconscious mimicry of the Holy Trinity, and I am sure he was right. But some regimes consciously mimic not the Trinity but one another, as a way of establishing an ideological lineage.

This brings me to Leonid Slutsky, the Russian politician who is the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. That is one of those political misnomers that never cease to amuse me.

For rather than being either liberal or democratic, the party, whose founder Zhirinovsky died earlier this year, has been downright fascist from its first days. Zhirinovsky’s pet idea was for Russia to sprawl all the way to the Indian Ocean. Ever since the Ukraine proclaimed its independence, he agitated for an invasion, ideally facilitated by a nuclear barrage.

The party has always drawn about 20 per cent of the electorate, but until recently it was regarded as strictly loony fringe. Its function was to enunciate and promulgate extreme ideas that Putin’s ruling party felt too cautious to proclaim openly.

Now the Russian LibDems are in the ideological mainstream of Russian politics, which paradoxically makes them redundant. Who needs marginal parties when Putin himself has adopted the same ideas and put them into practice? Hence Slutsky has become, even more than Zhirinovsky was, strictly a Putin lackey, an underling to a boss.

Consequently, though Slutsky inherited the leadership of the party, he has little political weight of his own. It remains the same party, though, and that Slutsky emphasised the other day at the memorial service for Darya Dugina.

He delivered a speech of which both Vlads, Putin and Zhirinovsky, would have been proud. He ended it by shouting: “One country, one president, one victory!”

Fr Pavel Florensky vindicated. The tripartite form is very much in evidence, as is the implied mimicry. Yet I very much doubt, for a variety of reasons, that Slutsky’s inspiration came from the Holy Trinity. He took his cue from more secular antecedents.

Here I’d like to refer you to any documentary footage of Nazi rallies, especially Leni Riefenstahl’s masterly 1935 film Triumph of the Will. If you’ve seen it, you must remember Rudolf Hess screaming hysterically, “Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Führer!” – one nation, one state, one leader.

It’s obvious that Hess, second only to Hitler in the Nazi party, is Slutsky’s role model. That raises an inevitable question: Who performs the same role for Slutsky’s boss?

Dirty dancing, Finnish style

The only PM readily associated in my mind with dancing, dirty or otherwise, is the acronym for evening – not for prime minister.

Prime Minister of Finland on the left

It turns out my mind with its association is hopelessly misogynistic. Or at least that’s the natural inference to draw from the coverage of Sanna Marin, the Finnish prime minister.

That good-looking married woman of 36 caused three contiguous viral outbursts on social media. The first was a few days ago, when a video of her dancing at a night club made the rounds.

Miss Marin, otherwise known as Mrs Räikkönen, was doing a creditable, and credible, imitation of a pole dancer, except she was writhing around muscular young men, not a chrome stake. In between two sessions of fully clothed vertical intercourse, she was also photographed sitting in the lap of some of those men, none of whom was Mr Räikkönen.

Then a photo was leaked, showing two bare-breasted women French (Finnish?) kissing at the prime minister’s official residence in Helsinki. They were covering their breasts with the ‘Finland’ sign that normally sits on Miss Marin’s desk. It was hard not to detect a touch of mockery in their modesty, something I’m sure the fiercely patriotic Finns must have found distressing.

One of the semi-naked women was the model Sabina Sarkka, a former Miss Finland contestant. She also co-starred in another video, showing her dancing with Miss Marin at a different night club, their legs intertwined, their crotches grinding against each other.

When the scandal broke, Miss Marin admitted that perhaps the lesbian kiss at the Finnish equivalent of the White House or Number 10 was “not appropriate”. However, “nothing extraordinary happened.”

She meant she didn’t have affairs with any of the male poles she rubbed against, nor indeed with Miss Sakka, with whom the rubbing was even more suggestive. Moreover, Miss Marin even volunteered to take a drug test, which came back negative. That’s all right then.

Anyway, those pieces of visual entertainment caused a bit of a stir in Finland and elsewhere. Doubts were raised about the propriety of such behaviour by the leader of a Western country soon to become a Nato member.

Before I tell you what I think about it (as if you didn’t know already), let’s see the comments by two young female journalists in The Times.

The title of the first article, by Charlie Gowans-Eglinton, Dirty Dancing? Yes, We Millennial Women Party Like Sanna Marin!, is as self-explanatory as her take on the same-sex dance is predictable.

Anyone who finds anything wrong with it has to be a rank misogynist. “If the Finnish prime minister were a man,” she writes, “swaying arm in arm with a male friend, I doubt it would be such big news.”

Unlike, evidently, the cosmopolitan author, I don’t know enough about Finnish mores and hence can’t take exception to her comment about them. However, my imagination is vivid enough to extrapolate into a more familiar environment.

So let’s imagine Mr Biden on the dance floor at a Washington disco, grinding his primary sex characteristics against those of a Chippendale stripper. Yes, I know the image doesn’t come naturally, but please make an effort. And while you are at it, also picture Mr Johnson doing the same thing with the same male stripper at Annabel’s.

Splendid. Now imagine that stripper French-kissing another man in the Oval Office, his nether regions covered with the official US roundel – or, if you’d rather, the same scene occurring at Number 10, mutatis mutandis.

Miss Gowans-Eglinton is confident that such hypothetical scandals would be taken by the gaping public in stride, as no big deal. Clearly, her imagination is nowhere near as vivid as mine.

For I can just see those screaming 100-point front-page headlines in our newspapers, and that’s just the broadsheets. Either gentleman’s tenure would last approximately 10 minutes after the first headlines broke – which is how long it would take their speech writers to draft a hasty resignation statement.

Would Miss Gowans-Eglinton then be complaining about misandry? Would anyone?

Certainly not Olivia Petter, the author of the second article. Why, she herself behaves like Miss Marin, so there can be nothing wrong about it: “My friends and I always dance intertwined at nightclubs, with arms flung around necks and waists, bums bumping.”

Naturally, only international Colonel Blimps can take issue with such innocent fun: “The reactions to Marin’s night out feel wildly misogynistic… The sad truth is that the criticism of Marin is just another symptom of our sexist culture, one that is obsessed with policing female behaviour.”

Not guilty, m’lord. I suffer from no such obsession because my fixations tend to have a touch of realism about them. If young women choose to act like that, they are entitled to do so – tempora mutantur and all that.

All I can offer is a regret that even solidly middle-class girls see pole dancing and lesbianism as sufficiently cool to imitate aesthetically, if not physically. I also regret that even their everyday clothes leave little to imagination, thereby switching off the most erogenous of all zones. Then perhaps times are so hard that even previously wealthy women can’t afford enough cloth to cover their breasts.

Fair enough. If normal girls in their 20s and 30s choose to act and dress in a blatantly sexual (or homosexual) manner, it’s their business, not mine. Hey, I’m even man enough to admit that I occasionally steal the odd glance at the secondary sex characteristics on display. So complaining too loudly would be ever so slightly hypocritical.

However, the prime minister of a major country isn’t a normal woman of 36. The seminal difference between her and our two hacks is that they represent no one but themselves – and, alas, the paper lending its space to their New Age bilge.

Miss Marin, by contrast, represents not just her sexy self but an important and generally attractive nation. This is a high honour that ought to confer some dignity on its recipient. It should also remind her that she no longer belongs to herself or her immediate family. She belongs to the country that has chosen her to serve it.

By accepting that post she also accepted the responsibility to grow into it. That involves making the right choices and pushing them through parliament – this much goes without saying.

But it also presupposes some decorum of appearance and demeanour, for its absence may suggest to people that the holder has no respect for the post into which the people have put her. That means she has no respect for them as a whole, reserving that feeling only for similarly ‘cool’ youngsters.

“Policing female behaviour”, which so vexes Miss Petter, is passé now, one has to accept that, even if the word ‘unfortunately’ flashes through one’s mind. But a nation has every right to expect certain standards of behaviour from its elected representatives.

And yes, I realise how retrograde this sounds. Words like ‘decorum’, ‘decency’ and ‘propriety’ have no place in a modern lexicon. They belong in what Trotsky called ‘the dustbin of history’ – next to the words ‘discernment’ and ‘taste’.

Re-spect, Yo Royal Highness

The Duchess of Kent seldom makes public statements. Over the past decades she has been about as loquacious as your average Trappist nun.

Leeds Piano Competition of yesteryear: the Duchess gives a prize to my future wife, with Cristina Ortiz and András Schiff looking on

Yet HRH is neither a Trappist nun nor any other kind. This she proved by declaring her love of rap, especially Eminem and Ice Cube.

“I’ll listen to anything,” she said. “I just love music… If it makes my feet tap then I’m happy.”

This is a startling admission for an 89-year-old aristocrat, who was musically trained as a girl, dreamed of performing at Carnegie Hall and only narrowly missed out on a place at the Royal Academy of Music.

That sort of background should have taught her that real music doesn’t make one’s feet tap. At the risk of sounding pompous, music’s function is to lift the soul and remind it of its origin. Its receptors are head and heart, not the organs located lower in the body.

That’s not to say that feet-tapping music has no place in life. But it belongs in a dance hall, not Carnegie Hall. Listening to such music – especially rap – on the wireless, which HRH apparently does all the time, instantly marks the listener as a cultural savage.

“I’ll listen to anything” is a popular statement, next to “I like both classical and pop.” No doubt that’s true: some classical tunes are quite catchy and almost as likable as pop. Alas, no one capable of listening to pop can appreciate real music – no matter how much he likes it.

The difference between liking and appreciating may be illustrated by wine. Most people would like a great wine, say Château Pétrus. But it would take an extremely refined, cultured and experienced palate to appreciate that wine at its own level, giving it its due. In the absence of such faculties, a bottle of Chianti would do just as well, if not better.

Yet the effort made by the budding oenophile is nothing compared to the dedication, application, learning and innate taste involved in appreciating a great piece of music.

Such appreciation demands a lifelong effort in attuning one’s sensibilities to the highest achievements of our culture. I maintain that no one who has made the requisite effort would be able to listen to rap – or any kind of pop – for five seconds. That kind of diabolical noise would give him an acute physical pain.

I wonder if HRH actually listens to the lyrics of the music that makes her feet tap. I hope not, for otherwise one would have to think that Her Majesty’s cousin is married to a woman who is either woefully barbarian or completely gaga.

Even as we speak, I close my eyes and imagine HRH rocking to the sound of Eminem, her feet in high gear:

Bitch, I’m a player, I’m too motherfuckin’ stingy for Cher
’t even lend you an ear, ain’t even pretendin’ to care
But I tell a bitch I
’ll marry her, if she’ll bury her
Face on my genital area, the original Richard Ramirez
Christian Rivera
‘Cause my lyrics never sit well, so they wanna give me the chair

Push another button, and in comes her other favourite, Ice Cube:

Left my nigga’s house paid
Picked up a girl been tryin
’ to fuck since the 12th grade
’s ironic, I had the brew, she had the chronic
Lakers beat the Supersonics
I felt on the big fat fanny
Pulled out the jammy and killed the punanny
And my dick runs deep, so deep
So deep put her ass to sleep
Woke her up around one
She didn’t hesitate to call Ice Cube the top gun
Drove her to the pad and I’m coastin

Took another sip of the potion hit the three-wheel motion

In the charitable spirit for which our royals are justly famous, the Duchess spreads her cultural attainments wide. For the past 13 years, she has been teaching music at a Hull comprehensive.

I don’t mean to sound snobbish, but Hull strikes me as a good place for evangelising Eminem and Ice Cube. Doing so with local children must be dead easy. Teaching them to appreciate, say, St Matthew’s Passion is a harder task, and one clearly beyond someone who listens to Eminem on the wireless.

Does ‘Mrs Kent’, as the modest duchess is known at the school, try to teach any other music or just rap? I also wonder why abusing children sexually is against the law, but violating them aesthetically, scarring their brittle sensibilities for life, isn’t.

I think HRH should be placed on the aesthetic offenders’ register and barred from teaching music or anything else. Due process would demand a prior hearing, which I suggest should be accompanied by the songs cited above. That’s prima facie evidence if I ever saw it.

It didn’t start with Dugin

Russian fascism has a long and distinguished history, almost coextensive with Mussolini’s and Hitler’s.

After the revolution, some two million Russians ended up in Europe, mostly in Germany, France and Czechoslovakia. Just about every political movement found its adherents within that group, and fascism was among the most prominent – especially in Germany.

In 1922 the Russian fascists Sergey Taboritsky and Pyotr Shabelsky-Bork murdered the exiled liberal politician Vladimir Nabokov, the writer’s father. But the inspiration behind them came from Gen. Vasily Biskupsky.

Biskupsky was a rich man in his own right, but – if persistent rumours are to be believed – he also had access to a chunk of the Romanovs’ money, which he channelled into the war chests of various German extremists. One of the grateful recipients was the party later known as the NSDAP – the Nazis.

In addition to helping finance Hitler’s rise to power, Biskupsky founded and ran the Aufbau (Economic-Political Society for Aid to the East), where one of his employees was Alfred Rosenberg, a bilingual Balt educated in Petersburg.

(A funny digression if I may. Back in 1973 I was tangentially involved with Radio Liberty in New York, where I met a sixtyish Russian who during the war had been a lieutenant in the Abwehr.

Shortly after publishing his sinewy pamphlet Der Untermensch, where the Slavs were described as the eponymous subhumans, Rosenberg came to inspect the Abwehr headquarters. My acquaintance asked him, in German, “Am I subhuman too?”

“No,” replied Rosenberg. “You can’t be subhuman because you are wearing the uniform of a German officer. “How about my wife?” Rosenberg thought for a second and switched to Russian: “Idite na khui” – go fuck yourself. I told you he was fully bilingual.)

The principal theoreticians of Russian fascism were émigré writers Ivan Shmelyov and Ivan Ilyin, Putin’s favourite philosopher. Through his more hands-on disciples in Germany and their capable friends like Rosenberg he influenced German Nazism, not just the Russian variety.

But of course cultural, historical and philosophical inputs into Nazism were many, which is the case with all successful ideologies. Marx, for example, identified his major influences as French utopian socialism (such as Saint-Simon’s and Fourier’s), Hegel’s dialectics and the classical economics of Smith and Ricardo.

The Nazi river was also fed by many tributaries, and Dugin has followed that fine tradition. His ‘philosophy’ is a mishmash of Orthodox Third Rome messianism, Russian fascism of the 1920s-1940s and the Eurasian movement of the same period.

The latter deserves a special mention because it was one of the prongs of the GPU (KGB’s precursor) op to divide and destabilise the Russian émigré community, which at the time was still seen by the Soviets as a serious threat. Another prong was the Changing of Signposts movement, whose proponents tried to convince the émigrés that Bolshevism shouldn’t be resisted because it embodied the Russian national idea.

The Changing of Signposts was created and tightly controlled by the GPU, but the pre-existent Eurasian movement was something they merely piggybacked. As a result, it became another conduit for Soviet propaganda that eventually succeeded in emasculating the emigration as a viable force.

Dugin created his ideological synthesis by adding to the elements I mentioned above a sort of mysticism based on the death cult. Observing death, he wrote, is a key formative experience for one’s personality and soul.

That should have provided a silver lining to the cloud of watching his daughter’s car explode before his own eyes. Dugin is doubtless bereaved, but his soul has emerged so much the better developed.

Our papers didn’t cover the response to the assassination on Russia’s official TV channels, which is a pity. I’ll try to fill in that gap, not to deprive you of the entertainment value.

“If some scum in Russia is gloating, he should be sent down!” screamed Vladimir Solovyov, affectionately nicknamed ‘Putin’s Goebbels’, the host of a talk show that’s on eight hours every day.

He then added, somewhat incongruously, I’d even say incomprehensibly, that the fitting response would be to “create sharashki”. These were GULAG setups, where imprisoned scientists and engineers were made to toil for the Soviets. Solzhenitsyn described one such in his First Circle. Both Tupolev, of the Tu planes fame, and Korolyov, the driving force behind the Soviet space programme, used to be inmates.

Then Solovyov and his guests turned their attention to Britain, which had incurred their displeasure. “Britain,” explained one of the guests, “plays the role of a European ISIS”.

“If the US wants to talk to us,” he continued, “the entry ticket must be the reining in of Britain. Denuclearisation. Outside administration. The aim should be a total obliteration of this ugly hotbed of perversion, paedophilia, drug addiction and other filth.”

Britain isn’t the only country slated for obliteration, for the Ukraine is still kicking. Thus, another guest suggested that Darya Dugina ought to be commemorated by naming one of Kiev streets after her – after the Ukraine has been brought to heel.

“After the murder of Darya Platonova [Dugina], it’s our duty to annihilate that instrument of evil, to annihilate the Ukraine as a terrorist state. We can’t coexist with the Ukraine on the same earth. It’s impossible to coexist with infernal evil.”

That strategy was neatly, if somewhat illogically, summed up by another guest: “Whoever is behind the murder of Darya Dugina, the Ukraine must be eradicated.”

This last phrase is repeated on Russian TV so often that the Roman senator Cato (d. 46 BC) must feel envious, wherever he is. He only repeated “Deletando est Carthago” (Carthage must be destroyed) a few times, not hundreds of times every day.

You see what you are missing by your inability to follow primary sources? Our own talk shows sound positively insipid by comparison. Where’s the passion, the fervour, the unrestrained vocabulary, the calls to genocide?

Verily I say unto you, if you want to be properly entertained, learn Russian. It may not be the only language for verbal fun, but Chinese would be harder to pick up.

“Ukrainians aren’t human”

Thus wrote the late Darya Dugina, who was the other day blown to pieces by a car bomb probably meant for her father, Alexander.

I’d pity Dugin if I didn’t pity Ukrainians more

Or if you’d like the full robust quote: “We began this operation too delicately and kindly, while at times it’s necessary to be more cruel and less forgiving… Each [Ukrainian] city must have its own tribunal, like the one in the Hague, to investigate the crimes of these subhumans. For they aren’t human any longer.”

One assumes that the Ukrainians stopped being human on 24 February, 2022, when the Russians launched their bandit raid on the country. Or perhaps they became simian creatures in 2014, when the Russians started the war by annexing the Crimea. One way or the other, Darya is living, or rather now dead, proof of the proverb about apples and trees.

The theme of racially inferior species isn’t exactly new in modern history, so neither Darya nor her daddy can claim ownership of the idea. But they have added some indigenous twists to the seminal works by Hitler, Rosenberg, Streicher and Goebbels.

Alexander Dugin isn’t so much a creator as a synthesiser. He expertly weaved together the ideas of the Third Rome dating back to the 16th century, those of the GPU-inspired Eurasian Movement of the 1920s and German Nazism to create the supremacist fascist ideology Putin has adopted as his own.

With one minor exception: Putin has so far shunned Dugin’s virulent anti-Semitism, satisfying himself with the other aspects of his ‘philosophy’. Yet something tells me that oversight will soon be corrected – anti-Semitism is never too deep beneath the surface in Russia, and it always comes out sooner or later, especially when things aren’t going too well.

Both Dugins have agitated for war against the Ukraine since the time it was barely a twinkle in Putin’s eye.

The father has led the way since at least 2008, nominating the Ukraine as the first step on the way to creating a Russia “from Dublin to Vladivostok”. But the daughter echoed his ideas faithfully in her own writing, acting as a sort of Streicher to his Rosenberg.

The question is, whodunit? “Is it possible that Darya was killed by Russians?” asked one of my readers yesterday, to which I replied that, “Everything is possible.”

One possibility, that the Ukrainians did it, is vehemently denied by both the Ukrainian government and the Russian friends of that long-suffering nation.

Describing the explosion as a terrorist act, head of the Ukrainian President’s administration, Mikhail Podolyak, said: “I stress that the Ukraine definitely had nothing to do with this because we aren’t a criminal state like the Russian Federation, and especially not a terrorist state.”

I agree that the Ukrainian state isn’t criminal but, if it were indeed responsible for the assassination, I disagree that it would be a crime. There is a war going on, and the Dugins are legitimate targets.

The precedent was established at Nuremberg, where both Rosenberg and Streicher were hanged in 1946, even though neither of them had played a hands-on role in the Nazi crimes. Yet those crimes were committed in the name of an ideology, whose creators and promulgators were judged to be criminals themselves.

Those who think that the Dugins, along with other creators and champions of Russian Nazism, should be off-limits for attacks must also believe that Rosenberg and Streicher should have been spared at Nuremberg. Looking at some British Putinistas I know, I wouldn’t be surprised if they believed just that. But this isn’t a view shared by decent people.

The Israelis are known to have assassinated a few physicists involved in Iran’s nuclear programme. I have no moral problem with that: those who create physical weapons for an evil regime to annihilate a civilised nation are legitimate targets. However, I’d suggest that creators of ideological weapons are equally culpable – if not more so.

If I were a spokesman for the Ukrainian government, I’d happily take the credit for the assassination even if someone else was responsible. It’s important for the Russians to know that war isn’t just happening somewhere else, that they themselves can be targeted.

The inhuman monstrosity with which the Russian Nazis are conducting their bandit raid is fully comparable, in kind if not quite yet in scale, with the crimes committed by the German Nazis 80 years ago. That was seen as sufficient justification for the Allies to bomb Germany flat. Taking this as a precedent, bombing a car carrying an ideologue of Russian fascism strikes me as both just and strategically desirable.

But yes, of course it’s possible that Darya was killed by the Russians. They’ve used false-flag terrorism on Putin’s watch before when, for example, the FSB blew up several residential buildings in Russia as a pretext for starting the second Chechen war.

Putin might have sensed that the hatred of Ukrainians his propaganda had cultivated is losing its febrile pitch. Hence he might have counted on the assassination as a way of ratcheting up popular enthusiasm for the war, perhaps even for the use of nuclear weapons. That would be a fit answer to Darya’s lament about the Russians being “too delicate and kind” in the Ukraine.

It’s also possible that the Dugins fell victim of internecine squabbles within the ruling regime, which isn’t an unusual occurrence there. Murder is a reliable technique of political debate in Russia, especially over the past 20 years.

Then of course Dugin père has extensive business interests in addition to his ‘philosophy’, which is a factor of danger in a country whose economy is criminalised from top to bottom. It’s quite possible he was supposed to be ‘whacked’ for purely economic reasons. It’s even possible that Darya was targeted specifically, for whatever reason, such as sending a message to her father.

But all such possibilities lack the poetic justice of Ukrainian involvement. Taking the war into Russia, if only on a limited scale, is a proper response to the ghastly crimes being committed by Russian Nazis in the Ukraine.

P.S. Dugin, by the way, is the darling of assorted Western (including British) extremists who see him as a kindred soul. Those who still feel that way after all the Russians have done should be hit by personal sanctions — just like the Dugins were.

That would be denying their right to free expression, but then so was the execution of Lord Haw Haw. Enemy propaganda shouldn’t be confused with free speech.

RAF aims at wrong targets

If we can’t get a diverse RAF, we don’t want any. Air Vice-Marshal Maria Byford, chief of RAF staff personnel, didn’t say this in so many words. But that’s what I infer from what she did say.

Future director of Tate Modern

Under her guidance, the RAF “slowed down”, in effect paused, its recruitment. For the most important target the RAF is being set up to hit is diversity.

Our air force is committed to having 20 per cent women and 10 per cent ethnic minorities, which has sent recruitment into a tailspin. Too many white men apply for the job, and that just won’t do.

And there I was, thinking that in this context diversity meant a judicious mix of fighters, bombers and ground-attack aircraft, all with a proper logistical support. Turns out it doesn’t. It means the same in the RAF as everywhere else: sheer suicidal madness inspired by a pernicious ideology.

Byford doesn’t see it that way though: “I want the best people. So I need the best people to join to achieve the best they can during their service career and we get… what we need from an operational capability perspective.

“And if I can include more women and more people from different backgrounds in that, I think I have a better service in the long run. We are unashamed about doing that because I think that’s a good thing.”

Good to know. We don’t want our top brass to be ashamed of what they are doing. But Byford should still be ashamed of the twaddle she sees fit to mouth. Because what she effectively says is that women and ethnic minorities have a better “operational capability” than white men.

Or do I misunderstand the logic? Let’s see.

Thesis: Byford wants “the best people… from an operational capability perspective”. Antithesis: According to her, “more women and more people from different backgrounds” will deliver “a better service in the long run”. Synthesis: So I didn’t misunderstand. The more women and ethnics, the better will the RAF be operationally.

I seldom argue with professionals, assuming they know better. But in this case that simple syllogism is so counterintuitive that some historical proof of it wouldn’t go amiss.

Looking at the RAF’s finest hour, the Battle of Britain, women were part of it, but not the most spectacular part. As members of the Air Transport Auxiliary, they flew aircraft between factories and airfields.

Women flew neither Spitfires into dog fights nor Wellingtons on bombing raids. They made an important contribution, but I doubt Air Chief Marshal Dowding would have looked kindly on any suggestion that RAF women should do the same jobs as the men.

There was indeed some ethnic diversity in the RAF at the time. Two fighter squadrons were manned by Polish pilots, and two more by Czech ones. All four fought heroically, but that’s hardly the kind of diversity Maria Byford has in mind, is it? After all, both Czechs and Poles are shamefully, irredeemably white.

In other words, today’s RAF is playing the same destructive ideological games as are all other government services. But the consequences can be much more devastating.

Thomas Sowell, the most trustworthy writer on such matters, shows, figures in hand, that public officials are more likely than business executives to indulge in discrimination, negative or in this case positive.

After all, the latter stand to gain or lose their own money (or that of their shareholders) if their recruitment goes awry. Their economic survival depends on getting the best possible staff, and even the rankest racists among them are likely to suppress their innermost feelings for the sake of the bottom line.

(I myself hired some talented youngsters who bore the stigmata of modernity that made my stomach turn. But then I thought of my pension fund and controlled the gastric reactions.)

Not so with government officials, writes Sowell. Their personal risks in recruitment are so low as to be non-existent. They are happy to play ideological games because that gets them on the right side of their likeminded superiors. And if they hire unqualified candidates, who cares? The public will pay.

All that is highly persuasive. But the RAF, or any other branch of the military, isn’t like the Ministry for Women or The Arts Council, is it? Our national survival depended on it in 1940 and it may do so again, sooner than we think.

Keeping the RAF understaffed because racial and sex quotas can’t be met is borderline treasonous – especially now, when Article 5 of the Nato Charter may be triggered at any moment.

Both America and Britain have informed Putin that a deliberate radiation leak from Europe’s largest nuclear power station at Zaporozhe will have exactly that effect. And the Russians are close to weaponising the station. Speaking of that area, Gen. Vasilyev, head of Russia’s radiation, chemical and biological defence, said: “We’ll have here either free Russian territory or scorched desert.”

That means the RAF may soon be flying combat missions against the deadliest enemy of our country and civilisation – just like in 1940, but with even more at stake in our nuclear age. We want the most qualified pilots in those cockpits, not those who satisfy the criteria of woke racism.

Maria Byford ought to be cashiered with immediate effect and put into a job where she could do less lethal harm. May I suggest directorship at Tate Modern?

P.S. On the subject of Article 5, ultranationalist journalist Darya Dugina, 29, was yesterday killed near Moscow by a car bomb meant for her father.

Alexander Dugin is the principal ideologue of Russian fascism who advocates a Russia “from Dublin to Vladivostok”. He is close to Putin who sees him as his inspiration. Both Alexander and Darya have been under personal sanctions in the West for years, but it looks as if the Ukrainians have administered their own tranche.

Asked to comment on the incident, Prophet Hosea said: “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”