Kate is great, but…

When Kate Middleton first appeared in royal circles, some of our dissipated aristos smirked behind her back: “Doors to manual”.

That snobbish reference to her mother who used to be an airline stewardess was supposed to be funny, but the joke was on the jokers. For the Princess of Wales, as Kate now is, has shown that one doesn’t have to be born noble to be noble.

What a contrast with the seriously aristocratic Diana and the mildly aristocratic Fergie. Unlike them, Kate understands that she has entered a life of service, where her personality is subsumed by her job. And she has gone about her job with dignity, grace – and mercifully, until now, relative silence.

Alas, she has now broken that pattern by uttering unmitigated woke bilge on the subject of drug addiction. That’s the sort of thing one would expect from any young woman of her generation, and there I was, thinking Kate wasn’t just any young woman of her generation.

Addiction, said Kate, is nothing to be ashamed of. “[It] is a serious mental health condition that can happen to anyone, no matter what age, gender, race or nationality.”

A reference to age, gender, race or nationality is a glaring non sequitur here, but no public speech can these days be complete without one. I’m not even sure the redundant phrase is factually correct. For example, how many people first become addicted to drugs in their 60s or 70s? I don’t know, but then probably neither does Kate.

“No one chooses to become an addict,” she added. “Recovery is possible,” provided addicts are treated with compassion and understanding.

And then: “Please do not let shame hold you back from getting the help you so desperately need.” What’s there to be ashamed of anyway? It’s just a disease, like any other.

Every one of those statements, other than recovery being possible, is false. Addiction isn’t a disease like any other. It is something to be ashamed of. Every addict does choose to become one.

Addiction is self-inflicted, the destination of a journey embarked on in the full knowledge of the consequences. Do you think anyone who mainlines heroin doesn’t realise that addiction beckons? He’d have to be an alien on a flying visit from another planet.

That a condition is self-inflicted shouldn’t disqualify a person from treatment. Smokers, for example, are treated for lung cancer, even though they may have brought it on themselves. But there is a valid difference.

Ever since Nazi physicians discovered the causative link with cancer, smokers have known the risks they take by lighting up. Yet many consider the risks worth taking, and some of those intrepid individuals will end up with lung cancer or emphysema.

Once a smoker is stricken, that’s it. Doctors may be able to help him, but he can no longer help himself. His life is out of his hands.

That’s because lung cancer and emphysema are genuine, if self-inflicted, medical conditions. Drug addiction is self-inflicted too, but it isn’t genuinely medical: the addicts can cure themselves by giving up narcotics.

If they don’t stop, it’s not because they can’t but because they don’t want to. Most of them will mask that reluctance by talking your ear off about the nightmarish withdrawal symptoms, drawing a mental picture worthy of Goya at his most macabre.

They lie, as I can testify from personal experience with opiate addiction. Mine was iatrogenic, caused by hospital doctors who kept me hooked up to a heroin (dimorphine, in scientific) IV for a month. They then discharged me with an ample supply of OxyContin tablets, another opiate. (It has acquired much street cred under the cuddly nickname of ‘Oxy’.)

How anyone can possibly find those substances pleasurable escapes me. They addle one’s brain, keeping one in a permanent semi-somnolent state. That negates the advantages of being human, or at least that’s how I felt.

When the pain was no longer too bad, I went off Oxy and immediately developed withdrawal symptoms. Since I had written on that subject before, I knew them for what they were. I also knew they were trivial, similar to cold symptoms.

I went back on and gradually titrated the dose down to nothing over a week. That was it. No more addiction, no more withdrawal symptoms. I was clean because I wanted to be.

Speaking of advantages of being human, one of them is a unique property of Homo sapiens: free will, an ability to make free choices between good and evil, beautiful and ugly, right and wrong. As a corollary to that, we get kudos for choosing right and take responsibility for choosing wrong.

That’s why I find the Princess’s speech dehumanising. Kate seems to deny free will, which suggests that she missed the whole point of her grandmother-in-law’s moving funeral. That was above all a sacred rite of a religion that holds free will as its key philosophical postulate.

As I have pointed out on numerous occasions, such negligence can numb a mind and produce downright silly statements. “No one chooses to become an addict”, Your Royal Highness?

That’s like saying that a chap playing Russian roulette doesn’t choose to shoot himself. He is just out for some cheap thrills, but then the hammer just happens to fall on the loaded chamber.

An addict ought to be ashamed of his stupidity, hedonism, absence of self-restraint, irresponsibility. These are his real problems, and none of them is medical. Medicalising this failure of character is tantamount to legitimising it, which is exactly what Kate did.

Her show of compassion may drive more people to addiction. After all, they have been absolved of guilt.  

Armies fight, civilisations win

In 218 BC the mighty Carthaginian army led by Hannibal, one of history’s greatest generals, crossed the Alps and invaded Italy.

Soviet POWs, 1941

Rome’s army was weaker, her navy practically nonexistent, and yet Carthage didn’t stand a chance. For Rome’s was a proto-Western civilisation, already displaying many aspects of its glorious successor: inchoate liberty, individualism, rationalism, free expression, private initiative.

Carthage, by contrast, was what we today would describe as a totalitarian society. Moreover, it practised human sacrifice, which Romans regarded as monstrous.

Hence they preferred death to submission, for defeat spelled a triumph of evil, not just of a hostile power. And the head of Hannibal’s superior talents smashed against the stone wall of a superior civilisation and superior motivation.

That scenario has been played out many times throughout history. As it’s being played out now, in the Ukraine, with the Russian army displaying – and magnifying – every evil of Russian society.

The other day I listened to the tape of an intercepted phone conversation between a Russian soldier on the front line and his wife. We have nothing to eat, complained the grunt. Those who have any money manage to sneak out into town and buy some food. Others can only eat raw wheat they pick in the fields.

That little exchange suggested certain logistic problems in supplying the troops, which is by no means new in the history of Russian warfare. During the Second World War, for example, the Soviet army marched on American Spam and condensed milk, without which it would have starved. But this time around Western allies support the other side, which explains the diet of raw wheat.

Another throwback to that war, however, is more telling. In the same intercepted conversation, the Russian soldier says that his comrades are deployed in three lines, with him part of the second one.

Those in the first line are mostly convicts enlisted in prisons and raw recruits, there to provide a steady supply of cannon fodder. Since their commitment to acting in that capacity is apparently less than wholehearted, the soldiers in the second line have been ordered to “whack” (Putin’s favourite word) stragglers, deserters and simply those fleeing combat.

And, added the soldier, “there’s a third line behind us”, with the same orders. “So it’s impossible to run away,” he said. “We shoot our own.” He then used the word zagriadotriady, blocking detachments, and the ghost of the Second World War came wafting in.

For the term is familiar to any Russian who knows anything at all about the big war. At the beginning of it, Red Army soldiers felt reluctant to die for communism, the same regime that had murdered and imprisoned their families, robbed them of even meagre possessions, turned them into slaves. So they would desert, vanish in the vast forests and surrender en masse.

During the first four months of the war the Germans took 4,000,000 POWs (my father among them), which would have spelled a humanitarian disaster even for a civilised nation, never mind the Nazis.

No nation in the world would have been able to feed and house such throngs of humanity, especially since the Germans were under no obligation to do so: the USSR wasn’t a signatory to the Geneva Convention. As a result, 2.5 million Soviet POWs died in German captivity, and some 1.5 million switched sides to fight against Stalin – a pandemic of treason unprecedented in Russian or any other history.

Meanwhile, the Soviets had to suppress what was in fact a rebellion against their evil rule. They did so by relying on their default expedient: unrestricted violence. Military tribunals went into high gear passing verdicts, 2.5 million of them during the war. Of those convicted, 157,000 were shot – that’s 10 full divisions (by contrast, the Nazis executed just over 8,000 of their own soldiers during the war).

And then there were the zagriadotriady, NKVD troops deployed behind the front line to encourage martial valour with machinegun bursts aimed at anyone daring to retreat. How many were killed that way?

No one bothered to count. Definitely at least as many as those 157,000 executed by the documented verdicts of military tribunals. All in all, the Soviets inflicted greater losses on their own troops than the US suffered altogether when standing up to the combined might of Japan and Germany.

Both Japan and Germany have since divested themselves of the worst aspects of their civilisations. The Russians haven’t, and by using the term zagriadotriady that young soldier served a useful reminder.

Nor is it just the custom of mowing down their own retreating troops. After the regular Red Army was wiped out by the lightning strike of the Wehrmacht, the personnel holes thus formed were plugged by mobilising men of all ages and throwing them under the Nazi tanks untrained and practically unarmed.

Exactly the same is going on now, if on a smaller scale and with a modern twist. Over the past few weeks the Russians have mobilised about 300,000 recruits, some 85,000 of whom have already been thrown into the meat mincer of the frontline.

Reviving a feudal practice of centuries ago, many of them have to buy their own kit, including body armour, night vision scopes and supplies of tinned food. And, according to Putin himself, the recruits are thrown into battle after just a few days’ training. Many haven’t even had the chance to test fire their weapons before facing a well-trained and highly motivated Ukrainian army.

So far the Russians have suffered 210,750 casualties, 70 250 of them killed. Yet most of them happened before the current intake of ill-trained and ill-equipped recruits. It’s anyone’s guess how many of them will go back home in body bags, or how many will be killed by the zagriadotriady. Whatever that number will be, Putin and his henchmen won’t care.

They keep banging on about reviving “traditional values”, and for once they aren’t lying. For contempt for individual lives is one traditional value of the Russian civilisation, lovingly upheld even in peacetime.

As for war, burying the enemy under a mountain of Russian corpses is a time-honoured strategy, and Putin’s regime is true to its word. Russian tradition is in safe hands.

German made queasy

Much as I hate to claim prophetic powers, sometimes the urge becomes irresistible. For every time I write about an outburst of acute madness in public life, said life confirms the diagnosis immediately.

A German woman at leisure

Thus, just a couple of days after I wrote about the catastrophic state of the humanities departments at our institutions of higher learning, the University of Cambridge obligingly illustrated the scale of the catastrophe.

The illustration came from what one would expect to be the least ideological discipline of all humanities: foreign languages, in this case German.

As someone who used to teach languages, I can testify that the task is straightforward, if by no means easy. You teach students the grammatical structure of the language, words that flesh it out and the way to pronounce those words in a manner understandable to the native speakers.

Ideology can make inroads only on the selection of reading material. For example, at my Moscow University we were taught received pronunciation on the kind of taped phonetic texts that would strike any Englishman as odd.

They featured a man named Mr Sanford, a volunteer who sold the communist paper the Daily Worker. Sounding like King Charles in his younger days, he’d engage his neighbours in such dialogues:

“I say, Mr Cavendish, do you receive the Daily Worker at all?” “No, can’t say I do, old boy, can’t say I do.” “Oh dear, rather a shame, that. One learns so much about the working class shedding its shackles in the struggle for liberation.” “Well, I never! Quite behind the times, aren’t I, what? Suppose one has to give it a go…” and so on in the same vein.

We weren’t told that people who sounded like that were unlikely to flog the Daily Worker door to door, although they might well have financed it behind the scenes. However, though Soviet communists played fast and loose with the texts, they left grammar alone. It was what it was, and that was that.

That’s too meek for today’s Cambridge University. It has unilaterally abolished the gendered nature of German nouns as being too offensive to the brittle sensibilities of today’s students. They have been given a carte blanche to escalate the war of linguistic liberation beyond just the pronouns and even beyond their own language.    

Undergraduates have been urged to “to use gender- and non-binary-inclusive language when we address or refer to students and colleagues, both in writing and in speech in English and in German”. That’s a tall task even in English, and one would think such commendable probity is impossible to achieve in German.

The problem is that English stands alone among European languages, at least those I’m familiar with, in that, with minor exceptions, it has divested its nouns of the gender category. In German, French, Russian and so on all nouns have one of two or three genders (unlike the other two I mentioned, French has no neuter).

This creates a chain reaction because the gender of a noun also affects the form of its modifiers, related verbs and pronouns. They all change their suffixes and spelling to agree with the noun’s gender. Where a language has a case system, that too has to follow suit.

Abandoning the gendering of German nouns is like getting rid of the conjugation of the verb ‘to be’ in English. Just imagine someone saying, “I be five when I be at kindergarten, learning what a condom be,” and you’ll begin to see the problem. Except that ditching the category of gender in German would be even worse.

To their credit, Cambridge’s present-day answers to Samuel Johnson and Daniel Jones are aware of the pitfalls. The University acknowledged that: “Gender as a grammatical category is part of native speakers’ language competence, and overlaps only partly with gender as a real-world phenomenon and a lived identity.”

But, as Comrade Lenin taught, there are no fortresses that Bolsheviks can’t storm. Thus the problem ruefully acknowledged by Cambridge notwithstanding, the university still insists that students should use gender-neutral terms if their conscience demands such usage.

Looking at the statement above, my first reaction is that its authors should be publicly drawn and quartered. However, such just desserts being a tad too sanguinary for our progressive times, I’d settle for summary dismissal. But one thing for sure: that blithering idiocy mustn’t be allowed to go unpunished.

Chaps, grammatical gender doesn’t overlap with “gender as a real-world phenomenon” at all, not even “partly”. There’s no existential correlation between a noun and its gender. If there were, every object would be the same gender in all languages. But that isn’t the case. Thus the piece of furniture on which dinner is served is masculine in German, Italian and Russian, but feminine in French and Spanish.

However, to avoid the confusion do what I do: only ever use the word ‘gender’ to describe the grammatical category. Everything else is called ‘sex’, as in “in the past we only had two sexes, three at most, but now we have 72, and all these sexes are equal as far as Cambridge University is concerned”.

No doubt the German language could use some help. But out of tact and good manners, shouldn’t we allow the Teutons to sort themselves out on their own? From what one hears, they are doing a pretty good job of it without our help, specifically in the area of perverting the gender of plural nouns.

Give them a little time, and they’ll befoul their language as much as we’ve befouled ours. The two languages are different, but the ideological urge to debauch them is the same, and that’s all that matters.

I’ll leave you to ponder this radical, but probably unavoidable, step towards sanity: all humanities departments of all British universities are to be closed, effective immediately. The dons made unemployed thereby should be retrained to fill vacancies in the service industry.

Just think of all the pubs going out of business for lack of barmaids and dish washers. My little proposals would keep the boozers open and our universities healthier. That’s hitting two birds with one stone, nicht wahr?

Why does it have to be Sweden?

At last, something Putin is doing has a positive side effect.

Apparently, the Russians have been stealing speed cameras in Sweden, to use their radars and processors in their homemade drones. So far over a hundred have been nicked, at a cost of just under £20,000 each.

That way the Russians get around sanctions by using the expertise they have lovingly nurtured since the country got its name. Stealing has always pervaded Russian society at every level.

In a well-known story, Alexander I once asked his courtier, the historian Karamzin, what state officials were doing in the provinces. “Ils volent, sire,” was the reply (“Thieving, your majesty”).

In those days, a pandemic of theft stopped at the office of the head of state, the Tsar. Since all of Russia was his patrimonial estate, he had no need to nick things: that would have been stealing from himself. These days, no such barrier exists.

After all, most members of the Russian government, including Putin himself, have come up through the ranks of not only the KGB but also organised crime. “He who doesn’t steal, neither shall he eat” is the proverb they live by. So if they can’t get those processors in any other way, ripping them off is their natural reaction.

Granted, they’ve been buying drones from Iran, but that supply isn’t unlimited. Iran is also under sanctions after all.

So far so good. But I do have a minor quibble. What have Swedish drivers done to deserve the benefit of driving freely, without invasive cameras clocking their speed? What have they got that we haven’t?

It’s not as if their need is greater than ours. For example, every time I go to the Channel ports, my journey includes about 10 miles of the A3. That little stretch features seven speed cameras, preventing smooth progress and making me slam on the brakes every couple of minutes. Just think how much those blasted things have cost me in brake shoes alone.

I’m sure our devices are every bit as sophisticated as those found in Sweden, and I recommend them to Vlad wholeheartedly. To save him time I’d even be prepared to draw a camera location map for the A3.

Actually, forget that. The idea did sound attractive until I remembered what those stolen components do. They go into drones, which then do something else that comes naturally to the Russians: wanton, senseless mass murder.

On balance, I’d rather those A3 cameras stayed in place, keeping my speed down to a risible 50 mph. Meanwhile, let’s chalk the theft of those Swedish cameras down as yet another crime Putin’s gang has committed. The list is long – and getting longer by the minute.

Our inhuman humanities

When he was PM, Tony Blair promised to make sure 50 per cent of all Britons got a university education. An overly ambitious goal you might think, but one that’s nonetheless in sight.

Dreamy spires, nightmarish education

At present, 22.6 per cent of Britons aged 25 to 64 boast a bachelor’s degree or higher. You can be forgiven for heaving a sigh of relief and wiping your brow: we’re only halfway towards Blair’s desired destination.

But looking at a different subset changes the picture: 52 per cent of those aged 25 to 34 attained some form of tertiary education. Another burst of speed, and the country will throw its chest at the finish tape, winning the race towards perdition.

Such inclusivity (dread word) has been achieved at a cost: universities qua universities no longer exist. They have become either trade schools or indoctrination centres.

The trade schools train students to make a living in fields like computer science, IT, engineering, science, finance, business administration. The sole purpose of the indoctrination centres, otherwise known as humanities departments, seems to be pumping students’ heads full of woke ideological dynamite, turning them into walking time bombs primed to blow up any semblance of sound thought.

Both parts fail to come anywhere near what one of our finest minds, John Henry Newman, saw as the essence of higher education. In his 1852 book The Idea of a University Newman identified the eponymous idea as teaching students “to think and to reason and to compare and to discriminate and to analyse”.

In the end, students were to acquire a “perfection of the intellect… the clear, calm, accurate vision and comprehension of all things”, a goal that what passes for a university nowadays not only misses but manifestly doesn’t even set.

Our humanities departments don’t teach students to think, understand and argue. They indoctrinate them to despise thought, eschew understanding and reduce argument to hysterical, often violent, shrieks.

Instead of debating subjects like nominalism or being and existence or politics and (or versus?) statesmanship, today’s university students froth at the mouth defending an unlimited number of sexes and a prescribed set of pronouns.

Not only do they choose ideologies over ideas, but they are also increasingly incapable of telling the difference. This has deadly consequences for the country, for upon graduation such half-witted, ill-bred ideologues will inhabit our media, arts establishment, political institutions and of course university faculties. Gonadic, ideological sub-culture devoid of any intellectual or moral content becomes a gift that keeps on giving.

Times change and, alas, today’s universities can’t be expected to conform fully to Newman’s worthy ideas. But one would still hope that neither would they be spewing out graduates who resemble en masse China’s Red Guards during the Great Leap Forward.

There is a difference, however, between their cultural revolution and ours. Chinese Hongweibings denounced, shouted down and even assaulted their professors for being too reactionary.

Their typological British equivalents have no need for such excesses: their professors are just like them. They egg on their students and join them in rooting out every sapling of sound, free thought. Such is the natural effect of recycling brainless radicalism: yesterday’s campus firebrands become today’s dons.

Dominic Sandbrook cites telling data: “In a revealing survey two years ago, the think-tank Policy Exchange found that just nine per cent of academics had voted Leave in the Brexit referendum, while only seven per cent identified themselves as ‘right of Centre’. 

“Most disturbingly, only half said they would feel comfortable sitting next to a Leave supporter at lunch, while just a third said they would be comfortable beside somebody who questioned their transgender dogma.”

I have no doubt that the same or similar proportions hold true at all our mainstream TV channels including the BBC, institutions like the Arts Council, the National Trust, the Church of England – even Parliament. Why wouldn’t they?

After all, how many structural engineers and microbiologists are employed at those institutions? Very few, I’d suggest. Most of our opinion formers have been extruded by the mincers of humanities departments, expertly grinding down the meat of thought into the manure of kneejerk, febrile idiocy.

Hence I find it hard to share Sandbrook’s optimistic conclusion that in no way follows from his own perceptive analysis: “But I’m convinced there are countless sane, sensible people in the arts, the media, publishing and education who are sick of this nonsense, and of the shrieking and howling that accompanies it.”

No doubt. Yet exactly the same could be said about the Soviet Union of my youth and even China during the Cultural Revolution. The problem is that, when totalitarian ideology holds sway, such people are impotent.

The best they can do is save their own souls by trying not to go along with the dominant evil. Active resistance may be heroic to the point of being suicidal but it’s also futile. Once totalitarians reach critical mass, they stamp out resistance without working up a sweat.

In communist countries, “sane, sensible” people putting up resistance lost their freedom, often their lives. In Britain, they so far risk only ostracism and a life of self-contained obscurity. Yet their resistance is as doomed to failure as it was in the countries I mentioned.

An analogy from a different field may elucidate matters.

Agrarians have an effective method of stopping blights, such as locusts. They catch large numbers of male insects, sterilise them with radiation and release them back into the wild. The males follow their instincts and mate with the females, yet no impregnation occurs. This destroys the reproduction cycle, thereby stamping out the threat to the crops.

Our universities apply the same technique to the cultural and intellectual life of the nation. “Sane, sensible” students are howled down, marginalised and ultimately sterilised. They are then released into life to push their country into the swamp previously inhabited only by communist and fascist creepy-crawlies.  

The hand isn’t invisible

Over the past few days I’ve read it a thousand times if I’ve read it once: Liz Truss was knocked down and out by the invisible hand of market forces.

No human agency was involved, as it isn’t involved in hurricanes, earthquakes and tornados. It’s all that force majeure at work business. Nothing personal.

This approach to economics has always bothered me, and now more than ever. To begin with, exactly what were Truss’s sins that made that putative invisible hand lash out? What did she do that was so awful?

She didn’t want to raise the rate of corporate tax, which seems sensible, especially for a country that heavily depends on attracting foreign investment. In parallel, she sought to get rid of the 45p tax rate that didn’t exist even under Blair. That would have stopped her ‘Conservative’ party from sliding to the left of Labour, which doesn’t strike me as a felony.

Granted, Truss wanted to pay for the very marginal tax cuts with increased borrowing, without the necessary cut in public spending. But she saw that as strictly a temporary measure, made necessary by the combined effect of two blights: Covid and Putin. Once the nation caught its breath, Truss was going to take a chisel, if not a sledgehammer, to the social budget.

She promised as much, and there was no obvious reason to disbelieve her. After all, she was trying to put into effect exactly the policies she had campaigned on, those that the Tory rank and file had voted for when choosing Truss as their leader.

If that’s what made that invisible hand swing with so much deadly force, one is justified to doubt its sanity. But is it really invisible? Perhaps if we focus our eyes, we can actually see it in all its three-dimensional glory.

The expression was popularised by Adam Smith, even though he didn’t coin it and only used it three times in The Theory of Moral Sentiment and The Wealth of Nations. Since Smith treated his economics as a derivative of his primary discipline, moral philosophy, the concept of the invisible hand was supposed to merge the two.

Smith essentially attributed demiurge powers to the market, whose invisible hand unerringly guides private individuals to public virtue. He saw an economy as a giant cauldron into which individuals toss their private self-interests to produce a stew of collective goodness.

That was a sort of alchemy, with the gold of morality extracted from the base metal of amorality. Such unalloyed idealism can only work in ideal conditions or something close.

Edmund Burke, a deeper thinker than Smith, anticipated that such conditions would remain unattainable, and he knew why: “The moment that government appears at market, the principles of the market will be subverted.”

At that time, in the 18th century, government couldn’t “appear at market” as it saw fit. The simple expedient of a currency pegged to the gold standard acted as a natural restraining mechanism. (Opponents of the gold standard say, correctly, that it inhibits the state’s ability to react to economic emergencies with sufficient flexibility. What they leave out is that the gold standard also prevents the state from what Burke identified as “subverting the principles of the market”.)

Since then government has slipped such tethers by abandoning the gold standard and replacing it with the printing press. Instead of acting as merely a referee, the state has thus become both the star player and the coach, with all other players modelling themselves on its patterns of play.

Currency stopped being merely a way of denominating the amount of goods and services available, a means of their exchange. Instead it became a lever with which governments and government-like setups could control the workings of the market.

It then transpired that simply adding millions of private self-interests together didn’t produce public virtue (any more than pooling millions of individual votes delivers wise government). It produced instead a frantic traffic in buying and selling with no red lights, except those found in the district known for such fixtures, with the state combining the function of policeman and pimp.

This emphasised the fundamental difference between nature and market. The first is impersonal, the second is made up of people.

That was the case in the 18th century too, but the people making up and driving the market were different then. In those days they were mainly, almost exclusively, those who produced goods and provided services. Today they are predominantly state officials and economists, either academic or hands-on, those working in financial companies.

State officials impose, with economists happily accepting and fostering, a whole raft of ideological constraints under which the market is supposed to operate. At some point, the machine inevitably becomes overloaded, sputters, slows down to a crawl or even crashes.

Faced with such downturns, those chaps heave a sigh, shrug their shoulders and, taking a leaf out of Adam Smith’s book, make some vague noises about inexorable market forces and the invisible hand. However, in this instance the metaphorical hand is very much visible: all they have to do is look at their own.

It’s not an invisible hand that has been steadily debauching Western currencies with inflation; it’s state officials and economists. It’s not an invisible hand that created a huge dependent underclass that consumes without producing; it’s state officials and economists. It’s not an invisible hand that is smashing to bits the energy driver of our economy; it’s state officials and economists. It’s not an invisible hand that has turned finance into a casino where blackjack is played with marked cards; it’s state officials and economists.

They have effectively turned democracy and free market into spivocracy, where Smith’s principles no longer apply, certainly not at any macro level.

Smith, along with his followers in Austria, Chicago and elsewhere drew up an ideal towards which all economies should strive. The closer they get to that ideal, the healthier they’ll be.

Yet those ideals, along with all others coughed up by modernity, have parted ways with reality. They survive only as empty phrases looted from their original owner and distorted beyond any recognition. ‘Invisible hand’ is one such purloined phrase; ‘market forces’, another.

Such forces do exist, but it’s not they that crushed Truss’s modest, bungling attempts to introduce a modicum of sanity to our economic behaviour. At play there were other forces, those of ideological tyranny imposed by the dogs of spivocracy that modernity has let slip.

Myopic eye of the beholder

Three days ago our papers devoted much space to the coverage of strikes and riots in France. From where I was sitting things looked cataclysmic.

Banking, Paris-style

Hundreds of thousands marched and demonstrated all over the country, protesting against whatever it is the French usually protest against. There was also a bit of rioting thrown in to enliven the proceedings.

The rioters didn’t have any specific grievances. They protested against capitalism in general, spraying graffiti, smashing bank windows and trashing a BMW dealership in Montparnasse. That last one I took personally, having been a BMW driver for the past 30 years (not the same car, I hope you realise).

Eleven people got arrested in Paris, and four police officers were injured, which sounds like a normal casualty ratio.

All this was accompanied by a strike of oil refinery workers, who are exploited and downtrodden. They make on average €60,000 year for a 32-hour week and can retire at 59. If that’s not oppression, I don’t know what is.

As a result, between a quarter and a third of petrol stations in France are running dry, with the problem being especially dire in the Paris region.

Just to keep oil refinery employees company, workers in the nuclear power sector are also on strike. That may make it difficult to restart reactors down for maintenance and safety checks. Considering the general situation with fuel in Europe, those chaps chose a perfect moment.

Judging by the reports I read in London newspapers, I thought we should cancel any plans we had for going to our house in Burgundy. My December speaking engagement in Paris also looked under threat.

I didn’t cherish the possibility of getting stuck with an empty fuel tank on a dark road. And the prospect of getting caught in the middle of a street riot appealed even less. Anyway, further research was in order.

I promptly went to the on-line version of Le Figaro, the closest the French have to a conservative paper, which isn’t very close at all. I was ready for front-page coverage complete with lurid pictures, why-oh-why laments and gloomy forecasts for the near future and, more generally, for France’s survival prospects in the long run.

I got none of that. In fact, I had to flick through several computer screens to find any mention of the riots and demonstrations. In a print version, the report I finally found would have taken about a column inch. The report did say dismissively that the scale of the disturbances hadn’t come up to the expectations of the hard Left.

Evidently it’s not only beauty that’s in the eye of the beholder. What to us across the Channel looks like a major event, similar to what France had to endure in 1968, appears like a minor nuisance to the French, barely to register on the nation’s consciousness.

It could be that demos, strikes and riots are more commonplace in France than in Britain. Thus they lack both novelty appeal and the wow factor.

If a large tattooed chap bare to the waist punched me in the face, once I came to I’d consider that outrage a pivotal point in my life this year. However, a boxer to whom that sort of thing happens a hundred times during one fight may regard it at as trivial.

Perhaps this analogy goes some way towards explaining the nonchalant Gallic shrug at Le Figaro. Another possibility is that the editors didn’t want to sow more panic than was unavoidable.

In any case, that made me think about news coverage. If it can be as subjective as that, how trustworthy is it? And yet most people form their view of the world almost entirely on the basis of what they read in the papers or, more common these days, watch on TV.

Both Americans and Russians used to have correct ideas about this. The Russians have a saying “no one lies like an eyewitness”. And an American writer of the past, probably Mark Twain but I don’t remember exactly, said, “The worst thing you can say about an American is that he believes everything he reads in the papers.”

I’m out of touch with both Russia and America, but it’s instructive to see how differently the same news is covered in the two countries I live in now, Britain and France. Add to this the widely divergent stories in media outlets within each country, and one’s head begins to spin.

I suppose no one can be completely objective on anything. Hard as we try, our thoughts, feelings and personalities colour our version of events. Even in natural sciences two researchers may get different results from exactly the same experiment using exactly the same equipment. Their personalities skew the findings.

A proposal if I may. Sometimes we know what bias a media outlet has, but sometimes we don’t. What about a rating system similar to that used in films?

It could even be colour coding above the masthead: indigo for conservative, pale blue for conservative wet, pink for Leftist, red for rank communist, brown for populist, black for fascist, that sort of thing. This wouldn’t eliminate bias, but it would make it manifest.

That way a viewer turning on, say, BBC News would know what to expect: woke, pro-Labour, eco-loony, anti-Brexit propaganda. And anyone opening The Times would expect… well, about the same I suppose.

Perhaps that isn’t such a good idea after all.

Luddites in our midst

Yesterday marked a new first in our parliamentary history, and these are piling up fast.

At least there’s something to thank her for

The Mother of All Parliaments featured a fracas that almost came to fisticuffs, a scene more readily associated with legislatures in, shall we say, more temperamental nations. The occasion was the debate on Labour’s bill to ban fracking.

The combined pugilistic powers of Deputy PM Thérèse Coffey (heavyweight) and Secretary of State for Business Rees-Mogg (welterweight) won the day. They managed to force enough Tory MPs to vote against the bill to make sure it didn’t pass.

This added much redundant passion to the already febrile debates about the collapse of Liz Truss’s tenure today. These are debates I’m not going to join, averse as I am to all perversions, emphatically including necrophilia. Let’s just say that defeating that bill was the last, possibly only, favour she did her country.

I am more interested in the nature of the widespread hysterical opposition to hydraulic fracturing in a broad historical, psychological and anthropological context. Taking our cue from Aristotle, let’s arrive at that lofty plateau from the low ground of indisputable facts.

Such as: neither our industry nor our economy nor, consequently, our prosperity can survive without a reliable supply of affordable energy. We can get that energy either by producing it ourselves or buying it elsewhere or by combining the two.

Every sensible person realises that, though energy production methods popular before the Industrial Revolution (such as windmills by another name) may help, they aren’t going to solve the problem.

I’m skipping some intermediary steps for the sake of brevity, but everything I’ve read on the subject shows that, while it may be possible to heat a house with solar panels or even a town with wind farms, none of such virtuous contraptions can fuel modern industry.

This leaves only three realistic (as opposed to idealistic) sources of energy: hydrocarbons, coal with its derivatives, and nuclear.

Of these, coal is the clear loser, ideally to be relied on in emergencies only. It kills miners with black lung, and using it as a primary source of energy kills people with pulmonary disorders. The famous London fog, so beloved of Claude Monet, was in fact toxic fumes produced by burning coal in factories and homes. Once that practice disappeared, so did the smog, with cases of emphysema taking a plunge.

This gets us to hydrocarbons and nuclear. Let’s start from the latter.

Nuclear energy has an exemplary safety record. Not a single fatal nuclear accident has so far occurred in the West (including, for these purposes, Japan). That’s more than can be said for oil with its capsizing marine platforms and coal with its silicosis and collapsing pits.

Nuclear power has a practically inexhaustible supply of fuel, especially for us. The world’s three major suppliers of the global uranium are Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia, and at least two of these countries can be counted on as Britain’s friends (I’ll let you guess which ones).

Building new reactors is expensive, but it should be seen as long-term investment, not expenditure. More affordable is keeping the existing reactors going, resisting the urge to shut them down, about which later.

Supplies of oil and gas may run out eventually, but nowhere near as soon as the doomsayers are claiming. New deposits are being discovered all the time, although not so much in countries that are our friends for life.

This gets us to the vital aspect of energy supply: it must be domestic as much as humanly possible. This point has always been self-evident but never as much as now, when an evil regime is using energy as a blackmail weapon.

Having much of our energy produced domestically is an economic and strategic necessity. It’s economic because dependence on foreign suppliers puts us in a poor bargaining position, making energy prohibitively expensive. It’s strategic because many foreign energy producers are our adversaries, who can become our mortal enemies at the drop of a hat, or a bomb if you’d rather.

We, along with Norway, do have North Sea oil, but somewhere between 50 and 75 per cent of its reserves has been extracted already. Given our current emergency, we could and should step up production, but that would accelerate depletion.

However, the reserves of shale gas throughout the world, including Britain, can be confidently expected to last until the Second Coming, give or take. It thus ticks all the boxes: it’s plentiful, domestic and guaranteed to make us self-sufficient in energy.

Shale gas is produced by hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking – injecting a high-pressure water-based liquid into subterranean rock to release the gas inside. This produces some mild seismic activity, roughly equal in strength to the tremors caused by street traffic.

The resulting political activity, on the other hand, puts major earthquakes to shame – and here, by this circuitous route, we arrive at yesterday’s pushing and shoving in Parliament. For it’s neither science nor responsible environmentalism but politics that puts shale gas and nuclear energy in the same bracket.

Nuclear energy, for one, has no adverse effect on the environment. Radiation levels outside nuclear power stations are lower than outside coalmines, and, as I mentioned earlier, their safety record is unmatched by any other form of energy, of those that can realistically keep us going.

While science and empirical evidence can’t defeat nuclear energy and fracking, politics steps in, of the most pernicious kind. And here I am mainly interested in homemade subversives, not our foreign adversaries with a vested interest in continuing our dependence on foreign energy.

Just as the Soviet Union funded Western anti-nuke campaigns (including our own dear CND), today’s Russia funds the anti-fracking movement. There’s no need to ponder why: the country has self-evident economic and strategic reasons for preventing Britain from becoming self-sufficient.

But the Russians (and to some extent also Arabs) don’t create suicidal impulses in the West. They merely tap into the existing rancour, exploiting the boundless reservoir of resentment bubbling close to the surface.

They didn’t create the reservoir. They merely inject new impetus into it to bring the desired product to the surface, a process not dissimilar to fracking.

Political opposition to technological innovations goes back to the Luddite movement in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. The Luddites destroyed machinery in textile mills because they thought it threatened their jobs.

That was on the surface. Underneath it there were many people who detested the Industrial Revolution because they felt it threatened not only their jobs but also their status in life.

The Revolution reshuffled the pack of social cards, dismissing the King and Queen and replacing them with an up and coming meritocratic elite. Entitlement of birth was being replaced by entitlement of achievement.

For those outside that neonatal elite this was a hard pill to swallow. Before, they could just dismiss their lowly status as an accident of birth. With that off the table, if they still remained outside they had to ascribe that to their own failure, which is never an easy thing to do. Blaming ‘the system’ is so much easier.

This created that reservoir of envy and resentment, the troubled waters in which assorted subversives could profitably fish using utopian pies in the sky as bait. Socialism, the evil corrupting the resentful, was born and has since grown to maturity.

Hatred of the West has been lovingly inculcated and cultivated. Millions of today’s Westerners grow up believing that history’s greatest civilisation has no merit, nor has ever had any.

That’s why they clutch at any straws helpfully proffered by wicked propagandists. They are ready to believe any nonsense as long as it confirms their visceral bias.

Hating the West means also hating its material achievements, fuelled by coal, hydrocarbons and, more recently, uranium. This hatred doesn’t extend to rejecting the products of those achievements, far from it. But it certainly takes over tittle-tattle in pubs and salons, along with academic discourse at universities and coverage in mass media.

Hence, the masses so inclined happily gobble up any lie portraying our economic success, and the energy that has made it possible, as inherently evil. How this evil is supposed to manifest itself is irrelevant.

It may be the danger of a mushroom cloud spreading over the countryside after an explosion at a nuclear power station. Never mind that it’s impossible even theoretically for the low grade of the uranium used there to produce such an effect. It’s also impossible for a chap to become a sex god simply by switching to a new deodorant, but he still goes out and buys the brand advertised on TV.

Anti-nuke propaganda has already caused many countries to scale down, and some discontinue, their nuclear energy programmes. Putin is helpfully demonstrating this suicidal folly for what it is, but no one is capable of listening any longer.

Such is the nature of the wide acceptance of the totally unscientific theory of anthropogenic global warming. After all, if the West has built its prosperity on raping the domestic and foreign underprivileged, it’s credible that it should now be raping ‘our planet’ to the same end.

Fracking is an even easier target for being relatively new. Tell the people it causes earthquakes, start a massive campaign to that effect, illustrate it with pictures of gruesome hypothetical devastation, and Greta is your aunt.

Liz Truss tried to fight rearguard action against the onslaught of subversive madness going by the name of modernity, and modernity crushed her. She contributed to her own downfall by being chaotic, politically inept, impetuous and, on balance, perhaps not excessively bright.

Therefore she did untold harm to her cause, if she indeed had one. That, however, is partly redeemed by the stay of execution she managed to secure for fracking, our major hope for survival. For that she deserves our thanks – on the last day of her tenure.

We don’t want such ministers

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has dramatically resigned, doubtless to the loud cheers of every progressive, forward-looking person out there.

Mrs Braverman’s views disqualify her from any government post, especially that in one of the great offices of state. And they certainly disqualify her from admission to any cocktail party held by progressive, forward-looking people.

Judge for yourself and be ready: some readers may find everything Mrs Braverman stands for to be deeply upsetting.

When she took over the job a little over a month ago, Mrs Braverman told the police to concentrate on fighting real crimes, not those that are only perceived as such by progressive, forward-looking people.

How dare she! As if some trivial burglary or mugging come anywhere near using a wrong pronoun or insisting on keeping the number of known sexes down to two. Doesn’t she realise that a burglary only hurts one victim, whereas a wrong pronoun attacks every progressive, forward-looking person in Britain? No, apparently she doesn’t.

Mrs Braverman’s response to our roads and bridges being blocked by eco-fanatics would have been to order the police to get rid of the nuisances. But she was prevented from committing that outrage by those same progressive, forward-looking people who control our mass media and therefore the consciences of most Tory MPs.

So did she understand the error of her ways and shut up? Did she hell. During the ensuing Commons debate on the Public Order Bill, Mrs Braverman had the gall to say: “I’m afraid it’s the Labour Party, it’s the LibDems, it’s the coalition of chaos, it’s the Guardian-reading, tofu-eating wokerati – dare I say, the anti-growth coalition – that we have to thank for the disruption we are seeing on our roads today.”

You see what I see? She is an enemy of progressive, forward-looking people everywhere. Why, she may even be a Tory! Clearly, the parliamentary Conservative Party is no place for airing such seditious views. This regardless of whether or not she is right.

Not only that, but Mrs Braverman has also shown herself to be an enemy of progress in any number of other ways as well. For example, she objected to the 45p rate of income tax.

Surely, any progressive, forward-looking person knows that high taxes bespeak high virtue (unless he is the one who has to pay them). She doesn’t, so she isn’t.

Then, unlike such persons, Mrs Braverman seems to take Brexit seriously. How gauche can one get? Just because hoi polloi voted for it in the greatest numbers they’ve ever voted for anything, that doesn’t mean progressive, forward-looking people who self-evidently know better must abide by vox populi.

Why, she even wanted Britain to leave the European Convention on Human Rights! My inference is that Mrs Braverman thinks Britain has nothing to learn about human rights from Germany, which refined the concept no end as far back as 80 years ago.

Xenophobia or what? Of course it is. And also doubtless global warming denial, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny (although this one requires further research) – and racism, that awful crime than which nothing fouler has ever existed.

For it was racism boosted by little-England chauvinism that made Mrs Braverman campaign against relaxing the rules on visas for Indian nationals. She must hate Indians and all other off-white races so dear to the hearts of all progressive, forward-looking people.

What, she herself is a daughter of Indian immigrants? Well, let me paraphrase that great orator Joe Biden: If she disagrees with progressive, forward-looking people, she ain’t Indian.

I hope you’ll agree with me that we don’t need ministers like Mrs Braverman. Nor do we really need a multi-party system either. De facto, we already have a single party, that of progressive, forward-looking people.

It’s time we stopped being coy about it and turned de facto into de jure. May I suggest Jeremy Corbyn as leader and Peter Mandelson as his deputy?

That may be jumping the gun a bit. But ridding our government of the likes of Mrs Braverman is a good step in that direction. Fancy a real Tory in the Tory cabinet!

Bathwater of ideology and baby of ideas

‘Ideology’ and ‘idea’ are etymologically close. But in every other respect they are as far apart as two concepts can ever be.

An idea comes from reason and appeals to reason. An ideology, on the other hand, uses reason for tactical purposes only, if at all. Both its origin and the target of its appeal are emotional and visceral.

Every ideology I’ve observed in action relies on negative emotions at both send and receive: hatred, resentment, injured pride, desire for revenge. Ideologies seem to compete with one another as to which deadly sin they not just expiate but raise to moral virtue.

This distinction seems to be lost everywhere, including within the ranks of the Tory Party. Smelling the decaying flesh of their parliamentary majority, MPs genuflect, banging their heads on the floor and screaming repudiation of economic ideologies.

In fact, hoping to imbibe the elixir of political life, they are spewing ideological death on every shoot of a sound idea planted before their eyes. Kwarteng and Truss used ideas to spit against the ideological zeitgeist, only to have their ideas blown back into their faces.

Yes, Kwarteng deserved to be sacked, just as Truss deserves having become a lame duck soon to waddle into political oblivion. But they proceeded from ideas, not ideologies. And their ideas were doomed even had they been better thought through, or executed with more subtlety.

The ideas are familiar to every sensible family: don’t spend more than you earn, manage your budget, prioritise, be thrifty in your expenditure and prudent in your investments.

Adam Smith put it in a nutshell: “What is prudence in the conduct of every private family, can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom.”

However, such ideas are too simple for modern economists to understand. Thus, for example, Samuel Brittan, the FT’s late economics guru: “Since my undergraduate days, I have been pointing out that a government budget is not the same as that of an individual…” Exactly. That’s precisely the trouble.

Smith’s statement was an idea. Brittan’s retort was an expression of the prevailing ideology.

The ideology comes from the innate megalomania of the modern, which is to say post-Enlightenment, political state. From birth it has pretended to spread political power wide, with every eligible person seemingly having a share. And criteria of eligibility have been falling off by one, until the ever-lowering age remains the only one left standing.

However, by breaking up power into millions of fragments, the modern state makes each fragment meaningless. It’s like a chap buying one share of a giant corporation and hoping to have a say in how it’s run. He won’t. The board will take care of that.

A corporate board is essentially what runs the modern corporatist state, and most modern states are corporatist. It’s this board that drafts and enforces the corporate charter, called the rule of law in the political context.

This political elite owes its existence to the Enlightenment, which had innately more to do with ideologies than ideas. That DNA is reinforced by the state’s will to self-perpetuate at all costs, and the combination seems invincible.

The ideology of equality and liberty, comprised as it is of mutually exclusive components, would be oxymoronic if it had any real substance to it. But it doesn’t. It’s all smoke and mirrors, especially the equality part, but increasingly liberty as well.

Or else it’s a massive advertising campaign building up momentum over three centuries. The product it sells is a giant paternalistic state doing so much for the people that it feels justified to do much to them.

That advertising campaign has taken so long to sell its product because it runs against the grain of a great civilisation created over the previous centuries.

Yet the corrupting ideology regenerates as the public degenerates. Hence the board holding the controlling interest manages to seduce the poor sods, each clutching a single puny share, into accepting zeitgeist as the wind of progress.

The zeitgeist blows in the direction of endless expansion of the state and its ability to turn more and more citizens into dependents. Every modern state has become a welfare state not because it cares for the people, but because it needs to create a growing class of people who depend on it for their livelihood.

In practice, this means runaway government spending funded by promiscuous borrowing and punitive taxation, with inflation its de facto subset. It also means more and more people putting their survival into the hands of the state – and hence compelled to kiss the hand that feeds them.

In France, for example, only 25 million people work for a living, out of a population of 67 million. In the UK, the corresponding number is 33 million out of the same population – a marginally better proportion, but just as ruinous.

The natal affliction of political modernity has over time turned into a pandemic, with germs coming together to form that invincible ideological zeitgeist I mentioned earlier. And this is the ideology that Truss and Kwarteng tried to fight with ideas, pitting Adam Smith against Samuel Brittan. Smith didn’t have a chance.

Like Smith, they proceeded from commonsensical ideas, not ideologies. Not being blessed with Smith’s intellect, nor indeed with the skills involved in operating political mechanisms, they made a mess of it. This compromised the ideas, which is unfortunate.

The idea of cutting taxes across the board was sound, but not accompanying it with concomitant cuts in public spending was sheer folly. Now the mock-Tories elected to Parliament by out-Labouring Labour scream bloody murder, or rather bloody ideology.

However, had Truss and Kwarteng done everything right by not only cutting taxes, but also kicking huge dents in the welfare state, the reaction would have been even more violent than it is now. And it would have been an ideology killing ideas – not the way they are put into practice.

I strain my weakening eyesight trying to discern a flicker of hope for conservative, which is to say sound, ideas. But I can’t – things have gone too far, the baby of ideas has been splashed out. The dirty bathwater of ideology continues to run freely, a flow that can only be stemmed by other ideologies, not ideas.

The list of ideologies to choose from is small, with entries from Russia, 1917, Italy, 1922, and Germany, 1933, leaving little room for others. Oh yes, there’s also Russia, 2022, which some of our true-blue Tories find oh-so appealing.