Subjects, citizens and taxpayers

When I was interviewed by an American streaming service yesterday, a thought crossed my mind and I blurted it out in what William F. Buckley used to call an “encephalophonic” fashion – from the mind straight to the mouth.

It’s all Locke’s fault

Have you noticed, I said, that Americans use the word ‘taxpayer’ more widely than the British do?

An American is likely to say ‘taxpayer’ where a Briton will probably say ‘citizen’ or, if he is more attuned to our constitution, ‘subject’. The word ‘taxpayer’ will usually appear in British speech only when taxation is the specific subject under discussion.

Since words often have cultural meanings that go beyond the purely semantic ones, this difference is worth pondering. For it suggests that Americans are more likely to define citizenship and government in purely economic terms.

I blame John Locke for that. He was one of those prophets who found honour in a country other than his own. For, though Locke was British, it was the Americans who took him more seriously.

Lockean notions flash through not just the American founding documents, but through the country’s entire history. In our context, Locke believed, wrongly, that representation was the only legitimising factor of taxation.

Hence one of the more thunderous slogans of the American revolt was “no taxation without representation”. That’s transparently nonsensical, for no state, democratic or any other, can survive without taxation. Thus that slogan is fully synonymous with “no state without representation”, which is demonstrably false.

The revolt was triggered by Britain trying to extract from the 13 colonies a tax in the overall amount of £78,000. To put this in perspective, it cost Britain more than £200,000 a year to maintain her troops in North America after the French and Indian wars.

In fact, at the time of their revolutionary afflatus, American colonists were paying lower taxes than residents of Britain proper, many of whom weren’t represented either. Bostonians even got their British tea at half the price Londoners paid – this in spite of the tea tax that inspired the 1773 Boston Tea Party.

As subsequent events have shown, the colonists also got another thing wrong: the relationship between representation and that other key theme of Lockean philosophy, property rights.

The word ‘rights’, natural, inalienable or otherwise, ranks right up with ‘liberty’ and its numerous cognates in offering an endless potential for abuse. In fact, one of the less pleasant aspects of modernity is trying to pass appetites, desires and aspirations as rights.  

While property rights are more valid than almost any others claimed by various demagogues, they aren’t without an offensive potential either. This potential is realised when they are raised to an absolute, as they tend to be wherever post-Enlightenment liberalism has triumphed, especially in the Anglophone world.

American post-Enlightenment thinkers have always accentuated property acquisition and protection as the cornerstone of liberty. Even these days, American political scientists emphasise protection of property more than do even conservatives in Europe who still, for old times’ sake, tend to regard it as only one of many prerequisites for civilised society.

Yet Locke only talked about preserving a man’s “life, liberty and estate against the injuries and attempts of other men” – the rule of law, in other words. But this wasn’t how it came out in the Declaration of Independence.

The Founding Fathers chose a less precise term ‘happiness’, preceded by ‘the pursuit of’, a combination they declared to be an ‘unalienable’ right. ‘Happiness’ was at the time a popular shibboleth of political discourse, but, as Alexander Hamilton explained later, the Founders used it in the narrow meaning of Locke’s ‘estate’.

However, the belief that representation would protect property rights was proved wrong. For universal franchise ineluctably promotes centralism at the expense of localism. I could explain why that is so, but anyone with eyes to see will know that it is so.

A central state thus empowered will always be tempted to increase its power by taking on more and more functions. That will require higher and higher taxes.

Thus immediately after the Revolution, taxes began to climb in America and have continued their steady ascent to this day. That may suggest that the two key mottos of the American Revolution, representation and property rights, just may be at odds.

Raising property rights to an absolute also provided the Confederacy with a valid argument in favour of slavery. The rebels had ironclad logic on their side: a slave in the South was chattel property whose legal standing was on a par with that of livestock, which is to say nonexistent.

Therefore any attempt to emancipate the slaves was a gross violation of Lockean property rights. On its own terms the South was thus as justified to secede from the Union as the Founders had been to declare their independence from England. Those terms, however, were invalid on a level deeper than that plumbed by the Enlightenment apostles of secular liberty.

The interesting dichotomy is that in a country constituted along Lockean and Enlightenment, which is to say atheist, principles, some 40 per cent of the population identify themselves as church-goers (as compared to about five per cent in Britain).

However, having discarded their faith, Britons have retained more political vestiges of Christendom, such as monarchy, aristocracy and an established church whose prelates sit in the House of Lords. And that’s why British conservative thinkers, unless they happen to be economists, don’t routinely talk about British subjects as taxpayers.

“What’s in a word?” asked Shakespeare. Well, a good chunk of political philosophy is one possible answer to that.

Bad reputation of good words

At mass yesterday, a visiting priest delivered a homily on peace and reconciliation, a time-honoured theme in both religious and secular discourse.

He died at the end of a war. Was he its victim?

So time-honoured, in fact, that it’s hard to move the discussion forward by finding something new to say. However, reducing the subject to platitudes and fallacies is easy, and the good father managed to do so famously.

He stayed within his remit by telling us that we should love one another as Christ loved us, and that was an unassailable statement if I’ve ever heard one.

Universal love certainly beats universal hatred, and this is the kind of banality one doesn’t mind repeated in that setting. It never hurts to remind people of the basics.

But then the priest enlarged on the subject by equating love with absence of prejudice, and there he lost me for ever. For, ‘prejudice’, along with ‘discrimination’, is a good word that has been undeservedly maligned.

The Latin prae-judicium reached English via French to designate an a priori premise, a set of criteria acting as the starting point of any ratiocination. Subsequent thought and experience can put a prejudice to a test, showing it to be either true or false. But without pre-judgement no true judgement is possible.

If the father had given that matter a moment’s thought, he would have realised that his own job wouldn’t exist in the absence of some such presuppositions, starting with faith in God.

True, modern vandals have assigned to that perfectly good word nothing but bad meanings, such as visceral enmity to some groups seen by the vandals as requiring protection. But then any word, including ‘love’, can suffer from similar calumny.

How about “He loves beating his wife” because “she loves having drunken sex with multiple strangers”? It’s not only denotation but also connotation that confers a meaning on a word.

‘Prejudice’ (which, by the way, Burke regarded as an essential political virtue) has suffered more than any other word, however, since it has been deprived of any good meaning whatsoever. And not only because it has got to mean preconceived bias against some fashionable groups.

For modern vandals indeed insist on approaching any issue (except those dear to their hearts) with a mind open so wide that one’s brain is at risk of falling out. No axiomatic premise is allowed to exist, unless of course it tallies with modern fads.

That, I’m afraid, is something yesterday’s priest went on to prove in short order. Though he didn’t repeat the letter of Benjamin Franklin’s fallacy that “there was never a good war, or a bad peace”, he spoke in the same spirit.

Since Franklin was an atheist (fine, a deist – a distinction without a difference), he was unable to ponder such notions at sufficient depth. But a priest, especially one in the most philosophical Christian confession, should be capable of more nuanced thought.

No intelligent discussion of the issue, especially from the pulpit, is possible without a reference to Matthew 10:34: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”

Any pursuit of truth and virtue presupposes the possibility of having to defend them by violent means against those seeking evil ends. Therefore Matthew 10:34 leads ineluctably to the doctrine of just war laid down by St Augustine and later developed by St Thomas Aquinas.

Granted, a Sunday homily isn’t a philosophical treatise, and a priest can’t be expected to provide an exhaustive exegesis of a complicated issue in a few minutes. But he should at least hint at some cursory familiarity with it.

Instead yesterday’s priest showed blithe ignorance of that essential Christian concept by citing “the war between Russia and the Ukraine” as an example of a situation in which urgent peace is required on any terms. After all, the war has already produced “many victims, both in the Ukraine and Russia”.

Out of idle curiosity, what Russian victims would those be?

Ukrainian victims don’t require an elucidation: they are civilians of all ages murdered, looted and raped by evil invaders. They are soldiers dying heroically in defence of both their freedom and, at one remove, ours. They are the dozens of peaceful people blown up yesterday when a Russian missile hit a block of flats in a major Ukrainian city.

But who exactly are the Russian victims? The evil invaders? The soldiers who do the murdering, looting and raping or the officers who encourage them to commit those crimes? Those who target schools, hospitals and residential buildings for missile strikes?

That one sentence showed a lamentable lack of discrimination, another word unjustly maligned. The word comes from the Latin discriminationem, defined as “the making of distinctions.”

Discrimination, the making of distinctions, is as essential as prejudice to any rational thought and moral or aesthetic judgement. And there too the father showed a most regrettable deficit.

He spoke briefly about the drive-by shooting at a Catholic church in Euston the other day, when some criminals fired shotguns at a crowd of worshippers coming out of the church after a requiem mass for two parishioners. Many were wounded; two, both children, critically.

They were undoubtedly victims, but suppose for the sake of argument that the shooters had been killed driving their getaway Toyota too fast from the scene. Would they have been victims too? The logic of yesterday’s homily would point at the affirmative answer to this question.

But neither Augustine nor Aquinas nor, more important, Christ would agree. Unlike our visiting priest, they were capable of both prejudice and discrimination – and knowing their indispensable value to finding the truth.

Any commitment to truth in that situation, or indeed in the war mentioned, would demand that the perpetrators of evil be damned as such and, in due course, punished. That would in no way contradict loving them in the Christian sense, hoping that their souls will be saved.

But treating either Euston or Russian murderers as victims would show a lack of both prejudice and discrimination where they are badly needed.

Attention: 13 million killers on the prowl

That’s how many dogs inhabit our green and pleasant land. And there’s no denying that Surrey with its undulating hills is right up there, as far as green and pleasant go.

It was there, in that bucolic landscape, that eight dogs attacked their professional walker the other day and mauled her to death, tearing her apart limb from limb.

One of the dogs then pounced on another woman walking her own small dog on a lead. When she saw the red-fanged beast rushing at her, the woman picked up her pet, leaving herself vulnerable. The attacker jumped, bit through the woman’s overcoat and badly wounded her.

You might think the murderous animals were attack dogs, like rottweilers or pit bulls, those weaponised pets so popular on the more lugubrious council estates. But they weren’t.

One dog in the murderous pack was indeed a scary 11st (154lb to those unfamiliar with imperial measurements) leonburger. But the others were all cuddly little puppies, your dachshunds, collies and cockapoos, so popular with those who have to look for companionship beyond our own species.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, a compendium of authoritative opinions has been offered by ‘dog psychologists’ and ‘animal behavioural specialists’.

They all deliver mantras that are typologically similar to those often heard in our human courts: it’s all the fault of [society, poverty, poor educational system, insufficient social benefits] – of anyone other than the perpetrator himself.

“It’s sad that the dogs will get the blame for something that was a failure of human responsibility,” explains one such expert.

The poor doggies were suffering from stress. After all, they hadn’t been properly introduced to one another, and nor were they on intimate terms with the walker. In all likelihood they had been delivered to their pasture in a van, which had to make them even more anxious. Anyway, the walker shouldn’t have handled so many.

“What happens next,” continues the expert, “is an automatic response which sees the dogs looking for a way to lash out. This isn’t because they want to harm someone or something; it’s a way of communicating that they want the situation they are in to stop.”

Now dogs know how to communicate their displeasure without necessarily killing anybody. They can whine, growl, whimper, bark or even – as one dachshund I knew as a child did – sit up on their hind legs. Yet they can also pounce unexpectedly and, no matter how “socialised” they are, unpredictably.

I’ve written before about the lamentable exercise of anthropomorphism so widespread among pet owners. They assign human characteristics to dogs, forgetting their feral ancestry.

Yet these animals carry murderous DNA in their genetic makeup. That might have been suppressed by many generations of breeding and domesticating training. But it has never been expunged.

People pet and kiss their dogs, and their mawkish sentimentality is sometimes rewarded with a joyously wagging tail. But occasionally a dog would discourage such foreplay by biting the owner’s nose off. (Exactly that happened to the famous Russian actor Steklovidov back in the 1950s, which must have set his career back.)

Considering the ridiculous proliferation of dogs in Britain, the number of dog-related wounds is relatively small, some 8,000 a year. Though this serves a useful reminder of canine ancestry, it doesn’t really amount to a runaway social problem.

That may still be on the cards, considering how fast the dog population is growing. When dogs get to outnumber people, then we may be looking at a rapid spread of dog rights campaigners insisting that canine Britons should enjoy the same human rights as their owners.

Thus emboldened, socioeconomically underprivileged dogs may begin to see all people as legitimate targets, and they could put their numerical superiority to good use. But that’s hasn’t happened yet.

What, to me, is really lamentable, is the national obsession with dogs, which suggests a high degree of emotional retardation. I’m talking about dogs used as strictly pets, recipients of gushing soppiness that masks the owners’ deficient ability to relate to other people.

Functional animals, all those hunting hounds, police dogs, guide dogs and guard dogs, have a job to do, and they are usually treated by their owners without any effusive emotiveness.

But pet owners castrate their darling puppies to make sure they are less likely to act in character and then treat them as surrogate children. (Come to think of it, the drive to castrate human children is also afoot, but transsexuality is a separate subject.)

Sentiment and sentimentality may be etymological cognates, but in fact they are diametrically opposite. Sentimentality is ersatz sentiment, it’s like coffee made of oak acorns, tofu burgers, ‘genuine imitation leather’ and that ubiquitous oxymoron, ‘plastic silverware’.

Observing my own lifetime evolution from an uppity child with his head up his own rectum to a grown-up who gradually stopped seeing himself as the be all and end all of life, to a middle-aged and eventually old softie, I can see how my attitude to both people and dogs changed.

It has become the exact reverse of the popular adage of uncertain, probably French, attribution. In my case, it’s “the more I love people, the less I like dogs”.

I wouldn’t try to explain this intuitive feeling by delving into philosophy or theology. Nor will I draw the obvious parallel with paganism and animal worship. Suffice it to say that, even as I refuse, for all the ample provocation, to see people as animals, so do I refuse to see animals as people – even surrogate ones.

For me there exists only one justification for having 13 million dogs in Britain. They are a default source of protein that may come in handy as more traditional sources become unaffordable. What’s good enough for Koreans may become good enough for us.

P.S. On an unrelated subject, more and more people — even writers! — use the verb to refute in the meaning of to deny. This reinforces my conviction that the use of rarer words ought to be licensed. ‘To deny’ means you disagree. ‘To refute’ means putting together an irrefutable argument why you disagree. Big difference: everyone can do the former, very few the latter.

That man was for turning

Paul Johnson, who died yesterday at 94, was one of the few contemporary writers I could cite as an influence. He is also one of the few who’ve taken me in.

Whenever Johnson was asked about the about-face in his views he performed at midlife, he liked to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

True, a man who dedicates his life to a search for truth is bound to find it in different places at different times. Show me a man who holds exactly the same views at 70 as he did at 20, and I’ll show you someone who made a point of stunting his intellectual growth.

However, there’s different and there’s different. Generally speaking, the intellectual pendulum can swing within a wide amplitude, but there are limits. These are imposed by one’s temperament, mentality, innate taste – one’s very personality. One’s views can change; one’s personality can’t.

For Johnson, no such limits existed, which is why he, or rather his works, played an unwitting prank on me. That started some 40 years ago, when I read his book Modern Times (American title).

At that time I had only lived in the West (Houston, Texas, to be exact) for some 10 years, a period mostly spent on trying to come to terms with, and survive in, a new world that didn’t seem to be designed for people like me. As a naturally conservative chap, I subsisted on a steady diet of National Review and Firing Line, both brainchildren of the Catholic writer William F. Buckley.

National Review writers, such as James Burnham, Russell Kirk, Erik Kuehnelt-Leddihn and Buckley himself, showed me how to relate my innate conservative instincts to a system of thought.

Most of those writers were Catholic, either cradle or converted, and they gradually nudged me towards Catholic writers across the ocean: Newman, Chesterton, Belloc, Muggeridge, Waugh and so on, all the way down the list.

And then another English Catholic, Paul Johnson, published Modern Times, which I devoured practically in one sitting. It was a valuable book of history, though not, to me, of historiography. I hardly gleaned from its pages any facts I didn’t already know, and a few of those I knew well sounded inaccurate.

But that didn’t matter. For there was a brilliant writer who put into a coherent narrative many a scattered thought flashing through my mind. Johnson came up with an explanation and criticism of modernity, not just a diary of it. And, unlike some of his facts, his explanation rang true.

His was a conservative exegesis of a period that was veering further and further away from conservatism, a cri de coeur as analysis, analysis as a cri de coeur. There was no vacillation: every page exuded the certainty of a man who knows.

Normally, when a book impresses me as much as that, I’d re-read it after a year or two, sometimes more than once. But there is Modern Times, sitting in my bookcase unopened again since 1983.

For at the time I had to slake my thirst for more writings by that impressive man. So I rummaged through the piles towering at my local second-hand bookshop and was rewarded with A History of Christianity, published just a few years earlier.

The author was identified as Paul Johnson, but as I read it I thought the book-seller had pulled a fast one on me. Far from being a conservative synthesis, the book was clearly written by a rank Leftie, an unapologetic socialist.

Surely it wasn’t the same Paul Johnson? Today this question could have been answered within seconds, but in those pre-Google days it took time. So I did some research – and found to my amazement that sure enough, it was the same man whose Modern Times had impressed me so.

Considering that the two books were separated by merely five years, the turnaround was unfathomable. Yet one thing didn’t change: Johnson’s unwavering, authoritative certainty behind every sentence. There was a man who had the power of his rapidly changing convictions.

I felt cheated, which was silly. After all, Johnson wasn’t the only Catholic writer I knew who had changed horses in mid-gallop.

James Burnham, for example, was a leading Troskyist writer throughout the 1930s. Yet already in 1941 he published his seminal conservative work The Managerial Revolution. In the 1950s he became a regular contributor, and eventually co-editor, of National Review, whose columns I never missed.

Burnham’s turnaround was even more drastic than Johnson’s, but for me there was an important personal difference. I had never read Burnham’s Trotskyist writings and hence couldn’t juxtapose them with his conservative prose – as I could do with Johnson’s work.

That difference was trivial intellectually. But emotionally, that ignorance spared my sensibilities – and never diminished my pleasure in reading Burnham’s books. But the bond between writer (Johnson) and reader (me) was broken.

Since then I’ve read several of Johnson’s books and liked them. But that was akin to playing no-limit poker with strangers: one has to be on guard against the possibility of cheating. I could never again quite trust Johnson, though I could still admire him.

That admiration survives him, as do the reservations. But those apart, on balance I’m still grateful to Paul Johnson, as I am to all writers who influenced me in any way.

Paul Johnson, RIP.    

Brexit as a category error

Was Brexit a success? My friend, a learned and intelligent man but, alas, an empiricist, thinks it was an abject failure.

That’s his privilege – we are all entitled to our unsound opinions. Yet the way he argues the case proves the inherent shortcomings of empiricism when it’s applied to fundamental issues, not just to calculations of compounded interest or advisability of prison reform.

In the good Cartesian tradition, before we try to answer the question above we ought to define success. I propose this working definition: achieving the result intended.

Yes, that seems to work. Thus a man who pops out for a pint of milk and accidentally finds a million pounds in a sack isn’t ipso facto successful. He is merely lucky – his good fortune didn’t come as the result he had set out to achieve when deciding to go to the Co-Op.

Conversely, a man who divorces his cheating wife isn’t a failure because as an immediate result his house becomes a shambles (in the unlikely event he has been able to hold on to it). Though neatness is desirable, he didn’t file for divorce to keep his house spick-and-span.

If you accept this definition, then you have to agree that Brexit was a qualified success, when measured against the intended effect.

It has to be said that, before Brexit became a fait accompli and when the debates about it still raged, both sides indulged in much crepuscular thinking. The problem was that empiricism, which I identify as my friend’s intellectual drawback, is almost a national characteristic of the British.

Unlike so many continentals, Britons like to dine on meaty facts, not pies in the sky. And meaty facts tend to have an empiricist, materialist flavour: physical pounds and pence are palpable, metaphysical convictions and beliefs are not.

This sort of thing is like aspirin: in small doses it can relieve your headache. But take too much of it, and your stomach will bleed.

The positive effect of their innate empiricism is that it often inoculates Britons against abstractions and toxic ideologies, especially those of megalomaniac proportions. It’s not for nothing that Edmund Burke identified prudence as the highest political virtue. And ideologies may be many things, but prudent is never one of them.

So far so sensible. But unfortunately sober British thinkers often throw the baby of principles and convictions out with the bathwater of ideologies. That often leads to category errors, such as the one my friend is committing.

He lists all our post-Brexit failures, displaying an enviable command of facts and figures. Going over his checklist of our woes, one has to put a tick next to each one.

Economy in the doldrums, tick. Incompetent and corrupt government, tick. Even worse, a socialist government, tick. Politicised and inept civil service, tick. Soaring crime rate, tick. Third-world healthcare, tick. Education that doesn’t educate, tick. Collapsing moral standards, tick. Noxious wokery everywhere, tick. And so on, all the way down the list – ticks all around.

At this point one may engage the argument on my friend’s terms by pointing out, for example, that few of those problems were caused by Brexit and fewer still could have been solved by our continuing membership in the EU. Therefore his reasoning is plagued by the well-known rhetorical fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc (after it, therefore because of it).

But this debating strategy would be a mistake because it would lose sight of the fundamental category error underpinning my friend’s argument.

Yes, Brexit would be a resounding failure if its intended result was an instant improvement in the economy, education, medical care and law enforcement. But it wasn’t. The whole point of Brexit was to re-establish the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.

And sovereignty is a legal and, if you will, metaphysical concept. It can only be evaluated in the context of the centuries of British history, the nature of the country’s institutions, the specificity of the nation’s ethos and character, the profound meaning of Britain’s constitution.

All of these are transcendent constants unrelated to any transient, fly-by-night fluctuations in the country’s fortunes. The constants are the yardsticks by which the success or failure of Brexit ought to be measured.

I’ve described Brexit as only a qualified success because it hasn’t been fully achieved. Perhaps one could say about it the same thing G.K. Chesterton said about Christianity: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”

As I write this, 2,400 EU laws falling into over 300 policy areas are still valid in the UK. The previous Tory government had the right idea of tossing them all into a bonfire, but the idea was sabotaged by the political class within which Remainer attitudes predominate.

The point of those EU laws isn’t whether they are good, bad or indifferent. It’s that they were issued by a foreign body outside the realm of our ancient constitution. If some of those laws are indeed good, then by all means they should be reissued by our own parliament, the only legislative body that has jurisdiction over UK laws.

A great deal of the muddle still surrounding the issue is the shockingly poor level of debate in the runup to Brexit. Both sides displayed that malaise of empiricism in spades.

The Remainers were warning about the imminent economic Armageddon should Britain leave the EU. The Leavers were talking up the economic heaven to which Britain could ascend by negotiating independent trade deals with Nepal and Peru, or whatever.

I was writing at the time and can still repeat now that this isn’t an economic issue. Those who insist it is are making a category error, setting up the stage for future confusion.

Keeping the issue within its proper category makes it clear-cut. Membership in the EU already amounts to becoming a province in a single supranational state de facto, and within a few years will do so de jure.

Regardless of the economic aspects of that arrangement (and I for one don’t think for a second the EU is a factor of a long-term economic success), it’s tantamount to taking a fat blue pencil to the millennia of our history, crossing out the most ancient – and dare I say the most successful – constitution in Europe.

Even if there is an economic price to pay for such glorious sovereignty, it’s as worth paying as it was when Britain stood alone in 1940, resisting Germany’s previous attempt to unite Europe.

Once we’ve realised that, we’ve satisfied the demand for rhetorical rectitude. Now by all means let’s talk about the British economy going to the dogs, closely followed by her education, medical care and law enforcement.

But do let’s keep Brexit out of it – it belongs to a different category altogether.

Russia, from top to bottom

I’m cross with Gen. Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia’s Security Council and by some accounts second only to Putin in the government.

Gen. Patrushev

You see, realising that most of my readers are fed up with stories about Russia, I usually try to ration them in this space. Hence, since I pondered the fine aspects of Russian religiosity yesterday, I was going to write about something else today.

But Patrushev has made it impossible. The interview he gave yesterday to a Russian newspaper is so full of fascinating titbits that all other news has to recede into the background.

No turn was left unstoned: the Rothschilds, Soros, the West’s decadence – and especially the global corporations, Russia’s real adversary in the on-going war. These have total control not just of the Ukraine but of the West in general, including the US, that notorious colossus with feet of clay.

“Transnational corporations are nervous about the divergence in philosophies and ideas between Russia and the countries controlled by Western capital,” explained Gen. Patrushev, former director of the FSB. “These corporations only pursue wealth and a growing consumer society. Russia, on the other hand, stands for a sensible balance between spiritual and moral values, and socioeconomic development.”

The good general then directly blamed those dastardly concerns for committing aggression against Russia, using the Ukraine and Nato as their proxies or, to be more exact, puppets.

He didn’t bother to explain why and how those corporations’ pursuit of wealth would benefit from their vicarious war on Russia’s moral and spiritual values. That went without saying.

However, what does seem to require some commentary is the way those values manifest themselves in practice. An important disclaimer is in order: left outside the discussion must be the bombing of Ukrainian cities, along with the murdering, looting and raping of civilians en masse.

For Russia isn’t to blame for any of that, it’s those global corporations what done it. Otherwise one might think Russians hate Ukrainians, which can’t be the case.

After all, Patrushev invariably refers to them as “our fraternal people”. So it’s not really Ukrainians who are being murdered, looted and raped. It’s Soros, the Rothschilds and directors of transnational corporations.

I get it, the Russians and the Ukrainians are brothers. That, however, doesn’t mean the former can’t chastise the latter – the Bible says so, and that’s the book all Russians, including Gen. Patrushev, live by. And that book tells a few stories about some siblings being beastly to others. Cain and Able? Joseph and his brothers? So there’s no contradiction there.

But let’s look at a few international indices unrelated to warfare but related to things moral, spiritual and socioeconomic. Once we’ve done that, we’ll know how Russia strikes a perfect balance among them all.

So here are the most recent available data divided in several rubrics.

Abortion Rate is one unfailing indicator of Christian, and generally moral, virtue. And there Russia, at 53.7 per 1,000 women per annum, comfortably leads the world, leaving the nearest competitors Vietnam (35.2) and Kazakhstan (35.0) in her wake.

Russia’s Public Sector Corruption Index stands at 86, as opposed to 3 in Britain, 2 in Germany and 7 in France, all of them materialistic and decadent. That’s another proof of Gen. Patrushev’s assertions: Russia refuses to abide by the materialistic bourgeois rules fostered by global corporations.

Britain, with her runaway Crime Rate, has 131 prisoners per 100,000. Russia boasts 329, which proves her intolerance of illegal activities and the sterling standards of her law enforcement.

In Divorce Rate Russia narrowly misses the medals position – she comes in at Europe’s Number 4. However, she gets the bronze in Opiate Addiction Rate: third in the world, behind only Afghanistan and Iran.

So much for the spiritual and moral values. Alas, though it pains me to say so, one has to take issue with Gen. Patrushev’s claim on that score, if only on the basis of the data cited.

He is, however, on much safer ground in his second claim, one about Russia’s disdain for socioeconomic development, that obsession imposed by the transnational corporations on the world they’ve created in their image.

In Quality of Life Index, Russia comes in at Number 70 of the 79 countries listed, finding herself between Colombia and Pakistan. And in Health Index Score, measuring the efficacy of the healthcare system, Russia is second from the bottom, between Morocco and Tajikistan.

Now, juxtaposing Gen. Patrushev’s view of the world with the cold facts, one has to reach an unavoidable conclusion: Russia is a hellhole unfit for human habitation. But her people have been brainwashed by centuries of propaganda to believe in their own innate superiority.

That phenomenon, when exhibited by individuals, is amply described in psychiatric literature. When exhibited by a large country, especially one led by the likes of Gen. Patrushev, that psychosis creates a predator pouncing on everyone within reach and committing midnight horrors along the way.

Such individuals must be forced into a straitjacket and committed. And such countries must be stopped in their tracks before they blow up the world. Then and only then could we discuss the possible therapy and course of treatment.

For we don’t want Russia to impose her moral and spiritual values, along with her socioeconomic development, on us. Gen. Patrushev and his jolly friends must be made to practise their virtues within Russia’s own borders.

Atheist Britain and pious Russia

The Russians like to point out that theirs is the last Christian country in Europe, the envoy from heaven to a godless West.

The hermit in the Kremlin

A particular Mail columnist (I shan’t name him this time lest I be accused of having it in for that Putin fan) agrees. Russia, he confirms, is “the most conservative and Christian country in Europe”, while Britain is neither.

It’s hard to argue with the second part of the statement, but the first one just doesn’t quite tally with what I know about Russia, which is quite a bit more than that nameless hack.

But how do you judge the religiosity of a nation? For example, a man who prays several times a day, observes all the feasts and refuses to work on Sunday won’t be caught in the statistical net if he hardly ever goes to church. Conversely, a regular church-goer who doesn’t believe in God but likes the companionship of a parish will swell the numbers of the believers.

However, while readily accepting the shortcomings of statistics, one still has to insist that there is one datum that gives a more or less accurate idea of a country’s religiosity: church attendance at Christmas and Easter.

These are the two most important Christian festivals, celebrated by both devout and nominal believers, and also by many atheists. For example, I remember my Moscow neighbours, each one a Party member and statutory atheist, painting eggs at Easter and baking kulich, the festive cake not unlike the Italian panettone.

Hence church attendance at Christmas and Easter is as reliable a statistic as one is likely to get. It certainly wouldn’t overestimate the proportion of devout believers. If anything, that statistic would be on the high side, boosted by the typological equivalents of my erstwhile Moscow neighbours.

And what do you know: this year, the same number of people, roughly 1.4 million, attended the Christmas services in Russia and in Britain. Considering that the population of Russia is more than twice that of Britain (although the gap is narrowing by the day), Russia is half as religious.

Putin, who after many wrong attempts finally had to learn that the Orthodox cross themselves from right to left, rather than the way people do it in Hollywood films, celebrated the Christmas mass on his lonesome (if you don’t count the photographer).

The setting was the Annunciation Cathedral, the smallest one of the three in the Kremlin. It was also the only one designed by Russian architects, the other two owing their existence to Italian masters. Perhaps for that reason, Russian tsars always used the Annunciation Cathedral as their private chapel. But they never celebrated major festivals in solitude.

That was because they were neither hypochondriac enough to fear infection nor cowardly enough to fear assassination. Putin is both, but then neither is he a tsar.

He is just a chap raised in the Petersburg gutter, the chieftain of a gang made up in equal measure of KGB officers and gangsters, so intermingled that it’s no longer possible to tell which is which.

Oh yes, he is also – if you wish to believe the aforementioned if unnamed hack – the president of the most Christian country in Europe. Humbug.

The most Christian country in Europe? Not by half, if you choose to believe the church attendance records instead.

New title for Harry

Though he puts a brave face on it, it appears increasingly likely that Harry will have his royal titles taken away. That must rankle, even when weighed against Netflix millions.

Another Moor bites the dust

Harry did put his titles on hold when he served in the army. Then he was known as simply ‘Captain Wales’, but that was just a short hiatus. He knew and everybody else knew that he’d go back to being HRH once the shooting stopped.

Now he risks losing those initials for ever, and before long the sense of deprivation will begin to gnaw at the pit of his stomach, to use Carlyle’s phrase. And no amount in Netflix currency will alleviate that pain.

But not to worry: another title is just round the corner. Following his nostalgic recollection of having killed 25 Afghani militants during his time as Captain Wales, Harry should henceforth be known as Matamoros, Harry the Moor-Slayer.

The original title belonged to St James, who distinguished himself in the 9th century Battle of Clavijo. The fight broke out following an unreasonable demand the Moors imposed on Ramiro I of Asturias.

The libidinous Arabs demanded a tribute of 100 virgins, 50 of them noble. It’s telling that even in those days Arabs dreaded comparison so much that they put a high premium on virginity.

Although finding so many virgins in a Western country presented less of a logistic problem then than it would today, Ramiro rejected the demand out of hand. Instead he rode into battle.

Initially, the hostilities didn’t go his way, but then St James, the patron saint of Spain, appeared on a white steed, sword in one hand, white banner in the other. He turned the battle by personally slaying 5,000 Muslims (or ‘muzzie-wuzzies’, as Harry probably calls them – he likes the odd racial putdown, though perhaps less so these days than in the past).

Hence the proposed title of Matamoros, a share of which Harry now merits even though he falls somewhat short of the original holder’s saintliness.

Harry explains that he got his shot at the Matamoros title as a result of the childhood trauma he simply couldn’t let go. His ‘mom’, as he calls her in the American fashion, died when Harry was 13.

To dull the pain of the loss he tried every controlled substance known to man, but the analgesic effect was negligible no matter how many years went by. Booze, al fresco sex behind the pub, dressing up as a Nazi stormtrooper – nothing worked.

But then Harry decided to “turn his pain into a purpose”, which was to go to war and kill Muslims. And sure enough, taking his anguish out on the infidels worked out much better than the magic mushrooms, peyote, cocaine and whatever else Harry had snorted, smoked or mainlined.

There is nothing wrong with serving in the military, and in fact doing so is noble – provided it’s done to a noble end.

Following an honourable family tradition qualifies as such, and our princes have always served in the armed forces, often with distinction. So does patriotism, a sense of duty to one’s country, especially when it’s at war.

Yet Harry cites neither of those as his motives. The way he explains his urge to fight, it amounts to a sort of therapeutic bloodlust, the desire to kill his own pain by inflicting it on others. Here we enter the domain of psychiatry, for people who feel that way are known as psychopaths.

By all accounts, whatever his motivation, Harry served bravely and well, specifically when flying Apache helicopters for four months in 2012-2013. “The only shots I thought twice about were the ones I hadn’t taken,” he says, and it’s good to see a man whose conscience is clear.

Now fairness demands mentioning that, during the period when Harry honed his sharpshooting skills, not a single Apache helicopter was lost to hostile fire, although a few crashed for other reasons. Still, while some of his detractors may question Harry’s sportsmanship, none should doubt his courage.

His mental health, however, is something else again, and this goes beyond the questionable inspiration for his valour. For Harry suffers from a prevalent modern disorder: an exaggerated propensity for delving deep into his own psyche. That’s the modern attempt to reach the superpersonal without rising to the supernatural.

Once such digging starts, it usually doesn’t stop until the spade (sorry, shovel) hits the hard surface of some childhood trauma. All of us, those who grew up in a palace like Harry or in a smelly communal flat like me, had a fair share of those.

Some traumas are like pinpricks, others more like dagger thrusts, and Harry’s was closer to the latter: he lost his ‘mom’ to a freak accident at a young age.

Yet men, especially Englishmen, used to know how to handle traumatic experiences with stoicism. It was almost an article of faith that grown men had no right to keep reliving their childhood pains onanistically.

Notice the use of the past tense here. For the age of psychobabble dawned on the world, and men were encouraged to become touchy-feely hermaphrodites, each wearing his wounded heart on his sleeve. As an inevitable result of such exhibitionism, that organ tends to be caked in grime.

Not blessed with the strength of either character or intellect, Harry never learned that there is more to being a man than the odd roll in the dirt behind a pub – more even than martial courage. No one taught him. On the contrary, the whole ethos of modernity demanded he get in touch with his feelings.

Hence his tendency to throw his toys out of the pram whenever he can’t get his way. Hence also his sadistic, petty vindictiveness, characteristic of someone who, unable to come to terms with his problems, lashes out at whomever is close enough to blame.

Hence also the tendency to be henpecked, by the first strong woman sufficiently versed in the dark arts of manipulation. And, since his henpecker happens to be American, she grew up believing in the curative effect of letting it all hang out in public.

It’s not for nothing that group therapy is more widespread in the US than anywhere else. Though grown in Europe, the tree of psychobabble reached its true height only when transplanted onto American soil.

However, most attendees of such tasteless spectacles have to pay for it. Harry, on the other hand, gets millions for sharing his self-inflicted, or at least self-cultivated, problems with all and sundry.

As a bonus to his paymasters he can also brag about killing 25 Muslims, whom he self-admittedly saw not as human beings but as chess pieces to be swept off his board. His comrades-in-arms are aghast: that sort of braggadocio breaks the code they live by.

But Harry is no longer Captain Wales, nor even HRH in anything but name. He now lives by different codes, and he merits different titles, ranks and honorifics. Such as my suggestion of Matamoros, which I hope is taken as seriously as it’s offered.

An amazing coincidence, or what?

There’s really nothing I can say about Harry’s evil attempts to destroy our monarchy that hasn’t already been said about double incontinence, syphilis and post-nasal drip.

Harry is on the left. Or is he?

Ideally, Harry’s effluvia in various media should simply be ignored with dignified silence. But the din has become too loud for that: the lad, ably assisted by his professionally manipulative wife, has continued his mother’s vindictive crusade .

The royal family can’t stay silent much longer. It must defend itself, and, as the ancient Chinese strategist Sun Tzu said in his much-misquoted maxim, “Attack is the secret of defence”.   

One way of turning the tables would be to cast another glance on the photographic juxtaposition above and consider anew the persistent rumours that Harry is really the son of Diana’s lover, Capt. James Hewitt.

Harry was born in 1984, and both his mother and Hewitt himself have insisted that their five-year affair didn’t start until two years later. However, since veracity wasn’t the most salient virtue of either of the star-crossed lovers, a large grain of salt is in order, possibly washed down with a shot of tequila.

Both lovers used their adulterous liaison for other than purely erotic purposes. Diana opened up about it in that infamous 1995 BBC interview, when she flapped her eyelashes histrionically, hamming up her lines: “Yes, I adored him. Yes, I loved him…”

That interview served a dual purpose. Her most immediate aim was to force a divorce from Charles, retaining many of the royal privileges with none of the royal responsibilities. The second, and most important, aim was to take revenge on the institution that refused to accept that perfidious, empty-headed girl on her own terms.

Hewitt’s objective was more straight-forward: money. He wrote (or rather had ghost-written) two books on the affair, having received a £300,000 advance for the first one. He also got £1,000,000 for a tabloid interview, which he doubtless saw as only a good start.

The next step was selling Diana’s letters to the highest bidder, and the high bids were rumoured to be greater than his previous fees by an order of magnitude. Our guardians of public morals screamed bloody murder, but Hewitt was undeterred. “These letters,” he told an interviewer, “are important historical documents” and the gasping public shouldn’t be denied vital knowledge of historical import.

Judging by the only quote I’ve been able to glean from those missives, they are a matter of gossipy rather historical interest: “I have lain awake at night loving you desperately and thanking god for bringing you into my life… I just long for the days when we finally will be together for always, as that is how it should be.”

Be that as it may, all of a sudden Hewitt announced he wouldn’t sell the letters after all. By then his reputation as a “love rat” was so firmly entrenched, that he got few praises for that seemingly noble act of self-denial.

That, I think, was an oversight. For it’s hard to believe that Hewitt suddenly had a Damascene experience and found God. After all, until then he had been trading on his affair with Diana quite shamelessly. Call me a cynic, but I don’t believe he’d suddenly developed qualms on the verge of the biggest payoff of his life.

Moreover, even though he was already flush then, he certainly isn’t now. Reports say Hewitt has since squandered his penile fortune, had a heart attack and a stroke, and is now working as a £4,000 a year gardener in Devon.

This though he is still sitting on the instantly reclaimable treasure of Diana’s epistolary output. Now, I don’t fancy myself as a psychologist, but such restrained self-abnegation is glaringly out of Hewitt’s character.

There must exist a more practical reason for his suddenly acquired reticence, and that can only be some pressure put on him either by the Palace directly or through the mediation of our security services. They must have something on Hewitt, enough to force him to forgo millions and settle into a life of penury.

I shan’t try to speculate on what that might be: the range of possibilities is broad. Whatever it is, it has worked: Hewitt kept those precious letters to himself. The question is what else that leverage has forced him to do.

This brings us back to Harry’s paternity. Rumours about it began to circulate immediately after Diana’s affair became public knowledge. It was hard not to notice that the older Harry got, the more he looked like Hewitt.

It wasn’t just the red hair, for that tint exists in Diana’s family. As I can testify from personal observation, her brother, Earl Spencer, is a redhead too. However, his eyes are hazel, not blue like Harry’s and Hewitt’s. And in general, Harry doesn’t look at all like Earl Spencer.

He may look more like the young photographs of his paternal grandfather, but that facial resemblance is still not as close as between Harry and Hewitt. That’s why those ugly rumours just wouldn’t die.

At some point Hewitt dispelled them in yet another interview. He hadn’t met Diana until 1985, he said, when he became her riding instructor. Harry was already one at the time.

However, Nicholas Davis, the author of many books on the royals, contradicts that claim. Both Davis and Hewitt used to play polo with Charles, and Davis was his friend.

According to him, “Hewitt was seen inside Charles and Diana’s Kensington Palace home on several occasions in 1983 – 12 months before Harry was born.”

And then: “Only Charles, a few close friends and the Royal protection police were aware that Diana was Hewitt’s lover before Harry’s birth. And the reality is, she wasn’t sure who was Harry’s father. In her heart, she wanted it to be Hewitt, and she suspected that it was more likely to be him than her husband.”

Perhaps. But one way of putting paid to those rumours would be to do a simple DNA test. A drop of saliva, and Andrew is your uncle – and, more important, Hewitt isn’t your father.

Yet no one has even suggested that little exercise. It’s as if the parties involved would rather not know the possible result.

That leaves an opening for a counterattack that could damage Harry’s earning potential and possibly even his marriage. If Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex and sixth in line of succession, becomes Harry Hewitt, born on the wrong side of the blanket to a louche officer, would Meghan be as smitten as she so expertly shows?

I don’t know. But I do think it’s time for the Palace to fight back – before those two objectionable spouses do irreparable damage not just to the royal family but to our whole constitution. As they appear hell-bent to do.  

The classes and the masses

Looking at the four countries I know well, Russia, America, Britain and France, I appreciate the distinction drawn in German philosophy, one between culture and civilisation. Many people use these words interchangeably, but that, I think, is a mistake.

The two concepts may not even inhabit the same breast: we all know civilised individuals who aren’t cultured and cultured individuals who aren’t civilised. Broaden your focus to encompass a nation, and a similar dichotomy may well appear.

The culture of a nation comes across through the top five to 10 per cent of the population, if that. Our British friends call that group PLUs (People Like Us), well-educated, well-read highbrows, either professional or artistic.

The corresponding French term is les bobos (bourgeois bohemians). The Russians use their own Latin-based coinage intelligentsia. The Americans, ever bashful about social categorisations, may eschew the tag, but they are well aware of that group’s existence.

Now, as an exercise in homespun comparative ethnography, I find few and mostly trivial differences among these four elite groups. (It is indeed homespun for I’m in no position to conduct rigorous sociological studies. I have, however, accumulated heaps of anecdotal evidence over a long and peripatetic lifetime, and made certain general observations on that basis.)

They all place a slightly heavier emphasis on their own culture, but not to the exclusion of others. They are civil, multilingual and well-behaved. I’d say that the British and especially the French tend to have better table manners than the Americans and especially the Russians, but all in all it’s much of a muchness.

Typically, members of those elite groups feel more comfortable with their foreign counterparts than with the uncultured masses in their own country. Cultural commonality tends to trump national and ethnic identity.

By contrast, civilisation can never be elitist. While culture thrives on esoteric exclusivity, a civilisation can’t last unless it includes most members of society. Some may drive it, some may snooze in the back seat, but they must all be inside.

Civilisation is the opposite of militarisation, and not only semantically. It’s an unspoken compact of unifying mutual respect that enables different people to coexist without stepping on one another’s toes or settling their disputes outside the law. Culture is only one aspect of civilisation, one of many.

It’s the lower reaches of any society that provide a reliable indication of its civilisation. If the masses are civilised, one can confidently assume that so are the classes. And there the differences among the four countries stop being trivial and become instantly apparent.

Walk through the centres of provincial towns or villages in the downmarket regions of the four countries and watch how the locals interact with you and one another. Get a drink at a bar, buy something in a shop, ask for directions – above all, keep your ears open and your eyes peeled.

Russia will immediately stand out. Her uncouth masses treat one another – and will treat you – with suspicion rather than amity, rudeness rather than courtesy, selfishness rather than altruism, a scowl rather than a smile.

Even long before the arrival of endlessly corrupting and dehumanising bolshevism, foreign visitors already pointed out those little idiosyncrasies. Thus a Dutch ambassador remarked in the 18th century that: “The Russians don’t need bread. They eat one another and that keeps them fed.”

You’ll notice how eagerly Russians in all walks of life speak ill of one another. Put four Russians together, and within a couple of days you’ll know who wouldn’t piss on whom if he was on fire. People push, shove and jostle their way through crowds, they jump queues and at the slightest provocation (or even without one) call one another oedipal names.

Casual street violence is commonplace, with universal drunkenness a contributing factor. These days one seldom has to step over drunks in the centres of Moscow or Petersburg, but a weekend stroll down the street in the provinces will still feel like an obstacle course.

No trust seems to bind people together – the recent memory of millions of friends and families denouncing their nearest and dearest to a murderous secret police has never been expunged. Nor will it be soon, what with those happy times descending on Russia again.

An innate code of behaviour has never reached the Russian masses – and even their classes are often wanting in that department.

The contrast with our area in France is startling. This is one of the poorest parts of the country, with most locals subsisting on social handouts. The bars fill up in the morning, and rivers of rouge never stop flowing throughout the day.

Bright youngsters up sticks and go somewhere else where jobs exist. Those who stay guzzle their rouge by day and copulate with their next of kin by night. Incest is rife, and the locals refer to it as le cinéma des pauvres (poor man’s cinema). That entertainment genre produces rather stunted development, and our Parisian friends who have second homes here describe the locals as les monstres.

And yet they are impeccably civilised. I’ve never been treated with anything other than politeness and respect, and the locals also treat one another with amiable, chatty joviality.

After dark, the streets of our village empty out. But I don’t feel tense when walking past a group of disreputable-looking youngsters, who’ve all had a glass or two. I know that all I’ll get from them will be a chorus of “bonsoir, monsieur”.

America isn’t far behind. When I lived in Texas, I wasn’t long out of Russia and could appreciate the contrast. I saw something I had never seen back there: the presumption of civilised kinship.

Teenagers opening doors for one another, old people treated with respect, polite forms of address – the people were utterly civil across the board. The same held true in the Midwest, and, while Los Angeles and especially New York had more rough edges, one could see that civility had trickled down to those hectic places as well, if in a thin stream.

Britain, I’m afraid, is getting to be closer to Russia (still a long way to go, but nevertheless) than to America and France. Walking through our town centres at night, especially upcountry, is an unpleasant, and occasionally dangerous, experience.

I remember once a friend of ours played a Friday concert in Chester (one of the most affluent British cities, by the way), after which we popped into an Indian restaurant for a late supper. When we came out, there wasn’t a single sober person anywhere to be seen.

Next to the restaurant door, a young man was slowly sliding down the wall. A trickle of vomit was dripping down his chin, which didn’t deter his equally drunk girlfriend from kissing him on the mouth. Other drunk girls were screaming: “Kevin, get a fooking taxi!”, but taxi drivers knew better than to stop for Kevin.

I suspect that the locals here in France drink as much, in average annual consumption, but I’ve never been treated to such spectacles anywhere in France. However, in Britain that show never closes.

Then again, though I’m not a stickler for ceremony, I don’t like it when strangers younger than my grandchildren call me by my first name. Yet polite forms of address have disappeared.

Not long ago, a young tradesman rang us up, and Penelope answered the phone. “May I speak with Mrs Boot?” “This is she.” “Oh good morning. What can I call you?” “You can call me Mrs Boot,” suggested Penelope. “No, what can I call you?” insisted the perplexed youngster. “Mrs Boot will be fine.” He genuinely couldn’t understand what she was on about.

In France, I’ve played tennis with the same group of people for years, but it took me much insistent effort to make them stop calling me monsieur Boot. Egalitarian familiarity hasn’t quite corrupted the French as much.

A rapid decline in civilisation is observable in the three Western countries, especially among the young. By and large, the older the group, the higher its level of civilisation. Parents and grandparents in the Anglophone countries are failing to pass it down the generations, and within another decade or two barbarism will reign in America as widely as in Britain.

I still hope the populations of the three countries close to my heart will never become as thoroughly brutalised as Russia is. Their civilisational capital is being frittered away, but they still aren’t quite bankrupt. Yet.