Democracy: a serious reply to a serious reader

The reader, a London vicar, writes, ‘I’ve enjoyed looking at your blog. Isn’t there a fundamental incompatibility between an aristocratic hierarchical society and one based on capitalism? Which do you now prefer? Would you extend your principle of taxation and the right to vote to impunity from military service without the right to vote?’

These are interesting questions. The first one is actually somewhat easier, if calling for a longer reply. There is an incompatibility, but I don’t think it’s either fundamental or unsolvable. Capitalist economy definitely abhors a rigid, or even rigid-ish, social structure, while an aristocratic society thrives on it. The answer lies first in the relative weight of the economy in the life of society and, second, the amount of elasticity in the hierarchy.

When the economy becomes the be-all and end-all of society, it comes with an awful price tag — and, as we are witnessing now, the price will be ultimately exacted on the economy itself. A society defined by consumption is indeed consumptive. That sitiuation didn’t exist in Britain during her most economically dynamic century, the 19th. And, as this reader knows better than I do, the main reason is simple: Jesus Christ hadn’t yet become a superstar. Christianity, as long as it keeps not just its form but also its content, puts brakes on economic totalitarianism by communicating in no uncertain terms that, though money may be important, it can’t be all-important. Though our life on earth is significant in itself, it’s also preparation for life in heaven. In that sense, our workaday lives should imitate the perfect balance between the transient and transcendent one finds in the person of Jesus Christ. Unlike materialists, we don’t think of life strictly in economic terms. Unlike Bhuddists, we don’t neglect the physical world. And unlike gnostics of all shades, we don’t think the outside world is evil.

England struck the balance in the 19th century, proving that an aristocratic society ruled by law can accommodate aggressive capitalism — partly because such a society, unlike out-and-out democracies, isn’t an ideological contrivance. It developed organically over 1,500 years or longer. With England (or other monarchies of old standing) one can’t pinpoint the founding of her state to any date or event. We all know exactly when Germany, Soviet Russia, Israel or the USA came into existence. With England, we don’t. That’s why the argument put forth by both Burke and de Maistre rings true: as the origins of an organic state disappear into the haze of the past, we might as well accept its divine descent.

One immediate spiritual and social effect of Christianity was the internalisation of man, the privatisation of the spirit. From that followed a man’s shift from the public square into his own house or chapel. Such a man lost the all-abiding interest in politics demanded by the Hellenic world — and now mandated by our democracies. Mediaeval Christians were happy to focus on their God and their family, letting the bellicose paladins boss things in the capital. The princes, in their turn, left the people pretty much alone — they were neither able nor willing to interfere with the familial organisation around which people’s lives revolved: guild, parish, village commune, township and of course what we now call extended family. Thus aristocracy, and by inference small government, is the most natural form of government in the West (a term I use interchangeably with Christendom in any other than the purely geographic sense).

For as long as the initial pulse shot into our body politic by Christianity didn’t attenuate, aristocratic society could handle capitalism with few problems. The society was not only hierarchical, but also mobile — witness the fact that only about 1% of British peerages predate the 19th century. Once that pulse died away, the square peg of the economy had to be jammed into the round hole left by Christianity. That was never going to succeed, and it hasn’t. What this proves, I think, is that there is no contradiction between the aristocratic society of Christendom and capitalism. There is, however, a glaring one between the democratic contrivances of modernity and Godless capitalism. Sooner or later, the resulting spiritual deficit will not only destroy our culture, family and social dynamics, but it’ll have exactly the same effect on the economy. As Aristotle put it, a society that pursues wealth rather than virtue will end up using this wealth against itself.

Universal franchise ipso facto means universal conscription at war time. If a mediaeval prince had to beg his vassals to spare a few soldiers, today’s democrats can conscript the whole population — and severely punish those who resist. This, as much as technological advances, accounts for the inordinate casualties of modern wars. The ‘progressive’ 20th century boasts somewhere between 300 and 500 million victims, half of them in wars — more than all other centuries of recorded history combined.

But I don’t think taxation comes into play at all. An 18-year-old footballer can play for a top club, but he can’t be its manager. By the same token, it takes a sage and experienced voter to manage his country (which enfranchised citizens do indirectly). Statistically, those under 25 can’t be confidently predicted to fall into that categority. So they shouldn’t vote. However, the qualities required for warfare aren’t the same as those without which responsible voting would be impossible. As anyone walking the streets of south London will tell, an 18-year-old is perfectly capable of killing, even if he’s unable to get a job and therefore pay taxes.

To summarise: one has to be a citizen to serve in the army, and a taxpayer to vote, but one neither has to have the vote nor to pay taxes to be a citizen. One-man-one-vote isn’t a sine qua non for a society of citizens — and neither is it the sole possible alternative to tyranny. The opposite belief made its historical entrance only in the 20th century, not coincidentally the most murderous period of history.

Our democratically demotic culture

Our democracy-run-riot is based on the assumption that reaching a certain, barely post-pubescent, age is a sufficient qualification for voting. The underlying belief is — and inevitably has to be — egalitarian: a tattoed, facial-metalled delinquent is deemed as able as, say, a doctor or engineer to make a contribution to the political process. This is as sure a way as any of vindicating Joseph de Maistre’s comment that every nation gets the government it deserves. Since we have considerably more juvenile delinquents than doctors or engineers, we deserve nothing better than our current spivocracy.

But it’s not just government that gets poisoned by toxic egalitarianism — education and culture are writhing in suffocating agony too. As anyone who has ever taught at school will tell you, the very notion of comprehensive education is an oxymoron. Forty-odd years of that, and British education, which at the time of grammar schools and secondary moderns was the envy of the world, has become its laughing stock. Education Secretary Michael Gove seems to realise this, which is why he is talking about reintroducing ‘elitism’ to our education. Good idea, that: excellence in any area is a pipe dream in the absence of a hierarchy, fluid as it should be. But the well-meaning Mr Gove is missing the point: we are now into the third generation of comprehensively ‘educated’ populace. Arranging millions of pupils in a hierarchical order commensurate with their attainment and potential will take hundreds of thousands of teachers capable of achieving such noble aims. Where are they going to come from? Most of the current lot are only barely more literate than their pupils, and almost as barbaric. It’ll take another two generations to get out of this vicious circle, by which time it’ll be too late, if it isn’t already.

If there is one lesson history teaches us, it’s that, in addition to its immediate destructive effect, egalitarian social experimentation has a knock-on effect. Once those dominoes start tumbling, there’s no stopping them. And there’s also another lesson, not yet learned by many: this institutionalised barbarism doesn’t result from a past mistake. There was no mistake. Our governments have achieved exactly the result for which their statist loins ached. Mass availability of real education would endanger their self-perpetuation. For a literate population would realise that our rulers are capable of committing dozens of solecisms in a short address. A numerate population would know that the cock-and-bull sums peddled by the government don’t add up. A population educated in the moral foundations of the West would be inclined to toss this bunch of self-serving nonentities out on their ear. Can’t have that, can we?

The venom of egalitarianism is all-pervasive — just look at what’s happening to our music. By this I don’t mean the pop flatulence that even in our conservative papers solely qualifies for the name of ‘music’ with no modifier. No, I’m talking about the modified ‘classical music’ that too has fallen victim to the universal lack of discernment cultivated by every institution in our society. The public definitely gets the music it deserves. Since, as a rough assessment, no concert audience these days contains more than a few people capable of telling a rotten performance from a sublime one, extra-musical factors are sole contributors to a performer’s career. That’s why, say, our piano scene is dominated by talentless hacks like Lang Lang who play the instrument with the dexterity of circus acrobats, and an artistic sensibility to match. The public doesn’t mind — any performance, no matter how inept, gets the same decibel level of ovation. Perhaps Mr Gove should cast his eye over this as well, for real music was composed for few by fewer. It’s hierarchical (‘elitist’ in today’s parlance) — or it’s nothing but cheap amusement. Make it egalitarian, that is universally available and paid for by the masses democratically voting with their cash, and you’ll end up with performers whose ignoble spirit is no higher than that of their audience, even if they have what these days passes for technical mastery. This doesn’t mean they have no talent — just that it lies in areas other than music. Tireless self-promotion, hard-working shilling, photogenic appearance, crass commercialism, cynicism, contempt for their art, and an avid devotion to all the deadly sins except gluttony and sloth all come to the fore.

One example, if I may, coming from a report by a highly reliable informant. The orchestras of Ljubljana and Zagreb recently joined forces to perform Mahler’s 8th Symphony, perhaps the largest-scale work in the choral repertoire, nicknamed the ‘Symphony of a Thousand’ in reference to the number of musicians required (but seldom reached). The project had ramifications going beyond music — it was a symbol of unity between Chroatia and Slovenia, countries that haven’t always seen eye to eye. Hence it attracted much attention from TV stations, and not just in the cities involved. And that’s why the orchestras invited a star conductor from Russia to guide the project through. A lot of work was needed for an undertaking of this magnitude, and many rehearsals. He was seen as the right man for the job.

Yet the conductor didn’t deign to turn up in that part of the world for a single rehearsal, not even one immediately before the performance. He made his entry backstage 15 minutes late, when the public was already beginning to slow-clap and the TV folk to worry about their time slots. The maestro then sequestered himself in his room and wouldn’t come out. Finally, the desperate orchestra delegated one of the first violins to find out what was what. The violinist deferentially opened the door a crack, only to hear the conductor discuss the sale of a huge consignment of timber with his business manager. Now can you imagine Sir Thomas Beecham behaving that way? Klemperer? Fürtwangler? Toscanini? Mengelberg? And musically the Russian wouldn’t have been fit to carry their scores to the concert hall.

Considering that the chap already has (as opposed to earns) an income in high seven figures, one would think he’d be able to show more respect for his art. But, a product of modern egalitarianism that he is, he doesn’t even understand what’s required. Like any modern spiv he pursues nothing but money, power and fame, devoting his time to flogging from one venue to the next (sometimes two in different countries on the same day). And he is a typical rather than exceptional figure, allowed to prosper by a comprehensively educated public, money-grabbing impresarios and concert organisers assisted by illiterate musicologists, including those working on our increasingly demotic BBC 3. (One cretinous critic wrote in the Telegraph a few years ago that Maxim Vengerov is ‘not only the greatest violinist of our time, but the greatest of all time’. Now Vengerov is a vulgarian with a quick bow who wouldn’t be out of place playing at a wedding somewhere in Siberia. Even to utter his name in the same breath as Menuhin, Szigeti, Stern, Oistrach, Szering and countless others is chronically stupid. Saying he’s superior to them goes beyond ignorance and stupidity, entering the area of conscious subversion.) How similar, how very similar to our politicians.


Fighting and biting in Russia

I really wish you could read Russian: browsing through their papers and websites is such fun. Here are a few snippets.

An award-winning newsreader was delivering a deadpan item on a disagreement between Putin and Obama. When the US president’s name came up, the young lady, without changing her dispassionate expression, made an obscene one-finger gesture to the camera. The next day she was fired, much to the dismay of millions of Americans who know how she felt.


Who says philosophy is dry and academic? A massive fight broke out during a heated discussion at the recent International Philosophical Forum in Moscow. Two philosophers, a man and a woman, had suffered serious injuries before the police (several dozen of them) broke up the fisticuffs. Getcha, you Foucault Kant!


A 46-year-old policeman has been charged with selling his service sidearm to a friend for seven thousand roubles (£140). However, the policeman only received two thousand, as he already owed his friend the balance. Fair is fair.


Late one night near Archangel a traffic policeman stopped a car obviously being driven by a drunk driver. The driver’s daughter, court bailiff Fedulina, was the passenger. When the traffic policeman tried to confiscate her father’s driving licence, the bailiff swore unprintably and bit the officer’s left shoulder. Since there were several witnesses present, Miss Fedulina was charged with ‘committing violence, not threatening to life or health, on an official discharging his lawful duty.’ The young lady must have felt peckish.


In an unrelated incident, a young girl in Chuvashia has been sentenced to 1.5 years of penal colony for biting several policemen. The officers had been summoned by the perpetrator’s mother who was unhappy with the drunken behaviour of the girl and her friends. Sounds like a generation gap to me.


In yet another unrelated incident, head of Mari police has been temporarily suspended for starting a drunken brawl with a businessman in the restaurant Lada. The perpetrator attacked the businessman, tore his jacket and bit him several times. When arriving policemen tried to quiet him down, he tried to bite several of them too. It’s not just the crisis that bites.


Speaking of the crisis, the Duma deputy (MP) Eduard Markin sent out his bodyguard to exchange 300,000 euros into rubles. The parliamentarian himself had found a bank willing to do the transaction. At the door of the bank the bodyguard was met by a man who introduced himself as the employee who had spoken to Mr Markin on the phone. The man then collected the euros and walked back into the bank, locking the door behind him. When after a while the bodyguard knocked on the door, he was let in only to find that the man was no longer there, while the door to the emergency exit was swinging on its hinges. When queried, the Deputy explained that he wanted to exchange the money because he thought the euro was about to collapse. Sound judgment of Europe, shame about the woeful misunderstanding of his native land.


Having left Russia as a child, my fellow ex-Muscovite Anatole Kaletsky doesn’t strictly qualify as an item in Russian news. Still, you can take a boy out of Russia… I’ve commented before that Mr Kaletsky is our most reliable economic analyst: you can safely bet that every prediction of his will turn out to be its exact opposite. His analysis of the present and past equals the acuity of his forecasts of the future. Germany got into her present ordeal, he writes, by sticking to manufacturing whereas ‘the modern economy is about borrowing money and financial services.’ Deputy Markin read the situation better.





Totalitarian taxation

The Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates that the 50% marginal tax rate on annual incomes in excess of £150,000 is costing the Exchequer over £1 billion a year. The reason is simple: Entrepreneurs up their sticks and move to sunnier economic climes. The actual figure is probably higher, for many foreign businessmen, entertainers and sportsmen who could otherwise move themselves and their money to Britain refrain from doing so. Though for obvious reasons their number can’t be calculated precisely, it’s unlikely to be trivial. The tax ought to be scrapped, conclude those not entirely bereft of common sense.

That only shows how little they understand the real purpose of modern taxation. It’s not so much keeping the government solvent (an end that’s out of reach for modern governments anyway) as keeping the people under its thumb. For any modern government, be it a democracy, a tyranny or a democratic tyranny, is innately totalitarian. Those who have no laws to answer to rely on coercion and violence to exert their control. Those somewhat restrained by a tradition of justice rely on economic levers instead.

High taxes, preferably but not necessarily accompanied by inflation (which is a tax requiring no legislative approval), prevent too many people from becoming independent from the state. Those from whom the state extorts 60% of their income (all told) have to devote every waking moment to making sure they can still survive on the remaining 40%. All the government has to do to bring them to heel is push the button on the money-printing press, and within a year or two the 40% becomes 25% in real terms. In fact, real incomes everywhere in the West have been stagnant for 20 years, and in Britain they’ve actually decreased in the last 10.

If, say, we paid a flat 20% rate, not only would we not bother to cheat, but we wouldn’t depend on the state’s largess in our retirement. That isn’t an outcome the state, as personified by our politicians, craves. They want to take, or inflate, our money away and then use it to create a huge underclass with a vested interest in perpetuating the government — in the hope that all those Peters robbed to pay Pauls will also come begging to the state’s doorstep when what’s left of their money runs out.

Promiscuous government spending inflates not only currency but also assets. Realising that their money is losing value people rush either to spend it or invest it into something that’s less likely to disappear, mostly property. A steadily inflating currency turns everyone into either a reckless spendthrift or freewheeling speculator, including those who are by nature neither wastrels nor gamblers. Thus quantitative easing (presumably ‘queasing’ for short) spells qualitative disaster. Add to this extortionist taxation, and the state has control over our economic destiny. Wishing to bind its citizens hand and foot, the state itself had to slip the tethers of fiscal responsibility.

And yet no one protests. Scrofulous youths climb into smelly tents because they hate capitalism and love hating. Yet responsible, Barbour-clad adults will march to protect their right to chase foxes but not to save society from totalitarian economism and tyrannical taxation. It is of course our patriotic duty to pay taxes — but only to a government pursuing patriotic ends. Anyone who thinks our Daves, Nicks, Georges and Vinces fit this description is sorely misguided.


From borrowed money to borrowed time

Dave ‘David’ Cameron has discovered that reducing our public debt is harder than he ‘envisaged’. Actually, as I ‘envisaged’ in my book The Crisis Behind Our Crisis, it isn’t hard at all. It’s either easy or impossible. It is, or rather would be, easy if we were governed by statesmen. It’s impossible because we aren’t.

A statesman would have the brains to knows what needs doing, the will to do it and the moral sense to put the country’s interests before his own. The first requirement is rarely met among our politicians. The second and third, hardly ever. All three together haven’t been seen since Margaret Thatcher, misguided though I think she was in many ways.

What has created our runaway debt isn’t mismanagement of the existing system but its congenital defect. Capitalist wealth creation can’t accommodate socialist wealth distribution. It’s as simple as that. Since abandoning what’s left of our capitalist economy (about 50% of it is already socialist) will lead to the kind of tyranny England has never seen, it’s socialist distribution that needs to be abandoned. Does this begin to make logical sense?

A series of ironclad laws need to be passed, a) limiting the state’s take to 25% of GDP, b) obligating the state to run budget surpluses until the debt has been reduced to below 10% of GDP, and balanced budgets thereafter, c) introducing a flat 20% income tax rate, while reducing corporate taxes, eliminating inheritance tax and severing most regulatory tethers on the economy (except for those that protect consumers against, say, cartels). Jobs and growth, so dear to Nick Clegg’s heart in word and so alien to it in deed, will follow with the certainty of night following day. And the debt will melt away faster than you can say ‘fiscal responsibility’.

I’m talking about first the rollback and then elimination of the welfare state. I’m also talking about developments that any politician will find so politically impossible as to be insane. As much as mention anything like this in Westminster, never mind Whitehall, and you’re out of a job. Off to Brussels you go, with an outstretched hand, begging ‘giza job’. (Actually, EU folk being less sensitive to the political imperatives of demotic English, our job seekers could even resume their posh accents. Why, Dave could even revert to David. Wouldn’t that be nice?)

So let’s make this more politically feasible, shall we? Taking a cue from the American revolution would help. That revolt was triggered by Britain trying to extract from the thirteen colonies a tax in the overall amount of £78,000. To put this in perspective, Britain’s national debt at the time was about £130 million, and it cost the country more than £200,000 a year to maintain her troops in North America after the French and Indian wars. So the amount was hardly exorbitant. Still, the colonists objected to taxation without representation on principle. (In due course they were to discover that they hated taxation even with representation, but this a different matter.) Their objection, which I suggest we echo, established a useful equation: taxation equals representation. Now if A equals B, then B equals A. Applying this proven logic to our situation, we obtain a different equation: representation equals taxation. Consequently, only taxpayers should have the vote.

If we began to regard voting as a privilege to be earned, rather than an automatic entitlement, then sanity could return to our politics. No longer able to buy their votes with our money, politicians would  have to focus on earning them. Then they wouldn’t pretend, usually by lying through their teeth, that they are doing something about reducing our suicidal debt. Phoney ‘austerity’ simply wouldn’t be on. All those measures so far have amounted to (possibly) slowing down the growth of the debt, not reducing it. It takes an inveterate cynic to carry on so. It takes a slave to nod his assent.

There’s no doubt that the steps I propose would create civil unrest. If even HMG’s pathetic pretence at ‘austerity’ brought tents to St Paul’s, real decisiveness may well bring barricades to Whitehall. But that would give the state a golden opportunity to vindicate its existence by fulfilling the very role for which it was instituted in the first place: public protection from external enemies and internal trouble-makers. The police would have to abandon the role thrust upon them, that of social workers, and disperse the riots, using whatever means it takes to do so. If army units have to be brought in to help, then that too would have to be done. And if a state of emergency has to follow, we’ll have to accept it as a necessary evil. ‘The desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy,’ as Guy Fawkes is supposed to have said.

Our disease is indeed desperate, one requiring chemotherapy, not aspirin. Chemotherapy hurts. But without it, the patient dies.

I know all this sounds unpleasantly extreme. If someone could suggest a nice, gentlemanly way out of our troubles, I’d be more than willing to sit up and listen. So far no one has. Our ‘leaders’ never will. That’s why our government will continue to live on borrowed money. And our society, on borrowed time.


Paddy Ashdown, the alien

Though Mr Ashdown and I live some of the year in the same part of France, we don’t live on the same planet. Paddy’s choice of residence shows he’s a man of impeccable taste (but then I would say that, wouldn’t I?). Alas, his choice of arguments in the recent Times article proves that taste doesn’t always spring from intelligence. Unless the intelligence on offer is of the extraterrestrial kind.

Mr Ashdown indulges in an odd sort of I-told-you-so rhetoric. We should, according to him, have joined the euro 15 years ago, when he pushed for it, even though he magnanimously allows that at this moment the idea isn’t all that attractive. Had we joined then we’d be in clover, rather than, well, the sort of stuff we’re in now. We wouldn’t have followed the bad example of those irresponsible southerners, borrowing themselves into the poor house. (Are the Irish southern? — my geography is weak). Instead we’d rely on our well-established fiscal probity and powerful manufacturing base to emulate Germany. Had we been subject ‘to the euro disciplines’ we wouldn’t have been ‘free to repeat our old indisciplines’. That takes us into the notoriously barren past-subjunctive territory ruled by King Whatif. It must be close to the planet Mr Ashdown is from. Normally this isn’t my favourite destination, but I’m willing to go there just this once.

Germany is the second-largest exporter in the world, behind only the rather more populous China. Britain is a very distant eighth on that list, closer to Mexico than to Germany. We are behind not only the Calvinist Netherlands (with about a quarter of our population) but also the fiscally irresponsible Italy and the would-be German France. The Germans drive mostly German cars, the Italians mostly Italian ones, the French mostly French ones. We drive mostly German, French and Italian ones. Has Mr Ashdown seen a lot of TVRs in his part of North Burgundy? Is that what made him decide Britain still has a strong manufacturing base? In fact, as proportion of GDP, our property business has outstripped all our manufacturing combined — an astounding achievement in the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Presumably we can move up the ladder by exporting our houses and tower blocks to China, and then — watch out, all those Merc, Fiat and Braun makers.

Mr Ashdown suggests we wouldn’t have acted like those who are so different from us (all those garlic eaters) by reaching for the cheap euro loans. We’d be more like those similar to us, say the Germans and Dutch. I dare say, on purely empirical evidence, the Irish are rather closer to us than the Germans are — and even the latter, along with the French, went well over the debt limit they themselves had set. In other words, ‘euro disciplines’ are a figment of Mr Ashdown’s imagination.

We should still join the euro, pontificates Mr Ashdown, when it’s ‘in Britain’s interests’ to do so. How about never? Is that a precise enough time frame? The euro, along with the EU in general, isn’t an economic project but a political one, which the likes of Paddy know but choose to ignore for our benefit. Economically the project is as illiterate as it’s unrestrained ideologically. As soon as we realise this, Britain’s position vis-à-vis the euro will appear to be roughly the same as it was in 1940 vis-à-vis all those German bombers flying from French bases. Except that now they try to buy, rather than bomb, Britain into submission. Mr Ashdown would go along with that, provided the price is right. So money is what he means by ‘Britain’s interests’, as if there were no other. Such crass materialism — even if it weren’t grossly misplaced — seems odd in a devout socialist, but then only on this earth. On Mr Ashdown’s home planet this must be par for the course.




The return of John ‘Maastricht’ Major

And there I was, thinking nothing much could surprise me any longer. I was wrong: apparently, Sir John Major is advising Dave Cameron on foreign policy. I confidently expect further imminent additions to Dave’s advisory staff: John Terry (diversity), Bernard Madoff, in absentia (economics), Brian Sewell (family policy). It’s good to know that our PM is being guided by true experts.

Mr Major, as he then was, left during his tenure an indelible impression upon me, not to mention the rest of the country. What was especially fetching, apart from his taste in women, was his answer to the question of whom among his predecessors in office he regarded as his role model. Pitt? Canning? Peel? Disraeli? No, none of those. Mr Major, as he then was, unerringly picked Neville Chamberlain as the most outstanding PM in British history. One can understand why: what could have been more appealing to John ‘Edwina’ Major than the old newsreels of his idol waving that piece of paper in the air. Peace in our time. But not just yet.

To push through the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, Major had to combine Chamberlain’s knack for appeasement with Churchill’s bellicosity in fighting off the MPs who had misgivings. At the time he referred to them as ‘bastards’ and questioned their intellectual competence and emotional stability. Indeed, who but insane idiots could have found anything wrong with Britain stepping on the path leading to a Germany-dominated Europe?

What surprises me is that Sir John isn’t also advising HMG on fiscal policy. After all, his experience in that area is invaluable. For it was Major who, as Chancellor, dragged Britain into the ERM in 1990, a marriage that ended in divorce and cost the taxpayer £3.4 billion — a trifling amount by today’s standards but a tidy sum at the time. I’m sure if Major joined forces with Michael Heseltine (who believes we should join the euro soon), they could thrash out a policy Dave ‘David’ Cameron could claim as his own.

One does wonder whom Dave would single out as Britain’s most illustrious Prime Minister. A pound gets you a euro, it must be John Major.



Who’ll make the world free from ‘democracy’?

According to Freedom House the world didn’t boast a single democracy in 1900. However, in 2007 there were supposed to be 123 democracies out of 192 existing countries. The world is mostly democratic then, which ought to be enough to put QED grins on the neocons’ faces and make us all rejoice. In Hegel’s view the 1806 battle of Jena ended history, in the sense that no further debate was any longer possible. However, history manifestly restarted soon thereafter, only, according to the ex-neocon Fukayama, to end again in 1989 with the final victory of democracy everywhere. Now that history has been kickstarted again, are you rejoicing?

As the shift from zero to 123 occurred in the 20th century, then, according to democracy worshippers, it ought to be regarded as the sunniest period ever. Instead, somewhere between 400 and 500 million people died violent deaths at the time — more than in all the other centuries of recorded history combined. Moreover, some of the most horrific massacres ensued after failed attempts to implant the saplings of one-man-one-vote democracy into a soil all too ready to reject them. Russia and Germany spring to mind, but then you can name your own examples from just about every continent.

Woodrow Wilson, one of the neocons’ icons, dragged America into the First World War under the slogan of ‘making the world safe for democracy’. The principal warring parties were perplexed, considering that France was already a republic, Britain a constituional democracy with a fine parliamentary tradition, while Germany, Austria and even Russia had functioning parliaments, even though the last had been struggling to come to terms with it. And all those parliaments craved war. In fact, the German parliament, especially its social-democratic faction, was so gung-ho that in 1914 Chancellor Bethmann-Holweg pushed the Kaiser into declaring war on Russia in all possible haste because, ‘Without this,’ he claimed, ‘we’d never carry the socialists.’ In the end only one German MP voted against war credits, the bolshevik Karl Liebknecht, taking his cue from Lenin.

It takes a woeful misreading of history not to realise that Wilson’s demagoguery was aimed at pursuing American imperial ambitions, with ‘democracy’ happening to be the battle-cry close at hand. In fact, his American contemporaries were stunned even more than the outlanders, considering that until then the word ‘democracy’ had hardly been common parlance. The Founding Fathers barely ever used it, and ‘democracy’ didn’t figure among the 278 words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. He only talked about ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people.’ Why didn’t he just say ‘democratic government’ instead? That would have reduced the address to an even 270 words, and surely brevity is important.

By now you’ve realised that I’m only talking about the past to draw your attention to the present. For it is under the mendacious (or, to be kinder, misconceived) slogan of democracy cum nation-building that the US has created a veritable powder keg in the Middle East, which could indeed end history, but not in the way Messrs Hegel and Fukayama meant it. I don’t know if neocon agitprop spinners actually believe that their version of laser-guided democracy can triumph in the region. If they do, they are fools. And if they don’t, while still spinning the same yarn, then they are knaves. As a direct result of America’s aggressive, ‘nation-building’ policies over the last eight years, the Middle East is about to explode — yesterday’s events in Egypt are but a harbinger of things to come. The systematic effort to unseat relatively secular, if undoubtedly unsavoury, regimes because they lack universal suffrage can only charitably be described as harebrained. Americans in general, and the neocons in particular, fail to notice that all those Shahs tend to be replaced by Khomeinis, not James Madisons. The natural successor to Mubarak will resemble Osama more than Obama. That chap whose name sounds like ‘I’m a dinner jacket’ makes all sane people feel nostalgic about the Shah — and it’s not impossible that even the ghastly Saddam and Gaddafi will be missed before too long. But at least enough ballots will be universally cast (and no doubt meticulously counted) to keep the neocons happy. 

Who, pray tell, will make the world safe from ‘democracy’ before a real catastrophe befalls?






Condom Studies

In an earlier entry I wondered how long before this subject will graduate from school to university, with degree courses on offer. Doctorate-level education is clearly needed, considering that Britain is a proud site of 200,000 abortions every year. And surely, if almost half of our children are born out of wedlock, many of those pregnancies must be accidental.  Perhaps, the solution lies in augmenting purely academic work with on-the-job apprenticeship, I don’t know.

Anyway, according to a reader’s letter, this academic development will have to remain a cherished dream for the time being. However, many universities do offer advanced courses of similar intellectual content. So if you think of furthering your education (and it’s never too late), or have a child about to leave school, the opportunities abound.

For example, you can take a course in ‘The Lesbian Phallus’ at the Occidental College, LA (Critical Theory, Social Justice Dept.). Queen’s, Belfast, offers ‘How to train in the Jedi way’. Not to be outdone, Georgetown University counters with ‘Philosophy and Star Trek‘. You can pursue ‘Harry Potter Studies’ at Durham or ‘The Life and Times of Robin Hood’ at the type-cast Nottingham University. Alfred University, NYC, can contribute to your intellectual growth by offering ‘Maple Syrup Making’, and Glasgow proudly lists a post-graduate course on ‘The History of Lace Knitting in Shetland’.

Without passing any unfashionable quality judgment, one simply has to observe that the concept of university has changed somewhat since that budding young scholar left the village of Aquino and travelled, via Monte Cassino, to Paris to study with Albert the Great. How much richer young Thomas (and we along with him) would have been had he learned not Aristotle but, say, ‘The art of skinning a bullock’ or ‘The plight of women in the agora’. So I hope you’ll join me in rejoicing at the progress we’ve made since those uncivilised times.

Ve have vays to make you join ze euro

Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble says that, once the euro has been stabilised, Britain will join ‘faster than you can say Gott Strafe England‘, or words to that effect. His colleagues also suggested they have a secret plan to prevent Britain’s referendum on repatriating a few marginal powers from Brussels. On the first point, it takes refreshing effrontery to make such statements when the euro (and the EU, come to think of it) has been shown up for the economically illiterate, ideological contrivance it is. On the second point, they needn’t bother. The trick isn’t in preventing a referendum but in going ahead with it — provided that Nick Clegg and his Parteigenossen can word the question (sorry about using Germanisms, but ‘all of Europe speaks German now’, as we well know — nicht wahr?). As someone who used market research for 30 years, I can assure you that the wording of the question can skew the answer. From the height of that experience, I can offer Nick a few friendly suggestions:

1) Would you like to a) live in a large house in the shires by staying in the EU or b) live in a cardboard box under Waterloo bridge by leaving?

2) Would you prefer driving a) a Mercedes by staying or b) yourself up the wall by going?

3) Would you choose a) jobs and growth by staying or b) unemployment and stagnation by leaving?

4) Would you rather spend your holiday in a) Nice by staying or b) Peckham Rye by going?

5) Would you rather lead a) a prosperous life by staying or b) a bayonet charge by leaving?

Any one of these, Nick, and everything’s hunky-dory. Or, as we’ll soon be made to put it, Alles in Ordnung.