A hit of fentanyl, anyone?

Welcome to Portland, Oregon

In case you’ve been living on another planet, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s about 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin.

Hence it enjoys booming street cred, making it a runaway marketing success. Because it’s so potent, pushers usually cut it with cheaper drugs. That lowers the street price of fentanyl, while still preserving its heroin-like effects.

All in all, one could say fentanyl gives pleasure-seekers the greatest bang for a buck, or rather three bucks, which is what American pushers typically charge for a hit. They enjoy a great deal of repeat business because fentanyl’s high potency is matched by its addictiveness. (It’s also matched by its ability to kill by overdose, the highest of all drugs.)

I’m not going to delve into the physiological and psychological nature of opioid addiction. Suffice it to say that I myself was once iatrogenically addicted to heroin (intravenous dimorphine, if you wish to be technical) for a short spell. That experience strengthened my conviction that addicts don’t quit not because they can’t but because they won’t.

Be that as it may, fentanyl is highly and quickly addictive, whether physiologically or psychologically or both – it’s immaterial for my purposes. What matters is that, instead of flushing fentanyl down the tubes, addicts send their lives in that direction.

This raises questions about the advisability of legalising fentanyl, or drugs in general. There exist many opinions on that score, but the two most salient ones are libertarian and conservative.

The two groups share many ideas and sentiments, mainly aversion to the big state. Both wish to devolve power to the lowest sensible level, both resent state involvement in private lives. The differences between them are those of degree and passion. Let’s just say that conservatives relate to libertarians the way the latter relate to anarchists.

Another difference is that libertarianism is an ideology and conservatism isn’t. That’s why conservatives are more likely to approach any issue on its merits, rather than relying on general principles, however sound.

When it comes specifically to legalising drugs, libertarians are always for it. So are liberals, the American word for lefties, who support any perversion as long as it strikes against what they call the establishment.

Conservatives – such as yours truly – tend to be against legalisation and even decriminalisation. My main concern isn’t the destroyed lives of the addicts: everyone is entitled to go to hell if he so chooses. What scares me is the unpredictable social effects.

Too many questions remain unanswered. Such as, would legalisation increase or reduce the number of addicts? If the answer is the former, then by how much?

Opioids in general don’t encourage aggressive behaviour, but cocaine and meth do. Would our streets be overrun by unsavoury and dangerous individuals whacked out of their minds? Would crowds of down-and-out addicts turn our streets into slums?

Unless we obtain satisfactory answers to such questions, we shouldn’t leap into the unknown by legalising drugs. So much more must we appreciate any empirical evidence available, no matter how scant.

The American state of Oregon is happy to oblige. In 2021, Oregon became the first state to decriminalise possession of small amounts of such drugs as LSD, cocaine, methamphetamine – and fentanyl.

Libertarians rejoiced and so did their etymological cognates, liberals – and Oregon is one of the most ‘progressive’ states in the Union. At last, the state pulled its fingers out of the drug-laden pie. People were free to make a choice, and most of them were bound to steer clear of the fruit no longer forbidden.

Over 60 per cent of the public agreed, happy that people were no longer risking imprisonment for acting on the old slogan: turn on, tune in, drop out. Surely that had to mean more people would make the right choice and there would be fewer addicts, fewer deaths from overdosing.

Alas, things haven’t quite worked out that way. Rather than solving the problem, the new law made it worse. For example, last year fentanyl caused 209 deaths in and around Portland alone.

A majority of the people now regret their support for the decriminalisation, and not just because of the overdose deaths. The number of homeless people went up by 29 per cent last year, and malodorous tent encampments have covered Portland’s pavements.

Now the people want that law repealed – they’d rather not see their cities turn into shanty towns. Overdoses they could live with, but the squalor is just too offensive.

Meanwhile, addicts are openly smoking fentanyl throughout the city centre, some of them barely conscious. Finally, Portland’s city council has had enough and issued a ban on hard drug use. Not so fast, countered the state. The ban won’t go into effect until the state has ratified it, and no one knows when that will be.

Since Oregon was the first state to decriminalise cannabis, in 1971, proponents of the slippery slope theory feel vindicated. Once cannabis becomes freely available, more people are encouraged to replace a slow spiritual and intellectual quest with a quick high.

Once their inner resources have been sufficiently depleted, and cannabis no longer has the same effect, they may well turn to the hard stuff, especially if it’s easy and, as with fentanyl, cheap. Such is the theory, and Oregon has kindly supported it with empirical evidence.

This is consistent with the experience of other places, such as Amsterdam, where so-called coffee shops have been legally selling cannabis for decades. And what do you know, studies show that 17 per cent of Amsterdam’s population also used hard drugs last year.

Proponents of legalisation argue that we might as well allow what we can’t effectively ban. True enough, whenever any government declares a war on drugs, drugs win.

Yet the same argument can be used for murder: it still happens even though it’s against the law. Does this mean murder should be decriminalised? Laws exist not only to eliminate an objectionable activity, but also to express society’s attitude to it.

Therein lies the problem, for modern societies are running out of moral arguments against drugs. Their growing use isn’t so much the reason for a social malaise as a symptom of it.  

Witness the fact that drug use in Britain was unrestricted until the 1868 Pharmacy Act and uncriminalised until the 1920 Dangerous Drugs Act, yet there were nowhere near the same number of addicts as there are now. British society was healthier then, even if it was poorer.

Any criminal laws against drugs will be directed against the symptoms, not the disease. Yet anyone who has ever popped an aspirin for a bad headache will confirm that symptomatic relief is worth having.

Crime and (immoral) punishment

It’s best to establish the premise first. So here it is: I regard both early release from prison and plea bargaining as a travesty of justice.

That’s why I welcome the government’s announcement that rapists will now have to serve out their whole sentence without any possibility of early release. However, as I begin to applaud, my palms stop in mid-air. Acting as a brake is one insistent question: Why just rapists?

Does this mean that a thug who cripples a woman for life with a savage beating will get out after serving half his sentence, while a brute who rapes her without leaving a scratch is to do the whole stretch?

This question prevents me from applauding Sunak’s idea, but many Tories aren’t bothered. At last, they rejoice, this is a truly conservative measure. ‘Real Rishi” is finally coming out of his cocoon.

In fact, Rishi-washy is playing both ends against the middle. On the one hand, he comes across as an upholder of law and order. On the other hand, he implicitly confirms that rape is a crime like no other. So it is, according to woke mythology, which shapes the whole modern ethos.

A monster who breaks every bone in a woman’s body only commits a crime against that woman, an individual. However, a man who rapes a woman ‘objectivises’ her, thereby transgressing against feminist diktats – and against the state that feels called upon to indulge every radical woke fad.

Women are brainwashed to believe – or at least to declare – that rape is the worst thing that can happen to them. Worse than losing an eye or a limb, worse than becoming paraplegic, worse than death.

That said, I don’t know a single woman untouched by the ague of feminist zealotry who would prefer, say, being blinded to being raped.

But politicians, whatever their party affiliation, don’t want to appeal to the women I know. They don’t even want to appeal to a majority of women. All they want is to signal woke virtue, hoping to spare themselves from an avalanche of bad press in the runup to the next election.

Earlier, Mr Sunak announced he would change the law to ensure that all sexually motivated murderers receive whole life sentences (life without parole, to my American readers). What about fiscally motivated murderers? Will they be allowed a tariff to their mandatory life sentence? If so – and it is often so – I fail to see any logic to that, and even less morality.

Then again, crime passionnel may well be murderous. Am I to understand that a man who kills his wife out of jealousy will never see the outside of prison, whereas a robber who kills a whole family for their jewellery may be out in a decade or two? Verily I say unto you, our society is even more obsessed with sex than I thought.

I refuse to accept the logic behind any early release, for any crime. Let’s say that a duly instituted legal authority decides that a punishment of 10 years in prison is commensurate with the misdeed committed. If it isn’t, then the sentence is a travesty of justice. But if it is, then a travesty of justice occurs if the prisoner is released after, say, five years.

Why should he be? One stock answer is that our prisons are overcrowded, we can’t afford more prisons, and the upkeep of a prisoner is expensive. However, such arguments ab pecunia run headlong into the next question: what is the state for?

The state has many functions, but most of them are strictly contingent and therefore debatable. The state has only one core, absolute, non-negotiable raison d’être: keeping the people safe from external enemies and internal criminals.

Thus, if the question of how much we can afford to spend on justice and defence arises, only one answer goes to the very essence of statehood: as much as it takes.

Another stock excuse for early release has to do with rehabilitation through remorse. Apparently, having served half his sentence, a typical inmate repents his misdeeds so deeply that he can enter outside life as a new man. I suppose such metamorphoses can happen, although my friend, who used to be a prison doctor, assures me they are rare.

In any event, how is anyone to decide that a prisoner has been sufficiently rehabilitated? By looking into his soul? Hearing what he has to say for himself? I can’t be the only one to see how easily mistakes can be made.

No wonder our recidivism rate is so high, with over 40 per cent of adult inmates released from custody reoffending within 18 months, and these are just those who are caught.

Some of the same excuses as those for early release, such as the cost and overcrowding of prisons, are also used for plea bargaining. That is even more immoral.

Let’s say the defendant charged with murder is as guilty as Cain. But preparing an airtight case may take a lot of time, effort and money, something the prosecutors may not feel like expending, not with government watchdogs breathing down their necks.

This leads to an offer of knocking the charge down to, say, GBH (10 years, out in five), with the defendant pleading guilty. Or else he is welcome to take his chances in court, risking a life sentence.

In rarer cases, plea bargaining may lead to an innocent man going to prison. The prosecution scares him with the prospect of a stiff sentence, encouraging him to plead guilty to a lesser charge, thereby clearing the case off their backlog.

This results in a gross miscarriage of justice, but allowing a criminal to serve just half his sentence is almost as bad – justice not so much served as abused. But all such things, emphatically including Mr Sunak’s announcement, aren’t about justice. They are about politics.

The PM-in-waiting, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, got his knighthood for the sterling job he did as director of public prosecutions. Except that the job was far from sterling.

Sir Keir never saw a criminal who couldn’t be either exonerated or at least rehabilitated after a slap on the wrist. He was one of the worst men in that job ever, which the Tories feel gives them an opening. Screaming off the rooftops that Labour is soft on crime may be an election-winning strategy, against all odds.

Even better, the claim will be justified. The trouble is that the Tories’ record in that department is only marginally better, if at all. So it’s just a matter of who shouts first and louder. Isn’t politics grand?

‘Alice’ in cloud cuckoo land

“That’ll be £100,000”

Although I am apparently one of the few people in England who haven’t been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted by Russell Brand, I follow his case, albeit with flagging attention.

Among his many transgressions, Mr Brand is accused of rape and sexual assault. It stands to reason that anyone caught committing those acts should face charges.

Since these are serious crimes, they are tried by jury in criminal courts. The jury then either convicts or acquits the defendant.

But there exists a little nuance there, called the presumption of innocence. It goes back to the Code of Justinian that states: Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat. Loosely translated, it means Russell Brand never raped or otherwise assaulted anyone unless a jury of his peers says he did.

One may argue that Mr Brand’s sleaziness and general hideousness are so peerless that no appropriate jury could ever be convened. Leaving that argument aside, let’s just say that until he has been convicted, all talk of Mr Brand’s propensity to have sex without permission should cease. To rephrase, commentators who keep talking about it should just shut up.

To their credit, most of them do. The talk of Brand’s rapes has attenuated to a point where, after the initial burst of enthusiasm, hacks have instead started to concentrate on his moral decrepitude and lack of proper respect for womankind.

Surprisingly, much of their ire is drawn to a perfectly legal act Mr Brand freely admits he committed: having sex with a 16-year-old. Since the girl is now 33 years old, that liaison happened a while ago. But whenever the papers feel like tickling their readers’ naughty bits, what Americans call the statute of limitations is null and void.

Hence the woman, whose brittle sensitivity is protected by the alias ‘Alice’, is very much in the news. If I were a betting man, I’d offer good odds on her eventually abandoning her anonymity to cash in on her victimhood. That sort of thing can earn her good money with any tabloid – especially if she gets satisfyingly graphic (she is already talking about having choked during an act still deemed illegal in some American states).

Meanwhile ‘Alice’ is laying the essential groundwork for her coming out by explaining why she had to speak up after all these years. (I’ll give you a clue: the word ‘bandwagon’ doesn’t appear in her narrative.) She has been tortured the whole time by “gnawing shame”, knowing that her silence was enabling Mr Brand to target other victims.

Now, the word ‘victim’ implies that a crime was committed, which isn’t the case. The age of consent in the UK is 16, so having sex with a girl that age is as legal as it can be boring.

Sensing that, ‘Alice’, or rather those who are putting words into her mouth, suggests changes to the consent law. No, she isn’t in favour of raising it to 17, as in Cyprus, or to 18, as in Turkey; nor lowering it to 15 (France, Czechia) or even 14 (Austria, Germany, Italy and many Eastern European countries). As far as she is concerned, 16 is about right.

What Alice wishes to see criminalised is older men having sex with 16-year-old girls. She doesn’t talk about penalising older women for sex with boys that age, but that follows logically in our egalitarian times.

Now a grown-up woman, ‘Alice’ is even able to invent a new legal term, ‘staged consent’. This is how she explains it: “There should be staged consent – a change to the law. The age of consent could stay at 16, but I think it would be reasonable to recommend that it be a criminal offence for a person over the age of 21 to engage in sexual activities with someone under the age of 18.”

I congratulate ‘Alice’ on the proper use of subjunctive in her legalese second sentence: few people aged 16 or even 33 are capable of such grammatical subtlety these days. Or perhaps congratulations are in order not to ‘Alice’, but to her ventriloquists, some of whom must be lawyers. (She may be one herself for all I know. But on the balance of probability I rather doubt it.)

However, as a man no longer burdened with his first (or tenth) youth, I have to protest vehemently. Her proposal amounts to ageism at its most blatant, criminalising older people for being just that, older. And ageism sits proudly next to homo-, xeno-, transphobia, misogyny and body shaming in the phantom criminal code of modernity.

But forgetting my righteous indignation for a moment, let me see if I understand her proposal correctly. So a young chap a few days past his 21st birthday would be a criminal if he got his wicked way with a girl a few days short of her 17th. He would be seen as a wily statutory rapist who has manipulated that innocent lamb into sex.

First, our progressively comprehensive, comprehensively progressive education makes sure that children aren’t allowed to keep their innocence past kindergarten age, if then. They may not be taught how to read without moving their lips, but they are extensively educated in such academic subjects as advanced sex techniques and the use of condoms.

Moreover, on their first day at school they are encouraged to plumb the depth of their sexuality to decide which of the 102 established sexes they choose for themselves. And if they assure their disembodied computers they are over 18, they can download for free the sort of films that used to be only shown to mac-wearing audiences in Soho cinemas.

That’s why, by the time they are in their teens, they don’t see sex as something traumatising or even especially exciting. Alan Bloom observed back in the 1980’s that they regard it as no big deal, and things have got worse since then.

It’s also a fallacy to assume that any relationship with an older man would traumatise a girl, even as it’s true that any normal woman of any age should find sex with Mr Brand aesthetically crippling. Quite the opposite – an older man is more likely to treat her more sensitively than a bumbling youth would.

Once we have established the statutory cut-off point of 16, putting legal limitations on the older person’s age is unsupportable. Any limit would be arbitrary and lacking in psychological, physiological or empirical justification.

However, discounting blanket one-for-all limits, individual cases vary. I have seen middle-aged men who wouldn’t know how to manipulate their way to sex in a Soho massage parlour. But then I’ve also seen accomplished teenaged lotharios handling even older women, never mind their own coevals, with the expertise of a lion tamer.

I’ve also known women who were 30 going on 12 in matters carnal, and also 16-year-olds indistinguishable in that respect from women twice their age. If we have to talk about such things at all, individual characteristics are worth talking about.

However, it’s hard not to notice that newspapers devote more space to most cases of alleged sexual impropriety than to most murders and to practically all thefts. Any advertising man could give you the reason in two words: sex sells.

That’s why even broadsheets, and of course tabloids, go into such lurid detail when describing rape cases or even such consensual affairs as Brand’s with ‘Alice’. They know that their panting readers will want to come for more titillation – without the “gnawing shame” of turning to unvarnished porn.

So I can’t blame ‘Alice’ who’ll probably earn a six-figure sum for her belated revelations. I can’t even blame our deranged times. They are what they are, and ‘Alice’ is what she is. The way of the world, friends.

The BBC said the magic word

Four of the spying five

Normally, I’d be the last man to praise the BBC for anything, least of all for its political commentary. But this time they put paid to a serious matter with a single word, and my hat’s off to them.

This is how the BBC communicated the news of five Bulgarian residents of the UK caught spying for Russia: “The Bulgarian nationals are accused of conspiring to gather information which would be useful to an enemy between August 2020 and February 2023.”

Can you guess what the magic word there is? It’s ‘enemy’ of course. That one word is so replete with meaning that practically anything else said on this subject would be superfluous.

Our most important broadcaster identifies Russia as an enemy, and not just since 24 February, 2022. This reminds me of France’s former ambassador to Russia who once told me he had seen nothing wrong with the Putin regime until that fateful date, only then to reassess in one fell swoop.

According to the BBC, Russia has been our enemy at least since August 2020, when those Bulgarians embarked on their spying mission. That one word puts everything in its place.

If gathering intelligence information for an enemy is a crime, then surely so is spreading enemy propaganda. When this is done by a foreign national, it’s as bad as espionage. When it’s done by a Briton, it’s worse because it introduces an element of high treason.

That’s exactly what William Joyce, ‘Lord Haw-Haw’, was hanged for in 1946, the last person to suffer that fate on that charge. That precedent would settle any legal squabbles if Britain were officially in a state of war with Russia, which isn’t the case.

As it is, I’m sure clever barristers would point out the fine legal distinctions between serving the cause of a de facto enemy by spying and by propaganda. I’m sure such legal nuances exist. But for the life of me I fail to see any moral difference.

It’s no secret that Russia is conducting a full-scale propaganda effort aimed at undermining Western resolve to support the Ukraine. The exact words change depending on the situation, but at present there are five key points the Kremlin is communicating either directly or through its stooges:

  1. The Ukraine has no chance to recapture the territory occupied by the Russian invaders.
  2. Hence all the deaths and economic damage are in vain.
  3. Britain has no dog in this fight. It certainly isn’t a clash between good and evil.
  4. Both sides are equally corrupt, except the Ukraine is even more so.
  5. Both sides, and also Britain and the rest of the world, have a vital interest in an immediate and lasting peace. Britain and NATO must do what they can to bring it about.

This takes me to Peter Hitchens, a frequent visitor to this space. Before Russia’s aggression he had extolled Putin’s regime for years, describing it as “the most conservative and Christian in Europe.”

That was the thrust of the Kremlin’s effort to recruit allies among European parties that like the sound of the words “conservative and Christian” but are in fact neither.

So Hitchens, who isn’t the only British champion of Russian fascism but one with the widest audience, constantly extolled Putin, expressing regrets that we aren’t blessed with such a strong leader.

After 24 February, 2022, the photographs of Bucha and Mariupol made that line difficult if not impossible to sell. Hence the Kremlin had to change tack, and so did Hitchens. His latest contribution to the fascist cause enlarged on each of the five points above.

To wit, Point 1: “… the large-scale recapture of the land lost to Russia in 2022 looks less and less likely as the days shorten. Those who invested heavily in a summer offensive against Russia have so far been disappointed.”

Ergo, these rhetorical questions (Point 2): “Does this just have to go on and on filling graveyards and doing severe economic damage to Ukraine and Europe? With what aim?”

On to Point 3: “I’ve never been able to grasp what Britain’s interest is in sustaining a costly and risky war in South-East Europe between two corrupt and ill-governed hunks of the old Soviet Empire.”

The interest is in stopping a fascist regime explicitly dead set on territorial expansion beyond the Ukraine. Stopping such juggernauts is easier and less costly while they are beginning to build up speed than at a time they get to roll at full pelt. If Hitchens can’t grasp it, he’d be well advised to study European history of the late 1930s, and also speeches on Russia’s aspirations by Putin’s mouthpieces.

Point 4 isn’t far behind. Yes, these are “two corrupt hunks of the old Soviet Empire”. But, “you can barely breathe in Ukraine without encountering corruption.”

The implication is Russia doesn’t restrict your respiration quite to the same extent. That is a lie.

If you look at the less damaging kind of corruption, the fiscal kind, Russia sits above the Ukraine in every corruption index I’ve seen. The country is run like a Mafia family, with those close to the godfather enriching themselves unimaginably. Russia, one of the poorest countries in Europe, is run by a government of billionaires headed by reputedly the world’s richest man, Putin.

Those fortunes have been made by pumping Russian national wealth into conduits leading to private accounts in Western financial institutions, and from there to yachts the size of a football pitch and palaces in Europe and North America. None of that can be said about the Ukrainian government, corrupt though that country undoubtedly is.

But looting the country’s treasury isn’t the worst type of corruption for politicians. Corrupting their flock into pursuing evil ends is. And there only an idiot would even compare the two countries in question.

The Ukraine doesn’t pounce on its neighbours. It doesn’t murder, rape and loot its way through other people’s lands. It doesn’t kidnap children by the thousand. It doesn’t constantly threaten the world with nuclear annihilation. It doesn’t fund every subversive party or splinter group in the West. Russia is doing all those things. Shall we talk corruption now?

And finally Point 5: “If our concern is truly for the people of Ukraine, then we would be much better occupied promoting a lasting peace than in fuelling and paying to prolong a war in which actual Ukrainians die and suffer, and gain nothing much in return.”

So we should promote not only any old peace, but a lasting one. Now, I love lasting peace. Don’t you? Of course you do. All God’s children love lasting peace, especially at a time when so many people “die and suffer”.

But here’s the rub: how are we supposed to “promote” peace and make sure it lasts? And what shape would this blissful outcome take?

Western countries, including the UK and US, have vowed not to have any negotiations that don’t include the Ukraine. And the Ukrainian government has stated that the only starting point for peace negotiations would be Russia’s withdrawal from the occupied territories. The Kremlin is equally determined to keep them.

Hence the only conceivable way for us to “promote” peace would be to stop supporting the Ukraine, which Hitchens gleefully informs us is happening already. The Ukraine would then have no means of defending herself and would have to accept whatever peace terms Putin dictates.

But anyone with a modicum of nous would know that such a peace would never be lasting. Russia would retrench, lick her wounds, rearm and then resume pursuing her declared goal: humiliating the West and rebuilding the Russian (or Soviet) Empire. Since some former parts of it are NATO members, the world will turn into a powder keg.

In other words, what Putin and Hitchens want isn’t peace, lasting or otherwise, but Russia’s victory, and it’s touching to see two such not-so-great minds thinking alike.

In still other words, Hitchens is spreading enemy propaganda. And if you question the modifier, ask the BBC. It knows.

Have you ever been stopped dead by a headline?

“Were these diamonds mined by child labour, Madame?”

As a former copywriter, I appreciate newspaper headlines that land with knockout force. Two examples spring to mind.

One is from The New York Post of decades ago: HEADLESS BODY FOUND IN TOPLESS BAR. Another was a front-page single-word line in The Sun during the 1982 Falklands War, when a British submarine sank the Argentine cruiser Belgrano: GOTCHA!

Those two headlines stopped me all right, but they didn’t shock me. They didn’t make me sit up and say “Excuse me?!?” or “You can’t mean that!” That’s why I am grateful to The Mail that yesterday achieved all those feats with a 32-word headline.

The story was about King Charles’s visit to France, and specifically the banquet in his honour in the Versailles Hall of Mirrors. Even more specifically, the subject was the menu prepared by some of France’s top chefs. So here goes:

Insiders reveal the food King Charles has BANNED from French state visit banquet – and the reasons why (but mushrooms are on the menu because they remind him of Queen Elizabeth II)

It was the parenthetic phrase that went through me like a jolt. Really, Your Majesty? I understand that generational tensions exist in many families, and the royal one is no exception. But practically calling Her late Majesty a mushroom in public does take the brioche.

What exactly did the king mean? That his late mother was kept in the dark and fed on dung? Or something even worse? I’ve heard of lèsemajesté, but this is outrageous.

However, I must admit the headline had plenty of stopping power. It certainly stopped me, making me read the piece.

Thankfully, I was then able to heave a sigh of relief. The only sense in which mushrooms reminded His Majesty of his late mother was that she liked them. That’s why he endorsed a cep gratin, while at the same time vetoing some other suggestions.

I’ll let you in on a secret: I wasn’t really shocked by that headline. I instantly recognised it as an unfortunate turn of phrase, typical of today’s newspapers that seem to have dispensed with sub-editors and copy readers.

It’s King Charles’s vetoes that I found shocking. Had that happened before he acceded to the throne, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Prince Charles, as he was then, tilted to wokery so steeply that I’m amazed he never keeled over to his left.

However, since his accession Charles has shown few signs of his erstwhile leanings. He has deported himself with dignity and restraint, making me happy that my worst suspicions haven’t come true. Well, let me tell you: I rejoiced too soon.

First, His Majesty issued a royal interdict against foie gras, which featured on the proposed menu. He is deeply bothered by cruelty to ducks and geese that are force-fed to make their livers bigger and oh so delicious.

I wonder how the French swallowed that insult to their culinary tradition. Foie gras is their staple, as far as I can judge on the basis of my friends’ dinner parties. My French friends may not be perfect – who among us is? – but they are certainly not callous sadists who spend their time pulling wings off flies.

They don’t ponder the moral implications of some foods. Instead they are eternally grateful to God (or, barring that, to Joëlle, the best cook in our circle) for what they are about to receive.

The only thing they – and I – won’t eat out of principle is human flesh, and that’s how it should be. Imposing ethical standards that outdo the Biblical ones in severity goes hand in hand with flouting those that are actually mentioned there.

Yes, if you think about it, forcing corn down a bird’s gullet through a tube is cruel. So it’s best not to think about it – there exist much more momentous subjects for us to ponder. Such, for example, as the sustained effort to promote animal worship and revert to the darker periods of paganism.

As a result, half of our public school pupils, whose parents shell out up to £100,000 a year in tuition fees, think eating meat would make them fascists. Hunting, that traditional British sport, has been practically banned out of soppy concern for the wellbeing of foxes.

Speaking of which, King Charles has been shooting throughout his life. He’d have to explain to me why blowing a duck to bits with lead pellets or, even worse, winging the bird is less cruel than force-feeding it. I’m sure there must be a valid difference, but my moral gauge isn’t calibrated finely enough to perceive it.

One has to admit with some chagrin that the king’s injunction against foie gras is nothing but woke grandstanding designed to appeal to the very people who would destroy our monarchy in a second, given the chance.

Another item King Charles banned from the menu was asparagus. Can you guess why? Is it because the French prefer the white variety produced by growing the vegetable without sunlight? After all, keeping those stems in the dark may well be regarded as cruelty in some quarters. Imagine how asparagus must suffer and weep.

A good guess, that, but a wrong one. You see, asparagus is out of season in France. That’s why the delicacy would have had to be flown from elsewhere, at a terrifying cost to ‘our planet’.

Hence one has to assume that Their Majesties swam across the Channel and then walked from Calais to Versailles to attend the reception. No? They flew? I sob, thinking of the massive carbon footprint their plane left on ‘our planet’.

While we are at it, the £500 wines served at the banquet were between 10 and 20 years old. Just think of all the steel and fossil fuels that went into the machinery for planting and tending the vines, think of the electricity expended on keeping the wines at just the right temperature, of the trees that had to be felled to make the barrels, the glass factories polluting the atmosphere… .

His Majesty draws the line in such funny places that the seditious word hypocrisy refuses to leave my mind. Also, I wonder if his French hosts were offended by such pickiness. If they were, they certainly didn’t show it.

Other than that, the visit was a great success. His Majesty delivered a toast in a French that I had to admit was miles better than mine. And he was greeted with genuine enthusiasm everywhere he went.

That didn’t surprise me. The French, especially those of a certain class, are obsessed with our royalty. One detects a touch of envy there – by comparison any French president, and certainly the current one, comes across as a power-grubbing chancer devoid of the natural grandeur and dignity conferred by the throne. A bit like our prime minister, in other words.

Any conversation with our French friends and acquaintances inevitably gets to the royal family sooner or later. One senses that they find something missing in their post-revolutionary republic, although I doubt many of them would support the restoration of the Bourbons.

Years ago, when Sarkozy stood for president, I had an interesting exchange at our local market in France. A socialist activist tried to thrust a leaflet into my hand, which I rejected with disdain.

“So who are you going to vote for?” she asked with palpable hostility. “Sarkozy?” The way she asked that question suggested that such a choice would be morally identical to voting for Heinrich Himmler. When I said “non”, she was perplexed. “Who then?”

“Les Bourbons,” I replied, just to see that look on her face. Alas, that option wasn’t on the ballot. And I can’t vote in French elections anyway.

Britons are brainwashed green

In recent polls, Britons signalled their unwavering commitment to the 2050 net zero target set by Boris, or rather Carrie, Johnson.

Two thirds of us are deeply worried about climate change. Half think the government isn’t doing enough about it, while only 12 per cent find our policies too green.

Why do you suppose that is? Is it because some 50 million Britons have analysed reams of historical data on climate, read yards of books written by scientists who advocate global warming and those who regard it as a pernicious swindle? Have they then found the arguments pro more convincing than those con?

Don’t make me laugh. Given the truly egalitarian nature of our public education, most Britons don’t know their carbon dioxide from a holding midfielder. What the polls show isn’t the output of rational, educated minds. It’s yet another success of massive, cradle to grave indoctrination.

Whatever the colour of brainwashing – red, brown, rainbow or green – it will always succeed, given enough time, cash and all-out effort by our lumpen intelligentsia. At the moment, red and brown are applied only in their lighter hues. But lurid rainbow and green are being poured onto British brains by the bucketful, with the washing machine on full cycle.

Most British brains are scoured of any possibility of critical judgement on green policies. Hence our version of focus group democracy makes it impossible for any politician to attack the global warming swindle for the unscientific, ahistorical, ideologically inspired rubbish it is.

If any politician mentioned in Parliament that ‘our planet’ was warmer 2,000 years ago, when there were few SUVs about, and therefore anthropogenic factors have next to no effect on climate, that would be the last speech he’d ever make in that august institution. The opposition wouldn’t even have to bother. His own party would drum him out.

Now Rishi Sunak is a clever lad, and I’m sure he knows all that. That’s why he didn’t propose anything that would put an end to beggaring the country for the sake of a fad that wasn’t there yesterday and won’t be tomorrow.

By all means, he said, do let’s reduce Britain to penury if that’s what the people want. But not just yet. Let’s prolong the process, like cutting off a dog’s tail piece by piece, rather than all at once. This crude simile sums up his proposals.

Home Secretary Braverman explained that: “We are not going to save the planet by bankrupting the British people.” Not yet anyway, she forgot to add. She did say something that amounted to the same thing though: the government’s commitment to net zero “remains undimmed”.

The proposed steps include banning all petrol and diesel cars by 2035, not 2030, as Boris-Carrie promised. Phasing out not 100 per cent of all gas boilers (that is, most boilers in the country) but merely 80 per cent for now. Postponing new recycling laws that would make households use seven different bins. Not yet forcing people into car sharing and vegetarian diets.

Hardly revolutionary stuff, you’d think. But you’d think that only if you ignored the deafening outcry emanating not just from all the predictable sources but also from Mr Sunak’s own party.

Joining the chorus of indignant clamour is the motor industry, and I can understand its frustration. Many Britons felt the same way when the government first encouraged them to switch from petrol cars to diesel and then decided to penalise them for it.

In anticipation of the 2030 cut-off point, car companies, especially the American ones, have taken steps to phase out their production of IC vehicles, replacing them with electric ones. Now it turns out they jumped too soon.

As Lisa Brankin, chairman of Ford UK put it, “Our business needs three things from the UK Government, ambition, commitment, and consistency … a relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three.”

My heart bleeds for them. But perhaps if car companies had joined forces to stop all that Boris-Carrie nonsense in the first place, we wouldn’t find ourselves in the present situation.

Many MPs in Sunak’s Tory Party are also aghast. They are accusing him of seeking short-term political gain by trying to separate the party from Labour.

Perish the thought. Doesn’t Sunak realise that the ideal of modern democracy is a single-party state?

Parties should differ only in the names they assign to themselves and in the specific people they wish to see in power. God forbid they should differ in their political and moral philosophies, their understanding of public good.

That way some parties may deviate from the only true teaching, which is to say the only current teaching. From the general line, in other words, to persevere in the use of Stalinist terminology that suddenly feels so apposite.

Poor Rishi tried to defend himself by appealing to pragmatism and common sense. He even had the gall to say that delaying the cull of IC cars until 2035 would put Britain in line with EU policy.

But some Tory MPs would have none of that. We don’t want to be in line with the EU. We must race to the loony bin ahead of it, in this area if no other.

Lord Goldsmith put that in so many words:  “Around the world, one of the few areas where the UK really is looked up to is on climate and the environment. Today Sunak is dismantling that credibility, not by accident but by choice.”

Quite. Greta Thunberg will now think less of Rishi. There she was, hoping Britain was a smidgen better than the rest, only to find out it’s as committed to profiting from obliterating ‘our planet’ as all the other villains.

And Hilary McGrady, chief executive of the National Trust, said: “This would be a deeply depressing step. From flooding to wildfires we’re facing the impacts of climate change here and now. We need to step up ambition, not water it down.”

Watering down wildfires strikes me as a sound idea, but perhaps I’m missing something. Yet I do understand that Mrs McGrady and her ilk are ideologically committed to the notion that, before SUVs and aerosol sprays, flooding and fires never happened.

Never mind history and all that nonsense. Facts don’t matter; only ideology does. And ideology mandates that we must ignore all the great floods (starting with the one described in Genesis) and devastating fires that have always ravaged ‘our planet’.

Has Mrs McGrady heard of 1666? Perhaps not, come to think of it. Basic education would disqualify her from running the National Trust.

Glad I’ve got that off my chest before I have to go and cook the dinner. I’ll enjoy my roast collar of pork even more knowing that by eating it I’m doing irreparable damage to ‘our planet’.

What isn’t a joking matter?

What if someone told you that Jesus Christ was originally supposed to be named Gary, but then Mary stubbed her toe? Would you laugh?

Let’s face it: the joke is funny, and there is no reason for a non-Christian not to laugh. But what about a Christian?

To find out I’ve conducted a poll with one respondent, Penelope, and 100 per cent of my sample laughed quite sonorously. But afterwards the same 100 per cent regretted they – well, she – laughed at such a blasphemous quip.

Actually, the protagonist of that joke didn’t seem to mind such humour: “And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.”*

Since the joke doesn’t mention the Holy Ghost, both I who told it and Penelope who laughed at it seem to be off the hook in that instance – ecclesiastically speaking. But forgetting eglesia for the time being, let’s return to the original question.

Is there anything that should be off-limits for humour? What shouldn’t be a joking matter? Anything?

Had you asked me this question 50 years ago, immediately after I left the Soviet Union for pastures free, I would have said no without thinking twice.

Growing up in constant need of protecting oneself against history’s most awful tyranny made one rely on humour as the only defensive bulwark. Since I left Moscow, I have never again witnessed such a profusion of jokes, both stock and impromptu.

Most conversations among Muscovites started with the words “Have you heard the one about…”. The joke to be unveiled could have been about anything, from Lenin and Stalin to the Holocaust or God.

The picaresque novels Twelve Chairs and The Golden Calf (commissioned by the GPU from two very talented writers) were by far the most read – or certainly the most quoted – books. If a thesaurus of quotations existed in Russia, then those two titles would figure in it more densely than Shakespeare does in the English-language version.  

The novels’ main character was an inexhaustible font of funny lines. At a guess, at least one of them appeared in any conversation between two Muscovites within the first minute.

Add to this their original waggery, and one could be forgiven for believing that Muscovites were incapable of taking anything seriously. This though one could easily lose one’s career (in the previous generation, one’s life) for a political joke told within earshot of a KGB informer.

The line “it’s not a joking matter” was hardly ever heard (unless a known KGB informer was present), and I certainly never uttered it. So yes, my answer to the question in the title would have been a resounding “nothing”. There are no jokes, I would have explained, that are too rude, too blasphemous or too offensive. Jokes can only be either funny or unfunny. That’s all.

Would I give the same reply today? Probably. But with so many qualifications that the enquirer would regret he ever asked. So let me play devil’s advocate and argue against myself, as I was 50 years ago and even to some extent still am.

We may not show it, but every one of us has at least one sore point that could hurt if touched by a mocking line. Notice I said ‘could’, not ‘would’. Yes, some people wear such impenetrable armour at all times that they can’t be hurt by a joke.

Thus someone, say, whose daughter has died of anorexia may still laugh at a joke about anorexics (there exist plenty of those). Yet I’d suggest that beneath the laughter there would be some real pain that the man tried to mask with his mirth.

Even jokes at one’s own expense could hurt others. For example, when I was treated for a rather advanced cancer years ago, I said in mixed company that I was “trying to win the oncological argument”. However, there was a chap present who was going through the same ordeal, and he found the pun offensive. He called me a callous cynic, which I don’t think I am. (Both of us survived, by the way.)

Indeed, each of us does have at least one sore point we’d prefer to keep beyond the reach of humour. The problem is that this point is different for all of us.

Thus I could joke about cancer, even – especially – my own, but my interlocutor was hurt by such jokes. So perhaps I was wrong to apply my own standards to others.

This brings into question the Golden Rule, the one about doing unto others as you’d have others do unto you. Yes, but what if your tastes differ?

“A gentleman is a man who never gives offence unintentionally,” as Oscar Wilde could have said, but didn’t. If you accept this definition, then hardly anyone I know, especially myself, is a gentleman. My friends and I crack jokes all the time, thereby running the risk of offending someone unintentionally.

Moreover, my writing friends and I are perfectly capable of levity when broaching extremely serious subjects, such as first principles and last things. We assume that levity works better than gravity to make serious subjects palatable, yet I am sure that some unsmiling tight-arsed puritans may feel upset.

How, how often and when to joke are questions that should make us ponder the nature of art, in this case that of conversation and writing. Like all other arts, these rely heavily on a proper sense of balance.

Wax all ponderous, and you’ll bore people, especially when you are already taxing their mental resources by tackling highly involved subjects. Overdo humour and, even if no one is offended, you won’t be taken seriously. People won’t take a profound message from a clown.

If you accept that both conversationalists and writers are artists, then, just like in any other genre, there are good ones and bad ones. The good ones have an intuitive sense of balance, the bad ones don’t. Yet both should offend other people’s feelings only if they really mean to.

I’d suggest that, as one grows older, wiser and kinder, the legitimate targets for humour ought to get fewer and narrower. But God help us all if they disappear altogether – this world would become intolerable.

Alas, Britain is beginning to resemble the Soviet Union in that one can get into serious trouble over an inopportune joke.

For example, Russell Brand is the greatest problem the world seems to face today – so great it is that I was tempted to write a piece about him. I desisted though, feeling unable to add anything to the millions of words being disgorged every minute, both pro and mostly con.

Though Brand (one of the slimiest sleazebags I’ve ever had the misfortune to clap my eyes on) has never been convicted of any crime, nor even charged with one, he has already been tried and found guilty by ‘public opinion’, meaning social and other media.

The charges vary from sexual assault to out and out rape, and that revolting creature strikes me as capable of both. Still, I’ll withhold my judgement until he has been found guilty in a court of law.

But, germane to my subject today is one of the accusations that involves variously idiotic jokes with which Brand is supposed to have offended some especially sensitive individuals.

One would think that accusing a supposed rapist of a lousy sense of humour is like charging a murderer with jaywalking. Yet this is par for the modern course.

A rape is a crime committed against individuals or, if one listens to Brand’s detractors, several of them. On the other hand, a joke about, say, homosexuals strikes at the core of the modern ethos. Hence it stands to reason that it should claim pride of place next to seemingly more serious indictments – hell has no fury like the modern ethos scorned.

Oh well, enough of that. Have you heard the one about an Irishman, a Jew and a Pole walking into a bar…

* You may have noticed that all my scriptural quotes come from the King James Version, which is after all Protestant and I am not. It’s just that I think that, if we can’t read the Bible in the original, we should read it in the most beautiful English we can find – and never mind denominational squabbles.

Cull off the dogs

“Does this look like I’m smiling?”

If it’s true that dogs reflect their owners’ personalities, then the streets of Britain are overrun with latent murderers inclined to cannibalism.

Last year there were 22,000 cases of dogs causing injuries, 10 of them fatal. One plastic surgeon in Slough (p. 158,000) says he treats an average of two people mauled by dogs every week.

He isn’t talking about cosmetic bites either: the injuries inflicted by dogs were like “gunshot wounds”, with bone, muscle and tendons “hanging out all over the place”.

The surgeon singled out American Bully XL dogs as the principal culprits, and three days ago two of them justified that distinction by mauling a man to death.

That breed is responsible for some 70 per cent of dog-related fatalities, but other breeds do their level best too. Staffordshire bull terriers, pit bulls and rottweilers also score high, and even good old Dobermans, no longer employed as death camp guards, make their modest contribution.

In response to the latest fatal attack, PM Sunak said American Bullies would be banned before the end of the year, which announcement had a distinct taste of déjà vu about it. It was back in 1991 that the Dangerous Dog Act was passed, with the Home Secretary at the time, Kenneth Baker, vowing to “rid the country of the menace of those fighting dogs”.

In the intervening 32 years the menace in question has increased exponentially, as has the number of dogs specifically bred for violence. That reinforces my suspicion that most laws passed by modern governments actually encourage the activity they are supposed to eliminate.

Lord Baker, still going strong, has responded to the latest lethal attack by insisting that all American Bullies should be “neutered or destroyed”, with those left alive muzzled at all times.

Personally, I think that, once the news value of the most recent fatality has diminished, nothing of substance will be done. The fact that Lord Baker still pronounces on this subject 32 years after the Act establishes a continuity of inactivity, and there is little to suggest that the government will mend its ways.

In fact, rather than having their savage beast neutered, some owners inject them with steroids to make them even more murderous. This reminds me of a National Rifle Association bumper sticker: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people”.

Since such dogs are clearly meant to be weapons, they should be treated as guns whenever they cause an injury. Unlike guns, however, they may kill on their own initiative, which makes them even more objectionable.

For that reason I suggest that all breeds known to have been guilty of lethal attacks be summarily culled. The case for such a measure is much stronger than for banning firearms, which after all don’t fire unless someone pulls the trigger.

Laws against dog violence should be directed not just at the dogs but also at their owners. Anyone whose dog causes an injury should be convicted of assault. If the injury is serious, the charge should be GBH; if a death results, murder.

The next obvious measure would be a law making it obligatory that all dogs – and not just the most dangerous ones – must be muzzled and on a lead in public places. Even the cuddliest of puppies can inflict wounds, and I have a scar on my finger to prove the point.

All dogs, and not just those bred for this purpose, are dangerous, but what really interests me here is the mentality of their owners. Why would most Britons want to own a dog?

Some 85 per cent of us live in towns and cities. I’d venture a guess that most of our urban dwellers reside in flats or terraced houses, and even those few who live in detached houses typically don’t have large gardens. Hence dogs have to be taken walkies, typically in crowded streets.

That creates a target-rich environment for the dogs and a rather unpleasant duty for their owners. But picking up dog excrement off the pavement is only one payment for the pleasure of owning a dog.

Dogs reduce the owners’ mobility because it’s impossible to take a dog on most trips. The upkeep of a dog is also jolly expensive, running to thousands every year, and that’s even before we consider the vet bills.

Nor can it be much fun for the animals themselves, especially the bigger ones. Rather than running through fields, woods or at least large gardens, they stay cooped up indoors all day, totally dependent on their owners for food and water or a breath of fresh air, and in general unable to look after themselves.

A recent poll provides a worrying explanation of why a third of UK households share their quarters with a dog. Two out of three respondents say their dog is their best friend, and a quarter prefer their pet to their other half. Asked why they felt that way, 60 per cent said that, unlike their spouses or lovers, dogs don’t judge and like to cuddle.

On that criterion, an old tweed jacket can do just as well. It’s warm, cuddly and wouldn’t even think of judging anyone living in mortal fear of being found wanting.

Since I don’t like dogs, I wouldn’t mind in the least if all them were put down. But I realise that some people may regard this solution as too radical. Then again, some dogs have a legitimate job to do: they can guide blind people through the streets, do guard duties, retrieve the ducks or grouse their owners shoot.

Dogs have always abounded in Britain, as any number of old paintings can testify. But until recently, when people stopped fearing the judgement of God and began to fear the judgement of other people, most dogs worked for a living.

They certainly used not to be treated with soppy sentimentality, with which modern people replace true sentiment. In fact, some of my good friends have been known to use dogs, emetically, as surrogate children. But none of such dogs had a killing pedigree. They were all dachshunds, Yorkies, Jack Russells or some fluffy creatures no bigger than a large rat.

Those of my friends who shoot, some of them compulsively, use dogs bred for that activity, mostly Golden Retrievers. These people treat their dogs better than the other group, training and disciplining them without ever trying to indulge in foreplay.

Yet in my lamentably long life I’ve never known anyone who owned a fighting dog, which suggests that group is drawn from a different social stratum. In fact, whenever I see such an animal in the street, its owner invariably sports tattoos and a feral expression to match his pet’s.

That, I suspect, is why nothing has been – nor will ever be – done about violent dogs, for all the laws to that effect. Any enforced ban would be seen as directed specifically against the downtrodden, which would escalate the class war waged in the media.

Any American Bully owner wishing to keep his dog could emphasise his humble origins and also claim homosexuality, gender fluidity and some racial admixtures. He could then inject his pets with steroids and watch it maul another victim with impunity. “It’s all society’s fault, M’lord”.

Just how free is our free enterprise?

Walter Rathenau got his wish

The other day a reader of my piece on China commented, correctly, that enterprise in China isn’t really free. Yes, but is ours?

For one thing, unlike conservative economists, men at the cutting edge of free enterprise don’t believe in competition. Quite the opposite, they’d like to nip it in the bud by bankrupting every business but their own.

A free entrepreneur par excellence can exist today only in a start-up mode, or else at the level of a corner sandwich shop. Once his business has become successful, his thoughts gravitate towards putting an end to competitive activity. He wants to put competition out of business.

At that end of economic thought he is greeted with a fraternal embrace by his brother the democratic bureaucrat who, for his part, used to believe in pluralism while he was clawing his way up the party ladder. Now he has reached the top, pluralism means only one thing to him: a threat to his position. The modern brothers recognise their kinship and have no difficulty in striking a corporatist partnership.

For all the Sherman Acts and Monopolies Commissions in the world, big business has to gravitate towards monopoly – one of the few things Marx got right. That is, he was right in his observation but not in his explanation.

Class has no role to play here – one of the many things Marx got wrong. Modernity prays at the altar of uniformity, and it melts down any class differences until they are reduced to quaint idiosyncrasies. Every modern class tends to gravitate towards an amorphous middle.

What drives the modern businessman towards monopoly is the same utilitarian impulse that paradoxically drives many aristocrats towards socialism: they know that putting the clamps on the socially dynamic strata of the population will prevent any serious competition appearing.

Here the businessman’s longings converge with those of his employees who tend to act as a collectivist bloc and have a vested interest in keeping companies as big as possible.

Their motivation is old-fashioned envy coupled with the deep-seated belief that it’s possible for some to rise only at the expense of others falling. By the same token, the ruling political bureaucracy also has a vested interest in keeping businesses as large, and consequently as few, as possible for this will make control easier and more total.

In short, the only people who do believe in unvarnished free enterprise are big businessmen waiting to happen, those who are still climbing towards the summit and don’t want their rope cut. Once they have got to the top, they will realise the error of their ways and start acting accordingly.

Another dynamic at work here is a tendency towards the globalisation of business, closely mirroring a similar trend in modern politics. Like modern life in general, business tends to lose its national roots. In the absence of protectionist tariffs, known to be counter-productive at least since the time of David Ricardo, an aspiration to monopoly drives a big business towards foreign expansion ad infinitum, which is another form of protectionism but one that doesn’t provoke retaliation in kind.

This megalomania, along with a tendency to dissipate ownership by financing expansion through stock market flotation, leads to a situation where ‘free enterprise’ becomes neither. The ‘capitalist’, Marx’s bogeyman, is eliminated in modern Western societies as efficiently as he used to be shot in communist ones.

Most international corporations are neither run nor controlled by capitalists, if we define the breed as the owners of capital (or of ‘the means of production’). That type, rather than having been created by the Industrial Revolution, was killed by it, albeit by delayed action.

Today’s captains of industry don’t necessarily own the capital of which they dispose, and they don’t live or die by their success or failure. The risks they venture are usually taken with other people’s money, and they stand to gain untold fortunes by achieving success, while personally risking next to nothing in case of failure. If they fail, they take the king’s ransom of redundancy and either move on to the next bonanza or, should they so choose, retire to a paradise of philistine comfort.

Qualities required for a rise through modern corporations are different from those needed in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. They are, however, close to those required for careers in government bureaucracies.

This is partly due to the growing disparity between the ever-expanding outlook of the management and the ever-narrowing outlook of the specialists who make the products. In the old days, someone who designed bridges could advance to the next rung in his company by demonstrating ability. Once he got there, he continued to design bridges, but with added responsibilities.

People at the top rung thus came from the same stock as those several steps below, although their duties were different. Not so modern corporations.

Growing specialisation creates a different situation: the people in production represent a different breed from those in the boardroom. The latter are hardly ever drawn from the former. Most leaders of giant modern corporations come from legal, sales or marketing, rather than manufacturing, backgrounds.

Curiously, when Marx wrote Das Kapital, the gulf between workers and management could still be bridged by hard work and ingenuity. The industrial conditions imagined by Marx were in fact a self-fulfilling prophecy: it’s only when some of his ideas were acted upon that an unbridgeable chasm appeared between the corporatist management and the narrowly specialised labour force.

Even as modern governments grow more corporatist, so, tautologically, do actual corporations. A new élite is thus formed, and it’s a homogeneous group whose members are indistinguishable from one another regardless of whether their original background was business or politics. Witness the ease with which they switch from the corporate to the government arena and back, especially if they come from the international end of either.

The spiritual father of the breed was Walter Rathenau, Managing Director of German General Electric and also Foreign Minister in the early 1920s. One of the leading theoreticians and practitioners of corporate socialism, he prophesied that, “The new economy will… be… a private economy [which] will require state co-operation for organic consolidation to overcome inner friction and increase production and endurance.”

Here was the original politician cum businessman, and it was poetic justice when he was murdered in 1922, 11 years before his dream became a reality in Germany, and by the same people who made it so.

As their budgets begin to rival Belgium’s GNP, international corporations forge even closer links with financial institutions. The latter form part of the corporatist-government world not just by inclination but by statute, having to forge a unity with the quasi-independent set-ups that control the money supply.

Organisations like the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, Deutsche Bank and Banque de France are more independent of their national governments than they are of one another. Like modern businessmen and politicians, they don’t feel they owe loyalty to their people, much less to any moral principles. Their loyalty is pledged to the international élite that increasingly supersedes national interests.

All this goes to show yet again how woefully inadequate our customary terminology is to the task of describing modernity. ‘Capitalist’, ‘socialist’, ‘Right’, ‘Left’ – and yes, ‘free enterprise’ have become imprecise anachronisms.

A new glossary is needed, and my starter for 10 was in my book How the West Was Lost, from which much of today’s article is taken.

Elon Musk’s principle$

Dr Lambroso would have a field day

It’s good to see that Elon Musk doesn’t limit his interests simply to his day job, piling billions one on top of another.

In fact, he not only holds firm opinions on a broad range of foreign policy issues, but also translates words into actions. That goes beyond his obvious remit, but who says the world’s richest man should do anything obvious?

A few weeks ago, for example, he refused to allow the Ukraine to use his Starlink satellite internet system for an attack on the Crimea, which slowed down the Ukrainian counteroffensive. Such an attack, explained Mr Musk, would “start a major war”, something it was his duty to prevent.

A lesser man would have been tempted to coordinate that decision with his government. But fair enough, the US government itself seems to have an ambivalent position on any serious Ukrainian advances.

Where it is unequivocal is in its commitment to Taiwan’s independence. How firm that commitment will remain if tested by China’s military action is open to debate, but the official position is unmistakable.

Yet Musk is, or at least perceives himself to be, above such incidentals. He endorses China’s claim to Taiwan, and does so in the exact language of Chinese communists.

Talking to the FT a year ago, he opined that Taiwan should become a “special administrative zone” of China, like Hong Kong. And the other day he expanded on that position in a speech.

“Their policy has been to reunite Taiwan with China,” he said. “From their standpoint, maybe it is analogous to Hawaii or something like that, like an integral part of China that is arbitrarily not part of China mostly because the US Pacific fleet has stopped any sort of reunification effort by force.”

Now Hawaii is a state in the American Union, not its “special administrative zone”. Thus Mr Musk has hardened his pro-China stance into insisting that Taiwan shouldn’t even rate a quasi-independent status.

He is right that it’s mainly the US military muscle that has so far checked communist aggression in the region, although Taiwan itself is no slouch in matters martial. The lines are drawn in the sand, or rather the Strait. The US and the rest of NATO are on one side, communist China on the other. There’s little doubt of which side Mr Musk is on.

Before I comment on the little typographic trick in the title above, let’s look at some possible metaphysical reasons for Mr Musk’s seeming affection for today’s two most pernicious dictatorships.

I’ve known several magnates who have built major companies from the ground up, although none of them was an empire builder on anywhere near Musk’s scale. They were different men in many respects. But one trait they all had in common, apart from an insatiable ambition to succeed, was dictatorial tendencies.

Those men all achieved great power within their own bailiwicks, sometimes even beyond them. And worship of power, accompanied by the reluctance to share even a particle of it, either became their distinguishing character trait or had been just that from the beginning.

I don’t know if Musk is Left or Right, I’m not sure he knows it himself. In the past two elections he voted for Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, though these days he mostly supports the Republicans. But he clearly extends his suspicion of pluralism from business to politics.

Psychologically, he must feel kinship with men who exercise raw power, without wasting time on counterproductive chinwags. If he could run a Western country, such as the US, that’s how he’d prefer to run it.

This, however, is only a guess, a homespun attempt at psychological profiling. What is a fact – and this is where the title above gets clear – is that China manufactures some 75 per cent of the world’s lithium-ion batteries and about 50 per cent of all Teslas.

Amicus Xi, sed magis amica pecunia, to paraphrase the well-known saying ever so slightly, although I doubt Musk wastes too much of his valuable time on bowdlerising Latin adages. Given his intimate business links with China, I suspect he’d be parroting China’s policy statements even if they didn’t strike a chord in his heart. Xi may be his friend, but money is a greater one.

Now, a catastrophic nuclear war can break out for any number of reasons and in any number of places. But by far the greatest two threats to the survival of the world are Putin’s Russia, with her aggression against the Ukraine, and communist China, with her hunger to gobble up Taiwan.

At this time, China is undergoing an unprecedented military build-up in the region, with one of her two aircraft carriers detected 60 miles from Taiwan. For an American, even one of recent vintage, to make pro-communist and anti-Taiwan statements at this time is borderline treasonous, but then Musk is a law unto himself.

For a man who self-admittedly suffers from the Asperger syndrome, he certainly has a broad range of interests. Thus Musk has seen few conspiracy theories he couldn’t love, Covid in particular having caught his fancy in recent time.

Musk sees global warming as the greatest threat to humanity, with AI and declining birth rates running in hot pursuit. Hence he advocates a universal carbon tax, obviously feeling that hoi polloi are grossly undertaxed at present.

I’m not sure what he intends to do about AI, but his proposed solution to the ongoing depopulation of “our planet” strikes me as somewhat illogical. For one thing, seeing that the world’s population has increased by two billion in the past 20 years, one has to question how bad the depopulation problem really is.

But then what Musk proposes is to turn our civilisation into an interplanetary one by taking millions of people and putting them on Mars, which, as Musk correctly observes, “has zero human population”. One reason for this is that it may not be fit for human habitation, but in any case Musk’s proposal of removing large numbers of people to Mars would reduce the world’s population, not increase it.

Obviously, even his multiple businesses aren’t big enough to contain Musk’s ego. He wants to be a world, or even interplanetary, statesman. Best of luck to him, but I’d hate to live in a world set up according to Musk’s ideas. But that’s only me.