Tuesday, 27 May 2014

There are no American conservatives and not many conservatives anywhere else


America does not have conservatism. American Conservatives are Whigs - the US Constitution is pure Whiggism - or they are right-wing classical liberals. America is how England would have been had the extreme 19th century liberals won power: separation of church and state; a republic; no titles of honour; small state; low taxes.

Canada does not seem to have any conservatives, even though she has a Conservative Party. Canada is a post-Christian Social or Christian Democratic society that happens to be in North America rather than Western Europe. England does not seem to have many conservatives either, as opposed to free marketeers who are really liberals. Almost no-one in the party which introduced 'same-sex marriage' seems remotely conservative to me. The only politician who does have some genuinely conservative tendencies is Daniel Hannan who declare himself a Whig. So, clearly, is David Cameron, whose great hero is Garibaldi. 


One of the very few conservatives left is Charles Moore, whose conservatism is best sampled in this wonderful elegy for England which he feels is ceasing to exist. Even when I SO detested Mrs Thatcher and Ronald Reagan I was always a Tory philosophically, even a High Tory, and utterly felt Charles Moore was a soul-mate.

A true conservative thinks only economic growth helps the poor yet distrusts economic growth as an engine of change. This was Enoch Powell's position and it is mine.

When I was about nine i wanted to be a conservative philosopher and I should have been a good one. As I was not one, instead of my own words I give you some wonderful quotations that express ideas I (roughly) hold.


'A nation is not an idea only of local extent, and individual momentary aggregation: but it is an idea of continuity which extends in time as well as in numbers and in space. And this is a choice not of one day, or one set of people, not a tumultary and giddy choirs; it is a deliberate election of the ages and of generations; it is a constitution made by what is ten thousand times better than choice, it is made by the peculiar circumstances, occasions, tempers, dis­positions, and moral and special habitudes of the people, which disclose themselves only in a long space of time....' - Edmund Burke

I have met Frenchmen, Germans and Russians and even heard thanks to Montesquieu that there are Persians but I never met Man.
De Maistre 


In a progressive country change is constant; and the great question is not whether you should resist change which is inevitable, but whether that change should be carried out in deference to the manners, the customs, the laws and the traditions of a people, or whether it should be carried out in deference to abstract principles, and arbitrary and general doctrines. Benjamin Disraeli 



States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for:
(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples

UN Dec. of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Art. 8

It is not given to any of us to see more than a fraction of a shadow of the truth. Stanley Baldwin

An individual European may not even believe that the Christian Faith is true, but what he says and makes and does will all spring out of this history of European culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning. Only a Christian culture could have produced a Nietzsche or a Voltaire. I do not believe that the culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian Faith. And I am convinced of that not merely because I am a Christian myself, but as a student of social biology. T.S. Eliot


They say I am against reform. I am not against reform. There is a time for everything. And the time for reform is when it can no longer be resisted. Duke of Cambridge

Mrs. Hardcastle: Ay, your times were fine times indeed; you have been telling us of them for many a long year ... all our entertainment your old stories of Prince Eugene and the Duke of Marlborough. I hate such old-fashioned trumpery. 
Squire Hardcastle: And I love it. I love everything that’s old: old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine; and I believe, Dorothy (taking her hand), you’ll own I have been pretty fond of an old wife.


Enoch Powell: ‘No, we do not fight for values. I would fight for this country even if it had a communist government.’
Mrs. Thatcher (it was just before the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands): ‘Nonsense, Enoch. If I send British troops abroad, it will be to defend our values.’
Enoch Powell: ‘No, Prime Minister, values exist in a transcendental realm, beyond space and time. They can neither be fought for, nor destroyed.’

Curiously enough, true conservatives have a great deal in common with true liberals, but true liberals are as rare these days as true conservatives. What do I mean by a true liberal? Let Sir William Harcourt explain. Harcourt, who invented death duties, was Gladstone's Chancellor of the Exchequer and was passed over to succeed the Grand Old Man as Prime Minister in favour of Lord Rosebery.  
Liberty does not consist in making others do what you think right. The difference between a free Government and a Government which is not free is principally this—that a Government which is not free interferes with everything it can, and a free Government interferes with nothing except what it must. A despotic Government tries to make everybody do what it wishes, a Liberal Government tries, so far as the safety of society will permit, to allow everybody to do what he wishes. It has been the function of the Liberal Party consistently to maintain the doctrine of individual liberty. It is because they have done so that England is the country where people can do more what they please than in any country in the world. 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Rethinking universities


Universities should only exist online (with a small number of exceptions like Oxford and Cambridge, which are needed to create an elite and provide a holiday camp for clever boys and girls). 


University lectures should be put online. Universities should be online. (Except Oxford and Cambridge and a small number of others where academics would be reared.) That would increase life chances, spread learning, reduce class discrimination and reduce student indebtedness.


Online lectures and courses already exist but it is not about online courses - it is about making degrees taken by distance learning have the same weight as conventional ones. In fact abolishing almost all conventional universities. It is about breaking the way education is misused to create unjustified stratification of society. Let universities be about learning not about tickets to get a job and let them be open to all regardless of brains or money.


Vocational training courses - such as accounting and business - should also be available online of course. I don't see why places that teach 'business' should be allowed to usurp the noble name of university but perhaps that is not so important as destroying conventional universities. These seem nowadays to be businesses, which provide their consumers with tickets to middle class jobs while, in the arts subjects, they also disseminate socially liberal or left-wing ideas.

The shape of things to come

I came across this remark the other day reading about the 1848 Revolutions.
'The improvements in the means of communication will change everything and the dregs that rested in the depths will rise to the top.' 
So said Czar Nicholas I, in 1845.

The Czar was prophetic. Lenin, Hitler, rock music, Kim Kardashian. Add examples to taste.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Why we travel

I was so saddened to be told last night that there are now budget flights from England to Georgia.

I want Georgia to remain my secret country, like something out of a children's story, my secret garden. It's like learning there are now budget flights to Narnia.

I suppose this remark may indicate my intrinsic immaturity, but if so so be it.

After someone, I think it was Gertrude Bell made her way, with difficulty to Samarkand she was surprised to find that as she left they were organising charabanc trips there though I do not recall from where. Now Tibet is ruined by tourist tat and I wonder whether Xanadu is tourist-free. If so then it is some dreary Communist town in China.

The past is the undiscovered country and ones unconscious mind. It is ones unconscious that one is really exploring when one goes abroad. This is the attraction of all travel, a form of spirituality.

History is a catalogue of wars with unintended consequences - Russia's intervention in Ukraine will be disastrous for Russia

This is a very interesting article by Owen Matthews on Mr. Putin's game plan in Ukraine. The invasion of the Crimea was decided ad hoc and may prove disastrous for the Kremlin. The events in Ukraine remind me strongly of Milosevic provoking the Croatian Serbs to secede from Croatia and look how that ended. Badly for everyone, not least Milosevic. Oddly, the EU and the Western Ukrainians may gain a lot from the Russian actions.

A new item from Interfax said on 30 April that
The absolute majority of Russian citizens feel happy and the depth of happiness reached its historical maximum in the past 25 years, the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) sociologists said following a poll.
A total of 78 percent of Russians admitted that they are happy, while in each 2012 and 2013 there were 77 percent who did so, VTsIOM told Interfax on Wednesday.
In the past 25 years these are the best figures.
This might be connected with the annexation of Crimea but I do not know whether the poll was conducted before or after Russians suddenly took over the Crimean Parliament. I suspect that in any case the Russians are ringing the bells now but they will be wringing their hands soon.

Great books not to bother with


What great books should we leave unread? An article in the Guardian asking this question prompted me to answer it.


I would start with all books by Henry James. Perhaps Fitzgerald and Hemingway too? And T.S. Eliot's poetry, but not his prose. Definitely The Scarlet Letter. Three or four people recently have assured me that Don Quixote is worth reading. I have grave doubts but may have a go. I did start and hugely enjoyed the Decline and Fall, then put it aside but shall finish it. I managed to get through and enjoy even Paradise Lost by listening to the BBC audio version. I started the Fairy Queen when I was 11 which was much too young (or perhaps was exactly the right age). Perhaps I shall go back but I know I am kidding myself.
Looking at what I wrote it seems I like all books that are not American but I do like some Americans: Raymond Chandler, Mark Twain, Damon Runyon up to a point, Archy and Mehitabell, James Thurber sometimes, Dr. Seuss.


I am annoyed to find people who studied or even lectured in English are not particularly well-read but then the hero of Lucky Jim, was a university lecturer "whose policy it was to read as little as possible of any given book." Someone quite well-known, I forget who, who went to my college did a Ph.D. on Morte d'Arthur without having read it. I read it and loved it aged 11 -the only age when you can enjoy it - and was furious when I learnt about this.

Another article in the same paper gives an interesting list of overlooked books that you should perhaps read. I only read one, The Young Visiters, which is very funny. I have been meaning to read Oblomov all my adult life but have been too lazy.

Another overlooked novel is The King of Elfland's Daughter which I thought the best book ever written when I was 12. Then it was replaced by Taras Bulba which held the title till I was 26 and discovered Stendhal. Charterhouse of Parma still my fave but I am no longer the same person I was at 26.

My teenage tastes sound highbrow but I also read Conan the Barbarian which is the thirteenth stroke of the clock.


Thursday, 8 May 2014

Why is Romania different? Religion has a lot to do with it

I realised only now that Romania's intense religiosity is not an Orthodox or Balkan thing. Serbia, Bulgaria and Russia are much less religious. About Greece I don't know. Quite unconsciously it is one of the reasons why Romania is so much more more attractive a country than her neighbours.

People go to India for spirituality - but I do not find India or the East very spiritual. They should come to Romania, especially Bucovina or the monasteries in Moldavia. Or for a very spiritual pre-Christian place, Sinca Veche.

On the subject of Eastern spirituality, I want to quote again Edward Norman, my favourite living historian, religious commentator and favourite Englishman:
"Through contact with liberal and Christian values the other world religions were sanitised and made acceptable to Western sensibilities: widows were no longer incinerated alive on their husbands funeral pyres, and the way was opened for that late-20th-century phenomenon, the Western idealising of Oriental religiosity, beads and mantras in Californian condominiums."

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Revolutions are almost always a bad idea but we fall for the romance of revolutions every time

When I was young I thought all revolutions were wrong. The disastrous effects of the fall of the dictators in Libya and Egypt make me think perhaps I was not so far wrong. Going to Kosovo this week and thinking about the behaviour of the Kosovo Liberation Army, then reading the news from Ukraine, strengthen this feeling. 

The wrong people won in the American revolution too but here, I suspect, dear reader, I am losing you. Read about the way the American loyalists were tortured and killed.

On Saturday I heard the news that Russians were seizing buildings in Odessa and was very sad indeed. Ukraine reminds me of Yugoslavia in 1991 with Putin playing the part of Milosevic and the EU being worse than useless.


The Cold War kept the peace in Europe, except for the Greek civil war and the fighting between Ukrainians and Poles. After it ended we had wars in the ex-Yugoslavia but otherwise peace. But history is a series of settlements lasting and then breaking down. Putin like Milosovic is for his own purposes re-opening wounds from World War II. He is reigniting fears in Eastern Ukraine of Stepan Bandera's army of Ukrainian nationalists  who fought against the Bolshevik regime, just as Milosevic reopened fears of Pavelic, the Ustase and the collaboration between the Bosnian Muslims and the Germans.

I finally got to Kosovo



I decided to get to Kosovo after many years of thinking about it. I took a plane from Bucharest to Belgrade as the night train has been discontinued for a couple of years. Then a bus to Novi Pazar, which I had wanted to visit for over twenty years, since reading about the Sanjak of Novi Pazar in Barbara Jellavic's History of the Balkans.


Enchanting Serbian countryside seen from the window of the crowded bus. It is good to leave the European Union and to be in a nice unglobalised country. The scenery and the monasteries are what Serbia offers - the towns are unremarkable. The same is true of all the Balkans except the towns that the Germans and Hungarians built in the Hapsburg lands.


The Hotel Vrbak, Novi Pazar, once considered an architectural gem. The reception was eerily empty when I went in to ask directions. Nothing is more dead than a future that has failed.

Novi Pazar was a rather typical Yugoslav town, albeit a Muslim one, with some headscarved and some veiled women. It was a public holiday - 1 May - and the town was closed and it drizzled. Yugoslav towns always abound in cafes, terraces that stay open very late, 1970s architecture and - in Belgrade at least - a kind of 1970s sexiness, like a film version dubbed into Serbo-Croat of a Jackie Collins novel.


I took a cab for EUR 35 to Mitrovica which is divided between the Serbian north and the Albanian south and put up in the North City Hotel. I enjoyed a typical Kosovar dish, prizrenska tava, in my hotel in the divided town of Mitrovica. It is made of minced veal, cheese and eggs. Rather good. Belgrade just offers grilled meat, but very good grilled meat. In Northern Mitrovica the main streets full of wooden shacks and kiosks from which goods are sold. Unlike in Novi Pazar where the town was dead because of the public holiday North Mitrovica at sunset was buzzing with activity and a sense of improvisation. It felt poor.

To my surprise the next morning I walked across the bridge that divided the Serbian north of the city from the main city which is purely Albanian and was not asked for my passport by the KFOR soldier who stood there. Checkpoint Charlie it is not. Serbs and Albanians can go freely from one part of the town to the other but they do not.


The bridge that divides Serbian, Christian Northern Mitrovica from the Albanian, Muslim side of the town. The KFOR man did not look at me when I crossed.
Jonathan Swift said, 'We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.'

We in the West are now busy creating an ethnic and religious mosaic like the one that used to exist in Eastern Europe before ethnic cleansing gave things a terrible simplicity.

In the 1990s I was certain Milosevic and Serbia 
were in the wrong in all the Yugoslav wars and wanted Western intervention. Since then Western intervention has almost always been disastrous. Were Messrs Blair and Clinton right about Kosovo? The atrocities committed by the Serbs were extremely exaggerated, we now know, and the Kosovo Liberation Army did terrible things. I suspect that this war too was a mistake, but I need to find out much more

The next day a driver recommended by a friend who lives in Pristina took me to the lovely old town of Prizren. The town was once the capital of Old Serbia but what can be seen today is Turkish. It reminds me of the wonderful Albanian towns of Berat and Gjirokastra but both of them were when i went there several years ago absolutely untouched by tourism, uncommercial, a place where old men sipped tea and smoked cheap cigarettes on stools outside cheap shops. Prizren too is innocent of tourism but is a buzzy warren of bars, restaurants, shops and life.



Castle half a mile outside Prizren

The interior of the beautiful old church was destroyed by Muslims in 2004 , five years after the Serbs were forced out, as, the keeper told me, were one thousand other churches in Kosovo. I am opposed to capital punishment but would happily see the perpetrators hanged in public.


Pristina proved an interesting place. It has two or three noble mosques (the mosques are noble inside, though from outside they are less so) but its interest is in its present-day political situation. I was shown around, unfortunately after dark, by a very intelligent American who loves there and who believes Kosovo was the 'last just war'. 

Two weeks later the Guardian published this article about Pristina's new mayor. It confirmed my intuition that the Kosovo war was not just, was unwise meddling. I was interested to read recently Andrew Rawnsley say that it was Tony Blair who persuaded bill Clinton into this adventure.


Prizren, Kosovo, the Sinan Pasha mosque: unusual non-geometrical frescoes.







Monday, 5 May 2014

Was the Cold War necessary?

This is a fascinating article by one of my favourite historians, Lord Skidelsky, about the Cold War and whether it will start all over again now. I did not known that the Cold War dismayed George Kennan "who claimed that containment was meant to be economic and political, not military. He was one of the main architects of the post-first world war Marshall Plan. He opposed the formation of NATO". This is exactly what I always thought - that the Cold War was unnecessary. The Cold War did however to a large extent keep the peace, if you were not living in Angola or Vietnam.