Sunday, 31 May 2015

Thoughts, not mine


The more unintelligent a man is, the less mysterious existence seems to him. Schopenhauer 

I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity. Einstein

Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers. Isaac Asimov 

Thought is crude, matter unimaginably subtle. Aldous Huxley (A conservative insight.)

As people are walking all the time, in the same spot, a path appears. John Locke

A philosopher who is not taking part in discussions is like a boxer who never goes into the ring. Wittgenstein 

There is no great genius without some touch of madness. Seneca

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

You gotta have a body. Jayne Mansfield 

Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life. Mark Twain

No matter how well you perform there's always somebody of intelligent opinion who thinks it's lousy. Laurence Olivier


It's discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit. Noël Coward. This is so true about politics.

All that is true, by whomsoever it has been said, has its origin in the Spirit. Saint Thomas Aquinas 


I shall/I will

I spend my life stumbling over the I will/I shall rule, getting it wrong, correcting myself. Do others?

I have a nagging suspicion that no one else gives a damn.

Is it really a rule? Some, such as Oliver Kamm, the sworn enemy of most rules, say not. For him what is said in practice is right in principle and, of course, he has good arguments for that position, which is essentially philosophical, not grammatical. All opinions are essentially philosophical and, as Nietzsche told us, all philosophy is disguised psychology. 

William James said
The history of philosophy is to a great extent that of a certain clash of human temperaments
and this is true of the history of grammar too. Politics and philosophy are a means of self expression and so are both grammar and opinions about grammar.


This blogger agrees that the I will/I shall rule is bogus. So does the Economist, a paper I usually disagree with. Apparently it dates from 1653, which seems long ago enough to have made it a rule, but it would be easier if it were not one. I am beginning to have doubts.


The Oxford English Dictionary states the traditional rule
that shall is used with first person pronouns (i.e. I and we) to form the future tense, while will is used with second and third person forms (i.e. you, he, she, it, they). For example:

I shall be late.They will not have enough food.
However, when it comes to expressing a strong determination to do something, the roles are reversed: will is used with the first person, and shall with the second and third. For example:

I will not tolerate such behaviour. You shall go to the ball!
But goes on to say the two words are in practice interchangeable.

Can I relax and forget this putative rule? 

I bought a second-hand grammar at university while an undergraduate, not having been taught grammar, except I suppose at primary school, and I taught myself the rules, including the rule on 'that' and 'which'. I have completely forgotten that rule now, but I do remember that I found I had always instinctively used 'that' and 'which' correctly. This is not the case with 'will' and 'shall', which might mean the rule is now in desuetude. 

However, for emotional reasons, I do not want to admit this. Old laws are good laws. Usually.

The reason why I am blogging about this at all was my shock at getting an out of office message, from a British Ambassador, educated at Cambridge, a good middle-class university, saying
I will not be in the office until Tuesday.
I suppose, as I was shocked, on Mr. Kamm's principle that how people use language is how people should use language, my being shocked is self-validating and the rule must still exist. Is this logical? I am not completely sure.

I imagine that there are various definitions of a lake but I think that a lake is a body of water that is called a lake. I was told, when there, that the Sea of Galilee is a not a sea but a lake, but by my definition it is not a lake. I think the rule with rules is similar. A rule is something many people for a long time have considered a rule.  

It might, however, not be a good rule or a useful one. It might be one more honoured in the breach than in the observance or widely ignored. 

There might be rules that only apply on formal occasions, just as there are rules of protocol that only apply on formal occasions, occasions such as when one ends letters, 
I remain, sir, your faithful servant.
Or does no-one do that any longer? I see that in the Prince of Wales's correspondence, that the courts, at the Guardian's behest, disgracefully forced to be published, Andy Burnham, who wants to be elected leader of the Labour Party, ends his letters to the Prince 
I have the honour to remain, Sir, your Royal Highness’s most humble and obedient servant.
Some people think that for a socialist to end a letter thus is risible, but I don't at all. I think it's correct, good manners, as 'Andy''s civil servants no doubt advised him.

In any case, with grammar as with protocol (are the two the same thing?), it's important to know the rules in order to know when and whether to break them.


Saturday, 30 May 2015

Communism after Communism

Talking to some Romanian historians last night in Green Hours, my favourite Bucharest summer drinking place, one told me a French sociologist in the early 1990s said that after the fall of Ceausescu Romanian society shattered into shards of broken glass. The party had controlled everything and suddenly it was gone. Nothing was held together anymore.

My impression is the exact opposite, that Romanian society after the Communist dictatorship ended (and Communist dictatorships are worse in kind as well as degree from other dictatorships) was conformist, narrow and cohesive. It is pluralistic, democratic societies that are fissiparous. It occurs to me now that pluralistic and post-Communist societies are both cohesive, though. Both have an equilibrium. It's places like Iraq and Syria that don't.

The great Romanian nationalist historian Nicolae Iorga talked of Byzantium after Byzantium, the title of his most famous book, meaning that the Byzantine Empire continued in to exist in an altered form under the Sultan. I was rather pleased with myself for saying that after 1989 Romania had ‘Communism after Communism’. 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Time is our home, not our country



Here is an interesting interview, in an English-language Swedish paper, with

Hans Rosling, Sweden's own globetrotting celebrity statistician
who
frets over what he labels “irrational nationalism”: people’s tendency to ascribe achievements or values with a particular national identity.

“The whole idea that it’s a place we belong to – that place is so important, that the nation is so important – is a dangerous concept...

“It makes people think that the sheer luck of the place where they happen to exist makes them different as human beings."

Discussions of what constitutes “Swedishness”, therefore, leave Rosling uneasy. 
“We don’t live in Sweden. Time is our home,” he proclaims, citing the title of a 1991 play by Swedish playwright Lars Norén.

“We live in this time. Time is more important than place. Our values are not place-based, they are time-based.”
He is right that values certainly do not a nation make. As de Maistre put it, 
'A nation is not made of ink'. 
It is made of blood, of history, is based on culture and genetics and especially religion, even if most people do not believe in religion. At least nations in the European sense of the word. In the New World 'nation' means something different.

Hans Rosling's ideas are not in the least unusual. Lord ('Chris') Patten the British Conservative politician, who hopes Turkish membership of the EU will give Europe new purpose, might agree with him

Peter Sutherland, the Irish former EU commissioner and former head of GATT told a sub-committee of the British House of Lords Home Affairs Committee that
"The United States, or Australia and New Zealand, are migrant societies and therefore they accommodate more readily those from other backgrounds than we do ourselves, who still nurse a sense of our homogeneity and difference from others. And that's precisely what the European Union, in my view, should be doing its best to undermine.
Hans Rosling's view of post-national Sweden can be usefully contrasted with that of the blogger Fjordman who writes here in a very Swiftian tone about the place. Everyone should read his essay. His describes a Sweden going to hell in a handcart. 

I hope Swedes' Viking blood reasserts itself one day. Perhaps some 'irrational nationalism' would do no harm.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Is Britain resigning as a world power? No, but perhaps we should

From an article in today's Washington Post by Fareed Zakariaheadlined:

  • Britain resigns as a world power


On Monday, the Right Honorable David Cameron, prime minister of Great Britain, gave his first major speech after being reelected to his high office — once held by Pitt, Gladstone, Disraeli, Lloyd George, Churchill and Thatcher. Confronting a world of challenges — including Greece’s possible exit from the euro, a massive migration crisis on Europe’s shores, Ukraine’s perilous state, Russia’s continued intransigence, the advance of the Islamic State and the continuing chaos in the Middle East — Cameron chose to talk about . . . a plan to ensure that hospitals in the United Kingdom will be better staffed on weekends.

Okay, that’s a bit unfair. Leaders everywhere, including in the United States, understand that “all politics is local.” But spending a few days recently in Britain, I was struck by just how parochial it has become. After an extraordinary 300-year run, Britain has essentially resigned as a global power.
I'm not convinced we are resigning as a great power. Americans don't realise that
the NHS and health (and safety) in general are a quasi-religion in England.
 They fill the place formerly given to the sacred in English life. (Climate change is another quasi-religion.)


Plus David Cameron has little independence in foreign policy. The Pitts, Gladstone, Disraeli, Lloyd George and Churchill up until Pearl Harbor could decide their own foreign policy - now we are a US satellite and part of the EU. Over hospitals David Cameron has power.

What independence he has he has used disastrously - to topple Gaddafi, for example. Yet he wanted to repeat his error with Syria but, thanks to Ed Miliband, the moribund House of Commons roused itself to stop him.

Maybe we should resign as a great power, leave the EU and concentrate on the threats to our country, rather than protecting Europe or the Middle East. The threats to the U.K. seem to come from Irish, Scottish and Welsh nationalists, from hundreds of thousands of immigrants arriving each year and from British terrorists, not from ISIS nor Mr. Putin. But this would lead to an isolationist USA, sooner or later. Would that be good or bad? 

The Washington Post article is here. It argues that Britain should play a larger part in the world because we have the right values. Broadly we do have the right values, give or take some important things, and foreign policy should be about values, but first and foremost it should be about enlightened self-interest.


Fareed Zakaria was an advocate of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Even now he evidently does not understand how that tragedy has changed Britain and the world. 

Last year he described as
"crucial elements of Putinism ... nationalism, religion, social conservatism, state capitalism and government domination of the media. They are all, in some way or another, different from and hostile to, modern Western values of individual rights, tolerance, cosmopolitanism, and internationalism."
I do not like Vladimir Putin, but if religion and social conservatism are
different from and hostile to modern Western values
then I want fewer values and more minding our own business.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Was Hitler a Mohammed who failed? Discuss.



Comme l’Islam est resté figé dans sa contemplation d’une société qui fut réelle il y a sept siècles, et pour trancher les problèmes de laquelle il conçut alors des solutions efficaces, nous n’arrivons plus à penser hors des cadres d’une époque révolue depuis un siècle et demi, qui fut celle où nous sûmes nous accorder à l’histoire ; et encore trop brièvement, car Napoléon, ce Mahomet de l’Occident, a échoué là où a réussi l’autre. 
Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques

When I read Levi Strauss saying Napoleon was a Mohammed who failed I wondered if Hitler was too. 

I suppose yes, more so than Napoleon.

I mean no particular disrespect to Mohammed by making the comparison with Hitler. Both were conquerors, both were moralists and both were religious figures, according at least to Jung. But Hitler was a complete failure. His legacy, seventy years after his defeat, was a continent dominated by ideas very consciously antithetical to his.

Carl Jung in 1938 said:
Hitler’s ‘religion’ is the nearest to Mohammedanism, realistic, earthy, promising the maximum rewards in this life, but with a Moslem-like Valhallah into which worthy Germans may enter and continue to enjoy themselves. Like Mohammedanism, it teaches the virtue of the sword. Hitler’s first idea is to make his people powerful because the spirit of the Aryan German deserves to be supported by might, by muscle and by steel.

Jung was asked by the Bishop of Southwark in a discussion published in 1939

…had he any views on what was likely to be the next step in religious development?

and replied:

We do not know whether Hitler is going to found a new Islam. He is already on the way; he is like Muhammad. The emotion in Germany is Islamic; warlike and Islamic. They are all drunk with wild god. That can be the historic future.

During an interview with H. R. Knickerbocker, published in January 1939, Jung said:

There is no question but that Hitler belongs in the category of the truly mystic medicine man. As somebody commented about him at the last Nuremberg party congress, since the time of Mohammed nothing like it has been seen in this world. His body does not suggest strength. The outstanding characteristic of his physiognomy is its dreamy look. I was especially struck by that when I saw pictures taken of him in the Czechoslovakian crisis; there was in his eyes the look of a seer. This markedly mystic characteristic of Hitler’s is what makes him do things which seem to us illogical, inexplicable, and unreasonable. … So you see, Hitler is a medicine man, a spiritual vessel, a demi-deity or, even better, a myth.
Was Jung right that Nazism was a quasi-religious idea and Hitler a (false) prophet?

Lothrop Stoddard was an American advocate of eugenics (though not a fascist) who visited Germany in 1940. In his Into the Darkness: Nazi Germany Today published that year he said: 
I am convinced that the [Nazi] ‘Old Guard,’ at any rate, are for the most part, fanatical zealots. If the Nazi thesis were a dialectic screen hiding mere lust for power and pelf, it would never have converted so large a portion of the traditionally honest, idealistic German people. If the Nazi leaders were just a band of cynical adventurers, with tongue in cheek and wholly ‘on the make,’ it would be far easier to deal with them.
Both Hitler and Napoleon can be compared to Muhammed.  Interestingly, Hitler and Napoleon both expressed their admiration for Muhammed. (Why don't the English any more use the traditional spelling Mahomet? The French do.)

Napoleon’s biographer Emmanuel-Augustin-Dieudonné-Joseph, Count of Las Cases, says that Napoleon, exiled in St. Helena, was unhappy with Voltaire’s play “Mahomet.” 
Mahomet was the subject of deep criticism.“Voltaire”, said the Emperor, “in the character and conduct of his hero, has departed both from nature and history. He has degraded Mahomet, by making him descend to the lowest intrigues. He has represented a great man who changed the face of the world, acting like a scoundrel, worthy of the gallows. He has no less absurdly travestied the character of Omar, which he has drawn like that of a cut-throat in a melo-drama. Voltaire committed a fundamental error in attributing to intrigue that which was solely the result of opinion." Omar refers to Omar bin al-Khattab, caliph after Prophet Muhammad.
Moving from the profane to the sacred, Napoleon's admiration for Mohammed was exceeded by his admiration for Jesus, of whom he said,
I know men and I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.
Hitler admired Islam. In the bunker he said, according to Martin Bormann, 
Had Charles Martel not been victorious at Poitiers — already, you see, the world had fallen into the hands of the Jews, so gutless a thing is Christianity! — then we should in all probability have been converted to Mohammedanism, that cult which glorifies heroism and which opens up the Seventh Heaven to the bold warrior alone. Then the Germanic races would have conquered the world. Christianity alone prevented them from doing so.
There is no doubt about the enthusiasm of other Nazis for Islam, including Himmler, who was a good friend of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The Grand Mufti is said to have visited Auschwitz at Himmler's suggestion.

The point Claude Lévi-Strauss made was that France is obsessed by the ideas of the early 19th century as Islam is with those of the distant past. But I don't think Napoleon did fail. As Anthony Burgess said, pace Levi Strauss, he won when England joined the European Economic Community (or Common Market as we called it or EU as it is known today).

I suppose the USA venerates the Whiggism of the 18th century. Are the Enlightenment ideas of Locke a quasi-religion? These words from the American Declaration of Independence sound very like dogmas.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
In fact, though church and state are separated in the USA the ideas of the Constitution are the established religion of America. There are heretics (Communists and fascists) but they are apt to be persecuted, just as were the only true American conservatives, the loyalists who were killed or driven out in the American revolution.

I think it is useful to see ideologies in religious terms, though some more than others. I think it is clear now that Marxism-Leninism was (or rather is) a religion, for example. Marxism is certainly also frozen in time, a product of the Europe of 1848, a by-blow of German romanticism.  

Was Lenin also a Mohammed who failed? Lenin's ideas are still influential, at least as mediated via Gramsci. He has not wholly failed, unfortunately.






Wednesday, 20 May 2015

First they came for the bakers



This article was published in Taki's Magazine. The vote was lost and Ireland is no longer a Catholic country.

All countries are traditions based on religion and genetics, though in irreligious countries they don’t know it. And all European countries these days seem to be in very big trouble.
Southern Ireland, where until the 1990s divorce was illegal, is about to vote on whether to institute homosexual marriage. Incredibly - in Ireland! -  all the political parties are in favor and people who are opposed are being told that they are bigots. Society is constantly persecuting and the intolerance of the old days has given way to a new intolerance. It’s sad for those of us who thought Eire used to be a shining city on a hill.
It’s customary at this point to deny being a homophobe, so I had better do so. The two closest friends I ever had were lesbians and I am completely broad minded in practice, if not in theory. I share Garrett Fitzgerald’s mindset. After reading some complicated text from his civil servants when he was Taoiseach he was reputed to have said “Well, that’s alright in practice, but how does it work in theory?”
“What if a Muslim baker was asked to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding?”
But why should homosexuals want to marry? What was attractive about them was the secrecy and sense of being outsiders, like Communists or Catholics. They should, one feels, drink absinthe and read decadent French poetry. Instead they want respectability, children and PTA meetings.
The Irish referendum result will be affected by the decision yesterday in Northern Ireland to convict some devout Presbyterian bakers who refused to bake a cake with the slogan ‘Support Gay Marriage’ on it. The bakers didn’t refuse to sell cakes to homosexuals, as until a few years ago it was any baker’s ancient Common Law right to do, but they simply refused to bake one saying ‘Support Gay Marriage’ as you or I might do if we didn’t support gay marriage. There were no doubt socially liberal or venal bakers who would have done so, but someone was trying to make a point. The poor bakers were being set up.

It’s always devout bakers whom homosexual activists pick on and try to ruin. There have been many cases in different countries involving bakers being asked to bake cakes for homosexual weddings and what splendid moral courage the Christian bakers show, quite unsupported by the clergy. Some have lost fortunes in fines. Meanwhile, bishops talk of global warming.


First they came for the bakers but I wasn’t a baker…


The backlash against the court’s decision might just be enough to swing the vote against homosexual marriage in the South but if it does there will be another vote, as always happens. The electorate originally voted not to legalize divorce in Southern Ireland but in these circumstances the electorate continues to vote until they get the answer right. Then no more votes. It’s the same with referendums on European treaties. 


Before homosexual marriage is on the statute books in one country after another, even religious ones like the USA, it becomes socially unacceptable to oppose the idea. Homosexuality has become one of the few things European societies hold sacred, as it was in some cults in pagan Rome.
What if a Muslim bakery was asked to bake a cake with a depiction of the prophet on it? What if a Muslim baker was asked to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding?
What would the Guardian and liberal clergymen like Dr. Giles Fraser say then? It would be an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. Liberal Anglicans pretend to think that Jesus, a first-century rabbi, would have thought homosexual acts were fine and dandy. Though they don’t care what the early church thought about the matter they do respect the view of the Koran. But liberals, who canted about freedom and free speech when the cartoonists in Paris were murdered, don’t think free speech should extend to what you write or don’t write on cakes.


No-one minds that vegetarians don’t approve of eating meat and say so, but it is very dangerous and even often illegal to criticise homosexuality. The only reason I can come up with is that anti-discrimination has to be understood as a secular religion in itself. An important function of all religions is to justify inequality and the chimera of equality of opportunity does this. Outlawing discrimination is the way that a society that finds inequality hard to justify justifies it.


Human rights are a
 new religion which seems to complement but is, in fact, replacing Christianity. Anti-discrimination and welfare considerations, which are wholly materialistic, have taken the place of the sacred in the European imagination. Homosexuality is the issue where human rights and Christianity conflict. It is making the West anti-Christian, instead of merely post-Christian.

Historians will spend much time trying to understand the complete lack of a conservative backlash against the sexual revolution, in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain or Ronald Reagan’s USA, after AIDS suddenly appeared. It was the dog that did not bark in the night. The clergy was as silent as the laity. In any earlier age, even in the 1960s, people would have thought and spoken in terms of the plague being a sign from heaven. Instead, the authorities busied themselves giving away condoms.

G.K. Chesterton condemned the modern and morbid weakness to sacrifice the normal to the abnormal. If only we had polemicists like him today to argue wittily and cleverly against the folly of single-sex marriage. The new teaching or absence of teaching by the clergy on sexual morality is the kind of thing that makes some people convert to Islam, seeking a rock which earlier converts found in Catholicism before the Second Vatican Council. I spoke to an American evangelist recently in Nazareth. He instructs Muslims and Jews who want to convert to Christianity. I found I agreed when he told me ‘Christendom has lost its soul. Islam deserves to dominate Europe.’

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Eating King Louis XIV's heart: a curious history


Dean Buckland of Westminster 
(1784–1856, blink and he's gone) claimed to have eaten his way through the animal kingdom, including eating mole, bluebottle, panther, crocodile and mouse. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, twice president of the Geological Society and kept a menagerie of animals, including snakes, eagles and monkeys, at the deanery. While dining at Lord Harcourt's house at Nuneham in 1848 he was shown a silver locket containing an object resembling pumice stone. He popped the object in his mouth, perhaps to try and find out what mineral it was, and swallowed it. It was in fact part of the mummified heart of Louis XIV of France which had been taken from the royal tomb by a member of the Harcourt family. 

The New York Times for 4 December 1910 says:
One day at Nuneham [Archbishop Harcourt, obit 1847] was exhibiting [the heart] to his guests at dessert. It had been reduced by age and embalming process to the size and appearance of a small nut. It was passed around the table for exhibition. When it reached Dr. Butler [sic], Dean of Westminster, renowned not only for his zoological knowledge, but also for his extraordinary absence of mind, he without thinking what he was doing swallowed it, washing it down with a copious draft of the Harcourt port. That was the end of the royal heart of Louis XIV, the most powerful monarch of his time, and which thus disappeared down the maw of a famous English divine at Nuneham.

Augustus Hare tells a different version, which I read many years ago in a Victorian collection of anecdotes whose name escapes me.

Talk of strange relics led to mention of the heart of a French King preserved at Nuneham in a silver casket. Dr. Buckland, whilst looking at it, exclaimed, 
‘I have eaten many strange things, but have never eaten the heart of a king before,’ 
and, before anyone could hinder him, he had gobbled it up, and the precious relic was lost for ever.” The heart in question is said to have been that of Louis XIV. Buckland was followed in this bizarre hobby by his son Frank.

Style

Lord Snowdon's photograph of my beloved friend Mgr. Alfred Gilbey is the best photographic portrait I ever saw. I looked it up today and find it was bought back in 2000 for the National Portrait Gallery​. As Charles Moore said, Mgr. Gilbey in this picture had more style than anyone of our times. He was a rich man who lived in the Travellers' Club for over thirty years after he resigned from the chaplaincy of Cambridge University, rather than minister to the spiritual needs of girl-undergraduates). Some famous rock star (I forget who) used to visit him in the Travellers' Club once a week to confess but the half-Spanish monsignor was cooler than any rock star. 

Alfred Newman Gilbey, by Lord Snowdon, 20 June 1991 - NPG P812 - © Armstrong Jones

A lack of Prime Ministers





My favourite Harold Macmillan story is of when the Queen, Mrs. Thatcher and the five living former Prime Ministers had dinner at No. 10 in around 1986 to celebrate its 300th anniversary. As the photograph was being taken James Callaghan said: I wonder what is the collective noun for Prime Ministers. To which Lord Stockton who was 91 instantly replied: a lack of principals.

I suppose Ed Miliband would have been no worse, on the whole, than Harold Wilson, but a long way below James Callaghan.

I met them all as well now I think of it except the Queen and Mr Callaghan, whom I often passed in the House. I heard him speak often, of course. All are dead now except H.M. Long may she reign over us.


Was Harold Macmillan being self-revealing when he made this joke? Yes, probably. I think the others were principled except Wilson and Callaghan whom Marcia Falkender brilliantly summed up as 'a bent copper'. Home was, Heath was, dreadful leader though he was, and Mrs. Thatcher was.

Harold Macmillan said his son Maurice, who was my first boss, didn't go to the top in politics 'because he isn't a s-t, like us'. Though Maurice reached the cabinet. Evelyn Waugh thought Macmillan committed the sin against the Holy Ghost by seeing the truth of Catholicism and not converting from worldly motives (i.e. wanting to be P.M.). Waugh was being malign of course. Someone tried to blame Macmillan for his daughter's having an abortion, but this is unfair too.

Mr. Heath liked me on sight when we had lunch and was very charming. I was 19 and realise now, though I didn't then, that I was rather pretty. Even at the time, though I was very innocent indeed, I wondered whether there was a hidden reason why he was so charming. How I wish I had made friends with Enoch Powell whom I also met - much more impressive, slightly mad, very intelligent indeed. However Heath was a good man, who cared about the country and about the poor. I have been told that he secretly paid up the private school bills of two boys whose father was killed in the war, leaving their mother grateful to but baffled by her mysterious benefactor.



Harold Wilson said when Mr Heath went home he had no-one to abuse but himself.  
Macmillan and Wilson were the cleverest, Home the nicest of the bunch and a wise as well as good man. 

Though they didn't talk of it, Macmillan, Home, Heath, Callaghan and Mrs. Thatcher were all very religious, unlike Churchill or Attlee. Whether Harold Wilson, who was raised a Nonconformist, was I don't know.

I took a very precocious interest in politics which I swear goes back to the time when I was still going into my parents' bed in the mornings and I remember very much about Harold Wilson and Edward Heath even though I was fourteen when Wilson retired. 

I remember that Mr. Heath, though a disastrous Prime Minister, was a true leader who dominated his cabinet - he didn't have an internal opposition in his government unlike Mrs. Thatcher. He took the weekends off to go sailing and no-one objected nor speculated on why he wasn't married. I remember Harold Wilson smoked a pipe on TV (how times change) but always a cigar off air. He prided himself on his conservatism with a small c, his dislike of going abroad, his Nonconformist Northern liberalism. He claimed to prefer tinned salmon to salmon (a luxury item then), loved Gilbert and Sullivan and the paintings of Lowry who detested Wilson in return. Even aged five I could see Wilson had no principles, was a consummate trimmer.
Harold Wilson left little legacy except the baleful one of anti discrimination laws and the first law against what we now call 'hate speech'. The country sank under him.

Nevertheless, though I remember them I am a child not of Wilson and Heath nor of Mrs Thatcher but of the brief and un-memorable Callaghan era. This article from years ago in the Spectator explains what that means for me and my generation.


Callaghan before he became Prime Minister  seemed to me as a young but perceptive boy as much an unprincipled trimmer as Harold Wilson, but what St John Stevas called the grace of office made him a batter Prime Minister than Wilson. Callaghan told someone that before making a decision he asked himself 
what Harold would have done and then did the opposite.
He said at a party conference in the early 1980s of Tony Blair: 
I don't know what that young man is but he isn't Labour.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Oppression, rape and Ovid

Int3gr4/Wikimedia Commons


News from Columbia University that teaching Ovid may be off the curriculum because the Metamorphoses
contains triggering and offensive material that marginalises student identities.'
Because it's important that undergraduates do not feel uncomfortable or marginalised. 

i think I have been marginalised all my life. Perhaps that's my tragedy. Still, it's to be expected if one's a conservative

A translation of Homer published in America came with an introduction warning students that much of the contents would today be considered unacceptable. So did the translation I recently read of the memoirs of an Arab slave trader in Africa who expressed racist ideas. The translator had thought of expurgating it but decided not to. Thank goodness I read the great books before feminism and PC took over.

I read the Metamorphoses in Latin at 18 immediately after leaving school. It is full of rapes and is deeply sexist and patriarchal. Now the classics are taught - in English - from a feminist standpoint. Thank God I read old books deeply and widely as an adolescent without being taught them or taught to put them into the context of modern modish ideas. I presumed that old writers were civilised, which is why they were classics.

Of course 'patriarchy' can be, often has been, oppressive. Oppression you have always in all societies, including our own, but the differences between men and women are natural, God given, if you believe in that hypothesis, part of the natural order of things, not social constructs. People for centuries read the classics to distance themselves from the ideas of the age. What academics in the humanities are teaching students, most of who inevitably are not particularly intelligent, is anti-conservatism. Often they do so because ideas like feminism are simply useful ones to play with. We should find new ones for them to play with.


When I as up at university I wanted to find a conservative critique of history and literature and wish I had applied myself. Later on I discovered that religious writers and theologians were full of unexamined liberal premises. Often it seems that defeating these people in argument is so easy that it is almost cruel, but I have never found time to write the books to do so. It is becoming very urgent.

I refuse to give up but I can't help wondering if this is a dying civilisation. Largely because of feminism Europeans are dying out. I wonder if we are at the Marcus Aurelius point, the point where Gibbon begins The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

St Petersburg

When I was 22, after I went down from the university and when all careers seemed like rival prisons, I made several large commonplace books. As a result quotations stick in my mind and I am a walking dictionary of them. I collected famous last words and here in St Petersburg I remember - as I very often do - the Decembrist who was walking up to the gallows, when it broke down and he had to go back down and wait. His last words were, 'Nothing ever goes right for me'.

Two feet from where I sit back in the B & B after long hours tourist work a young man is sitting one leg hanging off a window ledge cleaning the windows three stories up. In a way this disregard of health and safety is inspiring and makes on like Russia. In another way it gives me vertigo. 

Russia is enchanting, un-Western, backward. People are wonderful. Men are real men, women real women, all replete with Russian soul, except the vulgarians who walk into you as you cross the road..

Yesterday was a very serendipitous day. ! met and was invited to join a group of lovely young women being guided around St. Petersburg (I went to L to type Leningrad, oddly) by two lovely St Petersburg girls. As Nina who steered me around last time I was here said to me -"How I love these Russian girls - so beautiful and so kind." I decided not to wait in the long long queue for the Hermitage with the girls but as I walked away Vadim the seller of contraband caviar who knows the boy on the door fixed it for me to skip the queue and pop straight in. I bought some caviar from him for 1000 roubles = EUR 17 which is half the price of dinner at a cheap restaurant and it tastes good. I spent a very long time looking at the seven Claudes. He is the greatest of all painters for with him painting becomes poetry. He paints light itself. 

And, dropping an intellectual level or five, of course St Petersburg is a reason for me to retell my favourite joke.
What have Catherine the Great and Winnie the Pooh got in common?











Answer: the same middle name.


Saturday, 2 May 2015

Stereotypes, whatever they are

I slept very comfortably last night on the train when conductress finally relented and found me a carriage to myself. St Petersburg is cold and grey and I am glad of my Nigel Farage overcoat. The fedora protected me from the rain in Red Sq last night. I wonder if this station is the Finland station. No jokes about Lenin. Keep your head down.

In Moscow I visited a British diplomat friend. His ten year old daughter came home from school while we drank tea, he asked her what she had studied in school and she answered 'Stereotypes'. I don't know what stereotypes are exactly but I know indoctrinating schoolchildren against them is bad news. 


Oddly enough, children have not been taught catechism for two generations and are no longer taught Christianity, except in the context of comparative religion.

In fact children are being taught a new religion, called human rights, though these rights are not the same as freedom and in many cases diametrically opposed to freedom. They are being taught the rebuttable assumption that equality is a good idea when it is usually a very dangerous idea indeed.

I imagine the idea of stereotypes is an attack on socially conservative ideas. I would have enjoyed kicking against these ideas were I at school or university but young people tell me it is best to keep your head down and pretend to accept them. 

Racism is unpleasant but antiracism is responsible for many evils. It is essentially a quasi-religious phenomenon, a specifically Protestant one, a mutation of puritanism crossbred with Marxism, a left wing movement disguised as simple decency, essentially irrational.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Romanians are fairly happy

A recent survey shows that Romanians are about mid way in world happiness rankings. Details here.

They are certainly much happier than Hungarians or most Slavs.I am not convinced Scandinavians are necessarily very happy but their culture (it's their culture, innit?) tends to make them say they are when asked.