Thursday, 30 July 2015

The social media mob loves the hunt as much as Cecil's killer

People who are angry with the dentist who shot the lion think they are being compassionate and don't realise that in many cases they are consumed with hatred. Hatred is an interesting emotion which can be very deceptive, Pacifists, vegetarians, people who are concerned about animals and progressives are prone to hate without knowing it. 


Eighty or ninety years ago, Great White Hunters were heroic figures. Hunting or killing animals that are no threat absolutely does not appeal to me - unlike hunting foxes which is part of the English tradition and very useful but I wasn't aware that things had changed so much until this palaver about Cecil. I thought hunting lions was normal. And in fact it is. They are not a protected species and are killed all the time for sport.

But attitudes change and that's fine.

There is more kindness nowadays towards animals and in general than there used to be and this is good, but also a sense which is very worrying that the difference between man and beast is not absolute.

I feel very sorry for the man who shot Cecil. The internet is alive with whoops of delight from people who say his dental practice will disappear, has disappeared. Mia Farrow, the actress, has posted his address in Twitter and one can imagine him being killed by some American crazy.

The anti-hunters love the hunt as much as the big game hunters but they prefer hunting men not beasts.


Hemingway said, “There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.”

That's what the mob on the internet thinks.

I remember reading an Edwardian travel book about South America which referred to rumours that men, 'natives' or Indians of course, had been hunted on occasion instead of wild game. Murder as big game hunting. The book said these rumours were unsubstantiated, but I wanted to know more.

I hope it did not happen. But no-one can ever know.


There is an idea for a book or more probably a film here. Something like Heart of Darkness.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Dogs


The more I see of men, the more I admire dogs.
Marquise de Sevigne
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.
Mark Twain
The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.
Andy Rooney 

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
Groucho Marx 




So what about Cecil?


The anguish all over the social media about Cecil, the popular lion who was shot dead in Zimbabwe with a bow and arrow by a dentist from Minnesota.

It is a non-story which soft hearted soft headed people care a lot about. And it is the silly season. Even so it seems inane. Had this dentist killed a dog would that be as bad? A fox?
Scratch people who are very concerned about animals, like Cecil the lion who was shot dead, and you often find people who don't like people. Hunting lions is permitted and so very many human beings are killed each day, so why the commotion over a lion?
So many people in Zimbabwe live in terrible circumstances, as they do throughout the world, even in Belgrave Square. Zimbabwe, by the way, has the 20th highest murder rate of the 190-odd countries in the world.
I suppose it's because animals are not self-conscious that many prefer them to men. That's the difference - animals, like children, have not eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

What is very important about this story - and oddly enough it is important - is not the death of a lion, painful and illegal though it was but the savage persecution of this man by the mob.This is not just about social media but about the way a mob mentality unthinkingly persecutes. As A.J. Balfour said, society is always persecuting but social media make it very easy to ruin people's lives. Every man his own tabloid newspaper.

In the 1970s and 80s most of the big game in the national parks in Mozambique was shot and eaten. This doesn't outrage me. War, hunger and communism were to blame. Everyone talks about apartheid, never about the suffering wrought by communists in Africa, which was much greater.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Paul Gottfried on U.S. presidents

Professor Paul Gottfried, the contrarian American political thinker, interests me.

He said that, unlike England, with its essentially medieval social structure, America was made by 
Protestant sectarians who neither had nor desired a medieval past and whose descendants have turned into celebrants of progress, commerce and human rights.
He thinks American historians skew their works to favour of modern political agendas. In The Managerial President he notes that 
All the major conflicts into which our leaders thrust us from the Civil War on, with the possible exception of Vietnam, are seen as morally desirable actions. … The U.S. is a land of morally driven, energetic presidents who have made us into the envy and dread of the world.
For such historians Lincoln is their great hero. Naturally they also like Franklin Roosevelt. This is the thinking that led to George W. Bush’s presidency and to Mr Obama’s domestic policy though not his foreign policy.

I have always liked Americans and admired very much about them - they are our children and their role in the world has been a very benign one on balance, but I have never liked American culture and Paul Gottfried explains to me why. 
 Progress, commerce and human rights depress him and depress me. Human rights used to be fine when they meant freedoms, the things protected in the first ten amendments of the U.S. constitution, but nowadays they are largely about restrictions on freedom. Age discrimination, forsooth!

For me, a sense of the past rooted in the middle ages or the ancient world are what makes daily life beautiful. Even in a country like Romania, where I live, which does not have old institutions or many old buildings and did not exist as a state till the 1860s. The absence of a tradition, the absence of a church, the absence of conservatism in the European sense and the absence of anything much to conserve make it very hard for me to love America. But I do love Frank Capra films and Garrison Keillor and the novels of Raymond Chandler.

Paul Gottfried also believes that America, which dominated Europe after 1945 from the military, economic and cultural points of view after 1945, gave Europe in the 1960s the idea that multiracial societies are good. If true it's odd since in the 1940s America was utterly white supremacist.

Professor Gottfried is a small government man. I don't know which side he prefers in the civil war but it seems to me that the USA stopped being a republic with very diffuse power with Lincoln.

Progressives admire Lincoln and think America's intervention in Vietnam was wrong, but the Northern states had a weak casus belli and could and should have avoided war, whereas South Vietnam was fighting something absolutely evil and was fighting in self-defence. But historians are like women. They are attracted to power and success. Had the Third Reich defeated Stalin and made peace with the USA and the UK, American and British universities would have had many fascist academics and very few Marxists.


Monday, 20 July 2015

Who were the worst US Presidents? George W Bush, Lincoln, Wilson. Washington if you are British. Were there (m)any good ones?

I remember back in my first term at Cambridge studying US history noticing that American history unlike British history is largely mythic. We see this especially with Washington, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, FDR etc

The Second Iraq War has cast new light on the Civil War. There are many parallels between Lincoln and the younger Bush. Both launched unnecessary and from a legal point of view probably unjust wars that overturned the local elites and social structures of the conquered peoples, with disastrous short-term and long-term consequences. By his foolish over-reaction to the September 11th murders Bush handed the islamists an unimaginable victory. 
Lincoln and Grant are responsible for 100 years of racial disharmony in the South and a race problem that has still not been solved. Though had Lincoln lived he might have been much more conciliatory than the Republican zealots.

If only Lincoln had not won in 1860 but someone else - maybe poor, decent Buchanan - war would not have happened. Not for a while, at least. Buchanan said the Union had no right to prevent secession by force. I think he was right. In any case his view would have saved 800,000 lives.

Washington and his cronies, of course, were responsible for another unjust, unnecessary war. 

FDR I have to be grateful to, I know, as an Englishman but I don't like his domestic policy. Thank God he lived to start his fourth term and the world thus escaped President Henry A. Wallace. 

I believe people should submit to lawful governments, so I do not think the 1776 rebellion is justified, especially as George III's government was a benign one. I sympathise with the good, patriotic people who died or were ethnically cleansed because they were loyal to their King. 

Why do I not therefore think the South should have obeyed the federal government? Simple. Because how can a government that derives its legitimacy from a revolution in 1776 and the pooling of sovereignty between sovereign states then insist that as a legitimate government it is entitled to stop those states seceding. The constitution says nothing on the matter, which means, I think, that the states had not give away their essential right to join or leave but even if I do not persuade you of this, why wage a war to stop the Southern states leaving. As Gladstone said the Confederacy was 
a nation rightly struggling to be free.
I am a monarchist, a throne and altar man, an admirer of Clarendon and Metternich, a conservative in short. But, most of all, I think war needs a strong justification. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that Lincoln WAS justified in making war on the South. Very well but how much infinitely more admirable he would be had he given them the right of self determination. If Americans disagree with me why do they approve of European countries giving their colonies independence?


Who were best? Truman was good, though I have never decided whether the Cold War was necessary. George Kernan opposed it for good reasons. Dr Tim Stanley thinks Calvin Coolidge was the best president ever. Dr. Ivan Eland thinks John Tyler was.

It's worth reading Dr. Ivan Eland's criteria for presidents. He's thinks John Tyler was the best. Eland has amassed a presidential ranking system that rewards such qualities as:
commitment to small government; 

faith in a limited role for the executive branch; 

ability to avoid war; 

yielding power to Congress.

I wonder if, apart from Truman and possibly Theodore Roosevelt and maybe Jefferson, there might not have been any, at least not by the standards of English Prime Ministers. There's no one to compare with the Pitts, Canning, Palmerston, Disraeli, Gladstone or Lloyd George. Wellington was not as good a political leader as Eisenhower, it's true, but no one pretends Wellington was much of  a statesman. Gladstone infinitely excels the wretched Wilson, who kept his bust on his desk. I suppose, if you are a socialist, Lyndon B Johnson is a great president.

All Americans are liberals in a very important sense. The Declaration of Independence is a very un-conservative, very Whiggish document. Republics, as opposed to monarchies, are liberal and so is the ridiculous idea that all men are equal. Goldwater and Reagan were right-wing liberals, Mrs. Clinton is a left-wing one. Most presidents were also liberal and idealistic in foreign policy, including Ronald Reagan, although Nixon and the elder Bush were in foreign policy terms conservatives. But George W Bush, egged on by the neo-cons, ex-Marxists who never had a conservative bone in their bodies, was a consummate liberal in his idealistic, un-pragmatic foreign policy. He was very much the illegitimate son of the very disastrous Wilson.

Wilson's legacy was the disintegration of Austria Hungary, innumerable ethnic conflicts and the Second World War. Reader, if you seek George W. Bush's monument, look around you.

One more thing. It was George W Bush's talk about 'the Axis of Evil' (Iraq, Iran and North Korea) that led North Korea to get the bomb. 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The three worst US Presidents of all time

I often heard that Grant was the worst US President, or Buchanan or Andrew Johnson or Harding but none of these were the worst. The worst was George W Bush, very closely followed by Abraham Lincoln, closely followed by Wilson.

Bush squandered the US's moment as global hegemon, began a seemingly endless war in the Middle East and, by over-reacting, turned the September 11th murders into a triumph for the Islamists. Lincoln made war on his own people for the offence of wanting national self-determination. His legacy was an America embittered on geographical lines for a century and on racial lines till this day. Wilson's dire legacy is the break-up of Austria Hungary and the Second World War, though, to be fair, the latter would probably have happened even without his help.

Some old-fashioned people consider Hoover the worst, but in fact Hoover was better than but rather similar to Franklin Roosevelt, whom people rate very highly, or used to.

Hoover was not a laissez faire man like Coolidge. He effectively started the New Deal. Rexford Tugwell who helped invent the New Deal said: 
“We didn’t admit it at the time, but practically the whole New Deal was extrapolated from programs that Hoover started.” 
On the other hand, I doubt whether the New Deal under FDR was effective. Under FDR, unemployment averaged  18 % from 1933 to 1940. The policies of the British government during the depression, once considered a by-word in myopia, are now thought to have been more effective.

Someone recently said Tyler was the best. Perhaps. Though if I were Texan I would regret the annexation of Texas. As a free country Texas could have avoided the Civil War and avoid an awful lot of things that the North forced on the South from 1860 till the present day. But this was not a possibility, unfortunately for the Texans. Texas was broke by the time Tyler annexed it.

Truman was good but to rate him one has to decide whether he was right to wage the Cold War against Stalin and keep American troops in Europe. I have always been grateful for the troops but never sure the Cold War was necessary.


Hoover’s history of his times was published only fairly recently and blames FDR for much from prolonging the depression to Pearl Harbor and war with Germany. One of the very few reviews it got is here.


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

226 years today since the fall of the Bastille

It’s 226 years today since the fall of the Bastille. By the time it 'fell' the Bastille had not been a political prison for years, but a sort of old people's home and lunatic asylum for a very small number of well-connected old and mentally ill people. The decision had already been taken to close down the Bastille to save costs. 

His relatives had placed the Marquis de Sade there but he was taken away ten days before the attack, by which time the Bastille housed seven old men (who were very disturbed by the events of July 14), four forgers, two lunatics and the Comte de Solages, who had committed incest and was placed there at his family's request. After the fall of the Bastille the forgers were free and the others were homeless. 

These things are a parable for progressive politics.

The Marquis De Sade helped cause the fall of the Bastille in that he shouted out from his chamber to demonstrators outside, using an improvised megaphone
'They are killing people in here!'
about 10 days before the storming and before he was moved out of the Bastille. This was a complete lie (De Sade was considered mad), but it got the crowd stirred up and from that day on there was a countdown to the eventual violent storming of the building on July 14th.

Alex Woodcock-Clarke explains De Sade's role in the revolution.


His atheism is one reason that a later class of French intellectuals led by symbolist poet (and pornographer) Guillaume Apollinaire resurrected his writings in the early 1900s. Another reason was de Sade’s ideas about political and, above all, personal freedom. A brief scan of his social works reveals that he was most ardent for man’s freedom to do whatever his nature inclined, even if that includes a little rape and torture, which puts him in the same class as political thinkers like Charles Manson. He was most coherent in his arguments against the imprisonment of for law-breakers, not surprising for a sex criminal who spent twenty-seven years in various jails and asylums.

His spells in behind bars in no way make him a martyr. Life in a royal prison for a nobleman was not too strenuous. He had his own food sent in and his own clothes. His correspondence to his long-suffering wife consists mostly of demands for money so that he can attend dinner soirees hosted by other prisoners. Not only was he allowed to write what he liked but, on July 2, 1789, he somehow got hold of a megaphone, and spent a happy afternoon shouting "They are cutting the throats of the prisoners here!" through the window of his cell in the Bastille, This inflamed the brooding Parisian crowd so much that a few days later, a huge mob stormed the fortress, marking the beginning of the French Revolution.  

De Sade would have been sorry to miss the fun. He had been transferred to the insane asylum at Charenton where he was permitted to stage his own plays using the inmates as actors. This was hardly a high security institution since, boring of the place in 1790, he waddled to the gates (he had grown morbidly obese on a diet of rich prison food), announced “I am the Marquis De Sade” and released himself on his own recognisances. When he was eventually brought back to Charenton, after a brief career as a Revolutionary Tribunal jurist dishing out death sentences galore, he was allowed to bring a 12-year old mistress with him who, perversely, was not allowed to leave until his death in 1814.

Actually, the Bastille was not really "stormed" - the Governor was promised safe conduct for himself and the guards if he surrendered the arms stored in the place (the real reason the mob had been manipulated to go there). When he came out he was instead brutally murdered.


Today progressives celebrate this murder, along with the hundreds of thousands of murders (mostly in rural France) that they went on to commit. Lenin of course modelled the Russian Bolshevik revolution on the French one.

From the French Revolution a line runs to the Bolshevik revolution. Alexander Solzhenitsyn makes the point.
The French Revolution unfolded under the banner of a self-contradictory and unrealisable slogan, "liberty, equality, fraternity." But in the life of society, liberty, and equality are mutually exclusive, even hostile concepts. Liberty, by its very nature, undermines social equality, and equality suppresses liberty--for how else could it be attained?

Monday, 13 July 2015

53rd anniversary of Macmillan's Night of the Long Knives

It’s fifty-three years today since Harold Macmillan’s Night of the Long Knives, when Macmillan dismissed a third of his cabinet.

Lord Kilmuir, the Lord Chancellor, who heard about his dismissal on the wireless, told the Prime Minister, 
'You have given me less notice than I would a housekeeper' 
to which Harold Macmillan answered,
'But good housekeepers are so hard to find.'
Brutal. 

Jeremy Thorpe famously observed that
'Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his friends for his life.'
Jeremy Thorpe was to have experience in sacrificing friends' lives for his own political career, or trying to do so. Thorpe found he was a lot more brutal than Supermac.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Seven conservative principles and the tragic view of life

The common principles of the early Conservatives of Western Europe (roughly, from Burke to Donoso Cortes) listed by Robert Nisbet in his foreword to “The Works of Joseph de Maistre” (Schocken, 1971). 

1. God and the divine order, not the natural order, must be the starting point of any understanding of society and history. 

2. Society, not the individual, is the subject of the true science of man. 

3. Tradition, not pure reason, is the only possible approach to reform of government and society. 

4. Organism, not social contract, is the true image of social reality. 

5. The groups and associations of society, not the abstracted individual, are the true seats of human morality – and also of human identity. 

6. True authority springs directly from God and is distributed normally among a plurality of institutions – church, guild, social class, and family, as well as political state. 

7. A tragic view of man and history is required, one that sees the recurrence of evil and disaster in human affairs, not the kind of linear progress assumed by the Enlightenment.

I love dingy Constanta very much

I spent the dog days sitting happily on the terrace of the Palace Hotel, Constanta, where I may continue to work on Monday or until affairs that can’t be conducted by telephone or internet require my presence in Bucharest. I always like to stay at the oldest hotel in town and rejoice when they are small and friendly and cheap. The Palace is wonderful, built 1914 when Europe was still civilised and a lift takes me from my bedroom to the port. I regret the chi chi little bars and restaurants on the 'port turistic' but they are practical, unlike the shabby slumminess that I used to like. 

A snobby Romanian-American woman friend expressed horror that I could enjoy being alone for days or stay at a hotel that only costs EUR33  a night, including (a splendid) bedroom. Gosh how far the leu has fallen recently. Actually the hotel is probably the nicest on the Romanian coast. It feels like a good hotel should - has an internal courtyard, high- ceilinged bedrooms and a terrace overlooking the sea. It is full of nice families, nice people (snobbish people go to more expensive places, unimaginative people avoid Constanta for places with more beach and less town). There are thankfully very few children but those there are make the place feel like an Edwardian novel. Seaside holidays are always Edwardian but here more so than elsewhere.

I first came to Constanta in 1999 and felt it belonged to a black and white film - you expect to see Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet playing backgammon outside a shop. But it is only sixteen years later that I finally am smitten. And it's not because of the tarted up restaurants and bars on the port. It's not because of the beach which I haven't visited nor the National Archaeological Museum - ditto, alas. It's the dusty tree-lined broken streets. Exactly the Balkan dingy disreputable charm I seek in Durres, Burgas or Edirne but which is here two hours now by fast train from Bucharest.

Why I like it so much more may be because in 1999 I thought of 1880s buildings as recent - my home town is full of them - and because I didn't yet know that much of the middle East feels a bit like this. I get into trouble with some Romanian friends by comparing Romania to the Arab world (it's to do with the Romanian formality and attitude towards power, mostly) fact I do so to persuade myself that Romania is the Near East, not really European. here in Constant though it does feel that Romania is the Middle East dream that it is France.

Here is what I wrote about Constanta after a a fleeting visit here last year.