THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

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The Red Star and the Swastika

I am struggling with the centenary of the Russian Revolution. London is awash with commemorative events and the iconography of socialism is everywhere. Most events, like the art exhibition at the Royal Academy, are thoughtful, measured and interesting. But it's weird to me that the dark symbols of Soviet violence carry no psychological threat for the educated, kindly people standing thoughtfully before them.

The swastika revolts all but a tiny, mad minority of Westerners. Even when we know it to be innocent, as when we see it in the millennia old Eastern religious context from which it was stolen, it evokes a tremor of dread before melting into awkward comedy. Yet the red star of communism is still just a star. And democratic Austria scarcely seems to notice that its national emblem has a hammer and a sickle even though they are now associated with the only human monsters worse than Austria's most famous son.


Nice young people wear T-shirts with CCCP, the Red Star or the leering face of a mass murdering Argentinian psychopath and only a very few of us think less of them for it. Yet we would all be rightly horrified if it were a swastika, an ϟϟ symbol or an Austrian psycho. In any other field our friends on the left would read into this a sign of some deep seated racism.

Milo Yiannopolous, currently nailed metaphorically to Liberty's cross, is the subject of all kinds of slanders but it made me smile to read he was a Nazi because he once wore an Iron Cross — a German (and of course a Christian) symbol. But then I recall reading attacks on Bryan Ferry because he once remarked that Nazi iconography was attractive.

Leni Riefenstahl's movies and Albert Speer's buildings and the mass parades and the flags - just amazing. Really beautiful.

Yes, those SS uniforms were admirably well-tailored. And yes, those attacks were probably written — without a hint of self-awareness — by people wearing Hugo Boss suits. And yes, Ferry whimpered a craven apology rather than be falsely branded evil  

So what is this perverse response to symbology telling us? Challenged, most leftists will accept Stalin or Mao was at least as wicked as Hitler. But whereas Hitler's wickedness speaks to them of the wickedness of his ideology, that of the other totalitarian gentry says nothing of theirs. Mao and Stalin are to Socialism apparently as ISIS is to Islam. They are radical socialism-ists, you might say. And so lefties keep on instinctively favouring the cinematic work of Eisenstein over Riefenstahl and smiling nostalgically rather than cringing before the naive agitprop posters of the Bolsheviks.

It all suggests to me the same barely-concealed truth as their fresh enthusiasm every time some barbarian emerges to promise a new and-this-time-genuine revolution. The socialism of the late Hugo Chavez is proving to have had just the same result as that of Lenin and Mao. It is already clear history will place him in the same ledger. His same old same old Marxism was as destructive as always of lives, prosperity and ethics. Yet the echoes of the enthusiasm of Red Brit notables for Chavez have not yet died down. The flush on their cheeks is a fading remainder of their joyful anticipation that this time, this time it will work. It's certainly not the blush of a shame they should feel but never will.

In their minds these people are as far away as it's possible to be from fascism. That's why they cry "fascist" or "Nazi" at everyone they hate. They are secure in their deluded belief that everyone between them and the horizon truly deserves the name. Their not-so-sneaking admiration for the symbols of the USSR tells us rather that they are fascism's near neighbours — emotionally, ideologically and in terms of their intellectual development.

Historically they are only accidental anti-fascists. Were it not for Hitler's stupidity the Third Reich and the Soviet Union would have ended the Second World War as they began it — as allies. Both socialists and fascists believe in the heroic superiority of the state over the individual. Both despise "bourgeois" ideas of freedom. Both believe that state force applied judiciously to the masses will forge them into New Men and Women. Both prefer violent mastery of an economy to the "disorder" of a free market.

We, the classical liberals, libertarians, free marketeers, Austrian School economists, even (on a good day) the old school Shire Tories are the opposites of fascism. And of communism too. National and International Socialisms, powered respectively by race hatred and class hatred are the heads and tails of the same sinister, despicable coin.

So, if all the Soviet imagery around London right now makes you as uncomfortable as would similar exhibitions of Nazi art and propaganda then you are my ethical brother or sister. If not, remind me not to leave you alone with anyone or anything I value.

Beautiful, but not for me...

GranCab091I was invited to the UK launch of the Maserati GranCabrio, the convertible version of the GranTurismo, the car I am lucky enough to drive. Recently launched at Frankfurt, the one extant example is now on a world tour in advance of the the model going on sale next April. It is, quite simply stunning - an object of intense desire. I would go so far as to say Modena never produced a more beautiful car. Sadly, I will never own one.

The main problem persuading Mrs P. to allow me to buy Vittoria was her 260 litres of luggage space. When we go on our Summer holidays, Mrs P. easily needs all that and I must settle for a small grab bag behind me. The GranCabrio is a full four seater but the space for the retracted soft top consumes 90 litres of the GranTurismo's luggage space. It has barely capacity for overnight luggage for two, let alone a fortnight's luggage for four. This is a design fault. "Claudia", my AMG Mercedes convertible lost no boot space to the soft-top when it was raised. Once the bags were safely at our holiday hotel the roof could be lowered. I cannot imagine why the undoubted design geniuses at Pininfarina did not copy that.

Still, the GranCabrio is an awesome car and immensely beautiful. I hope it sells well so that the world can be enriched by its undoubted charms. I will smile every time I see one, even it it's not for me. Here is a short video of the world's one copy being unveiled at the Belfry last night.

Difference and Similarity

Dreamstime_6091591 I am spending this week and next in Shanghai for my work, which pleases me greatly. It's only my third visit and the first where I have been able to stay a while. I have always been fascinated by China. This is a culture which has existed continuously for thousands of years.  I don't have any profound thoughts to offer today. Moving between an hotel and an office block in a central business district is no way to understand a civilisation. I have lived too much abroad to jump to any rapid and foolish conclusions.

My only observation so far is this. Why has our own - supposedly shallow - culture had such a powerful influence around the world? Take dress for example. The Chinese men in the streets of Shanghai are dressed exactly like their counterparts in the City of London. The women too - at least around the offices and shops of the city centre- wear "Western" dress, albeit (apart from the occasional power-dressed businesswoman or administrator) a rather girlish version.

Why? Western dress for men in particular, is boring. There is so little scope for colour or individuality (especially in a recession, when even tiny flamboyances are forbidden). Why did our choices prevail?

Smashing Pumpkins

She will not forgive me for posting this, but I am so filled with paternal pride at the younger Ms Paine's pumpkin carving that I had to show you. Before more traditional readers accuse us Paines of being un-English, let me explain that it all started when she was at an American School in Eastern Europe as a little girl. I had to carve them for her at first, but she soon surpassed me. I never even aspired to anything like this standard!


To bring it back to current affairs, do check out this site for political devotion expressed in the same field of endeavour. Pumpkin carvings are supposed to be scary, but in this case the thinking of the people carving them is much scarier. Can you imagine someone doing that for Gordon Brown or David Cameron?

Philippe Starck on designing a toilet brush

I can think of no better insight into what it is to be French; no better illustration of what it is to be civilised. And he's funny too. He says that he is not intelligent. He says he designs to prove he has a right to exist. But there is much here that is profound; expressed in a childishly open way without any apparent fear of seeming a fool.  If only the English could get over their pride and be this way more often.