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

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Conservative Renaissance Conference 2018 organised by .@ToryProgress

I am not sure how I ended up on the mailing list but I was invited to this event today so I went. Part of me wants the Conservative Party once more to fulfil the function it did in Margaret Thatcher's time – as a radical opponent of Big Government, dedicated to free markets, deregulation and privatisation. I encounter the occasional member from the libertarian wing like Dan Hannan or Syed Kamall and hope springs once more in my naive breast. I had met Kamall at a Libertarian Home meeting. I found him somewhat wanting ideologically, but the fact he showed up raised hopes. It was his name on the programme and that of David Campbell-Bannerman MEP that made me decide to risk wasting a Saturday that could have been spent on my pleasures. 

The name of the organising group – Conservative Progress – should have tipped me off. Progress is a good thing, just like being social. But organisations that use either word in their titles are usually to be avoided. This one was founded by two enthusiastic young politicos named Nabil Najjar and Luke Springthorpe and describes itself as follows:

We are a grassroots organisation founded by Conservative activists for Conservative activists. We host events that are relevant and engaging, and offer training that is beneficial to developing activists. We also promote and share good practice and offer a platform for the views of conservative minded political activists.

Most of the people at the conference were either pro-Brexit, or were Remainers who accepted the referendum result. The Soubry Faction was not in evidence. So the discussions around that issue were both illuminating and encouraging. Suella Braverman MP, Under Secretary of State at DEXEU, assured us that there is "a lot of unity" in Cabinet on Brexit and that the legal agreements to give effect to it are about 75% complete on terms that Parliament should be able to approve. She pointed out that if Parliament didn't, the only alternative would be a "no deal" Brexit. That would leave us dealing with the EU (as many countries successfully do) on WTO terms. 

Even more encouragingly, as he's not under Cabinet discipline, Campbell-Bannerman was just as optimistic. He said the EU has offered a free trade deal on better terms than with any other country and that we should simply accept it. He said the legal terms were "about 80% agreed". He was as relaxed as I am about a "no deal" exit but said that as a good "Canada++ free trade deal" was on the table, why not get it done? For me, accustomed to the views of the BBC and others longingly predicting the catastrophic outcome they desire and to those of Brexit bloggers fearful of betrayal, this was worth losing a few hours with my hobbies.

The rest of the speeches were less edifying. I was clearly not among the classical liberal elements of the Party. James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, for example remarked that "Conservatives would find it hard to accept" his idea of capping development land prices at, say, ten times their agricultural value. Damn right they would. Price controls are economic idiocy that lead to shortages, rationing, violent expropriation and corruption. No true Conservative would find it easy to accept such wickedness. But no-one in the hall seemed to share my concerns. 

The logic behind Mayor Palmer's dottily immoral idea was that, if the Party can't solve the problem of millennials not being able to afford to buy houses, they will be lost forever to Labour or the Liberal Democrats. So to hell with the economic principles that a true Conservative Party would exist to preserve. Let's instead be "pragmatists" (as I have remarked before, Tory code for "unprincipled shits") and bribe young voters. I tried frantically to intervene during questions but the young moderators preferred mostly to call upon people of their generation; often friends whose names they knew. So I did not have chance to point out that while Mayor James and his colleague from London were blaming development companies, land banking and (God help us) "capitalism" for the housing shortage, the solutions are in the hands of national and local government. 

Real estate is not really a free market anyway. If a piece of land is worth £x without a planning permission and £20x with one, then most of the value of a development site is within the gift of the planning authority. This is why real estate is the most corrupt area in most economies across the world. If a piece of paper issued by a modestly paid local official is worth more than land; for most of human history the most fundamental of all economic assets, then that official is – shall we say – always going to be treated very well. The only reason planning engenders less corruption in Britain than in the other countries where I have worked (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia and China) is because there is a legal presumption in favour of development that complies with published zoning plans and the appeals procedure is efficient. A bribe would get your project approved perhaps six months more quickly here and that time certainly has economic value. But usually not enough to risk gaol and disgrace. That, and not any moral superiority on our part, is what keeps us from the crookedness common elsewhere.

In London in particular the solution to the housing crisis is greater density. Our Capital City is far less densely built than, for example, Paris or Berlin. Where I live in Ealing, the world's first suburb originally spawned by the world's first metro - the District Line, one might almost be in a village judging by the terraced villas with their poxy little gardens and the grander homes interspersed amongst them. At the same distance from the Place de la Concorde as Ealing is from Trafalgar Square, you would be among high rises. Yet Ealing's planning policies forbid them and make even more modest multi-family housing more difficult to build. And the same Conservatives in Name Only who were blaming greedy development companies for pricing housing out of young hands campaigned on a slogan in the recent elections of "Keep Ealing low-rise." The other local politician on the panel understood this well enough to propose massive densification of public housing (occupied by Labour voters) but not for the private housing occupied by his own. How little like a true Conservative did he sound when proposing to build lots more council flats at subsidised rents mostly paid by welfare benefits to solve the housing crisis? I leave it to you to imagine.

Of course, to densify London would involve upgrading roads, sewers and utilities to support all the new residents (or the more widely dispersed millennials released from their squalid house shares). Yet when Labour has periodically set the economy ablaze and the voters have called in the Conservative Fire Brigade to quell the flames what has it done? Has it reduced the ranks of public servants doing pointless jobs? Has it reined in public spending and reduced taxes? Has it withdrawn from all the busy-bodying and prod-nosing begun by its Labour predecessors? No! It has usually just pushed back all the infrastructure projects the construction of which is one of the few valid jobs for government. Keep the "Diversity coordinators" and spend millions on "Public Health England" to nag us about our diets. But let the roads degenerate to Third World standards and let fatbergs block the Victorian sewers.

Even more terrifying than the support from Comrade Mayor Palmer was the wild enthusiasm for Penny Mordaunt MP, Secretary of State for International Development. Mordaunt is a great speaker and I tip her as a future PM. She had the room eating out of her hand by saying all the right things if you believe that the State can ever be an efficient and honest dispenser of largesse to the world's poor. If you believe that nonsense, however, you're not a true Conservative and should not really have been in the room, let alone cheering her on. She was all for clever targeting of aid; directing it to relieve pressures that might otherwise lead poor people to become economic migrants for example. But she was naively confident that, six months into her brief, her talent was such that all British aid was now finding its way to deserving recipients. This, despite the fact she admitted that on her first day her department could not account for where any of it had gone until then!

She began by talking about how generous Brits are in donating to development and poverty relief charities but then, like any Socialist would, set about conflating the generous nation with its ugly, nasty guard dog, the State. A true Conservative would stop taking money from poor people in rich countries to give to rich people in poor countries and would let taxpayers make their own choices about charities to support. Ms Mordaunt is no true Conservative in that respect and neither were any of the people in the audience judging by the rapturous applause her meretricious speech received. 

The "Blue Labour" jibe against the "Conservative" Party seems well justified on today's showing. The people I spent today with were well to the left of any Labour government to date. They were only "Conservative" by comparison to the current Labour leadership, but then by that comparison Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin could have joined us. My subscription is up for renewal and I can't imagine I will stay a member.


What is it about the Jews?

I never encountered anti-semitism until I went to work in Poland in 1992. I was a partner in a Jewish law firm, by which I mean it had been founded by Jewish lawyers and most of the partners were Jewish. I don't remember considering the matter when deciding to apply for a job and it didn't occur to me that it might feature in their decision to hire me. Clearly, it didn't as they didn't even ask.  My new boss sent his secretary to my office on my first day at work to ask if I would be free for a meeting on a certain date. I remember thinking that it was a dumb question as I had just arrived and my diary was empty. I went through the motions of checking and had my pen poised to write something in when she said, "No, that's fine. He'll get back to you." He didn't. When I mentioned to a Jewish colleague that I thought it was a puzzling episode he laughed and said "That's a holy day. He was checking." Even then it didn't occur to me that my faith, or lack of it, might affect my future career. It didn't. Within two years they offered me a partnership.

So I was surprised when a colleague in Warsaw told me that the general counsel of a Polish client kept asking him whether I was Jewish or not. "Why does he ask?" I said and my colleague told me that the guy was something of a Catholic Nationalist anti-semite and was probably unhappy that his company had hired us. "What shall I tell him?" he asked me and I said he should say he didn't know. "Let him wonder", I said. "Let any assholes to whom it matters wonder and if it matters enough for them not to hire us then screw them!"

Years later, I was invited, by a Jewish friend who had project managed the restoration, to the re-opening of a synagogue in Oświęcim (better known to the world by the name, Auschwitz, that it bore during its darkest days under German occupation). For the first time in my life I was wearing a yarmulke, handed to me by the Chief Rabbi of Poland, whose daughter was in the same class at school as Miss P the Elder. The event attracted international coverage and I apparently appeared on the television news as, at two metres / 6' 7" tall, I towered above the crowd. When I got to the office in Warsaw the next day, the colleague who had asked what to say to our anti-semitic client during my first month in Poland laughed. He said this had finally answered the question and that the office was buzzing. I was the office managing partner by this time and was rather shocked by the idea that there might be anti-semites in our own ranks. So I made a point of leaving my yarmulke on my desk as a kind of talisman to scare them away.

It was about this point that I came up with one of my jokes to use at Warsaw parties. "How does a Jew become Polish?" it went. "He wins the Nobel Prize." That's unfair to most modern, reasonable Poles, you understand, but satirises a tendency even for them to distinguish "Jews" from "Poles" when they mean to distinguish Jewish from Catholic Poles. If you ever want to wind up a less reasonable Pole, you might try mentioning the arguably Jewish heritage of their "Shakespeare", Adam Mickiewicz. How hard they defend him from such a "slur" is a jolly good litmus test of their anti-semitism.

I don't really get racism. I never did. It's fairly obvious that we are all Homo sapiens and that evolution has simply varied our skin tones to adapt to the intensity of the sunlight where our ancestors lived and ensure us paler people get our Vitamin D. Who could possibly care about that? Racism based on skin colour, however, at least addresses visible difference. It doesn't make sense but it's a stupidity the origins of which can at least be understood. Jews on the other hand are indistinguishable unless (as in the case of some Orthodox) they make a point of standing out. The one moment when I understood how anti-semitism might arise, occurred when I was celebrating a deal-closing in NYC at the offices of a famous Jewish real estate guy. We were drinking champagne out of paper cups and when I asked why they were cheaping-out on glassware I was told that the boss couldn't drink from a vessel that might previously have been used by a goy. That didn't make me anti-semitic you understand, but it did make me think "... these guys could use some PR".


Polish friends patiently explained to me, during various conversations over my decade+ living in their country, that Christianity, and specifically Catholicism, had created anti-semitism in Europe. I remember a colleague who had grown up in a backwards rural area of the country telling me that his own Catholic priest had ranted from the pulpit about "the killers of Christ". "But the Holocaust happened here!" I exclaimed, shocked, "... how could a post-war priest still be an anti-semite when the Church has denounced the idea?" He couldn't explain it and I still don't get it. Ideas persist despite evidence and experience to a very shocking extent. As witness the young Poles who are Social Justice Warriors today when their parents were inoculated against leftism by growing up amid its terrible consequences and their grandparents are mostly still there to tell them precisely what socialism was like. "Clogs to clogs in three generations" as Sir Keith Joseph told a young me when I said I was bothered by the idea of inherited wealth. "The hog cycle" as economists call it, when people fail to remember history.

So if a warped interpretation of Christianity is what gave us anti-semitism in Europe and if an accurate interpretation of the teachings of Mohammed is what brought it back by way of Muslim immigration, how come such a mind-bogglingly stupid idea is now most evident on the Left of British politics rather than on the Right? Marxists oblivious to the ethnicity of Marx and Trotsky? Atheists informed by religious medievalism, for goodness sake?

"But it's not about Judaism", they say, "it's about the State of Israel". The wrongs of the Holocaust, say those Momentum-ites who don't deny it, don't justify the misconduct of modern Jews in the Middle East. Fair enough. I am a supporter of Israel, for the good reason that it's the only democracy in the region and that its Arab citizens have the vote and equal civil rights. It's a tolerant place where dissent is permitted, gays are not thrown off roofs and apostasy (from any religion) is not a criminal offence. That kind of liberalism is rather unusual in the Middle East, to put it mildly. I also support Israel because of the thought experiment posed by one of my Israeli friends, an eminent lawyer who is also, as it happens, on the Left. "Disarm Israel's enemies" he said, "and you will have peace. Disarm Israel and you will have genocide." A cursory read of the Hamas Charter or a few minutes spent watching videos published by MEMRI suggests he is right. Nonetheless I would not suggest that Israel never does wrong. Nor, obviously, would I seek to prevent it from being criticised. 

How then to distinguish between being anti-Israel and anti-semitic? They clearly have the potential to be two different things, even if they do often seem to coincide in the same people. One of the wisest chaps I know (sadly not personally) Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks explained it like this. 

Not liking Jews is not antisemitism. We all have people we don’t like. That’s OK; that’s human; it isn’t dangerous. Second, criticizing Israel is not antisemitism. I was recently talking to some schoolchildren and they asked me: is criticizing Israel antisemitism? I said No and I explained the difference. I asked them: Do you believe you have a right to criticize the British government? They all put up their hands. Then I asked, Which of you believes that Britain has no right to exist? No one put up their hands. Now you know the difference, I said, and they all did.

The speech to the European Parliament in which he told that story can be viewed in full here.

Pace the good rabbi, if anti-semitism was "only about Jews" it would still matter.  Jews matter not because they are Jews, but because they are human. No different qualification is required. That anyone thinks a better qualification than being a human is required to enjoy particular human rights is precisely what is wrong with our society today. Every time someone speaks of "Gay Rights" or "Women's Rights" or "Black Rights" or "Muslim Rights" or uses the phrase "hate crimes" I am immediately on my guard. Such people are more than likely to be a threat to human rights in general.

Damn it, how often does this need to be said before tribalists stop blathering? The whole point of the post-Enlightenment West is that every individual matters, regardless of who they are. Not just anti-semitism but tribalism in general is the virus that, as Rabbi Sacks says, keeps mutating. The only valid reason to regard an individual as better or worse is, as Dr King famously said (but as the Left seems to have forgotten) "the content of his character." The only valid reason to treat an individual differently before the law is his or her conduct. Amen to that. 


Conversations: Featuring Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, Professor of Psychology, University of Toronto - John Anderson

 


Conversations: Featuring Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, Professor of Psychology, University of Toronto - John Anderson
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I cannot commend to you enough this video interview with Professor Jordan Peterson. I have long regretted losing my heroes, either as they fall from grace or as I acquired the cynicism (or is it wisdom?) that comes to all but fools as they age. It has been a long time since I acquired a new one. 

What is wonderful about Professor Peterson is that he does not engage in the grumpy denunciation of “the young” that so many of our generation fall into. On the contrary, he has found that they are hungry, nay starving for, the very virtues many deny they value.

It is our generation that warped their understanding of the world. We coddled them because we had few children and they were overly precious to us. We indoctrinated them with shallow, virtuous-sounding ideas, rather than schooling them in the actual virtues of our civilisation. We parented them, ludicrously, as if we had answered all the great questions and there were none for them to answer nor challenges for them them to face.

In Civilisation’s great relay race, we failed to pass the baton and cannot now complain that they run without it  

I have done enough for you today by introducing you to the video. Nothing I can say will improve upon his wisdom so waste no further time with me but spend a fruitful hour or so with him!


The poison in our civilisation's veins

Sympathy for the underdog is one of the most agreeable Anglosphere traits. I am prone to it myself; instinctively cheering on West Bromwich Albion or Stoke City against the likes of Manchester United. Fans of the Red Devils will bitterly tell you of the phenomenon known as "ABU" - Anyone But United, which is the same trait viewed from their perspective. It's logical then that we Brits should empathise with the downtrodden and – depending on our analysis of how they came to be underfoot – seek to right their perceived wrongs. 

Humans have always been too quick to analyse their problems in terms of perceived malice from "the other". For example, I grew up in t'North in a heady atmosphere of victimhood. There were plenty of logical reasons for the relative poverty of our post-industrial towns and cities. Many of them would simply never be built in modern circumstances. They are there for long-gone reasons but their communities, bound together by tribal loyalties, cling to them with ferocious sentimentality. It would amuse their ancestors who left rural poverty all over our islands during the Industrial Revolution to flock to opportunities in dark, Satanic mills. To seek betterment elsewhere, as their ancestors did and as I could not wait to do, is perceived as defecting to the enemy. Better to live on, more or less supported (as their plucky ancestors never were) by a Welfare State that subsidises such wilful victimhood.

Even after I had left, it took me years to shake off those ideas. At University my law tutors urged me to apply to the major London firms but I declined, having grown up with the ridiculous but unchallenged view that our capital city was a nest of predators living idly on the sweat of honest working folk. The flip-side ABU-equivalent is the way that London football fans sneer-chant at provincial supporters "We pay your benefits". Now that I live in "that London" I have also heard Londoners claim victim-status themselves, bemoaning the high cost of living (particularly housing) and claiming that the capital is the only city on these islands to make a positive net contribution to HM Treasury. 

Humans are tribal. If a language is really old, like Chinese or the tongues of the Native American tribes, the word for ones own people is "human" and the words for other peoples are derogatory – "foreign devil" or the like. The names we use for the Plains Indian tribes are given by their enemies because their own names would all translate to the same word. More recently, even "Wales" and "Welsh", the English names for the place I was born and the people among whom I was raised, are from the Anglo-Saxon for "foreigner". I would argue that where things have begun to go wrong in the West is that tribalism and victimhood have converged and an identity arms race encouraged by the anti-discrimination lobby has set all the "tribes" against  each other.

This, I would suggest, is what the present furore about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, the scandal about statutory rapes in Telford, the murder of an elderly Jewish lady in Paris, the emergence of the Alt-Right, Black Lives Matter and AntiFa have in common. In their game of "victimhood trumps" various would-be underdogs have both strengthened their own tribal bonds and awoken the tribalism of others.

It's dangerous to enjoy the sight of the Labour Party – home of cynical grievance-mongers for decades – hoist by its own petard over anti-Semitism. It's perilous to succumb to anger over the way that Leftist political correctness has thrown thousands of white girls in Telford or Rotherham to the wolves for fear of the juju word "Racist".  Lives are being lost (and many more lives degraded) in the United States as the uncontroversial assertions that "Black Lives Matter" and "All lives matter" are used as tribal battle cries. The Alt-Right's so-called "fascism" would evoke snorts of derision from history's real Fascists, as it amounts to White people lamely joining the destructive game of identity politics.

When growing up in Wales I once told a fanatical Welsh Nationalist that if he really had nothing better to be proud of than his ethnic roots, he should  take up macramé so as to have an actual skill to take pride in. I felt free to mock his parochial obsessions because I could never imagine him presenting a threat but that kind of thing is more dangerous now. At one of my first partners meetings at a law firm in London where most of my partners were Jewish, I was surprised when one said we had no chance of winning a bid for some work because of anti-semitism. I told him, truthfully, that I had never heard an anti-semitic remark in my life and doubted the thought would even cross the potential client's mind.

That anti-semitism is back in Britain, as it clearly now is, is due to the Labour Party's attempts to use identity politics to build its own base. Rejecting (or rather rejected by) its traditional base, Labour has sought to put together a coalition of victims, including – though socially and economically there is no more "conservative" group around – British Muslims. To do so it has become uniformly pro-"Palestinian" and anti-Israel and thus attracted into its midst many members reared with a hatred of Jews as unchallenged as my early hatred of "the South".

I reject the Alt-Right because fighting fire with fire just doesn't work. The answer to the poisonous ideas of identity politics is not to join in. It's to reject them for what they are– inimical to the best values of Western Civilisation. Our highest value is the Rule of Law – a much misunderstood phrase, particularly on the Continent where it's often used to mean "shut up and do as you are told or we'll set the police on you". The best way to explain it is in the resonant phrase – "Be you never so high, the Law is above you".  Your social status, your ethnicity, your family background, your education, your political power and your wealth are all irrelevant to the Law, in the august presence of which we are all (as we are not in any other context) equal. When you say your favourite class of "victim" deserves special protection from the Law, you are shattering the only important equality – the one on which our civilisation is built. We in the West have done that repeatedly and with the terrible consequences that are now emerging as we have sought to signal our virtue by "protecting" various underdogs. 

The Labour Party will not extricate itself from its present mess by re-ordering the hierarchy of victim-groups. I hope and believe that was not what the British Jews protesting yesterday were asking for. Nor by classifying her murder as an anti-Semitic hate crime will we bring back to life the murdered Parisienne or protect future such victims. We can all only emerge from this destructive and hateful shambles by restoring equality before the law and abandoning the damaging notions of identity politics in general and "hate crime" in particular.

Human progress is driven by free competition of ideas. It is hindered by the sort of tribalism that means you must know someones race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender before you can evaluate the credibility of their ideas, their rights to express them or the correct punishment for someone who hurts them.


An unexpected encounter with a monster

I went to a series of talks on Sunday at Birkbeck College. They are part of the Weekend University programme established by Niall McKeever — an excellent initiative that I commend to you. They were about the psychology of behaviour change and I thought they might help me in my quest to establish healthier habits as I seek to address my long standing weight problem.

I did glean some useful ideas but one price I paid was to sit, horrified, through the presentation of Dr Paul Chadwick of the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change. I don’t doubt the quality or value of Dr Chadwick’s research. He seemed very intelligent and competent. I am sure as a clinical psychologist he can be very effective in helping people who want to change their behaviours. But from his anecdotes it seemed that CBC’s main focus is on assisting government agencies such as Public Health England and the NHS in changing behaviours non-consensually.

I listened aghast as he spoke at length about what “we” need to do to change the behaviour of the stubborn “people” who are so stupidly resistant to doing “the right thing”. Who, I wanted to ask, is included in this “we” of whom you speak? All I could tell from his smug, arrogant, flippant demeanour is that it was emphatically *not* the addition of me or anyone I care about that makes it the first person plural. As for this mysterious “we’s” right to determine “the right thing”, that was a given; something his fine mind never apparently questioned — not even when a programme of behaviour change (for example the government’s “Sure Start” policy) turned out to have unintended results.

The truly scary thing to a classical liberal like me is just what a nice chap he seemed to be. I don’t doubt his good intentions or his good humour. If he were my son, I would be proud of him. Which raises the terrifying question; just how far has our society slipped that a clever young man like him, full of scientific rigour and desire to make a better world, only addresses moral questions accidentally? He did address the question of volition but only in terms of avoiding a “backlash” (his word) if measures had not been the subject of “consultations” (in the formal public sector sense) with “stakeholders”.

He doesn’t mean to be a monster and I don’t want to see him as one, but in his presence my blood ran cold. I was afraid of him. I was even more afraid of the way the earnest folk in the room laughed as he joked about the unintended consequences of various programmes to clean up the act of the idiotic, self-destructive great unwashed, I realised that I might be the only one there who included himself in the category of “the people” to be shaped as opposed to the smug elite doing the shaping.

No one seemed remotely concerned for the freedoms of those on the receiving end of Dr Chadwick’s mind bending, “nudging” and manipulation — the benighted mugs who ultimately pay to have such well-shod professionals sneer about them behind their backs.


Of Left and Right, Reason and Faith

 

Left and Right are not useful labels any more, if they ever were. They don't even mean the same things everywhere. I am “right wing” (I would just say right) when it comes to economics but a liberal in social respects. For example I literally do not care who does what to whom sexually as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult and I am left out of it unless I choose otherwise.

 

I would have tried to dissuade a partner from aborting our child had the case arisen. If she’d insisted I doubt I would have ever been able to get over it — or stay with her. Yet to avoid criminalising women and / or driving them into the hands of backstreet charlatans, I would not legislate on the subject. I would leave it to their consciences. In my heart I am pro life. In my head I accept a woman's right to choose. Am I left or right? No answer to that question will inform our discussion so why ask it? 

 

On Continental Europe and in America there is a "religious right". I have no truck with that. Many Continental friends quite wrongly think themselves leftists because neither do they. Their calling themselves leftists tells us nothing useful about them. 

 

I am a reluctant atheist who would love there to be a just God. If there is I am damn sure He has all necessary tools at His disposal to smite or forgive sinners as He sees fit. It's a blasphemous insult to offer Him the puny help of Parliament, Congress, National Assembly, Duma, Sejm or Bundestag. He would find it hilarious I suspect. But then if He’s not laughing at His various churches generally, He’s not the superior Being of my imaginings. 

 

A legal system to my taste would therefore have literally nothing to say about marriage, abortion or sexuality in general. If it's a sin, brother and sister, the Lord will deal with it. All we can do is try to follow His will and hope He understands our choices. Dear fellow atheists, you should have enough principle in you to allow believers to follow their Lord as best they can without interference from a state many of you are currently urging on like a bully's lickspittles.  

 

For religious and non religious alike marriage is principally an agreement between adults as to how to live together and raise children. Nothing could be more private and so it should be left to them. If they're religious then their God will be the third party to their agreement. He needs neither legislator to set the terms nor lawyer to litigate them. The law need only specify the minimum responsibility of parents to the children born into the contract without their consent. Everyone but the child is — after all — a volunteer. 

 

In truth I think very few things are the legitimate business of the state. That's lucky because the state is a flawed human institution almost inevitably staffed by the least appropriate people — the ones attracted to lording it over their fellow humans while living at their expense. A drooling idiot is likely more often to do the right thing than a government agent. 

 

I express it colourfully but in essence that used also to be the stance of the Conservative Party in Britain. Back in my student politician canvassing days I remember a Tory MP, when asked whose permission a constituent should ask to fell a tree in his garden, replying "It's your bloody land you fool. Do as you damn well please". The question itself was in his view the pathetic weakness of a submissive serf. 

 

By those robust yeoman standards the party led by Mrs May is not worthy of its name. Few Conservative Parties in the West now are. If you think tax avoidance “costs” Society, then you believe all wealth belongs in truth to the State and the individual is just its creature. If you think it’s a good idea to take money by force from those (based on past performance) most likely to generate more wealth and give it to those (ditto) least likely then you are a Socialist — an adherent of the most comprehensively tested and unquestionably failed idea in human history — wherever you place your X on Election Day. That goes for you, Prime Minister. 


The post truth era began long ago

If I have blogged very little of late, at least on political topics, there are two reasons. Firstly I have been toiling through a very difficult book, which I wish I had read years ago. It explains so much of what I have written in the past — while often tediously bemoaning my incomprehension of the phenomena I was addressing — that I was afraid to write more without finishing it. Secondly, the task I have been attempting for so many years is now being performed more effectively, successfully (and to an audience of millions) by new arrivals on the scene. When the points I was trying to make were generally not being discussed, it made sense to light my small candle, rather than curse the darkness. Now these new guys have lit their arc lights and are turning them on the enemies of Reason and Liberty, not so much.

One of those new guys, Professor Jordan Peterson, recommended his readers to the book I mentioned. It is Explaining Postmodernism by Stephen Hicks and it does what it says on the cover. I commend it to you. It’s hard going because, well, it’s a philosophy book but it’s worth the effort even if (as it has for me) it consumes weeks of your life. There is a unifying, nihilistic philosophy underlying many of the things that so annoy you and me about modern thought. It has respectable intellectual antecedents going back to Rousseau and Kant.

Much as the Liberty-minded blogosphere might like to point fingers at Common Purpose etc. (and much as that and other similar organisations are informed by Postmodernist thought) the truth is we don’t need a conspiracy theory to understand how so much of academia has been lost to Reason and even to Virtue. There is a rational explanation for the unreason, nay anti-Reason of most professors in the Social "Sciences" and many in the Humanities.

To quote an elegant review of the book by Gary Jason of the Philosophy Department at California State University; 

Hicks begins by sketching out in broad terms what modernism is. Modernism is the worldview produced by the Enlightenment over the last four centuries. Roughly characterized, modernism involves naturalism in metaphysics, with the confidence that modern science is capable of, and is actually succeeding in, giving us an understanding of the physical universe. Modernism involves what he calls objectivism in epistemology, meaning the view that experience and reason are capable of gaining real knowledge, although modernist philosophers have hotly contested the specifics of this (with Rationalism, Empiricism, and Pragmatism being the most historically active epistemological schools). Modernism involves individualism in ethics, and a commitment to human rights, religious toleration, and democracy in political theory. Modernism also involves the acceptance of free-market economics and the technological revolution that it has spawned. In sum, modernism is the mindset that is common to the West, the laborious product of many great minds – Bacon, Locke, Descartes, Smith, Hobbes, Spinoza, Galileo, Newton, and Hume, among others. Most of us view this as a considerable leap forward from the medieval period of supernaturalism, mysticism, excessive reliance on faith, and feudalist political and economic systems.

In the last 50 years or so, however, a group of thinkers have set themselves in opposition to the whole Enlightenment project. These soi-disant postmodernists reject the Enlightenment root and branch. Chief among the postmodern thinkers are Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean-Francois Lyotard and (amazingly, an American) Richard Rorty. These thinkers, together with a host of smaller fry... , have developed a large following in the humanities – especially literature, less so in philosophy – and in the social sciences. They have developed virtually no following in science, math, computer science, and engineering... The postmodern mindset views the whole Enlightenment project as a failure. The po-mo view is metaphysically anti-realist and anti-naturalist, holding that the physical universe is not ultimately describable in final terms. It is socially subjectivist in epistemology, holding that the "world" is what we socially construct, and each "group" (racial, gender, linguistic, ethnic, national or what have you) constructs the world according to its group identity. Postmodernists are egalitarian and collectivist in matters ethical and political. (If there are any postmodern libertarians or conservatives, I have yet to hear of them)

I am relieved to have an explanation but humbled by its complexity. The book gives my ideological pain a rational framework just as my elementary readings in economics since I retired have given me a vocabulary for the real life phenomena I experienced at work. In both respects, I’m a little wiser perhaps but no better. And no more effective neither. 

Which is why, exhausted and humbled as I am (and as no Po-Mo true believer will ever be) by my efforts at understanding, I am happy to direct my few, but much esteemed by me, readers to the ongoing work of Professor Peterson and the unconnected populist polemicist Milo Yiannopolous. Professor Peterson is bringing both courage and academic rigour to the defence of the West against Po-Mo, while Milo is a kind of court jester who draws attention very effectively to the insanity of its activists; going so far as to provoke them into displays that will discredit them in the eyes of most people. Milo and the Professor have little in common but their enemies, who are wildly denouncing both of them in Po-Mo's characteristic hysterical terms. And, perhaps, their religious belief.

That's ironic as the respectable 18th Century roots of Po-Mo thinking lie in the over-reaction of the religious to the perceived threat to religion of such writers of the Age of Reason as my hero Tom Paine. Rather than attack the ideas of such people, some of their religious contemporaries attacked Reason itself, casting doubt on Man's ability to explain his universe. The same faith that led those moderate and sensible thinkers into error, may now be giving courage to those opposing the insane modern consequences of that error. That doesn't worry me at all, though I am not religious myself. In fact it gives me hope because people who think themselves to be doing God's work are likely, in practice, to persist where others falter. The political event that shaped my life and career – the fall of the Soviet Union – would not have happened without the faith of Pope John Paul II and his lay helpmates; Ronald Reagan, Lech Walesa and Margaret Thatcher.

I will chip in on political topics when I can, particularly where they concern my personal "goddess", Liberty. However, I will confine myself to practical observations. For serious thinking on the existential threat to the West, I commend you to Professor Peterson. For polemics against the enemies posing that threat, I commend you to Milo. 


Another boat burned

 Today, I let another part of my old life go. In a pleasant conversation with a lady from the International Bar Association, I explained that I did not plan to renew my subscription  of more than 20 years. I had only been maintaining it out of nostalgia for the days when I used to attend its conferences in locations chosen to give its mainly American membership tax deductible vacations for themselves and their families. HMRC was never so flexible or gullible as the IRS but for me it meant networking with colleagues in agreeable cities with great shopping for cash rich / time poor professionals bribing their spouses to accept neglect. And of course intelligent discussion on subjects relevant to my international practice of law. 

Reading my last copy of the IBA's journal I realised another reason why I was content to let go. The tone of the articles has changed.  Lawyers are always in danger of going to the dark side because, good or bad, new laws tend to make them richer. Arguably the worse the laws the more work they generate. Only noble traditions passed on at an individual's age of peak naivety in Law School helped most of us understand that law is at its very best only a (sometimes) necessary evil and that every problem solved even by the best law introduces several new ones. 

The capture of academia by Cultural Marxists / post modernism has killed that protection. Every article introducing a new law now seems to bemoan that it did not go further. For example a new law in France requires companies to monitor their suppliers for human rights and environmental concerns. French companies are required to increase their costs, making their goods and services more expensive to consumers, to "police" suppliers beyond the reach of rich world legislative activists. It repeats an unjust pattern of punishing the decent and near at hand for the crimes of out of reach bad people. It makes life more expensive. It may make companies avoid dealing with countries that fall short of Western ideals, perpetuating poverty there and increasing dependency on aid. The commentator makes no such "law of unintended consequences" points. Rather she bemoans the exemption for small companies!

The same journal contains a piece discussing President Trump's nominee to replace Justice Scalia on the Supreme Court bench.  It expresses surprise that the nominee is a critic of the "Chevron doctrine" under which the Presidency has taken powers from Congress. 

 Michael Dorf of Cornell Law School puts the problem succinctly: "it's weird that a Republican Congress would be trying to get rid of deference to the executive branch while there is a Republican president"

If it's "weird" that a politician should ever act on principle against party interest then we are not in a post-truth but a post-ethics world. Sure, I cynically assume most will often do the wrong thing if torn between the right thing and self-serving but surely it's going too far to assume the right thing is beyond reach all the time for everyone!

The correct, ethical role for lawyers is surely to support only good and necessary new laws, to critique proposed new laws to that end and then to ensure that their clients suffer from them only to the minimum extent necessary to do justice. It's neither to assume that the more laws the better nor to challenge the sanity of legislators who seek to roll back executive power. 

The only  sensible article in my last copy of the journal is on the subject of "fake news".  As the authoritarian Valkyries in Britain and Germany gear up to  introduce censorship, the article discussed in a mostly balanced way the risks to free speech of giving government power to "regulate" so called "fake news". It's a good piece on the side of the angels but stands out from the others in a telling way.

I couldn't practise law in Britain now because I couldn't morally comply with laws requiring me to shop my clients to the authorities. I was relieved to retire without ever having encountered that dilemma and horrified to discover, when serving on my firm's management committee in the last years of my career just how often my colleagues were dropping a dime on the people they exist to serve. But I'm not sure I'd want anyway to be the kind of modern lawyer who relishes regulations and argues for ever more. I still stand with Montesquieu who said "If it is not necessary to make a law it is necessary NOT to make a law".

Thank goodness I have the financial freedom to avoid the pressures on my successors in the profession. I hope they escape their careers with their souls intact. 


Of happiness and hope

I am in the middle of what seems to be a month long celebration of my 60th birthday. I am jollier than I would have expected, having eyed this approaching milestone with dread. Of course I SHOULD be jolly. I am a privileged Westerner, living a life he never dreamed with a loving family and affectionate friends. But I have political reasons too.

The fall of the Berlin Wall was the key political event of my life. Like most of us, I had never dared to hope Communism would fail in such a clear and comprehensive fashion. I moved to Eastern Europe in 1992 and, as a specialist lawyer, helped my real estate clients build on its ruins. The transformation we helped the people of the region achieve was spectacular. If we compare living standards in Poland when I moved there in 1992 with today only a fool or knave could deny the powerful virtues of capitalism. The transformation is greater than even an enthusiastic free marketeer like me would have predicted. 

I lived in that optimistic environment for twenty years - never really understanding how naive Fukyama's analysis of "the end of history" had been. Back in the West, however, our Marxist academics regrouped. They began to focus even more on "cultural Marxism"; on fomenting other social conflicts to create a perceived need for a controlling elite at the helm of a powerful state. I firmly believe that such a state has always been their one true goal. It enables them to live high on the hog in the parasitical, hypocritical idleness that Marx himself achieved as he sponged off his naive bourgeois friend Engels, rogered his servant girl and bilked his creditors. All else has always been bullshit.

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I gradually realised that the true outcome of the Cold War might be as this cartoon cleverly presents it. Out of that dark realisation this blog was born. Essentially a solution-oriented, problem-solving, optimistic person, I told myself it was better to light a candle than curse the darkness and spent a serious chunk of my life arguing whenever I could against our fifth columnists in academia. In the last year, the academic Berlin Wall has begun to crumble too. I wish I could claim that we had won the political argument but I think something far more fundamental is going on. There is a shift as profound as when the Labour Party replaced the Liberal Party in mainstream British politics and King Edward VII told his mother that "we are all socialists now". 

I suspect the Left's first real strategic error was its bizarre embrace of Islam. You don't need a degree in politics to notice that Muslims are socially-conservative, anti-feminist to the point of misogyny and - in the cultural Marxist jargon - "homophobic". Leftists in academia, contemptuously ignorant of religion, seemed to view them as just more poor immigrants to vote reliably for the continual expansion of the state. They arrogantly bent their own logic to welcome a clearly anti-progressive force into their ranks. The error might not have been obvious in their ivory towers, but it was pretty clear on the streets of Luton and Bradford. The credibility of leftist academics began to crumble. 

Other errors too numerous to mention followed as the academic bubble drifted further from reality. Most decent, practical people could not be bothered (who has the time if you have actual work to do?) to contest their ideas, but the perception grew that - however many black friends you had - you were going to be called racist. That however much you loved your mum and treated your lady friends with respect, you were sexist. That however little you gave a damn about what your homosexual friends and colleagues got up to in private that you were homophobic. And that pointing out the threat Muslim immigrants presented to Western values made you islamophobic. It became clear that the names you were called were just part of an academic game. They had nothing to do with truth.

As the fifth column's influence intruded even into popular culture, people who lived in the real Coronation Streets and Albert Squares noticed that their on-screen equivalents were becoming preachy purveyors of condescending agitprop. I had long stopped watching the BBC's news and current affairs output because I could not stand the primary school teacher tone it adopted. The same tone was now to be found from Emmerdale to Gallifrey. 

Just when I thought we were all going to drown in cultural Marxist condescension however, the dam broke. Despite being told precisely what to think by an united elite singing the same, well-rehearsed tune and utterly confident of success, the British people found their voice. On the day of the Brexit referendum they raised their traditional battle cry of "bollocks to the lot of you!" Even better than that moment has been the torrent of condescension that has followed, laying bare the contempt in which our would-be masters hold us. Cheated of the cushy "jobs" and lavish funding for policy-based evidence making "research" the EU had provided, they could not conceal their impotent rage. It has been delicious.

As has the aftermath of the election of President Trump in the USA where similar forces are at play. I have concerns about the current POTUS's grasp of economics and wouldn't like him hanging around my daughters (but ditto JFK and Bill Clinton and we all survived them). Trump is no libertarian and is politically as far from me as Clinton. However he seems strong on the defence of the West and - even better - has made noises about defunding academia. If he achieves the latter he may, for all his vulgarity, prove to be the King Jan III Sobieski of our day. 

Even more encouragingly, just as when I was at university in the Seventies, the key voices in public discourse are not now from the Left. Rather they are such delightful people as the dangerous faggot, Milo Yiannopoulos, the factual feminist Christina Hoff Sommers and my current favourite, the softly spoken Canadian Professor Jordan Peterson. The ever more authoritarian attempts to suppress dissent in academia have put feminist icon Germaine Greer on the "no platform" list and made apparent to even a casual observer how dangerously far political correctness has gone and just how sneeringly arrogant and condescendingly  authoritarian its proponents are.

So I am politically happy not because anyone I approve of holds political office anywhere, but because I have hope for the future. The ideologues who failed in their overt parasitism in Eastern Europe and China are failing in their covert version in the West and for the same reason. Their ideas conflict with reality.

The chess game in the cartoon is not over yet. I shall be following the next moves with gleeful anticipation.


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.

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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.