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

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The only state agency I ever loved

As a young boy I was a fan of NASA. I was born the year Sputnik was launched — the dawn of the Space Age — but, impressive though the Soviet space programme was, I — as a fan of Rawhide and DC Comics — was rooting for the Americans.

The Apollo Program was impossibly glamorous to a young boy in rural North Wales. I still have my scrapbooks of press clippings about the astronauts. The night (UK time) the Eagle landed 50 years ago I begged my parents to let me stay up and watch it on TV. They were not inclined to agree until I told them that nothing so great was likely to happen in my life and I just had to watch. I was 12 and — practical people that they are — they thought I was nuts but they agreed. They went to bed and left me to my nonsense. 

I don’t remember fearing for Armstrong, Aldrin and the Commander of Apollo 11, Collins. They must have been terrified but my confidence was total. As the flickering images told the epic tale, I felt all humanity was beginning something of vast and imponderable importance. I went out into the garden and looked at the Moon, thinking of those two guys on its surface and imagined leaving Earth’s confines myself at some point. I would have been disappointed to think a political blessing — the fall of the USSR and the end of the Cold War — would mean 50 years later we would have done almost nothing to build on my heroes’ achievements. 

I can’t justify a vainglorious, largely pointless project funded by massive extortion  of innocent taxpayers. My practical parents were right about the costs. I know private capital would have funded the useful space technologies like communication satellites that have actually improved human life in practical ways. I later worked for a law firm that wrote contracts for such stuff to be funded. My head knows that it was mostly childish dick-waving by the USA and USSR but my heart still soars at the thought of such an adventure. 

If ever anyone had some excuse for joining a state agency funded by force, it’s the men and women of NASA. My favourite photograph was published in the Sunday Times Magazine, showing the immense power of the greatest machine ever built, the Saturn V, as it launched Collins’ craft. Looking at it, I felt proud to be human. Years later I visited Cape Canaveral and saw one of the two remaining Saturn Vs on display. I felt the same sense of awed (and undeserved) pride that 12 year old Welsh kid did all those years ago. I felt the same love for the daring, courageous, sweetly arrogant nation that built it and provided the heroes to ride it out of Earth’s gravity.

I stood on the walkway the Apollo 11 crew used to embark on that mission and got goosebumps. I was so excited I forgot the time difference and called my Dad. He was as baffled by my enthusiasm as ever I think — but we had a moment. I think he remembered the boy I once was.

My paternal grandfather died years after Apollo 11 but he mentioned it in our last conversation. We both knew he was dying and that we were saying our goodbyes. He said to me 

I remember seeing the first car in our county drive through our village. I thought that was something but then I lived to see the first planes and then jets and to fly on Concorde. I even lived to see the Yanks put men on the Moon. I saw so much progress in my life, from horses to space rockets. I can’t imagine what you’ll live to see

Annoying though it is as a libertarian I have to admit a state achieved the greatest technological feat of my lifetime. I guess I must view it in the same way as the Roman Conquest, the great Khan putting his DNA into 60% of modern Asians or the founding of the USA — wrong, very wrong, but magnificent. And in all three cases humanity can’t now be imagined without the consequences. 


A mad rush to Mantua

We set ourselves too hard a task today. This is meant to be fun and relaxing. Mostly it was, but a couple of delays in leaving Switzerland due to accidents ahead of us meant that we fell behind. As much of our journey was on Swiss roads, we couldn't make it up with a bit of judicious speeding or as I call it "broad compliance" with local laws. A French friend who lived many years in Geneva told me years ago never to speed there as "every Swiss is a policeman" paid or not!

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We had hoped to stop for a relaxing lunch near Lake Como but pressed on instead, pausing only for fuel, using the time to keep our appointment with Silvia of the Automobile Club Mantova. She holds the keys to the Museo Tazio Nuvolari and had kindly agreed to open it up at 3pm for our visit. Mrs P2 enjoyed the beautiful Swiss scenery through the car windows, apart from during one spell of rain so heavy it removed the screen kill! We encountered more traffic while circumventing Milan, but that was to be expected. Eventually we were out on the autostrada, where speed limits are similar to Switzerland, but more loosely observed. We arrived with time to spare and, having parked near the museum, found a cafe to rest and recover.

Silvia was on time and I was soon enjoying all the great man's trophies and mementoes. News that the museum was open spread and soon Silvia was taking money from Italians who sat and watched the few rare films of "the flying Mantuan" in action. 

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We then explored the charming, undeveloped little town. Artificial lakes were constructed on three sides of it in the 12th Century to defend the stronghold of the Gonzaga family, later Dukes of Mantua. This constrained its expansion and made it a modern backwater. Its inhabitants economic loss is to some extent our gain — if we like old buildings. Its historical centre is a UNESCO world heritage site and it has been both Italy’s capital of culture and Europe’s capital of gastronomy. My interest in motorsports — indulged my my lovely wife — has brought us to a little gem of a place.

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Tomorrow we make a more leisurely journey to my favourite Italian city, Florence, where we stay for two nights before heading on to our borrowed holiday home (the use of which is a wedding gift from kindly friends) in the South of France. 


Book Review: "New Private Monies: a bit part player" by Kevin Dowd

I am ideologically attracted to any alternative to fiat currency, which gives far too much power to the state. It's a power that has been ruthlessly exploited to steal (at least that's what it would be called if anyone else did it) from savers, investors and lenders by debasing currency through inflation. As Professor Philip Booth points out in the introduction to this book, the current pound coin when introduced purchased just 20% more than the "threepenny bit" from 1937 that it resembled. Under the "wise stewardship" of HM Government, the pound sterling has lost 98% of its value over the last century. The good old greenback that replaced it as the world's reserve currency has lost 85% of its value since 1971! 

These losses are not caused by stupidity, but malice. Abandoning the gold standard and moving to currencies backed only by trust in the state gave untrustworthy states  (that is to say all of them) the chance to tax secretly via inflation. So I would just love there to be a private alternative.

Currency serves three purposes. It's a means of exchange, a store of value and a unit of accounting. Historically it was either made of or linked to a substance (like gold or silver) that had an intrinsic value and a limited supply. Professor Kevin Dowd does a good job in this little monograph of explaining both how private currencies, including such cryptocurrencies as Bitcoin, work and why governments hate them so much.

He tells the story of two alternatives to the US dollar introduced by businessmen there; 'the Liberty Dollar" and "e-Gold". The Liberty Dollar was an actual coin (technically a medallion, because it didn't meet the legal definition of coinage) that was denominated in dollars and periodically revalued against them. People could exchange them for goods, hold them as a more reliable store of value because they were made of silver or gold, but couldn't really account in them because the relevant authorities wouldn't recognise them. The inventor, one Bernard von NotHaus, was trying to make a point about the US Government's abuse of its powers by providing a private, voluntary barter currency as an alternative. Liberty Dollars were not forgeries. They didn't pretend to be dollars. Indeed the whole point of them was that they were NOT dollars. They were something not merely different, but in key respects better.

By the time the US authorities stamped out the scheme and secured a 22 years sentence (vastly reduced on appeal) for Bernard, the people who held Liberty Dollars ended up richer than if they had held the "real" ones. He had made his point –  in practical if not legal terms the authorities were the thieves – but he paid a heavy personal price to do so.

e-Gold went a stage further. Notes were issued against an actual reserve of gold held in London (to be beyond the reach of the US authorities). Doug Jackson, an American libertarian, came up with the idea – again neither to defraud nor even for personal gain – but to make a politico-economic point. Though holders of e-Gold again did better financially than if they had kept the dollars with which they bought it, he met the same fate. As Professor Dowd observes; 

If one compares this case with the Liberty Dollar, one immediately notices worrying parallels: two decent businessmen operating out in the open, operating under the rule of law but trying to offer alternative monetary systems in one form or another, and both taken down by government agencies that were arguably operating outside the law themselves and have never been held to account – in essence, the victims of arbitrary government attack.

The ferocity of the government's response in both cases can only really be explained by its fear of citizens getting too close to a dirty secret. Economics is famously dull and few can be bothered to study it. Governments have, by the introduction of fiat currency, been able to hoodwink even quite intelligent citizens. We have accepted inflation as a fact of life (even though there was none for 300 years in the UK until we came off the High Gold Standard) and have somehow failed to connect it with the immorality of government policy. A couple of clever gents had to be "taken down" not for any actual threat they posed to the US dollar, but because their educational projects might just have succeeded in revealing the ethical horror at the heart of the Fed.

Hence Bitcoin, not actually the first cryptocurrency and now only one of many, but so far the best known. The ferocious use of state power to suppress earlier private currencies made it necessary for this new one to be utterly anonymous. Again, the motives were ideologically libertarian.

the designers of cryptocurrency sought to create not just a new currency, but a new anarchist social order

In the words of Wei Dai, the inventor of a Bitcoin predecessor, 

the objective is to have a crypto-anarchy in which the government is not temporarily destroyed but permanently forbidden and permanently unnecessary. It's a community where the threat of violence is impotent because violence is impossible, and violence is impossible because its participants cannot be linked to their true names or physical locations.

Bitcoin has succeeded so far because even its inventor is anonymous, known only by the nom de guerre "Satoshi Nakamoto." It is completely decentralised. There is no central authority or organiser whatever. The "coin" is digital and uses public key cryptography. Authorising and tracking of transactions in Bitcoin is monitored by the community collectively. Before a coin changes hands, it is checked by the network to ensure that the user hasn't already spent it. As "Nakamoto" explained on its launch in 2009;

The root problem with conventional currency is all the trust that is required to make it work. The central bank must be trusted not to debase the currency, but the history of fiat currencies is full of breaches of that trust ... A generation ago, multi-user time sharing computer systems had a similar problem ... Users had to rely on password protection to to secure their files, placing trust in the system administrator to keep their information private. Then strong encryption became available to the masses, and trust was no longer required. Data could be secured in a way that was physically impossible to access, no matter for what reason, no matter how good the excuse, no matter what. 

It's time we had the same thing for money. With e-currency based on cryptographic proof, without the need to trust a third party middleman, money can be secure and transactions complete. 

The other ingenious innovation is the way in which the money supply is limited. This it too technical for me to explain here without re-typing large parts of the book, but if you are interested (and by now I hope you are) you can read the whole thing in PDF format here.

Professor Dowd doesn't think Bitcoin will endure but he is confident that one of its competitors will and he believes it will not be possible for governments to suppress it. Paradoxically, given that the whole purpose of a crypto-currency is to evade state control, the more powerful the oppression, the more valuable it becomes!

A state can be defined as a "regional monopoly of violence" but if Wei Dai's dream of making violence impotent comes true, at least in this respect, it will no longer be of use. As Professor Dowd says;

If the state really wants to get rid of Bitcoin, it should eliminate the state controls that feed it, for example, if the state ended the wars on drugs and terror, reduced taxes, ended policies of financial repression and re-established the privacy of individuals' personal financial information.

We all know, whatever our views on the value of statism, how little any state wants to do that! In the end the value of a functioning crypto-currency beyond the reach of state violence may be to restore honest money in general. That, gentle readers, is a consummation devoutly to be wished.


On being a dispirited activist vs being Pamela Geller

I am reading one of the books I snagged at the Think IEA conference last weekend. It's called A U-Turn on the Road to Serfdom and it contains practical suggestions, based on the 2013 Hayek lecture by Grover Norquist, as to how we might effectively work towards a smaller state. In it Norquist remarks on the electoral effect of the Tea Party movement in the US.

There have been some very good studies about how this affected the voter turnout in places where you had rallies, compared with places where they planned a rally, but it rained, so it was cancelled. You could see that we gained between three million and six million voters in 2010 because of increased political activism: the idea of showing up, seeing other people, realising you weren't alone and that you weren't crazy was very important.

This struck a chord. I am an activist by inclination. In my youth, I was regional chairman of a Maoist school students organisation, Chairman of the Conservative Association at my university, marched to legalise homosexuality in Scotland and Northern Ireland and campaigned on political issues. Once my career became serious and I had a family to take care of, however, I eased off and became politically very isolated. I fell prey to the propaganda of the Left-Establishment orthodoxy. With only the BBC and the mainstream media to guide me, I came to believe that I was – if not alone – part of an unfashionable minority.

Then came the "War on Terror". The Islamic terrorists were rank amateurs compared to the IRA whose campaign I had lived through without once feeling civilisation was in danger. The Irish Republican terrorists were highly-trained (by the Soviets), well-funded (by Irish-Americans) and well-protected (by the Kennedy dynasty in the US, by judges in Germany refusing to deport them, by the Catholic Church refusing to excommunicate them and by its priests providing them with safe houses). The Islamic terrorists have money from their Arab and Iranian sponsors and some of the older ones were trained by the CIA during the Russian campaign in Afghanistan but mostly they are laughable InCel losers. Films like Four Lions and plucky Glaswegians like John Smeaton ("We're from Glasgow, we'll just set about ye") constitute an adequate societal response while law enforcement deals with them as the simple (in all senses) criminals they are.

I mourned the losses of my American friends in 9/11 but feared (presciently as it turned out) the nature of their likely response. I feared (even more presciently) that authoritarian opportunists would cynically use 9/11 as cover to attack civil liberties. How was one classical liberal with a family to take care of and a demanding career to take on Tony Blair, George W. Bush et al. as they – by appearing to respond manfully to panicked calls to "do something" – set about dismantling our freedoms? So, my activism revived a little and I started this blog.

I know. It's hilarious. One man writing from Moscow about the PATRIOT Act, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and other such legal euphemisms, was going to make a difference, right? Well, I wasn't quite that dumb. I knew I was lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness. I had no real hope that I would make a difference but I felt a moral obligation to chip in my two cents' worth. To be honest, I didn't want to die having stood silent while the civilisation I believed in was damaged. I don't believe that I have changed the world for the better but I have changed me

I have experienced the warm feeling Norquist describes, of realising that I was neither alone in my views nor crazy to hold them, through fellowship with the readers of this blog and of others like it. I am not sure I have illuminated much with it, but I have kept that "little candle" alive and with it the hope that one day it will pass to someone who will be able to make the difference I have not. I hope the fellowship that has helped me so much has also helped my little band of readers. We have huddled together in the darkness and, at worst, we are still here and still thinking freely.

Though my little candle has not started any fires, those of other bloggers have. To light a fire you need – it seems – more incendiary views than mine. I have just finished reading Fatwa : Hunted in America by Pamela Geller for example. Her blog Atlas Shrugs, now renamed as The Geller Report, found a readership large enough for its advertising to fund campaigns that made a real world difference. She has become enough of a threat to merit (and I do regard it as a high honour) an ISIS attempt to assassinate her. Her security team killed both of her attackers. Her blog revenue also paid for those trained professionals to be there and do that. I envy her that.

Geller is not afraid. She is a feisty, aggressive, Jewish lady and will not back down in the face of what she fears is an embryonic Shoah, instigated by jihadists and supported by the Left/Liberal Western Establishment. She goes too far with her conspiracy theories. I no more believe that the Blairs and Merkels of this world are secretly plotting the downfall of the West than I believe in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Blair and Merkel do exist, alas, and their conduct does threaten the West but they are greedy fools, not traitors. Despite her imaginative excesses, Geller does great work in exposing the weakness of the West's leadership and the bias of the West's media. Her reward has been for ISIS to try to kill her and for mainstream journalists to "victim blame" her for that! Even President Trump publicly wondered in the aftermath of the assassination attempt (and this really is a compliment from him) why she was so provocative!

Meanwhile the social media giants seek to demonetize her online publications and to smear her relentlessly. Yet she remains, and this I can only admire, a spirited activist. I would be proud if I had pulled just one of her stunts: the one in which she put up two near-identical "hate sites" on Facebook. Every word on the sites was the same, except that one said "Kill the Jews" and the other said "Kill the Palestinians". Then she reported both pages to Facebook's team monitoring compliance with its Terms of Service. The "Kill the Jews" page remains, Facebook having ruled that it was free speech in compliance with its ToS. The "Kill the Palestinians" page was (but of course, did you ever doubt it?) taken down. She has cleverly proved the sinister bias in not just "The" Social Network but all the social networks. For another small example of that bias, I use an aggregator called Feedly for my daily reading list of news and blogs. I can't add the Geller Report to that list because Feedly doesn't recognise its existence. Yes, her website is there. Yes, her free speech is unimpeded. But I have to remember to visit her site because Feedly silently declines to accept it. Yet it would (and quite rightly) let me aggregate any number of hateful anti-Western sites.

Geller's book is not well-written. It is in her authorial voice, which is a tiring high-pitched scream. It's repetitive and just a wee bit narcissistic but it's really worth a read. Her career, whether on any given point she was right or wrong, illustrates clearly the anti-Western bias of the West's political, intellectual and journalistic leadership. While most of our citizens remain proud of the West's achievements, it really seems our elites are are subconsciously intent on civilisational suicide out of sheer self-loathing. Reading it made me feel guilty that, in pursuit of comforts she has cheerfully exchanged for physical danger and vilification,  I have sacrificed so little to its defence. 


A corset-maker by trade, a journalist by profession and a propagandist by inclination

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Five years ago today in New Jersey I stood outside the home of my hero Tom Paine, author of Common Sense, The American Crisis, Rights of Man and The Age of Reason.

In his day he was known as “the most dangerous man alive” though his only weapon was his pen. So mightily did he wield it that President John Adams said “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.

He helped shape the new republics of America and France; serving in the Revolutionary French National Convention representing Pas-de-Calais, bravely opposing on moral principle (anti-monarchist though he was) the execution of the deposed King and escaping the guillotine at the hands of Robespierre by pure luck. He was “a corset Maker by trade, a journalist by profession and a propagandist by inclination.

Washington had Paine's pamphlet The American Crisis read aloud to his troops to inspire them. It begins:

These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.

He is the most important but least remembered of the Founding Fathers because — though profoundly religious himself — he offended the conventional (and in the case of the slave-owners, hypocritical) religiosity of the early Americans. Sadly his influence was also lost in France, where his fan Napoleon, who slept with Rights of Man under his pillow but whom Paine recognised shrewdly as “the completest charlatan that ever existed,” overthrew the Revolution.

When I stood before the images hewn into Mount Rushmore, I was probably the only person there thinking it sad that Paine’s was not among them.

I blog under his name not because I agree with all his ideas (he was as misguided in details as he was sound on principles) nor because I consider myself his equal (though he would have insisted upon that) but because he is a hero of the cause of Liberty. Also because if he were alive today the greatest of all pamphleteers (no publication has ever reached the same percentage of Americans as Common Sense) would blog and tweet to dangerous effect. I hoped my humble writings in defence of beleaguered Liberty might exert even a millionth part of the influence his had.

If only his ideas had been as successful in his native Britain as they were in his adopted America how much better the world might be today. I still hope one day we shall bring his revolution home.


A book Jeremy Corbyn should read

Story of a Secret State: My Report to the World (Penguin Modern Classics): Amazon.co.uk: Jan Karski: 9780141196671: Books.

I have just finished reading this book; a gift from a Polish friend. It was first published in the United States in 1944 and I am ashamed that I had never heard of its author or his story before. Jan Karski is one of the great heroes of Western Civilisation. 
 
He was a young officer in the Polish Army so swiftly defeated by the German and Russian pincer movement at the beginning of World War II. Captured by the Red Army, he faked papers in order to be released to the (as he thought) more civilised Germans. He then found his way to Warsaw and into the Polish Underground - the "Secret State" of the title.
 
Gifted with language skills and a photographic memory, he became (after dangerous adventures) the Underground's courier to the Allies. It was he who delivered the first news of the Holocaust to the Allied Powers. His were eye-witness reports. To ensure he would be able to convince people of such monstrous behaviour on behalf of the nation widely regarded as the world's most civilised, the Underground smuggled him into the Warsaw Ghetto. By bribing an Estonian guard to lend him his uniform, they also smuggled him into Bełżec, the death camp – or rather simple killing field – where most of Poland's Jews met their end. I have visited that place myself and you can see my photographs of it here. At the stage Karski was there, the gas chamber had not yet been invented though it was later trialled there before being used to kill Jews from the rest of Europe in the more famous concentration camps whose names we all know.
 
As part of this exercise Karski also met with the Jewish Underground, specifically the Polish leaders of the Jewish Socialist Alliance (the Bund) and of the Zionist organisation. Both knew they would not survive. 1.8 million Polish Jews had already been killed and they told him the Germans would finish that job before turning to those from the rest of Europe.
 
Karski asked them what they wanted Jewish leaders in the West to do and they told him this;
Tell them to go to all the important English and American offices and agencies. Tell them not to leave until they have obtained guarantees that a way has been decided upon to save the Jews. Let them accept no food or drink, let them die a slow death as the world is looking on. Let them die. This may shake the conscience of the world.
In between delivering his intelligence reports to the Allies and his messages to the Polish government in exile in London, Karski delivered that message. He met Szmul Zygelbojm of the Bund at Stratton House in London's West End; the headquarters of the Polish Minister of the Interior. Zygelbojm responded, horrified;
It is impossible, utterly impossible. You know what would happen. They would simply bring in two policemen and have me dragged away to an institution. Do you think they will let me die a slow, lingering death? Never ... they would never let me.
Nonetheless, he tried. Again I am now ashamed I didn't know his name before. Karski wrote; 
On May 13, 1943, came the epilogue to our meeting. I will remember that day till I die. I was sitting in my room in Dolphin Square during a brief respite, resting, when the telephone rang. I deliberately let it ring three or four times and then I picked up the receiver reluctantly. It was an employee of Stratton House. 
"Mr Karski, I was told to inform you that Szmul Zygelbojm, a member of the Polish National Council and representative of the Bund in London, committed suicide yesterday. He left some notes, saying that he did all he could to help the Jews in Poland, but failed, that all his brothers will perish, and that he is joining them. He turned on the gas in his apartment."
I hung up.
At first I felt nothing at all, then a wave of mingled, shock, grief and guilt. I felt as though I had personally handed Zygelbojm his death warrant.

Having met with the Polish Prime Minister and General Sikorski, with Sir Anthony Eden and with the one time Deputy Leader of Jeremy Corbyn's party, Arthur Greenwood (among many others) Karski was ordered to Washington DC, where he met President Roosevelt. He stayed on in America and went on to have a distinguished career as a professor at Georgetown University. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2012.

I commend his book to you. I put off reading it for some time because of its dark content. That decision meant I was finishing it against the background of the Labour Party's antisemitism scandal. It was particularly poignant and difficult to be reminded of those horrors while listening to Corbyn's mealy-mouthed denials of his obvious sympathies with those who would drive the descendants of Europe's surviving Jews into the sea. It made even more disgusting the statements of the demented, ignorant "Momentum" rabble comparing Israel to Nazi Germany as they court the votes of Britain's Muslims whose ancestors mostly sided with Hitler and whose home countries' schools and madrassas (and some of their Imams here) still teach hatred of Jews.

Poland has much to be proud of in relation to its conduct under German occupation. There was no Polish Quisling or Lord Haw Haw. The Underground ran a secret state in the face of extreme violence. In the end, though the Allies "won" they saved few Jews. They also delivered the brave Poles into the hands of one of only two historical leaders even worse than Adolf Hitler – leaders respected, incidentally, by many in Momentum.

Poles can be particularly proud of Jan Karski, a hero not just to them, but to all decent humans. If Jeremy Corbyn really wanted to solve the anti-semitism problem in his ranks, he might consider requiring every Momentum member to read this book. Somehow I doubt he will. 


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.


Book review: The Shortest History of Germany by James Hawes

The Shortest History of Germany: Amazon.co.uk: James Hawes: 9781910400418: Books.

I mentioned this book in a recent post and read it with great pleasure the following day. I commend it to you. 

 

Sadly, most Brits only study the least appealing parts of German history. Arguably the only true historical consensus in divided post war Britain is that the Nazis were not nice chaps. I hope I can claim to have done better than that because I studied European History to A level and have also read a fair amount since for my own amusement but this book nonetheless covers parts of German history of which I knew little and understood less.

 

I have to confess that I had the mental stereotype of Germany; one of "state worship, puritanical zeal and scar-faced militarism" that the author feels the need to refute. In fairness that stereotype — apparently more Prussian than German — was in some cases reinforced by German colleagues with whom I worked closely in my career. That might be because they act up to it. Just as Brits abroad, when tired of pointing out that we're not all floppy haired effeminates like Hugh Grant, eventually give up and act the part to comic effect. I did actually attend meetings with an elderly German colleague who sported duelling scars, for example. No really. I know. I would have called myself racist to imagine him, if I had not actually met him.

 

Some of the most interesting parts of the books are about prehistory. The Romans invented Germany as a term to describe the disparate and unconnected mutually warring tribes who lived beyond the Rhine. Rather like the British made a polity (and later, mistakenly, two) from mere geography in India, the Romans invaded, recruited to their armies and civilised this imaginary ethnic group and then defined its furthest limit by giving up at the River Elbe. What I mostly learned from reading this book is that when we Brits respond emotionally to the idea of German-ness we actually have the people beyond the Elbe in mind. The "real" Germans (as defined by the author) respond to these trans-Elbians, interestingly, rather as we do. Hitler's support was largely to be found there as today is more of the vote for extremes of Right or Left. 

 

The era of West Germany was a Golden Age not just because of Marshall Aid and the Economic Miracle but because those pesky Trans-Elbeans were sequestered in the DDR living down to our mis-targeted stereotype. "Why are the Chinese so happy?" goes a modern German joke. "Because they still have their Wall". 

 

For much of our history Brits thought of Germans as cousins. The Common Law probably began in long forgotten forests in Saxony and English is arguably German garnished with French. It has been a long sad collapse from that familial feeling to the present unpleasantness of shouting "two world wars and one World Cup" at their football fans. 

 

I don't regret Brexit a bit but sadly it probably won't help with this estrangement, given how devoutly Cis-Elbean Germans believe in the EU. The best that those of us who like Germany (and not just its excellent cars and kitchens) can do is read this book, encourage fellow Brits to read it, play nicely with such German friends as we may have and hope. Mostly we should hope for our two nations to feature in each others history books more, and more peacefully, in future. When they shake off their misguided obsession with the EU (or more likely it collapses under them) we will still be neighbours and - let's hope - friends.


The most dangerous man alive

Thomas Paine (January 29, 1737 – June 8, 1809) is my political hero. I didn't adopt his name as a nom de guerre because I agreed with all he wrote. I hubristically purloined it because I admired the force of his writing. "Common Sense" was the most influential pamphlet in the history of the world and - had the internet existed in the 18th Century - it would have been a blog post. In a vain (in both senses of the word) attempt at sympathetic magic, I hoped - when I began this blog over eleven years ago - that it might have half as much effect.

He left school at 12 and never went to university. He was an autodidact, spending spare cash on books and spare time on attending lectures and debates. It speaks to his greatness that he is claimed these days by both Left and Right - each conveniently ignoring those parts of his thought that don't match their thinking. He believed in society taking care of the weak and unfortunate but he did not confuse society in any way with the state. He was a sceptic when it came to government. He was reviled and assaulted in the USA he helped found because no sooner was the revolution over than he was attacking corruption in the new government. He was sentenced to death in Revolutionary France, where he sat in the National Assembly, for opposing the execution of the King and denouncing the Terror.

He died thinking himself a failure; disappointed with the outcomes of both the French and American revolutions and sad that he had not been able to incite one in England. But his words still echo. He proved that one person can make a difference if prepared to put his work before his safety. He's not alive any more but he's still dangerous. More so perhaps than the Lenin and Marx with whom Steinbeck once bracketed him. His ideas will live as long as free men breathe.

I was pleasantly surprised by the even-handed approach of Melvyn Bragg - a Labour luvvie if ever there was one - in presenting Paine's story in his "Radical Lives" series. I commend his programme to you. 


Melvyn Bragg's Radical Lives E02 Rights of Man... by DemonPreyer1 

At this moment of British Crisis, with rogues on both sides of the referendum debate playing on our fears, I also commend to you the words from Paine's American Crisis that Washington read aloud to his troops before the Battle of Trenton;

“These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value.” 

I will not lower myself to conscript the dead to my cause as both Leave and Remain have done with Thatcher and Churchill. For all I know, Paine might have supported the EU, while demanding more effectively than we have ever done the application of real democracy and the extirpation of corruption in its governance. Still, I feel sure that the emotional response of free men and women to the aristos of the European elite should be the same as that of Paine to the "asses for lions" of the 18th Century. Our modern aristos are self-selected, rather than picked at random by nature, but their contempt for the people they seek to rule and their sense of entitlement to lord it over us, is every bit as profound. They should meet the same fate and I hope - in my own name not Tom's - that June 23rd begins their procession to a figurative guillotine.


The aspidistra has crash landed

Miss Paine the Younger made me the perceptive gift of this book. I read Orwell's books and many of his essays at school, but knew nothing until now about the man himself. So influential were his words on my young mind that Shelden's biography explains me almost as much as his subject.

Orwell is one of few famous socialists I could have liked. There are many I know in everyday life and am not such a bigot as to discard, but I hold influential men to higher standards.

Those acquainted only with 1984 or Animal Farm might not even think of him now as a Socialist. Both books parody Soviet Communism with which most British Socialists (with reservations varying inversely with their immorality) sympathised. So, in fact did Orwell. 

I think that if the USSR were conquered by some foreign country the working class everywhere would lose heart, for the time being at least, and the ordinary stupid capitalists would be encouraged ... I want the existence of democratic Socialism in the West to exert a regenerative influence upon Russia.

He thought the Russian Revolution good, but that it had been hijacked by the power hungry. He was sage enough to realise those are the very people likely to lead revolutions but naive enough to imagine

that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job

How could an intelligent man harbour such a fantasy? Any chucking 'the masses' did would be at the suggestion of leaders out to replace the revolution's victors! Surely any fool could see they would not only be nastier and more cunning but at least as power-hungry? Socialism, whether achieved by revolution or democracy, requires enormous state power. Such power will attract the scum of the Earth. That's not a bug, it's a feature.

The most interesting passages, scattered through the book, deal with Orwell's romantic imaginings of a democratic Socialist England, somehow untinged by authoritarianism. His biographer writes that

The England that Orwell declares his loyalty to is a place where tyranny cannot easily establish a foothold because of the deep commitment to what he calls 'private liberty', by which he means 'the liberty to have a home of your own, to do what you like in your spare time, to choose your own amusements instead of having them chosen for you from above'.

He loved freedom as much as the fieriest modern Libertarian but, economic illiterate that he was, failed to see that the only alternative to incentive is force. He imagined a society in which no-one could earn more than ten times than the lowest paid, but gave no thought for the violence required to prevent them earning more or seize their surplus. Not only did he think men had only to be shown what was right in order to do it, he ludicrously imagined that, in a free society, all would meekly accept a single view of 'what was right'. He romantically imagined

... a specifically English Socialist movement, one that appeals to the English character, and is not tainted by Marxism which was a German theory interpreted by Russians and unsuccessfully transplanted to England. His Socialism would not be 'doctrinaire, nor even logical', and would leave 'anachronisms and loose ends everywhere' - the lion and the unicorn will still be resplendent on the soldiers' cap buttons, the old judge will still wear 'his ridiculous horsehair wig.'

In his day successful Socialism was perhaps, if your understanding of economics was sufficiently limited, vaguely plausible. He probably expected the industries nationalised in 1946, for example, to perform much better under state control. There is no such excuse for Labourites today.

Most of all, he and his generation failed to grasp that if the state is player rather than referee in the national game, it will soon no longer be 'cricket'. Pretty much everything he hoped for was achieved by post-Orwellian Labour governments, with disastrous economic consequences. In the process "the English character" he so admired has been profoundly damaged.

Part of me, liking this well-meaning corduroyed buffoon of a provincial schoolmaster as I do, is glad he didn't live to see what nonsense it all was. Part of me wishes he had not died so young so that he could have satirised it with all his skill.