Tuesday 31 January 2012

Hardly Bloodless

Nothing is beneath Newt Gingrich.

Although isn't Florida a closed primary state? I only ask, but how many Jews are registered Republicans?

No Price On Justice

We certainly do need to repeal the provision for “no win, no fee” litigation. While at the same time protecting, restoring and extending Legal Aid. And restoring powerful trade unions. Labour Peers, over to you.


Who would want their qualification to be equated to Thatcher's wretched GCSE, anyway?

More broadly, technical qualifications ought not to be compared with academic qualifications, or vice versa. The Honours Degree system is no good at teaching the skill trades, and nor are schools. Why should they be?

We need world class apprenticeships, world class technical colleges, and a return to uncompromising academic excellence in schools and universities.

British Caribbean

That is the name of Lord Ashcroft's bank on the Turks and Caicos Islands.

In return for the stamping out of all provision for the Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Territories to function as tax havens, students from those Dependencies and Territories should be recognised as home students.

There is also the wider need for a political force which demands advocates on behalf of the people of those Dependencies and Territories, especially in demanding the building of the airport on Saint Helena, justice for Ascension Island and for the Chagos Islands, and no compromise whatever, whether on the sovereignty of Gibraltar, or on either the sovereignty or the oil revenue of the Falkland Islands.

Oh, and the return of the scandalously discontinued BBC English for the Caribbean Service.

Monday 30 January 2012

No Stability, No Coordination, No Governance

But what else did you expect?

No one outside the media ever did fall for any of this. The following Thursday, Labour won the Feltham and Heston by-election with an 8.5 per cent swing from the Conservatives.

Believing oneself born to rule is not the same thing as being any good at it. Cameron cannot begin to cope with people who cannot even distinguish, still less are they intimidated by, an Etonian accent.


You, or your parents, will still be allowed to pay nine thousand pounds upfront to a university at the start of each academic year. That is a lot less than the fees for the grandest schools. And it would, on the basis of parental wealth, avoid the above-inflation, profiteering interest payable by those who will have to wait until after they themselves have graduated and established themselves in careers.

Controlling Interest

So what if the RBS share price has gone down today? It was never going to be sold, anyway. Like that stake in HBOS, the controlling interest in RBS is in public ownership forever. Perhaps now someone will state this obvious fact out loud.

The Language of Priorities

The great Bevan also ridiculed the first parliamentary Welsh Day on the grounds that “Welsh coal is the same as English coal and Welsh sheep are the same as English sheep”.

In the 1970s, Labour MPs successfully opposed Scottish and Welsh devolution not least because of its ruinous effects on the North of England. Labour activists in the Scottish Highlands, Islands and Borders, and in North, Mid and West Wales, accurately predicted that their areas would be balefully neglected under devolution.

Eric Heffer in England, Tam Dalyell and the Buchans (Norman and Janey) in Scotland, and Leo Abse and Neil Kinnock in Wales, were prescient as to the Balkanisation of Britain by means of devolution and the separatism that it was designed to appease, and as to devolution’s weakening of trade union negotiating power.

Abse, in particular, was prescient as to the rise of a Welsh-speaking oligarchy based in English-speaking areas, which would use devolution to dominate Welsh affairs against the interests of Welsh workers South and North, industrial and agricultural, English-speaking and Welsh-speaking. Heffer’s political base was in Liverpool, at once very much like the West of Scotland and with close ties to Welsh-speaking North Wales.

There is a strong feeling among English, Scottish and Welsh ethnic minorities and Catholics that we no more want to go down the road of who is or is not “really” English, Scottish or Welsh than Ulster Protestants want to go down the road of who is or is not “really” Irish.

The Scotland Office Select Committee is chaired by Ian Davidson, a Co-operative Party stalwart and Janey Buchan protégé who is therefore a hammer both of Scottish separatism and of European federalism.

There is no West Lothian Question, since the Parliament of the United Kingdom reserves the right to legislate supremely in any policy area for any part of the country, the devolution legislation presupposes that it will do so as a matter of course, and anyone who does not like that ought to have voted No to devolution.

The Welfare State, workers’ rights, full employment, a strong Parliament, trade unions, co-operatives, credit unions, mutual guarantee societies, mutual building societies, and nationalised industries (often with the word “British” in their names) were historically successful in creating communities of interest among the several parts of the United Kingdom, thus safeguarding and strengthening the Union. The public stakes in the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland are such permanent, non-negotiable safeguards of the Union.

The Union can only be defended in these terms and within this tradition. Ed Miliband has made a good start today.

Mind How You Go

The proposed cut in police pay would be a breach of the arrangement whereby they voluntarily forgo their civil right to strike. The police should not call the rest of us "civilians". They, too, are civilians, whom we pay to do what, should the need arise, we could and would all do for free. That is why, for example, they should have the right to strike. Or their long-established pay deal in lieu.

That is why that bastion of old-school trade unionism, the Police Federation, is absolutely correct in defending the entitlement of the whole community to that for which the whole community pays, namely the police protection of each and every one of the whole community's members. All of Her Majesty's subjects are, as such, equal citizens, equally entitled to the services of Her Majesty's Constabulary.

As so often, the Crown guarantees in principle the equality defended in practice by the trade union movement.

Occasion'd By The Lyes And Scandals

Today is the anniversary of the execution of Charles I. In sillier circles, this imposition of the greatest tyranny in English (never mind Irish) history is termed “the English Revolution”.

In fact, of course, it long preceded the emergence of any industrial proletariat and is wholly inexplicable in Marxist terms, just as is the very existence of any Marxist movement in, say, the Russia of 1917, or Albania, or China at least until very recent years, or Korea, or Vietnam, or Nepal, or Bengal, or Sri Lanka, or Ethiopia, or Zimbabwe, or Uganda, or Rwanda, or South Africa, or Cuba, or Peru, or Bolivia, or … well, make your own list. At their respective heights of Communism, certainly Spain, and arguably also Italy and even France, were standing contradictions of the whole theory.

If there is any truth at all in the Marxist analysis of history, then these things simply cannot be. I think that we all know what follows from the fact that these things are.

But didn’t Charles I believe in the Divine Right of Kings? No, he did not. Or at least he certainly expressed no such view at his grotesque “trial” pursuant to a Bill of Attainder, and before 80 of his carefully selected parliamentary and military enemies under a second-rate lawyer, John Bradshaw, created “Lord President” because all the proper judges had fled London rather than have anything to do with the wretched proceedings.

There, Charles declared repeatedly that, by denying the authority of the “court” to try him, he was simply upholding the law as it then existed, including the liberties of the English people and the parliamentary institutions of the English State. No law permitted the trial of the monarch, he argued. On the contrary, the law of treason then in force provided for exactly the opposite, namely that any attack on the monarch’s person was itself an offence. Simply as a matter of fact, he was right.

And the subsequent behaviour of the Cromwellian regime fully vindicated him.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Talking To "The Taliban"

There are no "Taliban" apart from the Pashtun in general, and they have no ambitions beyond Pakistan and Afghanistan, or even only the Pashtun areas of those countries, where they did at least stamp out the opium trade and the endemic pederasty. Unlike us. We brought them both back.

Who do you think is going to leave Afghanistan first? NATO? Or "the Taliban"? Which of them will ever leave Afghanistan? Which of them has anywhere else to go? Don't take my word for any of this. As of today, just ask Hamid Karzai.

What he cannot tell you, however, is what any of it was all for from our own point of view. May we now expect an apology from those who have given us 10 years of war for nothing?

Twelfth Class Citizens

That is what the inhabitants of the region with the lowest benefits cap would be. Likewise, those of the region with the lowest minimum wage.

And likewise, those of the region with the lowest public sector pay. Not only public employees. Everyone, since the recruitment of the right calibre of such staff would be absolutely impossible, with all the effects of that impossibility on the delivery of public services.

The Labour Party simply has to go. Doesn't it? If not, why not? And if so, then what are you doing about it, considering who I know that some of you are?

Bank Balance

The paper fiction of UKFI must be discontinued. As UKFI itself has said, pretty much in so many words, no one is ever going to want to buy the nationalised banks, so they are going to be in public ownership forever.

Marriage Guidance

Like most of the Anglicans in the world, Dr John Sentamu is a product of Anglo-Catholic or Evangelical missionary activity (in his case, it looks as if it might have been both), rather than of anything out of The Vicar of Dibley or even Rev. Moreover, his presence as of right within the parliamentary process bears witness, as so very many other things do, to the fundamentally Christian nature and basis of this State, as such.

With the nature of marriage up for debate, we should seize the opportunity and the initiative. The extension to relatives of the right to contract civil partnerships. The entitlement of each divorcing spouse to one per cent of the other's estate for each year of marriage, up to 50 per cent, and the disentitlement of the petitioning spouse unless fault be proved, thereby restoring the situation whereby, by recognising adultery and desertion as faults in divorce cases, society declared in law its disapproval of them even though they were not in themselves criminal offences.

The entitlement of any marrying couple to register their marriage as bound by the law prior to 1969 as regards grounds and procedures for divorce, and to enable any religious organisation to specify that any marriage which it conducts shall be so bound, requiring it to counsel couples accordingly. And the statutory specification that the Church of England be such a body unless the General Synod specifically resolve the contrary by a two-thirds majority in all three Houses, with something similar for the Methodist and United Reformed Churches, which also exist pursuant to Acts of Parliament, as well as by amendment to the legislation relating to the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy.

That would be a start, anyway. Dr Sentamu, Member of Parliament that you are, over to you.

Why They Hate Belarus


The Republic of Belarus regrets the introduction by the European Union of large-scale economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran, says a statement of the press service of the Foreign Ministry of Belarus, BelTA has learnt.

“Our country has always believed that any unilateral sanctions are counterproductive and insisted on international diplomatic efforts, first of all, within the framework of the United Nations Organization. Economic pressure and coercion are absolutely unacceptable in the international policy and can only foment more tensions in the relations between sovereign states and on the international arena,” the Foreign Ministry believes.

The Foreign Ministry noted that the introduction of unilateral sanctions against Iran can escalate the situation in the strategic region of the Middle East and lead to unpredictable consequences for the entire world.

“The economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran have nothing to do with nuclear non-proliferation, but will only deliver a blow to the national economy and ordinary people,” the Foreign Ministry emphasized.

Is it just the spectacle of their own past lives in the Brezhnev-era kitsch of the Lukashenko Government? Or in the spotty, unelectable adolescents who comprise the "opposition", admittedly a lot better, since merely harmless, than the neighbouring giant's Stalinists, National Bolsheviks, Islamist terrorists, and anti-urban, anti-industrial, anti-scientific fantasists who are all cheered on simultaneously by the New Cold Warriors?

The Holy See identifies as a bridge between Eastern and Western Christendom the last nation in Europe west of the Russian border to identify entirely in terms other than those of rootless neoliberal stupefaction, promiscuity, usury and warmongering. Was the Papacy notable for its close relationship with the Soviet regime, such that it would wish to maintain such ties with that regime's last vestige in Europe?

As Neil Clark puts it today, "It’s a bit of a no brainer to work out why the neocons and ‘Israel-firsters’ hate Belarus so much and pump out so much negative propaganda about the country. The great crime of President Lukashenko is not that he’s a "dictator"- he’s not- but that he doesn’t have the ‘right’ foreign policy, particularly in relation to Iran."

Britain In The Caucasus

Daniel Larison writes:

Thomas de Waal describes Georgia ahead of Saakashvili’s meeting with Obama next week:

Saakashvili’s Georgia could be described as a mix of non-Russia and anti-Russia. “Non-Russia” refers to the country’s public service reforms, its recent law on the tolerance of religious minorities and its persistent tradition of pluralism. “Anti-Russia” means behavior that, in its extreme defiance of Vladimir Putin and his rule, frequently ends up mirroring them [bold mine-DL]. Such behavior includes inflammatory rhetoric toward Russia (Saakashvili last year described Georgia as “civilization” and Russia as “barbarism”) and a worrying concentration of power in a few hands.

Present-day Georgia, as with Russia, is basically a one-party state in which a small group of elites control the executive, parliament, all regional authorities and the three national television channels. The judiciary is less than free. The dark side of Georgia’s campaign against corruption and criminality is that it has empowered a large and unaccountable police force. The country’s prisons are bursting with many inmates who should not be there; in 2011, Georgia ranked fourth in the world in the number of prisoners per capita.

While some Americans are becoming more aware of this, many of the country’s American supporters keep trying to perpetuate the myth of Georgia as an example of successful democratization. They feel compelled to do this because the current U.S.-Georgian relationship is justified mostly on ideological grounds. It has had to be that way when the U.S. has no great interest in cultivating a poor client state in the Caucasus.

The opposition politician Irakli Alasania has elaborated elsewhere on the extent of one-party rule:

Just as we face threats from beyond our borders, though, there is another challenge from within that is stifling our natural love of freedom today. That threat is the unyielding monopoly on power that Saakashvili and his political party exercise in all aspects of Georgian public life. More than 80 percent of the current parliament is controlled by his party [discounting the ludicrous fiction that the three politically identical organisations are in any meaningful way still distinct parties, this fully applies to Britain]. All television stations with national reach broadcast a pro-governmental message [likewise]. The top-down order Saakashvili has created often shows itself in ugly ways. Earlier this month, 15 youngsters were beaten at a public concert for saying the name of an alternative political leader. In its annual report this year, Human Rights Watch included Georgia among the 90 countries in the world requiring special scrutiny and called out the current government for its lack of accountability on multiple fronts.

Should Saakashvili move to the newly-empowered post of prime minister after his presidential term ends, as some fear that he will, that should put an end to whatever remains of the illusion in the West that he has much interest in political liberalization. De Waal explains the attitude of Georgia’s elite towards democracy:

Georgia’s elite are modernizers, not democrats. They occasionally say that they cannot afford to allow more democracy in their country because that would “stop reforms,” opposition politicians would gain power and Georgia would slide backward.

Friday 27 January 2012

Happy Holocaust Day

If you find the title of this post offensive, then so you should. But what else is one supposed to say? The whole thing is as ridiculous as it is revolting. For one thing, why is it on 27th January, the day Auschwitz exchanged mass-murdering Nazi tyranny for mass-murdering Soviet tyranny? Why not 15th April, the day Belsen really was liberated, and that by the British? In some years, that would even coincide usefully with Easter.

That we are prepared to have it today points to the extent to which the anti-British sectarian Left has taken over our public life, and the extent to which it has made peace with its old adversaries, also massively influential, on the anti-British sectarian Right. That we insist on having it all points to the extent to which it is so much easier, and even to which it is so much more fun, to concentrate on the wrongdoing of others rather than on the wrongdoing of ourselves.

Down As Well As Up

What are Stephen Hester's shares really worth? There is no serious intention of ever returning RBS to the private sector, and it is high time that that was said out loud.

More than three hundred years after the creation of the Royal Mail, Margaret Thatcher insisted that it could never be privatised, "because it's Royal".

Three hundred years hence, people will be saying the same thing about the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Break The Chains

Directly elected mayors are wholly at variance with our parliamentary, rather than presidential, res publica.

Eric Pickles is already permitting councils to return to the old committee system. He ought to require that they do so. And abolish directly elected mayors.

An ideal opportunity might present itself if Boris Johnson is re-elected, since the safe seat of Reigate has been lined up for him, meaning that he has absolutely no intention of serving a full term.

On The Rates

The Italians are pushing particularly hard for a European rating agency, to counter the flagrant American bias of the existing ones.

That includes any recent expression of the unremarkable fact that they are Wall Street Republicans who want Romney.

But when can we have a British one? Or better still, stop listening to them at all. They were the people who said that subprime mortgages were fine and dandy. Away with them.

Nulli Expugnabilis Hosti

And certainly not by Tony Blair.

The Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party was founded out of the trade union movement, and specifically out of the T&G, in order to secure for the British workers of Gibraltar the same pay and conditions enjoyed by other British workers.

Under Joe Bossano, first elected for the Integration With Britain Party, it won the 1992 Election with 72 per cent of the vote under the slogan, “Give Spain No Hope”, which was not at all what the Major Government wanted to hear.

The Full Fruits

Margaret Thatcher's official biographer, Charles Moore, writes:

As the Labour party wrestles with self-definition in hard times, I wonder if it was wise to ditch Clause 4. In 1994-95, it was important for Tony Blair to win a symbolic victory over the left. This undoubtedly helped get him into Downing Street. Clause 4 of the party’s constitution was considered a doctrinaire text of nationalisation. But the key contentious words do not have to bear that interpretation. The clause promises ‘to secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service’.

Today, in the era of the credit crunch, the question of the ownership of wealth has returned to the centre of debate, and rightly so, because the many — to adapt a Blairite phrase — have had to pay for the rescue of the few. The great question in the debate between capitalism and socialism about how people can best obtain ‘the full fruits of their industry’ is unresolved. Labour would surely be in a stronger position if it were able to stand on the ground of common ownership and then modernise it in the least state-oriented way possible (a new look at cooperatives, wider share ownership, workers’ equity etc). The Blairites were right about the need to modernise, but their dreadfully vague talk about ‘values’ has disabled Labour from having alternative answers to the key question of who actually owns, and therefore controls, the wealth of nations.

The old Clause IV did not mention nationalisation, although it certainly allowed for it; it had been framed so that people who already had nationalisation in mind could read that presupposition into it, even though no one could have read that presupposition out of it. But Tony Blair and his fan club thought that it was about nothing else. So, in repudiating it, they repudiated public ownership in order to repudiate everything that public ownership delivered and safeguarded, notably national sovereignty, the Union, and the economic basis of paternal authority.

Likewise, in repudiating trade unionism, they repudiated controlled immigration, and the moderating influence of the wider electorate in the affairs of the Labour Party. Mercifully, that latter, at least, reasserted itself in the victory of Ed Miliband over the Blairite candidate. But it still needs to be reasserted that requiring the production of a union card is no different from requiring the production of a British passport or a work permit, while the closed shop was as important for that as it was for giving the Tory 45 per cent of the industrial working class a moderating influence in the selection of Labour candidates for the safe Labour seats in which they lived.

Hardening The R And Softening The D

In "Florida", that is.

Romney is leading both among the Cubans and among the Puerto Ricans. The Puerto Ricans probably wonder why Gingrich thinks that their homeland cannot have statehood but the moon can. But now that there is no longer an American Administration full of people who have never recanted their Trotskyism, President Obama should lift the entire blockade on Cuba, which only attracts sympathy for a regime which does not deserve it, perhaps most notable as the model for Britain's impregnable pseudo-comprehensive schools by means of which the real, but vigorously self-denying, ruling class perpetuates itself from generation to generation.

The Cuban pretend-exiles are in fact economic migrants and free to go back any time they like. Far from being conservative, they merely wish to restore the Cuba that existed before 1959, a giant drug den and brothel for the American super-rich.

Republicans crowing over the apparent loss of Hispanic support for Obama and the Democrats should think on. Obama should consolidate his black base while reaching out to blue-collar whites by rejecting any suggestion that they should merely accept the loss of their jobs, the running down of their wages and working conditions, and the confinement of their children and grandchildren to the bottom of the heap by means of de facto State bilingualism.

And no, these things are not somehow to the good of the Catholic Church. In fact, far from Hispanics' being the great hope of American Catholicism, Latin America has never been a particularly Catholic place, with slight if any Mass-going majorities, huge numbers of the unbaptised, rampant syncretism and surviving paganism, and a very heavy dependence on (historically European, these days usually North American) missionary priests.

No wonder that the strongest opponents of the present levels of immigration, of any amnesty, and of the erosion of English in American life, are themselves traditional Catholics. The GOP obviously doesn't want them. They should try their luck elsewhere.

The Martyr-Priest of Hama

John Sanidopoulos writes:

On January 25, 2012 Greek Orthodox Hieromonk Basilios Nassar was shot by an armed terrorist group in Hama, Syria on the second day of heavy fighting there. Fr. Basilios was at the Metropolis when he was informed by a phone call that a parishioner of his was shot and needed assistance. The Patriarchate of Antioch has reported that the 30-year-old priest was shot while giving medical aid to the wounded man who was previously shot. Fr. Basilios was shot in the chest and in the right armpit. Immediately another priest, Fr. Panteleimon Isa, who was with him dragged his bloody body to a nearby building to save him, but the martyr for Christ Father Basilios was dead within 30 minutes from hemorrhaging. His funeral took place today, January 26th, in the Church of Saint George in Hama. The blessed Father Basilios, known in the world as Mazin, was born in 1982 in the village of Kfarmpo in Hama and was a graduate of the Theological School of Balamand. He was also a teacher of Byzantine Music in the school Saint Kosmas the Melodist which he founded in the Metropolis.

Expect hundreds of thousands more if Assad is removed. That is why those who want him removed, want him removed. Thank God for Holy Russia.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Healing An Old Wound

David Owen is an ally of Ed Miliband’s, and his role in opposing the abolition of the NHS suggests that an old wound might now be healed at last.

The creation of the SDP was premature. Those who had determined upon it ought to have waited until the new Electoral College had given the Deputy Leadership to Tony Benn, casting their own votes in the MPs’ section to that end. Benn as Deputy Leader would have made it unanswerable that the Labour Party they had joined no longer existed. A new party would have taken with it half or more of Labour MPs, most Labour peers, huge numbers of councillors, great tracts of the activist base, and a good many unions. At least one, and possibly both, of the former Labour Prime Ministers then alive would have joined it. Victory in 1983 would have been quite plausible, and victory in 1987 would have been practically certain. There would have been no need, if there ever really was, of the Alliance with the Liberals. A rapidly Benn-led Labour rump would not have been “split”; it would simply have been replaced.

But instead, although (for want of a better term) the Labour Right’s internal differences over incomes policy and over devolution were, up to a point, carried over into the SDP, its diversity over Europe hardly was. Almost all Keynesian, pro-Commonwealth defenders of national sovereignty remained in the Labour Party, as did almost all of the right-wing Labour MPs who were not easily young enough to start again, or who had any real roots in local government or the unions, or who could not have been certain of making at least as much money if they had lost their seats as if they had kept them. The new party’s character was thus fixed from the start: a very readily identifiable post-War type that was still relatively young in 1981, had few or no roots in wider civil society, and was on the up economically. The 1980s were to be those people’s decade.

Apparently unable to see that the trade unions were where the need for a broad-based, sane opposition to Thatcherism was greatest, the SDP was hysterically hostile to them, and instead made itself dependent on a single donor, later made a Minister by Tony Blair without the rate for the job. It betrayed Gaitskellism over Europe. It betrayed both Christian Socialism and, contrary to what is usually asserted, Gaitskellism over nuclear weapons. It adopted the decadent social libertinism of Roy Jenkins. It adopted the comprehensive schools mania of Shirley Williams. And it carried over her sense of guilt at not having resigned over past Labour attempts to control immigration. Today, both the Conservative and the Liberal Democrat components of the Coalition are replete with its former members, and David Cameron’s court is stuffed full of them as advisors and general hangers-on. But read the Limehouse Declaration, and see if you can spot anything remotely redolent of the Coalition’s programme.

Except that, faced with Bennism and Trotskyism on one side, and with the forces around Margaret Thatcher on the other, that Declaration advocated exactly the wrong thing, “more, not less, radical change in our society”. Alliance with the Liberal Party committed the SDP to constitutional agenda scarcely distinguishable from those of Tony Benn, many of which have now been enacted and most of which are now the policy of all three parties. Yet imagine if the flagship Bennite and Alliance policy of abolishing the House of Lords had been enacted. Who would now be providing the parliamentary defence of the responsibility of the Secretary of State for the provision of healthcare, the responsibility that simply is the NHS? No wonder that Jim Callaghan once threatened to resign as Labour Leader if required to fight a General Election on a policy of abolishing that House as it was constituted in 1980.

Yet the need has never been greater for a party of those whose priorities include the Welfare State, workers’ rights, trade unionism, the co-operative movement and wider mutualism, consumer protection, strong communities, conservation rather than environmentalism, fair taxation, full employment, public ownership, proper local government, a powerful Parliament, the monarchy, the organic Constitution, national sovereignty, civil liberties, the Union, the Commonwealth, the countryside, traditional structures and methods of education, traditional moral and social values, economic patriotism, balanced migration, a realist foreign policy, an unhysterical approach to climate change, and a base of real property for every household to resist both over-mighty commercial interests and an over-mighty State. A party for those social democrats who were alienated from Labour by the rise within it of forces inimical to Bevan’s eschewal of class conflict in favour of “a platform broad enough for all to stand upon”. People whose views on certain issues have, if anything, returned to the Gaitskellite tradition during the intervening decades.

Where is that party? Roll on electoral reform. And in the meantime, what is Ed Miliband doing to bring David Owen to greater prominence? Or is it time to look elsewhere for a political formation growing from the Labour Movement’s trade union, co-operative, Radical Liberal, Tory populist, Christian Socialist, Social Catholic and Distributist, and other non-Marxist roots? The party that the SDP could have been. If it had held on a little while.

Respice Prospice

As they at least used to say round Diane Abbott’s way.

Her ordinary, rather than her campaign, website makes clear her sympathy for the 11-plus, for single-sex schools, for Oxbridge as academically elitist, for universities’ flexible approach to entry grades if they see potential in the applicant, for the prevention of social rather than academic elitism by improving the schools attended by the poor, for raising poor pupils’ aspirations so that they actually apply to the top universities, and for reinstating full grants so that they can afford to go.

She has also been consistent in her opposition to European federalism, in her role as a voice of her ethnic community on immigration by people who cannot speak English or who come from countries with no historic ties to Britain, in her support for action against such things as not giving up seats to elderly people on public transport, and in her opposition to the New Labour assault on civil liberties. All in all, no wonder that she hated both Thatcherism and Blairism so much.

But Thatcherism included abortion up to birth, strongly opposed by John Smith, among other Labour MPs. Blairism included the pouring into pointless embryonic stem cell “research” of the money that should have been spent on adult and cord blood stem cell research, which really works. And Blairism included the transformation of this country into a bioethical rogue state, with spare parts babies, with human-animal hybridity (I’ll say that again - human-animal hybridity), and with two women or even two men listed as the parents on birth certificates, another one that is worth repeating until it sinks in.

Abbott’s constituency is the cradle of Blue Labour. A reselection challenge would be in order, followed by an Independent candidacy if she held on.

Astro Newt

Newt Gingrich has form. He wants "a mirror system in space [that] could provide the light equivalent of many full moons so that there would be no need for night-time lighting of the highways." Oh, and "a large array of mirrors that could affect the earth's climate", thereby extending the growing season for farmers. And now, he has earned the endorsement, which I would expect to be forthcoming, of Lyndon LaRouche, by advocating the old loony's signature policy of colonising the Moon and then Mars. Yes, that's right. Mars.

Gingrich's historical theories are about as credible as LaRouche's, making it no surprise that he was denied tenure, not in the liberal Northeast that he had fled, but in Georgia, and I mean Georgia as it was then. His moral positions are if anything more liberal than most of LaRouche's, Gingrich having had more wives than children and more affairs than wives. He is also far less of a peacenik, being financially dependent on Sheldon Adelson, and with a history of, for example, calling Reagan "Neville Chamberlain" for daring to meet Gorbachev.

The American Right's Fantasy World

And, since it is now almost entirely wannabe American, our own’s.

Michael Lind writes:

One benefit of the prolonged campaign for the Republican presidential nomination has been the revelation that most of the 20 or 30 percent of Americans who describe themselves as conservatives live in a fantasy world. In their imaginations, Barack Obama, a centrist Democrat with roots in Eisenhower Republicanism rather than Rooseveltian liberalism, is a radical figure trying to take America down the path of “European socialism.” The signature healthcare reform of Obama and the Democratic Congress, modeled on Mitt Romney’s insurance-friendly Massachusetts healthcare program and closely resembling a proposal by the right-wing Heritage Foundation, is described as “statist,” “socialist” or “fascist” (as though Hitler came to power with the goal of providing subsidies to private health insurance companies).

How can otherwise sane people believe such lunacy? The answer is that members of the right-wing counterculture are brainwashed — that is the only appropriate term — by the apocalyptic propaganda ground out constantly by the conservative media establishment. A perfect example is a recent essay by Philip Klein, a senior editorial writer of the Washington Examiner, the right-wing newspaper owned by the billionaire Philip Anshutz: “The Welfare State Is Destroying America.”

Klein begins, typically, with the fall from grace of America under the sinister Franklin Roosevelt, who presided over the establishment of Social Security: “But Roosevelt was dead wrong that the program would help the nation avoid deep debt. Social Security and the entitlement programs that followed its legacy of seeking to protect citizens from the ‘hazards and vicissitudes of life,’ turned out to be fiscal disasters.”

In the real world, of course, today’s national debt has nothing to do with Social Security, whose trust fund has a surplus that will last for decades, with the precise date of the trust fund’s exhaustion depending on the rate of general economic growth. True, the federal government has to raise the tax revenue to repay the money it borrowed from the trust fund — but then, the federal government has to repay all of its creditors, domestic and foreign. What’s wrong with that?

As if to concede that there is no Social Security crisis in the near future, Klein engages in three intellectually dishonest maneuvers typical of right-wing propagandists. First, he talks about medium-term and long-term problems as though they were present-day emergencies. Second, he blurs the distinction between Social Security’s long-term fiscal challenges, which are minor, and those caused by rising healthcare costs, in order to make Social Security seem worse off than it is in reality. Third, he implies that “the growing debt burden” of the United States is primarily caused by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, ignoring tax cuts, wars and the effects of a near-depression:

With health care costs rising and the population aging, America’s welfare-state obligations are bringing the country to its financial knees. If left unchecked, the growing debt burden will not only trigger runaway inflation and stifling taxes, but it will also threaten national security.

By now readers of the Washington Examiner must assume that Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson deliberately designed Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to be paid for by federal borrowing. Why shouldn’t Klein’s audience leap to that false conclusion? After all, Klein has not mentioned the funding streams that pay for these programs: payroll taxes (Social Security), payroll taxes and general revenues (Medicare) and general revenues (Medicaid).

If Klein were honest with his readers, he would point out that the main causes of federal deficits in the last generation have been the Reagan and Bush tax cuts, plus the fiscal aftereffects of the Great Recession, in the form of falling tax revenues and increased spending on unemployment insurance and stimulus programs. But that would distract from the false impression that Klein is seeking to convey.

So far in this classic of polemical literature, “The Welfare State Is Destroying America,” Philip Klein has relied solely on rhetoric. In the next few paragraphs he uses a few numbers, all of which have been cherry-picked to paint a picture of imminent national economic collapse, and all of which are misleading.

Here is misleading argument No. 1:

Spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare alone currently account for 46 percent — or nearly half of — federal spending, excluding interest payments. Over the next 25 years, that percentage will explode to 66 percent, or close to two-thirds, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Ooh, scary! These numbers may frighten readers, but they are meaningless. The only number that conceivably would matter would be the overall federal-state-local spending as a share of GDP, which in the U.S. is well below the average for industrial democracies that are just as competitive and prosperous. Saying that the share of federal spending that is devoted to Social Security and healthcare spending will grow over 25 years from 46 to 66 percent does not support Klein’s case that the welfare state will “destroy” America. These are just irrelevant numbers, thrown out to impress the ignorant reader of the Washington Examiner.

Misleading argument No. 2 follows:

Numbers associated with the nation’s debt crisis are almost too staggering to comprehend. Last month, total U.S. debt surpassed $15 trillion. But a recent analysis by Boston University economics professor Laurence Kotlikoff found that when long-term entitlement obligations are considered, the true fiscal gap is $211 trillion.

What Klein fails to point out is that Kotlikoff’s calculation for unfunded entitlement obligations is for the period between now and infinity. Even if Kotlikoff and Klein used the briefer time span of, say, 2012-2100, there would be no cause for alarm, because nobody is going to present the federal government with a check for advance payment of all projected entitlement payments in the remainder of the 21st century, due tomorrow. In other words, saying the U.S. has a “fiscal gap” is like saying that you are in danger of bankruptcy from a “personal fiscal gap,” because you could not pay off the entire house or car mortgage today. As long as you can make the installment payments at a reasonable interest rate, you, like the nation, are fine.

The abstract “fiscal gap” arises almost entirely from the minor projected shortfall of payroll tax funding for Social Security and, more important, from the estimated out-of-control growth of healthcare costs in decades to come. Change the variables, by means of new taxes for Social Security, benefit cuts or control of excessive costs in the U.S. medical industry, and the Big Scary Fiscal Gap disappears or shrinks dramatically, depriving right-wing hacks and left-wing deficit hawks of a club used to beat Social Security and Medicare.

Does Klein tell his readers this? Of course not. He’s just throwing out scary-sounding statistics to stampede the yahoos.

On to misleading argument No. 3:

Greece, with an economy 1/50th the size of the U.S., is threatening the economic standing of the rest of Europe because of its growing debt burden, which hit 143 percent of its gross domestic product in 2010.

The U.S. is on pace to match that dubious distinction in under 20 years, according to the CBO, and to soar to 716 percent by 2080. Sustaining such debt would require raising marginal tax rates to as high as 88 percent, the CBO has told The Washington Examiner.

Shame on the CBO for misleading the public in this way. The experts of the CBO know perfectly well that the United States is never going to have a national debt of 716 percent of GDP or marginal tax rates of 88 percent. Long before anything like these absurd numbers were reached, policies would be changed to cut costs in medical spending. Long-term projections like these are just scary stories told to frighten the public into fiscal sobriety, in the same spirit that a parent would tell an overweight child that if she or he kept eating, then according to a straight-line computer projection, by the age of 40 she or he would weigh 23 tons.

As it happens, the CBO’s own rigorous work undercuts the apocalyptic narrative set forth by conservatives like Philip Klein. Here, from a CBO report of a few years back (the long-term projections have not significantly changed), is Box 2, “The Effect of the Aging of the Population on Spending on Medicare and Medicaid.”

This one graph disproves practically everything American conservatives say about the alleged unaffordability of entitlements. Note that the aging of the American population alone would only raise the share of GDP spent on Medicare and Medicaid slightly between now and 2082. The projected increase is almost entirely the result of excess cost growth in America’s dysfunctional medical-industrial sector and has next to nothing to do with aging. Now look at Figure 4, “Projected Spending on Health Care as a Percentage of Gross Domestic Product.”

Observe that the cancerous growth of healthcare costs occurs chiefly in private sector healthcare spending — not in Medicare and Medicaid. In other words, the cost problem is one of the entire U.S. medical industry, private and public alike. It is not a problem caused by “entitlements.”

Debating the solutions would take us too far from the subject, although it should be noted that most other countries control healthcare costs by means of “all-payer regulation” — that is, government-imposed price controls — not by means of market competition, the right’s unrealistic panacea, which no other nation uses, for the reason that simple market economics does not work in the healthcare sector. For the purposes of this discussion, it is sufficient to reproduce a final chart from the CBO report, Figure 5, “Federal Spending for Medicare and Medicaid as a Percentage of Gross Domestic Product Under Different Assumptions About Excess Cost Growth.”

Note that if the excess cost growth problem is solved, then the nightmare scenario never materializes, either in the near future or the distant future. Indeed, in the last few years, partly because of the loss of employer-based healthcare by the unemployed, and partly because of reforms in medical provision, healthcare cost growth in the U.S. has slowed. If that trend continues, then conservatives will no longer be able to claim that healthcare in general (not just Medicare and Medicaid) will eat up half the economy in 2082. The right will have to use other arguments to discredit Social Security and Medicare, like the hoary old claim that these programs are fascist or communist — an argument that has never persuaded the growing number of American voters who depend on Social Security and Medicare for their retirements and for protecting their physical health.

Philip Klein concludes his Op-Ed about how the welfare state is destroying America with further nonsense (you can’t claim he isn’t consistent). Reciting yet another right-wing myth, Klein asserts that because of Social Security and Medicare, the bond markets in general and the Chinese government in particular will stop lending America money and interest rates will skyrocket, destroying the American economy, yadda yadda yadda:

Just this past August, Standard and Poor’s downgraded U.S. debt for the first time in American history. Once bond holders abandon America, the nation will either have to dramatically cut spending, raise taxes steeply, or print money to buy up the debt — which would trigger massive inflation.

Where has he been since last August? Even a senior editorial writer at the Washington Examiner should be aware that the downgrading of America’s credit rating was followed by a rush of money into American bonds, not out of them, in defiance of the predictions of the deficit hawks. Evidently the bond markets think America is the world’s safe haven and are not terribly worried about long-term American entitlement costs.

The growing debt burden is also a national security risk, because it reduces America’s leverage against nations such as China, which owns a substantial amount of U.S. debt. And the fiscal crunch will force devastating cuts to our military — far beyond anything contemplated today.

Somebody should tell Klein that China’s export-oriented growth model depends on keeping its currency undervalued and accumulating dollars, which it then uses to buy dollar-denominated debt like U.S. Treasury bonds. If China revalued its currency, it would stop buying bonds to the detriment of its industries and to the benefit of many American exporters. If this were to happen, the U.S. deficit would shrink and we would need less external financing. Hurrah! In the long run there doubtless will be increases in U.S. interest rates, but they are unlikely to come about for the reasons that Klein and other apocalyptics on the right predict.

As for the Pentagon, the chief threat to the future of the U.S. military is neither the American welfare state nor the Chinese financial authorities, but the conservative wing of the Republican Party, which prefers round after round of tax cuts for the rich to the taxes that would permit the U.S. to fund both an adequate military and an affordable welfare state.

Klein concludes inescapably:

Thus, the conclusion is inescapable that, if America doesn’t end the welfare state as we have known it since 1935, it will end America as we know it today.

It may seem cruel to pick on Philip Klein, who is, after all, simply one of many minor hacks in the right-wing media machine controlled by billionaires like Anshutz and the Koch brothers. But it is worth reading the right’s propaganda now and then, just to find out how it is that so many of our conservative fellow citizens can have been so deceived.

Happy Australia Day

God Save The Queen.

And no, I am not late. It is Beijing Time throughout China, regardless of when the sun rises. And it is GMT wherever the Queen is the Queen. It just is. So there.

On a serious note, and related to yesterday's post about the areas that rose, in one case with the Duke of Monmouth, in the other with his exiled cousins, by 2015 what they thought was their party will have condemned them to darkness long into the morning for much of the year, by having imposed Central European Time with the connivance of a Coalition partner which has already collapsed north of the Wash and is ripe for collapse west of the Solent.

But anyway, Happy Australia Day. God Save The Queen.

Sapere Aude

As they say in Oldham, where a new Academy is to be staffed entirely by former personnel of the Armed Forces. Leaving aside the arguments around Academies, it was well withing living memory when boys' schools, especially, were staffed entirely or almost entirely by such personnel. This is nothing new. Nor, in itself, is it anything to worry about.

Below A Certain Level

The raising of the income tax threshold is a gimmick if it is to be done apart from a wholesale restructuring which, among many other things, guaranteed everyone a tax-free income of at least half national median earnings at the given time.


That's that call centre wallah told. It's only "rowting" in America. It's "rooting" in Britain. There is also a word "rowting", which like "rooting" is also spelled "routing", and there is a word both spelled and pronounced "rooting", but there is no time to go into any of that.

It is striking that the American pronunciation is apparently being used on the Subcontinent these days. Next, they will have adopted American spellings. Those people who said that we could retain a services sector even if we no longer made anything to service, where are you now? Bloody Bangalore, that's where.

Satyameva Jayate

In considering the rise of India, we must be mindful that we are not necessarily dealing with India as we have known her.

The Hindu nationalist BJP is now about as likely as the Congress Party to be the principal party of government. Within and allied to the BJP are violently fascistic elements such as the Shiv Sena and those who massacre Christians in Orissa. Leadership is passing to Narendra Modi, who is heavily implicated in Gujarat’s anti-Muslim pogroms in recent years.

But the party centrally is increasingly seeking to join forces with political Islam around such causes as the strong nationalism that has always been expressed by the Darul Uloom Deoband, the conduct of Waqf Boards, and the recognition of Urdu as one of the “authentically” Indian languages to be promoted at the expense of English. However, the BJP has little or no understanding that patriotism must include economic patriotism.

The hope that the Sikhs, prominent in the Indian Army, will remain a bulwark of the old culturally Anglophile, politically pro-American Indian elite is not assisted by the realisation that the staunchly Sikh SAD relies on the BJP to deliver its majority at State level in Punjab, and therefore supports the BJP at Union level.

If there is a third force in India, then it is made up of Far Left parties, it is led by the party that followed Mao when he broke with the Soviet Union, and it includes the successors of Subhas Chandra Bose, who raised an army in support of the Japanese during the Second World War.

All in all, India’s nuclear weapons, like those of Israel and perhaps also those of the United States, should be regarded with no less trepidation than those of Pakistan or North Korea, and with considerably more so than those of China, Russia or, purely hypothetically, Iran.

The Unmaking of Israel

Noah Millman writes:

Gershom Gorenberg is an exception to the rule—more than one rule. He’s an Orthodox Jewish Israeli of American origin, a group that generally tilts sharply to the right in an Israeli context. But he’s decidedly on the political left, an advocate of not only freezing settlement construction but of initiating evacuations “without waiting for a signature on a peace agreement,” of negotiating a two-state solution based on the Green Line (the armistice lines of 1949, the de facto borders prior to the 1967 war), of the separation of synagogue and state, and of true civic equality between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. More than this, he has a realistic understanding of how the Zionist project must have been perceived by the Arab population of the Levant from the beginning: when he talks about the Palestinian Nakba—“catastrophe,” which is how the Palestinian Arabs refer to the events Israeli Jews call the War of Independence—he doesn’t put the word in scare quotes. But though Gorenberg is a man of the left, he also describes himself as a Zionist, rather than a non-, anti-, or post-Zionist. That is to say, he describes himself as a Jewish nationalist.

The State of Israel is also an exception to the rule—more than one rule. Like Greece and Algeria, India and Vietnam, Kenya and Lithuania, and numerous other states today, it is the fruit of a movement for national liberation, of a struggle, in the words of the Israeli national anthem, to be “a free people in our own land.” Unlike any other movement for national liberation, however, Zionism did not seek an independent state for an already existing nation living in a territory but rather to create a nation and a state out of a people scattered across the globe that had lived nearly two millennia in diaspora from its ancestral home. Like the United States and Canada, Brazil and Argentina, Australia and South Africa, Israel is also a settler state, created by a European population that came not merely to rule but to occupy and to substantially displace the indigenous people. Unlike any other settler state, however, the settlers of Israel understood themselves not to be venturing forth but to be coming home—and though individually any Israeli could make a home in any number of places, as could anyone from anywhere, in aggregate there is no other place on earth that they could call home.

This exceptional man has written a book, The Unmaking of Israel, about that exceptional state and its protracted and deepening crisis. And it is, appropriately enough, an exceptional contribution to the genre.

What is exceptional about the book is the frame within which Gorenberg chooses to tell a mostly familiar story—familiar, anyway, to anyone conversant with the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gorenberg is not the first person to write a book decrying the human consequences of Israel’s settlement enterprise in the West Bank, and indeed, though he does decry them forcefully it is not the purpose of his book either to document them or to persuade anyone who does not already agree that the occupation has had frightful ramifications for the Palestinians. Nor is he the first person to make the “demographic argument” for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—the argument that Israel cannot remain both a democratic state and a Jewish state if it does not retain a substantial and stable Jewish majority, which would not be the case if the West Bank were incorporated into Israel proper. Indeed, this latter point is now part of the Israeli conventional wisdom—every party to the left of Likud formally endorses it, Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nominally accepts it as well, and even the platform of Avigdor Liberman’s far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party depends on the same premise (which is why that platform proposes trading the heavily Arab areas within the Green Line for the Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank as part of a hypothetical agreement). But this is also not the primary thrust of Gorenberg’s book; he takes it for granted that everyone understands the basic arithmetic.

Rather, the thrust of the book, as the title states, is to demonstrate that the series of decisions made during and after the 1967 War that resulted in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza set in motion a process that has progressively “unmade” the State of Israel. Indeed, the progressive expansion of the settlement enterprise has so eroded the foundations of the signature achievement of political Zionism—Israel as we now know it—that not merely a “Jewish democratic state” but the state as such is now imperiled.

To make that case, Gorenberg begins by taking the reader back to the pre-state period and the early days of the Israeli state. Before independence, the Jewish community in Israel was subject to colonial rule but substantially governed itself through the various institutions of the yishuv and through manifold Zionist political movements and militias. Once national liberation was achieved, with the United Nations vote for partition and victory in the war of independence, Israel needed to get on with the process of state-building.

Israel’s first leader, David Ben-Gurion, pursued this aim in, again, a manner very familiar from other post-colonial states. The party of liberation established organs of the state—or took them over from the colonial power—but did so in such a manner that these organs were bound up, at least initially, with that same party, with the “losing” parties required to dissolve their pre-state institutions, particularly militias. The only “battle” Israel fought to achieve this goal was to sink the Altalena, a ship carrying arms for the Irgun, Menachem Begin’s right-wing militia, when the Irgun refused to hand those arms over to the Israel Defense Forces.

This decision by Ben-Gurion is Gorenberg’s object lesson in what it means to have a state: by using force early and decisively, Ben-Gurion assured that the state would have a monopoly of force, and would therefore be a state. It’s also a decision to which the losing party has never reconciled itself, and Gorenberg recounts how the Israeli right has made a rallying cry of the Altalena over the years. But for all the hand-wringing about Jews firing on other Jews, it’s worth pointing out that Israel made the transition from a revolutionary national movement to a functioning state more successfully than many other decolonizing countries, particularly given the nature of the challenges it faced. (Most notably the need to integrate an enormous wave of mostly poor immigrants that, while sharing a sense of common peoplehood, was divided into wildly different cultural and linguistic groups.)

But with the dramatic victory of 1967, Israel was tempted by the conquered territory to reverse this historical progression and revert to the pre-state condition of being a national movement. Israel captured two different categories of land in 1967. The Sinai and the Golan Heights were recognized by the world generally as the sovereign territory of Egypt and Syria. While Israel planted settlements in both areas—and actually annexed the Golan Heights—the nature of the conflict over these territories is an inter-state manner and will be resolved in the usual way between states. (As indeed it was with Egypt after the Camp David accords.)

The West Bank and Gaza, however, were neither annexed nor administered according to the Geneva Conventions for occupied territory. They were settled without regard to the law, rather in the manner of Jewish settlement in the pre-state period, except with a combination of active and passive state backing: active when the settlements were planned by the Israeli government, passive when they were established by “wildcat” settlers and then retroactively approved, a process that has accelerated during the years since the Oslo accords. The Israeli state broke its own and international law, but more alarmingly from the perspective of the integrity of the state, it encouraged private parties to believe that they were acting patriotically when they broke the law and forced the state’s hand, all in an effort to establish “facts on the ground” that would (those responsible presumably thought) redound to Israel’s benefit—or, more properly, to the benefit of the “Jewish national movement,” since Gorenberg’s contention is that this activity in fact damaged Israel as a state and since it wouldn’t be correct to talk about this or that activity benefiting an entire ethnic or religious group like “the Jews.”

Since 1967, Gorenberg relates, the settlement enterprise has undermined the Israeli state top to bottom. It has fostered secrecy and corruption in government. (There is no proper accounting anywhere of spending on settlements; the figures simply aren’t kept.) It has inspired messianic religious groups that do not recognize the state as the final authority over questions of territory or war and peace and then encouraged these groups to greater and greater influence within the armed forces—because they could be relied upon to serve in the territories without loss of morale—raising the specter of a split in the army should the government ever decide to withdraw from the West Bank. And as relations between Jews and Arabs in the West Bank took on the character of an armed ethnic contest, this dynamic has been imported back into Israel proper, where private groups—frequently with some degree of state support—have engaged in campaigns to “Judaize” predominantly Arab parts of the state.

Again the story is familiar. Less so is the framing. Gorenberg, though he is outraged by the plight of the Palestinians, is not really writing about that plight. Nor is he writing from an anti-Zionist perspective. Rather, he is writing from a deeply Zionist point of view. Zionism, we tend to forget, was not a self-defense movement. It was a nationalist movement. Nationalism tells a people a story about what it means to be free—that being free means being part of a self-conscious, self-governing, sovereign, and independent collective. Losing consciousness of one’s national group, being governed by other groups, failing to achieve independence and sovereignty on par with other nations—these are signs of unfreedom. Of immaturity. The Jews before Zionism were, from the perspective of this narrative, either an exceptionally immature nation or not a nation at all. The goal of Zionism was not simply—or even primarily—to provide for a “safe haven” for Jews fleeing persecution by the Czar or the Nazis. The goal was the spiritual rejuvenation of the Jewish people by molding them into a nation like other nations and achieving independent statehood.

This is a narrative frame that, in broad strokes, Gorenberg accepts, which is why he is properly seen as a Zionist. Indeed, the whole argument of the book is that by holding onto and settling the territories captured in 1967, Israel has reverted to a mode of existence that Zionism was supposed to help the Jews grow out of. By undermining the authority of the state, the settlement enterprise has revived modes of being and of argument that, from Gorenberg’s perspective, the Jewish people should have grown out of when they acquired the power and responsibility of a state. Indeed, that was the whole point, from a moral perspective, of acquiring state power in the first place. The settlement enterprise doesn’t just undermine the moral case for Israel because it’s an injustice (plenty of states have perpetrated injustices—indeed, far worse injustices—without undermining the case for statehood as such) but because it is evidence that Zionism failed in what was arguably its primary objective.

Gorenberg wrote his book primarily for a Jewish audience. Based on what he has said about the reception when he has gone to synagogues and other venues to talk about his book, much of the opposition from within the Jewish community refuses to be confronted with painful facts, determined to shout down and shut out the messenger with the unwelcome message. But I can imagine a more forthright approach for the opposition. Gorenberg is making the case that Israel has encouraged the reversion to a pre-state mode of being; it has revived a situation where Jews are locked in ethnic conflict with their neighbors rather than dominating an independent state with relations (whether conflicted or harmonious) with neighboring states. But why blame Israel for this? How do we know that the pre-state situation ever really ended? Did the Arab states make peace in 1949? No. Have the Palestinians reconciled themselves to the idea of a Jewish state? No. Have the Palestinian citizens of Israel at least reconciled themselves to it? No. So why should Israel effectively disarm themselves and say: we’ve got enough; we’re not going to fight for more—even though you will continue to fight so that we have less. Why should Israel be the sucker?

I don’t think the proper answer to this is to get back into a debate about the facts, or about who is more and who less justified in their specific actions. I think the proper answer is in that famous line of Ben-Gurion’s: “What matters is not what the goyim say, but what the Jews do.” The line is usually quoted as a rejoinder to concerns about “what will the world think” if Israel does such and such. But it is equally a proper rejoinder to justifying Israel’s conduct by reference to the hostility of the Palestinians, or anyone else, to Zionism. Zionism’s goal was a sovereign, independent Jewish state in the historic land of Israel, as a means to the moral and spiritual rebirth of the Jewish nation. If the occupation is destroying Israel’s fundamental character, dismantling the state, and corrupting the people, as Gorenberg contends, then Zionists above all should want to end it, as swiftly and comprehensively as possible, and not try to hold out for the most favorable terms—to say nothing of holding out for the approval and acceptance of those for whom the Jewish state can at best be seen as an unfortunate fact of life.

After all, it was always absurd to think that anyone but the Jewish people would ever truly endorse the aims of Zionism, because Zionism was a specifically Jewish national project. That project is properly judged a success or failure by what kind of nation it built, and how. Which is how Gorenberg judges it. And, to his dismay but not despair, he finds it wanting.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

1685, 1715, 1745, 2015

The Lib Dems ran an old-fashioned West Country Liberal campaign in 2010, and not without success: the rural Radicalism of class as it expresses itself in agricultural communities, of chapel versus church, and all the rest of it. Not without success. Yet within a week, they found themselves in coalition with the Conservatives. For whom does that obviously still numerous body of opinion vote now?

And what of the rural Radicalism of the North of Scotland, a very similar affair? If the Crofters' Party had lasted another 10 years, then it would have been an integral part of the emergence of the Labour Movement, rather than being subsumed into the Liberals and then caught up in their decline after the First World War.

If Labour cannot clear up after this - in the West Country, there is no either viable option at all - then yet another item will have been added to the ledger headed "Reasons to forget about the Labour Party and start again".

Penny Paying Court

In that case, Laurie Penny, make Legal Aid available for libel actions. Or have I missed something?

If the English law of libel is no longer enforceable in America, then why are the American criminalisations of breach of copyright and breach of contract still enforceable through the courts here, in that they continue to order extradition in such cases?

No Small Claim

Legislation is urgently necessary to disapply any ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, or of the European Court of Justice, or of the “Supreme Court”, unless and until ratified by a resolution of the House of Commons, the High Court of Parliament, the real Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, itself urgently needing to be elected by a system more representative of public opinion, with the general electorate having the decisive say in the selection of party candidates no less than in choosing among them and others.

The Crossroads of America

With a brokered convention looking increasingly likely, the Republicans replied to the State of the Union Address in the person and words of Mitch Daniels.

A grandson of Syrian Christians.

Turning His Baton Rouge

Newt Gingrich's PhD was on the Belgian colonial administration in the Congo. It cited numerous sources in French, and was partly based on interviews conducted in Brussels.

More than that, though, one of those states which have Catholic majority populations, which continue to contain strongholds of conservative Democrats at local level, and which these days return one Republican and one fairly conservative Democrat to the Senate, the sort of states that the Republican nominee has to win, not only has a Napoleonic law code, but has French as one of its official languages.

"Fecklessness and Irresponsibility"

Quite apart from the fact that being out of step with public opinion is rather reminiscent of Jesus and of the Prophets before Him, whose call was frequently and powerfully for social justice, the sometime News of the World columnist George Carey is an almost completely American figure with hardly any ties to the intellectual life of the Church of England, or of either liberal or orthodox American Episcopalianism rather than those nominal Anglicans who in fact inhabit his own transdenominational subculture. The political consequences of the disestablishment of the Episcopal Church in the South have been vast, and are very much ongoing.

He is a leading light among those figures very much of the present age, liberals with Charismatic backgrounds, who assume their own experience to be theologically normative. He retains a certain gut aversion to the mechanics of male homosexuality, but that is as far as any orthodoxy on his part really goes, and he cheerfully raised to the purple two men who engaged in such acts, both from the constituency at which the Ordinariate is aimed, although neither of them has joined it.

His closest links, of many decades' standing, are to the world of those who, if they read books at all, imagine the writings of Ayn Rand to be, if not the Gospel itself, then fully compatible with it, and who would have thought of George W Bush as a latter-day Saint Louis, if they had ever heard of Saint Louis. Yet, as his buddies across the Atlantic presumably do not know, he campaigned for the Crown Dependencies to adopt the 1967 Abortion Act. It is his much-maligned successor who is totally pro-life. Attempts to present Carey as a bastion of orthodoxy are simply laughable.

The fact that he can come out with this proves that: all that the bishops said, and the House of Lords accepted, was that Child Benefit (which some people seem to think is only paid to the unemployed - yes, they really are as out of touch as that) should not be counted towards the cap, since the procreation of human life is a good in itself. What would you have instead? Abortion? The mass importation of Muslims to fill the vast economic gaps left by underpopulation? What, exactly?

But Carey endeared himself to the ferociously pro-abortion Margaret Thatcher, likewise a person with no discernible political philosophy and dependent on blow-ins to conservatism (as was she), who were able to persuade the half-educated that their position was somehow at least amenable to the political expression of a Christianity to which, unlike Carey, she had in any case retained only a cultural attachment.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Restore The Things That Are Gone To Decay

"With this sword do justice, stop the growth of iniquity, protect the holy Church of God, help and defend widows and orphans, restore the things that are gone to decay, maintain the things that are restored, punish and reform what is amiss and confirm what is in good order."

So says the Archbishop of Canterbury as he hands the Sword of State to the monarch.

Shaftesbury and Wilberforce used the full force of the State to stamp out abuses of the poor at home and slavery abroad, both of which are now well on the way back in this secularised age. Victorian Nonconformists used the Liberal Party to fight against opium dens and the compelling of people to work seven-day weeks, both of which have now returned in full. Temperance Methodists built the Labour Party in order to counteract brutal capitalism precisely so as to prevent a Marxist revolution, whereas the coherence of the former with the cultural aspects of the latter now reigns supreme. But not in the House of Lords. Long may it remain.

As in most European countries, and as in anywhere having the British monarch at the Head, our State is in and of itself an institutional expression of Christianity, whether or not there is an Established Church. Therefore, our Welfare State and other social democratic measures, as in those other countries, are in and of themselves expression of Christian charity and of the Biblical, Patristic, Medieval, Catholic and classically Protestant understandings of society as an organic whole.

American critics of the Welfare State as secular and secularising are not only rather ahistorical in their own terms and somewhat out of touch with the profound Christianity of rural, working-class and black America. They are also captive to the theory of the constitutional separation of Church and State, which has nothing to do with Britain any more than with, say, Germany with her church taxes and her Kirchentag, or Italy with her Crucifixes in the courtroom and the classroom. The solution is not to remove the expressions of Christian charity and of the Christian concepts of organic society from the American civic order, but to remove the American civic order's formal repudiation of their basis.

What we have seen in today's nominally conservative and Tory media has been what we also saw when the neoconservative wars were most enthusiastically promoted by media moguls who, far from being conservative figures, were somehow all and yet none of Australian, American and British, or somehow all and yet none of Canadian, American and British. Those media have been the prime movers in turning first New Labour, and then also its imitators who have taken over the Conservative Party, into what most of Britain’s supposedly conservative and Tory newspapers have long been: more loyal to the United States and to the State of Israel than to the United Kingdom.

A position as unconservative and as far removed from Labourism as it is possible to imagine, and without parallel in any comparable country, if in any country at all. In short, wannabe Americanism, and an abstract America at that, not the really existing country. The sort of thing that the Founding Fathers had in mind, "free" from Christendom and therefore from the principles that begat social democracy in the industrial and post-industrial age.

The bishops did not persuade the House of Lords that there should be no cap whatever on a household's benefit entitlement, but only that it should not include Child Benefit. The universal payment of Child Benefit to mothers is a very strong argument for the restoration of the tax allowance for fathers, and with it for the whole series of measures necessary for the State to do its Christian duty of securing paternal authority, including the economic basis of that authority in high-wage, high-skilled, high-status employment.

And Child Benefit is one of the means whereby the State acknowledges that the procreation of human life is a good in and of itself, in obedience to the first commandment of God to Man in Scripture. Our civilisation, including its social democracy, was built and can only be sustained on that very high, Biblical view of human demographic, economic and cultural expansion and development. We must understand climate change in that light: over thousands of years, our species has demonstrated its God-given capacity to meet environmental challenges and to overcome environmental obstacles. We have to retain our full confidence in that capacity. One small way of doing so is by retaining universal Child Benefit while not counting it towards any - in itself, necessary - cap on entitlement.

Unite and Fight

Merger between Unite and the PCS? But the PCS is not affiliated, they say.

Well, NALGO was never affiliated. When it merged with NUPE and COHSE, which were, then Unison set up both the General Political Fund and the Affiliated Political Fund.

In very different circumstances from today's...

Dereliction of Duty

Ever going to war with Iraq in the first place.

Today, the funding sources of global Wahhabism have decreed that the Christians of Syria must get what the Christians of Iraq have been given.

Next on the hit list, the Assyrians, Armenians, Zoroastrians, Jews, highly educated women, and internationally acclaimed film-makers of Iran.

Multiple Failures

We are finally going to stop paying out through the benefits system for "polygamous partners" legally acquired in countries where that is possible.

Plenty of people seem to agree with us. At Bani Walid, they have risen in revolt against the (entirely unelected) new Libyan government. The first action of which was to legalise polygamy.

Things Fall Apart

A trillion pounds of national debt, 64 per cent of GDP.

The "Work" "Programme" has been exposed as a veritable Baroque palace of incompetence and fraud.

The collapse of a foreign company is about to deprive London and the South East of 20 per cent of their fuel.

It's like Tony Blair never went away. Then again, has he, really?

A Beacon In The North

Pace Alex Salmond, Scotland is already a beacon. But that is precisely because in Scotland, as in Wales and Northern Ireland, they still get to live somewhere that it is recognisably Britain. Whereas in England, we are the guinea pigs in the never-ending crazy experiments of the think tank schoolboys.

Free prescriptions, free eye and dental treatment, free hospital parking, free undergraduate tuition (although that is meaningless without the payment of living costs, which is why Scotland still has a lower rate of working-class participation than any other part of the United Kingdom), free long term care in old age: these all point to Herbert Morrison's principle that all parts of the United Kingdom must benefit equally from social democracy, and to the fiercely Unionist Aneurin Bevan's famous "platform broad enough for all to stand upon".

Only the institutions of the United Kingdom can deliver them throughout what is currently the United Kingdom. If there were a proper Labour Party in this Parliament, then that would be a key plank of its platform. Beginning with the withdrawal or defeat of the appalling, thoroughly unpatriotic Blairite nightmare that is the Health and Social Care Bill. One for the bishops? I don't see anyone else.

Return of the Nutters

You probably know someone who has a glass of wine or a pint of beer every night, and who has been doing so for many years. Imagine if they had been skinning up instead. There you are, then. Point made.

I am not denying that alcohol does damage. But the doing of that damage is not its only possible recreational use, as is the case with those drugs which are rightly proscribed under the criminal law.

We need a single class of illegal drug, with a crackdown on the possession of drugs, including a mandatory sentence of three months for a second offence, six months for a third offence, one year for a fourth offence, and so on. Within a context in which each offence carries a minimum sentence of one third of its maximum sentence, or of 15 years for life.

Work is resuming in the right circles on an old idea to do a David Nutt and set up our own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. It will be exactly as "politically neutral" as his. Or anyone else's. Inevitably. Watch this space.

The Nutter Generation has done enormous damage under its puppet Governments since 1997, with only a brief interlude under Gordon Brown. In my day at school and university, it was very definitely abnormal to take illegal drugs, thank goodness. It went on, but even so. Whereas now, it is well on the way to being mainstream again. Just as the likes of David Nutt have always wanted.


Poor Jim Naughtie was beside himself that the use of embryonic stem cells had allegedly caused an improvement in two cases of macular degeneration. And poor Professor Daniel Brison of Manchester had to tell him to calm down and that - read this over until it sinks in - the improvements had been in the untreated eyes.

The term "stem cell research" is persistently used to mean scientifically worthless but morally abhorrent playing about with embryonic stem cells, together with the viciously cruel justification of this by reference to an ever-longer list of medical conditions.

The real stem cell research involves adult and cord blood stem cells, is ethically unproblematic, and has already yielded real results. But it struggles to secure funding, because it is of no interest to those who cannot forgive the Catholic Church either for having educated them or for having educated the wrong sort.

Hard Times Again

Theodore Dalrymple writes:

We live in hard times, and all the indications are that they may get much, even very much, harder. No one, at any rate, would take a bet that they won’t.

The number of children in America claiming subsidized meals in school has shot up; the homeless are increasing by the hour; the formerly prosperous are laid off without so much as a thank you; the young struggle to find any work at all; beggars are making a comeback on the streets of cities as if they had been hiding all these years, waiting for the right moment to emerge from their subterranean lairs into the world above.

The February bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens, then, could hardly come at a more appropriate moment in economic history, for Dickens was the revealer, the scourge, the prose poet, of urban destitution—a destitution that, in our waking nightmares, we fear may yet return.

Dickens knew whereof he wrote. It was his habit to walk miles through the streets of London, and no man—except perhaps Henry Mayhew—was more observant than he. Often accused by his detractors of exaggerating reality, he claimed in the preface to Martin Chuzzlewit that he merely saw what others did not see, or chose not to see, and put it into plain words. What was caricature to some was to him no more than the unvarnished truth. He held up a mirror to his age.

The adjective “Dickensian” is more laden with connotation than the adjective that pertains to any other writer: Jamesian, for example, or Joycean, even Shakespearian. We think of workhouses, of shabby tenements with bedding of rags, of schools where sadistic and exploitative schoolmasters beat absurdities into the heads of hungry children, of heartless proponents of the cold charity, of crooked lawyers spinning out their cases in dusty, clerk-ridden chambers. We think of Oliver Twist asking for more, of Wackford Squeers exclaiming, “Here’s richness for you!”, as he tastes the thin slops his school doles out to his unfortunate pupils, of Mrs. Gamp looking at her patient and saying, “He’d make a lovely corpse!”

If he had been only a social commentator, though, Dickens would have been forgotten by all except specialist historians of his age. But he is not forgotten; he survives the notorious defects of his books—their sometimes grotesque sentimentality, their sprawling lack of construction, their frequent implausibility—to achieve whatever immortality literature can confer. Over and over again, in passage after passage, the sheer genius of his writing shines from the page and is the despair of all prose writers after him.

When Dickens called himself “the Inimitable,” he was speaking no more than the truth; he was the greatest comic writer in his, or perhaps in any other, language. And the comedy runs deep: it is not trivial, for while it depicts absurdity, pomposity, and even cruelty, it has the curious effect of reconciling us to life even as it lays human weaknesses out for our inspection.

Sairey Gamp, for example, the drunken, slatternly nurse in Martin Chuzzlewit, is as undesirable a creature as it is possible to be. Who would want to be nursed by her? She is, in effect, the exemplar of the need for the reform of an entire profession. Yet by a peculiar kind of alchemy Dickens makes us glad that there is a world in which a Mrs. Gamp can exist. A world without characters such as she would be the poorer for their absence.

When, gloriously, she says of the gin in the teapot, “Don’t ask me to take none, but put it on the chimbley piece, and let me put my lips to it when I feel so dispoged,” our hearts leap with an indefinable joy. The verbal genius of the simple replacement of the s in disposed by the g delights us. (Though no doubt Dickens would have told us that he actually had heard such a transposition rather than invented it, so that his genius was in noticing and remembering, not in inventing, which is a reproach to our own lack of observation.) The slattern’s ridiculous pretension to gentility and refinement, while maintaining her slovenliness, incites us to reflect upon our own pretensions—pretense being the permanent condition of mankind.

And while our love of Mrs. Gamp, tinged as it no doubt is by guilt that we can feel any affection for so disgraceful a being, does not prevent us from recognizing the obvious need for nursing to be placed on a more respectable footing, it also performs the function of restraining our wish for soulless perfection. A perfect world, or rather an attempted perfect world, in which there were no Dickensian characters would be a living hell.

I think this is what a student of English at the North Korean Foreign Languages Institute was driving at when he sidled up to me in Pyongyang and said, quickly and sotto voce (for unscripted communication with foreigners was dangerous for North Koreans), “Reading Shakespeare and Dickens is the greatest, the only, joy of my life.” I was, of course, in great admiration of the feat of his having learned English of such proficiency that he could appreciate the two authors while never having left his hermetic native hell and communicate his enthusiasm for them so elegantly. No doubt Dickens had been taught to him as a means of demonstrating the diabolical nature of capitalist society; but the lesson he had drawn from Dickens was quite otherwise, that Mrs. Gamp (for example), impoverished and degraded as she was, at least spoke in what was unmistakably her own voice and not that compelled by any political master. She was free as no North Korean was free.
• • •
As we live in hard times, it is worth considering Dickens’s novel of that title, especially as political economy is one of its most important themes. Has this book, published more than a century and a half ago, anything to say to us about our present predicament, beyond young Tom Gradgrind’s exclamation, “For God’s sake, don’t talk about bankers”?

Dickens is often reproached for his absence of firm and unequivocal moral, political, and philosophical outlook. He veers crazily between the ferociously reactionary and the mushily liberal. He lampoons the disinterested philanthropy of Mrs. Jellyby (in Bleak House) with the same gusto or ferocity as he excoriates the egotism of Mr. Veneering (in Our Mutual Friend). He suggests that businessmen are heartless swine (Bounderby in Hard Times) or disinterestedly charitable (the Cheeryble brothers in Nicholas Nickleby). He satirizes temperance (in The Pickwick Papers) as much as he derides drunkenness (in Martin Chuzzlewit). The evil Jew (in Oliver Twist) is matched by the saintly Jew (in Our Mutual Friend). As Stephen Blackpool, the working-class hero of Hard Times says, “it’s aw a muddle.”

George Orwell, in his famous essay on Dickens, saw in this philosophical and moral muddle not a weakness but a strength, a generosity of spirit, an openness to the irreducible complexity of mankind’s moral situation, an immunity to what he called “the smelly little orthodoxies that are now contending for our souls.” And indeed, the principal target of Hard Times is such an orthodoxy, namely a hard-nosed utilitarianism combined with an unbending liberalism. (Liberal in the economic, not cultural, sense.)

The principal bearers of the doctrine are Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bounderby. Gradgrind is a teacher whose statement of pedagogical philosophy is surely one of the greatest opening passages of any novel ever written:

Now what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!

By the end of the novel, Gradgrind has learned the insufficiency of facts for the conduct of human life, as he might have done merely by a little self-examination or reflection on the nature of moral and aesthetic judgment. It cannot be said that Gradgrind is a caricature, a character so exaggerated that he never did or could exist: passage after passage in Hard Times parallels almost exactly the account of John Stuart Mill’s education in his Autobiography, published 19 years after the novel. Furthermore, “the minds of reasoning animals” exactly captures the flavor of much recent scientistic writing about the human condition. Like hope in the human breast, scientism springs eternal in the human mind.

Josiah Bounderby of Coketown, the mill owner, claims to have come up in the world the hard way:

My mother left me to my grandmother, and, according to the best of my remembrance, my grandmother was the wickedest and the worst old woman that ever lived. If I got a little pair of shoes by any chance, she would take ’em off and sell ’em for drink… . She kept me in an egg-box. As soon as I was big enough to run away, of course I ran away. Then I became a young vagabond; and instead of one old woman knocking me about and starving me, everybody of all ages knocked me about and starved me.

This turns out to be quite untrue. In fact, his parents made sacrifices on his behalf, but the lie justifies his philosophy, that workers who ask for higher pay want turtle soup to be fed them from a golden spoon, that the slightest regulation of child labor will drive employers into bankruptcy and force them to abandon their factories, that the smoke belching from the mills not only cannot be reduced but is actually healthful for the lungs, that any form of collective action by the “hands” is the first stage of violent revolution, that any form of charity is the encouragement of idleness. In short: “What you couldn’t show to be purchasable in the cheapest market and salable in the dearest, was not, and never should be, world without end, Amen.”

Again, this is scarcely caricature. During the Irish famine, liberals like Charles Trevelyan—at the time to the left of the political spectrum—argued that to provide any form of relief to the starving was to encourage the very habits and practices, to say nothing of the overpopulation, that caused the famine in the first place. An abstract truth, as they believed it to be, overrode all considerations of humanity. True compassion consisted of letting events take their course.

One might have supposed, then, that Dickens would be much in favor of the unions; but in fact his depiction of the union leader, Slackbridge, in Hard Times is very unfavorable. He realized that demagogic leaders were perfectly capable of ensnaring good men en masse:

Slackbridge was not so honest, he was not so manly, he was not so good-humored [as his audience]; he substituted cunning for their simplicity, and passion for their safe solid sense… . Strange as it always is to consider any assembly in submissively resigning itself to the dreariness of any complacent person … it was even particularly affecting to see this crowd of honest faces, whose honesty in the main no competent observer free from bias could possibly doubt, agitated by such a leader.

Under the impact of today’s economic crisis, the shrillness of opposing camps, of diagnosers, prognosticators, and curers, has increased. Even the same financial page of the same newspaper may have articles proposing diametrically opposed solutions, the only thing in common between them being the certainty with which they are offered. Each has a single simple principle, Gradgrindian or not, that is the supposed key to happiness, prosperity, economic growth. But now more than ever it is necessary to suppress our inherent tendency to seek the key to all questions, and reading Dickens may help us to do it.

In The Catholic Revival in English Literature, 1845-1961, Fr Ian Ker identifies Charles Dickens (1906) both as Chesterton’s best work and as the key to understanding his Catholicism. “It is a typically Chestertonian paradox that while Dickens was nothing if not ignorant of and prejudiced against Catholicism as well as the Middle Ages, it is his unconsciously Catholic and Mediaeval ethos that is the heart of Chesterton’s critical study.”

First, Chesterton’s Dickens celebrated the ordinary, and rejoiced in sheer living and even sheer being. He was originally a “higher optimist” whose “joy is in inverse proportion to the grounds for so rejoicing,” because he simply “falls in love with” the universe, and “those love her with most intensity who love her with least cause.” Hence the exaggeration of Dickens’s caricatures, expressing both the heights of the highs and the depths of the lows in the life of one who looks at the world in this way.

For, secondly, Dickens created “holy fools”: Toots in
Dombey and Son, Miss Podsnap in Our Mutual Friend, the Misses Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit, to name but a few. Dickens also “created a personal devil in every one of his books,” figures with the “atrocious hilarity” of gargoyles. In either case, since the everyday world is so utterly extraordinary and extraordinary things so much a part of the everyday, so the absurd is utterly real and the real is utterly absurd. Postmodern, or what? Read Dickens, then read Chesterton on Dickens, and then re-read Dickens: who needs wilful French obscurantism in the name of ‘irony’?

And thirdly, then, Dickens was the true successor of Merry England, unlike his “pallid” contemporaries, the Pre-Raphaelites and “Gothicists”, whose “subtlety and sadness” was in fact “the spirit of the present day” after all. It was Dickens who “had the things of Chaucer”: “the love of large jokes and long stories and brown ale and all the white roads of England”; “story within story, every man telling a tale"; and "something openly comic in men’s motley trades”.

Dickens’s defence of Christmas was therefore a fight “for the old European festival, Pagan and Christian”, i.e., for “that trinity of eating, drinking and praying that to moderns appears irreverent”, unused as the modern mind is to “the holy day which is really a holiday.” Dickens’s defence of Christmas was therefore a fight “for the old European festival, Pagan and Christian”, i.e., for “that trinity of eating, drinking and praying that to moderns appears irreverent”, unused as the modern mind is to “the holy day which is really a holiday.”

Fr Ker traces these themes in
Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man. The former presents Catholicism, in profoundly Dickensian terms, as “that mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar which Christendom has rightly termed romance”, which meets the need “so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome.” Yet so to view the world is precisely to realise “that there is something the matter”, which is why pagans have always been “conscious of the Fall if they were conscious of nothing else”, since (and this is obviously much more controversial) Original Sin “in the only part of Christian theology which can be proved,” so that “the ordinary condition of man is not his sane or sensible condition”, but rather “the normal itself is an abnormality.” Once again, this is like Postmodernism, only older, wiser, better.

Better not least because, for Chesterton, it was this view of the world’s flawed goodness that made Dickens a social reformer, since he recognised people’s degraded dignity. One is made by Christianity “fond of this world, even in order to change it”, in contrast to simple (one might say, Whig or Marxist) optimism or simple pessimism (such as that of much of the political Right), each of which discourages reform. We have to “hate [the world] enough to want to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing”, for it is “at once an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet our own cottage, to which we can return at evening.”

Such was the view of Dickens and of Chesterton; and such is the Christian view, uniquely, as all of Christianity’s critics unwittingly concede by simultaneously accusing it both of excessive optimism and of excessive pessimism. Chesterton presciently predicted that an age of unbelief would be an age of conservatism (in the worst sense), whereas for the orthodox “in the hearts of men, God has been put under the feet of Satan, so that there can always be a revolution; for a revolution is a restoration.” Furthermore, “A strict rule is not only necessary for ruling; it is also necessary for rebelling”, since “a fixed and familiar ideal is necessary to any sort of revolution.”