Passing bull 191 – The people and the crowd

 

 

When people come together to vote for parliament or to serve on a jury – rather similar exercises – we feel good about each other.  But if we see them come together as a lynch mob, we are revolted.  We are revolted because people following the herd instinct are behaving more like animals than human beings.  Most of us are very worried about the crowds behind the gillets jaunes in France.  People have there taken to the streets not just to protest against government but to try to bend the government to do its will.  That is a plain denial of parliamentary democracy.  That kind of government can only work if the overwhelming majority of people accept the decision of a majority.  But ever since 1789, the French have claimed the right to take to the streets to stop government taking a course they do not like.  The result is that France has not been able to push through unpopular reforms in the same way that Germany and England did.  And the result of this triumph of the people is that the people are a lot worse off.  That in turn leads to the gillets jaunes and to the President’s not being able to implement the reforms for which he was elected.  And so the cycle goes on – until one morning the French get up and see a scowling Madame LePen brandishing a stock whip on her new tricoleur dais.  She will have achieved the final vindication of the crowd – the acquisition of real power by real force.

The Bagehot column in The Economist this week is headed ‘The roar of the crowd.’  It begins: ‘The great achievement of parliamentary democracy is to take politics off the streets.’  Well, the English achieved that – but not the French.  The article goes on to refer to street protests being invoked to express ‘the will of the people.’  That bullshit phrase is or should be as alien to the English as it is to us.  It is dangerous nonsense advanced by people over the water like Rousseau – one of most poisonous men who ever lived – Robespierre, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler.

The article also refers to social media –the worst misnomer ever – as ‘virtual crowds online.’  It quotes an 1895 book The Crowd; A Study of the Popular Mind as saying of crowds that they show ‘impulsiveness, irritability, incapacity to reason, the absence of judgment of the critical spirit, the exaggeration of sentiments’ and says that the crowd debases the ordinary person – ‘isolated he may be a cultivated individual; in a crowd, he is a barbarian.’  That is because he has handed over the keys to his own humanity.  All this is just as spot-on for social media as it is to those whom Farage whipped up against Muslims, or those for whom Trump did the same, or those who marched last night in favour of Brexit and did so to a ghastly drum-beat that made them look so much like the English fascists from the 1930’s.

For our system to work, people have to show at least some restraint and toleration.  At least two forces are in my view at work in Australia working against us and in favour of the herd instinct of the crowd.  One is social media.  The other is the Murdoch press.  The first is obvious.  As to the second, a New Zealand observer said there were two reasons for the immoderate restraint and toleration of their government to a crisis of hate – the leadership and empathy of the leader of their government, and the absence of the Murdoch press.  In Australia, Sky News after dark regularly parades Pauline Hanson while Bolt and others defends her and while in The Australian columnists attack Muslims as jihadis in something like a frenzy.  And it was just a matter of time before they spitefully turned on the New Zealand Prime Minister and the ‘Muslimist Aljazeera’ – and of course those middle class pinkos at Fairfax and the ABC.

The people behind social media and the Murdoch press are wont to preach about freedom of speech.  The sad truth is that they go to the gutter for the same reason – for profit.

Two more points.  The current disaster in England started when they went and tested ‘the will of the people’ and got an equivocal answer – yes, leave, but on what terms? – with a majority too slim to permit a simple solution to a difficult problem to be found and implemented.  Now we have the awful and degrading spectacle of parliament behaving worse than the crowd.  And people who got where they are on a vote from the people are with a straight face saying that it would be wrong to ask the people again now that everyone knows what lies were told and who has been the worst behaved.  Indeed, their Prime Minister says a second vote would be a ‘betrayal of democracy.’  Some say an election would be better – when both major parties are hopelessly splintered and there is no reason at all to think that a reconfigured group of those responsible for the present mess might do better.

The real betrayal of democracy has taken place in America.  Trump appealed to the crowd to reject the ‘elites’ – people who know what they are doing.  Neither he nor almost everyone in his government has any idea about governing.  But his betrayal is more elemental.  A President is elected, as Lincoln said ‘of the people, by the people, for the people.’  Trump could not care less about the people.  He is only interested in that ghastly minority that is called his ‘base.’  And since he thinks his base wants him to abandon affordable health care, he will try to kill it.  And to hell with the people.

It’s not just that the policies of people like Farage, Hanson and Trump are revolting – it’s the people they get to work with them that are also revolting.

It looks like the hour of the crowd is with us again and it may never have looked worse.

Bloopers

But Trump bends history to his will.  May simply bends under the will of others.

The Weekend Australian, 30-31 March, 2019.  Mr G Sheridan

It is an interesting view of the strong man.  Amazingly, the editorial was even sillier.

Here and there – Alan Bennett

A LIFE LIKE OTHER PEOPLE’S

Alan Bennett

Faber and Faber, 2009; bound in cloth, with dust jacket featuring photo of the author’s family; copy signed by the author; slip case added.

About thirty years ago, I went to the theatre in the West End to see two one act plays.  Each play featured just one actress.  The first had Margaret Tyzack, and the second featured Maggie Smith – the cream of the English stage.  I can recall standing in a queue to collect my tickets, and hearing the lady behind me say ‘I could listen all day to Maggie Smith reading the phone book.’  In my experience, the English do appreciate that they are fortunate to have the best actors in the world.

I cannot recall the name of the first play, but it was about a woman whose husband, I think a banker, had been convicted of embezzlement.  She had had to live with the degradation.  The mood varied from wistful to wrenching.  But at the end, Margaret Tyzack from a spotlight looked straight at us in the audience and said something like ‘But don’t you dare feel sorry for us – we are not that kind.’  This was the perfect way to evoke the very strong reaction of the audience that the play and performance warranted.  The whole thing was so very English.

The second play was Bed Among the Lentils.  We knew from the program notes that it was about the wife of a vicar who has it off with a Pakistani greengrocer.  Well, that should give a decent playwright something to work with.  As the curtain went up, Maggie Smith was standing centre stage under a narrow spot.  Dressed in grey, white and black, she was drabness and fatigue personified – ennui.  After a considered pause, she looked up at us and said words to the effect: ‘Being married to Geoffrey is bad enough, but I’m glad I’m not married to Jesus.’  Well, the whole theatre just erupted, and it remained cocked on Vesuvial for the rest of the play.  I feared that the lady beside me may not have survived the show – she would wail in anticipation in the same way that some American ladies did in the 60’s when listening to Shelley Berman.

This was a great night out at the theatre.  Great entertainment, and a lyrical reflection not just of the English, but of what is human in each of us.  The playwright was Alan Bennett.  The plays reminded me of David Williamson – with that gift of putting on the stage characters that immediately call to mind members of your family or friends or neighbours.  Some may wish to put the comparison at a higher level.  Ibsen and Chekhov were not minded to write for laughs like that, but the greatest playwright of the lot certainly was – just think of the hilarity with which we greet the outrages of Falstaff.

A Life Like Other People’s is a memoire of the early life of Alan Bennett.  It is obviously the work of a naturally gifted writer.  It comes to us clean and simple – pure, even.  You wonder if the writer ever bothered to change a word.  Partly for that reason, the book comes to us as being candid.  It reeks of truth.  (In this, it reminded me of the memoire of Joseph Heller – another natural.)  The book starts this way:

There is a wood, the canal, the river, and above the river the railway and the road.  It’s the first proper country that you get to as you come north out of Leeds, and going home on the train I pass the place quite often.  Only these days I look.  I’ve been passing the place for years without looking because I didn’t know it was a place; that anything had happened there to make it a place, let alone a place that had something to do with me.  Below the wood the water is deep and dark and sometimes there’s a boy fishing or a couple walking a dog.  I suppose it’s a beauty spot now.  It probably was then.

For some people – not many – it’s just like turning on a tap and watching the water flow out.

The photo on the front of the book is of an English family of the time – probably during the war.  Dad is in a suit with a shirt and tie, a buttoned up overcoat, a trilby, a cigarette and a deferential smile.  He looks very like Stan Laurel.  Mum has a buttoned up coat and a beret for a hat.  (Her struggle with mental health is a large part of the book.)  She has her hands on Alan who has a shirt and tie, a home knitted sleeveless jumper and school cap.  The daughter is much younger, but she too sports a hat.

Alan got a scholarship to Oxford and for some time thought of teaching history.  But his involvement with the Oxford Review and people like Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Jonathan Miller led him to the stage, cinema and television.  He has been prolific and hugely popular in all fields, especially in his autobiographical writing.  His personal life looks to have had its Byzantine moments.  People like Groucho Marx, Spike Milligan and Alan Bennett, who offer slashing and potentially lethal insights, tip-toe closer to the volcano than the rest of us.  Patrick White conveys the same feeling for me.  (Ibsen and Joyce terrified people – but for different reasons.)

The book fairly ripples with anecdote.  The ultimate threat to his family was to be described as ‘common.’  His Mum and Dad were very shy.  They wanted a quiet wedding – before work.  Dad’s boss would not give him time off to get married.  The vicar agreed to start the ceremony before 8 am but finish it on the knocker so that Dad could be at work by 8.15.  In lieu of a honeymoon they got tickets for The Desert Song at the Theatre Royal.  He once asked Dad an awkward question about whether he ‘touched’ Mum enough.  Dad told him to mind his own business, but years later Mum made a surprising disclosure that ‘Dad does very well you know’ – at seventy-one.  Bennett talks about hugging ‘and that other loveless construct, caring.’  And the aunties were like my Mum – infatuated with Now Voyager.  The attraction of that film, and Bette Davis, to ladies of that generation was fabulous.  ‘Oh, Jerry.  Don’t let’s ask for the moon.  We have the stars.’

This is raw diamond of a book.  It is included here to celebrate the life and work of the author.  It ends this way.

Sometimes as I’m standing by their grave I try and get a picture of my parents, Dad in his waist coat and shirtsleeves, Mum in her blue coat and shiny straw hat.  I even try and say a word or two in prayer, though what and to what I’d find it hard to say.

‘Now then’ is about all it amounts to.  Or ‘Very good, very good’, which is what old men say when a transaction is completed.

Here, then, is someone who tells it as it is – and he didn’t learn how to write like that at Oxford.

Passing Bull 194 – Presumptions outside court?

 

People talk of the presumption of innocence and the legal requirement of proof beyond reasonable doubt in considering the prosecution and conviction of Cardinal Pell.

Most of the commentators are unaware of the presumption of regularity that would say that the jurors are presumed to have discharged their duties in this case in an appropriate manner.  There is a Latin tag to the effect that steps are taken to have been done correctly.  A leading authority (Thayer) refers to ‘the assumption of the existence of the usual qualities of human beings, such as sanity, and their regular and proper conduct, their honesty and conformity to duty.’  Some people may wish to bear this assumption in mind before accusing the Pell jury of being perverse or unreasonable or of not adhering to their oath.  Championing a presumption of innocence may run in both directions.  It’s just that for one reason or another, the jurors don’t usually get to be championed.

To return to the onus of proof, in a criminal case, the Crown (the accuser) bears the burden of proof.  In a civil case, the person complaining (the plaintiff) bears that burden.  If nothing happens in either case, that is the end of it.

The law recognises three standards of proof.  In crime, it is proof beyond reasonable doubt.  In civil cases, it is proof on the balance of probabilities – it is sufficient that the evidence warrants a finding that it is more likely than not that the relevant allegation has been made out.

But the law recognises a standard in between those two.  It is typically applied where a serious crime is alleged in civil cases or where an adverse finding might cost someone their job or their good name.  The criterion for drawing the line has never been adequately explained to me.  The best I have seen is that common sense suggests that you need more persuasion to hang someone for murder than you need to give them a parking ticket.

One formulation is ‘comfortable satisfaction.’  The Court of Arbitration for Sport was comfortable about applying that test in the case of the Essendon footballers – and in upholding every single allegation against them while doing so.  If you think that the worth of a proposition can be tested by looking at its negation, what might ‘uncomfortable satisfaction’ look like?  Spending a fortune on a suite up front in an Arab airline and then finding that you have a burr in your nickers?  In thirty years sitting on tribunals, where counsel sought to invoke this protection I never felt intellectually secure in seeking to apply it.  I just followed my nose.

So, when a private hearing was conducted into an allegation of abuse against Pell by former Supreme Court judge (Southwell, J), the judge, as I am informed, applied this intermediate test.  (The lawyers refer to it as Briginshaw because that was the name of the parties in the leading case in the High Court that arose from an allegation of adultery in a case that reached the High Court.)  The judge found that each side had given credible evidence, but that this was not enough to satisfy the intermediate standard of proof.  That finding was far from being an exoneration of the accused.

Well, that’s fine for the accused.  What about potential victims?  If the Church is going to be responsible for the wrongs of this man, what standard of proof should the Church apply in determining whether this man represents a risk to those who may be in his care or merely exposed to unsupervised contact with him?  When I there ask how the Church ‘should’ proceed, I am speaking of both a moral and legal obligation (or duty).

Let us look at the civil side.  If you are running a trucking company – an analogy once unhappily invoked by the cardinal – and you suspect that one of your drivers may be a risk to the public, and therefore to you and your insurers – say from drugs or alcohol or some physical disability – it would in my view be morally and legally wrong to say that you needed to be persuaded of the risk beyond the balance of probabilities before you took remedial action.  The company would be obliged to take action as soon as it appeared to it that it was more likely than not that this driver was a risk to others.

The case is a fortiori for people in positions of power who can apply undue influence over those not of the age of consent.

It looks to me therefore that the church was legally and morally wrong in not taking adequate remedial action on the Southwell report to protect those in its charge from the risk posed by this priest.  It would be quite wrong to say that the Church could not take any such action until it was satisfied of the risk beyond reasonable doubt or to a level of ‘comfortable satisfaction.’  A rule that was fair to the priest may have been anything but fair to those in his charge – it looks to have been fatal for one of them.

And the reason sounds familiar – the Church put their interests over those of their flock.  Most victims would be appalled to learn that the Church took no action against a priest who had not been exonerated on a most serious allegation.

And, if it matters, that is why so many lawyers in the neutral corner would be so uncomfortable with the rubber stamping on party lines of the appointment of Justice Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States.  It’s not just that appearances matter; the public conduct of this man showed that he was susceptible to partisan influence – it is beyond doubt that he got the job as a result of such influence – to an extent that rendered him unfit for that office.

But that is not all.  Is it right to have someone appointed to high office when there is a serious allegation against them that is unresolved?  Or that is rammed through on party lines?  Some positions are ‘Caesar’s wife’ territory – the occupant must be beyond suspicion.  Judicial office is one such office and the U S Supreme Court now has two members on it that fail that test.

The onuses and presumptions that we have been discussing are part of the law of evidence.  They are applied by law courts in the trial of issues in an attempt to ensure a fair trial.  The law does not ordinarily require or even suggest that these rules be applied elsewhere (although that part of our law called administrative law will subject some bodies to procedural obligations to protect certain rights).

You could look stupid if you sought to apply the rules of evidence in ordinary conversation – if, for example, you objected to a statement in a political debate on the ground that it was inadmissible as hearsay.  The referees in sporting contests may have an onus in awarding penalties – but how often do you hear the standard of proof being discussed?  Well, one thing is clear enough.  If you want to red card someone for rough play in a world cup final, you will require a lot more assurance than you would for calling a kid off-side in the Under 12’s.

If you told a high school teacher of rowdy teens that the students had the benefit of the presumption of innocence, you would not be believed.  And the same should apply to people in positions of trust or confidence – there any onus might lay on them to show that they have discharged their office – or at least not put it out of their power to do so.  In some instances of ‘undue influence,’ the onus is on the office holder to demonstrate the probity of an impugned transaction.  That does not happen if an issue as to the person’s probity has been left unresolved.

That appears to have been the case with Cardinal Pell.  If so, some unfortunate people have paid an awful price for this lapse of judgment.

Bloopers

Willkie Farr, which put Mr Caplan on leave after he was charged last month, announced that it has now cut ties with him. ‘At Willkie, nothing is more important to us than our integrity and we do not tolerate behaviour that runs contrary to our core values. We remain focused on our responsibilities to our clients, partners and employees,’ the firm said in a statement.

Financial Times, 6 April, 2019

With those fees, they might at least try talking English.  Do they tolerate behaviour contrary to values that don’t go to their core?  Are values like apples?  Are they, too, subject to the laws of gravity?

Passing Bull 192 – Folau and freedom of religion?

 

A professional sportsman called Israel Folau is intent on making statements threatening people guilty of what he regards as immoral conduct with eternal damnation.  He does so although requested to stop by those in charge of the sport that is the subject of his business.

The usual suspects are mouthing platitudes about freedom of speech.  This in the Murdoch press is code for a licence to offend or insult others on the ground of their sexuality or religion.  They are also referring to something called ‘freedom of religion.’

The defenders of Izzy would do better to focus on freedom of contract.  If Folau can conduct himself in this way with impunity, the authors of the relevant contract should notify their PI insurers.  Yet, the Murdoch press on the weekend said with a straight face that if Folau can be fired for breach of contract, the law might relieve him from the burden of his promise on some ground of public policy.  So much for doctrinal consistency.  So much for freedom of contract.  So much for government keeping its hands off business.

But those who warble for money will continue to do so.  Freedom of religion, whatever that means, is not in issue.  The issue is whether Izzy is in breach of his contract or otherwise engaging in conduct that is contrary to the business interests of his employer to an extent that gives his employer the right to exclude him from that business.

Many Australians would start with two simple propositions.  First, Izzy is in this for himself and not the team – no coach of any team sport would want to have anything to do with him.  Secondly, to the extent that Izzy invokes God as a reason why he is hurting others – I refer to others in his sport, not the objects of his harangues – he deserves twice the punishment.

This dispute has little or nothing to do with God

The religion of Israel Folau does not command him to do what is complained of.  (If it were said that his religion does issue such a command, then that in my view would make Izzy’s case so much worse.)

It is or should be obvious that Folau’s conduct is causing harm to his employer and others employed in that line of business.  These days sponsors drop people cold for this kind of public bickering, moralizing and division.  (If it matters – and it doesn’t – in my view Izzy’s conduct causes even greater harm to those who profess what he calls his faith.  His is evidently a religion of division and eternal punishment and intolerance.  His condemnation would extend to most honest people, and I take it that those who repent according to the faith of Judaism, Islam or Hinduism – or perhaps even the Church of Rome – do not escape Folau’s grizzly vision of the justice of his God.)

It also looks to me that Folau is in direct breach of an undertaking he gave to the CEO of the ruling body.  If so, he cannot be taken at his word.

I agree with the Wallabies’ coach that Folau’s behaviour is incompatible with his remaining in the national side.  This is not because he has unfortunate beliefs that some are prepared to call religious, but because he refuses to behave at the minimal level of tolerance and team work expected from someone who wears my jumper – or your jumper – or our jumper.

We recently celebrated the first anniversary of another incident that brought shame on us as a people in Cape Town  – and this conduct of Izzy is at least in that league – in my view.  If someone in my employ did the same to me, his feet would not touch the ground on the way out the door.  I very much doubt whether any other Wallaby would want to have a person as self-centred as Izzy on his team.  I certainly don’t want him in my jumper – and that’s before I get to the text of what Izzy is saying.

But, as I say, the warbling will go on from those who live off the earnings – or, perhaps, the droppings of conflict.

Bloopers

The ‘anti-996’ campaign is blacklisting companies such as Alibaba and JD.com where, it claims, shifts of 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week, are common. Alibaba has not commented. JD.com said it did not oblige staff to work such hours but it encouraged everyone to ‘fully invest themselves’.

Financial Times, 9 April, 2019

It makes you wonder if Spartacus and the cotton pickers realised that they were blessed insofar as they had ‘fully invested themselves.’

Here and there -The price of sanctimony

 

Some Australians have been playing with matches about law and religion.  Our law grants privileges to people of faith.  Our churches do not pay tax.  That privilege of caste led to revolution in France and the lasting divorce between church and state.  Our churches have another privilege.  They are absolved from our laws against discrimination.  They can therefore threaten to fire employees who refuse to toe their religious line on marriage; in so doing, they reinforce division by abusing their privilege.

One prelate said he would go to jail rather than obey a law about reporting sex offenders if he thought that our law conflicted with the dogma of his church about the confessional.  That prelate is plainly ready to put himself and his church outside the law – and the interests of his flock.  And some clergy claimed that if our law on marriage were to be changed, that change may, not must, compel them to act against the teaching of their church – and on that ground, they seek to deny to others equality before the law.  The notion that the church could be above the law went out the window with Martin Luther, if not Thomas Becket.

Some religious people opposed marriage equality in our laws on the grounds that homosexuality is not natural, and that marriage between two such people is against the word of God.  Is it tart to say that these arguments come from the same people who told us that it was not natural and against the word of God to say that the earth revolves around the sun?

As for the argument from nature, its inarticulate premise must be that marriage is about procreation.  Why should we deny marriage equality to people who can’t have or who don’t want to have children?  This argument just has to be unkind.  Why punish people just because they’re different?  And in some mouths, this argument sounds sickeningly like an allegation that homosexuals are somehow inferior – because, say, they cannot make their own babies.  We have fallen very low if we frame our laws on the footing that people who are somehow better than others should have more rights or privileges than their inferiors.  In truth, God is the only justification for the premise that legal marriage is there to promote procreation.

Well, what about God?  Which one?  Whose?  The God that allows his clergy to support marriage equality in the press, or the God that slams that door in our faces?  We may admire people for staking their lives on blind faith – but we get very angry when they try to force us to go along with them.  And please don’t say that we should all be governed by unreason.

Some have a deeper objection to some Christian opponents of marriage equality.  At bottom, these Christians appear to say that the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, the one they call Christ, entitles them to deny legal equality to other human beings merely because those people are different.  This looks to many to be a denial if not a betrayal of all that that most holy man stood for.  It is a tragic reminder of how far a wholly fallible church has moved from the teaching of its wholly lovable founder.  The teaching of Christ cannot allow anyone to reject the notion that everyone of us has our own dignity as a human being.

And don’t let anyone say that only a priest can make that call.  If God did send Jesus, God sent him for all of us, and not just for one or another bunch of bickering clerics – each claiming to have the only true view.  In the middle ages, the church played Monopoly with what we could know; later they wanted to do it with whom we may marry.  Which monopoly is more offensive?  We are amazed that people who enjoy privileges deny rights to those who don’t – the privileged few against the ordinary multitude.  What about that kind old hymn – ‘You in your small corner and I in mine’?

These people prefer taking to giving.  They’re desperate to keep their club exclusive.  We should therefore look again at the privileges we gave to these people.  If these people sound so hostile and partisan, should they not lose their exemption from laws against discrimination?  And why should a body be exempt from paying tax if ‘charitable’ is the last epithet that you would apply to it?

What is the relevance of this after Parliament has decided the issue of marriage equality?  The relevance is that some religiously driven politicians have been driving a rear guard action.  They should know better, but they are bad losers.

MY TOP SHELF -21

21

BLOOD, TOIL, TEARS, AND SWEAT: THE GREAT SPEECHES

Winston Churchill (1940)

Edited by David Cannadine; Penguin Books, 1989; rebound in quarter red Morocco, with navy blue label, embossed with gold, and stone cloth boards.

 

I am a child of the House of Commons.  I was brought up in my father’s house to believe in democracy….There are less than seventy million malignant Huns some of whom are curable and others killable…

 

The four statesmen whom I admire are Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Disraeli, Winston Churchill, and Harry Truman.  Two of them – Lincoln and Churchill – had two things in common when they came to power.  Their nation was in mortal peril and the other members of their government did not trust their leader to be able to save them.  Each of Lincoln and Churchill had to win over and secure the faith of his government and then his nation.  Each did so, and each then went on to lead his nation to safety and victory.  For each, it was a colossal personal victory, brought about by a force of character that we have hardly seen again.  But for each, the issue facing his country could have gone the other way, with God only knows what consequences.  Had Lincoln not held the U S together, would England have been able to hold off Germany twice or even once?  Had England made peace with Hitler in 1940, would I be writing this in German?  Would my Jewish friends be here?

 

This is how Churchill recorded his feelings on taking office as Prime Minister.  ‘But I cannot conceal from the reader of this truthful account that as I went to bed at about 3 am I was conscious of a profound sense of relief.  At last I had the authority to give directions over the whole scene.  I felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.’  We can imagine other big hitters talking big like this, but big hitters we would not trust – as it happened, the world then needed a man of precisely that fibre.

 

If I had to nominate one clutch point for that war, it would have been a meeting of the War Cabinet at the time of Dunkirk.  Churchill was yet to win the confidence of his cabinet, and Halifax wanted to deal with Hitler.  Churchill convened a full cabinet meeting.  He told them the alternatives.  He concluded: ‘We shall go on and we shall fight it out, here or elsewhere, and if at the last the long story of this island is to end, it were better it should end, not through surrender, but only when we are rolling senseless on the ground.’  Churchill would later say he was surprised at the warmth of the reaction from hard-bitten politicians – many jumped ‘from the table and came running to my chair, shouting and patting me on the back.’

 

Another version has: ‘If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.’  The plain truth was that the nation was crying out for leadership and found it.  Churchill laid down that they would never lie down.  The doubts were gone.  The way was clear – if hard.  For the first time, Hitler was confronted by a leader superior to him, one who could hold his nation together for long enough to get the U S into the war.  This, as it seems to me, is the great moment of truth in that war, and if you are ever asked what real leadership is, there it was.

 

Before looking at some of the speeches, let me remind you of what Roy Jenkins said in his great biography: ‘With their high-flown eloquence, which in less dramatic times would have sounded over-blown, they could be regarded as a form of self-indulgence.  They not only matched the mood of the moment, but have for six decades etched in the memory of many who were young at the time and are old now.  They were an inspiration for the nation, and a catharsis for Churchill himself.  They raised his spirits and thus generated even more energy than was consumed in their composition.’

 

The best way to take these speeches is to listen to them – and watch, where film is available.  Most are matter-of-fact, and given with apparently child-like candour.  Where we have film of Churchill talking to an audience about giving the Germans back some of their own medicine, we may better see the sterility of suggestions that he was too war-like.  He was merely giving supreme voice to the grief and outrage of his people.

 

Here, then, is the famous peroration of the speech to the House of Commons on the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.  We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until in God’s good time, the new world, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

 

Here is the lead-in to the equally famous ‘finest hour’ ending.

What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over.  I expect that the battle of Britain is about to begin.  Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization.  Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire.  The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.  Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war.  If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.  But if we fail, the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

 

To read these words now is to see how far our public life has fallen.  These words are plain and short, and to the point, but infinitely moving.  There is not a bath-plug or spin doctor in sight and the speaker was the author.  It is all now quite beyond our world.

 

My own favourite is not in this book.  Before the war, and early in it, Churchill had gone out on a limb for France in a way that de Gaulle and the French would not reciprocate.  The English had to destroy the French fleet.  Churchill referred to his at the beginning of a speech given on Bastille Day 1940.

And now it has come to us to stand alone in the breach, and face the worst that the tyrant’s might and enmity can do.  Bearing ourselves humbly before God, but conscious that we serve an unfolding purpose, we are ready to defend our native land against the invasion by which it is threatened.  We are fighting by ourselves alone; but we are not fighting for ourselves alone.  Here in this strong City of Refuge which enshrines the title deeds of human progress and is of deep consequence to Christian civilization; here, girt about by the seas and oceans where the Navy reigns; shielded from above by the prowess and devotion of our airmen – we await undismayed the impending assault.  Perhaps it will come next week.

 

This is how Churchill ended this speech.

This is no war of chieftains or of princes, of dynasties or national ambition; it is a war of peoples and of causes.  There are vast numbers, not only in this Island but in every land, who will render faithful service in this war, but whose names will never be known, whose deeds will never be recorded.  This is a War of the Unknown Warrior; but let all strive without failing in health or in duty, and the dark curse of Hitler will be lifted from our age.

 

At the end of his biography of Churchill, Roy Jenkins said that he had thought that Gladstone had been Britain’s greatest PM, but that he now thought that title should go to Churchill, ‘with all his idiosyncrasies, his indulgences, his occasional childishness, but also his genius, his tenacity and his persistent ability, successful or unsuccessful, to be larger than life.’  Jenkins frequently referred to the ability of Churchill to cry at the drop of a hat.  Long after he had left us, Churchill can still make us cry now – but at rather more than the drop of a hat.

Passing bull 190 – Activists

 

Some people in business have had the temerity to express views on moral issues – or, which is often pretty much the same thing, political issues.  They have attracted condemnation from luminaries like Peter Dutton and the Minister for Thongs.  Some have gone even further, and put their money where their morals are.  So some businesses have withdrawn advertising from Fox News in protest at its views about Islam or immigration.  And some threatened to retaliate against Mr Andrew Bolt for championing the cause of a convicted paedophile against the twelve jurors who had agonised over and delivered their verdict.  Mr Bolt summoned up all his considerable self-respect and with a curled lip mentioned the word activist. 

An activist is a person who actively seeks to change the moral or political views of others.  That’s precisely what Mr Bolt does.  But he has the excuse that he just does it for money.  If however you do it for its own sake, then you are liable to suffer his judgment.  And all this from a man who subscribes to the mantra of freedom of speech – even hate speech.

It is to this vacuity that we have come.  If it matters, I am a very happy shareholder of BHP, in part because I respect the fact that Mr Andrew Mackenzie, the CEO, is prepared to take a public position on issues seen by some to be sensitive.  Such as same sex marriage, or climate change.  Given their own signal failures on such issues, it is hardly surprising if people like Mr Mackenzie give our politicians the willies.  The attempt by some in government to lock others out of public life is just another sign of how far they have lost the plot and deserve a very long holiday.

Bloopers

Given the horror across the water, I will just mention to happy quotes – something of a modern miracle – good tweets.

Dear Eggboy.  I am a philosophy tutor in Turkey.  We really appreciate what you did.

Yesterday, Australia got the villain it created.  Today it got the hero it deserved.

The Age, 18 March 2019.

Here and there – Rupert and Jennifer on the road to Christchurch

 

Set out below are citations from columns of Jennifer Oriel published in The Australian in and after 2017, with some of my commentary.  They are all taken from Passing Bull Volumes 2 and 3 published on Amazon.

The remarks attributed to Jennifer Oriel in my opinion show the following attributes:

  • A high level of ideological indoctrination and dogma – to the point of apparent brainwashing.
  • Fatuous, adolescent phrasing that has a tribal or conspiratorial air about it.
  • A sustained sense of being threatened or persecuted – in tribal terms, these people feel existentially threatened, so that their core values are in peril.
  • The world is full of demons and bogeymen and Western patriots are being vilified.
  • There is an absence of restraint, or the tolerance that that word implies. It is what the American historian Richard Hofstadter called the ‘paranoid style’ – ‘heated exaggeration, suspiciousness and conspiratorial fantasy.’
  • There is a felt need to strike back, to find a scapegoat.
  • Pluralism is a sign of weakness – what is needed is a muscular response to the threats to civilisation as we know it.
  • It’s OK to play rough.
  • People need to be fed propaganda on Eurocentricity – that is presumably where the Ramsay Centre comes into play.
  • There is a concentration on a largely imaginary past and a wholly imaginary future.
  • There is a childlike faith in the capacity of right minded people – if you prefer, the Strong Man – to prevail over the forces of evil.
  • We must identify with Western civilisation because that is what made us and what defines as being different from those who do not share our heritage. Heritage is all.
  • That civilisation is inseparable from Christianity – the Jews apparently don’t get a look-in.
  • We can confidently assert that Islam is incompatible with Western civilisation.
  • The final judgment is therefore irrefutable – Islam is the enemy of Western civilisation.
  • Muslim migrants are therefore suspect and must be closely watched – if indeed we continue to admit them.
  • If there is a difference between a Muslim and a jihadi, it is not one that has been identified by the columnist.
  • We can therefore associate with the new right which has come back to take back our civilisation.
  • People like Wilders, Orban and Trump have been sadly misunderstood if not vilified. Each is in his own way a patriot.
  • Nationalism is a good.
  • We can therefore properly discriminate against Muslims on the ground of their faith and we can incite conflict against them.

Now, it is a matter for you to see which if any of those attitudes is revealed by the evident history and beliefs of the man charged with murder after the massacre at Christchurch – or of Fraser Anning.

Some clever person may have an ingenious or nuanced argument that the enshrinement of Western civilisation is not the same as advocating white supremacy – I have not seen one – but I find it impossible to avoid the conclusion from those remarks that Muslims are by their faith precluded from being good citizens of our Commonwealth.  If it matters, that looks to be very like the offence committed by a Trump acolyte on Fox News and for which even that outfit has taken action against her.

May I add one personal comment?  I am not a card carrying member of any church, but the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth runs very deeply inside me.  Words cannot express my revulsion that anyone putting out this kind of vile tripe could invoke in their aid the life or teaching of the man who preached the Sermon on the Mount.

Extracts from Passing Bull Volumes 2 and3

In the place of enlightenment, Hillary Clinton champions emotionalism, unreason and the barbarian fetish for supernatural rule over the sovereignty of liberal democratic people.  Donald Trump rises on a reactionary platform typified by an oppositional stance to anything establishment.  Neither champions reason.  Neither champions the form of freedom.  Neither promises the redemption that America so desperately needs.…

Rather, Trump’s America is a counter-revolution in waiting.  We know what has preceded it: the neo-Marxist march against Western civilisation whose gross dilation finds form in state-sanctified minority supremacy and the political correctness that sustains it.  But no one knows what might proceed from a Trump presidency except a counter-revolution against P C Left culture by the progressive dismantling of its government agencies, the media, the activist judiciary and universities…

Neither Trump nor Clinton augurs the restoration of American greatness.  But Trump is brash and arrogant enough to lead a counter-revolution on the premise of American exceptionalism.  The brutal lesson of Trump’s ascendancy is that to battle the philistines, sometimes you have to act like one.[Emphasis added.]

**

The term ‘political correctness’ or P C has in truth become abused and debased.  People of a reactionary cast of thought claim that their freedom of speech is imperilled by exponents of political correctness.  Commentators in The Australian pepper their pieces with this complaint tirelessly.  In the gibberish of Jennifer Oriel, it is a machine-gunned cliché that rat-tat-tats with the same ghastly monotony as ‘sovereignty’, ‘free speech’, ‘free thinkers’, ‘elitism’, ‘populism’, ‘activism’, ‘systemic political bias’ (from The Australian!),  ‘draining the swamp’,  ‘identity politics’, ‘sovereign borders’, ‘open border activists’, ‘pride in Western culture’, and ‘fundamental Western values’.  (Those last two are black-shirt Dutton sinister – so much for the East!)  Here is a simple example:

The P C left can smear us with false accusations of racism and we have no recourse to action under the RDA.

(As Lenin asked, who are ‘we’?)

Here is another sample:

The restive public is leaning towards political figures who oppose the P C establishment’s open border lunacy, its intemperate approach to channelling public funds into the activist class in the media, academe and non—government organisations, and its censorship of politically incorrect speech.

In that piece, the author used the word ‘sovereign’ or ‘sovereignty’ on nine occasions.  I wonder what that word meant on any of them.  This is transcendental bullshit.

**

Jennifer Oriel is a keen student of ideological terms.  In a piece in today’s Australian she says that the emergence of what she calls ‘the new Right’ means that we have to define conservatism.  ‘The task of definition is urgent. Unless a well-defined, muscular conservatism emerges, the best of Western civilisation will not survive the 21st century.’ Goodness, gracious me – well, we won’t be here for the grand exit or Armageddon.

**

Ms Oriel says the following.

The Conservative Mind sparked the post-war conservative intellectual movement in America. In it, Kirk provides a definition of conservatism that comprises four substantive doctrines. The first conservative doctrine, “an affirmation of the moral nature of society”, rests on the belief that virtue is the essence of true happiness. The matter of virtue is family piety and public honour. Their consequence is a life of dignity and order.

Kirk’s second doctrine of conservatism is the defence of property. He defines it as “property in the form of homes and pensions and corporate rights and private enterprises; strict surveillance of the leviathan business and the leviathan union”.

The third conservative doctrine is the preservation of liberty, traditional private rights and the division of power. The absence of this doctrine facilitates the rise of Rousseau’s “general will”, made manifest in the totalitarian state.

The final doctrine of Kirk’s conservatism is “national humility”. Here, Kirk defines the nation state as vital to the preservation of Western civilisation. Politicians are urged to humble themselves in the light of the Western tradition instead of indulging in cheap egoism by promoting policies that buy them votes, but weaken the West.

English philosopher Roger Scruton identifies the political, pre-political and civil components of Western civilisation that sustain the free world. They are rooted in the uniquely Western idea of citizenship, which is influenced by Christianity. The core components of Western citizenship are: the secular democratic state, secular and universal law, and a single culture cohered by territorial jurisdiction and national loyalty. Like Huntington, Scruton analyses the core foundations and animating principles of Western civilisation in contrast to Islamic civilisation.

Conservatism stands in contrast to both small “l” liberal and socialist ideas of culture, society and state. Its central tenets are: moral virtue as the path to happiness, supporting the natural family, promoting public order and honour, private enterprise, political liberty, the secular state and universal law. The central tenets of conservatism are sustained by a single culture of citizenship that enables the flourishing of Western civilisational values.

Conservatism remains the only mainstream political tendency whose core objective is the defence and flourishing of Western civilisation. In its federal platform, the Liberal Party defines its liberal philosophy as: “A set of democratic values based upon … the rights, freedoms and responsibilities of all people as individuals.” There is no discussion of Western civilisation or Western values. However, it shares with conservatives the principles of limited government, respect for private property, political liberty and the division of power. And conservative prime ministers from Menzies to Howard and Abbott have led the defence of Western civilisation in Australia against its greatest enemies: socialists, communists and Islamists.

It is on the questions of immigration, transnational trade and supranational governance that the primary distinction between conservatives and the new Right is drawn. For example, there is growing tension fuelled by the belief that mass immigration, especially of Muslims, constitutes a demographic revolution that threatens Western values. Mainstream conservatives, including Cory Bernardi, reject the idea of a ban on Muslim immigration. But it is clear that policy resonates with many…..[Emphasis added.]…….

That leaves opposition to socialism and Islamists or Islamic civilisation.  As to socialism, I’m not sure what that means, partly for the reason I have given above, and partly because the word is hardly used now in Australia.  Is there anyone left who claims to be a socialist?  As to the second enemy of the West, I object to what Ms Oriel says on three grounds – it is wrong to discriminate against people on the ground of faith; it is wrong to brand whole peoples or nations because of the actions of a few; and if Islamists are a threat to us, I don’t think it promotes our security to brand or discriminate against all Muslims.  As Macaulay said of the Elizabethan persecution of the Puritans in England:

Persecution produced its natural effects.  It found them a sect: it made them a faction. To their hatred of the Church was now added their hatred of the Crown.  The two sentiments were intermingled; and each embittered the other.

Whatever else ‘virtue’ might mean, it doesn’t mean looking down on people just because they have a different faith – especially when so many people have no faith at all.

So, I am afraid that it is bullshit as usual for Ms Oriel.

**

I have referred before to the gibberish of Jennifer Oriel.  This morning’s instalment shows the fineness of the line between inanity and insanity.  It includes the following.

We stand at a pivotal historical moment. In just over a week, we will learn whether the new-right movement resurrected by Brexit and Trump is going global. The looming Dutch election is a bellwether. It is the first European election of 2017 featuring a pro-Western nationalist party vying for the popular vote. Locally, the West Australian election next weekend will test whether Hanson’s One Nation will extend significant influence beyond Queensland.

If The Netherlands’ Party for Freedom (PVV) wins, its leader Geert Wilders will become the most strident pro-Western prime minister in Europe. The Trump effect will translate into a transatlantic phenomenon. Either way, the third reckoning of new-right rhetoric with political reality is nigh.

…….

The leaders of the new-right movement differ on some policy matters, but share a set of values that are cohering into an international program for action. Their shared political aims are to: restore the primacy of Western civilisation by defending sovereign democracy and the nation-state system of allied free-world countries against the supranational left. New-right politicians give greater emphasis to the national interest than centrist-left and right parties by prioritising debt reduction via secure borders and rational immigration programs. Some claim that protectionism is co-essential to prosperity, but the claim is substantially weakened by the lack of systematic evidence. Far better is the shared goal to resurrect Western culture by battling the economically and socially corrosive PC culture that dominates the activist media, academia, NGO and public sectors. All new-right parties are gearing up to drain the swamp.

Wilders has been called the Dutch Donald Trump, but he preceded Trump’s ascendancy by several years. His European allies include Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who dubbed 2017 the year of rebellion. In 2015, Wilders said to Agence France-Presse: ‘The only way to deal with (the immigration crisis) is to regain our national sovereignty and close our national borders … I am asking that our government close its doors as Hungary did.’

The year 2016 ushered in a Western renaissance led by Britons and Americans. Brexit represented a triumph of self-determination over supranational governance as Britons renewed their faith in liberal democracy by voting to leave the EU. More than 60 million Americans chose Donald Trump as President to restore American primacy by fortifying the foundations of the free world laid down in the Declaration of Independence and the US constitution.

The supranational left is working overtime to prevent Trump’s ideas developing into a coherent international program for Western civilisational renewal championed by a right avant-garde. The right is gaining ground in the war for by reminding centrist parties Western values matter and turning the weapons used by neo-Marxists and Islamists to attack the free world order against them. ……

The foundational thesis of the 21st-century left is Orwellian doublethink. Codified inequality that promotes minority supremacy through affirmative action law is rebranded equality. The systemic censorship of conservative thought is called free speech. Consistent with its neo-Marxist creed, the modern left suppresses the silent Western majority; punishes politically incorrect thought; undermines the free world by weakening the nation-state system and vilifying Western patriots; purges conservatives from publicly funded institutions; and imposes punitive taxes on wealth creators and hard workers to fatten the parasite class.

The new right is a counter-revolution whose seeds were sown in the 1970s, the decade neo-Marxism took root within the West. As Roger Kimball wrote in The Long March, the new left’s method of gradualism meant ‘working against the established institutions while working in them’.

By almost destroying the liberal in liberal democracy, the left has prepared the ground for totalitarian politics. But it didn’t see the new right coming, whose members hail from both left and right united by the fight for the West. The new right has come to take our civilisation back.  [Emphasis added.]

Orwell would not have believed this.  Western civilisation championed by Trump, Wilders, Orban, Farage, and Hanson?  Would you let any of them into your home?  Here is the moral and intellectual emptiness of what shamefully passes for our conservative press – the Lone Ranger on steroids of dyslexic paranoia.

**

Some in The Australian ranted themselves to new depths.  …..

Australian painter, cartoonist and avantgarde freethinker Bill Leak died of a suspected heart attack. He was 61 years old.

In the two years before his death, jihadists and the political establishment inflicted horrific stress on him because he refused to surrender his creative genius and free mind to the colourless, artless overlords of political correctness.

In 2015, Leak was forced to flee into a safe house with his family after jihadists threatened to kill him. His thought crime was drawing a cartoon of Mohammed in the wake of militant Islamists slaughtering cartoonists at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris.

In 2016, Leak was accused under the PC censors’ favourite weapon, section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, for offending someone somewhere.

Members of a state-protected minority chose to take offence at a cartoon……..

The suggestion is, apparently, that Leak died from the stress inflicted on him.  He is, we will be told, a martyr.

Even by the standards of Rupert Murdoch, it is beneath contempt for him use the death of an employee to pursue a tawdry political objective that will make it easier for the surviving employees to offend and insult others because of their race.

What Oriel and the paper refuse to mention about the cartoon that said that aboriginal fathers were drunks who could not remember their children’s names is the following.  That cartoon was grossly offensive to a large number of white people and almost all aboriginal people.  Nevertheless, the legislation complained gave Leak a sound answer to any complaint at law.  (There is my view no answer in decency.)  At all times he had the backing of the Murdoch press and the best and most expensive lawyers in the land – as had his mate, Andrew Bolt.  He was never charged or even sued.

Are we, then, seriously to believe Leak’s whimpering about stress?  If we are, the answer during his life would have been simple.  If you don’t like the heat, don’t go near the bloody kitchen.  If you want to hand out coat-hangers, stand by for at least a comeback.  And this is in the context of a cartoon demonizing blackfellas in order to take the heat off complaints of crimes against humanity perpetrated by white people in the Northern Territory.  Leak put in what NRL thugs call a cheap shot.  ‘Don’t worry about what we whites do to black kids.  Look at what their piss-pot fathers do to them to land them in our care.’

This truly was disgraceful behaviour by an agent of the Australian press.

But the whole campaign of Murdoch and his shrill, whining minions has set a new low in Australian bullshit.  There is a daily unloading of bullshit about hate speech, the flat earth (climate change), and the ecclesiastical rejection of gay marriage by cloistered churchy men who just refuse to grow up.  They stand for the forces of funded reaction that hold back the Liberal Party and the whole nation.  They’re now terrified by the thought of a vote on gay marriage.  Who would ever trust a democrat? They should all be deeply ashamed of themselves.

And so should the Prime Minister be ashamed of himself for publicly attending their ghastly Gotterdammerung.  I did not vote for him so that he could hobnob with people who want him to cede to them the right to beat up on blackfellas and Muslims.

**

The fix is in. Queer activists will use fear of sharia to create a moral panic about freedom of religion. Suddenly laissez-faire liberals have developed a distaste for pluralism. They claim that codifying freedom of religion will result in sharia. They fail to comprehend fundamental freedoms in context.

In the context of Western culture, religious freedom is anathema to political Islam. The best guarantee against sharia is Eurocentricity: a cultural agenda that comprises secure borders, the legal protection of fundamental freedoms, and education on the Christian foundations of Western civilisation……

Much concern about sharia in respect of the religious freedom review is artificial. It’s a beat up to prevent dissenters from queer ideology enjoying reasonable protections from militant activists……

One would expect the Ruddock review not to recommend sharia as a model of religious freedom. In the Western context, religious freedom has a particular meaning rooted in Christian scripture that supports the secular state, free will and forgiveness.

Christian religious freedom empowers the secular state. It also embodies a limited state according to Christ’s instruction: ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s’ (Matthew 22:21). By contrast, much of the Islamic world is theocratic.

One of the more potent examples of the difference between religious freedom in the Christian and Islamic traditions is their comparative tolerance for it. While Christ exhorts people to come to God and issues numerous warnings to those who turn away from Him, free will is permitted and sin is forgiven. In the Koran, Muslims are taught that non-Muslims are evil and enemies. Muslims are instructed not to ‘seek the friendship of the infidels’. Jews and Christians are considered abominable.

People often assume that the 21st century jihad against America and Israel is a consequence of colonialism or interventionist foreign policy. But hatred of Christians and Jews is rooted in the Koran…..The Western conception of religious freedom incorporates pluralism. In its most basic form, pluralism is tolerance for diverse beliefs limited by the principle of no harm. A historical benefit of the Christian scriptural belief in limited state authority is that it removes the state’s incentive to monopolise religion. As such, it empowers the flourishing of diverse faiths. Consequently, violent monotheism is fundamentally incompatible with the modern West. Yet the Koran prescribes it……

Freedom of religion is not possible where that freedom is singular. Nor is the Western conception of religious freedom possible where individual liberty, including the freedom to exercise religious belief, is subjected to state control…..

The legalisation of same-sex marriage has created an unintended consequence of potentially widening the scope for state interference in personal faith matters. Australia has some of the weakest protections for religious freedom in the free world while international precedent demonstrates the use of lawfare against Christians is becoming something of a blood sport…..

Australia’s approach to religious freedom should reflect the best of the Western tradition. We believe in free will. We believe in the secular state. We believe in the inherent worth of each and every individual. We want a future where freedom of religion can animate the soul of the free world. Neither militant atheism nor hardline Islamism will light the way to liberty.

Well, there you are.  Queer or militant activists have put the fix in to use fear of Islam to suggest that some people may fear Christianity – and so stand in the way of religious freedom.  How this relates to the ‘21st century jihad against America and Israel’ is not explained.  Nor for that matter is religious freedom explained.  Israel Folau is legally free to express his religious opinion that gay people are doomed to burn in eternal flames.  What more freedom does he need?

The contention underlying this seamless rant appears to be that while we can tolerate ‘extreme’ or ‘hardline’ views in Christianity, whatever those terms may mean, we should not do so for Islam.  This apparently follows from the role of Christianity in western civilisation.  So much for pluralism.  And as to theocratic states that favour one religion over another, how does Israel shape up?  In fact, how do we shape up when our head of state has to be in communion with the Church of England?

And as for parts of scripture that are on the nose, the bible is shot through with endorsements of ethnic cleansing.  That God did after all choose one people over others.  It is sufficient to refer to Deuteronomy 20:16, Joshua 1:1-9, 6:17-25; and 8:24-30.  For that matter, Genesis 3 has not done much for women in western civilisation.  Or men.

Ms Oriel has at least two things in common with Donald Trump.  She is pursued by demons – in her case, political correctness and jihadis; in Trump’s case, the deep state and witch-hunters – and moderation is not her go.  She and Trump exemplify the extremism and fantasy of our time.

MY TOP SHELF – Chapter 20

 

[These are serialised extracts of all the fifty books referred to in a book published in 2015 called ‘The Top Shelf, or What Used to be Called a Liberal Education’.  The extracts are as originally published, and they come in the same order.]

20

BILLY BUDD

Herman Melville (1924)

Two Tales by Herman Melville, Limited Editions Club, New York, 1965; bound in stone cloth in stone and sage slip-case, with paintings by Robert Shore.

The hull deliberately recovering from the periodic roll to leeward was just regaining on an even keel, when the last signal, a preconcerted dumb one, was given.  At the same moment it chanced that the vapory fleece, hanging low in the East, was shot thro’ with a soft glory as of the fleece of the Lamb of God seen in mystical vision, and simultaneously therewith, watched by the wedged mass of upturned faces, Billy ascended; and, ascending, took the full rose of the dawn.

This beautiful little book is a retelling of the redemption story – and, judging from that citation, an unblushing one.  If you put aside Measure for Measure, Billy Budd may be the foremost statement in our literature of the agony of the law.  Must an innocent man suffer – in this case, die – for the sake of the law?  If you say that the law must be able to run over individual men, women and children, you are stating the basic premise of those totalitarian regimes that we most despise.  But if you say that the interests of one person may require you to break, or even just put to one side, the law, then you are undermining the rule of law, and that is all that stands between us and those regimes.  The law has therefore an ancient saying – hard cases make bad law.

During the Napoleonic War, a handsome young sailor, Billy Budd, was impressed into service on a British warship.  Billy is as innocent as he is handsome, and he is fortunate that his new captain is Captain ‘Starry’ Vere.  Vere is a civilised product of the Enlightenment with a refined sense of justice.  But Billy comes under the notice of the Master-at-Arms, John Claggart.  Claggart is in effect the Chief of Police on the ship.  He is morally bereft.  He cannot stand being in the presence of beauty and goodness like that of Billy ‘Baby’ Budd.  He falsely accuses Billy of mutiny before Captain Vere.  Billy is horrified and incredulous.  When stressed, Billy’s voice falters.  When he is pressed for an answer, he strikes out at Claggart, and strikes him dead.

So, during a time of war, Captain Vere has witnessed a sailor strike and kill an officer.  He summons a drumhead court martial.  Billy is plainly guilty of the legal offence charged but the officers are reluctant to give a verdict that will see Billy hanged.  They agonise over Billy, but Captain Vere persuades them to do their legal duty.  Billy is hanged.  The threat of mutiny passes.  Captain Vere carries the responsibility for the death of Billy to his own death.

A morally innocent man has been killed to preserve the integrity of the law.  There is of course more to it than that.  If it may be said of Moby Dick that it badly needed an editor, that is not the case with Billy Budd.  Melville revised and revised the text for many years.  It was a great bundle of add-ons and scribbled marginal comments, and it was not published until after his death.  To most readers now, there is hardly a word out of place.  It covers about 70 pages in a Penguin, but it is spotted with digressions that contribute to its avuncular yet reflective story-telling character.

Melville begins his little novella by commenting on how sailors ashore would congregate around a ‘handsome sailor’.  It sounds like the phase some young schoolgirls go through in grouping around ‘queens’.  The ‘welkin-eyed’ Billy, or ‘Baby’ Budd, was one such sailor, cut out by his looks to be the favourite of his shipmates.  ‘He was young; and despite his all but fully developed frame, in aspect looked even younger than he really was, owing to a lingering adolescent expression in the as yet smooth face, all but feminine in purity and natural complexion, but where, thanks to seagoing, the lily was quite suppressed and the rose had some ado visibly to flush through the tan.’

You see, Billy did not know where he came from.  He knew that he was a foundling and ‘noble descent was as evident in him as in a blood horse’.  He had no self-consciousness, but a simple innocence that was reflected in his looks.  He had a singular musical voice ‘as if expressive of the harmony within’.  He was a kind of ‘upright barbarian, much such perhaps as Adam presumably might have been ‘ere the urbane Serpent wriggled himself into his company’.  He was doted on by the crew in the merchant ship from which the Royal Navy seized him – ironically, the Rights of Man – and her Captain bitterly lamented his loss.  Billy was his ‘peacemaker, like a Catholic priest striking peace in an Irish shindy’.

Captain Vere was a bookish, decent, conservative bachelor.  Other officers of his rank thought that there was a ‘queer streak of the pedantic’ running through Captain Vere.  He may not have been as addicted to the hemp – for the lash or for the noose – as others of his rank, but his learning and civility covered no weakness on discipline or the need to observe the rigour of the law.  He was no softy.

Claggart was about 35.  He was much more intelligent than others of his level and ‘his hand was too small and shapely to have been accustomed to hard toil’.  The gossip on the gun decks was that he was ‘a chevalier who had volunteered into the King’s Navy by way of compounding for some mysterious swindle whereof he had been arraigned at the King’s Bench’.

Since Claggart is the strongest character in the triangle, he has attracted the strongest writing in the book, the opera and the film.  He is in the tradition of Iago:

… if Cassio do remain,

He hath a daily beauty in his life

That makes me ugly.

That could be word for word Claggart on Billy.  Shakespeare defined a similar envy in one of the assassins of Caesar.

… Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look

He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.

He is a great observer and he looks

Quite through the deeds of men.

Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort

As if he mocked himself, and scorned his spirit.

That could be moved to smile at anything.

Such men as he be never at heart’s ease

While they behold a greater than themselves,

And therefore are they very dangerous.

Again, Claggart, chapter and verse.  If you hand those lines around in a large office and ask people whom they are reminded of, they will invariably indicate the resident smiling assassin.

In a narrative manner, but with a matter-of-fact investigative tone, Melville devotes lines of a very high order to Claggart.  The following words might have been applied to Heinrich Himmler:

… The Master-at-Arms was perhaps the only man in the ship intellectually capable of adequately appreciating the moral phenomenon presented in Billy Budd.  And the insight but intensified his passion, which assuming various secret forms within him, at times assumed that cynic disdain – disdain of innocence.  To be nothing more than innocent! … A nature like Claggart’s surcharged with energy as such natures almost invariably are, what recourse is left to it but to recoil upon itself and like the scorpion for which the Creator alone is responsible act out to the end the part allotted to it. 

And then there is this:

The Pharisee is the Guy Fawkes prowling in the hid chambers underlying the Claggarts.

One thing is clear from the available sources about the difference in the case of the Jewish hasid executed on account of his apparent goodness.  Captain Vere and his officers felt the full agony of the law, and they did their duty, in full measure.  Pontius Pilate did neither.  Rather than washing his hands, Pilate may just as well have thrown them up in the air – and there are some who say that he was joking as he left the place of judgment.

The stories of the sailor and the holy man have about them an aura of innocence being drowned and of the law being applied mechanically to hurt innocent people.  And, depending on your outlook on the world – of the law being applied to help the Establishment run over those too weak to look after themselves.

Pound for pound, or word for word, this book is as rewarding as any other on the shelf, and it works wonderfully in both the opera and the film.

Here and there – The Forsyte Saga

 

The Man of Property, volume 1 of The Forsyte Saga, begins as follows.

Those privileged to be present at a family festival of the Forsytes have seen that charming and instructive sight – an upper middle class family in its full plumage.  But whosoever of those favoured persons has possessed the gift of psychological analysis (a talent without monetary value and properly ignored by the Forsytes) has witnessed a spectacle, not only delightful in itself, but illustrative of an obscure human problem.  In plainer words, he has gleaned from a gathering of this family – no branch of which had a liking for the other, between no three members of whom existed anything worthy of the name of sympathy – evidence of that mysterious concrete tenacity which renders a family so formidable a unit of society, so clear a reproduction of society in miniature.

For a little while you might think that this book is just a brilliant satire about the English bourgeoisie.  Well it is, but it is a lot more – what you get is ‘so clear a reproduction of society in miniature.’

The author, John Galsworthy, who had been a barrister, made his name in theatre.  That shows here, too, but what he have is a most beautiful wordsmith who can pull off a rare double – he writes about his characters incisively but with compassion.  The result is both engrossing and moving.

And he puts the story together without apparent effort.  Some reading this will remember how in about 1966, the whole of Melbourne went quiet for fifty minutes at 7.30 pm on Sunday nights for, I think twenty six weeks, when the ABC aired the BBC series The Forsyte Saga.  Eric Porter burned into our heads his image as Soames Forsyte, the man of property, and Susan Hampshire launched what would be called a stellar career on TV as Fleur.  Possibly the only shows to come close were Brideshead Revisited and Downton Abbey. 

There is usually a sparkler on about every page.  Old Jolyon is the patriarch.

His dinner tasted flat.  His pint of champagne was dry and bitter stuff, not like the Veuve Cliquots of old days.

Over his cup of coffee, he bethought him that he would go to the opera.  In The Times, therefore – he had a distrust of other papers – he read the announcement for the evening.  It was Fidelio.

Mercifully not one of those new-fangled German pantomimes by that fellow Wagner.

That is word perfect.

There was trouble between Soames and Irene – a loveless marriage.  Irene was drop dead gorgeous.  Was that all?

She was not a flirt, not even a coquette – words dear to the heart of his generation, which loved to define things by a good, broad, inadequate word – but she was dangerous.  He could not say why.  Tell him of a quality innate in some women – a seductive power beyond their own control.  He would but answer ‘Humbug!’  She was dangerous, and there was an end of it.

Some of them went into law.  Others were condemned to ‘trade’ – and being knocked back by the better clubs for that reason.  But they were all into money.

Nothing for nothing, and really remarkably little for sixpence.

The first book concludes with what is called an Interlude but which is a form of epilogue to this volume.  Here great writers can chance their arm, and let a mood of reflection and a stream of consciousness flow like a Chopin nocturne on a warm summer evening.  The health of Old Jolyon is failing but his decline has softened him.  Irene, estranged from Soames after what we would now call an act of rape, has enriched his life – and he, hers.   She has written to him saying she will not be able to visit him any longer.  He writes to express his anguish.  She immediately sends a telegram saying she will be there by 4.30 pm.  He is overjoyed.  He gets up out of his sickbed, dresses and goes to wait for Irene in the garden.  This is how the book ends.

And settling back in his chair he closed his eyes.  Some thistledown came on what little air there was, and pitched on his moustache more white than itself.  He did not know but his breathing stirred it, caught there.  A ray of sunlight struck through and lodged on his boot.  A bumblebee alighted and strolled on the crown of his Panama hat.  And the delicious surge of slumber reached the brain beneath that hat, and the head swayed forward and rested on his breast.  Summer – summer!  So went the hum.

The stable clock struck the quarter past [four].  The dog Balthasar stretched and looked up at his master.  The thistledown no longer moved.  The dog placed his chin over the sunlit foot.  It did not stir.  The dog withdrew his chin quickly, rose, and leaped on Old Jolyon’s lap, looked in his face, whined; then, leaping down, sat on his haunches, gazing up.  And suddenly he uttered a long, long howl.

But the thistledown was still as death, and the face of his old master.

Summer – summer – summer!  The soundless footsteps on the grass.

That is the work of a master of the art.  It is like the poetry in prose with which Joyce closes The Dead.  It’s enough to make you wonder about God.