Passing Bull 128 – How good is popularity?


When the Beatles were at the height of their appeal, their popularity was almost immeasurable.  They could do no wrong.  Their wealth was immense.  A lot of the noise came from schoolgirls screaming out their puberty, but there was no doubting the general popularity of the band.  They were about as big as Elvis Presley.

But did this immense popularity signify anything about the inherent quality of their music – as opposed to the huge saleability of their product?  It would have been absurd to say that the Beatles were on a par with Mozart – and just as absurd to say that Elvis was on a par with Frank Sinatra – or even Bing Crosby.  If an entertainer is popular, he or she is to that extent succeeding in their chosen pursuit.  It’s the same with politicians.  If they are sufficiently popular to win the required number of votes, they may be elected into office – like a pope at the College of Cardinals.  That level of popularity and of votes entitles them to claim the prize or title of office.  But does it do any more?  Does it entitle them to say that they have some kind of seal of approval on the quality of their policies or their character?

Simply as a matter of logic, the fact that a given number of people like you or your policies does not of itself entail that either you or your policies have some intrinsic worth.  A proposition about worth does not follow from a proposition about popular appeal.  You have only to reflect on popular will in its purest form of action – the lynch mob – or the characters of probably the three most popular political leaders of the twentieth century – Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco in, say, 1938 – to see how doubtful a signifier mere popularity is.  The leader of North Korea is almost certainly more popular in his own country than the leader of the United States.

If someone claims vindication or exoneration from a win in a political process, they will invite at least two questions.  Did the process have integrity?  Was there a quality field – who did the winner have to beat?  In Australian terms, was he or she up against a drover’s dog?

The election of Trump falters on each.  Australians think the U S system is flawed because voting is not compulsory.  Democrats say the system is loaded against them.  Trump did not win the popular vote.  The Electoral College does not perform its original function.  And many people voted against Trump’s opponent rather than for him.  Many of his supporters are still in that mode.  They will support any measure that goes against what the Democrats did – especially if it involved the nation’s first black president.

So, it would be very hard to argue that the electoral triumph of Trump somehow validates either him, or his policies.  To the extent that we can identify policies he laid out before the election – such as building a wall, or excluding Muslims – then as President he would have both the right and the duty to seek to implement those policies.  (It’s best to avoid that weasel word mandate altogether.)

But to claim that his election as President in some way validates those policies is as sound as saying that the election of Hitler as Chancellor validated Mein Kampf, including the elimination of Jews and the annihilation of Russia.  Then you might ask whether Trump’s announced policies entitled him to present a budget which helps the rich, hurts those under the rich, and bankrupts the nation.

All that is clear enough, but we get keep being assured that the election of Trump does in some way validate both himself and his policies.

The issue has crystallized in Alabama.  In most political bodies, Roy Moore would be hors de combat because of his found misbehaviour as a judge.  In England and Australia, he would have no hope because he is a sanctimonious, bible-bashing hypocrite.  He would certainly have no chance anywhere that politics is rational in light of the credible allegations of sexual predation against him – and his dreadful response to those allegations.  In many places he would be hopelessly on the nose on the sole ground that this whole fiasco is the product of a faction fight within one party sponsored by a nasty, rich Leninist named Bannon.

But what about the similar allegations of sexual misconduct against the President?  With the straight face that becomes serial liars, the White House says that the American nation elected Trump with full knowledge of the allegations.

For reasons I have sought to give, this proposition entails no logically relevant consequence.  This case is a fortiori – a successful candidate wants to argue that winning an election doesn’t just validate policies – it also erases sin, or the allegation of sin.  And this is where the candidate is a proven liar; he has denied the allegations; he has said he would sue the complainants well knowing that he would never do so; and where he has given evidence that he is a serial sexual predator.  And the White House says their case is stronger than that of a Democrat senator who has admitted to and apologised for a lesser offence.

The Republicans have another problem with saying that Trump has been cleared by his being elected.  They will move to block Moore even if he is elected.  They are apparently choosy about which popular choice they will regard as valid.

The events in Alabama also show how the prejudices of an electorate can show why electoral success can so rarely be cited to support some kind of moral validation.  Polls in Alabama show that more than 70% of Christian evangelicals or fundamentalists will vote for Moore despite the evidence of his paedophilia.  Why?  According to a Republican spokesman on CNN, who is against Moore taking a seat on the Senate, this is because Christian evangelicals regard Democrats as being in favour of abortion to the extent that they might fairly be described as murderers.  What is the conclusion of these soi disant Christians?  They would rather vote for a paedophile than a murderer.

God give us strength, and spare us from judgments derived from the will of the people.  We are after all human.  At least one of the Beatles understood this.  The first of them to leave us, John Lennon, said: ‘We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first – rock’n’ roll or Christianity.’  The Greeks had word for that kind of thing.  We call it leading with your chin.




[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]


Civil War

In dealing with the conflict between Loyalists and Patriots during the American Revolutionary War, Churchill said there were ‘atrocities such as we have known in our day in Ireland.’  An American general said that each side ‘seemed determined to extirpate’ the other.  There would be nothing new in atrocities, massacres, or depopulation in a fratricidal civil war in France or Russia in the course of or as a result of their revolution.

The Terror in both countries was driven by fear of two things, disintegration from within, and attack and subjection from without.   Any regime that has come to power with violence is apprehensive about its standing.  If they had won power with the gun, might they lose it to the gun?

Lyon was the second city of France, almost a rival capital.  When it rose as a city against Paris, the Committee of Public Safety sent an army to put it down.  After a siege of two months, Lyon capitulated.  The Convention, not just the Committee, decreed its destruction.

A commission extraordinaire was set up to punish the rebels.  The name Lyon was to be struck from the map.  ‘Lyon made war on liberty; Lyon no longer exists.’  Hitler or Himmler could hardly have improved on the covering instruction:  ‘A revolutionary agent may do anything.  He has nothing to fear, except failure to reach the level of republican legality.  He who anticipates this or goes beyond it or even seems to have passed its goal may not yet have reached it.’

One commission could try twenty prisoners an hour.  Using the firing squad as well as the guillotine, they managed to kill twenty-eight a day for two months.  Worryingly for posterity, they experimented with alternative modes of mass killing.  The commission did something that has not been attributed to the Waffen Death’s Head SS – it ordered batches to be killed by shellfire from cannons.  The condemned were blown into open graves after which revolted infantrymen had to move in to finish off the screaming wounded by bayonet or bullet.  One witness wrote home to Paris: ‘What a delicious moment!  How you would have enjoyed it!  What a sight!  Worthy indeed of Liberty!   Wish bon jour to Robespierre.’

The rebels in La Vendée were peasants and farmers led by nobles and priests.  Their revolt struck fear in Paris for a long time, and the retribution was frightful.  The victorious general said: ‘I have crushed children beneath my horses’ hooves, and massacred the women, who thus will give birth to no more brigands….We take no prisoners, they would need to be given the bread of liberty, and pity is not revolutionary.’  Even by the standards of the times, what murderous banality lay there?  Pity is not revolutionary.  What is?  Heartless cruelty?  When most of the fighting men of the Vendée had been finished off, the area was to be cleansed of rebels by a series of colonnes infernales or ‘hell columns’ marching in parallel across the terrain.  Their commander had express written instructions.  They were clear and there is no problem in sourcing them: ‘All brigands taken under arms, or convicted of having taken them up, are to be run through with bayonets.  One will act likewise with women, girls, and children….Those merely suspected are not to be spared’.  The troops equalled the bestiality of Napoleon’s troops in Spain or the Soviet peasants in Berlin in 1945.  About a quarter of a million perished, half at the hands of the Republic.

Many were killed by the noyades, or drowning, another macabre experiment with mass killing.  Barges were towed into the river full of manacled prisoners – they were then sunk, leaving their human cargo to drown.  Others were said to have been bound up in pairs naked, and then thrown into the Loire in ‘republican marriages.’

The Revolution in Russia, as in France, had brought not liberal democracy but anarchy and war.  It was fought with that animal savagery for which this part of the world is known.  The political struggle between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks became a war between the Reds and the Whites.  The efforts of the Red Army in battle were backed up by the efforts of the Red Guards as militia-police.  There was a complete breakdown of order.  One Russian writer described Petrograd as a city of ‘icebergs, mammoths and wastelands’ where ‘cavemen, swathed in hides, blankets and wraps retreated from cave to cave’.  Peasants sought to protect themselves from whichever group sought to control them, or just from hungry locals.  Many peasants, about eighty per cent of the Russian people, who the Communists regarded as the main beneficiaries of the revolution, just wanted to defend their way of life – the Russian way of life – against Communist rule.  Hunger and famine were so bad in some areas that peasants were driven to cannibalism.

Trotsky led the Reds, but the dirty work was done by security police.  The Cheka executed hundreds of people.  At one time, in memory of the French drownings perhaps, they drowned their victims from barges in the Volga.  They applied principles of ‘class justice’.  The judges were to come from the workers.  ‘For the exploiters, the only right that remains is the right of being ‘judged’’.  So said The ABC of Communism: ‘….the greater the number of representatives of the reactionary clergy and reactionary bourgeoisie we succeed in executing for this reason, the better. We must teach these people a lesson right now, so that they will not dare even to think of any resistance for several decades.’  There is Lenin speaking, with the distilled froideur of Saint-Just and Robespierre.

Martial law was imposed, and Trotsky’s military unit became the supreme organ of the State.  They had to call up the peasants, but the Communists did not relate to peasants.  They were a hostile and foreign lot.  Marxism gave a veneer of logic to a base gut reaction – its ‘laws’ of history ‘proved’ that the peasantry was doomed.  Lenin had proved that there would be two classes of peasants – the poor, who were the allies of the proletariat, and the ‘capitalist’ farmers, called ‘kulaks’.  The poor were just despised; the kulaks were loathed and hunted down.  It is no surprise that the Communists reduced Russia to starvation.

The Cheka was its own state.  The Commissariat of justice tried to contain it for a while and then gave up.  It practised the knock on the door in the middle of the night, interrogation and imprisonment without charge, torture, and summary death – it was its own universe.  ‘The Cheka is a fighting organ on the internal front of the civil war…..It does not judge, it strikes’.  That is a reasonable job description of the SS.  One of its earlier tasks was the murder of the whole royal family.  Here was the Terror made flesh – no one was immune to death at the hands of the Cheka.  Trotsky had said: ‘We must put an end once and for all to the papist-Quaker babble about the sanctity of human life.’

Lenin said that it was better to arrest a hundred innocent people than to run the risk of letting one enemy of the regime go free.  That comes close to getting to the heart of the matter.  What mattered was not the welfare of people at large, but protecting the life and way of life of those at the top.  Their methods of torture don’t bear describing.  They were lower than the beasts.

Here and there – Manning Clark


By chance, I picked up a copy of Manning Clark’s History of Australia as abridged by Michael Cathcart.  I paid only $10 for it at the local flea market, but I had trouble putting it down.  I have read the original six volumes – twice.  I am a fan of the author.  He knew his job was to tell a story.  The raw materials are hardly inspiring.  The history of Australia has the same problem as the French Revolution – heroes are hard to come by, but there is plenty there to make you blush, if not hang your head down.

When I reread Strachey’s Eminent Victorians a while ago, I was struck by how much work God had to do with each of those lives.  Manning Clark was concerned with the phenomenon described as the death of God.  His language is frequently biblical, but the whimsy comes with compassion.  For me, the apotheosis of both style and story comes with parts of volumes four and five – the period from, say, 1851 to 1915– that included marks on our canvas like Eureka, Lambing Flat, Burke and Wills, Ned Kelly, White Australia, and Gallipoli.

Let us look at how we got off to a bad start on education and why it has remained a mess ever since.  The problem for the ‘reforms’ of the 1870’s was not so much God, as schism.  The latter is man-made.

The reforms entrenched the sectarian divisions they were designed to overcome, not least because the Catholic Church withdrew its children from the public system.  The question of whether or not the government should subsidise denominational schools remained a bitter source of conflict into the following century.  [And this century.]…..The children of the rich did not meet on common ground either in the classrooms or the playgrounds of the Australian colonies.  In some schools a room was set aside for the children of the rich….In this way the parents of the gentry and the upper ranks of the bourgeoisie ensured that the fine edge of gentility should not be dulled by familiar intercourse with common children, until the time came to attend a private school such as Melbourne Grammar School or the Presbyterian Ladies’College, where the prejudices they had inherited from their parents were consolidated into the habits of a lifetime.

We buggered that right up, and that very English divide is still with us.  We also buggered it up with help from another part of our schizoid mother country.

In the national schools, the children were taught to venerate Her Majesty Queen Victoria; in the Catholic schools the children learned to venerate the Holy Father, and to adore the Holy Mother of God.  In the national schools, the children learned of the glories of British arms, and the spread of a beneficent British civilisation over the whole world….;in the Catholic schools, Ireland was presented as the centre of the universe, and England as a place from which had come the men who had reduced the loveliest island on God’s earth to a land of skulls……In the national schools, the classroom walls were decorated with the likenesses of Queen Victoria, and of civil and military heroes of English history; in the Catholic schools classroom walls were decorated with prints of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Virgin and the Pope.  Yet they had much in common.  Both school systems enforced a strict segregation of the sexes; both urged their pupils to mortify the flesh; both taught a morality pleasing to the ears of men who held the purse strings in the colonial parliaments.

So, we not only inflicted social division on the children; we also gave them religious hate.  The second has evaporated, but the first lives on as a national disgrace.  Have we also allowed a ‘strict segregation of the sexes’ so that ‘the prejudices they had inherited from their parents were consolidated into the habits of a lifetime’?

We are reminded that the poet Henry Kendall thought that Australia belonged to ‘clowns, liars and charlatans.’  Boy, just look at us now.  One local newspaper was ‘Australian because it treated life as a cruel joke.  Its mockery was Australian.’  You find the word ‘mockery’ a lot in Manning Clark.  Clark was not a mocker, but the mockers waited until he was dead to move in on him.  A man who looked on others with an eye of pity was cruelly betrayed by people who should have known better.  Those mean and jealous people cruelly foreshadowed the jeerers, sneerers and leerers inflicted on Australia by a Flash Harry who checked out for the United States.

This was just another upswing of that petty mediocrity that so sadly disfigures what passes for our national character.  As Clark remarked, ‘in Australia, the upstart conservative, the mean man, often defeated the generous man and the visionary.’  As it happens, on the next page, we get the ‘money-changers had begun to set the tone of public life in Australia.’  These are truths that have sadly endured, and are not seen by those who best exemplify them.  Well, as Billy Hughes reminded our national parliament, at least Judas had the decency to hang himself – and throw away the thirty pieces of silver.

The Labor movement got off to a mean and rocky Australian start.

Writing and talking as though the love of all mankind distinguished them from all previous political groups, articulate Labor spokesmen inflamed their followers with hatred against the Chinese, the Jews, the English, the Pacific Islanders, and indeed almost all strangers in their midst.  Mouthing the platitudes of the Utopians about a new society in which all hatred would cease, and God’s destroying angels would disappear off the face of the earth, their candidates for election to the colonial parliaments represented themselves to be reformers rather than revolutionaries, preservers rather than destroyers.

We know about those people who love all mankind.  The man that Carlyle called the Evangelist of the French Revolution, Rousseau, loved all mankind – he just abandoned all his children to the Foundling Home.  ‘This arrangement seemed to me so admirable, so rational, and so legitimate, that the only reason I did not boast openly of it was to spare the mother ….All things considered, what I chose for my children was for the best for them, or so I genuinely believed.  I could have wished, and still wish, that I had been reared and brought up in the same fashion.’  Would Stalin have approved of the solicitude for the mother?

Those who came to federation had to deal with ‘the inexhaustible inertia of the people as a whole.’  That’s what we are – inert.  In no colony did more than 46.33% cast a yes vote.  We could also be crudely nationalist.  The Bulletin urged Australians to turn their backs on ‘Queen Victoria’s nigger Empire.’

Our first PM was ‘a middle of the road man, an Australian bourgeois politician.’  Toss-pot Barton believed political issues could be resolved by chaps over Scotch.  Some idiot referred to ‘the good revolutionist of Nazareth.’  Then in March 1901’the Reverend Mr Edgar electrified his congregation by giving permission to the men during a Melbourne heatwave to remove their coats.’

But the Victorian Chief Justice, Sir John Madden, feared that a darker purpose was at work.  Taking his stand on the Bible, he warned that women’s suffrage would abolish soldiers, war, racing, hunting, football and all manly games.  The Bulletin worried that intermarriage with niggers could lower our national type.  Australians ‘had descended from their lofty eminence as a society of peace and goodwill’ and ‘Australia had suddenly acquired notoriety in the civilised world as a centre of human barbarism’.  Was the author of Ecclesiastes right?  Is there nothing new under the sun?

In the 1950’s parents in Melbourne were horrified by the gyrations of Elvis Presley.  How did their forebears handle the sex appeal of Wagner?  ‘Inside the Exhibition Building, society women fanned their faces to hide their response to the sensuous music of Wagner.  Men fidgeted in their seats as a trumpet, bassoon and a big bass drum inflamed their senses.’  Out of doors, politics stayed in the gutter.  Billy Hughes ‘hissed and spat at his opponents like a cat defending its own territory against an invader.’

Here are some passages that go to the core of our political life, that show why we are so different to the United States, and why the words ‘conservative’ and ‘socialist’ are so very slippery in the context of Australia.

George Turner [Victorian Premier and first Treasurer of the Commonwealth] was also said to have ‘no horizon in his mind, no perspective in his politics, no proud surface upon which he rested.’  But where Reid [News South Wales Premier, later Prime Minister] often flirted with the Bohemian fringe in Sydney, to the scandal of the frowners in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Turner was always a model of British bourgeois propriety.  Balancing the books was his great passion in life.  By his great industry, his zeal and his deep conviction, he helped to raise that criterion into the standard by which politicians came to be judged in Australia.

The liberals wanted a compromise between the conservative insistence that property must enjoy special protection in any colonial federal constitution, and the labour call for one man one vote…..

On the role of the state in economic life, the liberals saw themselves as supporters of the traditional role of government in planting civilisation in the Australian wilderness.  Government had played the major role in the supply, distribution and control of labour in the convict period.  Government had performed a similar role in the selection, transport and distribution of free immigrants.  Government had developed a network of country and suburban railways not on any abstract principle of the role of government, but because in Australian conditions, private or free enterprise could not or would not embark on such activities.  Liberals believed in a continuing partnership between the two.

The Mildura experiment in irrigation was a model of that harmony of interests which the liberals detected between government and free enterprise.  Alfred Deakin had been greatly impressed by the irrigation schemes set up by George and William Chaffey in California when he visited there in 1885.  In 1888……the government of South Australia interested them in a similar scheme in Renmark.  In Los Angeles, the Chaffeys had developed their schemes under the American practice of free enterprise – that, in American experience was what produced the greatest wealth, the greatest efficiency, the greatest service to the consumers and the highest material rewards to the people of initiative, drive and unbounded energy.  That was what generated a lively society, a society with a great pulse of life, a people who were magnificently alive, and not characterised by the dullness and mediocrity of people mollycoddled by governments, churches, charity organisations, or those self-appointed improvers of humanity who made decisions for people, thereby depriving them of the exercise of the right to decide for themselves, a necessary condition for the flowering of the personality.  The Chaffeys built their model villages….to the background of angry exchanges between conservatives very voluble on the evils of government interference and radicals clamouring for more government control.

Here is a warning about treating with barbarians – like Hitler.

The conservatives were in a dilemma.  A barbarian was threatening the very foundations of society, but the barbarian might have his uses.  He was offering to wipe Bolshevism off the map of the world: he was already destroying trade union power: in a most brutal and barbarous fashion, he was rooting out decadence in Germany.  The barbarian has talked of the German need for Lebensraum (living space); perhaps he could find it during his crusade against Bolshevism.  Hitler could be used and then dropped – monsters had their uses.

How different is the dilemma currently facing Republicans over Trump?

When Bertrand Russell quit our shores in 1950, he said, graciously, some might think:

Perhaps you are all too comfortable to take so much trouble.  Perhaps you will be content with a moderate and humdrum success, but I hope not.  I hope that….you will be content to take the risks involved in aiming at great success rather than acquiesce in the comfortable certainty of a moderate competence

Manning Clark was not optimistic, and neither am I.  We have settled for a safe, inert mediocrity.  People who rock the boat make us very nervous.

Carlyle said that history was a collection of biographies.  That is in large part just what this book of Manning Clark is.  It’s not just that history can be entertaining – it does its job better when it is.  I haven’t enjoyed a book so much for a very long time – at least as far back as when I last read The French Revolution by Carlyle.  At least we got one thing right.




[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]


The Instruments of Terror

When it comes to the application of terror in France, Russia, and Germany, the abandonment of the rule of law consists in large part of creating no-fly zones for the law at each end of the process – you deny all rights to the targets and the victims, and you create not just privileges but absolute immunities for the government agents of the terror.  They are all outside the general law at either end.  It’s like Anglo-Saxon outlawry or apartheid.

The guillotine was invented by a French doctor as a humane replacement for death by hanging, firing squad, or the axe.  Death was the main instrument of the French Terror, and the guillotine became the prime symbol of its inhumanity.  Unlike Russia or Germany, the French had no substantial police force, or at least nothing like the Gestapo or NKVD, and no concentration camps, Siberia, or gulag.  For an infringement of laws made during the Terror, the penalty was usually death.  For the most part at its start, the Convention kept some right of control over the Revolutionary Tribunal, but there was nothing like a judiciary that was either independent, or professional, and the prosecutor was not easily distinguished from the executioner.  The Terror lasted less than two years in France; about twelve years in Germany; and about forty years off and on in Russia.  If around 16,000 passed under the blade in the nine months from the death of Marie-Antoinette to the death of Robespierre, the toll in both Germany and Russia is beyond our understanding.

But the horrors of the twentieth century cannot obscure the horror of the French Terror.  The Tricoteuses (knitting-women) of the sisterhood sat beneath the the sharp female called La Guillotine and calmly counted off the number as each head fell into the sack, or into a bucket that on a big day overflowed.  Imagine the impact of terrorists killing 16,000 people in France in two years in our time.

Lenin had a Rousseau-like schizophrenia in his affection for humanity.  Maxim Gorky said:  ‘Lenin is a leader and a Russian nobleman, not without certain psychological traits of this extinct class, and therefore he can consider himself justified with performing for the Russian people a cruel experiment which is doomed to failure.’

Through a series of accidents and coups, the Bolsheviks found themselves in charge.  At the head of affairs, they put all power in the hands of the party, and then used terror to wipe out all political opposition.  Fourteen years before this, Trotsky had warned that when the party got control, the Central Committee would take over, and a single dictator would then take over from the Committee.  How else would a country that had so little experience in self-government be governed?  You can see a similar descent in France with the Committee of Public Safety and Robespierre.  It is a natural descent in times of disorder and violence.

The Bolsheviks went through a form of election, but they only got about half of what the Nazis would get – and the Nazis never got 50%.  The Military Revolutionary Committee (MRC) therefore arrested the electoral commissioners.  The Bolshevik leaders set about a kind of civil war on a whole social class.  A cult of violence arose.  Trotsky said that ‘There is nothing immoral in the proletariat finishing off a class that is collapsing: that is its right.’  Gorky said: ‘I am especially distrustful of a Russian when he gets power into his hands.  Not long ago a slave, he becomes the most unbridled despot as soon as he has the chance to become his neighbour’s master.’  The Communists clothed mob trials with a garb of government.  The People’s Courts had twelve judges.  They had no training.  They were to be guided by their ‘revolutionary conscience.’  When you extend the law by saying that anyone outside the true sentiment of the people is outside the protection of their laws, you are getting close to the heart of the police state.

When the Germans invaded Russia, Lenin issued the decree of ‘The Socialist Fatherland in Danger!’  The Revolutionary Tribunals were ordered to shoot suspects on the spot.  The Cheka did not look for proof.  ‘First you must ask what class he belongs, what his social origin is, his education and profession.  These are the questions that must determine the fate of the accused.  That is the meaning of the Red Terror.’

Revolutionaries develop a halo, a feeling of purity.  They think that things will turn out for the best, but they are just as selfish as the rest of us.  They look forward to their own Utopia, but it is a simple fact of history that a state that acquires these powers does not want to give them up.

Hitler knew that he had engineered a revolution.  He told the faithful that the Nazi revolution had succeeded, and that power was theirs alone.  He said: ‘Revolution is not a permanent condition.  It must not develop into a permanent condition.  The stream of revolution… must be channelled into the secure bed of evolution … A second revolution can only direct itself against the first one.’  This political insight was sure.  Hitler instigated the murderous purge called the Night of the Long Knives to avoid a German second revolution like that of 10 August 1792 in France.

Hitler got his emergency powers.  He signed the army up to personal loyalty.  His word was law – The Law for the Guarantees of the Unity of Party and State.  He set up the Geheime Staatspolizei, Secret State Police, or Gestapo.  .  When Himmler was put in charge of all German police, he put Reinhard Heydrich in charge of the Gestapo and SS Security Service.  Heydrich was therefore in charge of the instruments of terror in a police state run on terror.  He may well have been the most feared man alive, a title he would have dreamed of.  In February 1936, the German people made a law that took the Gestapo out of the jurisdiction of the courts.  This was part of the pact that the German people were entering into with the Devil, but they were too far gone to pull out.

The Schutzstaffel or SS, the ‘Protection Squad’, began as the private bodyguard of Hitler, and ended as the prime agent of the Final Solution, and with its leaders sticking their Lugers into their mouths and blowing their brains out in final fealty to their oath to the Fuhrer.  They were like Spartans – fanatically, self-annihilatingly disciplined, puritanical, racially pure, and exquisitely Teutonic – and bereft of conscience or humanity.

A People’s Court was set up in April 1934 – the Germans were in every way so much swifter and more focussed than the French had been 140 years ago.  This court was to deal with treason cases – that meant any kind of political case.  The objective was to ensure that no one person could stand in the way of the State – and that meant, as night follows day, that everyone was subordinate to the State.  The police state puts people in boxes and characterise them – to brand them.  Then it visits every person in that box with the same legal consequences – the state refuses to see each case being treated on its own merits, to treat you or me as individuals each having our own worth or dignity.  The individual simply ceases to exist.  In March 1933, Goebbels uttered a frightful truth that could have been written by Orwell or Koestler: ‘On 30 January, the era of individualism died … The individual will be replaced by the community of the people.’

Passing Bull 127 – Elites and religion and Mr Dyson Heydon, AC QC


In its ordinary meaning, the ‘elite’ are the chosen or elect.  The Oxford English Dictionary has ‘choice part or flower of society.’  If, therefore, you are part of the elite you might feel blessed – like a cricketer who gets to wear the baggy green cap for Australia.

But of late, in the mood of general gloom, the term has become one of abuse, particularly among those of a reactionary caste of thought.  Never mind that those who use the term as one of derision are invariably rolled gold examples of the elite at least in the general sense of that term – elite has become a sparring glove for the politically restive – like the terms ‘political correctness’ and ‘identity politics’, which are on any view bullshit.

Donald Trump, we are told, was elected to defy the elites in the U S and to put them in their boxes.  If, then, the elites are those who are opposed to Donald Trump, then in the eyes of the world, and a substantial majority of Americans, the elites stand for all that is decent in American life.

But, hang on – we are also told that Donald Trump was elected to drain the swamp.  Are we then to say that the flower or cream is the same as the swamp?  How could that happen?  The two phrases are of course nebulously silly in equal degree, but they have been taken up on Sky News and at the Australian Spectator.  And enough Americans were silly enough to vote against what they believed were elites and for a person who is as far from being part of the cream or flower of society as you could ever imagine.

So, using the term ‘elites’ as derision has some credentials – even if they are credentials of a peculiarly revolting kind, especially if you add Pauline Hanson and Nigel Farage to the list of progenitors, those worthy battlers for ‘the forgotten people’, those people who those of another creed called the ‘masses.’

On 17 October 2017, Dyson Heydon, A C Q C, gave the inaugural P M Glynn lecture on Religion, Law and Public Life at the Australian Catholic University.  (It has not occurred to me to ask this before, but is there an Australian Protestant University?  What makes this university Catholic?  Are its laws of physics or contract different to the laws of Protestants, agnostics or atheists?)  In his lecture, Mr Heydon said that people were attacking religion at large, Christianity in particular, and that Catholics were principal targets.  Who are making these attacks?

Mr Heydon says that the attacks come from the ‘modern elites.’  Indeed, in the edited version in the press, the term ‘elites’ occurs at least twenty-five times.  The lecture comprises abstractions and labels, and it has barely one statement of verifiable fact, but I do not see a statement of what Mr Heydon means by the term ‘elites’.  And if anyone is part of the elite of Australia, it is surely our learned lecturer, a sometime Justice of the High Court Australia, and a man chosen at the highest levels of government to engage in the highest affairs of state.

Let us then apply the dictionary definition.  That would not be unfair to a former Justice of the High Court.  In the political context that we have, the elite would include people who by character, upbringing and training are well placed to take part in running the community.

Let’s then take two examples – a former P M, Tony Abbott, and a leader of the political commentariat, Andrew Bolt – and see if they fit the model of the portrait of elites painted by Mr Heydon at the Australian Catholic University.  That model is as follows.

The public voices of the modern elites are not humble.  They conceive themselves to have entitlements and rights, not blessings.  They desire to exclude any role for religion in Australian public discussion, and perhaps any role for religion at all in any sphere, public or private.  They instantly demand an apology for any statement they dislike.  They seem to waver between contradictory contentions: that Christ never existed, that Christ was never crucified, or that the Roman soldiers attempting the crucifixion were so incompetent that Christ merely fell unconscious, and never actually died on the cross.  They fail to condemn these examples of subhuman behaviour.  Does this not show their acceptance of these views?  They have moved from mere indifference to fanatical anti-clericalism.  Some want to destroy faith itself.  Their tolerance is tyrannical – ‘if you try to say you disagree and why, you deserve to be, and will be, hounded out of all decent society.’  They only pay lip-service to freedom of religion.  By failing to denounce evils, they associate themselves with those evils.  This weakens their case.  They do not desire tolerance.  They demand unconditional surrender.  They are discourteous.  They are the sorts of people who do not give up their seats on public transport to the pregnant, the elderly, or the infirm.  They shout rather than argue.  They reject the fundamental part of the Christian tradition that is the source of the modern world and their own favoured position in it.  They welcome tyranny.  They seek to destroy their inheritance from secular liberalism.

And so it goes.

Now, Mr Abbott and Mr Bolt have their critics, and indeed enemies, but they have not been guilty of any of that kind of stuff.  People who say that Christ never existed or who refuse to stand for a pregnant woman are at best complete nuts and at worst total shits.  Fortunately, I have never met one of them.  Mr Heydon doesn’t refer to any of them by name.  What’s he on about?

The clue comes with the denunciation of the catch-cry: ‘why don’t religious people stop forcing their opinions on everyone else.’  ‘This is a call for what in Germany in the 1940’s would have been called a compulsory inner emigration.’  I haven’t the faintest notion of what that Mr Heydon might mean by that, but I am one of those who have asked just such a question – on these pages – and I’m not wildly thrilled to be directed to compare myself with someone in Nazi Germany as a consequence.

As best I can see, Mr Heydon does not mention marriage equality or assisted dying, but I suspect that it is the debate over those two issues that is behind most of Mr Heydon’s tortured angst.  A lot of people, including me, are opposed to people seeking to translate into law beliefs on moral issues that derive from a religion based on revelation.  It is one thing for a person to take a leap of faith – it is altogether a different thing to seek to impose views formed after such a leap of faith on others – with the force of law.

There is a long history – at least a century of it – of real hostility in Australia to people seeking to alter the political landscape by views derived from contested areas of faith.  You need only mention the names Mannix and Santamaria.  And now you can add the name of the primate who authorised a donation of one million dollars to the ‘No’ campaign in the marriage equality debate.

Fairly or otherwise, a lot of Australians are offended by the idea of the plebiscite, and they believe that they wouldn’t have had to put up with this expensive insult had it not been for the determination of some people of the Christian faith, especially Catholics, to impose their views on others.  If religious people want to get angry about this reaction to them – and Mr Heydon plainly does – that’s a matter for them.  But in the name of God, what bloody good can it do?

There is nothing new about this tenderness about allowing people of one religion or another to interfere in matters of state.  This tenderness lies under the English reformation and it was a major factor in the French Revolution.  The English Crown, which still in name reigns over us, claimed, and hung on to in the face of the Spanish Armada, religious Home Rule from Rome.  This insistence on the separation of religion from the state runs deep in our political history and thought.  Just try to imagine the reaction of most Australians if people of faith sought not to have our laws enshrine the teaching of Christ, but the maxims of Sharia Law.

And since Mr Heydon refers to Western civilisation, as do many contributors to The Australian, it may be as well to refer to moments in our shared history like humanism and the Enlightenment.  In The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Professor Simon Blackburn says of ‘humanism’ – ‘any philosophy concerned to emphasize human welfare and dignity, and either optimistic about the powers of human reason, or at least insistent that we have no alternative to use it as best we can…..Later the term tended to become appropriated for anti-religious social and political movements’.  For the Enlightenment we have:

The period of human thought characterised by the emphasis on experience and reason, mistrust of religion and traditional authority, and a gradual emergence of liberal, secular, democratic societies.  [Emphasis added.]

There are no surprises here.  Just as we have gone from the supernatural to the natural in science, so also have we done so in law and government.  It is sufficient to give one citation from the prince of the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant:

Now, when, as usually happens, a church proclaims itself to be the one church universal (even though it is based upon faith in a special revelation which, being historical can never be required of everyone), he who refuses to acknowledge its (peculiar) ecclesiastical faith is called by it ‘an unbeliever’ and is hated wholeheartedly; he who diverges therefrom only in path (in non-essentials) is called ‘heterodox’ and is at least shunned as a source of infection. But he who avows allegiance to this church and diverges from it on essentials of its faith (namely, regarding the practices connected with it), is called, especially if he spreads abroad his false belief, a ‘heretic’ and, as a rebel, such a man is held more culpable than a foreign foe, is expelled from the church with anathema….[Emphasis added.]

Let me also refer to Macaulay.  He is, you would think, as high up the pole of the ‘former elites’ as any mere mortal may ever get.

The only event of modern times which can be properly compared with the Reformation is the French Revolution, or, to speak more accurately, that great revolution of political feeling which took place in almost every part of the civilised world in the eighteenth century, and which obtained in France its most terrible and signal triumph.  Each of these memorable events may be described as the rising up of the human reason against a Caste.  The one was a struggle of the laity against the clergy for intellectual liberty; the other was a struggle of the people against princes and nobles for political liberty.  [Emphasis added.]

This insight is important.  A large part of the progress of Western civilisation or secular liberalism has been putting priests and bishops in their place – outside the door of government.  (Has anyone ever had a good word to say about bishops?)  There is a place for the supernatural – but not in ruling the lives of everyone else.  Ask the French.  People releasing themselves from the power of priests was as important as their releasing themselves from the power of princes.  We have not always understood this truth.  Even the English downplay the liberating effect of their reformation on their political process – which, by common consent, is the model for the Western world.

There are in addition some other very odd propositions in Mr Heydon’s lecture.

First, denouncing people because they have not denounced others is seldom helpful and always dangerous.  No people I know of has welcomed informers, and denunciation is a favoured weapon of the most evil regimes in history.  A favourite Party trick of Stalin was to send wives to Siberia for not having denounced their executed husbands.  This argument is also used as a stick to beat Muslims with in the west.  It doesn’t help the cause of religion as a whole that those who brandish this stick at Muslims, who are slow to denounce evil at the edge of their faith, frequently subscribe to a Church whose very hierarchy, right up to the top, has been involved in massive breaches of public trust that have damaged the standing of public institutions at large, and not just the Church.  Just look at the decline and fall of the Church in Ireland.

Secondly, Mr Heydon has odd views about the range and extent of the perceived hostility to religion.

The hostility is demonstrated least against Hindus and Buddhists.  It is also not much demonstrated against Muslims.  It is beginning to be demonstrated against Jews.  Some elements in the elites are drifting back to an anti-Semitism that one thought had been purged from Western life by the horrors of World War II in communist Eastern Europe after 1945.  And hostility is increasing markedly against Catholics….But no Christian denomination seems to be exempt from the new de-Christianisation campaign.

Try telling that to the worshippers at the Lakemba or Bendigo mosques.  The rush to line up as victims might be hilarious if the context were not so ordinary.

Thirdly, I quite fail to see the historical or moral warrant for claiming that the ‘Christian tradition is the source of the modern world.’  It’s like saying that Australia is a Christian nation.  The endeavour to award primacy to one faith over others can only lead to pain and conflict.  And it hardly becomes a Church that claims to speak with and for humility.  This kind of bullshit might wash with people who follow footy, but it is hardly appropriate among those who worship God.

That brings me to two things on which I agree entirely with Mr Heydon.  First, I agree that it is ridiculous to claim that ancient Greece and Rome were civilised – at least as we now understand that term.  That proposition in my view follows from the fact that they had not been exposed to the views about the essential dignity of each human life as taught by Jewish rabbis and Christian priest and ministers, and by Kant and other members of the Enlightenment.  As a result, the ancients had views about equality that we think are as uncivilised as you can get.

Secondly, I also agree that Christ had ‘a different vision.’

He showed a concern for the ill, the socially marginal, the outsider, the destitute.  He opposed self-righteousness and hypocrisy.  He had no concern to associate with wealth, power or celebrity.  His associates were humbler.  Many of them were women.  He saw little children are heirs to the kingdom of heaven…But above all Christ taught that all human beings were humble before God, and all could enter the kingdom of God.

To that fair picture, Mr Heydon may have added that the man they called Christ signed his death warrant by taking to the money dealers in the Temple with a whip, and that while that warrant was being executed, Christ said that his kingdom was not of this world.

This certainly was a new vision.  But for many Australians, that portrait of Christ presents problems.  It is inconceivable that Christ would have stayed overnight at the Melbourne Club; prelates of both major denominations do just that.  (They do this is part of a deliberate policy to avoid mixing with the kind of people that Jesus of Nazareth mixed with.)  It is equally inconceivable that Christ would have stayed silent during Australia’s treatment of refugees, not least the children among them; prelates of both major denominations have done just that.  Finally, and in the present political context, it is inconceivable to many Australians, including very many in communion with one or other of the churches of Christ in Australia today, that the Christ so described would choose to deny equality in marriage to homosexuals, ‘the socially marginal, the outsider.’  Or at the very least, had Christ been so minded, he would have been appalled at the spellbinding dishonesty perpetrated by the Australian Christian Lobby in engaging in this squalid and unnecessary political shit fight.

As I see it, the most worrying symptom of the decline in public life here and elsewhere is the lack of moderation, the lack of tolerance, if not respect, for the views of others.  This lecture is brutally one-sided, nos contra mundum, ‘you’re either for us or against us, and if the latter, you’re a goner.’  It is as bloody and over the top as a charge at the Somme, and the resulting phantoms are just as ghoulish.  That’s what Mr Heydon charges others with, and, as it looks to me, that is just what he is doing in to the rest of in this lecture.

May I offer some advice to people with God who share the apprehensions of Mr Heydon?  If you don’t like the bloody heat, don’t go near the bloody kitchen.  And the next time you want us to suffer the insult of a bootless $100 million plebiscite to save your dogma from your own blushes, can you in the name of God please try to avoid saying that if your side gets up to forty per cent of the vote, you will put that down as a win?  Because people who behave as badly as that deserve to get a bucket of the best or worst refuse right down their bloody front and any other part of their person that they are silly enough to show before the people of Australia.

Passing Bull 126 – Being rational about religion


We take a lot of things on faith – the balance in our bank account, the state of our health, the sense of our doctors, the faithfulness of our partners, and the magic and mystery of giants like Leonardo, Shakespeare and Mozart.  Faith doesn’t only apply to religion then.  To that extent I agree with Greg Sheridan in his piece ‘Idea of God is perfectly logical’ in The Saturday Australian.

My position about God is that of a God-fearing doubter.  I simply don’t know.  I don’t believe anyone knows about God, either way.  While I have lost any belief in God, at least as that term in generally understood, I don’t seek to persuade others either way.  That, frankly, would be none of my business.

It follows therefore that I too, with Mr Sheridan, don’t like Dawkins or Hitchens, although I must confess that I have not read either in depth.  I don’t believe that any proposition about the existence of God is capable of rational proof.  As I gather that both of these men thought that they had proved that God does not exist, they are in my view talking bullshit.  And I don’t think I could be persuaded to the contrary.  And certainly not by arrogant and insulting people like those two.  They are to me nasty intellectual bullies, who think that they can work over people who overtly pledge their faith in that which cannot be proven.

People like Dawkins and Hitchens look to me to be evangelists of a nasty and bigoted kind.  Kant knew that bigots of denial were often worse than bigots of belief, and Carlyle showed his disdain for Rousseau by calling him the ‘Evangelist.’  What right or interest do these people have in seeking to undermine the religious faith of others – a lot of whom may not have the same intellectual horsepower, but very many of whom will be far better off for taste and judgment?  For that matter, why should they seek to deny to all of us the place of magic and mystery in the world – with some variety of rationalist double entry accounting?

So, I agree with Mr Sheridan that belief in God is rational.  To suggest the contrary seems to me to be as silly as it is rude.

But belief in what kind of God?   And how do we express it?  Mr Sheridan refers to ‘the thousands of years of intellectual effort on matters of faith and belief by the best minds humanity has produced.’  The best minds would include Spinoza, Kant, Wittgenstein, and Einstein.  They all professed to believe in God, but their God would be unrecognisable as such to most believers.  (And both Spinoza and Kant were persecuted because their God did not conform.)

Take Einstein.  Whereas some people see what they believe to be miracles as evidence of God’s existence, for Einstein it was the absence of miracles that reflected divine providence, and revealed a ‘God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists’.  This is very much like what Kant thought.  Einstein had the problem that Darwin had with people trying to get him to express views on religion.  People were trying to trap him.  A New York rabbi sent him a telegram: ‘Do you believe in God?  Stop.  Answer paid.  Fifty words.’  The reply was: ‘I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind’.  Einstein never felt the need to put down others who believed in a different kind of God: ‘What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos’.

So, are we talking about the intellectual model of God, or the personal model?  The personal model, which is that favoured by most believers, is that revealed by scripture.  Here is another and more biting division.  Which scripture?  The Old Testament, the New Testament, Confucius, the Koran, and so on?

So, of course a belief in God is rational – but putting meat on the bones of ‘God’ is another matter.  And that takes us to the second question.  The belief is rational, but to what extent can it be expressed in words and be justified in logic?

Mr Sheridan refers to Aquinas, ‘the greatest of the Christian philosophers and theologians.’  Augustine and Aquinas took the teaching of an unlettered holy man from Asia and drenched it in the European philosophy of Plato and Aristotle.  I was brought up in a Protestant sect, and on the eve of the 500th anniversary of the eruption of Martin Luther, I may be forgiven for saying that this intellectualising of the teaching of Christ may appeal to some more than others.

It is in truth no small part of why I lost my faith.  God is limitless – Christ is too – and I have never understood the presumption of mere men seeking to lock God in behind the bars of a syllogism, a construct of human thought.  This is, if you like, an article of faith for me.  I can’t jump six feet; I can’t conceive of a thing being and not being at the same time; but I don’t say that God can’t do either.  What gives us the right to say that God cannot transcend our limitations?  Why can’t God be better than us?

But this intellectual elevation put up by Augustine and others, which can only be understood by about a thousand people in the world at any one time, looks to me to be part of reserving the mystery of it all to the clerics – and that is bad.  This monopoly of understanding was at the heart of Luther’s protest.  And the Church made a great gift to people like Dawkins and Hitchens.  The people of faith were offering to play the people of logic on their own home ground.  It would be like the New York Yankees offering to play the MCC at cricket at Lords.  No bloody contest, mate.

In sum, there are limits to both our logic and language, and you have as much hope of explaining or justifying your faith in God as you do of explaining or justifying your faith in Leonardo, Shakespeare or Mozart – or, I may add, the divine Catherine Deneuve.  Wittgenstein said:

I believe that one of the things that Christianity says is that sound doctrines are all useless.  That you have to change your life. 

His biographer said:

‘Russell and the parsons between them have done infinite harm, infinite harm.’  [Wittgenstein wrote.]  Why pair Russell and the parsons in the one condemnation? Because both have encouraged the idea that a philosophical justification for religious beliefs is necessary for those beliefs to be given any credence.  Both the atheist who scorns religion because he has found no evidence for its tenets, and the believer, who attempts to prove the existence of God, have fallen to the ‘other’ – to the idle worship of the scientific style of thinking.  Religious beliefs are not analogous to scientific theories, and should not be accepted or rejected using the same evidential criteria.

That looks obvious to me.  And if you want to return to the beginnings, I see that Plato believed that no philosophical truth could be communicated in writing at all – it was only by some sort of immediate contact that one soul might kindle a light in another.  Good grief – from what ashram did that come?  But then we recall that Einstein said that he rarely thought in words.  And the great physicist Niels Bohr said:

When it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry.  The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images.

It was therefore sad to see that Mr Sheridan began his piece by saying: ‘It is more rational to believe in God than to believe there is no God.’  What might that entail?  It is idle to contend that my belief in God is as secure as my belief in my parentage, and it is plain wrong to say that Mr Sheridan’s ancestry is ‘certainly not rationally proven.’ (Otherwise our judges would have to pick up their bongos).  And then we get the call to arms: ‘the high points of our elite and popular culture have been colonised by a militant and intolerant atheism.’

May I suggest that making warlike claims to rational superiority about religion is not the best way to deal with intolerance?  When we talk of God, those who think they have the best arguments are those who are likely to lose the war.  There is a lot to be said for live, and let live.

Poet of the month: Henry Lawson

A prouder man than you

If you fancy that your people came of better stock than mine,

If you hint of higher breeding by a word or by a sign,

If you’re proud because of fortune or the clever things you do —

Then I’ll play no second fiddle: I’m a prouder man than you!

If you think that your profession has the more gentility,

And that you are condescending to be seen along with me;

If you notice that I’m shabby while your clothes are spruce and new —

You have only got to hint it: I’m a prouder man than you!

If you have a swell companion when you see me on the street,

And you think that I’m too common for your toney friend to meet,

So that I, in passing closely, fail to come within your view —

Then be blind to me for ever: I’m a prouder man than you!

If your character be blameless, if your outward past be clean,

While ’tis known my antecedents are not what they should have been,

Do not risk contamination, save your name whate’er you do — `

Birds o’ feather fly together’: I’m a prouder bird than you!

Keep your patronage for others! Gold and station cannot hide

Friendship that can laugh at fortune, friendship that can conquer pride!

Offer this as to an equal — let me see that you are true,

And my wall of pride is shattered: I am not so proud as you!




[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]

4 Goodbye to law

Before the English went into their century of change, they had experienced three phases of revolution or evolution in the previous four centuries that had not occurred in France.  First, the then aristocracy, the barons, had effectively put the English crown under contract with the Great Charter of 1215.  This was the foundation of the rule of law, because the king too was said to be under the law.  Secondly, the English had terminated their ties to Rome.  They declared religious Home Rule and repatriated their church.  They did so through the king speaking through the Parliament, so that the royal succession and the headship of the English church derived from the Parliament.  When they came to settle with their king, their aristocracy was on side, and they did not have to worry about Rome or priests.  Thirdly, the English were able to deal with their king through their parliament, which did represent all orders in the nation, and had had hundreds of years’ experience.  When Louis summoned the Estates General, it had not met for a century, and it was moribund.  The French nobles and bishops, and indeed the crown itself, were not used to negotiating about their place, and they were unwilling and unable to do so.  Fourthly, the English had developed a fiercely independent group of lawyers and judges who were capable of acting against the crown, and as often as not, were more than happy to do so.  Landed squires were trained in the law in the Inns of Court, proficient in the political arts required in the House of Commons, capable of translating political gains into binding legal compacts, ready to lead a citizen army if required, and religious fanatics who were utterly incorruptible and prepared to die rather than to give in to royal power.

Those promoting the Terror in France could at least claim to come from the moral high ground.  That is very difficult with the Russian version and impossible with the German.  The Nazi Party was made of thugs, by thugs and for thugs, and terror was part of what we would now call its DNA.  The Russian Communists may not have started out that way, but they got there soon enough by the ineluctable logic of the proposition that all power corrupts.

Until the declaration of the republic in France, there was a more or less recognisable structure of government, even if it was tied up and inept.  When you destroy an absolute monarchy, you may get an absolute void.  There had been nothing like our police force or standing army.  The driving political force of the revolution came from clubs like the Jacobins and Cordeliers in Paris, and their affiliates outside.  There would be tension between Paris and the provinces and lethal civil wars with major centres like Lyons, and the Vendée.  There were divisions in the priesthood before and after the Vatican revealed a hostility to the revolution that matched that of other foreign powers.  The Commune in Paris was what we might call the Paris City Council and it claimed to exercise powers and give commands.  Then each Section in Paris claimed its own rights.  The National Guard was not as powerful politically as the Praetorian Guard in Rome or the SS in Nazi Germany, but the centre of armed force always attracts adherents.  There was no real tradition of independent legislators or judges in the English model, and a time of crisis of threats from outside and inside was not a time to learn how to live with factions.  (Since a faction indicated dissent, they were proscribed in Communist Russia and Nazi Germany, but some of the coldest killings in the French Terror were the final acts of factional feuds and vendettas.)  The very absence of a complete and authoritative central power contributed to the general sense of insecurity and unease that made something like the Terror seem inevitable.

Some of the key phases of the descent of legal civilisation in France are as follows.  The Assembly announces the state of emergency – the Fatherland is in danger.  An insurrectionary commune is established in Paris – power to the people (or the mob or la foule).  The Convention abolishes the monarchy.  The king is executed.  The Revolutionary Tribunal is established, with no review or appeal.  Committees of Surveillance are established – an essential part of the police state.  Deputies (our MPs) lose their immunity – faction fighting gets terminal.  The mob demands the death of a whole faction in the Convention.  Representatives on mission are given dictatorial powers.  Military service becomes general.  The Law of Suspects is introduced.  All government is revolutionary – all under the Committee of Public Safety.  A series of laws obliterate the rights of the accused.  The ‘trials’ are mockeries.  Government is an instrument of factional and personal revenge.  The Terror ends when Deputies work up the courage to kill Robespierre before he kills them.

A small revolutionary tribunal will, almost by definition, contradict every part of the rule of law.  One of the great objections to the old regime was that the king could take some action – like issuing a lettre de cachet (a royal command to detain someone) – and, when asked why, say ‘reasons of state’, raison d’état.  The revolutionary government soon had the same process – and worse.  The Convention slipped slowly into a cycle of factional vendettas and the Committees and the Tribunal executed the judgment of the ruling clique from time to time until the vicious circular regress ran out of willing blood, and the nation of France heaved a sigh of relief and disgust.

Adolf Hitler came to power with less than half the vote, but once he got his foot in the door, he kicked the door out and remade the house to suit him.  He had never sought to conceal his ambition to clear away the trappings of a failed state.  In 1931, the then Chancellor had said to Hitler with complete truth: ‘When a man declares that once he has achieved power by legal means, he will break through the barriers, he is not really adhering to legality’.  Hitler responded with equal truth: ‘Herr Chancellor, if the German Nation once empowers the National Socialist Movement to introduce a constitution other than that which we have today, you cannot stop it….When a constitution proves itself to be useless for its life, the nation does not die – the constitution is altered.’

Part of the deal was that the new government would consent to an enabling act giving Hitler Emergency Powers.  This was Peisistratus in overdrive.  The day he was appointed, Hitler alerted the Berlin Brownshirts to go on to the streets.  He then assembled the Cabinet and told them that the Reichstag would be dissolved and new elections held to give him the emergency powers necessary to deal with the crisis.  Two days later, General Ludendorff wrote to the aged President: ‘I solemnly prophesy to you that this damnable man will plunge our Reich into the abyss and bring inconceivable misery down upon our nation.  Coming generations will curse you in your grave because of this action.’

The people of Russia have had only fleeting contact with the rule of law or civil rights since that nation came to be known under that name.  Those who would become revolutionaries were brought up to deal with the vicious police state of the Tsars.  They were trained in and by it.  The first leader of the Cheka, the Soviet secret police, had spent most of his adult life in exile or prison.  They were seasoned haters, drained of humanity, but competent in their methods of degradation and torture.  Flaubert once remarked that ‘inside every revolutionary, there is a policeman.’  If the Tsars were not troubled by questions of legality, Lenin was even less troubled, and Stalin had a preference for murder plain and simple

Here and there – Evil á la mode; and Iago


Last year Fox News, a part of the Murdoch Empire and an aider and abettor of Donald Trump, paid out huge amounts of money to settle sexual harassment claims against their CEO – and to settle with him.  Such is the evil of our times that, as I recall, both settlements ran to tens of millions of dollars.  Earlier this year, Fox News was forced by public opinion to sack its number one attraction, and Trump’s biggest fan and supporter, Bill O’Reilly.  He, too, was a serial abuser, and the undisputed world champion of hypocrisy.  He too handed over many millions of dollars to the victims of his abuse.  Such is the contempt for truth now in public life that O’Reilly was suffered to say that there was no truth in the allegations against him – he was just paying out all those millions to protect his children from bad publicity that had no foundation.  I don’t know whether O’Reilly, too, employs the lie ‘fake news.’

On the weekend, The New York Times reported that O’Reilly had agreed to pay one of the victims of his abuse more than $30,000,000.  That was the cost of her silence – but someone has ratted.  And now it gets worse.  With knowledge of that deal, the Murdoch family offered O’Reilly a renewal of contract at $25,000,000 a year.  Does anyone get to say grace at the start of these lucre-shovelling sessions?

There is evil all around here.  We have monopoly money figures that of themselves corrupt the recipients.  Just look at the spectacle that our bankers have made of themselves.  But there is a vicious disparity in status as well as wealth and income.  The case of that rutting pig Weinstein shows just how corrupted these people can become, and how moguls get to believe that they are untouchable.

But it also showed how vulnerable to predators are those at the bottom.  It’s as if we were reinstituting serfdom of a quite medieval kind – a form of rightlessness deriving not from contract but from status.

As I see it, this is evil, very evil.  And it is just these rents in our communal fabric that lead to cancers like Hanson, Farage, and Trump, so that they can spread their own kind of evil.  It’s all very depressing, and it prompts reflection on the nature of evil.

Roger Scruton – Sir Roger if you go in for that kind of thing – is an English philosopher who gets up people’s noses big time on some issues.  He calls it as he sees it, and tact or social nous may not be his strong suits.  He is however an urbane man with wide interests who is capable of speaking plain English.  I think that he subscribes to the Church of England, and I know that he is an opera fan, and that he wrote a book called I Drink, Therefore I Am.  It’s hard to dislike such a bloke, and he represents a full blooded defence of religion that both God and we badly need.

Scruton’s book On Human Nature has a lot of university type language, but there are some insights there for people who are not familiar with the ontological argument for the existence of God, or Kant’s celebrated refutation of that argument.  (Yes, of course – existence is not a predicate.)

The book is a revolt against the notion that we humans can be defined biologically, genetically, or even, I think, scientifically.  It may even be a reaction against Bryan Cox.

Wait a minute: science is not the only way to pursue knowledge.  There is moral knowledge too, which is the province of practical reason; there is emotional knowledge, which is the province of art, literature, and music.  And just possibly there is transcendental knowledge, which is the province of religion.  Why privilege science, just because it sets out to explain the world?  Why not give weight to the disciplines that interpret the world and so help us to be at home in it?

Scruton seeks to explain our humanity by looking at our capacity to reflect on ourselves.  He refers to an Islamic teacher, al Fārābī, who offers us the insight that ‘the truths furnished to the intellect by philosophy are made available to the imagination by religious faith.’  Scruton’s opening lecture on ‘Human Kind’ has a ringing finale:

Take away religion, however, take away philosophy, take away the higher aims of art, and you deprive ordinary people of the ways in which they can represent their apartness.  Human nature, once something to live up to, becomes something to live down to instead.  Biological reductionism nurtures this ‘living down’, which is why people so readily fall for it.  It makes cynicism respectable, and degeneracy chic.  It abolishes our kind – and with it our kindness.

It’s been quite some time since anything like that was taught at university under the heading of Philosophy.

It is the subject of evil that is of interest to us now.  Bad people, Scruton says, are like you or me, but evil people are visitors from another sphere, incarnations of the Devil.  ‘Even their charm – and it is a recognised fact that evil people are often charming – is only further proof of their Otherness.  They are, in some sense, the negation of humanity, wholly and unnaturally at ease with the thing that they seek to destroy.’

That seems to be about right.  Scruton reminds us that Goethe gives to Mephistopheles the line: ‘I am the spirit that forever negates.’  We’re not just talking of the person who sucks the oxygen out of a room.  Bad people tend to ignore others because they are guided by self-interest – just look at Trump – but the evil person ‘is profoundly interested in others, has almost selfless designs on them.’

The aim is not to use them, as Faust uses Gretchen, but to rob them of themselves.  Mephistopheles hopes to steal and destroy Faust’s soul and, en route to that end, to destroy the soul of Gretchen.  Nowadays we might use the word ‘self’ instead of ‘soul’, in order to avoid religious connotations.  But this word is only another name for the same metaphysical mystery around which our lives are built – the mystery of the subjective viewpoint.  Evil people are not necessarily threats to your body; but they are threats to yourself.

The relevance of all this to Iago is obvious and Scruton makes the link himself.  In watching the play, we are quickly shocked to find that Iago really intends to destroy Othello.

Peering into Iago’s soul we find a void, a nothingness; like Mephistopheles, he is a great negation, a soul composed of anti-spirit, as a body might be composed of antimatter.  The evil person is like a fracture in our human world, through which we catch glimpses of the void.

These insights, which are strong, lead Scruton to refer to ‘the banality of evil’ that Hannah Arendt saw in the bureaucratic mindset of Adolf Eichmann.  And he powerfully reminds us that concentration camps ‘were designed not merely to destroy human beings, but also to deprive them of their humanity.’  He then goes on to refer to what he sees as the ‘paradigm of evil – namely, the attempt or desire to destroy the soul of another so that his or her value and meaning are rubbed out.’

The book concludes with some comments on faith, and the notion that religion ‘is a dedication of one’s being’ and concludes with a reference ‘ to the two great works of art that have attempted to show what redemption means for us, in the world of modern scepticism: Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov and Wagner’s Parsifal.  In the wake of these two great aesthetic achievements, it seems to me, the perspective of philosophy is of no great significance.’

Would that others of us could be so modest (even if he lost me on Parsifal).  But as ever, we needn’t press the labels or categories too hard.  (George Bush Senior said that ‘labels are what you put on soup cans.’)  Nor should we forget another remark of Hannah Arendt.

The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.

This may be hard to square with Scruton, but people who choose to demonise Stalin and Hitler want to run away from history and they demean their victims.

Iago has these lines:

… If Cassio do remain,

He hath a daily beauty in his life

That makes me ugly… (5.1.18-20)

There is a primal, Garden of Evil, feeling about that type of envy, and it calls to mind the visceral description by the same writer of the type of person who sucks the air out of a room, the common garden smiling assassin.

Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;

He thinks too much: such men are dangerous…

…..He reads much,

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

Whilst they behold a greater than themselves.

And therefore are they very dangerous.

(Julius Caesar, 1.2.200-215)

You would not want to stake your house on spotting the difference between the badness of Cassius and the evil of Iago – or, for that matter, what category you might reserve for Eichmann.  It may be best to leave all that stuff to God.  Those issues are certainly way above my pay level.

But let us go back to Fox News, Rupert Murdoch, and Bill O’Reilly.  A friend of mine – as it happens, the one who attends mass in a cathedral – astutely observed of the problems of Fox that ‘a large part of tabloid journalism involves the exploitation of human misery’ – or at least, I may add, misfortune.  It is therefore ironic that O’Reilly lies that he is paying out protection money just to avoid exploitation from the gutter.  The exploitation of the gutter is the business model of Fox News, and the modus operandi of President Donald Trump.

Are we then tip-toeing ever closer to the rim of the volcano that we have always sensed lies below us?

Why did the Roman Empire fall?  Edward Gibbon, the great historian, said:

The rise of a city, which swelled into an empire, may deserve, as a singular prodigy, the reflection of a philosophic mind.  But the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of its immoderate greatness.  Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest; and as soon as time or accident had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight.  The story of its ruin is simple and obvious; and instead of inquiring why the Roman Empire was destroyed, we should rather be surprised that it subsisted so long.  The victorious legions, who, in distant wars, acquired the vices of strangers and mercenaries, first oppressed the freedom of the republic, and afterwards violated the majesty of the purple.  The emperors, anxious for their personal safety and public peace, were reduced to the base expedient of corrupting the discipline which rendered them alike formidable to their sovereign and to the enemy; the vigour of the military government was relaxed and finally dissolved by the partial institutions of Constantine; and the Roman world was overwhelmed by a deluge of barbarians.

The United States is not there yet – but Gibbon looks to me to have diagnosed precisely the condition of the actual decline and coming fall of the Murdoch Empire.

Passing Bull 125 – The collapse of restraint


A mate of mine is a Catholic who likes to attend Mass in a Cathedral.  When I passed on to him a note by David Marr about the bishops’ going quiet about their attitude to homosexuality – are they doomed to burn in hell? – he said that the Church had lost credibility on issues like marriage equality, and that he thought that that was a shame because they may have had something useful to say about easing the passing.  Well, they haven’t.  They have shot their bolt.  They showed a lack of restraint, and, rightly or wrongly, they sounded as dishonest as they sounded mean, with this libertarian nonsense about freedom of conscience.

I am afraid that I take a very old fashioned view about religious people seeking to impose their views on others.  I think all that went out the window with Henry VIII and the Act of Supremacy.   I’m sure I would be supported on that point if the proposal was to set up Sharia Law in Australia of for us to follow Myanmar and build a bridge of bones against Islam.

If you publish a weekly bullshit column, The Weekend Australian becomes tax deductible.  Our failure to get a decent conservative paper here is very sad. The lack of restraint we see in the contemporary political discussion was on full show today.  Paul Kelly began his piece:

This is a sad and profoundly worrying moment for our country.  The virtues and ethics that bind families and loved ones have been disrupted by a misguided Victorian lower house.

An Australian jurisdiction is close to crossing a threshold that constitutes a fundamental departure in our attitudes to human life – and has acted under the misguided logic that safeguards can be effective.

There you have it – one policy shift, and the end of the world is nigh – and announced like by the village elder patronising eight year olds.  Sorry, kids, but you got it wrong.  That happens in childhood.  You get it demonstrably wrong.

With Janet Albrechtsen, you get a mixture of a preppy undergraduate tone and Apocalypse Now.

This intellectual regression has its roots in postmodernism, and identity politics has become its political arm.  Under the dishonest rubric of ‘progressive’ politics, postmodernism cemented into universities the notion that history and language are corrupted by those who hold power.  Ergo, history needs to be told through the lens of oppression and language needs to be proscribed to protect victims of the oppressors……

Determined to police words and speech, proponents of identity politics label opponents as racists, sexists, misogynists, homophobes and Nazis…..

And let’s not mince words.  When the heritage of Western civilisation is devalued in Australian schools and university history departments, debased by our political parties and human rights bureaucracies, and snubbed by sections of the media, too, it becomes a numbers game.  I joined the IPA years ago because the voices of freedom need critical mass so that the virtues of freedom can be nurtured, defended and passed on to the next generation to do the same.  The way forward is to instil in each generation an understanding that our great inheritance comes from the story of Western civilisation.  That’s why Roskam and his team at the IPA are engaged in this critical contest of ideas that must not be dismantled by the self-loathing politics of identity.

Do you think that Janet may have found her vocation better in the Salvo’s?  It’s all just a game of shadow-boxing by tribes and labels; the white hats against the black hats; with not even a nod to restraint.  It’s as if they have never left university.

And I’m never quite sure what ‘identity politics’ is, except that I believe that nationalists like Trump and Farage are in it up to their necks – and that Janet Albrechtsen and others at the IPA are disposed to cosy up to people like Trump and Farage.

Well, I suppose the IPA has done something for the bishops in our public life – they provide another sounding board for bullshit that we don’t need.  And notwithstanding the self-assurance – to use the soft phrase – with which they all hand down their tablets of the laws, you do get the impression that the IPA and the bishops want to cast themselves a s victims.  Do they have a name for that kind of political gambit?

The truth is that we don’t go for ideology.  For that matter, I’m not sure what post-modernism is – although I did smile when someone at Oxford said it was like playing tennis with the net down.  That sounded about right to me.

Poet of the month: Henry Lawson

After all

The brooding ghosts of Australian night have gone from the bush and town;

My spirit revives in the morning breeze, though it died when the sun went down;

The river is high and the stream is strong, and the grass is green and tall,

And I fain would think that this world of ours is a good world after all.

The light of passion in dreamy eyes, and a page of truth well read,

The glorious thrill in a heart grown cold of the spirit I thought was dead,

A song that goes to a comrade’s heart, and a tear of pride let fall —

And my soul is strong! and the world to me is a grand world after all!

Let our enemies go by their old dull tracks, and theirs be the fault or shame

(The man is bitter against the world who has only himself to blame);

Let the darkest side of the past be dark, and only the good recall;

For I must believe that the world, my dear, is a kind world after all. It well may be that I saw too plain, and it may be I was blind;

But I’ll keep my face to the dawning light, though the devil may stand behind!

Though the devil may stand behind my back, I’ll not see his shadow fall,

But read the signs in the morning stars of a good world after all.

Rest, for your eyes are weary, girl — you have driven the worst away –

The ghost of the man that I might have been is gone from my heart to-day;

We’ll live for life and the best it brings till our twilight shadows fall;

My heart grows brave, and the world, my girl, is a good world after all.

Terror and the Police State – Chapter 3

[This is a short version of a book ‘Terror and the Police State; Punishment as a Measure of Despair’, published in 2015.  The book focussed on France after 1789, Russia after 1917, and Germany after 1933.  The instalments will follow the 21 chapter headings that are as follows: 1 Terms of Engagement; 2 Enduring emergency; 3 Righteousness; 4 Good bye to the law; 5 Instruments of terror; 6 Civil war; 7 Waves of terror; 8 Degradation; 9 Secret police; 10 Surveillance; 11 Denunciation; 12 Fear; 13 Popular courts and show trials; 14 Scapegoats, suspicion and proof; 15 Gulags; 16 Propaganda, religion, and cults; 17 Surrealism and banality; 19 The horror; 20 The meaning?; 21 Justification.  The short version is about one quarter the length of the original.  Each instalment is about 1200 words.]



Great wrongs are often done to secure what are seen as great rights.  If you subscribe to that lethal view that the ends justify the means, then you may invoke righteousness to justify terrorism.  Just think of the righteousness of John brown on slavery.  The problem then is – how do you distinguish the righteousness of John Wilkes Booth on slavery?

The French Revolution was supported and applauded from the beginning by people like Kant, Beethoven, and Wordsworth – and the majority of the enlightened people and uncrowned or unrobed heads in all Europe.  It was a colossal blow against caste and privilege, and an elevating insight into the claims of the rights of man.  Macaulay said that the only event to compare to the Reformation was the French Revolution.  Both involved people rising up against caste.  The Terror and Napoleon would put many off – Napoleon for his imperial throne and his aristocracy as much as for his wars – but the massive sense of liberation would endure.  Those championing the revolution claimed the moral high ground at the start, and they have never relinquished it.

Their decision to go to war to defend the revolution was a large part of what produced the Terror, but it did a lot more than merely change the face of war.  The old regimes of Europe, with their kings and nobles, would never have armed the people.  There was a change in the ideas of change in politics.  Professor Doyle said:

In other words, it was a profound cultural transformation.  The writers of the Enlightenment, so revered by the intelligentsia who made the Revolution, had always believed it could be done if men dared to seize control of their own destiny.  The men of 1789 did so, in a rare moment of courage, altruism, and idealism which took away the breath of educated Europe.

Righteousness is not a term to endear people to those professing to have it, and the moving forces in this revolution were full of it.  There was the sense that so many in the nation had suffered too long under a just sense of grievance caused by privilege, and this privilege was the foundation of the inequality against which the revolutionaries were fighting.  Being a champion of liberty and equality was to be a moral hero.  This is precisely the moral ground claimed today by the champions of civil or human rights, although not as many have to put their lives on the line as the men and women of 1789.

The essential dignity of each of us is the notion that crowns Kant’s moral philosophy.  He held that dignity (or worthiness) is beyond price, and that humanity so far as it is capable of morality alone has dignity.  A friend of Kant said this of his reaction to the French Revolution: ‘He lived and moved in it; and, in spite of all the terror, he held on to his hopes so much that when he heard the declaration of the republic, he called out with excitement: ‘Now let your servant go in peace to his grave, for I have seen the glory of the world.’’

Then the righteousness of the revolutionaries showed itself in the way that they defended their gains, and their nation.  There was of course faction and rebellion and civil war, and foreign nations that were intent on restoring the monarchy and punishing those who had reviled and then killed their king.  The French only had to look at what happened to the killers of Charles I in England when Charles II was restored – after an interregnum of almost a generation.  So, political idealism became fused with personal courage and love for the nation.  True revolutionaries were true patriots – who else could be?

It is hardly surprising that in extremis people took to extreme measures whether they were part of government or not.  What we call the Terror was the culmination of those forces.  The people of France were going where no one had been before.  They were trying to build a system of government after the old one had collapsed under the weight of its own inanity and brutality.  They had not had much if any experience of either governing or trying to build government.  At the same time, foreign enemies and their supporters within were threatening this young new nation with death and destruction.  You cannot just step out and go and buy a text-book that tells you what to do in a case like that.

Arthur Young was a man of birth, property, and position who knew what it meant to farm the land.  He was uniquely placed to give a balanced view on the excesses of the revolution.

It is impossible to justify the excesses of the people in their taking up arms; they were certainly guilty of cruelties; it is idle to deny the facts, for they have been proved too clearly to admit of a doubt.  But is it really the people to whom we are to impute the whole? – Or to their oppressors who had kept them so long in a state of bondage?  He who chooses to be served by slaves, and by ill-treated slaves, must know that he holds both his property and life by a tenure far different from those who prefer the service of well-treated freemen; and he who dines to the music of groaning sufferers must not, in the moment of insurrection, complain that his daughters are ravished and then destroyed, and that his sons’ throats are cut.  When such evils happen, they are surely more imputable to the tyranny of the master than to the cruelty of the servant. 

The wish to see like cases treated alike underwrites all our notions of justice.  If you contend that people are equal, and that they should be treated equally, the old caste system was a very cruel travesty and a very unjust imposition.  The hatred of the aristocracy – the owners of the burnt chateaux – was fuelled by the revulsion of privilege, and privilege is by definition in contempt of the rule of law as we know it, since one essential principle is that all people are equal before the law.

There is little point in looking for anything like righteousness behind the police states or terror practised in Germany or Russia.  The German nation had a just grievance at the behaviour of the Allies after the Great War.  No one stated that grievance better than John Maynard Keynes, but neither Versailles nor anything else could justify the Nazi revolution or terror.

The suffering of the Russian people from oppression at the bottom in about 1917 was probably not significantly less than that of the French people in 1789, but the Bolsheviks (Communists) lived in a moral and political world all of their own.  The Russian people would have to pay for the intellectual conceit of Marx in thinking that his mind was powerful enough to dictate logically verifiable answers to the human condition, and the insatiable craving for power of Lenin led him to insist on departing from the blueprint of Marx to suit his own ego and timetable.  The Russian police state now seems to us to be an inevitable product of a totalitarian kind of government that Communism prescribed, but the full ghastly flowering of the terror in Russia owed much to the personal insecurity and cruelty of Stalin.

The French would spend the next century in learning that it is hard to legislate ideals into law, but in committing itself to the Rights of Man in 1789, France was adopting as a nation a faith or aspiration that would be utterly contradicted by those regimes that we least admire, such as those of Russia or Germany when they generated their reigns of terror.