Here and there – An exquisite irony in Ireland?


In 1366 – three centuries to the year after the Conquest – the English passed the Statutes of Kilkenny.  The English part of Ireland was called the Pale.  Those outside the Pale were ‘Irish enemies’.  This version of apartheid was based on the contempt felt by the English for the inferior peoples of Ireland.  The problem was one of race.  English settlers were to be protected from degeneracy by various prohibitions.  It was only much later that differences in religion further soured relations between the English and Irish.  It is therefore ironical that the original English invasion of Ireland – at least in the view of Paul Johnson – was carried out at papal request and with papal authority.

Ireland will forever stain the name of England.  Six centuries after the Statutes of Kilkenny, Ireland was still convulsed by divisions wrought in and upon it by the English.  For two hundred years prior to that time, enlightened English rulers – like Pitt the Younger and Gladstone – had sought to extricate England from Ireland.  On each occasion they were blocked by radically conservative members of the aristocracy – and in at least one case (George III), the monarchy.

Let us take two examples of radical aristocratic opposition to Irish Reform.  Lord Curzon’s family went back to the Normans. He went to Eton, of course, and had more indicia of nobility than you could point a stick at.  On Ireland, he was fanatically opposed to Home Rule.  During the Irish War of Independence, but before the introduction of martial law in December 1920, Curzon suggested the ‘Indian’ solution of blockading villages and imposing collective fines for attacks on the police and arm.  He was the apogee of the aristocracy.

My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,

I am a most superior person.

My cheeks are pink, my hair is sleek,

I dine at Blenheim once a week

Lord Halsbury was another aristocrat who was manic about Ireland – possibly because of Irish blood on his mother’s side.  He was not, poor fellow, educated at Eton – his Daddy looked after him at home before packing him off to Merton College, Oxford.  In speaking against a Home Rule Bill, Halsbury said that some races were unfit to govern – ‘like the Hindoos and Hottentots’ – and the Irish.

In 1972, Paul Johnson said that Halsbury was a ‘white supremacist.’  In the name of heaven, which builder of the British Empire was not a white supremacist?  Did they go into Asia or Africa believing that the natives were their equals, or that the meek would inherit the earth?  And when their sons and daughters spread out over America and Australia, did they believe that the indigenous people they were killing were their equals?  You might recall that that paradigm of the Tory aristocracy, the Duke of Wellington, remarked that the Irish could put a reasonable army in the field – provided they had white officers.

Is it not therefore an exquisite irony that Ireland may finally become unified because of the radical opposition of the boys from Eton to the dilution by Europe of the purity of the English nation?

And they may even lose Scotland and Wales as well.  It is impossible to resist quoting the well-known lines of Gibbon.

But the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of 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 had subsisted so long.

Here and there – Fidelity and Emma

[How England broke faith with its greatest sailor, Lord Nelson.  Final part.]

Part II 


The Nile was a world changing event.  Nelson had destroyed the French fleet.  He had immunised his country from Napoleon’s threatened invasion.  It was as if he had saved the civilisation of the whole world.  The Ottoman Sultan and the Tsar of Russia joined in homage to this new Caesar (from which the word ‘Tsar’ derived) who, like the old, did now bestride the world like a colossus.  The First Lord of the Admiralty fainted when he heard the news (but he later he got mean with the honours to Nelson on a point of precedence and rank).  Haydn wrote a mass.  Crowned heads of Europe would bow before their saviour.

Nelson, his body broken, returned to Naples.  And to the solace of Lady Emma Hamilton.  We have the canvas of George Romney and other artists to attest to her beauty.  She was drop-dead gorgeous – and God had done her no favours when he made her that way.  The mutilated body of Nelson bore frightful witness to the physical toll of war.  It would be silly to suppose that his psyche had stayed in mint, virgin nick.

Nelson sailed to Malta and while doing so, he wrote to his Commander-in- Chief, Lord St Vincent.  He said that ‘I am writing opposite Lady Hamilton…..our hearts and our hands must be all in a flutter.  Naples is a dangerous place and we must keep clear of it.’  His Lordship was a man of the world and he quite understood.  He wrote to Lady Hamilton.

Ten thousand thanks are due to your ladyship for restoring the health of our invaluable friend, on whose life the fate of the remaining governments in Europe whose system has not been deranged by those devils, depends.  Pray, do not let your fascinating Neapolitan dames approach too near him; for he is made of flesh and blood and cannot resist their temptation.

Since word of the relationship, as we now incline to say, had already reached Admiralty and Lady Nelson, you can interpret that admonition as you will – but it does look like a suggestion that if Emma were to bite the apple, there could be one Hell of a price to pay.

Who was Emma?  She is worth a book of her own.  From a humble background, she took service as a maid at twelve.  (It is a symptom of how different these times were that both these future lovers were thrown on to the work-force at the age of twelve.)  She then did bucks’ nights for the better people, sometimes starkers it is said, and then she got pregnant.  It must have been dreadful for a young girl – and an under-age one at that – to dance nude on a table top before drunken, gruesome oafs who were morally blinded by ingrained caste.  Emma then took to the stage and she became a sensation in London as Romney’s model.  She became the mistress of a leading politician, a loathsome jerk called Greville.

When Greville needed to take a rich wife, he palmed Emma off on Sir William Hamilton, the ageing British envoy to Naples.  Emma was shipped out to be Hamilton’s mistress, but they fell in love and they got married.  She was twenty-six.  He was sixty.  Emma was at the commanding height of her powers of attraction.  About two years later, she met Nelson.  She was by then resigned to not having a child by her husband – as was the case with Nelson with a wife who was older than him.

There, then, was the powder keg just waiting to go off in Naples.


And now a whole new threat arose.  Nelson had to confront the price of fame.  Nelson was not enjoying being ensainted.  He wrote to Lady Hamilton.

To tell you how dreary and uncomfortable the Vanguard appears is only to tell you what it is to go from the pleasantest society to a solitary cell, or from the dearest friends to no friends.  I am now perfectly the great man – not a creature near me.  From my heart I wish myself the little man again!  You and good Sir William have spoiled me but for any place but with you.

There may well be some male coquetry here, but there is little reason to doubt the main premise.  Nelson was content to play the part allotted to him in battle by England and Shakespeare, but dolling it up in peace or being divorced from his true office were steps too far.

To go back to Gibson, the English nation came alight at the news that Gibson had led a daring raid that had blown up German dams.  Overnight, Gibson became a household name, a celebrity.  Churchill made him into what we would call a poster boy.  Richard Morris says that Gibson ‘intensely disliked being exhibited as a war hero.’  Before Gibson set off to tour America with others, Antony Eden warned of ‘the torrents of alcohol and adulation with which they will be deluged, and such tours of fine fellows can degenerate disastrously.’  Later, Bomber Harris told Cochrane that he thought the Americans had ‘spoiled young Gibson.’  Harris was sorry that his protégé had had his head turned – and he would be sorrier when Gibson kept what now looks to have been his inevitable appointment with death over Holland.

Then two things happened that also look to have been inevitable.  The two ladies met, and Lady Nelson snapped.  We may be sure that as with the wife of Wellington, Lady Nelson’s friends kept her tightly hooked up to the grapevine.

Nelson’s solicitor was with them at breakfast one morning when Nelson mentioned Emma.  ‘I am sick of hearing of dear Lady Hamilton, and am resolved that you shall give up either her or me.’  What else could Fanny have done?  The solicitor’s account looks like it may have been taken from notes made at the time.

Lord Nelson, with perfect calmness, said, ‘Take care, Fanny, what you say.  I love you sincerely, but I cannot forget my obligation to Lady Hamilton or speak of her otherwise than with affection and admiration.’  Without one soothing word or gesture, but muttering something about her mind being made up, Lady Nelson left the room, and shortly after drove from the house.  They never lived together afterwards.

Now, that account may be partial, but it is what you might expect from an English gentleman who was used to command, but who found himself unable to deny to his wife that, for better or for worse, he had fallen in love with another woman.  In truth three people had been on a collision course that providence and nature had made inexorable.  That is the stuff of tragedy.

Lady Nelson said that her husband’s last words to her were ‘I call God to witness, there is nothing in you or your conduct, I wish otherwise.’  Carola Oman does not know whether Lady Nelson sent the following letter.

My dearest Husband,

Your generosity and tenderness were never more strongly shown than…for the payment of your very handsome quarterly allowance, which far exceeded my expectations….Accept my warmest , my most affectionate and grateful thanks.  I could say more but my heart is too full.  Be assured every wish, every desire of mine is to please the man whose affections constitute my happiness.  God bless my dear husband…’

It is a fact of life that marriage breakdowns commonly involve a descent into Hell.  This separation doubtless caused grief, but it looks to have been made in heaven when put beside the usual case.  Shortly after the separation, Emma bore Nelson a child, a daughter they named Horatia.  The couple was very happy, although the customs of the times precluded public acknowledgment of the parenthood.

We know now that Nelson dared death once too often at Trafalgar and lost.  Emma had been an object of prey before her adulthood, and gradually she slipped back to that condition after the death of the father of her child.  Crushed by predators, debt and a turning public, Emma, the sometime slut, took to drink and died a miserable death at Calais before turning fifty.  The woman in these stories never gets the monument.


That then is the sad tale of Nelson and Emma.  How is it that anyone could claim to sit in judgment on either of them – or of Wellington?  I have no idea.  First, I am not God.  That self-evident proposition is sufficient to dispose of the issue. Secondly, and relatedly, we have no chance at all of understanding the social or military forces of a different era and place.  For starters, we now have little understanding of their view of marriage or their law of divorce; or bastardry; or caste.

It was the insight of the great German historian von Ranke that every age is ‘equally immediate to God.’  This is to look eternity in the eye – all ages are equal in the eye of God.  God is not subject to the constraints of time as we are.  The historian has to look at each period in its own terms.  It makes little or no sense to say that the Renaissance was in some way better than the Middle Ages.  In a different way, it is very silly to seek to compare the infidelity, if that is your chosen word, of Wellington with that of Nelson.

It is enough to say that the evidence is that Nelson fell in love with another woman and that Wellington did not.  These things can happen; if it were otherwise, Hollywood would go bust.  The fascination that some feel for the gory details is a reminder of the meanness of our mediocrity.  As Shelley remarked about those nasty people that sent the Cockney John Keats to the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, we are like gnats straining at a camel.

But we would have loved to have been a gnat on the wall when these two very great men came to meet by accident in 1805 not long before Trafalgar.  They had both been asked to call on Lord Castlereagh, but they were kept waiting because Cabinet was sitting.  Wellington recognised Nelson because of the eye and the arm – and the notorious egotism.  ‘He entered into conversation with me, if I can call it conversation, for it was almost all on his side, and all about himself, and, really, in a style so vain and silly as to surprise and almost disgust me.’  But then Nelson must have guessed he was talking to somebody, so he stepped out to inquire.  (How very English!  But what a clash of egos!)  Nelson came back quite a changed man.

All that I thought a charlatan style had vanished, and he talked … with a good sense….in fact, he talked like an officer and a statesman….I don’t know that I ever had a conversation that interested me more.

Then came the news of Trafalgar and the death of the man that England until then had relied on to defeat Napoleon.  Wellington was there at the Guildhall where Pitt, the nation’s youngest ever Prime Minister, was thanked for saving Europe.  He heard Pitt utter perhaps his most famous statement.

I return you my thanks for the honour you have dome me; but Europe is not to be saved by any single man.  England saved herself by her exertions and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example.

A long time after he had defeated Napoleon, His Grace, as he had become, said: ‘That was all; he was scarcely up two minutes; yet nothing could be more perfect.’

Well, the wars killed Pitt as surely as they had killed Nelson.  Wellington would survive and go on to lead the nation in another capacity, and it may not be fanciful to suggest that in that role, he helped England avoid its version of the French Revolution.  But you don’t have to be Burns to know that no matter how high a man rises, he stays a man.  People who forget that wind up in the wrong end of Shakespeare.


When quitting Portsmouth to go to Trafalgar, Nelson had tried to escape quietly by the back entrance of the George Hotel.  He could not fool the crowd.

He pushed his way through a pressing multitude, explaining that he was sorry he had not two arms, so that he could shake hands with more friends, and it was soon evident that his Portsmouth following felt more poignantly than the admirers who had mobbed him daily in London.  As his figure came in sight, some people dropped to their knees in silence, uncovered and called out a blessing on him; tears ran down many faces….After the Admiral’s barge had pushed off…he turned to Hardy as the regular dip of oars gained pre-eminence over Portsmouth cheers on an afternoon of flat calm, and said, ‘I had their huzzas before.  I have their hearts now.’

On the morning of the battle, and within sight of the Combined Fleets of France and Spain, Nelson got Hardy and another captain to witness what he called a codicil.

…I leave Emma, Lady Hamilton, therefore a Legacy to my King and Country, that they will give her an ample provision to maintain her rank in life.  I also leave to the beneficence of my country my adopted daughter, Horatia Nelson Thompson; and I desire she will use in future the name of Nelson only.  These are the only favours I ask of my King and Country at this moment when I am going to fight their Battle.

When news of the victory in battle and the death of Nelson made the London papers, something entirely out of the English character happened on the streets of London.

Many contemporaries attest that when London newspapers appeared on November 6, with the heading ‘Glorious Victory over the Combined Fleets.  Death of Lord Nelson’, the instinctive comment of the British public was: ‘We have lost Nelson!’ and strangers stopped one another in the street to repeat the news and shake hands to an accompaniment of tears.

For many years, some English families kept framed copies of The Times:

If ever there was a man who deserved to be ‘praised wept and honoured’, it is LORD NELSON.  His three great naval achievements have eclipsed the brilliancy of the most dazzling victories in the annals of English daring.


But Pitt died before the King and Country could honour Nelson’s last wish ‘when I am going to fight their Battle’ on behalf of Emma and Horatia.  King and Country did not honour their obligation to two people who had depended on Nelson, and the course of their breach of faith with their hero is too painful to relate.  People who feel the need to rate infidelity might care to dwell on this one.

Nelson’s prayer for Horatia was eventually answered.  She married a clergyman, and she had many children who got on.  She had a full and happy life.  She died at the age of eighty-one.  She had lived more than thirty years longer a life than that of either her mother or her father – she later discovered who her father was, but she was never to learn or accept who her mother was.

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.

The transit of Emma Hamilton from gutter to gutter was a dreadful tragedy.  We defiled Emma as a child and we defiled her as she aged and in her death.  We just used her up and dropped her each time.  We were obliged to Nelson and he sought our assurance that we would answer to that obligation for the woman he loved and his daughter when he was gone.  So, when he was gone, and of no more use to us, and he could not bear witness to what we did, we built a great monument that made us feel good.  And we forbade Emma from attending his funeral and we would not allow Horatia to know her mother.  Whatever fidelity might mean, we did not show it to Nelson.  Our breach of faith was complete.

You may wish to bear this in mind the next time you are in Trafalgar Square underneath Nelson’s Column mixing it with the tourists and their cameras and the pigeons with their shit.  Grandeur usually comes at a price; but discomfort is one thing; dishonour is something else altogether.  What a falling-off was there!


*Wellington said something about this that escaped the liberators of Iraq.  ‘I always had a horror of revolutionising any country for a political object.  I always said, if they rise of themselves, well and good, but do not stir them up; it is a fearful responsibility.’



My Top Shelf – 29 – Hume


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



David Hume

Edited by L A Selby-Bigge, Second Edition, 1902; reprinted from the posthumous edition of 1977; rebound in stone cloth boards with Mediterranean half blue leather, with gold print on red label.

Either as a man or as a philosopher, the name of David Hume is fit to be mentioned in the company of Spinoza and Kant.

He was born in Edinburgh on 26 April 1711.  He was happy to have come from a good family.  His father was a lawyer who owned a large estate at Ninewells that had been held in the Hume or Home family for centuries.  His mother was the daughter of the President of the Court of Justice.  He lost his father when he was very young.  His mother was a strict Calvinist.  Like Spinoza, Hume lost God early; like Kant, he was put off religious fanatics early.  The Scottish Sunday tended to be very dour and drab.

David spent three years at Edinburgh University, starting when he was not quite twelve years of age.  He did a general course in Greek, Logic, Metaphysics and Natural Philosophy.  University as such left no deep imprint on him; nor did the Church.

At the age of only eighteen years he embarked on the work that was to be his most famous, A Treatise of Human Nature.  He experienced a psychosomatic condition that turned him from a ‘tall, lean, raw-boned youth’ to a ‘sturdy robust healthful like fellow … with a ruddy complexion and a cheerful Countenance’. The portraits of Hume do show a very full face, at peace, with a kind of restful somnolence.  The portrait by Allan Ramsay shows a face at once serene yet somehow vulnerable.  While he was still ill, Hume described it as ‘the Disease of the Learned’.  His doctor helpfully prescribed a ‘Course of Bitters & Anti-hysteric Pills’ and ‘an English pint of claret wine every day’, a course of treatment that is still faithfully followed to the letter by some who suffer from a ‘Disease of the Learned’.

Hume never married.  Sir Alfred Ayer was qualified to speak on this and said that Hume was ‘too thoroughly immersed in intellectual pursuits to qualify as an amorist’.

Hume spent two years at La Flèche, where Descartes had been educated, writing the Treatise.  It was published and, said Hume, ‘it fell dead-born from the Press’.  He went on to publish an Abstract, setting out the substance of his arguments.  He also published essays and later came to write The Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding which was a re-write of part of the Treatise.  The present work has a section on miracles that Hume had deliberately omitted from the Treatise.  In it he said that ‘no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless the testimony be of such kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact that which it endeavours to establish’.

Hume had odd jobs in government positions, but he derived substantial income from his writing.  His six volume History of England was a great hit and a great money earner.  He was more famous for his History during his life than for his philosophy.  Montesquieu was impressed with the essays and he and Hume kept up a correspondence.  Voltaire said that ‘nothing can be added to the fame of this History, perhaps the best ever written in any language’.  It is still extremely readable.  Here is part of his judgment –and Hume was certainly judgmental in his History – on Mary Queen of Scots.

Her numerous misfortunes, the solitude of her long and tedious captivity, and the persecutions, to which she had been exposed on account of her religion, had wrought her up to a degree of bigotry during her later years; and such were the prevalent spirit and principles of the age, that it is the less wonder, if her zeal, her resentment, and her interest uniting, induced her to give consent to a design, which conspirators, actuated only by the first of these motives, had formed against the life of Elizabeth.

It is all there – balance, grace and rhythm.  As writers go, Hume was a natural.  The marginal note for the next paragraph reads:  ‘The Queen’s affected sorrow’.  As Russell dryly remarked, Hume ‘did not consider history worthy of philosophic treatment’. But what was entirely fundamental to Hume was that to be a philosopher was to be a man of letters.  That, sadly, is no longer the case.

When Adam Smith vacated the Chair of Logic, Hume would have been a natural selection, but the opposition of the church faction prevented the appointment.  But when he went to Paris, Hume was an instant success.  The French took to him with the same zeal that they were later to show toward Miles Davis.  As Lytton Strachey said, ‘He was flattered by princes, worshipped by fine ladies, and treated as an oracle by the philosophers’.

He was, like Gibbon after him, fluent in French.  One of his women admirers was the Comtesse de Boufflers.  She was younger than Hume, le bon David – and the mistress of a Prince of the Blood, the Prince de Conti.  Although she wanted to marry the Prince after presumably outliving her husband, she appears to have fallen for the corpulent Scot.

The relationship was not consummated and le bon David may have been well out of it.  It is difficult to avoid the impression that he was punching well above his weight with these French women.  In one petulant letter to Hume, the Comtesse asked, ‘Do you want to confirm me in the idea which I hold, that your sex like to be handled roughly … to confess to you my opinion, the majority seem to have by nature servile souls?’  On one occasion the Comtesse upbraided the Maréchale de Mirepoix, her intimate friend, for associating with Madame de Pompadour, saying, ‘She is, after all, merely the first prostitute of the Kingdom’.  It is said that Madame de Mirepoix quietly returned, ‘Don’t ask me to count up to number three’. That is cattiness of a very big hitting calibre, the stuff of European championships.

Hume was taken in by Rousseau – as, surprisingly enough, Kant was to be.  They got on famously until Rousseau’s paranoia broke out and he behaved appallingly toward Hume, as he tended to do to anyone who ever got close to him (such as his children).

Hume was wealthy and successful and feted.  He built a house in New Town off St. Andrew’s Square, which came to be known as St. David’s Street in his honour.  He worked on his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.  They were published after his death, for the same reason that Spinoza left his Ethics to be published after his death.

Like Spinoza and Kant, Hume had run-ins with government over his views on religion, but like them, Hume died at peace with himself.  He told his doctor that ‘I am dying as fast as my enemies, if I have any, could wish, and as easily and cheerfully as my best friends could desire’.  He could not understand why people were asking him if he would retreat from his unbelief in God in the face of death. According to Ayer, Boswell intruded on him to see ‘how he was handling the prospect of death; Hume convinced Boswell that he faced the prospect serenely; equally characteristically, Dr. Johnson insisted that Hume must have been lying’.

In his autobiographical Memoir, Hume said this of himself:

I was a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open, social and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions.  Even my love of literary fame, my ruling passion, never soured my temper, notwithstanding my frequent disappointments.

Hume had a mind like a lightning conductor.  He was like one of those who come along every hundred years or so in the law, who can put novel ideas so simply and surely that you wonder how people of goodwill could seek to argue the contrary.  They have a beguiling simplicity that charms those who are not so gifted, and for that reason they are greatly feared by the guardians of the intellectual peace who are also not so gifted.

Hume had said that ‘Generally speaking, the errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous’.  Russell said:  ‘He has no right to say this.  ‘Dangerous’ is a causal word, and a sceptic as to causation cannot know that anything is ‘dangerous’.’  Russell then went on to say:

In fact, in the later portions of the Treatise, Hume forgets all about his fundamental doubts, and writes much as any other enlightened moralist of his time might have written; he applies to his doubts the remedy that he recommends, namely ‘carelessness and inattention’.  In a sense, his scepticism is insincere, since he cannot maintain it in practice.  It has, however, this awkward consequence, that it paralyses every effort to prove one line of action better than another.

Hume’s scepticism in philosophy never interfered with his enjoyment of life.  Those who fear a void opening up after Hume’s destruction of empiricism and his questioning of causation should take solace from the six volumes of his History of England.  How could anyone write a history of England from The Invasion of Julius Caesar to The Revolution in 1688 without giving full weight to what every person understands by the word ‘causation’ on every single page?  Even the little citation above, about Mary Queen of Scots, is laced with references to causation from beginning to end.  We may therefore doubt whether the philosophy of David Hume was as much a guide for him in the conduct of his life as has appeared to be the case with Spinoza and Kant.  After Rousseau had affronted Hume for the third time, and as Hume realised that Rousseau was mad rather than bad, he wrote to his Comtesse:

For the purpose of life and conduct, and society, a little good sense is surely better than all the genius, and a little good humour than this extreme sensibility.

Passing bull 206 – Is the Australian Christian Lobby Sane?

Here are some of the reasons why people of faith in Australia might consider lying low just now.

We don’t like people who want to mix their religion with our politics.  The fight over conscription in the first war and the split in Labor after the second war unleashed toxic sectarian hate in this country that lasted for generations.  Now people of no faith object to having people of faith tell them how and when they can die – or whom they might marry.  People who rely on revelation cannot seek to bind those who have not experienced the revelation.

The abuse scandal has tarred all religion, but especially Christianity.  There was the abuse; the cover-up; and the millions spent on lawyers to defraud victims.  It’s hard to know which is the more nauseating. It reminds me of the moral landslide under the great financial crisis – and, again, no one is going to jail.

The church, to use a generic term, is fairly accused of hypocrisy.  Many Australians cannot understand how anyone purporting to follow the teaching of the man who preached the Sermon on the Mount can seek to justify our grossly inhumanitarian treatment of refugees.  Is Peter Dutton a hallmark Christian?

This problem is much worse in the U S.  People who call themselves evangelical Christians have entered into an open pact with Satan – in the hope that their president will appoint judges who will legislate against abortion.  If I had to select the two issues in Australia where religious people most put others off, they would be their attitude to hell and homosexuality.

But the problem is reaching that level here with a prime minister who loudly proclaims his adherence to a Pentecostal church by attending a night-time Hillsong rally of 20,000 spotlit fans of God and Mammon, who are dedicated to certain fundamental truths of dogma and the literal truth of the bible.  This prime minister has two claims to fame – he has a plaque dedicated to his stopping the boats; and he walked into parliament with a lump of coal looking like Clark Kent after he had just got over kryptonite.

And if people are pledged to uphold the literal truth of scripture, people without that faith are interested to know how Pentecostals reconcile themselves with texts such as these:

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.

And that’s before we get to other faiths, whether of the fundamental or fanatical variety, or not.  Even the peaceful Buddhists are now accused of genocide, and followers of one Muslim sect in Melbourne have just been sent to prison – smilingly – for bombing the mosque of another Muslim sect.  And the evangelicals in America and the Pentecostals here are far too close to money for most of the rest of us.

It therefore looks to me that the Australian Christian Lobby is likely to cause lasting damage to the cause of religion generally, and of Christianity in particular, by collecting millions of dollars to assist a millionaire to disseminate religious dogma that is wounding to very many people in Australia.

I have no idea what ‘freedom of religion’ means in this context.  To those who say that is the issue, I put three questions.

First, what do you think is ‘religion’?  I set out below something I wrote more than thirty years ago on the point.  It is not easy.  After the High Court said Scientology was in, the glee of Justice Murphy verged on the indecorous.  ‘One in; all in.’

Secondly, what is that you wish to be free to do on account of your faith that you are not free to do now?

Thirdly, if you persuade a majority of Australians to grant Christians that freedom – which I doubt very much – will you be happy to see a similar grant of freedom to the followers of Scientology, Voodoo, or the Ku Klux Klan?  Put differently, are you happy with the proposition – it was put ex cathedra – that charlatanism is a ‘a necessary price of religious freedom’?




Mr Gibson (Member) 26, 27, 30 October 1987

Stamp Duty –  Objection to assessment –   Lease –   Exemption for leases for religious or charitable purposes or to any corporation or body of persons associated for any such purpose Meaning of “religious purposes” Stamps Act 1958, Third Schedule (Exemption 3 of Heading VIII).

Costs –       Taxation  Division –        Objection  to  assessment –           Matters of public policy said to be involved-Meaning of “religious purposes”

  • Objection upheld Assessment reduced to nil Whether Crown should pay costs Scale  of  costs -Adminis.trative  Appeals  Tribu­ nal (Taxation Division) Regulations 1985, cl

The applicant sought exemption from stamp duty on a lease to it of premises used as a bookshop, on the ground that it was a corporation or body of persons associated for religious or charitable purposes, alternatively on the ground that the lease was for religious or charitable purposes, within the meaning of Exemption 3 of Heading VIII of the Third Schedule to the Stamps Act 1958.

Held: (I) The applicant was associated for religious purposes. Church of the New

Faith v Commissioner of Pay-Roll Tax (Vir:) (1983) 154 CLR 120 (the Scientology Case), considered and applied.

  • It was unnecessary to decide the other grounds relied upon for exemption.
  • The assessment under reference should be varied by being reduced 10 nil.
  • Notwithstanding the contention of the respondent that matters of public policy were involved and that this was the first case to arise involving an application of the Scientology Case, the respondent should pay the applicant’s costs of the


Burnet v Guggenheim 288 US 280 (1933).

Church of the New Faith v Commissioner of Pay-Roll Tax (Vic)(l983) 154 CLR 120.

Commissioners for Special Purposes of Income Tax v Pemse/ [1891] AC 531.

Commissioners of Inland Revenue v Forrest (1890) 15 App Cas 334. Minahan v Commissioner of Stamp Duties (1926) 26 SR (NSW) 480. Ne/an v Downes (1917) 23 CLR 546.

Re Price [1943I Ch 422.

Re Reschs Will Trusts. [I969] I AC 514.

Re South Place Ethical Society, (1980)  I WLR 1565.

Re War Nurses Memorial Centre and Comptroller of Stamps (1985) I VAR 120.

Thornton  v Howe (1862) 31 Beav 14.

Dr I  Hardingham,  for the applicant.

JG  Santamaria, for the respondent.


























134                                         ADMINISTRATIVE APPEALS TRIBUNAL VIC                                                         [0987)

30 October 1987


  1. The Issue

The applicant, The Free Daist Communion of Australia Ltd, says that it is a religious group. The Crown says it is not. The applicant is a company limited by guarantee. It is the tenant of premises in the city of Melbourne at 37 Little Collins Street. It took a five year written lease of those premises· on 1 December 1986. The lease was assessed for stamp duty in the sum of $915.60. The applicant’s objections to the assessment were disallowed by the respondent comptroller and then referred to this tribunal. The applicant claims exemptions under Exemption 3 of Heading VIII to the Third Schedule of the Stamps Act 1958. That exemption is as follows:

..(3) Any lease granted or assigned to any registered friendly society or for religious charitable or educational purposes or to any corporation or body of persons associated for any such purpose.”

The issue for this tribunal is whether the applicant is a corporation or body associated for religious purposes or whether the lease was granted for religious or charitable purposes. The applicant did not seek to rely on the reference to educational purposes in the exemption. The applicant has the onus of proving that it is a religious group.

  1. Evidence

The applicant called oral evidence from its “official spokesman”, Mr Peter Roberts, who. is a director of the applicant, and who has been associated with the community surrounding the applicant for fourteen years. In the course of the evidence of Mr Roberts, the applicant tendered some nine books from the writings of the founder of the movement behind the applicant, Da Free John. There was agreed documentary evidence, such as the lease and the objection to the assessment, to which was appended a memorandum setting out the nature of the activities of the applicant. The Crown called no evidence. I set out below a summary of the evidence led on behalf of the applicant.

  1. Evidence of the History and Practices of the Applicant
  • The applicant conducts a bookshop on the ground floor of 37 Little Collins Street and conducts what it calls educational activities under the name “The Laughing Man Institute ? ‘ on the first floor. In the lease. the proposed use of the premises is described as “Retail bookshop”.
  • The applicant company was founded in 198 Its present name is its fourth: the previous names were “The Free Primitive Church of Divine Communion Limited”, “Advaitayana Buddhist Communion of Australia Ltd” and ”The Johannine Daist Communion of Australia Limited”. The objects of the applicant as set out in cl 2 of the Memorandum of Asso­ ciation are:

(a} To arrange for, promote and foster the establishment and deve­ lopment of a charitable, religious, non-profit organisation dedi­ cated to making available to as many persons as possible the teaching of Da Free John or the successor or successors named by him.


















2 VAR)                     Re FREE DAIST COMM & COMPT STAMPS                                                                135


  • To arrange for, promote, develop and assist the study and the acquisition dissemination and application of knowledge and information concerning the beneficial effects of the philosophies, guidance, techniques or other teachings of Da Free John or the successor or successors named by
  • In furtherance of the objects of the Church to encourage, stimu­ late and aid research and investigation into the teachings of Da Free John or the successor or successors named by
  • To take over the funds and other assets and liabilities of the present unincorporated association known as ‘The Free Primitive Church of Divine Communion’.”

The memorandum then goes on in the usual form to list further objects which are expressly said to be· ‘solely for the purpose of carrying out the aforesaid objects and not otherwise”. The Articles of Association (cl 3) set the commencing number of members at 100, but I was informed that this was common form in companies limited by guarantee at the time the applicant was incorporated.

  • There had been an association of those interested in the teachings of Da Free John – whom I shall refer to as the community -formed in Australia in about
  • Da Free John was bom Franklin Albert Jones at Long Island, New York, in 1939. He was brought up in the Lutheran He has had an interesting life. He now lives in Fiji and is 47 years of age. He has three children. His life history, and his transition to the place that he now occupies in the spiritual life of others, can be seen through the books that were tendered. There is, for example, a life history at the beginning of The Enlightenment of the Whole Body. It requires in parts, as it seems to me, some quite deliberate acts of faith in describing this development of a “Heaven-Born Teacher”, with its “Appearance of the Spiritual Mas­ ter”, “the Revelation of Teaching” and “Sublime Instruction”.
  • The community was first formed in the United States, in 1972, in Los Angeles. It was, I think, first there described as the Dawn Horse Communion. The community is now represented at centres in Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, Hawaii, other parts of the United States, Canada, London and Amsterdam. The community has about 50 practising mem­ bers in Australia, predominantly in Melbourne and
  • Practising members of the applicant are members of The Laughing Man Institute. That is the name of the educational arm of the community, of which the applicant and its members are now parts. Membership of the applicant is gained by written application and oral examination. There is also a medical and psychological examination.  Mr Roberts thought  that the psychological examination was not substantially different to that offered to those wishing to undergo teaching for part of the Protestant or Roman Catholic clergy. Membership depends on the capacity of the applicant to follow the teachings of the
  • In addition to the 50 or so members in Australia, there are 50 “formal friends”. These people contribute at least $200.00 per annum to the applicant, participate in some of its events, get the magazine put out by the applicant, and generally associate with members. Mr Roberts thought that there are about 800 practising members in the community




136                                       ADMINISTRATIVE  APPEALS TR[BUNAL VIC                                                          [(1987)


throughout the world; a memorandum filed with the tribunal puts the number at 1200.

  • The community is open to everyone. The name “Da” in the name of the founder has a Sanskrit root and connotes both the given and the divine. There are seven recognised phases through which members pass, but there is no structured priesthood. Members are expected to take responsibility for their own lives. As they get more experienced, they are expected to look after less experienced members. Mr Roberts said that the community believed in immediate revelation – that is why. he said, the name of the applicant at one time included the word “Primitive”. From the beginning of membership, the members, who are called “prac­ titioners” and “students”, are expected to simplify their lives in relation to matters such as diet, sex, drugs and stimulants. Good physical health is encouraged to promote spiritual This kind of training is carried out at The Laughing Man Institute.
  • The community worldwide operates a publishing house called “The Dawn Horse Press”, which is situated in California. The bookshop in Melbourne – the site of the premises that give rise to the lease under consideration – is called “The Dawn Horse Bookshop”. The Dawn Horse Press publishes the writings of Da Free John. Those writings are voluminous. There are about 40
  • At its Melbourne address, the applicant seUs spiritual works and also books that offer practical guidance for everyday life. It sells a wide range of religious literature. It has an interest in getting people interested in the great religious traditions. It hopes both to instruct and to inspire. It sells works relating to the great Christian mystics, and works relating to religions like Hinduism and The bookshop currently has some 5,000 titles. Less than 10 per cent of these come from the community’s own publishing house. About 85 per cent of the works from that source are written by Da Free John. According to the notice of objection, the centre at Little Collins Street provides a chapel where members worship on Sundays.
  • The applicant regards the bookshop and The Laughing Man Insti­ tute as educational. In addition to offering instruction to new and poten­ tial members, The Laughing Man Institute runs seminars and videos. It seeks to draw attention to traditional religions. It also offers classes in yoga. Film is shown of Da Free John, and also of various saints. Mr Roberts said that one aim was to get people interested in the religion which they already espoused; an ulterior motive was to attract their interest to the The facilities of the applicant are advertised in the Melbourne press. Mr Roberts said that he had attended a number of gatherings at The Laughing Man Institute; although he had been inspired by some, he confessed to being a little bored by others.
  • The applicant itself, and the bookshop in particular, are, I was told, nm as non-profit making units. The Memorandum of Association of the applicant contains the usual provisions (in clauses 3 and 6) prohibiting the distribution of income or property to members. Mr Roberts said that although members are tithed to the extent of 10 per cent of their income, the applicant had never made a profit. He said that its books of account

(which were not tendered) were audited by a substantial Melbourne firm of accountants. He was not aware of any money having been sent by the



2VAR]                                     Re FREE DAIST COMM & COMPT STAMPS                                 137


applicant to the United States. According to the memorandum attached to the objection, the community has a policy of not canvassing the public for funds, or proselytizing in order to increase membership.

  • Mr Roberts said that the community in general, and members of the applicant in particular, believe in the existence of I was referred to a number of passages from the writings of Da Free John on the subject of God. In his evidence, Mr Roberts said that members of the applicant believed in God at least in the sense of somethmg before and beyond what is present in the physical world. It is dear from at least some passages in the writings that Da Free John rejects the notion that the existence of God is susceptible of rational proof, perhaps even “proof” by revelation. In The God in Every Body Book (at 23-24) the following appears:

“The God of Nature, the Creator God, cannot be proven because that One does not exist as proposed. But the Great God is Tran­ scendental and exists in the Self-Position Transcendentally. In other words, It exists at the level of our eternal Existence and not at the level of the objects related to our conditional egoic existence, our manifest independence. This same One is also present to us in the form of aU others, all objects, all states of nature-not asother, but rather as that One in which we inhere. That One is present as the Adept, but human Agent or Transmitter, but not in any excJusive sense, not as the Holy Other, but as That which manifests the Power of the Self-Position, the Trancendental Condition. That One is present as Spiritual Force, transmitted through Baptism and Good

Company. And the purpose of Spiritual Baptism or reception of an Adept’s Transmission, therefore, is to lead us into the Realisation of That which is in the Self-Position. Its purpose is not to call us to conform to an apparent Power outside ourselves that requires us to engage in activities very similar to the childish social routines of conventional religiosity.

Thus, the Truth that is to be Realised may be summarised simply as the Realisation that no matter what is arising, no matter how many others are present, there is only One Being. That is precisely differ­ ent from the childish proposition that even when you are alone there is always Someone Else present.”

In The Four Fundamental Questions (at 93) the following appears: “We  believe on  the basis of intuitive feeling that there is only God,

the God that is Real and Absolute and tharcannot be sought or found

within or without, nor ever proved by the mind, but can only suddenly be felt with the whole being, and then loved and surren­ dered to from the heart, as Life, Spirit, Consciousness, All-Pervad­ ing Presence.

In our approach religious life begins through an intuitive awaken­ ing of the human heart. That awakening is given by Grace.”

Mr Roberts said that he took the teachings of Da Free John on faith. For him, the claim rang true that there is only one God, and that that God is realisable; he thought that through his application to study, he had begun to realise God, and that he had become a happier person, and, hopefully, one who is better able to serve. According to his learning, there was some correlation between this aspect of the teachings of Da





138                                        ADMINISTRATIVE  APPEALS TRIBUNAL VIC                                                          ((1987)


Free John, and the radical adherence to God as one without  a second shown by some traditions of  the Advaita  Vedantist,  sometimes said to be a part of Hinduism. He wondered whether there might not be some connection, too, with the First Commandment of the Old Testament.

  • Members of the community may take part in worship, but this is reserved for the more mature students. Mr Roberts thought that worship was most useful at that phase of the  developm nt  of  a  member when he is capable of an immediate experience of God. Detailed instruction on worship can be found in Chapter Five of the book Bodily Worship of the Living God. As indicated above, the notice of objection stated that members worship in the chapel at Little Collins Street every Sunday.
  • The morality espoused by the community is not, said Mr Roberts, prescriptive. But he was at pains to emphasise that mere belief in the divine is not sufficient, that members are expected to share the realisation of God: they are practitioners, not mere believers. In the memorandum filed by the applicant, reference is made to the practice of “true religion” and it is said that “In our faith, this practice necessarily invo]ves a life of self-discipline, in which the recommendations offered by the communion must be lived in order to give effect (or real potency) to belief in God”. In The Four Fundamental Questions (at 98) the following appears:

“The moral discipline of this Way is simple to understand but hard to fulfill: It is to look and feel and be and act completely happy at all times, and to radiate or express joy and love in all relationships, no matter what occurs in life, and no matter what may be anyone else’s response or lack of response. The fundamental expression of this moral discipline is service, the giving of energy and attention to others and to God in every moment. This moral gesture is the foundation for the creation of real spiritual and co-operative com­ munity life”.

A connection between theology and morality can be seen from pas­ sages – many of which are obscure to the uninitiated – such as the following from The Fire Gospel (at 35-36):

“So – everything and everyone is a spirit, every apparent entity or individuated something or other is made of energy and therefore in practical terms may be designated a spirit. This is the basis of the animistic view, the shamanistic view, the vitalistic view at the root of all religion. Likewise, there is one Spirit. All individuated spirits or states of energy are modifications or transformations of a Universal Energy, the Great Spirit, the Divine Spirit; the Holy Spirit, the Maha-Shakti, Prakriti. The most basic notion of religion, therefore, is that it is association with spirits, and the high conception of religion is that our relationship with the one Spirit that Pervades all is Senior to our relationship to all other spirits.

What Jesus said is a summation of the Hebrew law: Love God, Who is Spirit. Love the Great Spirit totally. Submit yourself totally to the Great Spirit and love all others as spirits in that One Spirit. Treat all others as spirits like yourself. Enter into a harmonious spiritual relationship with others and with the world. However, do not make this second principle of the law senior to the first. The first principle is senior. Submission to the Great Spirit, the Transcenden-
















2 VARJ                       Re FREE DAIST COMM & C0MPT STAMPS                                  139


tal Spirit, is the fundamental import of high religion, and its secon­ dary principle is based on the first: Be Spirit-born or Spirit-alive and relate to others likewise.”

Mr Roberts said that since members of the applicant lived as a com­ munity, there are agreements between them as to how they are to behave. Members have been disciplined by suspension or even expulsion for not following the required behaviour.

  • Prayer plays a part, but, I gather, only a limited part in the spiritual life of members of the applicant. Mr Roberts thought that there were inherent weaknesses in neurotic prayer. In Bodily Worship of the Living God (at 39) Da Free John described what people commonly know as prayer as “a form of conventional magic activity that has as its ultimate goal the fulfilment of self and its functional desires”. After referring to “true prayer”, he goes on to say:

”In this truly prayerful Communion, all aspects of the body-mind are naturally surrendered and aligned to the Living God, and, therefore, that Power also Works directly in the experience of those who pray in Truth.”

  • Members of the applicant revere Da Free John as a teacher and love him as a But he has not, so far as I can see, claimed to have the same identity with God as have some founders of religion. In The Enlightenment of the Whole Body, the biography that I referred to above refers to his followers as devotees and says (at 3) of the “Heaven-Born” Teachers that:

“They are beyond the human, infinitely beyond the superhuman; they are Divine Men. In the Form of such Masters, God lives among human beings, for the sake of their Liberation into Happiness. Such Masters incarnate the Divine Power of Awakening. They do not have to do anything to manifest that Power; they are that Power, by virtue of being perfectly transparent in body, mind, and heart to the All-Pervading Consciousness of God.”

  • Members of the community do not claim to have an exclusive entitlement to truth or salvation. Mr Roberts thought that it would be possible for a practising Roman Catholic to be a friend of the community

– he said some priests were – but it would not be possible for such a person to continue that practice while becoming a member of the com­ munity. Mr Roberts himself was brought up as a Roman Catholic. Without comment from anyone, he took the oath on the Bible.

  • The literature shows a number of classifications of members of the community, and phases of membership. One classification is by five divisions (The God in Every Body Book at 136) as follows: The Laughing Man Institute (the public educational division), The Free Communion Church (the devotional Culture of Celebration for practising  students), The Crazy Wisdom Fellowship (the educational and cultural organisation for maturing practitioners), The  Advaitayana  Buddhist  Order  (reserved for those in the higher or esoteric stages of practice) and The Free Renunciate Order (the devotees who have Realised the ultimate stage of practice of the Way). According to this division, no-one in Australia has passed beyond the first
  • The membership of the applicant is equally represented between


140                                      ADMINISTRATIVE  APPEALS TRIBUNAL VIC                                                          [(1987)


men and women; the members tended to be well-educated; there is a slight preponderance of professional people; they are generally married, and middle-class; they generally become members between the ages of 25 and 40; they generally maintain their occupations when they are admitted as members.

  1. Findings on the Evidence

As indicated, the Crown called no evidence.. The evidence of Mr Roberts was not contradicted. Nor was it seriously challenged; the Crown did not contend that he was a liar or that the founder of the community is a fraud. Mr Roberts himself is a venture capitalist with a managed investment company recognised by the federal Government. Before undertaking that role he was the president of a computer company in California. He now spends most of his time as a venture capitalist, but finds a lot of time for the affairs of the community. He presented as a literate, articulate, persuasive and, I think, candid witness. Although I can imagine that some might find his persuasiveness in some circum­ stances to be a little disconcerting, no attack at all was made on his credit, and I think that I should accept his evidence substantially as I have set it out above. I think the references to the contents of the memorandum put in by the applicant are consistent with that evidence and should also be accepted. Accordingly, the summary of the evidence of the applicant should be regarded as findings of the Tribunal. I also find on the probabi­ lities from all the evidence that members of the applicant endeavour to follow and apply the teachings from the books of Da Free John that I have referred to above.

  1. Religion

In Church of the New Faith v Commissioner of Pay-Roll Tax (Vic) (1983) 154 CLR 120 (the Scientology Case), most members of the High Court were at pains to point out that the question before the High Court was whether, on the evidence that was before the Victorian Supreme Court, scientology was a religion. The question was not whether the appellant corporation was a religious institution.

The High Court found that on the available evidence scientology as practised in Victoria was a religion. Mason ACJ (as he then was) and Brennan J said (at 136):

“We would therefore hold that, for the purposes of the law, the criteria of religion are twofold: first, belief in a supernatural Being, Thing or Principle; and second, the acceptance of canons of conduct in order to give effect to that belief, though canons of conduct which offend against the ordinary laws are outside the area of any immun­ ity, privilege or right conferred on the grounds of religion. Those criteria may vary in their comparative importance, and there may be a different intensity of belief or of acceptance of canons of conduct among religions or among the adherents to a religion. The tenets of a religion may give primacy to one particular belief or to one parti­ cular canon of conduct. Variations in emphasis may distinguish one religion from other religions, but they are irrelevant to the determi­ nation of an individual’s or a group’s freedom to profess and exercise the religion of his, or their, choice.”

Murphy J said (at 151):





2 VAR}                       Re FREE DAlST COMM & COMPT STAMPS                                                               141

“The better approach is to state what is sufficient, even if not necessary, to bring a body which claims to be religious within the category. Some claims to be religious are not serious but merely a hoax … , but to reach this conclusion requires an extreme case. On this approach, any body which claims to be religious, whose beliefs or practices are a revival of, or resemble, earlier cults, is religious. Any body which claims to be religious and.believes in a supernatural Being or Beings, whether physical and visible, such as the sun or the stars, or a physical invisible God or spirit, or an abstract God or entity, is religious. For example, if a few followers of astrology were to found an institution based on the belief that their destinies were influenced or controlled by the stars, and that astrologists can, by reading the stars, divine these destinies, and if it claimed to be religious, it would be a religious institution. Any body which claims to be religious, and offers a way to find meaning and purpose in life, is religious. The Aboriginal religion of Australia and other countries must be included. The list is not exhaustive; the categories of religion are not closed.”

Wilson and Deane JJ said (at 174):

“One of the more important indicia of ‘a religion’ is that the parti­ cular collection of ideas and/or practices involves beliefs in the supernatural, that is to say, belief that reality extends beyond that which is capable of perception by the senses. If that be absent, it is unlikely that one has ‘a religion’. Another is that the ideas relate to man’s nature and place in the universe and his relation to things supernatural. The third is that the ideas are accepted by adherents as requiring or encouraging them to observe particular standards or codes of conduct or to participate in specific practices having super­ natural significance. The fourth is that, however loosely knit and varying in beliefs and practices adherents may be, they constitute an identifiable group or identifiable groups. A fifth, and perhaps more controversial indicium is that the adherents themselves see the

collection of ideas and/or practices as constituting a religion.

As has been said, no one of the above indicia is necessarily determinative of the question whether a particular collection of ideas and/or practices should be objectively characterised as ‘a religion•. They are no more than aids in determining that question and the assistance to be derived  from them will vary’according to the context in which the question arises. All of those indicia are,  however, satisfied by most or all leading religions. It is unlikely that a collection of ideas and/or practices  would  properly be characterised  as religion if it lacked all or most of them or that, if all were plainly  satisfied, what was claimed to be religion could properly be denied that description.”

The Court was unanimous in holding that for the purposes of the law religion should not be confined to theistic religions.

  1. When considering the judgments in the Scientology Case, it is of course necessary to remember that they are just that; they determined a particular case; they emanated from a building cast in concrete; they are not cast in stone; they are not a statute; exegesis may or may not be






142                                      ADMlNISTRATIVE  APPEALS TRIBUNAL VIC                                                         [(1987)


compulsory, but if taken too far, may not be compeIJing. As has been seen, Mason ACJ and Brennan J fixed two necessary criteria; Murphy J stated a number of criteria that might be sufficient, and none of which is apparently necessary; Wilson and Deane JJ referred to a number of criteria that might be sufficient, and none of which was apparently thought to be absolutely necessary, although some are clearly more significant than others. The two criieria identified by Mason ACJ and Brennan J (belief in the supernatural and canons of conduct) are also identified by Wilson and Deane JJ and, in my view, as their most significant criteria; they may also, I think, be found in the judgment of Murphy J. Murphy J did not, in my view, find that it was sufficient that a group claimed to be religious: if it were thought that he had, such a proposition would not in my view stand against the other judgments of the Court: that criterion was expressly rejected as a legal criterion by Mason ACJ and Brennan J (at 132); I do not think that the remarks of Wilson and Deane JJ (at 174) could be taken as indicating that that criterion alone could be sufficient. Mason ACJ and Brennan J seemed to require the acceptance of canons of conduct “in order to give effect” to the belief in the supernatural; on the text, there is scope for argument as to whether Wilson and Deane JJ postulated the same connection. This debate seems to me to be sterile. I find it hard to envisage a religious body persuading a Court that its adherents believed in the supernatural and had accepted canons of conduct without at the same time establishing some connection between the two in the course of proving itself to be religious. Similarly, l find it a little difficult to envisage the first criterion of Wilson and Deane JJ (belief in the supeniatural) being satisfied without also the second criterion (the ideas relating to man’s nature and place in the universe and things supernatural) being satisfied. One might also expect the fourth criterion (an identifiable group however loosely knit) being satisfied by a body claiming to be exempt from tax. The fifth criterion is admittedly more controversial, except that one would be surprised to see a body claiming exemption from tax on the grounds that it is religious if it did not itself regard its ideas and practices as religious. For myself, I find it very difficult to envisage a case where the criteria of Mason ACJ and Brennan J are satisfied, and the body is not characterised as religious; as a matter of fact (and probably not law) I also find it a little difficult to envisage a body being characterised as religious that does not satisfy those two criteria. Despite some apparent fears to the contrary, as a matter of practical reality I doubt that the ruling in the Scientology Case should present any more difficulties than the subject warrants.

7.         Submissions of the Applicant

Counsel for the appJicant was content to measure the evidence  ten­ dered on behalf of the applicant and submit that all of the criteria put forward by the members of the Court in the Scientology Case were satisfied. Additionally, it was argued that the lease was granted  for religious purposes, or, alternatively, charitable purposes. It was said that even if the tribunal found that the applicant was not a corporation associated for religious purposes, the lease was granted for other pur­  poses beneficial to the community within the fourth classification of charitable trusts of Lord Macnaghten in Commissioners for Special Purposes of Income Tax v Pemsel (1891] AC 531 at 583. Reliance was




2 VAR]                      Re FREE DAIST COMM & COMPT STAMPS                                 143


place on Re Price [1943] Ch 422 and Re South Place Ethical Society (1980] 1 WLR 1565. It was said that Re Resch ‘s Will Trusts [1969] 1 AC 514 established that the fact that the applicant charges for books is not fatal to the contention that its relevant activities are charitable.

  1. Submissions of the Crown

The primary contention of the Crown was that the applicant had not adduced sufficient  evidence  to discharge  the onus  placed  upon  it  by s 33C(l)(b) of the Stamps Act 1958 of establishing that it was associated for religious purposes. It was said that no conclusion could safely be drawn from the literature that was tendered, since it required explanation and used words with peculiar meanings, and that therefore I could not be sure what any given passage meant. The suggestion was that the material had not been sufficiently explained. It was said that Mr Roberts in cross-examination had conceded that there was no distinction between his conception of God and his conception of reality, and that the applicant had failed to demonstrate the connection between belief and conduct said to have been required by passages of the judgment of Mason ACJ and Brennan Jin the Scientology Case at 142-148. On the argument that the lease was granted for religious purposes, it was said first that the purpose must be ascertained at the time of the grant of the lease (and that the terms of the lease itself were the best evidence of this); secondly, that use of the premises for a bookshop like The Dawn Horse Bookshop could not be said to be a use for religious purposes (since not every purpose associated with religion is a religious purpose); and, thirdly, that the evidence did not permit a finding as to what was more important, the conducting of The Dawn Horse Bookshop or The Laughing Man Insti­ tute. By reference to Commissioners of Inland Revenue v Forrest (1890) 15 App Cas 334 at 338 (Lord Halsbury, LC) and Minahan v Commissioner of Stamp Duties (1926) 26 SR (NSW) 480 at 481 (Street CJ) (referred to in Re War Nurses Memorial Centre and Comptroller of Stamps (1985) I VAR 120 at 125) it was said that the applicant had to show that the lease. was granted mainly for the purposes of religion, and this it had quite failed to do. As to the lease being granted for charitable purposes, the Crown was, as I understood it, content to rest on the same arguments it put in relation to religious purposes.

  1. The Applicant as a Religious Organisation

It seems to me that three related kinds of issues may confront an Australian tribunal that has to decide whether in the eye of the law a body of persons is religious or is associated for religious purposes within the law of charity.

  • Sooner or later someone will ask you to try to wedge into a logical proposition – a syllogism – something that by definition is meant to go beyond logic: cf Wilson and Deane JJ in the Scientology Case at 171. Students of religion may or may not be comfortable with this – it may be more acceptable to some Western religions than some others – but the lawyer must, I think, feel some discomfort. The law and religion often do not mix well. If I may be permitted to say so without offence, you have only to look at the different treatment accorded to the Moravians by the Chancery lawyers and the common lawyers at the various levels in Pemsel’s case (supra), or at the controversy currently going on about the


I     ?   ,e                     wet “‘ 777l7rilll,,i




144                          ADMINISTRAT£VE  APPEALS TRIBUNAL VIC                                                [(1987)


juristic treatment accorded by Lord Atkin to the New Testament rule that you are to love your neighbour.

  • Because of a fear of intolerance, persons claiming to be religious may, as it seems to me, get the benefit of the doubt, just as the State gives the benefit of the doubt to those whom it wishes to brand as In the result, some may get more protection that some would say is war­ ranted, out of fear that otherwise some may be unfairly dealt with. The Australian Constitution (Cth) (s 116) does give some protection in respect of freedom of religion. Whatever may have been the contemporary sensibility of Australian lawyers on the matter of religion had they otheiwise been left to their own inclination, it is liberal by virtue of a constitutional imperative; to the extent possible, toleration is ordained. In the Scientology Case, Mason ACJ and Brennan J referred (at 131) to the possible subversion of religious liberty and equality if a narrow definition of religion were accepted in order to accord with a concept currently adopted by the majority of the community; their Honours later referred (at 141) to charlatanism as “a necessary price of religious freedom”. Murphy J (at 150) said:

.. Religious discrimination by officials or by courts is unacceptable in a free society. The truth or falsity of religions is not the business of officials or the courts. If each purported religion had to show that its doctrines were true, then all might fail. Administrators and judges must resist the temptation to hold that groups or institutions are not religious because claimed religious beliefs or practices seem absurd, fraudulent, evil or novel; or because the group or institution is new, the number of adherents small, the leaders hypocrites, or because they seek to obtain the financial and other privileges which come with religious status. In the eyes of the law, religions are equal. There is no religious club with a monopoly of State privileges for its members. The policy of the law is ‘one in, all in’.”

Wilson and Deane JJ said (at 1i4) of the decision of whether or not a group of ideas or practices should properly be characterised as a religion:

“Ultimately, however, that question will fall to be resolved as a matter of judgment on the basis of what the evidence establishes about the claimed religion. Putting to one side the case of the parody or sham, it is important that care be taken, in the exercise of that judgment, to ensure that the question is approached and determined as one of arid characterisation not involving any element of assess­ ment of the utility, the intellectual quality, or the essential ‘truth· or ‘worth’ of tenets of the claimed religion.”

  • As much as, if not more than, England, Australia is a polyglot society. But Australia, with its constitutional protection of religion, has no State religion. Much of the old English legal history – both statutory and common law – is affected by clashes of interest between the State and its Church, and between religious factions, that are likely to be embarrassing to contemporary Australians: see the remarks of Sir Isaac Isaacs in Nelan v Downes (1917) 23 CLR 546 at 565-568, especially at To take one example, the subject of religion was deliberately -that is to say, as the result of a political decision – not dealt with in the Statute of Elizabeth (43 Eliz, c 4), except for a passing reference to the repair of




2VAR]                                    Re FREE DAIST COMM & COMPr STAMPS                                                               145


churches. But the statute provided for the Irish (10 Charles I (1634)) expressly stipulated “for themaintenance of any minister and preacher of the Holy Word of God”: see Pemsel’s case, at 545-546. Nevertheless, at least for some time now, the English common law of charity  has shown the same disinclination to make any distinction “between one sort of religion and another”: Thornton v Howe (1862) 31 Beav 14 at 20, Sir John Romilly MR.

  1. Now, it does seem to me tliat the findings referred to above (pars 3 and 4) permit only one conclusion, whichever of the relevant criteria are to be applied. I do bear in mind the warnings given about the dangers of purporting to understand religious writing much of which is unashamedly esoteric. But such a warning must I think go both ways: the onus is on the applicant to establish its case, and if it tenders material that is obscure to the point of being impenetrable, it does so at its own peril, unless it adequately explains it; but the material should not be rejected because it may appear to some to be childish, fanciful, banal, twisted, or half-baked. Nor, in my opinion, can the tribunal just wash its hands and walk away refusing to determine a question, simply because most of the relevant material may, for one reason or another, pass its understanding. The Crown expressly accepted that the literature appeared to be respectful, sober and to address religious themes; the Crown did not attack the sincerity of Mr Roberts, or the man whose teachings he accepts. When I look at the literature, two things at least seem to me to be clear enough: first there is a belief in God andsecondly, that belief affects the conduct of the What so appears from the literature is consistent with and confirmed by the evjdence of Mr Roberts both as to his understanding of the literature and as to what members of the applicant do and believe. I do not think that Mr Roberts committed himself to a logically untenable position of confining God to the world. For myself, in a case like this. I would require clear demonstration of such a result from mere verbal duelling, since I have some difficulty in following an attempt to confine within the constraints which rule the minds of most men, a notion whose central purpose may be to break free from those constraints. Further­ more, it is apparent from the evidence (par 3(15) above) that the belief of members of the applicant in God is meant to affect their conduct, and does so. In my judgment the evidence as a whole is amply sufficient to establish that the applicant is associated for religious purposes within the

law as laid down in the Scientology _Case.

  1. On the evidence in this case, it is in my view unnecessary to attempt any synthesis of the judgments in the Scientology Based on the findings of fact that I have made, I find that the members of the applicant believe in God; they have an approach to life and conduct and morality that is affected by their belief in God; their ideas help them to relate themselves to other people, the world, and the supernatural; they are an identifiable group; they regard their community as a religious community supported by religious ideas and practices; they participate in worship and prayer and other conduct that resembles the conduct of other religious bodies; they believe that the teachings of their founder offer a way to find meaning and purpose in life. In my opinion, each of those





146                         ADMINISTRATIVE APPEALS TRIBUNAL VIC                                              ((1987)


findings is compelled by the findings of fact, and it follows that the applicant must be regarded as a body associated for religious purposes.

  1. Lease for Religious or Charitable Purposes

What I have said above is sufficient to dispose of this reference. At the hearing, the applicant abandoned its prior contention that the lease had been granted for educational purposes. In the end, the applicant did not vigorously pursue the contention that the tnbunal could find that the lease was granted for religious purposes even if the applicant were not found to be associated for those purposes. That leaves the contention that the lease could be said to have been granted for charitable purposes. This argument was also ancillary to the principal contention and interest of the applicant, which was to establish its validity as a religious group. The argument on this point was short, and the evidence not satisfactory. While I feel some persuasion by the analogies offered by Re Price (supra) and Re South Place Ethical Society (supra), I see some force in the objections of the Crown as to the state of the evidence. Questions arising about trusts for ..other purposes beneficial to the community” are often difficult. Because of the nature of the argument and the evidence in this case, and because I have a clear view on the principal question, I think that it would be better if I did not now determine the secondary question, but leave it to be determined if and when the need arises.

  1. Costs

Each side sought costs if it won, but not to have to pay the other side if it lost. The applicant has won. The Comptroller led no evidence. She did not attack the credit Qf the witness for the applicant or the bona fides of the applicant. The applicant provided a substantial memorandum to the Comptroller describing its beliefs and practices by reference to the judgments in the Scientology Case. The applicant also tendered a Jetter of exemption from the Deputy Commissioner of Taxation (dated 26 July 1984) saying that the applicant was exempt under s 23(e) of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936 (Cth), which exempts from income tax the income of religious, scientific, charitable or public educational institu­ tions. On the other hand, the Crown said that matters of public policy were involved and that. this case was the first to arise involving an application of the Scientology Case. The Comptroller must of course examine claims for exemption, and is entitled to have a claim such as that made by the applicant publicly tested.. lo some cases toughness and humility might have to be nicely combined. But why should not the Crown indemnify a body that it subjects to the test of religion, and which passes that test, particularly in this case, where the test has been easily passed? There was a suggestion that the Scientology Case was con­ troversial. It was said that the scientologists only just fell in; so did the Moravians in Pemsel’s case. The High Court did indicate that a narrow, and potentially unreal, issue arose for its determination in that case; to put it softly, the evidence disclosed more than a whiff of humbug about the activities of the taxpayer in that case, something here disclaimed by the Crown. The problem is no doubt my own, but I can see no big issue · of principle in this case; indeed, on a consideration of the unchallenged evidence and the only relevant authority, I was left wondering what all the fuss was about. I myself see no real reason to fear that the new





2VAR]                      Re FR.EE DAIST COMM & COMPT STAMPS                                147


dispensation, if it is that, may be a charter for charlatans or frauds. I find it a little difficult to divorce such a fear from the proposition that the relevant tribunals are likely to be duped. If it is thought that the present constitutionally effected width of religion is too wide safely to allow it exemption from tax, one answer may be to limit the relevant exemption to charitable organisations, where public benefit must be established, or at least can be disproved; an alternative course appears to have been pursued in the legislation before the High Court in the Scientology Case (at 164). But these are matters for others. There has been some debate about the extent to which the tax context should affect the exposition of the law of charity. But it is hard to resist the sense of the following remarks of Lord Halsbury in dissent in Pemsel’s case (at 551):

“There is no purpose in a Taxing Act but to raise money, and an exemption is just as much within this criticism as any part of the Act, since every exemption throws an additional burden on the rest of the community.”

Or, as Cardozo J once observed in Burnet v Guggenheim 288 US 280 at 286 (1933): “The construction that is liberal to one taxpayer may be illiberal to others.”

  1. In my view, the Crown should pay costs to give some indemnity to the applicant for its legal costs incurred in this particular exercise.  I think that it would be best if I fixed the  costs now. The case ran for  the best part of two days, and would, I think, have entailed some preparation above that normally included in a brief fee. I take  into  account  the relevant regulations, in particular cl 9 of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (Taxation Division) Regulations 1985, and the reference there to County Court costs, which I think in this case should be toward the upper end of the relevant scales. I think that I may also act on my  own  knowledge of the market in legal fees and costs, and the  quantum  of orders for costs previously made by this    Taking  those factors into account, I should think that I should fix $2,700.00 as the sum to be paid by the Crown to the applicant.

15.        Order

The Comptroller did not contend that any duty would otherwise be payable if the applicant succeeded in its contention that it was entitled to the relevant exemption; if that is not the case, the parties can mention the matter at an appropriate time. For the reasons given above, the orders of the tribunal are that:

  • the assessment under reference be varied by being reduced to nil;


  • the respondent pay to the applicant $2,700.00 costs of the

Orders accordingly

Solicitors for applicant: Co”s Pavey Whiting & Byrne

Solicitor for respondents: F N Brody



Passing Bull 205 – The usual suspects


Volume 4 is now out and available on Amazon Kindle.  Preparing it for publication led me to write the following in the Introduction.

Volume IV contains the next fifty posts.  I am saddened by the repetition in this volume.  Try a field search on the usual suspects.  So I dedicate this volume to the folks at the IPA and Murdoch press whose outstanding contributions to bullshit led to the following comments set out in a post contained in this book.

But then we are told that if the P M backtracks, he will be eviscerated by the conservatives in his own party.  This is a shocking abuse or misuse of the term ‘conservative’.  As best as I can see, the people referred to are nothing like ‘conservatives’.  They look to have the following views.

They are attracted to factions, plots, conspiracies and coups in the same way that little boys like playing with matches.  They love rubbishing the elites of the political class, even though they occupy the commanding heights of that class.  They think that patriotism is a decent and useful term.  They even have a closet hankering after Donald Trump’s Operation Faithful Patriot, because they neither like nor trust migrants, which can lead to problems in a migrant nation.  They get misty-eyed about civilisation, but then they get coy about how the epithet Western might qualify the noun.  They have never held down a real job.  They would not know what a working man looks like.  They believe that people without a tertiary degree, even those as useless as theirs, are bloody lucky to have the vote, and that if there is such a thing as a dinkum Aussie, he would be the definitive pain in the bum.  They consort with shock jocks and the Murdoch press.  If you took away their clichés and labels, they would be stark naked.  They hold that it is not right to criticise Donald Trump.  They maintain that Israel and its current PM can do no wrong.  They think that supporters of Palestinians are Green/Left dupes of the Love Media who are soft on border security and sovereignty to boot.  They practise a curious form of faith that allows them to hold that running a concentration camp for children in the Pacific conforms with the Sermon on the Mount.  They believe that most experts are frauds (unless they are involved in saving their life or liberty).  Science is bullshit and worries about the climate are alarmist (it is bad taste to mention California Burning so near the event – that’s like talking about the dead after another massacre).  Thoughts and prayers can cure most ills since by and large God is all that He is cracked up to be – even if you don’t take His word too seriously too close to home.  They have bizarre dreams about liberty or freedom that would have led to a fit of the giggles in Edmund Burke or Disraeli.  They are relieved that the gorgeously photogenic imports into the House of Windsor comfy rug will save these colonies from the delusional insecurity of Home Rule or independence.  They believe – devoutly – that cadres of the IPA are well educated and rational philosophers and economists who have election-winning ideas for the true believers.  And while it is both polite and meaningful for them to label others as progressives, it is neither polite nor meaningful for them to be labelled as regressive, reactionary or retrograde.

In short, this motley is a viscerally uncomely mix of the clown, the dunce, and the jerk.  They are a dream come true for Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.  If you want an example, look out for the unsullied brashness of that boyish senator who looks like his mum dresses him and then combs his hair.  Or catch a glint of that Chesty Bond smile of Tim Wilson, M P.  And then salute the flag and hum a few bars from the Goons’ classic hit ‘I’m walking backwards for Christmas – across the Irish Sea.’  I wonder if they have their own version of a Masonic hand-shake?  And just what condition was God in when he set up this Comédie Humaine?

The saddest part about these falsely named ‘conservatives’ is that they are prone to endorse what is called populism, which is the antithesis of conservatism, and while they bemoan the death of faith in politics and liberal democracy, they are among the principal instruments of that death.

With all best wishes

Geoffrey Gibson

Malmsbury, Victoria,

21 July 2019.


Groupthink is a remarkable is a remarkable phenomenon.  I guess it is all about wanting to be loved, wanting to conform with those around us in order to be socially acceptable.

Chris Kenny, The Australian, 22 July, 2019.

Electoral idiocy of this kind is all too common these days in the eyes of the political class….The greatest agreement over Brexit is found among the intelligentsia.  The experts are in agreement, as experts so often are, since they are frequently considered to be experts because they uphold the establishment opinion.

Nick Cater, The Australian, 22 July, 2019.

Unless two of the most conformist members of the political class, who hate experts for obvious reasons, heed the warning of Woody Allen, they will go blind.  They are astoundingly predictable.
From the Financial Times, 15 July, 2019.

The fundamental organising principle of populism is a divide between the people and the elite. The ‘commonality of people’ have an innate sense of what is right, which helps to explain ‘why so much populist politics will short-circuit discussion or examination: because the people’s preferences are innate. And because they are innate, they are just and cannot be argued with.’

The second important component, Fieschi says, is betrayal by an elite, typically one that has a greater sense of allegiance to its own members than to the people or the nation.

The third is authenticity, the leitmotif of Fieschi’s book.  By authenticity she does not mean an unvarnished image or consistent beliefs — the magic dust for all modern politicians — but a politics rooted in instinct rather than reason, ‘the politics of the gut’. It allows the populist to dismiss opponents as hypocrites and provides licence to speak one’s mind without limits, to be direct to the point of shamelessness. 

Fieschi combines conceptual analysis with real examples to chart the historic evolution of populism. Mr Le Pen was a prototype who began to write the populist manual with his use of the ‘calculated provocation’. ‘Lying as a demonstration of one’s irrepressibly authentic nature: what could be more sincere than that?’ Fieschi asks.

Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, she writes, pioneered ‘entrepreneurial’ but non-ideological populism. Anti-establishment comedian Beppe Grillo broke ground with his blog and web-based ‘democracy’. Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s hard right League, is always available, always accessible, seemingly unstoppable. 

The section on Brexit Britain is less original. Luckily Fieschi moves swiftly on to a much harder question: why are today’s voters so susceptible to populist charms? Her thesis is that digital technology has made us receptive to populism by exalting immediacy, simplicity and transparency. Without complexity, delay and frustration we do not pause for reflection.

Passing Bull 204 – We are losing our minds


Reliance on computers and the  mistrust of subordinates mean that we are losing our minds.

Mention the word Centrelink to people and most give you a look of mixed terror and contempt.  I am applying for a Commonwealth Health Card through My Gov.  It took me three visits to Bendigo and three to Castlemaine to complete the application. (And I understood as much of that as I understand of my tax returns.  So much for fifteen visits to Cambridge, Harvard or Oxford.)  I spent about twenty hours on a process that should take twenty minutes.  After a couple of months, I got a computer generated reply which ignored everything that I had said in a letter, made a request for further information, which request I have asked them to explain to me, and said my application might lapse if I did not respond in fourteen days.  If you screw up your courage to ring them, you get warned about being cross with them.  I first encountered this civilian terror at H M Customs on the Gare du Nord.  Feisty Brits turning up late with a skin full.

For reasons I forget, the two Master Cards I have from the Bendigo Bank have very different limits.  (I also have an O/D which is secured.  There is no home loan.  The security is worth more than ten times any permissible debt.)  I attended at the Branch to say that I wanted the same limit on each card, but so as to reduce the limit overall and so reduce the risk to the bank – by about half.  It took me a while to explain this.  To my horror, I was told that if I wanted to do that, I would have to back to the beginning and fill in a very long form about all my finances and then attend by appointment to discuss it with a bank officer – and, presumably, be cross-examined.  I was told this politely but in a manner that suggested that this would be the end of the matter.  All this because I wanted to reduce my possible debt to this bank.  When the word ‘ridiculous’ fell from my lips, my interlocutor looked bemused, if not hurt.  I am a shareholder in the bank, and this kind of madness worries me – it makes them look like the big four, from whom I deliberately walked away.  I have sent a note to Head Office asking if they are serious, and after some days I am still waiting for an answer.  I regard this as a sackable offence.

Two days later, I was exposed to worse madness.  I was appointed a mediator in a court ordered mediation.  An unrepresented litigant defaulted on paying his share of the fee.  I got my clerk to write to the court asking it to nominate a government official to whom I could apply for an indemnity.  The answer was that it was not appropriate to nominate someone else because this officer of the court though there was no basis for such an application.  If you saw it on Monty Python, you would just laugh.  But it isn’t funny.  There is a legal question of whether a person carrying out a function pursuant to a court order is entitled to indemnity on the ordinary principles of agency.  But there is also a policy question of whether a government that relies on the cooperation and support of a profession should be seen to treat a member of that profession in a way that ordinary people would say is lousy.  As far as I know, no legal advice has been sought on the first question, and no consideration has been given to the second.  What do they want me to do – sue the State of Victoria for a declaration?  (It’s OK – I’m not that mad; just browned off.)

Then I had to notify Telstra of a change in my credit card.  I was desperate to avoid a phone call – for reasons you will understand.  But the computer kept stopping me doing it on-line.  It refused to accept my date of birth!  It’s been the same bloody way for seventy-three years, Mate.  (It was the day on which Luther took his stand – ‘I can do no other’ – and nailed his theses to the door.  He was protesting!)  So I went to ‘Contact us.’  Have you noticed how corporations then make it as difficult as possible for you to get anywhere near the bastards?  You have to fill in forms and answer questions and do really sensible things like give your driver’s licence.  Then I was blocked again.  How?  Surely you have guessed.  ‘Contact us’ also refused to accept my date of birth!  Hullo Asia, coming ready or not.  For sheer bastardry and difficulty, and mistrust of people generally, especially their own staff, Telstra is up there with Centrelink.  That’s why I sold all my shares in that company – getting out of Centrelink is not so straightforward.

The idiot who said that that which does not kill us makes us stronger did not have to deal with these bunnies.  And as I understand it, those two Boeings drove into the earth killing hundreds of people because the pilot could not override the computer.

We are losing our minds – and our souls.


Retiring as late as 64 would make the French die younger, said the radical left party France Unbowed.  French lawyers said the reform was a death sentence for their profession.

The Weekend Australian, July 20-21, 2019.

No wonder French roads are clogged with campervans.  Why would anyone want to retire at 64 – or at all?


KPMG is another prominent supporter of a constitutionally entrenched voice, as are other major accounting firms, the Law Council of Australia and several ASX-listed companies.  Those trying to railroad their staff, and the rest of the country, into supporting an ill-defined voice to parliament are the new workplace bullies…..Some have been put on notice that offering support for a fundamental change to Australia’s founding document without any meaningful details is tantamount to condoning constitutional sabotage.  (Emphasis added.)

Janet Albrechtsen, The Weekend Australian, July 20-21, 2019

Does all this shrillness ever get anywhere?  Does anyone ever read any of this stuff – before or after publication?

Here and there – Fidelity – and Emma

How England broke faith with its  greatest admiral, Lord Nelson: in two parts.

Part I


The English have erected only two statues outside their parliament.  They are of Oliver Cromwell and Winston Churchill.  In their prime, these men loomed larger over their people than did any European monarch or Eastern potentate.  We have not seen anything remotely like either in our time.  Each was the ultimate servant and master of that gift of England to the world called parliament.  Each was a fierce and successful defender of that parliament, the first against a devious, grasping monarch; the second against a vicious foreign dictator.  On each count their nation and we are grateful to them and we celebrate their memory.  Each remains subject to bitter recrimination, but putting to one side the war crimes that Cromwell perpetrated in Ireland in the name of God, that hostility smacks of jealousy, meanness and mediocrity.

The City of London has two great monuments to national heroes: the Wellington Arch and Nelson’s Column on Trafalgar Square.  Each of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington was one of the greatest commanders of armed forces that the world has ever seen.  Each had come up the hard way and learned his craft from the bottom up.  Each showed a kind of courage that could scare the rest of us or at least look reckless.  Each had the gift of command – each had the insight to see the issue and the character to pursue his answer to it.  What we miss most in public life now is the courage of decision.  You cannot teach this; nor can you measure it.  The best that you can do is mutter the word ‘genius’ in something like awe and shrug your shoulders – like you do with Shakespeare, Mozart, or Newton.  And as a result, and most importantly, each was a winner.  And mutter though Tolstoy may, each of Nelson and Wellington turned the whole course of history by the force of his character.

And they have something else in common.  Each was reputed to be unfaithful to his wife.  Fidelity is the first call of the fighting man.  Another word for fidelity is loyalty – what counts is constancy.  We must see at least some part of it between all of us if we want to get on together.  And it has to be a two-way street – as the authors of the medieval Sachsenspiegel knew and as the current President of the United States will eventually discover.  When Churchill spoke to the nation about ‘the miracle of deliverance’ at Dunkirk, he went into overdrive on the role of the RAF.  He spoke of their valour, perseverance, perfect discipline, faultless service, resource, skill, and ‘unconquerable fidelity.’  In this and other speeches, Churchill was calling on all the reserves of a singular nation that had been built up by people like Cromwell, Nelson and Wellington.

Our previous readiness to put a curtain around the marital infidelity of a commander in chief has been shattered by the appalling misconduct of commanders like Kennedy, Clinton and Trump.  We now also see a change brought about by a growing conviction that one half of the human race may be as good as the other and an accompanying sense of guilt over our past behaviour.  Yet somehow the cloud of infidelity that lours over the house of Lord Nelson seems so much darker to some than the cloud over his Grace, the Duke of Wellington.  Why is this so?

As it happens, in looking into this aspect of our frailty, we may come across another and perhaps worse cloud that lours over all our houses.


Before looking at Wellington and Nelson, may we briefly consider the claims of Napoleon?  Andrew Roberts wrote a book in which he sought to justify the title Napoleon the Great.  Was the little Corsican up there with Nelson or Wellington?  Not on your bloody Nelly, Mate.

Nelson and Wellington won; Napoleon lost.  He lost because he invaded both Spain and Russia.  (Hitler committed only the second of those errors, but he had the example of Napoleon before him.)  Napoleon committed those errors because, like Hitler, he lived for war.  War for both of them was like a Ponzi scheme for crooks.  It perpetuated itself because it had to.  Napoleon’s most balanced biographer, Georges Lefebvre, said that Napoleon gave France and the world la guerre éternelle because ‘he was a man whose temperament, even more than his genius, was unable to adapt to peace and moderation.’

Napoleon left France in ruins and he left Europe to bury five million dead.  He ignored the warning of Robespierre that no one likes armed missionaries*, and he sought to impose hopelessly inept members of his family on places they could not possibly fill, in a way that has only been matched since by Donald Trump.  He was profligate with even French casualties, but above all, and undeniably and unanswerably, he walked out on his own army not once but twice – something that Nelson or Wellington could have done as easily as travelling from London to New York – by foot.


The liaison between Nelson and Lady Hamilton was public, and later admitted, but people throughout celebrated it with the kind of verve that we now associate with the paparazzi doing a number on the royal family thirds or fourths or a serial Hollywood divorcée.  This is a big part of the difference.  By and large, Wellington was more discrete.  There was from the beginning something about the Nelson case that brought out the worst of the voyeur in all of us, and that ghastly mean, green streak that gives us a guilty form of comfort in seeing someone who is so much better than us cut down to size.  (If you wanted to look for the world champions in this callous levelling, you could do worse than start here in Australia.)

Both Nelson and Wellington served overseas to endure long separations from their wives at a time when the stresses of their position were the most wearing – and when they were being white-anted at home.  Elizabeth Longford quotes an officer who served with Wellington in India as saying that Wellington ‘had at that time a very susceptible heart, particularly towards, I am sorry to say, married ladies.’  That was before he was married, but not before the marriages of the objects of his attention.  Adultery can of course occur at either end of an affair.  I daresay that His Grace would have had some trouble coming to grips with #MeToo, but even at that distance from the year of Our Lord 2019, even the most the most complete patrician could have seen complications from an officer sleeping with the wife of a man of lesser rank.

My namesake, Guy Gibson, was one of the great heroes of World War II, and he will remain so for me, but Old Jack, my neighbour at Blackwood, who flew forty seven missions in Mosquitoes, said that he and his mates took a very dim view of Gibson dating girls from lesser ranks.  You don’t need training in moral philosophy to sniff the abuse of power.

But there is not much doubt among historians that at least after Spain, Wellington was putting it about in France.  Andrew Roberts says of Wellington and Napoleon.

Attractive to women and voraciously sexual, neither man enjoyed a happy marriage.  They did share two mistresses however, or, more precisely, Wellington picked up two of the emperor’s cast-offs.

How do you know someone had a voracious sexual appetite if you haven’t been to bed with them?  Is there a failure to distinguish between the power of sex appeal and the sex appeal of power?

Well, there is no doubt that Wellington got up people’s noses by his infatuation with at least one of those cast-offs.  He gazed upon Guiseppina Grassini, the onetime La Chanteuse de l’Empereur, with ‘ecstasy’, and Kitty, his wife, was appalled to see this notorious woman on the arm of his Grace.  As Elizabeth Longford remarked, ‘What she did not see, her friends told her about.’  When asked if he had received all that feminine adulation, His Grace replied: ‘Oh, yes!  Plenty of that! Plenty of that!’  It was conduct like that which had turned some off Nelson.

It does look like Wellington consorted with what we would call high end call girls.  The result was a contribution to our language.  One very lubricious tart gave him prominence in her memoires.  Wellington was invited to pay their owner to suppress them in order to protect his name.  His response: ‘Publish and de damned.’  (The asking price was £200 – the New York attorney, Mr Cohen, may have tried that response, but his client was an established coward.)  Her story was said to be flawed because she said Wellington wore his badges of honour to her assignations – but one French count said that he did the same to reduce the risk of getting a girl with the clap.

Another tart who was well qualified to assess the Duke and the Emperor in bed said; ‘Mais M le duc était de beaucoup le plus fort.’ Well, His Grace would have been gratified, but he did not learn that stuff at Eton (although well-bred young Englishmen were then commonly shouted a trip or two to a knock shop by their fathers to break their duck and send them on their way).

We can imagine the Englishman’s competitive streak being activated.  Breguet watches are hugely expensive.  The brand name got a kick along because it was known that Napoleon had one.  Breguet still trades on that history (and a mention by Stendhal).  Obviously His Grace was not to be outdone.  He bought himself a Breguet – for the stellar price of three hundred guineas (about $A30,000?).

So, Wellington’s dalliances with the demi monde were predictable if sordid, hurtful to the long suffering Kitty, but hardly an affair of or a threat to the State.  His Grace would later find politics more difficult – it was easier to give an order than to herd opinionated cats.  And crass snobbery and brutal honesty is not a good political mix, even in a High Tory Duke.  Someone said he had a ‘social contempt for his intellectual equals, and an intellectual contempt for his social equals.’  And the dalliances went on.


How did it stand with Nelson?

Before looking at Nelson, may I go back to Guy Gibson, VC, to make two obvious points?  First, the fact that man is a hero doesn’t mean he’s not a man.  Secondly, people get called on to do things in war time that they don’t do in peacetime.

In December 1942, Gibson had become close to an extrovert rugby international, Group Captain Walker, who had a reputation for ‘Hun hate’ to match his own.  Some incendiaries had fallen out of a parked Lancaster and were burning under a 4000 pound ‘cookie’.  With matchless courage, Walker was seeking to rake the fire when the cookie went off.

The thump was heard twenty miles away at the RAF hospital.  Two nurses, including Corporal Margaret North, were despatched.  Walker was in an appalling condition.  Maggie and another got him back to the Crash and Burns Unit.  The next day, North told Walker, in the presence of his wife and Gibson, ‘You and I held hands last night.’  Gibson thought that this was hilarious.  He got to know North and took her out.  (There is a photo of Margaret North in 1941 looking just like my mum at that time, but in uniform.)  According to the wonderful biography of Gibson by Richard Morris, Maggie was ‘wary, being conscious of her non-commissioned rank and the presumption against fraternising with officers.’  (I may have forgotten having read this when Old Jack commented on the point.)

They saw some films together.  Gibson liked musicals.  (We know that from the film.)  He called at the hospital one night looking like death.  He had just lost a mate, and he was reflecting on mortality – surely his end was just a matter of time.  Maggie’s superior told her that she had better go out to see him.  Gibson was in his car chewing obsessively on an unlit pipe, and shaking uncontrollably.  At length he pleaded ‘Please hold me.’  She did, and after about half an hour, the tremors subsided, and he regained control.  He never spoke of it again.

The nurses were used to dealing with pilots who got love-lorn.  Gibson then started showing those symptoms.  Maggie North had suitors, one of whom had proposed.  These things happened faster in war time.  When Maggie told Gibson, he simply said ‘Don’t do it.’  She in turn broke down in tears when she spoke of her dilemma with her friends.  Gibson rang her on her wedding day to beg her not to go ahead.  She then finally gave the sensible response of an English woman of her time.  ‘Guy, you are spoken for.’  You see, Gibson was not just of senior commissioned rank – he was also married.  And even in the most devastating war known to man, a woman had to draw the bloody line somewhere.  Margaret North did, and she got married a few hours later.

Next to no one reading these lines will have had any experience of the life forces confronted by Guy Gibson and Maggie North – or by the elements confronting Horatio Nelson and Emma Hamilton.  If we were to ask what happened between those two, we might get two responses.  What bloody business is it of yours?  How the hell would you know?


Happily, we can trace a course for Nelson and Lady Hamilton through letters and a well witnessed confrontation.

Nelson was the son of a Norfolk clergyman.  He joined the navy as an ordinary seaman at the age of twelve.  He became a midshipman and progressed through the ranks.  The brutality of the British navy then defies our understanding.  It made the hell of English boarding schools look almost sane, and it would lead to the nation-threatening mutinies that Melville wrote about in Billy Budd. 

Nelson was a natural sailor who had the gift of leadership, and the nerve to pursue the insights of his cunning in both tactics and strategy.  He was one of that tiny band who leads through his own example and who will never ask a man to do what he had not done himself.  No sailor at war could ever have asked to serve under a better officer and leader of men.

Nelson also routinely engaged in what we call hand-to-hand combat.  The law of prize then rewarded naval officers financially for taking enemy ships.  Nelson personally led boarding parties.  It was enough to drive his wife Fanny to distraction.  After one engagement that saw rewards, honours and promotion, and reports of Nelson’s being wounded, Lady Nelson, as she was then entitled to call herself, wrote:

What can I attempt to say to you about Boarding?  You have been most wonderfully protected; you have done desperate actions enough.  Now may I – indeed I do – beg that you never Board again!  LEAVE IT for CAPTAINS.

Her Ladyship raised the stakes in her next letter.

With the protection of a Supreme Being, you have acquired a character or name which, all hands agree, cannot be greater; therefore rest satisfied.

That was decent sensible advice from a decent and sensible wife, but something in Nelson’s make-up led him almost to flaunt himself before God.  He knew he could not be immortal, but something inside drove him to see how far he could push hubris before nemesis intervened to level the score.  He was frequently wounded.  He lost an eye and an arm when surgery was a barbaric lottery.  He would also confess to miserable, repeated and incurable sea sickness.

During the battle of the Nile, Nelson was again shot in the head.  He was blinded.  As he fell, he said ‘I am killed.  Remember me to my wife.’  In her beautiful biography, Carola Oman said:

This was the end he had long foreseen, and it was indeed as good as he could ever have hoped, for he had fallen when a victory, to be greeted as ‘the most signal that has graced the British Navy since the days of the Spanish Armada’, was already assured.  He proceeded to carry everything in the high style dear to him and Shakespeare.

What a happy phrase!  The wound was far from fatal, but every word there prefigures Trafalgar, not least ‘the high style dear to him and Shakespeare.’  For very good reasons, there was more than a touch of showman about both Nelson and Wellington.  (George Patton would later understand that his men wanted their leader to put on a show.  It comes with the job.)

[To be continued.]

MY TOP SHELF – Chapter 28


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



T B Macaulay (1980)

Folio Society, 1980; edited by Peter Rowland; introduction by J P Kenyon; red cloth embossed in gold; with stone slip case.

Perhaps no person can be a poet, or can even enjoy poetry, without a certain unsoundness of mind, if anything which gives so much pleasure  ought to be called unsoundness … Truth indeed is essential to poetry; but it is the truth of madness.  The reasonings are just but the premises are false.

This is how an English gentleman, and man of letters, a member of parliament, described the founding of his national church:

A King, whose character may be best described by saying that he was despotism itself personified, unprincipled ministers, a rapacious aristocracy, a servile Parliament, such were the instruments by which England was delivered from the yoke of Rome.  The work that had been begun by Henry, the murderer of his wives, was continued by Somerset, the murderer of his brother, and was completed by Elizabeth, the murderer of her guest.  Sprung from brutal passion, nurtured by selfish policy, the Reformation in England displayed little of what had, in other countries, distinguished it, unflinching and unsparing devotion, boldness of speech, and singleness of eye.

Here is an assessment of the key players.

We do not mean to represent Cranmer as a monster of wickedness.  He was not unwantonly cruel or treacherous.  He was merely a supple, timid, interested courtier, in times of frequent and violent change.  Henry, Cranmer, Somerset and Elizabeth were the great authors of the English Reformation.  Three of them had a direct interest in the extension of the royal prerogative.  The fourth was the ready tool of any who could frighten him.

But Macaulay likes the result obtained in the English church.

From this compromise, the Church of England sprang.  In many respects indeed, it has been well for her that, in an age of exuberant zeal, her principal founders were mere politicians.  To this circumstance, she owes her moderate articles, her decent ceremonies, her noble and pathetic liturgy.  Her worship is not disfigured by mummery.  Yet she has preserved, in a far greater degree than any of her Protestant sisters, that art of striking the senses and filling the imagination in which the Catholic Church so eminently excels. 

This book is a collection of essays as is a similar book published by Folio on England in the Eighteenth century.  You can therefore have Macaulay on the whole history of England, as his masterpiece, The History of England from the Accession of James II, starts at the beginning.  Thucydides, Gibbon, Carlyle and Namier were conscious stylists.  Maitland was not.  Macaulay certainly was.  ‘There will however be some passages which will not require constant references to authorities; and such passages I may be able to compose and polish in my chaise or at an inn.’

The principal work is a celebration of the Glorious Revolution, and is seen as the Bible of the Whig view of history.  Since the word ‘Whig’ had a different meaning in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and has none now, that term is at best slippery.  But it would be churlish to write off the truth that underlies the triumphalism.

The highest eulogy which can be pronounced on the revolution of 1688 is this, that it was our last revolution … And if it be asked what has made us to differ from others, the answer is that we never lost what others are wildly and blindly seeking to regain.  It is because we had a preserving revolution in the seventeenth century that we have not had a destroying revolution in the nineteenth. 

That is dead right, and was shown in 1789, 1848 and 1917, and will be shown in every nation in the Middle East and North Africa.

Macaulay of course had his dislikes.  Here he is on Strafford.

He was the first of the Rats, the first of those statesmen whose patriotism has been only the coquetry of political prostitution, and whose profligacy has taught Governments to adopt the old maxim of the slave-market, that it is cheaper to buy than to breed, to import defenders from an Opposition than to rear them in a ministry.  He was the first Englishman to whom a peerage was a sacrament of infamy, a baptism into the union of corruption.  As he was the earliest of the hateful list, so was he also by far the greatest; eloquent, sagacious, adventurous, intrepid, ready of invention, immutable of purpose, in every talent which exalts or destroys pre‑eminent, the lost Archangel, the Satan of the apostasy.

You might think that is over the top, but I have heard similar passion, if not venom, displayed about the apostasy of Paul Johnson by a descendant of a people of haters, and those views would have been widely shared by English people when they determined that Strafford was ‘so dangerous as to require the last and surest custody, that of the grave.’  The means used were, both Macaulay and Churchill had to concede, revolutionary.  ‘Stone-dead hath no fellow.’

Penn was traduced but the Establishment was not immune.  Churchill’s ancestor regularly got a backhander.  ‘Churchill, in a letter written with a certain elevation of language, which was the sure mark that he was going to commit a baseness ..’; ‘…endowed with a certain cool intrepidity which never failed him in either fighting or lying …’; ‘Churchill … made his appearance with that bland serenity which neither peril nor infamy could disturb’; ‘it was written with that decorum which he never failed to preserve in the midst of guilt and dishonour.’

This is England at the height of its imperial power with its first empire.

The situation which Pitt occupied at the close of the reign of George III was the most enviable ever occupied by any public man in English history.  He had conciliated the King; he domineered over the House of Commons; he was adored by the people; he was admired by all Europe.  He was the first Englishman of his time; and he made England the first country in the world.  The Great Commoner, the name by which he was often designated, might look down with scorn on coronets and garters.  The nation was drunk with joy and pride.  The Parliament was as quiet as it had been under Pelham.  The old party distinctions were almost effaced; nor was their place yet supplied by distinctions of a still more important kind.

Then they lost America.  How?

We are inclined to think, on the whole, that the worst administration which has governed England since the Revolution was that of George Grenville.  His public acts may be classed under two heads outrages on the liberty of the people, and outrages on the dignity of the Crown.  As he wished to see the Parliament despotic over the nation, so he wished also to see it despotic over the Court.  In his view, the Prime Minister, possessed of the confidence of the House of Commons, ought to be Mayor of the Palace.  The King was a mere Childeric or Chiperic, who might well think himself lucky in being permitted to enjoy such luxurious apartments as St James’s, and so fine a park at Windsor……The Stamp Act was indefensible, not because it was beyond the constitutional competence of Parliament, but because it was unjust and impolitic, sterile of revenue and fertile of discontents.

Macaulay will be read while the English language lasts.  His description of England in 1685, the last minute conversion of Charles II, the depredations of Jeffreys, and the trial of the seven bishops are integral to the English story.  His account of the massacre at Glencoe is high theatre, a kind of genocide that the Scots inflicted on themselves.  ‘The extirpation planned by the Master of Stair was of a different kind.  His design was to butcher the whole race of thieves, the whole damnable race.’  He began by referring to ‘the Glen of Weeping….the most dreary and melancholy of all the Scottish passes, the very valley of the Shadow of Death’.  This was said to be typically over the top.  I have been to Glencoe three times and you need no sense of history to feel that this stark outcrop is pregnant with doom.  And his explanation of the awfulness of it all is just right.  The passage ends with his saying that we could not imagine that ‘Robespierre would have murdered for hire one of the thousands whom he murdered from philanthropy’.  The following should be printed and shown in every house of government:

We daily see men do for their party, for their sect, for their country, for their favourite schemes of political and social reform, what they would not do to enrich or avenge themselves….virtue itself may contribute to the fall of him who imagines that it is within his power, by violating some general rule of morality, to confer an important benefit on a church, on a commonwealth, on mankind.

Passing Bull 203 – The strange and quick collapse of conservatives


The conservative parties in the U S and the U K – Republicans and Tories – have collapsed, morally and intellectually, in about three years – since the U K voted to leave Europe and the U S elected Donald Trump.  The U K is about to consummate its collapse by appointing – that is the word – Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.

The Spectator is a venerable weekly paper that has been solidly conservative and represented the Tory line.  It is now in sharp descent and on its way down to the level of its Australian version, which is as inane as it is vulgar.  The Weekend Australian printed an opinion piece from The Spectator that included the following.

For those capable of looking beyond Brexit, the potential of a Trump-Boris alliance is arguably Britain’s biggest hope.

Boris isn’t by nature a pushover, which is one of the reasons he and Trump will get along.  And he seems to understand the President’s mentality: play nice, and Donald returns the favour.

The two men have a chemistry that goes beyond their unusual hairstyles.  Both grasp that a profound shift is taking place in politics, one that has propelled people like them to power.

They also sense, in the way that macho beasts often do, a certain destiny in each other.  Trump is possibly the last great Anglophile president; recall his delight as he visited Buckingham Palace last month.  Trump likes Britain, Brexit and Boris; it’s that simple.

Boris, for his part, was born in New York and gave up his American passport only for tax reasons – something Trump can understand.  He’s a Churchill enthusiast, therefore an Atlanticist in outlook.  He’s always preferred America’s stress on national unity to the fragmented federalism of the EU.

Trump and Boris will see each other being attacked by the same kinds of people for the same reasons: offending political correctness, not paying attention to detail, lacking the gravitas high office demands.  Yet both men draw crowds and inspire loyalty.  Trump and Boris are seen by their supporters as leaders who can shake up a failed system.

Apart from the reference to the ‘profound shift’ in politics, it is very hard to detect one proposition that is not just pure moonshine, but nauseating moonshine.  But even if you agreed with everything said, it is impossible to dream of any meaning of the word ‘conservative’ that is consistent with it.  Trump and Johnson don’t want to conserve the status quo – they want to wreck it.  It is sufficient to mention three things.  First, The Spectator urges appeasement (‘play nice’) of this ‘macho beast’ – ask Mrs May about that policy (yes, the ‘foolish’ Mrs May).  Secondly, The Spectator sees an English reliance on Europe being replaced by a reliance on the U S; people of this ilk like the word ‘vassal’; being in service to Donald Trump is not a pretty or safe sight.  Thirdly, The Spectator says both men ‘draw crowds and inspire loyalty.’  Has anyone offered a better description of a ‘populist’, the exact reverse of a ‘conservative’?

To whom can rational conservatives turn?  Or has the word now lost all meaning?


Instead of changing the channel or reading a different newspaper, Richard Di Natale was caught during the last election saying that he wanted sections of Sky and News Corp shut down…..The sacking of Israel Folau is bigger than a legal biff about a contract and a code of conduct.  Folau was sacked for sinning against the new moral code.  It is a totemic clash of religions, between old ones such as Christianity (but it could be Islam next) and the new religion promulgated by a new secular class that wants to stop a man from posting different moral judgments drawn from a centuries-old code of conduct called the Bible.

Janet Albrechtsen, The Weekend Australian, 13-14 July, 2019

Well now, where to start?  A politician was ‘caught’ saying he wanted parts of the press shut down.  Goodness, gracious, me!  People who work for Mr Murdoch want the ABC shut down and they regularly attack it.  And with this government, they are having success.  The government is strangling the ABC.

As part of the Murdoch campaign, Albrechtsen attacks the ABC in the same piece.  ‘If the ABC is the media arm that spreads the new religion, Rugby Australia’s Raelene Castle has become its self-appointed priestess.’  This is prize-winning bullshit.  As these journalists do, she says the ABC is tax-payer funded.  News Corp is also funded by public money.  The ABC does not I think trade – in the legal sense – but the two corporations have something in common.  They have stakeholders and if they set out to annoy or offend those stakeholders, there will be consequences.  How would the Murdoch press react if the ABC refused to sack an announcer (or if News Corp refused to sack a journalist) for saying that because of their faith they believe that: Sharia law should be adopted throughout Australia; Burmese Buddhists should hound Muslims out of the country; or Australians should be encouraged to make deductible donations to the Church of Scientology – so that it too could become taxpayer-funded?  And what if the employer said it was powerless to act because the offender was merely exercising their freedom of religion?

And why not just change the channel – or read a different newspaper? Just think of the load that would take off the shoulders of Mr Henderson if he was not doomed to maintain his watch on the Antichrist.

Then there is Mr Folau again.  May I say that when I ran a statutory tribunal, we decided cases within six weeks of the reference and usually after a hearing concluded in one morning?  I see no reason why the Folau case could not be disposed of in that time and at a cost of less than $2OK.  Only God knows where the $3M figure comes from.

But we are told that’s not what this case is about.  The writer rewrites history in a fact free zone.  This, we are told, is ‘a totemic clash of religions’.  To get there, she makes one religion up.  This is astounding bullshit.  Fortunately, and the paper should be congratulated, two other pieces, this time on the Op Ed page, makes plain at least some of the bullshit.

Peter Van Onselen says:

It’s the once all-powerful religious types claiming victimhood against one of the groupings in society they long victimised, the gay and lesbian community….Poor Israel Folau had his freedom of religion curtailed apparently because his employer has an expectation that its employees adhere to a code of conduct.  The extent to which he isn’t oppressed could hardly have been better demonstrated than via the fast and lucrative flow of donations that came his way when the Australian Christian Lobby decided to get involved.

The intervention of the ACL will do as much for religion in this country as the sight of its Prime Minister offering government comfort to 20,000 cheering Hillsong members at a floodlit night-time parade.  The ACL is apparently against a charter human rights.  I don’t know if freedom of religion is a human right or a divine right.  The Folau campaign is publicly funded, but are donations to it tax deductible?

Katrina Grace Kelly (quel nom!) says:

Ironically, and just as an aside, it has been terrifically amusing of late to observe those usually demanding legal change to make it easier to dismiss workers vociferously demanding legal change that will make it harder to dismiss workers – by virtue of their support for a high-profile footballer, recently sacked.  (Emphasis added.)

It does rather look like people are invoking freedom of religion to destroy freedom of contract.  Put differently, it is novel that people claiming to be ‘conservatives’ – that word again – want a statutory tribunal to be able to relieve a person of the burden of a contact from which he has derived great profit but which he now finds in part unsuited to his needs.  Roscoe Pound is good on this.

Equity in America shows the same influence [protecting private rights].  The Puritan has always been a consistent and thorough-going opponent of equity.  It runs counter to all his ideas. For one thing, it helps fools who have made bad bargains, whereas he believes that fools should be allowed and required to act freely and then be held for the consequences of their folly.  For another thing, it acts directly upon the person.  It coerces the individual free will.

That is very Boston – and very IPA.  We can imagine a statutory intervention into freedom of contract attracting all kinds of epithets – including the dreaded ‘S’ word.

And it is a little hard to take seriously a claim of victimhood by a church in a nation whose head of state must be a communicant member of that church.

But why let mere facts stop a good dream?  It’s that simple.

Here and there – Disraeli – Portrait of a Conservative


On 26 February 1868, the leader of the Tories in the House of Commons called on Her Majesty Queen Victoria at Osborne on the Isle of Wight.  The queen ‘came into her closet with a very radiant face and saying ‘You must kiss hands.’’  This her caller did, heartily, falling on one knee.  Well, that was and is the traditional way in which the English sovereign acknowledges the choice of her parliament for the office of Prime Minister.  In a letter preceding the kissing of hands, the queen had said in that third person mode: ‘It must be a proud moment for him to feel that his own talent and successful labours in the service of his country have earned him the high and influential position on which he is now placed.’  It certainly was a proud moment.

The grandfather of this PM had migrated to England sixty years before he was born.  Benjamin Disraeli, the grandson of an Italian Jew, was the leader of the Tory Party, the Prime Minister of England, and he would become the closest confidant and adviser to the most powerful monarch in the entire world, and whom he, Disraeli, would anoint as the Empress of India.  It is a truly remarkable story.

It had not always been so smooth.  Disraeli had been a frightful dandy, and he had an acid tongue.  The queen had called him ‘detestable, unprincipled, reckless & not respectable.’  Her husband had dismissed him as ‘having not one single element of the gentleman in his composition.’  Well, Her Majesty and His Royal Highness may have had held strong views, but they were free to change their mind.  And Disraeli could ‘work’ the queen.  He said that with her, you had to ‘lay it on with a trowel’ – and he did so, ever so shamelessly; and he was always careful to heap honour and praise on the late Prince.  Her Majesty loved it, and she loathed poor Mr Gladstone.  She felt like he addressed her like he was addressing a public meeting.

And besides, having a PM with a background in finance might be useful.  In 1875, the bankruptcy of the Sultan of Turkey left the Khedive of Egypt wanting to sell his shares in the Suez Canal.  The French were in the market.  Disraeli was determined to get this stake in the Canal.  He could not get the money from Parliament as it was in recess.  He sent his private secretary to ask Baron Rothschild for a loan of 4,000,000 pounds.  Baron Rothschild asked two questions:  ‘When?’, and after eating a grape and spitting out a grape skin, ‘What is your security?’  (The crown jewels?)  The money was available next day to the British government at 2 ½ %, and a one-off fee of 100,000 pounds.  Disraeli wrote: ‘It is just settled: you have it Madam.’  The Queen was ‘in ecstasies’ but was keen to hear how her Prime Minister had got the ‘great sum.’  ‘What particularly delighted the Faery was the thought of Bismarck’s fury, for only shortly before, he had insolently declared that England had ceased to be a political force.’

Not long after this, the French nation would be convulsed by controversy over the fate of a Jewish officer named Dreyfus, and it is more than a little difficult to imagine the third generation of a migrant Jewish family becoming Prime Minister of any country in Europe at that time.

What I have said so far about Disraeli comes from something I wrote years ago. Since that was supposed to be a constitutional history of England, you can guess how keen I was to get those anecdotes out there.  That is the kind of stuff I live for.

One leading  biography was written by André Maurois. That name can evoke the same kind of snobbery that the name Puccini does.  Maurois was a writer rather than a historian.  And he excelled in biography.  He followed in the steps of Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (which is looked at here) – although he did say that Strachey was ‘a shade nastier than is really fair’: which sounds like a very English thing to say.  Maurois said:

The search for historical truth is the work of a scholar; the search for the expression of a personality is rather the work of the artist; can the two things be done together?

Putting the question that way focuses on the writer.  What about us – the readers?  We know what we want.  For someone like Pitt the Younger or perhaps Gladstone, we might stick with the prosaic.  But for titans like Disraeli, Lloyd George or Churchill, we want Romance – with the Full Monty.  And Maurois delivers in his inimitable style.  The word ‘readable’ could have been invented for him – even when read in translation.

What was the dandy like?  ‘A coat of black velvet, poppy-coloured trousers broidered with gold, a scarlet waistcoat, sparkling rings worn on top of white kid gloves.’  What drove Disraeli in the Commons?  Perhaps it was the standing, cheering ovations, or the opportunity to say: ‘I am not one who will be insulted, even by a Yahoo.’  Why did he marry Mary Anne?  For money – and it may have been the most loving marriage ever felt.  How did he feel on becoming PM?

The adventurer, his genius tolerated by some, his authority contested by others, referred to as ‘Dizzy’ with a familiarity sometimes affectionate, sometimes scornful, had now become an object of respect….No people are more sensitive than the English to the beauty wherewith time can adorn an object; they love old statesmen, worn and polished in the struggle, as they love old leather and old wood.

You can see that there is great merit in reading an urbane Frenchman portray an English comet – a man described by Lord Sumption in the Reith Lectures as possibly the only authentic genius to reach the top in English politics.  (And there was merit in having a Scot, Thomas Carlyle, write a long tone poem about the French Revolution.)  Disraeli was a titan who walked among giants.  Now we get pygmies following charlatans.  The agony of our fall is made explicit by this gorgeous book.