Here and there – Fascism now?


‘Fascist’ is a term I used to think that I used too often.  Now I am not sure.  I fear that fascism may be in the air again.

Jason Stanley is a professor of philosophy at Yale.  He has written a book called How Fascism Works, The Politics of Us and Them (Random House, 2018).  At first I wondered if this was just another product of North American academe that gorges itself on –isms and other abstractions.  But I find that the author has the sense and discipline to make his point and move on.  That is the calling card of an advocate.

Professor Stanley’s catalogue of the hallmarks of fascism is very unsettling because so many appear of them to be surfacing now all around us.  Before I list those hallmarks, and in his order, I may set out a definition of the word that I wrote elsewhere some years ago now.  (Curiously, I am not sure that this book may not offer a definition of ‘fascism’ – that might be said to be the purpose of the whole book.)


What do I mean by ‘fascism’?  I mean a commitment to the strongest kind of government of a people along overtly militarist and nationalist lines; a government that puts itself above the interests of any or indeed all of its members; a commitment that is driven by faith rather than logic; with an aversion to or hatred of equality, minorities, strangers, women and other deviants; a contempt for liberalism or even mercy; and a government that is prone to symbolism in weapons, uniforms, or its own charms or runes, and to a belief in a charismatic leader. 

The word came originally from the Latin word fasces, the bundle of rods and axe carried before Roman consuls as emblems of authority, and was first applied to the followers of the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, Il Duce, and then to the followers of Il Caudillo, Generalissimo Franco, and the Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.  Fascists are thick-skinned, thick-headed, and brutal.  They despise intellectuals – who are after all deviants – but they may have an untutored and irrational rat cunning.

As Professor Simon Blackburn of Cambridge University tersely remarks: ‘The whole cocktail is animated by a belief in regeneration through energy and struggle’ (kampf).  To an outsider, it looks like pure moonshine that is the first refuge of a ratbag and a bully, a brilliant and seductive toy for the intellectually and morally deprived, and an eternal warning of the danger of patriotism to people of good sense and good will.  But while that ‘cocktail’ may look la bit much for Plato, it looks fair for Sparta.

Now, here are the headings of Professor Stanley.

The mythic past

We know this well – the intentionally mythical past.  The nostalgia harnesses emotion to the main tenets of the fascist creed – authoritarianism, hierarchy, purity and struggle.  ‘The strategic aim of these hierarchal constructions of history is to displace truth, and the invention of a glorious past includes the erasure of inconvenient realities.’  And sorry, boys, but the leader is like the father in the old patriarchal family.  That comes with the package when you go backwards.  And nations make odd laws to protect the myth – like the ban on ‘insulting Turkishness’ in Turkey or royalty in Thailand.  And then there is America’s fetish about its bloody flag.  Who wants to die for a bit of cloth?


‘Fascist movements have been ‘draining swamps’ for generations’.  The propaganda puts up a balloon of purity that can only be sullied by outsiders – like migrants, Muslims, or queers.

To many white Americans, President Obama must have been corrupt, because his very occupation of the White House was a kind of corruption of the traditional order.  When women attain positions of political power usually reserved for men – or when Muslims, blacks, Jews, homosexuals, or ‘cosmopolitans’ profit or even share the public goods of democracy, such as healthcare – that is perceived as corruption.

That is in my view fundamental.

Anti – intellectual

Education, expertise and language are devalued to make intelligent debate impossible.  At the same time, they say that culture and truth are to be found only in the West.  Rejecting expertise makes sophisticated debate impossible.  Indeed, ‘sophistication’ like ‘restraint’ or ‘moderation’ is the opposite of fascism.  It is as if they were born in fear of what Keats called ‘negative capability’ – the capacity to discern and assess conflicting ideas without getting snaky.

In fascist politics, universities are debased in public discourse, and academics are undermined as legitimate sources of knowledge and expertise, represented as radical ‘Marxists’ or ‘feminists’ spreading a leftish ideological agenda under the guise of research.  By debasing institutions of higher learning and impoverishing our joint vocabulary, fascist politics reduces debate to ideological conflict.

You can get as much of all that as you want in The Spectator and other like publications in Australia.


Reality is replaced by the pronouncements of one man.  (It is I think always a bloke.)  ‘A fascist leader can replace truth with power, ultimately lying without consequence.’  And you get a nauseating deluge of conspiracy theories that are designed to abolish reality.  ‘The function of conspiracy theories is to impugn and malign their targets, but not necessarily convincing their audience that they are true.’  These theories, if that is the term, set aside reality and the basis of sensible discussion.  People look for tribal identification and entertainment.  ‘When news becomes sports, the strongman achieves a certain measure of popularity.’

The author here looks at inequality – ‘dramatic inequality poses a mortal danger to the shared reality required for a healthy liberal democracy.’  This is important.  Inequality undermines an implied basis of fairness or reasonableness in our community.  ‘Those who benefit from large inequalities are inclined to believe that they have earned their privilege, a delusion that prevents them from seeing reality as it is.’  And: ‘Equality, according to the fascist, is the Trojan horse of liberalism.’


People who feel inadequate need others to grade their place on the ladder.  They need to ‘belong.’  Like boy scouts, girl guides, or the inmates of our prisons –or members of parliament or the judiciary. The risk is that you do not just get class – you get the curse of caste.  People in the American South espoused the ‘great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.’

The notion of ‘original sin’ is in my view abhorrent, and an insult to our humanity.  But If I had to nominate our original sin, it would be caste.  And on a bleak winter day, I might see it starting in Genesis rather more clearly than I can see Eve take the apple.  At least we know that that could not have happened.

Fascism clearly thrives on perceived threats of loss of status or reduction of felt worth.  Like most of these markers, it is a balm for insecurity – or one who felt as rejected unfairly as Adolf Hitler.  You just need to look at how the scum, like Marat, came to the surface during the French revolution.  They still seek in vain for a hero.


Science teaches us that increased representation of minorities is seen by those in the dominant majority as threatening.  (During the French revolution, those at the bottom were the most lethal – because they felt the most threatened.)  According to the professor, 45% of supporters of Trump believe that whites are discriminated against and 54% believe that Christians are the most persecuted religion – in America.  And as our author remarks: ‘Rectifying unjust inequalities will always bring pain to those who benefited from such injustices.  The pain will inevitably be experienced by some as oppression.’  That is very astute.  We saw precisely that here after Mabo.  Our squatters felt as jilted as the French nobles did after 1789.

Nationalism is at the core of fascism.  The fascist leader enjoys a sense of collective victimhood to create a sense of group identity that is by its nature opposed to the cosmopolitan ethos and individualism of liberal democracy.

And yet our front lines in the culture wars don’t know how close to home is their bogey of ‘identity politics.’

Law and order

Well, this has been around at least since Pisistratus seized power in Athens about 2,500 years ago on the footing that the state was in danger.  Nixon, for one, made an art form of it.  It is now getting another airing there.

Sexual anxiety

When traditional male roles are threatened by economics or migration, a kind of sexual anxiety may arise.  If you subscribe to the role of the traditional patriarchal family, then you might panic when threatened by people of a different sexuality.  Some of the conspiracy theories are sickeningly mad.  Hitler thought that Jews were behind a conspiracy to use black soldiers to rape pure Aryan women as a means to destroy ‘the white race.’  A fear of rape by blacks underlay many lynchings.  If Freud had not been born, we would have had to invent him.

It is not hard to see how men can feel threatened.  ‘When equality is granted to women, the role of men as sole providers for their families is threatened.’

Sodom and Gomorrah

Part of the myth of the past is the celebration of country over town.  Hitler loathed Vienna because it had rejected him, and he was disgusted by its cosmopolitanism – its mixture of different racial and cultural groups.  Tolerance of diversity – tolerance itself – is alien to fascism.  And the city is the home of the loathed ‘elites’, financial or otherwise.  People who glorify this rural idyll have not often been blasted by bush fire or mortally threatened by drought.  But these people rest on illusion, or delusion, rather than reality.

Arbeit macht frei

That is a label from hell, but fascism espies laziness in its enemies – such as Jews or people of colour.

Why do Americans resist what the rest of the western world embraces as the basic requirements of the welfare state?  It is as well to remember that when Churchill and Lloyd George started Britain on that path with the People’s Budget, they were doing so in part in response to the huge reforms that Bismarck put in place in Germany more than twenty years before.  Yet in the year 2020, a People’s Budget is still anathema in the United States.

Most often American opposition to welfare is represented as a manifestation of a commitment to individualism….And yet a dominant theme emerging from research on white Americans’ attitude is that the single largest predictor of white Americans’ attitude toward programs described as ‘welfare’ is their attitude toward the judgment that black people are lazy.

If that is right, the lagging of the United States behind Germany in 1890 is another by product of the Original Sin of slavery.  The curse that Lincoln descried in his second inaugural still blights the Union.

Here the author quotes Hannah Arendt: ‘It was always a too little noted hallmark of fascist propaganda that it was not satisfied with lying, but deliberately proposed to transform its lies into reality.’  Or, as Professor Stanley remarks: ‘The ‘hard work’ versus ‘laziness’ dichotomy is, like the ‘law-abiding’ versus ‘criminal’, at the heart of the fascist division between ‘us’ and ‘them’.’  And an influx of refugees might represent the ultimate threat.

And labour unions are also evil.

Labor unions create mutual bonds along lines of class rather than those of race and religion.  That is the fundamental reason why labor unions are such a target in fascist ideology.

It is curious how much all kinds of regimes have been scared by associations, expressions of community.  The French moved against such associations when celebrating all that they had undone during their revolution.  Generosity so quickly turns to selfishness.

The disabled were of course seen as lacking in value – because value for fascists lies in a person’s contribution to society through work.  And in my view, we are seeing a very ugly echo of that thought in this pandemic, when some hard heads suggest, some more openly than others, that the welfare of the old and useless is expendable in aligning the economy to supply work to those who can work.  Is that not just eugenics by another name?  (Disclosure: My disabilities are such that I would be discarded in the first batch.  ‘Straight to the morgue, Driver.  Forget the hospital.’)

Well, there is Professor Stanley’s list of ten indicia of fascism.  On the last page, he concludes his book this way:

In the direct targets of fascist politics – refugees, feminism, labor unions, racial, religious, and sexual minorities – we can see the methods used to divide us.  But we must never forget that the chief target of fascist politics is its intended audience, those it seeks to ensnare in its illusory grip, to enrol in a state where everyone deemed ‘worthy’ of human status is increasingly subjugated by mass delusion.  Those not included in that audience and status wait in the camps of the world, straw men and women ready to be cast into the roles of rapists, murderers, terrorists.  By refusing to be bewitched by fascist myths, we remain free to engage one another, all of us flawed, all of us partial in our thinking, experience, and understanding, but none of us demons.

At times I wondered whether this book was just another excursus on labels, but I think not.  Let us put to one side the word ‘fascist’.  One sort of person now threatens our peace and wellbeing.  That is the person who thrives on our division and conflict, and who cares not for tolerance or restraint.  In my view Professor Stanley has done us a very good turn by arming us to see and meet our enemy.  This is a very important book, even if it says nothing new.  Placement is all.

Finally, to illustrate his theme, throughout the book Professor Stanley refers us to regimes that we least admire – like Hungary, Poland, Myanmar, Turkey and Russia.  Does anyone else come to mind?  Someone who might, perhaps, score a perfect ten on every dive?

Here and there – A populist


In a book about Kissinger, I find the following remarks about a populist.  I will refer to him as ‘Smith’ as I think a comparison may be instructive.

Smith was quick-witted, able to deal handily with hecklers, of whom there were many in the early years.  He was so attuned to his audience that he could adapt to any moods.  As a speaker he lived intensely in the moment – and what else does ‘presence’ mean?…..After he had gained sufficient renown, he could afford the pomp and circumstance that kept his audiences in a state of anticipatory excitation until his strategically delayed arrival on stage.  There were colourful banners, peppy march music, fiery introductory speeches to warm up the crowd – and then the main event, the attraction everyone had awaited so eagerly….

It was less what he said than how he said it…..Part of the magic was that Smith told people what they wanted to hear.  His pronouncements were not a challenge, but a confirmation of his followers’ assumptions and preconceptions, an incitement to cast off the dreary restrictions of civility and rationality and allow their emotions full Dionysiac release, above all a permission to maintain hope in the face of obdurate reality and to hate anyone or anything that was perceived to undermine that hope…..He appealed to a devastated populace that ….that had lost everything, including their established beliefs, felt a profound sense of grievance, and found consolation in a [nationalism] that was part sentimentality, and part utopianism, a sort of forward looking nostalgia…

Because he dwelled on longings instead of facts, he preferred abstractions to specifics, emphasizing honour, nation, family, loyalty.  What distinguished him was the totality of his commitment……He employed neither logic nor reason, but sheer passion…Smith didn’t need ideas.  He had the conviction of a convert….

More than one commentator has observed that Smith rallies were like religious revivals, where the crowds went not for articulation of policy positions, but for the release of unbridled emotion….Smith understood that his audiences wanted not only to be saved but also to enjoy themselves in the process…Smith rallies may have suggested prayer meetings; they also resemble Bruce Springsteen concerts.  Whoever imagined that salvation could be so much fun? 

Whatever else he might have been, Smith was a performer, dealing in mass entertainment.  He was no good in intimate settings….but put him on a stage and he was in his element. He knew how to work a crowd and how to package himself as a celebrity.  It didn’t matter what the press said   ‘The main thing is that they mention us.’

Weber said that someone who possessed passion but not a realistic sense of responsibility was little more than a political dilettante consumed by sterile excitements or by a romanticism that, in Weber’s words, ‘runs away to nothing.’  The demagogue in particular was unsuited to the vocation of politics because he runs a constant risk of becoming a play actor, making light of the responsibility for the consequences of his actions and asking only what ‘impression’ he is making…

Smith’s facility for dealing in dreams was enough to gain him a steadily growing following that was serious in its numbers yet fundamentally unserious in its ideas, substituting the lightness of desire for the concreteness of policy….The appeals to violence and the flouting of the law only increased his popularity among his admirers.

A ‘forward looking nostalgia’ is a useful notion.

Does the picture above best describe (1) Mussolini (2) Franco (3) Hitler (4) Tito (5) Kim Jong-Un (6) Erdogan (7) Orban (8) Johnson (9) Bolsonaro (10) Trump or (11) all of the above?

The book quotes a great definition of ‘diplomacy’ that judges and mediators might bear in mind: ‘It is the task of statesmanship to settle disputes in such a way as to minimise the damage to the prestige of the parties involved.’  ‘Face’ can be everything.

As for Kissinger, it is bad if you are too clever.

Here and there – Two men of colour – who were giants


Louis Armstrong (1901 – 1971)

On 12 October, 1931, a young man in Austin Texas, a freshman at the University of Texas named Charlie Black, paid seventy-five cents to get into the downtown Hotel Driskill to hear someone billed as the ‘King of The Trumpet, and His Orchestra.’  The band was to play at play four dances in Austin.  Young Charlie knew precious little about jazz, and he had never heard of the King.  He went along and paid his money because he just knew that there would be lots of girls to dance with.  Well, in those days, young people went out to meet and dance together, and they even danced cheek to cheek, something that became part of a song later made famous by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

But there was of course a kind of separatism then.  It had been left there long after the Civil War by the curse of racism.  Everyone on the dance floor was white.  Only the waiters and the musicians – including the King – were black.

Charlie Black would later remember what happened when the King started to play:

…..mostly with his eyes closed, letting flow from that inner space of music things that had never before existed….Steamwhistle power, lyric grace, alternated at will and even blended.

He was the first genius I had ever seen….It is impossible to overstate the significance of a sixteen year-old southern boy’s seeing genius for the first time , in a black.  We literally never saw a black back then, in any but a servant’s capacity….But genius – fine control over total power, all height and depth for ever and ever?  It had simply never entered my mind that I would see this for the first time as a black man.  You don’t get over that…The lies reel, and contradict one another, and simper in silliness and fade into shadow.  But the seen truth remains.

Charlie Black’s white mate was unmoved: ‘After all, he’s nothin’ but a goddam nigger!’

Charlie Black, who obviously had a way with words, carried the ‘seen truth’ with him all his life.  He became a distinguished teacher of constitutional law, and he would in part repay his life-long debt to the King in 1954.  It was then that he appeared with other counsel for the segregated bus travelling children in the great Supreme Court Case of Brown v School Board of Education.  The Court then ruled that the Great Republic would no longer tolerate segregated bussing for schoolchildren on the specious ground of ‘separate but equal’.  People were either equal or they were not equal.  Playtime for pussyfooting about race was over.  This was a great win for the nation, for the rule of law in the West generally, and for the people of the King.  It is an appalling cliché, but on this occasion we might justifiably use it – it could only happen in America.

Ken Burns made TV series about the Civil War, baseball, and jazz.   He saw all three as being deeply American – they were about freedom and improvisation.  The book of the last series begins with this anecdote about Charlie Black, and the author says: ‘Genius is ultimately untraceable.  No amount of historical or psychological sleuthing can ever fully explain the emergence of artists like Bach or Picasso or Louis Armstrong, who appears as if from nowhere and through the power of their own individual imaginations transform an art.’

In the Preface, Burns had become lyrical.  ‘Louis Armstrong is quite simply the most important person in American music.  He is to twentieth-century music (I did not say jazz) what Einstein is to physics, Freud is to psychiatry, and the Wright Brothers are to travel.’

If jazz had a holy trinity, Charlie Parker might be the son, and Duke Ellington might be the Holy Ghost, but there is no doubt who the first would be.

Louis Armstrong used to say that he was born on July 4 1900, but the fact was otherwise.  He was born in 1901, and he was the grandson of slaves.  His mother and father each abandoned him at one time or another.  He grew up in Uptown or Back of Town and then Storyville, the red light area, in New Orleans, the undisputed birthplace of jazz.  He hauled coal as a kid, but the family did not make enough, and his mother had to go on the game.  Louis dropped out of school at eleven, and he learned to play the cornet (a kind of trumpet) by ear at Dago Tony’s Tonk.

Young Louis was in custody for a while in the New Orleans Home for Coloured Waifs.  He played in the band and was taught some music there.  He worked for a while for a Jewish family from Lithuania and he saw that you did not have to be coloured to be rejected by white people.  He wore a Star of David for the rest of his life.  He played with Joe ‘King’ Oliver, a legend of jazz, who fleeced him.  He there learned the importance of the straight lead being played in whole notes.  He also played with Kid Ory, and then he joined the Fletcher Henderson orchestra.

By 1925, Satchmo, as he would be called, was a recording star, and he started making recordings with his Hot Five and Hot Seven.  His then wife, Lil, played the piano.  Armstrong said: ‘When we made those records, it was just pick up them cats and do it.  And we didn’t want no royalties, just pay me man, give me that loot.  Got $50 each for each [tune] – just a gig to us and glad to do it so we could go up town and have a ball with the money.  And now look at them records.’  Lil said that ‘it’s amusing to read in books telling why we did this.  I’m glad they know, because we didn’t.’

Armstrong had no bother with top C’s then, and he began to get a following with his singing.  It was this which would in time, with his natural showmanship, bring him to white audiences.  And he was writing his own material, and the fruits of that melodic creation would become a basal part of the jazz canon.  It is a quirk of history that the charm of Armstrong as a man and an entertainer would blind too many in posterity to the fact that he was a musical genius.  Genius is a much abused word, but on any objective view, Louis Armstrong had it.

On 26 February, 1926, Armstrong and the Hot Five cut six more sides in the recording studio.  Two made jazz history, and are still played and replayed.  In ‘Cornet Chop Suey’, Armstrong states the melody with no accompaniment in a stop-time solo and a cadenza of his own.  It was all so daring that the producer delayed its release, but then cornettists all over the country started ‘cutting’ each other trying to match the Master.  In ‘Heebie Jeebies’, Armstrong sang without words – ‘scat’ – because, he said, he had dropped the song-sheet.  Scat became integral to the repertoire.  Mezz Mezrow drove fifty miles after midnight just to play this record for Bix Beiderbecke, who ‘then tore out of the house to wake everyone he knew’.  ‘Cats’ everywhere began to salute each other as ‘Heebies’ or ‘Jeebies’ and imitating Armstrong’s riffs.

This is how the British musician and critic Alyn Shipton saw those recordings.

The discs that Armstrong made, from November 1925, with his Hot Five Hot Seven and Savoy Ballroom Five, became influential all over the world.  They confirmed that Armstrong had successfully combined emotional depth, rhythmic innovation, and a liberating sense of solo freedom into a heady and original mixture.  He pushed at the boundaries of the cornet’s range.  Even in his hottest soloes he explored a lyricism that might, in part, have come from his love of classics and light opera (indeed he regularly played a selection from Cavalleria Rusticana as his solo feature with Erskine Tate’s band during this period).  Overall, he brought a new set of aesthetic qualities into jazz, a sense that there could be considerable artistic worth in music conceived as popular entertainment.

There is no overstatement there, as is the English critical tradition, and there is nothing light about Cavalleria Rusticana.

Not many people now realise it, but Armstrong revolutionised singing in America, and not just in jazz.  Apart from scat, which became an artform in itself, he learned how to control the melody and rhythm of a song for his own purpose – Sinatra would do the same to make some songs his own.  He could give meaning to the most vapid lyrics, but swing remained paramount – just listen to him and Ella Fitzgerald together.  You are listening to two grand masters creating their own art as they go before your very ears, somehow putting an end to space and time.  Bing Crosby said that ‘Louis Armstrong is the beginning – and the end – of American music.’  And Bing Crosby was in a position to know.

With the end of the twenties, the so-called Jazz Age, and Prohibition, Satchmo was a New York star.  He acquired a protector, a Mafia man who looked after Armstrong for thirty-five years.  With time, and the waning of the Big Bands, he got out of them and developed his All Stars with legends like Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines and Sid Catlett.  (In the Rough Guide, Digby Fairweather notes that on Louis Armstrong And the All Stars at Symphony Hall, the solo of Catlett on Steak Face is one of the great drum events in jazz history.  The late Whitney Bailliett, in The New Yorker, idolized Catlett.)  It is as if these stellar players have to put themselves on a leash from time to time.

This is how a musician described the dressing room of the coloured musician who upstaged stars like Crosby and Sinatra in High Society.

He’d be sitting down in his underwear with a towel around his lap, one around his shoulders and that white handkerchief on his head and he’d put that grease around his lips.  Look like a minstrel man you now…and laughing you know natural the way he is.  And in the room maybe, you see two nuns.  You see a street walker dressed up in flaming clothes.  You see maybe a guy come out of the penitentiary.  You see maybe a blind man sitting there.  You see a rabbi, you see a priest, see.  Liable to see maybe a policeman or two detectives, see.  You see a judge.  All of ‘em different levels of society in the dressing room and he’s talking to all of ‘em.  ‘Sister So and So, do you know Slick Sam over there?  This is Slick Sam an old friend of mine’.  Now the nun’s going to meet slick Sam, Old Notorious, been in one of the penitentiaries.  ‘Slick Sam, meet Rabbi Goldstein over there, he’s a friend of mine, rabbi, good man, religious man.  Sister Margaret, do you know Rabbi Goldstein?  Amelia, this is Rosie, Goodtime Rosie, used to work in a show with me years ago.  Good girl, she’s a great performer.  Never got the breaks.’  Always a word of encouragement, see.  And there’d be some kids there, white and coloured.  All the diverse people of different social levels…..and everybody’s looking.  Got their eyes dead on him, just like they was looking at a diamond.

He made appearances and films with big names and he made hits like Mack the Knife, Hullo Dolly and What a Wonderful World.  He reinvented himself for new audiences and he became a national and then an international icon.

Armstrong never played what we now call ‘the race card’.  Many coloured people were upset by this, but Armstrong was a musician, and entertainer, not a politician.  He preferred to just grin and bear it.  The baseballer Jackie Robinson would suffer the same pain and humiliation.  The grandson of slaves and the coloured waif who hauled coal was feted at the White House.  He may have been just about the best known and best loved person in the whole world.

Duke Ellington was more urbane and dignified.  He could appeal to the white musical toffs even if the ‘cats’ just took him for his swing.  The suave orchestrator said; ‘I am trying to play the natural feelings of a people…some of the music which has been written will always be beautiful and immortal.  Beethoven, Wagner and Bach are geniuses; no one can rob their work of the merit that is due it, but these men have not portrayed the people who are about us today, and the interpretation of these people is our future music.’

Louis Armstrong, or Satchmo, died with a smile on his face.  He had called a rehearsal of the All Stars for that day.  Duke Ellington said ‘I loved and respected Louis Armstrong.  He was born poor, died rich, and never hurt anyone on the way.’  (Ellington was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after.)  Wynton Marsalis said: ‘He left an undying testimony to the human condition in the America of his time.’   He also said that Armstrong had been chosen by God to bring jazz music to the world.  ‘Louis Armstrong’s message is overwhelmingly one of love.  When you hear his music, it’s of joy…He was just not going to be defeated by life.  And these forces visit all of us.’  When Ken Burns told a psychic that other people thought that Satchmo was an angel, she merely said: ‘Biggest wings I’ve ever seen.’

And what is the best part?  This very, very great man never forgot Goodtime Rosie, who ‘never got the breaks’.

For what it is worth, Louis Armstrong is for me up there with Abraham Lincoln as one of the two unequivocally great gifts of the United States of America to the West and to the world at large.  Steamwhistle power, lyric grace….fine control over total power, all height and depth, for ever and ever….


Muhammad Ali (1942-)

As befits a nation of pioneers who put a premium on individual responsibility and community ideals, Americans go for sport in a big way.  It is their national tragedy that instead of rugby or football and cricket, they have their own sports of gridiron and baseball, so that their champions do not compete on an international stage.  That does not stop Americans following their sports with at least the passion and patriotic intensity of the Indians with cricket or African nations in football.  The games they play tell you a lot about Americans.

In June 1902, a guy who ran saloons in Pigtown, Baltimore took his seven year old kid on a trolley-car to a reform school and then left him there.  .  The school was named St Mary’s Industrial School for Orphans, Delinquent, Incorrigible and Wayward Boys.  The kid would stay there until 1914 when he was 19.  By the time he left, his mother was dead.

The kid got training to become a tailor, but he was big on baseball.  His nick-name was the unkind one of Nigger Lips.  Photos show a wide-eyed innocent with thick lips.  He was a fan of Brother Matthias, who gave instruction on baseball on Saturday evenings, and as a big raw-boned kid, he could play.  He could both pitch and hit – left-handed.  Jack Dunn, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles, spotted the kid and offered him a contract at $250 a month – primarily for his pitching.  The kid left St Mary’s as the legal ward of two of the Brothers, and with Jack Dunn as his guardian – the abandonment by his own family was complete.

They took off for spring training.  The kid had never been on a train or seen a menu before – he had never seen a professional player, let alone a professional game.  He must have been the most untutored player ever to go up to the Majors.  Dunn’s babies were known as ‘babes’.  Since the kid had got to retain his surname if nothing else from his family, and that name was Ruth, the kid became Babe Ruth, unquestionably the most famous name in all baseball.

Over the next twenty-one years, the Babe changed the game of baseball.  Before him, the game was controlled by pitchers, and batters approached their task tactically, and they tended to hit a flat trajectory.  The Babe was altogether less prosaic.  He introduced the power game, big hitting right up into the crowd.  He saw his role not just in moving men along the bases, but in belting home runs off his own bat.  He took baseball to a whole new level of entertainment, not just with the power of his hitting, but with the power of his presence.

The kid went to the Red Sox but they came to the doom-laden view that they would have to sell the Babe.  They did so at huge expense – an unprecedented sum – to the Yankees.  Now, the Babe was not really a Boston type, but he and New York in the Twenties were just made for each other.  And the city of Boston would pay an appalling price for its failure to come to terms with the Babe.  In what became known as the curse of the Bambino, the Red Sox would not win another World Series that century.

The Yankees won four World Series and seven pennants in the period that the Babe was with them (1920 – 1935).  In his total career he hit 714 home runs, a proposition that would have been laughed at in 1914.  He was the first to break 60 in a season – which he did after apparently being trumped by Lindbergh.  He was called the Sultan of Swat, the Caliph of Clout, or the Wizard of Whack, but he still holds the tenth highest batting average of all time.

Jackie Robinson became an officer in the US Army during World War II.  What awaited him when he got back to the land of the free?  ‘Down the back of the bus with the other niggers.’  Rather than football, Jackie took on baseball as his professional sport.  He had the eye of a natural hitter; he had all the skills for a second base; he was deadly quick at stealing bases, and handy if a shirt-front were needed; and he was determined to win.  In short, he was just the kind of player to build a team around.  Except that in 1947, baseball was rigidly segregated – no formal agreement, just invincible history and unwritten understanding.  There were white leagues and black leagues, and that separatism was just as saluted in the north as in the south.

Jackie Robinson and a man named Branch Rickey cracked the monolith.  They both subscribed to the teaching of the Jewish carpenter, especially the Sermon on the Mount.  They would both be tested on the hard bit – turning the other cheek – in a way that is not asked of most of us.  Rickey was the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He told Robinson that he would give him a go in the minors with a view to signing him for a full season with the Dodgers if he was good enough.  He said Robinson would be exposed to hate and abuse, sometimes from his own side, and that he would not be able to answer back.

Rickey had one large portrait in his office – the great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln.  Rickey was smart as well as brave.  He described his purpose:  ‘First, to win a pennant.  There’s some good coloured players.  The second reason is…it’s right.’

Robinson made the season with the minors satisfactorily.  (In his second at bat, he had rifled it into the crowd.)  When it came time for him to turn out for the Dodgers, every club but one said they were against it, and players in his own team took up a petition to have him excluded.  Other teams threatened to strike.  He was still subject to insult and abuse and death threats on the road, and venomous hate speech on the field.  He kept his part of the deal.  He copped it and he did not answer back.  He had a great season with the bat and a league-leading 29 stolen bases and a momentum – turning base-running style.  He was the first ever Rookie of the Year.  The Dodgers made it to the World Series and forced the Yankees to go to the seventh game.  This Yankee side, with DiMaggio and others, is one of the greatest teams ever, and is the main reason why the Dodgers do not have more to show from their ten years with Robinson.  He was not just a hero for black people, but for all Americans.

Well, what might happen if America got a champion black sportsman who played on the world stage, and who could appeal to coloured people all over the world, and who was prepared to stare down Uncle Sam – and who just happened to be the greatest of all time?

This is how Norman Mailer began his book The Fight:

There is always a shock in seeing him again.  Not live as in television, but standing before you, looking his best.  Then the World’s Greatest Athlete is in danger of being our most beautiful man, and the vocabulary of Camp is doomed to appear.  Women draw an audible breath.  Men look down.  They are reminded again of their lack of worth.  If Ali never opened his mouth to quiver the jellies of public opinion, he would still inspire love and hate.  For he is the Prince of Heaven – so says the silence around his body when he is luminous.

Cassius Marcellus Clay Junior was born on 17 January 1942 in Louis Kentucky.  His father painted signs and his mother was a domestic.  They were African Americans descended from slaves.  The baby followed his father in being named after a famous abolitionist.  The former Cassius Clay was a most formidable man, a six-foot-six Kentucky farmer who had commanded troops in the Mexico War.  He inherited a plantation and he later freed his slaves.  For this he received death threats.  ‘For those who have respect for the laws of God, I have this argument.’  He produced a leather-bound bible.  ‘For those who believe in the laws of man, I have this argument.’  He produced the constitution.  ‘And for those who believe in neither the laws of God nor of man, I have this argument.’  He laid down a Bowie knife and two pistols.  Lincoln thought enough of him, or of the Russians, to send him to Russia on government business.  As David Remnick remarks, ‘He maintained his physical courage to the end.  When he was eighty-four, he married a fifteen year old girl.’

Clay grew up to win national Golden Gloves and then gold in the 1960 Olympics at Rome.  He turned pro and was undefeated, but he was not winning friends by his manner of belittling opponents.  He was light on his feet and he was unbelievably fast.  He had height and reach, and he could lean back and then hit his overcommitted opponent with a lethal right jab.  He won the right to challenge Sonny Liston, and the fight was set for 25 February 1964.

Sonny was born into the Mob – the underworld – and he could never get out of it.  He never had a chance.  He had no family to speak of and he knew the inside of the Workhouse.  He was an enforcer for the Mob.  Not many people gave lip to Sonny Liston and lived.  The Mob ran boxing.  A generation of Prohibition gangsters had promoted and fixed fights, charming people like Frenchy DeMange, Frankie Yale, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Boo Boo Hoff, Kid Dropper, Legs Diamond and Dutch Schulz.  You can ask why crooks were attracted to pugs, but they were both on the fringe.

Sonny’s manager was Paul John (‘Frankie’) Carbo, also known on the street as Frank Fortunato, Jimmie the Wop, and Dago Frank.  After being sent to Sing Sing for homicide, he lifted his game to become a hit man for the Brooklyn branch of Murder Inc.  David Remnick says that it took Cassius Clay, still on his way up, to break the grip of the Mob.  That young man found his protection in the Nation of Islam.  Many of his countrymen would have been more relaxed if he had stayed with the Mob – the devil they knew.

Sonny then would frighten the hell out of anyone.  The bookies had Clay at seven to one, which is insane in a two man event, and journalists were plotting the locations of the nearest hospitals.  Many thought that the kid would be killed.  The kid – the Louisville Lip – responded as was his wont now.  He taunted Liston, pulled up outside his house and asked him to step outside, and famously said that he would ‘dance like a butterfly and sting like a bee.’  He turned the weigh-in into a circus.

At the bell, Liston came out like an enraged bull, but Clay slipped away, and was scoring heavily by the end of the first round.  He buckled Sonny’s knees in the third, and he cut the champion for the first time.  He seemed to be blinded in the fifth, but he came back to belt Sonny in the sixth.  Sonny did not come out for the seventh.  It was a TKO and Clay shouted to the world that he was the greatest ever.  The rematch came after Clay had publicly, and amid great hostility, converted to Islam and changed his name.  It was a sad farce.  Liston copped what the press called the ‘phantom punch’, and the fight was over in less than two minutes.  It looked for all the world as if the fix had gone in and that Sonny had taken a dive.

Ali said that ‘Clay’ was his slave name.  He got offside with millions by taunting his opponents and then being cruel to them by prolonging their punishment.  He then courted more unpopularity by refusing to be drafted for the increasingly looked down on war in Vietnam.  He knew who his enemies were.  ‘No Vietcong ever called me nigger.’  In the way of things, it would be this stand that would secure his position in the Pantheon – and in the U S, as well as the rest of the world.  He would later be courted by presidents.

Ali was stripped of his title and locked out of boxing until the Supreme Court eventually set aside his conviction on a fine point of law.  (The black Justice, Thurgood Marshall, did not sit.)  By then, the tide had turned completely on Vietnam and Ali was a living legend for more reasons than one.  But he had lost the best years of his boxing life.  He fought Smokin’ Joe Frazier, who was more in the Liston mould, and he lost his first professional fight.  He would later beat Frazier, but the highpoint of his return, and of his boxing career, came with the fight against George Foreman for the title at downtown Kinshasa, Zaire on 30 October 1974, the Rumble in the Jungle.

There was a book, Mailer’s The Fight, and an Academy Award film, Once Were Kings, made about this contest.  Ali was passed his prime.  And Foreman had a fearful reputation.  He was a frightfully heavy puncher.  He had knocked out both Frazier and Norton in the second round.  Ali responded with his normal verbal barrage and mind games, but in the film, Norman Mailer said that Ali never looked at Foreman’s heavy punching bag – it had been deformed.  No one ever got into the ring with George Foreman after watching him deform the heavy bag.  No one – or hardly anyone – though that Ali had any chance at all.  This was then like the first Liston fight that had taken place more than ten years ago.  Again, people in the know feared for the survival of the outmatched challenger.

This is how Norman Mailer describes their coming together in the ring to get instructions from the referee.

It was the time for each man to extort a measure of fear from the other.  Liston had done it to all his opponents until he met Ali who, when Cassius Clay at the age of twenty-two, glared back at him with all the imperative of his high-destiny guts.  Foreman, in turn, had done it Frazier and then to Norton.  A big look, heavy as death, oppressive as the closing of the door of one’s tomb.

Then something extraordinary happened, something almost unbelievable.  Ali came out in the first round and started to hit Foreman, and hit him hard – with his right hand!  It would be like a right-handed batter or golfer coming out and playing left-handed.  It was downright insulting.  Then as the fight settled down, Ali would just go back on the ropes, hunch up, and absorb flurries of punches.  At first some thought that the fight had been fixed.  But then they saw that most of Foreman’s punches directed at the body were not scoring, but were drowning the energy of the champion.  It was high drama – anyone of those missiles could have landed any other fighter back in the bleachers, but Ali just went back, took the blows, and then eased out and scored.  All the time he was taunting Foreman: ‘Is that all you’ve got?’  It then became apparent that Foreman was tiring.  His punches were either not landing or not hurting.  And Ali was starting to float about him and was pinning him with darts at will.  Then in the eighth, Ali moved in for the kill and it was all over, and the world title was his again.  There was delirium in the crowd, and in front of TV sets all around the world.  Sports fans who have seen the fight and the film many times still move to the front of their seats and hold their breath while they watch it yet again.  It is probably the most watched sporting event ever.

After that, there was The Thriller in Manila with Frazier again, but it was all downhill.  Ali was permitted to go on too long.  This is sadly common with boxers and other sportsmen.  He became a distressingly sad reflection of the wonderful athlete and fighting machine that he had been.  In his advanced age he suffers from Parkinson’s disease, and he has had it now for a long time.

But even in that condition, he could move very greatly younger people who came into his presence.  Even in decline he had an aura – as Norman Mailer saw, he could be ‘luminous’ – in a way that could still move people by a curious alchemy, a kind of out of body experience.  Why is that?  Perhaps they just feel somehow that Muhammad Ali was in truth the greatest of all time.

It is a great story, the descendant of slaves beats off the mob, becomes world champion, beats off the government, and wins back his championship, each time against a frightening odds and a terrifying opponent.  For all of his faults and failings – which, for him, like most of us, were formidable – his story is a tribute to the human spirit.  This is why he is held in such awe right around the world.  This is why so many see him as the greatest ever, the greatest ever sportsman and the greatest ever entertainer, the promoters’ final dream, the ultimate crowd pleaser.  He embodies the truth that at least at the top now, professional sportsmen and women have almost nothing to do with sport, and almost everything to do with entertainment, business, and money.  If that means that we have gone from the amateur sportsmen of the Olympic Games of the ancient Greeks to the professional chariot races and gladiators of the decaying and decadent Romans, then that is a lookout for all our mums and dads and others.  Cassius Clay and Muhammad Ali have between them consummated that transformation.  The man has been, if nothing else, a mover and a shaker.

Muhammad Ali has a lot in common with the late Maria Callas.  He was, like she was, an entertainer.  They are both seen by many as having been in their time the best ever entertainers of their kind – there is generally seen to have been blue sky between them and the rest.  By the force of their character as much as by the high reach of their technique, they both radically changed the way that the world saw their art – and we should not blush to use that word for Ali was well as for Callas.  And now, in his reflective time at peace, Muhammad Ali might agree with Maria Callas that: ‘There are no short cuts.  There is only discipline, technique, and Mut’.  As the professional coach said in Chariots of Fire, ‘You can’t put in what God left out.’  It is just that some make better use of what they get from God than others do.

Here and there – English in history


The history of England is for me like the history of a good cricket club. They knew each other and they knew what they were doing.  And they used the power of the English language to get on.  They may be the only ones to know the dark secrets in their closet – Ireland is the most gross – but somehow they let the structure of their language portray their growth and the genius of their common law and constitution.  It’s all very clubby – very English – but it is so very readable.

In Macaulay’s History of England, you get the charm of his writing and the vital expression of his subjects.  Let me give a very long citation.  This is in 1685, and the last of the Stuarts is about to show an inane wish to flirt with political death in a manner that will lead to his eviction, and to the settlement of the English Constitution as we know it.

In a few hours, however, the spirit of the opposition revived. When, at the close of the day, the Speaker resumed the chair, Wharton, the boldest and most active of the Whigs, proposed that a time should be appointed for taking His Majesty’s answer into consideration. John Coke, member for Derby, though a noted Tory, seconded Wharton. “I hope,” he said, “that we are all Englishmen, and that we shall not be frightened from our duty by a few high words.”

It was manfully, but not wisely, spoken. The whole House was in a tempest. “Take down his words,” “To the bar,” “To the Tower,” resounded from every side…….

On the same day it became clear that the spirit of opposition had spread from the Commons to the Lords, and even to the episcopal bench. William Cavendish, Earl of Devonshire, took the lead in the Upper House; and he was well qualified to do so. In wealth and influence he was second to none of the English nobles; and the general voice designated him as the finest gentleman of his time. His magnificence, his taste, his talents, his classical learning, his high spirit, the grace and urbanity of his manners, were admitted by his enemies. His eulogists, unhappily, could not pretend that his morals had escaped untainted from the widespread contagion of that age. Though an enemy of Popery and of arbitrary power, he had been averse to extreme courses, had been willing, when the Exclusion Bill was lost, to agree to a compromise, and had never been concerned in the illegal and imprudent schemes which had brought discredit on the Whig party. But, though regretting part of the conduct of his friends, he had not, on that account, failed to perform zealously the most arduous and perilous duties of friendship. He had stood near Russell at the bar, had parted from him on the sad morning of the execution with close embraces and with many bitter tears, nay, had offered to manage an escape at the hazard of his own life.  This great nobleman now proposed that a day should be fixed for considering the royal speech. It was contended, on the other side, that the Lords, by voting thanks for the speech, had precluded themselves from complaining of it. But this objection was treated with contempt by Halifax. “Such thanks,” he said with the sarcastic pleasantry in which he excelled, “imply no approbation. We are thankful whenever our gracious Sovereign deigns to speak to us. Especially thankful are we when, as on the present occasion, he speaks out, and gives us fair warning of what we are to suffer.”  Doctor Henry Compton, Bishop of London, spoke strongly for the motion. Though not gifted with eminent abilities, nor deeply versed in the learning of his profession, he was always heard by the House with respect; for he was one of the few clergymen who could, in that age, boast of noble blood. His own loyalty, and the loyalty of his family, had been signally proved. His father, the second Earl of Northampton, had fought bravely for King Charles the First, and, surrounded by the parliamentary soldiers, had fallen, sword in hand, refusing to give or take quarter. The Bishop himself, before he was ordained, had borne arms in the Guards; and, though he generally did his best to preserve the gravity and sobriety befitting a prelate, some flashes of his military spirit would, to the last, occasionally break forth. He had been entrusted with the religious education of the two Princesses, and had acquitted himself of that important duty in a manner which had satisfied all good Protestants, and had secured to him considerable influence over the minds of his pupils, especially of the Lady Anne.   He now declared that he was empowered to speak the sense of his brethren, and that, in their opinion and in his own, the whole civil and ecclesiastical constitution of the realm was in danger.

One of the most remarkable speeches of that day was made by a young man, whose eccentric career was destined to amaze Europe. This was Charles Mordaunt, Viscount Mordaunt, widely renowned, many years later, as Earl of Peterborough. Already he had given abundant proofs of his courage, of his capacity, and of that strange unsoundness of mind which made his courage and capacity almost useless to his country. Already he had distinguished himself as a wit and a scholar, as a soldier and a sailor. He had even set his heart on rivalling Bourdaloue and Bossuet. Though an avowed freethinker, he had sate up all night at sea to compose sermons, and had with great difficulty been prevented from edifying the crew of a man of war with his pious oratory. .. He now addressed the House of Peers, for the first time, with characteristic eloquence, sprightliness, and audacity. He blamed the Commons for not having taken a bolder line. “They have been afraid,” he said, “to speak out. They have talked of apprehensions and jealousies. What have apprehension and jealousy to do here? Apprehension and jealousy are the feelings with which we regard future and uncertain evils. The evil which we are considering is neither future nor uncertain. A standing army exists. It is officered by Papists. We have no foreign enemy. There is no rebellion in the land. For what, then, is this force maintained, except for the purpose of subverting our laws and establishing that arbitrary power which is so justly abhorred by Englishmen?”

Jeffreys spoke against the motion in the coarse and savage style of which he was a master; but he soon found that it was not quite so easy to browbeat the proud and powerful barons of England in their own hall, as to intimidate advocates whose bread depended on his favour or prisoners whose necks were at his mercy. A man whose life has been passed in attacking and domineering, whatever may be his talents and courage, generally makes a mean figure when he is vigorously assailed, for, being unaccustomed to stand on the defensive, he becomes confused; and the knowledge that all those whom he has insulted are enjoying his confusion confuses him still more. Jeffreys was now, for the first time since he had become a great man, encountered on equal terms by adversaries who did not fear him. To the general delight, he passed at once from the extreme of insolence to the extreme of meanness, and could not refrain from weeping with rage and vexation.   Nothing indeed was wanting to his humiliation; for the House was crowded by about a hundred peers, a larger number than had voted even on the great day of the Exclusion Bill. The King, too, was present. His brother had been in the habit of attending the sittings of the Lords for amusement, and used often to say that a debate was as entertaining as a comedy. James came, not to be diverted, but in the hope that his presence might impose some restraint on the discussion. He was disappointed. The sense of the House was so strongly manifested that, after a closing speech, of great keenness, from Halifax, the courtiers did not venture to divide. An early day was fixed for taking the royal speech into consideration; and it was ordered that every peer who was not at a distance from Westminster should be in his place. 

On the following morning the King came down, in his robes, to the House of Lords. The Usher of the Black Rod summoned the Commons to the bar; and the Chancellor announced that the Parliament was prorogued to the tenth of February.    The members who had voted against the court were dismissed from the public service. Charles Fox quitted the Pay Office. The Bishop of London ceased to be Dean of the Chapel Royal, and his name was struck out of the list of Privy Councillors.

This might be a proceeding at White’s or one of those other snooty clubs at St James – affably snooty.  What is certain is that we will see nothing like it.

Here is one of those passages where the English turn their noses up at what happens across the Channel.  James II wanted to restart an inquisitorial body like the High Commission.  That body stands very high in their demonology.

The design of reviving that formidable tribunal was pushed on more eagerly than ever. In July London was alarmed by the news that the King had, in direct defiance of two acts of Parliament drawn in the strongest terms, entrusted the whole government of the Church to seven Commissioners…The words in which the jurisdiction of these officers was described were loose, and might be stretched to almost any extent. All colleges and grammar schools, even those founded by the liberality of private benefactors, were placed under the authority of the new board. All who depended for bread on situations in the Church or in academic institutions, from the Primate down to the youngest curate, from the Vicechancellors of Oxford and Cambridge down to the humblest pedagogue who taught Corderius, were at the royal mercy. If any one of those many thousands was suspected of doing or saying anything distasteful to the government, the Commissioners might cite him before them. In their mode of dealing with him they were fettered by no rules. They were themselves at once prosecutors and judges. The accused party was furnished with no copy of the charge. He was examined and cross‑examined. If his answers did not give satisfaction, he was liable to be suspended from his office, to be ejected from it, to be pronounced incapable of holding any preferment in future. If he were contumacious, he might be excommunicated, or, in other words, be deprived of all civil rights and imprisoned for life. He might also, at the discretion of the court, be loaded with all the costs of the proceeding by which he had been reduced to beggary. No appeal was given. The Commissioners were directed to execute their office notwithstanding any law which might be, or might seem to be, inconsistent with these regulations. Lastly, lest any person should doubt that it was intended to revive that terrible court from which the Long Parliament had freed the nation, the new tribunal was directed to use a seal bearing exactly the same device and the same superscription with the seal of the old High Commission. 

Macaulay of course had his hates.  His treatment of Penn and Churchill was such that the Folio editor felt bound to add a note of redemption at the end.  Well, God spare me from a historian who says he has no hates.  Here are some swipes – coat-hangers in AFL terms – at Churchill (of Marlborough fame).

Churchill, in a letter written with a certain elevation of language, which was the sure mark that he was going to commit a baseness, declared that he was determined to perform his duty to heaven and to his country, and that he put his honour absolutely into the hands of the Prince of Orange. William doubtless read these words with one of those bitter and cynical smiles….

Of that conspiracy Churchill, unrivalled in sagacity and address, endowed by nature with a certain cool intrepidity which never failed him either in fighting or lying, high in military rank, and high in the favour of the Princess Anne, must be regarded as the soul……

Churchill, who was about this time promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General, made his appearance with that bland serenity which neither peril nor infamy could ever disturb…….

Churchill left behind him a letter of explanation. It was written with that decorum which he never failed to preserve in the midst of guilt and dishonour…

It’s all so effortless.  And now we are surrounded by pygmies.

It grieves me that so many people will shuffle off without having sampled this largesse.  It is like having Mount Everest outside your back door – and refusing even to open the bloody door.

And just watch out next time some dude ghosts up with a look of ‘bland serenity.’  Canberra is full of them.



[These are serialised extracts of all the fifty books referred to in a book as yet unpublished called ‘My Second Top Shelf, or What Used to be Called a Liberal Education’. The content of these may change before further publication.]


Peter Geyl, 1955

B T Batsford, London, 1955; rebound.

The Dutch have earned a reputation for tolerance and enlightenment.  In the 17th century, they offered sanctuary to great European thinkers like Spinoza and Locke – Spinoza died there; Descartes also sought protection there.  Holland has also produced great historians.  One of them was the late Pieter Geyl (1887-1966).  Don’t just take my word for it.  A J P Taylor said: ‘If I were asked to name the historian whom I have most venerated in my lifetime, I should not hesitate for an answer.  I should name Pieter Geyl.’

Every now and then – it is not very often – you come across a writer who soon puts you at your ease.  There is a breadth and depth of learning; there is an absence of arrogance or waspishness; and there is some compassion, some generosity of spirit, too.  We may not be able to call someone ‘wise’ unless we can see something on top of a very fine mind – something like humanity, for the want of a better word.

The late Professor Geyl qualifies on all counts, in spades.  He was trained in Holland but spent a lot of time teaching and writing in England and in the States; he also spent some time in Germany, something that I will come back to.

The first essay in Debates with Historians comes from about 1952 and is called ‘Ranke in the Light of the Catastrophe.’  A Times Literary Supplement piece had in the eye of Geyl suggested that Ranke by his ‘political quietism’ been a pioneer of National Socialism – the ‘Catastrophe’ of the title.  (In the fashion of the time, the article was unsigned.  Geyl referred to its ‘vehement one-sidedness’ and had said that in ‘this case it is not difficult to guess who is the writer’.)  Geyl was intent on defending the German historian against this charge, a very decent undertaking for a Dutchman so soon after that war, you might think.

There are two things.  One is the great insight of Ranke that ‘Every period is immediate to God, and its value does not in the least consist in what springs from it, but in its own existence, in its own self.’  This to me sounds like Bonhoeffer.  It is to preach humility to historians – and some of them could do with the sermon.

Then there is the magisterial closure to the refutation of the charge that Ranke had prefigured National Socialism.  It contains the following.

If we are tempted by our horror at the culmination of evil that we have just experienced or witnessed to pick out in the past of Germany all the evil potentialities, we may construct an impressively cogent concatenation of causes and effects leading straight up to that crisis.  But the impressiveness and straightness will be of our own constructing.  What we are really doing is to interpret the past in the terms of our own fleeting moment.  We can learn a truer wisdom from Ranke’s phrase that it should be viewed ‘immediate to God’, and he himself, too, has a right to be so considered…..Comprehension, a disinterested understanding of what is alien to you – this is not the function of the mind which will supply the most trenchant weapons for the political rough-and-tumble….To understand is a function of the mind which not only enriches the life of the individual; it is the very breath of the civilization which we are called to defend.

God send us more people who can think and write with that largeness of spirit – and consign our mediocrities to the dustbin that they deserve.

The second essay is about Macaulay.  He is the complete opposite of the ideal of Ranke.  He refuses to ‘look at the past from within…to think in the terms of the earlier generations’.  Macaulay looked on the past as the culmination of his view of Progress, of those ‘on the right side’ no less.  Geyl finds that ‘this mental attitude toward the past is in the deepest sense unhistoric.’  Elsewhere he uses the more homely term ‘cocksure.’  But let us not forget that in writing the Whig view of the Glorious Revolution, Macaulay had a lot to be cocky and sure about.  His team had won – hands down.  And as they say at the footy – winners are grinners; the rest make their own arrangements.

The next essay is about Carlyle and ‘the spirit of the Old Testament that seems to be present, coupling anathematization with adoration.’  It is about Carlyle’s ‘impatience with baseness and cowardice, his feeling of being out of place in a world of superficial sentiment and mediocre living……the babbling of lifeless religiosity or the sham assurance of modern idealism.  Instinct, intuition, the myth, these were his challenge to the rationalists and glorifiers of science who (unappeasable grievance) had made the Christian certitude of his childhood untenable for him’.  Carlyle was impatient with those in thrall to logic.  ‘Yea friends, not our Logical, Commensurative faculty, but our Imagination is King over us.’  That is not the least of Carlyle’s appeal.

Geyl, as it seems to me, gets the sadness in Carlyle exactly right: ‘the sentimental tie to a spiritual heritage which his intellect rejected, the painful reaction against the false teachers who gave him nothing in exchange for what they had robbed him of.’  That condition is very common now – it may define our time, as the time of the claimed death of God, but the author concludes on Carlyle: ‘and the perception of that tragic quality makes it possible to accept gratefully that which is vivifying in his work and serenely to enjoy its beauties.’  Would that other professional historians might be so generous with this poetic and prophetic lightning-conductor from the north.

Then follows an essay on Michelet, the first great historian of the French Revolution.  I have read Michelet, mostly in translation, the better to understand the loathing of the French for the church and, for many of them at one time or another, the English.  His father was an unsuccessful printer – as Professor Burrow reminds us, ‘exactly from the stratum from which the revolutionary crowds were chiefly recruited.’  But, Professor Geyl instructs us, business was bad under Napoleon, and ‘the memory of the Revolution was thus, in that poverty-stricken family, allied to detestation of the Corsican despot.’  It helps to have the inside running on the local knowledge of some historians.

You will understand the deeply emotional and personal approach of Michelet if you recall that his initial work was on medieval France and that he thought that the English in destroying Joan of Arc – whom he saw as incarnating ‘the self-consciousness of France’ – ‘thought they were deflowering France’!  (God help him if he ever got to see what Shakespeare put in the mouths of her English tormentors.)

Michelet has the exclamatory style of Carlyle, and a Romantic mind-set, but, as we saw, their differences come in two words.  Michelet talks of the ‘people’ – le bon peuple – while Carlyle speaks of the ‘mob’.  Or, rather, as Geyl tells us, it is the people when it is good – the storming of the bastille; but when they are bad – massacring the inmates of prisons until the streets ran with blood – it is not ‘the people’ but ‘three or four hundred drunks.’  If the awful Terror was an awful weapon, it only had to be employed because of the evil English without, and the traitors within – ‘the people’ and France were guiltless.  (Do you recall Francois Mitterrand saying of Vichy France that ‘The French nation was not involved in that; nor was the Republic’?  Did they all come from Mars?  Have you heard a Russian say that it was not Russia that invaded Afghanistan – it was the Soviet Union.)

On the one hand, Michelet dislikes Robespierre for the lack of that ‘kindness which befits heroes’; on the other hand, the moderates, who literally lost their heads, lacked ‘that relentless severity which it seemed that the hour required.’  Only seemed, Professor?  When people walk on egg-shells like that, they are protecting someone.

And the treacly chauvinism – no, imperialism – defies the patience of the Dutchman.

France the country of action.  Love of conquest?  No, proselytism.  What France wants above all is to impose her personality upon the vanquished, not because it is hers, but because she holds the naïve conviction [yes, naïve conviction] that it represents the type of the good and the beautiful.  She believes that she can render to the world no greater benefit than by presenting it with her ideas, her manners, and her fashions.

Professor Geyl feared that the cult of the Revolutionary tradition may even now be a danger in the hands of propagandists of absolutist politics.  ‘It began with the detestable league against Justice entered into by army and church in the Dreyfus affair.’  I agree, and very many otherwise decent French people then averted their gaze to save the honour of France, but then I look down at the footnote.  ‘I must apologise for speaking the language of the supporters of Dreyfus, in which the personifying metaphors undeniably have the usual effect of effacing transitionary shadings or exceptions.’  It is very, very rare, is it not, to find a professional man apologising for dropping his professional guard?

There are four papers on Arnold Toynbee – but we have seen enough to gauge the quality of this fine book.  Professor Geyl represents something very, very fine about the European tradition.  He came from a nation that holds some of the title deeds of western civilization, to adopt a phrase of Churchill’s, a nation renowned for its tolerance.  His was a Europe that had just been convulsed in an appalling war, for the second time in a little more than a generation, but this historian is able to analyse its history in a way that does great honour to his calling.  In those essays, he had defended one German historian charged with being a step-ladder for the Nazis, and he had sought to understand what he saw as the ‘catastrophes’ that had befallen both France and Germany in different centuries and with different dictators.

I mentioned that Geyl had spent some time in Germany and that he wrote the Dutch version of the Talleyrand essay during the German occupation of Holland.  For thirteen months, Pieter Geyl, even then a most distinguished Dutch historian, had been kept at a place that Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Barack Obama visited a couple of years ago.  Its emblem was Jedem das Seine, ‘To Each his Own’.  We know it under a name of unspeakable horror – Buchenwald.

On his release from Buchenwald, Geyl was kept in a Dutch prison by the Germans until the end of the war.  And, yet, in the period following that war, he was able to write about Europe, and the world at large, in the terms that I have indicated.  This, surely, was a colossal achievement, and one that humbles us.  Professor Geyl has produced work that helps us come to terms with our humanity, and that is I think the proper purpose of the world of learning, or, as I would prefer to say, men and women of letters.  Or as A J P Taylor is quoted as saying in the blurb on this book, ‘Geyl is one of the few living men whose writings make us feel that Western civilisation still exists.’

Here and there – but the centre did hold


Well now, you have every right to complain about the way I bang on about labels, or the repetition of that line that labels are what you put on soup cans.  My only excuse is that I keep getting provoked.  A lot of the labels get rolled out in what are called ‘culture wars’, and I gather that a female civil servant is about to get what my father called ‘the rounds of the kitchen’ for a remark about Captain Cook that reminded me of a wonderful line from a lecture in Cambridge.  It was to the effect that those who sailed from England as part of the empire were ‘water-borne parasites’.  That truly was a line for the ages.

The word ‘socialist’ is still loaded in America.  Well, they do things differently there.  But what use can we make of it here and now?  We believe, and we have believed since well before I was born, that it is the business of the State to deal with the sick, the aged, and the unemployed.  The phrase ‘the business of the State’ comes from Lloyd George.  He and Winston Churchill introduced the welfare state to England in 1909.  We have followed them.  Since we no longer organise our primary production through state owned corporations, what work is there left for the term ‘socialism’ in Australia?  That question may be more pointed during a pandemic, when even the most entrenched ideologues are begging the State to do all that it can to look after them.

The English don’t often say that they are following in the steps of others, but in 1909, they looked at what Bismarck had done in Germany.  Could it possibly be the case that the Iron Chancellor, the man of blood and iron, that fierce Prussian conservative, was in any way, much less in a liberal way, ahead of England?

I have mused on this question reading a book on Bismarck written by a Fellow of All Souls in 1920 by C. Grant Robertson.  That was an interesting time to publish a book about the man who unified Germany, but it has the advantage of being written when major events were within living memory.

Socialism was a fraught term in Germany in and after 1870.  Germany was the birthplace of Karl Marx, and his teaching was anathema to Prussian Junckers like Bismarck.  The Germans passed a law against them in 1870.  Socialists could be banished from their homes.  Mr Robertson offered some acute observations.

But the National Liberals by their action threw the earth on their own coffin.  The program of Social Democracy has always terrified middle class Liberalism more than any other party…..When National Liberalism had ceased to exist as a solid phalanx the way would be open for a reactionary Conservatism.  National Liberalism was to learn the wholesale lesson that when parties prefer tactics to principles and opportunism to conviction, the funeral service with their antagonist as the officiating minister is at hand.

All Souls is special, but do not these words, written more than a century ago, throw a frightening light on the United States of today?

Mr Robertson went on to remark that ‘Criticism that is successful is always ‘offensive’ to autocrats and bureaucrats.’  (And, Boy! do we not see that every day in Washington?)  And, of course, the Social Democrats thrived under persecution.

So, how did the man of iron, by far the leading statesman in the entire world then, respond?  He engaged in a huge program of reform in a nation that had just been just born and for a people not renowned for radicalism.  Every part had to be fought over hard, not least the comprehensive legislative code creating for the industrial workers compulsory insurance by the State against accidents and sickness, and establishing old-age pensions.

The broad result of these nine years of feverish effort and strenuous controversy was completely to alter the economic and political structure of Germany….But he [Bismarck] was a realist and opportunist and he recognised that change must continually be taking place….The problem was essentially one of political judgment, knowledge, delicacy of method, and elastic adaptability – a perpetual compromise which conceded details but never allowed fundamentals to be questioned or weakened…A Conservatism that lacked the political instinct and the true political judgment was as useless as….Socialism…

Mr Robertson went on to say that in one sense every act of a State is ‘socialistic’, and that ‘bargaining over principles is always a failure.’

Hence coalitions in a country where party systems rest on principles are usually failures, and always hated by the country as a whole. But bargaining over interests is simply an affair of political and economic arithmetic.

So, what did that arithmetic suggest?  The socialists might sulk and call this ‘bastard Socialism,’ but – and this is what it’s all about – ‘Bismarck’s ‘socialistic’ policy was the minimum of blackmail that the ruling classes would pay in order to strengthen their own political power.’

That rings dead true.  It’s about politics, numbers and not dreams, dear boy, so shut up, and eat your sauerkraut.

So, when you ask if America is about one and a half centuries behind, say, Germany, here is what Herr Otto von Bismarck, Duke of Lauenberg and Prince of Bismarck, told the German people way back in 1884.

Give the working man the right to work as long as he is healthy, assure him care when he is sick, and assure him maintenance when he is old.  If you do that and do not fear the sacrifice, or cry out at State Socialism – if the State will show a more Christian solicitude for the working man, then I believe that the gentlemen of the Social-Democratic program will sound their bird calls in vain…..Yes, I acknowledge unconditionally a right to work, and I will stand up for it as long as I am in this place.

Heavens above!  Can you imagine the bird calls – the shrieks, even – coming out of that house of all labels, the Institute of Public Affairs?  To see just how awful it may be, you need to conjure up an image of the eternal victim – the ‘terrified middle class Liberalism.’



[These are serialised extracts of all the fifty books referred to in a book as yet unpublished called ‘My Second Top Shelf, or What Used to be Called a Liberal Education’. The content of these may change before further publication.]

A Remarkable Politician- Joseph Fouché

The life of Fouché, terrorist in the Revolution, who survived Robespierre and then Napoleon – a cold blooded killer who became the ultimate survivor.

Some politicians get by with luck and grit, and not a lot more.  Perhaps that is all that it takes for most of them – as it tends to be for the rest of us.  One such politician was Joseph Fouché who was active during the French Revolution and who, as the Duke of Otranto, was Minister of Police for the Emperor Napoleon.  Fouché was the ultimate survivor.  The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, who was an immensely popular novelist in the 1930’s, called Fouché ‘the most perfect Machiavel of modern times’ – ‘a leader of every party in turn and unique in surviving the destruction of them all.’.  Here was a ‘man of the same skin and hair who was in 1790 a priestly schoolmaster, and by 1792 already a plunderer of the Church; was in 1793 a communist, five years later a multimillionaire and ten years after that the Duke of Otranto.’  Fouché therefore was not just a survivor – he was a winner.

In introducing his book about ‘this thoroughly amoral personality’, Joseph Fouché, The Portrait of a Politician, Stefan Zweig said this:

Alike in 1914 and 1918 [the book was written in 1929] we learned to our cost that the issues of the war and the peace, issues of far-reaching historical significance, were not the outcome of a high sense of intelligence and exceptional responsibility, but were determined by obscure individuals of questionable character and endowed with little understanding.  Again and again since then it has become apparent that in the equivocal and often rascally game of politics, to which with touching faith the nations continue to entrust their children and their future, the winners are not men of wide moral grasp and firm conviction, but those professional gamesters whom we style diplomatists – glib talkers with light fingers and a cold heart.

Those observations have the timelessness of truth.

Joseph Fouché was born in the seaport town of Nantes to a seafaring mercantile family.  The great places were reserved for the nobility, so Joseph went into the Church.  He went to the Oratorians who were in charge of Catholic education after the expulsion of the Jesuits.  He becomes a tonsured teacher, not a priest.  ‘Not even to God, let alone to men, will Joseph Fouché give a pledge of lifelong fidelity.’  Three of the most powerful French political thinkers then – Talleyrand, Sieyes, and Fouché – come from an institution that the Revolution will be bent on destroying, the Church.

Joseph became friendly with a young lawyer named Robespierre.  There was even talk that he might marry Robespierre’s sister, and when the young Maximilien was elected to the Estates General at Versailles, it was Joseph who lent him the money for a new suit of clothes.

When Joseph moves that the Oratorians to express their support for the Third Estate, he is sent back to Nantes.  He then becomes political, discards his cassock, and, after marrying the daughter of a wealthy merchant, ‘an ugly girl but handsomely dowered’, he is elected to the revolutionary National Convention in 1792 as the Chairman of the Friends of the Constitution at Nantes.

Fouché is always cool and under control.  He has no vices and he is a loyal husband, but he will be an ‘inexorable puritan’ and invincibly cold blooded, at his best working in the shadows as an unseen second to the limelighters.  He prefers the reality of power to its insignia, but with ‘his resolute freedom from convictions’, he is quite capable of repudiating a leader who has gone too far.  ‘He knows that a revolution never bestows its fruits on those who begin it, but only on those who bring it to an end and are therefore in a position to seize the booty.’

Fouché starts up the ladder.  He had aligned with the moderates known as the Gironde on the issue of death for the king, but sensing the shift in the breeze, he stabbed them in the back with the words la mort when it came his turn to cast his vote.  He acquires huge power as Representative on Mission, a kind of Roman proconsul.  He has what we would call a communist social program, especially toward the Church.  He issues an utterly chilling instruction: ‘Everything is permissible to those who are working for the revolution; the only danger for the republican is to lag behind the laws of the Republic: one who outstrips them, gets ahead of them; one who seemingly overshoots the aim, has often not yet reached the goal.  While there is still anyone unhappy with the world, there are still some steps to take in the racecourse of liberty.’

The ci devant Oratorian declares war on the Church ‘to substitute the worship of the Republic and of morality for that of ancient superstitions.’  He abolishes celibacy and orders priests to marry or adopt a child within one month.  In Moulins, he rides through the town at the head of a procession hammer in hand smashing crosses, crucifixes and other images, the ‘shameful’ tokens of fanaticism.  This is the phase of dechristianization, far, far more brutal than the Reformation in England.

But we also speak of the Terror, when an anxious France was guillotining its enemies within, and Robespierre would implement the Law of Suspects.  It is the black night of the revolution and it leads Stefan Zweig to this most remarkable judgment which still speaks so clearly to us at a time of a collapse in public life.

By the inexorable law of gravity, each execution dragged others in its train.  Those who had begun the game with no more than ferocious mouthings, now tried to surpass one another in bloody deeds.  Not from frenzied passion and still less from stern resolution were so many victims sacrificed.  Irresolution, rather, was at work; the irresolution of politicians who lacked courage to withstand the mob.  In the last analysis, cowardice was to blame.  For, alas, history is not only (as we are so often told) the history of human courage, but also the history of human faintheartedness; and politics is not (as politicians would fain have us believe) the guidance of public opinion, but a servile bowing of the knee by the so-called leaders before the demons they have themselves created.

With those words, Stefan Zweig justified not only this whole book, but his whole life.  The words ‘the irresolution of politicians who lacked courage to withstand the mob’ should be put up in neon lights in every parliamentary and government office, and in the booth of every shock jock, poll taker, and sound-bite grabber, and that of any other predatory bludger, urger, or racecourse tout.

And the Terror was in turn at its worst for those parts of France that had sought to rebel in bloc, like the great city of Lyon, the second of France.  The revolt in the west in the Vendee was seen to be Catholic and Royalist; in Lyon, it was a revolt by class and money.  The reprisals for each had a manic cruelty and intensity unmatched until the times of Stalin and Hitler.  In the Vendee, a man named Carrier was responsible for the infamy of the noyades, when batches of priests were manacled, and placed on barges that were towed in the Loire and then sunk.  Fouché executed revolutionary justice at Lyon where the guillotine was thought to be too cumbersome.  The depravity is described by Zweig in these terms:

Early that morning sixty young fellows are taken out of prison and fettered together in couples.  Since, as Fouché puts it, the guillotine works ‘too slowly’, they are taken to the plain of Brotteaux, on the other side of the Rhone.  Two parallel trenches, hastily dug to receive their corpses, show the victims what is to be their fate, and the cannon ranged ten paces away indicate the manner of their execution.  The defenceless creatures are huddled and bound together into a screaming, trembling, raging, and vainly resisting mass of human despair.  A word of command and the guns loaded with slugs are ‘fired into the brown’.  The range is murderously close and yet the first volley does not finish them off.  Some have only had an arm or leg blown away; others have had their bellies torn open but are still alive; a few, as luck would have it, are uninjured.  But while blood is making runnels of itself down into the trenches, at a second order, cavalrymen armed with sabres and pistols fling themselves on those who are yet alive, slashing into and firing into this helpless heard, of groaning, twitching and yelling fellow mortals until the last raucous voice is hushed.  As a reward for their ghastly work, the butchers are then allowed to strip clothing and shoes from the sixty warm bodies before these are cast naked into the fosses which await them.

All this was done in front of a crowd of appreciative onlookers.  The next batch was enlarged to two hundred ‘head of cattle marched to the slaughter’ and this time the avengers of the nation dispensed with the graves.  The corpses were thrown into the Rhone as a lesson to the folks downstream.  When the guillotine is again put to work, ‘a couple of women who have pleaded too ardently for the release of their husbands from the bloody assize are by his [Fouché’s] orders bound and placed close to the guillotine.’  Fouché declares: ‘We do not hesitate to declare that we are shedding much unclean blood, but we do so for humane reasons, and because it is our duty.’ Zweig concludes: ‘Sixteen hundred executions within a few weeks show that, for once, Joseph Fouché is speaking the truth.’  That may be so, but the invocation of humanity for this butchery defies all language.

I am relying on a translation (by Eden and Cedar Paul in the 1930 Viking Edition), but Zweig attributes to Fouché what he calls ‘a flamboyant proclamation’;

The representatives of the people will remain inexorable in the fulfilment of the mission that has been entrusted to them.  The people has put into their hands the thunderbolts of vengeance, and they will not lay them down until all its enemies have been shattered.  They will have courage enough and be energetic enough to make their way through holocausts of conspirators and to march over ruins to ensure the happiness of the nation and effect the regeneration of the world.

There, surely, you have a preview of all the madness and cant that will underlie the evil that befalls mankind in the next century.

Fouché and his accomplice get news that the wind may have changed in Paris and the other is sent back to cover their backs.  Fouché now has to deal with Robespierre, ‘that tiger of a man, balancing adroitly as usual between savagery and clemency, swinging like a pendulum now to the Right and now to the Left’, who was unhappy with Fouché for having displaced his own henchman (the crippled lawyer Couthon who had no stomach for the task).  Robespierre is the cold lawyer from Arras that we associate with the height of the Terror – and with its end.  Zweig says that Robespierre was ‘wrapped in his virtue as if it were a toga’.  That about sums it up, but Zweig has a most remarkable passage that includes:

Robespierre’s tenacity of purpose was his finest quality, but it was also his greatest weakness.  For, intoxicated by the sense of his own incorruptibility and clad as he was in an armour of stubborn dogmatism, he considered that divergences of opinion were treasonable, and with the cold cruelty of a grand inquisitor, he was ready to regard as heretics all who differed from him and send them to a heretic’s doom…..The lack of communicable warmth, of contagious humanity, deprived his actions of procreative energy.  His strength lay exclusively in his stubbornness; his power, in his unyielding severity.  His dictatorship had become for him the entire substance and the all-engrossing form of his life.  Unless he could stamp his own ego on the revolution, that ego would be shattered.

That judgment may be too severe for Robespierre, but it looks dead right for Lenin – especially the last, about the insatiable need to stamp his own ego on the revolution.  There is the key to the agony of all the Russias.

There followed a duel between Fouché and Robespierre.  Fouché ‘had never asked Robespierre’s advice; had never bowed the knee before the sometime friend.’  Robespierre turned on Fouché in the Convention: ‘Tell us, then, who commissioned you to announce to the people that God does not exist, you, who are so devoted to that doctrine?’    Fouché is just one target in a speech that ends in a hurricane of applause.  Fouché goes quiet, he goes underground, he performs the then equivalent of working the phones – and then he surfaces – as the next elected President of the Jacobins Club!  This is the rank and file of the ‘party’.

The response had to be nasty, and the next time Robespierre is brutal, with the by then standard allegation of conspiracy.  ‘I was at one time in fairly close touch with him because I believed him to be a patriot.  If I denounced him here, it was not so much because of his past crimes because he had gone into hiding to commit others, and because I believed him to be the ringleader of the conspiracy which we have to thwart.’  This was vintage Robespierre paranoia and the stakes were terminal.  Fouché is expelled from the Jacobins.  ‘Now Joseph Fouché is marked for the guillotine as a tree is marked for the axe…..Fifty or sixty deputies who, like Fouché, no longer dare to sleep in their own quarters, bite their lips when Robespierre walks past them; and many are furtively clenching their fists at the very time when they are hailing his speeches with acclamations.’

Robespierre is circling in his sky-blue suit and white silk stockings, and the very air is thick with fear.  He gives a three hour harangue, but then declines to give names.  ‘Et Fouché?’ gets no answer.  Fouché furiously works the numbers: ‘I hear there is a list, and your name is on it.’  ‘Cowardice shrinks and dwindles, and is replaced by desperate courage.’  God rolls the dice, the bunnies become wolves, and Robespierre and his lieutenants are submitted to the blade that they had brought down on so many others.

Here Zweig permits himself a general political observation.  He condemns those who overthrew Robespierre for their ‘cowardly and lying attitude’ who ‘to gain their own ends have betrayed the proletarian revolution.’  That is an assessment made in 1929 that many French historians would embrace, and Fouché had tried to get on a populist horse.  This time he picked badly, and the new regime had different views about the Terror – and Lyon.  Fouché ‘like many animals shams dead that he may not be killed.’  He goes underground for three years living on the breadline.  No one mentions his name.  As to the proletariat – what a dire and debasing word! – there is not much use crying over spilt milk.  Those who are crying wanted the French terrorists to do what Lenin had tried to do, and transfer all power from the king to all those at the bottom inside one generation.  It cannot be done.  It took the English, who are geniuses at this, seven centuries.

Fouché lies low and poor.  The carpet-baggers of the new shop-soiled regime, the Directory then the Consulate, need someone who can work in darkness, a cold-blooded spy, a collector of information on others, a man to hold chits IOU’s and grudges, and someone who can oil the wheels of power and money.  Who else?  ‘Joseph Fouché has become the ideal man for these sordid negotiations.  Poverty has made a clean sweep of his republican convictions, he has hung up his contempt for money to dry in the chimney, and he is so hungry that he can be bought cheaply.’  Is it not remarkable how deathless are all these political insights?

The dark and dangerous mitrailleur of Lyons is back in town – as minister of State, the Minister of Police to the mighty and all-conquering Republic of France!  Well, our man ‘has no use for sentimentality, and can whenever he likes, forget his past with formidable speed’.  The Jacobins are a shadow of themselves, but they are also beside themselves at this heartless enforcer of tranquillity – who calmly says that there must be an end to inflammatory speeches!  In France?  In Paris?  In 1799?

They have learned little during these years.  They threaten the Directory, the Ministers of State, and the constitution with quotations from Plutarch.  They behave as rabidly as if Danton and Marat were still alive; as if still, in those brave days of the revolution, they could with the sound of the tocsin summon hundreds of thousands from the faubourgs.

But our man has got his sense of scent back.  He knows the public mood.  The former president just closes down the Jacobins Club – the next day.  People are sick of strife.  They want their peace and their money.

Then some people higher up start to fear the information that he gets – on everyone.  Knowledge means power, and Fouché has more knowledge than anyone – more even than Napoleon.  And people start to notice that his eyes look upwards as well as downwards.  Talleyrand, who also stands up to Napoleon and lives to talk about it, and who is another consummate and totally conscienceless puppeteer, says: ‘The Minister of Police is a man who minds his own business – and goes on to mind other people’s.’

But when Napoleon becomes Consul for Life, his family, the biggest weakness of the loyal Corsican, urge him to fire Fouché.  Napoleon shifts him sideways, but ‘seldom in the course of history has a minister been dismissed with more honourable and more lucrative tokens of respect than Joseph Fouché.’  It was ever thus.

Fouché goes into retirement again, the polite and thrifty squire with his wife and children who gives a homely entertainment now and then.  The neighbours see a good husband and a kind father.  But the old campaigner feels the itch.  ‘Power is like the Medusa’s head.  Whoever has looked on her countenance can no longer turn his face away, but remains for always under her spell.  Whoever has once enjoyed the intoxication of holding sway over his fellows can never thenceforward renounce it altogether.  Flutter the pages of history in search for examples of the voluntary renouncement of power….Sulla and Charles V are the most famous among the exceptions.’

Napoleon senses the itchiness of Fouché but he does not want to take him back; ‘the argus-eyed unsleeping calculator’ is too dangerous.  But then Napoleon errs – he has the Duke of Enghien kidnapped over the border and returned to France to be shot – he passes his grave on the way to his ‘trial.’  This leads Fouché (some say Talleyrand) to make the famous remark: ‘It was worse than a crime it was a blunder.’  Napoleon needs someone to hold the stirrup again, and on his ascension to the purple – he allows the pope to watch him crown himself – Son Excellence Monsieur le Senateur Fouché is appointed Minister by Sa Majeste l’Empereur Napoleon.  He will become the Duke of Otranto and while the rest degenerate into ‘flatterers and lickspittles’, the Minister of Police stiffens his back, and minds his own business and that of everyone else.

Fouché is a millionaire many times over, but he lives a frugal almost Spartan life.  His image is part of his terrifying power.  He and the Emperor are at arms’ length.  ‘Filled with secret antipathy, each of them makes use of the other, and they are bound together solely by the attraction between hostile poles.’

The stakes have gone up now.  At Marengo in 1800, Napoleon won with thirty thousand men; five years later, he has three hundred thousand behind him; five years later, he is raising a levy of a million soldiers.  He will leave five million in their graves.  And now Fouché must deal with the political genius of Talleyrand, another of the world’s very greatest survivors.  ‘Both of them are of a perfectly amoral type, and this accounts for their likeness in character.’  For a long time tout Paris gazes in a kind of trance at the duel between Fouché and Talleyrand, and, as it happens, both survive Napoleon.

Fouché was either working for Napoleon or plotting against him, or both, even during the Hundred Days leading to Waterloo.  In fact, Fouché served as Minister of Police to Talleyrand as Prime Minister after 1815 for Louis XVIII.  Since he had voted for the death of that king’s brother, Louis XVI, this might be seen as the masterpiece of his slipperiness or negotiability.  He then proceeded to orchestrate a new terror, the White Terror, against the enemies of the Bourbons.  This revolted even Talleyrand, and Fouché was shifted again, this time for the last time.  He died in his bed in Trieste in 1820.

It is hard to imagine our story, for that in part is what it is, being told better than Stefan Zweig tells it in this wonderful book.  The author moves so easily from one graceful insight to the next, and like a true champion he makes it all look so easy and so natural.  And as our author leaves his subject, he leaves us with the question that Shakespeare leaves to us with various bastards, in the proper sense of that word, and Richard III and Falstaff – why are we so taken with the life and character of such an absolute villain?  And he also leaves us with the same old problem – glib talkers with light fingers and a cold heart

Here and there – REWARDS OF PATIENCE

Doctor Christopher Rawson Penfold was a medical practitioner near Brighton in England.  He emigrated to Australia to the area around what we now call Adelaide with his wife Mary.  In 1844, just eight years after this convict free colony started, they purchased 500 acres of ‘the choicest land’ for the sum of £1200.  It was from the estate of Sir Maitland Mackgill.  Mary Penfold farmed the land while her husband developed his medical practice.  She looked after the early wine-making on the new estate.  The first wines were made from Grenache and were prescribed as tonic wines for anaemic patients.  In the early years, the Penfolds also grew barley which was made into beer and sold at a place where wagon trains ended with an appropriate name – World’s End Pub.

That is how the wine-making business we know as Penfolds started.  Its slogan was ‘1844 to evermore’ and one of its premium wines was and is Magill Estate.  Penfolds is one of the world’s biggest and best wine-making businesses.  It is at least as good as the French at the bottom end of the market, and it has one label that can match it with the French at the very top.  It is a business that Australians can be proud of and it makes wines that they – including me – can enjoy.  If doctors get dirty about your consumption of Penfolds, remind them of the subject of the first miracle.

A couple of months before the ANZACS landed at Gallipoli, Max Schubert was born to Lutheran parents in a German community at the edge of the Barossa Valley in South Australian.  This was not an easy time for Australians of German descent, and there were lots of such people in the wine-making areas of South Australia.  The Barossa Valley was then the most significant wine-making area in Australia.  Its specialty was and still is the variety known as Shiraz or, sometimes, Hermitage.  Young Max joined Penfolds as a messenger boy.  By 1948, he had become the chief wine-maker, a position he held until 1975.  Max spent his whole working life at Penfolds.  The exception was his war service.  He volunteered against the express wishes of Penfolds to fight the Germans.  He did so in North Africa, Crete, and the Middle East before fighting the Japanese in New Guinea – where he contracted malaria.  That is an extraordinary record of service – to his country as well as to Penfolds.  It is also an extraordinary story of survival.

In 1949, Max was sent to France and Spain to learn more about fortified wines.  They were then the mainstay of production – and the first port of call for serious drunks.  He of course went to Bordeaux.  He visited wine-makers with names to conjure with – Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Latour and Chateau Margaux.   He there tasted very aged wines.  When he got back, he wanted to try to make a wine that would age as well as these great Bordeaux wines.  He did so, and he succeeded.  When he died in 1994 at the age of 79, The New York Times said that his wine known as the Grange had won more wine show prizes than any other Australian wine and was regarded as the flagship of the Australian wine-making industry.  It is in truth a household name –even if most of us cannot afford the $700 or so one bottle costs on release.  The story of Penfolds, and of the Grange in particular, justifies the wording of the title of this book.

The book includes an address given by Max Schubert where he speaks of the beginning of this great wine.

It was during my initial visit to the major wine-growing areas of Europe in 1950 that the idea of producing an Australian red wine capable of staying alive for a minimum of twenty years and comparable with those produced in Bordeaux first entered my mind.  I was fortunate to be taken under the wing of Monsieur Christian Cruise, one of the most respected and highly qualified of the old school of France at that time and he afforded me, among other things, the rare opportunity of tasting and evaluating wines between 40 and 50 years old, which were still sound and possessed magnificent bouquet and flavour.  They were of tremendous value from an educational point of view and imbued in me a desire to do something to lift the rather mediocre standard of Australian red wine in general at that time.

The method of production seemed fairly straightforward, but with several unorthodox features, and I felt that it would only be a matter of undertaking a complete survey of vineyards to find the correct varietal grape material.  Then, with a modified approach to take account of differing conditions such as climate, soil, raw material and techniques generally, it would not be impossible to produce a wine which could stand on its own feet and would be capable of improvement year by year for a minimum of twenty years.  In other words, something different and lasting.  The grape material used in Bordeaux consisted of our basic varieties…..Only cabernet sauvignon and malbec were available in South Australia at the time, but  surveys showed that they were in such short supply as to make them impracticable commercially….I elected to use hermitage or shiraz only (which was in plentiful supply) knowing full well that if I was careful enough in the choice of area and vineyard and coupled that with the correct production procedure, I would be able to make the type and style of wine I wanted…..It was finally decided that the raw material for the first experimental Grange Hermitage would be a mixture of shiraz grapes from two separate vineyards and areas consisting of Penfolds Grange vineyards at Magill in the foothills overlooking Adelaide and a private vineyard some distance south of Adelaide.

So began an Australian success story.  This book contains a comprehensive overview and tasting notes of nearly every wine that Penfolds ever produced including Grange, St Henri, Bin 389 and the ultimate fall-back of the author, Koonunga Hill, which, at about $10 a bottle is as good a value for wine as you can find anywhere in the world.

Andrew Caillard is a Master of Wine.  This book is effectively put out by Penfolds once every five years and contains on Penfolds styles by leading experts from around the world.

Someone once said that Max Schubert smoked Gauloise cigarettes.  If he did, that would have supplied a real motive for making one very big wine because they could kill a brown dog at thirty yards.  But whether Max smoked those cigarettes or not, he made an enduring contribution to the Australian story.  He helped us to shed that ghastly thing called the cringe.  On a good day, we can play cricket and footy well.  But we can also make a bloody good wine – and without any evident help from on high.

Here and there – Yet another crash?  Pardon me for yawning

Only the most desiccated Philistine would be oblivious to the reason for this question of Don Quixote: ‘And are the lions large?’  By this stage of his journey as a knight errant, the madness of the Don might fairly be described as serene.  (The Romantics would have said ‘sublime’.)    When he encountered some lions, the Don wanted to know if their size might warrant their being exposed to his indomitable valour.  On being assured that these lions were the largest ever sent out of Africa, the Don resolves to take them on, and those in his retinue head for the hills in terror.  But, as we now know, the lion had the wrong script.  This is what happened when he was released.

The first thing that the recumbent animal did was to turn round, put out a claw, and stretch himself all over.  Then he opened his mouth and yawned very slowly….The lion proved to be courteous rather than arrogant and was in no mood for childish bravado.  After having gazed in one direction and then in another, as has been said, he turned his back and presented his hind parts to Don Quixote and then very calmly and peaceably lay down and stretched himself out once more in his cage.

Now, I have to say, dear reader, that there is every chance that this lion later went to that great den in the sky without knowing just how close he came to utter destruction for this outrageous affront to the dignity of the most gallant knight errant that the world has ever known.

Why do I mention this now?  Because in response to those people who are shrieking about events on the stock exchange, I feel like reacting like the lion – just yawn, present my posterior, and resume life in my place as if nothing had happened.

We have in truth seen it all before.  Put 1929 to one side, and reflect on 1987 and 2008.  As it happens, when J K Galbraith came up with a new edition of The Great Crash 1929 in 1998, he compared 1929 and 1987.  He did so in terms that may be appropriate in looking at 2008 and 2020.

The most important of the controlling circumstances, powerfully operated before the two Octobers, was, as it must be called, the vested interest in euphoria. In the preceding years in both periods the stock markets had been going up seemingly without limit.   There had been interruptions, some regarded as grave, but they had been overcome.  Underlying influences affecting market values – earnings prospects, general economic growth, prospective interest rates – had in both cases given way to the belief that the increase in values, however unrelated to reality, would continue.  Those who dissented or doubted were held not to be abreast of the mood of the times….The vested interest in euphoria leads men and women, individuals and institutions, to believe that all will be better, that they are meant to be richer, and to dismiss as intellectually deficient what is in conflict with that conviction.  ‘All people,’ Walter Bagehot noted, ‘are most credulous when they are most happy.’

Associated closely with the vested interest in euphoria is the pure speculative instinct….It is a condition that is inherently unstable, for implosively within it are the causes of its own collapse.  What triggers the rush to get out doesn’t much matter.  It will however be discussed with compulsive banality by those who are impelled to find an external explanation for all market movements….

A third controlling circumstance, little mentioned then or recently, was the enactment earlier of tax reductions with primary effect on the very affluent – before 1929, those of Andrew Mellon; before 1987, more spectacularly, those of supply-side economics and Ronald Reagan.  In both cases, they were supposed to energize investment, produce new firms, plants and equipment.  In both cases they sluiced funds into the stock market; that is what well-rewarded people generally do with extra cash…

There was another marked resemblance between the events of 1929 and those of 1987.  That was the prompt search for a scapegoat on which the stock market collapse, however inherent in the previous speculation, could be blamed.  Economic theology is here involved.  The market is not only perfect but in some measure sacred….

….in the Reagan years, taxes were drastically reduced in pursuit of the hitherto-mentioned supply-side fantasy that from reduced tax rates would come increased entrepreneurial energy and increased revenues.  The result, in fact, in combination with increased military expenditure, was the huge budget deficit….

Capitalism, one notices, is currently defended (one does not yet know how effectively) by a great array of measures that its most ardent supporters once deployed.

And so it goes.  The comparison of 1929 and 1987 may be instructive for that between 2008 and 2020.  I mention one obvious link.  We know that for various reasons, a lot of funds have been ‘sluiced’ – and the term is so apt – into the stock market – with results that cannot be stigmatized as unforeseeable.  Another observation to catch my eye – belonging to one who knows zilch about economics – was that if the market is over-valued, what ‘triggers the rush to get out doesn’t much matter.’  Calvin may have been at home with that notion.

Two points may be made.  First, yes there is a vested interest in euphoria when the market is on the up; but there is just as potent a vested interest in distress and desperation when the market is falling.  Then shrieking sells.  Secondly, logic tells us that merely because the market has always recovered in the past, we cannot be assured that it will do so again.  As Bertrand Russell once mordantly remarked:

The man who has fed the chicken every day throughout its life at last wrings its neck instead, showing that more refined views as to the uniformity of nature would have been useful to the chicken.

Well, let us leave that intellectual rigour to the Apostles at Cambridge and to the endless glory of English caste.  Those of us here on the ground know that if the world turns upside down, and the market for once does not recover, your best bet would be to have a crate of Scotch buried in the back garden to trade on the hottest black market that the world has ever known.

And the Don?  Fie! Fie! And shame on you for suggesting that so noble a knight could ever be concerned about anything as vulgar as mere money!  It was sufficient for the overpowering intellect of so mighty a man that he could and did unveil the one great truth you need to know about money: ‘The person who possesses wealth is not made happy by having it, but by spending it.’

But we can and do seek solace from that noble knight when we are afflicted.

Don Quixote saw his mission simply. It was to relieve the losers. As it happens, that mission was defined for an English court at that time in these terms: ‘…the refuge of the poor and afflicted; it is the altar and sanctuary for such as against the right of rich men, and the countenance of great men, cannot maintain the goodness of their cause.’

As well as relieving the losers, the Don liked to take down bad winners.

And as for me?  I’m with the lion.

Here and there – On the Psychology of Military Incompetence – Norman Dixon (1976)


This book reminds me of Clausewitz On War.  Although both are focussed on war, they are replete with valuable lessons for us all.  For example, Clausewitz said: ‘War is the province of uncertainty: three fourths of those things upon which action in war must be calculated are hidden more or less in the clouds of great uncertainty.’  That precisely applies to litigation, a form of trial by battle.

The author was supremely equipped to write this book.  After ten years’ commission in the Royal Engineers, he devoted his life to Psychology at University College, London.  You can see traces of both fields of service on every page.  Professor Dixon says that the military tends to produce ‘a levelling down of human capability, at once encouraging to the mediocre but cramping to the gifted.’  That is very common in any large outfit, government or private.

The following also has general application.

It seems that having gradually (and perhaps painfully) accumulated information in support of a decision, people became progressively more loath to accept contrary evidence….  ‘New’ information has, by definition, high informational content, and therefore firstly it will require greater processing capacity; secondly, it threatens to return to an earlier state of gnawing uncertainty; and, thirdly, it confronts the decision maker with the nasty thought that he may have been wrong.  No wonder he tends to turn a blind eye!  ….‘the information-content’ may be just ‘too high for a channel of limited capacity.’

The ignorance of the condition of and the lack of care for the ordinary soldier defies belief in the Crimean and the Boer War.  In the first, many died because they were cold and wet, and they could get no fire; in the second, 16,000 of the 22,000 British dead died of disease.  Those responsible would now be tried for manslaughter.

The same cruel officers said the other side, at least those who were white, should be accorded respect.  ‘The notion that certain acts were ‘not cricket’ was carried to such absurd lengths that the trooper was given no training in the ‘cowardly’ art of building defensive positions or head cover.’  When the heavy machine gun was developed, ‘they were written off as suitable only for the destruction of savages and hardly suitable for use against white men….the colour of the Boer soldiers elevated them from the levels of savages, thereby saving their white skins from, exposure to machine guns, but on the other hand they were regarded, in terms of their believed military expertise, as no better than savages.’  No real uniform or spit and polish, old boy.  It is little wonder they had similar feelings about the ANZACS.  They certainly felt that way about the Americans in 1776 – until they learned better.

Professor Dixon is rightly savage about those who abandoned their men to agonising death.

In considering these data, one is forced the conclusion that the behaviour of these generals had something in common with that of Eichmann and his henchman who, as we know, were able to carry out their job without apparently experiencing guilt or compassion…..  ‘No privilege without responsibility’….Men’s fates were decided for them not so much by ‘idiots’ as by commanders with marked psychopathic traits.

We meet this theme throughout the book – the failures of command were moral rather than intellectual; the flaw was of character rather than the mind.  But we will also come across a failure of the mind in people unable to bear doubt or ambiguity – the ‘black and white crowd.’

The Germans blitzkrieg met a Polish army and a French army that believed horsed cavalry could destroy German Panzers.  That burial in the past defies belief.

The predisposition to pontificate is a dangerous liability.  Unfortunately, such a predisposition will be strongest in those like headmasters, judges, prison governors and senior military commanders who for two long have been in a position to lord it  over their fellow me…the important thing about pontification is that though an intellectual is that though an intellectual exercise, its origins are emotional.

On cognitive dissonance, Professor Dixon says: ‘Once the decision has been made and the person is committed to a given course of action, the psychological situation changes completely.  There is less emphasis on objectivity and there is more partiality and bias in the way in which the person views and evaluates the alternatives.’

But, perhaps there may have been an upside from the predominance of the upper class in British high command.  ‘It did little for military competence, but was eminently successful in other ways.  Few countries can boast of such an absence of military coups as Britain.’

On ‘bull’ – spit and polish and endless repetition –    ‘bull is closely linked to conservatism, for its very nature is to prevent change, to impose a pattern upon material and upon behaviour, and to preserve the status quo whether it is that of shining brass or social structure….it seems to be a natural product of authoritarian, hierarchical organisations….Perhaps the single most important feature of ‘bull’ is its capacity to allay anxiety….by the reduction of uncertainty.’

On ‘character and honour’ –

A code of honour may be likened to an endlessly prolonged initiation rite…As a general rule, snobbish behaviour betokens some underlying feeling of inferiority.  It is a common characteristic of the social climber, of the individual with low self-esteem, of the person who feels threatened or persecuted because of some real or imagined inadequacy.  That there is an underlying pathology to the condition seems fairly obvious for two reasons.  Firstly, those who are emotionally secure are rarely snobbish.  Secondly, the behaviour is itself irrational, compulsive and self-defeating.  After all, even the most hardened snob must know that other people are adept at seeing through his affectations.  There is nothing, for example, quite so transparent as name-dropping or displaying invitations.  He must know at some level that his behaviour provokes at best amusement, at worst ridicule, contempt, or even dislike, but he is nonetheless powerless to curb his snobbishness.  Something drives him on.

Anyone who has been a member of a close professional body – like, say, the Victorian Bar – would relish – no, wallow in – every word of that denunciation of the two bob snob.

On seeking achievement – ambition:

The crucial difference between the two sorts of achievement – the healthy and the pathological – may be summarised by saying that whereas the first is buoyed up by the hopes of success, the second is driven by fear of failure. Both types of achievement motivation have their origins in early childhood…..senior commanders fall into two groups, those primarily concerned with improving their professional ability and those primarily concerned with self-betterment.

The comments on the authoritarian personality warrant a note and a book of their own.  The following may convey the gist.

A symbiotic relationship exists between characteristics of the armed services and the private needs of their members.  Research after World War II into the Third Reich showed two personality types.  One was anti-Semitic, rigid, intolerant of ambiguity and hostile to people of a different race.  The other was individualistic, tolerant, democratic, unprejudiced and egalitarian.

Research at Berkeley by Adorno and others refined the type, leading Professor Dixon to say that the results ‘at one level constituted fitting monument to the six million victims of Fascist prejudice.’  Another commentator said the results were ‘hair-raising.  They suggest that we could find in this country [U S] willing recruits for a Gestapo.’

There should have been no such shock or even surprise.  The Gestapo was not inherently German.  Sparta had a similar version for ruthlessly holding down an inferior people more than 2000 years ago.  To suggest that Hitler and the Nazis could only have risen up in Germany is to fall precisely into their vice of typing people – of branding every member of a group – by reference to their breeding.

Professor Dixon says:

The results delineated the authoritarian personality.  People who were anti-Semitic were also generally ethnocentrically prejudiced and conservative.  They also tended to be aggressive, superstitious, punitive, tough-minded and preoccupied with dominance-submission in their personal relationships….It seems that authoritarians are the product of parents with anxiety about their status in society.  From earliest infancy the children of such people are pressed to seek the status after which their parents hanker….There seem to be two converging reasons why such pressures produce prejudice and other related traits.  In the first place, the values inculcated by status-insecure parents are such that their children learn to put personal success and the acquisition of power above all else.  They are taught to judge people by their usefulness rather than their likeableness…In the second place, the interview data collected by the Berkeley researchers suggested that the parents of their authoritarian sample imposed these values with a heavy hand… exercise in punitive repression….The extreme strictness of the parents, coupled with their lack of warmth, necessarily frustrates the child.  But frustration engenders aggression, which is itself frustrated, for it is part of the training that children never answer back.  Hence, the aggression has to be discharged elsewhere, and where better than on to those very individuals whom the parents themselves have openly vilified – Jews, Negroes, and foreigners – all those in short, who being under-privileged, have acquired bad reputations in a status-seeking society?…..the authoritarian personalities manifest a monolithic self-satisfaction with themselves and their parents…Because he has to deny his own shortcomings, he dare not look inwards…..  ‘If he has a problem the best thing to do is not to think about it and just keep busy.’  Similarly, the authoritarian personality is intolerant of ambivalence and ambiguity.  Just as he cannot harbor negative and positive feeling for the same person, but must dichotomize reality into loved people versus hate people, white versus black and Jew versus Gentile, so also he cannot tolerate ambiguous situations or conflicting issues.  To put it bluntly, he constructs of the world an image as simplistic as it is at variance with reality.

Later, the author points to the relationship between conformity, authoritarianism and the tendency to yield to group pressures, and the relationship with obsession.  He also looks at their generalised hostility, what the Berkeley researchers finely called ‘the vilification of the human.’  The dogmatic militarist is of course seriously anti-intellectual.

He already knows all he wants to know.  Knowledge is a threat to his ego-defensive orientation and is therefore rejected…To think is to question and to question is to have doubts….the essence of dogmatism is a basic confusion between faith and knowledge.

Later, Professor Dixon looks at the ultimate authoritarian – Himmler and his SS.

….authoritarian traits are the product of an underlying weakness of the ego.  Thus, from the first study, it seems that the SS guards of the Third Reich were not, as popularly supposed, ideological fanatics, but inadequate ‘little’ men for whom the satisfactions provided by the SS organisations were tailor-made – all-powerful father figures, rigid rules of loyalty and obedience, and ‘legitimate’ outlets for their hitherto pent-up and murderous hostility……By a process of paranoid projection, they hated in others what they could not tolerate in themselves.  Hence it was that the weak, the old, the underprivileged, and later the starving millions of the concentration camps suffered their fearful attentions   [But they could still] aver that their helpless victims were dangerous enemies, Jewish terrorists, etc, who had to be eliminated.  For in a sense they were enemies, not of the State, but of their own precariously poised egos.

Well, now, how does that all grab you?  Is it too neat and tidy for our crooked timber?  Are we falling into the trap of stereotyping people?  I think not.  The author is too bright and decent for that, and he says in terms that you cannot defeat your enemy by stereotyping him.

It is curious that as far as I can see, the book makes no reference to Hannah Arendt, who expressed similar views about Eichmann, or the KKK, which looks to me to the embodiment in the flesh of authoritarian man.  (Nor, I think, did Arendt make any reference to Adorno in her book on Eichmann.)

But, when I read this uncomely catalogue of our failings, I am reminded of the recycled, simplistic, jealous, mean, nativist, surly rejection that you can get hissed at you on a bad day in an outback pub.  More worryingly, I can also sense it in the vacant faces and the banal chants of those deprived souls who idolise Donald Trump, all dressed up to the nines in the colours of an ourangatang.  Those whom Professor Dixon studied look to me to be the kind of people behind our current moral and intellectual landslide.  And that, for what is worth, looks to me to be a failure of the mind – if those distinctions mean anything.

This book is vital to our efforts to come to grips with our saddest failings.