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


Popular courts and show trials

The phrase ‘popular justice’ is usually a contradiction in terms – a ‘show trial’ is generally all show and little or no trial.  Two elements are essential to our conception of due process or natural justice.  The body hearing and determining a legal dispute must be neutral and not have an interest in the outcome issue that might prejudice its hearing; and it must give an equal opportunity to both sides to be heard on the issue.  Instances of popular justice and show trials commonly violate each of those precepts quite shamelessly.

A popular court nowadays is likely to be a descendant of the posse, either the medieval common law version or that which was popular in the Wild West, and the lynch mob.  Their political counterparts now are opinion polls and shock jocks, those two forces that demean all decency in democracy.  Just as our politicians now are seen not to act on principles but to respond merely to what people want at the time, so a popular court will be seen, and most likely be welcomed in being seen, to be acting not according to law, but merely to respond to what people want at the time.

The problem can be seen in the term ‘enemy of the people.’  It is ‘the people’ who make that allegation, and if it is ‘the people’ which hears it, then the mere laying of the charge – that in effect says that ‘you are against us’ – just about proves any case, because ‘we’ are gainst ‘you’.  If in a time of conflict, a government says that it is entitled at law to apprehend anyone who is seen to be against or is suspected of being against it, the issue of whether that person has been lawfully apprehended is also effectively answered.  If the only penalty or remedy for being apprehended in that condition is death, then any hearing on any aspect is likely to be at best perfunctory.

The problem is the same if the criterion is being anti – or counter-revolutionary.  Those bringing the charge are those who claim to be behind and to represent the revolution.  The object of the revolution is to do good for the people.  It follows that someone who is against the revolution is against the people.  If you accept the premises, the logic is sound; shock jocks and the gutter press – the descendants of Marat and Goebbels – trade on it all the time.

What you see a lot of in a police state is people who become outlaws – people who are outside the law or beyond the protection of the law.  This was a major part of the enforcement of the law for our Anglo-Saxon ancestors.  A criminal taken in the act was without more an outlaw.  The issue is not whether he has committed a crime, but whether he has become an outlaw, which was effectively a sentence of death.

People making a revolution will want to invoke people’s courts because they claim to stand for the people, and because they say that the people can be relied on to meet current needs better than the old-fashioned and cumbrous system of the judges which was designed to protect the status quo and to shield the guilty.

The Paris Commune asked the Assembly for a revolutionary tribunal.  One deputation said said: ‘The Commune has deputed us to ask for the decree on the court-martial.  If it is not passed, our mission is to wait until it is.’  Robespierre said: ‘If the maintenance of the peace, and above all, of liberty, depends on the punishment of guilty men, you must secure the machinery for this.  Since the 10th [August, 1792, that set up the Paris Commune] the people’s just desire for vengeance has not yet been satisfied….Those men who have covered themselves with the mask of patriotism in order to kill it, those men who affected the language of legality in order to overthrow all the laws….’(Applause.)

The French did not really go in for show trials during the Terror.  A show trial is not a trial at all.  It is a sham.  A trial involves reaching a decision on an issue.  That does not happen in a show trial – the decision on guilt has already been taken by people in government who have the power, either by law or in fact, to take and enforce that decision.  The ‘trial’ is a show for the benefit of the regime, a propaganda exercise to demonise the culprit and to lionise themselves.  It is little like a triumph celebrated by a conquering Roman general on returning victorious to Rome – you humiliate the vanquished as part of the bread and circuses that you feed to the masses; that makes them feel better and it makes you look good.

Hitler saw himself like a Roman emperor or Turkish Caliph, or perhaps, in a lesser moment, as a medieval English king, the source of all law, justice, and authority.  His principal weapon in gaining and maintaining power, the Gestapo, was beyond the reach of the law.  The trial after the burning of the Reichstag was a show trial that flopped.  The court gave a considered judgment.  Having been harangued by Goring, the court concluded that the Communist Party had planned the fire, but that there was insufficient evidence to justify a conviction of the Communists before it.  Hitler and Goring were outraged.  Was not their word good enough?  ‘Treason’ cases were transferred to a special People’s Court by a decree of 24 April 1934.  It dealt with ‘political’ offences.  The decree provided that it should proceed according to National Socialist principles.  Like the French Revolutionary Tribunal, it started slowly but it then picked up speed.  If the Gestapo did not like a result, they would put the released culprit into ‘protective custody,’ or just shoot them.

It is not just Germans who should reflect on these questions.  Lawyers from what used to be East Germany had to face similar questions after the Wall came down in 1989.  These are not easy issues for lawyers or judges who have never been exposed to a regime like this to pass some kind of judgment on.  In April 1933, the Civil Service Law applied to all magistrates and got rid of not just those who were racially undesirable, but those who were politically undesirable – anyone who ‘indicated that he was no longer prepared to intercede at all times for the National Socialist State.’  A Civil Service law of January 1937 called for the dismissal of all officials, including judges, for ‘political unreliability.’ Defence lawyers appearing before the People’s Court or Special Court had to be approved by Nazi officials.  How many lawyers will put their hands on their heart and say that they would have refused to accept such sanctions?

There is not much point in looking at the Russian justice system since Russia has never had a justice system in the European sense of that term.  The Russians have never acquired any sense of the rule of law.  They have gone from the absolute rule of the Tsars to the absolute rule of the Communists to the present uncomely collage of a tolerated corrupt despotism and a subservient legal system.  The very idea of a judiciary was quaint; that of a separate and independent judiciary was absurd.  Yet a man as cruel and paranoid as Stalin would not be able to resist the idea of a show trial, just as Hitler would want to see the frightful death throes of people convicted of trying to kill him – when they were filmed being left to die by strangulation while suspended by piano wire.  One historian says of the show trials: ‘This is revolutionary terror with a difference; one feels the hand of a director, if not an auteur.’

There were clusters of show trials where the accused appeared to make confessions that many found less than convincing.  However, many people outside wanted to believe in the process until the whole regime was unmasked by Khrushchev in the 1950’s.  It is another indication that people believe what they want to believe.

Passing Bull 133 – The agony of CNN


The President of the United States might allow us to add the concept of ‘worst man’ to that of best man.  It’s hard – very hard – to think of anyone less suited to his office.  (Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller?  How could an Almighty be so peevish as to put three such unlovely people in the one room at the same time?)  This gives journalists a problem.  How do we maintain a balance in reporting on a man who seems bent on outstripping himself in nastiness every time he opens his mouth?

CNN is up there with The New York Times as a bête noire of this president.  Given his historically great unpopularity, this would suggest that these two arms of the media are just doing their job.  (It does make you wonder how a politician elected on what is said to be a ‘populist’ ticket can get to be so unpopular.)  But, each of these reporting bodies is respectable, and each therefore may feel acutely the problem of balance.

CNN has in my view come up with the worst possible solution in segments broadcast from Los Angeles anchored by two very sensible and professional journalists, Isha Sesay and John Vause (one of whom is a graduate from Trinity College, Cambridge).  In a nation overloaded with qualified neutral commentators, such as the splendid professor from Loyola Law School who appears on this segment, CNN has inflicted on these two journalists the job of trying to extract sense from sundry partisan spin doctors – one giving Republican spin and the other giving Democrat spin.  Some at least have the grace to blush occasionally, but you will see immediately one problem – in the events that have happened, what, if anything, do Republicans believe in?

The more significant problem is that what drives most people mad is the polarised spruiking and preaching of soi disant politicians and members of the press.  It’s called tribalism.  The ultimate bogey man is Fox News.  (The Murdoch outfit down here, Sky News, is not as bad, but they are working on their game and they may catch up with the U S model.)  The worst of the lot are what are called spin doctors.

But they are precisely what CNN is inflicting on these two fine journalists – and me.  It’s an insult to them, and it’s an insult to me.  If you wanted an analysis of a contest between the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots, you wouldn’t set up a panel consisting of one-eyed desperadoes from the cheer squads of each side.  That would really get up our noses.  What light could be shed by those galahs?

But that is what we get here – cheer squads.  And to show their credentials as spin doctors, we are greeted by men with drop-down smiles like those of Barack Obama, or those that were painted on to the faces of what used to be called air hostesses.  One is so inane that he has no recourse but to giggle at himself – nervously and guiltily.  And there is much reason for both the nerves and the guilt.  The poor man sounds demented at times, as when he raves on about Hillary and Nazis.

It is deeply troubling to watch people grin about something like Charlottesville, Roy Moore, or shitholes.  But that’s what we get – until we turn it off in disgust.  If the object has been to show that the Republicans stand for nothing, or that the average American voter is easily duped, the segment has prospects.  Otherwise it is even worse than morning television.  In an effort to convey an impression of balance, CNN has brought itself into disrepute.

Whether or not this kind of thing finds favour in America, it is doubly offensive down here.  If we want partisan humbug, we can turn on Fox News.  But to get access to either CNN or Fox News, we have to pay a hefty monthly premium to a Murdoch entity that has the rights here.  So, in return for paying Murdoch a fee to enable us to avoid polarised claptrap, CNN is inflicting just that on us poor but suspecting Australians.

The issue came to a head the other night – our time – when Isha Sesay was getting the usual brush-off from a sour-pussed Republican about African shitholes.  Ms Sesay was moved to announce that she is African and that words matter.  That led to another zany pre-recorded political speech.  We pay our premium to get accurate news and fair comment.  This process serves to annihilate both.

This may just be Rupert’s ultimate revenge, but it is so sad that a respectable broadcaster is his accomplice.  It is silly to pile inanity on inanity.


Here and there – The tiresome irrelevance of our national day


On 5 November, 1963, President Kennedy sought to unite the rival claims to Thanksgiving Day of Virginia and Massachusetts, and of the harvest and God.  There had long been secular thanksgivings in Europe; then the new Americans gave thanks to their God.  They started in 1619.

On 4 July 1776, the American colonies declared their independence from Britain.  Their Declaration of Independence said that all men were equal.

On 26 January 1788, the English claimed to own what is now called Australia.  White officers hoisted an English flag and drank porter to toast the Crown.  They had come to open a jail.  A few days later, the women came ashore; the sailors hit the rum; and their pandemonium was an orgy.

On 14 July 1789 the Paris mob stormed the Bastille, the symbol of the ancien régime and feudal Europe.  Then they promulgated their Declaration of the Rights of Man.

The Americans and the French celebrate these days.  Why wouldn’t Americans celebrate the cream of the old world making a brave new world under God?  Why wouldn’t the French celebrate the birth of their freedom and a proclamation that stands with the Declaration of Independence?  These are days of national identity.  But why would Australians want to celebrate the English dumping their scum on this God-forsaken land?

True, these latter-day patriots are like one-eyed Collingwood supporters.  The Puritans were a minority in England, but in America they had the numbers, and the intolerant will to use them.  They gave us Salem and a gritty determination not to pity those who had failed.  The Declaration’s reference to ‘equality’ was a bare-faced lie.  The Founding Fathers were patrician slave-owners.  They disdained commoners and they loathed democracy.  Their war of separation saw terrorism and atrocities.  The atonement for slavery only began with the next Civil War.  It goes on still.

Terrorism was inherent in the French Revolution from day one.  The mob wanted to burn to death a woman believed to be the daughter of the Bastille’s governor before his eyes.  Instead they paraded their victims’ severed heads.  France would know a ghoulish Daesh style depravity.  Napoleon brought order – and the Empire and aristocracy – and more than five million dead in his endless wars.  It took France a century to get over it all.  Their anthem still celebrates ‘Aux armes!’

Both America and France, then, paid a fearful price in blood for their ennobling Declarations.

But we can understand the American and French national days.  The West sees the triumph of the Enlightenment in each revolution.  In Washington on the ‘fourth’ and in Paris on Bastille Day, you might even sense something sacred in the buzz.  But who gets a charge out of opening a slammer?

That’s why some down here can’t get excited about Australia Day.  If anything, its ineptitude seems to be sadly Australian.  But there is more to our queasiness.

First, we can’t have our Independence Day because we are not independent.  We need Britain for our head of state.  We started out under the English Crown and we are still under it.  Should we still celebrate our self-imposed immaturity?  Should we thank God that after 200 years, we still can’t stand on our own two feet?  Or should we not feel humiliated?  And are not those who are loudest in proclaiming the glory of Australia Day on 26 January also the loudest in saying that we should retain our dependence on Britain?

Next, and relatedly, these same people are our own eternal no sayers.  They don’t want change.  I do.  I’m desperate to see us grow up.  But our patriots for 26 January are often against equality, at least in marriage, and against sense, at least on climate, energy and the environment.

Finally, boat people had arrived here before the First Fleet, but how ironic is it that the people determined to celebrate these English boat people are also the most determined to shut out the refugees we demonise as boat people?  Human history has a mean streak that we saw after both the American and French revolutions.  Those who make it into the club want to slam the door hard in the face of those left outside.  It’s dreadful to see migrant nations doing that to refugees.

This conflict between the older, meaner, and more fearful, and the younger, warmer, and more hopeful reminds us of the sad schism of Brexit.  And here, perhaps, is the foundation-stone of our mediocrity and of our fear of the new.

That’s why some Australians can’t take seriously Australia Day on 26 January.  And that’s without one word about the blackfellas.  Or the Honours List.  Or that glorious day at Cambridge University when a lecturer of colour referred to our first white boat people as ‘water-borne parasites.’




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



After Osip Pianitsky was arrested on the night of 7 July 1937, his wife Julia would in desperation ask what she really knew of him, although both of them had been active and senior in the Party.  She was not of course told where he was or why he had been arrested, or even if he was alive.  He was nearly twenty years older than her.  At the age of sixteen, she ran away from home to enrol as a nurse in the Russian army.  She married a general who was lost in action in 1917.  In the Civil War, she joined the Bolsheviks, and worked as a spy in the Red Army.  Her cover was lost, and she was lucky not to be shot.  She just made it to Moscow, and then she had a nervous breakdown.  She was in hospital when she met Osip.

Osip was something of a professional revolutionary.  When he married Julia, he was the Secretary of the Central Committee at Moscow.  He then went to Comintern, the international office of the party.  He was so tied up with his work that he did not see much of their sons Igor (born in 1921) and Vladimir (born in 1925).  This caused stress with Julia.  She thought that the party was getting too bourgeois and that it was under a dictator.  Sometimes Osip would be moved to say ‘Keep your voice down, Julia’.  In the 1930’s, Osip did not like the direction that  the party was taking outside Russia – he, like Trotsky, believed in a world revolution, and he thought that Russia had withdrawn into itself.  This was not the view of Stalin who had become very suspicious of Comintern.

In June 1937, Osip Pianitsky made a speech to the Plenum of the Central Committee.  He accused the NKVD of fabricating evidence.  Depending on your point of view, this was either heroic or suicidal.  When Osip finished, the hall was dead silent.  On instructions from Stalin, Molotov and others asked Osip to withdraw the statement and to save his life.  Osip said that he knew the consequences, but he said that he had to stand firm for his ‘conscience as a Communist’, and for the purity of the party.  The next day Yezhov, the NKVD chief, said that Osip Pianitsky was a Tsarist spy sent by capitalists to infiltrate the Comintern.  A censure motion was passed with three abstentions.

The NKVD arrived before midnight a few days later.  Yezhov was there personally to make the arrest.  Julia started to swear and scream at them, and Osip apologised to them for her.  When they left, Julia fainted.  While she was at work the next day, they broke into her apartment, and seized just about everything.  His office was sealed with wax.

Julia did not know where her husband was being held until his trial.  He was moved to Lefortovo prison in April 1938 until he was tried in July.  He was systematically tortured every night.  One hundred and thirty-eight prisoners were tried in one day by the Military Tribunal on charges of leading a Fascist spy-ring of Trotskyists and being Rightists in the Comintern.  Yezhov sent Stalin a list of those convicted.  According to Orlando Figes, from whose work this story is drawn, that list is preserved in the Kremlin Presidential Archives.  It has a handwritten annotation: ‘Shoot all 138.  I. St[alin].  V. Molotov.’  Osip Pianitsky therefore died well before Stalin and Molotov completed their pact with Adolf Hitler.

When Osip was arrested, Julia and her sons were evicted from their home and ostracized by friends and party members.  She sought out old friends in the party, and a friend of Osip for thirty years.  No one wanted to know them – it was too dangerous to be seen with anyone who had been even near to someone who had been arrested.  The housekeeper of the old friend rejected her: ‘He is afraid.  He will throw me out if he sees you here.  He told me to tell you that he does not know you’.  Her sons, Igor and Vladimir, were abandoned by their friends.  Vladimir was taunted and bullied at school.

Julia did not know what to believe when Osip was arrested.  What had made him do it?  The boys were angry.  The sixteen year old Igor was isolated from his mates in Komsomol.  The twelve year old Vladimir blamed his father for ruining his dreams of the Red Army.  A teacher told him his father was an enemy of the people and that it is ‘now your duty to decide your relation toward him.’  Vladimir fought with his mother.  When she declined to write to Yezhov about a toy gun the NKVD had taken, he said: ‘It is a shame they have not shot Papa, since he is an enemy of the people.’  When they had an argument about his marks at school, Julia said that it showed that he was the son of an enemy of the people.’  Vladimir said he did not want her as his mother anymore and would go to an orphanage.

Igor was arrested on 9 February 1938.  Two soldiers took him from school and put him in Butykri jail.  This was too much for Julia who had another breakdown.  She longed for suicide, but wanted to keep on for her sons.  ‘It would be best to die.  ‘But that would leave my Vovka (Vladimir) and Igor without a human being in the world.  I am all that they have, and that means that I must fight to stay alive.’

When Igor was put in Butykri jail, neither he nor his mother knew that his father Osip was there.  Osip’s cell was crowded – it had been built for twenty-five but it held sixty-seven.  Osip had on his face the marks left by the belt of an interrogator.  A colleague found him a ‘thin and crooked old man’ (of fifty-six) whose eyes ‘betrayed an immense spiritual suffering.’

Julia did not know that he was in that jail when she joined the queues outside the gates to hand in a parcel for her son Igor.  The longer Osip was away, the harder it was for Julia to believe in him.  She of course did not know that he was transferred to Lefortovo prison.

Julia decided that it was too late to do anything for Osip, but not for Igor.  She decided to renounce her husband to try to save her son.  She spoke to a prosecutor.  He said that Osip had committed a serious crime against the state.  ‘If so, he means nothing to me.’  She said she wanted to work for the NKVD.  He encouraged her to make a formal application, and said that he would support it.

In May, Igor was charged with organizing a counter-revolutionary student group.  This was too outrageous even for that ‘court’, but they gave him five years in a soviet labour camp on the lesser charge of anti-Soviet agitation.  (In 1941, he got another five years, and when he got out in Leningrad in 1948, he was arrested again, and got another five years of which he served eight.)  Julia was told of the conviction of Igor on 27 May 1938.  She was beside herself.  She demanded that the prosecutor arrest her as well.  ‘If he is guilty, so am I.’ That was, perhaps, the truth.

Julia was arrested on 27 October 1938.  She was thirty-nine.  Her diary was of course seized.  The NKVD used it to convict her of conspiring with her husband.  She was sent to Kandalaksha in the far north of Murmansk.  Vladimir – then aged about thirteen – was sent with her.  He was ill, and was getting over surgery.  He was taken from his bed.  He was kept in the barracks and fed twice a day by an NKVD guard while she worked on the Niva-GES hydro-electric station near the camp.  We shall come back later to the story of Julia and Vladimir Pianitsky.

Here and there – Two sanctimonious politicians


Medieval kings had to rule as well as reign.  They had to be much more like our politicians than our modern kings.  Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V, father and son, provide studies in the dark arts and crafts of politics that throw light on the behaviour of our politicians of today.  They also provide a contrast in sanctimony, that is, a pretended or affected decency.  These rulers smack of hypocrisy, and being other than what they seem.  It’s this two-facedness that gets on our quince with our politicians, and the sanctimony here extends over two generations and four plays.

The character of Bolingbroke (the future Henry IV) in Richard II is opaque.  He never soliloquizes, and we do not get a window into his mind.  Was he a born schemer before the time of Machiavelli, so that the Crown came to him –

But as an honour snatched with a boisterous hand.  (2 Henry IV, 4.5.191)

Or did Bolingbroke just go with the flow so –

That I and greatness were compelled to kiss.  (2 Henry IV, 3.1.74)

The question is open, and we are left with the impression that Bolingbroke is somehow hollow.  And with an author like this, you don’t treat that result as an accident.

But when he attains the crown, King Henry IV gets to upbraid his son for his ways, and we get a clear insight into the politics of this man.  This is a man-to-man chat and we have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the speaker.  The father tells the son how Richard II lost his crown.  He did so because he debased its currency by taking up with low life.

The skipping King, he ambled up and down

With shallow jesters and rash bavin wits,

Soon kindled and soon burnt; carded his state,

Mingled his royalty with capering fools…

Enfeoffed himself to popularity,

That, being daily swallowed by men’s eyes,

They surfeited with honey and began

To loathe the taste of sweetness…..(I Henry IV, 3.2.60-72)


How apt do those last four lines seem for Donald Trump?  The first line – ‘Enfeoffed himself to popularity’ – might be translated ‘Hocked his soul to Fox News.’  But this description of Richard II, which is fair, applies equally to the conduct of Prince Hal, the heir to the throne.

What then is the sage advice of this seasoned politician who is the father of the miscreant prince?  Make yourself scarce and then put on a front.

By being seldom seen, I could not stir

But like a comet I was wondered at…..

And then I stole all courtesy from heaven,

And dressed myself in such humility

That I did pluck allegiance from men’s hearts…..

Thus did I keep my person fresh and new,

My presence, like a robe pontifical,

Ne’er seen but wondered at; and so my state,

Seldom but sumptuous, showed like a feast

And won by rareness such solemnity.  (I Henry IV, 3.2.46-59)

As Bolingbroke, he may not have followed this policy to the letter.  The king he deposed had observed ‘his [Bolingbroke’s] courtship to the common people’ – even to the point of doffing his bonnet to an oyster-wench.  (Richard II, 1.4.24-31)

But we know that young Hal has already worked out a similar trick for himself.

I know you all, and will awhile uphold

The unyoked humour of your idleness.

Yet herein will I imitate the sun,

Who doth permit the base contagious clouds

To smother up his beauty from the world,

That when he please again to be himself,

Being wanted he may be more wondered at….

So when this loose behaviour I throw off

And pay the debt I never promised,

By how much better than my word I am

By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes.  (I Henry IV, 1.2.182 – 205)


Hal parades as one of the boys, one of the people, but it’s all a game, and a game for his benefit only.  This spoiled royal brat is just a user. ‘When I am King of England, I shall command all the good lads in Eastcheap … I can drink with any tinker in his own language.’ (I Henry IV, 2.4.10-20)  But when the game has served its purpose, these human toys, of whom the prince had spoken with such disgust, may be discarded.  The young prince takes people under him into his trust and confidence, knowing that he will then break that trust – because as king he will have to let Falstaff and the rest of the motley go.  It’s one thing to meet the people; it’s another to sow wild oats before becoming weighed down by care – as we are reminded by some reluctant younger members of the royal family now; but it is altogether a different thing to take up and discard your future subjects when it suits you.

Young Hal is a rat and he knows it.  There is something revoltingly clever about a young man wanting to be seen to be paying a debt he never promised.  You may not want a guy like that standing behind you at a grouse shoot.  When they are play-acting, Falstaff says: ‘Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world.’  Hal says, quietly: ‘I do, I will.’  (Part I, 2.4.480-1)  When his father accuses Hal of being ‘common’, Hal says: ‘I shall hereafter … Be more myself.’ (Part I, 3.2.92)  When he casts off Falstaff and the whole Eastcheap crowd – the common people – King Henry V does so with one of the coldest lines of this author, a passage that so upset A C Bradley.  The new king went on to say:

Presume not that I am the thing I was

For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,

That I have turned away my former self

So will I those that kept me company

When thou dost hear that I am as I have been

Approach me, and thou shalt be as thou wast

The tutor and the feeder of my riots.  (Part II, 5.57-64)


So, the new king is saying that he has changed from his former self. But that was not true. As a prince, Hal had only pretended to engage in the gutter – until he allowed his sun to dissipate the clouds.  He had not changed – he had merely dropped the front.

That story might pass in the Court, but it could not do in Eastcheap.  There they said that ‘the King has killed his heart’, the heart of Falstaff (Henry V, 2.1.91) and the King has ‘run bad humors on the knight’ whose heart was broken. (Henry V, 2.1.125-127)

Even if Eastcheap merely thought that the king killed the heart of Falstaff, it knew that he had endorsed the execution of Bardolph.  Bardolph was hanged for blasphemy – stealing plate from a church.  The pious King says that he will not have ‘the French upbraided or abused in disdainful language.’  (Henry V, 3.6.115-116).  And another sometime mate, or pretended mate, goes under, in order that this king can prove his chivalry to his enemy.

There is something both cold and calculating about each these two politicians, father and son.  They are both two faced, but there is something very chilling about the duplicitous cold-bloodedness of the son.  How do you warm to a man who treats his confidants with less heart than he would show to a stray Tom?  Someone compared the prince to a clever shopkeeper who ‘knows how to display the merchandise of his behavior.’  And in the next play, we will see that that this duplicity runs in the family – the brother Prince John will unload an act of bastardry that may have fazed Hitler.

Hotspur, that soul of chivalry, saw in Bolingbroke ‘this subtle king’ and a ‘vile politician’ (Henry IV, 1.3.169 and 239).  The Oxford Edition gives for ‘politician’ a ‘shrewd schemer, deceitful opportunist’ and refers us to King Lear 4.6.172-174 where the mad old king is talking to a man whose eyes have been put out:

…..Get thee glass eyes

And like a scurvy politician seem

To see the things thou dost not.

For ‘scurvy politician’ the Everyman gives ‘vile politic man,’ while the Oxford goes in harder: ‘worthless, contemptible intriguer.’  If all this means that you regard the man who became Henry V as ‘frankly vicious’, then that was precisely the phrase that Sir Anthony Quayle applied to Falstaff – and Quayle was best placed to know the character of Falstaff.  And do I not think that such an equivalence would for one moment have troubled the playwright.

The three plays where Bolingbroke is in the lead are for many the three best plays of this author in the theatre.  The two great scenes for father and son are two of the glories of our stage, and the failings of these two characters are part of the magic of those scenes.  If you see them better done than by Roger Allam and Jamie Parker in the 2012 Globe production, the gods of theatre have truly smiled on you.  There is a lot more than mere politics here.  When you have buried your parents and raised your children, you will find it hard to go through these scenes with a dry eye.

Passing Bull 132 – The remarkable Mr Chris Kenny – Part II


We were looking at remarks of Mr Kenny in The Weekend Australian of 13-14 January 2018.  I need not set out those remarks again as this post will end with former posts that contain quotes from Mr Kenny over the years to the same effect.

When Mr Kenny refers to the ‘love media’, what label does he have in mind for his side, or tribe?  All of us are worried about energy prices, but has anyone bettered Mr Kenny’s identification of the real problem when he refers to people who are ‘phlegmatic about alarmist claims on climate’?  When he says ‘even business leaders fuel the left side’, does he accept that that entails two propositions (each of which I would regard as at best odd): that we can give some useful meaning to the word ‘left’ in this context; and that in that meaning, it would surprise us if business leaders supported opinions grouped under that label?  When Mr Kenny refers to ‘the political/media class’ with such disfavour, what definition can he give of that body that does not show him up as its leading exemplar?  For that matter, what ‘elite’ would not have Mr Kenny?  And does he really believe that Trump and Farage were ‘mainstream’ candidates?  Finally, given that a substantial part of the business model of this newspaper is to report on conflicts fuelled by opinion polls, has Mr Kenny not broken all records for hypocrisy with the sentence: ‘It demands leadership, not opinion poll watching.’

In fairness to the newspaper, I might say that the same edition carried a piece by Caroline Overington about a suicide that followed cyber-bullying that I thought was first class in every way.  Now, Ms Overington does appear from time to time with the Anti-Christ, the ABC.  Mr Kenny might inquire of Ms Overington how often she gets ‘howled down’ as a ‘heretic’.

Before going to Mr Kenny’s priors, I may report on one of his colleagues in labelling, Jennifer Oriel.  Ms Oriel is a cheerleader in the partisan scolding of those awful people called ‘progressives.’ But Ms Oriel has now made confession – of the sin of apostasy.  She has outed herself as a former Labor supporter.

And old friend asked why, after years of voting Labor, I left the Left.  I considered justifying myself again with the chronology of exodus.  But the truth is plain and blunt.  Why did I leave the Left?  Because two plus two equals four.

Well, there you have it.  Mr Kenny explains everything in politics by reference to the facts (which I assume means evidence).  Ms Oriel does it with arithmetic.  The reference is of course to 1984, but the notion certainty in politics being arrived at mathematically is unsettling.  But, then, how many contented and equable lapsed Laborites do you know?

Here, then, are two previous posts that show that Mr Kenny is nothing if not consistent.  You will see that we begin with a disclaimer by Mr Kenny of ‘partisan or personal cheerleading.’  It fairly takes your breath away.

Passing Bull 18 – The Dean’s Wake Syndrome (19 October 2015)

....unlike progressives, conservative commentators tend to stand on principle rather than indulge in partisan or personal cheerleading….

Chris Kenny, The Saturday Australian, 17-18 October, 2015.

On any given Saturday you can get about five whoppers like this from that newspaper as the ‘conservatives’ make faces at the ‘progressives’, like little girls to little boys behind the shelter-shed.  What was the context?

Rowan Dean, the editor of the Oz Spectator, and the leader of the unattractive pack described in Passing Bull 15, threw a wake for the former PM.  We are told that Dean was smarting if not seething.  The usual idolaters were there – Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and Paul Murray (who has been inconsolable on Sky ever since, routinely throwing objects as well as tantrums, and imploring the new PM to be tough on Muslims).

Mr Kenny, another idolater in his time, says he knows how these people feel.  He does so in terms that contradict point blank the silly boast set out above, and which show why Australians are revolted by the cabal of politicians and journalists that have dragged us down to our present level, on both sides of politics, and where all except the addicts, or those who profit from or traffic in the addiction, are praying for relief, if not enlightenment from a mix of the Wars of the Roses and a New Dark Age.

After years of sneering at the poll-driven, media-grovelling superficiality of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor years, the Liberals have descended into the same sand-pit.

And with the ABC, Fairfax Media Newspapers, Canberra press gallery, academe and sundry other elements of the love media and political/media class railing against their version of the anti-Christ – a socially conservative prime minister – a great opportunity to prove them all wrong has been frittered away.

Most of us with a view to the structural ebbs and flows of politics could see that despite the antipathy directed at Abbott, some obvious failings and poor poll ratings, the Coalition was most likely to be re-elected next year.

This would have confounded the love media and twittersphere, and confirmed the good sense of mainstream voters.

In Abbott’s favour were strong policy settings (border protection, climate change, and attempted budget repair), the escalating issue of union power and corruption being teased out in the royal commission he established, and how all this had rendered Bill Shorten nigh-on unelectable.

When an impatient Turnbull launched his challenge the week before the Canning by-election he not only robbed Abbott of a chance for recovery but denied many true believers the pleasure of this social-political experiment – this vindication.

It passes belief.  If you did not know that you were the victim of an experiment, at least you know it is not one that will be repeated.  Here is why politics presently revolt Australians.  There is hardly any reference to principle, but just a focus on partisan political cheerleading.  And do you know why?  The people and their representatives do not know as much as Messrs Kenny or Bolt.  They cannot be trusted.

As usual, the crucial partyroom votes were exercised by inexperienced, impressionable and self-interested MPs, many of whom would not have entered parliament if not for Abbott’s campaigning skills and who might have been less than helpful in briefing journalists and voicing disharmony as they fretted over the polls.

In the next post, I will try to spell out this disease of the mind, but Mr Kenny does offer one frightening thought:

I sense the republican cause may be at the heart of much conservative antipathy.

These embittered relics of Plato’s Republic and the Split are not just harmless Looney Tunes.  They are intent on not allowing us to break with the Mother Country and become self-governing without support from the Anglican Crown.  Bring back 1788 – and the lash.  They are Monarchists envenomed.  Don’t they know about 1789?

Passing Bull 44 – Outstanding hypocrisy in the Press  (26 May 2016)

Politics and politicians are on the nose all around the world.  There is a savage reaction in the West against political parties and political elites.  Since the system as we know it has been worked by political parties run by elites, the results may be disastrous, if not terminal.  Corbyn was bad enough, but Trump is a genuine nightmare.

In Australia there is a very unhappy union between politicians and journalists.  There is much to be said for the view that our press is in large part responsible for the awfulness of our politicians.  They are far too cliquey and close to their subjects; the worst kinds of would-be journalists are tribal, and feed themselves on hits from other followers of the cult on the Internet.  The real disasters are former political staffers who then want to pose as journalists.  Instead, they become boring and loaded cheerleaders.

Two of the worst examples are Chris Kenny and Niki Savva.  They could not hope to pose as being objective, but they sadly think that that they are intelligent.  They live in confined echo chambers quite cut off from the world, just like the politicians in Canberra.  They are part of a useless but self-appointed elite that is quite out of touch with what they call the mainstream.

It was therefore quite a surprise to read the following from Chris Kenny in The Australian last Saturday:

There is a great and pernicious divide in Australia.  It is not between the eastern seaboard and the western plains, or between the rich and poor, city and country, black and white, or even between established citizens and refugees.  The divide is between the political/media class and the mainstream.

There is a gulf between those who consider themselves superior to the masses and want to use the nation’s status to parade their post-material concerns, and those who do the work and raise the families that make the nation what it is.

That is a reasonable statement of the problem, even if it comes from one of the worst examples of those who give rise to the problem.  And what on earth is a former Liberal staffer – attached to Lord Downer; no wonder his syntax is shot – and employed by The Australian and Sky doing referring to ‘the masses’.  Has Mr Kenny ever met one of them?  But then it all becomes clear when we get this:

In this election we are seeing the chasm open up, like a parting of the seas, as the media elites and their preferred left-of-centre politicians seek to determine what issues should be decisive.  They lecture and hector the mainstream.  Worse, they try to dictate what facts can even be discussed.  They seek to silence dissent.  They have compiled an informal list of unmentionables, facts that should not be outed: the truths whose name we dare not speak.

And then Mr Kenny goes on to ‘lecture and hector’ those poor souls who share his echo chamber, the true believers who know that Satan masquerades as the ABC and the Fairfax press.

This is all as boring and predictable as anything said by Mr Kenny in The Australian or one of those ghastly Sky chat shows that demonstrate that the chattering classes, the former chardonnay socialists, have long ago swapped sides graphically and terminally.  We reached a new all-time low recently when Peta Credlin joined Andrew Bolt for a nocturnal tryst on Sky that will be sure to upset at least three dinners a night.  It might all be boring, but the hypocrisy of Mr Kenny takes your breath away…..

…..Does any decent Australian give a bugger about the alleged Left/Right divide or any other of those profoundly stupid chat shows called ‘culture wars’?  Have they not yet seen that everyone else rejects all this bullshit and all those who want to wallow in it?  Does the press just not get that they are an essential part of the package that people are rejecting all around the world?




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



It is hard to think of any culture in the West that has ever been in favour of informers.  If the Old Testament bears the mark of Cain, the New Testament is scarred by the mark of Judas.  Judas betrayed his leader, the Son of Man.  The very idea of betraying someone close shocks us; the betrayal is wrong, and diabolically wrong, and it cannot be excused by the lure of specious legalism any more than it can be excused by the lure of actual gold.  But a police state is a dream come true for informers and grudge-bearers.  Such a government offers would-be informers the chance to work off their grudges under maximum security, for maximal returns in the loss and damage to the victim, including death, and with something like carte blanche on the grounds of accusation and the readiness of those in power to accept and act decisively on such accusations.  One function of a police state is therefore to bring out the very worst in humanity.

The poison of informing is seen at its worst in the three reigns of terror that we are looking at because the evidence commonly offered by the informer is put forward to support a most general allegation of lack of loyalty.  The lack of loyalty that matters is loyalty to the regime, but the allegation is frequently dressed up as a lack of loyalty to the nation, and it is loaded up with an invocation of that weasel word patriotism.

In a book called The Police and the People, Richard Cobb spoke from hard experience from looking at records of what people told authorities under the Jacobins and in the Empire.  He said you could formulate at least four rules for reports to authority from informants.  The elementary rule is that ‘if you have nothing to say, say it at length’.  Never use plain speech – always use riddles or euphemisms.  Use two adjectives rather than one.  And, always tell your patron something he wants to hear.  Cobb said that ‘one can go from one end of France to the other to hear the same long-winded information expressed in the same ponderous prose.’  We find precisely the same behaviour in informants for the NKVD, Gestapo, KGB, and Stasi.  People have to say something to avoid being suspect and it needs to be what the police want to hear.

Historians now believe that there were not in fact many officers of the Gestapo on the ground – less than 800 in Berlin, a city of four million, at the end of the war.  Only a small part, about ten per cent, of their work came from referrals from orthodox police.  Most of their work came on referrals by party officials – such as the Block Wardens – or V-men, or informants from the rest of the population.

V-men were Vertrauens-Mann, ‘persons of trust’, rather like kapos in the concentration camps.  A typical candidate was someone that the Gestapo had something over, a person who was compromised politically in some way.  He might have had a doubtful political past, such as having been a member of a banned organisation, or he may have been caught offering a bribe.  Some may have been in camps and let out on a form of probation which meant a promise to cooperate with the Gestapo and to rat on others.  The mere fact of their collaboration with the forces of darkness made them complicit in their secret work, and even more compromised.  They became locked in as both victims of and collaborators with a regime that was bent on inflicting pain and loss on any person that got in its way.  This would be a pattern that would recur in dealings between the Stasi and informants in the DDR, perhaps the grimmest and most drab police state ever.

Prosecutions under the Malicious Gossip Law came from members of the Party, agents, and the general public.  In Saarbrucken nearly 90% of these cases came from innkeepers or people in their bars, work colleagues, passing pedestrians, or members of the family.  Even the loathsome Heydrich was worried by the ‘constant expansion of an appalling system of denunciation’.  Richard Evans says that party leaders were dismayed that people acted out of malice!  This is an example of the kind of moral madness or blindness that descended over these fanatics who were becoming so removed from their own world – they wanted to see denunciation as a sign of loyalty to the regime, a kind of badge of purity, or ascension up the ladder, like those claimed by boy scouts.  They did not understand or they had forgotten how hateful the role of an informer is.  They had lost touch with humanity.

Pubs were a real trap.  Two thirds of defendants in the Frankfurt Special Court were tried under the Malicious Gossip Law after action taken by the innkeeper or other drinkers at a pub.  This of course was noticed, and statistics show a sharp decline in reporting from pubs as the regime sterilised yet another part of social life.  Men did most of the denouncing and were most of those denounced. The Reich proceeded on the same basis as our ancient law of libel – the greater the truth, the greater the libel.  They wanted to strike back at anyone who exposed one of their biggest lies – that the people were massively behind the Leader and the Party and were all so much better off.

Criminologists teach that what deters criminals is the prospect of detection; the Reich worked on another view- it was the randomness, the unpredictability, of denunciation that had such a quietening or chilling effect on the populace.  People literally walked in fear.  What was known as ‘the German glance’ developed – there would be a nervous look over each shoulder before saying something dangerous.

Schoolteachers may have been the hardest hit.  In any school you could expect a couple at least of party fanatics on the staff making the common room a very restrained meeting place.  Students denounced teachers they did not like.

It is idle to speculate on how much the actions of the secret police ensured adherence to the Reich.  Anyone who has seen close up the dead hand of the secret police of a totalitarian state knows how much it can shut down people’s lives.  Their purpose is to extinguish humanity, and even jokes about them could get you a beating and six months.

We see similar trends during the Great Terror in Russia, quite possibly with more sinister and painful consequences because the whole idea of civil rights is yet to take root in Europe’s most difficult neighbour.  The priests under the Tsars had informed on their flock.

‘Lenin taught us that every Party member should become an agent of the Cheka, that is, that he should watch and write reports.’  Party members were ordered to inform on their comrades if any private thought or action threatened Party unity.  Invitations to denunciation became central to the purge culture of the 1920’s and would reach hellish levels in China much later.  No part of the private life was safe – there was no private life.

According to one senior official, every fifth Soviet office worker was an informer for the NKVD.  Moscow was heavily policed and there was said to be at least one informer for every six or seven families.  There were millions of paid ‘reliables’, and the law said that ‘loyal Soviet citizens’ were expected to report suspicious behaviour or speech – ‘lack of vigilance’ was a punishable offence, and this doubtless caused many people to collaborate, or just gave them an excuse to do so.  The Party was a vicious self-policing collective like that in China during the Cultural Revolution.

Here and there – Herman Melville on Evil


In Melville’s final work, Billy Budd, Billy personifies innocence and beauty.  John Claggart personifies evil.  He cannot stand the sight of Billy.

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

And then there is this:

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

In Moby-Dick, Captain Ahab represents another kind of evil.  Ahab is mad to get revenge on the murderous whale that ‘dismasted’ him.  W H Auden said that Ahab ‘is a representation, perhaps the greatest in literature of defiant despair.’  Ahab is wilfully beyond comfort because ‘comfort would be the destruction of him’ (a phrase that Auden takes from Kierkegaard).

Captain Ahab personifies the fanatic, and he appeals to the gutter.  It was only on reading the novel for the third time – in which serious self-editing is permitted – and on looking again at the luminous book Melville, His World and Work (2005) by Andrew Delbanco – that I realised how relevant this curious novel is to us now.  It is a frightening portrait of a manic demagogue.  There is another frightful example in the White House as we speak.

Captain Ahab believes that we are all prisoners of our ignorance about the meaning of our suffering.  He asks his Chief Mate ‘how can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?’

To me, the white whale [Moby-Dick] is that wall, shoved near to me.  Sometimes I think there’s nought beyond.  But ‘tis enough.  He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it.  That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white male agent, or be the white male principal, I will wreak that hate upon him.  Talk not to me of blasphemy man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.

This is the kind of apocalyptic stuff we get with Carlyle.  Delbanco says that with Captain Ahab, ‘Melville struck a note that would resound through modern history in ways he could never have anticipated’:

All that maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified and made practically assailable in Moby Dick.

The usual term is scapegoat.  Delbanco refers to another writer who says that ‘every sufferer instinctively seeks a cause for his suffering….a ‘guilty’ agent who is susceptible to pain’ upon whom he can vent his rage and ‘dull by means of some violent emotion his secret tormenting pain.’

For this purpose, Ahab gees up his troops, who are at best an indifferent motley.  They happily surrender to the mood of the moment, and to the instinct of the herd.  The zeal of each takes on the colour of the rest.  Delbanco refers to a critic who called Moby-Dick a ‘prophecy of the essence of fascism’, and to a French critic who in 1928 saw the drift into reactionary nationalism and xenophobia and who said that ‘hatred becomes stronger by becoming more precise.’   He refers to another comment about the ‘intense subjectivism’ with which Hitler ‘repeatedly over-rode the opinions of trained diplomats and the German General Staff, committing blunder after blunder’ that led to the final disaster.

The relevance of all this to the manic demagogues we have now, and their pliant acolytes is obvious.  Delbanco concludes:

In Captain Ahab, Melville had invented a suicidal charismatic who denounces as a blasphemer anyone who would deflect him from his purpose – an invention that shows no sign of becoming obsolete any time soon.

Amen.  But, at least the whale won that one.  And the phrase ‘truth with malice in it’ belongs to the ages.

Passing Bull 131 – The remarkable Mr Chris Kenny


On Sydney radio 2GB this week, host Mark Levy was commenting on the hype about Oprah Winfrey running for president.  ‘Despite all the doom and gloom around the Trump presidency, what’s he done wrong so far?’ asked Levy.  It was an unremarkable reflection that generated no contention and was not intended to do so.  For that audience it was a statement of the obvious.

Yet could you imagine such an observation being made on the ABC?  Not only is it inconceivable that any ABC host would make such a call, we know that any guest arguing the same would be treated as a heretic.  The proposition would be howled down as controversial, partisan and absurd.  Despite its charter obligations to objectivity and plurality, the ABC could not entertain such a reasonable point of view…..

Callers [to a 2GB show hosted by the author] are concerned about immigration and poor integration, sceptical about government interventions, worried about energy prices and phlegmatic about alarmist claims on the climate…..But few, if any, of their views are the sort you could ever expect to hear on ABC, SBS or other ‘love media’ staples…..

It is not hard to see which view is right   [Someone reported in the Fairfax press had argued that ‘volunteering was counterproductive, undercut paid work and relieved governments of their responsibilities.’]  And it is not a matter of opinion.  The facts support the case for volunteers.….

The Prime Minister’s energy policy is still beholden to futile Paris targets, despite the U S withdrawing and the international community asking next to nothing of China or India.  While he backs Paris at the expense of affordable and reliable energy, he fails to give the mainstream what they really need and want – the cheapest and most reliable electricity.

Our competing narratives can broadly be described as left and right.  But we can imagine a series of Venn diagrams where the flanks of the major parties overlap to share and swap members on various issues.  Even business leaders fuel the left side of some debates because of corporate posturing, dinner-party imperatives or fear of social-media-driven reputational damage.

Turnbull and the Coalition need to have faith that the numbers are with the mainstream and common sense.  Sure the left narrative – with its academic and political/media class support – makes most of the noise and generates its own momentum.  But Brexit, Trump and even Tony Abbott circa 2013 demonstrate that voters can flock to mainstream candidates no matter the hectoring and prognostications of the so-called elites.  John Howard could never have won a single election unless this were true.

This requires strong advocacy from conviction politicians to give mainstream voters a guiding light through the deceptions of the political/media class.  It demands leadership, not opinion poll watching.

Yet this is not a matter of theories, ideology or complex plans.  Rather, it is about the facts.

In the issues mentioned earlier, the facts support the mainstream view…..If not for the publicly funded ABC, SBS, subsidised magazines, universities and bureaucratic interventions, the false narratives of the virtue-signallers would be soundly defeated in the open market-place of ideas.  Instead their nonsense dominates…..

(The Weekend Australian 13-14 January 2018.)

There is more to the same effectBefore looking at parts of the argument, may I make two general observations?

First, the author likes applying labels, or, if you prefer, he is fond of clichés.  That is, Mr Kenny likes to put things in boxes and give them a name – such as, love media, mainstream, left and right, elites, conviction politicians, political/media class, and virtue-signallers.  Mr Kenny does not say what he means by any of those terms, and I am not sure what they might entail in the context of his argument – or anywhere else.

Secondly, and relatedly, Mr Kenny sees people as acting and thinking in identifiable groups – or, if you like, he sees people acting tribally.  We can see this immediately from the reference to ‘that audience’ in the first paragraph, and ‘we know’ in the second.  In the eyes of Mr Kenny the audience of 2GB is very different to that of the ABC – or ‘other ‘love media’ staples.’  They apparently represent different tribes.  When it comes to politics, Mr Kenny is like an Arsenal or Collingwood supporter.  You are either for us or against us – and with passion – either way.  Mr Kenny’s team would seem to come from the ‘mainstream’ or ‘right’ and is apparently opposed by the ‘left’ or ‘elites’ of the ABC and the like.  What those groups might stand for is left swinging in the breeze.

Since the original labels have not been explained, there is a serious risk of confusion in putting people to whom those labels may apply into boxes.  Unless you are careful, you could wind up with the agony of Procrustes.   May I suggest that most of what I see as the faults in Mr Kenny’s argument derive from these tendencies to apply labels to conduct or opinions and to separate people into classes?

Let us then go to the ‘statement of the obvious’ – ‘to that audience’.  The statement was phrased as a question.  Mr Kenny therefore sees the question as rhetorical.  That is, he saw the 2 GB host as asserting that Mr Trump has not done anything wrong, and he, Mr Kenny, believes that the 2GB audience would regard such a statement as unremarkable, uncontentious, and a statement of the obvious.  Those propositions are large, but that is the risk you take when you proceed with this level of generalization – and at this remove from the evidence.

What wrongs might be reasonably alleged against Donald Trump?  The charge sheet, or indictment, might read as follows.  He has waged open war on two elements of the United States constitutional fabric, the judiciary and the press; he has failed to persuade another element of that fabric, the Congress, to implement key elements in his policy; he has acted against people just because they are of a different colour or race; he has sought to create conflict by making divisive statements to please what is called his ‘base’ rather than to act in the interests of the nation at large –he has acted as if to excite domestic insurrections; he has on any view shown himself to be a compulsive liar; he has consistently acted in an intemperate, illiterate and rude manner that demeans his office and the United States; he has publicly insulted the Secretary of State and Attorney-General, and he has refused to appoint people to fill vacant offices in the State Department; he has acted to alienate most of the allies of the United States and most members of the U N – and he boasts about all these things; he has not built the wall, much less get the Mexicans to pay for it; he has not repealed or replaced Obamacare; what Mr Kenny calls ‘tax reforms’ are a violation of the Republican views on the deficit, and will benefit the rich rather than the poor; he consistently acts against the advice of his ministers, some of whom know what they are doing, for fear of unsettling his ‘base’ or creating a flaw in the image with which he is so much in love – himself; and he has incurred political obligations to unattractive people that obliges him to protect and defend Nazis, and help promulgate their views.  There is more to this history of repeated injuries and usurpations.

Trump is the most unpopular president in living memory; in the opinion of those qualified to give one, he is the most unstable and stupid man ever to go to the White House; he has appeared to validate the first such proposition and to prove the second by proclaiming, over his chosen medium, that he is a ‘stable genius.’  And that’s before you recall the evasion of military service; the serial bankruptcies in his businesses, and the $25 million dollar settlement of fraud claims against him that he said he would never settle; the absurd favouring and promotion of his family and his business; his tax evasion and his refusal to show his tax returns; his pussy-grabbing and his failure to fulfil his statement that he would sue his accusers; Puerto Rico; Roy Moore; and the several matters occupying the attention of Mr Robert Mueller III.  (One of those appears to be admitted.  Of the many inconsistent reasons Trump gave for firing the head of the FBI, one was that Comey’s Russian investigation was annoying him.  To an Australian lawyer, that looks like an admission of obstructing the course of justice.)

All those allegations can be and are being made, and not just by the ‘love media’, whoever they are.  That being so, many people would regard a statement that Donald Trump has done nothing wrong as at least ‘controversial, partisan and absurd’, to adopt the wording of Mr Kenny.  When you look at the evidence – what Mr Kenny calls the ‘facts’ – it is hard to imagine any history better placed to disqualify a person from holding any form of public office, let alone that of President of the United States.

My own personal view?  No decent Australian would let that crude lout into their house.

But Mr Kenny allows himself to be boxed into the absurd by the linguistic traits I have referred to – and by his fear and loathing of the ABC.  That being so, some taxpayers might be very upset if the ABC were to promote such an odd position as that advanced by Mr Kenny.

May I say three other things on this first point?

The constant harping about the ABC by Mr Kenny and almost everyone else on his newspaper is not only predictable, boring, and unhinged, but it is unprofessional.  If you went to a doctor or lawyer and they routinely set aside time to bad mouth others of their profession, you would fire them.   Why can’t journalists at this paper conform to professional standards?

Next, one consequence of the tribalism that I referred to is that there is no balance or nuance in Mr Kenny’s presentation.  What we get is the ‘me against you’ of Arsenal v Liverpool – all out conflict.  This intolerance is blighting our public life, and this piece of Mr Kenny is a very sad example.

What do the arguments of the other side amount to?  ‘Their nonsense.’  And ‘their nonsense dominates.’  We get this sense of persecution, of victimhood, two things that this paper inveighs against.  And we get the hallmark of the Arsenal tribe – you don’t respond to the premises of the argument; you go straight for the throat of the person who has the gall to ignore plain ‘facts’ and to promote such ‘nonsense.’  It is not surprising that both parts of what Mr Kenny calls the ‘political/media class’ are in such bad odour.

Finally, what drives Mr Kenny to adopt a position on Trump that would strike many, if not most, as delusional?  I’m not sure what ‘mainstream’ entails, but no one would call Trump mainstream.  (He would be appalled at the suggestion.)  Mr Kenny does, I think – like Mr Abbott, at least until 2013 – like to see himself as a ‘conservative.’  That’s another weasel term, but again no one would call Trump conservative.  He is a radical out to blow up the Establishment.  Some say Trump is a ‘populist’.  That’s another watery, limp-wristed phrase, but no meaning of populism equates with any meaning of conservatism.

What then is driving Mr Kenny here?  Does he think that either mainstream party in Australia could enhance its chances at the ballot box by championing Donald Trump and proclaiming that he has so far done nothing wrong?  Is this the strait to which what Mr Kelly calls ‘the right’ has been reduced in Australia?

Well, that’s enough for now.  I will look at the balance of the quoted text later.

Happy new year.

Passing Bull 130 – Religion and nuts


The Roy Moore fiasco brought the term ‘evangelical’ to a new low, at least in the U S.  Sadly, the disease is not limited to the U S.  The Murdoch press went into a funk over marriage equality.  Here is some vintage bull from Jennifer Oriel.  She denounced ‘the Smith bill’ as being too short.

In a two-party system, the left is expected to promote equality while the right prioritises freedom.  The freedom of the political right is distinctive.  It is not anarchy.  It is the form of freedom that provides the spiritual, social, economic and political foundations for the flourishing of Western civilisation…..

The Smith bill represents the worst of conservatism and progressivism; it reserves freedom for the clergy while binding freethinkers under a state regime of political correctness.  There is no substantive protection for freedom of speech.

There is no protection against the lawfare used internationally to silence dissenters and purge them from public life.  There is no protection from the state forcing people’s speech to conform to central tenets of queer ideology.  And this is a bill for queer marriage, not same-sex marriage….

Dear, dear, dear.  Just think of all those demons, all those tigers out there with their eyes burning bright in the forest of the night, while the IPA stokes its paranoia about Stalinist queers.

On the same page, Greg Sheridan, who rarely misses a chance to get it wrong, hymned a mate.

Australia is very fortunate that Tony Abbott insisted on a plebiscite.

The paranoia is not confined to the IPA.  The Australian reeks of secular antagonism that died half a century ago.  In one column, Angela Shanahan said:

The political landscape is verging on chaos because of the ambition of Malcolm Turnbull and his lefty acolytes in the Liberal Party.

In their desire to prop up a failed government and a hubristic Prime Minister who wants to make his mark on history, they have proved, by opposing the amendments for religious liberty in relation to the introduction of same-sex marriage, that they are small political creatures who know no history.  They leave conservative voters nowhere to go.

That’s not quite right.  There is always Cory Bernardi, and the hard core reactionaries on Sky News and The Australian – not to mention Greg Sheridan’s mate.

But in another column, Ms Shanahan showed her grasp of history.  The Reformation was a serious mistake.

Christendom, which had existed beyond and above the state, was no more.  Kings, who like all baptised people great or small had been subject to the teaching and law of the church and part of the body of Christ, elevated themselves as the ultimate authority…..

The so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 was really a product of religious antagonism to see a Catholic off the throne and remove Catholics from public life……

Freedom of religion – of thought, of conscience – must be based on an informed conscience, which is not just for the elite….Today, ironically, it is threatened by the secularism sparked by that Reformation.

It reminds you of the time a guest and psychiatrist looked Basil Fawlty right in the eye and said ‘We could devote a whole seminar to you.’

To the extent that you can see something that Jennifer Oriel calls ‘Western civilisation,’ it depends in large part on the separation of Church and State.  The English got there largely through the Reformation and the Glorious Revolution of 1688-1689, both of which Ms Shanahan regrets.  The French got there by more messy means.  The Americans thought they had got there, but Roy Moore and Donald Trump show that they have missed.

We are many centuries past the time where the State could be viewed as ‘subject to the teaching and law of the church and part of the body of Christ.’  Such an idea now could best be described as madness.

We are also well passed the time when a religion can claim a veto over either the parliament or the people.  If the plebiscite celebrated by Greg Sheridan established anything, it showed that a clear majority of Australian regard the separation of Church and State as fundamental to our way of life.  The suggested issue about religious freedom was always a furphy from the start.  The issue was always about the power of the Church to stick its nose in where it doesn’t belong – the way we make our laws and govern ourselves.

You might expect that those of a reactionary cast of thought might understand all this.  The opposite result – where religion remains paramount, or at least claims a right of veto – is that which obtains in nations subject to their ultimate bête noire – Islam.

On another point about religion, one correspondent to The Sunday Age reminded us that the infant Jesus spent time as a refugee in Egypt.  How would his parents have got on if they had knocked on the door of Mr Morrison, who is bewailing the ill treatment of Christians in this country, or Mr Dutton?

Anyway, to the extent that a God-fearing lapsed Prot has any standing to say so – have a very happy Christmas and all best wishes for the New Year.