12 Mar

My Bust of Lenin

We read in today’s paper that the late Bob Crow’s office was “…stuffed with working class memorabilia, including a bust of Lenin.” This news has filled me with an irresistible desire to have a statue of Lenin too. It’s usually said that, while Stalin was a genocidal monster, Lenin was much more idealistic in his communism, altogether softer. This is not true. Lenin instituted his own genocides and persecutions, concentration camps and the whole apparatus of totalitarian control. Men as diverse as Winston Churchill and Bertrand Russell wrote of his extreme ruthlessness and cruelty. So why do I have this craving for a statue of Lenin? Well, you see, it’s like this…

The winter’s heavy rains caused our birdbath in the garden to sink and the basin has come off. It will have to be chucked out and I’d like to replace it with something suitable. I think I will get a statue of Lenin so that at garden parties in the summer my friends can come and throw stones at it. This is in the fine Victorian tradition when householders used to put pictures of those they couldn’t abide in strategic places in the lavatory.

What I object to though is this report which puts busts of Lenin among “working class memorabilia.” For the British working people were never communists. There was a fine tradition of British socialism which loathed the communist dictatorships. This was the socialism of the Workers’ Educational Association, night schools, self-improvement, apprenticeships, chapel-singing, friendly societies and charitable works. This is the world we have lost. It has been replaced by two hideous developments. One is the radical chic nomenclature in the BBC and much of the rest of the mass media, the Champagne socialists of Hampstead and Primrose Hill and the nauseating, fawning hypocrisy of the theatrical luvvies, the movie crowd and what are fatuously referred to as “the arts.” The other development is generational institutionalised  lethargy promoted by the dependency culture which has been enthusiastically promoted and maintained by the Labour Party in order to  buy votes in the general elections.

We used to have socialist patricians with a moral conscience and millions of ordinary folk possessed by the protestant work ethic. Now we have Socialist Estates of the Realm incarnated in the all-powerful corporate bureaucracies of the NHS and the useless state schools which do not exist to provide the services for which they were set up but for the benefit of their highly-unionised employees.

And we no longer have the working class: we have the underclass.

I wonder if Bob Crow’s executors have put his statue of Lenin on E-bay yet?  

11 Mar

Hurrah for Thought for the Day!

Three cheers for Thought for the Day! You never thought you’d hear me say that, did you? Naturally, I’m not extending to the programme a universal enconium, but today’s talk, given by the former Chief Rabbit Jonathan Sachs was a model of what such things should be and a flash of light in the encircling gloom. Dr Sachs reported new findings to the effect that male birds do not, as Darwin preached, sing only as part of a show of sexual advertisement – in the attempt to find a lady bird and get their genes passed on – but to announce their presence and tell anyone listening they’re glad to be alive. And the lady birds do the singing too.

This is so refreshing for it pulls the rug from under the satanic hypothesis of genetic determinism, that reductionist notion that our whole sense of beauty, truth, value and love is nothing but the accidental and meaningless spin-off from ineluctable evolutionary theory.

While we’re at it, we should apply Dr Sachs’ antidote to those other two deterministic, reductionist monsters Freud and Marx. For Freud, we are little more than our unconscious motivation which we are powerless to influence – short of turning up on his couch for seven years’ worth of narcissistic blather and, of course, paying the psychoanalyst’s fees. For Marx, the motivations for all our human and political relationships are mere economics. The fact that Darwin, Marx and Freud have been for so long worshipped as our true – and perhaps only – teachers and prophets is the supreme intellectual tragedy of our time.

Satanic indeed. There is no better word to describe the dirt that these deterministic ideologists have done on human beings. For we are not entirely in the grip of unconscious motives, economic laws or selfish genes. There are first-order experiences of which we are all acutely and continuously conscious, and which are real: self-sacrifice, wit, humour, self-mockery, the power of music, poetry, fine painting. Beauty, Truth and Love – these three. And the greatest of these is love

Darwin, Freud, Marx?  Aw shucks, they’re just for the birds…

10 Mar

More Gorm, Please, Professor Wilkinson

God help those being taught theology at St John’s College, Durham where the principal is Rev’d Professor David Wilkinson. He came on Radio Four’s Thoughtless Today at a quarter to eight this morning to tell us that we’ve learned more about the brain in the last fifteen years than in all previous history. A pity we haven’t at the same time learned to use the brain a bit better than Wilkinson did. I suppose it was rather early in the day. First he caricatured Greek philosophy to a degree that would have Plato and Aristotle suing for misrepresentation, for neither of those gentlemen believed what was attributed to them by Wilkinson: “Body evil, mind good.”

We were then treated to Wilkinson’s own view on the subject. He reckons that the body, the mind and the soul are three different parts of the human person which interact. Now forgive me if I comment on this opinion with the use of some technical jargon. Wilkinson’s view is what we philosophers call gormless. For body, mind and soul are not three things; they are three aspects of one and the same thing. The mind and the soul do not inhabit the body like ghosts in a machine. For the body is material, and the only things that can exist inside a material thing are other material things. Thus the body is the material aspect of the person, the mind is the mental aspect of the same person, and the soul (if there is such a thing) is the person’s spiritual aspect.

Wittgenstein warned us against first forming a picture of something and then becoming enslaved by that picture. For the picture may be a false picture – just like the one drawn by Wilkinson, in fact.

08 Mar

How We Live Now (part 94)

Yesterday 360 members of the House of Lords  voted to replace long-standing terms such as “widow” with phrases such as “woman whose deceased spouse was a man” or “that person’s surviving spouse”.  Terms such as ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ will become redundant. Many centuries-old Statutes were amended in anticipation of the Same-Sex Marriage laws which come into effect later this month.

Wittgenstein wrote, “Change a language and you change a world.” To which we might add, “Destroy a language and you destroy a world.” The very best that can be said about the changes is that they are excessively cumbersome. We know instinctively that something has gone profoundly wrong – it’s sick actually – when it now takes seven words to say what was ever before said by one word.

We might as well have some fun before the whole house burns down. So, for a moment, consider some of the dafter consequences of this syntactical genocide. The posters advertising the pantomime will have to be much bigger as Widow Twanky will henceforth be billed as, The Twanky Woman Whose Deceased Spouse Was A Man. (But how long before the terms “man” and “woman” become victims of the same genocide?) The changes will make our common language impenetrable. I mean for instance, how will the biblical translators render the sentence, “A man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife”? I know: “A person will leave his or her parents and shack up with their spouse person.” Or perhaps something even more convoluted.

I don’t care what our leaders say in their promotion of this scandalous destruction not only of our language but of everything which forever before we regarded as our way of life. The new definitions of human relationships are a satanic invention. They are not trivial. Words are never trivial, for the choice of words determines what is being said.

What these new configurations of devilish babel really mean is the end of the natural covenant between a man and a woman with its connection to the procreation of children. It entails the abolition of the family. It proclaims that there is no longer anything right or wrong except that our atheistic, nihilistic society thinks it so.   Anything Goes – though the devil’s bureaucrats could never put it so succinctly.

The consequences will be catastrophic. The customs and society which have defined and preserved us for millennia are dead. And ourselves with them. This is the Judgement. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

07 Mar

Thoughtless Every Day

I never imagined I would one day disagree with Bishop Michael Nazir Ali, the best (the only?) bishop we have. But he has just said that Dawn French – the Vicar of Dibley – should not be allowed to present Thought for the Day on 29th March, Red Nose Day, because “this would detract from the programme’s seriousness.” At times like this, I’m tempted to echo John McEnroe’s admonishing of the referee: “You cain’t be serious, Michael!” TFTD serious? Don’t make me laugh.

The genial Today presenter Evan Davis says he would like to hear “serious and spiritually-minded secularists” on Thought for the Day. But, with one or two distinguished exceptions, these are the only sort of speakers we ever hear in that slot. There is nothing authentically religious about TFTD. It is an anodyne, multi-faith political pep-talk from the soft Left and so bum-clenchingly politically-correct as to be beyond satire. It is the social gospel – only without the gospel.

The presenters always trendily try to link their “thought” to an item in the day’s news:

“Jesus didn’t go in for binge-drinking but, after a long day chastising the money-changers and the greedy City bankers, there was nothing he liked better than to chill out over a few beers with his disciples – though he was careful not to exceed the recommended daily alcohol units…”

“Guru Nanak did not stigmatise obese people but showed his love for them by distributing low calorie curry dinners…”

“In one of his many speeches about global warming, the Buddha…”

The array of TFTD presenters is like Grand Guignol. There is Anne Atkins, formerly the terrifically scary bible-basher, now mutated into a terrifically scary agony aunt and post-modern novelist. And the faux-proletarian Dr Giles Fraser, fully paid-up member of the Church Militant Tendency.

Lord Harries, the retired Bishop of Oxford, comes on every few weeks to support embryo research and always justifies the killing of embryos by saying that many of them die anyway – a vivid demonstration of TFTD’s non-sequiturial style: like arguing that because some people fall under buses, it’s OK to push them.

There is a tremendously progressive Muslim with a name and an intonation that sounds like Moaner Cyd Eekie. They still nostalgically wheel out Rabbi Lionel Blue now and again to tell us that he’s not very well, Gay and trying his best to exorcise his Woody Allenish obsession with the Grim Reaper. I haven’t heard Bishop “Tom” Butler for a while. It was always nice to hear him reminisce about how, returning soberly from a reception at the Irish Embassy, he was discovered lying down in the back seat of someone else’s car, throwing toys out of the window: “I’m a bishop. It’s what I do!”

Hardly any of the contributors to TFTD are what you might call religious. Rather they translate traditional biblical stories into secular metaphors. For example, the feeding of the 5000 was no miracle but only a lesson in “sharing.” No more than a socialist picnic. Jesus did not rise physically from the tomb: it was just a case of the disciples’ subjective experience of “new life” – though how they gained this experience if Jesus remained dead they don’t explain.

There is no need for a religious slot these days. The BBC relentlessly preaches its own syncretistic secular religion, ecumenically combining anti-Americanism, hatred of Israel, addiction to pop-music, multiculturalism, the adulation of tawdry celebs and left wing playwrights and an obsession with climate change. Amen.

Good morning, John, good morning Sarah and good morning Jim… On the other hand what really would be a turn up is if a traditional, full-believing Christian were ever allowed on the programme. No chance. He wouldn’t get closer than a Sabbath day’s journey.

07 Mar

Not Architect but Maker

Nihil ex nihilo fit – nothing comes out of nothing. This is the starting point for the “debate” or slanging-match between the creationists and the new atheists. It is a very old argument and it is not very enlightening, despite its venerable credentials. It is in essence the same argument as that between the 18th century deists such as William Paley and their positivistic opponents such as David Hume. It goes even further back, to Aquinas and the scholastics and eventually to Aristotle. David Bentley Hart comments acerbically that the two sides in this dispute are so fatuous that they deserve each other.

For God is not the Great Architect, as the freemasons vainly believe. God is not the supreme technologist and fabricator, the one who made all the bits: he is the Creator. God was regarded by Augustine and Aquinas as the First Cause, but they didn’t mean that God set some mechanical sequence in motion and then, as it were, retired. By “First Cause” they were not talking about some aspect of thermodynamics: they meant that God is the One who gives reality to what otherwise would remain forever only potential.

This is what the Creed means when, quoting the first chapter of St John’s Gospel, it says by whom all things were made.

God does not therefore fabricate the world: rather he bestows upon the natural order its being. Something of this can be seen in the very first verses of Genesis where in the beginning there was not nothingness, but the earth was without form and void. It is God who gives form – being – to the formless void.

Those, like Richard Dawkins and indeed all materialists, who argue that the material order requires no Creator and that it is self-generating and self-sufficient – that there is nothing but the material order – fail to understand that, if that were the case, there is no way we could ever know that it is the case. Because knowledge implies thoughts, and thoughts are not material.

Perhaps there is an analogy between God’s creativity and ours – which we should in any case expect since we are made in God’s image. So the novelist when he creates his novel does not make the pen and paper with which he writes it though, of course, without the pen and paper, the novelist would not be able to present to us the characters he invents for us. These characters are not the ink marks on the page: they are the production of the mind of the novelist.

Similarly, we are creatures created by the mind of God. Specifically, as Augustine says, by the love of God. And God’s act of creation is not like the big bang. It is continuous and everlasting. Augustine says that if God were to stop loving us even for a moment, we should immediately cease to exist. Fortunately for us, God cannot do this. For God is love and he is bound to act in accordance with his nature. Augustine goes further and says, God is love and nothing else. Thus if God were to cease loving, he would cease to be God. (To express this anthropomorphically, God would cease to exist)  

Incidentally, that old chestnut objection to the existence of God expressed by the question, Who made God? can be applied more pertinently to the big bang: if the big bang were really the first cause, what caused the big bang? In other words, how could a purely natural order naturally generate itself?

Dante underscores this truth at the end of The Divine Comedy when he speaks of the love that moves the sun and the other stars

Thus our existence is not our material features, but it is our being, our reality, bestowed upon us by the gift of God.

Once we understand this, the familiar difficulties with the idea of life after death entirely disappear.

06 Mar

Dumber Still and Dumber the Church’s Bounds are Set

Love Life: Live Lent.

The Archbishop of York is taking seriously his responsibility for the spiritual life of the nation. He has written the Foreword to three booklets to guide us through Lent: one for “The Family”; one for “Adults and Youth” and the other for “Kids.” Or is that last one for nanny goats?

These glossy booklets feature Mr Men style cartoon pictures whom we must suppose are meant to represent the general public. Achingly politically-correct with all races represented – but no fat people or smokers. Dumbing-down beyond the farthest reaches of infantilisation, the booklets urge us to “Do fun things together. Create a space in your home…a corner of a room…an understairs cupboard… a shelf…make a prayer den using furniture and blankets…gather some objects that are fun to touch, feel and smell: a piece of velvet, feathers, a tray of sand, lavender bags or pine cones.” These should be enough to satisfy at least some of the more mentionable fetishists among us.

And what are we supposed to do in the prayer space? “Take in some pebbles, shells or feathers” – presumably to demonstrate impeccable ecumenical relations with primitive animists and tree-huggers. And prayers are supplied: “Dear God, make wrong things right…” But this is not God; only the sentimental wish-fulfilment of Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy We are even educated into the correct manual acts to perform while praying this desolate prayer: “Shake your finger from side to side for ‘wrong’ and then do thumbs up for ‘right’.”

You feel there should be a caution not to do this near a window in case the neighbours see you and phone for the men in white coats.

Lent involves us in acts of practical devotion too. So, “Give a lollipop to your lollipop person.”

Of course, as always in the Church of England these days, the sheer blithering inanities only faintly disguise the right-on political hard sell:

“Email or write to your MP about a global poverty issue… Buy a fair Trade Easter egg” But what, if you follow the advice of many leading economists who claim so called Fair Trade does nothing to help the poor, and recommend free trade instead?

The only orthodoxy we find in these booklets is environmentalist demagoguery and the pagan superstition of global warming: “Help lighten our load on the planet… defrost your fridge and find out how climate change affects poorer people…help stop global climate change: recycle your rubbish save trees, use both sides of the paper…”

(When doing what, by the way?)

Lent is supposed to be a time when we repent of our sins. But the only sins found here are those of not subscribing to the Christian socialist manifesto and global warming denial.

No wonder the pews are emptying faster than ever, when these booklets represent the mind of the Church of England. Lent is for deepening our understanding of the faith and for growing nearer to God. These booklets contain no nourishment for those tasks.

What might the Archbishop have offered, if he had been in his right mind? That we should all begin and end the day by saying the Lord’s Prayer. Read the Collect, Epistle and Gospel written in the matchless English of The Book of Common Prayer for each of the six weeks of Lent. Perhaps say the Psalms set for every day. Try to attend an early morning or lunchtime weekday service of Holy Communion. Competent shepherds of their sheep would also have recommended some spiritual reading.

These patronising booklets are worse than a joke, worse than useless. They ape the trite and gaudy language and images of a debased advertising culture, babyfied and debauched, and apply it to the Christian Gospel. But faith cannot be taught in this way. It cannot be communicated by the thing it is not, the thing that is actually anathema to it. People have to be taught. These booklets only insult the intelligence of the public. There is no Christianity in “Live Life: Love Lent” – only a blasphemous parody of the faith.

05 Mar

Guidance in the maze

Is it Innocents’ Day every day now? Do we learn nothing from experience? Michael Buerk was on Radio Four this morning advertising this evening’s edition of The Moral Maze and he asked what had happened to the idea of morality in politics: do we no longer have a commitment to the spread of democracy and instead consider only our own national interest?

But the notion that politics and policies should be based on abstract principles and systems is one which was born in Enlightenment Whiggery and greatly strengthened by the secular dogmas of socialism and Marxism. Eliot famously criticised this view of how we should conduct ourselves when he mocked “men dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.” For the truth is that not only should we avoid this intrusion of the notions of principle and abstract ideas into places where they don’t belong but, as matter of fact, such principles, ideas and theories never have guided the policies and politics of the nations. Nations and peoples tend to act in their interests – and a good thing too.

For there is a multitude of conflicting principles and these provoke conflicts which are avoidable and quite unnecessary. The idea of democracy has got too big for its boots and become our obsession, which is a wholly bad thing, not least because the word” democracy” is never clearly defined; and it is everywhere employed as a slogan, a shibboleth, as a secularised religious commandment. And the view of what constitutes democracy is excessively simplistic. In the realm of public discussion and media comment it always means nothing more than turning up at elections and meetings, counting heads and doing what the majority voted for. This is worse than simplistic: it is unjust. Even John Stuart Mill in his On Liberty understood that democracy concerns respect for the views of minorities. Suppose a controversial motion – say to ban hunting with hounds – is proposed and carried by a majority, what then becomes of respect for the views of those dissenting? In our system, they are ridden over, roughshod; they become, as it were, non-persons. This is not democracy, but tyranny. The issue becomes even more unjust in cases where the vote is a narrow one.

Democracy has thus become the dictatorship of superior numbers.

The organic, traditionally conservative view, the opposite of Whiggery and of this simplistic and unjust notion of democracy, is that our freedoms in society – what C.H. Sisson described as “a decent set of political liberties” – are preserved by a much more subtle interplay of forces. Public life is not formed and shaped by headcounts alone. We have national institutions: the law, the church, parliament, the university, the monarchy and we are what we are because we exist within them. The idea of the sovereign individual is not only divisive and malign: it is a delusion. For we are all shaped and formed by forces, events and conditions which are greater than the individual and beyond the individual’s control. Our parents. Our property. Our schooling. Our membership of all our voluntary institutions: the pub and the pie shop, the football match, the Lord’s Test, the Grand National, the Promenade Concerts. Before the comparatively recent demise of the Church of England, we should have mentioned the great Feasts and Fasts: Easter, Whitsunday, Ash Wednesday – and of course the correlative of the Church’s Year in the agricultural seasons, springtime and harvest. Now almost all we’re left with from the Church’s Year is the commercial Christmas and that, for good or ill, has become part of the democracy which shapes our lives. I am forgetting the revived pagan superstition of the vast – and expensive – communal celebration of the New Year. Among the lesser feasts and fasts, I’m afraid we now have to include such ersatz displays of public vulgarity as Valentine’s Day (the prefix “Saint” long since removed). Fathers’ Day and Halloween. It is worth pausing to note that our secularised society does not celebrate 1st November (All Saints) but 31st October (Halloween). Thus good is ignored and evil acknowledged. Other banalities float across from the USA and there is a growing observance of something called Groundhog Day – coincidentally 2nd February the ancient Feast of Candlemas.

It is not only a fact that politics and policies are about interests: it is right that they should be so. We are not abstractions, intellectual counters in a game whose rules are a sort of French Political Calculus. We are flesh and blood, bodies, parts and passions. We are embodied. The significant word is “incarnate.” We are creatures, and creatures have interests. A man eats when he’s hungry and a woman drinks when she’s dry. A nation goes to war either for the gains of conquest or for defence and self-preservation.

These are the tangible realities by the side of which modern notions of democracy are only so much hot air. 

All that we are as individuals and as a nation is summed up in one line: “God save the Queen!” He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

04 Mar

The politics of interests

I am grateful for Alex Boot’s very full response to my stated views on the Crimean crisis and, indeed, I am pleased to discover myself in agreement with much of what he has said. But I would continue to maintain that it is not a matter of whether Putin is a nice man or the leader of an evil empire comparable to that of Hitler’s and similar to Hitler’s in so many ways. I know that Hitler could have been stopped on many occasions before 1939. And I never had any sympathy for the appeasers.

But – it may be that this comparison with Hitler is a perfect analogy. I don’t know. It may be in the West’s interests to stand up to Putin – not that the West will. But that is not my point. I simply maintain that Putin believes he is acting in his interests; and that, tactically and strategically, control of the Crimea is very important to him. Of course, it might not be in Putin’s interests to do as he is doing in the Crimea: only he has judged that he is acting according to his interests.

04 Mar

Alex Boot’s powerful riposte to my view of the Crimean situation


Dear Peter,

I totally agree with you that ‘practical politics is not about ideals and principles – still less about morality; it’s about perceived interests’. That is, I agree with it in general. However, there have been concrete historical occasions when politics, ideals, principles and even morality overlapped with interests.

The Crusades spring to mind, and many other instances, such as the Russo Turkish War of 1877, when the Russians went to war to protect the Orthodox Bulgaria against the Muslim Ottoman Empire.

But your use of the Chamberlain quote “a far-away country about which we know nothing” sends us back to a modern example of morality and interests wrongly perceived to go their different ways – with catastrophic results. Eerily the present situation in the Ukraine has much in common with that one.

As Hitler was preparing for his conquest, and immediately after he launched it, there were three opportunities to stop him in his tracks – yet another instance of real politik and morality being in agreement.

First, after Hitler broke the Versailles Treaty and remilitarised the Rhineland in 1936, it would have taken two French divisions to send him packing. Yet nothing was done, out of both cowardice and a misapprehension of the ‘perceived interests’.

Second, when Hitler’s intentions were made crystal clear, and every European with half a brain knew that his 1938 demands on the Sudetenland, ostensibly based on protecting the German population there (notice the parallels with Putin?), were in fact the next stage in conquest, Hitler could have been stopped almost as easily. Instead Chamberlain waved a piece of paper in the air – our interests, he felt, weren’t threatened.

Third, after Hitler attacked Poland in 1939 and the ‘phoney war’ started, Hitler left his western flank so utterly bare that there wasn’t a single tank there. As the Polish Poznan Army Group was digging in on the other bank of the Vistula, the combined Anglo-French force could have had a pleasant, practically unopposed ride all the way to Berlin. Yet the war remained phoney – that’s how we perceived our interests. Well, we all know the rest.

In this article I draw the parallel between Nazi Germany and Putin’s Russia: http://alexanderboot.com/content/peter-hitchens’s-love-affair-putin-continuesFirst

And here I touch upon Russia’s long-term strategy:


The parallels with the Nazis are clear-cut. Not to turn this into a lengthy pamphlet, I shan’t cite ample support for each point – but believe me, I could.

First, Russia’s is an evil regime, led by an evil man pursuing evil ends. In every respect, other than rhetoric, it’s a continuation of the Soviet Union by other means. Whatever changes are discernible are purely tactical. Free speech isn’t suppressed as totally as in the USSR, but it is suppressed. Concentration camps are less full, but they’re still there. And certainly more political opponents have been murdered under Putin than under Brezhnev – some in London.

(Amazingly, some conservative commentators both here and in the USA see Putin as a bulwark of traditional values against PC modernity, mostly because of his ban on homosexual propaganda. However, Hitler wasn’t keen on homosexuals either, and neither was Osama bin Laden. Concentrating on a part at the expense of the whole is called heresy in religion and stupidity in politics.)

One of the evil ends is the recreation of the Soviet Union using the Zollverein tactic of coercing some former Soviet republics to join and bribing the others. Kazakhstan and Belorus have been bribed, Georgia – that repelled all the overtures – was raped in 2008, with the West’s acquiescence. After an aggressive war, two Georgian provinces were gobbled up by Putin, and a couple of years later a puppet government was installed.

Second, emboldened by the West’s passivity (just like Hitler was after Munich), Putin has now attacked the Ukraine. No doubt you’re right – he sees the aggression as a way of furthering his strategic interests. But surely you don’t think these are our interests as well?

The independence and territorial integrity of the Ukraine were guaranteed by the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which doesn’t quite have the legal power of the Versailles Treaty, but almost. The Ukraine certainly felt the guarantee was strong enough for her to relinquish her nuclear weapons.

Putin’s arguments based on protecting the Russian minority cut no more ice than Hitler’s did in 1938. The Russians are in no way threatened in the Ukraine, and in fact in 2012 Russian was accepted as the second official language. Most key figures in Ukrainian politics, including Yanhukovych, Timoshenko and many of the Maidan people, can’t speak Ukrainian at all.

Historical arguments are even iffier. True, the Crimea has never had any link with the Ukraine and only became its part as a result of Khrushchev’s gerrymandering in 1954. But if we go further back, the Crimea had nothing to do with Russia either. Originally it was Greek, the center of Mithridates’s Empire, then a province of the Roman Empire – Ovid’s Metamorphoses was written there. It then became Muslim (Tartar) and so it remained until late 18th century, when Prince Potemkin, Catherine the Great’s lover and co-ruler, conquered it for Russia.

Historical references are a shaky basis for territorial claims. Königsberg, for example, the city where Kant lived all his life, is historically German. So is the Sudetenland. So is Silesia. So is Alsace. None of them is German any longer – that’s how the world works.

Historically, Kiev, where Russia was baptised, was the capital of Kievan Rus or rather of the Vikings who then made up the ruling elite. The Moscow principality was originally only a small part of it, so in that sense one may say – with equally poor justification – that the Ukraine has historical claims on Russia, rather than vice versa.

Putin’s aggression against Georgia first and now the Ukraine isn’t just immoral and illegal – it’s a direct clash with our national interests. Moreover, it proves the point I’ve been making since 1989, the heyday of perestroika: Russia remains the greatest danger to world peace there is. Forget the Muslims, forget Kim, forget China: Putin’s expansion presents an immediate threat of world war.

Remember that the three former Soviet republics at the Baltic are now NATO members. Our obligations to them are stronger than even ours to the Ukraine under the terms of the Budapest Memorandum. What if Putin decides that the Russian minority is threatened there as well? Why, those dastardly Balts even make their Russia citizens speak the local languages – if that’s not oppression I don’t know what is.

Protecting the sovereignty of Europe’s largest country isn’t only moral but in our national interests. Our options are of course limited – no one is going to start a war over the Ukraine. But what we can do is treat Russia as a rogue, pariah state violating every norm of civilised conduct.

That would entail all sorts of political and economic steps that are too numerous to go into now. The task of a political commentator is to know all the facets of the problem, historical, legal, cultural, ethnic, linguistic, political, geopolitical, and explain them to readers short of such knowledge.

Instead Putin’s propaganda machine, just as Hitler’s and Stalin’s did so successfully, is imposing its own terms on even conservative commentators. For example, every Putinite newspaper, which is to say every Russian newspaper, describes the people who kicked Yanukovych out as ‘Banderovtsy’, the followers of the nationalist leader Stepan Bandera who during the war fought against both the Soviets and the Nazis.

Bandera’s armed struggle against the Soviets continued well into the ‘50s, after which he managed to escape to Munich, where a KGB assassin got him with a cyanide pistol. Courtesy of Soviet propaganda, the word ‘Banderovtsy’ is hugely pejorative in Russia: it’s used to describe ultra-Right fascist thugs.

In that time-honoured vein, all Ukrainians who don’t want to be Putin’s poodles, including those who unseated Yanukovych, are described in this way. This is a lie. The Maidan crowd was made up of many groups, of which the ultra-right were only one. Most people there were self-sacrificial freedom fighters, feeling they deserve a shot at independence after almost a century of suffering at Russia’s hands.

Whoever they are, it’s in our interests to support them as best we can – not all of them are our friends but they are all our enemy’s enemies.

Rather than treating Putin’s strategic interests with sympathetic understanding, we should be mindful of our own – and understand where they lie.