Essays in Idleness

DAVID WARREN

Why peace is hard

Yes, peace would be nice, as most of the belligerents in Ukraine (and elsewhere) would agree, although they would like to add other desiderata: for instance, a nation enslaved, or a conquerer triumphant, as the condition of peace. Mr Putin, whose name is lately used with admiration in his own circle, or contempt outside it, but apparently nowhere with indifference, is the man who has been setting conditions; but he is one of history’s long chain. Such characters will always find succour among faithless friends, for the time of their success. They will be feared a while. Those who imagine they can rise, ride in his ascending chariot, and will be in it when it plunges.

The wisdom of the Church was never peacenik. It has always recognized that “things are as they are,” and must be, in this vale of tears. Sinful men and women will be violent, but worse, create the conditions for violence beyond their own persons. Great numbers will be organized to their service by lies, and the constant repetition of these lies by “true believers.”

How does one detect that one has joined the wrong side? Surely this will be discovered when it is debated, one suspects; though in fact truth is only a by-product of debates, which were usually begun for quite another purpose. Instead, the lover of truth (in all the embarrassment that may accompany it) will only detect the truthful tone, as one person who is listening apart, among a crowd of the undiscerning. He will be alert to the contrary tone of glibness when the false is revealed, watching for the accretion of irrelevance, almost feeling for the little incidents of deceit, that tell him to beware. How often I have monitored an argument that could have been resolved by a single hard fact, had it ever been spoken, and then admitted. But it was too tasteless to bring up, and so was buried in the blather.

For courage is also necessary, to the truth. It will cost, to speak it. And the one who knows the lies are untrue, may be flinching from prospective pain. He knows, or rather thinks he knows, that he does not have the strength to stand against a falsehood, that is everywhere accepted. He does not have the power to lean, alone, into the gale.

He will let it pass. He is not a great hero; he is not Christ.

Christ can save us. To serve God is to serve the truth, and it is to call upon the divine for assistance, in the moment of insecurity. With men this is impossible, “but with God all things are possible.”

Sanctions

Were the Americans boldly supplying weapons to the enemies of Nazi Germany, in the time before Pearl Harbour? and applying economic sanctions and other ills against their future enemies? Of course they were; there is nothing new in the news. They were penalizing Germany, and Japan, and generously helping Britain, just as they are now penalizing Russia, and sending help to Ukraine — as if they would “fight to the last dead Ukrainian.”

The Russian, like German and Japanese regimes before them, may suffer from these attentions to the fine details of malice, yet often find the theatre empowering. They are inspired to ever more shameless aggression, and their peoples are won over to the monstrous cause. They will take pride in withstanding the hardships we impose, and use their best wits to defeat them. And they will find new allies, that really we have found for them.

History has not been kind to those who impose sanctions and blockades; for these are among the leading suppliers of unintended consequences. This is the case for large nations, but also for smaller groups. The Jews I would give as my example of the greatest long-term beneficiaries, not only in Christendom, but leading back to ancient Egypt. Christians, too, and others who have experienced bigotry in the places where they live, have also flourished from restrictions, being moved to make the best of them. Indeed, the world benefits from shortages of things — though we pretend not to notice.

One of the (satanic) achievements of the First World War was the invention of active, mass (“democratic”) civilian warfare, through economic measures. The wars of the 19th and previous centuries had been fought without these cumbersomely wicked methods. Moral principles from non-military life continued to apply. Countries (and businesses) paid debts to their national enemies, when they fell due, and trade even in strategic materials went unimpaired.

That was then, but from 1914, this is now. Sophisticated blockades were brought against the Kaiser, by Britain and France. They tried, never entirely successfully, to cut him off from his European neighbours, and their colonial “partners.” By 1939, war had become more than “simply the continuation of political intercourse with the addition of other means,” but a special system of moral display or “virtue signalling.” It became the final expression of hegemony.

We were exploring new dimensions of “total war,” beyond any kind Clausewitz had conceived of. The combination of unprecedented viciousness, with the soothing propaganda of kindliness and concern, is a definitive feature of modernity.

A new book by Nicholas Mulder, The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War (Yale), seems to make this point, gently. It is not the sort of book I spend my evenings reading, but the kind I am willing to skim and approve.  In its background we can see, perhaps, the whole liberal order of what we might call “globalism” hitting the shoals of the Great War.

Liberalism, in economics or any other field, was never possible, just as solid money may never be possible; but the world made an heroic, conspicuous effort to achieve a universal reign of economic decency, to the cusp of my grandfather’s generation.

I have tried to explain to myself the pity that I have read in his diaries, when he was a soldiering occupant of south-western Germany in 1919, after the victory had been won. (To secure which, he had trudged through France.) Not since the wars of the Reformation had men and women been brought so low. It is a world in which we don’t actually seek Hell for ourselves, but are tireless in imposing it on those we have trapped on the enemy side.

War patriarchs

Balderdash, I was thinking, while trapped in a little war, or rather “a discussion,” with an old not-really-Slavic friend about the “military operation in Ukraine” — as Vladimir Putin likes to call it. My friend seemed to think that the West had provoked it, with efforts to assimilate Ukraine into the American sphere of influence, through foolish Ukrainian not-really-statesmen, and I granted this was worth one point in ten.

At a deeper level, he said the habitual Orthodox mindset had come in conflict with the habitual “Western” (Catholic) one, splitting Ukraine between expressions of the same faith. The Rus’ are more faithful and religious, he said; more powerfully committed to divine truth. As a good Christian, one should be on their side, or at least sympathetically neutral.

But none of this is true, I say; and now I am writing this squib, so there!

That deeper notion, of religious differences East and West, has been with us for a while. In fact it precedes Dostoyevsky. It goes deeper than the Church split of 1054, and can be traced even to pre-Christian cultural tensions between Romans and Hellenes.

It was not for nothing that the West chose Latin as its primary liturgical, and also philosophical language; and I might argue that the withering of the cosmopolitan Latin literary tradition was in itself a threat to the Catholic Church. (“Dante, herald of the Reformation,” I shall lecture.) For the language in which one has the custom to think is not a minor part of the soul’s understanding of the world, and the most brilliant and intentionally precise men will speak at cross-purposes, through translation.

This we admit, but falling short of a casus belli, for war, other than defensive, cannot be justified in any of the languages in which reason once prospered. Indeed, the only justification for war — recognized even by the religious — is defensive in some sense. Creaturehood must defend itself, within nature — although this principle leaves plenty of room for interpretation.

War is not entirely, nor usually even mostly, good; killing and destruction are not admirable ends in themselves. Surely, most people know this, or at least suspect; even while they are preparing for war.

The idea that there is anything in the Gospel — in Christ’s teaching, whether it is received in Moscow or in Washington, D.C. — that would recommend the occasional missile strike, is obtuse. Wars begin from sordid motives, and advance as the sordid is increasingly shared about. They are unChristian, yet they cannot be Buddhist, or Animist, either. A religion that advances conquest through a war-cry of Jihad would be a murderous religion, and utterly invalid; and so Mr Putin’s Jihad may be unimaginatively condemned.

Patriarch Kirill, primate of All Rus’, has won for himself the reputation of being Mr Putin’s sleazy and pathetic shill, by blessing the weaponry. As spokesman and enthusiast for a worldly power, he could not possibly speak for Christ. I was willing to ignore his background as an archimandrite, as apologist for Soviet Communism to the World Council of Churches, and so forth — I can overlook much when a character knows how to dress — but suddenly I remember:

That there is no such thing as a religious war. It is an extension of politics.

Easter morning

Great and Holy Pascha, or, Easter Sunday — is the entry to Eastertide (in the liturgical arrangements of the West) but also, the access to maturity in human life.

Except for more purely seasonal indications, the animals seem unaware of Him, and persist in their own spaces. We, alone, can formulate an argument for our radical difference from the rest of nature, and indeed what follows: the extreme aloofness of our position on the planet. Often, we try to hide this even from ourselves, and invent the wildest ecological theories as a kind of alternative to the inevitable human religious faith.

Between the natural animal and “unnatural” man, many habits are shared, such as the use of language. One thinks of the honey bees. We can’t have philosophically “meaningful” conversations with them, but then, we cannot deny that they are communicating, among each other.

From an excellent authority on the behaviour of honey bees (the late Karl von Frisch), I learned that they may forage for their nectar and pollen well beyond five miles’ distance from their hive. Then they find their way home again, quite infallibly. They can visit the very same flower the next day, or — and here my credulity was tested — they can precisely describe their route, to a hive-mate. He can then follow it, solo. Through their round-dances, and waggle-tail dances, this information is communicated, just as we would with words; and more complex matters of odour and taste, along with the weather in tiny microclimates, and bracketing details of time, can also be “spoken” by these wax colonials. Their fellow workers seem to understand; and since ancient times, our bee-keepers have knowingly intervened in the honey bees’ routines.

These workers are incidentally all females — all these industrious little bee-souls with their tasks — but incapable of reproducing. They are “eusocial,” like many of the ten-thousand species of bees, ants, wasps, termites; and maybe some others. Each must have elaborate signalling abilities, and as at least the entomologists have come to appreciate, not only discrete languages in one colony from another, but subtle differences of dialect, within and between, and up and down the classes. So, upon meeting, individuals may not only tell each other apart, but know whom to protect and whom to kill, &c.

Whereas, human beings are not actually eusocial, though Professor E. O. Wilson seemed to think that we were. But we would need a strict local caste system in every human settlement to achieve this, and the time suitable for Darwinist evolution to perfect the various orders. And of course, we must eliminate such human eccentricities as free speech and free will, as well as our propensity to speak nonsense, and sing without purpose. (The socialists are working on this.)

By comparison to the other animals, whether eusocial or not, Christ rose, and talks, directly to us. Again, this is discerned, by everyone who attentively listens. Today — this morning — we are reminded that He speaks from either side of death; and that he summons us to follow.

Easter eggs

I am appalled to see Easter eggs on sale in Holy Week, and often, long before. I make the same complaint about hot cross buns, which seem to have jumped all our supply chain hurdles. Had no one the will to persist through Lenten abstinence and fast? Or horror, perhaps they’ve ceased to be Christian. We live in an ever more barbaric society, even while our physical prospects are improving.

From my readings in the Wall Street Journal, “globalism” has taken a few hits lately, and with any luck, should soon fade from the background of media clichés. Of course, the hits I’ve been monitoring are relatively minor. They are sword, famine, beasts, and pestilence; it would be tedious to document the route of each horseman. But worse can be easily anticipated, when we factor in a catastrophically aging population, and the violent gerontological behaviour of such as Russia and China.

It is an ill wind that blows no one any favours, however, and supposing that we outlast any attempts at armed invasion by more envious powers, Canada is well-placed. All we need do is to “phase out” our obnoxious environmentalist constituency, which by now we should be willing to perform as an end in itself.

I am thinking of our national reserves in, for instance, potash, and nickel. Sotto voce, let me add natural gas and coal, and our splendid variety of titanium and other rare metal ores. We are perfectly located to become the New Russia, once the Old Russia has itself been phased away. If gentle reader, too, consults the Wall Street Journal, and can skip through all the liberal posturing in its pointless feature stories, I think he will be rendered giddy.

Alas, this applies only to Canadians (and perhaps Australians); most other nations had the misfortune to be founded closer to Russia, or China.  Most, also, did not have the luck to seize, or inherit, some several billion acres of mostly unoccupied territory, under which the usual wild surplus of resources were buried. This, too, is the purest good fortune, when considering our far northern climate — for anything not astutely buried will surely perish (unless it is frozen carefully). Even so, with a small population, it is easy enough to grow what we need, and a few things more for sale to the famished (although mangoes we may always have to import).

All over the world, the potential for agriculture is actually high, no matter the supply of fertilizers and transport. This is because human labour can replace technology, and always will, except where the people are lazy or sluggish. For hunger, I like to opine, is the great motivator to oeconomic activity.

But what of the aging nations? With my own first taste of the effects of catastrophic aging, my desire to get out into the fields, or even visit the groceteria, has become more modest. And needless to say, where the average age is now above fifty, they cannot be seriously expecting a baby boom. This is terribly sad.

More or less

Let me beg the reader’s indulgence, for I have not been filing these Essays in Idleness every day or so, as I once did, and as some of you had come to expect. I could attribute this failure to “writer’s block,” for on too many occasions I set out to compose what I thought would be a snip, but found appropriate words to be unavailable.

This, in turn, may have had something to do with what Swift called, in his “Verses on the Death of Dr Swift,” to be, “That old Vertigo in his Head.” For in the time since my heart attack, and little adventure in open-heart surgery, I had at least one prompt stroke. It was entertaining, and I enjoyed the drug regime that went with; but since, I have remained dizzy, swirling, physically unbalanced. Indeed, I cannot amble constitutionally, without swaying from one side of the sidewalk to the other, like a common Parkdale inebriate.

The medical professionals, upon whom I try not to comment, keep checking upon me, or summoning me to call upon them. They are exhausting, but they have not been oppressively curious. The clearest account I have received was from one experienced “rehab” nurse who said that, to her experienced view, the surgeons had entirely cured my cardiac condition. Unfortunately, they had replaced it with a neurological condition.

But I am grateful that they left me alive.

My own theory of medicine is the ancient one. Various diseases are miraculously cured, “one fine day” — regardless of medical intervention. Various others prove fatal. I will hope for the first class, in which case, I will resume writing more frequently. If the second,  however, I must write less frequently, or not at all.

What is a man?

At a time when the Woke people are discussing — or more precisely avoiding the discussion of — what is a woman, I should like to glance at the even more trivial question of what is a man.

Of course, I say “trivial” only in light of current social conventions, one of which is to use the word “social” in a vaguely malicious way. The reader may have heard of human individuals, and even the late Mrs Thatcher allowed “families” to be grouped apart from the general population. But revolutionists, from the Communists to the Patriots of old, and looking back sometimes to Solon, preferred to use “the people” as the only practical plural of “person.”

I may be over-simplifying; for I’ve been told all about American Exceptionalism, by the Trumpestuous faction. It differs from other forms of national exceptionalism because it is distinctly United Statist. But in the Russian national anthem I was just listening to, there would seem to be a second-person reference: “You are unique in the world, one of a kind!” Also it is uniquely, “This native land, protected by God!” I will not vouch for this translation, however, as I got it from the Wicked Paedia. (Grammatically, I do not see how “they” could be “one of a kind.”)

My own notation, should it be called for, is that family (which I sometimes misspell “fambly”) tends to be neglected in any description of “the mass” (not in the Catholic sense), and is as undistinctive as any comparable collection of mush. It makes as little sense as “woman,” to the blind, sexless, and mentally unresponsive.

There is general agreement that he/she/it is an “organism.” Even a candidate for the American Supreme Court will admit to possessing knowledge of that much biology, though anything more would be deemed controversial. The most recent such candidate is what would formerly have been called “a woman,” but not any more, except after the adjective “black.”

A man, it follows, has now lost his status as a male human being, as he can no longer be distinguished from a woman. Moreover, being human would seem an insufficient argument against being eaten, by one’s own kind. But that kind is fading. I spend part of my time in hospitals, these days, where I can report that we are all treated as organisms. Some distinctions continue to be made by the organisms, themselves, though nothing systematic. Chiefly, they go into various departments, according to their disease.

Is there a way to categorize dead men — that would be satisfactory to the Wokists, or any allied group of post-human revolutionists? I cannot think of one, for after death, such superficial identifiers as previously were “an issue” gradually disappear, or quickly vanish thanks to modern cremation technology.

On the other hand, I gather that archaeologists can still determine what the experts now call “gender” from corpses that were discarded many thousand years ago; and DNA samples are often used to establish fambly members. Too, past funerary customs sometimes allow even a modern to distinguish the rich from the poor.

The methods are not always certain, but then, the fate of the world in “global warming” is uncertain yet. We must be patient.

Peaceful shelling

That the American FBI, like the Canadian RCMP, has become a rogue agency, enforcing the whims of senior Democrats on one side of the “world’s longest undefended” border, and the Liberal Party on the other, should not be much contested by persons of the conservative, old-school type — at least, those who read news reports. We’ve noticed the celebrities who count, and don’t count; whom they investigate, and don’t investigate; those above the law, and those below it.

But the question is, which is more corrupt?

According to our left-dominated mass media, the victims of these two secret police organizations must take all the blame. This is because they want to change the government, secretly if not openly. More subtly, the belief in evidence-based jurisprudence, as evidence-based science, indicates a spirit of non-compliance with civil authorities and government thugs. To the left, this is much more significant than the frauds the media are disinclined to cover.

Indeed, the continuing hysteria over “racism” in North America, and all of its complex ramifications down to the redefinition of “a woman,” has installed a convenient environment for fraud. I mean this quite literally, for I have read multiple reports of arrests finally made against persons who were scamming millions of dollars through government programmes and projects. They got away with it for years, perhaps decades, because no one dared to challenge them. The fraudsters were “cool” people; they were comfortable with power. Most were collecting expensive properties and cars; their politics were merely protective colouration.

Once having obtained power, through deceit, a formal or informally ideological party becomes hard to dislodge. It now controls the mechanics of elections. It can pass laws to compel the silence of anyone expressing free opinions. It orders the police raids. Intimidation is the great persuader: leftists and criminals have always known this.

We have, in North America, something like the war in Ukraine, although without the constant loud shelling. Instead, it is superficially fairly “peaceful.”  Every feature of our once-Christian civilization is under more-or-less frontal attack, and subject to schemes that would invert it.

Another difference is that the Ukrainians are, nobly and often heroically, fighting to defend their homeland — their own families — against numerous barbarous Russian invaders. Whereas, over here, we seem to have surrendered unconditionally to a much smaller force.

The misery index

While I was distracted for a few days by “things,” they were nothing important, and verily, nothing to contribute to the National Misery Index, which seemed high enough beforehand. But now, looking over neglected email correspondence, I discover something that can be set against that. My Chief Argentine Correspondent boasts that his South has undone my North, eclipsing my fair Dominion in the achievement of misery; and they will not let up.

This adds to my distress. … “Dear David,” he writes:

“We await the inclusion of all you Northerners with us: a proud second country abottom the International Misery Index. We arrived at this enviable position thanks to the uncanny Argentine ability to think from the anatomical rear. I admit, your politicians are trying, and getting much better at it, but be assured, they will never, ever, reach our disillustrious level. …

“You see, we have had many nefarious entities to blame along the way. We are masters of deflection. As we receded to unprecedented depths of moral squalor, we accused: the voracious Spanish Lion, Perfidious Albion, the American Empire, German Huns, Malodorous Frenchmen, the United Nations, the international banks. We did the whole list. From the World Bank to the Salvation Army there is not one lender that has not been screwed by the Argies. It is a majestic record. …

“The gallery of rogues shown at the end of this email [deleted] is missing the Radicals that began the demolition in 1916 when Argentina was in the position now enjoyed by Canadians. To prove my point, here is the mug of the first Radical president [also deleted]. Tell me if you are not thrown into a paroxysm of admiration and moved to exclaim: ‘Hipolito! Lead us to the light!’ (His autopsy revealed a head filled with the purest form of granite.) Churchill, Roosevelt, Hoover, Wilson, cultivated the intelligent look. Hipolito was sincere: his whole demeanor honestly declared: ‘I am an ass!’ …

[Cf. Trudeau in blackface.]

“The election of Hipolito Yrigoyen brought an end to the era of the Old Oligarchs, who had taken a country similar to Afghanistan (1810 to 1850 or so) up the ranks (economy, education, income per capita, &c) to rub elbows with Britain, France, Germany, and the United States. Imagine! Argentines were the best paid workers on the planet by 1888, and from 1856 to 1916 they ate four meals a day! And they had clothing! Their children went to school! The only Harrod’s outside England was in … Buenos Aires! How perfidious of the English to ensnare us in the vices of consumerism and vanity! Those island robbers! Pirates all of them, especially Florence Nightingale! …

“From this distant land I spy how the powers would steal our honestly earned position upon the Index. But we are the most miserable! We will fight to the last man! Mr Joe Biden may be breathing down our neck; Mr Trudeau de Castro is working hard as Mr Putin (returning Russia to the glory days of the USSR). …

“I propose you address this unfair situation in your well-respected blog. We have earned our post in the Misery Index, over one hundred years! It belongs to us. Canuckistanis go home! Yankees can go home, too! We are exceedingly miserable, and no nuclear conflagration can remove us from our place in history. …

“Yours truly,

“Carlos”

Verdunish episodes

The curious journalist might consult people who have lived in Grozny (Chechnya), or in Aleppo (Syria), about Russian military tactics, and in particular about how merciful their troops are.

Both cities were bombed to rubble, but more poignantly, the civilian population in each was intentionally targeted by the Russian war machine. The suffering of the inhabitants was unimaginable — to we who live comfortable bourgeois lives at “the end of history,” here in the far West. In Europe, especially in its eastern sections, there is more appreciation of such things, and it helps to explain their sudden recovery of enthusiasm for NATO.

I am still smarting from the (intellectual) beating I received after writing an especially unironical newspaper column, in 1991. On the verge of the first Gulf War, I reviewed preparations for the Battle of Verdun, some seventy-five years earlier. My point was that a lot of (relatively innocent) people were going to be killed, and probably a lot more than we anticipated. But the battle was necessary, and had to be won at any cost. This was the view of French generals at the time (who’d been “set up” by German generals), and I argued, it is a view that is still defensible, even though we know what catastrophic bleeding ensued.

An inundation of non-fan letters washed in, of the worst kind. It was from readers who actually understood what I wrote, unlike the ignorant plebs I was used to. A much-admired (and formerly admiring) old friend wrote that he was aghast to find my soul so wrapt in darkness. He would never trust me again.

Operation Desert Storm did not cause so many casualties — except on the Mesopotamian side — but would have been much worse if Saddam Hussein had the “weapons of mass destruction” that some of our spies already thought he had. But I had argued we must simply take the risk.

The reverse of my argument has been made by President Biden, and all responsible allies. Putin has wagged his staffs — he has put his nuclear missiles on alert — and that is why we must do nothing. We must not encourage him to “escalate.” Or rather, we must do everything we can to confute him, short of anything that would work. We must not, in any case, “send in the air force.”

It is merely an aside, but the same Russians who went about their massacres in Grozny and Aleppo have behaved as pussy-cats when they were plausibly threatened by a superior force. Putin is not actually mad, and if he were, we could count on a member of his own inner corps to deliver the necessary lead injection. He does take extraordinary risks, however, and we can guess that he is arrogant and proud. As Stalin would say, this is not a situation for people with bad nerves.

One must be ready, in this world of sin and death, for all one’s best intentions to collapse, and all one’s reasonable calculations to go wrong. We might especially hesitate to gamble with other people’s lives. But sometimes it is necessary.

War & peace

These are two qualities — cowardice and stupidity — that the Ukrainians, to their credit, have not been showing in their encounter with the Russian army, or at least, they are not advertising it. For it represents a departure from their old policy and habits; which were much safer, and got fewer people hurt. Courage and intelligence are naturally rejected by politicians in both East and West, and for good reason. For even when they do not get their subject killed, they are sure to relieve him of power.

My own objection to the notorious pro-war lobbyists and “Internet Influencers” in the West, is that they are too liberal. They are eager to concede any principle, to form a coalition for war.  They will not be restricted to the facts, but become quite imaginative in assembling their arguments. They may even imagine themselves to be winning a war that no one could ever win, for the sake of maintaining resolve. The advocates have given war-mongering a bad name; it is almost as much of a scandal as pacifism.

War is more defensible when one is attacked, and ideally when attacked gratuitously. The Russians have a long history of giving pretexts for war — even to the Mongols — and for seizing upon pretexts themselves. Down here in the “real world” it is hard to commit an act that is totally wrong, or launch an attack that is entirely unjustified, so perhaps my criticism of the Russians is glib. Certainly, the amount of condemnation that is now heaped upon them, by the Western media and politicians, has shaken my confidence in their essential wrongness. It hasn’t quite carried me to sympathy for the Russian cause, however, and I doubt any of the ten million current internal and external Ukrainian refugees have been much won over.

I was against NATO, which I thought had served its purpose nicely by about 1991; practically, I think alliances should be more subtle in serving transient purposes. For old as it was, the Soviet, or Evil, Empire was essentially a “flash in the pan.” It could not last for even a single century.

Of course, the result of the Russian aggression is that now more countries — including Ukraine, Finland, Sweden, &c — will now beg for entry. The European Union (which I think of as the bureaucratic “black heart of Europe”) has also been promoted by Mr Putin’s scheme of desolation.

But now we are at an impasse. War may require as much cowardice and stupidity as peace. It is hard to choose between them.

Zapad

Zapad means “the West” in Russian, Ukrainian, Czech, and various other Slavic languages. I learned this many years ago, when I became acquainted with Czechs in, of all cities, Toronto. They had a very literate magazine called Západ, edited by Josef Skvorecky and managed by his wife, Zdena Salivarova. It posed as ethnic grunge, for the purpose of winning a few minor subsidies from the State’s multicultural agencies. But secretly it, and the Czech books of the splendid ‘Sixty-Eight Publishers, were known wherever Czech and Slovak readers had settled — by the 1970s a considerable diaspora.

Indeed, it was from my passing acquaintance with Czechs, and the odd Pole and Hungarian, that I contracted the lethal anti-Communism and “conservatism” that proved so ruinous to my future career. This, and of course I should give some credit to e.g. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who turned my stomach against “liberalism” before I had left high school.

It was not simply politics. For what appealed to me in these (Western) Slavs, and by extension through the many other races I encountered, was this appeal to “the West,” in all of its assembled meanings. Part of it was that anthropological tolerance and untroubled curiosity which has made the West the museum-repository of the works of all civilizations: North, South, and East. Too, I had experience maturing in Asia, when, long before I had subscribed consciously to Christianity, I came to acknowledge that “alien” religious tradition, and the artistic and intellectual truths that had been embraced by the Church. I became convinced that “Western civilization” was unquestionably superior — rooted, as it were, in truth, not power — even while I was charmed by other exotic traditions.

I came to know that even my juvenile atheism was tinged with Christianity, inevitably, because of my very longing for truth.

The imperfection of the West is well understood in all of its languages. But it has an aspiration which I think ultimately is a passionate desire, for salvation, from the God who listens.

The Russian invaders of Ukraine carry a “Z” (for “Zapad”) scrawled on their tanks and other military vehicles, to show that they, too, aspire to something. It is not, however, Catholic Christianity, nor even an Orthodox twist, but conquest of the West. They are, once again, as enemies of our civilization, defeating themselves; as all enemies of the West have magically contrived to do.

We, in the West, have been our own enemy. But we should abandon this affectation.

Faith in dollars

It says here (in the Wall Street Journal), that oil contracts between Saudi Arabia and Red China will now be denominated in Chinese Yuan (whose banknotes feature the portrait of Mao Tse-Tung). This would be similar to intra-European transactions being denominated in old-fashioned Reichsmarks (with portraits of Adolf Hitler), or Roubles (with “Uncle Joe” Stalin on them). Once they, too, were fashionable.

Eventually such currencies become worthless — even to coin and banknote collectors — but through the season of their totalitarian sponsors they are prized.

More so, for instance, than the United States Dollar is becoming, for it is going out of style. It has been “softening” in slow-motion for more than a century. The acceleration of its decline began fifty-plus-one years ago. This was when the U.S. president, Richard Nixon, cancelled the convertibility of the dollar to (a small fragment of) gold. It was one of his radical measures, including price and wage freezes, and surcharges on imports.

The combined effect was to rubbish the Bretton Woods system of international financial exchange. Mr Nixon, a politician, of course promised to “reform” it, but this hasn’t happened yet, and besides, Nixon is dead.

In the days when I still owned my 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, I could visit a time before World War One when the whole planet — or at least those parts which sometimes used money — was on the gold standard. World trade, or “globalization,” was greater, proportionally, then than now. A chart filled several pages, in this encyclopaedia, giving the fixed value of some hundreds of traditional coins, of the many countries and colonies. These could be relied upon to be pretty; I collected as many as I could find.

Dollars were not exclusively king, in those days — the Pound Sterling still enjoyed more prestige, from universal recognition. The British Royal Mint kept offices in Ottawa, and in addition to gold sovereigns they minted Canadian gold into $5, $10, and $20 pieces.

Except for small change (in silver), that is the last we saw of real money. Americans could last glimpse it, perhaps, in photographs of Fort Knox. By the ‘thirties, under F. D. Roosevelt, American nationals were not considered mature enough to own actual gold. Only the State could own it, and only Politicians could own the State. Since, gold has existed chiefly in faith.

I was myself being paid partly in “gold,” to a bank in Hong Kong, when I commanded a salary as a young spark in Asia, a few decades ago. But upon inquiring, I learnt that this was paper gold. By diligent research I was rewarded with the news that the international quantity of paper gold exceeded the amount of the mined gold metal by about twenty times. This discovery was an important step in my (still somewhat naïve) understanding of metaphysics.

The world has sincere faith, I realize. Would that its faith were in God.