Ciao, ciao, choo choo!

By Michael Dwyer

In the nineteen eighties Sean Barret, professor of transport economics in Trinity and old friend of the EBI suggested that the multimillion pound state subvention to CIE be discontinued and the money used instead to buy everyone in the Republic a car.

He spoke of course half in jest and whole in earnest. What was a good idea thirty years ago seems like a better idea today. Then we had bad surfaces, narrow carriageways and no motorways. The train to Dublin took about the same for me as the car and less than the snail paced bus.

Today the train journey has not shortened by a minute but the road journey has halved in time. The combination of motorway, express routes and bus lanes mean I can be in the city centre in seventy five minutes travelling in a very comfortable coach with Wi-Fi naturally.

We all love a train. It is a wonderful way to go from A to B. It can be relaxing. The scenery on the Dublin Rosslare route I cannot recommend highly enough. Hell you can even have a little drink. It’s just not a very efficient way.

This is a Victorian technology and it is time for it to go the way of the child sweep and the gentleman cricketer. Ireland has never been well adapted to rail. The Island is too small and the population is too dispersed to create truly economic intercity routes. The commuter routes around the larger population centres, may, perhaps, be viable but that should be looked at with real transparent costings. As for the rest, well today with our expensive road network, they represent cost without even the redeeming feature of social utility. We could always turn them into a transisland bicycle network. That’s nineteenth century tech. that seems to be going strong without costing the taxpayer a dime.

Irish leaves at their best. These though are in Co. Kilkenny. The colours in the autumn of 2016 were particularly fine, this years less good, although above average.

Two further points, in the first place Mr. Dwyer really does speak Italian!  Secondly, I publish his piece with some reluctance. As the proud user of free travel card, I love being wafted through the enchantments of the Irish countryside. The journey from Arklow to Dublin is particularly beautiful at this time of the year because of the finely coloured foliage alongside which the train travels, ! I love too the taste of the Danish pastry and the fine coffee which is available on the train- for which, though, I do have to pay. Mostly though I love the lordly sense that someone else is paying for my indulgence- so perhaps Mr. Dwyer is making a moral point too!   




A forgotten gem.

“There is something curiously moving and impressive about the mediaeval schoolmen. From their cloistered retreats to which learning had been driven by the tumults of the Dark Ages, they emerge into the sunlight bustle of town and university, exuberant with vitality, filled with enormous and zestful intellectual appetite.”

Dorothy L. Sayers

I first came across the name of Canon D J B Hawkins when reading Antony Flew’s “ God and Philosophy” and formed the view from Flew’s treatment of his work that he was a philosopher  who had little to offer except an archaic Thomism. Gradually however I kept finding his book “A Sketch of Mediaeval Philosophy” ( London, 1946 )  listed in such places as the bibliography to Father Copleston’s  “Aquinas” ( where curiously the date of its publication is wrongly given ),  so I asked John Wyse Jackson of the Zozimus Bookshop ( among our links ) to find me a copy- which turns out to have been a wise decision. The book is a delight

Indeed I would go further.  It’s a classic. Canon Hawkins  turns out to have been a Catholic priest who ministered at Godalming in Surrey for many years. He never held any academic position, but wrote several works of philosophy from a position moderate Thomism before his death in 1964  His “Sketch of Mediaeval Philosophy” was, however by far his most widely read book, and his only venture into the history of ideas. Perhaps because it was a one off it expresses the full fruits of engagement with his subject. Too often works of scholarship  are almost by implication the result of self-conscious research undertaken  for the very purpose of writing the book in question. These have then a certain artificial feel about them. As a result one often gets the impression that the author knows about his subject ( or at least what his sources have told him about his subject ),  but that he does not truly KNOW his subject, in that he or she has not fully made the subject their own. This is precisely the sense that one DOES NOT get from Hawkins’ book.  Hawkins was obviously an enthusiast for his subject. Indeed, as I read,  I couldn’t help suspecting  that he can hardly have had time for anything else. I sensed indeed that his enthusiasm was such that his parishioners may have felt neglected. His final chapter includes a revealing cameo  in which he pictures himself turning over the pages of the more obscure late scholastics in the hope of finding yet more to read- for he must read everything else!

Hawkins though, was no mere antiquarian. He thought like a philosopher; that is to say he obviously kept turning over in his mind the issues raised by his reading.  For him there were as many questions as certainties in philosophy. And he relished this same tendency in the thinkers that he wrote about. For Hawkins the story begins with the tragic late Roman Boethius whose “Consolations of Philosophy” exerted an extraordinary influence in the Middle Ages,  and was indeed translated into English by  Chaucer among others.  Boethius was a late  Roman senator in the employment of a barbarian king. But he lost a court intrigue, and as a result was first imprisoned and then executed. It was while he was imprisoned, but probably before he knew what his ultimate fate would be, that he wrote his famous book. More recent scholars have wondered why it was that, if Boethius was really a Christian, that he should have taken so little comfort from his faith, as his book implies. The reason though is not far to seek. His book is about “The Consolations of Philosophy”, and not The Consolations of Faith. Boethius, in effect, does what it says on the tin.

A minor point, you may perhaps think. But this would not be a sound judgement. Boethius was an extremely influential figure who linked the ancient and mediaeval worlds. Consequently the distinction which he made between the realm of faith and reason was to become far more important than he can ever have imagined. This meant that there could be an active debate between the various different schools of philosophy within the context of the Christian faith. By our standards the church was authoritarian. But it was not totalitarian.

Hawkins grants quite freely that towards the end of the Middle Ages  there were thinkers who under the influence nominalism had abandoned Christianity and who merely pretended to believe for obvious pragmatic reasons  But these he insists were very much in a minority. For the vast bulk of thinkers during the middle ages Christianity was at the core of everything that they did. But their thinking was not restricted simply to reiterating the contents of their faith. Rather they wished to understand what they believed, and they used all the tools available to them to do so.  And in order to do this they explored widely and thought freely within the context of their Catholic faith. It was this openness to debate that lay behind the whole flowering of Christian thought in the Middle Ages.

While the revival of Thomism from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards was a development of great importance  (the full significance of which we may not yet have seen fully ), it has had the disadvantage of  making it appear that the Middle Ages were philosophically  less divided, less rich and less interesting than was really the case. Aquinas was certainly the flag ship of the fleet. But he was not alone. Hawkins was an unapologetic Thomist. For him the writings of Thomas were a triumphant synthesis of Christian and Aristotelian thought, with an enduring relevance. But this did not prevent him from being able to present the other thinkers of the period in a vivid way. Indeed they come bouncing out of his pages like characters in a play.

There are , it is true, moments when the pace slackens and one begins to feel that one is reading a telephone directory of minor figures. But these lapses are few. Hawkins has the knack of being able to catch the spirit of the people he writes about. He captures the tragedy of Boethius, the oddity of Duns Scotus,  the over-confidence of Anselm ( he thinks that the ontological argument was a bridge too far )- , the romance- and the seriousness-of Abelard, and , of course, the massive solidity of Aquinas.

For me though the central message Hawkins’ was that the greatest achievement of the mediaeval theological class was its right understanding of the importance of politics. This is of especial importance today, when on the one hand our voters fail to vote in record numbers, and yet on the other there seem to be innumerable fanatics on both left and right who can’t seem to think of anything else but politics. Mediaeval man knew much better than this. Politics was important. But it was not all-important. Man’s true home was elsewhere. Then the role of politics then was circumscribed by the metaphysical and moral order within which humanity was located. In other words, just as Boethius attributed a sphere to philosophy and sphere to faith, so too the mediaeval consensus attributed a sphere to the church and a sphere to the state.

Although historians of ideas tend to think that the mediaeval dispute about universals was of the greater interest, the tussle over the respective rights of the church and the empire probably had more enduring institutional significance than the metaphysical argument. Few people in the Middle Ages would have taken an extreme view of the case. It was all a matter proportion, and of, as we would say today, where the line should be drawn. Put differently, the crucial point was that there were two legitimate spheres, the boundaries between which were the subject of discussion and of course compromise. This in turn had deep implications both for the Middle Ages themselves, and for their legacy to us. It is, for example, the existence of differing spheres in our culture today that makes it so difficult for followers of Islam to integrate successfully into our culture. Above all it explains both the origins of our freedoms and our need to defend them from those who would remove any spiritual considerations from our political order. No wonder Hawkins quotes Lord Acton as saying that Aquinas was the first Whig- ( unlike Dr. Johnson who said that  that honour belonged to the devil!)

While Hawkins is most immediately relevant when he is hinting at the political implications of the views he is describing, he is, to my mind, most disturbing when he describes the way in which the wisdom of the Middle Ages was first abandoned, and then simply forgotten. It is true that late scholasticism had become tired. Perhaps under the influence of the Black Death the confidence detected by Dorothy Sayers was replaced by what V.H.H. Green called ” a kind of wintry pessimism.” Moreover scholasticism became far too closely associated with the Ptolemaic view of the universe  which turned out to be wrong. Likewise its focus on metaphysics was in conflict with the greater emphasis on human nature- which was such a pronounced feature of both Reformation and Renaissance. Nevertheless the deep wisdom of the middle ages was not refuted. It was allowed, even encouraged, to die of neglect.  The enthusiasts for the new learning and the Reformers  each had their own strong motives for ignoring what had gone immediately before them. And neither showed any hesitation about the ethics or the wisdom of making fun of what they did not want to understand and had not much studied. Instead they imposed what amounted to a Philosophical Correctness on the culture of the West. Nor was the Enlightenment any better or more broad minded . So let us not then make a similar mistake: for as Hawkins concludes, “there is much more than the satisfaction of historical curiosity in making the acquaintance of Bonaventure and Duns Scotus and, above all, Thomas Aquinas.”

NOTES: Also to hand, acquired for me by John Wyse Jackson, is  S. J Curtis “A Short History of Western Philosophy in the Middle Ages” ( London, 1950 ), and it is from the Dorothy Sayers’ preface to this from which I have drawn the quotation which heads this piece.

The brief quote from V.H.H. Green comes from his “Renaissance and Reformation ” ( London, 1970 ) p.18  For the final paragraph I have raided Joseph Rickaby S.J. ” Scholasticism” ( London, 1908 ). Of the relationship between scholasticism and science he writes  “No one who has not read much of the Scholastic authors can conceive how far the Ptolemaic astronomy entered into their psychology, their metaphysics, and even their theology.” But he insists that “Certainly Scholasticism does not stand of fall with the Ptolemaic conception…One may remain a good Scholastic and abolish all that.” p. 66.

For an up to date account of Aquinas see Edward Feser, “Aquinas, a Beginner’s Guide” ( London, 2009 ) which contains a very full bibliography of the more recent literature. No one though even vaguely interested in the thought of the middle ages should ignore the work of  Etienne Gilson. I started with his “God and Philosophy” ( Yale, Mass. 1941 ) although it also deals with more recent thought.

Storm Ophelia

“I’ll blow and I’ll blow, and I’ll blow your house down”- said the wolf to the three little pigs in the fairy tale. And two of the pigs did indeed have their residences demolished, but they were the ones who had built with unsuitable materials. The piglet who had built with brick suffered no such disaster. Those who constructed the old rectory which I am lucky  enough to live in, built largely with stone although they did adorn some of the openings in the stable block with brick. But they did build strongly, so while the wind did indeed blow powerfully I lost only one slate- although there was one moment when I thought that the sash window behind which I write might be blown in.

Others though were less fortunate than I. There were the three lamented fatalities across the country- one of a nurse hurrying about her duties- and while my immediate neighbours suffered little damage, I did certainly see an ESB repair crew heading westwards, followed, I thought, by an ambulance, and later by a motorized cauldron of ready mixed concrete driving in the same direction; all of which suggested, that serious damage was done here too, even at so great a distance from the centre of the storm. Windy Monday will go down in Irish history.

                       In general I obeyed the governments instructions to stay inside. But I did go out twice. The wind was wild. But not the wildest I can remember. One of the most extraordinary memories of my childhood is that of being caught up in the hurricane Debbie which hit the West of Ireland in September 1961. The slates flashing like razor blades  as they poured off the roofs of Clifden ( Co Galway ), the terrified faces of the men, themselves barely able to stand, who desperately urged us not to drive past a sea weed factory as they were frightened that its roof was about to be blown off into our path, and perhaps above all the utter devastation of Eyre Square in Galway itself a few days later, are all, even now, imprinted on my mind.

                                                  The difference though between September 1961 and October 2017 was that while the weather may have been similar, there were far fewer casualties earlier this week than there had been in 1961 when eleven people died ( the fears of the men at the sea weed factory were all too justified). And why was this? Because, Monday’s storm was well heralded by the forecasters unlike that of 1961, because of the warnings given by the government, and because of the greatly improved infrastructure, communications, and social media that we now enjoy. And none of this would have been possible without the economic growth that as taken place in the last fifty odd years. We have acted like the wise piglet and built of brick not straw, but do we understand any more than he, how and why we have done so?  

NOTE. I see to my great regret that two farmers, one in Cork, and another in Wicklow have been killed while repairing damage done by last week’s two storms. But even so, the combined total of deaths caused by Ophelia and Brian is less than half that caused by Debbie in 1961.



Politically incorrect truths about the Third World

By Philip Vander Elst.


At a time when left-wing ‘anti-racist’ activists are seeking to remove statues of Cecil Rhodes and other historical figures associated with what they deem to be the shameful colonial past of western democracies like Britain, there is a need to set the record straight and challenge the ignorance and double standards fuelling this movement. To that end I reproduce below a slightly expanded version of a speech I made in a debate at the Oxford Union- pictured below- during the autumn term of 2009, opposing the motion that “This House would make reparations for colonialism.”  Open-minded readers willing to study the controversial issues I raised in my speech in more detail should get hold of the books I mentioned. And to that list should be added Ghanaian economist, George Ayittey’s seminal book, Africa Betrayed, an excoriating and copiously documented indictment of post-colonial African tyrannies. P.V E.



“This House would make reparations for colonialism”


Thirty-six years ago, Mr President, I stood at this despatch box to oppose the motion “That the power of the State has increased, is increasing and should increase still further.” As a classical liberal who remains distrustful of government, I am the last person to take a rosy and uncritical view of Western colonialism. All too often it has been associated with the worst abuses of State power. But it is a disservice to historical truth, Mr President, to dismiss the entire colonial era as an unrelieved tale of imperial greed, racism and exploitation – with no compensating achievements or benefits.


If this House wishes to consider a more balanced view of the Western colonial era and its impact on the Third World, I invite it to study the writings of the late Professor P.T. Bauer, one of the great development economists of the 20th century according to contemporary Asian scholars like Deepak Lal, Parth Shah, and Razeen Sally. I also urge you all to read the works of African-American economist, Thomas Sowell, particularly his two books, The Economics and Politics of Race, and, more recently, Conquests and Cultures: An International History.


If you do this, you will find that whilst both Bauer and Sowell are often extremely critical of the colonial authorities, they emphasise two basic historical facts: (1) the material backwardness and barbarism of much of the pre-colonial Third World, and (2) the role of the Western colonial powers – especially the British – in establishing peace and order, and with it, the material and organisational infrastructure of modern economies and societies – roads, railways, ports, factories, schools, hospitals and universities. Sub-Saharan Africa, Mr President, offers the clearest illustration of all this.


According to Sowell, the development of pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africa was gravely handicapped by the lack of navigable rivers and natural harbours, the ravages of the tsetse fly (whose parasites are fatal to draft animals), and numerous tropical diseases which debilitated and decimated Africans. As a result, almost no pre-colonial African community south of the Sahara managed to harness draft animals to pull ploughs and wagons. “The pre-colonial technology of the region,” writes Sowell, “was incapable of using wind or water power for milling grain. Tribal warfare, military raids, slavery and serfdom were widespread throughout the area.” [i]

Western colonialism, by contrast, brought progress. To quote Bauer, who spent many years living and working in Asia and Africa: “the basic ingredients of modern social and economic life, including public security and health, wheeled transport, modern forms of money and scientific agriculture, were brought to sub-Saharan Africa by Westerners in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They were introduced by the colonial administrations, or by foreign private organisations or persons, under the comparative security of colonial rule and usually in the face of formidable obstacles…The coercion and the hardships, though far from negligible, seem slight when we think of both pre-colonial and post-colonial Africa…The number of Africans who lived longer, more securely, in materially better conditions and in peaceful contact with their fellow men was much greater, probably by several orders of magnitude, than the numbers who were harmed.” [ii]

Colonialism brought the rule of law and economic progress

African-American economist, Thomas Sowell, reaches a similar conclusion to Bauer. Whilst acknowledging that not all parts of the colonised world were primitive, and that the coming of Western civilisation did not always represent progress in all aspects of life, Sowell concludes: “By and large European colonialism brought to the Third World what Roman imperialism had brought to Britain: (1) a reduction or cessation of internal fighting that had plagued these regions for centuries, holding back economic and social progress, (2) a unified system of law as a framework for stable expectations and the security and individual planning that law makes possible, (3) features of a more advanced system of technology and organisation, and (4) contact with a wider world, enabling creative potential to emerge from the restrictions of insularity.” [iii]

My opposition to this motion, Mr President, is not simply due to a belief that it is based on a distorted and one-sided evaluation of Western colonialism. It is also fuelled by the conviction that the demand for Western reparations is morally compromised by double standards, as well as being backward-looking and unfair to contemporary Western taxpayers.

The case for Western reparations involves double standards, Mr President, because it overlooks the fact that nearly all ethnic groups, tribes and nations have engaged, at one time or another, in wars of conquest, land seizures, slavery and genocide. If Western taxpayers are expected to pay for the sins of previous generations of Western colonialists, for which they were not responsible, should modern day Zulus and Apaches pick up the bill for the tribal wars and massacres perpetrated by their ancestors in southern Africa and North America? Should the present-day inhabitants of Mongolia and the Arabian Peninsula offer financial compensation for the wars of conquest waged by Genghis Kahn and Arab-Islamic rulers in Asia and the Mediterranean?

Anti-Western double standards absurd in relation to slavery

Anti-Western double standards about the past, Mr President, are particularly absurd when it comes to the subject of slavery. As Asian-American scholar, Dinesh D’Souza, points out in his massively documented 700 page critique of politically correct multiculturalism, The End of Racism: “…slavery was widespread in Africa from antiquity” and also existed among the native Indian tribes of North America, many of whom also owned black slaves. “The three powerful medieval kingdoms of Ghana, Songhai and Mali all relied on slave labour. Nor were these slaves exclusively black Africans…The Ashanti of West Africa customarily enslaved all foreigners.”  African complicity in the slave trade, states Dinesh D’Souza, was “epitomised in the proposition advanced to Europeans by an African chief in the early nineteenth century: ‘We want three things: powder, ball and brandy; and we have three things to sell: men, women and children.” [iv]

Perhaps the most poignant comment on African participation in the slave trade, Mr President, are these words of Zora Neale Hurston, the great black feminist writer of the Harlem Renaissance, in the early part of the 20th century: “The white people held my people in slavery here in America. They had bought us, it is true, and exploited us. But the inescapable fact that stuck in my craw was: my people had sold me…My own people had exterminated whole nations and torn families apart for a profit before the strangers got their chance at a cut.” [v]

What, by contrast, it is important to note about the West, Mr President, is that principled opposition to the historically universal institution of slavery primarily emerged from within Western culture. Starting with the Quakers and the Methodists, and continuing with the great anti-slavery campaign of William Wilberforce and his Evangelical friends, a vast humanitarian movement came into existence in the 18th and 19th centuries, which not only stamped out slavery in most places, but established the foundations of that very concern for human rights and national self-determination to which everyone pays at least lip-service today. To quote Thomas Sowell’s tribute to what he describes as Britain’s leading role in the destruction of the international slave trade, and then of slavery itself: “The magnitude of this achievement is hard to appreciate without first recognising that slavery was a worldwide institution, entrenched on every inhabited continent, subjugating people of every colour, language, and religion, and going back thousands of years.” [vi]

Arab slave trade depopulated whole regions of the Congo

And before we leave the subject of the slave trade, it should be noted that it was particularly destructive in Central Africa. There its cruelties and massacres, mainly the work of Arab slavers and their Muslim African allies, and exposed to international opinion by Dr Livingstone and other eyewitnesses, depopulated whole regions of the Congo. [vii]

It is therefore appropriate, given the constant and one-sided attacks on the Belgian colonial record, to recognise that it was in fact the Belgians who liberated the Congo from the genocidal ravages of this Arab-dominated slave traffic. Indeed, the very same independent investigative judicial commission whose 1905 report rightly condemned the serious abuses of the early years of Belgian colonisation, credited the early colonial administration with having put an end to tribal warfare, cannibalism and the slave trade.[viii]

Patrice Lumumba’s little known tribute to the Belgians

Even Patrice Lumumba, who became the Congo’s first black Prime Minister when Independence was granted in 1960, paid this tribute to the Belgian suppression of the slave trade in his 1958 book, Congo, My Country: “When we pass the graves of those heroes who gave their lives for our safety, and thanks to whom we can now utter the words ‘independence – autonomy,’ let us be silent for a few moments and bow our heads respectfully in their memory…Other countries-which were more powerful than Belgium – remained indifferent to our fate and left us to perish. Belgium, moved by a very sincere and humanitarian idealism, came to our help, and with the assistance of doughty native fighters, was able to rout the enemy, to eradicate disease, to teach us and to eliminate certain barbarous practices from our customs, thus restoring our human dignity and turning us into free, happy, vigorous civilised men.” [ix]

The problem with this motion, Mr President, is not only that it is based upon double standards and an unbalanced historical perspective. Its exaggeration of the evils of colonialism also evades the glaringly obvious fact that so much of what has gone wrong in the Third World since the 1960s has been due, not to Western exploitation, but to the aggrandizement and abuse of State power by corrupt and frequently incompetent post-colonial ruling elites. This has been true of countries like Algeria, Burma, and others in Asia and the Middle East. Above all it has been true of Africa.

To quote Ghanaian economist, George Ayittey: “ One word, power, explains Africa is in the grip of a never-ending cycle of wanton chaos, horrific carnage, senseless civil wars and collapsing economies; the struggle for power, its monopolisation by one individual or group, and the subsequent refusal to relinquish or share it.” [x]

At least 13 million Africans killed by own their leaders since 1960

That, Mr President, is why, as George Ayittey, points out, more than 13 million Africans have been killed by their own leaders since 1960.[xi] That is why of the 180 African heads of state who held power between 1960 and 1998, only 20 relinquished it or retired voluntarily.[xii] That, too, is why according to the African Union’s own estimates, Africa loses $148 billion a year – a quarter of its entire GDP – to corruption. [xiii]

Some years ago the distinguished Guinean novelist, Camara Laye, lamented that all too many African leaders: “…do not serve Africa. They make Africa serve themselves. They are far from being builders, organisers, city administrators, but are rather jailers who deal with the men, women and children of our people as if they were cattle.” [xiv]

As you ponder these words and reflect on the way dictators like Robert Mugabe use anti-colonialist rhetoric as an excuse for their crimes against their own people, ask yourselves whether giving credence to the demand for western reparations would really help the poor and the oppressed of the Third World.

Mr President, I beg to oppose!

Philip Vander Elst (copyright, 2017)


[i] Thomas Sowell, The Economics and Politics of Race, (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1983), p.26.
[ii] P.T. Bauer, Equality, the Third World and Economic Delusion, (London: Methuen, 1981), pp.167 & 172.
[iii] Thomas Sowell, op cit, p.226.
[iv] Dinesh D’Souza, The End of Racism, (New York: The Free Press, 1995), pp. 73 & 74.
[v] Dinesh D’Souza, op cit, p.74.
[vi] Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures: an international history, (New York, Basic Books, 1998), p.91.
[vii] For more information on this subject, see: (1) Belgian explorer and naturalist, Jean-Pierre Hallet’s semi-autobiographical history of the Congo, Congo Kitabu, (New York: Fawcett Crest, 1967), pp.62-68, & pp.414-416. (2) George Martelli, Leopold to Lumumba: a history of the Belgian Congo 1877-1960, (London: Chapman & Hall, 1962), pp.126 & 175. (3) Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures, p.110, (4) Dinesh D’Souza, op cit, p.74.
[viii] George Martelli, op cit, pp.172-175.
[ix] Patrice Lumumba, Congo, My Country (translated from the original French by Graham Heath), New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1962.
[x] George Ayittey, ‘The African Power Equation’, The Washington Times, 20 April 1998.
[xi] George Ayittey, ‘Dr Ayittey offers a quick response to the questions addressed to him by Sadiq Manzan’, (, 2006.
[xii] George Ayittey, ‘The African Power Equation’, Ibid.
[xiii] Source: John O’Shea, letter published in the Sunday Telegraph (London), 18 March 2007.
[xiv] Quoted by Stephen Glover in the Daily Telegraph (London), 25 June 1982.

The pro-abortion demo. in Dublin

Quite by accident I was caught up in the pro- abortion demonstration that took place in Dublin last Saturday. I was heading North on O’ Connell Street, as they were heading South.

Demonstrators hold posters as they march for more liberal Irish abortion laws, in Dublin, Ireland September 30, 2017. REUTERS, who provided this caption, /Clodagh Kilcoyne

And they is the crucial word here. The demonstration was well attended, surprisingly so. But that freely confessed the turn out was not of the near apocalyptic dimensions implied by photographs on  both the RTE and BBC web sites. It is also worth noting that it was a balmy autumn day which was perfect for a march. Had the day been wet I do not doubt that the whole exercise would have been much less impressive. The organisers are to be congratulated then both on their skill and on their good luck!

Probably of greater interest than the size of the march was its composition. The photographs did not lie when they suggested that those who took part were predominantly young and to a great extent female. Whether we like it or not the issue abortion divides both the generations and the sexes. Yet more troubling it was also clear ( or at least it seemed to be clear from where I was standing ) that a large proportion of the crowd had been marshalled into existence by, and were seemingly quite happy to march beneath the banners of, extreme left wing organisations. As the churches have declined, and because our established political parties have eschewed ideas, so economic illiteracy has flourished among the young. This must be a matter of grave concern to all those who love Ireland, and who wish for the prosperity of her people! What is to be done?

The EDMUND BURKE INSTITUTE cannot, of course, become involved either in the broader issue of abortion, or in the specific debate about constitutional prohibition of abortion which will soon be under discussion here. This is for two reasons. In the first place it is prevented by our legal arrangements; and secondly because the various directors of the in institute have differing views about the question, although it is no secret that some  advocate the “Right to life” in their private capacities.

What really happened.

Book review: Hillary Rodham Clinton, “What happened” ( Simon and Schuster, New York, E.22.99)

“For me, political campaigns have always been something to get through in order to govern which is the real prize.” Hillary Clinton.

It’s easy to make fun of Hillary Clinton, after her election campaign ended in farce, and she was too crushed- so it is said- even to address her shell-shocked supporters on the night in question. It is easier still to make fun of this pretentious volume. It is, for example, almost unbelievable, that in it she devotes  a chapter to gun control without apparently noticing that the right to bear arms is enshrined in the American Constitution.

But let us remember that Hillary was disorientated by her defeat, and had obviously not completely recovered her balance by the time she started to write. While then we should take some of what  she says with a pinch of salt there are lessons here, and some other good stuff which is worth glancing at.

First though, let’s look for the lesson. We all have our faults. Neither the sons of Adam nor the daughters of Eve are immune from human weaknesses. Hillary’s problem is pride. There is no trace of understatement in her rhetoric. There is no hint of modesty in her character. It is a virtue quite alien to her nature. She can be kind, but she wants you to know that she can be kind. She can be responsible, but she demands that you respect her for her responsibility. She is intelligent, very intelligent, but she insists ( very much one of her words ) that you reward her for her intelligence. And perhaps most troubling of all she knows that she has read runes of history, and she is sure that she ( and her supporters ) are in tune with it, and she demands that we respect her for the profundity of her insight. She storms against inequality, and yet is the very embodiment of entitlement.

What else but entitlement can possibly explain the way in which she and Bill ( who really should have stopped on this one!) bought the house next door in order to accommodate the secret service agents with which she would be surrounded when she became president!

Of course Hillary is justified in raising questions about Russian interference in the election, ( but see below ) she is justified too in defending herself about the matter of her email server, and she is on firm ground when she points out that her opponent was less qualified than she to be president. But the difficulty was though that Trump wanted to win, and she merely thought that she should get the job. He relished the campaign. She campaigned.  He loved the rallies. She addressed them. He was a rascal, and she made a point of sleeping every night at home, deeply confident that she would win. And this all showed, and she turned off millions of white working class voters who stormed the polling stations in record numbers across the “rust belt” to vote for “the Donald.” It wasn’t then so much a matter of what happened, but that he captured a mood which had been defined by Brexit.

The lesson then of this book is that in democratic politics good intentions, and competence are not enough. Something else is needed. There needs to be a lived recognition of one’s own fallibility. It is often called having a sense of humour, but however one defines it  Reagan had it, Bill had it, most crucially Trump had something like it, but somehow Hillary lacked it.

As a practicing Methodist Hillary must have known that pride as comes before a fall( No need to read Milton for that!) . Why then did she run? Was she really so ignorant of her own weakness? She is an intelligent woman and it would be surprising if she were really so unaware of her own foibles. A more probable explanation for her presidential ambition ( which some of her friends warned her against!)  is, as she explains, although she doesn’t put like this, that she was misled by the good and decent side  of her character into imagining that she would make a better candidate than was ever really likely to be the case. Ultimately then Hillary lost because she did not know herself.

Poor candidate though she was Hillary was excited by the details of government, and by the possibilities of exercising power, and she really believed that she could do a better job of being president than anyone else. To me, the most interesting example of this side of her character revealed by her book is the proposal for a negative income tax that she and Bill worked on but ultimately rejected as too expensive. The passage in question is worth quoting, as it gives a little of the flavour of this important side of her character.

“I was fascinated by this idea, as was my husband, and we spent weeks working with our policy team [ trust our Hillary to have a policy team! ] to see if it could be…include[d] in my campaign [ as a proposal]…Unfortunately, we couldn’t make the numbers work. To provide a meaningful dividend each year to every citizen, you’d have to raise enormous sums of money, and that would either mean a lot of new taxes or cannibalising other important programmes.” ( p.239)

Oh dear, oh dear, here we have Clintons at their best and their worst. The intention is right- to get resources into the hands of those who don’t have them. The notion of bypassing the bureaucrats and instead just giving people a cheque is sound too. But obviously such payments would be in place of other benefits rather than  in addition to them, as Hillary and Bill supposed!

So what are we to make of Hillary and her book? Hillary’s strong point are her intentions, which I don’t think can be faulted, and her seriousness, which is evident in everything that she writes. The problems though are deeper, she fails to see that despite, or perhaps because, of her experience in Washington, that the very multiplicity of solutions and programmes that she endorsed threatened to change the very nature of the American experience. For all his glaring faults, Trump persuaded enough Americans in the right places that more of the same, and particularly more immigration, meant less of America. That is what really happened. And this is something that Hillary shows no sign of ever being able to understand!

NOTE: It is interesting to find the left wing publication “The Nation”- easily accessed through the links on The Drudge Report- throwing cold water on the claims that the Russians played any significant part in the election. 


The root of the trouble?

“It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that virtually every major religious, moral, and political controversy of the last several decades- of the last several centuries in fact- in some way rests on a disagreement, even if implicit and unnoticed, over the “problem of universals” ( as it is known). That includes the dispute between the “New Atheists” and their critics, ignorant though the former ( though also the latter) are of the true roots of the dispute. When Richard Weaver [ 1910-1963 ] famously made the observation [ in a title of a book ] that “Ideas have Consequences,” [ University of Chicago Press, 1948 ] he was not making the banal point  that what we believe affects the way we act; he was referring to the radical social and moral implications that the abandonment of realism and the adoption of nominalism has had within modern Western civilization.”

Edward Feser, “The Last Superstition, a Refutation of the New Atheism” ( St. Augustine’s Press, South Bend, Indiana, 2008) p.4


We have just added a new category of links about Brexit. Both sides of the argument are, of course, represented. Readers from outside of Europe should also be aware that both the BBC and RTE also provide extensive coverage of this contentious issue.

Two Prophetic Anti- Socialist Satires

By Philip Vander Elst.

“I had spent an extremely interesting evening. I had dined with some very ‘advanced’ friends of mine at the ‘National Socialist Club’. We had had an excellent dinner: the pheasant, stuffed with truffles, was a poem…After dinner, and over the cigars (I must say they do know how to stock good cigars at the National Socialist Club), we had a very instructive discussion about the coming equality of man and the nationalisation of capital.” (Evergreens and other short stories, Alan Sutton, England, 1982, p.72).

Jerome K Jerome ( 1859-1927 )

With these opening words, the famous 19th century English writer and jerome-k-jerome-4humourist, Jerome K. Jerome , fired a satirical but penetrating broadside against socialism under the title, ‘The New Utopia’, one of a collection of essays and short stories first published in 1891.

Although he is best known and loved as the author of Three Men in a Boat (1889), Jerome deserves to be remembered for producing this anti-socialist literary gem, which combines great wit with acute political and psychological insight. It is, moreover, all the more interesting because it is not the work of a man who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and therefore anxious to preserve aristocratic privilege, but the product of one who grew up in poverty, and suffered the premature death of his parents during his early teens. (See the Wikipedia article on him. )Three men in a boat

Instead of being soured by early misfortune and filled with resentment towards the rich and successful, Jerome’s varied career as a railroad worker, actor, writer and journalist, gave him a love of individuality and freedom which innoculated him against the socialist virus infecting so many of his Victorian contemporaries. Accordingly, his good-natured satire, ‘The New Utopia’, exposes the totalitarian logic of socialism, and its soul-destroying egalitarianism, with remorseless zest. Yet the sharpness of his attack is softened, and arguably made more effective, by its light-hearted tone.

Right from the outset, Jerome reveals his grasp of the essential character and goals of socialism. “Equality of all mankind was their watchword – perfect equality in all things – equality in possessions, and equality in position and influence, and equality in duties, resulting in equality in happiness and contentment…Each man’s labour was the property, not of himself, but of the State which fed and clothed him…When all men were equal, the world would be Heaven – freed from the degrading despotism of God. We raised our glasses and drank to EQUALITY, sacred EQUALITY; and then ordered the waiter to bring us Green Chartreuse and more cigars.” (Op cit, pp. 73-74).

Then, for the reader, the fun really begins as Jerome, in his imagination, returns to his lodgings after that dinner at the National Socialist Club, and lies awake in bed thinking “how delightful life would be,” if the “State would take charge of us from the hour we were born until we died, and provide for all our wants from the cradle to the coffin…” (Ibid). Not surprisingly, he then falls into a dream in which he imagines himself waking up from sleep only to find that he is lying under a glass case in a museum, in a new and unfamiliar socialist England in the 29th century.

Having been told by a museum official that his landlady forgot to wake him 10 years before “the great social revolution of 1899,” Jerome is then given a guided tour of the new socialist London, in the course of which we discover all the dramatic changes that have taken place since he fell asleep.

The tour begins with Jerome asking his guide whether all the world’s problems have now been solved, since “A few friends of mine were arranging, just before I went to bed, to take it to pieces and fix it up again properly…Is everybody equal now, and sin and sorrow and all that sort of thing done away with?” (Op cit, p.76).

This is a significant question, since the slightly flippant language in which it is posed shows a thorough understanding of the utopian social engineering mentality which underlies the socialist project. The naïve and arrogant belief, so  widespread on the Left, that imperfect human nature can be reshaped by the enforced reorganisation of society by the State, is mercilessly lampooned in the ensuing dialogue between Jerome and his socialist guide.

Social engineering lampooned.

“Oh, yes,” replies the guide to his original question, “you’ll find everything all right now…We’ve just got this earth about perfect now, I should say” (Ibid), and we soon find out what he means by the word “perfect”: namely, total collectivisation and uniformity. Everyone now lives in the same government-owned barrack-like apartment blocs, wears the same identical clothing, and eats collectively cooked meals at prescribed times of the day – a chillingly prescient if light-hearted anticipation of social life in many 20th century communist societies. When, in addition, Jerome asks his guide why everyone they meet has black hair, the reply he gets appeals to our sense of humour, as it is meant to, but at the same time focuses our attention on the necessary conflict between absolute equality and freedom.

“What would become of our equality if one man or woman were allowed to swagger about in golden hair, while another had to put up with carrots?…By causing all men to be clean shaven, and all men and women to have black hair cut the same length, we obviate, to a certain extent, the errors of Nature.” (Op cit, p.77).

The same egalitarian principle, we discover, also applies to the issue of personal cleanliness, since it was found that it was impossible to maintain equality when people were allowed to wash themselves. “Some people washed three or four times a day, while others never touched soap and water from one year’s end to the other, and in consequence there got to be two distinct classes, the Clean and the Dirty. All the old class prejudices began to be revived. The clean despised the dirty, and the dirty hated the clean. So, to end dissension, the State decided to do the washing itself, and each citizen was now washed twice a day by government-appointed officials; and private washing was prohibited.” (Op cit, p.79).

It would be easy, at this point, to dismiss Jerome’s attack on socialist egalitarianism as a whimsical satire, especially after his guide reveals that in this new socialist England, good looking and intelligent people are subjected to mutilation and brain surgery to prevent them rising above the human average. But that would be a mistake. Jerome deliberately regales us with these absurdities to bring home the fact that the socialist project is necessarily coercive and totalitarian because it flies in the face of human nature and the human condition. What is more, the truthfulness of Jerome’s analysis has been abundantly confirmed by the experience of socialism in the 20th century. In Communist China, for example, during the dictatorship of Mao Tse-tungthe chairman (1949-1976), conformity of thought, behaviour and dress was rigorously enforced, and during the infamous Cultural Revolution (1966-1969), anyone who was considered to be of above average ability or education was denounced as an enemy of the people and subjected to savage humiliation and .persecution. (See: Clarence B. Carson, Basic Communism, American Textbook Committee, Alabama, 1990, chapter 17).

Jerome’s satirical tour of socialist London explores three other prominent themes with the same acuity and lightness of touch, the first being the obliteration of personality and the family in order to facilitate the absorption of the individual into the collective.

“Why does everyone have a number [on their collar]?” asks Jerome. “To distinguish him by,” answers the guide. “Don’t people have names, then?” “No,” the latter replies, “there was so much inequality in names. Some people were called Montmorency, and they looked down on the Smiths; and the Smythes did not like mixing with the Jones: so, to save further bother, it was decided to abolish names altogether, and to give everybody a number.” (Op cit, pp.78-79). When, a little later, Jerome asks his guide where the married people live, he is informed that marriage has been abolished. “You see,” explains the guide, “married life did not work at all well with our system. Domestic life, we found, was thoroughly anti-socialistic in its tendencies. Men thought more of their wives and families than they did of the State…The ties of love and blood bound men together fast in little groups instead of one great whole.” (Op cit, p.81).

Here, once more, Jerome perceives the logic of full-blooded socialism, and once again his prophetic satire has been vindicated by history. Names may not have been replaced by numbers in the revolutionary socialist societies of our times (except in concentration camps), or marriage abolished, but in every single one of them the family has been subordinated to the State, and individuals (especially the young) herded into compulsory mass movements and organisations. (See: John Marks, Fried Snowballs: Communism in Theory and Practice, Claridge Press, London, 1990, and Clarence B. Carson, op cit.).

The last few pages of ‘The New Utopia’ unfold the remaining themes of Jerome’s critique of socialism. Thus we learn that in the new socialist England, all old books, paintings and sculptures have been destroyed and all freedom of thought and expression forbidden, in obedience to the will of the egalitarian “MAJORITY.” As the guide emphatically states earlier on in the tour, “A minority has NO rights,” revealing Jerome’s awareness, shared by all the great 19th century classical liberals, that democracy can be as destructive of liberty as traditional autocracy, especially within a socialist culture which sees individuality and personal excellence as a threat to social unity and equality. That has certainly proved to be the case throughout the post-colonial period in Asia and Africa, where time and again majority rule elections have spawned dictatorships, ethnic-cleansing and genocide – the victims usually being the most productive members of society. (See, for instance, George B. N. Ayittey, Africa Betrayed, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1992, and Freedom House’s annual global surveys of human rights).

It is particularly interesting that Jerome’s satirical attack on socialism was not an isolated example of anti-socialist fiction in the 1890s. In 1893, only two years after the appearance of ‘The New Utopia,’ a far more comprehensive literary assault on socialism was mounted in Germany, with the publication of Eugen Richter’s Pictures of the Socialistic Future.

Eugene Richter  ( 1838-1906 )

A German lawyer, civil servant and politician, Eugen Richter  was a strong advocate of free trade and a market economy, and as leader of the German liberals in the Reichstag (Germany’s parliament), one of the greatest critics of both the Social Democratic Party (the German socialists) and the policies of the Imperial Chancellor, Otto von Bismark.Eugen_Richter From 1885 to 1904 he was also the chief editor of the liberal newspaper, Freisinnige Zeitung, and it was during this period that he wrote his great anti-socialist satire.

Pictures of the Socialistic Future develops similar themes to those found in ‘The New Utopia,’ but at much greater length and less fancifully. Whilst retaining its satirical tone, its vision of a socialist society is entirely realistic, especially in its prophetically accurate analysis of the impact and consequences of socialist institutions and policies.

Eugen Richter’s story begins on a note of celebration following a successful socialist revolution in Germany. “The red flag of international Socialism waves from the palace and from all the public buildings in Berlin,” exults the narrator, the proud father of a socialist family. “The old rotten regime, with its ascendancy of capital, and its system of plundering the working classes, has crumbled to pieces. And for the benefit of my children, and children’s children, I intend to set down in a humble way, some little account of this new reign of brotherhood and universal philanthropy.” (Pictures of the Socialistic Future, Dodo Press, England, 2011, p.1). This he then proceeds to do, but with growing disillusionment.


A Story of growing disillusionment

As might be expected, the narrative is initially upbeat, presenting us with enthusiatic descriptions of all the new changes introduced by the socialist revolution. We learn that all private property has been confiscated, all industry and services nationalised, and all personal and family life subordinated to the needs and control of the State. In addition, we are informed, all able-bodied citizens between the ages of 21 and 65 are compelled to register for work, with the government alone deciding where and how they are to be employed. But instead of ushering in a new era of social harmony and plenty, these socialist measures and decrees eventually produce the opposite outcome. And here Eugen Richter is particularly skillful, because his satire reveals the unfolding consequences of socialism as they affect the narrator and his family.


Obviously not the edition referred to in the text above.

The collectivisation of childcare, education and housing, for example, is particularly painful in its effects. The removal of the narrator’s young daughter to a State orphanage, and of the narrator’s aged father to a government rest-home, has a devastating impact on all the family, whilst the new decrees enforcing State control of the labour force have a similarly demoralising effect. Not only are the narrator’s son and prospective daughter-in-law forced to postpone their marriage by having to live and work in different towns, but the confiscation of their savings blights their ambitions and plans for their future. And as if all this were not bad enough, the enforced collectivisation and redistribution of dwellings and furniture, and the establishment of “State cookshops” at which all citizens are obliged to eat their communally provided meals, is a source of further demoralisation.

The rest of Eugen Richter’s narrative describes the processes by which the last socialist straw breaks the German camel’s back. The collectivisation of the economy and of all cultural institutions, discourages effort, creativity and production, destroying living standards and provoking the emigration of all the most talented and enterprising members of society. At the same time, the centralisation of all power and decision-making in the hands of the State, and the need to discipline the increasingly restive and rebellious population, produces a vast increase in the size of the State bureaucracy and security apparatus, assisted by a growing army of paid informers. As Richter’s narrator explains, democratic elections have become a farce since “every single individual is a spy on his neighbour.” (Op cit, p.76). Eventually, of course, simmering discontent, exacerbated by the closing of the frontiers and the gunning-down of all those seeking escape from the socialist paradise, erupts into full-scale counter-revolution and civil war.Can anyone presented with this picture deny its prophetic anticipation of the course of socialist revolution in the 20th century?

Those who have read Roland Huntford’s book on Sweden,New totaliarians The New Totalitarians (Penguin Press, London, 1971), will also recognise the relevance of both satires to the evolution of the Welfare State in the increasingly ‘politically correct’ western democracies, especially in the field of education. Again, we cannot say: “We were not warned.”


Philip Vander Elst  is a freelance writer, lecturer, and C.S. Lewis scholar. His many publications include Power Against People: a Christian critique of the State (IEA, London, 2008).

This piece was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education ( often known as FEE ) of Irving on Hudson New York, in their excellent magazine The Freeman ( October 2012 ), who have kindly given us blanket permission to use their publications. We are most grateful to them for this. Their web site is, of course, among our American links.



































Europe an end in itself?

By Michael Dwyer

To the surprise of many the invective post referendum has if anything intensified. Neither side has covered themselves in glory.

remain-800x500The rank and undisguised contempt of Remainers have displayed for their fellow citizens shown the ugly face of liberal Britain in a way that has shocked your correspondent, and many who had in fact voted to stay.

However an ugliness that has gone largely uncommented, is that shown by Mr Junkers and others in their public statements, about the dissolution of Britain’s contract with the rest of the EU is to be managed.

They have not gone for the nuanced warning or the veiled threat. Nor have they been careful to hide the underlying motivation of their animus. Britain is to be punished. It must suffer in consequence of the decision to leave. This pain will be a salutary warning to any other countries within in the EU which might be considering departure themselves. “Look” they are being told “ at what we can and will do to this powerful trading nation and ponder what we could do to you, smaller poorer and less connected people.”

This is not the language of respect or of democracy. It is not, surely the language which should accompany the decision of one sovereign democracy to leave peacefully an association of other democracies. This is not the language of rational diplomacy, but of the Mafia, and of the ideologue.

The optimists on the pro brexit side both within the UK and outside it pooh pooh the threats as mere bullying and an attempt to intimidate at the beginning of a negotiation. “The EU,” they say, “cannot afford a hard Brexit. Economically it would not be in its interests. After all the Union runs a considerable trade surplus with the UK and many of the member countries are also military allies and collaborators in NATO.”

It may be though that the optimists and rational actor folk are missing the point. What is the EU for ? Well once upon a time I think you would have had almost universal agreement had you answered that with ‘Peace and Prosperity’. Should that still be the case then the economics and politics would dictate a reasoned and reasonable negotiation.

However I do not believe that I am alone in believing that for some, perhaps many deep in the European ‘Project’ the teleology has changed.

For Junkers et al the purpose of Europe is increasingly Europe.juncker The EU has become its own telos; it has become an end in itself. It may (they, no doubt, still believe) bring many happy consequences with it, such as peace and prosperity, but now in post Christian Europe it is acquiring an almost religious, even numinous, quality.

Here then is a problem that the sane, the sensible, and the moderates do not yet see. For the true believers the rational considerations of mere economics will not deter the ever onwards rush to the higher ideal that is Europe.

The metaphor most commonly used to describe the forward momentum is that of a train. Get on the Euro train to the future. Well the thing about trains is this. When your are on one getting off is very tricky indeed if it doesn’t want to stop. When it stops it is  only for a moment, and then off it goes again. And most problematically, a train only really goes in one direction, where the tracks laid down by the owners lead it. In train terminology changing direction without changing the tracks is called a crash.

For small folk like us Irish we have to hope that we can make use of the stop afforded us by the UK pulling the emergency brake. It might the be time to get on the platform and check timetable, just to make sure we are quite happy with the advertised destination. If we are not,  we had better get off now than either jump off at high speed or wait for the crash. Because with Junkers stoking the fire the crash is going to come.