Early and Later Medieval Scholasticism

St Thomas Aquinas, Painting by Carlo Crivelli

St Thomas Aquinas, painting by Carlo Crivelli

Early and Later Medieval Scholasticism

Darrell Sutton reviews new editions of timeless texts

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 8 Vols. (2012). The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine; Cornelius à Lapide, The Great Commentary: I Corinthians & II Corinthians and Galatians (2016), Loreto Publishers

Public forums in the west shelter their citizens from blatant favoritism toward one religion or another. There are politicians who may believe this assertion is questionable. Nonetheless, to others the safeguard is a defensive undertaking that is specifically germane to Europe and the Americas, unlike what is customary in many countries of the Orient. One may feel too that it is a harsh prevention that some western officials inflict on their general populace. Peoples of the world today are not less religious than they were hundreds or thousands of years ago. The effects of their piety in the West, however, are less overt. If there is a discernible difference, a major one is that nonbelievers today have more powerful tools at their disposal through social media and printed pages than in former times. By these means they can resist all formal religious indoctrination. In addition, the mega-phonic use of television and radio amplifies their voices all around the world. That influence is now great. Why should doubters not be heard? Should the municipal use of religion to influence citizenry not be debated openly? Apologetics, so it is said, is a discipline of theology that was designed to be philosophically sensitive to opposing views.

How different things were in the not too distant past when mankind’s outlook on the world and its continuance spurred robust debate among everyday citizens, chiefly within the guild of ancient philosophers. There is evidence for that claim. A book entitled History of Theology was composed, allegedly by a pupil of Aristotle (384BC-322BC). Eudemus of Rhodes (c.370BC-300BC) is the name by which he is popularly known. He edited some of Aristotle’s writings and he was a friend of Theophrastus (c.372BC-c.287BC). It was believed by some that Eudemus had written a fine work of theological reference. Ancient Greek philosophy and theology at the time concerned discussions of the divine being. The culture which produced the great literatures of antiquity consisted of persons who were fascinated with a “creator” and with the “origin of things”. It would be millennia later, during the Enlightenment, before those two disciplines would be permanently divided. Initial fissures became visible in the writings of Boethius (c.480-AD524), an avid reader of Plato (c.427-347BC) and of Aristotle. Boethius’ Theological Tractates and Consolation of Philosophy show a creative academic approach to explaining every existing thing; but during the Renaissance clergy-men and non-clergy-men of the day came to view the essence of credible scholarship in a different way. Diverging predilections and some very specific scholarly objectives were determining factors. It resulted in the re-casting of religious belief, political opinions and alliances.

Even now, Protestant divines are not esteemed commensurate with the enduring influence of 16th century Reformers. The upshot of the Reformation and the so-called Counter-Reformation was not unity but greater division. The partisanship was obvious. To some extent the academy suffered. One should not suppose though that the humanist genius of Renaissance times was halted entirely by the ascendancy of Martin Luther (1483-1546), his peers or his successors. For a long time theology reigned as the ‘Queen of the Sciences.’ The School-men of Christian religion in the Middle Ages emphasized piety as well as the professional study of scripture. True, their method of study bore Aristotelian marks, and it was rhetorical in nature, but it combined classical Greek and Latin insights with Patristic interpretations. Theological inquiries took on a philosophical hue. The result is an extant corpus of Catholic literature, one of immense proportion whose creation marked a signal achievement. Too many of these writers composed exegetical works that are now overlooked.

Two publishing houses, The Aquinas Institute and Loreto publications, intend to effect a renewal. They aspire to change the attitude of 21st century readers, whose mainstream neglect of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and Cornelius à Lapide (1567-1637), in particular, disavows the logic and common sense upon which western civilization originally was erected. These businesses have an uphill task. However, for those pilgrims willing to traverse the path the publishers now pave there are several thick volumes to read along the journey.

Until Karl Barth (1886-1968) composed his (unfinished) multi-volume Church Dogmatics, Aquinas’ Summa Theologica stood in the front ranks of all theological projects. It is an outstanding contribution to philosophical theology for a Dominican priest of that day. Not without reason is Aquinas deemed the ‘Angelic Doctor’. Because of the Summa’s fame, Paul Tillich (1886-1965), a theologian of international repute within the liberal academic community, refused to describe his own theological enterprise as a summa because Aquinas’ project was so exhaustive. Few scholars working in the theological sciences desire to see their academic insights compared to Aquinas’ works: he left so few stones unturned; hence it is best to read Aquinas first, then move onward to all derivative literature.

For this enterprise the Aquinas Institute has produced some very large tomes. These dark, dominating blue hard-covers of the Summa line my bookshelves. The volumes are in three parts, covering more than 400 questions, each with sub-topics that are treated lucidly. Inside each volume is a beautiful Latin text, carefully edited. On the facing side of the page is a close rendering in English. The Summa Theologica is a treasury of analytical logic. Much like a Catherine Wheel, it shoots sparks in different directions. Aquinas’ method is resourceful. He notes down objections, one after another, and then meets each objection with thoughtful answers. The questions and answers reveal specific issues that distressed religious and irreligious persons. Moreover Aquinas shows great deference to Aristotle all the way through, but he does not typically use his name in the discussions. He simply refers to Aristotle as ‘The Philosopher.’ Patristic Fathers who wrote in Latin are cited profusely.

The Institute could have helped readers by providing an ‘Introduction’ which describes the historical situation and the need for the Summa, even recording why it yet is popular in Philosophy departments worldwide. Much more than a philosophy of religion is presented by Aquinas. Any reader of these topics, although he or she may be an unbeliever in any deity, can acquire technical equipment useful for oral and literary debate. Novices to the Latin language can reacquaint themselves with it by slowly deciphering it or by going on to become skillful in Aquinas’ nuances. Some of the arguments are tedious; men of lesser genius have made similar grand attempts at working through their beliefs in print. Few of those texts became the impetus for an ongoing revival. Neo-Thomism, also known as Neo-Scholasticism, is a movement whose intellectual flame will not be extinguished. As long as students ruminate over the Doctor’s concerns further gains will be made in understanding the 13th century’s foremost philosophical theologian in the west.

Granted, Aquinas wasn’t loved by all Catholic academics in the Occident that came after him. Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457), for one, did all he could to undermine the influence of scholasticism, particularly the form it took from Aquinas’ hand. Ciceronian modes of thought were fashioned to rival Thomism. The end product was a humanism which reached back beyond Aquinas to classical Greek and Roman texts. But Aquinas was not forgotten. His cosmological arguments for the existence of God and many of his psychological observations (see below) continue to resonate. His notion of the liberty of the will passed through the centuries unchallenged until the Reformation. It was not wholly unlike the view of St. Augustine.

It is important to read Aquinas in large chunks. So for comparative purposes I have studied the text of Aquinas Institute’s volumes alongside my two large 1846 volumes, Patrologiae Cursus Completus, containing both Peter Lombard’s Latin text of Sentences and Aquinas’ Latin text of Summa. The text is essentially the same.

When treating of ‘Whether There is a Natural Fear (Q.41 Article 3)’

Aquinas first registers objections, then sets forth his view:

Ad tertium sic proceditur. Videtur quod timor aliquis sit naturalis. Dicit enim Damascenus, in III libro, quod est quidam timor naturalis, nolente anima dividi a corpore.   Objection 1: It would seem that there is a natural fear. For Damascene says (De Fide Orth. iii, 23) that there is a natural fear, through the soul refusing to be severed from the body
Praeterea, timor ex amore oritur, ut dictum est. Sed est aliquis amor naturalis, ut Dionysius dicit, IV cap. de Div. Nom. Ergo etiam est aliquis timor naturalis.   Obj. 2: Further, fear arises from love, as stated above (A2, ad 1). But there is a natural love, as Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv). Therefore there is also a natural fear.
Praeterea, timor opponitur spei, ut supra dictum est. Sed est aliqua spes naturae, ut patet per id quod dicitur Rom. IV, de Abraham, quod contra spem naturae, in spem gratiae credidit. Ergo etiam est aliquis timor naturae.   Obj. 3: Further, fear is opposed to hope, as stated above (Q40, A4, ad 1). But there is a hope of nature, as is evident from Rom. 4:18, where it is said of Abraham that against hope of nature, he believed in hope of grace. Therefore there is also a fear of nature.
Sed contra, ea quae sunt naturalia, communiter inveniuntur in rebus animatis et inanimatis. Sed timor non invenitur in rebus inanimatis. Ergo timor non est naturalis.   On the contrary, That which is natural is common to things animate and inanimate. But fear is not in things inanimate. Therefore there is no natural fear.
Respondeo dicendum quod aliquis motus dicitur naturalis, quia ad ipsum inclinat natura. Sed hoc contingit dupliciter. Uno modo, quod totum perficitur a natura, absque aliqua operatione apprehensivae virtutis, sicut moveri sursum est motus naturalis ignis, et augeri est motus naturalis animalium et plantarum. Alio modo dicitur motus naturalis, ad quem natura inclinat, licet non perficiatur nisi per apprehensionem, quia, sicut supra dictum est, motus cognitivae et appetitivae virtutis reducuntur in naturam, sicut in principium primum. Et per hunc modum, etiam ipsi actus apprehensivae virtutis, ut intelligere, sentire et memorari, et etiam motus appetitus animalis, quandoque dicuntur naturales.   I answer that, A movement is said to be natural, because nature inclines thereto. Now this happens in two ways. First, so that it is entirely accomplished by nature, without any operation of the apprehensive faculty: thus to have an upward movement is natural to fire, and to grow is the natural movement of animals and plants. Secondly, a movement is said to be natural, if nature inclines thereto, though it be accomplished by the apprehensive faculty alone: since, as stated above (Q10, A1), the movements of the cognitive and appetitive faculties are reducible to nature as to their first principle. In this way, even the acts of the apprehensive power, such as understanding, feeling, and remembering, as well as the movements of the animal appetite, are sometimes said to be natural.
Et per hunc modum potest dici timor naturalis. Et distinguitur a timore non naturali, secundum diversitatem obiecti. Est enim, ut philosophus dicit in II Rhetoric., timor de malo corruptivo, quod natura refugit propter naturale desiderium essendi, et talis timor dicitur naturalis. Est iterum de malo contristativo, quod non repugnat naturae, sed desiderio appetitus, et talis timor non est naturalis. Sicut etiam supra amor, concupiscentia et delectatio distincta sunt per naturale et non naturale.    And in this sense we may say that there is a natural fear; and it is distinguished from non-natural fear, by reason of the diversity of its object. For, as the Philosopher says (Rhet. ii, 5), there is a fear of corruptive evil, which nature shrinks from on account of its natural desire to exist; and such fear is said to be natural. Again, there is a fear of painful evil, which is repugnant not to nature, but to the desire of the appetite; and such fear is not natural. In this sense we have stated above (Q26, A1; Q30, A3; Q31, A7) that love, desire, and pleasure are divisible into natural and non-natural.
Sed secundum primam acceptionem naturalis, sciendum est quod quaedam de passionibus animae quandoque dicuntur naturales, ut amor, desiderium et spes, aliae vero naturales dici non possunt. Et hoc ideo, quia amor et odium, desiderium et fuga, important inclinationem quandam ad prosequendum bonum et fugiendum malum; quae quidem inclinatio pertinet etiam ad appetitum naturalem. Et ideo est amor quidam naturalis, et desiderium vel spes potest quodammodo dici etiam in rebus naturalibus cognitione carentibus. Sed aliae passiones animae important quosdam motus ad quos nullo modo sufficit inclinatio naturalis. Vel quia de ratione harum passionum est sensus seu cognitio, sicut dictum est quod apprehensio requiritur ad rationem delectationis et doloris, unde quae carent cognitione, non possunt dici delectari vel dolere. Aut quia huiusmodi motus sunt contra rationem inclinationis naturalis, puta quod desperatio refugit bonum propter aliquam difficultatem; et timor refugit impugnationem mali contrarii, ad quod est inclinatio naturalis. Et ideo huiusmodi passiones nullo modo attribuuntur rebus inanimatis.    But in the first sense of the word natural, we must observe that certain passions of the soul are sometimes said to be natural, as love, desire, and hope; whereas the others cannot be called natural. The reason of this is because love and hatred, desire and avoidance, imply a certain inclination to pursue what is good or to avoid what is evil; which inclination is to be found in the natural appetite also. Consequently there is a natural love; while we may also speak of desire and hope as being even in natural things devoid of knowledge. On the other hand the other passions of the soul denote certain movements, whereto the natural inclination is nowise sufficient. This is due either to the fact that perception or knowledge is essential to these passions (thus we have said, Q31, A1,3; Q35, A1, that apprehension is a necessary condition of pleasure and sorrow), wherefore things devoid of knowledge cannot be said to take pleasure or to be sorrowful: or else it is because such like movements are contrary to the very nature of natural inclination: for instance, despair flies from good on account of some difficulty; and fear shrinks from repelling a contrary evil; both of which are contrary to the inclination of nature. Wherefore such like passions are in no way ascribed to inanimate beings.
Et per hoc patet responsio ad obiecta.    Thus the Replies to the Objections are evident.


Aquinas had no problem delving into the intricacies of the mind, its mental processes and unpleasant feelings of phobia. It is clear that readers must make a supreme effort to stay with his very involved arguments. But in a world in which fear seizes hearts daily and governs the lives of many persons, some knowledge of its nature is still useful in the 21st century.

As for Cornelius a Lapide’s 33 volumes of The Great Commentary (TGC), written entirely in Latin, it was a remarkable scholastic achievement. Each republished volume will be bound in sturdy, bright red hard-covers. The commentaries on the four Gospels were issued in 2007. Now I Corinthians & II Corinthians and Galatians (2016) are available in one volume. More prolific than the Protestant divine John Calvin (1509-1564), who lectured and published on so much of the Bible, à Lapide commented on all the canonical texts (except Job and Psalms) and deuterocanonical books. In the Foreword (p.vii) of the Matthew commentary of Loreto’s new edition, Charles A Coulombe writes,

“The divorce between sanctity and scholarship that has grown since the Reformation is perhaps the greatest impediment today to the study of Scriptures or Theology of any kind. For the first fifteen centuries of Christianity’s existence, it was presumed that one studied and commented on the Bible as part of one’s own personal quest for holiness and salvation… from the time of Martin Luther, biblical research has tended to degenerate ever more into either an intellectual exercise or a search for textual weapons with which to belabor ideological opponents.”

The above words are part of the opening paragraph. The stance is clear. The Reformers’ scholarship has proved to be, in one way or another, the force behind successive movements away from reverent reflection of scripture toward a more secular and polemical approach to reading canonical documents. Educated Protestants of the 21st century would dispute those claims for sure.  Scholastic Protestants of the 16th and 17th centuries of course could defend their theology point by point. E.g., Philip Melanchthon’s (1497-1560) Loci Communes Rerum Theologicarum and Francis Turretin’s (1623-1687) Institutes of Elenctic Theology substantiate my assertion. But few modern Protestants in the west know the Latin well enough to read them directly. Interpretations of scholarly texts from that era now are derivative of English translations mainly; but when the Latin is inaccessible an English gloss still is preferable and profitable. On this point Catholics have reason to rejoice.

Born in the Netherlands, during the conflicts between Protestant Calvinists and Roman Catholics, the Jesuit à Laipide drew many Protestants homeward to Roman Catholic belief. His beliefs were held fervently, embracing those same convictions which were once shared by another Flemish theologian, Jacobus Latomus (1475-1544). The impressions à Lapide got from Reformed commentaries, and the judgments he issued on their value as contributions to sacred science were not favorable. Unlike Antoine A. Calmet (1672-1757), in his comments on scripture à Lapide did not withhold from public notice his personal beliefs on controversial subjects. While the study of Latin remained strong in Catholic quarters, à Lapide’s texts were well known. But with the displacement of Latin’s dominance in liturgy and in its application for scholarly instruction, also came a lack of acquaintance with his texts. Readers can be thankful for the translation-work of Anglo-Catholic T.W. Mossman (1826-1885), and for Loreto’s re-publication of Mossman’s renderings of The Great Commentary.

Technical minutiae, i.e., linguistic matters and so on, are restored. Matthew begins with à Lapide’s 129-page study of prefatory themes. The observations are erudite, equally informative as a specialized analysis of Gospel origins and content, in pre-Enlightenment days. The classic Douay-Rheims translation is utilized. His remarks are cross-referenced in one volume with those in another volume, as at II Corinthians 1:20 where his notes refer back to Matthew 5:37. Interesting remarks on Galatians 1:8 (p.614f.) highlight the polemical way in which the verse was broadly interpreted centuries ago: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema”. At issue was Paul’s claim of the mingling of Judaism and Christianity among devotees of Christ; Protestants and Catholics used the book as a foil in Reformation debates. So à Lapide:

“In the same way I will now conclude as follows: On the rise of Luther, Calvin, Menno, and any other Protestants, either the Church and the true faith came to an end or they did not. For these two—the true Church and the true faith—are necessarily connected, so much so that if in a single point, say the invocation of saints, the Church were to leave the track of the true faith, she must become heretical, so as not to be the Church of God but of Satan; just as any individual who maintains a single heresy, even though he correctly believes all the other articles of faith, is a heretic. I repeat therefore, when Calvin arose, either the Church came to an end or she did not; if she did, and had not existed since the time of S. Gregory the Great, as the Protestants say, then the Church had been extinct for nine-hundred years, that is to say, the world for nine-hundred years was without true faith, true religion, sacraments, Church, and salvation; therefore for nine-hundred years Christ deserted His bride; therefore the eternal kingdom of Christ had fallen, for Christ reigns in His Church; therefore the gates of hell had prevailed against His Church; therefore Calvin was born outside the Church, was no member of the Church, but an unbeliever, a heretic or a pagan; therefore he had no claim to be received by the people, by the world, and listened to as one of the faithful, but he should have been despised and rejected as an unbeliever who did not belong to the Church. If, however, the Church had not come to an end, and Calvin was born, baptized, educated, and brought up in the Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church, that Church was clearly a true Church, holding true faith. Therefore, when he withdrew from her, and shut himself up in his new dogmas, he separated himself from the true faith and from the Church, and became an apostate. Therefore, when he established another and a reformed church, it was not a true and apostolic church, but an apostate, schismatical, heretical church that he founded—a mistress and school not of faith, but of new doctrines and heresies. Let a fair-minded reader, who sincerely wavers but seeks the true faith, outside which no one can be saved, consider and weigh the force of this dilemma, and ask whether there is any escape from its conclusions, whether the rule here given is not a touchstone of what is true in doctrine and in faith.”

Those are plain statements (and analogous anti-Catholic statements can be found in Protestant literature of that day). Millions of people still adhere to à Lapide’s views. Although the language of professional writers has softened, polemical discourse continues among scholars and lay-persons whose Reformed and counter-Reformed views remain unacceptable to each other. The historical value of the debates is immeasurable. A number of readers will find some of it off-putting; objectionable testimonials aside, extracts from the Church Fathers appear in TGC in great quantity; and explanations of Greek and Hebrew idiom are not uncommon, turning up on page after page. Cornelius à Lapide has the temerity to read critically, preferring the Greek and Vulgate texts over divergences from the received texts made by St. Jerome or St. Ephrem (see Gal. 1:7 notes).

Through these volumes, students of early and later medieval Roman Catholic scholarship have a large fund of knowledge available to them. Their expositions of biblical texts have few rivals among contemporary Catholic literature. In the English language, the closest thing to Aquinas’ Summa, which bears witness to traditional Thomistic theological method, is Joseph Pohle’s (1852-1922) twelve-volume Dogmatic Theology, also republished by Loreto as the Pohle-Preuss Manual of Dogmatic Theology (2014) in 6 volumes. Seemingly, modern Catholic theologians are radically different today in their approaches to Catholic dogma.

No series of Catholic biblical commentaries currently on the market reproduces the singular, but erudite views displayed in à Lapide’s work. TGC established a scholarly benchmark. One wonders if it can be duplicated by any Roman Catholic exegete writing presently: a critical, albeit skeptical outlook has now firmly displaced the intellectual piety once so prevalent. An as to the lasting value of much of the available avant-garde Catholic research that I have perused, I am somewhat skeptical. Much of it does little to inspire piety or devotion in the Church’s adherents.

I heartily recommend, however, that the beginning of any reader’s education of Catholic scholasticism start with the philosophical and exegetical writings of Thomas Aquinas and Cornelius à Lapide.


Darrell Sutton is rector of the Tabernacle in Red Cloud, Nebraska, a small village in the Great Plains. He teaches Semitic languages and edits an academic bulletin entitled ‘The DS Commentary on Books’

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Not Just Any Old Beer

Not Just Any Old Beer

Em Marshall-Luck savours some special beers

Imperial Beer Club Range

Imperial Beer Club Range

We’re moving away from wines this month, as my attention has been diverted to the splendid Imperial Beer Club; plus a super whisky and equally excellent gin that I would also like to recommend to readers.

Wine clubs are rife, but beer clubs? The Imperial Beer Club set about to fill a gap in the market; and that it has done with superlative élan. This isn’t about just any old beer – these are incredibly carefully selected, immensely characterful craft beers from small, independent breweries. The presentation from the Imperial Beer Club is of the very highest standard – the beers come carefully packaged in a neat box, along with a tasting booklet which devotes fulsome space to each beer, along with serving suggestions and both information and quirky comments. Each monthly delivery box contains 10 beers and costs £42. Continue reading

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Brexit’s Progress


Brexit’s Progress

Stephen MacLean perceives the ‘End of the Beginning’

‘MPs hand Theresa May the starting gun on Brexit’. That is how the Independent recorded last Wednesday’s ‘second reading’ in the UK House of Commons to permit the Conservative government to begin exiting the European Union. And what a process it has been.

Many will argue that Brexit has been in the works since September 1988, when then prime minister Margaret Thatcher argued that ‘We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.’

This became known as her ‘Bruges speech’, and inspired countless Britons to struggle for UK sovereignty against Continental encroachments. An eponymous ‘Bruges Group’, with Lady Thatcher as its founding president, was formed the next year to continue the fight. Continue reading

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Separatist Tendencies in Canada


Separatist Tendencies in Canada

Second in a series by Mark Wegierski, marking the Sesquicentennial of Canadian Confederation

(A paper partially based on an English-language text that appeared in Polish translation under the title, “Tendencje separatystyczne w Kanadzie.” (“Separatist tendencies in Canada”) trans. Olaf Swolkien, Nowe Sprawy Polityczne (New Political Affairs) (Wolomin, Poland) no 30 (2004-2005), pp. 77-81.)

Canada was founded as a State by the act of Confederation in 1867 (formally known as the British North America (BNA) Act, which was passed by the Parliament of Westminster in London) – out of the union of four pre-existent historical regions – Ontario, Québec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, which became the first four Provinces of Canada. It was also a union of two, long pre-existent historical nations – English (British) Canada and French Canada (Québec). The Aboriginal peoples were included insofar as they had been traditionally considered to be under the special protection of the Crown.

While Prince Edward Island joined Confederation in 1873 (as a full province), the Western provinces of Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia entered Confederation in their present borders by 1905. To be precise, Manitoba and the North-West Territories joined Confederation in 1870, British Columbia in 1871, and the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were created in 1905. Newfoundland remained a British Crown Colony (and had also been a self-governing Dominion of the British Empire) until 1949. Continue reading

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Rigoletto, reloaded

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

Nighthawks, by Edward Hopper

Rigoletto, reloaded

Rigoletto, opera by Giuseppe Verdi, based on the play Le roi s’amuse by Victor Hugo, director Jonathan Miller, revival director Elaine Taylor-Hall, conductor Sir Richard Armstrong, ENO, 2nd February 2017, reviewed by Leslie Jones

Guiseppe Verdi was unquestionably one of the more thought provoking composers of opera. Rigoletto, accordingly, contains some powerful, intertwining themes, notably that of revenge and the inexorable nature of fate in the form of Monterone’s curse, la maledizione. “The old man cursed me!”, as Rigoletto repeatedly and ruefully remarks. The doom-laden orchestral prelude to Act I demonstrates, yet again, Verdi’s debt to Wagner.

Love can be self-sacrificial, as in the case of Violetta Valéry in La Traviata (see “La Traviata (encore)”, Quarterly Review, January 22nd 2017). But it can also can be possessive, over-protective, paranoid and ultimately self-destructive. Witness the hunchback Rigoletto’s almost incestuous feelings for his daughter Gilda, who in this production is literally locked in a not so gilded cage and only allowed out under close supervision. But to no avail. Her very innocence and lack of street-smarts are her undoing.

The sets, notably the squalid dead-end street where Rigoletto broods in his tenement, are striking and effective. The location of Act III is a dilapidated riverside bar outside the city, reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s evocative painting ‘Nighthawks’. The ensuing scene has a distinctly voyeuristic dimension. Rigoletto’s intention is to show Gilda the true character of her lover, ostensibly a penniless student named Gualtier Maldè but in reality the ‘Duke’, a cynical misogynist and libertine. He seduces Maddalena, the assassin Sparafucile’s sister, before Gilda’s very eyes. “Women are liars [the ‘Duke’ contends], why should men care, women are cunning little demons…” And evidently disposable commodities, to be duped, or abducted and raped, if all else fails.

This is the 13th revival of Jonathan Miller’s production of 1982. Miller transposed the action from the 16th century court of the Duke of Mantua, a notorious womaniser, to New York in the 1950’s. He cleverly mapped the Renaissance court onto a 20th century criminal gang. For the Duke of Mantua, read the ‘Duke’, a mafia boss. For the court jester (Rigoletto), read barman. In the opening scene, at a hotel where a party is taking place, we behold heavies dressed in sharp suits à la Madmen and wearing sinister sunglasses reminiscent of the Matrix Reloaded. According to the ‘Duke’, “There is no point in love unless the man is free”. In this context, the Mafia institution of the ‘Goomar’ or Mistress comes immediately to mind.

All of the principal singers were technically accomplished. The tenor Joshua Guerrero, who sang the ‘Duke’, clearly understands the importance of legato in bel canto and he received several rounds of spontaneous applause, especially in the last act. Ditto Sydney Mancasola, who played Gilda, and who gave what was arguably the standout performance, because so heart felt. However, Nicholas Pallesen, as Rigoletto, did not entirely convince. Where was the pathos when he fruitlessly begged the gang to find his abducted daughter?

Some operas work when not performed in their original language. ENO’s 2011 production of Parsifal was a triumph. On this occasion, however, something was lacking, to wit, Francesco Maria Piave’s libretto (see also Quarterly Review, “Machinations in Mantua”, February 19th 2014). Sorry, but the aria Caro Nome sounds much better in Italian.


LESLIE JONES is the editor of Quarterly Review

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St Moritz Hotel, Trebetherick, Cornwall

cocktail 5

St Moritz Hotel
Trebetherick, Cornwall

A luxury hotel and spa, St Moritz is situated on the north coast of Cornwall, in the village of Trebetherick, near Rock, with such attractions as St Endellion, Boscastle and Tintagel to its east; and Padstow across the Camel Estuary to its west. At first sight, the hotel appears rather austere – tall white apartment blocks with almost glowing dark turquoise windows. “Hmmm, interesting – I’ve never stayed in an ice box before” was my husband’s (perhaps rather unkind) first remark. The reception building is slightly warmer externally in its curves; and one finds that the back of the accommodation block is more attractive – rather like a modern Mediterranean hotel, with the hard lines broken by staggered balconies and terraces looking out over the sea. Continue reading

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An Old Army in a New World Order

Baron Dannatt

Baron Dannatt

An Old Army in a New World Order

Dr Frank Ellis crosses swords with Lord Dannatt

Richard Dannatt, Boots on the Ground: Britain and her Army since 1945, vii + pp. 360, Notes, no Bibliography, Illustrations, Index, Profile Books, London, 2016, ISBN 978-1781253809

Dannatt begins Boots on the Ground with some remarkable claims on behalf of the British Army. To begin with, he tells us that ‘The history of Britain is the history of her Army and vice versa’.[1] From the moment when it became possible to talk of a British Army there is something to this claim, though there is the not insignificant matter of English military achievements in wars against the French, Scots, Dutch and Spanish. Another objection is that it has never been the Army, English or British, that has saved England from foreign conquest. That honour falls to the Royal Navy, and in 1940 the honour fell to the Royal Air Force. The third claim made by Dannatt is also far from incontestable: ‘The British army remains the most renowned professional fighting force in the world’.[2] Having read Frank Ledwidge’s Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan (2011), for example – and there was nothing small about the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan – I am unable to share Dannatt’s optimism. Any such claim by Dannatt would require that he set out the criteria, which, according to him, would justify such a claim. That he fails to do. Undeterred, Dannatt also insists that ‘The Army is the exemplar against which the forces of our friends – and foes – judge themselves’.[3] Are the hordes of over-promoted majors, colonels, and two-a-penny brigadiers and generals really something that other armies want to emulate? Why is a British infantry battalion so top heavy with officers? Why are lieutenants required to command a platoon when a German infantry platoon in World War II was commanded – and superbly commanded – by a senior NCO? It is precisely because the British Army is so top heavy with commissioned ranks that it has never been at ease with mission-led command. Dannatt’s fifth claim states that ‘If the Army and the Armed Forces are diminished, so too is Britain’.[4]  Much of this assertion might plausibly hinge on what is meant by ‘diminished’ but as it becomes possible to do more with less a reduction in manpower seems inevitable. It is also far from obvious that the corollary of such technologically-driven changes ‘diminishes’ Britain. It might lead to a long overdue reduction in the swarms of colonels and major-generals but that would be a good thing.

Dannatt’s story begins with the unconditional surrender of Germany in May 1945. The United Kingdom, along with the USA, the Soviet Union and France (the French let in through the back door) now assumed responsibility for the administration of occupied Germany. Even before the cessation of hostilities there were clear signs that the ideological divide separating the Soviet Union and the two main Western Allies, Britain and the USA, was going to cause problems. For example, the Soviet Union resented the presence of the British, Americans and French in Berlin. The Blockade was an attempt by Stalin to force the Western Allies to abandon Berlin. The attempt not only failed but also served to

C-54 landing at Templehof

Berlin Blockade, C-54 landing at Templehof

strengthen ties between German civilians and their erstwhile British and American foes. Whatever misgivings the British occupation authorities had about enlisting the services of former National-Socialist officials and administrators such misgivings were not allowed to interfere with getting life back to normal. This policy worked and helped to lay the foundations of the Federal Republic’s astonishing economic recovery. This lesson was obviously not heeded by the US occupation regime in Iraq over sixty years later since the policy of de-Baathification proved to be one of the main factors contributing to the post-invasion insurgency in Iraq. Whatever else he was, Saddam Hussein was not another Hitler.

In the aftermath of World War II, Britain divested itself of Empire. The challenges associated with this decolonisation process were diverse, expensive and diplomatically and militarily challenging. Alongside this process Britain also had to confront the global communist threat, not just in West Berlin and Western Europe, but in Greece and Korea.  India was let go, Palestine was abandoned to the UN and communist insurgents had to be confronted in Malaya. In his section on Palestine, Dannatt cites an article in the Army Quarterly, in which it was asserted that the flogging of four British soldiers by Jewish insurgents was most likely the greatest insult ever inflicted on the British Army.[5] Dannatt passes no comment on this claim but it seems to me that this dubious honour belongs to the collapse at Singapore, with Dunkirk pressing for second place. Perhaps General Percival should have been publicly flogged on his release from Japanese captivity. In the early 1950s, the British Army had to deal with the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya. In the 1960s, Britain was confronted with challenges in the jungles of Borneo, the Middle East (Radfan and Aden). By the end of the decade British troops were deployed on operational duty on the streets of Northern Ireland, a deployment which officially ended in 2007, but in 2016 the ‘Troubles’ have not entirely ceased. Meanwhile, in the first half of the 1970s, the SAS waged a successful counter insurgency in Dhofar (Oman).

Counterinsurgency was the dominant theme in British military operations from 1945 but these campaigns were frequently conducted alongside more conventional and unexpected deployments. The Suez crisis in 1956 exposed not just the lingering pretensions to imperial status on the part of Britain’s rulers but also the weakness of any claim that there was some kind of special relationship between the USA and Britain. In fact, American hostility towards British intervention was just the latest example of a less than special relationship and one that was too dependent on the personalities of who happened to be the latest British Prime Minister and US President. The fact that crucial British help in developing the bomb in WWII was not reciprocated until Britain designed and tested her own nuclear weapons speaks for itself. In 1982, Argentina, led by a vicious and corrupt junta, invaded the British sovereign territory of the Falkland Islands, and British forces, against daunting odds, managed to liberate the Islands and re-establish British rule. In the context of the Cold War, the British response to Argentine aggression signalled a determination to defend vital British interests. The message for the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact was clear: any Soviet aggression against NATO would also be resisted. As the Soviet empire was finally falling apart, Saddam Hussein sent his troops into Kuwait in August 1990. In early 1991, British forces, together with others comprising the US-led coalition, liberated Kuwait. By the end of the year the Soviet Union was no more: the red Moloch was in pieces.

In many of the post-1945 counterinsurgencies involving British troops, ethnic, religious and racial hatreds proved to be powerful drivers of conflict. What happened in India immediately after independence is a reminder that racial, ethnic and religious divisions can be controlled if there is a force willing and able to impose order. When that force losses the will or no longer has the means to impose order, ethnic and racial violence is the norm. Racial diversity as source of conflict is also evident in the Malayan Emergency. The Chinese, successful and intelligent, were resented by Malays. The Mau Mau insurrection was driven by land hunger and made worse by tribal hatreds. It was much the same on Cyprus. Even today, notes Dannatt, Greek and Turks on Cyprus, ‘seem eternally resistant to finding an accommodation with each other’.[6] Why does the hostility between Greek and Turkish Cypriots not tell Dannatt something about the dangers of diversity and forced integration? Religious divisions as a driver of conflict in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, as well as the eternal territorial imperative, require no comment.

According to Dannatt, ‘The end of the Cold War was a civilian, not a military, victory. The break-up of the Soviet empire came as much from within, as from without’.[7] Not quite: if there had been no NATO then the Warsaw Pact would have been able to invade Western Europe and sovietise the invaded and occupied states. That NATO would resist any Warsaw Pact aggression – made quite clear by the British liberation of the Falklands in 1982 – forced the Soviet Union into a battle it could not win: economic efficiency and reform. One has no way of knowing for certain, but what would have been the consequences for Britain and NATO had the British operation to liberate the Falklands failed?

Naive – dangerously naive – ideas about the end of history and the emergence of some New Global Liberal Order which acquired prominence after the Soviet collapse were brutally exposed in Yugoslavia or its remains in the 1990s. In fact, what happened in India provided a clear warning of what was likely to happen. Ethnic solidarity – the fiction of Yugoslavia as a people united – could only be maintained by Tito’s willingness to use force. After his death in 1980, and with the obvious lack of will on the part of Belgrade to impose the fiction of Yugoslavia, religious and ethnic differences which had been suppressed since 1945 erupted. On the question of Bosnia, Dannatt tells us that: ‘The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was said to be made up six republics, five nations, four languages, three religions, two alphabets and one Tito, president from 1953’.[8] Once again, there is a clear and compelling lesson: racial and ethnic diversity are not strengths.

‘During the war in Bosnia’, notes Dannatt, ‘neighbour fought neighbour. The country’s population was 44 per cent Muslim, 32 per cent Serb and 25 per cent Croat’.[9] That is why neighbour fought neighbour. Dannatt tells us that ‘Analysts tried to make sense of Bosnia and other conflicts in the post-Cold War world’.[10] Well, these analysts, one of them being Mary Kaldor, cited by Dannatt, did not try hard enough. These wars are all about racial (ethnic if you are squeamish) and cultural identity. They have occurred precisely because central governments were no longer able to impose control. Mass migration encouraged by globalisation as a way of destroying national identity is also a cause. Dannatt is reluctant to admit it. Evidence of Dannatt’s misconceptions here is to be found in the following:

“Ethnic cleansing characterised the conflict in Bosnia. The United Nations describes ethnic cleansing as “rendering an area ethnically homogenous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of a given group from the area”.  Families who had lived in villages and towns for generations were either killed, forcibly expelled or fled in terror for their lives.”[11]

Slobodan Miloševic

Slobodan Milošević, on trial at the Hague

So why did this happen? What suddenly changed? Those expelled may have lived in villages and towns for generations but were obviously resented. When it became possible to act on this resentment after the death of Tito, the so-called unifier, violent expulsion was the result. The lesson is that when people are forced to live with the “other” because the state imposes it upon them, they put up with the presence of the “other”. This is not tolerance; it is making the best of a bad job. When an opportunity arises to expel the “other” it will be taken. This is what happened in Yugoslavia after Tito’s death.

Significant for justifying intervention in Bosnia are remarks made by the second-in-command of the Cheshire Regiment, and approvingly cited by Dannatt: ‘What was going on was outside the realms of civilized behaviour…We represented the forces of good and we were surrounded by the forces of evil’.[12] Dannatt then tells us that: ‘Peacekeeping is founded upon consent, impartiality and even-handedness’.[13] There is, unfortunately, a problem with this view. If the peacekeepers believe that they represent the forces of good and that they are surrounded by the forces of evil then they cannot operate with the ‘consent’ of the forces of evil: they must fight and destroy them. The mere fact that the peacekeepers have arbitrarily identified themselves as the forces of good means that they are no longer ‘impartial’. Nor can they permit themselves to be ‘even-handed’, since if you treat the forces of evil the same way as the forces of good you no longer recognise any distinction between the two: good and evil are just arbitrary distinctions. Dannatt more or less – and unwittingly – concedes this point: ‘But by not intervening to stop the bloodshed, UNPROFOR appeared to be colluding in atrocities and war crimes’.[14] This is where the ideological contradictions, on which so-called ‘humanitarian interventionism’ and multiculturalism are based, are exposed. Multiculturalists propagate the false idea that all cultures are just social and political constructs and no one culture is better or any worse than the other, so making it impossible to talk about ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Confronted with the situation on the ground, British soldiers, who, in my experience, do not subscribe to the pseudo-intellectualism of humanitarians such as Tony Blair, have no doubt that much of what they have encountered in Bosnia was evil. The moment a set of ‘actors’, to use the jargon, does something which the peacekeepers on the ground regard as evil and move to stop it, the mission is no longer peacekeeping, as Dannatt defines it, but an act of justified aggression in the eyes of those who define themselves as the forces of “good”. Had the peacekeepers not been there in the first place, they, on the ground, unlike the would-be saviours of the world who sent them there, would not have to make decisions based on good and evil. The moment such a decision is made and acted on – and it is practically inevitable that such incidents will occur and be acted on – the so-called peacekeepers become involved in a war.

1997 was a watershed year in the history of the British Army. In that year Britain acquired a Prime Minister who saw himself as a Messiah figure who would use the resources of the British state and, above all, its Armed Forces to save the world. Although Blair’s fanatical dogoodery provided the justification for a whole series of interventions and invasions, senior British officers who went along with Blair’s utopian follies must bear some responsibility for the disasters of Operation Telic (Iraq) and Operation Herrick (Afghanistan). Dannatt, for example, shows no misgivings about the British Army’s being used to interfere in the internal affairs of other states:

“Consequently, British soldiers would once again be found on the frontline of trouble spots around the world, deployed as United Nations’ peacekeepers rather than as imperial policemen.”[15]

This is somewhat disingenuous on Dannatt’s part. The British Empire may have disappeared but the new empire was US-imposed democratic fundamentalism and globalisation. Thus British troops were still being employed as imperial policeman on behalf of a new and emerging empire; let us call it the New World Order. Britain’s Department for International Development operated as an arm of this new UN/US-sponsored imperialism. Underpinning much of this neo-imperialism was the delusion of the Blair government that Britain should be a force for good in the world.

According to Boutros Boutros-Gali, cited by Dannatt, ‘The time of absolute and exclusive sovereignty [however,] has passed’.[16] If that is the case then this bureaucrat has to explain why the violence erupted in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Ethnic and racial identities are by their very nature exclusive and sovereign and cannot be shared with the “other”. Security for one’s racial and ethnic identity demands a separate territory and, with it, sovereignty. One has to ask why Dannatt has failed to pour acidic scorn all over Boutros-Gali’s sentimental nonsense. The reason is that Dannatt is on the side of the humanitarians and Tony:

“The Rwandan genocide made a powerful case for the international community to take a different approach.  Intervention to save life not only corresponded with the zeitgeist, but also with thinking within the Labour Party.” [17]

Why did – why should – the Rwandan genocide make a powerful case? It had nothing to do with “thinking” in the Labour Party and everything to do with “feeling good” about “doing good”. This Blair “Doctrine of International Community” was and remains a charter for meddling. It would have been a gift to Lenin and Hitler: it is imperialism in new clothing.

Referring to Blair’s “Doctrine of the International Community”, Dannatt summaries the five tests that are to be met before “intervening” (invading and imposing a solution): (i). Are we sure of our case? (Comment: As Blair’s mendacious justification for invading Iraq in 2003 shows, being sure of one’s case is open to abuse. Blair was so sure of his case that he allegedly lied and lied again. Lenin, Stalin and Hitler were all sure of their cases as well. Demagogues like Blair will always find or invent ways “to be sure of their case”; (ii). Are all diplomatic options exhausted? (Comment: exhausting diplomacy as a justification for invasion is itself an act of aggression, and who or what determines that all diplomatic options have been exhausted? Blair? (iii). Can a military operation be sensibly and prudently undertaken? (Comment: what is meant here by “sensible” and “prudent”?  In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan this test was a catastrophic failure. (iv). are we prepared for the long term? (Comment: it is one thing to be prepared or committed to the long term in Northern Ireland which is British sovereign – that word again! – territory, quite another in a place such as Iraq or Afghanistan; (v) do we have national interests involved? (Comment: the consideration of national interest would have excluded any involvement in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Further, if according to Boutros Boutros-Gali ‘The time of absolute and exclusive sovereignty [however,] has passed’ how can there be something called ‘national interest’? National interest is something narrow and selfish and can only arise from absolute and exclusive sovereignty. So when Blair talks about national interest he means something else. He speaks as one of the self-anointed representatives of the ‘international interest’ or that other liberal fiction, the ‘international community’.  But none of this gives Dannatt a headache.

From other remarks made by Blair, and cited by Dannatt, it is clear that Blair’s desire to interfere in the internal affairs of other states was all about his view of himself as a divinely-appointed saviour of the world. Once again, there are clear and unmistakable inconsistencies in Dannatt’s assembling his material and Blair’s own position. Thus, Dannatt tells us that: ‘For Tony Blair, traditional foreign policy, based on an analysis of national interest, was “flawed and out of date”; it was also “immoral”.[18] Yet only those ignorant of history and military leaders wanting more money for the military, so as to be able to use the British Army as a tool to save the world on behalf of “humanitarian interventionism”, could be impressed by Blair’s dangerous and sentimental ravings. When people protested about the bombing of Serbs Blair let it be known that ‘If you are not careful, the aggressor starts to assume the mantle of victim’.[19] Remind me Tony: who was actually bombing Serbia, the Serbs?

Any doubts about whether Dannatt accepted Blair’s reasons for bombing other countries are easily dispelled. Note the following from Dannatt on Kosovo:

“The avoidance of a humanitarian catastrophe had provided the moral justification for NATO’s actions in Kosovo, even if they were still technically illegal under international law.”[20]

So we have here a clear admission that even if illegal under international law, Blair’s feelings-led foreign policy initiatives were permitted to ignore international law, corrupting NATO in the process, since NATO was not founded so as to be used as an instrument to impose the ideology of humanitarian interventionism. The consequences flowing from Blair’s personal desire to be fêted as a redeemer – like Hitler after the Anschluß – proved far reaching indeed. For Hitler it was the belief in his will power to save the day; for Blair it was his insensate desire to save the world. Kosovo convinced Blair and his American masters that Iraq, too, could be “saved”. One other consequence of intervention in Kosovo and later Iraq was that it encouraged President Putin to act in the same way. If NATO and the West could impose solutions to suit themselves then so could Russia. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 was one such move and it, too, could be justified as “humanitarian interventionism”. There was no British minority in Kosovo, Iraq or Afghanistan.

The trouble with using human rights as justification for invasion is that the notion of so-called “human rights” is not universally shared. What Dannatt calls a Responsibility to Protect (R2P) offers a very convenient pretext to invade sovereign states. Indeed, it should be called Reason to Invade (R2I). He says that R2P was used to justify the Anglo-French intervention in Libya, an intervention that has turned out somewhat ingloriously. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report on British intervention in Libya (September 2016) makes grim reading for the would-be saviours of the world. With one eye on this Foreign Affairs Committee Report, Dannatt warns us:

“One of the lessons learned from the West’s twenty-first century discretionary wars is that the removal of strong, albeit dictatorial, leaders and their regimes by external intervention demands post-conflict commitment to ensure stabilisation. Such plans were absent in both Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2010, leading to political chaos and the breakdown of security, which ultimately affected the wider region.”[21]

Muammar al-Gaddafi

Muammar al-Gaddafi

This is pure evasion on Dannatt’s part. It should not have required the post-invasion collapse into insurgency in Iraq to have caused the penny to drop – that is – that sufficient post-conflict planning should have taken place before the invasion. True, US forces had not been confronted ‘by Stalingrad-on-the-Tigris’,[22] but they were very soon to be confronted with Soviet-style partisan-war-on-the-Tigris, and they, too, were ill prepared to deal with it. Concerning what happened in Libya in 2010, there are no excuses at all. Dannatt has obviously forgotten the British Army maxim: prior planning and preparation prevents piss-poor performance. The reason there was no planning for the post-invasion conflict was because it was assumed by Bush and Blair that having effected regime change Iraq would in some unexplained way experience peace and prosperity. Moreover, Dannatt’s position on page 356 of Boots on the Ground is clearly inconsistent with earlier remarks that ‘The intervention in Libya was a tactical success, but its long-term strategic effect was hard to determine’.[23]  Nor does it ever seem to have occurred to the doctrinaires of ‘humanitarian interventionism’ that if Blair and his US masters can go around the world intervening in the name of the good, the time might come when a coalitions of states will decide to intervene in Britain to enforce a vision of their good; and this does not necessarily mean military action. Massive funding of terrorist groups would also count as intervention.

The disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan raised very serious questions about the nature of the Military Covenant, the duty owed by the nation to the Armed Forces. The Military Covenant, a worthy idea, breaks down when one comes to the idea of the “Nation” and what in the twenty-first century is to be understood by the “nation”. The idea of the “Nation” encapsulated in Major-General Sebastian Roberts’s essay, cited by Dannatt, is critical to the Military Covenant and is under direct attack from liberal totalitarians and xenophile fanatics who, like their mentor, Lenin, hate the very idea of the exclusive, sovereign, unique nation. If there is no unique “national interest”, and, if according to the likes of Boutros Boutros-Gali, there is no longer any sovereignty, the Military Covenant can enjoy no special status. The Military Covenant derives its moral force from this entity known as “nation”. Where the nation and national identity are mocked, derided and subverted by multiculturalism, as has been the case in English schools for some time, there can be no national identity – a multicultural national identity is a grotesque contradiction – and consequently the Military Covenant has no validity. It is one thing to expect that soldiers should lay their lives on the line for the “Nation”, as they did between 1939 and 1945, but quite another to expect soldiers to die for multiculturalism and globalism whose ideologues are hostile to the nation state, and the very notion of an exclusive national identity. Dannatt and Roberts show no sign that they have grasped this fact.

Here, for example, are some of Dannatt’s thoughts on the Military Covenant:

“The perception (sic!) grew that soldiers were being short-changed, whether on the front line or back in Britain. Particularly controversial were the issues of force protection such as the supply of body armour and, with the closure of military hospitals, the medical treatment for the wounded on civilian wards in NHS hospitals. In addition, in both Iraq and Afghanistan a shortage of helicopters and the use of lightly armed armoured vehicles came to symbolise cut-price conflict. The successful prosecution of both campaigns was being hampered because the Army was not being “sustained and provided for” as the Military Covenant demands. Although the Government was only too happy to deploy the Armed Forces as an instrument to implement its global ambitions, it appeared unwilling properly to fund them.”[24]

I am not aware that any senior officers resigned in protest, so forfeiting knighthoods, gongs, peerages, lucrative post-career opportunities and losing publicly funded education for their children in good private schools. More fundamentally, senior officers – Dannatt was one of them – who advocated the intervention on-the-cheap doctrine of “Go First, Go Fast and Go Home” (and look good and feel good and get well and truly bogged down) had clearly failed to think through the possibility that invading Iraq and Afghanistan would not be short-term commitments and going there fast would not mean going home any time soon, with all that that meant for manning and equipment. Primary responsibility for the disasters of Operation Telic (Iraq) and Operation Herrick (Afghanistan) rests with Blair who, having got away with Sierra Leone and Kosovo, and having succumbed to his own narcissist propaganda of being the Redeemer of the World, believed that regime change in Iraq (illegal in international law), would go just as smoothly, and so recklessly committed Britain to major wars for which she was not prepared. There are parallels, once again, with Hitler: lightning diplomatic and military victories in Western Europe convinced the Führer that the Soviet state would collapse just as quickly; likewise, Blair, seduced by his own grotesque brand of liberal totalitarian rhetoric, thought that all he had to do was to kick in the door of Basra Palace and the Iraqi edifice would collapse and that he would be loved and adored. Hitler at least did the decent thing in his bunker. Blair, realising that he had created multiple disasters and a humanitarian catastrophe, deserted his post and the soldiers he had sent to be killed and maimed, leaving the mess for Brown and Cameron. Blair’s deserting his post under fire tells you all you need to know about what the Military Covenant meant to him.

Invasion of Iraq

Invasion of Iraq, American reconnaissance forces

Dannatt’s excuse for the deafening silence of senior officers when confronted with Blair’s megalomania is the following: ‘Convention requires that serving soldiers should never go public with their concerns. Sir Mike [Jackson] followed long-standing British civil-military conventions and lobbied ministers behind firmly closed doors’.[25] Well maybe it is time to jettison this convention in the light of what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan: and, in any case, Jackson could have resigned. Soldiers were being sacrificed on the field of battle, so why not sacrifice a few in Whitehall. Of course, in defending Jackson, Dannatt is really defending his own silence, since he presided over Iraq and the redeployment to Afghanistan.

If ever there was moment for Dannatt to have beaten the drum on behalf of the Army it was the issue of the anti-malarial drug, Larium, and its dangerous side effects. Dannatt has confided that having seen the effects of the drug on his son, he refused to take it. Had some private soldier in the Rifles refused to take the drug he would have been guilty of a disciplinary offence. Dannatt also shows himself firmly on message when it comes to some of the Labour causes imposed on the Armed Forces. Note, for example, the following on the decision to allow women to serve in close combat roles:

“What perhaps should be remembered is that many men are ruled out of a frontline infantry role because they are unable to meet the gruelling physical standards demanded. Tests assessing physical capability should be gender-blind, but with no allowances made. The frontline of combat is no place for passengers or for the “weaker sex” of any gender.”[26]

Without going into the obvious problems arising from Dannatt’s conflation of “sex” and “gender”, it is clear that men and women are not differentiated by “gender” but by primary, secondary and tertiary sex differences. The feminist use of the term “gender” is a device to blur and often to deny the physical and psychological differences separating men from women. I seem to recall that of the circa 7,000 women in the British Army only about 400 were able to meet the minimum standards for service in frontline units. Such low numbers do not justify a policy of placing women in infantry units, even if some men cannot meet the standards required. Given the ideological pressure from feminists, from within and outside the Army, tests assessing physical ability for women will not be sex-blind. The overwhelming temptation will be to assess the physical performance of women in comparison with other women only and not with the more demanding standards applied to men. In the US armed forces, this is known as “gender streaming”. This will be done for propaganda purposes and it is only a matter of time before we are told that some woman has passed P Company. Given that there remain clear distinctions in sporting events for men and women and given that Dannatt expects the British Army to conform to the standards of civilian life then there can be no good reason for permitting women to serve in close-combat roles. The frontline of combat is no place for experiments in feminism. None of these objections prevents Dannatt from advocating that: ‘As the make-up of the British population becomes more diverse, so too should that diversity  be reflected within the overall ranks  of the Army’.[27] What matters is surely commitment and ability. The British Army should not under any circumstances succumb to the fallacies and distortions of US-style affirmative action. Given Dannatt’s cheerleading for diversity in the British Armed Forces, it strikes me as significant that in his summary of the EOKA terrorist campaign on Cyprus, Dannatt reminds us that Catherine Cutcliffe, the wife of Royal Artillery Sergeant Cutcliffe, was shot dead while shopping in Famagusta, yet ignores the ritual murder of Drummer Lee Rigby on the streets of London by an immigrant from Nigeria. Does Dannatt really believe that diversity is some kind of benefit? It may well be, as Dannatt claims, that Sikhs in Britain would like to see a Sikh regiment in the British Army, alongside the Gurkha Regiment, but it will not happen since Muslims would demand the same concession.

Boots on the Ground is a disappointing read. The various campaign summaries are useful but could easily have been written by an A Level history student. The critical weakness is the author’s reluctance to confront the dangerous and naive policies exploited by Blair to intervene in, and to invade, other states. What emerges from Dannatt’s book is just how adept senior officers are at creating myriads of task forces, assessment committees and rapid reaction rackets to bamboozle politicians (and the public) and to delay change. The British Army maxim comes to mind: ‘Bullshit baffles brains’. The Tory MP and historian, Alan Clark, was one of the few politicians to see through these scams, though his solution, a Stalin-like purge of the British Army, was over the top, well slightly. Boots on the Ground also reveals a worrying lack of intellectual independence and a capacity for analysis. Dannatt shows himself to be far too compliant, too willing to accept, rather than to resist, various dangerous trends, such as “humanitarian interventionism”.  In these very uncertain times – ever was it thus – the British Army requires generals with the intellectual talents and independence, the breadth and depth of knowledge, and the moral courage of the likes of Walter Walker, Frank Kitson, Farrar “the Para” Hockley and John Hackett. At the moment we do not have such men, and we have not had them for some time.

© Frank Ellis 2016

DR FRANK ELLIS is a former soldier and academic. He is now a military historian. His latest book is Barbarossa 1941: Reframing Hitler’s Invasion of Stalin’s Soviet Empire, University Press of Kansas, 2015


[1] Dannatt, p.3
[2] Dannatt, p.3
[3] Dannatt, p.3
[4] Dannatt, p.7
[5] Dannatt, p.33
[6] Dannatt, p.99
[7] Dannatt, p.194
[8] Dannatt, p.220
[9] Dannatt, p.221
[10] Dannatt, p.221
[11] Dannatt, p.223
[12] Dannatt, p.225
[13] Dannatt, p.225
[14] Dannatt, p.226
[15] Dannatt, p.219
[16] Dannatt, p.230
[17] Dannatt, p.230
[18] Dannatt, p.231
[19] Dannatt, p.240
[20] Dannatt, p.242
[21] Dannatt, p.356
[22] Dannatt, p.276
[23] Dannatt, p.345
[24] Dannatt, pp.313-314
[25] Dannatt, p.315
[26] Dannatt, pp.352-353
[27] Dannatt, p.358

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ENDNOTES, February 2017

Varda Kotler

Varda Kotler

ENDNOTES, February 2017

In this edition: L’Heure Romantique, from Varda Kotler  *  Heracleitus, from EM Records  *  William Alwyn Quartets, from Somm

“Music unfolds within it all that is humane: spiritually uplifting… I discovered great humanity in the selected melodies. A musical journey amid these melodies reveals that each of them is a microcosm with its own unique character.”

So writes the brilliant Israeli recitalist and operatic singer, Varda Kotler – a native of Tel Aviv and a graduate of that city’s prestigious Rubin Academy of Music. With a repertoire that ranges from the decidedly quirky, 20th-century re-imagined folk-songs of Luciano Berio, to the great classical masses of Mozart and Bach, Varda Kotler brings a stunning versatility to her work, which is fully displayed on her new CD collection, L’Heure Romantique. Accompanied by the gifted pianist, Israel Kastoriano (known for his appearances at Tanglewood, the Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall – and for his interpretations of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier) the programme brings together the perfumed classical romanticism of Bizet – Ma vie a son secret and Rose d’amour (a deft Tarantelle also evoking the world of Carmen) with the Mahlerian woodland nocturnes and legends of Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

There is also music very much in the Jewish idiom (by Paul Ben-Haim), some Schumann (the beautiful Abendlied op. 107 – “It has become so still; the evening breeze has dropped; now in every place the footsteps of angels can be heard”), the high-hills and ancient dialects of Canteloube’s Auvergne, and reposeful 17th-century Englishness – Purcell’s Music for a while. But what unites every item and era into a logical, continuous experience is the sheer beauty of the performance: Varda Kotler sings with a silken radiance – a voice of intimacy, and yet clearly a voice that can project, but without a trace of any shrillness or over-emphasis.

To make sense of Purcell’s work is a rare accomplishment at the best of times (this is the music of the English court and country, requiring, perhaps, an empathy with historical context and an understanding of “atmosphere”) and it is particularly exciting to see such an international artist of the younger generation (no doubt keen to make a name in the “central repertoire” of Bach, Mozart, or mainstream opera) take to this rare brew. I very much hope to see and hear Varda Kotler on the British concert stage, and for anyone planning an English musical evening – but with a desire to see our music travel a little more – they would do well to sign this enchanting vocalist at the earliest opportunity. L’Heure Romantique is now available on the Forlane record label (catalogue number: FOR 16878).

Musical discoveries abound on the EM Records label – the recording arm of the English Music Festival – and, once again, founder-producer Em Marshall-Luck has brought us to a rescued repertoire which, but for her efforts, might have faced oblivion: rare compositions by George Butterworth – the 1910 Suite for String Quartet (performed by the Bridge Quartet) – taking the listener to the twilight valleys inhabited by Shropshire lads; and dusty village streets of western, borderland England. Butterworth, killed in World War One, might well have become the new Vaughan Williams, the successor to Holst, the younger, brilliant son of our musical family; and could have emerged and entered his old age as one of the giants of our musical tradition. Usually defined only by the short orchestral work, The Banks of Green Willow, and the slighter longer, more concentrated and brooding rhapsody, A Shropshire Lad, Butterworth has – thanks to Em Marshall-Luck’s scholarship and dedication to uncovering obscure manuscripts and works – found a new voice, both in the concert hall and on record.

Yet this new EM Records disc – Heracleitus – owes its name to an almost forgotten song by Peter Warlock (here receiving its world-premiere recording) – Warlock (1894-1930) being, perhaps, one of the first English minimalists – or at least, a composer able to concentrate profound sensitivity and emotion into sparse and sparing spans of music. We chiefly remember the refreshing Suite, Capriol – based upon ancient airs and dances – and the slanting light of desolate marshland in The Curlew; but in the song, Heracleitus, the listener encounters a timeless whisper of human truth from classical antiquity, reverently delivered by tenor, Charles Daniels:

‘They told me, Heracleitus, they told
Me you were dead;
They brought me bitter news to hear
And bitter tears to shed;
I wept, as I remembered, how often
You and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.”

(W.J. Cory (1823-92), after Callimachus (3rd century BC.)

Warlock lived for a time in the North Kent village of Eynsford, which even today (despite traffic) is a reassuringly old-fashioned place, standing beside and fording the clear stream of the River Darenth, overlooked by downland and willows. A blue plaque at the cottage which he shared in the 1920s with fellow composer, E.J. Moeran commemorates his time there – and by all accounts (“with the kitchen swimming in beer”) it was a jolly, bohemian existence. Yet a simplicity is found in Warlock’s music: wistful phrases, beautiful and touching, yet slipping away into a feeling that the composer is longing for something unattainable.

For Gloucestershire-born Ivor Gurney (who physically survived service in the First World War) his county roots remained one of the constant elements in his troubled life – a life that was to end in 1937 just a few miles from Warlock’s Eynsford, in an asylum in Dartford. The CD offers the world-premiere recording of the Adagio, dating from 1924, and the touching song, Severn Meadows – an idyll of a lost countryside, the reassurance of which is seen from the grim war year of 1917:

“And who loves joy as he
That dwells in shadows?
Do not forget me quite,
O Severn Meadows.”


Finally, to another English discovery, this time from Somm Records and producer, Siva Oke. The Tippett Quartet appears on one of her recent CD issues (the label now sporting a new logo, and – if I may observe – a striking new look). Recorded at St. Nicholas Parish Church, Thames Ditton, the recording features three quartets from the 20th-century British composer, William Alwyn – who lived for a great period of his life at Southwold, Suffolk (just north of Benjamin Britten’s Aldeburgh). Alwyn was a prolific composer, and wrote many film scores, including a compelling accompaniment to the thoughtful wartime documentary/propaganda film, Our Country. (Dylan Thomas supplied the words.) He composed symphonies and a set of Elizabethan Dances – whose contrasting idioms evoke the eras of the two Elizabeths.

Alwyn’s music, even when wading more deeply into 20th-century waters (as in the symphonies), manages to keep to a recognisable tonality – a trait which is very clearly felt in the three string quartets which grace this disc: No. 10 (En Voyage), No. 13, and – my personal favourite – No. 11 in B minor, a three-movement work composed in 1933. The works embrace many emotions, and in their vivace episodes suggest a sense of powerful spring light sparkling and dancing on choppy tidal water on a sunny day. The Andante section of No. 11 has great depth – even a tragic sense, although it seems as though the composer is trying to keep such feelings within proportion. In other words, his heart is not entirely being worn on his sleeve. And there is something else about the andante – a quite coincidental thing: it has a striking similarity to a phrase from Bernard Herrmann’s score to the Hitchcock film of the late-1950s, Vertigo. Those familiar with this music (this heartache on sparse strings) will hear the likeness.

Siva Oke’s championing of the Alwyn Quartets is to be commended, a welcome spotlight on a composer who deserves to be better known.

Stuart Millson is the Classical Music Editor of The Quarterly Review

Heracleitus from EM Records, catalogue number: EMR CD036; William Alwyn String Quartets, with the one-movement Fantasia (String Quartet No. 12), SommCD 0165.)


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Brian Mulroney and the Failure of Conservatism

Mulroney and Friend

Mulroney and a friend

Brian Mulroney and the Failure of Conservatism

Mark Wegierski marks the Sesquicentennial of Canadian Confederation (article 1)

Brian Mulroney was one of the most disappointing Prime Ministers that Canada ever had. As leader of the federal Progressive Conservative party, Mulroney at that time ostensibly represented the main focus of what could be called the “Centre-Right Opposition” in Canada. The use of that term suggests the perennial underdog status of that option in Canadian politics, especially after the federal election of 1963, when Liberal Lester B. Pearson defeated the staunch Tory, John Diefenbaker. As each successive decade rolled by, it could be argued that the social and cultural hold of left-liberalism on the populace has increased exponentially. Although Mulroney was able to win huge majorities in the federal Parliament in 1984 and 1988, he was unable to make any significant changes in this ever-accelerating trajectory. Indeed, one of the consequences of Brian Mulroney’s Prime Ministership may be that winning a Conservative majority in the federal Parliament is nearly impossible, for even the most adept and skilful politician. Continue reading

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Labour’s Left Wing Bourbon

Lemmings in migration

Lemmings in migration

Labour’s Left Wing Bourbon

Monty Skew reviews the new biography of Corbyn

Comrade Corbyn: A very unlikely Coup: How Jeremy Corbyn Stormed to the Labour Leadership, Rosa Prince, Biteback Publishing, 2016, 1-84954-996-7

All MPs have to deal with the whips. Corbyn was once asked how he coped with them. He replied: ‘they leave me alone and I leave them alone.’ He has a record of rebelling and of avoiding any possible front bench responsibility. Unlike John Major’s ‘bastards’ who undermined his government when it had a very small majority, Corbyn and his few colleagues defied the whips even when there were huge majorities. It was a matter of principle not political guile. But how did such a figure, the ‘craft beer of Labour’, become its leader?

How Corbyn won is an indication of just how far Labour’s leadership had drifted from its members. But the Corbynistas in their own way are even more remote. By 2015, Labour had imploded and was no longer the mass party it had once been. Many wards were inquorate; many local parties could not even field enough candidates for local elections. New Labour with its ruthless emphasis on managerialism and ‘winning’ had hollowed out the party. And the war in Iraq led to a mass exodus.

The membership was in meltdown but the candidacy of Corbyn gave the broad left a motive to organise and to bury its bitter sectarian disputes leading to the election of the ‘accidental leader’. The first element was a hyperlink from his website to Labour Party membership and supporters. The second element was that the left used social media to a greater extent although its true impact may have been overstated. The other candidates were slow to follow suit.

Rosa Prince is a Daily Telegraph journalist. What she presents here is not a political analysis of Labour but rather a journalistic impression of how Corbyn was elected. She is not familiar with the internal and inward-looking politics of Labour. It is clear from the many errors in the text that she knows little of the culture of Labour.

Corbyn is a left-wing Bourbon. He has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. His usual speech has changed little since he was first elected in 1983. In the 60s and 70s, many safe Labour seats in London and elsewhere were occupied by MPs with a tenuous attachment to Labour politics. Some of them hardly ever attended the Commons except as lobby fodder. Some did not even bother holding surgeries. Alexander Irvine, Raphael Tuck, Arthur Lewis et al were unpopular right-wingers within the party who could have been in any party. And with the removal in 1974 of Reg Prentice, who later defected to the Tories, came the signal to deselect such MPs.

One such beneficiary was Michael O’Halloran who became Islington North MP after being selected through mass recruitment. Right-wingers in Islington North were silent or actually supported the fake election of Michael O’Halloran as MP in 1969 and were later instrumental in the setting up of the SDP, originally created by Dick Taverne after he left Labour. But Corbyn, a former union organizer, was able to secure the seat and held it with increasing majorities.

The Labour left meanwhile were outmanoeuvred and marginalized. Yet in spite of all the humiliations heaped upon them by the Blairites, left wingers stayed within the party. Their vehicle was the CLPD, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, originally a Bennite faction. Under Ed Miliband a new system was created for electing the leader. A method of electing the leader originally created by the Blairites to tame the Left became a vehicle for left-wing mobilisation inside and outside the party. But contrary to much comment, Corbyn would have won among party members alone. The new supporters only augmented his victory. Corbyn has worked hard in his seat building support within the hardcore but also among pensioners. Islington North is the most urbanised seat in Parliament and half its residents are social renters.

In my youth there was a grouplet calling itself the Action Council for Anti-Imperialist Solidarity. It was avowedly against everything Western on principle including other left groups and supported any ‘movement’ or state provided that it opposed Western interests. In similar vein, Corbyn is best explained by his anti-imperialism and his obsessive internationalism and disdain for all things British. Articulate on foreign issues, he is reduced to vague formulaic replies on domestic ones. His current wife is Mexican and his former wife is Chilean. He speaks fluent Spanish and is on first name terms with activists all over the world. Typically, he will intervene on overseas issues before local ones.

The history of the Left has been a series of vanishing moments. Is his election the strange resurrection of Labour England, a cry in the wilderness from the romantic left? Or is it the Left reasserting control within Labour? Their main interest is evidently not winning elections but being ‘right’. So his election is arguably also a realignment within Labour.

After the defeat of 2010, I attended a leadership hustings and witnessed the usual automatons putting themselves forward. The only one who came close to seeming human was Dianne Abbott (albeit not my favourite MP), also a close ally and allegedly a former lover of Corbyn. The election of Corbyn is a crisis of and for Labour but it was created by the Blairites and their obsession with triangulation, with being all things to all people.

Labour under Corbyn may go down to a resounding defeat. But it would be too simple to blame Corbyn. For Labour in power presided over an increase in inequality and particularly in-work poverty. It also showed a complete arrogance towards its core vote ‘which has nowhere else to go’. Labour shed both its voters and crucially its activists. This is the real reason why it lost in 2010.

Meanwhile the left’s hatred contempt and shame at its own working-class roots has resulted in a drift away. The heartland has gone never to return. But Conservatives who rejoice at the thought of a crushing Labour defeat should also consider that none of the parties now represent a distinct political viewpoint or have answers for their often beleaguered supporters. Tories have also ignored their grass roots on many issues. The equivalent to Corbyn would be a genuine Burkean or Powellite winning against the party machine.

Corbyn supports mass migration and has positions which the average Labour voter, never mind the floating voter, would oppose. But unlike other leftists he has a way of putting people at ease and explaining himself which even charms opponents. He has few personal enemies. Like Dennis Skinner, he was regularly approached by backbenchers of other parties for advice on constituent problems.

Corbyn did not storm into the leadership so much as reveal the emptiness at the heart of Labour. It was a case of the crown being thrust upon him. The Blairites had so emasculated the party that it had become little more than a marketing operation run from a call centre. This made it easier to recapture the party by organised elements. In their arrogance, the party hierarchy never imagined that it could be Corbyn. The best comparison is with George Lansbury, another pacifist and ‘unelectable’ leader. He was torpedoed in 1935 by a speech from a would-be future leader, Aneurin Bevan.

If Corbyn is removed, however, it will not help Labour as the party will then face an internal civil war which might lead to an irrevocable split. Unhappily, Prince does not cast much light on these internal problems within Labour. Hers is a hurriedly researched biography which pays little dividends.

MONTY SKEW is the pen name of a former member of the Labour Party



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