The heart of kings is unsearchable

Every history book is wrong, where it tries to summarise each king or ruler in a sentence, for a history book is a narrative written in a single dimension, but kingship is, or should be, driven by a multitude of competing factors and principles in an ever-changing matrix of circumstances, some random and some influenced by the king, or by his enemies.

Many think they know a ruler, and then feel betrayed when they behave in an unexpected way, against what they seemed to say, but Solomon wrote as a memorandum for all time:

It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.

The heaven for height, and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings is unsearchable.

Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer.

Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness.

Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, and stand not in the place of great men:

For better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen.

He added, for those of the lobby:

By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone.

If this is familiar, that is unsurprising. Solomon was wise for all time, not just for Bronze Age Israel. Man conceals, but Kings will search out the truth in order to bring justice and order.

(These were the words of Solomon, compiled in a later age, as Hobbes observes in his Leviathan:

The Proverbs, being a Collection of wise and godly Sayings, partly of Solomon, partly of Agur the son of Jakeh; and partly of the Mother of King Lemuel, cannot probably be thought to have been collected by Solomon, rather then by Agur, or the Mother of Lemues; and that, though the sentences be theirs, yet the collection or compiling them into this one Book, was the work of some other godly man, that lived after them all.)

In a well-governed kingdom there are laws, sometimes wise ones, but a king and his government do not then sit back while a machine whirs smoothly: governments must prise open secrets and understand what is the material to which to apply the art of the ruler needs to be worked, and how the ground is changing.

The practice of our administrators today is that they make rules which are meant to guard against criticism, and sit on those rules however ridiculous they become, but a wise ruler will search out how the people and the industries of his kingdom are developing and match the rules and practice to the people, not force the people into predetermined assumptions.

To approach a king may be a duty, to help him to understand all those things which the mortal frame cannot be expected to know without searching. Then the rest of Solomon’s words are a reminder, that the lobbyist must take care not to think himself or herself to great in the presence of princes, which is a perilous place.

Also, having gained the ear of the ruler, he must not make assumptions as to the whole course of the king’s actions:  a petitioner may have a single cause my believe their whole philosophy is bound up in that cause: if he persuades the king of its rightness, he must not expect the king to be led about by his ear:  the King (or a prime minister) may speak and even act according to that idea, but not with the same extremity of devotion, not following all the other ideas the petitioner has.  There is no cause to feel betrayed: a king (or a prime minister) must take account of innumerable competing factors to make any decision, balancing priorities and expectations.

It was observed on this web log in 2019, when Boris Johnson was being led by his cheering supporters into No. 10 that one of the sure predictions one could make is that many would be disappointed and someone would cry betrayal, and that was certainly proven true.

The heart of a king is unsearchable, and that of a prime minister should be too.  The cry of betrayal is inevitable, but proof not of hypocrisy nor inconstancy nor infidelity but of dutiful adherence to the principles of the ruler’s position, in a web of circumstances in dynamic tension. (In any case, how can a subject dare to think he is betrayed by one who owes him no submissive loyalty: the king is owed loyalty, and gives none. A prime minster too is duty-bound only to the Queen, not to his supporters, to fulfil the functions of his or her office and not the wishes of those supporters.

All this may seem obvious, but in the heat of political passions, it does not seem that way. Whoever steps onto the steps of Downing Street next month, the knives will be out within a week and the cries of betrayal also.

See also


The Wild One

The safe candidate and the reckless one.  A counterintuitive choice. Strong and stable is all very well if the situation needs stability but nor if it needs to be overthrown. That is what a reactive, democratically moderated system is for. Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak? Stay in the safe, coastal waters or plunge into the wild ocean? I know what Boris would do, or what he would have done once, before the weight of responsibility bore him down.

The sensible choice surely is the responsible one – but then Theresa May was the sensible choice after David Cameron fled the scene. She was an experienced minister, and the only Home Secretary in living memory not to go power-crazed. We found though that calm, sense and moderation were the very worst qualities in the circumstances – the civil service handed her the white flag of surrender and instructed her to wave it, which she did. Another few months of respectability would have been disastrous.

What it needed was reckless bravado. It needed unbridled confidence  that would steamroller opposition, and it needed joy – that is what Boris gave us. He achieved a route out of Europe and a trade deal which every commentator said was impossible, and swelling economic confidence when we had been promised failure – until the lockdown, which put the whole world into collapse.

Once again my hand hovers over the paper.  The sensible choice, the responsible one, urges the dull establishment, is Rishi Sunak. I am impressed by the speeches of Rishi Sunak – but that is the young Rishi, the backbencher who spoke with firm analysis and enthusiasm of how ridiculous, how counterproductive it is to raise tax levels, who proved that no more money comes in and it harms enterprise. This was the Rishi appointed with acclaim to the Treasury. Now the young Rishi is lost, and he is now seen as Mr Tax. Oh, if he could but summon his younger self to rebuke him.

Then there is Mary O’Leary, Liz Truss, the untrusted one with wild ideas that sound good to the Tory faithful but which reason says surely cannot come to anything but grief. The scoffing from the columnists of the old guard is audible. And yet, while Rishi Sunak was drinking in Treasury orthodoxy, turning his back on his old self and raising taxes, Liz Truss was actually achieving wonders across the world with those trade deals they said could never be done. Those who said it was impossible then are those same men and women who are now attacking her.

I do not know either candidate. I have never met either of them. I do not trust promises that sound too good, but then I can hardly object when one candidate says she will do just what I have yelled (at anyone who will listen) should be done. Slicing taxes at once will allow personal pockets to recover, reduce business costs, and allow profit to reappear. It may too give a kick to unhappier foreign lands that they should do the same: their prosperity is needed for us to prosper. All the same, ripping a chunk out of the revenues coming into the Treasury is surely dangerous?  Not according to a keen backbencher a few years ago – one Rishi Sunak. If accompanied by ripping a slice out of state expenditure, that will help too.

(Is it still too late to get Boris back?  At least the old, pre-lockdown Boris?)

Of course, it could all go horribly wrong. It need not, if the Wild One keeps their nerve and takes the right countermeasures to the problems which it is known will arise, like the fall in tax revenue and pressure to increase already crushing borrowing, and the special pleading of inveterate tax-drinkers.

Sometimes the dangerous option is the safest – as Boris was, until he became captured by respectability.

See also


We’re with you, Sir Salman

A man lies in a hospital bed, struck with a sudden fury in the cruellest way. An aged man, to be frank. Put all wider issues aside in this matter for now:  pray for Sir Salman Rushdie and wish him the best care and a road to recovery.

He has already borne an intolerable burden: he has spent half of his life under threat and had not long since emerged from fear, only to have it descend upon him in the worst way.

The shock of the violence, the with murderous hatred, the outrage that anyone might attack a man old enough to be his grandfather. From outside we see it as the striking of a hero of literature for pursuing his bounden duty to enlighten and challenge. It is an attempt to murder free speech. Forgive me though if I can pass that by to remind myself that for all the symbolism of it, it was first of all an attempt to kill a man, a man who has a name and a family.

The fury of the attacker is predictable and familiar. Do not claim that the attacker was mad or that you do not understand him, because you do. An attempt at murder is so very Hobbesian that I must have written of it many times on this blog. The motive of power comes in the first place; then the need to claim a place above that of the common herd by an extraordinary act. Then it is just a question of picking an excuse from all those available, and so he did.

Raskolnikov struck his victims with this same fury, breathtakingly described in that novel. The fury was not out of zealous hatred but in order to shut his own mind up. All the lessons of being in society restrain a man, and he must fight his restraining instinct. Once the attack began, it had to be carried through to the end for fear of failure, each blow to come being restrained by the mind, but struck anyway by dint of shutting the mind by silent screams of rage and unrestrained action. It has not zealous fury and not aimed at the victim, but fury aimed at himself. Raskolnikov’s soft heart could not commit the deed, but he convinced himself that fate led him inevitably to it and even that he could do good by killing the woman, and then he let himself be led by that part of his mind which craved power by a trick that he had no choice. In the act, a subtle blow was not enough but the repeated, raging attack effectively on his own mind.

A hundred and fifty years later, not in St Petersburg but in New York, the identical story played itself out, but mercifully this time, the victim has survived.

The trouble came from a book, they say, but in truth it comes from the dark heart of man. I first read the book in question many years ago, and it led me on to reading more of his work. I have read mixed reviews of it, and I recognised from the first that it is not a book that will appeal to everyone, as we all have our tastes.  The story is weird and it has been observed that there is no discernible plot, which is true – such plots as the book has are there to lead the reader into the main themes. The themes themselves are tangled. Rushdie is an immigrant who has been hurled into British high cultural circles, perhaps not knowing what he is or should be, and here the book mirrors the confusion, with two unwilling immigrants cast ashore in opposite guises, experiencing the displacement and half-cultures they find. Darker within it is the dreaming subplot which caused all the trouble, looking back at a man displaced in that moment in Arabia, where cynicism may be life-saving or deadly. For one so uncertain of his own cultural heritage, one must question the foundation of that fount of heritage.

Some do not like foundations being questioned. It will show there is no foundation at all. Better to enforce silence than to open the inevitable fall of the whole untenable edifice.

What happened in New York does not suppress the ideas of book (of which sales have climbed).  Instead it reaffirms how right are the arguments and the ideas and the fears in the book. “From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable.” wrote Rushdie. We certainly know that now.

I wish you well, Sir Salman, and I hope you will forgive a diversion into the mind. Our first thoughts should be for you.

See also



Moderation, in moderation

Extremist governments murder millions: moderate ones let them die of neglect. The idea of moderation in opposition to extremism though is a wilful deception. The only solution – is a dangerous fallacy.

The murderous fault of the extremist is his one-dimensional approach. Marx was one-dimensional in his theory and it led to evil beyond anything seen before him. Adam Smith (for example) looked at a huge sweep of data and effects and produced more benefit to mankind than any mortal man has done before. I could not call Smith ‘a moderate’ because when you step out of the single dimension, the word is meaningless – ludicrous in fact.

The faults in the infamous dictators of the twentieth century were worsened immensely by their belief in false theories of Marxism and racial  theories, which are still haunting us; as Churchill put it “a Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science”. Bad science is always with us and does not always lead to the death camps. My concern here is the nature of extremism or what we think of as extremism.

I have previously taken a cynical view of the demand that a political candidate  be a moderate candidate: commentators who use the word often mean ‘one who agrees with me’. It is worse than that though. The word ‘moderate’ assumes that the subject can be placed somewhere on a single scale, moderating between extremes. There is no single scale though, unless the ideologue sets one and refuses to look outside it, and that makes for what we call extremism.

The words “left” and “right” are one-dimensional words. They are nonsense for a thinking politician. You could define a specific spectrum and look at placement along the spectrum on a specific issue, but that tells you nothing of issues outside that spectrum.  The idea of a right-left spectrum running from Hitler to Communism is a spectrum only of socialism: most people and politicians are not socialists and have no place on that spectrum. One could try a spectrum of libertarianism, presumably from anarchy to Hitler-and-Stalin, but again that tells you nothing much of value, as attitudes to liberty depend on every other opinion and balance reached.

There is no moderation between left and right because left and right are without meaning.

The first cause of Absurd conclusions I ascribe to the want of Method; in that they begin not their Ratiocination from Definitions; that is, from settled significations of their words

I  have ranted in the past about America’s liberty to have guns taking away the practical liberty to walk freely without fear, and that is just one, narrow point of balance. Every element of political policy leans upon every other: spending priorities against tax against deficit management against economic effects against levelling-up, will be just one network of competing forces familiar to all. Effective law enforcement against liberty-and-due-process against efficient use of taxpayers’ money begins another.

The only solution is – no, it is not the only solution. The idea of there being one answer to any situation is in itself is a self-deception. It is adopted to avoid the horrible realisation that one may have to think and reason through a complex matrix of factors; but if a policy-maker does not think through that complex matrix, testing the interactions and likely results, he or she is not competent to make choices.

A journalist can catch a politician out by asking a one-dimensional question, as a simple answer may show the politician as foolish and a complex one as evasive. It gets a headline for a day, and provides something to wrap the fish and chips in tomorrow.

The deathly fault of those we call extremists is not their absolute belief in an idea, but that they have no other. He will take one aim and pursue it in spite of all the other factors, leaving millions slain in his wake and ruin for his nation. A responsible politician may be just as extreme in their belief in certain ideas, but will pursue the idea in the context of the web of factors affected by the pursuit. Those of us who campaigned from Brexit knew there were some in the camp who had no other idea and would have ruined the nation in its pursuit, but those who led with their heads knew that Brexit had to be just one outcome of a push for free trade and sensible government, without which Brexit would be an empty gesture.

The terms ‘extremism’ and ‘moderation’ are misnomers and I would rather they be abandoned where they offend against Hobbes and his requirement for sound ratiocination.  The distinction is not in absoluteness of belief or action as that belongs to both: it is the extent to which the politician takes account of the whole of reality and its multitude of factors.

See also


Aristotle was wrong about moderation

The main argument of The Ethics is that virtue is found in the mean between extreme positions. The idea has infused Western thinking ever since; but it is wrong.

He was wrong because he was a pagan. He had no anchor on which to ground moral reason, which the Greek religion lacked. He knew that Hesiod was a just poet and not a prophet of truth, and he had to find some ground for some ethical system of common good, and so the Golden Mean was a principle for want of any other.

The first to condemn moderation as a universal principle was Aristotle himself having just propounded it. He wrote that some ethical rules are absolute: there is no middle way between fidelity and adultery, for example, he wrote.

He was a wise man, far wiser than those who set out in later generations to turn his ideas into rules, but he knew no actual foundation grounded outside his own mind. He was a Greek, setting his thinking in order with no knowledge of the law and the prophets of Israel, let alone the teachings of Jesus which were to come centuries after his time.  The result was a philosophy inevitably flawed because it was built on no foundation.

there is nothing so absurd, that the old Philosophers (as Cicero saith, who was one of them) have not some of them maintained. And I beleeve that scarce any thing can be more absurdly said in naturall Philosophy, than that which now is called Aristotles Metaphysiques, nor more repugnant to Government, than much of that hee hath said in his Politiques; nor more ignorantly, than a great part of his Ethiques.

Greece in time accepted Christ, but did not abandon Aristotle for the better revelation, and there Western civilisation had a rot at its heart. Tertullian 200 years after Christ despaired: ‘What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?’ he demanded, but to no avail.

Centuries which followed understood that there is absolute truth and absolute morality and a true basis for it, but still held to pagan Aristotle in philosophy, just as they did to Galen in medicine (it is frightening to think how many perished in pain because no one would apply science to disprove the suggestions of a Graeco-Roman physician).

Aristotle, and other Heathen Philosophers define Good, and Evill, by the Appetite of men; and well enough, as long as we consider them governed every one by his own Law: For in the condition of men that have no other Law but their own Appetites, there can be no generall Rule of Good, and Evill Actions. But in a Common-wealth this measure is false: Not the Appetite of Private men, but the Law, which is the Will and Appetite of the State is the measure.

Hobbes summarises his approach:

though I reverence those men of Ancient time, that either have written Truth perspicuously, or set us in a better way to find it out our selves; yet to the Antiquity it self I think nothing due: For if we will reverence the Age, the Present is the Oldest. If the Antiquity of the Writer, I am not sure, that generally they to whom such honor is given, were more Ancient when they wrote, than I am that am Writing: But if it bee well considered, the praise of Ancient Authors, proceeds not from the reverence of the Dead, but from the competition, and mutuall envy of the Living.

The argument to moderation then must fall. It has no basis. There is goodness in what appears to be moderation, grounded on reason and Christian teaching, but not from the straw Aristotle grasped at, and it is not really moderation.

The Golden Mean assumes a one-dimensional spectrum on one topic alone. No aspect of social relations can be one-dimensional nor go by with no consequence on an infinite network of bonds. Those bonds are restraints on the State of Nature, sometimes stifling; sometimes enabling practical freedom, usually both.  What appears to be moderation is to be balanced on thread of bonds and instincts and motivations to best advantage.  The result looks Aristotelian, but has nothing to do with his idea.

See also