He explains his earlier comments:

The point about ‘Game of Thrones’… is that conscience and fear of judgement are entirely absent from the lives of all, and that this is most evident in the deeds of the most successful characters. Compare Hamlet’s self-torture over whether he can kill Claudius , when Claudius is at his prayers. Or the genuine horror of the English people at the alleged murder of the Princes in the Tower by Richard III.

Two things:

  • One, Hamlet was a fictional character written in the Renaissance, not the Middle Ages.  Thus, his behavior is at best an indication of what Shakespeare thought a Prince would behave like, not what they actually did.
  • Two: okay, so the English were properly horrified. But I want to point out that Hitchens is undercutting his own point by bringing up the idea that Richard III would do that. Game of Thrones is about the medieval elite and their ruthless power grabs–just exactly like the real-life power grabs of people like Richard III, Henry II, Henry VIII and so on! He complains “conscience and fear of judgement are entirely absent… in the deeds of the most successful characters”, and yet, by his own showing, the most successful people in the actual Middle Ages were the same way! Nice guys, by most accounts, finished last in the Middle Ages.

Remember, I have no wish to defend Game of Thrones.  I’ve never seen it, and for all I know it may be the worst and most loathsome thing ever to darken a television screen.  I just have issues with Hitchens claiming that “the society it describes is far worse than the Middle Ages”.

Peter Hitchens is one of my favorite conservative writers.  I do not agree with him on very much, but he is an intelligent man, who usually analyzes political and social matters very well, even if he comes to very different conclusions than I do.

That said, sometimes he makes some pretty wacky assertions. For example, in his column today, Hitchens writes:

I am worried by the TV popularity of George R.R. Martin’s clever fantasy Game Of Thrones.

Mr Martin’s imaginary world is frighteningly cruel. The society it describes is far worse than the Middle Ages, because its characters are entirely unrestrained by Christian belief. [Emphasis mine] There’s a lifeless, despised religion but nobody takes it seriously.

I fear it will make those who watch it worse people than they were before.

I never watched this show, or read the books it is based on.   Yet, I still find this statement very, very difficult to believe.  There were a lot of bad things done in the Middle Ages, and its hard to see how George R.R. Martin could have invented something crueler than any one thought to do back then.

My core disagreement with Hitchens is that “Christian belief” made the Middle Ages more restrained.  He would have been correct if he had said that people who practiced Christian teachings were more restrained–“All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword“, after all–but the fact is there have been many people throughout history who professed Christian belief without ever letting the tenets of such belief color their actions in any way.

I think it’s pretty clear there were people in the Middle Ages who were unrestrained by Christian teaching.  And I am only talking about in the places that were generally “Christian” lands–that becomes even more obvious when you consider all the non-Christians in the Middle Ages.

Is April Fools’ Day on the 6th this year? Or am I missing  something?  I wish Hitchens would have gone into more detail about what cruel acts the Christian restraint of the Middle Ages prevented, because I frankly can’t come up with much evidence for the claim.

Counter-factual history novels almost always seem better in theory than in practice.  They always sound interesting at first, but too often they end up feeling very contrived and ham-handed, at least in my experience.

In any event, there is one entitled Dominion by C.J. Sansom, about an alternate history wherein Britain and Nazi Germany are allied.  I have not read it.  I have only heard about it because of Peter Hitchens’s column addressing the book’s controversial portrayal of Enoch Powell. If you don’t know who Enoch Powell was in real life, the short answer is that he was a British politician who got a reputation as a racist because in 1968 he said:

A week or two ago I fell into conversation with a constituent, a middle-aged, quite ordinary working man employed in one of our nationalised industries. After a sentence or two about the weather, he suddenly said: “If I had the money to go, I wouldn’t stay in this country.” I made some deprecatory reply to the effect that even this government wouldn’t last for ever; but he took no notice, and continued: “I have three children, all of them been through grammar school and two of them married now, with family. I shan’t be satisfied till I have seen them all settled overseas. In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.”

I can already hear the chorus of execration. How dare I say such a horrible thing? How dare I stir up trouble and inflame feelings by repeating such a conversation? The answer is that I do not have the right not to do so. Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that his country will not be worth living in for his children. I simply do not have the right to shrug my shoulders and think about something else…

The most famous part of the speech is his conclusion:

As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”. That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century. Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now. Whether there will be the public will to demand and obtain that action, I do not know. All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal.

I don’t know if he was a racist or not, but I think on the evidence of that speech, we can safely say that he had an intense dislike of immigrants.

So, that’s real-life Enoch Powell for you.  Meanwhile, in this book Dominion, Powell is portrayed as very friendly to the Nazi-government that fictional Britain is allied with.   Peter Hitchens–though not really a Powell fan–doesn’t like this one bit, writing:

Powell was one of the first to volunteer for war in 1939. He was , as it happens, deeply opposed to the policy of ‘appeasement’ .  It is infantile leftism to imagine that there was anything in common between his conservative opinions and the exterminationist Judophobia of the German National Socialists. In fact, I think it typical of the unthinking modern Left, that they cannot see the difference, and indeed do not want to see it.

Well, now this is kind of an interesting question.  If we conclude that Powell was an ardent nationalist, who opposed foreigners mixing with the native population, I think it is fair to say there is something in common with the ardent nationalism and protection of German soil that characterized the Nazi party.  You could say they are not the exactly same thing, and that Powell would never have gone to the same violent and evil lengths in service of his views, and by all appearances this is true.  But still, there is something in common.

But again, this in itself proves nothing.  The Nazis also wore uniforms and had weapons, thus giving them “something in common” with every other military in the world.  This does not automatically mean that they are all the same thing.

In his book Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, Patrick J. Buchanan wrote:

By its nature, nationalism, especially a virulent strain like Nazism, is difficult to export. When Britain went to war, Oswald Mosley, the head of the British Union of Fascists, volunteered at once to fight for Britain. [p.346]

Exactly.  Fanatical nationalists will ultimately end up fighting against any foreign influence, including attacks by other fanatical nationalists.  (Mosley, by the way, also is apparently in Dominion, also as a pro-Nazi.) You may disagree, but Buchanan seems like a good person to consult about this, since he and Powell seem, based on their writings, to be almost of one mind on the immigration issue.

So, Hitchens is probably right, although not in the way he thinks. A nationalist like Powell would naturally have fought the Nazis–after all, they were foreigners!  This is the thing about nationalists: not only do they fight other people who are not nationalists, they also frequently end up fighting each other as well.

Well, I figure it can’t have been an entirely satisfactory event if both liberals like the blogger at This Ruthless World and conservatives like Peter Hitchens are displeased with it.  Though of course, for different reasons.  TRW seems to oppose the festivities out of a sense of republicanism (not Republicanism) and egalitarianism.  The late Christopher’s younger brother, on the other hand, seems to feel that the Monarch was not given sufficient respect and deference.

I kind of get why people like the Monarchy and its ceremonies, and yet at the same time, I don’t.  I can see there’s a certain appeal to the spectacle of lots of people in uniforms and dresses going about.   But it’s a bit odd all the same, especially when you consider the Queen’s lack of actual power. I suppose there is some “if I were in their shoes” fantasy appeal to the whole thing.

But anyway, what is interesting about both these pieces is that, although written from almost completely opposite political viewpoints, they come to a remarkably similar conclusion: that it all boils down to celebrity worship in the end.  Of course, Hitchens thinks that this is not always the case with Monarchy, but I think he tends to romanticize the past–or perhaps more accurately, he romanticizes “the way things are not”.

British conservative Peter Hitchens on his grudging admiration for Vladimir Putin:

[Putin] stands – as no other major leader does in the world today – for the rights of nations to decide their own business inside their own borders.

Hitchens goes on for a long time, making his case trying to justify–I think partially to himself–how he can manage to like someone like Putin. But really this one sentence says it all: Putin is a nationalist. So is Peter Hitchens. The rest follows from this.

Putin is exactly the sort of person nationalists love to have running their country. For starters, he strikes all the right macho poses. (Hunting shirtless, rigging himself out in jet pilot apparel before it was all the rage.) But Peter Hitchens is a tasteful, intelligent sort of nationalist, and so it requires more than that to take him and his fellows in.

What he likes about Putin is his policies. As Hitchens says:

After all, how many of us are as keen as we used to be on the supposed cure-alls and blessings of human rights, privatisation, the United Nations, the European Union, open borders, political correctness and free trade?Mr Putin’s Russia is refreshingly free of these things.

Emphasis mine.

It makes perfect sense that Hitchens would admire Putin for all these things. I expect most nationalists in Britain, the U.S. and elsewhere, will come to be more and more enamored of Putin and perhaps seek candidates for office who emulate him.