LONDON, ONTARIO - My career as a freelance photographer may be about to take off, a most welcome surprise as I shake off my latest, mildly irritating (and, this time, medically confirmed) bout with the ‘Rona’ and try to figure out what to post here for yet another overdue Hermaneutics. (My goodness, 2022 has been a real bugger for productivity, hasn’t it?) Quite out of the blue I received an inquiry this afternoon from a picture editor at Britain’s The Daily Mail, requesting permission to reprint this photo I took exactly ten years ago on my wife’s phone.
The Mail is running an interview tomorrow (May 31st) with the always controversial Lord Christopher Monckton, seen here conferring with our then three-year-old pooch, Grace, when he dropped over to our house so I could interview him for a 2012 feature article in The Catholic Register.
I don’t know the first thing about The Mail’s politics but I hope they don’t smear the man . . . which is something Monckton has endured a lot of at the hands of the press. Either way – as a corrective or a supplement – here’s my ten year-old encounter with a bracingly independent thinker, freely speaking his mind in a time before widespread Covid lockdowns and quarantines, when Britain was still a member of the European Union and Pope Francis, a lefty, climate-change wingnut, had yet to be elevated to the throne of St. Peter.
IT MIGHT SEEM PERVERSE to think of someone so well connected and accomplished as Christopher Monckton, the 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, as an ‘odd man out’ but he certainly does go his very own way. A British politician and world famous puzzlist, a newspaper editor and leader writer, a millionaire and one of six members of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Policy Unit, a Cambridge-educated architect, a Knight of Honour and Devotion of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and a member of the Royal Yachting Association, a lecturer, consultant and public speaker who is on the payroll of no university, think tank, government or corporation, Lord Monckton is regularly invited to address and take part in debates with university and political groups around the world (including the U.S. Congress) where he is valued and not infrequently reviled for the sturdy independence of his views.
Lord Monckton is probably most famous today for his sceptical views on global warming and the feasibility of the European Union. But his pedigree as a fearless controversialist goes back to the 1980s when, consulting with medical investigators, he offended modern sensibilities by counseling that all carriers of HIV-AIDS should be placed in some kind of quarantine. Writing then at the very outset of the epidemic, Monckton was denounced as a monster for suggesting what had hitherto been standard operational protocol for dealing with such crises. He acknowledges now that the numbers of infected carriers once that epidemic started to gallop along made his plan impracticable but unapologetically insists that if his approach had been pursued early on, millions of lives could have been saved.
Despite the billions of dollars spent in promoting their agenda, Monckton believes that the popular tide is decidedly turning against the global warming alarmists. “Even among governments now there is a realization that even if the science were as settled as the usual suspects are trying to tell us it is, the economic side of it is really very clear and that is that it is orders of magnitude cheaper and more cost effective to do nothing now and sit back and enjoy the sunshine than it is to try and spend money now on making global warming go away. It’s cheaper to let it happen and adapt in a focussed way to any adverse consequences of warming that may occur.”
I visited with Lord Monckton when he was in London, Ontario last month at the invitation of the University of Western Ontario’s Department of Applied Mathematics to deliver their Nerenberg Lecture. (Actually, due to our schedules and itineraries that day, Lord Monckton graciously visited me, necessitating a three-hour frenzy of housecleaning the night before at the behest of my wife who insisted that our home look its best.)
Entitled The Courtier’s Conundrum, he explained his talk’s premise: “Statesmen are busy. Therefore they will only have time to listen to a small kitchen cabinet of trusted advisors. There will be many experts in different subjects trying to say, ‘You should do this/you should do that.’ But those experts will not necessarily be supporters of the Prime Minister or President. She might not be sure that the advice of the experts is right. And after all, if the advice of the experts were always right, you wouldn’t need politicians at all.
"So there has to be some method by which the statesman can get advice from people he or she trusts which second-guesses the experts. But if there are only a small number of advisors and if – as is the case these days – statesmen poke their noses into many, many things (including even the weather) then most of the time, the advisor is going to be asked to give advice on matters that are often wholly beyond his expertise. And yet he must still give good advice. So the Courtier’s Conundrum is how does the inexpert advisor advise expertly?
“Mathematics is the lingua franca of the sciences. Few speak it. Today’s statesmen and the handful of courtiers they have time to trust must often go beyond their expertise. There are a couple of innate advantages which the adviser holds in this matter. The adviser is in a position to stand back from the political fray and try to give honest and straightforward advice whereas very often the expert will be under academic, financial, commercial or other pressures to push a particular point of view. The impartiality of the adviser gives him an edge.
"Another advantage he has by not being an expert is that he is aware of the limits of his own knowledge and therefore is less likely to advise beyond those limits. If we allow major decisions with major consequences for the lives of human beings and the future of the planet to be taken without reason simply because a party line has been declared by a political faction and scientists and academics have found it politically expedient, socially convenient and above all financially profitable to go along with it, my view is that is not going to serve humanity well.”
Looking back over the 20th century Monckton cites three calamitous cases where ‘consensus-driven thinking’ caused badly-advised politicians to enact policies that led to millions upon millions of deaths – the eugenics movement which reached its logical nadir in the death camps of Nazi Germany; the famines in the post-Second World War Soviet Union that were caused by wrong-headed crop improvement schemes; and the banning of DDT in the 1960s which led to the decimating return of once-controllable diseases like malaria and yellow fever.
While he believes the global warming battle has been largely won, Monckton says, “This whole episode has shown that we are not well protected against savage assaults on the use of reason. And this is a real danger. We could lose not just the West but our humanity if we allow the use of reason to go. And so the next question is, ‘How do we make sure that never again do lavishly funded pressure groups get the chance to buy their way into the mind and favour of governments and bully them into taking a line such as that which they took on DDT or HIV or eugenics or global warming?’ How do we stop this? More than 100 million people quite unnecessarily died through the last century as a result of these stupidities of consensus, all of which were, in one direction or another, politically driven and exploited. And here we are right at the beginning of the 21st century doing the whole damn thing again and yet again killing millions. You look at the diseases that could be eradicated, the poverty that could be alleviated with a tiny fraction of the money that’s now being spent on allegedly trying to make global warming go away.
“There is a moral imperative here and that is not to allow scarce and precious resources to be diverted towards a non-problem for the sake of making the political class even richer than they already are. I would like to have seen the Church taking a stronger lead, saying, ‘Of course, we must respect the environment’ – and I think all the recent Popes have been saying that – ‘But we must not get carried away to the point where we start doing real and unnecessary harm to our own species, particularly the poorest members of it, without doing any good to the environment at all.’
“It is a big problem that we don’t now have conservative leaders. That means among other things that we don’t have leaders who are willing to recognize the religious dimension in politics as both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan explicitly did; as both David Cameron and President Obama explicitly repudiate. I think the Church has been tardy in springing to its own defense against the increasing secularization of politics which goes with the increasing deconservativization of politics. That’s not a very happy word but you know what I mean. I would have liked to have seen the Church stand out much more vigorously against the global warming nonsense on a number of counts. First of all because it is an assault on reason. Secondly because victims are being made of those who dare to question it. And thirdly, and above all, because such vast resources are being taken away from those who need them most and given to those who need them least. That can’t be right.”
I asked Lord Monckton how his Catholic faith informs his thinking.
“The danger if you allow reason to be replaced by the party line is that you lose – not just the West – but humanity itself. The faculty of reason is one of the three powers of the soul in Catholic theology. The three are the memory, the understanding or use of reason, and the will. And it is in these powers of the soul that we are most clearly differentiated from the rest of the visible creation. And it is in these three powers of the soul that our likeness to our creator is closest.
"So our humanity, as opposed to mere animality, is defined by the fact that we have a soul and the fact that the central power of the soul is the power of reason. Mine is a rather simple faith in that I was brought up in a very old fashioned way to accept the teachings of the Church and meditate upon them, to ponder these things in my heart, and that meant not trying to pick holes in them. There is this remarkable body of the Catholic Church which has been teaching exactly the same things for 2,000 years. And if a message is going to be an eternal message, then by definition it cannot change in substance from age to age. You might find different ways of putting it but you will not find ways of contradicting it. It will be a continuous, seamless message which doesn’t change from age to age. I’ve been trying to think of any other organization on the planet which has continued for 2,000 years to proclaim exactly the same message as it proclaimed at the outset. The only one is the Catholic Church. That not only tells you that in so far as you’re choosing between presentations of Christianity, the only one that can be the true faith is the Catholic faith but it also tells you that there is something rather remarkable going on in that this faith has been successfully transmitted through all the difficulties of the ages down to us. For me it is a great comfort to have the faith. I am practicing but not perfect.
"The beautiful thing about the faith is how simple in essence it is. I once said to Margaret Thatcher as we were looking at some desperately complicated series of European regulations for the export of duck eggs or something and it was 29,000 words of garbage . . . and I said to her, ‘You were a barrister for a time. How would your cases have come out if the entire statute book of the United Kingdom simply consisted of three words: ‘Thou shalt love’, and every case was decided on who had done that best? In how many cases would the result have been different? And in how many of those cases would the different result have been better?’
“She said, ‘You have a point, dear.’ As a result we then worked quite hard to try to keep legislation simple. Of course with the European Union churning the stuff out by the tens of thousands of pages, it hasn’t been at all easy. There has been long a fiction in the courts that every citizen is presumed to know the whole of the law and if you turn up and say, ‘But how I could possibly be expected to know some obscure corner of the European legislation for duck eggs?’, the court to this day will say, ‘It’s your job to know the law and if you don’t, tough luck. You’re nicked.’
"I think that is a fundamental defect in the way our courts have developed and that we need to try to go the way our Blessed Lord said. You had Ten Commandments that weren’t terribly complicated to start with and he got them down to two: ‘Love God, love your neighbour’ That’s it, period. There is no rule three.’ If we could start doing our legislation on this basis, that we make it as simple and clear as possible and if we don’t go for these multitudinous attempts at complication, then the law would be better and the commonweal would be happier.”
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