“A general loosening of screws”

“It’s a dislocation of the mechanism of human reasoning, a general loosening of screws.”

(“Dr Greenslade Theorizes”, The Three Hostages, by John Buchan.)


When the historians – should any of them survive – come to write the history of World War III, how will they characterise its aetiology?  What pat list of causes will school pupils – if spared – be required to learn by rote for purposes of passing examinations?  For guidance – after all we are always condemned to fight the last war – we might look to the run up to World War II.  We might reasonably make a list as follows:

Draconian reparation demands on Germany at the Treaty of Versailles resulting in…

Economic hardship, hyperinflation, unemployment and civil unrest resulting in…

The collapse of the Weimar Republic and a political vacuum resulting in…

The rise of the extreme right and the coming to power of the National Socialist Party whose ambitions for lebensraum through German militarism resulted in…

Rearmament, expansionism, (tolerated within a climate of appeasement) resulting in…


It’s a rational way of looking at things; a concatenation of circumstances (or, as Allan Bennett said perhaps more eloquently in The History Boys – “Just one f****** thing after another.”)  That was the way we were taught History.  “Take out your Warner, Martin and Muir!” said Miss Leitch.  We learned a series of soundbites.  Coriolanus – moved by a mother’s tears.  John Sobieski – stopped the Turk at the gates of Vienna.  (Why is there always only one Turk?  Nigel Farage reminds us there are 79,000,000.)  The Archduke Franz Ferdinand – shot by a Bosnian-Serb fanatic.  It’s all a bit reminiscent of the way we were taught Shakespearean Tragedy.  It was all about great men with a hamartia or fatal flaw.  Hamlet’s indecisiveness, Othello’s jealousy, Macbeth’s vaulting ambition.  It’s all very logical, rational, and clear-cut, and it’s entirely unconvincing.  Why is evil abroad i’ the world?  If you’d asked a medieval monk he might have invoked Satan, witches, and other assorted hags, foul fiends, and flibbertigibbets.  I can’t help thinking he would have had a better handle on it than we have.  I’ve been revisiting Yeats’ The Second Coming.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world… 

It’s the poem for our time.  This week I’ve been watching utter nutters in various stages of undress hurl chairs at one another in the estaminets of Lille and Versailles.  “The blood-dimmed tide” indeed.  I can’t speak for our mainland European friends, but when it comes to football, we in these islands have a problem.  Football has a problem, and it is one of which we are largely in denial.  The people who get angry with the gendarmerie for using water cannon and tear gas, who accuse them of being heavy-handed and incompetent, have no insight into the fact that to invade and occupy a town square, whether at home or abroad, to be drunk, slovenly, loud and abusive, is completely unacceptable.  It’s behaviour exactly analogous to that of these ghastly hen and stag parties in aircraft en route to Ibiza who turn everybody else’s journey into a nightmare.

I may be accused of going over the top in comparing a bunch of football hooligans to the Sturmabteilung, but I think the behaviour and the motivation is essentially the same.  Rentamob.  There are always people around – and their number is not unsubstantial – holding themselves in readiness for the opportunity to go on the rampage.  While they form an occult underground secret society, they permeate all levels of society.  They are in place, like sleepers, primed, ready to go, waiting for the nod.  Every now and then they sense an opportunity to seize power and enter the Big League.  They get the summons.  They all begin to migrate as if in some magnetic field of evil towards some dark black hole.  What did Yeats say?

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?                 

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