The President of France, M. François Hollande, has spoken repeatedly of ‘punishing’ Syria. It is not easy to know precisely what he means by this, since he has also stated that the object of such punishment would not be to overthrow a regime whose one object appears to be to remain in power at all costs, among other reasons in order to avoid just punishment (for its extreme brutality is certainly of no recent date). This regime seems also to have no qualms about inflicting death upon the citizenry under its jurisdiction, so a little collateral damage consequent upon symbolic bombing will hardly cause it to change heart. It is difficult, indeed, to see what purpose M. Hollande’s punishment could possibly serve, other than the relief of the virtuous feelings of M. Hollande himself.
Recently I visited an exhibition in Paris about Victor Hugo’s spiritualist table-rapping while he was in exile from the Second Empire on the island of Jersey (supposed rationalists in politics are not necessary rationalist in everything, or indeed in anything, else). After leaving Hugo’s house on the Place des Vosges I walked down the rue du Pas de la Mule towards the Boulevard Beaumarchais. It is a short street, full of shops selling expensive trinkets, mostly execrable, to well-heeled tourists. There is also an art gallery on the street with such atrocious paintings that, were bad taste a crime, the owners and their clients would be sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole.