Christopher Monckton, the third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, with Grace. Photo by Herman Goodden

Former Thatcher adviser Lord Monckton defends reason in decision-making

By  Herman Goodden, Catholic Register Special
  • May 2, 2012

LONDON, ONT. - It might seem perverse to think of someone so well connected and accomplished as Christopher Monckton, the third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, as an “odd man out,” but he certainly does go his very own way.

He is a British politician and world famous puzzlist, a newspaper editor, a millionaire, a former adviser to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Cambridge-educated architect, a Knight of Honour and Devotion of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a member of the Royal Yachting Association, a lecturer and consultant who is on the payroll of no university, think tank, government or corporation. 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.

I visited with Lord Monckton when he was in London recently at the invitation of the University of Western Ontario’s Department of Applied Mathematics to deliver its 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.)

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 counselling that all carriers of HIV/AIDS should be placed in quarantine. Writing 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 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 a global-warming agenda, Monckton believes that the popular tide is decidedly turning against the 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.”

The title of his London lecture was “The Courtier’s Conundrum,” and he explained the premise this way: “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. This is the Courtier’s Conundrum: how can the inexpert adviser advise expertly?”

There are a couple of innate advantages which the adviser holds in this matter, Monckton says.

“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 pre-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.”

I asked Lord Monckton how his Catholic faith informs his thinking.

“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 could I 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 we don’t go for these multitudinous attempts at complication, then the law would be better and the commonweal would be happier.”

(Goodden is a freelance writer in London, Ont.)

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