I can not deny that I am much troubled by the appalling news from Georgia. The obvious determination of Russia to destroy the hard-won independence of the country is the writing on the wall for the future. Russia has gone well beyond hard-ball. The bombing of Tblisi, and the news that the Georgians are evacuating Gori- a city well inside Georgia proper suggests, pehaps, that Russia intends to occupy much of the entire country.
The message that the Kremlin is giving is that any state that presumes to challenge Russian power can expect the use of every weapon in the Russian armoury against them. It means to that the probing and challenging at every turn that NATO has had to deal with over the past few years will now be stepped up. Russian money too can be used as a weapon- and it will be. My friend Edward Lucas has written well on the subject of the New Russian Hegemony, but even he is shocked, as am I, by the naked brutality that the Siloviki have displayed.
Troubled at heart I decided to leave London for a drive. I stopped at Waltham Abbey and inspected the purported grave of Harold II Godwineson- the last Saxon King of England, though in fact Godwine himself seem to have been a Dane. It did not seem a particularly happy example, since I see so many serious challenges to Britain, both internally and externally- it would not really be such a "Black Swan" to many of us, if we were living in the last days of the state that began nearly 950 years ago, with the Norman conquest.
My next stop was Greensted-juxta-Ongar where the oldest wooden Church in Britain stands. Although founded by St. Cedd in around 660, it now seems that the church itself was mostly constructed in the ninth century. Inside it is small, but it expresses the kind of ancient society that so inspired JRR Tolkien. The people who built the church were still speaking Old English.
Continuing my journey, I came to the chapel of St. Peter-on-the Wall: the first chapel built by St Cedd, after his journey from Lindisfarne to bring Christianity to the East Saxon Kingdom of Essex in 854. It stands in lonely isolation on the ruins of the Roman fort of Othona. The sun caught the light of the Blackwater and the open sea. The square stone building has been here for 1,400 years and more. It seemed appropriate to sit for a while in the chapel, bathed in the golden light of the westering Sun. As Nassim Taleb says, we don't know what we don't know, so perhaps faith is not as foolish as it appears. In any event faith has come more easily to me. I contemplated the images in my mind: the burning of Gori, the familiar fear in the faces. My mind dwelt on another war zone which I remember all too well.
I did not really know what to think or pray, however sceptically.
Quietly the phrase came: "Deliver us from Evil".
I silently made the whole prayer.
In that hallowed place, and after a day thinking about centuries, I realised that nature and the planet function on a far longer time scale than humans do, and perhaps this comforts me a little. That a brutal government in the Kremlin holds so much power and threatens us should stir us, should remind us that we have grown fat on prosperity and drawn envious eyes. Yet, we can still return to our core values, to build freedom and the open society. Now, more than ever, we must look to our values and to make amends where we have- as in Guantanamo- betrayed those values.
The simple, poor place reminds me of the value of simplicity- a thing I saw much of walking on the Road to Santiago. The battle for the Open Society is a moral battle. As the devices and desires of our many enemies are made plain, as fear walks abroad, I sense that we will need much courage- moral and physical- in the coming years.
As I leave the little church I am comforted a little- enough to return to my desk and face the latest horrors unleashed in the ancient Kingdom of Colchis.