Why? Why do Americans care about the House of Windsor or Saxe-Coburg or Hanover or whatever?
The "antic caperings of a degenerated stock…" The British love'em or hate'em or whatever. A mystery, but their mystery. The year Diana died people were actually talking about getting rid of the monarchy. Fat chance. The Brits would have no idea how to function without this institution.
CNN drooled pathetically over the Obama visit to the palace, fretting over anticipated failings of protocol. Don't touch her, don't touch her, my god don't touch her.
I confess to having met her. 1971, Izmir, Turkey on board HMY Britannia in port. A pleasant experience. She wanted to talk about the war I had just come from. The champagne was good. She was nice enough to receive the officers of the NATO headquarters in the city.
The fascination that the British Crown holds for many Americans is sadly indicative of the difficulty that representative republican government holds for many people.
Perhaps we should reconsider the whole revolution thing. pl
When will we humans stop waitin’ for a superman?
“Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result.
For that reason, let a prince have the credit of conquering and holding his state, the means will always be considered honest, and he will be praised by everybody because the vulgar are always taken by what a thing seems to be and by what comes of it; and in the world there are only the vulgar, for the few find a place there only when the many have no ground to rest on.”
Don’t touch her indeed.
From The Prince, Ch. 18:
“There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality, inasmuch as men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, because it belongs to everybody to see you, to few to come in touch with you. Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result.
For that reason, let a prince have the credit of conquering and holding his state, the means will always be considered honest, and he will be praised by everybody because the vulgar are always taken by what a thing seems to be and by what comes of it; and in the world there are only the vulgar, for the few find a place there only when the many have no ground to rest on.”
Don’t touch her indeed.
The British royals are not the only one’s who can provoke a discussion.
E.g., here is a discussion of who, exactly, would be the rightful claimant to the French throne.
I see nothing wrong with having the “majesty” of the state separated from the political side of the state.
The combination of the head of state with the political head of state has the downside of “majestifying” the political.
On the other hand, it can certainly be argued that the political as the sovereign, demystifies the state–a good thing I think.
Americans crave the depth of identity that ancient history brings.
Most of the European-descended stock, therefore, look back to Europe as a sort of motherland — while indignantly declaring that the U.S. is the triumph of all that ancient squabbling.
It’s a schizoid confusion, and the source of much of the U.S.’s racial problems.
As a confirmed Episcopalian, i’ve lived and loved my fair share of Anglophiles. The traditions are reassuring, and give warmth in spiritually cold places.
But they are a distraction, and in time, they become an addiction.
Over time i have come to look to the other side of my family — the Indian side — and have found a lot more personally fulfilling food for thought in Mexican culture than i ever did across the ocean.
But of course, Billy O’Ranty, Cheney, and their ilk are incapable of seeing the forest for the trees.
“Old Europe”, indeed.
I’m not as fascinated by British royalty as some misty-eyed Canadians I’ve seen watching the Queen on TV in their neck of the woods. Nor as repulsed as some Irish-Americans I know.
At least the Revolution gave us a Constitution and home rule without having to wait for approval. Imagine the Queen’s representative being able to intervene with US government decisions!
‘The Brits would have no idea how to function without this institution.’
I think it is open question whether this is so — but while it is fascinating to speculate about what a British ‘Second Republic’ might look like, it is a matter which this particular subject of Queen Elizabeth II would prefer not to put to the test.
I would, for one thing, agree with some remarks made the anthropologist Declan Quigley, in his introduction to a recent symposium on The Character of Kingship.
Modern society, he comments, ‘has become so caught up with material explanations of social life that many professional social scientists — let alone the average lay person — have lost sight of the fundamental role that ritual plays in all our lives every second that we engage in relations with others.’
And Quigley also says something which is I think relevant to the very different paths taken by the United States and the United Kingdom. It is in the nature of symbols, he writes, that ‘our own symbolic devices appear indisputable and natural to us, while those of other people appear peculiar — manufactured, unreal and dispensable.’
In the United States the constitutional order is a republican one — which means that not only the ideas underlying it, but much of its symbolism and ritual, are rooted in European arguments against absolutism, which in turn have their roots in readings of Roman history.
The last thing I would be fool enough to want to see, obviously, would be any further undermining of the underpinnings of the constitutional order in the United States. But as a simple matter of empirical fact the constitutional order in Britain has been a constitutional monarchy.
Moreover, Quigley’s arguments point to a certain irony. Following the early twentieth British anthropologist A.M. Hocart, he argues that, in its origins, kingship is a ritual rather than a political function.
In Britain, the trend since the era of the American and French Revolutions has not been towards absolutism — but towards monarchy reverting to a purely ritual role. Absolutist systems — with their own very distinctive rituals — have on some notable occasions emerged in the wake of failed republican experiments.
This happened in France, after the First and Second Republics — and in Germany and Russia after the collapse of their monarchical systems at the end of the war of 1914-18.
Of course rituals are commonly bound up with beliefs, and practises, which in a ‘rational’ civilization come to seem absurd. A fascinating depiction of a curious ritual to do with monarchy comes in the evocation of the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the novel The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, by background a Jewish journalist from Galicia.
Not long before the outbreak of war in 1914, in a village on the fringes of his domains, Roth describes a meeting between the Emperor Francis Joseph and a congregration of Jews. The patriarch, Roth writes, ‘gabbled in an incomprehensible language the blessing which Jews utter in the presence of an emperor.’ Then comes a quite extraordinary moment:
‘”Blessed art thou,” said the Jew to the Emperor, “who shalt not see the end of the world.” I know it, Francis Joseph thought. He offered the old man his hand. He turned. He mounted his white horse.’
And then, as he portrays the Emperor watching his army at manoeuvres, Roth harks back to one of the oldest images of kingship — where the king is like the sun:
‘Through field glasses Francis Joseph saw the movements of each separate line and for a few minutes he felt proud of his army, and for a few minutes felt regret at losing it. For he saw it already dispersed and dashed to pieces, split up among the many nations of his monarchy. For him the great golden sun of the Hapsburgs was setting — shattered against the primeval basis of the universe into sunballs which, as isolated stars, would be set to shine on independent nations. It’ll never suit them to be ruled by me, thought the old man, there’s nothing to be done about it, he added to himself. For he was an Austrian.’
By the time Roth’s novel was published, in 1932, the empire had indeed fragmented. In Germany, a republican experiment was disintegrating, and one of Francis Joseph’s former subjects was about to take power on the back of hysterical nationalist emotion — which generated its own kinds of ritual, very different from those of the old empire.
She’s still our Queen out here in Australia, of course (a referendum on casting off the ties was narrowly defeated back in 1999).
This wasn’t due to any deep-seated desire to maintain the monarchy, but rather a lack of enthusiasm for upsetting the status quo. Republican supporters were also divided over how any replacement head of state was to be chosen and this pushed quite a few into either abstaining or voting against.
None of this is to say there aren’t enthusiastic supporters of the Queen. Even amongst avid Republicans, I don’t think many have anything against the old girl; she’s regarded as sound and, in her own fusty way, quite likeable. Not so when it comes to the next generation of royals. Indeed, I think they’re viewed with real scepticism; celebrities, certainly, but hardly Kingly material, although I get the impression most see Charles as a likable eccentric who’s done some good things.
My guess is Australia will quietly go its own way at some point in the next decade or so, at a time when it’s all taken on an air of quiet inevitability. Certainly, there’s little of that fawning fascination out here. Then again, Australians are naturally a bit on the anti-authoritarian side. It’s simplistic, of course, but the convict roots here may have helped create that sort of culture.
As for America’s strange fascination, from this distance the presidency has long seemed tinged with purple so perhaps it isn’t all that odd.
Loved your last sentence, by the way.
I spent three years in outer Suffolk, and actually did read the first volume of Churchill’s “History of the English Speaking Peoples” so if I might offer a couple of thoughts:
– A crowned head in our rambunctious country would not work. For which I am grateful.
– What would the U.S. be if not for the British monarchy? Would we have representative government if it weren’t for the barons who forced the signing of the Magna Carta?
– What American isn’t gladdened to learn of the Brit practice of slamming the Commons’ door in Black Rod’s face when he brings the monarch’s command to attend?
And so on. If the Brits are happy with it (and don’t mind paying for it) so be it. I still have no idea what an “equerry” is but neither do I understand about cricket.
I should make it clear that I think she, personally, admirably fulfills the need for ritual and myth that David points to. BTW I thought the minor curfluful over Edinburgh’s remark that Obama perhaps could not remember who was who among the G20 heds of state was both innocent and mildy funny.
DK made a comment about the pretender to the French throne. I understand there are several depending on dynastic claims?
A more interesting question would be as to who is the rightful claimant to the throne of Jerusalem. pl
It is interesting that whilst some Americans seem to long for monarchy, there are many that have fought and died recently to get away from the monarchy.
The Catholics in West Belfast arent so endeared to the British monarchy. Up the Republic!
I have always been puzzled myself about America’s fascination with British royalty. Even taking into account our general national ignorance of the world and the fact that we were originally British colonies, there are still far older and more distinguished lineages out there than the House of Windsor, e.g., the Emperor of Japan can trace his succession back directly to about 300 CE, I believe. This is possibly due in large part to the fact that Japanese emperors and Scandinavian bicycle riding kings are too prosaic to make good tabloid fare.
for the edification of my esteemed compradres. How often does some talking head on TV pronounce the “Court of St. James?”
it is actually James x 2
that is James’s
from the Wiki
“The Court of St. James’s is the name of the royal court of the United Kingdom.
The Court of St. James’s is named after St James’s Palace which is the senior Palace of the Sovereign, currently Queen Elizabeth II. It remains the official residence of the British Monarchy despite Queen Victoria moving to Buckingham Palace after her accession in 1837.[3
Prince Charles has remarked that he wants to be a ‘working’ monarch,that could cause some trouble for the Royals.
As the Brits would say: Well-played, well-played.
Maybe a monarchy would quiet our disquieting republican aspirations. Regardless, thank you for the good giggle.
But how do you feel about US citizens accepting British decorations, especially noble titles? I’m particularly concerned when it involves serving or past members of the US government and armed services.
I have no issue with bestowal of civil and military honors, but find it odd how receptive so many Americans are to the trappings of royalty.
The answer is, because their history is our history. From Alfred the Great onward to the conquest, the slow rise of parliamentary institutions under the Plantagenets, Magna Carta,the long struggle between King and Parliament, and the resolution of that stuggle in The Glorious Revolution resulted in the ideas of government and society which were established in America.
Machiavelli has naught to do with it. “The Prince” is philosophy and a manual for effective governance and says nothing about why Americans are interested in the royal family. Neither does the fact that the present dynasty is the House of Windsor. The interest would be there were the Hanoverians still on the throne. Shared history, traditions, and language make this the real “special relationship”.
Disclosure: I’m something of an anglophile and even have two little English grandchildren.
A special acknowedgement to Capt. Charles Martin, late professor of history at The Citadel.
As usual, Terry Pratchett provides a relevant quote:
“Royalty was like dandelions. No matter how many heads you chopped off, the roots were still there underground, waiting to spring up again.
It seemed to be a chronic disease. It was as if even the most intelligent person had this little blank spot in their heads where someone had written: “Kings. What a good idea.” Whoever had created humanity had left in a major design flaw. It was its tendency to bend at the knees.” – from Feet of Clay
You old irrevant Irishman, (Yes, I know you consider yourself non tribal. But maybe,just maybe a “wee bit” of that Celtic bile still simmers over ancient wrongs done by those English aristocratic twits)
At least your tribe wasn’t forced to emigrate at the end of an English bayonet as were my ancestors in Scotland. (And thank God they were. Some of my old cousins in Scotland still live in stone huts) Nice to visit, but personally I like my central heat.
But maybe,just maybe as the Western World descends into whatever dark place our children are going to.
They will look back on the days which contained a valid British Monarchy as not so bad after all.
Hell,maybe it will happen so fast, you and I will hold that opinion!
No. I am tribal, just not a supporter of monarchy, at least not until the Stuarts return. My family left the great Glen in 1697. pl
Celtic Confession from a Waffle House in the Deep South
With the rise of the imperial executive branch in the United States, Bagehot’s book, The English Constitution, has grabbed my attention again. The American people, including many progressives , apparently desire a de facto royal branch and, of even greater concern, one that is more than just ceremonial but indeed wields imperial power, unlike the present British system.
Everyone knows Franklin’s warning: it’s a republic if you can keep it. Arguably we lost the republic with the destruction of the Jeffersonian tradition, the death pangs of which may very well have begun on the Virginia battlefields during the mid 19th century.
And with the death of the Jeffersonian tradition, the idea of a parliamentary system with a President and Prime Minister warrants consideration, at least to me, as it represents a possible mechanism that prevents the continued rise of crass American imperialism run amuck. At a bare minimum, Bagehot’s book demonstrates the weaknesses of our system. (just as Soviet Marxist writers also revealed other weak points in the constitutional framework, as some predicted that corporate interests would corrupt the legislative branch leading to an institutional implosion).
But under the parliamentary approach, the President, of course, plays the ceremonial role of cultural icon and embodies the best of the American heritage — one that is ideally anti-imperial mixed in with the spirit of don’t tread on me and I won’t tread on you. The President thus plays a ceremonial role that memorializes the anti-imperial tradition so it does not get lost in a society hell-bent on corporate materialism and the destruction of history. Through no fault of their own, our founding fathers did not see the immense power of a national corporate media that, of course, has contributed wildly to the rise of the imperial presidency as well as the fragmentation of the American ethos into sound bites and commercials.
I reckon the British like the hereditary idea of cultural office. But an elected ceremonial office fits in well with the American spirit.
At a bare minimum, President Obama makes for a grand ceremonial president, in my opinion. Arguably he projects outward and around the world the best of American culture and, of course, the progressive Star Buck venti crowd goes ga-ga. But I don’t want a king with imperial power, so I prefer the Jeffersonian tradition (actually the St. George Tucker tradition) and can’t help but at least consider any alternative that would bring back to life the lost dream our founding fathers.
Ah, yes, the ‘rightful heirs’ the Stuarts. Unlike the current German castaways monikers who currently sit the throne. Poor poor Scots who were betrayed by Robert the Bruce.
Look at all the hard earned Englishman’s money the sank-hole known as the ‘Royal House’ vacuums up each year, all so they can look pretty and play-like they are ‘important’. Vanity of vanities.
i once met a monarch, King Hussein,
Sr. in 1966. I was struck by how short he was. Regina, Elizabeth II, is herself quite short. this was obvious standing next to the stately Obamas.
My sister is married to an English Major and I have a British niece & nephew. I am struck by a particular postage stamp on the envelopes. Merely a silhouette of the Regina (Latin for Queen). No country identification such as U.K. needed.
Confusion! Confusion! A post and comments filled with confusion. The American revolution as implemented through President Lincoln’s time was that power of government flowed from the people not from King downward. As the white majority in America dwindles down will Americans still have same fascination with British Royalty? Doubtful! What supposedly is a meritocracy (US) as opposed to a hereditary class structure may keep the US a democracy (Republic)a while longer. But now that the financier class has stolen from the taxpayer almost 13 Trillion dollars perhaps the thought of the philospher KING might reappear. Is that what OBAMA represents? Don’t think it will stand the test of even his first year in office. But I could be wrong.
The present king of Jordan is Abdullah. I presume you refer to his father. Nasser called him the “dwarf puppet.” On the other hand the Jordanian Army has always ben a first rate force and the Egyptian Army? Well…
The US Constitution is pretty clear about foreign decorations for anyone who holds a position under the US government. That’s why the knighthoods from the Brits are usually honorary.
I have a foreign knighthood from the pope but it is from his status as “Pontifex Maximus” and not as sovereign of Vatican City. This a clerical honor and it is not covered by the constitutional provision.
Someone will have something to say about this. BTW, the papacy invented the institution of “knighthood” and “chivalry.” pl
As a British republican, I’m with you. Get rid of them. I’m not convinced that Brits wouldn’t know what to do with representative republican government, though. We might have less difficulty with it than your compatriots, who knows?
Time for me to return to what is now a unified Germany and reclaim the ancestral throne. It’s only been 250 years since the last prince was driven out of the old world. (Too bad also I’m the 5th son of the 3rd son of the second son and so on).
As William R. Cumming points out, the power of government stems from the consent of the governed. Which is why I find it truly interesting when listing to members of Congress talk about State nullification. As the ultimate source of government power I’m sure we’d all like to nullify a law or two.
The Stuarts aren’t going to come back, but they could have remained firmly on the throne if James IInd had been able to resist flirting with Roman Catholicism and the divine right of kings. He must have been envious of Louis XIVth.
Winston Churchill identified “The ’45” and The Confederacy as the two great lost causes in Anglo-Saxon history. I suppose that means that Culloden and Gettysburg have something in common.
We have our own, more republican, rituals, traditions and practices. I havn’t heard anyone call the money spent on them as going down a sinkhole.
I agree. Pondering the economics and politics of the highest and best use for the London real estate they occupy.
Convert to council housing?
Privatize and let them develop:
Disney theme park?
maybe Windsor World? The marketing people would probably veto the use of the word kingdom.
Are there any Stuarts left in the world? I thought they were all buried in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Stuarts eh? You’d have loved the small old church I happened upon one night when I was roaming around Scotland. Turns out Rob Roy was buried there and I got some nice pictures of it.
On the grave stone it says “McGreggor Despite Them” and his wife and a son are buried next to them.
“On the other hand the Jordanian Army has always ben a first rate force and the Egyptian Army? Well…”
In 1948, I agree.
Any Army that doesn’t keep proper lookouts is quickly led to defeat. Especially if it leads to loss of air cover which leaves its ground forces naked to devastating air pummeling. In 67, the Egyptians failed to keep a lookout from the West for an Israeli Air attack. This led to the decimation of their air assets leading to a full route from the Sinai. It is my understanding that the best theory going around is that the Jordanians were suckered into that war by cooked communications telling them that the flights coming their way were victorious Egyptians & they better jump in while there was still glory to be gotten.
The fine Jordanian armour was wiped out by Israeli air b/c they lacked air defense.
But in 1973, the Egyptians truly redeemed themselves. Egyptian infantry manning LAWS stood up to behemoth Israeli armour in flat terrain and killed the tanks. They also killed the Israeli jets with similar handheld weapons. The difference this time was suitable SAMS.
The Israelis were scared shxtless. Were it not for Operation Nickel Grass, the massive American resupply effort, they would have been on the ropes!
Would they have used their nukes? Is that why Nixon resupplied them? Would Sadat gone beyond the Sinai? Surely he knew about the nukes.
After 73, Sadat had his cover, he said Egypt could fight Israel b/ not America too. I have an Egyptian friend that used to be Sadat’s bodyguard. He said few people know the extent of the resupply.
American resupply jets would land and tanks w/ Israeli crews would roll out of them and go into action. Fighter jets would land and decals would be slapped on them and they would roar off to bomb Egyptians.
We paid for Nickel Grass with the Oil Embargo. We also paid for our inaction from 1967 to 1973 and allowing the Israelis to treat Sadat’s peace overtures with such contempt. We actually resupplied Israel against Egypt when that country was trying to regain its own territory!
We are again paying the price of continued occupation and Israeli settlements. When will the American public finally wake up and start connecting the dots?
As Ron Paul says, they came over here, b/c we are over there!
(My favourite example of failure to keep lookouts leading to calamity is Santa Anna of the silken underwear at the battle of San Jacinto.)
“Pontifex Maximus” you say. An ancient roman religious office. Julius Ceaser held that as well as that of “Flamen Dialis”, high priest of Jupiter (Deus Pater) earlier in life. The F. Dialis came w/ some very interesting disabilities!
An understanding of Latin and Rome is illuminating to our culture. I always regret that it was cut out of my curriculum in public schooling in NC. On the other hand, my English nephew who is currently in the 5th Form (5th & 6th Forms are the rough equivalents of our academic high school)is taking French, German, & Latin as well as serious Math & Science courses. At 16, he is taking stuff, I didn’t see until college! And playing rugby & cricket!
I do think that there are some advantages in splitting the ceremonial role from that of exercising executive power. As to the hereditary idea — some like myself are attached to it, both emotionally and intellectually, but of course it has very committed opponents here. We do after all have a republican tradition in Britain, going back to the time of Elizabeth I.
One rather negative intellectual reason I prefer to stick with the hereditary principle may be worth mentioning — the fear that the election of a ceremonial figure could prove much more divisive than people realise.
Lady Thatcher is now somewhat gaga. But suppose there had been an election for President ten years ago. For many Tories she is, quite literally, the saviour of this country — the woman who smashed socialism and put the great back into Britain. For them, she would have been a highly appropriate choice as a ‘cultural icon’, embodying the best of the British heritage. Many Labour supporters, however, would have had something near apoplexy.
Obviously, one can reverse this — candidates for President put up by the Labour Party might very well produce near apoplexy in many committed Tories.
Of course, if the parties could get together, and agree on some eminent non-political figure to serve as a ‘cultural icon’, there would not be a problem. But this does not seem to me, in the present condition of British political life, to be very likely.
An interesting question has to do with the nature of the loyalties of the military. This is not a matter on which I feel competent to judge, but I doubt whether much of the officer corps votes Labour.
Did you see Obama’s deep, deep and long bow to the Saudi king the other day? You can find it on Youtube…it’s one thing for the people to be enamored or intrigued by royalty. But an American president bowing to a monarch? I recall Bush’s kiss and handholding of Abdullah…something is amiss here.
i am always compelled to share my etymological research. On a divergent b/ related thread.
To Mo & whoever is maybe interested and arabic & classical scholars.
In the discussion about Pontifex Maximus, the title now held by the Pope, the ancient Roman title of bridge to the Gods, succeeded to by all the Imperators, I alluded that Jupiter was a contraction of Deus Pater or Father of the Gods. Note the similarity of Deus to Zeus to Tues of Tues-day.
Khoury, Courie, Corey (as in Elias Corey Lebanese-American Chemistry Nobel Prize Winner) & other various forms of the name- the Arabic surname and name for priest is derived from the Latin Curia or Priesthood. It also was used to designate the meeting place of the Roman Senate, e.g. the Curae Hostilis. The derivation of the English word Court also comes from the same root b/c until the judicial reforms of Henry II, the courts were run by priests and following that tradition our judges still wear black robes.
I have speculated that Levant word for tomato- banadura comes from the Italian pomo d’oro (golden fruit. A much more plausible route than any other derivation from the Aztec “tomato,” or fruit that swells.
So, Colonel, what did you tell Her Majesty about the war?
I confess to being a fan of King Juan Carlos, because of his work and courage in establishing a modern federal and democratic Spain. I remember the coup attempt that he stared down in 1981. I hope his heirs are half as good as he is. Spain has a dormant potential for conflict.
Also, the link didn’t work for me on Duncan’s post regarding heirs to the French throne, so here’s one on that subject:
As a subject to the King of Norway, I must say that I in many ways prefer the kingdom to a republic. The job of the King is to be decent, an example of non-partisanship and humanism packed in a glittering package. When our crownprincess visits AIDS victims in Mexico city, this creates much more PR than if a politicans wife had done the same. It opens up the PR channels of the glossy mags, and if used in an intelligent way can instill a sense of positive nationalism. Of course, its an anachronism, but its a remarkably functional one.
While I know nothing of the work of Declan Quigley, I could not agree more that ritual plays an immensely important role in the lives of individuals — not only as an interior experience but also in the relationships between the members of a particular society.
From what I have read, ritual forces a person to leave — and in some cases die to — the family dynamic and then recasts that person into a larger arrangement of relationships and with a heightened awareness. So logic dictates that without such proper ritual, odds increase that a greater number of individuals of that particular society will stayed mired in the family dynamic with said infantile attachments that, most disturbingly, continue to act out at an unconscious level.
Taken to the extreme, the predominance of an infantile psychology is of greatest concern and for the following reason: speaking broadly, without rituals that incorporate the required luminous symbols to affect necessary changes, odds increase that an individual as well as society will fragment when placed under enough pressure.
Or described from a slightly different angle, when a society is placed under tremendous stress — such as bombs falling on London or perhaps a dirty bomb attack –its members tend to rally around the most potent symbols of its collective memory. So it is imperative that a society have an institution that acts as a historical repository that, in turn, houses all the most effective symbols that will maintain cohesion of a society through ritual. Without such an institution and the tradition of ritual, the probability increases that a million different voices will scream in isolation, creating panic, if not a type of collective schizophrenia. And while I am not British and have no attachment to a monarchy (was raised old school Episcopalian, though), during a time of crisis, probably better to be informed by the symbols of the Crown than that which gave rise to the Sex Pistols, no?
I arrived at this conclusion concerning rituals via a circuitous route, as by happenstance, I stumbled upon the work of Carl Jung who, in his obtuse language, insisted that some of the more ancient rituals greatly constellate the “collective unconscious”. Unlike Freud, Jung apparently believed that ritual pointed the way to the royal road to the unconscious, thereby unlocking both its power and its intuitive secrets. Jung stressed that the more beneficial and established rituals will link an individual to the unconscious in such a way that the unconscious will bestow distinct advantages and not destroy the individual (and society), as it is capable of both.
As but one example of many to illustrate the point, he penned an essay titled “Transformational Symbolism of Mass” — parts of which captivated my interest years ago. Jung analyzed Mass not as a sacramental action but as a ritual with profound psychological effects. And while I never read Jung and Freud now, I must admit Jung’s essay many years later put me on a path to the work of the extraordinary English writer Abbot Vonier, whose descriptions of the Mass are about as close as I will ever get to a sacramental experience of the Holy Grail, as I am not theologically gifted and must rely on the insights of others. But if nothing else, it does seem that the British and Catholics have one thing in common — an appreciation for ritual.
But as an American, my mine concern is whether or not the United States still has the rituals necessary to prevent the rise of an imperial and dictatorial government, and just as importantly, help us survive during times of crisis. So I keep a ledger, so to speak, and while I have entries on both sides, I would like to make mention of a few signs that do not bode well.
It seems to me that American culture — including its political institutions — no longer has a binding collective memory — one of the prerequisites for an effective and beneficial ritual (and vice versa). In fact, one can argue that the greatest ritual today is one that shatters the collective memory by inundating the people with a flood of shallow symbols that lead to nowhere but the isolation of screaming voices. And more than that — as perhaps an ode to the Western veneration of Freud — this ritual is destroying that vision left by our founding fathers.
From what I can tell, evidence now suggests that no ritual is in place that can prevent the rise of an imperial presidency. The actions of the Bush administration remind me of what happened to England back when it lost its ritual. Just a Cromwell devastated Ireland while thumping his Bible with quotes from the Book of Revelations, the Bush administration and the American people did the same to Iraq. Both historical instances strongly evidence the lack of ritual and the disastrous consequences that then unfold.
It remains to be seen what will happen during the Obama administration. But at least some American progressives appear decidedly opposed to traditional ritual and as a result, I find it striking that, arguably, the most imperialistic generation in American history may be the one that denies it the most — the one that came out of the Woodstock experience. The witness list is long indeed, from the neoconservatives to Chris Matthews, but they all seem to accept and promote the idea of a president as a de facto king with dictatorial powers, forgetting the lost dream of our founding fathers, if they were ever cognizant of it at all.
She asked how I thought the war would end. I told her that I thought that in the end we would give up and leave. She asked if I would be be going back. I said yes and did in ’72. pl
Just remember, as Johnny Rotten sang: “tourists are money”, though “our figurehead is not what she seems” is just as true, I’m sure. Johnny has never lied to me, so far as I know.
I’m mystified by the traction Royalty has in America but I am gratified as usual by amount and variety of fact and history that Pat engenders here.
Sidney O.S., my relgion-less family is reverting, or in some cases, maintaining the atavistic infantile psychology you adroitly brought to the discussion, as we fret over our dying mother. Its like being in school when you’re posting, David H. too, what a pleasure.
God Save the Queen, indeed! The Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen, I mean. I was one o’ those punks, came out a lawyer, then escaped that dismal fate, even more anti-social than before, but more human.
Thanks and, trust me, I have had to take notes reading some of your emails as well as those of others.
One thing I do know: anyone who has escaped the law profession knows what he is doing and deserves a tip of the hat. So congratulations.
As for Sid and Nancy. My guess is that had I lived in London, I would have preferred Ska, two tone or third wave, as I was and remain a big fan of the English Beat. Heard ‘em once in Athens, GA. Still recovering.
But Sid Vicious is worth checking out, no doubt. Perhaps I am biased but with a name like that…
And I gotta’ admit to you that I have spent most of my years leading a life that academicians would call a secular humanist but what those at the Waffle House would call, perhaps more accurately, a hell raiser. And truth be told, I still like the Waffle house from time to time. But I consider myself extremely lucky: I was born and raised Episcopalian, spent a lots of years as a secular humanist, and it looks like I’ll head into the death experience and shut it down as a Catholic, at least one way out on the periphery.
Very sorry about your mother. Tough experience. When my mother died, I began to see the psychological importance of the idea of “mother church”. Didn’t realize it until after she died, but I think that was the message she was trying to teach me all those years, may God bless her. But, that said, I am a big believer of each to his or her own.
My de facto fiancee’s father just passed away and I have friend — a mother of three, including a 10 year old adopted Korean child — who was just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I pray she makes it because that is all I can do, at this point. The experience of death and religion appear deeply intertwined, at least to me.
That was a good question and a good answer. I always thought she was the curious and open type within the constraints of her birth.
Charles I, Sidney Smith,
I think Sidney articulates very well apprehensions that I tend to share. Of course I devoutly hope that these will turn out unwarranted.
There is a very strong tendency, in the United States and Britain, to think of ourselves as ‘modern’ and ‘rational’ — by contrast to others deemed atavistic and irrational.
I think this is in crucial ways very misleading. Among other things, it seems to me that the personal element in relationships of subordination has a way of creeping back in, even when people think it is banished. And when the ‘atavistic individual psychology’ which is a large part of us all comes to shape people’s attitudes to their rulers, big trouble is liable to result.
Actually, questions to do with ritual come together with issues to do with the corruption of intelligence which Sidney and I have discussed intermittently.
It is reported that Tony Blair began his first cabinet meeting by telling ministers ‘Call me Tony’ — and was fond of taking decisions over a cup of tea in the sofa in his office in 10 Downing Street. One of the figures coopted into this chummy world was John Scarlett, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee — and now head of MI6.
All this breaking down of distance may sound very appealing. However, in the light of the way that Scarlett allowed the intelligence to be distorted in the service of Blair’s determination to invade Iraq, it does not look such a good idea as it might once have done.
The most incisive critique I saw of Lord Hutton’s preposterous report, in which Blair and Scarlett was declared innocent of blame for the intelligence failures over Iraqi WMD, came in a Guardian article by the former Cabinet Office assessments staff analyst Lt.-Col. Crispin Black. He has degrees from London and Cambridge, and is also a former Welsh Guards officer.
At the start of his article, Black focused on the way that Blair and Scarlett had driven a coach and horses through a whole range of well-established procedures, which are supposed to guarantee the integrity of the intelligence process. And he did so by recalling a central British ritual, the Trooping of the Colour. (According to Wikipedia: ‘Trooping the Colour in London is an important national occasion as Britain does not have a national day’.)
He wrote as follows:
‘Imagine you are a retired and very proud guards officer watching trooping the colour. How embarrassed and puzzled you would feel if things started to go wrong. Small things, initially, that others not brought up in the system might not notice. The columns of scarlet-clad troops slightly out of sync with the marching music. Some of the orders being given by men in suits rather than by the sergeant majors on parade. I used to work for the defence intelligence staff (DIS) and the Cabinet Office assessments staff – who draft the papers for the joint intelligence committee (JIC) and intelligence reports for No 10 – and that’s how I felt during the Hutton inquiry, and how I feel now.
‘I left the assessments staff just six months before the dreaded dossier was published. From what came out at the Hutton inquiry I could hardly recognise the organisation I had so recently worked for. Meetings with no minutes, an intelligence analytical group on a highly specialised subject which included unqualified officials in Downing Street but excluded the DIS’s lifetime experts (like Dr Brian Jones), vague and unexplained bits of intelligence appearing in the dossier as gospel (notably the 45-minute claim), sloppy use of language, that weird “last call” for intelligence like Henry II raving about Thomas a’ Becket – with “who will furnish me with the intelligence I need” substituted for “who will rid me of that turbulent priest”.’
In conclusion, Black suggests that the total shambles apparent from the evidence presented to Hutton was not like a few guardsmen being out of step at the Trooping of the Colour, but as though one had held the ceremony while ‘forgetting to tell the Queen the correct date.’
This particular ritual, incidentally, dates back to the Restoration period, and reflects the fears the Cromwellian period had created of an army getting out of control. As Wikipedia puts it, the colours represent ‘a regiment’s direct link and service to the sovereign, as well as to the fallen soldiers and officers of that regiment.’ So the ritual effectively symbolises the subordination of the military to the civil power.
Charles I: Sex Pistols were classic, but Crass were the focused ones 😉 Proud anti-fa here, from the late 80s. Have you been to Blackpool?
I still prefer King Harald to president Catl I Hagen if I have to swear allegiance to someone. Our kings are very anti-fascist, our current refused to shake J.A. Sammaranch by the hand during the Olympics as well as wearing any form of regalia. He attended in wellingtons and a pink bubblejacket he uses for fishing.
‘The job of the King is to be decent, an example of non-partisanship and humanism packed in a glittering package.’
I think this is quite precisely right. And it is not only a valuable job, but one which — not really through any fault of their own — contemporary politicians are singularly ill-equipped to perform.
Your assertion that a constitutional monarchy performs the vital role of ritual for the people of Britain is well-taken, even from one with as much Irish blood as myself. But it remains to be seen if fascist tendencies are more likely to arise in a constitutional republic, especially when the collective self-identity disintegrates, or, alternatively, within the realm of a constitutional monarchy where many shake their fist at the tradition of “God save the King”. But in both scenarios, if one works from the assumption that without ritual, the center cannot hold, then the paramount task is to identify those who are attempting to destroy the very institutions that have preserved the Western constitutional traditions about which you so eloquently write.
In the United States, the writings of Abram Shulsky and Gary Schmitt offer a start. Their aim, as reflected in the essay “Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence’’, was to eviscerate the methodology given to us by Sherman Kent — the father of the CIA. And at least as I understand your prior analyses, Shulsky and Schmitt succeeded in overthrowing the very foundations of intel analysis that had guided the Anglo-American alliance since WWII and, in certain ways, replaced it with an alternative much closer to the fascist model. With the precedent of Hitler as an example, policy no longer was grounded in reality but was based upon strategic intel analysis that simply “took off from the wish”.
And at this stage, one can only ponder why those walking the halls at Langley did not strike back against Shulsky and Schmitt, as it is now well established that the efforts of the two in large measure went unopposed. Perhaps part of the reason lies in the essay penned by Col. Lang, “Artists versus Bureaucrats” but I am unqualified to venture even a guess, except to say that, as an American, I would have hoped someone at Langley would have flipped over a few desks to perserve our constitutional traditions..
As you have inferred, the writings of Shulsky and Schmitt gave rise to the Office of Special Plans, that, in turn, precipitated another abrupt break from the traditions of a constitutional republic. Within a few years, a group arose in the Pentagon that reflected the Shulsky-Schmitt worldview and then successfully overthrew the more traditional strategic thinking of the military establishment at large, including, most particularly, that which came out of the Vietnam experience. After all, it was at the Pentagon that William J. Luti, friend of Shulsky, called General Zinni, a Vietnam War hero, a “traitor” because General Zinni refused to accept the intelligence work coming out of the Office of Special Plans. And just like at Langley, no one there was no institutional blowback.
So one can look back and see certain traditions of a constitutional republic beginning to fall away, one by one. First Sherman Kent and his legacy took a hit and then that tradition represented by General Zinni was swept away. And as those traditions were pushed aside, a new kind of strategic intelligence gained ascendancy — one that is much more closely aligned with that of fascism –the one of pre-emptive military strikes based exclusively upon the desires of a ruling elite.
No one can deny this radical shift — the implementation of which some have argued would have done Trotsky proud – – opened Pandora’s Box. Shock and Awe unleashed the beginnings of a particular type of chaos that, if unchecked, may lead us to experience what the Greeks called the Furies and what, perhaps in English history, was called a time when the Saints slept. — the anarchy of 1135-1154. And, if one wants to peer over the horizon, then no reason to rule out the scenario given to us in Miller’s book Canticle for Leibowitz, where a 21st century interpretation of the work may suggest a Dimona Flame Deluge.
The word chaos needs highlighting because chaos appears as a true and natural foe of traditional ritual — at least the type about which you write. So to preserve those Western traditions that prevent the rise of fascism one needs to properly define the creativity that gave us Shulsky and Schmitt, the Office of Special Plans, Shock and Awe and maybe the Furies. With history as a guide, the genesis of this particular type of creativity certainly can appear, from time to time, in any culture and among any people. But today, one of the more apt descriptions of this mindset comes from none other than Michael Ledeen, who was deeply involved with the Yellowcake forgeries among other fabrications, and who has written…
“Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity, which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace. Seeing America undo traditional societies, they fear us, for they do not wish to be undone…”
Upon reading that quote, I decided either rightly or wrongly, that the best image of a neoconservative studying back in the 1960’s perhaps is someone taking a hit of acid, reading too much Freud and therefore searing into his mind a mantra that surely a defender of a constitutional monarchy would doubt — “out with the old and in with the new”. And in Ledeen’s case, “in with the new” apparently seeks the destruction of the rituals of a constitutional republic as well as a constitutional monarchy because Ledeen has both a fascination and admiration of Machiavelli as well as the Italian fascist historian Renzo de Felice. The title of Ledeen’s 1972 book, “Universal Fascism” evidences such veneration and, quite frankly, says all, has certainly fascist States, historically, have served to “menace” the British traditions, “whatever they may be”, to borrow words from Ledeen.
Such adoration of the fascist model would mean nothing in and of itself if it remained but the isolated and aberrant workings of an academician. However Ledeen is a lead spokesman of the neoconservative movement and — this is the important point — his outlook melds entirely with the ideology of the founders of Revisionist Zionism. Very generally speaking (and as I am sure you are aware), the disciples of Revisionist Zionism violently opposed the Zionism of Martin Buber and that of Judah Magnes and eventually broke away from the Zionist Labour Party movement of David Ben Gurion. Its ideology, one wing of which has messianic undertones, aims to create an exclusively Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan.
Like Ledeen, these revisionist Zionists, including Jabotinsky and Ahimer, were admirers of the Italian fascist Mussolini. And taking the admiration of Fascism even one galling step further, Ahimer paid homage to one of the greatest enemies of the British monarchy — Nazism. As Wiki reports in its entry for revisionist Zionism: “When Ahimeir was on trial in 1932 for having disrupted a public lecture at Hebrew University, his lawyer, Zvi Eliahu Cohen argued “Were it not for Hitler’s anti-Semitism, we would not oppose his ideology. Hitler saved Germany.”
So I would suggest that the theory of chaos as described by Ledeen reflects that which motivates Shulsky and Schmitt and, more generally, illuminates the ultimate goal of the neoconservative movement. It is the creative destruction of all Western rituals that oppose the rise of Revisionist Zionism and all its attendant manifestations, including, if you accept a particular interpretation of Canticle for Liebowitz, a Dimona Flame Deluge.
If true, by focusing on the work Shulsky and Schmitt, you may have identified the greatest enemy now facing the British Monarchy, thus suggesting that behind your analyses one can hear you saying, “God Save the Queen”. But whether or not the British Monarchy can survive this type of chaos remains to be seen. True, the monarchy survived the fascism of Italy and Germany. But using Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz as a roadmap to the future, a Dimona Flame Deluge turns the traditions of a constitutional republic into ashes and all the British rituals as nothing more than chaff in the nuclear wind.