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A monarchical rant

I came across this socialist rant against the monarchy and the idea of monarchy, which stimulated the creative juices. I thought it was worth responding to.  First the case against monarchy, from the World Socialist Website, which I am  sure you will enjoy for its over-the-top-ness..


“The capitalist class buried the ghosts of its republican ancestors long ago. Confronting social and political crises of unprecedented magnitude, they turn to autocracy and authoritarianism as bulwarks in defense of their privileges and recognize in monarchy an institutional form of their class aspirations.

Monarchy is an institution of colossal stupidity, a barbarous vestige of the feudal past; its persistence is an embarrassment to humanity. Founded on heredity, shored up with inbreeding, intermarriage and claims of divine right, the monarchic principle enshrines inequality as the fundamental and unalterable lot of humanity and maintains this lot with the force of autocratic power.

The kings and queens enthroned by this principle are stunted by more than just hemophilia and the Habsburg jaw. Their social function distills in their lineage the most concentrated reaction. Elizabeth II was cousin to the Tsarist Romanovs; her Nazi-sympathizing uncle, King Edward VIII, abdicated in 1936 and headed off to Germany with his Nazi-sympathizing wife to salute Adolf Hitler.

The royal family is marked by the sorts of scandals that develop among those with a great deal of unearned money and unspent time. Her son, Prince Andrew, sold arms to autocratic regimes and paid £12 million to cover up his role in sex trafficking underaged girls with Jeffrey Epstein. Her grandson, Prince Harry, used to dress up in full Nazi regalia.

It was in defiance of the monarchic principle that the American Declaration of Independence stated, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This conception fueled the American Revolution. Thomas Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense, which historian Gordon Wood termed “the most incendiary and popular pamphlet of the entire revolutionary era,” directly attacked not just George III but the very existence of monarchy, writing:

In England a king hath little more to do than to make war and give away places; which in plain terms, is to impoverish the nation and set it together by the ears. A pretty business indeed for a man to be allowed eight hundred thousand sterling a year for, and worshiped into the bargain! Of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived.

Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the US Constitution codified this principle for the new nation: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States.”

Immense concentrated private wealth, founded on exploitation and inequality, and the unending expansion of empire have stamped out any trace of such democratic sentiments in the American ruling elite. They no longer, in the phrase of Milton, prefer “hard liberty before the easy yoke of servile pomp.” They seek to defend their interests through autocratic rule and look with welcome upon the principle of monarchy.

On the order of President Biden, US flags were deferentially lowered for the dead queen, placed at half-staff for 12 days. Elizabeth II is separated from George III by generations; Biden is separated from Jefferson by an unbridgeable historical chasm.

Over the past six years we have witnessed a turn among the ruling elite around the globe to openly autocratic and dictatorial forms of rule as social and political crisis have sharpened and turned deadly. It is this that fuels the unrestrained adulation in the American media for the dead queen and the crown she wore. An unprecedented political crisis grips the United States. The idea of a monarchical system, of an autocratic head of state who stands above the conflict, has a powerful appeal to the embattled bourgeoisie.

The media give voice to these longings and package them for popular consumption. The phrase of J.A. Hobson, writing of imperialism at the opening of the 20th century, is apt: “snobbish subservience, the admiration of wealth and rank, the corrupt survivals of the inequalities of feudalism.” The deferential and servile talking heads of television news cultivate these traits. Often dressed up as progressive by identity politics, the monarchic principle is everywhere glorified, from Wakanda to Beyoncé to Downton Abbey.

The relentless adulation for the dead queen is mind-numbing. It is tempting to hunker down and weather the storm of stupidity. It must, however, be taken seriously, for it is a warning.”

To which I responded as follows:

I always love these rants against constitutional monarchies. The same way I enjoy Richard Dawkins railing against God with his materialist conception of reality. Both conflate a shallow form of instrumental reasoning with great depth of insight. Both misunderstand critically what makes people tick. Both are suffused with an obvious condescension to the large proportion of humanity that believes in the institution of constitutional monarchy and believes in God. Both think that an atheistic republic of means and ends would be better (by what criteria I ask?) for humans. Both fail to understand that God and kings are adaptive, in a Darwinian sense, in that they  promote group cohesion and cooperation.


When we say ‘God save our gracious King’, we ask one imaginary friend, power and ruler of the universe to help another imagined ruler fulfil his much less important earthly-scale job. Otherwise we have to swear allegiance to an abstraction like the Constitution and the flag. You do not escape imaginary political and emotional constructs by de-feudalizing them.


Quote: “the monarchic principle enshrines inequality as the fundamental and unalterable lot of humanity -yes it does, and suck it up, because it is the truth of the human condition – and maintains this lot with the force of autocratic power.” No, but by the force of allegiance to something greater than ourselves and the persons who embody that greatness. The Crown is all of us. We participate ina greatness which is not ours. We have elected politicians for the actual exercise of power, but they are in a real way restrained by having to be polite and subordinate to the monarch.

None of which prevents me from thinking Charles III is an eco-babbler, and saying so.

In short, my God is greater than your god, and much more powerful than your rational association of self interested actors seeking maximum personal autonomy, or whatever it is that socialists do in their miserable little lives.


Someone should read Peter Turchin’s War and Peace and War, on the subject of asabiya, the power of societies to cooperate for collective purposes. The term is taken from the Arabic philosopher of history, Ibn Khaldun. Then we might have a meaningful exchange about monarchies that dealt with what they actually do, rather than what socialists think they do.

A better anti-monarchical argument is presented by the barbarian Ygritte presenting the casefor equality in this excerpt from Game of Thrones: “You know nothing, John Snow”.






To mark the 12th of July

Can you imagine? There used to be Orange Lodges and 12th of July parades in Canada. In a town up the Ottawa Valley, the United and Anglican Churches stood near one another on a hill overlooking the town bridge, and an old cannon stood between them, pointing at the bridge. The Masonic Lodge also stood atop the hill by the churches.  One of the locals told me, “The Protestants were on this side of the river, and the Catholics the other. We kept the cannon in case they ever tried to cross the bridge in force.” I am not making this up. He was only partly joking.


I first became a fan of folk music through the early albums of the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. I recommend them for their fine collections of rousing Irish songs.

Ireland, where even the songs of religious bigotry are witty and fun.


The Old Orange Flute

In the county Tyrone, in the town of Dungannon

Where many a ruction myself had a hand in

Bob Williamson he lived, a weaver by trade

And all of us thought him the stout orange blade.

On the twelfth of July as it yearly did come

Bob played on the flute to the sound of the drum

You can talk of your lyre, your piano or lute

But there’s none could compare to the Old Orange Flute.

But Bob that deceiver he took us all in

For he married a Papist named Bridget McGinn

Turned Papist himself and forsook the Old Cause

That gave us our freedom, religion and laws.

And the boys in the place made some comment upon it

And Bob had to fly to the province of Connaught;

he left with his wife and his fixins, to boot,

And along with the latter, the Old Orange Flute.

At Mass the next Sunday, to atone for past deeds, S

aid Paters and Aves and counted his beads

Till after some time at the Priest’s own desire

Bob went with his flute for to play in the choir.

Bob went with his flute for to play in the mass

But the instrument shivered and cried.”O Alas!”

And try though he would, though he made a great noise,

The flute would play only “The Protestant Boys”.

Well up Bob he jumped with a start and a flutter.

He threw the old flute in the blessed holy water;

He thought that this charm would bring some other sound,

When he tried it again, it played “Croppies Lie Down!”

Now for all he would finger and whistle and blow

For to play Papish music, he found it “No Go”

“Kick the Pope” to “Boyne Water” it clearly would sound

But one Papish squeek and it could’nt be found.

At a council of priests that was held the next day

They decided to banish the Old Flute away;

They couldn’t knock heresy out of its head

So they bought Bob a new one to play it instead.

Now the poor was doomed, and its fate was pathetic

‘Twas fastened and burnt at the stake as heretic.

As the flames soared around , you could hear a strange noise

‘Twas the Old Flute still a-whistlin’ “The Protestant Boys”.

What was wrong with the English?

If you have never read Wade Davis, it is time to begin. He is a great writer of exploration, including some personal voyages of discovery, such as One River and The Serpent and the Rainbow. His research is meticulous and his style is deft.

I have been reading his magnificent history of the first British expeditions to Everest in 1922-24, Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest .

The Everest book begins with a long exploration of the meaning of the slaughter on the western front in World War I, which is worth the price of the book, and leads easily into the organization of the first exploration and reconnaissance in 1921 of the area around Everest. The British had to come in from the north, the Tibet side, as Nepal was out of bounds.

Davis’ research and writing will take you to the high places of the world with some tough and intrepid young men. You will be able to feel the heights, not only the summits, but the high plateaux of Tibet, the intense religiosity of the Tibetans, the glaciers, and the endless difficulties of finding one’s way among vast mountains, where the base camps are at higher elevations than the highest mountain in Europe, Mont Blanc.

I recommend the book wholeheartedly. Yet I cannot fail to grasp something that Davis has many occasions to allude to: the condescension reserved for the Canadian surveyor on the first expedition, who found the best way to the base of Everest, and the Australian medical doctor on the second, who single-handedly ensured that oxygen breathing apparatus was available and made to work.

The surveyor was Oliver Wheeler, a superb athlete and mathematician, a graduate of Royal Military College in Kingston Ontario, who would rise to the rank of Brigadier General in the British Army, head of the Survey of India, and knighted in 1943. Of him Wade writes:

“His work as surveyor general resulted in the publication, during the Second World War, of 20 million maps a year, a vital contribution to the Allied war effort. As much as any single man, Wheeler was responsible for foiling Japanese plans to invade India after Japan’s conquest of Burma in 1942.”

In the 1921 reconnaissance around Everest, it was Oliver Wheeler who discovered an access on to the east Rongbuk glacier, which became the path through which all future expeditions from the Tibet side would use to get to the base of Everest, a pass which the lead climber, Mallory, had previously missed or discounted.

“Wheeler’s map, which Mallory went at some length to disparage, may in fact have been the very first indication that he or Bullock had of the East Rongbuk Glacier, an embarrassing oversight that Mallory went out of his way in the official expedition account to obscure. One thing is certain: it was not Mallory or amy of his English compatriots who first discovered the key to the mountain. It was the canadian Oliver Wheeler, working alone in the solitude of the Rongbuk Valley.” (at page 330)

Wheeler also mapped the region for the first time using trigonometric methods, adding tens of thousands of miles to the knowledge of man. Each observation involved carting heavy equipment to the nearest summit, with enormous labour, sometimes having to repeat the process days in row while bad weather obscured the peaks being surveyed.

The Australian was George Ingle Finch, who was a doctor and who maintained and adapted the then-totally novel oxygen equipment on the second expedition in 1922. Incidentally he was the inventor of the down-filled coat, by which he kept warm as others were freezing in their woollens. (page 386)

Finch tried his best to inform the climbing party on the use of oxygen by having them drill with the equipment, for which he earned only the contempt of several members of the party.

The leadership of the 1922 expedition had always intended that the first team would attempt the climb in its final stages without oxygen. Because of an attack of dysentery, Finch was left without a climbing partner of experience and strength. The experienced climbing party went ahead without oxygen, and failed to make the summit.

“Finch, to his credit, did not view Strutt’s decision [to go ahead with all of the experienced climbers without oxygen] as anything more than the what it was: a lapse in judgment and leadership that squandered an opportunity and severely compromized their chances of achieving the ultimate goal.” This left Finch with 48 hours to transform a lesser climber into an accomplished one, and to take off for the top with him. In the end, Finch reached higher -27,300 feet – than did Mallory and his team of three better climbers.”

As Wade Davis writes: “Finch, pilloried from the start as an Australian, dismissed as a scientific eccentric, marginalized as a colonial irritant, had done the impossible, and in doing so had changed mountaineering history”.

Finch was not included in the 1924 expedition. He had offended the leadership by giving lectures for money in Germany, which was felt to be outside the bounds of his agreement with the organizing committee. Lawyers for each side did not share the committee’s interpretation of the loose contract that each member had signed with it. “George Finch was the finest ice and snow climber in Britain and the world’s leading scientific authority on the use of oxygen in mountaineering.”

I have selected these two examples because they struck me as symptomatic of a culture which was not learning. The Brits appear to have had great difficulty in accepting the value of fellow “anglo-saxons” – as the lingo would then have described them. If they had such trouble recognizing the contributions of a Canadian and an Australian, try to imagine the difficulty they had in dealing with Americans on the plane of equality, let alone coloured people.

More than this, the account given by Wade Davis shows the many occasions where the Brits were inappropriately dressed, and did not seem to think that equipment mattered more than ‘pluck’.

As a man who ventures outside to snowshoe for hours, I am contemptuous of those who are under-equipped for cold. Cold is not to be endured; it is to be equipped against. Wrapping a scarf around your neck, and buttoning up the tweed jacket at freezing point makes sense, even if it is inadequate. Imagining that is sufficient at minus 20 or minus 30 is insane, dangerous, and stupid.

These are the kinds of attitudes that killed Robert Scott on his expedition to the South Pole, and which left Roald Amundsen and his team alive and well to tell the tale. Amundsen engaged in meticulous planning, lived with the Inuit for several years, and learned how to live with cold. Scott did not, and died of cold in consequence.

I urge you to read Wade Davis. His book on Everest is a masterpiece. I apologize for singling out this relatively unimportant aspect of the book. Yet the difference between a learning culture and one that is not learning is of great significance to me. The people being portrayed in Into the Silence show every sign of not being inclined to learn anything. Bravery becomes so much more necessary when you do not learn new skills, or rise to new challenges, or to see the limits of one’s point of view. In my way of thinking, one wants to use foresight, cunning and innovation to obviate the need for stubborn bravery.