Drawing by Luke O’Brien.
Several rungs below banana republics on the roster of government types, one might find “banana monarchy”. This is post-Brexit Britain.
Some apologists of monarchy would have you believe that Britain’s first family is actually its worst off. They, like Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, or O’Brien of the 1984‘s Inner Circle, suffer a burden so great – all so that the thousands of millions may maintain their authoritarian consolations. A self-selected few keeping big, bad Freedom from our doors.
But do they let the mask slip? Do they let on that, behind the enchanted glass, sits nothing more than a troop of hairless apes (with just as many, if not greater, foibles than the rest)? Do they heck. They trudge along through opening ceremonies, and palace balls, and horse shows, waving and granting this and that, trailing past glories. This, they do for us. Or, more pointedly, they do it for you. Why would you – and why do you – inflict such existences? Upon they, who by accident of birth have to lord it over you. Isn’t it about time we end this protracted farce?
I suggest so. It’s time we got together, take the Windsors to one side and say, “you can pack it in dears, we can see through you”.
The one industry prevented from collapse by Maggie Thatcher and her heirs is the arms. This broader trend – one you might call military protectionism – mimics another. As revealed in Curtis’ The Mayfair Set, under David Sterling the SAS evolved from being a band of Lawrences into the world’s premier mercenary force. Of course, like private physicians, they do a bit of “national service” (the raid on the Iranian Embassy) but the bulk of their work is the propping of Arab princes and African despots, so that they may, in turn, fulfill the Foreign Office’s need for “forces of stability”.
So vital, to take one salient example, is Saudi Arabia as a lynchpin (putting solidarity between kings to one side), that we routinely overlook this hub and exporter of Wahhabism – the greatest ideological foe to British values found offshore.
This relationship almost guarantees perpetual war. Wars, we were told, nuclear weapons had made redundant. Trident, in its titanium skin, with its terrible luminous eyes trained on its equals on what we call Russia and China – perhaps even on those currently irradiating American soil. I say ‘perhaps’ because the Keepers, as Martin Amis named nukes in his essay Thinkability, are incomprehensible. Their purposes are beyond the scope of human imagination, Their intentions surpass the confines of theory. And to Them, the spawn of Rutherford and Oppenheimer: we are nothing. Mere fetuses of the post-civilisation age – the age of Atom.
As the Empire folded, leaving cartographers with the headache of endless partition, Yemen’s last British governor hosted a dinner party before heading home. As the meal came to a close, he turned to the Minister of Defense and honoured guest Denis Healy (an aside: never trust a man with eyebrows like that), and said, “do you know, Minister, I believe that in the long view of history, the British Empire will be remembered only for two things… The game of football, and the expression ‘fuck off’.”
The British don’t really help competing visions. (One such bid see Brits as the greying wise old Greeks to the new Rome, situated in Maryland. Personally, as you can probably already tell, I find Athenian allusions a little strained.)
But beyond the endless football, shit TV, imported bluster and petite bourgeoisie tedium, there’s plenty to respect: see Blake’s dragon, Darwin’s finches, Byron’s portrait (author of the stunningly brilliant line, “[in England] Cant is so much stronger than Cunt“), books by Orwell, Paine, Mill and Kipling, the works of Milton, Hazlitt, E.P. Thompson and Auden. There’s also the great British dissidents: Richard Carlile, whose bravery in the fight for free expression should be known to all liberals and libertarians; and John Ball who, along with Wat Tyler, led the Peasants’ Revolt and met a tragic end.
Equally worthy of mention are Bertrand Russell, Mary Wollstonecraft, Charles Dickens, George Elliot, John M. Keynes, Eric Hobsbawm and Shelley.
These are the literary and political traditions I admire, and hope to draw attention to in some small way. They, and, more generally, the cause of Liberty, are cultural handrails far more deserving of respect and celebration than anything the Hanoverians ever forced upon us.