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Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government


This querulous report from London is the work of Imogen West-Knights, who I assume is a real person as opposed to a name invented to sound as much like an upper class Englishwoman as is even theoretically possible:

So there’s a weird confluence of feelings: on the one hand, all of this is mental and stupid and therefore funny, but on the other hand everything being shut down or in a holding pattern until the “mourning period” is over is boring. The country is in limbo at the moment, or maybe existing out of time. The news feels like it’s from 1630, with headlines like “Public gather to kiss the rings of King Charles.”

But there is also something more sinister brewing here. Hospital appointments on the day of the queen’s funeral are cancelled. Food banks are closed. Normal people’s funerals are also cancelled. On the day the queen died, Liz Truss, our new prime minister, quietly lifted the ban on fracking in this country and also announced a plan to relieve Britons of crippling energy bills this winter without explaining where that money is going to come from. I’m not suggesting that anybody offed the queen early for political expediency, but parliament will now be closed for a month: again, to respect the dead queen. . .

These are interesting times to have a new prime minister and a new monarch in the same week. Things really suck here at the moment. People are frustrated. Everything is expensive, the post-pandemic mental health crisis is about to hit us like a freight train, and our seas and rivers are full of sewage that Tory MPs voted to have dumped there. And a lot of people who loved the queen in a grandmotherly kind of way but would count themselves as republicans are now faced with King Charles, who has already been filmed snarling at an aide to remove something from a table. Looking ahead, it seems likely that we are going to witness a vast, gaudy display of elite wealth, King Charles’ coronation, just as the rest of the country drags itself through one of the worst recessions in history.

There have also been the small incidents of anti-royal protest all over the country that have been met by the law with a ludicrously heavy hand. A young woman was arrested in Edinburgh for holding up a sign saying “fuck imperialism, abolish monarchy.” A man in Oxford was arrested for shouting “who elected him?” when King Charles was being proclaimed as the king on Sunday. . . .

The severity of this reaction from the police, and from the crown by extension, suggests an unease. Some people have wondered whether this uncertain time is going to provide an opportunity to interrogate whether we want a monarchy: whether there isn’t another way forward than simply accepting another unelected head of state, another round of our “purely symbolic” monarchy that is made up of real people who receive our real tax money and that we’re not allowed to criticize publicly or we’ll get thrown in real jail.

Perhaps it will. But I’m not convinced. I spent some time at Buckingham Palace this past weekend, reporting something else about the queen, because again: there is no room for other news here. People did not seem ready to revolt. The British people and the monarchy is the ultimate case of Stockholm syndrome, and I don’t see that there’s any real hope for a cure.

I’m not English or British or related by ancestry or anything else to anyone who is, so my opinion that the British monarchy is on the whole a pernicious atavism that should be eliminated is probably worth what you paid to read this post.

Still, I can hardly imagine the frustration of people like West-Knights, who have to put up with ten days of what to them feels like completely phony mourning. To the extent I can imagine it, that’s because I can analogize it to our own somewhat less elaborate exercises in the same thing, such as when a “beloved” Supreme Court justice dies, and a bunch of people put on a big show of being personally devastated.

This kind of public displays of fake emotion annoy me quite a bit for all sorts of reasons. On the other hand, here’s a very curious passage from George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier, his 1936 study of economic conditions in northern England at the time. Orwell is writing about the British diet in those days, which he describes as appalling. He uses the occasion of being in a large crowd to elaborate on the physical degeneracy of the general population as a result. But what is the occasion?

On the day when King George V’s body passed through London on its way to Westminster, I happened to be caught for an hour or two in the crowd in Trafalgar Square. 

Orwell is normally the most brutally honest of writers, but this sentence rings false. How is it that a 33-year-old man should find himself “caught for an hour or two” in a crowd in a city square? Obviously what’s happening here is that Orwell wants to witness the solemn spectacle of the king’s funeral procession, but he doesn’t want to admit that he’s doing this, apparently even to himself, good socialist that he is.

And there, I suppose, is a good part of the explanation for there is so little hope for any imminent cure to the disease of royalism that still plagues a modern culture such as England’s.

Not to mention the secondary infection it causes in America, which doesn’t even have the excuse of tradition etc. for giving endless amounts of attention to something as absurd and trivial as the trials and tribulations of the British royal family, as opposed to sticking to keeping up with the Kardashians or what have you.

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