Published on 10 Feb 2017
In the final episode, Lucy debunks the fibs that surround the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the British Empire – India. Travelling to Kolkata, she investigates how the Raj was created following a British government coup in 1858. After snatching control from the discredited East India Company, the new regime presented itself as a new kind of caring, sharing imperialism with Queen Victoria as its maternal Empress.
Tyranny, greed and exploitation were to be things of the past. From the ‘black hole of Calcutta’ to the Indian ‘mutiny’, from East India Company governance to crown rule, and from Queen Victoria to Empress of India, Lucy reveals how this chapter of British history is another carefully edited narrative that’s full of fibs.
February 26, 2017
February 23, 2017
Published on Jan 28, 2017
Before she became Catherine the Great, legendary empress of Russia, she was a smart but lonely girl named Sophia. Her mother ignored her until family connections proposed a marriage between Sophia and the presumptive heir to the Russian throne – and suddenly she was thrown from her quiet life in a backwoods mansion to the center of a cutthroat political world.
February 12, 2017
Published on 3 Feb 2017
In this episode, Lucy debunks another of the biggest fibs in British history – the ‘Glorious Revolution’.
In 1688, the British Isles were invaded by a huge army led by Dutch prince, William of Orange. With his English wife Mary he stole the throne from Mary’s father, the Catholic King James II. This was the death knell for absolute royal power and laid the foundations of our constitutional monarchy. It was spun as a ‘glorious and bloodless revolution’. But how ‘glorious’ was it really? It led to huge slaughter in Ireland and Scotland. Lucy reveals how the facts and fictions surrounding 1688 have shaped our national story ever since.
It’s remarkable that the English-speaking world remembers Magna Carta. The product of a struggle between King John and his barons, it was sealed on the bank of the Thames 800 years ago, on June 15, 1215. But in a sense, the most valuable thing about Magna Carta is precisely that it is remembered. Other charters were issued across medieval Europe, but they were rapidly forgotten.
Magna Carta alone endured because the kings of England never consolidated their power fully enough to be able to ignore their subjects. The charter was a useful political weapon in this struggle against arbitrary royal power, which is why it was so often reissued, appealed to, and celebrated, not least in the United States by the Founding Fathers: The Massachusetts state seal adopted in 1775 includes a patriot holding the Great Charter. To remember is, literally, to recall to mind, to renew in thought, which is why memory, as Orwell recognized in 1984, is a great defense of liberty.
This year, Magna Carta is being acclaimed as the contract that first established the idea that law was above government. As British politician and historian Daniel Hannan has put it, from Magna Carta flowed “all the rights and freedoms that we now take for granted: uncensored newspapers, security of property, equality before the law, habeas corpus, regular elections, sanctity of contract, jury trials.” And that’s fair: The barons wanted to limit King John’s arbitrary power, and without limits there is no liberty under law.
But it does not take very much bravery now to celebrate our rights. Today, the language of rights is universal, though often hypocritical. Worse, the danger to liberty in the U.S. and Britain today is not arbitrary power of the sort exercised by King John, who offered no real theory except that he needed the money he was stealing to fight his wars in France. The danger to liberty today, ironically, comes more from arbitrary power backed up by the rights-talk that can trace its origins back to Magna Carta. Against my right to free expression stands your supposed right not to be offended. My right to property must now pay for your right to free health care. My right not to be discriminated against must give way to your right to be discriminated in favor of.
Ted R. Bromund, “Magna Carta limited government”, National Review, 2015-06-15.
February 2, 2017
I was raised with noblesse oblige, which, as we all know is a kind of almond and mare’s milk pastry made in the mountains of outer Mongolia and eaten at wedding feasts to assure good luck.
Okay, I lie. Noblesse Oblige is literally – as all of you know! However, let me unpack it, because sometimes it’s good to reflect on things we know – the obligations of noblemen.
In a world in which station was dictated by birth (most of the world, most of the time) the way to keep society from becoming completely tyrannical and the burden of those on the lower rungs of society from becoming unbearable was “noblesse oblige” – that is a set of obligations that the noblemen/those in power accepted as a part of their duty to society. Most of these involved some form of moderation of force.
The amount of moderation depended on the culture itself. For instance, in those lands in which the nobleman got first night rights (or claimed them anyway) it might be noblesse oblige to return the bride after that. It might also be noblesse oblige to stand godfather to the oldest child, who, after all, might be more than a godchild. And in other cultures, though the first night thing wasn’t there, the godchild thing still applied. A small return for faithful service to closer servants and courtiers, etc.
In the same way, while you might treat your serfs or villains like dirt, you forebore to take their last crumb of bread and left them enough to live on. This might not be because you were smart or merciful or whatever, but because someone had dinged it into you.
Noblesse oblige, by that name or others, appears every time there is a gross imbalance of power in human society. Or that is, it appears if society is to survive.
Sarah Hoyt, “Noblesse Oblige and Mare’s Nests”, According to Hoyt, 2015-05-05.
January 15, 2017
Published on 14 Jan 2017
It’s time for the Chair of Wisdom again where Indy sits to answer all of your questions about World War 1. This week we talk about the 1916 presidential elections in the US, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V and the relations between Germany and Austria-Hungary.
December 31, 2016
The polling firm Ipsos did a year-end survey for Global News to find out how Canadians feel about the monarchy. Colby Cosh looks at the weak attraction of the republican option:
If you’re a serious monarchist you are of two minds about this sort of thing. You recognize the necessity of occasionally taking the pulse of the institution, just as a human of great age will have their vital signs measured from time to time. You also know that to present the Canadian monarchy to the public as a free choice, a fashion we can discard when it suits us, has the effect of encouraging republican fantasies.
Republicanism is a pathology, a reflection of insecurity and ignorance. In the past it was fostered by newspapermen who had served for a spell in Washington (or Moscow or Tokyo), and who were used to being asked why the hell we have a “foreign” Queen on our money and whatnot. The educations of these men had often involved nothing more than early saturation in great quantities of ink and booze, and many were incapable of a half-decent answer grounded in global history.
So our press elite consisted of men who had suffered chronic humiliation by their big brothers, the Americans. The psychic dissolution of the Empire in the postwar period left us unable to regard Americans the way we once had as a matter of course — as errant, troubled children. Our journalistic teachers thus embraced, as a defence mechanism, the idea that Canada’s thousand-year-old inner constitution was “immature” or less than “adult.”
The pathological nature of Canadian republicanism is apparent from the Ipsos poll itself. Respondents were asked to indicate whether they agree or disagree with the statement “When Queen Elizabeth’s reign ends, Canada should end its formal ties to the British monarchy.” Fifty-three percent of the sample agreed; the figure was 73 per cent within Quebec, 46 per cent elsewhere.
But why would the death of the Queen be considered an appropriate moment for constitutional revision? Ipsos’s republican push-pollsters do not even have the guts to say out loud what they are talking about. Even as they contemplate a Canadian republic as something to be perpetrated like a theft, when the right distraction happens along, they instinctively avoid lèse-majesté. They know people like the Queen: their own poll finds that 81 per cent of Canadians think she has done a good job (leaving us to wonder what hallucinated grievances the other 19 per cent might have).
November 5, 2016
H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.
August 23, 2016
Published on 22 Aug 2016
Greece was officially neutral in World War 1. Surrounded by warring nations and under the influence of the great powers, Greek unity was tested during the war in a time of National Schism.
August 13, 2016
The declared portion of the Spanish Civil War lasted from 1936 to 1939. It has passed into legend among Western leftists as a heroic struggle between the Communist-backed Republican government and Nazi-backed Franco, one that the good guys lost. The truth seems rather darker; the war was fought by two collections of squabbling, atrocity-prone factions, each backed by one of the two most evil totalitarianisms in human history. They intrigued, massacred, wrecked, and looted fairly indiscriminately until one side collapsed from exhaustion. Franco was the last man left standing.
Franco had no aspirations to conquer or reinvent the world, or to found a dynasty. His greatest achievements were the things that didn’t happen. He prevented the Stalinist coup that would certainly have followed a Republican victory. He then kept Spain out of World War II against heavy German pressure to join the Axis.
Domestically, Spain could have suffered worse. Spanish Fascism was quite brutal against its direct political enemies, but never developed the expansionism or racist doctrines of the Italian or German model. In fact it had almost no ideology beyond freezing the power relationships of pre-Republican Spain in place. Thus, there were no massacres even remotely comparable to Hussein’s nerve-gassing of Kurds and Shi’as, Hitler’s Final Solution or Stalin’s far bloodier though less-known liquidation of the kulaks.
Francisco Franco remained a monarchist all his life, and named the heir to the Spanish throne as his successor. The later `fascist’ regimes of South and Central America resembled the Francoite, conservative model more than they did the Italo/German/Baathist revolutionary variety.
One historian put it well. “Hitler was a fascist pretending to be a conservative. Franco was a conservative pretending to be a fascist.” (One might add that Hussein was not really pretending to be about anything but the raw will to power; perhaps this is progress, of a sort.) On those terms Franco was rather successful. If he had died shortly after WWII, rather than lingering for thirty years while presiding over an increasingly stultified and backward Spain, he might even have been remembered as a hero of his country.
As it is, the best that can be said is that (unlike the truly major tyrants of his day, or Saddam Hussein in ours) Franco was not a particularly evil man, and was probably less bad for his country than his opponents would have been.
Eric S. Raymond, “Fascism is not dead”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-04-22.
June 19, 2016
Only a few Canadians are consciously passionate about monarchism. We know that our royals are Canadian mostly as a matter of constitutional metaphysics. The serious monarchists are equalled or outnumbered by those who would like us to move further toward an American form of government with a directly elected presidency, having already adopted a written constitution and an American-style judiciary.
When we embraced free trade with the United States, accusations of treason were thrown around haphazardly. The patriotism of any Canadian who merely wanted to sell and buy American things was given the stink-eye by liberal “nationalists” who had just supported a Jeffersonian bill of rights and a Marshallite Supreme Court. Now there are those who want to make a Congress out of Parliament and an official “first lady” of the prime minister’s wife: no one calls them bad Canadians.
Well, they are a little bit bad, in the sense of being negligent, because they are acting on a contradiction they do not see. What it would be hard to explain to a Roman or an Elizabethan is that our attachment to the monarchy is mostly unconscious. Its expression among most of us takes the form of mild contempt for the United States; we feel American government is ridiculous, a half-competent burlesque of Westminster-style democracy. Presidents amass more and more of the powers of an absolute monarch, more of the mythological features of a Sun King; they make increasingly ambitious religious promises to heal the sick, obtain fair weather, cultivate prosperity in the face of chance and accident.
Colby Cosh, “Why Canadians are better republicans”, National Post, 2016-05-30.
May 24, 2016
Published on 23 May 2016
China was in a constant period of unrest and turmoil after the Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion. None of the new leaders and presidents could really consolidate their power in China and a struggle between the different warlords. broke out. At the same time, China was eyeing a more prominent role within the international community and sent 150,000 workers to the Western Front as part of the Chinese Labour Corps.
April 16, 2016
I’m getting weary of the monarchical comparisons, which are a bit of an insult to real monarchs. The Obama model seems to owe more to Judge Dredd, the popular comic-book figure with the power to arrest, convict, sentence and execute as he does what’s necessary to bring hope and change to a dystopian megalopolis. Likewise, President Dredd: “He is the Law, and you’d better believe it!” A contempt for the people and for constitutional and legal restraints is what ties the President’s actions on Thursday night to Eric Holder’s corrupt justice department to Lois Lerner’s corrupt revenue agency to Jonathan Gruber’s corrupt health commissariat (merely to skim the surface of the most recent additions to the unending Obama-scandals document dump).
To express common-or-garden contempt for the will of the people, Obama could have simply repealed another handful of inconvenient paragraphs from Obamacare or made Lois Lerner Attorney-General, but the form of contempt he chose is especially exquisite: “legalizing” millions of foreign law-breakers and setting them on the path to US citizenship. The chief of state has heard the voice of the people and his message to them is: “Yeah, whatever, I can always get another people. Hey, here comes five million or so right now, plus another ten million in chain-migration relatives down the road…”
He is the Law, and you’d better believe it! And, even if you don’t, what are you gonna do about it? Obama has made a bet that in the end a Republican Congress will have no more get-up-and-go than a chronic invalid dependent on armies of undocumented bedpan-cleaners. It has been suggested that Boehner should tell America’s new ConLawProf-in-Chief to go give his State of the Union somewhere else. It would be a symbolic gesture, but symbols are important. In a contemporary North American context, it is not unknown for parliament to assert itself against the head of state: the chippy separatists of Quebec’s “National Assembly”, as part of their make-believe nation-building, have denied the Queen’s viceroy the customary right to give the Speech from the Throne (the Westminster equivalent to the State of the Union) for four decades now. Down the road in Ottawa, in a particularly petulant outburst, Jean Chrétien, the Canadian Prime Minister, denied the Queen herself the opportunity to give the 2002 Speech from the Throne in the federal parliament for no other reason than that he felt she hadn’t given him a good enough seat at her mother’s funeral earlier that year. In actual monarchies, the subjects flip the finger at the sovereign all the time. Yet in a supposed republic of citizen-legislators for the people’s house to assert its authority to the head of state by telling him to take a hike on the State of the Union would be an act of lèse-majesté too appalling even to consider. It would be entirely unreasonable to expect the legislature of the American republic to defend its lawful powers — and those of the people it represents — with the assertiveness of a provincial parliament in Canada.
Mark Steyn, “Elections Matter?”, SteynOnline.com, 2014-11-22.
April 10, 2016
Published on 12 Mar 2016
A young Suleiman ascends the throne of the Ottoman Empire. He wants to be a benevolent ruler, but he must prove that he is no pushover.
Perhaps it all began when Suleiman’s father died…
Suleiman’s father, Selim I, had pushed the borders of the Ottoman Empire further than any before him. Suleiman and his childhood friend, a Greek named Ibrahim who’d once been his slave, had to race back to Constantinople to claim the throne before news got out. Suleiman immediately bestowed gifts on the janissaries and court officials whose favor he would need for a successful reign, but he also carried out executions against those he suspected of treachery. He could not afford to be too kind. Indeed, his rule was challenged immediately by a revolt in Syria, which Suleiman crushed with overwhelming force to secure his reputation as a powerful leader. He wanted to stretch the empire even more, to bring it into Europe, which brought his attention to Hungary (his gateway to Europe) and Rhodes (a thorn in his side in the Mediterranean). The young prince of Hungary gave him the excuse he needed by executing an Ottoman envoy who’d come to collect tribute. Suleiman prepared his troops for war.
February 22, 2016
As a candidate for runner-up in the 20th-century villain pageant [after first-place winner Lenin], I would nominate Kaiser Wilhelm II, the monarch of Germany from 1888 to 1918. This comes from reading John Röhl’s concise biography of the Kaiser, published this summer.
Röhl has written a much larger biography of Wilhelm II: three big volumes totaling 4,000 pages and based, he tells us, on “fifty years of original archival research.” If you want to know that much about the man, good luck to you. If, like me, you just want to satisfy historical curiosity, the 240-page concise version will do.
The overwhelming impression you come away with is of an extremely unpleasant person. The Kaiser was arrogant, stubborn, graceless, and none too bright. He was also delusional in several different ways. He had, for example, the fixed idea that he understood the British better than any of his advisers did.
The grounds for this particular delusion were his blood connection with the British royals. His mother was Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter. Edward VII, who succeeded Victoria, was his uncle. George V, who succeeded Edward, was his cousin. The national anthem of Wilhelm’s Germany even shared a tune with Britain’s.
The delusion would have made more sense if the mother-son relationship had been a healthy one. Everything went wrong there, though, from his very birth—a bungled breech delivery that left him with a malformed left arm—through a childhood literally tortured by cruel attempts to fix the arm, then a loveless adolescence of Spartan discipline. Röhl tells us that the Kaiser arrived at adulthood with
A brittle, narcissistic amour propre combined with an icy coldness and an aggressive contempt for those he considered weaker than himself.
Somewhere along the way he also acquired a fetish for women’s hands.
Well, the world is full of unpleasant people. Did the Kaiser’s unpleasantness contribute to the outbreak of WWI, the greatest civilizational catastrophe of the modern West?
It seems that it did. There is ample documentation in Röhl’s book of the Kaiser’s eagerness for war, for victory over France and Russia. He was sure that Britain, the third member of the Triple Entente, would not intervene. His ambassadors in London, and British government ministers, and his royal British relatives, kept trying to set him straight; but what was their knowledge of Britain compared with his?
John Derbyshire, “The Legacy of the Mad Kaiser”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-12-18.