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.
January 15, 2017
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.
February 16, 2016
Published on 15 Feb 2016
Even the appointment of Ferdinand I to become ruler of Bulgaria was not without controversy. All across Europe, leaders didn’t see him fit to do the job. Controversy followed him throughout his life, the Balkan Wars and the First World War when he had to see the defeat of his country. Find out all about that other Tsar in our episode.
February 1, 2016
“I’ll find friends to wear my bleeding roses,” cries Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, in Harey the vjth. Standing in a rose garden, he has plucked a red flower from a great bush that stands between him and his nemesis, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. York has selected a white rose – “with this maiden blossom in my hand/I scorn thee,” he spits – and the noblemen standing by have followed suit, choosing the colour of their rose to advertise their allegiance.
In 1592, this image made perfect sense. This was how the Wars of the Roses were generally understood. Against the backdrop of weak kingship and disastrous military defeat in France, two rival branches of the Plantagenet dynasty – Lancaster and York – had gone to war for the throne, using red and white roses as emblems of their causes. The war had shattered the country, causing tens of thousands of deaths and incalculable misery.
Only after decades of chaos had the family rift been healed by the victory of a Lancastrian, Henry Tudor, over a Yorkist, Richard III, at Bosworth in 1485. Henry’s victory, and his subsequent marriage to Elizabeth of York, reconciled the warring factions. Thus had been created the red-and-white ‘Tudor rose’ that seemed to be painted everywhere, reminding the populace that the Tudors stood for unity, reconciliation, peace and the incontestable right to rule.
It was a powerful and easily grasped story that, by Shakespeare’s day, had already been in circulation for 100 years. And, in part thanks to the success of Shakespeare’s brilliant cycle of history plays, this vision of the Wars of the Roses remains in circulation – on television, in film and in popular historical fiction. Lancaster versus York, red versus white: it is a story as easy to grasp as a football match at the end of which everyone swaps shirts. Yet it is misleading, distorted, oversimplified and – in parts – deliberately false.
November 11, 2015
The Canada of 1914 was, by modern standards, intensely monarchist and very pro-military. I wouldn’t go so far as calling the Canadians of a century ago militaristic, in fact the term was used extensively to describe contemporary German government and society. It wasn’t a compliment. Genuinely militaristic societies organize their political, economic and educational systems around military development and warfare. That has never described Canadian society except for the very brief periods of the two world wars.
For most of Canadian history the military was out of sight and out mind. It existed, it was probably necessary and when war came a flood of money and enthusiasm would be thrown at it. When the war was over the medals were handed out, everyone went home and most people tried to forget. That’s why the phrase “lest we forget” has such poignancy. Because it is human nature to forget things, especially that which is hard and unpleasant. It’s why we call it Remembrance Day. A hope, at times seemingly vain, to drive into the minds of comfortable, peaceful and prosperous Canadians their astonishing good luck.
Richard Anderson, “Monarchy and Militarism”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-05-27.
September 30, 2015
Colby Cosh on the sudden interest among the chattering classes about the role of the Governor General during election campaigns:
What’s with malcontent nitwit constitutional experts popping up in the newspaper to warn of “political instability” because we’re having a three-sided election? You know, this isn’t really that hard. The United Kingdom, a nuclear-armed power across the Atlantic that may be vaguely familiar, had an election in 2010 that failed to produce a majority. Its 650-seat House of Commons ended up with 306 Conservatives, 258 Labour MPs, 62 Liberal Democrats and a ragbag of deputies from nationalist and leftist parties.
If there is no majority party, that will involve tough decisions, most likely falling upon whomever finds himself in third place. But it should not end up with the governor general making some kind of awkward choice in a vacuum. The party leaders should feel enormous pressure to arrive at a decision between them, as if there were a taboo protecting the governor general’s door. The Privy Council Office is probably already creating that pressure. A governor general should never be presented with anything but a fait accompli. He plays the role of the Queen locally, and should be thought of like the Queen, as being above political decision-making.
The proper thing for constitutional pundits to be doing right now is to strengthen that taboo. Musings about imaginary scenarios in which the viceroy might have to involve himself in the selection of a government are fun — exactly the kind of thing I myself enjoy. But if you are cooking up such an op-ed, or giving quotes of that nature to a journalist, you are signing a license for party leaders to prolong the negotiation period that might follow our election, and encouraging them to make illicit use of sly appeals to the public about what the governor general ought to be doing.
In a minority situation, the temptation will be there: some leader will want to suggest that an arrangement for government that leaves him out has been arrived at unfairly. Or a third-place finisher who should be deciding the identity of a prime minister other than himself, and who has the real power to decide, might lose his nerve and start thinking he can evade the choice.
September 26, 2015
A thumbnail sketch of the second Roman Emperor:
Upon the death of Augustus, Tiberius Claudius Nero stood as the last logical choice in a long and tumultuous line of potential heirs. In 14 AD, at the age of 56, Tiberius ascended to Imperial power as a somewhat uncertain figure. The continuation and success of the newly created Principate rested squarely on the shoulders of a man who seemingly had only a partial interest in his own personal participation.
For the first time the transfer of power from the greatness of Augustus was to be tested. The passing of this test would prove to be more a culmination of Augustus’ long reign and establishment of precedent than the ability of Tiberius to fill the enormous sandals of his step-father.
While Augustus was the perfect political tactician with powerful personality yet approachable demeanor, Tiberius was a direct contrast. He was a dark figure, keenly intelligent, sometimes terribly cunning and ruthless, yet pre-disposed to a more Republican ideal than any emperor that followed him. Tiberius’ failures, however seem to have been his inability to define his own role within the Principate and the roles of those around him, including the Senate. While he professed a desire for the Senate to play a more active role in Imperial government, he did little to illustrate what these roles should be. To an aristocratic body that had been cowed into general subservience through the sheer will and force of Augustus, defining a new role required more definitive action than the simple desire of Tiberius for change.
He was inconsistent in policy and behavior, sometimes dictating his own idea of order from the position of ultimate power, sometimes withdrawing completely in favor of any who might dictate the appearance of command. Mood swings and depression plagued him, perhaps resulting from a life spent as an uncertain member of the ‘Julio-Claudian’ family. Until his final ascension, and only after the deaths of several favored ‘heirs’, did Tiberius probably know for sure that the ultimate power would actually belong to him.