The Enchanted Glass: Britain and Its Monarchy Paperback – 19 Sep 2011
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Dazzling, cliche-nailing - The first serious study for more than a hundred years to take a coldly analytical look at this most emotion-charged part of our heritage, it reflects a growing sense of the peculiarity of it all. --Observer
A long and brilliant meditation on the nature of the British state, its identity and national culture... one of the most powerful and original pieces of writing I have ever read on the subject. --London Review of Books
About the Author
TOM NAIRN's many books include The Break-up of Britain, Faces of Nationalism and After Britain. He writes for, among others, New Left Review and the London Review of Books.
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And as a republican may I lament the sheer volume of what Private Eye calls arslikhan on this, our sovereign's 90th birthday. One risks censure in doing so; one risks censure from Jim Davidson for having 'no sense of humour' if you find him unfunny. I have had it with this puerile nonsense and if I read one more thing about "how very nice" or "how hard she works" then I am going to scream and not stop.Read more ›
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Nairn has a Continental-theoretical style which may be off-putting for many readers, but I like to plug away at this type of text. Gives you something to chew on.
Nairn takes a couple of approaches two of which are "legitimacy" and "Mass Psychoanalysis".
Legitimacy: take a look at pictures of the French revolution(s) as they tried to create a *Republique* acceptable to all and succeeding after five tries.. Danton looks like a conventional merchant which he was until he was executed by his friendly enemy Robsepierre, R's hand being forced. Robespierre looks like an 18th century schoolteacher which he was until he and Ste. Juste about whom the less said the better were sent hand in hand to the knacker's yard.
But then there was a change. The Directory, an attempt at administering at least Paris to the benefit of the growing middle class and its *Jeunesse dorée*, used absurd and buffoonish fancy dress to get people to acknowledge their authority and legitimacy. You'd think that the working classes would see right thru this but they didn't. True descent from ancient rulers of Wessex, today checkable by DNA as was Richard III's DNA was verified when Dickie Crook-back was dug up at that church by matching it with a known female descendant, proving with 99% certainty that the churched up bones were the bones of a King, a rotter to be certain, but a King all the same. So everybody likes inheritance because its legitimacy is obvious.
There's something verifiable and direct about inheritance. Although the mathematics of "trees" can be somewhat formidable, everybody knows about sons, daughters, fathers, and grandfathers, and how extended families form local power structures and fight over legacies as did the Yorkists and Lancastrians in the Wars of the Roses...a family feud among other things which was ignored by, and ignored, the middling classes of its time:
See the coast clear'd, and then we will depart.
Good God, these nobles should such stomachs bear!
I myself fight not once in forty year.
Shakespeare Henry VI Part 1
But what only seems decidable is a legitimate right to the throne. An idiot eldest son, or twin eldest born at the same time, or a Claudius, an ambitious younger brother competing with a grown son, can cock things up "royally" as it were. This way solutions become ad-hoc and driven by perceptions sometimes unspeakable like Edward II's or Richard II's homosexuality or Prince Charles' passivity.
Mass psychoanalysis tells us that the British use assent to Royalty so deeply that sudden deprivation would stop everything as in the experience of the smoker who quits four packs a day cold turkey. More of us (people, not Brits: I'm American) organize our lives, which are often more difficult than they should be, with childish games such as playing bagpipe music or Grenadier marches on an iPod to man or woman up for another difficult day, and perhaps Royalty gives British a reason to struggle on "in the Queen's name". Certainly, this phenomenon was named and known during the Blitz.
Edward I's, Edward III's and Henry V's readiness to commit mayhem on foemen is well-known and celebrated and it became the stiff upper lip, and the readiness to approve Prime Ministerial adventures such as the Falklands by way of silence. Royalty as Nairn shows veers a very liberal, left-wing, and to this day rather union-friendly society to the right like an unbalanced wheel in a car and thus protects the great fortunes, not only of Royalty but also of various Dukes, Earls, and Dukes of Earl from an unconscionable distance in the past...and also of clever newcomers brutal and situated enough to smash and grab a piece of the action right up to Russian biznizmienie. I don't know if used car salesmen have been endukified or made a Marquess but I'm willing to bet they or their ilk have been given peerages, whether for true service or just silence. Tony Blair is not going to get so much as a simple knighthood because he stood up to the Queen over Diana's treatment after her death. It's a petty and nasty business.
I cannot tell: the world is grown so bad,
That wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch:
Since every Jack became a gentleman
There's many a gentle person made a Jack.
Shakespeare, Richard III
It also needs to stop after thousands of years...rather like my country could use more Amendments of our regal Constitution: the ERA (equal rights for women), an amendment transferring education to Federal control, and so on. But that discussion doesn't belong here.