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What caused the First World War? Part V: Monarchies and Republics

[This is the text of a talk I gave on 20 March to the 6/20 Club in London. This is the final part. Part IV is here.]

Could the outcome provide a clue? Four monarchies: Germany, Austria, Russia and Turkey were swept away by the First World War.

When I say monarchy I am not talking about the wishy-washy monarchy we pretend to have in the UK. I am talking about real monarchies, monarchies red in tooth and claw, monarchies that can at minimum hire and fire ministers and start wars.

Now, I can almost hear the pedants shouting “But those are precisely the powers the Queen has” To which I say “Only in theory”. Should the Queen or any of her successors ever attempt to actually exercise those theoretical powers they would be out of office in a matter of nano-seconds. Britain is a republic.

When did it become one? I think we can be pretty precise with the dates: sometime between 1642 and 1694. 1642 is the date of the outbreak of the English Civil War, when Charles I tried to impose his idea of absolute monarchy. 1694 is the date William III accepted that his powers were extremely limited. Since then it has been Parliament that makes the laws and votes funding – without which making war becomes extremely difficult.

But think of what happened in that period: four civil wars, one military dictatorship and a foreign invasion.

You think that was bad? Try the French. Between 1789 and 1871 they saw four monarchies, three republics, three foreign invasions and a 20-year war with the rest of Europe.

And now look at what happened in the 20th century. Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, China, Turkey, Spain and Portugal all made the same transition from monarchy to republic. I need not dwell on the German or Russian experiences – they are well enough known but all the others follow a similar pattern. China saw a 20-year civil war followed by Mao’s communist regime; Spain, a monarchy, followed by a republic followed by a civil war followed by a dictatorship followed by a monarchy followed by a democratic republic. Even Portugal saw two revolutions, a dictatorship and a series of bloody colonial wars.

The point is that in every case the transition from monarchy to republic is bloody and protracted.

If there is an exception to the rule it is Japan. Japan is odd because in the middle of the 19th Century it had two monarchies. The one we know about – which was as powerless then as it is now – and the Tokugawa Shogunate. The downfall of the Shogun was remarkably swift and afterwards, as I understand it, Japan was pretty stable up until the 1920s. That’s about 40 years. But assuming Japan is an outlier and we have a pattern, then why the bloodshed?

My guess is that once a monarchy looks vulnerable and anachronistic thoughts turn to a future blank slate. This blank slate is an invitation for idealistic, Utopian and statist ideas to fill the vacuum. And so they do. Even England got the Puritans (and, I might add, the Levellers).

This process was in full swing well before the First World War broke out. The Revolution of 1905 had forced the Tsar to call a parliament. The largest party in the Reichstag, the German Parliament, was the Socialists.

There were two basic majoritarian ideas knocking about Europe at the time: socialism and nationalism. Monarchs can’t do much with socialism but it is just possible for them to embrace nationalism (unless they’re Austrian, that is). And so we see Europe from about 1890 on divide on nationalist lines. Russia and Germany started to become hostile. German politicians began to talk of a coming racial struggle.

This put Austria in a bind.

When he was single there was a time when Franz Ferdinand would regularly visit an eligible duchess. The assumption was that he was courting her and that the two would eventually marry. Not so. He was courting Sophie Chotek one of her ladies in waiting. Sophie was from a noble family herself but just not noble enough. The emperor was furious when he heard that the two wanted to marry.

In English we have a rarely used word, morganatic. So rarely-used is it that I have only ever heard it used in one context. This one. It means that in a marriage one of the partners and the children and not allowed to benefit from any of the privileges of the other partner. Franz Ferdinand and Sophie had a “morganatic marriage”. The children were not allowed to inherit Franz Ferdinand’s titles or status. They could not become Emperor or Empress. On state occasions Sophie could not accompany her husband. One of the reasons the couple loved England so much – their last trip was in 1913 – was that Sophie was granted the same status as her husband. One of the reasons Sophie was in Sarajevo on the fateful day was because it was one of the rare occasions on which she could accompany him. It was also their wedding anniversary.

I have often wondered about the significance of this. Why was the Emperor so furious about Franz Ferdinand marrying beneath him? I think the reason is that Austria-Hungary being a multi-national state could not embrace nationalism. The only unifying factor was the monarchy and so everything had to be done to preserve the mystique and uniqueness of the institution. As the Emperor might have seen it when royals start marrying lowly nobles pretty soon you give the impression anyone could do the job. Bye bye monarchy, bye bye empire.

Ultimately, no one is to blame for the First World War as such. The First World War is principally a chapter in the story of central Europe’s transition from monarchy to republic. As such the principal actors were subject to forces that were way beyond their ability – or indeed anyone’s ability – to control. Although, this does not entirely absolve them of blame it absolves them of a lot.


Germany readies its people for war

Over the last few days (this is 1914 we’re talking about just in case anyone was in any doubt) a large number of articles have appeared in the German press on the threat posed by Russia. And still they come:

There is, if anything, an increase to-day in the Press discussion of present and future and possible and probable Russo-German relations. The Berlin Bourse, which was troubled last week by the beginning of the campaign in the Cologne Gazette, was disturbed again to-day – chiefly by the spreading of the infection to the Radical and “pacific” Berliner Tageblatt. This journal published this morning an anonymous article by somebody who is described as distinguished and experienced in all branches of international politics, which, without indeed advocating war, advocates the adoption of a very firm policy towards Russia.

This is co-ordinated and there’s only one body that would be doing the co-ordination: the German government. They are preparing the population for war. The argument being used is precisely the argument being used in the corridors of power: the Russians are building up their forces and in a few years they will be too strong and it will be too late. In other words: it’s now or never.

The Times 10 March 1914 p5

The Times 10 March 1914 p5

It is not just the Russians the Germans are worried about. The Russians on their own would be fairly harmless (as indeed they proved to be) but they are in alliance with France. This leads to Germany’s worst nightmare: the prospect of a war on two fronts. This in turn leads to the development of the Schlieffen Plan with its aim to eliminate one of those fronts before the other one got going.

There is an alternative. Germany could return Alsace-Lorraine to France. At a stroke they would eliminate the one and only bone of contention in the Franco-German relationship and as a consequence break up the Franco-Russian alliance. But no.

There are good reasons why the German government isn’t so keen on such a move. By accepting self-determination in Alsace-Lorraine they would be accepting the principle of democracy. This is hardly the sort of thing that a monarchy can do. There would also be the element of losing face that weak regimes are very reluctant to do.

As I mentioned earlier the claim is that Germany must go to war soon or else it will be too late. The odd thing is that they were even wrong about this. The Russians were utterly incompetent in the First World War and there is no reason to think they would have fought much better even after their arms build up.

What is interesting is that even the Socialists appear to be unnerved by the Russian threat. This might explain why after the war broke out and despite the fact they had been left out of the loop, they were so willing to vote the government the funds to carry on the war.

There’s more:

To-day the Pan-German Press is advocating German claims of all sorts, especially in Asia Minor, “which is still to be had, but only if Germany does not shrink from the extreme test and is ready to risk war against Russia and France as well as England.”

This is fascinating. They have clearly made up their minds that if war means war with England then so be it. It is suicidal but that’s the point the German High Command has reached in 1914.

It was Fritz Fischer, writing in the 1950s who claimed that the outbreak of war in 1914 was no accident. He traced it back to what has become known as the War Council of December 1912. From there, Germany abandoned the naval arms race with Britain so that it could build up its army. Shortly afterwards it launched this campaign. Everything is ready. Now all they need is a pretext.

There is also the claim that the Russians are running riot in the Balkans:

The writer insists that “pretences” shall be dropped and that both Berlin and Vienna shall recognize that they have step by step been retreating before Russian pretensions with lamentable results.

This is absolute nonsense. The people who are winning are the Austrians. They have annexed Bosnia, created the state of Albania to deny the Serbs a port, faced the Russians down in the mobilisations of 1912 and made an ally of the Bulgarians – a country hitherto in the Russian sphere. Meanwhile, a German, Liman von Sanders, has more or less been put in charge of the Turkish army, completely putting the kibosh on (the admittedly somewhat far-fetched) Russian ambitions to control the Bosphorus.

Incidentally, it is one of the claims of Christopher Clark’s book The Sleepwalkers (p330) that the German government did not embark on a campaign to ready its people for war. This, he felt, showed that the so-called War Council was not quite as decisive as others have claimed. What this article (and others) show is that this claim is nonsense.

Kim Jong-il looking at not very much fruit

NickM has a nice piece up today at Cats about a website called Kim Jong-il looking at things. He picks out a picture of Kim looking at some fruit:

What fascinates me about that image in particular is that whilst the side of the fruit stand facing Kim is laden with produce the side facing us looks a bit sparse. The Russians might have had Potemkin villages but it takes the true Juche lunacy of North Korea to have created the Potemkin fruit stand.

What fascinates me about these pictures is what often fascinates me about Potemkinity of all kinds, which is how it so often achieves the opposite of the desired effect. It presents what its presenters, now themselves probably living quite close to starvation (never mind all the regular people of this wretched country), imagine to be a miracle. But when the rest of us, out here in non-Kim world, look at their sad little picture, we merely shrug and note that capitalism of the most feeble and emaciated sort can do that with one arm tied behind its back, on a wet Thursday morning in an economically depressed inner suburb of a city that has been in relative decline for a century. We look at it, and we say: is that the best you can do?

For me, the obvious thing about Kim’s faked up fruit stand is that there is so very little fruit on it, compared to what there is room for. My local market, just the other side of Vauxhall Bridge Road from me, is a cornucopia by comparison.

Keeping the bloodline pure

One of the more attractive elements of the Libertarian Alliance conferences is the enjoyable lunches, often served by attractive totty from Eastern Europe. After second-guessing the blackmailed royal, our conversation veered towards the compulsory testing of genetic material on the part of individuals.

After all, they are the Royal Family and if we are to be subjects, I do want to be sure that they are descended from the Queen. Without indulging in tittle-tattle on the unorthodox descent of facial features in the Windsor opera, we do have a right to ensure that the line remains pure. My own take was that this would involve a minor amendment to the Act of Settlement, alongside the abolition of the papist prohibition.

This does beg the question of how far back we should go if the present line proves to be a collection of interlopers and carpetbaggers descended from a priapic Keeper of the Privy Purse. My personal preference is for Alfred and a clear line of descent from Wessex and the Heptarchy. I would go back to Cunobelin if I could. Others prefer the continental certainties of the Normans.

Ensuring the demand that the heir to the throne is a lineal descendant of their father or mother seems a useful task for our new technologies.

Well, even the Queen is using podcasting

Signs of technical advancement from Britain’s own constitutional monarchy.

The naming of Royals is a difficult matter

The Christmas season often brings forth stories that act as an ‘Indian summer’ for the silly season, reminding us of warm August evenings, listening to the closing overs of a test (rain permitting), and a time when you can sit outside a pub drinking Ordinary in any London green. Summer nostalgia aside, this year’s theme revolves around name changes.

In Manhattan, Jorge Luis Espinal sent a reporter to new heights of expression with his legal petition for the Second Coming:

A Manhattan man’s holiday spirits soared to celestial heights today when a judge gave him permission to change his name to Jesus Christ.

Jose Luis Espinal, 42, said he was “happy” and “grateful” that the judge approved the change, effective immediately.

Espinal said he was moved to seek the name change about a year ago when it dawned on him: “I am the person that is that name.”

The article provides some further information on the legal framework governing legal name changes. You can be a name but not a number in South Dakota. You can be Jesus Christ so long as your intention is not to defraud others by your actions or avoid an obligation. Jose has more chance of changing his name than a convicted conman, or possibly, a politician such as Tony Blair, if the latter wished to change his name to that of the Christian Messiah.

The judge said she held a hearing in which Espinal, who also uses the last name Tejeda, testified. She said he was aware of the “common law right to assume another name without legal proceedings so long as the change is not made to deceive or perpetrate a fraud or to avoid an obligation” but wanted to go the formal route anyway.

The judge said Espinal’s “reasons were primarily those applicable to his own private religious beliefs and he stated no desire to use his proposed name to secure publicity, to proselytise, to fund-raise or advise others that he had been cloaked by the courts or government with a religious authority”.

Jose’s example has been followed by that closet nominalist Prince Charles who is reported to be seeking coronation as King George VII. Changing the name of the Prince or Princess on accession to the throne is quite common and the Royal Family supposedly views the name Charles as jinxed, due to associations with decapitating Puritans and rebellious Jacobite pretenders.

Patrick Cracroft-Brennan, a genealogist from Cracroft’s Peerage, said: “There has been a tradition over the last century for the regnal title to be different to the christian name. The change would make sense.

“Monarchs called Charles have not had much luck. One was beheaded, one was in exile, and one was a pretender to the throne.

While the Prince of Wales is known throughout the world as Charles, there is enormous goodwill to the name George. George VI was an outstanding and popular king who took over in the aftermath of the abdication crisis and rallied his people during World War II, Mr Cracroft-Brennan said.

“King George and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother were wonderful. I think George VII and Queen Camilla sound wonderful, too.”

A swift name-change to airbrush the excesses and eccentricities of unfortunate heirs seems all too common with the Hanoverians. If our heir to the throne will adopt a name off Rainbow, surely Zippy or the more accurate Bungle would prove just as gracious and popular.

Bill Gates, you will be assimilated

For some reason, the decision by Bill Gates to become an honorary British knight makes me sad. Has the founder of Microsoft finally, and completely, sold out to the “establishment”? Has his bruising encounter with the looters, whoops, I meant U.S. Justice Dept and EU Commission made him yearn for a respectable, quieter life?

Somehow, I cannot see Steve Jobs wanting a gong.

Nice one, ‘arry

So hapless Prince Harry takes a swing at some paparazzo who bashes him in the face with a camera, and the British press have apoplexy tut-tutting over his behaviour.

To use internet parlance, WTF? If some pushy bastard negligently clips you in the mouth with a camera whilst in search of a few quid, the correct response is to return the favour with interest. That is not ill-advised or thuggish or incorrect, it is an entirely appropriate means of male-to-male comminication at such a time. I am glad to see that there is a member of the royal family who actually has personality traits that approach those of the Crown’s normal everyday subjects.

It seem quite appropriate that not only should he not apologise for his reaction to the incident, he should be advising Christopher Uncle that if there is a next time, there should be some expectations of a royal boot in the bollocks as well.

Murder at the palace!

Well, not quite. The Royal family’s horrible little dogs have been fighting each other to the death, is all. Not for cash bets, which would be much more exciting, if less hilarious: just because that’s what animals sometimes do if you let them. Sometimes animals kill people too. We sentimentalise them at our peril.

We British folk, especially the upper classes, have long been renowned for our perverse attachments to four-legged creatures over normal human beings. Personally, I can’t see the point. They can’t think, they cost money, you have to clean them, take them for walks, pay vet’s fees, if you go away for a couple of months they destroy the house and/or die and make a mess, and all this for nothing other than the proximity of a creature that can’t do anything except perform basic bodily functions. Why? On second thoughts, don’t tell me: I don’t care.

What I do care about is people getting attacked by other people’s vicious animals in public places. Why this crime which Anne was found guilty of last time only merited a £500 fine, I have no idea. But there’s a definite poetic justice to this seasonal next chapter of the story, in my view.

Jokes about pets, life and Christmas, anyone…?

Aboriginal get original

The most absurd intellectual property rights claim ever?

With their earthy tones and lizard motifs, Prince Harry’s paintings won admiration at home and last week earned him a grade B at A-level. But his work has stirred anger in Western Australia, where he is accused of stealing Aboriginal themes.

The moral pygmies claiming ‘ownership’ of the images drawn by artists who died hundreds of years ago must be the world’s biggest losers. Inacapable of artistic expression themselves, they demand the unearned greatness of their remote ancestors.

How sad that genuine aboriginal achievements are drowned out by the moochers!

The first foreign cricket team to visit England (in 1868) was comprised entirely of aboriginal players. Subsequently, Australian cricket authorities tried to forget about this as more than a century passed without a non-white player. Are they excluded from clubs, does the welfare system turn an entire race into a dependent underclass?

I don’t suppose that the professional racial-awareness poverty pimps are demanding that aborigines stop getting welfare and solve their problems by economic means.

For the record, one of my French ancestors wore the Crusaders’ red cross on white background in Palestine. Does this mean I should sue England soccer supporters for ‘violating’ my heritage, after all their king only went on the Third Crusade?

The Prince of Fools

The dependably clueless Prince Charles wants the state to require tax funded institutions like Britain’s nationalised public health service and state schools to add insult to injury by not even attempting to get ‘best value for your stolen money’… which is to say he wants such arms of the state to be required to buy British farm products even if foreign products are cheaper/better… not only does he say they ‘should’ buy British, but that the government should force them to.

Like most people with socialist & fascist understandings of economics, producers are all and consumers are nothing to Charles. Why will people like him not be more honest and just admit directly that they want productive taxpayers to be compelled by force to prop-up less efficient areas of the economy and they should not be given any choice in the matter.

The Royal Family usefully occupy the same seriocomical niche as the Flag and ‘Hand-on-heart’ pledge of allegiance do in the USA… and like that inanimate object and rote chant, are largely empty of real meaning beyond their warm-fuzzy-glow value. If only we could devise some means of permanently depriving Charles of speech, leaving him only with earnest looks and poses, then the British monarchy could have another couple centuries of seriocomical semi-usefulness ahead of them.

A true British Scandal!

The British newspapers are agog at rape allegations inside the Royal Household.


The British state daily rapes million of people of billions of pounds to pay for ‘services’ that fail to deliver whilst blighting the economy and distorting civil society… yet the idiot media concentrates of the trivial antics of House of Windsor, who are little more than a bunch of national tourist attractions who at least generate more money than they cost the hapless taxpayer. Now that is the true scandal, not who might or might not have buggered whom in some drafty palace.