One of my perpetual struggles with how I look at The USA, is that I think the American Revolution was a just and right moment in human history. Not to say that for once British imperialism got a nasty kick in the N%#*s, which didn’t happen perhaps as often as it should have.
The problem then is that the proud boast of the Constitution that:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. “
Seems a little hollow in light of the institution of Slavery up to the early 1800s, the ongoing condition of de-facto , though not de-jure, slavery that continued up to the US Civil War. The conditions that led to the growth of the Klu Klux Klan in the first part of the 20th century, and the existence of a status-quo which held white Americans in a position of social superiority until it was successfully challenged by the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
For the longest time this history, led me to quite a dismissive position on the US Constitution, as fine words ignored in practice. This is harder to sustain now the US has it’s first Black president, and some time ago I came to the conclusion that at least ‘a constitution’ was better than ‘no constitution’.
The closest thing the British have to a constitution is Magna Carta, and I am not certain that there is anyone that can seriously find much that was relevant to the thirteenth century, that is still so in the twenty-first, with the one exception that it limited the powers of the King. Queens were out of favour after the difficulties with King Steven 1092/6 – 25 October 1154 and Queen Matilda 1102 – 1167.
What fascinates me about the British and American attitudes to the British Monarchy and the privilege it represents, is how things have changed.
Progressively over time the power of the English Monarchy (Yes English, despite supposedly being monarchs of the united kingdom, and all of them coming from German families since 1714) has been restricted and curtailed by the growth of the power of Parliament. Lopping a kings head off seemed to persuade them to comply a little more with the will of the people, even if it was only the rich people.
After the 13 colonies kicked the British out there was apparently a debate about creating a Kingdom, with a King, and good old George Washington, of the wooden false teeth, and the Cannabis plantations, was a prime candidate for the role. Sensibly the Colonies decided that a President was a much better way to go. For a long time the Americans were rightly dismissive of the institution of Monarchy.
In the United Kingdon, up to the late 1930’s its arguable that the significance of the monarchy to the common people declined, and one of the big worries about the general Strike of 1926, was that a revolution of the soviet type was a real possibility. The situation improved a little, though the constitutional (What constitution) crisis of 1936-37 over Edward VIIIs chosen wife, also represented a threat, that could also have destroyed the credibility of the institution. That the Winsor Family was essentially bankrupt at the time did not help matters.
That the Monarchy survived at all after this seems to me to be mainly concerned with George the VI and Queen Elizabeth, (The current queens mother) Despite the kings failings, which were embodied in his stammer, as far as the Monarchy was concerned, as a couple they made some staggeringly good decisions. For one thing the families finances were put on a sound financial footing, discreetly and carefully. For another their response to WWII was not only courageous, but also politically sound for several different reasons, they stayed put, they met the people, they suffered the same dangers as everyone else. And in so doing endeared themselves to the British Working Class in a way that a few years previously would have seemed impossible. Elizabeth II inherited much of this endearment, and the coronation of 1953 was possibly the high point of the popularity of the Monarchy in the whole of British History.
Today it seems as if Americans are just as fantastically enamoured of the British Monarchy, judging by their enthusiasm over the recent wedding, and their apparent adoration of the grooms mother, whereas the British attitude is somewhat more convoluted. The British despite their superficial enthusiasm seem much more ambivalent, though I would expect many other Britons to disagree with me.
The best evidence I have for this is peoples response to my Republicanism, (which means something completely different in the UK to what it means in the US.) the most common of which usually concerns, how much money they make for Britain, (which is true.) This seems quite mercenary to me, and doesn’t seem to value the Monarchy as an institution, but as a commodity. It seems to me that we are now well past the point in history when the genuine affection for George IV and his impressive wife, truly drove the British love of the Monarchy, and that now it is a ‘brand‘ and a ‘tourist attraction’ we are reluctant to move on from.
My problem with this is that as an institution, it is still an emblem of privilege and wealth, it says very clearly that if you have such attributes that you can hang on to power for as long as you like, and point the finger at the poor, and claim that they deserve the condition they are in.
That many Americans appear to love the British monarchy only seems to underline the point, despite the claim of freedom of opportunity, it seems that in American society, the same families exert social, economic, and political influence, as did so 50 or 100 years ago, thought the headline names do seem to rotate somewhat.
The sub prime crisis, seems to me to be a case in point, Bankers mismanaged what was otherwise a laudable attempt to increase home ownership, and yet when it came to the crunch, the bankers were bailed out whilst everyone else was left to sink or swim.
Worldwide during the current economic crisis, the poor have been getting poorer, with demands on them to suffer the hardships of economic austerity, whilst the rich have still been getting richer, with no attendant demands for them to tighten their belts. Now this doesn’t particularly affect me directly, since I am on a middling income, and though sometimes I have to compromise, life is not particularly hard, I am painfully aware that the real poor are scattered across the world watching each other die, whilst earning a pittance to make the products which I look at in the shops and think are a bit pricey so I won’t bother to buy this month.
The constant cry of course is that individual states are limited in their ability to pressure the rich to contribute their fair share, if you tax them they move to a lower tax nation and take their economic power with them, saying Yah Boo as they leave. In this light I wonder if it is not time for a more international effort, with a United Nations contract, or charter, requiring international co-operation on the subject of taxation of the super rich in particular.
I’m realistic, the power and influence wielded by the rich means they have a capacity to induce the political decision makers to steer well away from the issue. I can only think however that if any real success is to be achieved in relieving the conditions of the worlds poor, (At a time when we stand on the brink of yet another Famine in Ethiopia) then a level playing field in terms of taxing the wealthiest people in the world is absolutely essential. A Constitution for the poor if you will.
Perhaps if it were to happen then the world might be able to celebrate an ‘Independence From Poverty Day.’ wouldn’t that be something, an entire planet celebrating the same event, once a year, that’s a party I’d like to attend.