Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Note on a wedding posted by Richard Seymour
It is a theoretical possibility, but in my opinion an extreme improbability, that Britain would be rid of its monarchy short of a social convulsion on a par with, or close to, revolution. The British capitalist state has been defined by its successes as an imperialist state. It was the world's first capitalist empire, and it is as an imperialist state that it has most tightly embraced the monarchical principle - in victory against republican France, for example, and in its colonial conquests, from the Opium Wars, to the Raj, to the Mandates. It was as Empress of India that Victoria re-invented a previously ramshackle and endangered monarchy in the face of a rising mass democracy. It was flush with the wealth of the colonies that the British royal family, itself always a very successful family of capitalist entrepreneurs and not just rentiers, regained its lost exuberance and vitality.
Even if our biscuit tin monarchy (as Will Self has called it) is no longer riding a wave of colonial success, it remains at the apex of an imperial matrix whose 'role in world affairs' (as our professional euphemisers would have it) relies heavily on the accumulated cultural capital embodied in the Commonwealth. Windsor has also entrenched itself as a domestic power. It has assiduously courted a popular base, which perforce requires it to act as a silent partner in the class struggle - a source of legitimacy for the bourgeoisie, by dint of its apparent (only apparent) disentanglement from the daily grind of capital accumulation. And British capitalism has not run out of uses for these sojourners from the German low-lands. That this is so can be easily checked: no significant pro-capitalist political force in the UK is interested in republicanism. The bourgeois modernisers of Blair's court, for all their initial constitutional radicalism, never had any desire to challenge monarchical power, least of all its residues in parliament which guaranteed Number Ten such strong executive powers. Blair, who went weak at the knees in the presence of the rich, is said to have been genuine in his sentimental, star-struck adoration of the royals.
The monarchy still functions as the guarantor of a caste within the ruling class, which any good bourgeois wants admittance to - give an old chief executive an OBE, and he will consider himself to have truly lived. It still bestows social distinction - more than that, it upholds and perpetuates the superstitious belief in distinction, in meritorious 'honour' as well as 'honour' by birthright. Its systems of ranking still structure hierarchies within the state, notably the police, the navy, the air force, and the army. It is still the major patron of 'Britishness', the myth of a temporally continuous and organically whole national culture, which every legislator in search of an authoritarian mandate invokes. It is the sponsor of martial discourse, inviting us to believe that the British ruling class and its stately authorities, notably its armed forces, cleave to 'values' other than those of egoistic calculation. Its festivals of supremacy still mediate our experience of capitalism, suggesting that beneath the daily experience of conflict and confrontation, there is a more essential, eternal unity in the British polity. They still summon deference, in an era of political secularism. Windsor is susceptible to secular decline in that respect but this decline is, if I may say so, taking an awfully long time. Longer than is reasonable. And its adaptibility, its resilience in the face of the prevailing weltanschauung winds, suggests that it has successfully woven itself into the fabric of British capitalism, particularly the British state, such that to be an effective republican one must first be a socialist.
Today, a ruling class offensive is once more accompanied by the promise of a royal wedding spectacle, this time between a balding first-born prince - who has already sought to prove his fitness to rule in the frontiers of Afghanistan - and a high street fashion clerk. One must not expect that this will have any bearing on making the cuts, or the government, any more popular. It will not do that, any more than 1981's connubials rescued Thatcher from the doldrums. Its message is more subtle than that. Yes, capitalism may be in crisis. Yes, the ruling ideology may be in crisis. Yes, there may be strikes, protests and conflagrations. There may be tumultuous, rising democracy. But for all that, the message states, the firm continues. It reproduces itself, through birth (bloodline), and through marriage (property), each spawning a proliferation of imperial bunting as the media pipes patriotism into the mainline. As long as British capitalism continues, as long as the empire state continues, as long as the butcher's apron flies, so long lives Britannia and its personified fleshers.