Posts Tagged ‘Commedia del’Arte’

Poverty and the Insensitivity of the Queen’s Speech

December 30, 2018

A few days ago Mike put up an article reporting the backlash against the monarchy that had occurred as a result of the Queen’s speech. I never saw it as I find the speech horrendously boring, but I gather that Her Maj had sat in a wonderful gilded room, complete with a priceless gold Erard piano, and urged us all to be tolerant of each other at this time. People were naturally more than a bit annoyed to hear someone, surrounded with the kind of wealth most people can only dream about, telling the rest of the country in effect that they had better respect their superiors when poverty is massively increasing and people are fearing for their jobs, their homes and whether they’ll be able to put food on the table for their children tomorrow.

They also resented the fact that the royal family, as rich as they are, are subsidized by the rest of us through our taxes. Mike in his article reproduced a number of tweets critical of the monarchy, pointing out that the Queen’s comments that we should put aside our differences in the national interest was the type of slogan the Tories come out with.

One of the tweets by Mark Adkins went further, and said that it wasn’t just the monarchy itself that was the problem, but what they represented: the British class system that made breeding more important than anything else, and which concluded ‘This world view helps justify racism, snobbery and the demonisation of the poor. A Republic is long overdue!’

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/12/26/insensitivity-of-queens-speech-prompts-backlash-against-the-monarchy/

I’m not a republican, but this did show that the Queen was seriously out of touch. She could have made her speech in more sombre settings or even actually on the front line, as it were, at a food bank to show that she was at least aware how much some people were suffering. It all reminded me of the comments the 19th century German socialist writer Adolf Glasbrenner made about the Prussian monarchy of his day in his piece Konschtitution. The piece is supposed to be an explanation of the German constitution by a father to his son, Willem. It’s written in the Berlin dialect, and is written from the perspective of someone, who really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s like some of Tony Hancock’s speeches, when he started talking about aspects of British constitutional history, that he obviously didn’t know anything about. Like his remarks in the episode ‘Twelve Angry Men’ about Magna Carta being a poor Hungarian peasant girl, who was burned at the stake in order to get King John to close the boozers at half past ten. Or like some of the rants by Alf Garnett about how great Britain is, but without the racism.

Amongst Glasbrenner’s skewed explanation of the Prussian constitution are his remarks on the monarchy. These include:

‘The King does, what he wants; and against that, the people do, what the kind wants. The ministers are therefore responsible for nothing happening. The king rules quite irresponsibly… Should the people come to penury or starvation, so is the king bound, to say he’s sorry.’ He also declares that the form of the state is ‘monarchical-pulcinelle’, the latter word a character from the Italian Commedia dell’arte. The commedia dell’arte was one of the sources of the modern British pantomime as well as Mr. Punch in the Punch and Judy show, so you could possibly translate the phrase into a British context by saying it was ‘monarchical-Mr. Punch’ The piece also has a line that ‘without Junkers (Prussian aristocracy), police and cannon freedom isn’t possible’.

Although it’s a spoof on the Prussian constitution and the classical liberal conception of the state, which was that it should simply guard against crime without interfering directly in society or the economy, it obviously has some relevance to the Tory conception of politics. This also stresses the monarchy, strongly rejects any kind of state interference, and also believes that freedom is only possible through the aristocracy, the armed forces and the police. Although the police aren’t being supported so much these days, as the Tories want to save money by cutting their numbers so that they protect the rich, while the rest of society are left to defend themselves from crime. Perhaps they still think we’ll all hire the private security guards like the Libertarians and Virginia Bottomley were so keen on as replacements.

More ominously, in the present situation over Brexit it also reminded me of a poem by the Liberal Serbian poet Zmaj Jovanovic, ‘The National Anthem of the State of Jutunin’ I found quoted in Vladimir Dedijer’s Tito Speaks (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1953). This is a memoir of the former Yugoslav dictator’s life and his break with Stalin and the Soviet bloc. It was printed in the last issue of Borba, a Communist magazine, when the Yugoslav king, Alexander, seized dictatorial power, dissolving parliament and banning political parties.

O thou, Holy God, keep our King alive
In good health, strong, proud and glorious,
Since this earth has never seen, nor shall
Ever see a king equal to him.
Give him, O Lord, the holiest gifts from heaven:
Police, gendarmeries and spies:
If he doesn’t fight the foe,
Let him keep his own people under his heel.
(p. 69).

I’m not accusing the Queen, nor the Duke of Edinburgh or anyone else in the royal family of planning to seize power and rule like an absolute monarch. But I am worried about Tweezer’s plan to put 3,500 troops on the streets in case of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. Under the Conservatives and New Labour Britain has become a very authoritarian society, including through the establishment of secret courts, where you can be tried in camera without knowing the identity of your accuser and with evidence withheld from your lawyers, all in the interests of national security. We now have a private company, the Institute for Statecraft, publishing smears in the media against Jeremy Corbyn and other politicians and public figures in Europe and America for the British and American secret state. And Mike reports that Tories are now requiring EU citizens or the children of EU citizens resident in England sign up to a central registry, which may make their information available to other public or private bodies without telling anyone which. This is another very disturbing development, as it seems that the British state is determined to leave them open to official persecution. And I’ve said in a previous blog post that a priest at my church, who ministered in Australia, is worried that if Corbyn gets into power, the Tories will try to get the Queen to dismiss him, just as they had her to do Gough ‘Wocker’ Whitlam in the 1970s.

I support the monarchy, but it needs reform and the Queen’s lack of tact in showing off her wealth at a time of great hardship has only made matters worse. And I’m afraid the increasing authoritarianism of the Tory and New Labour governments could discredit the monarchy if and when there’s a backlash.

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Adolf Glasbrenner’s ‘Constitushun’

February 23, 2014

Looking through the anthology of German literature from the Vormarz, the period of social and industrial discontent in Germany in the early 19th century that produced the 1848 revolutions, I came across Adolf Glasbrenner’s Konschtitution. Glasbrenner (1810-1876) was a radical Berlin journalist and writer. He trained as a merchant, but from 1830 turned to writing as a Liberal. He published the newspaper, the Berliner Don Quixote, which was banned in 1833. In 1835 he moved to Switzerland, where he published a number of works anonymously. In 1848 his Freien Blatter (Free Pages) was banned in Berlin, and he took part in the revolution that March. He became the leader of the Democratic Party of Neustrelitz in the German state of Mecklenburg. He was forced to move to Hamburg in 1850. His newspapers the Deutschen Sonntagszeitung and Phosphor were banned in 1856 and 1858. He had a constant battle with the censor as the manager of the Berliner Montagszeitung. In his works Glasbrenner wrote in the Berlin dialect, using typical figures from Berlin society, such as the casual labourer Nante and the petty-bourgeois rentier, Buffey, to satirise the contemporary political situation, in order to strengthen the popular masses’ trust in themselves, and so help prepare the way for the 1848 revolution.

Konschtitution is written in the Berlin dialect as a father attempting to explain the Prussian constitution to his son. While it’s like the 13 demands of the Berlin Workers’ Central Committee in that both are of their time and place, it also struck me as being relevant to today’s Britain. Both Britain and Wilhelmine Germany are constitutional monarchies, and the same basic concepts of government are common to each, even if there are many differences. The judiciary in Britain still are independent, for example, whether they will continue to be so under this increasingly illiberal and authoritarian government is a good question. Here’s my attempt at a translation:

Constitushun

Today I ‘splained to my son, Willyum, what the constitushun is, dat is, in what you call the ‘high style’, and I fink dat I’ve ‘spressed it quite statesmanlike. I said to ‘im namely. The constitushun, dat’s the separashun of power. The king does, what he wants, and the people, they do, what the king wants. The ministers are therefore responsible, that nothing happens. The king rules quite irresponsibly. The government choose by means of an electoral law the people’s representatives. It’s necessary dat every law is realized. Every law only then has validity, when it’s realized.

The people’s representatives come together in two chambers and hold speeches. The first chamber consists of rich servants and the second of nightwatchmen. The chambers must be listen to in every case. Should the chamber not be listen to in every case, the crown has the right to dissolve it, but only ever for three months, in case it shouldn’t last longer. In the case that there is continual disunity between Crown and chamber, the old state diet is convoked, which steps through it in the chamber’s complete duties.

The chamber can also grant new taxes. The penalty for refusing tax established by law, should not be under ten years penitentiary. About the people’s monies (finances), everyone must be passed three months in an account, in which receipts and expenses tally. Should several millions be missing annually, these are to be viewed as spent. Should the citizens come to beggary or starve, the king is liable, to explain in a proclamation, that he’s sorry.

Justice is quite independent, but the judges can be transferred or removed. Everyone is equal before the law. Every subject has right to have his opinion about himself, and to assemble under the same conditions. The military do not swear to the state, because you don’t know what expires. The form of the state is monarchic-pulcinelle [a figure from the Italian Commedia del’Arte]. Without junkers [Prussian aristocrats], police, cannons and bigots, no freedom is possible.

The stupid boy stood there with his gob open, as I ‘splained the Constitushun to him. “Now do you know?” I asked him. “Nah, not quite yet”, he said, howling. That so annoyed me, that in anger I gave him a hard box on the ear., in which I expressed, ‘You prat, now know what the Constitushun is!’

I thought of translating the term ‘Junkers’ in the sentence ‘Without junkers, police, cannons and bigots, no freedom is possible’ as ‘toffs’ or ‘aristos’, to make it really contemporary, now that we have a government dominated by them, but I thought that would be stretching things a bit too much.