Thomas Paine and Emma Goldman on the Diamond Jubilee

Treason to be cheerful

I’ve tried…oh how hard I’ve tried…to think of something new and clever to say about the celebrations surrounding Liz Windsor’s ‘achievement’ of staying alive for sixty years, given the best living standards and health care the human species could possibly imagine. But I have failed, so instead I’m redirecting you to people who have said it far, far better, long before I was a twinkle in my parents’ eyes.

Thomas Paine described the monarchical system in the most withering terms during the run-up to the American War of Independence. In my ‘review’ of his extraordinary pamphlet Common Sense last year, I described how:

“Paine then shifted his attention to the absurdity of monarchy as a system of government. After all, “…how a race of man came into the world so exalted above the rest and distinguished like some new species is worth enquiring into, and whether they are the means of happiness or of misery to mankind.” Invoking scripture, he declared monarchy “the most prosperous invention the devil ever set on foot for idolatry”, and illustrates his beliefs with biblical examples. Then putting religion to one side, Paine asserted that with “all men originally equals, no-one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others forever”. The absurdity wouldn’t matter though, if monarchy ensured “a race of good and wise men”, but “as it opens the door to the foolish, the wicked and improper, it hath in the nature of oppression.” After all, the minds of future monarchs “are early poisoned by importance, and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at large.” By the time they ascend to the throne, they are “frequently the most ignorant and unfit of any throughout the dominions.”

In the UK we are still (officially) ruled by the very least of us, and yet the mass media praises them to the skies. That is because ‘the royals’ are a symbolic basis for a national myth, and that national myth is used to control and subjugate us. As Emma Goldman put it:

“What, then, is patriotism? “Patriotism, sir, is the last resort of scoundrels,” said Dr. Johnson. Leo Tolstoy, the greatest anti-patriot of our times, defines patriotism as the principle that will justify the training of wholesale murderers; a trade that requires better equipment for the exercise of man-killing than the making of such necessities of life as shoes, clothing, and houses; a trade that guarantees better returns and greater glory than that of the average workingman.”

She went on:

“Patriotism assumes that our globe is divided into little spots, each one surrounded by an iron gate. Those who have had the fortune of being born on some particular spot, consider themselves better, nobler, grander, more intelligent than the living beings inhabiting any other spot. It is, therefore, the duty of everyone living on that chosen spot to fight, kill, and die in the attempt to impose his superiority upon all the others. The inhabitants of the other spots reason in like manner, of course, with the result that, from early infancy, the mind of the child is poisoned with blood-curdling stories about the Germans, the French, the Italians, Russians, etc. When the child has reached manhood, he is thoroughly saturated with the belief that he is chosen by the Lord himself to defend his country against the attack or invasion of any foreigner.”

But it is not our country. The land, the factories, warehouses and big shops belong to the rich, according to their laws. We must take them back before we can truly claim any ownership of anything.

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