That time has come around again.
That time when the deeply repressed influence of my mother’s ardent monarchism rears its head in the form of the spouting of more trivia than a young man my age should realistically be in possession of.
As a child, based on memories of the extremity of my mother’s reaction alone, the death of Princess Diana is etched more firmly in my mind than 9/11.
Over the two decades since, a sort of post-traumatic receptivity has established itself. I am able to absorb all trivia, no matter how fleeting, and amalgamate it into my own internal database of royal gossip, all the while longing for an acceleration to their slow, zombic decay — that is, a quickening of the royal institution’s glacial downfall.
Interestingly, as many folks on Twitter were poised to point out, the royal couple’s wedding day just so happened to fall on the 369th anniversary of England’s short-lived republicanism. What are the chances!
Saturday 19 May 1649, England is declared a republic. pic.twitter.com/kjzeBAGAqk
— Marc Morris (@Longshanks1307) May 19, 2018
As hilarious as this may be to some, I found these invocations of revolution resonated all too well with the superficial atmosphere of the day as it unfolded (which, I must confess, I watched in full from my depressed summer sick bed, having caught a cold that is doing the rounds at the moment.)
You’d be forgiven for asking: “If today is the 369th anniversary of English republicanism, why the fuck are we still watching a royal wedding? What constitutional document from another dimension is this that you are waving infuriatingly in front of our faces, Twitter Leftists? How does republic real?”
The 1600s are less a cause for royal piss-taking than they are the deep butterfly-effect-like cause of this weird embarrassment that has dominated national television and social media for over six hours today. We must not praise the 1600s but hold them accountable for the shitshow of today’s royal wedding. Lest we forget that, by 1660, the monarchy was fully restored before, again, in 1688, we had another “revolution” when the Dutch took over and established a new middle ground.
During the early coverage, it was noted how integral the monarchy is to British identity but surely all this demonstrates is how confused this identity is. The royal family are not an embarrassment because they’re outdated, but because they represent just how awkward the centuries of consolidation have been.
Today too many are too keen to re-imagine the events of 1649 as being reminiscent of what was to come in France a century later. The French revolutionaries, it must be said, had their shit together. Theirs was a revolution built upon an idea, enacted decisively, whilst we English instead had three civil proxy wars over the national religion and all we ended up deciding on the monarchy was: “Okay, we’ll keep it but only because we parliamentarians are gonna let you.”
My cynical reading of this nation’s history leads me to believe that the monarchists of the 1600s were masters of reverse psychology.
As Mark Fisher wrote in his 2014 essay, “Postcapitalist Desire,” capitalism “is a necessarily failed escape from feudalism.” What was “necessary” about the failure of this escape was the retention of a feudal class system which served as the operating system on which modern capitalism would run.
In light of this, some (explicitly) Marxist historians have argued that the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was instead the beginning of Britain’s 400-year limbo. Ever since this unruly century, the country has found itself in a constant state of transition, no longer feudal but not quite modern either. It seemed a paradoxical mutation born of a century of incompetence which showed other nation’s, constitutionally, what not to do whilst giving them a deeply flawed economic foundation on which to build on.
This Great British paradox — its true gift to the world — has meant that the UK has consistently been overtaken by its various mutant offspring before it could reach its own productive zenith. It is the grandfather of the modern nation-state and now as irrelevant and grouchy as such an analogy suggests.
Tom Nairn writes, in extraordinary book The Break-Up of Britain, that this is perhaps because Britain’s exploratory prowess is too often conflated with its achievements at home:
It was the extraordinary external successes of the transnational English state that permitted it to survive for so long. Otherwise, it would certainly have gone down in a wave of new, state-ordered, nationalist capitalisms which developed in the course of the 19th century. It too would have been compelled to suffer a second, modernizing revolution and the logical reorganisation of its constitution and state: precisely that second political upheaval whose absence has been the constant enigma and despair of modern Britain.
Watching the royal wedding today, on this anniversary of the UK’s abolition of the monarchy, I can’t help but be reminded of this enduring paradox of failed escapes.
What does this royal wedding represent if not a new low for the British state’s failed escapes from its own eerie engine of sociopolitical paradox? The introduction of a kind of American Blackness into the royal family, made cynical — perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not — by the right-wing press as they wish to exacerbate the progressivism of that most outdated of institutions, felt instead like two already familiar worlds uncomfortably colliding.
A Black episcopal preacher and a gospel choir heralded the marriage of a balding, faulty gened white aristocrat to a beautiful mixed race American actor. The press, in its rabid commentary, could not stop predicting and emphasising the modernizing effect of our newly diverse royal family whilst tripping headlong into their tendency towards racist dog-whistles.
But isn’t this already the British way: naming the awkward consolidation of disparate elements a “revolution” in order to hold off the true revolution that remains unfulfilled?
This process has been shameless today. Some have hailed this royal wedding as revolutionary as Obama’s election to the White House. During the wedding service itself, we heard Martin Luther King Jr. invoked and a Ben E. King song performed. This is Black culture celebrated, they say.
This wedding is just one more instance of a long-term process through which the world’s most stubbornly undead nation-state continues its protracted eating of itself. What’s worse is that it seems to be working.
Behold! And despair!