Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Crown and Country

A very interesting tempest is raging in the blogosphere between The Monarchist ("Defending the British Crown Commonwealth and the English-Speaking Peoples") and a 21-year-old Canadian college student and online cartoonist named J.J. McCullough.

The latter has accused the former of celebrating "white pride," of indulging in "benign bigotry," of admiring "white men in top hats," and of being interested in only the most Anglocentric aspects of the "white dominions," which, he states, is a kind of "racism by omission."

The Monarchist retorts: "While we are all perfectly free to make up our own minds about the Crown, the level of revulsion and enmity [Mr. McCullough] displays towards something that is essentially benign and harmless suggests an unhealthy emotional incompetency, and explains why he has engaged in this undignified bit of race baiting. He simply hates the Queen, he hates our traditions, and he hates [my] site for promoting it."

McCollough, who cheekily wears a sweatshirt displaying the British royal arms in a photo on his website, responds by asserting that support of the monarchy "stems from feelings of Anglophilia and ethnic pride, and not from any genuine faith in monarchy as a sound political concept" and criticizes monarchists' lack of interest "in celebrating the color and diversity of Her Majesty's empire, instead treating the 'lesser' realms as bothersome technicalities that sully the purity of the Crown ... This sort of petty provincialism is a disservice to the grand orientalism of the British imperial tradition ... There was a time when people actually believed in and celebrated the crown as a force capable of uniting all creeds and races. Sad that this is now considered a sign of weakness rather than pride."

It was that bit about "the grand orientalism of the British imperial tradition" that made my Victorianist ears perk up. Is it right to use such admiring tones about "orientalism" in the sense that McCullough uses that concept here? Is it true that the crown was once capable of "uniting all creeds and races"?

The answer to both questions is pretty clearly no, despite recent efforts by historians such as Niall Ferguson and David Cannadine to find redeeming value in some aspects of the orientalist project (in Cannadine's words, to see the empire as "one vast interconnected world," an "integrated, ordered, titular, transracial hierarchy"). As I have pointed out elsewhere ("'A Grand Informal Durbar': Henry Irving and the Coronation of Edward VII," Journal of Victorian Culture, 2003), one cannot turn a blind eye to the overwhelming evidence that racial prejudice nearly always trumped efforts to create an "interconnected world." During Victoria's reign, not even the premiers of the self-governing colonies (that is, the white ones), were able to form a working political federation despite then-secretary of state for the colonies Joseph Chamberlain's efforts to create a "closer union."

The sidebar of The Monarchist is at least as interesting as the opinions expressed in its posts: check out the list of "Imperial Loyalists," "Anglo Monarchists," and "Gentlemen Royalists," as well as the blogroll of "Tory" and "Whig" sites.

Shown here: Andy Warhol, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, 1985

2 comments:

WhyCampaign said...

What an interesting article, I'm not sure of my opinion on the matter. Your blog is a gem, what wonderful articles you write!

Kristan Tetens said...

Thanks very much...what a nice thing to say! I agree that this is a very complicated subject on which reasonable people can disagree.

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