The Way Things Were and Are

Separately, the Daughter Unit and I watched a series on Netflix (don’t hate on us, there’s still some good stuff there, and I don’t want to bail out until we’ve milked it dry) about the last Czars of Russia – specifically the series which mixed fairly serious commentary about the Russian Revolution with interestingly high-end reenactments of events in the life of the last czar and his family. (Seriously, though – I doubt very much that Nicky and Alix made mad hot whoopee on a fur coat underneath his official czarsorial desk, while the household staff made a heroic effort to ignore the amatory noises coming from behind closed doors. Just my .02. She was a Victorian, for Ghod’s sake. Really; Queen V.’s granddaughter. Who privately thought that Dear Alix wasn’t in the least up to the challenge of being Czarina of all the Russians; Alix may have waxed poetically amatory about her affection and trust in Father Grigory Rasputin, but to do the nasty on the floor, in daylight? Even with your wedded husband? Just nope. Nope.)
I will accept that the orgiastic interludes involving Rasputin were likely and wholly believable. And that Nicky and Alix loved each other, that their four daughters and son with medical issues all loved each other with a passionate devotion that lasts through this world and the next. The last shattering sequences in the Ipatiav House rings true. That was the way it was, and that was how it ended. (I reviewed a book on this, here.)
I was meditating on all of this – with a consideration towards royalty; the old-fashioned kind, and the new-mint variety.

For thousands of years in human society across the globe, it was generally accepted that there was this royal/noble class, assumed by virtue of their ancestry that they were bred to rule. The chosen rulers (and admittedly, many of them were self-chosen, to start with) considered themselves to be perfectly fit for that role, having been generated by the right and accepted sperm and squeezed out from the correct womb. (Inbreeding did begin to take a toll, after a couple of centuries – see the case of Charles II of Spain.) But in certain rare and eccentric cases – the ordinary people themselves worked out a system of participatory government – the city-states of classical Greece, Rome in the time of the republic. What with one thing and another throughout the last couple of centuries, the old-fashioned autocratic royalty and nobility had to yield up large chunks of their former authority to a more-or-less democratically elected body, although in cases like Russia (see above) the old-line royalty were merely replaced with another and equally authoritarian and brutal set of new royalty robed in shining robes of finely-woven Marxism. In any case, though – the old autocrats did not appear to despise their countrymen and women with quite the vicious enthusiasm displayed by our new aspiring ruling classes.

Oh, the old nobility may have rather looked down on the rabble, been a bit contemptuous of those in ‘trade’, at best patronized them as simple, salt-of-the-earth peasants, but at least they didn’t speak of them as utterly loathsome and unworthy of civilized consideration. The old-style royals and aristocrats didn’t sneer at simple patriotism and write off better than half the country as a bunch of irredeemable deplorables, or denigrate fiscally-conservative activists as racial terrorists, as has been the wont of our professional media with regard to the Tea Party.

Seriously, I almost prefer the old-style royalty, even if they turned up as twice as many incompetent duds, certifiable morons, and otherwise featureless, talent-free nonentities as they did the competent, charismatic and able. At least, they did not despise their own countrymen and women.
Discuss as you wish, and can bear it.

18 thoughts on “The Way Things Were and Are”

  1. As loathsome as I find much of our political class, I’d hate to have to defend the history of royalty as better. With very few exceptions, they avoided holding the commons in contempt only because they refused to consider them at all. Did any of the Georges speak even passable English? While Victoria is revered in England, the opinions are decidedly mixed in Ireland and India for good reason. I’d not want to make a Sunday School homily out of the life of Edward VII.

  2. Here are a couple well reasoned defenses of monarchy, one from a theologian, and another from a libertarian economist.

    The theologian likes the idea of a symbolic head of state:

    The ideal king would be rather like the king in chess: the most useless piece on the board, which occupies its square simply to prevent any other piece from doing so, but which is somehow still the whole game. There is something positively sacramental about its strategic impotence. And there is something blessedly gallant about giving one’s wholehearted allegiance to some poor inbred ditherer whose chief passions are Dresden china and the history of fly-fishing, but who nonetheless, quite ex opere operato, is also the bearer of the dignity of the nation, the anointed embodiment of the genius gentis—a kind of totem or, better, mascot.

    The economist also appreciates that the important thing about a king is not necessarily what he does but what he prevents others from doing:

    When former president Theodore Roosevelt visited Emperor Franz Joseph in 1910 and asked him what he thought the role of monarchy was in the 20th century, the emperor reportedly replied, “To protect my peoples from their governments” (quoted in both “Thesen pro Monarchie” and Purcell 2003). Similarly, Lord Bernard Weatherill, former speaker of the House of Commons, said that the British monarchy exists not to exercise power but to keep other people from having the power; it is a great protection for British democracy

    Franz Joseph did protect his people, establishing freedom of religion and equal rights for all races, despite ongoing provincial strife aimed at Jews such as with the Hilsner Affair.

    Since civilization began there have been three ways that people organize themselves politically – under a monarch, under an aristocracy, and under direct participation of citizens. Over the ages, the names and faces and characterizations have changed, but these three pillars have remained constant. In our present day, the state has assumed the role of the aristocracy, and we need more protection from it than ever. See what’s going on now with Brexit for proof of that.

  3. I don’t think there’s much to recommend the Romanovs. They really were just autocrats with very, very few exceptions. Now, there are chicken-and-egg issues, like how do you stop being an autocrat in a system that expects that? Try, and someone is very likely to kill you and take over.
    Re: Brexit, it’s not clear to me what the Remainers think is going to happen in the future. Do they expect Leavers to just let themselves be steamrolled and shrug and go on like the referendum never happened? Given that the vote happened, how and why do Remainers expect to be viewed with any legitimacy by Leavers?
    It’s similar to issues here–the left actually thinks that if they were to abolish the Electoral College, and after that likely change the Senate rules, the red states will just happily go along with living in a system overtly rigged against them. Seems a lousy bet.

  4. I found this an interesting read on the fate of Alexei, the hemophiliac heir to the Romanov throne. And it only cost me a dollar at the used book store.The Escape of Alexei, Son of Tsar Nicholas II: What Happened the Night the Romanov Family Was Executed.

    Meticulously researched and documented, The Escape of Alexei details how Bolshevik soldiers bungled the execution, leading to confusion and chaos during the shooting. Young Alexei was merely wounded and unconscious when he was loaded onto the back of a truck with corpses of his murdered family and driven to the secret burial site. Falling out of the truck en route and left for dead, he was found by sympathetic soldiers who attended to the young hemophiliac’s wounds and helped him escape, introducing him into a peasant family where he grew up under the name of Vasily Filatov.
    The world of Russia’s heir to the throne turned upside down. Vasily Filatov became an apprentice shoemaker, and eventually a high school geography and history teacher. He married, had children, and told his family the story of the Tsarevich’s escape in the third person, as historical narrative. he never explained how, as a village teacher living under the oppressive silence and censorship of the Soviet Union, he was fluent in several foreign languages, had an in-depth knowledge of the private life of the Romanov family, and an uncanny grasp of the details surrounding the 1918 execution. With the advent of perestroika in the 1980’s, the Soviet archives were finally opened to the public and, to his family’s amazement, many of the incredible stories that Vasily Filatov had told his with and children were revealed to the world as historical fact.
    In this startling volume, three well-respected scientists provide a convincing, thoroughly documented account of how such an extraordinary escape was possible, and how the executioners managed to cover up the fact that the body of the heir to the throne was missing. Drawing on official records and documents from Russian archive, the grisly personal accounts of soldiers who took part in the execution, and utilizing the latest scientific and forensic technology, the authors offer evidence that Alexei Romanov and Vasily Filatov were on and the same.
    Filatov died in 1988. But his widow and children provide intimate reminiscences that bring this astonishing tale to life. And 101 black-and-white personal photographs reproduced throughout the text demonstrate the remarkable physical resemblances between members of the Romanov and Filatov families.

    To the best of my knowledge, this theory has never been proved or disproved with DNA testing.

  5. Speaking of being on-point, there is also the great Yul Brynner-Ingrid Bergman late show classic of the oft-told tale of Anastasia

    Yul Brynner is like the Ghengis Khan of the silver screen. He commands every scene like a double envelopment. And Ingrid… something about that Scandinavian accent…

  6. The main benefit to the democratic system is that it encourages (and SHOULD ensure) a stable, reliable transfer of power over time.

    We really need term limits to re-stabilize our current republo-democracy into that form. We have, as noted, a practically hereditary governmental system, and that is one of its very issues, combining the worst of all systems.

    We also should have limits on family members being elected to office, too. Anyone within “x” levels (I’d say first cousins) should not be eligible for any office within a term-limit’s time of their family member’s last date of office. You could probably even tie that to bodies — that is, if you’re in the House, it also constrains how long you can be in the Senate… and whether or not that first cousin can become a Senator within 12 years after you leave (assuming about 2 senatorial terms as the term limit).

    Part of the point of the American system is to NOT have hereditary and/or sustained government entities. No one is SUPPOSED to be a Congressbozo as their primary job in life.

  7. Modern royalty has certainly been de-fanged, led from place to place to put in an appearance and utter a few hollow words. I can even feel a little sympathy for the Windsor’s until one of them opens his mouth. I would rather live as a night-soil collector in Calcutta.

    When this experiment we call a country started, that was not the case. It was at the end of more than 100 years of civil war, disputed succession, religious persecution and regicide; and that’s just in England. When I read Churchill’s “History of the English-Speaking Peoples” I was struck by just how rarely one king succeeded another in an orderly and non-lethal way through history. I don’t think many of our founding fathers gave much credence to the protection of kings.

  8. “The main benefit to the democratic system is that it encourages (and SHOULD ensure) a stable, reliable transfer of power over time.”
    And that is what historians should (and hopefully will) mark as the most disgraceful and disastrous legacy of the Obama administration–I’m not aware of a previous administration that worked so hard to subvert their successors. It will be a fortunate thing if it doesn’t cause permanent irreparable harm.

  9. Re. Filatov: Wouldn’t that story – truly charming as it is – indicate a remarkable level of luck both in the skill of someone caring for his initial wounds and his life in rural Russia in the 20th century? That is a remarkably long life, more than most non-hemophiliacs could hope for in that place and time.

    I’ve never liked the Kennedys but was as much opposed to Jeb Bush for president as I probably would have been had he been from such a family as theirs. The Bushes were not condescending – George & Trump seem to share an affection for the kind of people that build buildings and dig oil wells. The Bushes seem honorable – acting here with much good humor and thoughtfulness in a town that only became central to their lives in their last decades. But it is not American to pass the presidency down – nor lesser offices with more distant relationships as OBloodyHell enumerates.

  10. Speaking of history, I see the rot has even spread to the Texas State Historical Association. The worthies there apparently want to make sure that all of us “white supremacists” are aware that the Goliad massacre was “nice and legal.” See, for example,

    There we learn that, “The execution of James W. Fannin, Jr.’s command in the Goliad Massacre was not without precedent, however, and Mexican president and general Antonio López de Santa Anna, who ultimately ordered the exterminations, was operating within Mexican law. Therefore, the massacre cannot be considered isolated from the events and legislation preceding it,” and “Four weeks elapsed between their capture and their execution, enabling Santa Anna to gauge in advance the reaction of New Orleans to their fate. It was, on the whole, that in shooting these prisoners, Mexico was acting within its rights. Believing that he had found an effective deterrent to expected American help for Texas, Santa Anna sought and obtained from the Mexican Congress the decree of December 30, 1835, which directed that all foreigners taken in arms against the government should be treated as pirates and shot.”

    No doubt the Holocaust can’t be “considered isolated from the events and legislation preceding it,” either, nor can Stalin’s massacre of 25 million “spies.” After all, Hitler and Stalin were “operating within German and Soviet law,” respectively, just like Santa Anna.

  11. Helian: It ain’t pretty but it’s the truth. After the siege of Jaffa, Napoleon killed pretty much everyone in the city, men, women and children, 4500. The accounts at the time are stomach wrenching. Around the same time, Victoria intervened to prevent the Merthyr Rising of 1831 ring leaders from being hanged, drawn and quartered for taking arms against the Queen. One was hanged for murder, the others convicted were transported. There was at least some sentiment after the Civil War to hang the principal Confederates.

    Santa Anna’s execution of persons taken in armed revolt against the lawful government is harsh, ultimately counter productive for him but perfectly legal. By the norms of the time, burning the cities and towns that harbored rebels, even decimating the male populations would have been allowable.

  12. I don’t think Filatov could have possibly been Alexi, even aside from the DNA evidence after the case was made. Alexi was just too medically frail and the execution squad at the House of Special Purpose, as drunken as they were – were and absolutely had to be – thorough. It might very well be that Filatov was any number of minor sprouts of the nobility; extremely educated, well-spoken, from a cosmopolitan noble family who finished up being fostered by a peasant family, who had something of traditional respect to the local nobs and rather welcomed another strong back and willing hands to the family in uncertain times.
    From my reading of contemporary accounts, Lopez de Santa Anna did have a justifiable case for executing so-called ‘foreign’ insurgents. Didn’t mean that such a course was approved of, by the so-called ‘best people – but he did have grounds for thinking so…

  13. MCS: What you say is quite true. Now, take a look at any of the standard histories of the Holocaust, the Purge Trials, or, for that matter, slavery in the US (have you seen anything about 1619 lately), Wounded Knee, the Trail of Tears, etc. In which, if any of them, do you find the author carefully making sure his readers know these things were all “perfectly legal?” My point wasn’t about whether these things were actually legal or not. For the record, I consider the whole project of judging past events and individuals according to the flavor of morality preferred by a particular ideological sect today completely absurd. My point was that the question of whether the legality of past events is deemed worthy of being recorded as “history” or not depends on the ideological narrative preferred by the historians. As you can see, I happen to be personally annoyed by this particular instance of what has probably been more or less true of all historical writing. I admit in advance to kicking against the goads.

  14. In the early 1990s when the DRT still ran the Alamo, the tour guide script was (even for then) really almost hilariously over the top in talking about the dastardly Mexicans and heroic Texans. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. And it’s far better than the alternative that we get in so many cases today. At least they were trying to make us feel an emotional attachment to those who fought for our nation, unlike the legalistic focus designed to undermine that.

  15. I’m sure the Romanov sex scene was an example of “poetic license.” The empress was painfully shy, and hated public affairs. Here’s a description of her at a gala affair by the French ambassador Paleologue a little over a week before the outbreak of WWI:

    “In spite of the fact that she loathes such long affairs, she wanted to demonstrate the highest regard for the President of the allied republic (Poincare, who was visiting at the time) by her presence. She looked well enough; her head was adorned with brilliant gems, and she was dressed in a white, brocade dress. Forty-two years hadn’t yet left much of an impression on either her figure or her features. Immediately after the first course was served, she tried to start a conversation with Poincare, who was sitting to her right. However, her smile soon became stilted; spots appeared on her cheeks. The flashing of the bright gems that adorned her breast gave evidence of her gasping breath. Through the whole affair, which lasted a long time, the poor woman was apparently fighting against a feeling of hysterical fear.”

    The first reaction of the Brits when the royal family was arrested shortly after the February revolution was to offer them asylum. However, they quickly reversed themselves for fear of alienating the Russian provisional government.

  16. Helian: I am tempted to call your Holocaust and raise, but that would get us nowhere. The Holocaust was the culmination of a long, erstwhile proud European tradition of ghettos and pogroms with various high points scattered through history in about every European country. We’re seeing just lately just how much 70+ years of showy trials and pronouncements have changed this underlying sentiment. Just to make myself clear, I concede your point that the Holocaust was legal by laws at the time. The Germans made sure of that by supplying new laws to cover for any perceived shortcomings. I do this while asserting that a good many more Germans and others than were actually brought to account deserved to find themselves hung from a meat hook with piano wire. I’m barely civilized enough to accept the reality of a professional executioner and a rope with a standard grommet.

    Many of the “War Criminals” were condemned for a handful of personal atrocities while many of the “noble warriors” that killed thousands were somewhat revered, as long as they could plausibly deny knowledge of reality. If Rommel had survived the war, I wonder how he would have managed an innocent explanation for the slave laborers building the “West Wall”? The Valkyrie plot was by officers that were perfectly fine with the Reich until they could see that they were on the losing side.

    I simply point out that it is the Texas Historical Society, not the polemical society. Most of these men had chosen to swear allegiance to a floridly corrupt, incompetent government in order to gain land and in a few cases positions in that same floridly corrupt, incompetent government. Santa Anna’s actions were, by most standards at the time, rather restrained. Rebellion has always been mostly fatal to the losers. Of course, hanging him from the nearest tree after San Jacinto would have saved no end of grief and probably been illegal.

    Wars have never been pretty, fencing them about with rules and legalisms doesn’t change that.

  17. MCS: It’s certainly important to accurately answer the question of legality. For example, in the case of the Battle of San Jacinto, where the Mexican troops were all apparently unarmed, the official Smithsonian historians inform us:

    “At about 3:30 p.m., the Texians hurtled through the brush, bellowing, ‘Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!,’ killing unarmed Mexicans as they screamed, Mi no Alamo! Mi no Goliad! A Mexican drummer boy, pleading for his life, was shot point-blank in the head. ‘There were atrocities committed every bit as odious as at the Alamo,’ says (historian) Hardin.”

    This was “illegal,” whereas the Goliad massacre was “legal.” I’m sure you can tell the difference.

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