Saturday, January 14, 2017

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (1870-2017)

I loved the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus when we went many years ago in Indianapolis. I think I had one of their posters on my bedroom wall for awhile as a boy. This is a melancholy article that arguably reflects a lot of what is wrong with our time, though I say that fully aware of the irony that I'm now as susceptible to the lure of smartphones and the internet (though not some of the other rivals mentioned) as any 21st-century kid. I suppose the animal rights activists will be happy: they finally got their way.

One hundred forty-six years (referring to the 1870 foundation of "P. T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome" in Delavan, Wisconsin), stretching back to the last year when even France still had a monarchy, is quite a run. I don't think the circus ever quite stopped echoing the spirit of an era when American entertainers would boast of having performed for "The Crowned Heads of Europe," and circus performers often formed "dynasties," with several generations of the same families carrying on the tradition. Like Disney, the circus was a thoroughly American institution that a monarchist could nevertheless appreciate. Now I wish I'd seen it again more recently.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Who cares about Presidents?

Apparently someone named Mario Soares who used to call himself President of Portugal (whatever that is) died. I suppose it is good to offer prayers for his soul, since he'll certainly need them. But what I can't stand in the coverage is the ubiquitous assumption that the Salazar regime was Bad because it was Not Democratic while the current government is Good because it is Democratic. No. Democracy is at best a tolerable means to an end, but there is nothing inherently good about it. By my standards both the Salazar regime (though it did some good things) and the present republic are bad, because neither one is the Monarchy that shaped Portugal and was integral to its civilisation from its beginnings in 1139 until 1910. Only the Kingdom can be good for Portugal, because only the Kingdom can represent continuity rather than rupture with the glorious past. Only the Kingdom could provide a head of state who represents unity rather than division. Viva o Rei!

As the illegitimate regimes of Portugal and Iran both insist on mourning former presidents, here's a friendly reminder of who those countries' rightful rulers are. Viva o Rei! Javid Shah!

Portugal and Iran are interesting to contemplate together, because chronologically they constitute "bookends" of by far the worst seven decades in the history of Monarchy. While the idea of replacing a longstanding monarchy with a republic, though often claimed to be "modern," had actually been around since ancient Rome (509 BC), prior to 1910 "successful" attempts other than the French Revolution (itself not really consolidated in France for nearly a century) were rare. One thinks of the tragic cases of Brazil (1889) and Hawaii (1893), but that was about it, apart from failures of short-lived monarchical experiments (e.g. Haiti, Mexico) and numerous anti-colonial rebellions in the Americas that did not displace reigning monarchs at home in Europe. And since 1979, the world's remaining monarchies have seemed fairly secure, and for the most part are probably likely to remain so, Nepal being the main exception (let's hope there will be no others).

But by the time of my first birthday, the damage had been done: between 1910 and 1979, which is to say within less than an average modern Western human lifespan, monarchies in the Eastern Hemisphere fell every few years, transforming half of the globe from a world in which Monarchy was very much the norm (France, Switzerland, San Marino, and Liberia being originally the only exceptions) to one in which it is sadly very much the exception and republics (whether democratic or authoritarian) are widely assumed by Left and "Right" alike to be the "default" form of government. We must live in hope that the errors of those catastrophic seven decades may one day be reversed.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Anniversaries 2017

This year features many major round-numbered anniversaries, most of them bad. Going backwards, we have the 50th of the colonels' coup in Greece and King Constantine's subsequent unsuccessful counter-coup which led to his exile and the eventual fall of the monarchy, obviously the 100th of the Russian Revolution (both of them), and the 150th of the regicide of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico. For my Roman Catholic friends, the 100th of Fatima can be celebrated but the 300th of the founding of the Grand Lodge of London and the 500th of Luther's revolt (about which I'm ambivalent myself) will be more sinister occasions.

On the bright side, we can celebrate the 150th anniversaries of Canadian confederation and of the Austro-Hungarian compromise that created the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as well as the anniversaries of the births of two of my favourite royal women in European history, Queen Frederica of Greece (1917-1981) and Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780). This summer will also see the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of the House of Windsor (formerly known as Saxe-Coburg & Gotha) in the United Kingdom.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Transition in Malaysia

Malaysians say farewell to their outgoing King, whose five-year term as Yang di-Pertuan Agong ended today (12 December) according to Malaysia's unique system of elective monarchy. Abdul Halim (b 1927), who has been Sultan of Kedah since 1958, is the first sultan to hold the supreme office twice (1970-75; 2011-16) and has the distinction of having been both its youngest and oldest holder since Malaysia's independence from the United Kingdom in 1957. In 1971 during his first term he represented Malaysia at the Shah of Iran's famous Persepolis celebrations. His successor is the considerably younger Muhammad V of Kelantan (b 1969). (It is already 13 December in Malaysia.)

Monarchs of the World, with Malaysia updated. Thailand's King Vajiralongkorn didn't last very long as the world's newest monarch.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Edward VIII and the Europe of 1936

Eighty years ago today, the abdication of King Edward VIII signed the previous day took effect with an act of Parliament and Royal Assent, his last act as King. Here then are European monarchies as they were upon the accession of King George VI, 11 December 1936.
I'm not particularly nostalgic for the interwar era--we monarchists had already lost so much and there were some nasty regimes about--but in itself, 15 monarchs of 18 monarchies (the discrepancy exists because Ireland and Iceland were both independent but in personal union with the sovereigns of their former colonial powers, and Hungary was a kingdom without a king) is certainly an improvement upon the present, even though we had just lost Spain. It's striking how many monarchs at this time were without a consort: Wilhelmina, Gustaf V, and Leopold III had been recently widowed; Louis II, Zog, and unsurprisingly the 13-year-old Peter II had yet to marry; Franz of Liechtenstein never married; Carol II and George II were divorced. The former Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon brought all the more noticeably then a unique and indomitable presence to the world stage, where she would remain for the next 65 years.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Gone but not forgotten

This must be the saddest British Pathé newsreel ever. And they don't even include Albania, Serbia/Montenegro/Yugoslavia, or Bulgaria, not to mention all the regional German ones. (France, of course, the only major European monarchy of which no film footage exists, had fallen long before the 20th century.) Excellent old footage though, with more recent captions reflecting the perspective of no earlier than the 1970s. (At least one error in the narration: in the beginning of the Russian portion, it is the Tsar's mother, not his wife, on his arm in the procession; Russian protocol gave the Dowager Empress precedence. At the end of the segment, it is indeed Empress Alexandra who walks with her husband.) Beyond Europe, the second half of the 20th century would prove as disastrous for monarchy in Asia and Africa as the first half was for monarchy in Europe.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


I know I should be used to it by now, but sometimes it's really frustrating to me the way most of my fellow classical musicians hold such left-wing political beliefs. The societies that produced the great music that we all love were, for the most part, Christian, not secular; monarchical, not democratic; hierarchical, not egalitarian; and while sometimes multi-ethnic (e.g. the Austro-Hungarian Empire), not multicultural or multiracial in the modern sense. And I believe there are good reasons for all of that. Yes, some of the great artistic figures of history (like Beethoven) chafed at that structure--but there has to be some sort of traditional structure for artistic and unconventional people to rebel against! Strip all that away and you get the desolation of modernism from which I've felt profoundly alienated all my life. Today, ironically, I think it is those of us who question shibboleths like "Democracy," "Diversity," and "Equality" who are the real rebels. And I'm afraid anyone who's pleased by the recent Austrian presidential election results (and I think I've made it clear that I do not approve of Austria having a president at all) is seriously naive about the threat posed to European culture--including classical music--from mass immigration, especially Muslim immigration. Exceptions to the pattern of musicians being left-wing do exist, and I'm grateful for each of them.