Sunday, April 22, 2018


It has been fashionable lately to bemoan Americans', especially young Americans', ignorance of the Holocaust. But there's so much ignorance of history in general that I don't see these statistics as particularly surprising. I daresay that Americans, even millennials, still know more about the Holocaust than they do about many other historical topics, about which they know nothing at all. In fact as a classical musician and as one who loves the authentic Germany of many centuries before 1918, I resent it that most bookstores' "Germany" history shelves tend to be dominated by books about the Nazis, as if 1933-45 were the only twelve years in all of German history that matter.

However little millennials know about Nazi atrocities, I bet they know even less about numerically greater Communist atrocities, which is why the work of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (even if I disagree with its Americanist orientation) is so important. So yes, history education needs to be improved, but in all areas, not just this area. I was lucky in that I had an excellent 9th grade world history teacher, and read a lot on my own, but many were probably not that fortunate, and why do high schools require only one year of non-US history?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Poulenc and the Real France

I would like to quote, in French and then in English, a stanza from "Litanies à la Vierge noire" by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), sung beautifully tonight in Dallas by the choristers of St. Paul's Cathedral. My friend Charles A. Coulombe has written about the difference between the "Pays Legal" and the "Pays Reel." I was powerfully struck by how this text reflects the real France, which still lives, barely, in spite of 225+ years of madness.

Reine du sanctuaire,
que consacra Saint Martial,
et où il célébra ses saints mystères.
Reine, près de laquelle s'agenouilla Saint Louis
vous demandant le bonheur de la France,
priez pour nous.
Reine, à qui Roland consacra son épée,
priez pour nous.
Reine, dont la bannière gagna les batailles,
priez pour nous.
Reine, dont la main délivrait les captifs,
priez pour nous.

Queen of the sanctuary,
which Saint Martial consecrated
and where he celebrated his holy mysteries.
Queen, before whom knelt Saint Louis
asking of you good fortune for France,
pray for us.
Queen, to whom Roland consecrated his sword,
pray for us.
Queen, whose banner won the battles,
pray for us.
Queen, whose hand delivered the captives,
pray for us.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


The owner of these wonderful images of flags and heads of state in the world in 1909 kindly gave me permission to use them on a page at my website, so here it is, for all your Edwardian nostalgia needs. I realized while making it that this series of cards can be quite precisely dated: to between March 4, when William Howard Taft became President, and April 27, when Sultan Abdul Hamid II was deposed.
I didn't feel like adding all the other republics (mostly in Latin America). Maybe I'll look up their presidents and add them eventually, but I think it's fine this way. France, Mexico, and the USA were pretty much the only republics that really mattered then anyway. (Well, OK, Switzerland, but their President doesn't. Can you name the current President of Switzerland? I didn't think so.)

Note that the Kings of the United Kingdom & Romania and the Emperor of Japan lack their own images but are pictured in the 1908 postcard at the bottom of the page.
I think what I love so much about Belle Époque Europe (1871-1914) is that it was modern enough not to seem completely foreign to us today, yet traditional enough that royal families with their roots in the early Middle Ages remained at least nominally sovereign in most countries, and Modernity was limited enough that when you wanted to get away from it you could. Unlike earlier eras, they had trains, they had photography, they had widely and easily circulated newspapers and magazines, the telegraph allowed for long distance communication, and the symphony orchestra existed in its modern form, with most of the repertoire considered standard today already written. Standardized time zones, borders, flags, and anthems were firmly established. But in rural areas and small villages, life continued much as it had for centuries. Both the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches remained firmly rooted in their traditional liturgy. Not everyone whose ancestors had belonged to them still believed in them, but those who did go to church could be confident they were getting the same religion. It was possible (probably for the last time) to be both a conservative with a firm belief in Monarchy as the best form of government and confident in the future of Western Civilisation.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Monarchy and Selflessness

I don't want to give specific examples, as criticising particular monarchs is hard for me and should only be done with the greatest caution. But I think most regular readers of this blog will be aware that when discussing monarchical history in modern times, monarchists will sometimes praise certain monarchs (usually their countries' last ones to date) who allowed their monarchies to fall rather than risk bloodshed, as an illustration of how much more altruistic they were than politicians tend to be. I understand where they're coming from: the King as the benevolent Father of his People who would rather go into exile or even die than hurt any of them is a powerful archetype. And it's certainly true that in modern times most countries' "Last Monarchs" have been good and kind men, with their predecessors often more culpable for any real or perceived failings of the Crown than they were.

However, I must confess that I've never been entirely comfortable with this line of argument. It seems to me that to posit the end of a Monarchy as preferable to bloodshed concedes too much to the essentially republican view that a monarchy exists primarily for the benefit of the monarch. But as monarchists, that's not what we're supposed to believe. The monarchy exists for the benefit of the people, or at least (when it is no longer possible to please all of them) those people who still believe in the Monarchy. The point of preserving the Monarchy is not so that the monarch can continue to live in the palace and perform the tasks of a head of state for his own enjoyment; no, it is so that those of his subjects for whom no other form of government is possible to love can continue to have the only kind of relationship with their country they understand. So is it really "selfless" for an embattled monarch to let the Monarchy end, possibly forever, rather than risk violence? I'm not sure it is. Do monarchs even have the moral right to deny their loyalists the chance to fight for them? I'm not sure they do. If the very existence of the Crown is not worth fighting for, nothing is. And in most cases it is ordinary monarchist people who will lose far more than the monarch personally does if the Crown is abolished. Aspiring to be a benevolent "father" who would never hurt any of his "children" is all well and good--in normal times, when the existence of the Crown is broadly accepted. But just as the Crown even in normal times does not invalidate its essential benevolence by punishing common criminals, it seems to me that in times of potential revolution those who would eradicate the Crown itself have forfeited any right to its protection. And so I think the greater sacrifice would be for an embattled monarch to fight to the end for the survival of the institution he was born to serve, even if he personally would be relieved to be rid of the burden, for as Queen Elizabeth I said, “To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it.”