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'Restless revolutionaries': "Britain's 'lost' republican history"
history and heritage |
Monday May 02, 2011 13:52 by Mark Fischer
Mark Fischer interviews Clive Bloom on his new book 'Restless revolutionaries'. A book which examines the legacy of Republicanism in British history. Full text at url.
You talk about the history of republicanism’s “crushing failures” in the book. One way that these struggles are crushed, of course, is that the victor writes the histories ...
Exactly. You have to unearth these histories, the documentation. You have to search for the graves where these people are buried - there are no monuments to guide you. More than that, you have to reconstruct the politics of the time to understand these rebellions in their context.
In the case of William Courtney and the 1838 rebellion in Dover, for example, there is a plaque on the church wall commemorating the dead. But why, when this guy turned up preaching as he did, were people prepared to believe it and to die for it? When we understand that, then history comes alive for us and speaks directly to how we live now, the struggles that surround us in today’s world.
Obviously, a discussion of historical republicanism is very relevant to us, given the royal nuptials. Clearly, the monarchy is an institution that ruling elites of various types have found very useful.
Yes. From 1688 and the notion of a constitutional monarchy it was found that keeping the king in place gives them authority. What particularly interest me are the legal and other fictions which keep a society in a certain mode and which act to disperse the revolutionary alternatives to it.
For example, the institution of monarchy itself that - by definition - underpins a notion of subjection. So, from queen Victoria onwards, the monarchy is a bulwark of the modern notion of family. Similarly, the royal wedding of Will and Kate is everyone’s, and princess Diana’s ‘fairytale’ marriage was absolutely ‘universal’ in the reactionary dreams and illusions it appealed to and bolstered.
Conveniently therefore, the fact that the royal family stands for things that can be detached from the state and government facilitates keeping the social fabric intact, especially in times of crisis. It reinforces the notion that history proceeds through dull, incremental change to what already exists, has existed ‘for 1,000 years’ and will stretch into the future.