Thomas Paine was born in Thetford, Norfolk, in 1737. He understood that history is made. Aged 39, writing his Common Sense, he noted that Britain is constituted of '...the base remains of two ancient tyrannies, compounded with some new republican materials.' These were:
'First. - The remains of monarchical tyranny in the person of the king
Secondly. - The remains of aristocratical tyranny in the persons of the peers.
Thirdly. - The new republican materials, in the persons of the commons, on whose virtue depends the freedom of England.' (1)
Since Britain's reformist politicians in the House of Commons have shown no republican virtue, in 2009 we now also suffer the "aristocratical tyranny" of the House of Lords being augmented with life peers. These political appointees must give their allegiance to the monarchy, even if they imagine they serve the majority. In contrast to reformists today, the revolutionary republican Paine had the "common sense" to ask:
'How came the king by a power which the people are afraid to trust, and always obliged to check? Such a power could not be a gift of a wise people, neither can any power, which needs checking, be from God.' (2)
The king in waiting, Prince Charles, certainly believes in God, and entertains the myths of many Gods, but his claim to the throne in 2009 is that he understands and represents "the natural order". He has been arguing like this for 30 years. He reiterated his claim in the 2009 Richard Dimbleby Lecture. His is the 33rd lecture held in honour of the veteran broadcaster who died in 1965. Charles had warned in March 2009 that there were only 100 months in which to avoid disaster. (3) He reminded the BBC audience on 8 July that there were 96 months left. The imagined catastrophe he hopes to avoid is otherwise due in July 2017. (4)
The full lecture is available to see on BBC iPlayer.
It does not matter if Charles Windsor is "well meaning". As Paine understood in the Rights of Man, '...a casual discontinuance of the practice of despotism, is not a discontinuance of its principles; the former depends on the virtue of the individual who is immediate possession of the power; the latter, on the virtue and fortitude of the nation.' (5) Prince Charles conveniently imagines himself to be the "steward" of "natural capital". He has an urgent "duty" in his mind to use his monarchical authority to sustain not only Britain, but the entire planet, in some undefined "natural balance and harmony". This is his eco-myth, and no matter how benign, how little he uses his power, along with the military command that entails, he cannot be tolerated by a self-interested people.
We are weak if we allow his eco-mysticism to go unchecked, and to reinvigorate the monarchy in Britain. Those promoting Charles as the spokesman for "natural capitalism" are worse than weak.
Charles talks of not taking too much "income" from the Earth, which makes him sound modest in his monarchy. He does not seem like a feudal monarch. Yet Paine could see through this in 1792:
'As time obliterated the history of their beginning, their successors assumed new appearances, to cut off the entail of their disgrace, but the principles and objects remained the same. What at first was plunder, assumed the softer name of revenue; the power originally usurped they affected to inherit.' (6)
The Windsors have been adept at assuming new appearances since the Second World War. Where his grandmother walked through Blitzed streets, and his mother managed to appear "ordinary", the now 60 year old Charles makes an effort to appear "green". He is an environmentalist promoting the stasis of sustainability, and the political deception works to the point where in drawing his revenue from "natural capital" he seems to be doing not only the British people but the whole of humanity a favour. 'If we fail the Earth, we fail humanity,' he says. (7)
Even if he lived as a monarch as poorly as the majority of the world does, he would still be a focus for every anti-democratic interest in twenty-first century capitalism. Of course, even before he inherits the British throne from his aging mother, he does not live poorly.
With a Parliament of worse than weak representatives checked by a house of new gentry and old aristocrats, all in deference to a feudal monarchy in charge of an interventionist military, Britain is a mostly low paid industrial democracy of debt-laden professional and amateur residential property speculators using a planning system that makes a political and economic nonsense of freehold land ownership. We must find a way to break free of this social containment, (8) focused in Britain on the impending coronation of a "green" king.
'Hereditary succession is a burlesque upon monarchy. It puts it in the most ridiculous light, by presenting it as an office which any child or idiot may fill. It requires some talents to be a common mechanic; but, to be a king, requires only the animal figure of man - a sort of breathing automation. This sort of superstition may last a few years more, but it cannot long resist the awakened reason and interest of man.' (9)
In the second part of Rights of Man, Paine was over-optimistic. He thought that kings would make themselves sufficiently ridiculous. While Charles is worthy of ridicule on many occasions, he still commands loyalty from "greens", even when they are embarrassed by his fantasy of the Earth as "Gaia", as a conscious entity.
It is not enough to point out his self-deceptive eco-hypocrisy, or its popularity. The pervasive idea that capitalism is in any way "natural" must be broken. That requires the promotion of industrial production based on an appreciation of the social division of labour. It is necessary to see that in moaning about the effect of "mechanisation" on the environment, for which the contemporary capitalist will even accept moral and legal responsibility, they will abandon industry and make a virtue out of a life of laborious effort, sustained as a "duty".
In 2009, 200 years after Thomas Paine died, '...environmentalism is the ideology of capitalism in retreat from production.' (10) That is what we understand at audacity. What people lack is social control of the vast industrial surplus that is produced by all of us. At present the aggregated value of our social production is taken as privately owned capital, partially taxed and redistributed through government, while mystified and made acceptable by the likes of the Prince of Wales as "natural capital".
'It seems to me a self-evident truth that we cannot have any form of capitalism without capital. But we must remember that the ultimate source of all economic capital is Nature’s capital.' (4)
Wrong. Nature just exists. Only human labour turns nature into product, using machines to enable less labour to produce more. Capitalism has succeeded so far in developing industry so that sufficient surplus is produced beyond the needs of subsistence. That has allowed employers to live off their employees. Paine did not understand the parasitical relationship of the employer on employees. The workforce is paid less than the value it produces. However Paine could see institutionalised fraud that we tend to ignore:
'Monarchy would not have continued so many ages in the world, had it not been for the abuses it protects. It is the master-fraud, which shelters all others. By admitting a participation of the spoil, it makes itself friends.' (11)
Democratic society depends on raising the productivity of labour. He may fool himself, and some of his fellow "greens", but we must not let Charles fool us. He and his backward, stasis-loving supporters must be denied the appearance of being "natural" leaders, as they attempt to promote an anti-machine age of capitalist "sustainable development":
'Our current model of progress was not designed, of course, to create all this destruction. It made good sense to the politicians and economists who set it in train because the whole point was to improve the well-being of as many people as possible. However, given the overwhelming evidence from so many quarters, we have to ask ourselves if it any longer makes sense – or whether it is actually fit for purpose under the circumstances in which we now find ourselves?' (4)
What "model of progress" and what "destruction" is he talking about? In his pre-recorded Richard Dimbleby Lecture, broadcast on BBC One on 8 July 2009, Charles insisted that Facing The Future meant a new system that is more '...balanced and integrated with nature's complexity.' (7)
This is complete nonsense, but popular "sustainababble". The majority needs complete control of industrial advance. That requires a plan to rescue society from "greens". Prince Charles knows much "...depends on how you define both 'growth' and 'prosperity'." (4) Much certainly depends on whether most people accept his redefinitions, anticipating his imagined "catastrophe", or whether we are no longer willing to be subject to his retreat from industrial production. We don't need to accept his prediction for 2017. We need not be his duped "commoners".
"As to the word 'Commons,' applied as it is in England, it is a term of degradation and reproach, and ought to be abolished. It is a term unknown in free countries." (12)
There is much to abolish in Britain, fraudulent monarchy included, and much to build with "republican materials" in pursuit of democracy.
Ian Abley, Project Manager for audacity, an experienced site Architect, and a Research Engineer at the Centre for Innovative and Collaborative Engineering, Loughborough University. He is co-author of Why is construction so backward? (2004) and co-editor of Manmade Modular Megastructures. (2006) He is planning 250 new British towns.
1. Thomas Paine, Common Sense: Addressed to the Inhabitants of America, 14 February 1776, Philadelphia, reprinted in Mark Philp, editor, Thomas Paine: Rights of Man, Common Sense, and Other Political Writings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998, p 8
2. Ibid, p 9
3. 'Prince Charles: 'We have less than 100 months to stop climate change disaster" ', 8 March 2009, posted on www.dailymail.co.uk
4. Prince Charles, 'Facing the Future', The Richard Dimbleby Lecture as delivered by HRH The Prince of Wales, St James’s Palace State Apartments, London, 8 July 2009. For transcript see here as directed on the Press Release, 'Richard Dimbleby Lecture 2009: The Prince of Wales', 9 July 2009, BBC, posted on www.bbc.co.uk
5. Thomas Paine, Rights of Man: Being an Answer to Mr Burke's Attack on the French Revolution, to George Washington, President of the United States of America, 1791, reprinted in Mark Philp, editor, Thomas Paine: Rights of Man, Common Sense, and Other Political Writings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998, p 98
6. Thomas Paine, Rights of Man: Part the Second, Combining Principle and Practice, 9 February 1792, London, reprinted in Mark Philp, editor, Thomas Paine: Rights of Man, Common Sense, and Other Political Writings, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998, p 221
7. 'Prince fears Earth "catastrophe" ', 8 July 2009, posted on http://news.bbc.co.uk
8. Ian Abley, We are witnessing a British built "housing crisis" that Government is powerless to resolve, 23 July 2008, posted on this website here
9. Ibid, p 226
10. James Heartfield, Green Capitalism - Manufacturing scarcity in an age of abundance, www.heartfield.org, 2008, p 91, with details of how to buy posted here
11. Ibid, p 257
12. Ibid, p 351