(Note: Not many questions this time but I would ask tolerance for my rather lengthy answer regarding Ukraine [sure to please no one] as the situation seemed to be constantly changing every time I would "finish" my answer. Questions are in white, my answers in yellow, once again, I have had to summarize some of them for the sake of space, let me know if they are satisfactory.)
Sarah asks (after many kind compliments -thank you very much): Could you recommend some of the best biographies or autobiographies you have encountered? Written or film, heroes or villains or something else?
I should probably ‘just say no’. As someone with very strongly-held opinions, I am very critical of books and bios on royal figures and rarely, if ever, find one that I agree with totally and which I think the subject was treated entirely correctly. Some are better than others but I will invariably find some way in which the subject was treated unfairly. There are plenty I could point out but none I would give an unqualified endorsement to, and the number of those I could point out would be too lengthy to include here. I have read a ton of royal biographies, more in the past when I had access to a university library. However, so as not to seem completely useless (I am but I don’t like to seem that way) I can glance over at my shelf and list “George III” By Christopher Hibbert, “The Children of Henry VIII” By Alison Weir, “Kaiser Wilhelm II” By Christopher Clark, “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” By Alison Weir, “Maximilian and Carlota” By Gene Smith, “The First Queen of England” By Linda Porter, “The Life of Elizabeth I” By Alison Weir, “The Last Kaiser” By Giles MacDonogh, “Pio Nono” By E.E.Y. Hales and “Life of Victor Emmanuel II: First King of Italy” By Georgina Sarah Godkin, listing any more would require effort on my part so I will stop there. As for films, most of the biopics I have seen I have reviewed here already and there is one more on my ‘to do’ list that should be along in a few weeks.
James asks: What is your take on the recent catastrophe in Ukraine?
My ‘take’ doesn’t involve very strong feelings I should say at the outset, though some are sure to be upset by that alone. This issue does not involve a monarchy and I have been far more concerned with events in Thailand than in Ukraine. As it does not involve monarchy, I have a hard time seeing it in as stark terms as many people do. Neither regime involved is to my liking and whichever way things turn out, I do not see how it could have a major impact on my country or my life so I just cannot bring myself to care as much as some might want. It seems to me, given that, there are two ways of viewing the situation; on the ideal, theoretic front and on the practical “real world” front. Many seem to prefer viewing it in an abstract sort of way while I find myself giving up on that and being drawn into the more practical way. To perhaps explain it more simply, it is rather like the many times I am asked about having a monarchy in the United States. It is not going to happen, not any time in the anywhere near foreseeable future, so I just don’t see much point in dwelling on the subject.
For Ukraine, I have nothing but sympathy for the people there nor do I have any objection to Ukraine being independent. They broke away from the Soviet Union which was an illegitimate regime in the first place so I have no problem with that or with Ukraine as a country. On the ideal, theoretic front I think Ukraine should be able to do as it pleases. They are a sovereign state and should be able to make any agreements or choose their own associations as they please. They suffered horribly under Soviet rule and it is only natural that they should have some bitter feelings about those memories, my only surprise is that it has taken this long to start pulling down the Lenin statues. It is also only natural that they should resent outside interference (from Moscow) in their own affairs, however, there is only so far I can go with this because practical reality keeps jumping in front of my eyes and the practical reality is not very pleasant for the Ukraine.
The fact of the matter is, they embraced republicanism and democracy as the source of law and legitimacy for their country and they have just turned out their democratically elected president. They resent Russian influence in their country but they have taken subsidy from Russia and the one always follows the other. Already the EU has said that if the Ukraine takes their loans it will mean that Ukraine will have to restructure their economic policy to please the EU. That is just how it works, the borrower makes himself the slave of the lender. There are no free rides, no free lunch, if you drink the King’s wine you have to sing the King’s song. Now, given that, one could say that Ukraine was pressured into taking Russian subsidy and making agreements with Russia in the past but that would only underline the lack of viability for Ukraine being an independent country even before it was so divided as it seems to be now.
In practical terms, I just don’t see how Ukraine becomes completely “free” of Russia. Russia has pipelines all over Ukraine, it has naval bases in Ukraine and unless those are all closed down and the pipelines dug up (which itself would be disastrous for the Ukrainian economy) Russia is going to have some interest and some influence in the country. I see no way around that. Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire for centuries and I don’t see how anyone could have expected Russia to simply shrug their shoulders, give up and leave. Ukraine has been the corridor through which Russia has been invaded on numerous occasions, it is a major source of food for Russia and the primary access to the Black Sea. Given all of that, it just seems ridiculous to me for anyone to think that Russia would stand by and do nothing while Ukraine draws closer to the EU or NATO. To be blunt about it, Ukraine doesn’t really matter to the European Union but it does matter very much to Russia and (as I said before the current military intervention) if it comes down to it, Russia will fight for Ukraine while I doubt anyone else will.
There is also the fact that, in my view, any country getting closer to or joining the EU is making a terrible, terrible mistake. I am sure, from all I have heard, that the Ukrainian rebels are sincere nationalists but they do want EU money (and need it if they will not take Russian money) and that is how it all starts. How another deeply indebted poor country will help the EU, I do not know, and I don’t think the EU has been as keen on this as many have liked to pretend but if it is a choice between Russia and the EU, I say ‘pick your poison’. On one side you have a former KGB officer who called the fall of the Soviet Union the greatest disaster of the last century and on the other side you have a ruling class made up of elites who, in many cases, were formerly members of various communist parties. I look at the situation like that of a couple with children seeking a divorce. Because of the children, each spouse will always have to deal with the other, so you just have to try to make the best of it. Russia is too big, too close at hand and too heavily invested in Ukraine and they share too much common history for Ukraine to ever have absolutely nothing to do with Russia or to join NATO without bloodshed. No matter what, they are going to have to find a way to get along with Russia, like it or not. They are not strong enough to resist on their own and I cannot see anyone actually going to war with Russia on behalf of Ukraine. So, they just have to make the best of it but I honestly cannot see much in the way of a happy ending for Ukraine. Even if the country splits in two, the east will likely join with Russia and the west will be in an even weaker position than they are now.
*Addition due to events occurring since the above was written* - Now Russia has invaded Ukraine, and it is an invasion, call it what you like or try to justify it any way you like. It was also done in a rather tawdry fashion by men in unmarked vehicles and wearing uniforms stripped of insignia. The rest of Eastern Europe is increasingly nervous (save perhaps Belarus) and they have every reason to be. Of course, the Baltic states or Poland are not Ukraine, they do not have near the level of long association and history with Russia as Ukraine and the Ukrainian people have. But the practical situation remains. These little countries are not strong enough to resist a major power on their own and that has been true all throughout history as they have swayed between being ruled by Germans, Poles, Swedes or Russians.
It is also worth keeping in mind that the western democracies were partners in the Soviet Russian takeover of Eastern Europe. They did nothing when Finland was invaded or the Baltic states and during World War II were content to hand Eastern Europe over to Stalin so they helped Russia get into that position and since then Russia has watched their power and influence be pushed back again and again, out of East Germany, out of Poland, out of the Baltic states and so on. Is it really that surprising that Russia looks at Ukraine and says, ‘this far and no farther’? Again, the practical situation is impossible for me to ignore regardless of whether the theoretical situation is right or wrong. Russia will fight for Ukraine, I doubt anyone else will. No one fought for Georgia, no one fought for Syria, no one wants to fight over Iran (though again, there are plenty of areas where Russia could have shown goodwill at no expense to themselves and been in a better position regarding a situation like Ukraine which does matter to Russia very much, but Putin chose not to). Russia seems prepared to do whatever it takes, I do not see that anyone else is and if Putin thinks there will be no major repercussions over this, one can certainly understand why. Britain and Germany have already intimated they will not go along with major sanctions against Russia -they depend too heavily on Russian energy (thank you green parties who never want to drill for oil and natural gas) and the U.S. has no stomach for fighting Russia nor would they have much of an avenue to without EU support, which will not be given. About the most the U.S. could do at this point is to put the missile shield back in Poland and try to prevent Putin from going any further -but even that would require Obama admitting he made a mistake and that is not something he is inclined to do no matter how colossal his failure.
Prince Bismarck said that “politics is the art of the possible” and as much sympathy as I have for Ukraine and all they suffered under the USSR, there is just not much that it is possible to do for them. Putin has the will, Europe does not. To me, this is all fruit of the poisoned post-monarchist world tree. Already people are talking about the lessons Red China will take from this (why this is a bigger lesson than when they grabbed territory off the Philippines to no reaction at all I don’t know) but again, as unfortunate as it is, the western democracies helped set up this situation, this post-World War II world order in which Russia and China can veto any action by Britain, France and America who themselves do not always like to cooperate with each other. I have a hard time seeing this as other than the inevitable result of the post-1945 world order which itself grew out of the mistakes of 1914-1918. Many mistakes were made and many people are still paying for them.
DeusVult asks: I was wondering if you’ve seen this (link to article concerning coronation plans for the Prince of Wales)?
No, I had not seen it as I make a point of never reading “The Guardian”, it’s a nasty, republican rag. As for the coronation of the Prince of Wales, I have been less than impressed with what I have heard so far. Way too politically correct for my taste, however, when it comes to things like this monarchists do not have much room to complain. The British coronation is the only coronation that is still performed in the whole of the western world so being picky about how it is performed seems rather like a starving man complaining about his menu.
Logan asks: Do you think it is proper for an American monarchist to be patriotic?
I don’t know whether it is proper or not but I see nothing wrong with it. French monarchists despised the republic but still loved France. Not all American monarchists would agree, and I certainly don’t think anyone should feel compelled to be patriotic, but in general monarchists around the world have been conservative and traditional people and such types tend to be greatly attached to their native soil, their people and their history. This is partly why traditional monarchists have historically been reluctant to migrate, they are less likely to wish to uproot and adopt a new country as their own. I am certainly not a Yankee-Doodle, Uncle Sam patriot, I think the American War for Independence was unjustified, I identify more with my state than with the federal union and I do not think the U.S. has always done the right thing. However, I do like the country if not the government, I accept the powers that be and I do not wish to see any harm befall the United States or the American people. It has done good things as well as making mistakes and being patriotic is usually taken to mean simply wanting the best for your country and I see nothing wrong with that for a monarchist. As I’ve said before, when it comes to the United States, I would just like to see a dropping of the prejudice against monarchy for a start and as for those who associate patriotism with the political right in America, I am not against them entirely either. The U.S. was most like the U.K. (or what the U.K. used to be) at the time of the founding of the republic, there was greater state sovereignty, less influence by special interests and the Senate was still unelected. Getting back to that would be an improvement in my book.