We don’t need another hero

I have no especial feeling about the passing of a pop legendess, but for the role Tina Turner played in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome; one of the most Hobbesian films ever screened.

The genius of George Miller has been to portray a world which is in its surface a fantasy dystopia but which is reality in the raw:  this post-apocalyptic Australian outback wilderness is the universal ancient age portrayed in terms the modern mind can appreciate.

As Tina Turner sang in the concluding theme song:

Living under the fear, ’til nothing else remains

That is the world of the natural man: ‘continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.‘ That is the world of Mad Max encapsulated.

In the midst of the Stone-Age brutishness of the film stands Bartertown: a single point of civilisation, rough, primitive and vicious though it may be. It is ruled over by Aunty Entity, brilliantly portrayed by Tina Turner. Aunty Entity? Titles must from somewhere:

Brutus and Caesar: what should be in that ‘Caesar’?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?

In a new foundation over people, there will be new titles because a common power to keep them all in awe requires it.

This is as civilisation should be: it is a town living by trade, not subsistance farming; it has manufactures and division of labour and it has commerce, as the first towns must have. George Miller, the director, knew how such a town should be:  it has laws, and a lawmaker, and a crude system of criminal justice, at the peak of which is Thunderdome: this is combat and murder run as a public entertainment, just as was the Coliseum in Rome, as were the Tyburn gallows, and in many other cultures.  Crucially, there is more than criminal justice – as this is a trading town, it need dispute resolution, and there is punishment for breaking contracts (‘Break a deal and face the Wheel’).

Commentaries have said that Aunty Entity is a brutal ruler. She is exactly as she must be: to keep a lid on such a town, and prevent ambitious men form overthrowing the state which supports them.

Aunty Entity is the true hero of the tale, were we but to recognise it. She has created a state in the wilderness and ensured its prosperity – a state providing relative peace for its inhabitants, security  and certainty of consequences, and a militia army to defend it.

Maybe there is something to want beyond Thunderdome – “love and compassion; Their day is coming ” as the song puts it – but Thunderdome is a necessity for the first civilisation to start to grow into something which will allow such castles in the air,


Long to reign over us

The bunting is down, the street party has faded into happy memory. The Coronation was a spectacle to take the breath away, and television drew us all into it. What now? It was not one point in time, but the start, or the restart, of an ongoing mutual devotion of people  and their sovereign, and accordingly to the reassertion of the commonwealth between the people.

I gladly said (as any true Hobbesian Briton should have):

‘I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God. ‘”

The coronation is the party, but is nothing alone: it stands not for itself but to found a reign – just as a wedding is a celebration but is ultimately unimportant: the important thing is the years of marriage which follow.  A wedding can be a quiet, registry office ceremony, or a lavish church service with choir and organ (or one of those modern ones where you try to bankrupt your family by making them buy tickets to the West Indies) and it does not matter – it is merely symbolic of the vows which are taken and marks a gateway to married life. In the same way, a coronation can be as glorious as that which we have watched, worthy of the King of all the world’s greatest kingdoms, or a dull swearing like those of the Norse kings:  the important thing is the reign which follows, and the important thing about a reign is the unity of the nation’s bond with itself.

Ceremony is important, as a firm memory to the mind of what unites nation and what it undertakes as a mutually dependent entity, as well as reminding the King. The impossible grandeur puts all subjects on a level: who could have airs and graces in comparison? No priest, no politician, howsoever high, can maintain his or her haughtiness in he face of it:  we are all equal.

A coronation also cements succession. The law indeed guarantees the King his place, but this shows the whole force of the state guaranteeing it.  It is vital, as Hobbes says, for without succession at the death of the sovereign the whole commonwealth is dissolved. Any uncertainty opens a doorway for adventurers acting for their own advantage not the nation’s.

God save the King – long to reign over us.

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And all the people shouted, and said, God save the king

Joyful acclamation of the people is a most ancient part of the coronation. The ceremony was created for King Edgar, so they say, and the coronation of our new King will use the forms carried down since ancient days, even echoing the enthronement of King Solomon.

The people gathered in London gave such a joyous shout, in their accustomed manner, to acclaim the crowning of William the Bastard, that the Norman knights mistook it for a rebellion and rode into the crowd, slaying many – they were unfamiliar with popular kingship, coming from a land where sovereignty was bought and sold and conquered with no regard to the people ruled. France has barely changed. In Britain though the King is father of the people, not just commander of an army of control. Therefore we will gather and will acclaim our King, in over-the-top, slightly vulgar displays and street parties and whatever comes to our minds to do, for we are free people and not those who wait to be told what to do, even now.

Those ancient Saxon kings and the priests about them knew their Bible and could see in it an echo of the Germanic and Celtic conceptions of popular  involvement in kingship. Their ceremonies looked at those which were much older. In 1 Kings we read:

So Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites, and the Pelethites, went down, and caused Solomon to ride upon king David’s mule, and brought him to Gihon.

And Zadok the priest took an horn of oil out of the tabernacle, and anointed Solomon. And they blew the trumpet; and all the people said, God save king Solomon.

And all the people came up after him, and the people piped with pipes, and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth rent with the sound of them.

I am glad then to pipe with pipes and rejoice with great joy for King Charles (as Hobbes in his time rejoiced for King Charles). He is the head and embodied epitome of the nation, in its diversity.

We are all part of the coronation in our way, whether amongst those honoured to packed be in Westminster Abbey or those millions of us outside, and so I will also gladly join with those in the Abbey to speak the oath of my allegiance to the King which all Britons owe, to bear true faith and allegiance to His Majesty King Charles III, his heirs and successors according to law.

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