Jordan Peterson’s speech about Queen Elizabeth II was spot on
Pablo Picasso said, “good artists copy, great artists steal.” That’s why Jordan Peterson’s “spontaneous” speech about the Queen last week was so eloquent. Most of the ideas were “stolen” from a book by Winston Churchill.
In “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples”, Churchill argued that despite many errors, the British had behaved reasonably well towards the rest of the world. (The author appreciates that’s controversial if you are from the Sub-Continent or China). In the same book, Churchill made the case that Britain’s society and constitutional arrangements gave it an advantage. He famously remarked:
“The monarchy is so extraordinarily useful. When Britain wins a battle she shouts, “God save the Queen”; when she loses, she votes down the prime minister.”
There will be many debates about whether to reform the monarchy or get rid of it completely over the next few years, especially if the new King metaphorically stumbles or Prince Harry does something even more embarrassing.
But perhaps, we shouldn’t change a thing. Just as a tech entrepreneur tries to disrupt an industry but then realizes there is a reason why things are done a certain way (most fintech?), we might just need to accept there is wisdom in the way things are set up in Great Britain. It’s not perfect but it kind of works.
For that to happen, however, we need to celebrate all that is good about the history of the island nation, rather than constantly focus on all the bad things, as Peterson points out. We need to make sure Marxist groups don’t let us forget actual history.
History nourishes culture. It strengthens the identity of a people. The heads of the slave trade in Charleston, South Carolina, deliberately didn’t allow the African slaves to learn about their own history after the Haiti slave rebellion for a reason. They knew it would break them as a people. Remember the first line from Public Enemy’s Night of the Living Baseheads? If radical Marxist groups want to take down a statue, they should start with the statue of Karl Marx in North London.
Peterson’s speech hit a nerve as the Brits aren’t like the Americans. They would much rather downplay their success than overstate it. It’s just the British way. That being said, Peterson is right. Its history is a great one and the modern world owes so much to the small nation (legal system, parliamentary politics, theories on liberty and individual freedom, economic theories from great minds like Keynes and Smith, The Beatles. Maybe Zeppelin?). It’s important for all British people to understand that now. But there’s more.
The Brits never embraced extreme ideologies like Fascism and Marxism whereas as a lot of Europe did. You have to go back to York in 1190 to see a heinous incident of Anti-Semitism in the country, for example. That’s nearly a millennium ago. It had a Jewish Prime Minister during the mid- 19th Century, the insanely talented Disraeli. You don’t even need to go back 80 years to see horrible atrocities in the Ukraine towards Jews, but somehow, we are supposed to believe it’s a bastion of Western liberal thinking.
And Jordan Petersen is right that it was British people who were primarily responsible for dismantling the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Look up the Quaker, Benjamin Lay (he spent a lot of time in America, to be fair). He was a brave man. There was a lot of money involved and he made many enemies. It was like being against South African apartheid in the 1960s. Nelson Mandela was considered to be a terrorist then. Is it like being pro-Palestinian rights now?
Celebrating the wins and coming together is important. The country is terribly divided. We need to find a way of uniting the communities that call it home.
Politically and economically, Britain faces challenges that are almost as grave as those that were faced in May 1940, when Winston Churchill first came to power. Queen Elizabeth’s Father was King then. Churchill respected him but he loved the Queen! She was a young woman in her mid-twenties during his second stint as PM and she held her own with what was a rather overbearing but incredibly smart political giant. That’s easy to forget.
He once commented:
“The country is so lucky (to have her). We should be less shy of acknowledging the fact.”
He had a point. The Queen was an impressive lady. May she rest in peace.