The coronation of the sovereign is a dangerous time for the UK state because it forces our constitutional monarchy to reconcile the contradictory governing systems of a parliamentary democracy elected by the people of Britain and a Head of State inherited by birth. To oversee this unification, Charles Mountbatten-Windsor — who became the UK sovereign upon the death of his mother last September without the unnecessary bother of a vote from the UK’s 67.5 million citizens — will have his coronation sanctified by the British People pledging their allegiance as subjects not just to him but also to his heirs and successors. The Authorised Liturgy for the Coronation Rite of His Majesty King Charles III, overseen by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will include the following call to obedience:
‘I call upon all persons of goodwill of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of the other Realms and the Territories to make their homage, in heart and voice, to their undoubted King, defender of all.
‘All who so desire, in the Abbey, and elsewhere, say together:
‘I swear that I will pay true allegiance to Your Majesty, and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God.’
But to what, exactly, are the peoples of the UK and the Commonwealth realms being asked to swear allegiance? What function does the UK Monarchy serve in our economics, society and politics? And why is the coronation being sanctified by the Head of the Anglican Communion and Church of England whose Supreme Governor is also our King?
1. The Economic Function of Monarchy
Those who claim that the UK sovereign is merely a symbolic role and contributes to the UK’s revenues from tourism either do not understand or are lying about the true function of our Monarchy. The Crown Estate, which is inherited by the reigning monarch, in addition to an urban portfolio worth £9.1 billion, owns 15,500 acres of the Windsor estate, 287,000 acres of agricultural land and forest, 55 per cent of the UK’s foreshore, plus the seabed out to 12 nautical miles — some 23.6 million acres in total. Valued at £28 billion and producing a £312.7 million net revenue profit in 2022 — from which, as a designated Crown body, it is exempt from income tax, corporation tax and capital gains tax — there is no other organisation in the world that resembles the Crown estate as a legal entity. And if you think this immense wealth is no different from that accumulated by the UK’s 177 other billionaires, no Act of Parliament becomes the law of the land until ‘The King wills it’ (Le Roy le veult in the Norman French intoned in a defiantly English accent by the Clerk of the Parliament); and no draft bill affecting the King’s legal prerogatives or financial interests, including his hereditary revenues and personal property, may even be debated by our supposedly sovereign Parliament without the prior approval of the monarch.
The primary result of the King’s investiture, however, is The Crown, the non-statutory corporation sole to which all land in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland belongs. This is leased to the Government, the Church of England, Eton College, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the Ministry of Defence, the National Trust, the Forestry Commission, 24 Dukes and several thousand private corporations. As a result, just 0.3 per cent of the UK population — 160,000 families — owns the freehold on two-thirds of the 60 million acres of land in the UK, making us second only to Brazil as the country with the most unequal land distribution in the world. More than a third of that land is owned by the Royal family and British aristocracy. Those who own it, who inherited it from their fathers and will bequeath it to their sons, are mostly the descendants of Normans and Anglo-Normans — the Beauchamps, D’Arcys, FitzWilliams, Harcourts, Lyons, Mandevilles, Percys and other inbred aristocrats who trace their lineage back to the ninety or so families that tied their banners to William the Bastard’s mast and fought at the Battle of Hastings, then administered the feudal system he enforced on England when they won. Under the Norman yoke, half the country was placed into the hands of 190 aristocrats, and a quarter of it was owned by just 11 of them. And the theft didn’t end there.
Today, the Duke of Northumberland owns 130,000 acres; the Duke of Westminster owns 133,000 acres — the most lucrative of it in Mayfair and Belgravia; the Duke of Atholl owns 146,000 acres; and, of course, the Dukes of Cornwall and Lancaster — better known as the Prince of Wales and his dad — own, respectively, 135,000 and 45,500 acres, with the King also owning an additional 74,000 acres from the estates of Balmoral, Delnadamph and Sandringham. In Scotland things are even worse, with a mere 432 landowners — among them the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry with 240,000 acres — still owning half the privately-held land.
In total, Britain’s 24 Dukes own 1.15 million acres of UK land, all of which is held in Trust, meaning the inheritor avoids paying the 40 per cent inheritance tax the rest of us lucky enough to inherit anything are obliged to pay. As an example of which, in 2016 the 7th Duke of Westminster, the 25-year-old Hugh Grosvenor, paid precisely £0 on his £9 billion share of the 133,010 acres of the Grosvenor estate. And that’s not the only tax-avoidance scam. In 2017, the Paradise Papers revealed that the Duchy of Lancaster, whose 45,550 acres of holdings are inherited by the UK Sovereign at birth, had invested £10 million offshore in the British Overseas Territories of Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
Even this cash cow, however, pales beside the Duchy of Cornwall, whose 135,000 acres, inherited at birth by the Crown Prince and heir apparent, was valued at £763 million a decade ago, and the Prince drew an annual salary of £19 million from its financial investment portfolio, farming revenues, residential and commercial land and properties leases. That was in addition to the £1.1 million he received from the largessse of the British taxpayer. Like the Crown Estate, the Duchy is treated as a Crown body by the UK Government, and is therefore also exempt from income, corporation or capital gains tax; but it is treated as private revenue for the purposes of transparency, and the Prince’s expenditures are not audited by the National Audit Office. Finally, no list of England’s great thieves would be complete without the Church of England, which still owns 105,000 acres of rural land in England and Wales and a property portfolio worth almost £2 billion, and whose leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury, will preside over the coronation of King Charles III in Westminster Abbey.
In the UK, as a consequence, there is no such thing as ‘publicly-owned land’, which in itself is a misnomer. When it comes to property, we are subjects of His Majesty, King Charles III, and since his nominal ancestor turned us into a feudal society, we don’t own a foot of the land we live, work, pay rent and die on. In relation to the Government, we might regard ourselves as British citizens with rights under UK law (although we saw what they are worth during the ‘pandemic’, which is nothing when the Government declares them to be conditional on what it decides is the ‘common good’); but in relation to our hereditary Head of State and his heirs and successors, we are subjects of a feudal sovereign who has rights over us. This starts with the revenues he has the right and power to collect from the land we rent and lease from the Crown and its intermediaries.
The wholesale theft of our land a thousand years ago by the ruling class of this conquered kingdom represents a level of dispossession unparalleled in the history of these isles — with which, nonetheless, the vast majority of the sleepy, docile, ignorant, subservient and loyal subjects of His Majesty appear to be content. But whether you are our unelected Prime Minister and son-in-law of an Indian billionaire, the Archbishop of Canterbury, former oil-industry executive and current Member of the House of Lords, or a pensioner waiting three days on a trolley in Accident and Emergency, if you pledge allegiance to Charles Windsor and his heirs and successors, you’re participating in the sanctification of this ongoing history of theft and the unchangeable system of governance built on it.
The fact that this coronation — at an undisclosed but estimated cost to the UK taxpayer of £250 million — is going ahead at a time when National Insurance contributions from the unpropertied masses have been increased by 10 per cent by His Majesty’s Government, when 8.9 million British subjects and 3.3 million of our children are living in absolute poverty, when 3.26 million households have been driven into fuel poverty by energy companies making record-making profits, and nearly 3 million of us had to use a food bank last year in order to eat — cannot but raise the question in the minds of those of us who will not willingly bow and scrape before our landlords and masters: why do the British people put up with it? In the rest of this article I’m going to suggest an answer to this one-thousand-year-old question that is based on a very different explanatory model of both society and monarchy than the one we are taught at school, will watch on a BBC documentary, read in our media or hear discussed in Parliament.
2. The Social Function of Monarchy
The foundation of any society is production, which works to exclude all forms of non-productive or useless activity and, on the same justification, all non-productive and useless people. To establish this homogeneity between the various activities that constitute a given society, a common denominator has been created. This, of course, is money, which establishes a calculable equivalence between the different products of economic activity. As such, money has become not only the measure of all social activity but reduces humans to the mere function of that activity; and, according to its measure, each worker in a society is worth what he or she produces. In capitalist economies, however, only the owners of capital and the means of production — which is to say, the capitalists that profit from its products — compose homogeneous society, together with the middle classes that administer and variously benefit from the extraction of that profit. In contrast, the producers of those products — the workers whose labour creates the wealth on which homogeneous society is built but who do not profit from its products — are, properly speaking, heterogeneous to society. They remain, that is to say, outside the cycle of capitalism proper, and indeed must remain there so that homogeneous society can continue to expropriate the surplus value of their labour.
From this heterogeneity comes the dismissiveness, disgust, contempt, hate and violence with which the working class is treated by homogeneous society, and above all by the middle classes, for whom workers are not only of another class but almost of another nature (‘hooligans’, ‘thugs’, ‘chavs’, ‘rag-tag’, ‘hoi-polloi’, ‘peasants’, ‘yobs’, ‘mob’, ‘trash’, ‘scum’, as the working class are regularly described in both our Parliament and our media), unsubjugated and therefore in constant need of surveillance, regimentation, immiseration, correction, punishment and oppression in case their heterogeneity should infect homogeneous society.
It is in order to protect the homogeneous functioning of the productive forces of a given society from its heterogeneous elements that the modern state exists. In a democratic order, the practical application of homogeneous society’s subordination of heterogeneous elements are the various forms of legislature, national assembly or parliament, upon entering which those elements more or less quickly become a part of homogeneous society. We have seen this demonstrated repeatedly by the ease and success with which nominally ‘socialist’ political parties, including the UK Labour Party, have become assimilated into the capitalist order, to which they now present not the least threat of subversion.
Periodically, however, the contradictions of capitalism in industrial and now post-industrial societies throw up heterogeneous elements that threaten to subvert the homogeneous functioning of production. Today we call these ‘crises’, but formerly they took the form of uprisings and even revolutions, as they still do in less advanced capitalist societies and perhaps, as those contradictions sharpen, even advanced ones. When this happens — as we witnessed during the two years of the politically-declared ‘pandemic’ — the state makes recourse not to parliament and the rule of law but instead to imperious and sovereign forms of authority that are not subject to parliaments and courts. These include the power of a hereditary or elected head of state (King or President) to overrule the legislature and even the constitution; the Church, which always aligns itself with the authority of the state in times of crisis; the armed forces and police, whose impunity from the laws they claim to enforce is the clearest demonstration of imperious power; and, as we saw universally employed by governments during the coronavirus ‘crisis’, the assumption of ‘emergency powers’ rendering our formerly inalienable rights and freedoms redundant.
All these forms of authority, however, are themselves heterogeneous to the homogeneous social order, whose existing relations of production, administrative framework and juridical forms they exist to maintain and uphold. An example and expression of this hierarchy is the architrave of the pediment of the west entrance to the US Supreme Court Building in Washington, DC, on which is carved the words: ‘Equal Justice Under Law’, above which, however, symbolic depictions of Liberty flanked by Order and Authority sit in judgement of those in their power. And whatever the Order of Service for the Coronation of King Charles III declares, our submission to sovereign authority is not ‘according to law’; and those sitting in judgement are not asking for our allegiance — they’re commanding it.
In order to understand the homogeneous functioning of any given society, therefore, we have to understand the role played by its heterogeneous elements, how they defend and enforce its economic, legal and political continuity, but also how these heterogeneous elements are themselves produced by homogeneous society.
Whether — as has been the case in the UK over the past forty years of neoliberalism — it is the unionised worker, the black rioter, the Islamic terrorist, the benefit-scrounging single mother, the hooded youth, those designated as ‘unvaccinated’ or, more recently, Russians and ‘Putin-apologists’, homogeneous society always produces an ‘enemy within’ — and indeed, must produce this other — in opposition to which its own unity is formed. The heterogeneous, therefore, is both the axe around which the homogeneous bundle of politics, law and ideology is bound to form the authority of the state, and at the same time the enemy against which that axe is wielded.
According to this model of social formation, the unity of a given society lies not in what ostensibly binds it together (its land, race, history, language, culture) but instead in its particular production of the heterogeneous, which it must constantly seek to dispel from its homogeneity while at the same time reproducing it. And just as, historically, the identity of the heterogenous elements did not matter but only how they could serve this social function, so today the UK state does not discriminate between those it anathematises, swinging its propaganda machine in a few months from ‘conspiracy theorists’ endangering lives to ‘unvaccinated’ medical professionals to ‘barbaric’ Russian invaders. What is important — what is necessary to the unity of the state — is neither the identity nor the culpability of the ostracised and criminalised, but rather the production of the heterogeneous social elements in opposition to which homogeneous society can unify. And to protect itself from these heterogeneous elements, as we have had demonstrated over the last three years of cowardice and hatred, no expenditure can be too great, no decree or action too violent.
At the same time, therefore, in correlation with this impoverished, abject other, the state must also create an imperious, sovereign force capable of protecting homogeneous society from these heterogeneous elements, whose threat is always exaggerated in order to justify the violence of the state directed against them. Has the UK ever been as unified in recent decades as when it had a clearly identified enemy within to ostracise from public life? Have the British people ever felt better about themselves than when publicly demonstrating their virtue by severing all association with lifelong friends and even family members for their refusal to obey the dictates of the UK state?
Society, as the past three years have incontrovertibly demonstrated, is formed in the pull of attraction and repulsion between these two poles of the heterogeneous: on the one hand, an almost child-like reverence for and obedience to the imperious, elevated forms of authority that exist above democratic accountability and the law, and which guarantee the unity and functioning of homogeneous society (wear a mask, clap for the Ukraine, remain within your 15-minute limits, swear allegiance to your King); and, on the other hand, a visceral revulsion for and rejection of the impoverished, the diseased, the pathologised, the ostracised and the criminalised, which threaten to subvert homogeneous society.
3. The Political Function of Monarchy
Both these poles, however, which together compose the heterogeneous elements of society, lie outside the labour force, means of production and legislative and legal administration that constitute homogeneous society. At the same time that they guarantee the productive functioning of society, therefore, imperious forms of sovereignty also work to unite its heterogeneous authority with the homogeneous elements over which it rules. In doing so, it seeks to entrench the anomaly of the presence of sovereign power within the democratic state as both natural and unchangeable. How does it do this?
From the immense resources and productive forces squandered on the two world wars in the Twentieth Century to the vast quantitative easing programmes created to bailout the banks in the two global financial crises already in the Twenty-first Century, the production of the imperious, sovereign pole of heterogeneous authority is not only opposed to its impoverished, abject pole, it also produces it. The continuing poverty of the global working class in the Twenty-first Century is not an unfortunate consequence of the failure of global capitalism to feed, clothe, house, educate and care for the health of the population of the planet, but itself the product of its success in keeping the labour force that produces its wealth from sharing in its profits.
The unproductive expenditure of material and labour, whether in two years of lockdown or the permanent state of war in which the USA has existed since World War Two is, before it is anything else, the consumption of those resources to ends that are kept from the producers of the wealth it consumes. It’s not by chance that the USA, the wealthiest state in history, has a defence budget of $886 billion this year — more than the next nine countries combined, and over 10 per cent of all federal expenditure — but doesn’t have free health care or education. In order to maintain the relations of production of homogeneous society, the labour time in which the working class can be fed, housed and educated must be squandered in producing the sovereign and imperious forms of heterogeneous authority before which they are then commanded to kneel in obedience and, eventually, convinced to revere as their protectors.
We shouldn’t forget that it is the financial sector the governments and central banks of the West have bailed out with around $11 trillion of quantitative easing since September 2019 to which the working class is now in debt for generations to come. In this respect, as in so many others, the coronavirus ‘crisis’ and the lockdown of the real economy it justified was a demonstration of how homogeneous society produces the poles of the heterogeneous, both the impoverished and the imperious. It is the corporate leaders of stakeholder capitalism and its World Government of international technocracies that have emerged from the ‘pandemic’ they declared as the sovereign and imperious authority before which the newly impoverished and abject masses must now bow in obedience and fear, if not yet in universal reverence.
What, then, are the possibilities and threat of the working class being joined by elements of homogeneous society alienated from it by the crises arising from the contradictions in capitalism? As the history of revolutions has shown, it is only as such that the heterogeneous classes can form a potentially subversive force of change in society. This possibility, however — which seems so distant in the UK today compared with France — is determined by the existing and historical political structures of a given society, and above all by its imperious and sovereign forms of heterogeneous authority.
To look at historical examples, Italy, after the Great War of 1914-18, had a weak monarchy that made it susceptible to the rise of fascism; and in Germany the revolution that had overthrown the Kaiser had replaced him with the legislatively impotent Weimar Republic that increased nostalgia for the authoritarianism of the German Reich. In both countries, therefore, which only attained national unity several decades before forming fascist governments, and which had emerged from the Great War humiliated and defeated, an imperious heterogeneous authority was lacking, making both nations susceptible to the militarism of fascist sovereignty. For the multinational successor states created, restored or expanded by the Treaty of Versailles from the dissolved Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires (Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland and Romania) the lack of a recognised heterogeneous authority, whether Emperor or Czar, was even greater. While in Spain, both the military dictatorship and the monarchy had been deposed, making way for the doomed Spanish Republic.
In contrast, the UK had as its Head of State a hereditary monarch who — despite the current incumbent’s complete lack of majesty — continues to exert a sovereign’s authority over the unfailingly patriotic and royalist English working class. And France had the French Revolution, to which protesters against President Macron’s police state still appeal when they sing La Marseillaise and wave the Tricoleur, demonstrating their apparently unshakeable equation of liberté, égalité, fraternité with the continuity of the French Republic. It would appear, therefore — and the unopposed accession of Charles III to the throne of the United Kingdom last year reaffirmed this function — that in a constitutional monarchy of long-standing the sovereign is so closely connected with homogeneous society that its authority has become naturalised as an unchangeable part of its structure; while in a democratic republic like France or the USA, the sovereign appears as already overthrown in the glorious moment of its founding. The exception to this rule, of course, is Russia, which overthrew a monarchy even older than our own, although it was soon replaced with an authority at least as imperious and sovereign. The imperious elements of the heterogeneous are both immobilised in their power and immobilising of challenges to it.
In the face of which, only the impoverished elements of the heterogeneous can hope to bring about political change. To form itself into such a force, however, the heterogeneous elements of society must include not only that part of the working class that has become conscious of its subversive and even revolutionary potential but also those elements of the middle classes alienated from homogeneous society by the dissolution of its composite elements (its politics, laws and ideology). During such crises, however, the alienated elements of homogeneous society are by no means necessarily attracted to those subversive elements. On the contrary, as we saw during the coronavirus ‘crisis’, in the demonstrations, marches and protests against illegal lockdowns and gene-therapy mandates the middle-classes — and particularly those on the political Left — were conspicuous by their almost total absence. Instead, the imperative force of attraction exerted by heterogeneous forms of authority — which reached a peak during the Lying-in-State of Queen Elizabeth II last year — mobilised homogeneous society to restore the temporarily broken social contract between the masses of the obedient working and middle classes and sovereign authority, which they were and are only too eager to obey.
Presidents, as we are currently witnessing in a potentially pre-revolutionary France — or would be if the British media reported it — are subject to criticism from the masses and can be deposed from office. But our newly-crowned monarch, as a sovereign sanctified by the Church of England, will be wheeled out — as his mother was before him — at the first sign of civil disobedience, and his British subjects, under their renewed oath of allegiance to the King, his heirs and successors, will not fail to fall in line. They never have yet. Just as, in historical fascist states, the Duce and the Führer exerted not just a military authority but also a religious power of attraction over the masses, so the subjects of the UK state, in George Orwell’s words, have learned to love Big Brother — even if, in this age of austerity and servility, he has a diamond-encrusted crown on his head.
Simon Elmer is the author of The Road to Fascism: For a Critique of the Global Biosecurity State, and two new volumes of articles, Virtue and Terror and The New Normal, all of which are available in hardback, paperback and as an ebook. Please click on these links for the contents pages, introduction and purchase options.