Downton Abbey: Soap Opera for Property Rights
by Gary North: Cap
Pistols, Gun Control, and Ethics
I am not a
Abbey fan. I watched the first half a dozen episodes, but
then I realized that the thing was turning into a very expensive
soap opera. I stopped watching. I am a Foyle's
War fan. I prefer period piece murder mysteries to period
piece soap operas.
I did not connect
with the plight of the younger members of the family. They seemed
shallow. I also thought the scheming bad guy and bad woman among
the downstairs employees are just too dedicated to their venality.
There were caricatures. But I will say this: the bad guys are downstairs.
This is a very good thing. It indicates a rejection of a century
of Labor Party propaganda.
enjoyed Julian Fellowes when he co-starred in a modern version of
the same story, Monarch
of the Glen. It was an updated version of a family that
had a huge albatross: inherited land and a rundown castle. The family
had run out of money. Could the estate be saved? Fellowes used the
same theme as the script writer for Downton Abbey. But he
set it where it really belongs, namely, in the post-World War I
era in Great Britain.
About 25 years
ago, I sat on an airplane next to a man who was a Jacobite. Most
people have never heard of the Jacobites. I knew about them only
because I am a specialist in early modern European history. It did
not occur to me that they still existed, but they do. A Jacobite
was a follower of Bonnie Prince Charlie, whose revolt against Great
Britain failed at the Battle of Culloden in 1745. He was a Catholic.
He represented the Highland Catholic forces. After his defeat, Scotland
permanently became Protestant, in the sense that it is not Catholic.
Of course, it is not particularly Protestant today. But it is not
He told me
that the castles that Jacobite families had owned in the mid-18th
century are still owned by the families. These days, however, they
can make money only by opening the doors to tourists. He said that
it is part of each family's obligation to supply full-time managers.
For about two years, a young couple takes over the administration
of the family castle. If they did not, the castles would be forfeited
to the British monarchy. I do not know if what he was telling me
was true, although it sounds plausible. He certainly seemed committed
to the idea that it was a family responsibility to provide this
kind of leadership, because they still hated the Queen, and they
were determined to keep the family properties from being transferred
to the monarchy.
I am not convinced
that television shows shape the thinking of those who view them.
I think shows are popular mainly because they already adopt the
outlook of the viewers. But in the case of Downton Abbey,
I could be wrong. There is nothing in the lives of somebody living
today that would be recognizable to somebody living at Downton
Abbey a century ago. Yet the show is phenomenally popular around
the world. So was Monarch of the Glen, but not on this scale.
The basic theme
of the show is duty. The second theme is inheritance. This is remarkable.
You would not imagine that the issue of the inheritance of an aristocratic
family's land would be a popular theme in modern times. The class
conflict of the era did exist, especially in Great Britain. But
for a century, textbooks and popular culture have been produced
by people who oppose the upper classes, and who favor the democratic
and social democratic (socialist) policies of the lower classes.
Yet in this case, the most popular soap opera in the world stands
behind the aristocrats. The script favors the preservation of the
inheritance. It is about all of the problems facing the post-World
War I aristocratic generation.
character is J. R. Ewing in drag: the person we love to hate. But
there is this difference: she cares about inherited status. He cared
about money. That is the difference between an American boomer buying
his way to the top and a British aristocrat trying to keep him out.
of duty, which is a sense of duty to both the past and the future,
is an inherently conservative theme. Edmund Burke would have recognized
it instantly in 1790. In a very real sense, the show is about competition
between the free market and the aristocratic culture. The free market
is driven by internally driven men who wish to accumulate capital.
After World War I, the rising capitalist order was able to offer
higher wages to employees who would have been stuck for all their
lives in service to the aristocracy. It was the competition between
Edmund Burke's conservative vision and Adam Smith's capitalist vision.
Burke was a great fan of Adam Smith, and Adam Smith was a great
fan of Edmund Burke. The story of Downton Abbey is the story
of the clash of civilizations -- a clash that was inherent from
the beginning in the social philosophy of conservative Edmund Burke
and the economic philosophy of Adam Smith.
of those men understood what was about to take place under their
noses in the 1790. For the first time in history, economic growth
of 2.5% per annum was about to take hold of the Anglo-American civilization.
Nothing like this had been seen before. Nothing like this was even
conceivable, although the title of Adam Smith's book, The
Wealth of Nations (1776), did point to the possibility.
In theory, Smith was defending a system in which such growth is
possible. But the outcome of it was simply inconceivable to him
or anyone else.
The world of
1850 was not recognizable to the dwellers of the world in 1800,
yet they accepted it, because it grew slowly, not overnight. Every
50 years, the world that had been in existence was overwhelmed by
a completely new world technologically and economically. Societies
made the adjustment, but in doing so, new social philosophies began
to take over. Socialism was one of them.
the rest of the article
North [send him mail]
is the author of Mises
on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 31-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible.
2013 Gary North
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