Mao waves “hello” in his Bathrobe

My wife bought me a wonderful statue of Mao in a flee market in Shanghai, which has become one of my prize possessions and has a plum spot in my study. It was of Mao in his bathrobe after he had swum the width of the Yang-tse River. Here is a photo of my statue:

Like any good dictator Mao wanted to show that he had superior physical powers and therefore was worthy of ruling China. He used to swim the width of the Yang-tse river unassisted (supposedly?) and then emerge, wrap himself in a bathrobe, and acknowledge the universal acclamation of the adoring Chinese people. The image of him dressed in this fashion was used for propaganda purposes as this poster indicates.

Here is another:

See a larger version of this image – 800px wide

My advice to Scott Morrison and Dominic Perrottet is to swim across one of the flooded NSW rivers for a similar photo op. This might (or might not) increase their chances of re-election.

Making and Breaking the Image of King Charles I

Here we have an official a portrait of Charles Stuart (1600-1649) done in the studio of Anthony van Dyck c. 1636. He is of course at the height of his powers and in his full regal regalia. He ruled from 1625 to 1649 when he was executed by Parliament.

When he was in prison awaiting his sentence and then execution Charles Stuart (King Charles I) wrote a defence of himself, his position, and his actions during the Civil Wars which he called “The Image or Icon of the King” (“Eikon Basilke” in Greek) which included some self-serving images, most notably a very detailed Frontispiece.

The full title of the book was: Εἰκὼν Βασιλική (the Image of the King), The Pourtrature of His Sacred Majestie in His Solitudes and Sufferings (1649) which we have put online. See the facs. PDF of the first edition – with the frontispiece and one without. Also an HTML version of the 1904 edition by Almack.

There were two demolitions of this “iconography of the king”, one a satirical image suggesting he was a mere puppet of the Catholic Church, and one in print by Milton denouncing Charles as a tyrant who deserved his death, in Eikonoklastes (the “iconoclast” or the destroyer of images) [HTML] and The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates [HTML] which Milton also published in 1649 and which was his second defence of regicide. As he subtitled The Tenure of Kings, “That it is Lawfull, and hath been held so through all Ages, for any who have the Power, to call to account a Tyrant, or wicked KING, and after due conviction, to depose and put him to death; if the ordinary MAGISTRATE have neglected or deny’d to doe it”.

The Official Frontispiece

See also a slightly different and larger version: larger size 3162×2717 pixels.

Charles is depicted dressed in his finest robes and kneeling in what appears to be a small chapel. A beam of light from heaven (“sacred heat”) breaks through the dark clouds outside on the left and strikes him on the top of his head. At the same moment he is looking heavensward towards the upper right and sees one of the three crowns in the picture. This is “his” “Starrie Crown
of Gloirie ” which will be his after his execution. The world outside the chapel on the left is a scene of physical and man-made torment. Nature is pounding the rock (Charles is the rock) with violent waves and fierce storms (the civil wars and revolution of the past 7 years), but it/he stands “unmov’d triumphant”. In the fields stands a palm tree (another symbol of Charles) on which have been hung two heavy weights which one would think were designed to prevent it growing too tall (constitutional limits on his power?) but which have the opposite effect of causing it/him to grow (more straight and high). At his feet there is the second crown (his earthly crown) in the picture which lies at his feet (knocked from his head by the Parliamentary regicides and republicans) and which he now “disdains”, He now turns for solace to the Bible while holding the third crown, Christ’s “crown of thorns”, as he sees himslef as a martyr to the cause of monarchy and God.

In one edition from 1649 there is this “Explanation of the Frontispiece”:

A Sacred heat inspires my Soul to trie
If Pray’rs can give Me what the Warres denie,
Three Crowns distinctly here in order do
Present their objects to my knowing view,
Earths Crown lies humbled at my foot, disdain,
‘Twas bright, but heavie, and withal but vain,
And now by Grace a Crown of Thorns I greet.
Sharp was this Crown, but not so sharp as sweet
This was Christs crown, my book upon my bord
Explains my heart, My hope is in thy Word.
My Starrie Crown
of Gloirie last I see,
As full of Blisse, as of Eternitie.
Now look behind, and midst most troubled skies
Behold, how clearer I from darknesse rise,
And stand unmov’d triumphant, like a Rock,
‘Gainst all the waves, & winds tempestuous shock
So like the Psalm, which heaviest weights do trie,
Virtue opprest, doth grow more straight and high.

In another editon there is a Latin and English key to the emblems:

The English reads:

Though clogg’d with weights of miseries
Palm-like Depress’d, I higher rise.

And as th’unmoved Rock out-brave’s
The boist’rous Windes and rageing waves
So triumph I. And shine more bright
In sad Affliction’s Darksom night.

That Splendid, but yet toilsom Crown
Regardlessly I trample down.

With joie I take this Crown of thorn,
Though sharp, yet easy to be born.

That heavn’nly Crown, already mine,
I view with eies of Faith divine.

I slight vain things: and do embrace
Glorie, the just reward of Grace.

The Latin incrsiptions and labels in the large version of the Frontispiece are as follows in a literal translation:

  • IMMOTA, TRIVMPHANS — “Unmoved, Triumphant” (scroll around the rock);
  • Clarior é tenebris — “Brighter through the darkness” (beam from the clouds);
  • CRESCIT SUB PONDERE VIRTVS — “Virtue grows beneath weights” (scroll around the tree);
  • Beatam & Æternam — “Blessed and Eternal” (around the heavenly crown marked GLORIA (“Glory”); meant to be contrasted with:
    • Splendidam & Gravem — “Splendid and Heavy” (around the Crown of England, removed from the King’s head and lying on the ground), with the motto Vanitas (“vanity“); and
    • Asperam & Levem — “Bitter and Light”, the martyr’s crown of thorns held by Charles; contains the motto Gratia (“grace”);
  • Coeli Specto — “I look to Heaven”;
  • IN VERBO TVO SPES MEA — “In Thy Word is My Hope”;
  • Christi Tracto — “I entreat Christ” or “By the word of Christ”;
  • Mundi Calco — “I tread on the world”.


A Satirical Version of the Frontispiece

There is a satirical print held by the British Museum <> from a book called Eikon alethine (The True Ikon or Image)) which mocks the idea that Charles had the brains to write a defense of his monarchy and that he had been manipulated as a puppet of the Church.

The image has the title “Spectatum admissi risum teneatis” (If you saw such a thing, could you restrain your laughter – a quote from Horace, Ars Poetica V) and reveals a cleric who had been hiding behind a curtain which has been pulled back by a hand reaching down from above (much like a hand in the Monty Python TV show). The poem below the image states:

The Curtain’s drawne; All may perceive the plot,
And Him who truely the blacke Babe begot:
Whose sable mantle makes me bold to say
A Phaeton Sol’s chariot ruled that day.
Presumptuous Priest to skip into the throne,
And make his King his Bastard Issue owne.
The Author therefore hath conceiv’d it meet,
The Doctor should doe pennance in this sheet.


Milton’s “Iconoclasm”, or the Smashing of Political Idolatry

Milton was very aware of what Charles and his supporters were attemtping to do in publishing the Eikon Basilike with its emblems of power in the Frontispiece, as these comments in the Preface show very clearly. I have put in bold some of the most striking passages:

First, then, that some men (whether this were by him intended, or by his friends) have by policy accomplished after death that revenge upon their enemies, which in life they were not able, hath been oft related. And among other examples we find, that the last will of Cæsar being read to the people, and what bounteous legacies he had bequeathed them, wrought more in that vulgar audience to the avenging of his death, than all the art he could ever use to win their favour in his lifetime. And how much their intent, who published these overlate apologies and meditations of the dead king, drives to the same end of stirring up the people to bring him that honour, that affection, and by consequence that revenge to his dead corpse, which he himself living could never gain to his person, it appears both by the conceited portraiture before his book, drawn out to the full measure of a masking scene, and set there to catch fools and silly gazers; and by those Latin words after the end, Vota dabunt quæ bella negarunt; intimating, that what he could not compass by war, he should achieve by his meditations: for in words which admit of various sense, the liberty is ours, to choose that interpretation, which may best mind us of what our restless enemies endeavour, and what we are timely to prevent. And here may be well observed the loose and negligent curiosity of those, who took upon them to adorn the setting out of this book; for though the picture set in front would martyr him and saint him to befool the people, yet the Latin motto in the end [Vota dabunt, quae bella negârunt], which they understand not, leaves him, as it were, a politic contriver to bring about that interest, by fair and plausible words, which the force of arms denied him. But quaint emblems and devices, begged from the old pageantry of some twelfthnight’s entertainment at Whitehall, will do but ill to make a saint or martyr: and if the people resolve to take him sainted at the rate of such a canonizing, I shall suspect their calendar more than the Gregorian. In one thing I must commend his openness, who gave the title to this book, Εἰκὼν Βασιλική, that is to say, The King’s Image; and by the shrine he dresses out for him, certainly would have the people come and worship him. For which reason this answer also is entitled, Iconoclastes, the famous surname of many Greek emperors, who in their zeal to the command of God, after long tradition of idolatry in the church, took courage and broke all superstitious images to pieces. But the people, exorbitant and excessive in all their motions, are prone ofttimes not to a religious only, but to a civil kind of idolatry, in idolizing their kings: though never more mistaken in the object of their worship; heretofore being won’t to repute for saints those faithful and courageous barons, who lost their lives in the field, making glorious war against tyrants for the common liberty; as Simon de Momfort, earl of Leicester, against Henry the IIId; Thomas Plantagenet, earl of Lancaster, against Edward IId. But now, with a besotted and degenerate baseness of spirit, except some few who yet retain in them the old English fortitude and love of freedom, and have testified it by their matchless deeds, the rest, imbastardized from the ancient nobleness of their ancestors, are ready to fall flat and give adoration to the image and memory of this man, who hath offered at more cunning fetches to undermine our liberties, and put tyranny into an art, than any British king before him: …

A very hard-hitting and quite funny rhetorical device which is so typical of Milton the political pamphleteer was to compare the desire of Charles to dominate Parliament (the “mother” of English liberty) and usurp its law-making capacity to that of the sun giving life-giving energy to the soil before anything could grow, or even more wickedly to compare Charles to a “mother-fucker” (the masculine tyrant raping “mother” Parliament) as this passage discussing Section XI “Upon the Nineteen Propositions” shows:

Yet so far doth self opinion or false principles delude and transport him, as to think “the concurrence of his reason” to the votes of parliament, not only political, but natural, “and as necessary to the begetting,” or bringing forth of any one “complete act of public wisdom as the sun’s influence is necessary to all nature’s productions.” So that the parliament, it seems, is but a female, and without his procreative reason, the laws which they can produce are but wind-eggs: wisdom, it seems, to a king is natural, to a parliament not natural, but by conjunction with the king; yet he professes to hold his kingly right by law; and if no law could be made but by the great council of a nation, which we now term a parliament, then certainly it was a parliament that first created kings; and not only made laws before a king was in being, but those laws especially whereby he holds his crown. He ought then to have so thought of a parliament, if he count it not male, as of his mother, which to civil being created both him and the royalty he wore. And if it hath been anciently interpreted the presaging sign of a future tyrant, but to dream of copulation with his mother, what can it be less than actual tyranny to affirm waking, that the parliament, which is his mother, can neither conceive or bring forth “any authoritative act” without his masculine coition? Nay, that his reason is as celestial and life-giving to the parliament, as the sun’s influence is to the earth: what other notions but these, or such like, could swell up Caligula to think himself a god?

No wonder that that the restored Stuarts put a price on Milton’s head and wanted to destroy all his books and pamphlets.

Joel Barlow “God save the Guillotine”

This is another post of my collection of National Anthems which began with the Australian: Australia Day: Girted, Skirted, and Alerted (27 Jan. 2021) and Rewriting and Resinging Australia Day (30 Jan. 2021).

God save the Guillotine
Till England’s King and Queen
Her power shall prove:
Till each appointed knob
Affords a clipping job
Let no vile halter rob
*The Guillotine*

France, let thy trumpet sound –
Tell all the world around
How Capet fell;
And when great George’s poll
Shall in the basket roll,
Let mercy then control
*The Guillotine*

When all the sceptre’d crew
Have paid their Homage, due
*The Guillotine*
Let Freedom’s flag advance
Till all the world, like France
O’er tyrants’ graves shall dance
And PEACE begin.

I came across him in Jonathan Israel’s books on “the radical Enlightenment”. His main political works include the following:

  • A Letter to the National Convention of France on the Defects in the Constitution of 1791 (London, 1792).
  • Advice to the Privileged Orders in the several States of Europe, resulting from the Necessity and Propriety of a General Revolution in the Principle of Government. Part I (1792) and Part II (1793)
  • A Letter Addressed to the People of Piedmont, on the Advantages of the French Revolution, and the Necessity of Adopting Its Principles in Italy (1792)
  • Two Letters to the Citizens of the United States, and One to General Washington (1799)

As well as a considerable amount of what is regarded as bad political poetry.

His collected works were republished in 1970: Works of Joel Barlow. In Two Volumes. Facsimile Reproductions with an Introduction by William K. Bottorff and Arthur L. Ford (Gainesville, Fla.,: Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, 1970).

There a fairly recent biography which I have not been able to read by Richard Buel Jr., Joel Barlow: American Citizen in a Revolutionary World (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011).

Australia Day: Girted, Skirted, and Alerted

After a long absence from Australia (20 years) it is interesting and instructive to be here on “Australia Day”. The day itself was hot and humid (37.5C) as was the perennial arguments about what “the 26th of January” is or should be all about, when “the 26th of January” should be held, or even whether “the 26th of January” should be celebrated at all. I fall into the latter camp since I am a classic example of a “rootless cosmopolitan”, as well as a “classical liberal”.

I find nearly all “national” anthems objectionable and usually refuse to stand or sing along at public events. This was sometimes hard to do when we were living in the US as most Americans are very “patriotic” (their term – mine is “nationalistic”). A study of several national anthems reveals that they often express very violent and chauvinistic sentiments which liberal people should avoid. I have given lectures over the years on “The Culture of Obedience” in which I discuss the political purpose of these anthems and how similar many of them are. See for example this one.

So what follows are some reflections on being “Girted,” “Skirted”, and “Alerted”.

On Being Girted

I was not living in Australia in 1984 when, as a result of a referendum, the national anthem was changed from “God Save the Queen” to “Advance Australia Fair”. I thought having a folk song known by most Australians would have been a better choice, as it is more of an “anti-anthem” than a true, patriotic song designed to inculcate respect for and obedience to a sovereign power. The song “Walzing Matilda” was after all a song about a vagrant who chose to commit suicide than to let himself be arrested for petty theft.

The version of “God Save the Queen” which we had sing when I was at school had this very objectionable second version, which has since been expunged from popular memory for obvious reasons. It went like this:

O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.`

Back in the 1960s cinemas would play the national anthem and we were expected to stand while it was played. My first overt political act was to refuse to stand when the anthem was played, which sometimes incurred the wrath of patriotic old ladies who were sitting behind me in the theatre and who would wave their handbags about in a threatening manner.

In early January the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, unilaterally changed one of the words in the anthem to try to appease the critics – we were no longer “young” but had become overnight “one”. This seemed rather odd and high-handed in a supposed democracy, so I thought it was now time to read the Australian national anthem from beginning to end to see what the fuss was about. The following words (the original not (politically) corrected lyrics) can be found on Wikipedia:

Australia’s sons, let us rejoice,
For we are young and free;
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil,
Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts
Of beauty rich and rare;
In history’s page, let every stage
Advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains let us sing,
Advance, Australia fair.

When gallant Cook from Albion sail’d,
To trace wide oceans o’er,
True British courage bore him on,
Til he landed on our shore.
Then here he raised Old England’s flag,
The standard of the brave;
“With all her faults we love her still”
“ Britannia rules the wave.”
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance, Australia fair.

While other nations of the globe
Behold us from afar,
We’ll rise to high renown and shine
Like our glorious southern star;
From England soil and Fatherland,
Scotia and Erin fair,
Let all combine with heart and hand
To advance Australia fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing
Advance, Australia fair.

Should foreign foe e’er sight our coast,
Or dare a foot to land,
We’ll rouse to arms like sires of yore,
To guard our native strand;
Britannia then shall surely know,
Though oceans roll between,
Her sons in fair Australia’s land
Still keep their courage green.
In joyful strains then let us sing
Advance Australia fair.

As far as national anthems go, this would have to rank pretty low down the list because of its stilted language, unimaginative lyrics, and chauvinistic national sentiments. In other words, it is not an anthem I would bother to stand up for.

Satirists like David Hunt have seized on one very stilted expression for his book on Australian history entitled “Girt” and “True Girt”. I hope he writes a third, the title for which I suggest should be “Girt Unbound”. Or perhaps he could rewrite the anthem in order to add more trite descriptions of “our” country, such as verses about “our home is domed by air” or “our farms are based on dirt” (“dirt” rhymes with “girt”).

I wonder if the composer of “Advance Australia Fair”, Peter Dodds McCormick, realized at the time he wrote the lyrics (1878) that the east coast of Australia was chosen for a penal colony precisely because it was so remote and surrounded by vast oceans and thus created a natural “gird” to prevent the convicts from escaping. A bit like the French “Devil’s Island” (founded 1852) only bigger and with both poisonous spiders and sharks.

Or that this self same remoteness would provide our beloved leader Scott Morrison with another natural “gird” to wrap around us to prevent people flying in and out of the country spreading pestilence and pox. The “Tyranny of Distance” now seems to have been replaced by “the tyranny of hygiene central planners.”

At the moment, I don’t think I have ever felt more “girt” in my life and so the words of the anthem will have added meaning which its lyrcist (if we can call him that) never intended.

On being Alerted

Peter Dodds McCormick wrote another patriotic song circa 1901 called “Awake! Awake, Australia!” which was a call for the new nation of Australia to come to the defence of the Empire. Britain was involved in fighting the South African Boer’s struggle for independence and McCormick thought Australian men needed to be “alerted” so they could “lead the van” in order to “keep the Empire won”.

Note also the repeated exhortations for “Australia Fair” to arise from its slumbers and to lead the fight for the Empire.

Awake! Awake, Australia!
Awake from peaceful ease!
The nations great are calling thee,
From distant lands and seas.
Thy dormant days are ended, thy hours of rest are run;
Now rouse thee, for a nation’s work,
and keep the Empire won!
Beneath thy bright blue skies,
Australia Fair, arise!

“Awake! Awake, Australia!”
Old Father Neptune cries,
“My children have to Manhood grown,
beneath the southern skies;
My northern sons have led you,
brave, darling me of old.
Now southern seas, bring forth your men
of worth and courage bold!”
Beneath thy bright blue skies,
Australia Fair, arise!

Awake! Awake, Australia!
Old Britain’s bracing cheer
Is borne across the waters far,
and all her children hear.
The echoes are reply-ing
from climes o’er all the world
Australia fair must lead the van,
with banner bright unfurled!
Beneath thy bright blue skies,
Australia Fair, arise!

I wonder how Scott Morrison would change some of these lyrics to make it more politically correct. Might I suggest making it more gender inclusive as I don’t think it right for only the men (manhood, sons) to do the fighting for “God, King, and Country”. Australian women also need to be “alerted” to do their patriotic duty.

On being Skirted

While we argue about what to call “the 26th of January” or when in fact we should have “the 26th January”, or if we should have a “26th of January” at all, most people seem to “skirt” around the issue of convictism. Scott Morrison, bless his soul, tried to rise this issue last week and got blasted out of the water by suggesting that it wasn’t much fun for the soldiers and convicts on board the First Fleet “Scott Morrison criticised for saying 26 January ‘wasn’t a flash day for those on first fleet vessels either’”. It would have been more historically accurate to have mentioned the Second Fleet which came the following year and suffered horrendous casualties en route (25% died) and a further 20% died in the immediate months after landing.

A very large spotted gum next door came crashing down early on Boxing Day morning, crushing 2 parked cars, and causing considerable alarm. I tell you this because one of the “arborists” who came to clear up the debris told me that his ancestor had arrived on the Second Fleet, which is why I got to reading about it. I asked myself if there had been a “Last Fleet” and if so, would they have called it that? Probably not. And do the descendants of the 2nd, 3rd, and nth fleets gather around the BBQ on Australia Day and boast about their family’s heritage. Again, probably not.

As a side note, in the Third Fleet of 1791 (was this the last of the “numbered” fleets to arrive in Sydney?) it is important to note that one of the vessels, the Mary Ann, had a much needed “cargo” of women, who were in short supply in the male-dominated prison. Ever since, historians have been arguing whether in fact the “Mary Ann” was the last ship to arrive of the Second Fleet, or the first in the Third Fleet. I’m not sure this bothered the women cargo as much.

The hyper-nationalism of some conservative groups makes the historian in me want to point out the fact, which they like to “skirt”, that the colony in Sydney was a military run penal colony which had most of the features of a centrally planned socialist economy, with coerced labour, a government controlled and regulated “public stores” system for the distribution of essential goods, a barely functioning or even non-existent free market, bans on liquor consumption, controls on what could be produced (to satisfy the requirement of the East India Company monopolies in the region), the leasing of land to favoured individuals, and so on. Thus, the early decades of the colony were hardly the beacon of private property, free market capitalism, and democracy which some conservatives today would like to think. Some of these things might come later, but not for several decades of experiment and failure with military central planning of the economy. On “the 26th of January” this is what comes to my mind not the sunnier “for we are young and free”.

Four arrested in Sydney’s Hyde Park after peaceful Invasion Day protest at The Domain – ABC News

Given the convict and military socialist origins of the colony in Sydney it seems more than fitting that police on “Australia Day” would arrest and possibly imprison protesters for not maintaining the required “social distancing” in a public place. (By the way, shouldn’t this be called “anti-social distancing”?) Perhaps in solidarity with the founders of the colony (or should we rather call them “inmates”) we should all attempt to get arrested by engaging in acts of civil (or even uncivil) disobedience. We could then protest “Incarceration Day” as well as “Invasion Day”.

Maybe next year.

Waving the Flagg (again)


James Montgomery Flagg (1877 – 1960) is a good example of how someone who works for peaceful, productive, market activities can get corrupted by the state in wartime. Flagg began work as a magazine and book illustrator before turning to creating wartime propaganda for the US government during World War I. Here is a fairly typical example of the kind of commercial illustration he did for magazines and newspapers before the war:

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