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Prince Charles: feudal critic of capitalism

Prince Charles plays his role of feudal relic perfectly. Not only does he behave like one but he actually thinks like one, as his letters to the Lord Chancellor leaked last September reveal. The bewigged Lord Chancellor in knee-breeches is a bit of a feudal relic himself on occasions, but in civvies he's the government minister in charge of “justice”.

In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels refer to those who criticise capitalism from a feudal point of view, saying that sometimes their criticisms hit the mark. One such criticism is that whereas under feudalism social relationships (of dependence and exploitation) were personal under capitalism all social relationships tend to become impersonal. As one such critic, that old reactionary Thomas Carlyle, put it, capitalism replaces the personal bonds that used to exist between people by the “cash nexus” (he coined the term), whereby people come to be related to each other not for their personal qualities but merely via money as buyers and sellers of one sort or another.

This was a shrewd observation and a trenchant criticism of capitalism. Since the time of Carlyle things have got much worse: money-commodity relationships have spread into more and more fields of human activity. Like Carlyle, Charles the feudal relic has noticed this and doesn't like what he sees. Thus he was moved to write to the Lord Chancellor on 26 June 2001:

“It does seem to me that, over the last few years, we in this country have been sliding inexorably down the slope of ever-increasing, petty-minded litigiousness . . . I have to say that I also worry, despite your reassurances to me, that the longer-term effect of the Human Rights Act will be to provide opportunities which – whatever the sanity and reasonableness of our own judges – will only encourage people to take up causes which will make the pursuit of a sane, civilised and ordered existence ever more difficult. As I said to you some months ago I, and countless others, dread the very real and growing prospect of any American-style personal injury 'culture' becoming ever more prevalent in this country. Such a culture can only lead, ultimately, to the stultification of human relationships, to an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion, let alone the real fear of taking decisions that might lead to legal action . . .” (quoted in Evening Standard, 26 September).

The Lord Chancellor replied on 10 August but Charles thought about it for six months before replying on 13 February 2002:

“My letter of 26th June was perhaps too narrow; it only referred to the individual difficulties caused by the more extreme examples of litigation brought to exploit legislation which, in itself, has been laudably designed to protect people from exploitation by others. But I believe that these individual cases have to be looked at also in terms of the underlying attitudes they may reflect and in terms of their cumulative effect . . . The more I talk to people, the more convinced I am that this cumulative effect has the potential to be deeply corrosive to the fabric of our society. Human society is surely about human relationships, which are infinitely varied . . .”

Charles Windsor's criticism is valid: capitalism's tendency to more and more spread money-commodity relationships, does eat into the fabric of society, tending to reduce us all to the status of isolated atoms coming into contact with each other when we collide on the marketplace. The spread of a litigious personal injury culture, where lawyers encourage people to sue for monetary compensation whenever their “rights” are infringed, is a manifestation of this.

Of course Windsor has no solution to offer beyond the old feudal cry that “rights” must be accompanied by “duties”. And he won't be able to do anything about it if he ever gets to be king. As such he'll be the crowned head of British Capitalism and the ceremonial front for the very system which causes the effects he's complaining about. He'll just have to grin and bear it even if, as the recent court case involving Princess Airhead's butler showed, as monarch he personally can never be involved in litigation.

For socialists the way to smash the “cash nexus” is to go forward to a society where money would be redundant, a classless society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. In such a society purely human social relationships will be able to flourish freed from the contamination of money, but between free and equal men and women not between superiors and inferiors as in the feudal ethos that Charles wants to re-introduce.