Photo credit: Dan Marsh via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0

The nonsense of a Royal apology for slavery

Apologies, traditionally, are offered by a person or institution which has done wrong, to the people that it has wronged. Which poses a question to those demanding an apology from King Charles III for the UK Royal family’s alleged historical involvement in slavery: Who has the King wronged? And who is alive today for him to apologise to?

The Guardian, the British Newspaper which campaigns on this issue, has identified a potential link between the King, and slavery: In 1689, William III received from one Edward Colston (yes, the same fellow whose statue was tossed into a Brighton river two years ago) £1,000 in shares in the Royal African Company, which profited from the slave trade. This, the paper says, is evidence of links between the Royal Family and slavery.

In the first instance, the links between the present King and William III (better known in Ireland as William of Orange) are deeply tenuous: The usurper Prince of Orange died childless, and was succeeded on the throne by his sister-in-law, Queen Anne, the final ruler of the House of Stuart. She, in turn, also died childless, and was succeeded by her distant second-cousin, George I of Hanover. There are no blood ties of any kind between Charles III and William III.

And yet, even if there were, the proposition that the present King should apologise for a gift received almost four centuries ago by a predecessor is absurd. Charles III is many things – a bit of a daydreamer who likes trees and organic farming and chatting about architecture – but he is not anyone’s notion of somebody who might endorse slavery. Nor is there anybody living who has been enslaved at his order, or at the order of anybody he has ever personally known.

An apology would be, amongst other things, deeply insincere: William III presumably felt no shame over slavery, or else he would never have accepted shares in a slaving company. How can the present King express remorse over the actions of a man who would have felt no remorse over them himself?

And to whom is such an apology addressed? Every slave ever even tangentially connected to the Royal Family is long since dead. Those demanding an apology are not victims themselves, but engaged in the theft of victimhood from others. “Apologise to me for something done to someone else hundreds of years ago” is an objective act of stealing: You are dressing yourself in the cloth of oppression, and demanding compensation for that oppression, though you have never suffered an ounce of the misery that the actual victims of that oppression endured.

The whole thing, to my mind, is farcical.

I write often on these pages about the theme that modern western society is in the process of replacing christian religion with a new secular religion, and that this new religion shares basically the entire moral framework of Christianity, along with levels of zeal last seen in the reformation. In this case, slavery is properly thought of as original sin – something that, like baptism in Christianity, adult white progressives must be absolved of. That absolution is provided by a coterie of modern priests, whose duty it is to provide moral leadership and the forgiveness of sins. That is how we have reached the absurd position where people who have never been enslaved are in the business of accepting apologies for slavery, and the position where Kings themselves must prostrate themselves before the Priests, as the predecessors of the eighth Henry once did.

In the new religion, wealth, for example, is not a sin: There is no “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle” test for the wealthy. What has taken the place of wealth, in the annals of moral crimes, is instead the more nebulous concept of “privilege” – white privilege. Male privilege. Straight privilege. This is one reason why the new religion is so attractive to society’s elites: Privilege is easier to renounce than wealth. And charity is no longer an obligation, since one person themselves cannot make a difference. Instead, privilege must be addressed by collective societal action: Gender quotas, racial quotas, and lots of other policies which conveniently leave the present class of societal elites where they are, largely at the expense of the children they’re increasingly not having anyway.

That all of this is absurd does not mean that it is not deeply felt. Imagine, for one second, the reaction of the King were to simply say “I will not apologise for things I did not do” in relation to slavery. It would be taken, in some quarters, as a practical endorsement of the slave trade. Here again we see religious parallels: The requirement to denounce and renounce sins you have not actually committed and have no intention of committing. It is, ironically, something that turns progressives away from Christianity – they are upset at a religion that requires them to oppose sins (homosexuality, adultery) that they may have no interest in committing in the first place. And yet, here’s the King, expected to renounce a practice he has never endorsed, and never would.

The need for a kind of spiritual sense of meaning in society has not, as some would argue, gone away. This good Friday, millions of people will remember the crucifixion of one man, two thousand years ago, who died for our sins. Millions other, though, remember tragedies like slavery and famines, and demand that those people’s deaths are considered totems of our modern sins as well. Two different worldviews, but both entirely, and equally, religious in nature.

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