The intrepid explorers of the internet wilds may be noticing some of their friends posting this little ditty today:
The fifth of November
The gunpowder treason and plot.
I know of no reason
Why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
This is a rather strange poem for Americans recite—it’s much more British in character. It references Guy Fawkes Night in the UK. For Yanks, however, it has become the rallying cry for supposed anarcho-libertarians, especially amongst the youth.
In the last decade, Guy Fawkes masks and other paraphernalia have become the symbols of populist revolt thanks to V for Vendetta. The brainchild of hairy leftist and comic-book legend Alan Moore, the printed series narrated a revolutionary warring against a dystopian fascist regime in Britain. The protagonist, named V, battles against authority with his knives, explosives, ideas, and penchant for alliteration. And he’s not just going to battle for your usual free markets; he wants everybody to do as they please, as long as no one else is hurt (a very common rubric for post-Enlightenment liberalism). Of course, this material didn’t gain such a level of popularity in the States by printed media alone; instead, most young Americans got their notions from the film starring Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman.
Now wannabe revolutionaries across the nation don Guy Fawkes disguises and quote “Remember, remember the fifth of November,” whether it be a teenager’s prepubescent meditations on how no one should tell him what to do or the massed (tear-gassed) protestors of Occupy and Anonymous. The film, with its enigmatic characters and symbolic violence (including iconic fictional demolitions of Old Bailey and Big Ben to the tune of the 1812 Overture), left quite an expanse for adolescent imaginations.
Too bad it’s a historical calumny.
Guy Fawkes pretty much wanted the exact opposite of anarchism in all its various inconsistent forms. He was caught guarding gunpowder under the House of Lords, thus putting Parliament (the representative, legislative branch in British government) in grave danger. He and the other Gunpowder plotters hoped to blow up the Protestant King James I, his Privy Council, most of Parliament, and the Church of England’s bishops at the State Opening. The goal of the Gunpowder Plot was to re-instate a Roman Catholic monarch upon the throne, probably along absolutist lines.
It turns out that, after the plan was foiled, the nation rejoiced that its entire government wasn’t blown to smithereens. The people of England lit bonfires (and, later, fireworks) to celebrate that the king’s life was preserved from assassination. The Church authored a special service to the Book of Common Prayer. Unfortunately, the Gunpowder Plot also reinforced anti-Catholic sentiments in the UK, making life quite difficult for peaceable English Roman Catholics.
So yeah, blowing up the one representative body in your nation in favor of an absolutist monarch aligned with the Roman See’s Magisterium does not spring from the insoluble pillars of anarcho-libertarianism.
Therefore, when you see your young Jacobin compatriot tossing about Guy Fawkes references, here are a few helpful recommendations:
1. If you’re Anglican, make sure he’s not plotting to blow up either your property or your person with blackpowder explosives.
2. Remark on how you didn’t know this person was a Catholic monarchist.
3. Warn them about the gibbet at Tyburn.
4. Link to this post.
5. Debate the merits of Gary Johnson as a presidential candidate.
6. Exercise your right to participate in the electoral process tomorrow, thanking God you were preserved from pyromaniacal Papists.
7. Remember and pray this little phrase from Evening Prayer: “O Lord, save the State.”