November 5, 2012

The 5th of November and Ahistorical Anarchists

The past decade has witnessed rampant Catholic absolutism. (Photo Credit: The Daily Mail)

The intrepid explorers of the internet wilds may be noticing some of their friends posting this little ditty today:

Remember, remember
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.”

32 Responses to The 5th of November and Ahistorical Anarchists

  1. yes, relevant and informative. The fireworks are a-crackin right nowe here in olde London town. But where i come from (Sussex), 5th November is celebrated in an anarchistic and paganistic spirit mixed with the commemoration of the failure of the Gunpowder Plot. There are bonfire societies in the villages of Sussex that prepare the whole year for the event. In the end, it’s a damn good excuse for a few pints of ale on a chill wintry night, dressing up in bizarre garb and letting off a bit of steam directed at authority figures.

  2. That’s all very true. Most people put on the mask, thinking they’re the dashing V played by Hugo Weaving. Too bad none of them are historians, or at least well-versed in research. Great job and great post, and happy November 5th.

  3. This was really informative, plus my knowledge before reading this was V for Vendetta!

  4. I didn’t know Americans now recite the ‘remember remember the fifth of november’ poem, hopefully they do it knowing the long tradition of bonfire/Guy Fawkes night in the UK. Which brings me on to another thing, you never get kids coming round anymore asking ‘penny for the guy’. We’ve gone terribly Americanised and forgotton about Guy Fawkes and concentrate on Halloween. But hey ho, I digress. Great post 🙂

  5. Nicely Done! Fitting for election week.

  6. poenasine says:

    The idea behind it is to stand up for something better than a pretentious leadership of corporation pawns. We know the history- we simply chose to use a visual manifestation of what we believe because we are sick of being told what to think, what to buy and how to vote.

  7. maxcollinge says:

    Wonderful! Interesting how fictitious media can be more influential than history!

  8. NMguiniling says:

    Historically accurate, but dismissive of the reality that the Occupy Movement is hardly the first social phenomenon to create a symbol out of something that doesn’t totally relate. In the graphic novel (not the film), V for Vandetta, there is actually no mention of Guy Fawkes at all: the mask represents not a religious monarchist, but an anonymous rebel. And Occupy masks are 100% about V for Vandetta; 0% about Guy Fawkes Day. Great article, but greater historical bumbling has occurred (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, anyone? Anyone?)

  9. susielindau says:

    I had heard about Bonfire Night, but didn’t really understand its origins. Love the irony of the protesters!
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  10. deWriterMD says:

    Reblogged this on MetaRead360 Small Press presents and commented:
    NOTE: I forgot that it was Guy Fawkes Day on Monday…not much about that here in the States, but if you didn’t see “V for Vendette”…it’s worth seeing.

  11. It is interesting how the nature of Guy Fawkes Night has changed over the centuries and even over recent years. In some ways by wearing that mask they are praising what might have been a 17th Century Bin Laden. I wrote about this and Guy Fawkes and the subsequent traditions a few days ago on via @wordpressdotcom

  12. Reblogged this on Bored American Tribune. and commented:
    I love this goddamn post. Remember, remember….J.W.

  13. Nice post, and very informative. Even if Guy Fawks had been an anarchist, being anti-government doesn’t make someone pro-liberty. The individual rights enshrined by the American Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights require a state to enforce them effectively. The state must be sharply delimited and heavily restricted in its powers, but it must be there.

    Ayn Rand makes this point clear in her works.

  14. cartoonmick says:

    Years ago, a teacher told our class that Guy Fawkes was the last person to ever enter parliament with honest intentions.

    Looking at our current crop of politicians, I don’t think he was far from the truth.



  15. Ask Liesmith says:

    It’s never been the origin but the spirit of a holiday that informs its commemoration. Christmas is just the re-birth of the sun god; Easter, the mother goddess’s great womb celebration — you get my drift.

    When all the textbooks are gone, time, which wears all things smooth as pebbles in a tide, is going to leave only the idea, the kernel of the 5th of November That pebble will remember the shape of the gunpowder treason; remember that a government should fear its citizenry, not the other way around; and remember that a man in a strange mask was involved and is commemorated.

    Guy Fawkes isn’t important because of what his religious or political leanings were. He’s important because he was one man spitting in the face of THE man.

    Nonetheless, good post and interesting.

    • fireandair says:

      Very poetic. Did you ever hear that saying that if you don’t remember history well, you’re doomed to relive it? Why not learn what Fawkes actually DID so that maybe next time some derpshert tries the same thing, you can avoid the same potholes he failed to avoid?

  16. I always found the anonymous- mask wearing crowd to be a little out of touch with the reality of the holiday as well. However, I think the graphic novel of V for Vendetta was in fact pretty anarchist, much more than the movie, so in that sense, they got it right. Anyway, it’s interesting to see how symbols morph and get co-opted by different groups, although for the most part, I’d say the anonymous mask has become pretty toothless, especially after appearing in Nicky Romero’s music video.

  17. jenniesisler says:

    This is precisely why I find it ridiculous that the Occupy protesters wear Guy Fawkes masks in the first place…thank you for sharing this:)

    • Coleen says:

      It’s also ridiculous because they espouse “global revolution” ostensibly against capitalism and its corruption, and yet the masks are generally made in China under less-than-free conditions.

      They line the pockets of those they claim to oppose.

  18. lesteast says:

    ah i knew most of this being english but for everyone else who doesn’t its good for them to know haha

  19. jessedpc says:

    this has been bugging me since I saw the movie years ago and aggravated by reading the comic and the occupy movement

  20. ketsi027 says:

    Reblogged this on News From Techland and commented:
    Well I think they have a point right and they bring a lot of attention in wich is good but that does not mean that it justifies what they do. Tell me what your feelings/thought are about this in the comments. Check out the support and the about pages

  21. […] of Guy Fawkes in their video messages (all thanks to V For Vendetta), even though Fawkes was a Catholic Absolutist who hated the idea of England being separated from the Vatican, a completely different image to what […]

  22. The Papist should not be celebrated. Liberty excludes; in order to preserve.

  23. matthewhyde says:

    I think the V/Guy Fawkes masks were the biggest mistake made by Anonymous/Occupy. When it boils down to it, the mask is a symbol of someone who wants to violently overthrow the existing order – it’s kind of hard to divorce Guy Fawkes wanting to blow up Parliament and V slaughtering politicians left, right and centre from that image….

  24. […] The 5th of November and Ahistorical Anarchists by Bart Gingerich […]

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