Why has Salman Rushdie accepted a knighthood, an honour which all his writings reject? Both of Midnight’s Children became republics. How can the voice of the end of empire bend the knee to the embodiment of racist privilege?
Rushdie’s knighthood has upset the mad mullahs. That it did not outrage the British left is a further sign of Labour’s debilitation. Blair arrived promising to cleanse the House of Lords. He exits mired in the sale of peerages.
When that Old Labourite John Mortimer called his memoirs Clinging to the Wreckage, he meant that he was keeping his ideals afloat on the flotsam of socialism. But in accepting a knighthood, Mortimer, and now Rushdie, have encumbered themselves with the wreckage of feudalism.
The decent response to the offer of any gong came from that Christian socialist, R. H. Tawney (1880-1962). When the Labour Party asked him to accept a peerage, he wired back “What ever have I done to harm the Labour Party?”
Tawney’s Equality (1931) was the foundation text of Old Labour until Blair-Brown took over in 1994. Nowadays, the right-wing reverends Blair and Rudd expel party members who appeal to Tawney’s call to abolish privilege as the ideological arm of a root-and-branch redistribution of education, wealth and power.
Although knighthoods are not hereditary, within the British monarchical order they are outliers to defend privilege. Titles sustain the delusion that some people are born to rule, whether by blood or inherited lucre.
Australian radicals laughed the attempt to install a bunyip aristocracy out of court in the 1850s. Henry Lawson voiced the standpoint of Old Australian Labor: “They call no biped lord or ‘sir’, And touch their hats to no man.”
Nonetheless, our aspiring republicans chase after their locally manufactured Orders of the Wombat or Marsupial Mouse.
Mass Murdoch has rejected scores of gongs for himself because he despises the editors who allow him to screw their minds if he got them a title. One employee whom he could not subvert was the late T. M. Fitzgerald. He declined several offers of Orders of Australia. “How does it honour me”, he mused, “to share a decoration with people about whom I know enough to put inside for years?”
Against all gongery, the secularist motto shines forth: “One does good, neither for fear of punishment nor promise of reward, but because good is good to do.”
Shame, Sir Salman, shame.