December 18, 2012

Danny Boyle has declined a knighthood.

He's about being "an equal citizen," he says.

Who else has declined a knighthood? Among others:
David Bowie, musician
Francis Crick, physicist and Nobel Prize winner
Michael Faraday, scientist
Albert Finney, actor
E. M. Forster, author and essayist
Michael Frayn, novelist and dramatist
John Galsworthy, playwright and novelist
Graham Greene, novelist
Stephen Hawking, scientist
David Hockney, CH, RA, artist
Aldous Huxley, author
Rudyard Kipling, author
Henry Moore, sculptor
J.B. Priestley, novelist and playwright
George Bernard Shaw, playwright and critic
Paul Scofield, actor
Ralph Vaughan Williams composer
H.G. Wells, writer
Meanwhile, also at the link: Winston Churchill declined a Dukedom, Neville Chamberlain declined an earldom, John Cleese declined a barony, and John Lennon returned his MBE "in protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam, and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts."

The United States is constitutionally forbidden to grant titles of nobility. How different would we be now if we'd been doing that sort of thing all these years?
Dignities and high sounding names have different effects on different beholders. The lustre of the Star and the title of My Lord, over-awe the superstitious vulgar, and forbid them to inquire into the character of the possessor: Nay more, they are, as it were, bewitched to admire in the great, the vices they would honestly condemn in themselves. This sacrifice of common sense is the certain badge which distinguishes slavery from freedom; for when men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.
Said Thomas Paine.

36 comments:

Carol said...

That's pretty neat. I like Albert Finney even more now, and can't get used to all this Sir Paul crap.

Maguro said...

What the fuck good is a knighthood now that you're not even allowed to ravage peasant villages anymore?

Lem said...

This sacrifice of common sense is the certain badge which distinguishes slavery from freedom; for when men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.

Too bad that sentiment didn't stay viral.

sydney said...

...for when men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.

Our country manged to yield up the privilege of thinking without titles.

Nonapod said...

I'm not against recognizing a person's achievements with a purely symbolic prize or title, but I often tend to disagree with the types of achievements (or lack thereof)that are deemed worthy of recognition. Obama's Nobel Peace Prize comes to mind.

edutcher said...

I can understand Huxley and Shaw (especially Shaw), but I'd love to know why Kipling, Faraday, and Crick turned it down.

Ann Althouse said...

The United States is constitutionally forbidden to grant titles of nobility. How different would we be now if we'd been doing that sort of thing all these years?

We'd be calling Cap Weinberger Sir Caspar - which I would do if i ever met him.

But we do call former military officers by their rank and we have all those other titles - Governor, Senator, Judge,...

Princess of the Internets.

Maguro said...

What the fuck good is a knighthood now that you're not even allowed to ravage peasant villages anymore?

Worse, they make you go to knight school.

(thank you, I'm here all week)

Baron Zemo said...

Big deal. It's no biggie durning down the chance to be a knight.

In 1959 Otis Redding turned down the chance to be a Pip.

That's impressive.

Gladys Knight never got over it.

Unknown said...

Considering the farce he made of the Summer Olympics opening ceremonies, Boyle deserves to be drawn and quartered, not knighted.

Patrick said...

I had to click the story to figure out who Danny Boyle is. Knowing that now, I find it funny that someone who created an Olympic tribute to a state agency would decline laurels from said state.

Bob R said...

Someone (I think Kevin Williamson) suggested that we even go too far with titles like "Mr. President," and that we should refer to ex-presidents like Bush and Clinton only by last name and in the same tone of voice that Mr. Burns uses for Smithers. I like it.

bagoh20 said...

I insist on being called "My Lord" in my bedroom. Yea, kinda lonely in there, but my dogs know who the master is, so I got that going for me.

traditionalguy said...

Bowing to a Royal family and honoring their blue blooded friends is a reenactment of the Roman Empire's main governing tool that worshiped the son of god, Augustus Caesar and his family.

That is also seen in the dividing line between Episcopal/Anglican ethos and the Presbyterian/Baptist ethos in our culture. The Presbyterians/Baptists won the war and have been dominant until the recent humanist religion based upon Gaia worship.

Since 1914 mega disaster caused by Royal family governance it has been done away with in most of Europe.

It's the old top down governance vs. bottom up governance.

Balfegor said...

How different would we be now if we'd been doing that sort of thing all these years?

We'd probably be paying our high civil servants less. They'd get a smaller pension, but a knighthood and maybe an Order of the American Empire for their service.

Our aristocracy is closer to the aristocracy of Imperial China -- much as our society resembles the society of Imperial China more than it resembles the society of the Framers. There, it wasn't precisely inherited titles of nobility so much as membership in a ruling class defined by high marks on standardised exams and prestigious education, honour derived from illustrious fathers or grandfathers, and titles of office.

kcom said...

What would Thomas Paine know - he's a dead, white, European male. Ideas don't stand on their own. They must come from the right people to be relevant. Now if a wise Latina were to say such a thing...

Balfegor said...

Re: Bob R:

Someone (I think Kevin Williamson) suggested that we even go too far with titles like "Mr. President," and that we should refer to ex-presidents like Bush and Clinton only by last name and in the same tone of voice that Mr. Burns uses for Smithers. I like it.

On the contrary, we should refer to all former high ministers of the government -- Presidents, Secretaries, Governors, and all -- as Excellency. Presidents can be "Most Serene Excellency," Governors "Serene Exellency," Cabinet Secretaries and Lt. Governors "High Excellency," Ambassadors and other inferior ministers mere "Excellency."

His Most Serene Excellency Barack Hussein Obama II, President of the United States of America.

Does it not roll trippingly off the tongue?

Icepick said...

Balfegor, did you work for the Nixon Administration?

edutcher said...

traditionalguy said...

Since 1914 mega disaster caused by Royal family governance it has been done away with in most of Europe.

Yes, now it's caused by any slob you see on the street.

Sieg Heil, baby.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

He's not allowed to be an "equal citizen." The most he can be is an equal subject. Unless he emigrates, of course.

Balfegor said...

RE: Icepick:

Balfegor, did you work for the Nixon Administration?

I forgot! UNIFORMS! With GOLD BRAID! Also get rid of that dopey fanfare and have them play soemthing that will make the listener tremble.

Also, victory titles -- Arianicus Maximus!

$9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

The United States is constitutionally forbidden to grant titles of nobility.

Mrs. Barbara Boxer will be disappointed to hear that.

Greg Hlatky said...

Adults neither seek nor accept awards.

What would happen if we granted titles? There was once a facetious monthly column adding new members to "America's House of Lords," defined as government operatives, media figures and "public intellectuals" who screwed up everything they touched or were wrong about everything they said or wrote but nevertheless always rose in the esteem of their circle, e.g. Anthony Lewis, Jaime Gorlick, Lester Thurow. Unfortunately, that's exactly the kind of people who would be honored.

creeley23 said...

The list of declines is a lustrous group. Does Danny Boyle really have what it takes to be a member?

(That's a joke, I feel I must mention, since it's come to my attention some commenters are rather challenged in that area.)

Anthony said...

Churchill and Chamberlain are obvious - they wanted to stay in the House of Commons, and accepting peerages would have removed them to the Lords. They knew where the real power was. Thatcher accepted her title because she knew she'd never have real power in Commons again.

Kipling was a surprise, though I suspect he may have thought himself unworthy of it, compared to many of the brave souls he wrote about.

Guimo said...

What about the so-called Medal of Freedom, which is handed out to retired hack politicians and leftist singers and actors?

Fr Martin Fox said...

The U.S. doesn't grant titles of nobility, but citizens are not barred from accepting them, as far as I could find with a quick Internet check. A constitutional amendment was offered to bar it, but it hasn't been ratified by enough states. In my opinion, it's a bad idea for the government to restrict citizens' choices in this way.

That said, I think it's a good thing that the UK continues to have a royal and aristocratic tradition.

In all humility, we can't claim to have perfected the art of government. We are a republic, and the mother country is a monarchy. So let it be. We can learn some things, and enjoy some of the benefits of the old way, without losing the benefits of a republican system. There's something to be said for the idea of nobility, however badly it fails in execution--but then the same can be said for our system in the U.S.

Amexpat said...

Granting titles of nobility can be a great way of raising revenue - even better than vanity plates. How about a "Sir" title after 10 million paid in taxes and a "Lord" title after 100,000 million paid (over the course of a lifetime).

Instead of avoiding taxes, wealthy people will actually pay more taxes to achieve status. As a gesture to the masses, a few titles each year could be granted solely on merit.

Crunchy Frog said...

I've always loved the inconguity of the British "Question Time", where the MPs would refer to each other as "the Right Honourable Gentleman" immediately before embarking upon verbal savagery.

Ahhh, good times.

William said...

I have never heard of anyone turning down a MacArthur Grant and only a couple of people who have turned down a Nobel. The people who turned down the Nobel were already wealthy. From this I surmise that people value money more than honor. I'd like to hear of some artist turning down a MacArthur on the grounds that the money might corrupt or subvert his art.... One of Napoleon's innovations in the art of warfare was awarding ribbons to those who distinguished themselves in battle. Men, especially enlisted men, would throw themselves in harm's way to win these pretty ribbons. So honor has its uses.

Mitch H. said...

Boyle's a pompous ass, and still a goddamn subject. If he wants to become a citizen, he'll need to emigrate to someplace that isn't a monarchy, and pass that sunny land's hurdles for citizenship. Citizenship isn't a stance or a lifestyle, it's a legal and moral relationship with a commonwealth.

I have to wonder what Kipling's deal was, if he refused a title. Titles are, I understand, tied up with class issues that don't necessarily make first-encounter sense to Americans, I suppose, and Kipling's writing and poetry has a lot of working-class posturing to it. Especially the Soldiers' Ballads.

Anthony's right about Churchill and Chamberlain - you can't have a title and sit in the House of Commons. I wonder if it's possible to renounce your title for political reasons in the United Kingdom? Hmm, apparently Douglas-Home did, to become Prime Minister. The schmuck went and took a life peerage after leaving office, though, so it was a pretty weak-tea sort of renunciation of title, more like a revolving-door that screwed his heirs than anything real.

Balfegor said...

Re: Mitch H:

Anthony's right about Churchill and Chamberlain - you can't have a title and sit in the House of Commons.

Not quite. You could be a Lord and sit in the Commons if you went by a courtesy title (subsidiary title of your father's main title) or if you were an Irish Peer. Irish Peers for some time could either sit in the Commons or get elected as a Representative Peer and sit in the Lords.

Balfegor said...

Re: Douglas-Home:

I wonder if it's possible to renounce your title for political reasons in the United Kingdom? Hmm, apparently Douglas-Home did, to become Prime Minister.

Technically he became Prime Minister first before renouncing his title and standing for election to the Commons. I think it's still perfectly legal for the Prime Minister to sit in the Lords, although Salisbury was the last to do it for his entire premiership. Custom is now that the PM is supposed to be from the Commons.

Anyhow, Home sticks out to me as -- I believe -- the last instance of the British sovereign personally choosing the PM. My impression is that for many years, the Conservatives' succession planning was essentially that the King/Queen will call someone to form a government, and that person will be the leader of the party. And there was a natural split between the Lords and the Commons. So it was Salisbury (Lords) vs. Northcote (Commons) in 1885, Curzon (Lords) vs. Baldwin (commons) in 1923, and Butler (Commons) vs. Maudling (Commons) vs. Hailsham (Lords) in 1963, that last resulting in the Queen's unexpected appointment of Lord Home as PM.

Paddy O said...

Didn't Churchill turn it down for the sake of his son?

Paddy O said...

Why yes, I could google an answer. I'm trying to be more extrovert perceiving.

sabeth.chu said...

perhaps he just figured out he doesn't want to be known as sir danny.
sir kenneth or sir laurence sound much more dignified of course.
vanitas vanitatum.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld said...

Apparently Kipling declined the Knighthood out of modesty, as he did the Poet Laureateship.

ken in sc said...

One of my NCOs called me Sir Ken. We were so close, it would have been awkward for him to call me by my rank--Lieutenant. I called him Chief. He was a Chief Master Sergeant. We both knew these ranks were artificial.