“The Will of the King is the Supreme Law”

There’s a Kipling poem titled A Death-Bed I read many years ago and passed over because I didn’t understand it. It’s rather a gruesome thing, but also disjointed and hard to follow. Since then, of course, this Internet thing came along and explanations became easier to find.

It seems that like a lot of other Englishmen, by 1918 Rudyard Kipling really really hated Kaiser Wilhelm. And since there was no other way to do it, Kipling killed him with throat cancer in a poem.

Death-Bed
1918

“This is the State above the Law.
The State exists for the State alone.”
[This is a gland at the back of the jaw,
And an answering lump by the collar-bone.],

Some die shouting in gas or fire;
Some die silent, by shell and shot.
Some die desperate, caught on the wire;
Some die suddenly. This will not.

“Regis suprema voluntas Lex”
[It will follow the regular course of- throats.]
Some die pinned by the broken decks,
Some die sobbing between the boats.

Some die eloquent, pressed to death
By the sliding trench, as their friends can hear.
Some die wholly in half a breath.
Some- give trouble for half a year.

“There is neither Evil nor Good in life
Except as the needs of the State ordain.”
[Since it is rather too late for the knife,
All we can do is to mask the pain.]

Some die saintly in faith and hope-
One died thus in a prison-yard-
Some die broken by rape or the rope;
Some die easily. This dies hard.

“I will dash to pieces who bar my way.
Woe to the traitor! Woe to the weak!”
[Let him write what he wishes to say.
It tires him out if he tries to speak.]

Some die quietly. Some abound
In loud self-pity. Others spread
Bad morale through the cots around…
This is a type that is better dead.

“The war was forced on me by my foes.
All that I sought was the right to live.”
[Don't be afraid of a triple dose;
The pain will neutralize all we give.

Here are the needles. See that he dies
While the effects of the drug endure-
What is the question he asks with his eyes?-
Yes, All-Highest, to God, be sure.]

The writer at the Kipling Society page says the disjointed nature of the poem comes from it being written in three voices: Wilhelm, a doctor, and a commentator whom I’d guess is Kipling himself. (“Some die shouting in gas or fire; Some die silent, by shell and shot. Some die desperate, caught on the wire; Some die suddenly. This will not.”)

My own knowledge of the war doesn’t go any deeper than Tuchman so I’m no expert but I’ve often thought the people who fantasize about going back in time and assassinating Hitler aren’t going far enough back in time, and are targeting the wrong despot.

This poem didn’t go over very well, I gather, being “the most savage poem Kipling every wrote.” But Kipling’s own son died in one of those horrible battles, so I guess he was entitled to an opinion.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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12 Responses to “The Will of the King is the Supreme Law”

  1. MamaLiberty says:

    If one could go back in time… maybe the ones to kill, preferably early, would be “King Arthur” and his knights. From that sort of fantasy came the worship of “kings” and their “divine right” to rule, which morphed into the most dangerous superstition today that any “ruler” or “democracy” has legitimate authority over “the people.”

  2. Claire says:

    Ah, but then we would have just gotten more powerful, less-challenged, more brutal popes. If the state wasn’t around to make an effective claim on the divine right to rule through theft, slavery, murder, and terror, the church would have just dominated (even more than it actually did) in that insane endeavor of control.

    Kipling gets more interesting all the time.

  3. Keith says:

    Hi Mama,
    also the silly pieces of paper which some individuals mistake for protecting them from the despot, when it is actually the other way around.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Each spring the Kaiser’s army representatives visited the small, remote mountain village of several hundred people where my ancestors lived and ordered all of the boys out of their homes and into a line in the village square. Then all boys of a certain age and over were ordered to step forward to be conscripted into the army. Boys who were tall or large for their ages, even if too young, were arbitrarily ordered to come forward even if their parents could prove they were too young. Any boys who refused, or parents who protested that their children were too young, were shot on the spot in front of the entire village. Ultima Ratio Regum in action.

  5. MamaLiberty says:

    Yep, Keith… And Claire, the popes and priests and all the control freak preachers since are simply the other side of the king coin. There is no real difference. The problem isn’t the king or the pope… it’s the false belief and acceptance of “authority” by their victims. Talk about Stockholm syndrome.

  6. Expat says:

    Hitler brought forward a war that would have occurred in any event. His doing that and his inept handling of that war allowed an Allied victory that most likely would not have happened if Germany had started it a few years later.
    The Kaiser’s war was brought about by his attempt to contain Socialism and was a greater tragedy than WWII as it fundamentally and perhaps permanently altered Western Europe by killing off the the cream of the crop of 2 generations of male youth. What youths remained gave us post war Europe and that led to WWII.
    Far better to go after the socialist of the late 19th century and hang each and ever one of them. Leadership based on birth isn’t any worse than low information voters voting themselves Obama phones and food stamps.

  7. Steve_in_CA says:

    “Leadership based on birth isn’t any worse than low information voters voting themselves Obama phones and food stamps.”
    We have both.

  8. Expat says:

    “Leadership based on birth isn’t any worse than low information voters voting themselves Obama phones and food stamps.
    We have both.”

    Well, you got me there. Can’t wait for George III or whatever Kennedy currently isn’t in jail. Chelsea maybe?

    After working in the Middle East I can tell you that those Sheiks can herd cats better than any politician and with an entire country at their disposal, they can’t steal all the money so a lot of it gets filtered back down. About the only political (as opposed to cultural) freedom they don’t have is the residents can’t criticize the head guy or his family. Not even a little bit.
    They can and do go after the bureaucrats and when they do it’s far more effective than here. Something like the VA or IRS scandal would have been cleaned up within days.

  9. Keith says:

    Steve,
    Hans-Hermann Hoppe runs off a long list of very good reasons why, although monarchy is still no substitute for true freedom, democracy is a far worse system than hereditary monarchy.

    Paraphrasing Hoppe; imagine that you are the temporary caretaker of a house, you can keep the income from the house while you are caretaker, but in 5 years, it is likely that someone else will be the temporary caretaker. You cannot sell the house, or pass it on to your heirs.

    Where an actual owner will take care of it, to maintain its long term value, doing timely maintenance and tending not to take any shortcuts that will cause big future problems (they’ll get nagged by their heirs if they do!)

    The temporary caretaker will seek to maximise present income – even at the expense of major problems ahead – they’re likely to be someone else’s problem.

    In terms of cars – who’ve you ever seen polish and wax a pool car or a hire car?

    With democracy, you will only ever get the slickest liars, and short term robbers at the top, they can say what they like to get in, then they have a few years to reward themselves and their cronies, and whatever happens after that is the next psychopath’s problem.

    With a monarch – yes you can get absolute monsters too, but you also stand the chance of perhaps getting the occasional actual decent human.

    If the kingdom is the monarch’s property, he’s going to look after it for the long term – because long term problems will be his to deal with – or his heirs.

    If he does start acting foolishly and jeopardizing the future, his nobles and heirs are likely to constrain him with wiser advisers – or to find him a tragic and fatal accident.

    Also, before the era of “democracy”, war was the monarch’s business – he paid for it, and he took the consequences if it went wrong. He could not conscript, nobles and commoners alike could say “no” – they might have to find somewhere else to live if they did say “no”, but that wasn’t as difficult as it might sound in pre 1860s Europe; there were literally thousands of small kingdoms, independant towns and cities, independant cantons [counties], and even independant estates and manors, and even more of them in the days before Napoleon.

    Regardless of his megalomaniac ambitions, if a king had to pay for his wars himself, he would be very careful to only take the risk for worthwhile returns – and for very clearly defined ends.

    He would be a fool to start a war on anything poorly defined and open ended – he’d likely have to give up his kingdom to pay for it.

    Also, if he wanted to recoup his costs, he’d take great care not to damage anything with productive value, or to piss off the locals.

    When the Prussian royal house of Hohenzollern went to war with the French Republic in 1870, to get the territories of Alsace and Lorraine, civillians were not targetted or abused, Prussian officers stayed in French hotels, and paid their bills in full.

    Of course, when someone else can be made to pay the bills, you can get extravagant – you don’t have to be careful to only pick quickly winnable wars for well defined and proffitable ends – you can launch ever lasting wars on completely un defined and undefinable concepts such as “poverty” “drugs” “guns” or “terror” or “to make the world safe for democracy”

    and with democrapcy, war is no longer something the king does and pays for himself, while the ordinary people can get on with their lives largely unaffected

    With the claim that “you” have a stake in the state – then the state can claim that the war is yours too, and you have a “duty” to fight it.

    Is it any wonder therefore that we now have constant war?

    Incidentally – democracy is a form of communal decision making by which all are bound – the community decides – in other words: communism.

  10. Ro says:

    Keith, just a small point to consider but HM the Queen and her entire family has cost the UK taxpayers less money since WW2 than the last 4 US presidents. If you count the income from the crown estate the UK taxpayers actually profit by close to half a billion pounds per year.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Keith, another small point – my ancestors experienced a very different reality from the one you describe, see comment above re life under a monarch or other “royal” or local rulers. There certainly was conscription, and my ancestors did leave. It took them well over a year to get to a port where they could get passage on a boat to America, and they never went back even to visit. What my ancestors would tell you is that the “locals” had no say at all on any level in what happened to them or their property, they could not say no to anything. These families were also there during the many wars to gain control of Alsace and Lorraine and saw what happened to civilians when property and people were taken without any compensation and nobody consulted with them before initiating a war or asked them if they thought it was in their best interests. People with absolute power did whatever they wanted to for whatever reasons no matter what the cost to the people they controlled, and the people – not the monarch – paid for those wars in lost goods and property, lost lives, lost health, lost economic opportunity. I have different information from yours, from people who lived the times you write about. Compared with the stories from my ancestors, you have a very idealized idea of life in Europe in the 1800s and before. Another small point – The information I have is that America was set up as a Republic, not a democracy.

  12. Wibble says:

    Anon, your ancestors then proceded to then inflict far worse misery and mayhem on the original inhabitants of America. You didn’t even let them vote until 1925 FGS. The use of slaves in conditions not fit to keep a dog and the fact that you required a war killing 600,000 of your own countrymen to conclude it was wrong when European nations banned slabery decades before. In the case of Britain doing so empire wide at the stroke of a pen over 30 years before. The hulks of captured american slave ships can still be seen at Destruction Bay in Sierra Leone where the Royal Navy cut then in half to ensure they were never used again. Even then you pursued apartheid policies lasting until the 60′s, an action found distasteful even in WW2 when black troops were segregated whilst stationed in the UK. Whilst British forces comprised of every nationality, religion and skin colour. The war historian and former British officer Liddel Hart did little to hide his disgust of the practices. The Republic and equality was and is pretty selective on who it actually applies too.

To the stake with the heretic!