Cultural Caviar

When Noblesse Obliged

July 13, 2014

 

When the People’s Will (an arrogantly self-justifying appellation for a terrorist group if ever there was one) assassinated Alexander II in the streets of St. Petersburg, they failed at the first attempt. A bomb went off, killing and wounding some of the Tsar’s escort, and the Tsar insisted, against advice, on comforting the wounded. He was killed by a second bomb while doing so. If he had fled the scene immediately he might have survived; and the second most disastrous assassination in modern European history would not have taken place. If Alexander II had survived, would there have been a Russian Revolution? 

Could one imagine three contemporary democratic politicians reacting in this way after a failed assassination attempt? The three monarchs and monarchs-in-waiting reacted in an immediate, spontaneous, and human manner, noblesse no doubt obliging; modern politicians, if they visited the wounded, would be thinking mainly of the photo ops. Modern politicians cannot say, let alone do, anything without first thinking of the opinion polls and the next elections. 

It is more difficult to assassinate prominent persons than it once was, because—paradoxically—the more emphasis we put on the democratic nature of our polity, the more physically removed and protected from the rest of the population our political masters become. The Autocrat of All the Russias (one of Alexander II’s titles, though he was in the process of reducing his own powers) kept to a routine every day that made it comparatively easy for his assassins, who knew exactly where he would be at a certain time. Franz Ferdinand and the Duchess rode in an open car, even after the first attempt on them.

I do not write this to suggest that we could or should return to the happy days of the Habsburgs. I write it merely to try to moderate slightly the not altogether attractive habit of self-congratulation that is so noticeable in our political class.  

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