Hugh Grosvenor has just become the seventh Duke of Westminster, after his father, the sixth Duke, died the other day. The title comes with an estate worth over £9 billion, for the family owns more or less the whole centre of London.
Predictably there’s an outcry in the press, shrill in The Guardian, slightly muted in The Mail, about the unfairness of it all. Isn’t it awful that young Hugh gets the whole thing, while his two elder sisters will have to live off miserable trust funds. The papers don’t specify the numerical expression of this misery, but something tells me the two women are unlikely to be found at the end of the breadline in any near future.
But that’s not the point that excites our progressive pundits. They can’t get their heads around the ancient law of primogeniture, with its feudal roots. Anything ancient has by definition been superseded and therefore must be dumped into the dustbin of history, to use a phrase originated by Trotsky and favoured by our Labour politicians.
One would be tempted to wonder how they feel about Magna Carta, which was as feudal as they come, but that temptation must be avoided. Watching grown-ups sound like retarded children isn’t a good sight.
Primogeniture is based on Salic Law that’s old and therefore ipso facto reprehensible to our progress touts. It goes back to 500 AD, when it was introduced by the Frankish king Clovis. That same chap had a few years earlier baptised France under the influence of his wife Clothilde, who must have regarded her exclusion from succession under Salic Law as rank ingratitude.
In 1066 the Normans brought primogeniture to England at the end of their lances. That makes it almost 1,000 years old, which is enough to give our progressive hacks’ faces the puce colour that foretells apoplexy.
When progressive French revolutionaries began to exterminate the titled and propertied classes, Salic Law caused heated debates, typically settled by the guillotine. “Where is it written?!?” screamed the revolutionaries. “It’s written,” replied Joseph de Maistre, one of history’s greatest constitutional minds, “in the hearts of Frenchmen.”
(I shamelessly purloin this phrase when arguing that a written constitution, unless it’s written in the hearts, is like a prenuptial agreement stipulating the frequency of sex: if you have to write it down, you might as well not bother. My American and French friends are aghast.)
The basic principle of all types of primogeniture is the same: the eldest son inherits the lot. Like most ancient laws surviving to this day, it’s wise. In fact, ancient laws survive to this day specifically because they’re wise.
It’s obvious that inheritance through all siblings regardless of sex will eventually reduce the family to powerless penury. With no primogeniture existing, as it didn’t exist, for example, in Russia, big estates were fractured to a point where they could no longer generate a living.
Thus in Leo Tolstoy’s will his estate was equally divided among his wife and nine surviving children. That was about four hundred acres each – another generation, and there would not have been enough left to feed a family. Mercifully, the Bolsheviks preempted that problem by confiscating the lot in 1918.
This isn’t just a facetious remark but a comment on a causal relationship. For the absence of primogeniture was one of the factors contributing to the Bolshevik mayhem. It shifted power away from the aristocracy and landed gentry and to the nascent, loud-mouthed middle classes weaned on the egalitarian ideas of the Enlightenment. When they began acting up, no other class had enough power left to stop them.
That property, especially landed property, confers power is indisputable. When power passes away from those who have a vested interest in the country’s physical plant to those who are mainly interested in expressing themselves and venting their resentments, a disaster befalls. This may or may not be sanguinary, but it’ll always be calamitous.
Primogeniture isn’t only about royal or aristocratic succession. It’s also vitally important to the group living off the land and feeding us all: farmers.
One doesn’t have to be an agriculturalist to realise that large plots are more viable than small ones. A farmer tilling hundreds of acres will achieve economies of scale, which is essential in an enterprise with traditionally minuscule profit margins. Small farms are beautifully pastoral, but they can’t feed the billions inhabiting the Earth.
None of this matters to our progressives. They hate primogeniture not because it doesn’t make sense but because it provides a link with the past, the traditional object of loathing for modern progress junkies.
Hatred of the past is a defining feature of modern anomie. As far as today’s lot is concerned, the dial is zeroed in every generation, and nothing achieved by those who created our civilisation is of any value. Neither indeed is the civilisation itself.
Instead of looking with reverence and filial piety at laws that have been around for millennia, they sputter venom at anything that created rather than destroyed. They’re like a snake eating its own tail, except that this lot will end up devouring the whole body.