April 8th 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Euthanasia: shutting up by shouting down

EUTHANASIA British actress tells it like it is

CANBERRA OBSERVED Move on 18C a return to a classic Liberal position

EDITORIAL Kowtowing to China is a serious mistake

ENERGY Hazelwood is vital to Australia's power supply

FOREIGN AFFAIRS UK sets out on the bumpy road to Brexit

QUEENSLAND Women have a victory over the abortion industry

BEHIND THE NEWS Ataturk and modern Turkey out of the shadow

WEST AUSTRALIAN ELECTION Unions and Emily's Listers reap WA Labor's harvest

LITERATURE The Napoleon of Notting Hill: Chesterton for today

HUMOUR Excerpts from the revised and updated edition of Forget's Dictionary of Inaccurate Facts, Furphys and Falsehoods

MUSIC Program notes: Jazz's two-tiered appeal

CINEMA The Boss Baby: Tots that mean business

BOOK REVIEW End to history nowhere in sight

BOOK REVIEW That sinking feeling



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The Napoleon of Notting Hill: Chesterton for today

by Hal G.P. Colebatch

News Weekly, April 8, 2017

In 1904 G.K. Chesterton wrote a fantasy, The Napoleon of Notting Hill. It was, by coincidence, set in 1984, but had no resemblance to George Orwell’s terror-dominated police state of Nineteen Eighty Four. The year was not actually important: it was simply set in the distant but not too-distant future.

Nor did it resemble the other great dystopia, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the great nanny-state in which the masses were bred by a small elite for low intelligence and drugged by perpetual sports and orgies.

Instead it showed a Britain little changed from Edwardian times, but run by a bureaucracy. Parliament and the armed forces have withered away, there are hardly any police, and there is an elected king who does not do very much. The system runs itself.

Oddly, of course, certain elements of all three stories have come true in the real world. Britain, for example, has strong doses of Huxley’s nanny-statism and is also becoming Orwellian with spreading closed-circuit TV cameras and the increasingly ubiquitous and heavy-handed enforcement of political correctness. World Cup madness is pure Huxley and North Korea is pure Orwell.

Nineteen Eighty Four and Brave New World have influenced our political thinking and become bywords in political discourse. It is almost impossible to peruse the daily news without coming across some aspects of them, different as they are. But The Napoleon of Notting Hill, the least famous of the three, deserves more attention than it receives.

Life in the future created by Chesterton is placid, and the predominant colour is grey. If life is dull, nobody seems to mind much. If political debate has gone, nobody seems to mind that much either.

One day, however, a new king is elected from the civil service, and this king knows that he is screamingly bored. As an elaborate joke he invents fantastic histories of the London boroughs, and has each led by a Provost who must, on official business, wear an elaborate uniform with swords and plumes, and be accompanied by heralds. Each has its standard – the undistinguished area of Notting Hill, for example, has as its standard a banner with a red lion, that being the name of a pub in the area of which the king is fond.

The more hot and bothered the “Lord High Provosts” become in their ridiculous gaudy uniforms, the funnier the king thinks it is.

What will a man die for?

One day a delegation of them waits upon the king. They are all local businessmen who want to build a new shipping precinct through Notting Hill, but the Lord High Provost of Notting Hill, one Adam Wayne, is stopping them. The king listens to their very reasonable but exasperated complaints with grave attention, answering them in august, mellow and regal language as they become more and more angry.

Adam Wayne then strides into the audience chamber, also in a gaudy uniform and accompanied by heralds, but unlike the others he and his heralds wear their uniforms with an air. He answers them in the same, heroic, high-flown mode as the king, who thinks, to his delight, that he has found a kindred spirit – someone with whom to share the joke. He takes Wayne aside so they can enjoy a private laugh together: “Isn’t it splendid?”

Then, slowly, incredulously, with beautifully done dialogue, it dawns on him. Perhaps the name “Adam” should have been a clue. Wayne actually takes the whole thing seriously. He is not holding out for a better price for the new precinct but because he thinks it would compromise the honour of Notting Hill.

The king points out to him that most people would laugh at the idea. Wayne agrees “it is hard not to laugh at the common names” but says he has a magic wand, and once it touches the common streets and lampposts, men will love them and be afraid of them.

“Where is your wand?” asks the king. Wayne points to his sword.

And so it proves. Wayne and his men fight for the honour of Notting Hill under the banner of the red lion. The king, though dismayed by developments, at least limits matters by only allowing anyone to fight with medieval halberds.

Wayne’s opponents, with some hired men, fight at first for the shopping precinct and the profits they expect from it. But then one of them, after they lose the first skirmish, says he will not give up even though it is becoming unprofitably costly, because “My men fought jolly well today! We were beaten by a trick!”

His colleague looks at him in horror for he realises what is happening. First one and then another find they are fighting for honour and glory.

“Down with your public-house flag! Bayswater forever!” shouts one of the hired workmen who have been made into a makeshift army. “Bayswater forever!” repeats Wayne. “We have triumphed! We have taught our enemies patriotism!” By the end of the story the world is changed.

Which is the jester, which the king?

At first reading it seems that this has nothing at all to do with the real world. Like many of Chesterton’s works, the book seems to have been written in haste without revision, and the plot is full of holes. Even the eventual fate of Wayne and the king – the fanatic and the jester – is uncertain.

But, and also like many of Chesterton’s works, it seems at a second look to be setting out deep truths perhaps missing from Orwell and Huxley: Wayne”s first name, “Adam”, may be seen as highly symbolic: he symbolises the eternal human values. Western man cannot be forced into a mould of greyness and conformity without sooner or later rebelling; the bureaucrats do not have the last word; honour, splendour and valour may seem buried under the spirit of the age and the reasonable arguments of the spin-doctors, but they have a way of coming back.

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