Monday, August 27, 2018

GANGS OF THE NEW WORLD ORDER
By Marian Kester Coombs


            Globalization can be described as the dissolution of national identities and sovereignties into a massified, featureless blob – a globaloma (with homage to Clare Boothe Luce’s brilliant coinage “globaloney”).  It also can be defined as the triumph of Capital’s eternal drive to pay the lowest possible wage.  Where borders once were shields against the excesses of predatory employment practices, if only by sheltering competitive alternatives, populations increasingly stand defenseless as their defining qualities are sucked into the black hole of the New World Order.

            The globaloma shrivels not just wages, but social power.  What is this scarcest of all commodities?  It can be as seemingly trivial and basic as being able to get a decent job, start and support a family, enjoy the respect of wife and children, “get ahead.”  It extends all the way up to being able to make decisions that protect, even save, one’s entire people.  Social power is the energy of life itself, an elixir compounded of the needs, desires and essential qualities of the flesh-and-blood social being.

            In the political economy of power, scarcity always rages; there is never remotely enough of it to go around; and in turn, the group and individual Will to Power is the prime generator of all scarcity in human affairs.  J.-P. Sartre claimed that human beings throughout history reproduce scarcity at higher and higher levels, but the scarcity of power is everlasting.

            Numerous competing power centers continue to exist in the not-yet-fully-globalized world of nations, semi-autonomous provinces such as Scotland and Quebec, ethnic homelands such as Kurdistan, loosely-administered or informal protectorates such as Taiwan, and a few remaining frontier regions such as the Tribal Areas of Pakistan.  These competing power centers help satisfy men’s burning urge to have control over the fates of self and kindred and community; they afford alternatives, second chances, refuge and inspiration as well as cautionary tales to those who have been put in check by their own societies.  “Empowerment” is the polite, PC term for the will to power, which cannot be denounced out of existence.

            Within any one society, of course, there are dominant and subordinate groups that share the limited available power unequally and more or less uneasily.  Often, though not always, such class stratification originates from the conquest of one people by another or successive others.  Dominant groups are better situated to recruit their own into the next cohort of power players.  The great task of every generation is to sort out which of its sons will win or be granted the status of men – that is, powerful self-determining adults – and which will remain essentially powerless (emasculated).  Societies like Ireland under British rule, where, no matter what their qualities, very few Irish Catholic boys could hope to attain manhood in this sense, are as a result fatally unstable (that instability persists in Ulster).  The same situation repeats itself around the planet, from the African experience in America to the caste system of India to the Intifada against Israel to the suppressed nationalities of the former Soviet Union; from the Hebrews under Egyptian and Babylonian captivity to the Saxons under the Normans to the Scottish clans under the English crown to the South under Reconstruction to the 19th-century Italian banditti under the nobles.

            The phrase “will to power” links this analysis to the philosophies of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, while the word “status” links it to the theories of C. Wright Mills, Richard Sennett, Paul Fussell and Tom Wolfe (who declared his entire opus to be a commedia of status pursuit).  These writers mock the “status panic,” “status anxiety” and “hidden injuries” of the middle class, as though all these amounted to no more than the petty dignity of a Walter Mitty.  But Eric Hobsbawm’s classic study Bandits (1969) better judges the real stakes of the struggle.

            “The gentry use the pen, we the gun; they are the lords of the land, we of the mountain,” explains one old Italian brigand quoted in Bandits.   Hobsbawm defines “social bandits” as

            outlaws whom the lord and state regard as criminals,
            but who remain within ... society, and are considered
            by their people as heroes, as champions, avengers,
            fighters for justice, perhaps even leaders of liberation,
            and in any case as men to be admired, helped and
            supported.

            The concept of social banditry illuminates folk culture’s enduring celebration of Robin Hood, Jesse James, Pretty Boy Floyd, Geronimo, Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa (not to mention Fidel and Che), as well as its obsession with love matches between indomitable commoners and maidens of royal blood in the face of fierce societal and parental opposition.

            “Youth gangs” based on ethnicity are today’s social bandits, celebrated in fashion and music video.  In 1961, only 23 large American cities reported serious gang problems; now half of all towns with populations of 25,000 or less report gang activity.  As male initiation rites wither away along with the social power they once conferred, the peer group becomes all, and the peer group in extremis is the gang.  As Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox analyze it in The Imperial Animal,

            In post-adolescent males, the genetic message is one of sinister
            and often undirected rebelliousness; this threatening information
            is received by older males, whose steadier hormonal systems go
            into reaction and insist on containment.

            But what happens when the old rites of passage lead nowhere, when containment never gives way to coronation – “The King is dead, long live the Little Prince”?

           
            To shift perspective somewhat, immigrants into a nation are the equivalent of an entire new cohort of youth in terms of their “message” to the established power structure.  They create an automatic power vacuum as they push their frequently unwelcome way into pre-established bastions of power.  Usually these immigrants have come from societies already suffering crises of power scarcity.  It has been well documented how gangsterism is the natural response of newly-arrived groups shut out of mainstream power relationships.  Virtually every ethnic group that has come to America, including the Germans but with the possible exception of the Finns, Swedes and Norwegians (who often became diehard Reds instead), goes through a gangster phase on its way to making it.

            Gangs create alternative institutions in a subterranean world with its own rules, values and rewards.  At the lowly street gang level, where one is less than a man, forced to remain a boy, one’s women are revealingly called “mamas.”  The IRA depends on such women just as Hell’s Angels do.  Since the “legit” economy is all sewn up – or at least does not offer a quick enough payoff to the young man on the make –  gangs develop their own underground or “black” economy of smuggled, stolen and forbidden goods and services – “vice” of all kinds – tax-free.  Thus do they amass the fortunes that buy them respect, that nectar and ambrosia of social power, first in their world and finally in the broader society.

            Gangs may be “just a phase” for most groups, but in some cases they outlive their initial purpose.  Irish-dominated political machines survive in big cities and in the Northeast.  La Cosa Nostra staggers onward, despite the great success of Italians in American life, still offering pilfered power to its “made men” even as Don Corleone’s dream for his son Michael in “The Godfather” – legitimacy – has long been realized; the gang makes men (“men of respect”) when mainstream society refuses to.

            Assimilation of immigrants, then, is in large part the process of gradually incorporating their men into the existing structures of power in the host society.  With the massive immigration flows of modern times, however, that absorption process is breaking down.  In some cases, as in the U.K., U.S. and Canada, quotas and affirmative action arbitrarily allow some immigrants to cut in line ahead even of more qualified native-born minorities, creating further political, economic and social chaos.  But for ambitious immigrants who are not winners of the power lottery, gangs more vicious than ever remain the time-honored way to go.

            The U.S. now harbors dozens of violent, ethnic-based gangs with hundreds of thousands of members.  As our nation’s sovereign power base is sapped by the globaloma, such gangs will become permanent features of a bleak landscape.  It is an already notorious phenomenon that second-generation immigrants may be more prone to gangsterism than were their parents.  A gang of the latest pattern, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), with its name so redolent of the Virgin and salvation, is headed by illegal aliens from El Salvador who joined in Los Angeles, were deported, regrouped in San Salvador, and have now reentered the country to prey on our fellow citizens.

            These citizens will be glad to learn that gun control meshes well with Mara Salvatrucha’s style:  Many of its murders are done by machete.   Naturally such a gang targets police officers.  Cops to them are just rival gunmen in the pay of the gang in power.  MS-13’s 20,000 members nationwide now include Mexicans, Ecuadorans, Hondurans, and Guatemalans as well as Salvadorans.  MS-13 is also reputed to have met with “a top al Qaeda lieutenant” in Tegucigalpa ... But not to worry:  Authorities periodically announce they have arrested and are planning to deport hundreds of MS-13 leaders.  (Again.)

            As this al Qaeda involvement suggests, the scarcity of power, authority and manhood has been internationalized.  Even Europe has reacted to America’s ueber-hegemon status by unionizing.  Unfortunately, the European Union seeks to counterbalance American power by wresting centuries’ worth of power off its national foundations – a process akin to tossing priceless Greek statuary into the street to serve as barricades.

            Terrorist groups are political gangs that operate like international guerrillas, snatching at whatever shreds of power they can reach.  Sometimes entire countries, “rogue states” in revolt against the stifling dominion of the hegemons, are relegated to gang status by the “legitimate” international community.  Referring to the Muslim world in Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History, neoconservative author Lee Harris threatens, “If a nation contains gangs who have acted with conspicuous ruthlessness, then it is not entitled to be considered a sovereign state.”

            Such a threat is the problem, not the solution.  Islam in fact is rapidly becoming the official creed of the world’s disenfranchised, disempowered men, radiating outward from its Arab base to embrace millions in the “developing” (i.e., subordinated) nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America.  The hegemons all have nukes; their poor relations want nukes, too.  No one who calls himself a man suffers another man to get the drop on him.  To be forced to disarm is to be castrated.  The situation is quite literally intolerable.

            There is so little room for powerful men in the emerging globaloma that the very subject of manhood is greeted with outright hostility.  Between nations and within nations, manhood is now vigorously discouraged.  An aggressive program of cultural neutering to complement the political neutering is underway.  The new behavior models for males – image after image of fat, sluggish dolts alternating with howling party animals – reinforce the message “Men are dogs.”  So relentless a reprogramming must be deliberate, as though man-hating viragos had seized power in Washington and Hollywood and Madison Avenue, Davos and Whitehall and Brussels and The Hague.  (But of course these “viragos” are themselves overwhelmingly male – men dedicated to the dispossession and disempowerment of their very own “fellow men.”) It also explains why public education is so stupefying and border control such a joke:  Countless men who would have had a shot at social power in a sovereign America must now be reprogrammed as submissive proles.

            “Women have needs, too,” some will point out.  Women too want power over their lives, to separate from their mothers, to not be dependent on “the kindness of strangers,” to feel significant, to become successful adults; but the drive of girls to attain adult womanhood is not the driving force of history.  Women continue overwhelmingly to choose men for their power potential and to then share in that status.  Where women’s will to power most powerfully manifests itself is in mothers’ ruthless promotion of their own children’s interests over those of other bitches’ brats.  Meanwhile their daughters more or less mercilessly whittle away at the stock of rivals competing for the most potent males: “mean girls” in a war of attrition, culling the herd of “superfluous” females.

            Yet Steve Sailer is insightful to argue that men have started investing a great deal more in their daughters now that most families are down to one or two children.  Half the one-child families will have a daughter only, while two-thirds of the two-child families will have either one or two daughters; in the absence of any son, many fathers treat a daughter like a son.

            Also factored into this transformation must be the campaign against manhood, however:  fathers realize their daughters must develop masculine characteristics in the absence of men able to protect or support them in future.  Lionel Tiger for his part argues that women are surging ahead of men in degree of education because they now expect to have to support both themselves and their children, while men expect to support themselves alone.
           
            As for gangs “as heroes, as champions, avengers, fighters for justice, perhaps even leaders of liberation,” in Hobsbawm’s words, most if not all revolutionary movements do begin as gang-like “cells” – Freemasons, Committees of Correspondence, Minutemen, the League of the Just – that array themselves against the powers that be.  The language of our Declaration of Independence clearly voices the resentment felt by subjugated men toward their haughty masters:

            The History of the present King of Great-Britain is
            a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all
            having in direct Object the Establishment of an
            absolute Tyranny over these States. ... He has
            dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for
            opposing with manly Firmness his Invasions on
            the Rights of the People. ... He has combined
            with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign
            to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by
            our Laws ...

            The American revolutionary experience, thankfully, led to greater social empowerment, greater freedom, greater self-determination; but the rise of gangs to challenge and replace anciens régimes is not always a liberating development.  The Jacobins and Bolsheviks spring to mind.  The Nazis are a particularly complex example, a hybrid of street thugs, parvenus and other marginal types with established major players in German industry and the military.  The Freikorps bands, reorganized as the SA and then replaced by the Waffen-SS, contested the Wehrmacht for its monopoly on the use of force.  In a mere dozen years Nazi gang culture transformed the face of Germany.  The entire nation adopted the gang signs, songs, symbols, insignia, acronyms and colors of the NSDAP.  The nation itself in effect became a gang, desperately battling hegemonic Britain for its stolen “place in the sun.”

            In the recent film “Der Untergang” (“Downfall”), a burning-eyed Goebbels is shown more than once slipping away to stare into a mirror; you get the sense that he has done this many times, veering off to gaze at his image in its dramatic uniform as though to pinch himself – “It is really I, who was nothing and am now a god of the Third Reich.”  Goebbels preferred his children to die rather than be “slaves” in the postwar order.

            In sum, history is a great Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story of the struggle of men to ensure that their own sons become the men of the next generation – real autonomous manhood being the scarcest of all forms of social power.  Globalization thwarts and aborts this process for untold millions by gutting and abstracting older forms of power and authority – just as the One Ring does in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasia on this very process, The Lord of the Rings. And ceaseless emigration and immigration destroy the alchemy of assimilation that historically gave newcomers entrée to social power.

            Further, globalization’s surreal concentration of authority into fewer and fewer hands strangles not only the power built up over centuries by hundreds of dominant national groups, but also the possibility of any meaningful meritocracy of individuals.  The latter phenomenon was an upside feature of the expansive, revolutionary phase of European and American industrialization; there is no way within the globaloma that this miracle could ever come to pass again.  There will arise instead a vanishingly small coterie of the legitimate, already prefigured in the phenomenon of political dynasties.  The Bushes and Cheneys, Kennedys and Clintons will take care that their own never sink into peonage; the rest of us will be the equivalent of bastards, dependent, powerless and “lumpenized.”

            Yet history is also the story of irresistible resistance to tyranny.  People’s response to power shortages in the past has been to form alternative institutions to keep alive their identity and aspirations:  trade unions, workingmen’s associations, Friendly Societies offering benefits “such as unemployment, superannuation, sickness, accident and death allowances” (from G.D.H. Cole and Raymond Postgate, The Common People 1746-1946), co-operative workshops and factories, “Co-Op” stores (which introduced the masses to healthy foods), credit unions, strike funds, underground schools that taught forbidden languages like Basque and Irish,  samizdat, boycotts, organized Luddism and sabotage, vigilantism, “subversive” forms of religious belief, not to mention the vibrant cultures of pub and music hall.  These institutions helped heal the ravages of raw industrial capitalism; they long predate the imitations that the State was forced to come up with to deter revolution.

            The rising global elites now are quietly, swiftly shifting to their own new institutions like the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol, the Law of the Sea Treaty and the imposition of a global tax under the cover of U.N. “reform.”  They seem to be trying as rapidly as possible to lay waste traditional institutions – religion, marriage, citizenship, private property, the separation of powers, equality before the law – as they abandon them.  The Supreme Court has begun citing international conventions, not the Constitution.  Free traders in Congress behave as though favoring American workers were an act of the most hideous racism.

            The more centralized and totalized the government, the less benefit to the governed.  Healing the ravages of globalization will require salvaging and rebuilding alternative power centers of our own.  Home schooling and the charter school movement are immensely important enterprises in this cause.  The Minuteman Project’s direct action on America’s southern border, “just doing” the job that the official border-controllers refuse to, is another great precedent.  Even blogging, while a very mixed bag, serves notice that “official” sources of information are no longer allowed to do their usual lousy job of framing the news, and demonstrates that there are far more voices out there demanding to be heard than can possibly be accommodated by the so-called MSM.

            On September 11, 2001, the only hijacked plane that did not find its mark was brought down by a gang of passengers armed only with the heroism of despair.  When the state goes off its rocker, as it periodically does, it is the “little platoons” of civil society that set our lives in vital order once again.


NOTE, August 2018: I wrote this essay more than 10 years ago, but it didn’t seem to need much updating.
---- Marian Kester Coombs

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Things of This World


The world is so full of a number of things
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.
                                   Robert Louis Stevenson




     The greatest mass divestiture of material goods in history has begun, as the vast rich postwar generation tries, without success, to pass its vast riches on to its daughters and sons. For a variety of reasons the children of Boomers – called Millennials or Gen X or Gen Y or the Baby Boom echo or whatever – those born roughly between 1980 and 2000 – will not and cannot inherit their parents’ heritage or accept their inheritance. They reject our exotic dust-magnet tchotchkes, they have no use for our closets full of clothing groaning on the rack or our cupboards bulging with dishes and glasses and gadgets and gizmos, they won’t take our credenzas or escritoires or étagères or vanities or china cabinets or recliners or wedding silver or pianos, they don’t want our impressive lifelong collections or craft supplies or artwork or souvenirs or even family photos and home movies.





I will not come today.

“Cannot” is false, and that I dare not, falser.

I will not come today.
                                           from Julius Caesar



     The “will not” part has to do with the aesthetic of Less. The electronic reduction of films, music, photography and print to computer files, out of sight/out of mind, has played a huge role in the divestiture. Instead of lovingly preserving sensuous material objects, Boomers’ kids even tolerate the periodic loss of all their personal data in computer crashes. They seem to be less attached to “the things of this world” than we their parents could ever bring ourselves to be. Of course there is a positive aspect to this attitude. Possessions can tie one down and hold one back. Riches can be defined in many ways, both material and spiritual. It appears the postwar generation overbought. ...


     The “cannot” part has to do with the high cost of living which limits the housing size, storage space, cash flow and savings of this younger generation. The Boomers did very well for themselves even working parttime; now two fulltime earners are required to live the good life. And if you live in any American city, you don't want a car, not even a free one.




… The things I brought with me from far away,
compared with theirs, look strangely not the same:
in their great country they were living things,
but here they hold their breath, as if for shame.
              from “The Solitary,” Rainer Maria Rilke




     Possessing no current intentions of having their own progeny, the Boomers’ kids also turn their noses up at all the boxes of adorable infant and child toys and onesies and bibs and impossibly tiny t-shirts that read “Mama’s Angel Baby” and the darling children’s books with their gentle truths and beautiful illustrations. Indeed one of the saddest desertions, one of the most shocking betrayals, is the rejection of the Book itself.

     Boomers have already bravely faced up to the bitter downfall of their beloved LPs – record albums – vinyl … But books? Who doesn’t want books? Everybody, it turns out. You can’t give the things away; in fact you must pay to have them removed from your premises and dumped into (ironically) unmarked graves.

     Boomers’ kids do read, of course, but prefer Kindle-type interfaces. At least they do now: there is growing evidence that, like vinyl, material books are starting to make a comeback. There’s nothing like the feel of a vintage volume in the hand, the antique fragrance, the impression of the engraver’s plate on the bond paper …

     Such a typical Boomer utterance, that. We sure did love our “stuff.” We still do. It makes us feel secure, successful, complicated. The immense material edifice we have constructed will never be reconstructed. Its loss will impoverish future society and wipe out a great deal of social memory. Of more serious concern is the potential for the Internet alteration, “scrubbing” or "disappearing" of knowledge and history. How can biographies be recollected with no letters or pictures or tangible objects to refer to?

      The twilight years of these Things will pass silently, locked inside the thousands of square miles of storage units crowding the land. But much more will be carted off en masse to China or snapped up by immigrants at yard sales. Never to return.


Love Calls Us to the Things of This World
                                               Richard Wilbur



The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,

And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul   

Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple   

As false dawn.

                     Outside the open window   

The morning air is all awash with angels.



    Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,   

Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.   

Now they are rising together in calm swells   

Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear   

With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;



    Now they are flying in place, conveying

The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving   

And staying like white water; and now of a sudden   

They swoon down into so rapt a quiet

That nobody seems to be there.

                                             The soul shrinks



    From all that it is about to remember,

From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,

And cries,

               “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,   

Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam

And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”



    Yet, as the sun acknowledges

With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,   

The soul descends once more in bitter love   

To accept the waking body, saying now

In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,   

    “Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;

Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;   

Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,   

And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating   

Of dark habits,

                      keeping their difficult balance."

Sunday, March 12, 2017

National Hymns and Patriotic Anthems


Marian Kester Coombs
September 2016                   


National anthems originate as paeans to a people’s self. At the very least anthems inspire solidarity and express a people's self-image or -concept. They serve as the soundtrack of nascent nations and established empires as well as of smaller human cohorts. Their form and content range from the most bloody-minded of fight songs to the most Utopian of hymns to the Creator.

In modern times the massive expansion of global self-consciousness has led in some cases to anthems-by-committee being superimposed on native musical traditions, so a given anthem may no longer characterize a particular nation any more than all the people in that nation may belong to one original nationality.

But most modern national anthems began as hymns and were then transformed by political upheaval or nation-building. Nations – from natio, Latin for clan, race or tribe related by birth – are born believing in their own divine origin: that their people were fashioned by gods who condescended to descend to earth, or who at least continued to consider their creatures the unique "people of God." As such, the national hymn confidently invokes divine aid in smiting the foe and gaining victory on the battlefield.

The Old Testament is full of such accounts of the deeds of  Yahweh – Deus Sabaoth, Lord God of Hosts – all of which are anthemic for the people of Judah. "Rock of Ages" (“Ma’oz Tsur”) is an ancient hymn common to both Jewish and Christian faiths since at least the 14th century. It was translated from Hebrew to German in the 19th century, and to English not long after:


Thou amidst the raging foe / Wast our shelt'ring tower.
Furious they assailed us, / But Thine Arm availed us,
And Thy Word / broke their sword,
When our own strength failed us.

"Rock of Ages" is a classic example of simultaneous prostration at the feet of divine providence and of militant self-worship common to the root anthems of earth's peoples. In the Western tradition we can also begin with the paeans of ancient Greece, songs of triumph and thanksgiving that preceded, accompanied and followed battle. Paeans were as likely to be sung by private armies like Achilles's Myrmidons as they were to represent an entire city-state. The root of the word seems to be related to “healing”: a shaman’s chant to the gods for restoration after the stress of battle. Achilles has his men sing one after the slaying of Hector in the Iliad.

Before most Western peoples awoke to their nationhood, however, there was the greater body of Christendom, and Christian hymns that functioned to all intents and purposes as anthems. One of the earliest was "Fairest Lord Jesus" (Schoenster Jesu), also called the Crusaders' Hymn, sung to the tune well known today as "Morning So Fair to See." Its history is of interest in light of Islam's renewed attack upon the West.

When Muslim armies recaptured Jerusalem in 1187, Pope Innocent II called upon Europe's knights to answer that grievous provocation. But the knights were battle-weary. In the spring of 1212, however, a 15-year-old shepherd boy named Stephan inspired thousands of French children to follow him to the Holy Land. At the same time a German 10-year-old named Nicholas was rousing thousands of his own fellow boys and girls. "These unsuspecting lambs of Europe began to gather in flocks to begin their pilgrimage southward," records the Christian History Institute. This was the Children's Crusade. By tradition these young soldiers, "escorted by butterfly and bird," sang "Fairest Lord Jesus" as they marched – to slavery, starvation, disease and death.

Centuries later this hymn was finally collected in the 1677 Muenster Gesangbuch. Still later, in 1842, August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, who wrote the poem “Deutschland ueber alles,” heard Silesian peasants singing the hymn and recorded it in his Schlesische Volkslieder. The first known English translation was by Richard Storrs Willis, the Bostonian composer of "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear," who published it in his Church Chorals and Choir Studies (1850).

Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nature,
O Thou of God to earth come down,
Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor,
Thou, my soul's glory, joy and crown.

The verses go on to extol fair meadows, woodlands, sunshine, moonlight – than all of which is Christ more fair – which presage the degeneration of the text into the bland nature-worship of Vincent Silliman's 1934 version:

Morning so fair to see, night veiled in mystery,
Glor'ious the earth and resplendent skies!
Great God, we march along, singing our pilgrim song,
As through an earthly paradise.

As befits an ancient nation, Britain boasts the earliest and most varied national hymns and anthems, although to this day she has resisted picking an official one. Perhaps her first was the paean sung at a famous medieval victory. In Shakespeare's Henry V, after the English miracle at Agincourt in 1415, the king instructs his band of brothers, "Do we all holy rites./Let there be sung Non nobis and Te Deum,/The dead with charity enclosed in clay ..."

Non nobis was the Latin version of Psalm 115, a prayer of humble thanksgiving:



Non nobis, Domine, Domine,
Non nobis, Domine,
Sed nomini, sed nomini tuo da gloriam.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to your name be the glory.

The victory soon afterwards inspired its own popular lay, which has become known as The Agincourt Song, Hymn or Carol, or simply as Deo gracias. The words' author is unknown but the melody is attributed to John Dunstable (? – 1453). As in a topical calypso number, there are six verses recounting the history of the campaign, of which the first is:

Our King went forth to Normandy
With grace and might of chivalry.
There God for him wrought marvellously,
Wherefore England may call and cry:
    Deo gracias, Deo gracias, Anglia redde pro victoria!

In 1740, it is well documented, "Rule, Britannia!" was written by Thomas Arne, a close colleague of Handel, and first performed at a masque for the Prince of Wales. While not quite an official anthem, it fit the bill beautifully, being born in bellicosity (that wildly emotional naval episode with Spain dubbed The War of Jenkins' Ear), oozing confidence in divine favor, and boasting the best fight-song chorus ever:

When Britain first at Heav'n's command
Arose from out the azure main,
This was the charter of the land,
And guardian angels sang this strain:
            Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves;
            Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!

But it is "God Save the King," whose roots are much older than the War of Jenkins' Ear, that bears the distinction of being the world's first proper national anthem, although its musical and lyrical histories are murkier.

Two key lines date from a gathering of the fleet at Portsmouth in 1545 during the reign of Henry VIII; the watchword was "God save the King" and the reply was "Long to reign over us." This song too was first performed in 1740, at a private royal dinner to celebrate the victory at Portobello. Thus 1740 would seem to be the year that Britain woke to national self-awareness, a pearl formed painfully by the constant irritation of rival empires. The first verse:

God save our gracious King! / Long live our noble King!
God save the King!
Send him victorious, / Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
God save the King!

The second verse, no longer sung:

O Lord our God arise, / Scatter his enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics, / Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix:
God save us all!

The earliest public performances of "GSTK" were at Drury Lane and Covent Garden in 1745, this time in a welter of rage and fear after the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie, had landed in Scotland with his band of doomed romantics. The lyricist is unknown. Traditionally a "John Bull" is cited – so perhaps the words were never formally composed but simply popped out of the popular subconscious. But it's in the music that the real controversy lies. An original melody is music’s Holy Grail. Lyrics: a dime a dozen. A good tune: priceless.

Handel, Purcell, Arne and Henry Carey have all been all credited with the melody, but the most specific evidence points to Jean-Baptiste Lully (Giambattista Lulli), Louis XIV's court composer. Lully supposedly was commissioned by the King's mistress to write a song for the opening of the St.-Cyr military academy in 1686. He based it on a paean already sung whenever French royalty put in an appearance, "Domine salvum fac Regem." The song was not heard again until 1745 – ironically chosen by the Old Pretender (James Stuart) as his own anthem as he prepared to invade England from France. The outcome of that exercise determined which force would claim the anthem for its own.

A dozen years later, an anonymous lyricist (thought to have been Charles Wesley) set new words to the melody, creating the hymn "Come, Thou Almighty King." Wesley’s motive was to counter the deification of royalty so pronounced in "GSTK." Yet it was not so long before that no one batted an eye at the identification of the mortal king with God himself.

Come, Thou almighty king / Help us Thy Name to sing,
Help us to praise:
Father, all glorious, o'er all victorious,
Come and reign over us, Ancient of Days.

Lyrics do matter, on occasion. When a band of British soldiers demanded that a Long Island congregation sing "GSTK" during the Revolutionary War, the colonials defiantly sang "Come, Thou Almighty King" instead. Nor would any Scot worth his salt ever submit to singing the verse of "GSTK" that exhorts His Majesty to "sedition hush, and like a torrent rush, rebellious Scots to crush."

Lyrics matter, music matters, anthems matter. When the British conceded defeat at Yorktown, their band famously played "The World Turned Upside Down." And when the British handed Aden over to Egypt in 1967, the band played Lionel Bart's Cockney plaint "Fings Ain't Wot They Used to Be."

The adoption of "God Save the King" kicked off a craze for national anthems that has never abated. Many nations simply took over the tune and translated the lyrics into their own tongue. Russia, Prussia, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and Liechtenstein all did so, and the latter continues to use it. As one musicologist wrote, "There is something alluring in the fact that the best-known tune in the world should have no known composer." Words come and go, political sentiments ebb and flow, but a great tune is forever.

Take Germany's anthem, "Deutschland Ueber Alles." This beautiful theme originally belonged to Austria-Hungary; it had been adapted by Haydn from an old Croatian folk song and set to a poem, "Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser" ("God Preserve Emperor Franz"), which poet Ludwig Haschka had modeled on the lyrics of "GSTK," and dedicated to Kaiser Franz II on his birthday in 1797. (The wee sovereign was five years old.) Haydn also employed it for a set of variations in one movement of his "Emperor" String Quartet #62 in C major, Op. 76 No. 3 (Poco adagio, cantabile).

All for naught: once the Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to be in 1918, it lost its anthem to Germany, which had been lusting for it all the while (though it remains in hymnals as “Austria” or “The Austrian Hymn”). The song became the official – if stolen – Deutschlandslied in 1922 during the Weimar period, in a conscious effort to allay political doubts about the Republic. Hoffman von Fallersleben’s 1841 nationalist poem urging Germans to place the unification of the German people “above all else in the world” fit the melody like a glove.

Today only the third verse is sung; the others have been suppressed.

Unity and right and freedom / For the German fatherland.
Let us all strive to this goal, / Brotherly, with heart and hand …

Beethoven’s Ode to Joy has also been much coveted as an anthem. The European Union snagged it in 1972. Not if but when the EU finally folds, Joy will again be a free agent.

Meanwhile, Austria was in want of her own anthem. A nationwide contest was held in 1946 to procure one. The Austrian poet Paula von Preradovic, born in Vienna of an old Croatian family, contributed the winning verses, and the tune chosen is either by Mozart or his close contemporary and fellow Mason Johann Holzer. “Land of Mountains, Land on the River” eschews patriotic religiosity in favor of high-minded generalities – just what the postwar world wanted. Thus Austria’s anthem has gone from a Croatian melody with Austrian lyrics to an Austrian melody with Croatian lyrics.

The borrowing continued as Italy too gathered her forces for the leap to nationhood. As early as 1769, Felice de Giardini composed music explicitly for “Come, Thou Almighty King,” contrary to the usual practice of hijacking a tune by injecting it with new lyrics. His beautiful melody promptly became known as The Italian Hymn.

But it was a battle hymn that Italy’s patriots needed just then. That need was filled in 1847 by the poem “Fratelli d’Italia” (“Brothers of Italy”) by Goffredo Mameli, a comrade in arms of Garibaldi, which was immediately set to new, vigorously rhythmic and Italianate music by Michele Novaro. Sung around the country, it helped spread the fever for unity and independence.

When it comes to Italy, arguably the most musical nation on earth, we expect to hear an impassioned cascade of arias. But musician and philosopher Balint Vazsonyi once described Novaro and Mameli’s hymn as “mind-boggling triteness.” The poet Giusti wrote to Verdi as early as 1847: “You know that the tragic chord is the one that resounds most in our soul, but … the kind of sorrow that now fills the souls of us Italians is the sorrow of a people who feel the need of a better future.” Mazzini importuned Verdi to write “an Italian battle hymn – the Marseillaise of Italy.” But the great composer, whose operas were full of characters, plots and lyrics that patriots hungrily seized upon, never explicitly wrote such a hymn.

Mazzini was brilliant to ask for an Italian Marseillaise. No other anthem is more bound to the political fate of a nation than this masterpiece written in a white heat one night in 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle. Revolutionary troops sang it on their march from Marseilles to Paris, and all France went mad for it, singing it over and over until their voices gave out. (Abel Gance’s film “Napoléon” immortalized this phenomenon.) The song practically forces you to start shouting and pumping your fist, especially when you arrive at

Aux armes, citoyens! Formez vos bataillons!
Marchons! Marchons!
Qu’un sang impur abbreuve nos sillons!

Dutifully from time to time French politicians and do-gooders (but I repeat myself) cluck over “impure blood fertilizing our fields” and a few other lines, but so far even the French Communist Party refuses to “meddle with our heritage.” The Marseillaise was banned in Vichy France and all Nazi-occupied lands, and if it was good enough to drown out the Germans in “Casablanca,” it’s good enough to be whistled menacingly and offensively at France-Algeria football matches …

Singing the Marseillaise was and still can be a thrilling act of resistance. But it never invokes God’s help against “tyranny’s bloody standard” – rather, it calls upon “children of the fatherland” to defend Liberté in lieu of the discarded Dieu. La France catholique remains the secular, godless nation par excellence. Perhaps this explains her astounding difficulty in standing up to Muslim aggression.

In anthems of the Swiss type – the Austrian, Scottish, several of the American – there is almost a reversion to pantheism. God physically dwells and manifests Himself amid the sublime beauty of the homeland’s mountains and valleys, pools and groves, just as the Greek gods dwelt upon Olympus and Ida.

Few peoples have had a fiercer ride on the rollercoaster of history than the Russians – invasion, Oriental despotism, liberalization, world war, sectarian coup, forced industrialization, terror, collapse, rampant Westernization – and their anthems reflect this. From 1816 to 1833 it was our familiar old "God Save the Tsar!" From 1833 to 1917, a somewhat more individuated hymn prayed to Russia's Bog (God):
 
And should dread war arise, stretch forth Thy Hand,
To guard from wicked foes our dear, dear land.

Come 1917, the situation was obviously a free-for-all. Alongside the nationalist hymn "How Glorious Is Our Lord in Zion" and the Marseillaise itself, sung in French, there was a "Workers' Marseillaise" ("Rabochaya Marselyeza"). By 1918 the winner was the Internationale, sung with clenched fists. The Internationale, still the official anthem of the international Communist movement, has a great Marseillaise-like march melody composed in 1888 by Belgian socialist Pierre De Geyter to lyrics penned by Eugène Pottier eighteen years earlier, during the Paris Commune: "Arise, ye pris'ners of starvation,/Arise, ye wretched of the earth!"

By 1943, Stalin had decided that the Internationale's Russian lyrics, such as "Let's denounce the old world! Let's shake its dust from our feet!," made it sound as if the USSR had not already achieved these goals; moreover, like any grand artiste, Stalin had a better idea about nearly everything. With typical verve he rounded up twenty or so poets and composers and ordered them to create new words and music that "people will sing both in joy and in misfortune" (well, in misfortune at least!). At first the Poet of Steel planned to force Prokofiev or Shostakovich to cough up the melody, but he finally settled for a tune already used by the Bolshevik Party's own anthem.

The resultant "Hymn of the Soviet Union" lasted from 1944 to 1992, with a time-out in 1977 to remove all references to Stalin. After the break-up of the USSR, this hymn was retitled "Hymn of the Russian Federation" and given very different back-to-the-future lyrics:
Russia, our holy country, / Russia, our beloved country,
… You are unique in the world, inimitable,
Native land protected by God!

Having now arrived at the Putin era of revived Russian nationalism, we note that a major share of that effort involves bringing Russian Orthodoxy back from the dead – if possible.

Keeping in mind that true anthems are basically religious hymns to a people themselves, we can scan the rest of the globe rather quickly.

-->
China’s anthem was written in 1935 by a jailed poet – a surefire method for producing heartfelt lyrics! – who “chose” as its object of worship none other than Chairman Mao; the title, creepily enough, is “March of the Volunteers.” In complete contrast, India’s “Jana Gana Mana” was first introduced at an Indian National Congress convention in 1911, with deeply Hindu lyrics by poet Rabindranath Tagore.

The political turmoil in the Middle East has meant that Arab anthems have very high turnover. Many of them are of the “Arab fanfare” school of military-sounding brass; often there are no lyrics. Israel’s anthem, however, began as a poem called “Hope” (Hatikvah) published in Jerusalem in 1886. The dearth of Hebrew songs at a time when Zionism was on the rise led a Romanian Zionist to join the words of Hatikvah to a folk song from his native Moldavia which Smetana had used in the “Moldau” movement of his great symphonic poem “Ma Vlast” (“My Homeland”). Israel does not officially recognize the Hatikvah but its minor key and plaintive melody are haunting.

Japan’s anthem is also a rather curious hybrid. The words were chosen from the ninth-century “Kimigayo.” In 1860, an Englishman who was the Japanese army’s bandmaster was ordered to compose a melody. Twenty years later, a court musician wrote a different, traditionally Japanese melody, but of course it did not harmonize with the Western musical scale; so a German bandmaster was brought in to make it sound like Gregorian chant.

Why does the Spanish anthem have no lyrics? It seems to have been an oversight; none of the lyrics proffered got anyone excited. Franco declared this “Marcha Real” official in 1939. It may not even be a Spanish march. There was nearly an international incident when the trumpeter at the 2003 Davis Cup final between Argentina and Spain somehow played the wrong Spanish anthem. Apparently between 1931 and 1939, the anthem had been changed to “Himno de Riego,” an air – with lyrics! – indelibly associated with the Republic. Hearing it played, the Spanish team went ballistic … and indeed, it’s hard to imagine how such an arcane switch could have been accidental.

Mexico almost didn’t have anthematic lyrics either. In 1853 Presidente Santa Anna announced a competition to create a Mexican anthem. The country’s leading poet tried to bow out, claiming he wrote only of love. His fiancée Guadalupe not only disbelieved this excuse but was possibly motivated by the large prize Santa Anna offered. She lured him to a bedroom and locked him in. After four hours of captivity Senor Bocanegra emerged with the winning submission.

Brazil has the good fortune of possessing a samba anthem. Ary Barroso’s 1939 “Aquarela do Brasil” (“Brazilian Watercolor”) is also well known as the torch song “Brazil.” Ecstatic in its praise of the country, it is everyone’s favorite samba song and has been the unofficial anthem for decades – in particular due to the fact that the official hino sounds totally un-Brazilian.

Australians vastly prefer the quaint “Waltzing Matilda” (“a song about a tramp who camps by a creek and steals a sheep. Three policemen arrive. Rather than submit to capture, the tramp commits suicide by drowning himself in the creek”) to their official anthem, “Advance Australia Fair.” No non-Australian really understands, but the sentiment runs deep. The tune sounds a bit like “Lili Marleen” but is a Scottish melody called “Thou Bonnie Wood o’ Craigielea.” The poet was A.B. “Banjo” Paterson, a true master of Strine.

Other lands declare “God Bless New Zealand,” “God Bless Fiji,” “God Bless the Hungarians,” “God Bless Our Homeland Ghana,” and so forth. Such titles cut to the chase: solicitation of God’s favor and protection.

Princess Diana’s favorite of Britain’s five loveliest anthems was “I Vow to Thee, My Country,” a tuneful excerpt from Gustav Holst’s The Planets (“Jupiter”) with lyrics praising love and peace. But some British clerics have condemned it as “white-dominated” and “nationalistic.” No wonder the Church of England is in sharp decline.

The United States has the largest number of competing anthems. Our country’s youth, deep religiosity, diversity and democratic vigor combined to make it a hotbed of hymnody. All told there have been least ten real contenders, eleven if you count the Johnson brothers’ anthem for black America “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” Between the earliest introduction of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and its adoption in 1931, Americans poured forth their belief in our nation’s special pact with Almighty God in such wonderful compositions as “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,” “America” (“My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”), “God of Our Fathers,” “America the Beautiful” and last but not least, “God Bless America” (Irving Berlin, 1918).

“The Star-Spangled Banner” has a melody that was composed in 1775 for the Anacreontic Society of London’s paean to wine, wine, wine; the tune was popular in the U.S. even before it was chosen by Francis Scott Key for his acclaimed 1814 poem. “TSSB” was alternating with “Hail, Columbia!” as America’s national hymn by the beginning of the Civil War. The latter piece (music 1789, lyrics 1798) is set to a rather undistinguished march and deifies George Washington while also exalting “Columbia” as a goddess of Liberty like Britannia or France’s Marianne. Among its more noteworthy lyrics are “With equal skill, with God-like pow'r, / He governs in the fearful hour / Of horrid war ...” As the war dragged on, the North eventually adopted “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “The Battle Cry of Freedom” while the South went with “The Bonnie Blue Flag” and “Dixie.”

In 1861 a group of Manhattan businessmen calling themselves the National Hymn Committee recognized that the severely riven nation had better choose a formal unifying anthem, or rather hymn. The group nixed “Yankee Doodle” as “childish,” and many others as “pretentious” or various species of “boring.” It was not until the Great Depression that “The Star-Spangled Banner” burst through the ambivalence and finally gave America a paean of her own. At least up to this point.
 
I conclude with a lost verse of “TSSB” that gives voice to what any nation needs to survive: legitimate authority, belief in itself and in a power greater than itself, faith, ideals, a moral compass. Once gods are lost, they are not easily recovered.

O thus be it ever, when free men shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserved us as a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just;
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust!’