10 September 2013


Sliders: The British States of America

How long can any political set up last? Having just strained credulity in the previous episode by making one summer's anti-war movement last for several decades, Sliders now presents a world in which the thirteen original American colonies lost the Revolutionary War and became part of the British Commonwealth. 

In fact, in this world all the other countries which once had traditional monarchies still have them: even the French and Russian revolutions failed! That's actually fascinating. But on Sliders, monarchy is less about ideas and ideals than about stereotypes of (British) royalty. 

What could be more British than a tabloid story about a royal behaving badly?

Our first clues about the twist in this world are as two-dimensional as they come: red double-decker buses, red police boxes, and snooty rich people who sound like the BBC. Never mind that other countries which have kept their ties to the British monarchy have not also imported London's distinctive bus design and have twanged out their own unmistakable accents. San Francisco seems to be West-West London. =P

Similarly, Oakland seems to be West Sherwood Forest! =D

Let me give Sliders credit where it is due. If America had remained British and the Founding Fathers been unable to found anything but footnotes in history books, then any new form of rebellion would have an English rather than an American character. And the rebels would look less like George Washington's army than like Robin Hood's band of merry men. As they do here! 

But the sliders themselves are red-white-and-blue-blooded Americans, and they can't help trying to make this America look a little more like their own. Rewriting the US Constitution from memory--almost omitting the Second Amendment (!!!), but leaving it in for a reason I find quite impressive--they make sure that Crown Prince Harold (of Wales?) has a copy of it before they leave. I don't know if this makes them true American patriots or ironic "Ugly Americans." =P

Your Turn to Slide: Monarchy--yea or nay?


Belfry Bat said...

Hmmm... let's make the controversial claim that all realized subsidiarities are either oligarchy or monarchy; even the Britain against which the thirteen colonies revolted was already a parliamentary, constitutional, rule-of-law thing. The more-important distinction seems to be how the Monein or the Oligoi at the arch of the archy get to be there, and how long can they stay.

I've tried to argue before that the principal virtue of the hereditary monarchy is that it puts some kind of family at the head of a civilization: family is not only the foundation but also the summit of such a rule — and to some extent the patern. To really work well, that model demands that the particular family that gets to be on top is a decent, well-reared family, not to mention being of both practical wisdom and stern moral rectitude. If only such things were also hereditary! But they can of course, live in the culture...

All in all, I don't know who governs better, and I can't see that the luck of a largely anonymous election is better than the luck of someone you get to watch intensively for fifty years or so before they get to do anything; but I do know which strikes me as more poetical.

Darwin said...

I remember watching and enjoying Sliders as it came out, but somehow I missed this one.

Monarchy... Well, it offends my sense of fairness, but it appeals to my sense of history. I guess no strong opinion one way or the other.

Angie Tusa said...

Perhaps it makes me an "ugly American" but my answer is a firm nay. While democracy (particularly as it currently exists in America) has its own flaws, I still like the idea of people being chosen to rule based on their worth and not what family they were born into.

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat -- I agree that the real virtue of monarchy is that it requires a real family. Not because the line of succession should be clear but because society itself is best ordered in terms of families and communities where everyone has close ties to each other.

Darwin -- I knew about Sliders in the 90s but didn't get into it until this year. What did you most like about it? =)

As you might have been able to tell, I really like monarchy, but since I've never had to live in one, that is all theoretical--or even, as Bat has said, poetical.

Angie -- Oh, I certainly don't think that you are an "Ugly American"! =) I used the term here because the main cast are basically foreigners in another country, but they still insist that it should look like their own. It would be as if someone from this alternative world slid into our world, saw that the United States were not under the British crown, and tried to reverse the American Revolution. You and your countrymen would push back--with good reason! (By the way, there's a bank in this parallel world called Benedict Arnold Savings & Loan!)

Sheila said...

Nay. Government which is limited is better than government that is not, regardless of the format, but given the choice I'd rather have some say, no matter how little, in the rules I'm going to have to follow.

Enbrethiliel said...


Fair enough! I admit that the reason I like monarchy is that I believe it can keep a country grounded in good traditions. "Big" laws, we could say. But it's also true that an absolute monarch could enforce a lot of "small" laws that make his subjects' lives miserable, anyway.

r said...

I try not to fetishize or despise forms of government. Some seem to preserve the wisdom and virtue necessary for effective and just rule better than others, but a virtuous culture may be an absolute prerequisite in any case. Certainly a smaller franchise avoids the well-known problems with giving the masses a share in government, and absolute monarchy is the limit in shrinking the electorate. But avoiding these and other problems is the goal, and whatever means works, works. My gut feeling, looking at history, is that a patrician republic like Rome, Venice, etc. is the widest that sovereignty can be distributed before the strain on the structure starts to show. It's not like you can do controlled experiments of these things, though.

As for a share in government - my place in society is that of a scholar. Scholars shouldn't rule. (We can advise rulers, and rulers certainly can and should be educated, but scholars should never rule.) Please allow me to be the first to volunteer for disenfranchisement.

Enbrethiliel said...


That's an interesting view, R! Care to expound on it? (I may use it myself the next time someone asks why I never register to vote! =P)