Distraint of Knighthood – UPDATED

Charles I hated calling Parliaments, but as that was the only way to raise taxes, during his so-called “personal rule” he came up with all kinds of revenue-generating gimmicks.  One of the biggest was “distraint of knighthood.”

Theoretically, everyone with a sufficiently prosperous estate had to present himself at the king’s coronation to be personally knighted.  By the 1630s, though, knighthood carried no real benefits but some very real, and very onerous, political obligations, so most men who qualified didn’t bother showing up.  Charles dusted off an ages-old statute that allowed him to fine anyone who skipped, and since the law setting the qualification was as old as the law imposing the fine, seemingly half the men in the kingdom were in distraint of knighthood and got fined accordingly.

Our modern-day Cloud People seem to be up to similar shenanigans.

The first and most obvious parallel is the ongoing persecution of President Trump.  They’re sure he’s guilty of something, so even though the Mueller Report was the big nothingburger everyone outside the Cloud knew it would be from day one, their zeal is undiminished.  They haven’t actually accused him of distraint of knighthood yet, and I guess they plum forgot about the Tenure of Office Act, but they’ll get him eventually.  It’s just a matter of digging up an obscure-enough statute.  Maybe he once took a tag off a mattress in Trump Tower…

The other parallel, though, might be the ongoing college admissions scandal.  Actual medieval monarchs didn’t have to worry too much about distraint of knighthood, because knighthood was a real, important status marker.  But at some point, knighthood became more trouble than it was worth.  The most striking thing about the college admissions scandal isn’t the stupidity, it’s the expense.  Lori Laughlin paid $500,000 — that’s half a million dollars — to get her goofy kid into USC.  They charge a hefty tuition at SC ($52K as of 2016), but by my math four years of that is still only two hundred grand.  Lori Laughlin, then, paid more than double the kid’s total four-year tuition just to get her in the door.

How does that make any kind of sense?

The reason few Englishmen bothered with knighthood in the 1630s was that the route to real power was financial.  Unless you had the king’s ear by virtue of the bluest of blue blood — your great-great-great-great grand-uncle and his, side by side at Agincourt — there was no point in bothering with the trappings of nobility.  The Lord Mayor of London had more actual power than all but the biggest and most ancient nobles, and he was a commoner.  Why bother with all the pettifogging duties of a knight of the shire, when you could rule the shire, de facto if not de jure, by being the richest merchant in the nearest big city?

In modern America, college degrees are basically worthless.  The Cloud People don’t rule us because they went to Harvard and Yale; they go to Harvard and Yale because they rule us.  Whatever Lori Laughlin’s daughter ends up doing after getting kicked out of USC behind this idiocy, in other words, is exactly the same thing she would’ve ended up doing had her mom bribed her onto the dean’s list every single semester.

More importantly, some kid from the sticks will not be doing that job, no matter how honestly she got into USC or how legitimately great her grades are.  Those kinds of jobs are Cloud People jobs.  You don’t get Chelsea Clinton’s resume by going to school, any school — you get it by being Chelsea Clinton.  Lori Laughlin’s daughter certainly knows this, which is why she was on board a yacht owned by the chairman of USC’s Board of Trustees when this stupidity came to light.  The only question is, how do the middle class parents who bust their asses their entire lives to get their kids into USC on the square NOT know it?

College is a giant scam… but it’s a multi-trillion dollar scam.  Charles I knew enforcing the distraint of knighthood statute would be unpopular, but because he never stopped to think just why so many of his subjects were in distraint, he couldn’t see how fatally such a move would harm him.  This college admissions thing has the potential to do similar damage to the Cloud.  They won’t see it, of course — being the kind of people who’d pay $500K for the privilege of paying a further $200K for a piece of paper the kid will never actually use — but we’d be wise to think about it.


This started as a reply to Pickle Rick, but needs to be above the fold:

The problem for Charles I was that knighthood wasn’t just an honorific.  In the 1630s the apparatus of local government was still in the hands of the lesser gentry. I don’t recall all the details, but I’m certain a guy with “Sir” in front of his name had to do lots of things — like enforce the militia ordinances, serve as sheriff, collect the taxes, etc. — that your average burgher didn’t have to. So being a knight meant that you had to do a lot of grunt work for a meaningless title, since real knights were either a) blue-blooded aristos who hated you for crashing the club, or b) actual military men who hated you for crashing their club.

After Charles chose to enforce distraint, you had it on record that you were qualified to be a knight, whatever that meant, but chose to duck responsibility by paying the fine… which meant that even the commoners hated you, because they couldn’t duck their chores by paying a fine. Thus putting the very people whose loyalty the ruling power must have into an untenable situation….

….exactly what our Cloud People are doing to the ever-shrinking middle class today.

That’s why I really don’t think people appreciate how serious this college scam thing potentially is. Either a USC degree means something, or it doesn’t. Yeah yeah, everyone knows that rich kids and famous people get in on their names, but Joe Schmoe is supposed to get in on merit. More importantly, his degree is supposed to be a Certificate of Merit, which means he has a fair chance at getting one of those Cloud People jobs, even when competing against a Legacy Cloud Person.

Bribing your way in, but pretending you earned it, is the worst possible thing to do.  Straight bribery is “honorable” in its way, since nobody pretends that the kid whose Dad built a library annex got in based on his test scores.  That’s what “legacy” means, and everyone is ok with that, since — paradoxically — the legacy system only exists because the meritocracy is so rigidly enforced.  Chelsea Clinton would’ve gotten all those “jobs” with a degree from Hoboken Community College, or no degree whatsoever, because she’s Chelsea Clinton.  Nonetheless, we all pretend that it was her Stanford / Oxford / Columbia / NYU training that did it.*  The system works, so long as everyone keeps up pretenses.

But now it’s obvious that there never was any such thing as “meritocracy.”  The test scores, the varsity letters, the extracurriculars, they’re ALL fake.  All of them can be had for cash on the nail, which means all of them are meaningless.  What’s the point of doing any of that, when some rich twit can produce a resume that’s twice as good as anything your kid could possibly do, just by writing a check?  Please note that though Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffmann are the ones getting all the publicity because they’re attractive(-ish) White women, the majority of the parents caught up in this caper are no-names.  I fully expect my kid to lose head-to-head against Chelsea Clinton, but I’d sure like to think he’s got a shot against the children of doctors, jewelry store owners, and insurance execs.

Unless we’re willing to believe that this is the only time something like this has ever happened, there’s now zero point in sending your kids to any formerly prestigious university.  Which means that middle class parents now have zero incentive to do… well, to do anything, because what’s the point of band camp and soccer practice and SAT prep classes and “enrichment” activities and the whole pre-pre-K “achievement” pipeline?

If the Powers That Be are smart, they’ll throw the book at Lori and Felicity.  They’ll send them to federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison, and make sure their kids end up working as janitors at the same pokey.  But the Powers That Be are stupid, and can’t see that far ahead.  They never bothered to wonder just why anyone would go to all the trouble to fake a college app, any more than Charles I bothered to wonder why none of his potential knights were actually getting dubbed.

Remember: There are more than a trillion dollars outstanding in student loans.  It’s going to be very, very bad.




*Christ but the Clintons are vulgar, aren’t they?  It’s not enough to gerrymander their brat to one Ivy League school; they’ve got to do four.  And a “doctorate” in “international relations,” including a 712-page “dissertation.”  For those of you not familiar with the arcana of academia, 712 pages is about five dissertations’ worth, and no serious piece of original scholarship (which is what a diss is supposed to be) is titled something like The Global Fund: An Experiment in Global Governance.  She should’ve just had her ghostwriter title it Fuck You, Pay Me, since that’s the gist of it.

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10 thoughts on “Distraint of Knighthood – UPDATED

  1. Pickle Rick

    The point of it was that once, back in William the Bastard’s day, or even in Henry V’s, knighthood was earned on the battlefield, not bought. When some limp wristed burgher who never smelled a battlefield could buy a knighthood, it debased the honorific to nothing. Thus, the men you most want to be bound to you in a solemn compact, a brotherhood of the sword, are now simply indifferent to being part of a club that admits anyone who can pony up the cash. It, paradoxically in the minds of people who aren’t medievalists, was one of the two biggest meritocracies of the feudal period (the other being the Latin Church).
    The bastardized versions both institutions became in the early renaissance is exactly why they fell apart.

  2. Pickle Rick

    Well, the other side of the coin (see where I went with that?) is that the elite universities have been turning out nothing but failure, regardless of whether it is a rich legacy idiot like the Bushes, or a “meritorious” idiot like Obama. The ranks of both parties and the FedGov are stuffed with elite mediocrities that shuffle from one disaster to the next, and its wearing thin.
    The last President not to attend any college at all was Harry Truman. The last one to have attended a service academy was Eisenhower. He’s also the last one before Trump to have never held elective office before becoming the President.

  3. Hank

    But how does that damage my (future) undergrad degree? If I get my degree in finance and get employed in a financial team at a company doesn’t my work experience become my resume? I understand that the information I am being taught, I can teach myself and I understand that I can never compete with the cloud people because their legacy alone gets them the job. But I still have to compete against my fellow plebeians. So if I want to work in a finance team I still have to get a degree, right?

    1. Severian Post author

      Probably, but that’s not the point. “Elite” schools don’t make a big deal out of the right-answer disciplines, because there’s no “Harvard way” to factor quadratics, no “Yale method” for amortizing a loan. Math is math — you go to State U to learn math; you go to Harvard (USC, whatever) to be a “Harvard man.” I know people who are engineers. I know people who went to Harvard. I even know some engineers who went to Harvard, but none of them makes a point of telling you “I’m a Harvard man” within five minutes of meeting you.

      ALL t he English majors do, though.

      That’s because there was a time when “Harvard man” really meant something. Maybe there’s no “Harvard math,” but there’s definitely “Harvard political science” and “Harvard history” and “Harvard English” — you’re supposed to be able to compete with the best of the Cloud People in those fields if you graduated from Harvard, because “Harvard English” (or whatever) is objectively better. Better professors, better social environment, better connections, and because of that, better students.

      This bribery scandal puts the lie to all of that. Because now it’s not just a few politicians’ kids, or actors, or whatever, among the many many undergrads who are there on merit. Now everyone is a suspect, because look how fucking EASY it was for these people to cheat their way in. Hell, it occurred to ME back in the days that what I really should’ve done is gone out for the football team as a punter or something — high school teams have to carry one, but since they never punt, I’d get a varsity letter for sitting on the bench (and the coach would be happy to have me on the bench, because my 4.0 would’ve raised the team grade point average considerably). I wouldn’t have gotten an athletic scholarship, but that varsity letter would’ve looked great — maybe I would’ve gotten into a much better school than I actually did…

      THAT’s the point. Yeah, if you’re in a right-answer discipline, by all means go to college. Hell, go to the “best” college you don’t have to pay for — if Yale gives you a free ride, then boola boola, old sock. But if you’re NOT in a right-answer discipline, then skip college — or if you feel you must go, go to the “best” one you don’t have to pay a dime for. There is no point paying for a degree that says “USC,” because as we all now know, “USC” doesn’t mean anything.

      1. Pickle Rick

        Employers would do best to bring back apprenticeship programs beyond the trades. Why go to school and come out saddled with debt when a smart employer would cherrypick bright kids right out of high school and give them on the job training in disciplines formerly “degree only”? Think about the skill differential between a 23 year old marinated in the clown world of campus, versus a 23 year old whose been learning by doing in a real business.
        There’s a reason the Royal Navy trained midshipmen at sea on the merit system. They learned on deck, and even the bluest of blue blood berthed in the orlop, and had to pass practical seamanship.

        1. Severian Post author

          Alas, Griggs v. Duke Power killed that. “Cherrypicking the bright kids” is pretty much the definition of “racism” these days, since the bright kids all tend to have this certain… look… about them. The military used to be one way around that, since a tank mechanic can unquestionably fix tanks (and therefore has the skills to fix cars or whatever), but our brave new Gays, Girls, and Trannies military ruined that, too.

      2. Hank

        So by the nature of these parents bribing mediocre colleges, it puts doubt on all mediocre college diplomas. Whereas before, the doubt was rarely cast on mediocre school diplomas but almost always cast on ivy-league diplomas. I understand now.

  4. MBlanc46

    I imagine that the reason that Lori and Felicity won’t be sent off to Stateville is that the folks who rule us don’t want to give currency to the idea that the likes of Lori and Felicity could be sent to Stateville.

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