The Lord Mayor’s Show: A celebration of commerce and military discipline

COMMERCE and peace do best together. In her history of trade and culture in the Renaissance, Worldly Goods, Lisa Jardine points out that, within days of the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Genoese sent ambassadors to negotiate their continued right to trade within the Ottoman Empire. The work that commerce still does today to encourage openness and mutual understanding across political and cultural boundaries remains vital. In the phrase often attributed to the French economist Frederic Bastiat, where goods do not cross borders, soldiers will.

In an imperfect world, we still need soldiers to defend our fragile peace. But tomorrow’s Lord Mayor’s Show is an opportunity to celebrate the way arms and commerce can work together against aggression, a joint force for sustaining our world of peaceful exchange.

Living on the edge of the City, the Lord Mayor’s Show passes through my neighbourhood every year. It is an extraordinary occasion: a combination of carnival and benign military coup, as privileged regiments, including the Honourable Artillery Company, exercise their right to march through the City drums beating, colours flying and with bayonets fixed. The festival itself marks the continuity of trade in London, dating back to 1535 and marking the peaceful transfer of the title of lord mayor of the City of London to a new alderman. But the military aspect has older roots. In ancient Rome and ever since, there has been a tradition of armies reverting to civilian status within city walls. The freedom to march in arms through the City is a high privilege, a statement of utter confidence in a regiment’s loyalty.

Despite what some cynical Keynesians say, war is always a reckless destroyer, its consequences reverberating long into the future. Cutting short and maiming individual lives, scarring families and communities, it wastes persons and wealth beyond counting. But sometimes to preserve peace and freedom, awful sacrifice is necessary. This weekend, Remembrance Sunday gives us an opportunity to contemplate that terrible reality, and to honour those who have died in their country’s service. Among them I remember Robert Laval Proudfoot, my grandmother’s first husband. Along with so many other brave young men, he is commemorated by the new Bomber Command memorial in Green Park, whose donors include Lord Ashcroft and John Caudwell. In the City itself, the Garden of Remembrance at St Paul’s is already open, and the new lord mayor will attend the special morning service there on Sunday.

But tomorrow’s Lord Mayor’s Show allows us to contemplate the other, more hopeful side of the equation as well. The ways in which, together, military discipline and commercial enterprise continue to help build and maintain a resilient peace despite the turmoil of centuries. It is a proud legacy, and worth celebration as much as solemnity. Silent honour is due to the fallen this Sunday.

First published: City A.M., 9/11/12

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Filed under Business, Freedom, History

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