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Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess vs. Big Government

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Violet_crawleyDefenses of limited government are rare in pop culture. You won’t find many characters in movies or TV that say that what is needed is for the state to be less intrusive and less centralized. So it’s particularly surprising to find one of the most passionate appeals for individual freedom over government encroachment on a television station that was created by an act of the United States Congress and partially funded by the federal government.

That’s what awaited fans in last night’s episode of Downtown Abbey.

For the past several weeks Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, has been opposing a merger of the village hospital with the Royal Yorkshire. The hospital storyline has been rather dull and seemingly inconsequential, especially for the show’s final season. But last night the hospital plot revealed itself to be about something much larger than we might have realized.

The Dowager’s opponents, most of whom are family members, assumed she was simply resistant to change and was loathe to relinquish any personal power. But as she explains, she has a deeper understanding of government and the duty to protect freedom than anyone had assumed.

“For years, I’ve watched governments take control of our lives. Their argument is always the same: ‘Fewer costs, greater efficiency.’ But the result is the same, too. Less control by the people, more control by the State — until the individual’s anguishes count for nothing. That is what I consider my duty to resist.”

“Your great-grandchildren won’t thank you when the state is all-powerful because we didn’t fight,” adds the Dowager. Indeed, not that the state is very close to being all-powerful we should be thankful for our ancestors from the last century who did fight and managed to hold off big government—at least for awhile.

(Via: Hot Air)

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • ohiorick

    I noticed that, too, and thought it interesting that they put those words into the mouth of someone whose wealth and livelihood was provided by and protected by the state.

    Also, it’s noteworthy that she uses an ideological argument against the position that circumstances might be improved for the town’s citizens. “Health outcomes might indeed improve and all that, but….the STATE!”

    Some things never change, I guess.

    • “wealth and livelihood was provided by and protected by the state.”

      I get how the state protected their livelihood. That’s the job of the state, to protect everyone’s property from theft and fraud. But how did the state “provide” the wealth and livelihood of Downton Abbey?

  • Working within healthcare, I find the setting and focus on hospital control apropos. If only we could in fact go back and time and hearken to these fictitious words, which seem remarkably similar to today’s healthcare environment, where the impacts of the Affordable Care Act and other acts of government overreach are ushering in a new wave of nannying complexity and its concomitant evils of tyranny of governing experts, rules and regulations that take an army of bureaucrats and consultants to figure out, massive consolidation in insurance markets and health delivery systems, all of which trends towards increasing costs of healthcare delivery and costs of compliance that are pushed down to consumers. It remains to be seen whether these monolithic consolidated entities improve upon delivering higher quality and more coordinated and efficient care, but what is likely beyond doubt is that such monopolistic power will involve less consumer choice, higher prices being shoved to consumers, and little incentive for health systems to pursue innovation.

  • TS Eliot had some important things to say about the need for an aristocracy like that of Downton Abbey in providing a high level of culture that lead the masses. They were often a bulwark against state encroachment on freedom. The show portrays the decay of that class as a result of modernization, but in reality it died because the gross envy of the masses in the UK forced the nobility to pay such high taxes that they destroyed an entire class of people in less than a generation.

  • Ken Larson

    Hurrah Joe for featuring this scene. It did pop out and set a tone for the entire series. I recall being told in a college literature class around 1965 that the “nobility” of Great Britain felt it had to set a high standard, that it was their obligation. Of course, fallen man would put a damper on all that. But it was nonetheless the goal. When someone stumbled and was revealed to be a jerk or a scoundrel, the easy thing to do was to call them a fraud. The honest thing in a Christian sense would be to call them a sinner, and watch for their redemption.

    Not playing that game of life, the state which abides only selectively by rules, simply moves in and takes over.

    Daisy in her contempt for what she sees as her employer’s two faced action with the farmer, is surprised by the changed minds. Her look as the episode ends with the outcome she had hoped for signals that perhaps she will see in the Earl’s changed mind a kind heart, not just a throw-in-the-towel concession to the noise of a disgruntled employee in these new times.

  • KevinHalloran

    Watching that part of the episode made me think of the Dennis Prager line, “The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.”