Is the British honors system the magnificent culmination of a thousand years of history, or is it utterly preposterous? It is, in fact, both. It takes an old country and the demands of circumstance over hundreds of years to engender the evolution of a structure that begins with a hereditary monarchy, descends through a peerage (which was once a nobility, but is no more), and ends with recipients of the humble British Empire Medal. This means of patronage, designed in medieval times to bind in the sycophants and cronies of the ruler, has been expanded to propitiate a vast political clientele. Some people angle desperately for letters to put after their name or, even better, a title before it; others who readily qualify despise the system and turn down gongs, some even having the bad taste to announce very loudly that they have rejected them.

Twice a year, at least, a thousand or so people...


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