List of Reasons Why Gunpowder Treason Should Be Forgot

1. Guy Fawkes Day was historically used as excuse for anti-Catholic bigotry and traditionally involved burning effigy of the Pope
2. In Britain it frequently devolves into hooliganism and public disorder
3. King James I was actually kind of a jerk who was super keen on witch-burning and minority-exterminating
4. George Washington himself specifically condemned Guy Fawkes celebrations
5. Its modern association is primarily with people from 4chan

(I’m not actually against Guy Fawkes Day. It just bothers me when people say they can’t think of any reason for something. Did you think about it for five minutes first?)

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26 Responses to List of Reasons Why Gunpowder Treason Should Be Forgot

  1. EatsCake says:

    “I see of five reasons why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot” doesn’t sound as snappy as the alternative.

  2. David Gerard says:

    The first of October, the last of November
    Gunpowder, clueless and blot
    And there is no reason why gunpowder season
    Should run sixty days on the trot.

    The “public hooliganism” isn’t particularly November 5th-specific. Here in east London, Guy Fawkes is mostly one of several excuses (Diwali is another, or just because you feel like it) to let off fireworks indiscriminately. For about a month either side of the day in question.

    I am told the drug dealers around here tend to let off fireworks in the event of a bust. (Though thinking back, I can’t see how the person who told me this would know.)


  3. lmm says:

    Arguments against celebrating it to be sure. But to say we should actually forget a piece of history would require something much stronger I think.

  4. Jack says:

    Ironically, I don’t think I’d ever heard the third line of the song (and I’m from England).

    I think everything apart from “let off fireworks” and “guy fawkes something the houses of parliament” HAS been mostly forgot… 🙂

    (It’s also somewhat overshadowed by Halloween nowadays, though there’s still normally fireworks and often civic bonfires.)

    • James says:

      Once, a leader at my local church said he overheard in a card store: ‘Oh look, now they’re trying to bring religion into Christmas’.

      I found it interesting that someone so uninformed grasped the essential truth.

      Although Bonfire Night did originate in the Guy Fawkes incident, there seems to be a canal of human urges to have a rambunctious festival at this time of year, rationale not strictly required.

  5. sixes_and_sevens says:

    One of the things I find interesting about the 5th of November is the ambiguity about what people are celebrating. While historically it’s the failure to blow up Parliament, there’s just enough room for people to celebrate the attempt as well.

  6. Doug says:

    With you on most of the reasons, except:

    2. In Britain it frequently devolves into hooliganism and public disorder

    Not in my experience as a native Brit. I mean, letting off fireworks can arguably constitute public disorder. But in general it’s a Sunday School Outing (sometimes literally) compared to the sort of thing you get on any Friday or Saturday night in any major British town or city centre.

    Although I will grant you that adding explosives to these situations, however small scale, is not exactly helpful to the maintenance of the Queen’s peace.

    • Atreic says:

      Yes, I read the otherwise-sensible list and thought ‘huh? Have you ever been to fireworks in Britain’? I vaguely think the author has been to Ireland though – maybe it’s different over there?

  7. Douglas Knight says:

    4. Of course a traitor wants treason forgotten!

    1-4 are all arguments in favor of Guy Fawkes Day. Is 5 even true in England? If so, the Treason has already been forgotten. Emphasizing it would be a way to reverse 5. Probably 5 is not true in England, but is true in other countries. Then you could say that it makes England look bad to foreigners who only know 4chan. But I’m skeptical that this is a bad thing.

    • Douglas Knight says:

      But to give a reason to forget Treason: Focusing too much on old grievances may cause one to miss new threats, like Calvinists.

  8. John Faben says:

    I’ve also never seen any disorder, but fireworks do have a tendency to start fires…

  9. naath says:

    I went to the local public fireworks display (where I’m pretty sure they detonated more than my net worth… 🙁 🙁 🙁 ) and there was a reassuring lack of disorder and hooliganism. Indeed the huge crowd seemed to leave in a very orderly and well behaved (if slow – it was a huge crowd) fashion.

    I think it’s good to remember history, regardless of whether the thing you are remembering was good or bad. Protestant v. Catholic struggles loom large over British history, and indeed over British present – and forgetting that is perhaps unhelpful.

    Also it’s nice to watch fireworks and stuff. It is cold and dark (we’re a lot further north than the contiguous united states, there is really not very much daylight at this time of year) and horrid, anything that lights the place up is a nice change.

  10. Benkern says:

    Ravenscourt Park on Nov 5th is a lovely, family-oriented outing with police and barriers and a ticket price. Primrose Hill on Nov 5th is rather anarchic, no lights except the fireworks that are being shot at people as often as in the sky, and fuelled by alcohol rather than wholesomeness. I prefer the latter but that’s me!

  11. Ben says:

    Speaking of anti-Catholic bigotry, I’ve enjoyed your debunking of the reactionaries, but is it really a good use of your time to debate a mistaken position that has a few thousand male virgin followers? The reactionaries have negligible resources and influence. Wouldn’t a Non-Christian FAQ be more useful? The Catholics have their own state and an international rape empire.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Nothing I do here is a good use of my time. If I had any sense at all, I would be reading endless medical textbooks. Attacking Christians was played out in Bertrand Russell’s time and is no longer interesting. The Reactionaries are new, extremely clever, have lots of good ideas, and useful for waking from various dogmatic slumbers.

      I do want to say some things about natural law sometime, but I’m terrified someone would respond that I should read the Summa.

      • Benquo says:

        You should read the Summa.

        There, your fear has been realized, there’s no way to prevent that from happening, so there’s no longer any reason not to say things about natural law.

      • Benquo says:

        You should not actually read the Summa – unless you’ve already read the Nicomachean Ethics, which is a lot shorter and more universal.

      • Ben says:

        Point taken. I am just sad because I don’t have something as thorough as the anti-libertarian or anti-reactionary FAQs to link to when I can’t resist the urge to look at the endlessly recycled apologetics on It would be great to be able to say “the argument in this article is debunked in section 2.4.1”. I suppose I should man up and compile something myself. Or just do something useful with my time.

        It seems like all Catholic philosophy eventually boils down to approvingly quoting Aquinas (or Plato).

        What are the good reactionary ideas? To me they seem like cranks led by one particularly eloquent crank.

    • ozymandias says:

      I feel like, given the existence of the entire atheist blogosphere, there’s not really a pressing need for another debunking of Christianity.

  12. David Gerard says:

    So far others have noted that your general claim that ” 2. In Britain it frequently devolves into hooliganism and public disorder” really doesn’t seem to hold. What in particular were you thinking of here?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I was in Britain once on Guy Fawkes night, I encountered some hooliganism, and I figured it was unlikely I stumbled into the one pocket of it on an otherwise hooligan-free holiday. I Googled it to see if other people reported the same problem and some did, but obviously there’s some selection bias there, so having been corrected by actual Brits I admit I was wrong.

      • Doug S. says:

        I suspect it varies greatly by region. Britain is a pretty diverse place, or so I’ve been told.

      • Ben says:

        In my experience, council-organised public bonfire events tend to go off smoothly, with none of the antics you might expect from the inhabitants of “Knifecrime Island”. It’s the occasional non-state-sponsored groups of youngsters throwing fireworks around in the street you’ve got to look out for. Last year I saw the local youths stop a bus and nearly blow up a cyclist, the loveable scamps.

      • David Gerard says:

        I will certainly concede that it occasionally does, as one might expect making fireworks readily available to those of poor impulse control. Just last Wednesday we had one little scrote up our way throw a firework into a car (thankfully a parked one).