Monday, May 21, 2018

Is the British Monarchy Over?

Time stood still on Saturday when an American divorcee named Megan Markle married Prince Harry. You know Harry, the sixth in line to the British throne, the man who some people believe is not his father’s son.

Alas, all of that is forgotten. True love and multicultural diversity were on display in Windsor last Saturday. It was an orgy of celebrity tabloidism. The world thrilled to it… unless you found it all a crashing bore and yearned for some real news.

It’s one of those moments when you ask where Tom Wolfe is when we need him. The event was a set up for withering satire… and yet, precious few scribes dared cross into that territory. The exception was Roger Kimball, writing in the Spectator USA (via Instapundit).

So, hats off to Kimball for speaking truth to… well, not power, because the British monarchy has no power… but to pretense and celebrity. It was a sorry spectacle.

Kimball echoeds my own sentiments when he praised Queen Elizabeth for being a model of decorum and propriety… throughout her reign:

I like the Queen. I think she understands perfectly what Walter Bagehot meant when he distinguished between the “dignified” and the “efficient” aspects of government. “We must not,” Bagehot famously wrote, “let in daylight upon magic.” The Queen has done her bit to preserve the magic and dignified reserve of monarchy. She is a good thing.

And then there are her children. One notes, and one gains no special pleasure from noting it, that the Queen’s marriage was a role reversal marriage, one where she outranked her husband. You will say that Queen Victoria’s marriage was also a role reversal. But then, ask  yourself about her first son, the decadent King Edward VII and his grandson King Edward VIII—the one who abdicated for love of an American divorcee.

Not to be excessively snide about it all, but Kimball remarks correctly that Prince Charles—until recently the last remaining Jungian in the Western world—is not exactly a prize.

The same cannot be said of her children. It used to be rumoured that Prince Charles intended to declare himself “defender of the faiths,” plural, when (hope nudges me to say “if”) he is crowned. Not dignified, that.

And then, of course, we suffered through the time of Britain’s first celebrity princess, Diana herself:

Nor of course was his first wife, Princess Diana, the mother of his children, shy about letting daylight in upon magic. Henry VIII had Anne Boleyn beheaded on trumped up charges of adultery. Diana swanned around in a bubble of celebrity and nauseating sentimentality on account, partly, of her patent adulteries.

Let us stipulate that it is evidence of enlightenment that Princess Diana was not beheaded (not, anyway, by an executioner). Still, what does it tell us about the moral state of the Church of England that the whole Charles-Camilla-Diana-James Hewitt-Dodi Fayed matrix could transpire in public?

I have occasionally mentioned this point, but I am happy that Kimball expresses it so well. Diana set a poor example of monarchal decorum. She washed her dirty linen in public and seems to have craved the chance to dirty it in public too. Kimball calls it nauseating sentimentality and looks askance on her willingness to pal around with celebrities. After all, Saturday’s royal wedding was chockablock with celebrities… the better to show what the monarchy has become.

Is it all the end of the monarchy? We all understand that Prince Harry, being sixth in line to the throne, has reached peak celebrity. He will be quickly eclipsed. As for the monarchy, Kimball echoes Julian Barnes, who was anything but optimistic:

 In his novel England, England, Julian Barnes imagines a future in which the Isle of Wight is transformed into a gigantic theme park in which all that is most picturesque about England is recreated. Eventually, the Royal Family is induced to leave London to live in a half-sized but “fully modernized Buck House,” where they wave at tourists from 11:00 to 11:15 every morning but are free from the salacious curiosity of journalists, “the Privy Purse . . . replaced by a profit-sharing scheme.”

We’re not there yet, not quite. But we’re on the way. Is it a good thing, all this down-home, latitudinarian, aw-shucks, pomo attitude towards tradition and morality?

We await the arrival of King Charles and King William. We might feel somewhat optimistic over the ascent of Wills and Kate, but Charles seems to be a calamity in the making:

Institutions become decadent not when they become depraved, necessarily. The key thing is their existential hollowing out, so that the fa├žade persists but without the vital element of conviction and belief.

I suspect that, whatever personal happiness Harry and Meghan will now enjoy (and here’s wishing them luck), their wedding was another stage in the emptying out of the British monarchy.

In 1881, the Chinese ambassador to England, endeavoring to convey the sense of “Protestant Episcopal Chruch,” came up with “Society of Contradictory Overseers.” I wonder what he would say today?


Anonymous said...

With the rest of the thinking world, the Chinese would probably wonder about the appalling way in which the father of the bride was treated. The Humanitarian Couple did not show one glimmer of respect or care for his well-being.
His new son-in-law still has to meet him. His daughter is a feminist in emeralds and designer clothes who will lecture us about Social Justice.

Oh well. We'll see where that ends.

Sam L. said...

Given Prince Chuck, I can't really blame Diana.

Anonymous said...

A dedication from Queen Elizabeth II to Prince Charles:

Anonymous said...

Divine right of Kings, anyone? They had to give that up long ago, now there is no justification.

Ares Olympus said...

What's ugly to me about royalty is the tabloids that try sell "the muck behind the facade" whether true or not, which would seem to reduce it to celebrity culture. I see an actress might be the perfect wife since she's already had her own experience dealing with a cruel media, and how to put up a front for self-protection.

Otherwise, I have Canadian coworkers who are very proud of having the Queen as their Head of State, and see themselves much more civilized than Americans who had to fight a war for independence and an ever worse civil war. And the UK similarly can feel superior for their transition to expanding democratic power over neighbor France's violent revolution.

Anonymous said...

I have often wondered about the media and its fascination with royalty? Having gone through JFK and Camelot, with its trapping of the American aristocracy, it appears that we just cannot remember that we are not subjects to an upper class.
Both of Diana's sons seem to be decent individuals, but I could care less about royalty. Now if we can get people to lose the idea that we have people who are pour betters we might come closer to the free citizens we are supposed to be.
It is like the question of who is more important to the health of a society, the garbage men or the doctors????????

Christopher B said...

Otherwise, I have Canadian coworkers who are very proud of having the Queen as their Head of State, and see themselves much more civilized than Americans who had to fight a war for independence and an ever worse civil war. And the UK similarly can feel superior for their transition to expanding democratic power over neighbor France's violent revolution.

Ignorance usually fuels superiority complexes.

Sam L. said...

Anon at 5:02? As they say in Texas, "Boy, HOWDY!" You aced it!

Anonymous said...

Sam L.,
I was born in Texas (Austin). Don't live there anymore, recently moved.