I appreciate the small-r republican ardor with which Mark Oppenheimer assails America’s royal wedding obsessives, but he’s fighting a losing battle. “Americans are supposed to loathe and reject monarchs,” he writes, but it’s telling that all his examples of that loathing (“In the earliest years of English settlement, this land was a proud haven for king killers … [we] fought a bloody war for the privilege to ignore the king of England … Anti-monarchism was then written into our Constitution …”) are centuries old, dating from a time when republicanism was an exciting cause rather than a somewhat-ossified assumption. Since those days, we’ve regressed to the (very human) mean: We’re fascinated by the royal family that we once overthrew, we have our own hereditary dynasties (and the slobbering coverage to match), and we’ve gradually turned our presidency into a quasi-imperial office, complete with coronations and cultic devotions and all the rest. True, by the standards of modern history, with its parade of strongmen and caudillos and presidents-for-life, our republican institutions have been impressively resilient. But even the American experience suggests that the anti-monarchical temper Oppenheimer invokes is ultimately artificial and unnatural, a triumph of theory over instinct and idealism over human nature. In their hearts, most people want a king and queen.Source.
The resilience of this impulse, even in a democratic age, is probably the best case for the constitutional monarchies of Europe, their silliness and stuffiness and frequent tackiness notwithstanding. Toasting Prince William and his soon-to-be princess this week, the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens made a fine Burkean case for the British crown: “Royalty is the most venerable embodiment of British tradition, tradition is the lifeblood of identity, identity generates social cohesion without resort to force, and social cohesion is the sine qua non of a viable polity.” But I think it’s that “without resort to force” that’s the most important part of the argument. Whatever their customs and traditions, even the most modern polities often find themselves yearning, like the Israelites of old, for a kinglike authority. And the existence of a largely-powerless royal family can be a useful hedge against the perpetual temptation to invest ordinary politicians with quasi-royal powers, and then (almost inevitably) watch them run amok. (The experience of post-Franco Spain suggests that the restoration of a hereditary monarchy after a long period of dictatorship can play a similar stabilizing role.) Having a monarch as the symbolic head of state keeps elected officials in their place, provides an apolitical outlet for popular hero worship and the cults of celebrity, and satisfies the human hunger for ceremonial authority. If it’s an affront to democratic sensibilities, it’s also a safeguard for democratic institutions. Better a real king, crowned and powerless, than the many pseudo-kings who have strutted (and still strut) so destructively across the modern stage.
There has been a great deal of online monarchist bashing of late. Thought I'd throw this out.
- Margaret Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven