The Null Device

Johann Hari on the Royal Wedding

As the Royal Wedding approaches, progressive commentator Johann Hari makes a case against the monarchy, and what he terms its subtly corroding effect on the nation's psyche:
Of course, when two people get married, it's a sweet sight. Nobody objects to that part. On the contrary: republicans are the only people who would let William Windsor and Kate Middleton have the private, personal wedding they clearly crave, instead of turning them into stressed-out, emptied-out marionettes of monarchy that are about to jerk across the stage. We object not to a wedding, but to the orgy of deference, snobbery, and worship for the hereditary principle that will take place before, during and after it.
Kids in Britain grow up knowing that we all bow and curtsy in front of a person simply because of their unearned, uninteresting bloodline. This snobbery subtly soaks out through the society, tweaking us to be deferential to unearned and talentless wealth, simply because it's there.
We live with a weird cognitive dissonance in Britain. We are always saying we should be a meritocracy, but we shriek in horror at the idea that we should pick our head of state on merit. Earlier this month, David Cameron lamented that too many people in Britain get ahead because of who their parents are. A few minutes later, without missing a beat, he praised the monarchy as the best of British. Nobody laughed. Most monarchists try to get around this dissonance by creating – through sheer force of will – the illusion that the Windsor family really is steeped in merit, and better than the rest of us. This is a theory that falls apart the moment you actually hear Charles Windsor speak.
Monarchy, after all, is just a polite word for "hereditary dictatorship"; the difference between a monarchy and North Korea is the layers of glamour and mystique from centuries of submission and acclimatisation, which still remains in kitschy old fairy tales of wise kings, beautiful princesses and enchanted castles. Granted, in a constitutional monarchy like Britain's, in which the monarch has no power but to sit in a gilded cage, cut the odd ribbon and mouth the words written by elected politicians, the idea of monarchy is watered down almost to homeopathic levels, though the unpalatable reality of what a real monarchy would be like intrudes from time to time. For example, it is still a tradition for monarchs to act as a slightly peculiar global club and invite other crowned heads to their occasions, even if those crowned heads are actual hereditary dictators of the old school, like the Crown Prince of Bahrain, whose government recently massacred pro-democracy protesters. (The crown prince has withdrawn, much to his regret, though royals from Saudi Arabia and Swaziland, blessed with less immediately conspicuous human-rights issues, are still coming. Kim Jong Il, however, has not been invited, being too much of a hopped-up nouveau-riche to make the club.)

There are 2 comments on "Johann Hari on the Royal Wedding":

Posted by: Derek R Mon Apr 25 03:26:15 2011

I'm all for the constitutional monarchy, in principle. (I'm Canadian BTW). I don't give a rats ass about who's marrying who, but in a "history of the world" perspective, it shows that there's a way to fundamentally transform from a monarchy to a democracy, without exterminating a big chunk of the population. Ghod save teh queen!

Posted by: acb http://dev.null.org/acb/ Mon Apr 25 11:38:10 2011

I'm not a republican, though think that the monarchy could be separated from the idea of unmerited, hereditary privilege a bit more. Perhaps making it a non-hereditary role, purely ceremonial and separate from party politics, with a long term (possibly life, as is the case with the monarchy), and some kind of selection process based on merit. Failing that, the European "bicycle monarchy" model (in which the royals all have jobs and pay their own way as, admittedly wealthy, citizens, with minimal state support) seems better than Britain's, with its bloated civil list.

Btw, when are you colonials going to help out with the cost of keeping the monarchy? That gilded cage is expensive, you know.

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