EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the March 14, 2005, issue of National Review.
In the latest episode of the British Royal Family Soap Opera, the Crown Prince has finally got his girl. In short, Prince Charles is to marry Camilla Parker-Bowles, the love of his life, and his mother, the Queen (who is also head of the Church) has given her blessing to the union.
It is a truism that it isn’t easy being a Royal Family these days. It used to be so much easier. When the existence of social hierarchy was taken for granted, someone had to be at the top of it, rather like Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover. But nowadays, not only is Jack as good as his master, he also insists upon repeated public recognition of the fact. How, then, can a Royal Family be justified? What is it for? Upon what sentiments may it depend for its support among the population?
Certainly, it can no longer count on the discretion of the press. Difficult as it may be now for the average Briton to recall it, there was a time not so very long ago when the press would report nothing about the Royal Family except in blandly respectful or gushingly obsequious prose. The life of the Royal Family was portrayed as a fairy tale with the witches removed, a kind of eternal happy ending. Completely and self-consciously unrealistic, this reportage was so dull that only bored housewives could read it. But now we live in an age when everyone has a right to full knowledge, down to the most intimate details, about anyone in whom he takes an interest. The Information Age is also the age of tittle-tattle; and tittle-tattle is the enemy of mystique.
If the Royal Family is no longer protected by mystique, but rather is a group of hereditary celebrities competing with other celebrities for space on the front page, what can protect it from the kind of carping criticism that must ultimately destroy it? Can it claim to incarnate the nation, and thus act as a focus for patriotism? But British patriotism is dead–although a nasty form of nationalism remains a minority interest–while Welsh and Scottish patriotism consists mainly of self-pitying hatred of the English. There is no quicker way of emptying a room in Britain than to play the national anthem, which causes the acutest embarrassment. How can a God in whom no one believes be invoked to spare the life of a woman to whom all now believe themselves equal or even superior?
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