Saturday, April 30, 2011
Duty and Monarchy
There are a lot of problems with monarchy. It is suggested it perpetuates a class system and privilege. I am not sure that is really so or if the monarchy was absent there would be less of a class system or less privilege? Members of the "best" families seem to dominate the Ivy League University of the US, the prefix du still carries a certain cache in France. Italian aristocrats are still given a certain precedence, even today's Labour Party seems to be dominated by a certain privileged class.
One of the things about the English monarchy is that it emulates ordinariness: the tupperware of the royal breakfast table, the prosaic conversation, "You arrived in quite a small car", as the Queen said to the Pope, the obvious but rather restrained affection between the Queen and the Duke. Now, even the annus horribilis of fires and royal marriage break-ups and other disasters marks a time of transition from being a rather special family to being rather like any other family in country with its wounds and bruises.
The difference between monarchy and presidency is that the monarch is there for the duration, until death. Selection by birth in many ways is a lottery, we don't choose our monarch and they don't choose monarchy, they are simply born to it, like Edward VIII they can opt or be opted out but being monarch is about duty, not choice.
In many ways as George VI's speech impediment showed it is not even about natural ability or gifts, again is about duty, even in that very English way "of just muddling through". For the nation too there is something important about knowing that for good or ill the monarch is there until death, the acceptance of having someone in charge who may not be that gifted or even necessarily that bright is an important part of Englishness.
For Americans having a flag as a national icon or a constitution is fine but we English have monarch with a family with all its quirkiness, and during our history, often folly. There is something very incarnational about it all, it can be described as feudal but better, about a relationship of a nation with a person or a family. Flags and legal documents are static, one might venerate them but what seems to have happened over the last reign is some sort of dialogue has taken place, the people speak, the monarch adapts but that has taken place throughout our history. For a monarch who doesn't listen the sword in some form hovers.
The great state occasions are vulgar, my objections to the wedding were more to the gushing presentation by the media but as someone commented, "vulgarity is part of royalty", so too is the duty of fulfilling expectations. The marriage itself is good, obviously, behind the carriages, jewels, hats and uniforms are aching bunions, boredom or just a desire for cigarette or to burst out laughing; something very human, something very incarnational.
Whether the Cambridges would have preferred a quiet wedding or not is not up to them they had a duty which they fulfilled, somehow for them they have to bear the Cross of Royalty until death, doing not what they want but what they should do.
Thank God they, and we, have had the example of the Queen!
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