Adrian Wooldridge , writing as ‘Bagehot’, on ‘Prince Philip and the dynasty factor’. Almost Marx comments.

The first paragraph reads like a weak but modulated defense of the Royals, in a History Made To Measure of their victimhood, at the hands of democratising forces: malign political actors, catastrophic events, all cobbled together to impress the reader of the writer’s mastery of sources?  

The modern world was built on the graves of royal dynasties. The grave-diggers started their work with the American and French revolutions in the second half of the 18th century, paused for a while in the 19th, as Europe recoiled from the excesses of Madame Guillotine and the Emperor Napoleon, and then resumed with gusto in the 20th. The first world war and its aftermath saw the destruction of such great names as Russia’s Romanovs, Germany’s Hohenzollerns and Austria-Hungary’s Habsburgs. Today there are just 26 monarchies left. 

The following paragraph builds on the first:

Yet the reaction to Prince Philip’s death on April 9th demonstrated that the dynastic principle continues to flourish in one of the world’s most advanced countries. The bbc suspended its programming to focus on the news. Newspapers produced special editions framed in black. A vast army of royal experts competed to tell the most heart-warming anecdotes about the crusty royal. Old newsreels of the queen’s coronation were rolled out to remind the world that, while most surviving monarchies seem almost embarrassed about their role—witness the bicycling kings and queens of the Nordic world—the Windsors believe that monarchy is worth doing only with pomp and circumstance.

More of Bagehot’s ‘history’ that evolves into a telling question:

Why do the British continue to cherish the dynastic principle at the very heart of the state? There has been no shortage of answers to this question over the past days. One is that the royals are tireless public servants: the prince carried out more than 22,000 solo engagements and countless more as an appendage to his wife, always walking two steps behind her. A second is that they are judicious modernisers: the prince melded clever innovations (such as the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme for youngsters) with ancient rituals. A third is that the monarchy is a source of unity in a country that is often at war with itself.

Bagehot expands on the question, in the next two paragraphs, yet does he stand apart from his fellow citizens?

The first two answers are weak. The theatre of monarchy is not primarily a theatre of works performed and duties fulfilled. It is a theatre of majesty. The only way to fully modernise the monarchy is to abolish it: the point of the institution is to act as a counterbalance to the everyday world of value for money and performance targets. Monarchy is romance or it is nothing.

The third answer is closer to the truth. Regular politics is inevitably about differences: rival parties bellow at each other from opposing benches and then vote in something called a division. These disagreements are unusually sharp at the moment: furious arguments about Brexit are now giving way to equally furious arguments about devolution. Questions of identity underlie these issues: what does it mean to be “British” in a multi-ethnic society? And what prevents us from spinning out of control in an age of such hectic change? The reaction to the duke’s death was a symptom of a desire to find unity at a time of discord and continuity at a time of flux.

After more conjecture ,the reader comes to this surprising comment on Prince Philip, and the royal apostate, Meghan Markle. The Melodrama of the Royals evokes political kitsch, from a writer, who adopts the guise of a revered 19th Century editor*, that at its end is cynical. Perhaps the Free Market ideologue fails to see the value of the Royals as exemplars of duty, service, and tradition?

Prince Philip’s blunt style exacerbated some of the divisions at the heart of the country’s culture wars. And recent rows about Meghan Markle—a victim of royal racism to her defenders and an entitled woke princess to her critics—suggest that the monarchy fosters division as well as healing it.

The most keenly watched royal events are marriages (and their breakdown) and births. The Duke of Edinburgh’s death provided a chance to observe on the public stage something that usually takes place only in private. It also allowed people to do at a national level what they usually do within their families: contemplate the way things have changed over the decades. These great royal events are unifying because they are “brilliant editions of universal facts”, to borrow a phrase from Walter Bagehot, the great Victorian editor of The Economist. They are also consoling, for they remind people that even those with great wealth and status share the troubles from which lesser mortals suffer—unsatisfactory partners, wayward children and, eventually, decay and death.

It is extraordinary that the dynastic principle has survived. That it has done so by taking the most atypical people on the planet—blue bloods living in gilded cages—and turning them into exemplars of our common humanity is quite bizarre.

Almost Marx

*From page 88, of ‘Liberalism at Large: The World According to the Economist’ by Alexander Zevin, that describes Bagehot’s opinion on extending the franchise:

Footnote to the above:

About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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