Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Why radicals should welcome a royal baby

"Those who pour scorn on the royal baby frenzy are being clever elitists who despise the feelings of the less clever …. and reductionists."

So says Bryan Appleyard, as ever hitting the nail on the head. Though in this case the nail he was aiming at was the head of the Archbishop of Reductionists, Richard Dawkins, who tweeted: "I’m patriotically proud of British achievements like Shakespeare, Darwin & DNA fingerprinting. But royal baby nothing to celebrate."

I agree with Appleyard.  Dawkins is being snobbish, but then the purpose of the Positivist wing in UK debate is to boil everything down  to its constituent chemicals and discover that there is nothing of significance about them.  Religion, royals, saints days, osteopathy.  Let's cling to our birthdays - they are next on the list!

Why are royal babies different from other babies, asks Appleyard rhetorically?  This is his answer:

"Because, I am afraid, of the use, derived from history, pragmatism, sentiment and sensibility, we make of the royal family as embodiments of the metaphysical – as opposed to the merely political – properties of the state. This is just the way we do things and it works..."

I am a monarchist for two other, rather pragmatic, reasons.  The first is that, not only do we need the metaphysical - it adds a vital spice to life - but we particularly need the trappings of monarchy in the UK, because it can be a bastion against extremism and intolerance.

You can't help noticing, over the last century, that former empires which lose their monarchy very rapidly became prey to fascist forces - the Germans, French, Spanish in particular.  Monarchies are safe conduits for intolerant nationalism.  They allow us to be patriotic without finding that the place has been taken over by proto-UKIP types dreaming of empires long gone and locking up those who look a bit different.  They are forces for inclusion and tolerance.

The second reason follows on from that, because monarchies are different.  When they work (and ours works), they are not symbols of privilege - they are symbols of equality.  They render everyone from bank CEO to prime minister equals under the crown.  They are a potential antidote to the widening inequalities, and against the rising power of the financial elite.

They are that because they represent an institution with its roots back to Alfred and Cerdic and possibly before.

In the European tradition, right back to the feudal system, they stand above the government as the guardians of the poor and powerless.  When the peasants rose in revolt in 1381, they were doing so in order to appeal to the king (a fat lot of good it did them, it is true).

That is why former Liberals like Hilaire Belloc became monarchists, because he felt that France (in this case) needed that supra-national authority.

In our own time, what this means is that we desperately need some supra-national institution that is not sponsored by corporations, or governed by political spin - and the monarchy is almost the last institution to have remained un-nobbled by Google or McDonalds or Barclays.  If you think a presidency would be immune from Goldman Sachs, I think you are dreaming.  The vampire squid has no depth.

All this world-weary snobbery about a royal baby seems to me to be upside down.  Or are these people really worrying about a symbolic deference, when the real source of inequality - the financial power of the new elite - goes untackled?

So there we are.  Call me old-fashioned if you like.  But a royal baby spreads a little magic, and by doing so, it inoculates us just a little against fascism and corporate control.  

12 comments:

James Moore said...

I usually enjoy David's blogs for their insightful look at the world. However, I don't really know where to start on this one.

David has every right to be a monarchist. I am not for the reason that I believe the monarchy to be a buttress to the political, social and economic status quo in the this country (a reason to support it for some people).

However, to claim that abolishing its monarchy is likely to make a country more fascistic is non-sense.

When was France fascist? (rather than having Fascist groupings within its body politic - which country didn't in the 1930s?).

It is arguable that Franco's Spain was not per se fascist. It was rightwing, Catholic, authoritarian and nationalist. There was of course the Falange party, but it was ultimately more of a nationalist coalition than strictly a fascist party.

And there was no mention of the Ur-fascist regime in Italy, where Victor Emmanuel III was King throughout.

Finally, should I mentioned the Royal baby's great (x3) uncle? better not, that might be thought of as too much of a cheap shot.

David Boyle said...

James, I'm not laying down a universal law. And you;re right that Italy is a counter-example. But what with the Petain regime, and the alacrity with which France complied with Nazi instructions about the Jews, I'm not sure you're right about France. It certainly discovered a dangerous tendency towards extreme nationalism.

But the real difference between us is that you think the monarchy buttresses the status quo, and I think it is a bastion against the new status quo - complete domination by the financial elite.

I take the business of the Duke of Windsor on the chin!

KRA said...

OECD ten happiest countries in the World 2013
1) Australia - Constitutional Monarchy
2) Sweden– Constitutional Monarchy
3) Canada– Constitutional Monarchy
4) Norway– Constitutional Monarchy
5) Switzerland - Rebublic
6) USA - Republic
7) Denmark– Constitutional Monarchy
8) Netherlands– Constitutional Monarchy
9) Iceland Republic
10)UK – Constitutional Monarchy

Jess WS said...

I think you are right to fear the financial elite and the erosion of cultural diversity but I don't think a social class elite is any less dangerous - it's just disempowered at the moment. Therefore we can gaze on the Royals as the last of the dodos in a rather expensive zoo enclosure, and perhaps project onto them qualities that will shore-up threatened values of tolerance etc. that we aren't sure will survive many more generations. Sorry, that is rather pessimistic.

Unfortunately, I have experienced a slight chill in observing media coverage of the birth - it is so strong on re-affirming bloodlines in what seems quite a medieval way - rather than engaging more contemporary debates such as how do families balance working life and family life, how equally will Will and Kate parent and other topics to be found trending on Mumsnet any day of the week. For example, I haven't seen one mention of midwives with respect to the birth - was Kate only attended by senior male doctors? That is a massive issue as so much evidence suggests birthing mothers are best supported by experienced midwives. To be honest I didn't look hard for this material, and perhaps it's there very near the surface, but in general the whole thing seemed to be such an assertion of an old order that I don't really want to see back in the ascendant.

Simon said...

The problem with this post David isn't that it is pro-monarchy, apart from the Fascist stuff which you should have excluded on the basis of Godwin's law alone the arguments are fine. However it makes no case for why RADICALS should welcome a royal birth. A radical isn't just somebody with left wing sympathies you know, it is by nature a person who seeks to change society down to the very roots. The arguments you give seem to be based on the premise that some good things about society are going and that the monarchy stand in the way of that decline. I don't mind this argument but it is about as radical as - er, the Monarchy?

Also I can't help but think it is a mistake to see Richard Dawkins as representing anything other than Richard Dawkins.

David Boyle said...

Simon, I think you're right that I didn't make the radical case enough. I'm trying to argue that, if you are trying to dethrone the financial elite, then dethroning the monarchy is worse than an irrelevance - we need institutions that can;t be bought if we're going to win the real battle.

Simon said...

Ah - this is your poujadism again!

Alex said...

An institution that can't be bought:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah,_Duchess_of_York#Cash_for_access

David Boyle said...

Alex, I know there are blips - sometimes big blips. But you can't become king or queen just using money. You can become president or almost anything else...

Tim Footman said...

Back to the Appleyard quote. Are you and he suggesting that clever people should shut up so as not to upset people who are less clever? Would you have offered this advice to Galileo or Darwin?

Anonymous said...
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David Boyle said...

Tim, sorry not to reply - I've been on a small farm in Normandy, watching the cows go by. The answer to your query is no, I'm not telling clever people to shut up in case they upset less clever people. I'm telling some clever but cynical people than they are not as clever as they think they are!