Britain’s royal baby has a name: Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge. Some news media sources have opined that it is fraught with politics and tradition. That is true. There will be numerous comments made over the next week or so before everything settles down. We can, and many will, read all about it.
What is the fascination, if that’s what you can call it, with the British Royal family? Especially in this country? After all, the United States won its independence from Great Britain, denouncing King George III and his transgressions in the Declaration of Independence, and expressly prohibited nearly all the trappings of royalty in our Constitution. Thomas Paine in his eponymous pamphlet expressly stated that it defied common sense for an island to rule a continent, and his characterization of a king was the chief ruffian of a restless gang. Besides that, my political philosophy or ideology, as it were, is expressly libertarian. I take seriously Thomas Jefferson’s observation that the government that governs best is one that governs least.
In reality, the monarchy, though at times feckless, and at its worst brutal, has for nearly 1000 years worked pretty well for England/Great Britain. That is not to say that it would work well for these United States, or anywhere else for that matter. Nevertheless, it is a focal point of the British culture, language, and legal system, all of which are dominant in the United States and for a significant part of the rest of the world’s land and people. English will ultimately become the world’s language. Studying the many generations of reigning monarchs, and their collaterals, goes a long way to helping us understand the historical process that brought our country, and the present world, into being.
The British Monarchy has been somewhat of a misnomer. Even before Magna Carta, the English kings were not absolute. The main reason for the 18 year Anarchy in the 12th Century was the barons’ refusal to accept Matilda as a queen regnant, despite the wishes of her father, Henry I. Those who flouted the wishes of the people who mattered, refused to accommodate the various factions, or were not adept at playing power politics faired ill. The titled aristocracy held the monarch in check through the Seventeenth Century. Since George I, whose inability to speak English hampered his ability to govern, executive power has been shared with ministers responsible to the Parliament. This has evolved to the point where the monarch has very little constitutional power. Interestingly, though rocky at times, the monarchy’s prestige has increased as its political power faded. But it is not irrelevant.
There is something about the trappings of royalty that fascinates people. I would say the past 200 or so years, Britain has had the best of both worlds. They’ve had a representative democracy within the framework of a limited monarchy. The spectacles of pomp and circumstance, and, yes, even a fairytale-like world can be enjoyed above the messiness of politics necessary for a government responsive to the people to work. Good grief, Britain even had an unhappy experiment with socialism, but seem to be recovering – all under the same monarch.
So let us celebrate with the Royals. Their nation will remain a royal throne of kings and a sceptered isle. The monarchy might not be a precious jewel set in a silver sea, but rather a brightly polished facet of a rather rough diamond, in what might otherwise be merely a dirty coaster butting through the mad march days. (That pretentious enough for you? Sorry, had Guinness at lunch – Cheers!)