I’m not ashamed to say that I woke up at 5:15 am on Friday to watch the royal wedding. For anyone interested in plumbing the socio-political imagination of the British this was a must see event.

I was not disappointed. And I came away with a surprising insight. It came to me about the time when the entire Commonwealth burst into “God Save the Queen” during the ceremony. People wept. Flags were waved. The country was one because of a little old woman in a sweet hat.

The British love the queen. They may not love their government. They may loathe David Cameron. But what holds together an impressive diversity of religious, cultural, political and economic persuasions is a hearty, unabashed sentimentalism for the royal family. If you’d like evidence of this see the BBC special on the Queen. It is mind-boggling to see who comes together under the banner of HRH.

Which led me ponder: If America had a royal family maybe we wouldn’t need Tocquevillian nonsense. We wouldn’t have to be a “city on a hill.” Instead, we’d have a queen. In Britain the queen bears the brunt of exceptionalism. There’s something different about the royals. They know what they have to live up to and they spend their lives being groomed to promote an image that unites. They hold no political opinions and they make no decisions. But the royal family plays a powerful role in deflecting the pressure from the real decision-makers of the country.

Let me give you an example. When the British discovered that John Prescott, the Deputy Foreign Minister and Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary were both having extra-marital affairs it was a media fuss but, to my memory, there were no calls for the resignation of either. In fact, then Prime Minister Tony Blair explains in his memoir that the real problem was the way the government manipulated the media unnecessarily; the public was tolerant of sexual misdemeanors. Compare this with Bill Clinton who was actually impeached for his affair with Monica Lewinksy because Americans somehow reasoned that being morally upstanding has something to do with being an effective political leader.

I wonder if part of the reason for these very different reactions is that every country needs a royal. And if you don’t have one you roll your royalist expectations into the national leader, the form of government or the nation-state itself. Maybe we would be just a little better off if we had a few figureheads upon whom we could cast our unrealistic expectations, fears and loyalties.

For my part, God save the Queen.

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5 thoughts on “What I learned from the royal wedding (and why I want a Queen)

  1. I think you’re wrong about Tony Blair and an affair – there has never been any allegation about such a thing

    1. Thanks for the correction, Stephen. I’m thinking of Robin Cook and John Prescott during the Blair era. Will correct.

  2. Seriously? First, it is a gross over generalization to suggest that “[t]he British love the queen.” I have seen multiple interviews with people that were totally exasperated with the whole thing. I would direct you to Republic (http://www.republic.org.uk/) It gives a very good run down on how the Crown is an inherently undemocratic institution that still controls much of the British political system. For instance, all power of the Government derives not from the people, but from the Crown, through Parliament.

    On just the wedding itself, the direct cost to the people of GB was at least tens of millions of pounds. However, the overall cost to the economy has been estimated upwards of 50 billion (that is with a b) pounds. This at a time with the Conservative/Liberal government is pursuing an austerity program that is disproportionately affecting the poor, people of color, students, and the elderly.

    1. Serious in the sense that I want a royal family? No. Serious in the sense that royalism helpfully allows for the deification of figureheads other than the elected political figure? Yes. And I’ve never heard it argued that the Crown is anything other than titular. I’d be interested to hear more. I think the best evidence of general approval for the Crown is that it still manages to exist in a developed country with a democratically elected government. It’s quite shocking and remarkable that its lasted.

      I’m not sure the gross cost of the wedding is germane to this discussion, however much I disapprove. Many governments, including my own, are reckless with the budget in just as absurd ways.

      Okay, maybe not as absurd.

      1. The power comes from the Crown, not from the Monarch. It is a weird distinction that has to do with the British “Constitution,” which isn’t a written document, just an understanding of how things are done. I would encourage you to check out the website that I directed you to. They do a much better job than I could explaining how the Crown is an inherently undemocratic institution.

        I notice that you used the term “deification.” It seems to me that we should only have one deity: Triune God. (Although at this point I am just being difficult, I get your point)

        The US is unique, even amongst democratic societies that our head of state and head of government are one and the same. In many places (Ireland, France, Italy, etc) these are two separate offices.

        As far as the cost goes, as an American, I certainly get the idea of misspent money. There Billions spent every year that are spent on things WAY outside my values. However, that still doesn’t justify the expense that was borne, by the state of GB, on the wedding of two people that already come from RIDICULOUSLY wealthy families. I want my wedding paid for by the state!

        Also, I hope I didn’t come off as a jerk. It is just that this is the one issue that is sure to get me all kinds of riled up. I found you through Christian Century, so I look forward to reading more!

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