Friday, April 22, 2016

There's no future in England's dreaming...

This caught my eye over at Nancy's place:

Just for the record, I have no particular problem with the idea of a "constitutional monarchy". It seems to me that modern Britons have no fewer "freedoms" as "subjects" than modern Americans have as "citizens" which, for those people in my social milieu and income bracket, are largely the freedom to starve and sleep under bridges once their jobs are offshored or eliminated.

No, the interesting thing to me about this is the degree to which this picture - deliberately, I'm sure - could just as easily be Fildes or Sargent or, for that matter, Gainsborough or Reynolds. Nancy observed that the benefit of Diana Spencer's death prior to the photograph is that the People's Princess lacked the goofiness to fit into this little royal family portrait.

And it is pretty goofy, but I think it's a very peculiar quality of goofy that has nothing to do with Diana's own astrologist-and-aromatherapist-and skeevy-lover sort of goofy.

The goofy here is the Classic Old School British Goofy, composed equally of exaggerated self-worth, lack of introspection, hauteur, and noblesse oblige, the Stuff of Empire Goofy that doesn’t see any humor in pretending that it’s still 1894.

Diana had her own massive Goofy but it was a thoroughly New Age Goofy incomprehensible to the stodgy House of Grammy Windsor. The Goofy on display here is a Goofy of centuries of "breeding", a sort of stud book of Goofy that values humans for their lineage rather than their accomplishments.

Sad when you consider that the clan threw out the perfectly good surname Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, too. Sigh.

The idea of keeping a nice old granny around out of pure nostalgia is hardly worse, say, than the idea of Donnie Trump or Ted Cruz as Chief Executive of a nuclear superpower. But as government it's a very, very peculiarly goofy idea, an idea the presumes that the worth of one person or a small group of people is higher than the worth of many.

(Mind you, our own "system" that purports to exalt the worth of the many over any individual is kind of odd, too...)

But the only real issue I have with the British system is that it really only works if you can pretend that it's still 1894 and the King or Queen actually matters. It's kind of like spending a fairly sizeable chunk of cash to keep a long-running reality show on television and then insisting that everyone pretend that that's really important.

So I used to get a chuckle out of the ridiculous royal pantomime across the Pond, thinking that We the People had, at least, nothing equally ridiculous.

Then, of course, this Republican primary came along.

And now I feel kind of like that stone parrot, the one on the bottom that's clearly getting its psittacene conge' in the form that The Donald plainly intends for his own daughter and God help me how I wish I could scrub that image out of my brain.


Ael said...

I was always taught that the monarchy was a "constitutional" safety valve.

To see in it in action, see the 1981 Spanish coup.

A real person can react to whatever bizarre circumstances arise in a much more flexible manner than a scrap of parchment.

Dane900 said...

I still love that when they announced they were changing their name to the House of Windsor on the outbreak of World War I, the Kaiser quipped that in that case he was renaming Shakespeare's play The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

I also love that, as an Australian, I have a Head of State I don't have to pay upkeep for and almost never have to pay any attention to. That's a job worth offshoring.

FDChief said...

Ael: I'd buy that had, say, Liz stepped in when Blair was obviously fellating Dubya back in 2003 over Iraq (that being the most recent political cock-up in Britain I can think of) and negotiated a graceful exit for the UK from that clusterfuck. Or finessed Thatcher over her successful push to make the nation a harder, smaller, meaner nation.

But she didn't. Unlike Juan Carlos, the British monarchy has done nothing of real value to the British people in the past sixty-plus years...

Ael said...

Chief: You clearly have never watched the Queen, or indeed any of the Royals busting their butts being patrons of this or that charity or society. Just as a minor example, The Duke of Edinburgh Awards have added real value to the youth of my community. Most every year, for the Provincial Gold Awards, we get some Royal in to present the awards and mingle with the winners. This means a lot to the kids (who did a *lot* of work to get there in the first place) by being congratulated by a person who is officially and visibly "important".

One could argue that the Queen and (by extension) the Royal family are merely catalysts supporting these programmes and charities, and the real work is done by the people themselves. This is true. However catalysts *do* add value by starting and keeping a reaction going.

FDChief said...

The charity and pro bono stuff would be all very nice if it didn't come at a ridiculous cost in public revenue. But it does, and ISTM the British public would be just as well off if the cash went right to the various charities directly.

It's the British public's choice to keep this weird anachronism around, so if that's their preference that's fine. But it's a pure indulgence, "England's dreaming" of a more glorious past just as the lyric says, and rather than find arcane reasons to try and pretend otherwise an honest polity would just admit it; "Yes, they're expensive, useless doodads, but we love 'em..."

FDChief said...

By which I mean, specifically, the the last vestiges of Royal political power would be 86ed. If the Queen isn't going to intervene to prevent political fuckups - which she isn't per the "unwritten constitution" then dispense with the fiction of a constitutional monarchy. If the royals are to be kept on let it be as a sort of beloved curiousity like the ravens at the Tower, a harmless reminder of a grander past. But, surely, not the whole damn clan. Keep the monarch's stipend, but the rest of the straphangers need to go out and get day jobs.

Ael said...

Well, not all Royal political power is overt. I do know that she was actively involved in the repatriation of the Canadian constitution in the eighties. In particular she was involved in discussions between various First Nations and Canada, in that their treaties were with *her* and not the Government of Canada (and many of the Chiefs were *not* about to trust any assurances given to them by the Government of Canada that they had nothing to worry about.)

And, as per the cost, I think it gives sufficient value. Certainly, if you compare it to the costs of the dog and pony show that constitutes the American presidency it does. (not to mention that the Presidency often becomes a partisan lightning rod and can divide rather than unite). Other folks can reasonably disagree.

Anonymous said...

As an Australian former artilleryman, I note that HM is Australian artillery's Captain General (as I expect she is in UK and other Commonwealth artilleries)and her royal patronage somehow made us better shots. She is also Colonel in Chief of engineers, infantry, ordnance and nursing corps, which I guess makes them all better at it, but not so much as she assists the Gunners.
She is NOT the Commander in Chief of the Defence Force, that position being constitutionally vested in the Governor-General. GG is appointed by the Queen, though, on advice of the prime minister. GG essentially does same things the government asks him to do as HM does as UK government asks her to do.
Paradoxically, Australian monarchists and republicans both agree that the Queen does not do anything in governing Australia, which the monarchists argue makes HM an essential feature while the republicans argue it makes HM irrelevant. Both sides seem to agree that whoever our head of state might be, that entity should not have any executive power.
No wonder we drink.

FDChief said...

In the US we drink to St. Barbara of the Artillery, so perhaps our saint is the equivalent of your Mistress of Ordnance. Either way I have no issue with the ceremonial aspect of all that; it's the temporal subsidies of the royal hangers-on and various shady lords and ladies this-and-that. The whole farrago is easily as expensive as the U.S. executive and with 99.9% less political value.

Ael: My problem with the monarchy is that for all that's it's supposed to "unite" I see little evidence of that. The partisan divisions of Tory, Labour, Green, UKIP...they seem to transcend rather than fade away in the penumbra of the monarchy.

Like I said; it's the UK's dandruff and their privilege to fiddle with it. But it seems supremely goofy to attribute anything other than sentimental indulgence to keeping it around...

Anonymous said...

I was hoping my tongue was obvious in my cheek when attributing the Queen's majesty to the shooting prowess of Australian Artillery.

We share St Barbara as patron saint. Indeed, at the Australian Artillery Anzac Day service at the Artillery National Memorial this year, a US Field Artillery officer read a prayer to St Barbara. There was also a retired USMC Cpl in Dress Blues operating the Everymans Welfare Service coffee truck: