Looking to the monarchy can show us the pitfalls of prideful politics.
After the death of Queen Elizabeth in 2022, many commentators insisted that the time for monarchy has passed. The crown is a gaudy bauble unsuited to the modern, utilitarian state, so arguments generally went, not to mention a medieval anachronism that makes a messy mix of religion and politics.
I’m sensitive to the appeal of both arguments, especially the latter. But with a view from the States after eight years of acrid and tumultuous politics—and with another presidential campaign on the verge of further embittering our national life—the monarchy has begun to look pretty handy.
Its use is not, as critics tend to assume, in creating a grandiosity of state. It is rather in containing it, attaching it to a figure whose relative permanence, undemocratic selection, and minimal real power allow him to absorb outbursts of national feeling instead of such outbursts loosing their chaos into workaday politics and governance. Give us a king like the other nations have, I am increasingly inclined to plead, so that he might provide a stabler outlet for our anger, fear, and aspirations.
That’s not to say, of course, that the United Kingdom’s politics are never vitriolic or overwrought. But the contrast in how the US and UK handle our respective heads of government is telling.
There, an unpopular prime minister may be ignominiously tossed out in a matter of weeks. Here, presidential elections have stretched into two-year sagas, each dubbed the most important of our lifetimes and treated as an existential battle for …