I would like to offer Mr. Rod Dreher a response to his recent article, “Among the Neoreactionaries”, as I’m afraid there aren’t many of them (perhaps us), and it would be no fun a’tall if the discussion wasn’t taken up by the someone with at least sympathy for the current of American reactionary ideology. I hope this will also serve as a beginning to my critique of the Whig narrative of history which Ms. Tankersley has been so patient in reviewing and re-reviewing.
I can’t speak for this archconservative movement as a whole, mostly because I have no idea what and whom it entails. I think it would encompass all monarchists; in another response Mr. Noah Millman included Neo-Fascists, whom I cannot speak for at all. There are a few American Francoists, I know, poking around the Internet, as well as any number of American Jacobites. (I’m good friends with two of the latter, both of whom are perfectly sensible and wonderful, if eccentric, individuals.) Alas, I fear the Neoreactionary Movement, if there is such a thing, is too broad for me to adequately represent. Not only that, but I’ve offered a small defense of Liberalism which Mr. Dreher kindly reviewed. Perhaps the most negative reactions will come from more reactionary reactionaries than myself. So that no one can claim I misrepresent them herein, I’ll have to limit myself to the Old Whig/Tory branch: the Traditionalists, Monarchists, anti-secularists, and free-market skeptics.
As any student of American history would know, our Founding Fathers, and Thomas Jefferson especially, were proponents of a radical brand of Whiggism. Their appeal, as Daniel Hannan MEP points out in his latest book Inventing Freedom, was largely to the rights the Anglo-Saxon people enjoyed before the Norman Conquest. Seven centuries later, an entire nation could be moved against the greatest empire the world has ever known—in no small part by an appeal to such a remote chapter of English history! A further two-and-a-bit centuries down the road, I wonder if any such rhetoric would hold the same sway?
Nonetheless, this Radical Whig interpretation of history is one that must be challenged. It may hold the key to understanding how we’ve fallen so far from the vision put forward by the Founders—how, really, we’ve failed to govern ourselves as judiciously as ninth century German-Danish half-breeds settling a drizzly island on the Western edge of the known world.
The Radical Whigs who composed the Continental Congress and other “Patriot” bodies either forgot, chose to ignore, or found it unimportant that the Anglo-Saxon people were never anything like a republic. As Hannan points out, the legislative body of pre-Norman England, the Witan, always co-governed with a monarch. But the English kingdoms were never absolute before the Normans arrived, and the King was always subject to the same laws as his people. As far back as millennia ago, the English were invoking a rough form of impeachment to keep their sovereigns honest.
So we must acknowledge that the Radical Whig case for Rule of Law was absolutely precedented in history. But could the balance between law and legislation be upheld without the monarchy? Could a single Constitution suffice in place of a king and the fluid, manifold English Constitutions that grounded Common Law? The Founders certainly thought so. But we mightn’t be so convinced.
The actual arguments put forth by the Patriots deserve more space than they can be given here. So we’ll focus on the more theoretical end, which has surprisingly not been addressed at any length.
There have been American thinkers who sympathize with Monarchism. Mencken is notable, though he usually used monarchy as an example of how anything un-democratic seems to work better than democracy. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn did his part to bring a sensible monarchism to the United States, but, alas, his monarchism is too often thought to be a novelty—a Continental tumor on his otherwise solid and enduring criticism of radical egalitarianism. So many of our American conservative champions seem to sit in different corners of the room mumbling, “Monarchism is a good idea, but I don’t think anyone else will buy it.” Perhaps we just need one American to make a stand for these potential monarchists’ waves to stop crashing over each other.
Of course, there’s the most famed American Monarchist, the 20th century’s most eminent poet, T.S. Eliot, but far better minds have done more justice to Eliot in whole tomes than I could in a few sentences. Suffice to say, it wasn’t coincidental that Eliot described his work as being “royalist” in character—as I hope we’ll see, royalty isn’t about one king or dynasty. Monarchy is a whole animating force in politics, and not one that should be understated.
Today’s monarchists include Mr. William S. Lind, whose primary work is in military theory. Mr. Lind has been highly active in Conservative causes in every capacity, from writing in The American Conservative to directing the Free Congress Foundation’s Center for Cultural Conservatism.
The most noteworthy living American royalist would most likely be Charles A. Coulombe, a talented and witty Catholic historian who is also known to mount a defense monarchism and distributism from time to time. Mr. Coulombe has given American royalism the benefit of a great thinker in his own right who also happens to be a monarchist—in other words, Monarchism needn’t define the American monarchist outright.
We have a similar case in Mr. Lee Walter Congdon, who unfortunately I’ve less exposure to than Mr. Coulombe, but who no doubt deserves mention on the same grounds. An eminent historian in the field of Eastern Europe, and Hungary especially, Mr. Congdom also happens to be a Monarchist—and not a quiet one either.
As for the “lay” monarchists: my own charge in the movement has been to collect active supporters of the British Crown into a coherent organization, the American Monarchist Association, which would serve as a branch of the British Monarchist Society. (It’s coming along, very slowly but very surely.) What initially struck me was the overwhelming number of active and retired servicemen-and–women who came out to support the AMA.
Now, if I’ve perhaps made it tenable that American Monarchists aren’t just fifteen-year-old boys skulking around the Internet—that they may, indeed, be a respectable group worth taking seriously—I’ll give my own case for an American Monarchy.
I. The Big Question
As an American Monarchist, the question that usually appears first in political conversation is, “When did you become a Monarchist?” That’s always struck me as a rather silly question. We’re all born Monarchists. Or, at least, we used to be. Every boy raised by parents who want their sons to become gentlemen will be given the example of Prince Charming. Every little girl should be lucky enough to be Daddy’s Little Princess. Every child wants to live in a castle, sees his father as a king, or her mother as a queen. No little five-year-old dreams of living in an executive mansion or imagines his mother to be a charming and able politician’s wife.
Presumably the egalitarianism of our age will see the decline of children’s monarchial fantasies. Parents who value egalitarianism and tolerance above all else won’t let their offspring delight in tales of the Lion, King of the Forest, or maidens kissing frogs who become princes and live happily ever after—it all stinks of patriarchy and privilege. Nevertheless, these are the tales children not only accept but relish.
So perhaps justifying Monarchism isn’t so much more than justifying imagination. As Christ said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Maybe the Republic of Heaven but… Never mind.) We’re told it’s like unto Godliness to believe in that which this ephemeral world has no time or patience for. We only need to decide what virtues, if any, Monarchism offers that justifies our service in its cause. That will be what any reasonable monarchist will now address. The age of Divine Right is over. Now we must make some sense of that ancient and enchanting order of royalty.
But perhaps you might ask yourself—you who grew up on tales of King Arthur, and Cinderella, and the Chronicles of Narnia—when did you stop being a Monarchist?
To the best of my knowledge the word apoliticality isn’t very widely employed but it’s a much-needed term. And it’s one that gets to the heart of the modern condition: how do we exist outside of politics?
For much—probably most—of human history, politics as we understand it hasn’t existed itself. The notion of any sort of public participation in government isn’t quite new, but until recently it was extremely rare. Man has mostly lived under what’s called the personal state: government of the sovereign and by the sovereign. In those cases where Monarchy wasn’t essentially absolute, certain noble families wielded significant influence. But those still qualify as a personal state: the Duke of Norfolk has been an immensely powerful figure in England since the reign of Richard III, and never has a non-Howard held that dukedom.
As democracy took root in the larger and more powerful states of the world, we entered this vexing period of popular politics—middle-aged men standing around the water cooler arguing about the next presidential election, most of them militantly aligned with one news station representing one political faction. This (and his female counterpart) is our Type 1 citizen. Generally, those who don’t find this sort of discourse appealing say, “Oh, to Hell with it,” and get very cranky when someone tries to talk to them about politics—the Type 2. A small minority try to work out an alternative to the two/three/perhaps four narrow opinions allowed in a modern Western democracy. There are two possible outcomes for this 3rd Type: a) they realize it’s absolutely futile trying to present a so-called “Third Position” and devolve into a Type 2 person, or b) they arm themselves with all sorts of facts and theories and become Ideologically Impotent. I’m a Type 3/b myself; most of the finer points of politics baffle me, and I’m not much convinced by any code of ideas that would end in –ism. But I’m still drawn to politics. Or, rather, to government. Or, maybe I should say, to the body politic.
Political parties not only tend to be very seedy; they’re also extremely boring. Being enthusiastic about one party or another isn’t much different than going for one football team or another. After an election, a country very rarely goes from being wonderful to abysmal, or from ruinous to prosperous. As in the case of the United States, things just teeter from good to bad until someone declares a war that the majority of the public is never accountable for. That’s because First World peoples are never very radically divided: France, for example, would never be dominated by the Ultra-royalist Party and the Bolshevik Party. It will always be center-right vs. a center-left factions. In the unlikely event that a more radical group is elected, subsequent elections will balance everything out. So, for example, Francoise Hollande will either be followed by Marine Le Pen—a drastic swing in the opposite direction—or he’ll moderate himself. Either way, pending an unforeseen national crisis, France will continue to revolve around the center. Paul Gottfried tells a curious little story that illustrates this point:
My now deceased polyglot friend Eric von Kuehnelt-Leddihn was fond of telling a story about his conversation with a Spanish fisherman near Bilbao, whom he asked (probably in Basque) what he thought about the government. The fisherman answered laconically: “Franco worries about the government; I just fish.”
In the authoritarian model, people don’t have much say in government; in the populist model, people have so much say in government that it operates almost on its own. In both instances, people can either choose to obsess over the government they have no control over, or they can find something more interesting to occupy themselves with.
This is where the monarchy comes in. There has never been a partisan monarch. Ever. The closest you get is Charles X of France favoring the Royalist Party (a.k.a. the Don’t Abolish the Monarchy Again Party), and the Hanoverian kings who sometimes showed mild favor (not the same thing as “gave power to”) either to the Whigs or the Tories. But you wouldn’t find Queen Elizabeth II whispering to Prince Phillip, “I just so hope that the UKIP wins the next election.” For the most part, I think, monarchs tend to be Type 3/b people as well. They know far too much about government, political philosophy, and history to say, “Yes, democratic socialism is always the best thing” or “Small government, always and everywhere”. Seldom do judicious thinkers find themselves speaking this broadly—especially ones (like monarchs, and people with other hobbies) whose livelihoods don’t depend on one party or ideology winning the day. I don’t know a single economics student who’s firmly attached to an economic theory (except the Marxists). It seems like anyone who studies the field enough realizes you can’t just point to one broken cog and say, “Aye, there’s the rub.” It’s a great deal more nuanced than that. Of course, a Marxist can easily say, “Everything is wrong with industrial capitalism and it has to be scrapped entirely,” but we needn’t go into the hopelessness of communism. Monarchs would operate under the same understanding. Society isn’t a machine; it doesn’t come with a blueprint and interchangeable parts. The best statesman aren’t Master Machinists, they’re judicious and broad-minded leaders. The problem is that seldom do subtle and incisive slogans appeal more than, “Together We Can”, or “Stop the Boats”, or “A Future Fair for All”.
“That’s all very nice in theory,” you say, “but the Queen is just a figurehead. She can be as reasonable and impartial as she likes, so long as she keeps it to herself!” Au contraire. The Royal Family is far more than symbolic. They have real, effective veto powers—and they’re not afraid to use them. A report taken up by every British newspaper disclosed that the Royal Family “at least 39 bills have been subject to the most senior royals’ little-known power to consent to or block new laws.” And these aren’t small considerations:
In one instance the Queen completely vetoed the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill in 1999, a private member’s bill that sought to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament.
Congress had long before surrendered many of its Constitutional wartime powers to the President—powers given to Congress specifically to keep them as impartially exercised as possible. The Queen, of course, is the embodiment of impartiality in the United Kingdom, and she’s defending that sacred charge with more grit than our representatives.
There’s also this wonderful nugget:
“This is opening the eyes of those who believe the Queen only has a ceremonial role,” said Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, which includes land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, the Prince of Wales’ hereditary estate.
“It shows the royals are playing an active role in the democratic process and we need greater transparency in parliament so we can be fully appraised of whether these powers of influence and veto are really appropriate. At any stage this issue could come up and surprise us and we could find parliament is less powerful than we thought it was.”
This is a heartwarming complaint. I love nothing more than to see a politician feel slighted. The procedure is exactly correct according to the English constitutions; it’s political restraint being exercised on behalf of the public; powers of war are remaining embedded in the most impartial branch of the government—I can see a guilty smile stretching over Jefferson’s face.
The Monarchy is a bit like constantly having the Massachusetts special election of 2010: when politicians begin wringing their hands and sneaking through unpopular legislation that the people of the country oppose, the Queen puts her foot down on their misuse of office. Democracy, as our Founders understood, is not mob rule, but the rule by the Law of the Land—the law of the nation and her people. We are forced to trust our elected officials to respect the Constitution, but have no recourse should they choose to abuse their power in those rare but terrible instances of supermajority. The British have such a defense mechanism, an arbiter of Common Law whose sole legal duty is to prevent gross and wanton abuse of power: the Monarchy. Whether British or American democracy is more complete, theirs undeniably benefits for having such a sentry to watch over their political class. I cannot see how we would be ill served by learning from their example.
We also have the near-catastrophic example of the debt-ceiling crisis of this past year. The story should still be painfully familiar: Republicans and Democrats brought the country to the edge of ruin in their bumbling and heavily partisan bickering. Of course, a compromise was reached just before our credit rating was dropped further, most federal employees received their back pay (some didn’t, but, oh well), and then life went on. I think most of us have already forgotten that whole episode, because our profoundly partisan society couldn’t help but recognize that their “team” was partially to blame. We’ve agreed to just let it go. And no one will be held accountable. Which, really, is an absolute sham.
Either by design or by Providence, the Monarchy has a function, if not to prevent these disasters, than to ensure the parties responsible aren’t allowed to scurry off without remand. And this procedure doesn’t come without its predicable challenges.
Turn back to 1975, Australia: Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s Labor (left-wing) government has control of the House, and the Liberal Party (right-wing) controls the Senate. The Labor Party are trying to settle on a funds appropriations bill, but are repeatedly blocked by the Opposition.
Yes, it’s the exact same scenario. Only its resolution is far better.
The situation was hopeless. Neither party would budge. Meanwhile, the Australian Government was essentially in shutdown. The Prime Minister was intending to call a “half-Senate election”—a rather FDR-esque maneuver that would basically tell the Australian people, “Vote for more Labor people or this is going to drag on indefinitely.”
Enter the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr. The Governor-General is a viceroy who assumes most of the Queen’s powers in her stead. He has roughly the same powers as the Queen does in the UK, and as much tenacity to refrain from using them unless perfectly necessary. Only now Sir John saw the necessity.
Outside Parliament House in Canberra, a press conference was called. Sir John’s secretary, Sir David Smith, appeared with a proclamation from the Governor-General. After describing the powers vested in the Viceroy:
Whereas by section 57 of the Constitution it is provided that if the House of Representatives passes any proposed law, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, and if after an interval of three months the House of Representatives, in the same of the next session, again passes the proposed law with or without any amendments which have been made, suggested, or agreed to by the Senate and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, the Governor-General may dissolve the Senate and the House of Representatives simultaneously…
In short, when Australian politicians fail to perform their duties as legislators for the public good, the Governor-General has the right, even the duty, to step in. And step in in a very big way.
And so, the Governor-General’s own secretary, grinning nervously amidst jeers and boos, announced:
… Therefore, I Sir John Robert Kerr, the Governor-General of Australia, do by this my Proclamation dissolve the Senate and the House of Representatives. Given under my Hand and the Great Seal of Australia on 11 November 1975,
Completed with a sharp, majestic:
God Save the Queen!
Malcolm Fraser, the Leader of the Opposition, was appointed interim Prime Minister; an election was held; Fraser’s Liberal Party (right-wing) carried the day. The 66-to-61 majority enjoyed by the Labor Party became a 91-to-36 lead by the Liberal Party in a matter of eight months.
What exactly did the Governor-General do? He didn’t dictate terms to the Prime Minister. He didn’t impose his own preferences on the Australian people. He simply stepped in, told everyone to go home, called a new election, and let the Australian people make their choice mid-crisis. Where would we be now if the same had occurred during the Affordable Healthcare Act in 2010, or the Debt Crisis of 2013, or the Libya debacle, or the TSA scandal? Can we be under any illusion that monarchy is hostile to freedom, transparency, and democracy?
III. Beauty and Culture
So I hope we can agree that the Royal Family and their viceroys are far from merely symbolic functions. But the symbolism of monarchy should not be overlooked.
What must be said as a brief preface is that the monarchist is not a total relativist in aesthetics. Taste, as it goes, is relative, but beauty is not. There is an uneasy distinction between the two, but one of great importance. The music of folk songwriter Percy French and the classical composer Mozart are both beautiful. French is nowhere near as stately and majestic as Mozart, but I think French’s “Come Back Paddy Reilly to Balleyjamesduff” is incomparably lovelier than the majority of Mozart’s work, which I find uninspired and mechanical. This is taste. I’m not an anti-Mozart partisan; I just dislike most of his music. Yet I have a difficult time believing Jay-Z’s music is beautiful. No doubt some might enjoy it—but it’s not beautiful. There are any number of things people enjoy that possess no beauty: for example, my addiction to Law & Order: SVU. It will be the task of monarchists to untangle the terms “beautiful” and “enjoyable”, which aren’t equivocal.
In government, too, we neglect to acknowledge the difference between beauty and enjoyment.
Consider a particular interview given by Lady Margaret Thatcher. The reporter, Stina Dabrowski, asks Lady Thatcher to make a “jump in the air” as a sort of ice breaker. Lady Thatcher wouldn’t have it. “I wouldn’t dream of it. It’s a silly thing to ask. A puerile thing to ask.” Ms. Dabrowski won’t relent. Nor will Lady Thatcher. At the end, the Prime Minster insisted that it simply couldn’t be done, saying, “It shows that you want to be thought to be normal or popular. I don’t have to say that or prove it…. I do not wish to lose the respect of people whose respect I’ve kept for years.
I’m not fond of Margaret Thatcher as a politician, but as a leader one can hardly fault her. It would be a great shame if the dignitary of any people were to demean their office and the nation they represent by performing such a frivolous and undignified act.
Of course, we have the counter-example of Barack Obama dancing on the Ellen Show during his first presidential run. Mr. Obama’s supporters reveled in how “down to earth” he appeared. In reality, his performance was humiliating.
This is exemplary of the leadership in a republic against the leadership in a monarchy: a republic puts any foot forward, while a monarchy expects only the best. When Barack Obama is elected, the nation has spoken. That’s the cost of republicanism, where leadership must reflect the nation. But should David Cameron appear on the Ellen Show (I imagine, to add insult to injury, he wouldn’t be nearly as good a dancer) and do the same, that would be a serious cultural malfunction. But one thing’s certain: the Queen never would.
This has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the nation a leader represents. Ellen is certainly a talented comedian, and it’s far from me to criticize anyone for enjoying her show. But, as an American, I would rather hope my head of state held our nation in higher esteem than to dance around a stage on national television with a kitschy media personality.
Alas, in the republic, we have no grounds to make such a demand. It’s no surprise that the country that elected Mr. Obama also adores Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian. Sometimes we get lucky: the 80s were defined largely by Ronald Reagan and Frank Sinatra. The two are bound together culturally. But Reagan’s finesse and dignity (setting aside his politics) could only last so long as American culture was interested in music of the same character. There was nothing to protect our politics from the rise of pulpy artlessness in our mass media.
A monarchy serves to do just that.
That’s not to say Monarchy yields only proper, highbrow culture. Justin Bieber, of course, is a subject of Her Majesty the Queen of Canada. But it does mean that a permanent and ultimate position in society is reserved for true beauty and dignity. This argument may well be lost to most people; we’re now so submerged in the idea that objective beauty is a form of hyper-elitism and that standards of dignity are for stiff-shirted prudes (oh Horror Victorianorum!)
But the Monarchist conviction is that beauty is a human necessity: We believe that a healthy civilization is composed of healthy individuals, and that any civilization (which includes, but isn’t limited to, their government) that cannot accommodate a livable portion of true beauty will be forced to seek out that fundamental need. A republic such as ours, if I might wax poetical for a bit, is like a nomadic tribe in the desert, living off whatever water they’ve stored in their canteens. Sooner or later, their thirst will compel them to settle by a river, where water is plentiful. In other words, eventually the beauty offered by occasional citizens won’t be enough. Our republic, too, will be called back to monarchy, that fount of beauty shared in common by the nation. It’s an impulse at once primitive and evolutionary: humans desire the sublime, which elevates them beyond basic tastes and fancies. We are compelled toward the transcendent—that which is richer and more profound than what we ourselves can muster. It’s no coincidence that the French Revolution looked to an emperor for their salvation. Ideology is no substitute for human nature.
Here, a reasonable person would ask, “Can’t you imagine an alternative to monarchy that fulfills the human need for beauty?” I certainly don’t believe that princes alone satisfy our desire for the Sublime. Government is only one facet of human nature. But history seems to suggest that government can never be excluded entirely from that need. The Roman Republic collapsed into the Roman Empire—which, we recall, took five hundred years, but it fell nevertheless. Cromwell’s Puritan republic became Charles II’s decadent kingdom. The Weimar Republic quickly fell to the Third Reich. (Could Nazism—with its promise of a strong national character, hierarchy, ceremony, spiritual awakening, and the renewal of Germany’s dignity—have been avoided if the Allies allowed the Kaiser to keep his throne? I have little doubt that it could.) It seems we must always allow for some regal and transcendent fixture in our body politic; Monarchy has proven to be our most reliable and benevolent option, bar none.
IV. Reclaiming Institutionalism
We should all be aware of the surest tactic employed by the radical Left: the “long march through the institutions”. This is critical to the survival of Tradition: what we once knew, and what the Left knows all too well, is that institutions define a society. These include, of course, the Churches, courts, marriage, academia, and so on. While “institutionalism” isn’t necessarily a mainstream school of thought, the evidence is everywhere. Mainline Protestant Churches, themselves institutions, are now fierce operatives in the pro-gay marriage camp. Universities across the Western world are rife with Cultural Marxism, which will influence generations of rising leaders. State courts in Massachusetts were responsible for changing the definition of marriage against popular opinion. We can hardly ignore how, when the left gains control of such bodies, they begin to fall like dominos. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is still resolvedly traditional, though their schools (especially in the North) are susceptible to creeping Leftism. The military, perhaps our oldest enduring national institution, is still composed largely of conservatives. But we’ve taken one of our surest institutions entirely off the battlefield. Yes, you guessed it: Monarchy.
Queen Elizabeth’s reign has been fraught with crises and questions of constitutionality, and from the Second World War onward she has been a courageous and graceful representative of the British people. Her task has largely been to keep the United Kingdom from teetering off the point of despair and shepherd the Commonwealth of Nations—and she’s fulfilled that task exceptionally well thus far. This in itself would be a tremendous influence in our society: an institution dominated by a sense of sacrifice, national solidarity, and brotherhood among nations.
But there’s a more explicit example to be taken up: His Royal Highness Charles, Prince of Wales. As much as the media enjoys poking fun at him, what would Conservatives gain from the presumed ascension of Prince Charles to an American throne? Mr. Dreher has himself praised the Prince of Wales in two separate articles, and understandably so—the Prince’s small-t traditionalism very much reminiscent of his own Crunchy Conservatism. (Perhaps, though, less crunchy in His Royal Highness’s case. “Peaty” might be more apt.) I hardly even need to speak about the Prince; I could simply say, “Read Mr. Dreher’s articles” (I recommend you do so anyway) “and imagine having a fixed head of state willing to espouse everything that’s entailed there.” But it might be best for the horse to speak for himself.
Prince Charles has cut through the sensationalism of mainstream politics like a knife. While he’s sometimes being accused of aloofness, there’s nothing that could describe him more poorly: Prince Charles has a much better grasp of the long-term challenges that face his people than any politician who has served during his lifetime.
As Mr. Dreher points out, the Prince of Wales is a student, if not a follower, of the Traditionalist School, or Perennial Philosophy. For those who are unfamiliar with the Traditionalist School, it’s a means of religious thought which emphasizes the fundamental unity of all religions while understanding that the only effective way to pursue the Divine is to practice one tradition faithfully. We stand on the shoulders of giants, reaching for the face of God. Prince Charles is an active communicant in Anglican Church, but he is also profoundly interested in Orthodoxy (his father’s native faith) and Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. As I’m always delighted to recall, the Prince’s tutor in Islamic theology, the Traditionalist and mystic Seyyed Hossein Nasr, was also my instructor in mysticism and Islamic philosophy at the George Washington University. Prof. Nasr maintains that Prince Charles is a deeply spiritual man who earnestly desires to know and be guided by God. In the Prince’s own words:
…the loss of Tradition cuts to the very core of our being since it conditions that which we can “know” and “be”. For Modernism, by its unrelenting emphasis on the quantitative view of reality, limits and distorts the true nature of the Real and our perception of it. Whilst it has enabled us to know much that has been of material benefit, it also prevents us from knowing that which I would like to refer to as the knowledge of the Heart; that which enables us to be fully human.
In the same article, Mr. Dreher says, “I don’t know whether he endorses a New Age universalism, or whether he believes as Lewis did [that non-Christian religious believers are alien to the Truth]”. There is a great deal to be said about this.
When Charles controversially elected to take the title “Defender of Faith” as opposed to the traditional “Defender of the Faith” (meaning the Christian faith, in the form of the Church of England), the Prince was, in a way, simply de-politicizing the Monarchy’s relation to the Sacred. He is pledging himself to the service of that Truth which underlies the many faiths of his future people. Britain and the Commonwealth of Nations are a multiethnic, multi-religious community that spans the globe. Prince Charles will be the Sovereign of Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Jews—in reality, every religion in the world. Regardless of what his own beliefs are he will someday be king of believers of every sort. Under the title “Defender of the Faith”, his implied powers would be limited essentially to those of the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. As Defender of Faith, Charles undertakes the tremendous and daunting task of defending the Sacred wherever it should manifest, regardless of sect or denomination. No doubt if he decides to leave the title as it is now, his principles will not change. The intention is entirely clear.
I can’t help but wish the United States could have such a sovereign so committed to the many traditions that compose our nation, and eager to defend what is sacred in our civilization. So many Republicans use faith as a justification for certain social policies, and so many Democrats seem intent on subverting our nation’s religious character altogether. Prince Charles is, without a doubt, both sincere in his own faith and intent on safeguarding his people’s. This is, alas, what we’ve foresworn.
Beyond that, Charles has famously taken a very strong tack in defense of the natural environment. What’s not so well publicized is his opinion on man-made environments. Some royal-watchers might know that he has an interest in architecture—with a name for his own scheme, “Windsorism”. But it’s not architecture in itself that seems to interest the Prince—at least, not in such a way that a giant box of Legos might suffice for his interests. The Prince is rather very startlingly aware of how man’s surroundings influence his thoughts, beliefs, and likely his spiritual health. As he said,
For me, the teachings of Tradition suggest the presence of a reality that can bring about a reality of integration, and it is this reality that can be contrasted with so much of Modernism’s obsession with dis-integration, dis-connection and de-construction—that which is sometimes termed the “malaise of modernity”. Cut off at the root from the Transcendent, Modernism has become deracinated and has separated itself—and thereby everything that comes within its thrall – from that which integrates; that which enables us to turn towards and reconnect with the Divine.
Understanding that nature and civilization are inseparable, the Prince has sponsored the creation of Poundbury, an urban community outside Dorchester. It is called an “experimental community”, but that’s quite the opposite of what it is. Poundbury is a living, breathing, expanding example of where history went wrong. As Ben Pentreath of the Financial Times wrote:
Classical architects form a curious-looking crowd, in old tweed and pinstripes, bow ties and brogues. Like them, Poundbury is clothed in a language of tradition that makes it easy for the world of contemporary taste to dismiss: stone cottages, Georgian townhouses; office buildings and supermarkets dressed with pilasters and pediments; gently curving streets that to the passing eye are a curious simulacrum of historical Dorset towns.
Mr. Pentreath notes how cars—those smelly, noisy, dangerous things we supposedly can’t live without—have been rendered almost useless simply by the layout of the town. Houses and businesses aren’t flung at opposite ends of a 34-mile wide, 34-storey tall jungle. Rather, the people of Poundbury enjoy an easy proximity between their home, work, and places of leisure:
The businesses have proved symbiotic; the pub picks up lunchtime trade from the factories, whose workers can drop their children in the nursery next door; and so on.
The production manager, Simon Conibear, reflects with candor,
We provide opportunity for affordable commercial space—less than £10,000 per year, typically, below the business rates threshold—so that individuals can do what they always wanted to do…not making a fortune, perhaps, but where else in the world could you do this? Town centres are too expensive, business parks too remote, and suburbs don’t have such places.
And this is all thanks to the Prince of Wales, who even allowed the town to be built on part of his estate. We don’t have—and we’ve never had—a leader who undertook such a project on his own expense, let alone with the sole intention of improving the quality of people’s lives. It’s not the sort of thing that occurs in a republic, where leaders serve a certain term, try to leave the coffers in a better way than when they were elected (ideally), and then retire. It’s a feature unique to monarchy, this institution that seems bent on fulfilling the more humane, spiritual needs of a people rather than only their financial and military ones. We have nothing like it and, pending Restoration, never will.
Lastly, on the topic of Prince Charles, we should discuss the Prince’s School for Traditional Arts. This is a perfect example of the power a monarch has to encourage and preserve a traditional and spiritual aesthetic. According to the School’s website: “The School’s courses combine the teaching of the practical skills of the traditional arts and crafts with an understanding of the philosophy inherent within them.” Many of the programs deal with sacred geometry and Islamic architecture—traditional, yes, though not traditionally British. But there are also lectures on Christian sacred art, the “Flemish technique”, Medieval manuscript illustrations, and so on. It would take an absolute miracle for Democrats and Republicans to get together and agree to fund such a project. I can hear the debate now. “We already give too much funding to the arts.” “We can’t teach medieval art, it’s extremely intolerant.” “I’m not going to throw away taxpayer money so some hippie can study Muslim paintings.” “We’re going to have to set aside at least six units devoted to African LGBT cavewomyn art, of course.”
And the Prince’s School? “The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts was founded in 2004 by HRH The Prince of Wales as one of his core charities.” Again, the Prince decided it needed to exist, and he invested in it. No political wrangling, no pork barrels, no sensitivity training, no anti-Christian undertones. And, best of all, unlike 99-100% of American Congressmen, the Prince actually knows a lot about traditional art. Enough to start an undergraduate-through-postgraduate program in that field and to oversee its proceedings. This is institutionalizing tradition—giving the most ancient and enduring character of a nation some physical form. We have nothing of the sort in our Republic.
V. And finally…
No doubt someone could write up a quick counter-argument saying that the American Republic is in fact more traditional than the United Kingdom. They would certainly point to the fact that more Americans attend church on average than Brits, or that at least we don’t have an openly socialist party as a major contender. All true. But this essay isn’t an argument to say that the Monarchy has ensured that Britain remain more true to its roots than the United States. All I can hope is to have at least made it considerable that the Monarchy might be one major entity keeping the United Kingdom tethered to its proud and ancient past.
More so, I hope we can agree on how very real and imminent the Monarchy is in British society, and in those of the Commonwealth monarchies. No doubt there’s more talk of the Parliament and the Ministry of Such-and-such in the media than there tends to be about the Queen. But we can have no doubt that the dignity, beauty, and serenity of the Crown never rests too far from its government and public. Truly, we have nothing that can contend with Monarchy. We have no body in government whose authority is exercised purely in the interest of making our lives more rich and humane. We have no such living vehicle of the wisdom passed down to us by our ancestors. We have the Constitution, yes, and it’s undeniably an essential feature of American civil society. But what does the Constitution do to ensure our people are represented with dignity abroad? Where is its guarantor in the halls of government, prepared to stand against the tide of partisanism in defense of the core virtues it enlists?
The Constitution is meant to embody the spirit of our laws, our liberties, and our political order. Yet it’s a body without arms, without legs, without a voice, without a conscience. It has no will of its own, and so can be employed in the service of whoever can mumble its contents—not as a shield to defend us, the people, but as a sword for those who would call themselves our governors.
Monarchy is, most simply, the rule of law and the spirit of a people incarnate. It’s the avatar of a nation, the vessel for its ancient spirit. Our Founders decided to handle the spirit only, to do away with the body and accept what Hannan calls the most sublime form of English common law. But it seems this ideal is so sublime as to be imperceptible: as soon as it appeared, it was gone. So often we need that intermediary, someone to devote himself entirely to what we cannot do casually. Order, law, liberty, dignity, beauty—the whole organism of tradition—none of these are best served by television debates and twelve hours of voting once every couple of years. They must have their constant minister. Which is why, despite all time and chance and popular opinion, I can’t help but confess to being a convinced Monarchist. I can’t quite bring myself to not be one. It seems to be such a whole good—a good that, not unlike Faith, may be unlikely, and at times incomprehensible, but a worthy ideal that nonetheless demands one’s service. Monarchism becomes a matter of conscience to the monarchist. And so I count myself among the radicals, hopefully with good reason, and with nothing further to declare but love for my country and a desire to see her at her very best.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.