Royal Baby Aside, the British Monarchy is Worth Celebrating

The royal family has not had a lot of clout since King George III purportedly shook hands with an oak tree in the belief that it was a Prussian monarch. The monarchy is one of those distinctly British institutions which make Americans see their patron country less as a nation state than the world's largest museum. Indeed, Americans used to buy into marriages with the English aristocracy as though having a lord as a son-in-law were like purchasing a rare antique; having the last name "Churchill" wasn't free, even though the investment eventually paid off. But all humor aside, the British monarchy is one of the few institutions in the United Kingdom that still makes perfect sense. It might not be for America, but the UK is lucky to have it.

A lot of people might wonder why so. The way publications like the Economist think of the issue, one is tempted to believe that the crown is a relic of an era when the monarch was identified by the fact that he didn't have sh*t all over him. Whig historians propound this view as much as anyone, and millennials tend to follow along like good disciples, even though they aren't sure of the name of the thinkers that they are following. We can all feel as though we have made a fair share of progress from the day when King John died of dysentery on the royal chamberpot to the day when everybody got to use whatever restroom he/she/they wanted to use.

But we shouldn't feel too enlightened. After all, Americans have the exact same obsession with pomp and circumstance that our English cousins have. We have coronation ceremonies of our own and we perform them every four years, while the English only put up with them following a royal funeral. A lot of people will say there is no comparison. We elect the president, after all. But one statistic is enough to refute that point: In 2012, the queen had an approval rating of 90%. What did President Obama have at that time?

This is not to say that America should draft Paul Emery Washington, the "man who would be king," as Paul I. The Constitution does a perfectly good job of serving as a physical object to which American citizens are bound to remain loyal. But there are some ways in which the monarchy is something which Americans can envy. A Briton may call himself Her Majesty's humble servant, but no Briton risks the humiliation of referring to a completely incompetent fool as his "commander in chief." 

People on both sides of the Atlantic dismiss the monarchy as pure celebrity. If the United Kingdom really wants a king, they say, why not just be honest about it and appoint Paul McCartney. But, if the queen has a high title and no authority, this is probably better than all of those who give themselves an absolute title and absolute authority. (Africa's self-appointed "King of Kings" comes to mind.) If nothing else, the monarchy is a reminder that the United Kingdom itself is an ongoing project and one that all Britons can be invested in, regardless of whether or not they agree with its parliament. And, in spite of brief periods of dictatorship and authoritarian rule, it has helped maintain the UK's commitment to liberty since June 15, 1215. That might not make the monarchy worthy of Americans' loyalty, but it definitely makes it worthy of their respect.

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James Banks

is a Rochester-based writer. He is a former contributor to "The American Interest" Online and has written for "The Weekly Standard," "The Intercollegiate Review" and other publications. He works in web communications and is a doctoral student at the University of Rochester.

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