A crown is merely a hat that lets the rain in, said Frederick the Great, voicing the same disillusionment with which millions watched this week’s Harry and Meghan Royal Striptease Show.
The couple’s interview with Oprah Winfrey scandalized hypocrites, entertained cynics and stunned the gullible. The rest of us should ignore them and realize that Britain is history’s most achieved polity, and its embattled royal house, warts and all, is part of that success.
The gullible were shocked that a nice boy like Harry, from a good family like Queen Elizabeth’s, would openly rebuke members of the clan. Wow, look around you, everyone, and count the people you know who spoke to you against their parents, siblings, cousins or kids. It’s not nice, but it’s natural.
The hypocrites were aghast that a member of the royal family would express curiosity about the embryonic Prince Archie’s expected skin color.
Is such an idiotic question, if even uttered under a palatial chandelier, exceptional among white Brits?
This is beside the fact that the said royal was not named, and that his or her question has been paraphrased rather than quoted verbatim, which leaves one wondering what exactly was said, by whom, in what context, and when and where, if at all.
The cynics are having a great time ridiculing the entire royal idea, as if the palace’s inhabitants must tiptoe in its corridors like Henry VIII’s wives.
Yes, royalty can be hazardous to royalty’s health, as diagnosed already by the Bible when it portrayed the House of David as plagued by intrigue, fratricide and self-destruction, and even earlier, when ancient Israel conceived the anti-royal idea.
AS MENTIONED here once in a different context (“The king of Israel has no clothes,” May 30, 2019), Moses limited the prospective king’s women, money and military, a revolutionary concept that also left it up to the people to decide whether to crown a king at all. It was, no doubt, visionary, having foreseen the oppressiveness that royalty might foment and the vanity to which it might stoop.
Samuel then picked up from where Moses left off by trying to prevent a king’s appointment, and while at it, portraying royalty as inherently corrupt, greedy, warmongering and oppressive.
And royal oppression can victimize not only the people, but also royalty itself, the way Princess Margaret was forbidden to marry the man she loved because he was, heaven forfend, divorced; or the way her uncle was forced to choose between the divorcée he loved and the crown he donned.
One can therefore identify with Harry and Meghan for having fled their gilded cage, even if their move would have been more compelling had they become truly private people, rather than live off of their royal celebrity.
Yes, it takes no Sigmund Freud to suspect that what is at play here is a wounded son avenging his beloved mother’s tragic life and death. It also takes no Mother Theresa to share his pain.
Then again, the big question raised by the scandal this couple stirred is not about them but about the monarchy itself: Is it still relevant? Well it is.
PEOPLE ridiculing the royal family overlook Britain’s historic achievements, and the monarchy’s place within them.
The British created history’s broadest empire, the industrial revolution, modern academia’s constitutional bastions and humanity’s most shared language since the flight from the Tower of Babel. This is besides spearheading fascism’s defeat; fathering modern theater, science and pop; and mothering the United States.
This partial list of achievements is so remarkable that one must wonder whether any future civilization will ever leave on mankind an imprint nearly as deep.
Are these the doing of the crown? They aren’t; they are the doing of the British people. Yet the monarchy is also the British people’s product, as is the unique political system of which it is a part.
True, the British realized only in the 17th century what Moses understood millennia earlier when he decreed that the king must be agreeable to the people, as Thomas Hobbes argued in Leviathan, and that the king’s power must be curtailed, as the 1689 Bill of Rights set out to do.
The British thus imposed the legislature on the crown and limited its sway on the government, military and courts. That is how constitutional monarchy was born, the pragmatic formula that eventually transformed British monarchs from tyrants who send people to the gallows into ceremonial ornaments who flee paparazzi.
Like all political systems, this one, too, is not perfect. It also isn’t suitable for everyone. Israelis, for instance, will never have patience for kings, queens, dukes, earls and their uniforms, ceremonies and balls. For the British, however, their model worked, with far better results than other models had for other nations.
Throughout its journey to greatness, Britain’s prime ministers and monarchs met regularly and quietly discussed government’s work, the people’s will and the world’s direction, cultivating jointly a culture of dialogue, balance, civility, understatement, pragmatism and levelheadedness that produced political stability, economic prosperity, social mobility and cultural creation.
Yes, as an empire Britain also made mistakes. Which empire didn’t? But in many of their former dominions, certainly in Israel, they remain a source of governmental instruction and judicial inspiration.
The British achieved all this because they knew to adapt to changing times. That included dismantling their empire, and it included separating royalty and government, and also the crown’s acceptance of changing social norms. While changing, however, the crown continued to powerfully glue its subjects with each other and connect them with their past.
And so, with all due respect to Harry, Meghan and Oprah, the monarchy will outlive them, because Britain without the crown would be like a lighthouse without a lamp, just like history without Britain would be like a zoo without a lion.
Amotz Asa-El’s bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.