Nostalgie de la Monarchie: The Way Forward is Never the Way Back

“The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne
Burnt on the water …” – Shakespeare

Melanie Phillips, writing in yesterday’s London Daily Mail:

Once again, the monarchy allowed people to connect through powerful symbolism to their collective history and their identity as a nation. And what a stroke of genius it was to use the river to make that visceral connection.

What a fantastic, glorious, emotional, quite overwhelming spectacle. It wasn’t just that it was flawlessly executed. It wasn’t just that, as billed in advance, it would provide a sight that people would never have seen before.

It was also a triumphant restatement and reaffirmation of a Britain that people love so deeply but which so many fear may have been lost for ever.

Gil Bailie writes,

This is of more than passing interest to me, inasmuch as I am currently trying to assess whether modern or postmodern cultures still have the ability to foster and sustain a center of gravity with sufficient assimilating power to inspire the trans-generational loyalties and sense of purpose on which a healthy culture depends. The jury is still out as far as I can tell, and there are plenty of failed or short-lived attempts. However evanescent the current revival of British esprit de corps might prove to be, it is worth noting that is indebted to a remnant of a pre-modern institution: the monarchy.

Doughlas Remy writes:

I believe I detect an unstated assumption in your final paragraph, namely, that certain pre-modern cultures were healthy. Maybe you are correct, but I wish you could be more specific. The only way to approach your assumption critically is to test an example.

Even if what you assume to be true is in fact true, what are the practical applications of this knowledge? We are, after all, in the “modern” era, and there’s no chance of returning to a pre-modern one. The way forward is never the way back. The cosmology depicted by medieval artists on church walls and in manuscripts may have accounted for that “center of gravity” that held their cultures together. But it was based on an illusion born of ignorance. We know too much now, and we value our knowledge, even if it creates unprecedented challenges for us. There is no alternative to modernism.

The British Monarchy is a vestige that is preserved like artifacts in a historical museum. Its value is that of every historical artifact: it reminds us where we came from and helps clarify where we currently heading. The recent festivities around the Jubilee may in fact be evidence of the very thing you claim modern societies lack—a sustaining center of gravity.

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