Saturday, May 6, 2023

Will God save the king?

I was shocked yesterday to hear the prestigious historian Simon Schama express in the BBC his optimism about the reign of Charles III. I have a higher opinion of the former than of the latter, and that enthusiasm improved (just a little bit) my opinion of the new King and worsened it of the scholar.

After watching parts of the coronation ceremony on TV, I tend to agree with Martin Kettle in The Guardian. I am not so sure that there is any opportunity for reform and modernisation without basically scrapping or at least radically downsizing the institution, but if any existed it has certainly been squandered. Kettle emphasizes the contradiction between the religious statements made in the ceremony and the fact that Britain is a diverse and multiethnic country –with probably a majority of atheists, like probably most European countries. 

The coronation of the new King can be criticized from other perspectives. Spending a big amount of public money on one of the richest families of the world is one of them. The Tax Justice Network issued a letter asking the new King to support its campaign for an elimination of the tax havens that populate the former British Empire, under the support of the British Government. Rachel Etter-Phoya has argued that “While Britain’s overseas aid has dwindled in recent years, unwinding the web of tax havens instead would help many governments fulfill the rights of their citizens. If we were to reverse the tax revenue losses caused by the UK spider’s web, there would be 36 million more people with access to basic sanitation, 18 million more people with access to basic drinking water, and almost seven million children could attend school for an extra year.” 

It is a good thing that the new monarch is concerned about climate change, and hopefully he can make a contribution to that cause, but that is no excuse to keep giving a political role to a medieval institution that is not based on merit or any democratic principle. That applies to any monarch. This one, in addition, is a symbol of an empire that was based on colonialism and slavery. Charles has expressed recently his willingness to cooperate in an investigation of his familily’s direct links with the slave trade. If he follows this to its inevitable conclusion, I don’t know what could be the moral justification for the continuation of the institution that he represents. 

In addition, in a world where people are becoming used to having a voice on everything and a vote on many things, it is increasingly awkward that electorates have to tolerate the lifestyles of the likes of Harry and Andrew Windsor.

On many issues, I am an anglophile, but on the monarchy, my view is that this is an extreme example of the many institutions that are remnants from a time of darkness and irrationality. There are certainly other examples. But I see them with the same discomfort that I feel with slavery, witch hunting and burning, or racial and gender discrimination.

The British Monarchy will try to find a role in post-Brexit times. But it was part of the narrative and the imperial mentality that made Brexit possible. But Brexit has failed. The British should extract all the logical implications and join all the others who want to live in a modern and secular world of equal rights and cooperation, where nationalist pre-democratic institutions like the monarchy are, at least, reduced to a symbolic and minimal role.

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