This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, April 20, 2011.
So, where will you be on Friday, April 29, at 11 AM Greenwich Mean Time? Like me, you'll be ignoring the marriage of one Catherine Middleton to one William Windsor, third in line to the British crown, at Westminster Abbey. The last time any of us were concerned about Westminster Abbey was when William's mother and her casket were serenaded by the Abbey's excellent choir and blessed with a benevolent god of weather, which drenched her container through the Abbey's high windows for the moment of televised national silence. You didn't have to admire Princess Diana, and I did not, particularly, to be moved.
Say what you will about the sceptered isle and its royal pretentions and ancient traditions, but they do so much right in their formal dances of secular and religious observance that their utter devotion to the moment is impressive. And while it is often mere theater, it also serves a purpose that is emotionally cleansing for the nation. We cannot ignore the importance of ritual as, ironically, a facilitator of change, of easing the social temblors beneath us all when institutions need to evolve with public approval.
Americans tend to view their history as they do themselves: rather perfect and inspirational and if we could become the world's most powerful nation as a democracy in less than two hundred years, it's a sign of the inferiority of other nations that they aren't up here in our oxygen poor environment and doing well too. The requirement for this viewpoint is utter ignorance of our own history as well as the history of others in matters large and small. Even with hyperbole and oversimplification, that cherished self evaluation simply doesn't seem to get that the United States essentially started with a blank slate, in that there were no huge fortunes or ancient land based aristocracies as Europe had, and still has. George Washington was the richest man in America and he wasn't able to launch an army with private funds, as many European nobles could. There was also no state church, which was probably more important a lack.
Cobblers could consort with large farm holders and shipping magnates at various accepted social events or taverns and exchange views, which was not common in royal Europe. We were new, and felt new and different. Our march towards an impressive history as a republic, with a few bloody bumps, was pretty straight and true.
We inspired other nations to do much the same, both in Latin America and in Europe, but when others tried to simply start over with a level playing field, as in France, they arbitrarily slaughtered those that represented the olde regime and ignited social Newtonian physics. Except in England, whose Civil War was not class warfare, given the number of nobles who fought for Cromwell against the crown. Since then, the triangulation of crown, nobility, and commoner engaged in political contests and not violent ones. The House of Lords, steadily weakened over the centuries, nevertheless kept the aristocracy involved and precluded the sequential coups and wars so many others suffered.
England's form of parliamentary constitutional monarchy embraces the past and uses it, so that even in a striated society every bit as class conscious as India's, all could see common goals and more or less work together. Nobility and labor and representatives of the crown had chronic access to each other and could unite against common opponents, as they did when Edward the VIII wished to marry a twice divorced American gorgon. It wasn't smooth or devoid of smarm, but it worked and neither Fascism nor Communism gained a serious foothold in that nation as it did in all of their neighbors.
Since the Arab world is in wild turmoil today, and people here are in orgasmic at the thought of democracy as we know it in the Islamic world, it may prove true that England's chosen method of dealing with crown, nobles, and commoner would be a better model for those sections of the world in which we currently are engaged than our own. Think Saudi Arabia. While it would not provide the pure democracy that we claim to cherish, the longer view suggests it's an entirely workable step. I can see the House of Lords as far more relevant in currently emerging nations than our Senate.
If Kate Middleton as future Queen does nothing but save a Prime Minister corpse sitting time and opening strip malls, and if everyone likes her as everyone likes the current Queen, and if royal pageantry continues to suck in tourist Euros and show a profit, it's entirely worth it. And more relevant to nations of warlords than our own.