November 19, 2003

The beastly British

Roger Scruton writes about the deeper meaning of the British obsession with royal scandals:

The Prince attracts this kind of malicious character-assassination because he is heir to the throne, symbol of our national loyalty and endowed with all the dignities of office. He is, in so far as such a thing is possible in the modern world, surrounded by a small measure of sacred awe. Ordinary people of my parents’ generation were aware of this, since they had been through the experience of war, had understood how precious national loyalty is, and had recognised how effectively it had been sustained and renewed by the glamour and the pathos of the Crown. New Britons are not like that. If they encounter something sacred, their first instinct is to desecrate - to bring it down to their level, the level of Big Brother, at which vulgarity and obscenity are not only accepted but also publicly endorsed, as a sign that you are not trying to get above your neighbours. National loyalty is occluded in the popular imagination, and its symbols seem to have no special authority. Or if they retain any authority, it is felt only as an invitation to jeer.

Some people - Guardian readers pre-eminently - believe that this situation can be remedied by declaring a Republic; thereby recognising that the head of state is, after all, an ordinary bloke like you and me and therefore invulnerable to the lust for desecration. But that belief is, in my view, naive. The republican constitution of the United States did not protect President Clinton from being humiliated for what was, after all, only an office affair. And the republican constitution of France so glamorises the office of president that its present occupant is able to forbid any mention of his devious deals. In truth, every state depends upon symbolic offices through which the shared national loyalty can be expressed and ratified. If offices are to retain this function, they must be endowed with a protective veil of charisma. The British people are conniving with the media establishment to tear that veil away, to show that the occupants of the highest offices in the land are - amazingly - human beings, and to suggest in the course of this that no mere human being has the right to such a position. More simply put, they are engaged in collective treason - treason not to the monarchy, but to themselves as a sovereign people.