Europe’s surviving monarchies are better governed and less corrupt than the states that succumbed to one revolution or another and became republics. Bad as he was, Kaiser Wilhelm II was a lesser evil than his eventual successor, and Nicholas II was vastly preferable to Lenin and Stalin, who killed tens of millions and destroyed what had been one of nineteenth-century Europe’s most spectacular civilizations. Spain has certainly had a happier time under its restored monarchy than it did without a king.
But among the vast repertoire of radical ideas for making Britain unbelievably happy—the endless yapping about fairness, democracy, social justice, and the rest—there remains in British republicanism a tiny market for one of yesteryear’s abandoned idiocies. The contemporary world is distinguished by a restless search for solutions to social problems that merely reproduce similar problems elsewhere.
What makes this radical hurly-burly idiotic is that it destroys practices it is almost impossible to bring back if the new project should fail, which it usually does. No human practices are unambiguously good or bad, but many people today regret the collapse of chivalric respect for women, of schoolroom discipline, of common sense and self-limitation among officeholders, and of welfare payments treated à la Beveridge as merely temporary expedients to bridge a bad patch. There is often collateral damage from losing things we didn’t even realize we had, such as respect for authority. Other expedients must be tried, but they lack the solidity of unquestioned acceptance that previously anchored how we carried on.
Radical ideas sound so exciting, and in a restless culture, anything that promises change is as appealing as a new deal of cards. The media can fill up the time by thrusting a microphone under the faces of the populace and asking for opinions, and the vast audience outside is excited to have an opinion on this subject. How bold, then, to dispose of the traditions of millennia in a few bold remarks to the camera.
Illusion is everywhere in politics, and in republicanism’s case, we have the paradox that it is only because we have a monarchy that anybody would think of taking their ideas seriously. Get rid of the monarchy, goes their thinking, and they would collapse into the nothingness to which they belong. But cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face is a standard form of human folly.
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