Brits: Meet your new King — Lego man!

Johann Hari sounds off on the royal wedding that has Britain’s monarchists abuzz with excited deference, and slays one feeble pro-monarchy argument after another.

Our head of state is decided by one factor, and one factor alone: did he pass through the womb of one aristocratic Windsor woman living in a golden palace? The US head of state grew up with a mother on food stamps. The British head of state grew up with a mother on postage stamps. Is that a contrast that fills you with pride?

No, it’s not the biggest problem we have. But it does have a subtly deforming effect on Britain’s character that the ultimate symbol of our country, our sovereign, is picked on the most snobbish criteria of all: darling, do you know who his father was? … This snobbery subtly soaks out through the society, tweaking us to be deferential to unearned and talentless wealth, simply because it’s there.

We live with a weird cognitive dissonance in Britain. We are always saying we should be a meritocracy, but we shriek in horror at the idea that we should pick our head of state on merit. Earlier this month, David Cameron lamented that too many people in Britain get ahead because of who their parents are. A few minutes later, without missing a beat, he praised the monarchy as the best of British. Nobody laughed.

Oh, but the Windsors are wonderful for tourism, their enablers defenders insist, in between all the scraping, the bowing, the curtsying, and the prostrating. Ah. About that. Let’s suppose the Windsors’ reign came to an end tomorrow. Would foreign visitors really stop flocking to Britain? Or would local attractions like Buckingham Palace and Balmoral Castle actually draw more people, as those royal sites could be almost entirely opened to the public?

Besides, the tourism argument doesn’t fly in any other country, as far as I’m aware — another reason to doubt its veracity. Having been born and raised in the Netherlands, I can confidently state that the Dutch royals are not a factor of any significance when it comes to tourism. They are merely a band of unelected, slightly absurd figureheads who live in majestic splendor (multiple palaces, a golden horsedrawn carriage, etc.) that’s involuntarily financed by hard-working nurses, sales clerks, truck drivers, and other non-blue-blooded riffraff.

But Johann doesn’t need my help pointing out how fatuous the royals = tourism claim is.

Of the top 20 tourist attractions in Britain, only one is related to the monarchy – Windsor Castle, at number 17. Ten places ahead is Windsor Legoland. So using that logic, we should make a Lego man our head of state.

Works for me, as long as the Brits dutifully elect Lego man.

Of course, it’s fairly useless to argue with people whose mental ammunition has all the robustness and durability of soap bubbles. A torrid love of the monarchy is evidently something you feel with your heart, not an actual position you can successfully defend using proper reasoning. Perhaps inevitably, then, some of the more interesting retorts slung at the author on the Independent newspaper site focus on the fact that, although he was born, raised, and educated in England, he’s not truly a Brit, and should shut his nasty foreign gob. You see, Johann’s father was (horrors) a Swiss bus driver. And so:

I am not the slightest bit interested in immigrant opinion about the Royal Wedding. You, Johann Hari, are not English and you clearly have no interest in understanding the institutions that made it safe for your family to come here as welcome immigrants and flourish.

There’s not much one can say to that, other than that it’s a line of debate that, to halfway serious people, is “not cricket.”

And for that matter, neither is the monarchy.

About Rogier:
Rogier is a Dutch-born, New-England-dwelling multi-media maven (OK, a writer and photographer) whose dead-tree publishing credits include the New York Times, Wired, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Reason.
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One Comment

  1. leviramsey
    Posted August 12, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    (Discovered this blog from the Hit&Run link to your co-blogger’s Declaration of Independents review… dutifully added to my feed collection)

    The one thing that I’d put in favor of the monarchy in the specific context of the UK is that, as long as the British Constitution is effectively whatever a majority of the House of Commons says it is, anything like the monarchy that could theoretically restrain the Commons is a good thing to have around, just in case.

    The same basically applies to the House of Lords and to continued membership in the EU. For all of their faults, to the extent that they prevent a prime minister with a well-whipped parliamentary majority from being an effective dictator, they shouldn’t be messed with.

    That said, in the cases of the HoL and the monarchy, an argument could be made that their non-egalitarian features are making them far less effective at exercising that role. But I have comparatively little doubt that in a Britain sans monarchy and HoL their functions of restraining the Commons, Government, and PM would not be vested in a new body.