Most British people are benignly indifferent to the wedding of William Windsor and Kate Middleton. The 20 percent of us who are republicans, like me, have it slightly worse. We will suffer that face-flushing, stomach-shriveling embarrassment that strikes when somebody you love – your country – starts to behave in a deeply weird way in a public place.
Of course, when two people get married, it’s a sweet sight. Nobody objects to that part. On the contrary: republicans are the only people who would let William Windsor and Kate Middleton have the private, personal wedding they clearly crave, instead of turning them into stressed-out, emptied-out marionettes of monarchy that are about to jerk across the stage. We object not to a wedding, but to the orgy of deference, snobbery, and worship for the hereditary principle that will take place before, during and after it.
In most countries in the world, parents can tell their kids that if they work hard and do everything right, they could grow up to be the head of state and the symbol of their nation. Not us. Our head of state is decided by one factor, and one factor alone: did he pass through the womb of one particular aristocratic Windsor woman living in a golden palace? The American 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? Kids in Britain grow up knowing that we all bow and curtsey in front of a person simply because of their unearned, uninteresting bloodline. This snobbery then 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 the basis of merit. Earlier this month, David Cameron in an interview lamented that too many people in Britain get ahead simply because of who their parents are, and said it was a scandal. A few minutes later, without missing a beat, he praised the monarchy as the best of Britain. Nobody laughed.
We have also invented a strange series of mental tics to protect the monarchy. Mention a republic and lots of people give the Pavlovian snap-back: “Hah! So you want President Thatcher do you? President Blair?” There is an odd assumption behind this. Did the presence of a hereditary monarch stop Thatcher or Blair doing anything they wanted to do? No. Nothing. Did it even stop them acquiring regal airs? No. Obviously not. This is simply an instinctive spasm of deference – don’t trust us with picking the leaders! Make sure there’s an aristocrat watching over us, stopping us getting funny ideas! How have these notions lingered in our national DNA for so long?
Deep down, the impulse to choose our head of state trumps our aristo-deference. A YouGov poll last year found that 64 percent of British people want William and Kate to be next in line for the throne, ditching Charles entirely. So, my fellow Brits, let’s think about this. By a clear majority, you want to set aside the hereditary principle, and choose our next head of state. I agree. There’s a word for that – republicanism. If you wanted to elect William Windsor as our President, fine. That’s a democratic decision, not a monarchical one.
There’s going to be an attempt over the next week to paint republicans as the Grinch, trying to ruin the “big day” for William and Kate out of a cocktail of kill-joy curmudgeonry and mean-spiritedness. The opposite is the truth.
Republicans want to set this couple free to have good, happy lives in the Republic of Britain – which they would clearly take as a blessed relief.
When we republicans object to the hollow pantomime of the next week, we are not being negative or nasty. We are proposing a positive vision. Britain is full of amazing and inspiring people – so many that if we were to choose a ceremonial President, as they do in Ireland, we would be spoiled for choice. I can’t think of anything more patriotic – and more deserving of a tumult of Union Jacks waving at a thousand street parties – than the belief that every child in Britain should grow up knowing that one day, they could be our head of state. And I can’t think of anything less patriotic than saying that the feudal frenzy of deference and backwardness we are about to witness is the best that Britain can do.
The full version of this article appeared in The Independent. See the original here.
|Johann Hari is a British award-winning journalist describes himself as a “European social democrat”.
Johann Hari’s website.