The Monarchy & Love
By: Matthew Groves, BMS Blogger-in-Residence
The Anglo Saxons are a pragmatic and common-sense lot, from British Columbia to Christchurch economic and political systems are mixed economies and mixed constitutionally. What matters is not ideological purity, but what works. Thus From Canada to New Zealand the idea that there is one head of State who is the Lord’s anointed is combined with the idea that the people should choose democratically their Government.
The Nineteenth-Century British liberal-journalist William Bagehot described the British system of constitutional Monarchy and Parliamentary Government as the “veiled republic”. And yet is that really the full picture? A mixed constitution, while pragmatic, is a mix of the ideas as well as the systems. Too often monarchy is justified alone in a mechanistic way and from a utilitarian perspective. The arguments rolled out usually are: It gives stability, it prevents partisanship undermining national unity, it gives a beneficial sense of history and tradition to national identity. If we are to advocate Monarchy though, surely it should be on its own terms? We justify Parliament on arguments for representative democracy. In the same way we should support Monarchy on the basis of the ideas behind it. The Coronation service here is very helpful. With its ritual, its vows and its anointing it says far more about the purpose of Monarchy than any utilitarian argument. We should not ignore the magic of our Monarchy both for ordinary British subjects and for Anglophiles abroad. When people turn out in their hundreds or thousands to participate in Royal events, this is not because of some pragmatic theory about a mixed constitution. It is not a celebration of Montesquieu’s ideas. It is an emotional and spiritual matter that has its own reality.
If we think of one other area of English life where there is a magic and a symbolism that still resonates, where merely pragmatic and utilitarian perspectives are thrown off, then we will understand monarchy more deeply: If we think of Christmas, when the rat-race, the atomisation, the practical and the cynical are cast aside in favour of magic, family, church and tradition, we will understand that the English do retain a spiritual and romantic soul – albeit compartmentalised and set aside from day-to-day life. There is a similar magic to monarchy as with Christmas. It is not simply a historical accident that when the monarchy was abolished that Christmas was banned. There is an even more important point of connection between Christmas and the Monarchy. Both symbolise the link between this world and the transcendental. Now when speaking of Christmas, when we celebrate the Incarnation of the divine Godhead, it is no surprise for anyone that we refer to a link between the temporal and the eternal, but is that the same with the idea of Monarchy?
Nowadays Monarchy is rarely justified in such a way. It brings back memories of history lessons about arbitrary Government and the theory of the divine right of kings. This risk of arbitrary government is not an issue with a constitutional monarchy. Instead the Royal Head of State remains a link between the transcendent and the here and now and that is what is at the heart of the so-called magic of monarchy. Executive power is exercised in the Queen’s name by worldly politicians, thus further adding to the magic of the monarchy by keeping Her Majesty removed from the grubby activity of power – thereby symbolising something higher than the day-to- day business of Government. Like Christmas, the Queen puts us in touch with a memory of something higher than the daily grind of earning a living. Like Christmas there is a deep symbolism. The specific symbolism of the reign of Queen Elizabeth the Second is the dedication of a young woman’s whole future life to the service of our nation. This is a Christian symbol, as Christ taught His disciples that He as their Lord serves rather than lords it over them. So Her Majesty as head of State has lived as our servant in public life. What Her Majesty therefore embodies is that which Christians believe to be the transcendent reality – love of others. Her Majesty, through her Coronation vow, through her royal anointing and through her life of dedication to national service symbolises that transcendent meaning of Love, linking us as a country and all her dominions to this eternal value.
This, of course, is also the fundamental meaning of Christmas, when the Divine Logos, for love, entered this world to serve as a vulnerable Christ-child. Therefore there is a different and more fundamental understanding of the Monarchy than a mere pragmatic account of how it operates mechanistically, simply bringing about utilitarian benefits to the nation. The Monarchy, as it has evolved through our nation’s unique history is a symbolic link with divine Love. This is powerfully symbolised today by the long life of patriotic love our anointed Monarch continues to give us to this day.