As you may have noticed, I haven’t devoted any space on the blog to coverage of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their son. It’s not that I’m a rabid republican — I’m as much of a mild monarchist as a libertarian can be. What I have found even more tedious than the celebrity pregnancy coverage of the royal baby is the spitting and moaning coming from the “republican” side. Brendan O’Neill (a noted republican) points out that the moaners don’t actually represent real republicans:
So, the royal baby is finally here, and across Blighty the little people will have made themselves virtually bald through frenzied forelock-tugging, or perhaps busted their backs by bowing and scraping before their mewling future king. At least, that’s the impression that has been given by a certain breed of observer, the ironically public-allergic republicans who seem to hate the monarchy primarily because of the behaviour and emotions it induces in the plebs. Once, being a republican meant trusting the public (the clue was in the name) and believing it had the capacity to think and act rationally. Today, if the ostentatious chattering-class wailing about the mob hysteria over Kate’s baby is anything to go by, it means the opposite — it means despairing of the public and shaking a snobby head over its Stepford-like enthralment to all things monarchical.
As soon as it was announced that Kate was expecting, these shallow republicans started bemoaning the mass hysteria that would ensue. Britain will once again become ‘a nation of forelock-tuggers’, clever broadsheet people warned. Apparently, ‘forelock-tugging is all the rage’ in this supposedly modern nation, where the daft blob formerly known as the public is being kept non-angry about the recession and other horror stories through being dripfed info about Kate, Wills and their baby. In the words of the Mirror’s poetic Brian Reade, ‘Our austere country need not grieve, for Wills’ missus can conceive’. That has been the central message of most of the apparently rad commentary on Kate — that the plebs are easily bought off with photos of a pregnant princess and smiling prince. One columnist wrote of the ‘ready-to-whoop peasants’ waiting for news of Kate’s babe. A writer for the Independent said of Kate’s pregnancy, ‘Everyone laps it up… it makes plebs of us all’.
There are two annoying things about all this. The first is that it’s plain wrong to depict today’s media and public interest in Kate’s baby as a resuscitation of old-world royalist sentiment. Most of the public relates to Kate in the way they relate to celebs — not as a godly bearer of a babe whom we will one day bow before, but as another preggers celeb in nice clothes we can read about in our spare time; a posher Kim Kardashian, if you will. The House of Windsor has self-consciously cultivated a celebrity image for itself in recent years, sensing that its old imperial, mysterious, God-derived powers and so-called right to rule are on the wane in this era of profound crisis for traditionalism, and that celebrity is now a far more powerful source of authority than kingliness. Indeed, the popularity of Kate as just another celeb, albeit a super-A-list one, speaks to the moral diminution of monarchism as it was once understood, to the emptying-out of its alleged magic and power, not to its rehabilitation.
And secondly, this pleb-mauling republicanism is not republicanism at all. It is very often fuelled by an anachronistic desire to protect Kate from the prying eyes of the princess-hungry throng. We are putting poor Kate in a ‘gilded cage’, lefty columnists fret. Others claim we are hounding her — we have clearly ‘learned nothing since Princess Diana’. It’s a very odd republicanism which feels empathy for individual members of the royal family and disdain for the public. For me, editor of the uber-republican spiked, republicanism is not about sneering, but rather is about engagement, taking ourselves and the public seriously, talking about how society should be run, and by whom. And as the American revolutionary John Adams said, pursuing such republicanism means believing the public can be ‘sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy and superstition’. Sadly, too few British republicans believe that these days.
Full points to Private Eye for their royal baby cover:
Update: Charles Stross — another republican — has an almost sympathetic view of the new prince’s future:
The kid is not going to have anything remotely approaching a normal life. For one thing, under current UK law, he isn’t eligible to vote. His ultimate career path is already known and if he doesn’t want to put up with it, tough: the pressure to conform to expectations is enormous — he was born under a life sentence. When he ends up in that final occupation he won’t even be eligible for a passport (for long and complex constitutional reasons). He’s going to be the subject of paparazzi attention for the rest of his life. He’s almost certainly going to be sent to a private boarding school of some variety (probably Eton, as with his father), to ensure that he’s exposed to normal people (for “public schoolboy” values of normality); this is normal for the royal family, and it’s worked on previous generations. The usual recipe is for it to be followed by university, then officer training in one of the branches of the military, before joining the Old Firm and learning the onerous duties of public ceremonies and diplomatic receptions. The royals get a particularly brutal work-out in return for their privileges: what other family business would expect an 87 year old great-grandmother to make over 400 public appearances per year?
But those are the traditional parameters of a crown prince’s upbringing. This prince is going to find things a little different because he’s going to be the first designated future British monarch to grow up in a hothouse panopticon, with ubiquitous surveillance and life-logging …
I expect there to be Facebook account-hacking attacks on his friends, teachers, and associates — and that’s just in the near term. He’s going to be the first royal in the line of succession to grow up with the internet: his father, Prince William, was born in 1982 and, judging by his A-level coursework, is unlikely to have had much to do with computer networking in the late 1990s. This kid is going to grow up surrounded by smartphones, smart glasses (think in terms of the ten-years-hence descendants of Google Glass), and everything he does in public can be expected to go viral despite the best efforts of the House of Windsor’s spin doctors.