Sep 14, 2015, Vol. 21, No. 01 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Americans always profess to be shocked that our fellow Americans—well, many of them, anyway—seem to take an inordinate interest in the comings and goings of the British royal family. When, for example, Prince Harry or the Duchess of Cambridge, or any one of their better-known relatives sets foot on this continent, they tend to get the media treatment and public attention usually reserved for Hollywood celebrities or rock ’n’ rollers or big-time athletes—maybe more.
Didn’t we fight a revolution 200-odd years ago in order not to have a monarch?
Well, yes and no. As The Scrapbook is always at pains to point out, the colonies revolted not because they didn’t like the idea of King George III but because the British Parliament of the day refused to grant to American colonists the political status they thought they deserved as British subjects (“no taxation without representation”). As we have learned since 1776, constitutional monarchies (Belgium, Great Britain, Denmark) are not necessarily inconsistent with democracy, and republics (China, Soviet Union, Cuba) don’t necessarily feature political liberty.
So our affinity for the British royal family probably has as much to do with mutual history, language, customs, and longtime strategic alliance as a love for glamour, pageantry, or public theater.
Which brings us to the interesting fact that, this week, the current sovereign, Elizabeth II, becomes the longest-serving monarch in British history. Her great-great-grandmother Victoria became queen in June 1837 and died in January 1901—a span of 63 years and seven months; the onetime Princess Elizabeth became queen when her father, George VI, died in February 1952—and on September 9 will surpass Victoria’s tenure on the throne.
In one sense, as antimonarchists tend to suggest, the near-reverence in which Elizabeth is currently held has as much to do with endurance and ubiquity as anything else: A majority of Americans, and Britons, have never known any other British monarch. The queen, like Hadrian’s Wall or Big Ben, has always been there and is as much a familiar symbol of Great Britain as anything else, animate or inanimate. And befitting a constitutional monarch, we know as much about the interior life of Elizabeth II—what she thinks about what she does, for example, or the world at large, or the people she meets—as about the interior life of Big Ben. Into her seventh decade and counting as sovereign, from Winston Churchill to David Cameron, the queen has preserved the essential mystery of her singular role in the life of Great Britain while retaining the royal prerogatives once defined by Walter Bagehot: the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn.
Indeed, for Americans, there may be something to learn here. Britain’s democracy—albeit one with a royal family, hereditary peerage, and established church—has been sustained, to no small degree, over the centuries by the fact that the head of government (prime minister) and head of state (monarch) are two different people. PMs come and go, with the will of the people, but the individual who personifies the nation as head of state remains above politics.
Here, of course, we combine these two functions in one person. Democratic political systems tend to reflect the cultures that nourish them, and here in America, our system of divided government, featuring a strong executive, has served us well. But the near-royal status we tend to confer on politicians who live in the White House may be a two-edged sword. There seems to be an instinctive need for a head of state who embodies the nation. But when that head of state is a party politician, and not a dignified figurehead carrying out public duties, we run certain risks to the health of democracy.
Which is why, from across the big pond, The Scrapbook exclaims: Vivat Regina!
Poor Ted Heath.Aug 24, 2015, Vol. 20, No. 47 • By PHILIP TERZIAN
A little over 30 years ago, three generations of the McMartin family, who had run a nursery school in Los Angeles for decades, were arrested, jailed, and put on trial, charged with hundreds of sensational counts of child sexual abuse. Six years later, when no convictions had been obtained, all charges were dropped against them—including against one family member who had languished in jail for five years without being convicted of anything.
5:30 PM, Jun 15, 2015 • By ERIN MUNDAHL
On June 15, 1215, a band of frustrated and rebellious nobles forced King John to sign a “Great Charter” at Runnymede, a swampy field twenty miles west of London. At the time, few would have suspected the importance of the document, which was annulled by the Pope a mere nine days later.
The 'Thatcher Effect' in action.8:35 AM, May 8, 2015 • By DOMINIC GREEN
Friday morning, David Cameron returned to Downing Street as Britain's prime minister. After a campaign of unsurpassed tedium, the General Election came alive last night with the first exit poll, and a Conservative victory out of nowhere. For weeks, the incumbent Conservatives and the Labour opposition had been neck and neck.
7:49 AM, Jan 23, 2015 • By DANIEL HALPER
Westminster Abbey announced on Twitter that it's flying its flag at half staff after the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
"The Abbey flag is flying at half mast as a mark of respect following the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, King of Saudi Arabia," the church tweeted.
A catalyst for civilization and good governance.10:05 AM, Jan 20, 2015 • By KEVIN R. KOSAR
Today, America bids farewell to the Magna Carta. The 800-year old document returns home to Lincolnshire, England, after six months in America. It landed at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in July, and spent the past few months at the Library of Congress.
Oct 6, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 04 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Hilary Mantel is a bestselling British novelist whose works—mostly historical fiction, or novels and stories with contemporary political overtones—are better known in Great Britain than here. Which is surprising, since the 62-year-old Dame Hilary has a knack for self-publicity.
Before the trenchesSep 8, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 48 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The Great War did not begin in the trenches, in rain, mud, and dark futility. At first, the fighting was out in the open under blue skies and late summer sunshine. There were bugles and drums, and sometimes the troops even sang when they charged. French officers leading these attacks wore white gloves.
On the whole, Europe welcomed the war. One of England’s finest young poets, Rupert Brooke, wrote in gratitude
Are the Tories already doomed?Jun 23, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 39 • By ANDREW STUTTAFORD
A time bomb does not have to be elegant; it just has to be lethal, primed, and in the right place when the moment comes. Britain’s next general election is set for May 7, 2015. That is likely the day when David Cameron will pay the full price for failing to have defused the revolt on his right.
The English version of civility. Feb 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 23 • By SARA LODGE
Two truths tend to strike people around middle age: Money buys less than it once did, and manners are in decline.
Is it ethical to make three-parent babies?Sep 2, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 48 • By BRENDAN P. FOHT
The decision by the British government earlier this summer to approve a suite of new technologies that would make possible the creation of human embryos with three genetic parents has brought a long-simmering and seemingly obscure bioethical debate into the public eye, raising questions not only about the future of human reproductive technologies but also about some practices that have been with us for decades.
The European Union’s coming attack on the Anglo-Saxon financial sector Jul 1, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 40 • By ANDREW STUTTAFORD
Take a visit to the cyber-belly of the beast, to a website run by the European Commission, the EU’s bureaucratic core, and you will be told that “the financial sector was a major cause of the [economic] crisis and received substantial government support.” Soon it will be payback time, in the form of Europe’s new Financial Transaction Tax (FTT), set to be levied at a rate of 0.1 percent on equity and debt transactions, and 0.01 percent on trades in derivatives. It will ensure that the financial sector “makes a fair and substantial contribution to public finances.”
The Chelsea Flower Show celebrates its centennial. Jun 17, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 38 • By SARA LODGE
In his short story “The Occasional Garden,” Saki pinpoints a subject dear to the British heart, but also key to its social anxieties. Elinor Rapsley is about to receive a lunch visit from a woman whom she detests, Gwenda Pottingdon. Gwenda’s garden is the envy of the neighborhood; Elinor’s is a barren wasteland. Gwenda is coming on purpose to crow over Elinor’s pathetic pansies while describing her own rare and sumptuous roses.
Hosted by Michael Graham.4:00 PM, Apr 8, 2013 • By TWS PODCAST
THE WEEKLY STANDARD podcast with William Kristol on the rise of Margaret Thatcher and the lessons for today's GOP.