Did you watch the Royal Wedding last weekend? I confess that I did not. Not that I am opposed to the institution of marriage or to anything that celebrates the love that two people have for each other and want to share with others. I enjoy weddings and still have the fondest of memories of the one my wife and I had, now almost 40 years ago.
The main reason I didn’t watch the wedding is because I was at the McGeorge graduation. McGeorge is the law school where I teach, and seeing many of the students I have taught over the last few years walk across the stage to receive their diplomas is far more meaningful to me than watching two people I don’t know exchange marriage vows.
But the real issue I have with the wedding of Prince Harry and his bride really has nothing to do with either of them as real people. I assume they are both good human beings, perhaps even great credits to the human race. My concern is with the monarchy itself. As a vestige of a system of governance in what is otherwise a fully functional democratic republic, it seems both oxymoronic and outmoded, if not completely antithetical to the needs of modern society.
And before I go any further, let me acknowledge that I was a big fan of “Downton Abbey,” a show that owed much of its appeal to the trappings of the British monarchy, even if the actual storylines dealt with real people and not the plastic images who are projected as the Royal Family. “Downton” was compelling television that depicted, with some historical accuracy, the way that the landed gentry and their servants lived in the monarchy of King George V. But it also suggested, at least implicitly, that the days of meaningful despotic rule were coming to an end. And we are now well into a new century with the monarchy having much less real significance for the English people, let alone the rest of the world.
Queen Elizabeth might be a real person, but how would you know from anything she shows of herself? She has long been more of a joke than a respected leader of a major country in the industrialized world. In Great Britain’s government, she has no real power; in fact, she has no power at all. She may have personal views on any number of subjects (we can at least assume that she does), but they would have no chance of being forced on England’s parliament or on England’s prime minister (currently Theresa May), who is the real head of state for the country.
Technically, Ms. May was appointed by the Queen, but the Queen had no choice in the matter. May was elected by her Conservative party members in the House of Commons, when that party won the general election in 2016. The British parliamentary system, in this respect, is similar to most democratic republics (the U.S. is an exception) in that the head of state is selected, not by direct vote of the citizens, but by the party that wins control of Parliament through the provincial votes that take place across the country. Simply stated, the comparison in the U.S. would be if the president were selected by the party that controlled the House of Representatives after the elections for that body that are held every two years.
England has its Conservative Party and its Labour Party, and when either gets a majority of the members of the House of Commons elected, its members chose the prime minister designate, who is responsible for forming the government. The process can get more complicated when neither party has a majority of members in the Parliament (smaller parties often win some of the 650 seats, thereby denying a majority to either of the major parties), but in the end, the ruling party in the House of Commons chooses the prime minister, and the queen (or king) just rubber stamps that selection.
And, as was depicted so effectively in the Netflix series “The Crown,” the prime minister has perfunctory audiences with the monarch (in the series, the young Queen Elizabeth) to inform her of pressing events and government decisions (which the monarch then notes and approves, having no other choice). At one point in the second season of “The Crown,” the Queen is shown having concerns about decisions the then Prime Minister, Anthony Eden, had made about Egypt’s blockade of the Suez Canal. Eden took an aggressive stand against the blockade, which the Queen (correctly as it turned out) thought ill-advised. Her opinion was politely acknowledged by Eden who stayed committed to his decision, nonetheless. It can be safely assumed that the now much-older Queen would have far less opportunity to voice her concerns regarding any decision of which she might be advised (and no more ability to change the decision).
So why all the fuss about a Royal Wedding, if, as is surely the case, the British monarchs are merely figure heads of an antiquated and functionless form of government? Why, indeed, should the marriage of one who is no higher than sixth in the line of succession to the throne be cause for as much attention as this wedding received?
And, of course, the answer is that people love the pomp and circumstance. A Royal Wedding is just fun, much like reading People magazine (or TMZ on the web) is fun. It’s a form of celebrity gossip laid bare for the world to see. And so we learned, as if we really need to care, that Prince Harry’s bride, the former Meghan Markle, is an American actress who has a Caucasian father and an African-American mother, that her parents are divorced, that her father was unable to attend the wedding because of health issues, and that, in his place, Prince Charles, Harry’s father (and the first in line to the throne if his mother ever predeceases him) walked the bride down the aisle.
All of which in terms of real news doesn’t matter in the slightest. Charles, should he ever become the king, will have no more power than his mother has now, which is to say, he’ll have no power at all, and should he never get to be king, his son, or one of his grandsons, or someone else in the long line of possible heirs (now numbering 57) will similarly have absolutely no power to do anything other than hide from public view except on those occasions like the Royal Wedding that millions watched last weekend.
As I said, I was far happier attending my law school’s graduation ceremony.