Monday, December 5, 2011


And the hypocrisy of democracy. (Of course, we in America have no masters and only ennoble people like the Kardashians.)
The Sovereign can never be "one of us," not least because millions of people will all have different ideas about what "us" means. Just as the Queen is expected to be above politics, so she is expected to be above that most sensitive, inflammable and confusing issue - class.

"The Queen is class-blind. If you're grand enough, it's much easier to be completely oblivious of the class structure below you," observes a former Private Secretary. Whatever one's analysis of the class structure, monarchs are unquestionably in a class of their own. The Queen's own accent has changed - less clipped, lower in tone than at the start of the reign - and she has remarked that her own grandchildren speak "Estuary" English (a view supported by the famously plummy critic and aesthete Brian Sewell). Some purists even argue that she has picked up the odd populist habit herself, including her pronunciation of "Jubilee."

Yet it would be absurd to describe the monarchy as "classless." It is an organization entirely based on hierarchy. It has its own internal honours system, the Royal Victorian Order, with strict gradations. A footman, for example, will never get a knighthood any more than a Lord Chamberlain will get the Royal Victorian Medal. The Queen draws her closest female confidantes, her ladies-in-waiting, from the traditional aristocracy and most of her circle of personal friends are from the same stratum of society, too.

But that does not make the modern monarchy class-ridden or, in modern parlance, snobbish. Like most people, the Queen and her family have friends of similar age, background and interests. The institution she runs is, by definition, traditional. But, crucially, what it does not seek to do is represent or lean in favour of a particular order or class, however much others may think it does. And that has been one of the fundamental changes of this reign.

Many commentators continue to follow Malcolm Muggeridge's argument that the monarchy is the source of class consciousness, that "the impulses out of which snobbishness is born descend from the Queen at the apex of the social pyramid, right down to the base." This neglects the fact that several countries routinely held up as progressive, egalitarian democracies - Holland, Sweden, Norway - are also monarchies. It also neglects the Olympic-class snobbery to be found in every non-royal society, from Ivy League America to the Crillon Ball crowd in Paris. (Read entire article.)

Gareth Russell adds his own thoughts:
The National Post has a very interesting article upon the Monarchy and attitudes to class in Britain. Perhaps one of the things which people who aren't too well-acquainted with monarchical history will find surprising is how often various members of the British aristocracy have scorned and criticised the monarchy for being too "common". The gorgeous but fascist socialite, Lady Diana Mosley (nee Mitford), was extremely critical of the late Queen Mother, whom she rather unfairly and improbably characterised as a social climber. A little like members of the ci-devant nobility in pre-revolutionary France who criticised Marie-Antoinette for her farm at Versailles, because it was considered lacking in majesty.

Perhaps one of the most interesting points the article raises is that, contrary to popular misconception, the monarchy in Britain does not necessarily encourage snobbery and it cites the rather revealing example of how entrenched snobbery can be in the United States and France, both of them the most celebrated republics in the world and both founded, at least in theory, on the principle of equality. Historically, it's often true that "self-made" aristocracies or oligarchies, like those in the United States or, most obviously, in ancient republican Rome, can be the most precious and conscious of their status. I don't entirely know what I think of that argument, although there seems to be a lot of truth in it. (Read more.)

1 comment:

lara77 said...

What an absolutely fascinating article; Queen Mary reading the Almanach de Gotha was the high point. I am sure that Queen Elizabeth II never has the need to "show off" the coat of arms; as the 40th monarch since William the Conqueror her position is sacrosanct to the British People. The comments are funny about the republics of America and France. One worships the "aristocracy of wealth" and the other has a history so botched and bloody that when President Sarkozy inducted the Count of Paris in the Legion of Honor he praised the Capetian Dynasty for creating France and her institutions! The French will always be a dichotomy!