This week, the Prince of Wales will turn 65. Writing in The Telegraph, Charles Moore takes the measure of him. Excerpts:
Time has also allowed the seeds the Prince of Wales planted long ago to bear fruit. For about 40 years, his search for that path through the thicket has taken him into countless areas; youth opportunities, business in the community, the environment, inter-faith relations, food and farming, literature, liturgy, architecture, the armed services, crafts, enterprise, education and medicine. Often, his outspokenness has caused alarm, and sometimes he has seemed to lack judgment.
But two things have emerged. The first is that these causes are not, in fact, a ragbag. They represent a consistent approach to life in which the material and the spiritual are linked. He believes that what people eat, how they grow it or rear it, what they live in, the language they use, the art they produce, how they pray, how they look after one another and care for their health, all relate.
For much longer than anyone else in public life, he has done a huge amount to establish these connections. The Prince has got there first, and got others to follow after.
This demanding, nearly 65-year-old Prince of undimmed energy is certainly eccentric. In Highgrove, his country house, he has constructed a little mud-built hermitage with shelves full of spiritual classics such as the Philokalia, the compendium of Eastern Orthodox contemplative masters. There, by an open fire, he sits and writes many of the thousands of letters – funny, unguarded, self-critical, passionate, kind-hearted, occasionally querulous – which pour from his pen. He never ceases (literally never: aides say that he works every single day of his life) to think about the needs of the people he tries to serve.
I’ve been to Highgrove, and seen the hermitage, from a short distance. I was told by someone in a position to know that the Prince receives Holy Communion on his knees there, when a bishop visits to pray with him. He takes his religion that seriously.
Last year in TAC, I wrote about the Prince as a traditionalist conservative. Excerpt:
He is an anti-modernist to the marrow, which doesn’t always put him onside with the Conservative Party. Charles’s support for organic agriculture and other green causes, his sympathetic view of Islam, and his disdain for liberal economic thinking have earned him skepticism from some on the British right. (“Is Prince Charles ill-advised, or merely idiotic?” the Tory libertarian writer James Delingpole once asked in print.) And some Tories fear that the prince’s unusually forceful advocacy endangers the most traditional British institution of all: the monarchy itself.
Others, though, see in Charles a visionary of the cultural right, one whose worldview is far broader, historically and otherwise, than those of his contemporaries on either side of the political spectrum. In this reading, Charles’s thinking is not determined by post-Enlightenment categories but rather draws on older ways of seeing and understanding that conservatives ought to recover. “All in all, the criticisms of Prince Charles from self-styled ‘Tories’ show just how little they understand about the philosophy they claim to represent,” says the conservative philosopher Roger Scruton.
Scruton’s observation highlights a fault line bisecting latter-day Anglo-American conservatism: the philosophical split between traditionalists and libertarians. In this way, what you think of the Prince of Wales reveals whether you think conservatism, to paraphrase the historian George H. Nash, is essentially about the rights of individuals to be what they want to be or the duties of individuals to be what they ought to be.
His criticism of the Enlightenment has nothing apparently to do with monarchical politics. It is chiefly a matter of philosophy. According to the prince, modernity occasioned a loss of vital wisdom that had been discovered, developed, and preserved in a number of ancient civilizations. The essence of this wisdom lay in seeing the world as cosmos—characterized by order, hierarchy, and intrinsic meaning. Moreover, the cosmos has a spiritual dimension, the existence of which is intuitively present in natural man. These principles are denied by modernity, which recognizes no meaning in the natural world aside from what man imposes on it, and the empiricism of which marginalizes “the non-material side to our humanity.” Writes Charles:
Modernism deliberately abstracted Nature and glamorized convenience, and this is why we have ended up seeing the natural world as some sort of gigantic production system seemingly capable of ever-increasing outputs for our benefit. … We have become semi-detached bystanders, empirically correct spectators, rather than what the ancients understood us to be, which is participants in creation. This ideology was far from benign or just a matter of fashion. The Marxism of the Bolshevik regime totally absorbed, adopted and extended the whole concept of Modernism to create the profoundly soulless, vicious, dehumanized ideology which eventually engineered the coldly calculated death of countless millions of its own citizens as well as entire living traditions, all for the simple reason that the end justified the means in the great ‘historic struggle’ to turn people against their true nature and into ideological, indoctrinated ‘machines.’
Strong stuff from the future king of one of the world’s great industrial powers.
May God grant him many more years in his life, and many years on the throne.