Peter Hitchens is a monarchist and a subject of the Queen, but at the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death, he offers some rather melancholy thoughts on the future of the British royal family. He writes that Diana’s presence amid the Windsors, especially in death, turned out to be a mortal threat to the monarchy — especially after Tony Blair’s media guru Alastair Campbell got his hands on managing the death narrative of the “People’s Princess” (his coinage):

British conservatives had not understood the nature of the challenge to them. Nor did they believe in anything solid enough to provide a basis for resistance. Even now, they have failed to realise that you cannot fight an ideological enemy, such as the cultural revolution is, unless you understand it and have a counter-argument of your own.

They had just assumed everything would survive. The Royal Family itself, oddly enough, had not assumed this. Very much on their own, they have long realised that those who appear to be their political or media friends can vanish at any time, and they need to think constantly about how to survive. Alas, their ideas are not very good. ‘It’s a Royal Knockout; was perhaps the worst of all. But there were other mistakes. Sensing, in the late 1960s, that it needed to become more ‘relevant’, the monarchy permitted a BBC ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary, in which cameras and microphones were allowed rather close to Majesty. The programme, broadcast in 1969, was a disaster. It has never been shown in full since, and no wonder.

Monarchy itself may be a great shining castle of lofty ideas, perched atop a mountain of loyalty and history. But its individual members are just as banal and uninspiring as anyone else. And once this gets abroad, the whole thing loses its power, which always existed in the imagination.

Hitchens says that the Royals tried to modernize by appearing more progressive and open to the world, and that Diana was part of that project:

Modernity was what they got, by the trainload. And a fat lot of good it has done them. Try as I may, I cannot see the monarchy surviving very long after the present reign. As in all those fairy stories where three wishes are granted, it is very often terrible to get what you want.

Mind you, did the poor old monarchy have much life left in it anyway? The country of 1689, the year in which our ingenious form of government was devised, which made us the wealthy stable, powerful, free and independent nation we used to be, suffered a fatal stroke around about 1914, and has been an unconscionable time actually dying, ever since.

But it is dying, and it is as able to sustain a constitutional monarchy as it is able to sustain a cold-war nuclear deterrent. Technically, it has it, but it can’t maintain it, isn’t big and strong enough to keep it in working order, but from a distance it still looks OK, and it can’t quite bring itself to admit the truth yet. I must get back to writing my obituary of the country formerly known as Great Britain.

Read the whole thing.

When I read Hitchens’s words on the British monarchy, I think of how much of it is relevant to the American church. Note these lines:

British conservatives had not understood the nature of the challenge to them. Nor did they believe in anything solid enough to provide a basis for resistance. Even now, they have failed to realise that you cannot fight an ideological enemy, such as the cultural revolution is, unless you understand it and have a counter-argument of your own.

They had just assumed everything would survive.

Of how many of us American religious conservatives can this be said? Do we understand the nature of the challenge we face from the culture? What is our argument against it? Do we grasp that that argument cannot be made merely with words?

When that “great, shining castle of lofty ideas” called Christianity is demystified, and turned into self-help, it cannot stand. When it comes to rest of the charismatic power of its clergy, who are just as banal and uninspiring as everybody else, it cannot stand. When it fails to teach its history, and the importance of the tradition it incarnates, people may rightly wonder what the point of the thing is, if not self-help and uplifting entertainment.

The thing is passing before our eyes, and so many of us can’t admit the truth. This is why I’m always on about the Benedict Option. It’s an attempt — a flawed one, no question — to deal with the challenge of the post-Christian world, and to build solid islands of resistance.

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