The Return of the King
Carolus Rex feels the weight of history on a rainy London day.
For a functioning brain not addled with ideology or envy, to not be awestruck with the coronation of a king is next to impossible. That doesn’t mean you have to like it. As a committed republican (in the original sense of the term) one might despise hereditary aristocracy. But even classical conceptions of republicanism—a system of governance that prefers a class of enlightened patricians as a ruling elite, with a social hierarchy based on merit and erudition, instead of one tyrannical king—does not preach the level of unhinged egalitarianism and fluid modernity that we are accustomed to. Republicans abhor tyranny; they do not oppose hierarchy and order. Plato, Cicero, and James Madison would be horrified by modern republics.
But contemplate a man from Victorian England, or from the time of Pope Urban II, or from Constantinian Rome, and he would instinctively understand what is happening in England. It might be anachronistic, according to the Guardian or CNN. Yet it feels natural to most in some strange and inexplicable ways. The deep somehow calls to the deep.
Nirad C. Chaudhuri dedicated his opus to “…the memory of the British Empire in India, which conferred subjecthood upon us, but withheld citizenship. To which yet every one of us threw out the challenge: "Civis Britannicus sum", because all that was good and living within us was made, shaped and quickened by the same British rule.” I too have a complicated relationship with the monarchy. Born in a republic that was once the crown jewel of the most formidable empire in modern history, I proceeded to reside in England for a significant chunk of my life; which is currently my second home after I moved to another republic, the United States, the loss of which originally propelled England to renew her rivalry with France and acquire the empire in the first place.
Monarchy, after all, is a romantic and reactionary aesthetic. A Solomonic monarch is theoretically the last supposed lone bulwark against mobs, bureaucracy, avarice, internal ethnic strife, lawlessness, foreign predation, and injustice. “I now see that all those former tumults and disorders have only arisen from the meaner sorts of people and that the affections of the better and main part of the city have ever been loyal and affectionate to my person and government,” Charles I was reported to have said around the time of the English Civil War. Feudalism always had been a symbiotic relationship between the reactionary landowning class and the patriotic landless peasants and workers, and opposed by the cosmopolitan and radical urban bourgeoisie who simply hated both and were fomenting unrest often out of pure class envy.
The French and Russian revolution did not replicate the success of the American one, quite simply because the American one did not try and alter the whole system — as my colleague Jude Russo recently wrote, the English common law and the English language were the ties that still bind—but only sought to depose aristocracy and supplant that with a paternalistic, patriotic, and patrician republic, one that is increasingly now being lost to internationalist lobbies and the domestic petty-tyrannical bureaucracy.
In France, the lawyers and bankers got rid of the decadent and cowardly aristocracy to replace it with a caricature of their own, craving the power they lacked, to incomprehensible secular savagery. In Russia, they took it a step further and replaced relatively benevolent and reform-minded autocracy with a secular totalitarianism that was horrifying beyond the world’s deepest imaginings.
There are not many arch-truths in world history, but all functioning and civilised societies either have a benevolent aristocracy or a paternalistic senatorial class, and every society that sought to replace any such hierarchy for outright equality has brought the deepest circles of hell to earth.
Of course, all monarchs are not Solomonic in their wisdom or temperament, as both George Washington and George III realised. But historically, the British monarchy is the only institution that successfully married a somewhat polyethnic society and empire to the timeless sentiments of stoicism, a sense of fair play, and the civilised character of Angleterre profonde. Elizabeth Regina was our last living tie to Victoriana, her first prime minister being Winston Churchill and last being Liz Truss—a reign that was the living memory of a connection spanning centuries, invoking the days of swords, chivalry, discovery, stoicism ,and sailing ships.
Any attempt to modernize that magic, therefore, is futile, and perhaps the new King understands the need to maintain that harmony and balance, and not wreck it in pursuit of utopia. To his credit, he was opposed to the Iraq War and has through his writings constantly reminded everyone of the timelessness of defending all faith and protecting the land beneath your feet from marauding modernity. Most humans—especially in an increasingly secular age in which profligacy and emotional incontinence are considered authentic expressions of self—are not culturally attuned to appreciate duty, propriety, and the stiff upper lip.
The dispassionate King survived his darkest days in the smouldering anvil of public opinion immediately after the death of Diana. But he survived due to his faith in a higher purpose. He is a Royal. Royals are the living symbols of both empires and endurance. Royals are at least supposedly burdened with conducting affairs as greater men. Royals earn respect and loyalty, facing adversity and time with quiet and dignified fortitude. Royals do not emote under pain or duress.
I sat to watch the coronation with trepidation. The relentless harping about modernizing the monarchy made me feel that all I would get to hear would be royal gossip and obsession with colonialism and race and reparation, and nothing about the merging of temporal and spiritual and the history of the oldest and most natural of ceremonies.
The Dean of the Westminster Abbey wore a velvet burgundy cope, made for the coronation of Charles II in 1661. Someone at CNN uttered the phrase “Norman the Conqueror,” which I inferred was supposed to denote William the Conqueror and the Norman conquest. Nerves all around.
And then it all started. After chaotic organ notes, the people somehow instinctively stood still. It was rainy and gloomy, a perfect English day. The King’s coach travelled from Buckingham Palace to the Westminster Abbey, followed by the King’s Guards.
“In his name and after his example, I come, not to be served, but serve”, stony-faced Carolus Rex said solemnly, under the same roof where Edward the Confessor is buried.
A Hindu Prime Minister recited a lesson from Colossians. A man wearing a Sikh turban sang the Gloria among a whole bunch of choral singers for the king who has declared himself the “defender of all faith.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury presented the signs of the sovereign. Spurs, for chivalry, used since 1661. The ring. The stole. Gloves and the Orb. The signs of kingly justice and mercy. The royal sceptre, symbol of authority—power that is not given by anyone but God, under God’s temple, in presence of God’s ministers. “Restore the things that are gone to decay, maintain the things that are restored, punish and reform what is amiss, and confirm what is in good order”: the temporal merged with the spiritual.
And a lot of philosophical contradictions suddenly becomes clear. See, among modernity, the idea of sovereignty is diluted. Who has power over you? The House of Lords? The Senate? The Scientific American talking about transgenderism? Bud Light and Disney? The disdainful liberals who are tweeting inane things like why monarchy should be modernized more or abolished, or why you should not support or talk about monarchy unless you can name the liturgy in coronation. Monarchy still theoretically exists to protect the masses from petty middle-class tyrants like them.
Power comes from somewhere up that is not explicable by rationality. It is also simultaneously material and illusory. Modernity dictates that power is delegated. We give power to presidents and parliaments. But it is done in the name of something—the presidential seal of authority, the Constitution, or the sovereign monarch. Royalty is likewise a symbol.
The illusion of power is not an illusion because it is not tested. All the public opinion polls show that’s why. While young people are not as patriotic, the monarchy remains immensely popular. Zoomers are overwhelmingly in support of monarchy, empire, and conquest. The police forces and the armed forces are overwhelmingly in support of monarchy, as are the Canadian and Australian conservatives and armed forces. A survey exclusively of the armed forces of the Anglosphere would give overwhelming support for Charles. Millions of people are politely lining up in a breezy London rain to catch a glimpse of the newly crowned. The future of the monarchy is secure, if it is ever tested against the power of petty tyrants.
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Modernity is by definition flattening of hierarchy. But hierarchy is the natural state of affairs. The reason people across the globe watch British pomp and pageantry, with a mix of surprise and awe, is because respect comes with awe. Charles III Rex understands that you don’t maintain respect by being equal. You dedicate your life to service of the state. You can lose the love of your family for the sake of the institution and realm. It is a sacrifice that greater men choose to make at times. You stand on the balcony and wave at the adoring crowd. You are at the same time subservient and superior. You are never equal.
And thus, the third Caroline age begun. Charles III, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of His other Realms and Territories, King, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith. The first Charles dissolved the parliament and lost his head. The second Charles restored the institution of monarchy and came to power at a time when England was a rump state bereft of power in an era of global upheaval and multipolarity. The navy and imperial education system that was designed after, resulted in Britain painting a quarter of the globe in various shades of pink within two hundred years.
Foresight is not a gift of historians, but one can see the weight of history on the shoulders of Charles the Third. Sitting in America, I stood and quietly muttered God save the King. Long may he reign.