- As Britain enters its most precarious moment of re-invention since World War II, it remains to be seen whether this new royal family will serve as a symbol of revivification or as one of mere comfort, cold as it must necessarily be.
I can understand if people are put off from reading this based on the first part, but I thought this latter part was particulary interesting:
- That doesn’t mean Meghan Markle has not endured some of the ugliness that Brexit brought to the surface. The former far-right UKIP leader’s girlfriend described her “seed” as a stain on the royal family. And even in the mainstream press there’s been something distasteful and fetishistic in the way the royal engagement has been covered. We hear from Rachel Johnson, sister of the buffoonish Boris, of Markle’s “rich and exotic DNA”; we read in the Daily Mail, “From cotton slaves to royalty. . . . Now that’s upwardly mobile!”; and The Spectator wonders if 70 years ago she might not have made a better mistress than a wife. British racism is more casual than its American coeval but more insidious, because its animating prejudice is class. The British are perfectly happy to deal with people of color who know their place; it is the “uppity wog,” or “Paki,” who arouses in them an animal hatred. This is what Orwell captured so well in the character of Ellis in Burmese Days. “We shall have to sack this fellow,” Ellis says of the native butler in the club, “if he gets to talk English too well.” Britain, with its new, shrunken place in the world, has had to deal lately with a lot of foreigners who talk English too well, and if the Brexit forecast is anything to go by, there will be plenty more.
“The British don’t like foreigners coming over and stealing their princes,” a friend of Princess Michael’s once said to me. It was an odd thing to say, because the royal family was not just chock-full of foreigners; it was basically foreign itself. It was why someone like Ella did not have a single English relation between her and Queen Victoria, who was herself of German descent and married to a German. But when Queen Victoria made the system of marital alliances that linked her family to every major royal family in Europe, Britain had been outward-looking. At the time it was a question of expansion; now it is one of contraction. My own enduring memory of the Windsors was of constant cutbacks and reduced circumstances. To fly with royalty was to fly EasyJet. On the flight back from Sardinia, a velvet rope cordoned off the first row alone, behind which Their Royal Highnesses—Prince and Princess Michael—sat with Ella and me. A moment of silence ensued, then there was a dull roar on the Jetway, and a planeload of lobster-red British tourists poured onto the flight, muttering, “Wot’s this, wot’s this?,” as they rushed past the grandson of George V, Emperor of India.
“According to Tocqueville,” wrote Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism, “the French people hated aristocrats about to lose their power more than it had ever hated them before.” It was then—more than when they had been politically powerful—that they saw them as parasites, for “wealth without visible function is much more intolerable”; nobody can understand why it should exist.