Winston Peters has asked the question (NZ Herald, May 12) why mess with the magic of the monarchy?
There can’t be a simple answer.
For centuries, the monarchy was a deeply mysterious and magical institution. But, at first incrementally and latterly at pace, the mysterious goings-on have been exposed.
What used to happen behind those royal curtains stayed there but now it seems as if every movement is captured, analysed, and pulled apart.
There is no longer any magic in the monarchy, it was demystified long ago.
In the same way as a magician who tells a spellbound enraptured audience how a rabbit is pulled out of a hat, it would not come as a surprise to find very few watching next time the trick was pulled.
So it is with the monarchy.
Every discretion, these days so easily acquired, greedily snapped up by a public hungry for any salacious detail.
Too much has been revealed.
The monarchy has been over-exposed due in part to frantic efforts by The Firm, as it is called, to come up with ever-increasing demands on the two popular younger members of the Crown, Will and Kate.
Public stunts such as pulling pints of beer ensure the magic lives on in the minds of loyal subjects, who simply can’t get enough.
Also, the idea that the monarchy possesses a certain “magic” only reinforces an ingrained system of social hierarchy that is built on elitism, privilege and entitlement. This idea goes against the principles of meritocracy and equality, and perpetuates an undemocratic institution.
Furthermore, the notion of magic in the monarchy props up a class system where individuals are born into positions of power and privilege, without having to work for it. This maintains an entrenched sense of entitlement, suggesting they are not accountable, which is fundamentally unfair, especially amongst Kiwis who pride themselves on having an underlying sense of fair play.
The romanticised view of the monarchy also creates a distraction from important issues, such as economic inequality and social justice. Instead of addressing these pressing things, public money in the UK is allocated towards maintaining the lifestyles of the royal family, which does not create a more equitable society.
Additionally, the glorified view of the monarchy encourages an outdated and undemocratic institution that soaks up public funds. The money given to support the monarchy could be better used in areas such as education, healthcare, and social welfare, which would benefit the entire population instead of a select few.
Also, the idea of magic in the monarchy perpetuates a class system built on snobbery, privilege, and entitlement, which goes against the principles of equality, and evenhandedness. Helen Clark put it so eloquently in her valedictory speech when she said she was very proud of New Zealand’s egalitarian traditions. “Deep in our nation’s roots is the ethos that Jack is as good as his master - and these days that Jill is as good as her mistress. Many of our forebears came to this land to escape the class-bound nature of Britain, where their place in the economic and social order was largely prescribed from birth.” Again, Helen Clark, in her own words, said she deeply detested “social distinction and snobbery”. And no one argued against that.
And who would be bold enough to ask a member of the Crown what they thought of fawning? If they didn’t like it, they haven’t discouraged it or perhaps they are so much surrounded by obsequiousness that they no longer recognise it for what it is. Maybe they believe themselves magical.
The magic in the monarchy is that it has survived for so long.
Ardent supporters often cite its history and tradition. But there are a number of historical moments and traditions that have fallen.
The Tudor dynasty was once celebrated as a golden age, the British Empire, for centuries a great source of pride and power, the Crusades were seen as a noble cause but fell out of fashion over time.
And it was once traditional to celebrate “beating the bounds”, and who today can recall Whitsun ale? These traditions, and there are many more, have died out.
As Peters says there is a mystique in majesty but it is pushing it a bit to call it magical.
Nevertheless, anti-monarchists see the monarchial institution as a distraction from pressing societal issues, outdated and undemocratic, costly and unaccountable.
Rejecting this notion of magic is crucial in creating a fairer and more egalitarian society that promotes equality, and justness.
However, on occasion, the pomp and ceremony is awe-inspiring, and who doesn’t enjoy a bit of good theatre?
- James Gregory is a former NZBC senior announcer. ex-NZ Listener radio columnist, retired business director, and current affairs enthusiast.