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50 Years Ago: The Uses of Monarchy

The present Royal Family comes as close as any capitalist politician could desire to the modern monarchical ideal. No interference in politics, but a worthy interest in science; admirably suited to gather prestige abroad; most of all, a continual and absorbing attraction to the working class. There have been hints recently that the publicity has been overdone, that there have been too many chambermaids’ reminiscences and news items like the Sunday Pictorial’s announcement that the Queen’s bust-line had improved to maintain the essential dignity of royalty. Nevertheless, the Crown today as never before embodies the national ideals—the ideals, that is, of the national ruling class.

But does monarchy serve any interest for ordinary people, beyond giving a holiday and a pageant now and then? It may be said that if it does them no good, it does them no harm either. If it were true that to fill people’s heads with nonsense did no harm, that might be so; and most of it is nonsense. There is no reason for thinking that the Queen and her husband are not pleasant, decent people. If things were otherwise, however, the truth is that they would still be presented as paragons. Some monarchs have been cruel, irresponsible and contemptibly low, but their subjects have still been asked for reverence. Within a week of Edward VIII’s abdication his shortcomings were common knowledge, and Sir Charles Petrie (in the book already quoted) hinted at a strain of abnormality in Edward from the Hanover ancestry; would those things have been said if Edward had remained the King?

It is not the monarch that is at fault in all this, but the social system which needs a shining symbol; where there is no monarch, something else has to be held up to dazzle the dispossessed. The man with the flag and the girl admiring the pictures in her magazine have the light full in their eyes just now—but they need only look away for a moment to see who holds it up, and why.

(From front page article by Robert Coster, Socialist Standard, March 1958)