Judging Tradition

If William and Kate beget a girl, she would now be guaranteed a direct line to the throne. But do the British actually know how to judge their tradition?

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The English have finally done it! The Commonwealth has voted, and now the future child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will reign supreme regardless of his/her/its gender. A male heir will no longer be necessary to pass on hoards of wealth, prestige, title, and history. The Britons have stripped away their centuries of ruthless irrationalism and put on the new multicolored coat of The Present Day. Tradition will no longer be the determinant of … tradition.

Death to primogeniture, and long life to the first-born!

In case you’ve missed out on the steamroller of history, here are the reasons given for the shift:

“In our age of gender equality and religious tolerance there will be no further hindrance…” The Guardian

”The idea a younger son should become monarch instead of an elder daughter simply because he’s a man… is at odds with the modern countries we have become.”  David Cameron

“Attitudes have changed fundamentally over the centuries and some of the outdated rules — like some of the rules of succession — just don’t make sense to us any more.” Cameron, again

It should be noted that a smaller amount of press has been afforded to a coordinate change: Catholics are now eligible for the British throne, for the first time since King James II was ousted in the Glorious Revolution. In 1714, the then-new rule was evoked to skip over to the 49th man in the succession line, the Elector of Hanover (who became King George I), after all the Catholics ahead of him were passed.

There are, of course, good reasons for these decisions. For all political purposes, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation basically ended shortly after James II was excluded from the throne. And property inheritance laws today no longer favor male heirs.

But for all the historical quiddity of actual reasoning, arguments from “our age” and “modern countries we have become” and “just doesn’t make sense anymore” fall short from supplying understanding.

The throne should be not be restricted to male heirs, but why restrict to heirs at all? Britons have not been adept at giving good answers to interrogations of tradition over the last half-century. In the language of philosophy, they are not ready to justify themselves to themselves. From the present course, it appears that the monarchy will survive until it “just doesn’t make sense anymore.” In other words, with no argument to the positive, it will happen when affection is completely overwhelmed by arguments to the negative.

This is probably the biggest indictment of the British nostalgic conservatism: it is a conservatism that survives only as a reflection of public desire, and never as an authority to mold that desire. The Queen is hostage to nostalgic sentimentality.

Authority is always tied up, in some way, to public assent – the absolutism of the French kings was always a lie. Opposite absolutism, there grew a correlate lie, that all submission comes from what we want to make of ourselves. In reality, though, there is a reciprocal relation: a natural reverence, a commanded respect, and a legitimate standing are necessary for cultural and political authority. If there is any submission to be commanded, it is because of our ability to “perceive the seldom-appearing thing” (as Philip Rieff said) – that something outside of ourselves is greater, and the only way to receive from it is to submit to it.

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