Tuesday, March 13, 2007

O Magnum Mysterium

. Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I am still working on two or three posts which will finish my preliminary series on the Monarchy. Mr. Holden can call upon a vast reservoir of past thought and opinion. He has been evangelising and thundering from the pulpit of the Holden Republic with little opposition for some years. When he responds to me, he has the world-weary tone of an aged uncle bothered by mosquitoes, and he attempts to swat me with an excess of verbiage, links, and a tone which suggests that he could say more, but he has more important things to do.

Ah, well. We mosquitoes are small, but we are persistent. As Anne Shirley said, one mosquito can keep me awaker than a bad conscience. Confident that with time, we will catch up, and assured that Mr. Holden has a conscience to be kept awake by, we will continue in our efforts to stir it.

But I have a few thoughts to contribute first on reason and truth.

Sir Laurence Olivier speaks some very wise words in the official Coronation documentary, A Queen is Crowned. Facing the High Altar of Westminster Abbey, under the eye of Christ and His Apostles, and the great and ancient heritage of the English Church, he says:

In the knowledge of the mystery of human life, this ceremony is performed.

I confidently expect republicans of every stripe to call this metaphysical and subjective clap-trap, of the kind which occurs after too much sunshine, or too much sentimental music. I never read one of Mr. Holden's hyperbolic denunciations of my hyperbole without feeling like one of those quivering women at the WI in twin-set and pearls, rushing over to greet the dear Vicar. He even suggests, with kindly condescension, that he will probably disagree with my next post, because he has a more "rational" approach than I do. (I think he means "rationalistic", because I don't think I am technically insane, at least not in the Bill Wilmot category, I hope).

After I had got over the worrying Wordsworthian implications of this, and dismissed the mental imagery of me prancing through daffodils and saying with a dramatic sigh Bickerstaff, have you no soul!, I thought about reason, and the crimes committed in its name.

The right public use of reason is as a tool to access truth. By the use of reason, we apprehend what is true, or as Locke puts it, what corresponds to reality, what is real. Reason is not an end in itself, but a means by which we arrive at Truth. Further, reason is not applied in a vacuum or a void. By the use of reason, I can make out a case for the abolition of the social safety net, optional infanticide up to age three, or letting Irish peasants starve to death so as to reduce the surplus population.

Yes, that is hyperbole, but like all my uses of it, it makes a point. We can have abstract debates about all kinds of things, and in a vacuum, make rational cases for all kinds of things we would never dream of actually doing. The rationalism advocated by many republicans is the sort of ideology which rams through reform for our own good, and in actual despite of the facts of real life as we know them. It divorces reason from truth, and hence reality.

Fides et Ratio calls both faith and reason wings by which we approach ultimate truth, by which we apprehend (note the word) mystery.

Lewis makes a very nice abstract case for a republic, which I will go on to answer in rational terms later. But I am hammering this point past endurance for a reason; the Monarchy is about more than abstractions or pragmatics, it is about truth, and transcendent truth at that. And that truth is actually real.

It is not fashionable to believe in a communicable human nature, or in truth, or in transcendence any more. But in practice, they exist, and we act as if they do. They aren't subjective feelings, but deep human impulses. The desire for truth. The appreciation of mystery. The craving for a personification of the body politic, in times of joy and sadness, in times of national grief and pain. These desires are answered in the Monarchy, and if it does not exist, we have to invent institutions that approximate it. Those "useless Monarchist fripperies" which Lewis condemns as simply gilding the sow are actually one of the primary points of the Crown. (As he would know had he read Montesquieu properly).

In the knowledge of the mystery of human life, this ceremony is performed.

Life is a great mystery. And when we travel through it, we need reminders of our noble ideals, our best intentions, our most gracious and unselfish selves. That is what Her Majesty does. Do you think she is called "Your Majesty" for no reason? No, it is because she personifies Sovereignty, grace and majesty. Mercy and justice are the attributes of Princes, and courtesy follows in train. Even when Kings are evil, wicked and dull, they maintain the nature of their office, and that ideal is a noble one. I'll back it against a misused and jerrymandered "political equality" any day of the week.

Lewis writes that to elevate, ennoble and personify, the Queen must be seen, and the Governor-General is de facto New Zealand's head of State, since HMQ is foreign. Leaving aside the endearing old-fashioned nature of this argument (I saw the Queen this morning on television looking very nice at the Commonwealth Day service, and then I read her message this afternoon on the internet), the Governor-General derives much of his moral, social (and legal) authority from the fact that he is the Queen's representative. To the extent that we listen to Sylvia Cartwright or Anyand Satyanand, it is because they speak with our voice, and with the Queen's. They say what she would say, they speak as she would speak, they are as she is. They are covered with her mantle, and bear her authority. They are the ensigns of mystery.

I am fully expecting this post to be completely and flatly misunderstood. I am rather looking forward to enraged emails denouncing mystical clap-trap, and theocracy. You get it, or you don't. You hear the great music, or you are deaf to it.

But either way, it exists. The mystery is real. When we say that the Queen commands our allegiance, we are not pledging allegiance to a flawed human being in fancy dress, but to what she represents. The mystery and the nobility of human life, and to the ideals and virtues which the monarchy personifies, even when the monarch is not virtuous.

To them we fly, on them, we stand, and for them, we fight.

You get that, or you don't.


canicus said...

I look forward to your more "rationalistic" arguments. Perhaps it will address some of my reservations on the matter. I want to address and better understand monarchy. Unfortunately, the only experience I have is what I see on the web, my own mental gymnastics, and history. Naturally, I have a lot of reservations about the issue, and your debates address some of those, and one of the more acute ones is precisely the reductionalist model of politics I've learned growing up.

I want to see you debate this more because I 1). perceive that a philosophical sham has been hoisted on my politics with some of the presuppositions either being outright fraudulent or contradictory, 2). Christian theology and tradition unambiguously favors monarchy, as does its view of humanity, 3). based on my own observation the egalitarian philosophy is not only unworkable but against nature, and 4). I'm convinced the age of liberal democracies is closing, although I'm not sure how long that will take, and we need to think about the alternatives before a "monarchy" like those of Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin take root (these sorts of governance, despite their right/left differences, are the natural end of republics).

Keep arguing; I'm enjoying the read, and even if I can't find all the points strong, I do find some of them strong. That fact, coupled with your historical anecdotes makes it worth reading and informative. It'll be interesting to see the conclusion.

The Monarchist said...

Good work, Swift! You're absolutely correct when you point out that republicans are not so much rational as rationalistic, which is to say a fanatical adherence to their own unaided reason that rejects the wisdom of the ages, the natural exprience born of tradition (though admittedly, not all traditions are good). So well done on articulating that truth is far more than merely subjective reasoning.

Sir Walter Scott said...

Bravo Swift! You have destroyed him.

Swift said...

I want to re-emphasise that this is not the end of the series; I have rationalistic and pragmatic arguments by the bucket-load, but I want to hammer this point, because I think that as the Pope pointed out in Regensberg a while ago, the modern definition of reason is unnecessarily narrow. Reason is about truth, and human beings, not just about the construction of logical syllogisms.

Lewis said...

Destroyed me? I'm still here, and still a republican...

Swift said...

I don't want to destroy him. I want him to repent his seditious impulses, and return to his true allegiance. Failing that, I will settle for keeping up.

Pitt said...

Failing that, I will settle for keeping up.

Heh. I am familiar with the feeling, Swift. I wish you luck.

Sir Walter Scott said...

Crumbs that's an ugly republican logo. I hope Lewis can at least concede that we have imagery on our side.

Lewis said...

Bahahaha! It's the logo of the 1974 British Commonwealth Games Scott! Oh, that's too funny.

Sir Walter Scott said...

Well it's a bloody awful logo. And unsurprising that something so badly designed appeals to a republican.

Bearhunter said...

As opposed to the geometric nightmare that is the Union Flag, you mean?

Sir Walter Scott said...

Geometric nightmare?! Not sure you've ever seen the flag if you quite believe that.

Lewis said...

Well, the 74 "NZ" logo is based on the Union Flag. The Union flag doesn't have the same rotational symmetry though.

Bearhunter said...

Oh I've seen it all right, Scott. And I still think it looks like something out of Mondrian's learning phase.

Sir Walter Scott said...

I find that hard to believe.

Bearhunter said...

What? That I've seen the Union flag? Or that I think it looks like a badly built jigsaw?

Lewis said...

There's one on the front page of my website. With my mother standing in front of it. Damn uncooth colonials...

Swift said...

I believe that's U-N-C-O-U-T-H, Lewis. How uncouth. :-)

And I agree with Scott, even so, it is ugly. The new Canterbury flag was supposed to be based on the old one, which I love, and it's ugly too. Just because the original is sublime doesn't mean the imitation comes up to scratch.

Anonymous said...


Christianity supports the monarchy? How do you get that idea? Christ was the antithesis of the earthly king. His message was to the simple fishermen not the Herod and his ilk. The Roman Ceasars did their best irradicate the Christian faith. Peter even wrote that all believers are a part of the royal priesthood. Paul wrote that in Christ Jesus there is no Jew or Greek, Male or Female, no slave nor freeman. All are one. How does that support Monarchy other than the ONE TRUE MONARCHY?

Lewis said...

Mea culpa Swift.

Canterbury has a flag? That's not four red bars?

Andrew Matthews said...

Anonymous can come on over to Unpopular Opinions if he is truly interested in discussing the theological merits of monarchy. Great blog!

W.LindsayWheeler said...

Did you know that England, Monarchical England, is a Republic! She was! John Aylmer saw the similarities between Sparta and England. They both had mixed government.

Here is the true definition of a republic: The Classical definition of republic Make sure you read the most of the links to really understand it. There is also over 120 footnotes to it.

Happy Enlightenment.

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Our Greatest Monarch: Paul Johnson says Henry V was our greatest monarch
Princess Diana Inquest: A Dirty Raincoat Show for the World
Malcom Turnbull: 'Queen's death will spark republican vote'
Duke of York: The Royals are not "stuffed dummies". They should have their say
Peers of the Realm: The decline and fall of the House of Lords - Charles A. Coulombe
Peter Hitchens: Get rid of the monarchy and you will get rid of a guardian of liberty
Honouring Sir Edmund Hillary
The Queen versus an E.U. President
Going Solo: Prince William earns his Wings
James C. Bennett: The Third Anglosphere Century
Knights of Oz: Revive Sirs or I'll have your guts for garters
Princess Diana Inquest: A Dirty Raincoat Show for the World
Malcom Turnbull: 'Queen's death will spark republican vote'
Future Peer: The life and times of Lady Victoria Beckham
Peers of the Realm: The decline and fall of the House of Lords - Charles A. Coulombe
Peter Hitchens: Get rid of the monarchy and you will get rid of a guardian of liberty


New York Times: Ever Backwards into the Royal Future
Peter Hitchens: People love the Queen...and the BBC hates us for it
Christopher Hitchens: An Anglosphere Future
Andrew Cusack: Republicanism is a traitor's game
Courageous Patrician: Rt Hon Ian Douglas Smith (1919-2007)
The Last Rhodesian: What began with Rhodes and ended with Ian?
Gentleman Journalist: The Lord Baron W.F. Deedes, 1913-2007
Not Amused: Blair's sinister campaign to undermine the Queen
Loyal Subject: Queen Elizabeth: A stranger in her own country
Reverence Deference: Bowing and Scraping Back in Tradition
Rex Murphy: Kennedy, Churchill, Lincoln - The rousing bon mot is no more
Gerald Warner: Don't shed a tear for Diana cult in its death throes
The End of Grandeur: Rich, chincy Canada puts Strathmore on the blocks
Confessions of a Republican Leftie: "The Queen charmed the pants off me"
The King's Own Calgary Regiment: Cpl. Nathan Hornburg is laid to rest
The Royal Gurkha Rifles: Prince William grieves the death of Major Roberts
Queensland Mounted Rifles: Trooper David Pearce, 41, killed in Afghanistan
The Order of Canada: 100 investitures later, Canada's highest honour turns 40
Prince Edward on Prince Edward Island: Troop's link to monarchy important
HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN: Unveils the UK Armed Forces Memorial
Great Britain: "A rotten borough with a banana monarchy" - by Europhile
Peers of the Realm: The decline and fall of the House of Lords - Charles A. Coulombe
Remembering 'Smithy': An obituary tour de force by Andrew Cusack here, here and here.
NOT AMUSED: Her Majesty The Queen in Right of Quebec not invited to Quebec's tercentenary