Category Archives: Elizabeth II

The selfie, the tweet, the Facebook page made flesh

Screenshot 2020-01-25 at 17.14.18Prince Harry holds up a mirror to modern egotism

Dalrymple writes that the Queen and Prince Harry provide a contrast

between one conception of life, one culture, and another.

In the Queen there is

  • self-restraint
  • a kind of existential modesty despite exalted position
  • full awareness that she owes her importance to an accident of birth
  • an iron sense of duty at whatever personal cost

In Prince Harry there is

  • personal whim
  • self-expression as an imperative, the ego being the object of almost religious devotion
  • the belief that he owes an accident of birth to his importance
  • a sense of entitlement

Dalrymple comments:

There isn’t much doubt as to which of these attitudes to life is in the ascendant, sociologically and philosophically. As Blake put it, ‘Sooner strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.’ To swallow down our emotions is now regarded as treason to the self, where it is not comical or a subject for derision; not to express oneself is to risk later psychological disaster.

Such is the power of modern culture

that a cosseted and highly unusual family is not immune from its influence.

There is

a desperate search for uniqueness among people who have a weak sense of self as distinguished from others. In an age of celebrity, not to be outstanding in some way is felt almost as a wound, certainly as an indication of failure.

The inflamed need for individuation

causes people to be reluctant to accept anything traditional, because the tradition did not originate with them and has no justification that they consider wholly rational. Life is all about choice: my choice. The extension of choice is why transgression is a good in itself.

Dalrymple adds that Prince Harry

is not being straightforward. He wants to destroy tradition and at the same time benefit from its continuation. He has no claim to the public’s attention except that he was born who he was in the very tradition that he wants to overthrow because he wants to be really, truly, just himself. I can well understand why a young man in his position does not want to play the part allotted him by fate; I wouldn’t have wanted such a part myself. But in order not to be a hypocrite, he should have gone off quietly into obscurity, without public subvention, to study butterflies or Sumerian epigraphy.

God save the Queen

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, who has reigned since 1953 as Elizabeth II, was, Dalrymple reminds us,

thrust into the rôle of heir to the throne at the age of 10, and that of monarch at age 26, without choice, consultation, or inclination. She was reared to be a function incarnate. Her wishes counted for nothing, except in the most trivial matters.

Supremely unfree

She was

imbued with an iron sense of duty by an adored father who died at a comparatively early age (and whose portrait she still wears on her bosom at official functions), and was obliged repeatedly to make emollient speeches and appear always to be deeply interested in the dullest of dignitaries. The highest standard of living in the world was probably insufficient recompense for the sacrifice—that of herself as an individual human being—that she had to make.

Bound to obey the dictates of the government that acted in her name

Aware of her limitations, educated in the arcana of her constitutional rôle but little else, interested mainly in thoroughbred horses, Elizabeth had constantly to juggle several, often conflicting imperatives:

  • the need to preserve her throne
  • the need to do her duty by her country
  • the need to act morally (for she was clearly a highly moral person)
  • her need to please her family

Wedded to duty

These, Dalrymple points out,

were not things always easy to reconcile, and sometimes they were irreconcilable. Prince Philip did not want to live in Buckingham Palace, whose grandeur is cold and forbidding, nor did she; but as it was customary for the reigning monarch to live there, she overruled her husband’s and her own inclinations. This was a decision typical of many others. In the struggle between what she wanted and what she thought was her duty, the latter always won.

It is curious, says Dalrymple,

how, in a democracy such as the British, the unelected head of state should have been so much more wedded to duty than any popularly elected politician.