In one of my recent articles for The American Spectator I mentioned Prince Charles, in the context of some daffy clergyman opining that his coronation ceremony (a Christian sacrament, incidentally) should be opened by a reading from the Koran.
I found the near-uniform hostility and contempt for him expressed in readers’ letters a little surprising.
I have only met Prince Charles once. I was presented to him at a reception as chairman of the Victoria League for Commonwealth Friendship in Western Australia. He asked me what I did, and I, who am quite used to VIPs (I have worked for a couple), and for that matter have addressed a jury in a murder trial, found myself speechless, while a group of socialist politicians behind me clambered over one another like alligators in a pit for the chance of a Royal handshake.
Idiotically, I got out: “I write stories about cats flying spaceships.” This was quite true (see The Man-Kzin Wars, published by Baen Books), but it sounded like smart-alickery, or even, “Mind your own business.”
That was the last thing I intended. “I’m a lawyer, Your Royal Highness,” would have been more sensible, if possibly duller. I realized too late he might have thought I was trying to make some sort of joke. Anyway, if Prince Charles is reading this, I apologize to him. No rudeness was intended.
He handled my somewhat crass reply very well, and our brief conversation confirmed my impression that he is no fool.
I know it is not true, as some have sneered, that his life is one long holiday: he works hard for the Prince of Wales’s Trust and other good causes, and cares deeply about preserving the natural beauty of Britain.
His biography confirms that he has a list of achievements which I imagine few of his detractors could equal: he is both a fixed-wing aircraft (including jets) and helicopter pilot, a qualified paratrooper, and as a Naval officer has commanded a major warship, the mine-hunter HMS Bronington, on a commission in the dangerous and unforgiving North Sea. Landing on an aircraft carrier (like parking a car doing miles per hour in a concrete stall) takes, like parachuting, a good measure of physical courage.
His crusade against the ugliness and brutalism of modern architecture is quixotic but worthy and admirable.
Regarding his architectural forays and comments in the public sphere, one can appreciate the urgency, one might perhaps call it passion, that he feels: in Britain, more than any other country in the world, buildings and landscapes that are both historic and architectural treasures of surpassing loveliness are juxtaposed with modern structures of unsurpassed ugliness. While we all know only too well the Treason of the Clerks, in much of Britain our faces are rubbed in the treason of the architects and planners. He is a defender of a beauty, and a human scale of values, which have had all too few defenders. There are some districts in Britain where one feels it would be impossible to alter the line of a single modern building or flyover without improving it. Will he, or even should he, as king be silent in the face of such outrages?
Prince Charles, and even more King Charles, will have to be very careful on more than one front. First, while there is certainly nothing wrong with his well-publicized concern for the environment, there is a real risk of him being taken prisoner by nut-job deep-green ideology tending towards “people are pollution.”
He will have to steer a delicate course here. President Obama angered Australians by presuming to tell them how to manage the Great Barrier Reef, and Charles runs the risk of similar pitfalls. Obviously the conservative right in Britain is pro-Monarchist (as, overwhelmingly, are the people at large) but it is the conservative right who could be alienated by such things — if, for example, his words are turned into an attack on capitalism or advocacy of statist population control.
Second, there is a good deal of fear and rage in Britain today over the increasing presence of Muslim extremists.
This is not only because of their association with direct terrorism, such as the ghastly murder of young British soldier Lee Rigby in a London street, but also because of their imperious demands that Britain, their host country, make one-way social changes to conform to their values and legal systems. The Muslim extremists make no concessions in the direction of conforming to British and Western legal norms, indeed their rhetoric suggests they have no conception of making concessions — such would be heresy by definition. Argument is completely pointless.
Britons do not like having things like the sexual segregation of public baths forced on them, or having streets in their own country down which “uncovered” women dare not walk. With a few exceptions like the ineffable Germaine Greer, they do not go for clitorectomies as authentic expressions of cultural diversity. The recent electoral triumph of UKIP shows traditional patriotism and nationalism are very strong, if seldom till now so demonstrated. Will the King of England defend English rights and values rather than the ideology of multiculturalism?
They are becoming fed up with bullying and stupid political correctness, and a fanatical obsession with “celebrating diversity”: for example, with children being arrested and hauled before judges (not mere magistrates) for “racist” playground insults.
Some years ago Prince Charles said he wished to change the title “Defender of the Faith” — bestowed on Henry VIII by the Pope before the break with Rome for an essay attacking Martin Luther — to “Defender of Faith.” This suggests to some a flirting with syncretism, and in any case, it might be asked, how can faiths that believe in different and incompatible things be defended simultaneously? Did he mean he will defend all religious beliefs against atheism? There is another can of worms there. But perhaps they were just the well-intentioned, unthinking words of a young man and don’t really mean anything but a sort of feelgoodness.
The rumbles of anger at the assaults on British culture, traditions, and values are building slowly at present, but if Prince or King Charles were to give the impression, even unintentionally, that he was somehow condoning a Muslim cultural takeover — for example by adopting the daft suggestion that his coronation ceremony be opened with a reading from the Koran — then woe betide him! He might, in such circumstances, recall the fate of the first King Charles.
I hope it will be many years before Prince Charles becomes King but I also believe, that, like Queen Victoria, Edward VII, and his mother, he may, with good luck, good sense, and good judgment, not to mention moral courage, make a much-loved old monarch.