What’s the point of the monarchy?

The British monarchy is an antique institution, peopled by eccentrics and governed by arcane rules and customs. But it works—and we would struggle to find a better alternative

Simon Jenkins

The Queen opens parliament in 2010. As a constitutional form, the monarchy has proved astonishingly robust, argues Simon Jenkins

Best not to think about it. Best to block the mind, sink back in a chair and enjoy a ceremony well-staged, a dress well-chosen, and the heart-warming spectacle of Prince William and Kate Middleton in their matrimonial bliss. The British do national ritual with panache. Revel in that. Otherwise you will start asking why the classiest internship in the land, second in line to the throne, should go to the elder son of the elder son of the elder daughter of a man who got the job because his elder brother married the wrong woman. These entitlements, as Bentham said of all such rights, must be “nonsense on stilts.”

On the other hand, monarchy is an institution of state. Democracy expects such institutions to put in an appearance at the bar of common sense and public opinion. When one of them, based on heredity, offends what democracy supposedly holds dear—equality of opportunity—it has a case to answer. And so, as the future head of state prepares to wed, it’s worth asking why we have a monarchy, and what we want from it—if indeed we want one at all.

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