June 17, 2024

The king’s duty

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
The king’s duty
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON — With the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, her son, now King Charles III, delivered a heart-felt speech but failed to address the most existential question facing the British monarchy: It has a purpose, but what is it?
          The new king spoke about his beloved mother’s dedication to duty and his intent to follow her example, but he did so without specifying what that duty is, and there is a sizeable element in his country that advocates the elimination of the monarchy. Indeed, the new prime minister, Liz Truss, was among them in an earlier iteration of her career.
          For all the talk about tradition and the physical embodiment of the state, not to mention the role of lead actor in a regalia stage unmatched in the world, none of this will continue to be sufficient to quell the naysayers who want to turn their constitutional monarchy into a republic.
          After all, the British monarchy is very expensive, and its inhabitants have all too often proven to be quite human and susceptible to a variety of foibles. Further, no one has accused the royalty of brilliance since the reign of Elizabeth I in the 16th century.
          So, the monarchy cannot afford to be an ill-defined occupation. The monarch is not the ship-of-state’s captain; that is the prime minister’s job. The monarch is said to be the head of the Church of England, but that job was long ago preempted by that religion’s clergy and the recognition and tolerance of a variety of other faiths or absence of faiths. The monarch is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but neither has this been a reality since the days of William and Mary, King William being a renowned general.
          What, then, is the monarch’s primary job, his/her duty?
          It will come as a surprise that the king or queen of the United Kingdom plays an active role in the nation’s secret service. All state secrets pass through the monarch’s hands before being forwarded to the prime minister. Further, since attempts and planned attempts at violence against the royals has been an ongoing threat, the monarch is compelled to work hand-in-hand with the various services tasked with preventing and uncovering plots from individuals and organizations against British royals and politicians alike. Among the organizations was the Irish Republican Army (IRA) before peace was established between Ulster (mostly-Protestant Norther Ireland) and the nation of mostly Catholic Ireland. Most notably, the IRA set off a bomb at the Grand Hotel in Brighton in 1984 in an attempt to assassinate Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
          Yet, as significant as this secretive role may seem, it pales in comparison to the monarch’s primary duty, a duty the new king would do well to convey during this torch-passing period.
          By tradition, the prime minister has a private meeting – or audience as they call it – with the monarch once a week. No notes are taken. It truly is private because the monarch is not supposed to publicly express political, military, economic, or other opinions that are the dominion of elected politicians and the people at large. But here in these private unscribed meetings is where the monarch’s duty lies, and King Charles III has everything to gain for himself and his country by publicly acknowledging this.
          The monarch’s unwritten essential duty, therefore, is to represent, not the government, but of the people. The monarch and prime minister are not meeting for weekly teas. They meet so the prime minister can brief the monarch, but also because the monarch has the unfettered opportunity and obligation to represent the needs of the nation and his people to the nation’s chief executive. No one else has the stature, opportunity, or mandate to do so. This does not mean that the prime minister is compelled to comply, but he/she is compelled to listen, and to listen to someone who can exert considerable behind-the-scenes influence.
          See Eleanor Clift’s latest book Selecting a President, and Douglas Cohn’s latest books The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2022 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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