Earlier, by Steve Sailer: Prince Philip, RIP: Monarchism Vindicated
Just as I was sitting down to prepare this podcast I saw the news that Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, died early Friday morning.
The news was not astonishing. Philip was two months short of his hundredth birthday, and just recently spent a month in hospital with a heart condition. He'd had a pretty good innings, and so far as we can gather he passed away peacefully.
As an American, I'm happy to be living in a republic. I grew up in that monarchy over there, though, and I get the point of it, which a lot of my American friends just don't. I grew up with Philip and Elizabeth, in fact; I was just two years old when they married. So far as it makes any sense to have feelings towards public figures, I liked Philip, and I still like Elizabeth.
Constitutional monarchy has its downsides, as the people of Thailand have been learning recently. The main downside is, that the legitimacy of the monarchy, and so indirectly of the whole constitutional system, depends on the personality and intelligence of the monarch.
In that regard, Britain got lucky with Elizabeth and Philip. They have both had a perfect understanding of what they are supposed to do, and they have done it without complaint for more than seventy years.
The deal implicit in constitutional monarchy is this. You get several large houses to live in, with servants to do the housework. You get a generous expense allowance from the public fisc. In return you put in a full working day doing ceremonial stuff—launching battleships, opening hospitals, greeting important foreign visitors, signing proclamations, and such. You are expected to behave well, to adhere to a plain bourgeois lifestyle. And you keep your political opinions very strictly to yourself.
That's the deal. Philip stuck to it punctiliously across all those decades, supporting his wife as she did the same.
We hear that they didn't actually see much of each other this past few years, were living separate lives. Anyone can understand that. After seventy years of marriage, you just don't have much left to say to each other; and with all those lovely houses to live in, it's natural for him to prefer this one while she prefers that one.
We've also heard that there were some rough patches in their early married years. Hey: I could swear I have read somewhere that the sky is generally blue and grass is generally green.
The marriage was clearly a love match. The common observation among the working-class Brits I grew up among was that: first the tabloids would have rumors about trouble at the palace, then either he or she would go off solo on a state visit to New Zealand or somewhere, then, a few weeks after his or her return to London, we'd get news that she was pregnant again.
It was all very normal and relatable. For hot scandal and salacity, we could read about movie people and pop singers: for high-level affirmation of the bourgeois virtues, there were the Queen and the Duke.
Philip also had a strong appeal to a certain side of the British national character, at any rate as it was before the horrible filthy blight of political correctness drifted over from America. Philip was amusing.
Here I have to recycle once again my cherished quote from Professor Jonathan Steinberg at the University of Pennsylvania.
Here's what Steinberg said, explaining the British style of irony to Americans:
Here I speak from personal experience. I was an American who lived for nearly forty years in England.
It may help here if we introduce J. Steinberg's double equation for explaining Anglo-American misunderstanding. It works like this.
• In England the best thing you can be is amusing or clever, and the worst is tiresome or a bore.
• In America the best thing you can be is sincere or genuine; the worst is a phony.
If you put those values together, what you get is:
• English amusing or clever equals American phony, and
• American sincere equals English bore.
This really works. I've tried it for years and I know it works. It's really been road-tested.]
That's what endeared Philip to the Brits. He carried out his duties without complaint, but he didn't take them, or himself, too seriously. In that way he was amusing.
Among the obituary tributes I've been reading this morning is one from the Sun newspaper — that's a London tabloid — headed Prince Philip's 17 funniest gaffes that made us cry with laughter and sometimes wince.
A favorite of mine was this one, number sixteen in that list. It was 1986, when China was still opening up after the Mao Tse-tung period. Elizabeth and Philip went there on a state visit. Among their engagements was a visit to a batch of young Brits studying at a Chinese university. Philip cautioned them that, quote: "If you stay here much longer, you'll all be slitty-eyed."
The PC pandemic had not at that point infected very much of the British population. There was still a common belief that political correctness was a slightly weird American import, like basketball or peanut butter or calling a full stop a "period" and putting it inside the closing quotation mark. There was an embryonic snowflake faction—or "community," I suppose they would say—who of course were fainting and screeching for days over Philip's remark, but most Brits just thought it funny. I myself thought it funny, notwithstanding I'd married a Chinese lady a few weeks previously.
Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was not tiresome or a bore. He was amusing. May he rest in peace.
As a footnote to all that, having brought Mrs Derbyshire into this, I may as well record the following.