But questions of monarchy can never be reduced to mere evaluations of the current king or queen. A country that commits to monarchy has, after all, committed to a much larger moral order in which appreciation for hereditary aristocrats is entrenched across society writ large. Since monarchy exists in opposition to democracy, in which leaders are chosen on the basis of perceived skill and merit, a properly monarchial society cannot merely have a single royal in the top job. Instead, it must find ways to celebrate and reward every scion the royal bloodline provides, lest the intellectual justifications for hereditary power begin to break down.
The appalling behavior of Prince Andrew — who had a close relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and has been accused of being a patron of Epstein’s underage sex trafficking ring — is a good reminder of the high price that monarchy asks.
Prior to last month, I doubt the number of Canadians who could name or identify Prince Andrew, the queen’s third child, would be enough to poll in the high single digits. Yet thanks to Canada’s commitment to the monarchial principle — the notion that everyone in the royal order of succession is an inherently good person deserving of trust and deference — he has nevertheless been awarded dozens of Canadian sinecures over the years. Though many of these positions have been publicly revoked following the Epstein revelations, and others will presumably expire as the humiliated prince takes a “step back from public duties,” this cannot reverse the reality that a man of such evidently low character was incuriously granted such high standing in Canadian society for so long.
At last count, Andrew was authorized by the government of Canada to serve as “royal patron” of six Canadian organizations recognized for “preeminence in their field,” including the Canadian International Air Show, “the largest and longest running Air Show in Canada,” and Toronto’s high-society York Club, where the city’s elite have swirled brandy for over a century. Numerous lesser organizations were equally eager to grant him titles ranging from board member at Ontario’s Lakefield College to honorary chairman of the Canadian Canoe Museum. He was (and, according to the defense department’s website, still is) a “Colonel-in-Chief” of three different units of the Canadian army, and recently visited Halifax to tend to the Princess Louise Fusiliers. In 2000, the military awarded Andrew the Canadian Forces’ Decoration, one of Canada’s most prestigious service medals, thereby allowing him to add the initials “CD” to the already considerable alphabet soup of letters that follows his name. In 2014, the Canadian Heraldic Authority, a subsidiary of the Governor General’s office, granted him his own garish flag “for use in Canada” — the Maple Leaf evidently insufficient.
None of this folderol is justifiable on any grounds beyond the fact that Andrew is one of the queen’s children, and children of the monarch are presumed to possess inherent worth in a monarchal country. Showering them with jobs and titles is necessary to help reinforce the notion that princes and princesses deserve to automatically receive things a lesser mortal would have to strive for.
Most Canadians have doubtless watched Prince Andrew’s fall from grace with open-mouthed revulsion, while simultaneously dismissing the episode as a “British thing” with little relevance to Canada. But if the story reveals much about the character of British aristocracy in the 21st century, so too does it expose the equal shame of Canadian officialdom’s ongoing colonial deference to these obscure and unimpressive people. Ottawa has authorized at least 80 other corporate patronages and over 40 military titles to various members of the British royal family, including such household names as Princess Alexandra of Kent, the queen’s uncle’s daughter.
Canada is far from a naturally monarchal society. It’s no wild assertion to state that Canadians are a mostly egalitarian, highly individualistic people who do not readily submit to arbitrary authority. Canada is (at least nominally) a meritocracy, whose national successes can be credited to the fact that its economic and civic institutions possess agency to promote the skilled and sideline the useless. The country’s constitutional links to the British monarchy contradict this, but they are not deeply felt or even particularly well-thought-out. They exist largely as a failure of leadership and imagination among the top rungs of Canadian society, who have long resisted thinking seriously about what it means to keep Canada a “monarchy” and the grotesqueries a commitment to that political philosophy inject into the national culture.
Amid recent rumors that the queen is planning an imminent retirement, Canada should begin its own plans for a transition from royalism. Revoking the many undeserved titles, awards, medals and offices that Ottawa has carelessly piled on members of the endlessly strange and alarming Windsor family would be a good start.