Saving the Throne ... Foiling the Tormentors

Article excerpt

The most important question before Britain in the aftermath of Princess Diana's tragic death is this: Does the monarchy have a future or will 71-year-old Queen Elizabeth II be the last ruler in the constitutional royal succession? Can the British throne recover from another crushing blow, the demise of the "People's Princess"?

My answer to the question is this: Only if the Prince of Wales forgoes the presumptive right to follow his mother on the throne and thus allows his son, Prince William, to be the post-Regency successor, the once and future King. The London Economist has already suggested a plebiscite to see if the British people want Charles to succeed his mother. With Diana's death, such a plebiscite becomes a necessity unless, of course, Charles does the right thing and steps aside in favor of his elder son.

Why should anybody outside Britain give a darn who sits on the throne in Westminster? The answer to that question is the world response in grief and sorrow over Diana's death which shows that there is something special about the British monarchy, a legendary quality that persists to this day. The demise, accidental or otherwise, of a princess let alone a monarch of any other country would not remotely occasion such an outpouring of sorrow as has the passing of Princess Di. But there are other reasons why the British monarchy does matter.

Because Britain, a once mighty power, has enjoyed a stable government for centuries while other countries were torn by revolution and civil war. Because many onetime British colonies have emerged from colonialism as democracies, weak and struggling though they may be, thanks to the British parliamentary model. There may be many reasons for this stability and Britain's once global leadership, but one of them surely has been the institution of the monarchy.

The man who understood what a kingly rulership meant to Britain was the great 19th century journalist and political theorist, Walter Bagehot. For Bagehot, monarchy was not only "a Divine institution," it was also "a strong government because it is an intelligible government. …