You might find it odd that an American would pen an essay arguing strongly the merits of monarchy in our times. Certainly, the recent activities of the Sussexes and the Duke of York did not put the best royal foot forward.
However, one need but reflect on Queen Elizabeth II’s magnificent 68-year reign during which time she and her family have provided joy, inspiration and support to millions across the globe. Moreover, many important humanitarian causes have received life-sustaining support and publicity thanks to the charitable work of the British royal family.
When the British monarchy is mentioned on this side of the Atlantic, Americans usually fall into two camps — those who are royal “fans,” who follow the royal family as they would film or sport stars; and those who roll their eyes and proclaim that we fought a revolution to rid ourselves of that lot.
Both those assessments fail to grasp the value of a thousand-year-old institution that provides stability, national pride and enrichment by shining a light, not on itself, but on those it serves, as well as on wider humanity.
Religious freedom is among the most important aspects of a tolerant civilization and the royal family show themselves to be excellent custodians of Western civilization by championing this cause. The queen has proved that she is far from simply a titular head of church. She seems never to miss a Sunday service, and, of course, shares with the world her personal connection to Christianity each Christmas broadcast. Indeed, through her life of service, she lives her faith.
Her eldest son, the prince of Wales, has had a lifetime to learn from the best and his considerable gifts of statesmanship were on display last week during an official visit to the Middle East. Prince Charles, who has professed to be a “defender of faiths,” proved his mettle. While the duke of Cambridge was the first royal to make an official state visit to Israel last year, his father followed suit last Wednesday, visiting Jerusalem for the occasion of the World Holocaust Forum.
The visit included planting an English oak in Israel, meeting privately with Holocaust survivors and visiting the grave of his grandmother, Princess Alice of Battenburg, who famously hid a Jewish family at her Athens home, saving them from certain extermination by the Nazis.
While in the Holy Land, Charles called for peace among the divided. In addition to Jerusalem, he visited the Palestinian territory and raised the profile of the plight of the region’s Christians, saying it would be “the greatest tragedy” if the ancient Palestinian Christian communities were to disappear from the Holy Land, an apparent reference to the departure of many Arab Christians from the Middle East.
Most stirring of all, in his speech at Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, the heir to the throne warned: “The Holocaust was an appalling Jewish tragedy, but it was also a universal human tragedy and one which we compound if we do not heed its lessons.”
Many world leaders addressed this occasion, the World Holocaust Forum, but the global media focused particularly on the remarks of the Prince of Wales, not only because of their substance and historic importance, but also because of his singular position among world leaders.
So, too, the duke and duchess of Cambridge showed the proficiency of the monarchy to focus attention on this great tragedy of our era and to warn against hatred and genocide. With the goal of keeping their memories and stories alive for future generations, the duchess released several photos she herself took of British Holocaust survivors to be part of a soon-to-be-released exhibit as part of a collaborative project to mark 75 years since the end of the Holocaust.
Owing to the duchess’ personal efforts, the resources of the Royal Photographic Society were recruited to give this effort particular status and reach.
The duchess and Prince Charles must be congratulated for their efforts on behalf of Holocaust memorialization, but, from the queen on down, the royal family has written the book on bringing attention to the most important humanitarian causes in subtle but effective, non-political ways.
The queen and the hard-working members of her family are national treasures, far more effective than mere politicians, and more deserving of respect than film stars and sports figures. It is difficult to resist comparisons with differently-motivated family members whose withdrawal from royal life is better for everyone. It is clear that notwithstanding the twists and turns of this crazy world, the British monarchy must endure. It provides even us Americans something benevolent, dignified, thoughtful and awe-inspiring.
• Lee Cohen, a fellow of the Danube Institute, was adviser on Europe to the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and founded the Congressional United Kingdom Caucus.