I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Royal Wedding yesterday; the pageantry and the gossip and the music, as well as the happiness of the couple at the centre of it, and - most of all - the feeling of participating in a national and communal celebration. As is often the case on big days like this, the best commentary came from abroad, in particular Sarah Lyall's report for the New York Times, admiring and amused. Overall, she writes, the day "proved that the British still know how to combine pageantry, solemnity and romance (and wild hats) better than anyone else in the world." And she is good on those hats:
The outfits of the guests were generally tasteful and royal-friendly. A few things stuck out. The exotic costumes of foreign dignitaries, seeming throwbacks to imperial times. The hats worn by the ladies, which resembled, variously, overturned buckets, flowerpots, lampshades, fezzes, salad plates, tea cozies, flying saucers, abstract artworks or, in one case, a pile of feathers. There were also a number of fascinators, decorative shapes with flowers or feathers, that are stuck in one’s hair but are not hats.
Our own Norm also enjoyed it, even though he is a republican and believes our monarchy should be abolished. He has written an excellent defence of his unexpected enjoyment of the day, partly in reaction to some of its churlish critics. He points us to this line from the Guardian editorial today:
An undeniably affecting wedding between two people who seem nicely primed for their shared future – though who can really say, after last time?
Wow. Let's leave aside the wince-inducing lameness of "nicely primed for their shared future" and linger for a moment on that question, which one can imagine being delivered in an indiscreet whisper by a sour aunt on her fifth gin and tonic, as the dessert is being served. Who can really say, after last time? Well, dear, nobody can really say. But, first, that's true of all marriages, every one being a gamble of some sort; second, its future success or otherwise has very little to do with what happened to the groom's parents' marriage (unless you want to indulge in facile psychologising and I'd really rather you didn't); third, this couple have known each other far longer than the participants in the marriage being referred to; fourth, it's their wedding day, shut up already.
Jonathan Freedland, of the same paper, does much better, as you would expect, even though he too is a republican (and the headline of his piece is a thudding statement of the bleeding obvious). Well, I say he's a republican because twelve years ago he wrote an (excellent) anti-monarchy polemic entitled Bring Home The Revolution. But today, he is surprisingly and touchingly warm about the wedding and its meaning. He concludes with a critique, not of the monarchy, but of republicanism:
Republicans in Britain have long made their case in the language of political institutions, explaining why an elected head of state would be a better system. They've couched the argument as if abolishing the monarchy were like a move to AV. It's nothing of the sort. What we saw yesterday is proof that a shift away from royalty would require an entirely new form of British patriotism – for the two are utterly bound together, hand in hand, like a prince and his bride at a gorgeous wedding.
I think this is spot on. With his closing image, I think Freedland tacitly concedes to having shifted position - after all, who in their right minds would want to wrench apart two such harmonious partners? I'm not sure whether he still thinks creating "an entirely new form of British patriotism" is desirable or feasible, but it's clearly neither. I think we can feel pretty good about the patriotism we have arrived at, which is more open, generous and gentle than many.
I can see the logic of the republican position. There's certainly much that is absurd about having a monarchy. We didn't ask for it any more than we asked to be born into our own families. But imagine being given the chance to conjure up your perfect mother and father and siblings. You'd soon end up thinking, I rather like the ones I've got thanks, despite (or because of) their imperfections.
Politics, particularly the question of national identity, is about much more than logic. A nation is a compound of legal contracts, political institutions, and a big dollop of sentiment and romance; the stuff that defies rationality; the stuff you feel in your bones and in your heart. For the British, yesterday was a great day to be infused with that feeling.
UPDATE: Jonathan Freedland has taken to the Twitter to reassure the faint-hearted that he is still a republican. Hmm. He says that. But is he feeling it?
UPDATE ii: Anthony makes an excellent comment in the, er, comments.