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Today is a FREE taste of an Insight Politics article by writer John Black
Prince Philip and the Banality of Duty
What more exquisite torture than the life of a royal? All the skiing holidays and caviar on toast can’t surely make up for the endless rounds of ribbon cutting, the tedious official functions and having to feign interest in vacuum cleaner manufacturing or the plight of the crested grebe. Not to mention the insane levels of press attention and now the unhelpful addition of social media scrutiny. It has driven a few to some very peculiar behaviour; talking to trees, getting massages from teenage girls, marrying American actresses…
It would have been a particularly galling way of life for a man of action. In his pre-consort days the late Prince Philip was certainly that. He had a ‘real’ career in the royal navy (compared to the usual cushy royal military service) seeing action in WWII. He served in the Mediterranean theatre, fighting in the battle for Crete and the invasion of Italy. His quick thinking in launching a decoy life raft is credited as saving his entire crew from a Luftwaffe bombing run. This career continued post-war seeing him rise to the rank of commander before his wife became the Queen.
So why did he give away the excitement of navy life for tea parties and (metaphorically speaking) holding the Queen’s handbag? Love of her no doubt, but as a pragmatic man accustomed to tragedy (his mother went insane, his grandfather was assassinated and his favourite sister died in a plane crash), there is just as little doubt there was more to it. That in order for the monarchy to continue to be a successful institution for the good of Britain and the Commonwealth, the Queen must be given his unconditional support.
In other words, duty.
That this proud, masculine aristocrat had to bow to his own wife (literally) from the day of her coronation and play a relatively passive public role shows how duty can often be at odds with personal happiness. In a revealing interview given on his 90th birthday, Prince Philip admitted as much, noting his disappointment at giving up his naval career just at ‘the most interesting part of it’ but also reiterated that his ‘first duty’ was to the Queen.
His grandson and his celebrity wife take a rather different view. In their struggles with the palace their personal happiness has been paramount. In being so willing to attack the institution of monarchy as a cold, unfeeling, sexist, and racist nightmare they have shown what the opposite of duty is – an entitled selfishness.
With the prince’s passing the NZ media have once again aired his many ‘gaffes’ (more often blunt observations or quick wit) that paint him as a racist dinosaur. He certainly had racial stereotypes, typical of someone of his age and class that would shock his woke grandkids (for example, commenting to a British student studying in China ‘If you stay here much longer, you will go home with slitty eyes’). However, unlike his wayward grandson, he has done immeasurable good for young people of all races throughout the Commonwealth with his Duke of Edinburgh awards. Harry and the actress may be experts in policing their (and others’) speech for racist atrocities but old grandpa with his bad taste jokes helped actual people.
It is ironic that the British establishment, continually charged as it is with retrograde sexism, has produced such sterling examples of female power: three of the greatest British Monarchs – Victoria and the two Elizabeths – and Margaret Thatcher, the most successful conservative Prime Minister since Churchill. Both Dennis Thatcher and Prince Philip demonstrated a progressive attitude to their roles as partners to important women – namely the fine art of getting out of the bloody way. All this counts for nothing of course because people (unidentified people) were mean to Meghan.
The celebrity ex-royals and their sympathisers would like to launch a palace coup, a revolution of wokery eliminating forever inequities of race and gender (but interestingly, not class – they still want to be top of the heap). Prince Harry may realise too late that the path he has been tempted from provided him with ample opportunities to do good in the world. More so than an alliance with a flighty ‘social justice’ actress ever will.
If only Harry had submitted to duty. And it is submission. As Prince Philip said on accepting the Freedom of the City of London on behalf of “followers” like him, “Our only distinction…was that we did what we were told to do, to the very best of our ability, and kept on doing it.”
A humble and some would say banal commitment. Not a glamorous or wildly rewarded one (hence its unattractiveness to celebrities). But a conservative one. In linking all of us regardless of our station in life in a collective effort to perform our roles as parents, partners, workers and bosses as well as we can, it is the unspoken promise that allows society to function.
So do your duty.
As Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh (1921–2021) surely did his.
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