I have no idea what was in Prince Harry’s leaving report from Eton College. But it would have required a teacher with an almost superhuman degree of foresight to have predicted that by his thirties the Prince would be spouting a range of social justice theories derived from West Coast liberal American universities. Here we are, in 2020, with Harry of Wales, grandson of Elizabeth II and sixth in line to the British throne, choosing to do just that.
Occasionally people will suggest that those of us concerned about the dogmas of our age are tilting at windmills. “Intersectionality”, they say, is something that is only really understood and talked about on a few American university campuses. The “critical race theorists” do not dominate anything much beyond the unreadable journals that they like to play with — and advocates of the “privilege” hierarchy as the best tool to understand human existence have not caught on much beyond their rarefied university circles. There are any number of reproaches to such a complacent viewpont, but it is certainly an illustration of how far beyond rarefied circles these ideas have actually reached that they have penetrated even the head of Prince Harry.
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It is no special slur against the second son of the Prince of Wales to point out that nobody would have placed him as a theorist of any kind until this recent stage in his life. A year ago, I noted the oddity of the Queen’s grandson lecturing people about racism through the medium of Vogue magazine. After all, why should critical race theory be of any interest to readers of the fashion magazine, other than the fact that Vogue — like GQ and a number of similarly vapid-turned-woke magazines — has fallen for the same cultural moment that has so swept through the mind of Prince Harry.
In Vogue a year ago, the Prince could be found saying that unconscious bias was “Something which so many people don’t understand. If you go up to someone and say ‘what you’ve just said, or the way that you’ve behaved, is racist’ — they’ll turn around and say, ‘I’m not a racist’. I’m not saying that you’re a racist. I’m just saying that your unconscious bias is proving that, because of the way that you’ve been brought up, the environment you’ve been brought up in, suggests that you have this point of view — unconscious point of view — where naturally you will look at someone in a different way.”
Yet, as I pointed out back then, a giant train-wreck was awaiting Prince Harry and his Duchess, because at some point the Sussexes would have to contend with the question of privilege, a central plank of social justice theory in which everyone is expected to acknowledge their advantages, be it of race, sexuality, gender or upbringing (generally in that order).
It is possible that when he set off along the path, Prince Harry did not realise that this demand to “check his privilege” awaited him, and that it would be hard for him to play this particular game, considering his grandmother is the Queen of England.
But in his latest media announcement it appears that he has found what he and his spouse may imagine to be a way around the problem — to portray the Prince not as a victim of privilege but as a victim of oppression.
In their newly released video the influencer couple sit on a bench in the garden of one of their homes and deliver a not-remotely-subtle call to the US electorate to vote for Joe Biden as their next president. In response Donald Trump, asked about the video the following day, admitted that he was not a fan of the Duchess and wished Harry a lot of luck “because he’s going to need it”.
One might question whether it’s appropriate for a British prince to advise Americans on who to vote for, and whether it’s any of his business; after all, the British royal family has not played a huge part in US politics since Harry’s illustrious ancestor George III and his rather ill-fated intervention. Indeed British interference in American politics has a somewhat mixed record, the Guardian’s Clark County fiasco of 2000 famously backfiring.
The video was not explicit in endorsing a candidate but neither was it especially cryptic. In the interview, the Duchess made the striking and original observation that the forthcoming election might be the most important election of our lifetimes, and that it was therefore crucial that everybody used their right to vote.
But the couple also talked about the need to “reject hate speech”, and in every way making it clear that the unspoken conclusion of their observations was at no stage likely to be: “And that is why we are asking you to give President Trump four more years.”
It was in this moment that the Duchess and her scriptwriters gave Harry the line that would surely win over any members of the US electorate unsure as to whether they want to receive voting advice from British royalty. For Harry pointed out that, sadly, he was not able to vote in the forthcoming election, going on to explain that “many of you may not know that I haven’t been able to vote in the UK my entire life”.
It is indeed unlikely that many American citizens are aware of the tradition that requires members of the British Royal Family to refrain from voting in elections. But whether or not others were aware of the precise voting arrangements of relatively minor members of the Royal Family, in his statement there was an undisguised attempt to gain pity — that pity and identification as an underdog that is so crucial if you are to survive in the social justice hierarchy.
If the American public (and the anti-Trump American public in particular) thought they had been disenfranchised over the last four years, imagine if they had been in the slippers of Harry of Wales, had walked his shoes for a mile? He has been disenfranchised his entire life, all of it spent in a deeply personal form of apartheid.
The entire British state had conspired to ensure that Harry — for no reason at all, other than by dint of being a Prince — had never enjoyed the right of the common man to vote for David Cameron or Ed Miliband. I imagine that many Americans watching this message were not just surprised but horrified to discover this fresh human rights abuse — perhaps a newly freed-up Amal Clooney should investigate the case?
It is a small detail, but a telling one. Since they have decided to give up the life of duty that being working members of the Royal Family entails, and swapped this for a life as celebrities and influencers with a social justice agenda, the Sussexes are now in the process of having to square an impossible circle.
The Duchess clearly feels that the couple have something special that they can give to the world, that through their “fresh content” and sub-Obama style urgings they will be able to do some good as well as make some cash.
But here lies a problem, in that the Sussexes are a highly atypical couple — they do not have an origin story of struggle. The pair cannot claim that they are just like everybody else. They have great wealth and some beauty, and while one of them — helped in no small part by those looks — can claim to have made her own way, the person who sent the couple into orbit was born into the most privileged family on the planet. People like, and are interested in, the Royal Family not because they have struggled like them, but because they see them as different, elevated, dedicated to a life of service for an older way of life.
Cut loose, Harry and Meghan now have to present themselves as somehow similar to everybody else — more relatable, more normal. Because that is a hard thing to do, and obviously disingenuous, so they must talk up any and all “struggles” that they have gone through, such as the barbaric refusal to allow Harry the franchise, in order to more greatly resemble the public they would so like to influence. This may work — but I very much doubt it.
Social justice theory, critical race theory and all the other theories of power and privilege are highly unforgiving doctrines, and try as they might the Sussexes will not be able to reconcile the contradiction between their own lives and the ideology they have chosen. They are playing a game they cannot possibly win. We may pity the Sussexes — but not for the reasons that they imagine we should.