Do we still recognise moral obligations that exist prior to our having chosen them? That is, it seems to me, the question embedded within the whole Megxit scandal. It couldn’t have been better designed to drive a wedge between two very different ways of seeing the world.
“Monarchy, meet liberalism” as one perceptive Tweet described it. Liberalism repudiates all moral obligations other than the ones freely entered into by the individual. Monarchy is driven by a duty into which one is born, and has little time for Polonius’ libertarian advice to that other troubled Prince, the Prince of Denmark: “to thine own self be true”. Compare and contrast Polonius’ take on the world with what one might imagine to be that of The Crown’s version of Royal advisor Tommy Lascelles. Lascelles is the anti-Polonius. And here we have the makings of a battle royal.
But this isn’t just about monarchy. For the same tension exists within the very idea of a family — the Windsors being, as well as royal, the most famous family in the world. How does liberalism — of which Meghan Markle feels like a supreme representative — deal with that age-old sense of moral obligation towards those who have brought you into life and have raised and nurtured you, without you having chosen them for the task. Of course, some families fail in this very basic duty. And most of us parents only get it half right, at best.
Without this very basic idea that we are born into some fundamental unit of existential solidarity, something towards which we owe an allegiance long before we are able to choose it, human life is released from its moorings and we are all deeply lost. This is where liberalism flounders. For when it comes to the most important basis of human flourishing, family life, liberalism has nothing useful to say, other than to remind us that some families are destructive and dysfunctional and best escaped from. Be your own person, it advises. Break free. But this is to cut off the branch on which nests are built.
Turbo charged by the siren calls of celebrity, liberalism holds out the fantasy that you can make it on your own. You can’t. Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived in the US with $20 dollars in his pocket. He went on to be the greatest bodybuilder of all time; he defeated the Predator with his bare hands, and went back in time to save the human race, but even he refuses the idea that he did it on his own. In a brilliant little speech to an audience of graduating students he commented: “You can call me what you want, but don’t ever call me a self-made man.” Meghan and Harry could do a lot worse than reflect a little on this. Family is the basis of human flourishing, not a disposable launch pad for the project of liberal self-realisation.