Better a Prince or a King?

Now that Queen Elizabeth has been buried, the British monarchy has disappeared from the headlines. It’s not surprising, given all the other urgent issues: tropical storms, Russia’s sham referenda and nuclear threats, and Liz Truss’s voodoo economics, among others. This blog isn’t about chasing the headlines, however.

Prince as Policy Entrepreneur

I just completed reading Charles’s 2010 book Harmony: A New Way of Looking at our World. It displays Charles’s diverse interests, especially intellectual and cultural history. However, I’ll focus on Charles’s views about public policy. Charles is an environmentalist, who has long been concerned about climate change. He supports systemic and holistic rather than linear thinking. He advocates farm production for local markets rather than factory farming. He is also a champion of social innovation and local initiatives.

He has been able to apply his wealth, through the Duchy of Cornwall, to assume the role of policy entrepreneur. He mentions providing funding for the Duchy of Cornwall home farm, Cumbria Mountain Lamb, the Foundation for Integrated Health, and the College of Traditional Islamic Arts and, most notably, the model town of Poundbury.

I have a great deal of sympathy for and indeed identification with Charles’s role as policy entrepreneur. I support most of his causes, especially environmentalism and climate change activism. While agriculture isn’t my area of expertise, intuitively local farming appeals more than factory farming, and my household buys local whenever possible. A major strain of my scholarship has been public sector innovation, and I recognize a kindred spirit who uses his resources to launch innovations and his influence to promote and celebrate them.

Architectural Contrarian

Where I differ with Charles is in architectural taste. Charles has long been a critic of modern architecture, not only Brutalism but also the style based on pioneers such as the Bauhaus and Frank Lloyd Wright, such as the stripping away of embellishment, and the display of components such as glass, wood, brick, and concrete. In a recent post, I discussed my enthusiasm for the Bauhaus esthetic. I even like certain brutalist works, in particularly the Humanities Wing at the University of Toronto at Scarborough, which was my workplace for 15 years. Here is the view outside my office.

In contrast, Charles has filled Poundbury with neo-Classical, mock-Georgian, and faux-Victorian architecture. It’s become his private architectural theme park. Poundbury, as well as Charles’s earlier attacks on modern architecture, have stirred up controversy, made enemies, and most importantly and regrettably distracted attention from his much more important and thoughtful advocacy of causes such as environmentalism and social innovation. This has sullied his personal brand.

My Thought Experiment

The title of my post suggests a thought experiment. If you were at heart a policy entrepreneur with vast resources and considerable influence, would you want to give it up for a prestigious role of presiding over a major institution if it precludes policy entrepreneurship? In Charles’s case, the question is irrelevant, because he was destined at birth for the role of monarch. He chose to spend his decades as monarch-in-waiting as a policy entrepreneur, which is more productive than how some of his ancestors (Edward VII, Edward VIII) spent their time.

In any event, Charles has necessarily renounced his fulfilling role as policy entrepreneur for a demanding and potentially unfulfilling role, complete with daily briefing books and long lists of appearances, as monarch.

That said, Queen Elizabeth, despite the constraints of her constitutional role, occasionally exerted influence about policy. In a recent forum at the Munk School, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney discussed The Queen’s role in building the support of Commonwealth governments for liberating Nelson Mandela. Between 18 and 20 minutes into his interview, he says

“[The Queen] called me to meetings. She didn’t say much and never got involved in policy. But you would have to be as dumb as a bag of hammers not to know what she wanted to have happen. The body language was unmistakable. She pressed all of us to liberate Nelson Mandela and she made that abundantly clear.”

It will be fascinating to see – though it may take decades for the evidence to emerge – if Charles exerts his influence just as Queen Elizabeth occasionally exerted hers.

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