Netflix’s “The Crown” enchants from its opening. This show, which portrays Queen Elizabeth II’s rise to the throne, makes the monarchy seem distinguished. It feels important and old. The order, the discipline, and even the religious rhetoric in the show about “God” and “duty” are satisfying in a way that recent American politics have not been.
Against that backdrop, one of the show’s main characters makes an undeniable case for Americanism. That character is Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
This everyman’s dignitary reveals monarchy’s inherent pretension. He reminds us that the American system is remarkable because American leaders need not be. In this series, Prince Philip reveals in blunt fashion that equality and self-reliance are not championed in most of the world’s ruling roles. These virtues are, however, the lifeblood of American leadership, which “The Crown” prompts us to embrace.
Americans Bow to No One
The first of these, equality, is the most apparent theme in the show. Prince Philip is not praised for his egalitarian approach to his office. He is berated. In the fifth episode of “The Crown’s” first season, Queen Elizabeth reproaches Prince Philip for his effort to include working Brits into the coronation ceremony and televise the event.
“The people look to the monarchy for something bigger than themselves, an inspiration, a higher ideal,” says the queen.
“You want a big overblown ceremony costing a fortune while the rest of the country is on rations, have it,” he replies.
This scene embodies a huge and significant difference between English and American approaches to authority. In America, nobody knows which of all newborns might lead the free world. Nobody knows what product of alcoholism or divorce will become The Great Communicator or The Sphinx of the Potomac. The president is not someone before whom Americans are expected to curtsey. The president bears our criticism, demand, and scrutiny as a neighbor and equal. This is how our executive branch earns its nobility.
The American people do not live under God’s anointed leader. We live under God and appoint a leader. This is a fundamental difference between America and many other accomplished civilizations. Philip makes this obvious when he ruffles the feathers of royalty by suggesting the monarchy should stoop to stand among the people.
Americans Value a Gutsy, Independent Leader
The real Prince Philip is reportedly every bit as independent as television’s portrayal. For example, according to Philip Eade of The Telegraph, the prince “broke new ground by carrying his own luggage and refusing to ring a bell to order food.” Also, in “The Crown,” he pushes for the freedom to take flight training. In another example, Olivia Goldhill of The Telegraph once wrote about a virile exchange between the prince and a Portuguese bowling club president:
After a banquet in Brazil, the president of the national bowling club made a short speech in Portuguese. Realising that Prince Philip did not understand it, he made an effort to summon up his entire English vocabulary when presenting the emblem of the club to the prince and said: ‘Balls, you know.’ The Prince graciously replied: ‘And balls to you, sir.’
To most people, this behavior isn’t groundbreaking at all. It’s daily life. Many of the world’s governments discourage this kind of spunk in their leaders. However, grit’s undomesticated stench is largely a trademark of American leadership. The sixth president, John Quincy Adams, swam naked for an hour daily, even as a 58-year-old. Theodore Roosevelt was shot before a rally speech and subsequently spoke for 90 minutes, untreated, with the bullet lodged in his ribs. Ronald Reagan used time away from the presidency to do hard labor at his ranch.
And that’s just the men. First Lady Abigail Adams melted metal to make bullets in the Revolutionary War. The list goes on.
The American government is most vibrant when its culture values strength, in various mediums. Prince Philip reminds us that America is beautiful because she rewards, not cages, those with a little resolve.
Despite Our Individuality, We Are One
But in light of these things, “The Crown” still offers Americans an important warning. Tradition matters. People universally seek to belong to something greater than themselves. British royalty is attractive because it exists in a world where mediocrity is banned and eternal values are not antiquated but vital.
Humans need and feed on the transcendent. A secular society is not free from spiritual needs. The American society is now faced with a great spiritual need. We have been divided into castes of victimhood. We need a reason to belong together.
But we are not without. The answer to the American spiritual need must be the American spirit. We shouldn’t look outward for monarch and demagogues for fulfillment. We should look inward at the unique beauty of American tradition in all its humility and guts.
We must cling to and care for our liberties, even the smallest of them, until one day we can reflect on the splendid robustness of a free life—something formerly and affectionately known as the American Dream. This country is not a perfect nation. But she is a great one. The ideas on which she was founded and her people who defend them make her so.
The grandeur of “The Crown” is extraordinary, both the Netflix series and the institution it presents. The real monarchy will always be a symbol of poise and grace. Yet it will also always fall short of the simple sophistication of the American heart.
So thank you, Prince Philip for this inspiration. Your chutzpah has not been for naught.