Modernity is supposed to sprinkle gold dust on whatever it touches. More often than not, however, it slaps on grime – and then swings a wrecking ball.
Certain material, transient things can indeed be modernised to great effect. For example, I have many reasons to be thankful for modern drugs. This, in the knowledge that generations to come will view today’s medicines as we view the ubiquitous panacea of blood-letting.
That’s how the world of things is: in with the new, out with the old. Joseph Schumpeter described that process as ‘creative destruction’, and much of modernisation fits that term.
However, when we leave the world of the transient for that of the transcendent, modernising destruction stops being creative and becomes very destructive indeed.
Painters can’t heed the call of modernity and paint over Mona Lisa’s vestments to dress her in Gap casuals or, if the spirit moves them, nothing at all. Stage directors can’t modernise Shakespeare’s language. Composers of liturgical music can’t give the Jesus part to a soprano.
Or perhaps ‘can’t’ is a wrong word – what I really mean is ‘shouldn’t’. For they very much can: sacrilege and vandalism have become artistic stock in trade, with invariably devastating results.
Still, I have it on good authority that those who detest such outrages have the option of boycotting exhibitions of vandalising art, performances of vandalising productions or churches featuring vandalising music.
However, none of us has the option of boycotting our country. There’s the rub: while the original Mona Lisa still hangs in the Louvre, the original Shakespeare texts adorn most bookshops, and some churches still play real music, vandalising a country’s institutions destroys the original – totally and irretrievably.
Look, for example, at the triad of British patriotism: God, king and country. Paraphrasing it as the church, monarchy and other ethos-forming institutions, we’ll find that they are all like poppies – to be enjoyed only as they are. Trying to modernise such institutions will eventually destroy them. They’ll wilt, like a poppy picked out of the field.
If our aspiring modernisers don’t realise this, they are stupid. If they do and still persist, they are evil. Some combination of the two is possible; in fact, most committed modernisers are so stupid that they become evil, if only unwittingly.
This leaves us to decide which category Harry and Meghan belong to, for they have explicitly stated their desire to modernise the monarchy. I for one find such intentions breathtakingly refreshing.
There we have a young couple of very modest, well-nigh non-existent, intellect and, certainly in Meghan’s case, the moral sense of an alley cat. Both of them are ignorant in general and of the essence of British statehood in particular, Meghan totally, Harry largely.
Yet they dare declare that they have the wherewithal to improve this ancient institution by modernising it. Neither of them has the mind to foresee the possible ramifications.
When another modernising vulgarian, Tony Blair, tried to modernise the constitution by eliminating the post of Lord Chancellor, he found out the sheer impossibility of that task: it was like chopping off one leg of a three-legged stool.
But the office of Lord Chancellor is secondary, not primary. It derives from an intricate constitutional settlement based on the monarch. Now imagine what would happen to the whole settlement if ham-fisted modernisers start taking swings at the monarchy. I’d rather not.
The House of Lords has already been vandalised and vulgarised beyond recognition, which deals a blow to the constitution. Now a candidate for Labour leadership, and therefore our potential PM, states her intention to get rid of the Lords altogether – all in the name of modernisation, no doubt. Given the chance, she will.
The church should be another modernisation-free zone. Like the monarchy, it’s either a traditional, conservative institution or it’s nothing. And nothing is what the Church of England is rapidly becoming under the tutelage of its modernising hierarchy.
Female bishops and priests at the altar, pop music blaring in the choir, liturgy conducted in street talk, homosexual unions blessed – all that was supposed to fill the Anglican churches. Instead it’s emptying them.
Both the monarchy and the established church are headed by the Queen, and one wonders if they’ll survive her. The Prince of Wales has already stated his intention to become defender of faith rather than the faith, which is a deplorable bow to the vulgarity of multi-culti modernity.
But at least Charles was brought up as heir to the throne, which makes it remotely possible that he is aware of both the significance of the monarchy and its growing fragility. One shudders to think what those inane Sussexes will do the monarchy with their modernising appetites.
They should be treated the way the Duke of Windsor was: not just deprived of royal privileges, titles and income, but thrown out of the country and only allowed to come back on special occasions.
But that isn’t going to happen, is it? Modernising modernity is a juggernaut that keeps rolling on.