Charles’s Traditionalism – Commonweal

Prince Charles was more than a passive recipient of these ideas. He modified them by, for example, tackling head-on Traditionalists’ insistence that modernity is purely bad. This is clearly not the case, and Prince Charles admitted as much, accepting that modern life is easier and more comfortable than medieval life. Prince Charles also differed from most other Traditionalists in that he did not just write about Traditionalist ideas, but also held the power to implement some of them. In addition to his architectural interventions and Duchy Organic foods, he has supported Raine’s Temenos Academy, and an academy founded by Critchlow for teaching traditional art, The Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts. And then there is Poundbury, a “traditional” town started by the prince in 1993 and due for completion in 2025 with an expected population of 5,800 people. Absolutely no carbuncles, and respect for sacred geometry. Again, many have ridiculed the project, but time seems to be proving the prince right.

Yet there is a dark side to Traditionalism. As well as inspiring both Nasr’s support of the Shah and some young Iranians’ turn to Islam, Traditionalism’s critique of modernity has inspired political actors from Julius Evola and Aleksander Dugin to Steve Bannon. Bannon’s role in securing the election of President Trump is well known, while Dugin’s role in inspiring the Russian invasion of Ukraine is contested. Evola is less well known today than either Bannon or Dugin, but was very well known in Italy in the 1970s, when his followers took direct action against modernity and its illusions by planting bombs that killed and injured many people. There are no signs that King Charles follows this stream of political thought, and he may not even be aware of it. But Traditionalism is not just about organic agriculture, the extraordinarily spiritual compositions of Tavener, and the Sufi spirituality of Guénon, Lings, and Nasr. It also sees liberal democracy as a modern aberration and regrets the loss of a hierarchy in which traditional sacred authority derived from a priestly caste, from which it passed to a warrior ruling caste, and only from there to the bourgeoisie and the people. This analysis can be questioned on historical grounds, but it fits neatly with the Traditionalist world view.

It is hard to predict the extent to which King Charles will continue to promote Traditionalist thought, projects, and perspectives. In his first major speech to the British nation after the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth II, he said that because of his new duties, he would have to spend less time on some of the causes he had supported in the past. Some read this as a sign he would follow the example set by the previous monarch, who, throughout her reign, never said anything even mildly interesting in public. This approach worked well, helping her navigate the massive social and political changes that took place during her long reign, which started in the last days of British imperial power and pomp, and ended with Brexit and Boris Johnson.

After succeeding to the throne, King Charles has indeed said very little that could be construed as controversial, beyond the “Dear, oh dear,” with which he on one occasion greeted Prime Minister Liz Truss. But that greeting was not intended to be audible to the media, let alone recorded, and it was not really that controversial, since Truss’s difficulties were by then very clear to all. She resigned twelve days later.

A British king has many ways of affecting events, mostly not public. While the king’s constitutional powers are so limited that they have been almost entirely eliminated, few will turn down an invitation to tea with him, and few will completely ignore what he then says. The king may not have any of the power that Guénon associated with the warrior caste, but he retains another sort of authority. Even if he is not a priest, there is still something sacred about his position.

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