Soon, perhaps sooner than you think, Britain will have a change in monarch. That much is simple biology. What will follow, though, is far from scientific. Elizabeth II, who has sat on the throne for over sixty years, will die, and arcane rules will determine that her son, Prince Charles, will succeed her and become king. Aside from complaints about the anachronistic, hereditary manner in which royal power is passed on, there are many reasons to be unhappy about King Charles III’s ascension to the throne.
The first and most obvious of these objections is Charles’s own nature. Unlike his mother, he is not a traditionalist. Simply existing in silence and ceremony is not his style. Charles has promoted the impression that he will be an interventionist, keenly involving himself in the affairs of the elected government of the nation he will rule. To some extent, he has already done this, and in no small way. And his intervention has hardly been benign. Anyone invested with a great deal of political status by an accident of birth is vulnerable to conceit and self-importance, and Charles exhibits these far-from-desirable traits in abundance. Some of his enthusiasms make for unhappy reading.
He writes a lot of letters. Some of them (popularly dubbed “black spider memos” due to the shape of the prince’s scrawled handwriting) were sent to ministers of state throughout the terms of several governments and address relatively minor things. In 1969, Charles apparently sent a note to Harold Macmillan, then prime minister, about his concerns regarding Atlantic salmon.
While other examples of his letter-writing are less absurd and parochial, some are worrisome. Charles and Secretary for Health Jeremy Hunt, no less, have a shared interest in the pseudoscientific promotion of homeopathy. The prince once went on the record to suggest that horticulturalists ought to speak encouragingly to plants in order to ensure their growth.
It must be noted that while amusing snippets have occasionally been leaked to the press, and two tranches were released this year to satisfy the legal victory of a national newspaper, many of the letters themselves remain embargoed; the government has fought a gargantuan legal battle in the Supreme Court to keep them private. This action goes beyond simply interfering; it is entirely illiberal in essence. Information, as the cliché has it, is power, and it seems as if the prince and successive governments are attempting to limit adverse attention and therefore stifle legitimate criticism.
At this point, a North American reader might be tempted to lose interest in the subject. Sure, Charles may be eccentric, meddling, and even downright damaging in his behavior at times, but his direct influence, it appears, only extends over one or two countries.
If only that were true. The reality is that Charles exerts a worrying degree of interest and involvement over matters of international importance. He has been a vocal critic of legitimate scientific inquiry, especially avenues that contradict or come into conflict with his pet projects. Edzard Ernst, a leading authority on the study of so-called “alternative” medicine and a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, has alleged that he was forced out of his research post at Exeter University after an investigation instigated by the prince’s private secretary. Ernst had criticized the practices of nonscientific therapists, including some who employed methods or substances that Charles had endorsed. That was that; Ernst was compelled to leave his position at the head of a unique and vital research unit. The output of the operation then dwindled. Such events have international repercussions.
Another royal brainwave that could cause turmoil worldwide is Charles’s loathing for genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which he dismissed in a 2010 speech as an “absolute disaster.” This is the sort of discussion that should be left to those who have insight into the matters at hand; even leaving that aside, Charles’s opinions could cause a disaster of their own. Many scientists see the further development of GMOs as one of the few ways in which we can continue to feed an ever-expanding human population. Were Charles on the throne when he expressed those views, I doubt it would have been easy for research scientists—many of whom are subsidized directly or indirectly by the state—to simply shrug them off and get on with their vital work.
Prince Charles is dangerously antiscientific in public on a disturbingly regular basis. In a speech delivered in 2004, Charles mentioned that someone he knew had survived cancer by adhering to a particular diet. This regimen involved daily coffee enemas. Needless to say, this was not a rigorous or scientifically tested hypothesis, and it did not actually cure cancer. But still the prince had said it; he still broadcast his ill-informed opinions to the masses. This was worse than his being simply ignorant or stupid, unfortunate though both those situations are. This was actively harmful.
Professor Michael Baum, a cancer surgeon of some repute, responded to this quackery in a fashion that merits quoting at length. He wrote: “The power of my authority comes with knowledge built on 40 years of study and 25 years of active involvement in cancer research. Your power and authority rest on an accident of birth. I don’t begrudge you that authority but I do beg you to exercise your power with extreme caution when advising patients with life-threatening diseases to embrace unproven therapies.”
Those words speak for themselves, but they also require a brief postscript. As soon as this fair and measured rebuke was delivered, Charles’s press people leapt into action, defending him from any and all criticism. They also connived to further attempt to promote his insidious agenda. Rather than undermining science, they simpered, Charles was “simply reflecting the wishes of 80 percent of cancer patients who wish to use alternative treatments alongside conventional treatments.” When a hereditary princeling is defended from the full force of scientific fact by a gaggle of sycophantic advisors, I don’t think much must be done to demonstrate the absurdity of the situation. But it is more than absurd; it is also profoundly immoral.
On the subject of morality, Charles has some odd ideas encompassing that area, too. For him, science itself, and the pursuit of scientific inquiry, have created a “moral and spiritual vacuum” in Europe. Other royal views can be simply ignored. This one cannot, not least because it comes from the same basic impulse that motivates those who say that Europe and North America need a new, stronger Christian direction—or indeed those who wish to turn the secular and decadent West into an outpost of the resurgent caliphate. It is the same notion, the same idea, and it must be combated and denounced for the thing it is: sinister nonsense.
Royalist elements within the British media—and there are many—say with a knowing wink that the heir to the throne has “influence” with his oil-rich counterparts in the Gulf. What form this influence takes is never stated. Whether Charles should be associating with the widespread exporters of jihad at all is never questioned. Instead, it is suggested that this influence might be useful in intervening in high-profile human rights cases, such as that of the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, who has been convicted of blasphemy and flogged by the Saudi kleptocracy.
Moral issues aside—and there are many, not least concerning the use of Prince Charles as an unofficial arms envoy, charged with selling as many instruments of death as he can to some of the most repressive regimes in the world—there is also a question to be asked about de facto endorsement. Prince Charles may well bring up the fate of poor Badawi when he next sits down for dinner w
ith the king of Saudi Arabia, but will he have time both to make that case and to remonstrate about the treatment of women in the desert kingdom? I doubt it. In dealing with some of the nastiest regimes in the world, and especially when sharing their dinner tables, one cannot hope to remain entirely spotless in the light of day.
Prince Charles has occupied his extended period in the anteroom of monarchy with commissions of prying and scheming on every level. This trait, one which appears to be a permanent feature of the prince’s character, cannot be expected to evaporate upon his inevitable accession to the throne. He will not simply then engage in proper behavior, especially having transgressed on constitutional convention so readily in the past. And his interventions matter, not just for British and Commonwealth subjects, but for the whole world. To have at the top diplomatic tables a man who endorses pseudoscience and encourages chatting to houseplants, who bullies scientists out of research positions, and who has a far-too cozy a relationship with Gulf-state royalty is simply more than I—and I hope many others—can bear.