But just because everyone is a hypocrite doesn’t make hypocrisy a virtue. And like many vices, hypocrisy is often expensive, which means lots of people can’t afford it. Most, for instance, don’t have the money to fly on a private jet; therefore they’re unlikely to become a climate-change activist and a frequent luxury flier (as Harry and Meghan stand accused of).
This, in essence, was Ricky Gervais’s point at the Golden Globes about hypocrisy in Hollywood. From here in London, Gervais’s monologue had a particularly British edge to it. Is any other country on Earth so obsessed with hypocrisy? Perhaps we Brits are because we know it so well: We make our money in part by accepting cash and investments from countries we regard as rogue or nasty; we profess pride in gentle manners and temperament but have been among the most violent nations in Europe; and, of course, we got rich through plunder.
Which gets us back to Harry and Meghan. What is it that they’re asking for? They have, they tell us, “chosen to make a transition,” which will see them “carve out a progressive new role” within the “institution.” Remember, that institution is monarchy: the system of inheriting authority as well as a whole range of other titles, wealth, land, and property. Harry is a duke and Meghan a duchess—not your classic progressive positions.
This, then, is perhaps the most problematic part of their plan. They want to remain in the royal family, retain the titles of the English aristocracy and the houses renovated with public funds, but step back from the duties that come attached to these privileges. Harry would not have got very far in the military asking whether he could stay but step back from his duty to serve. (Except, and this is a deeper problem, perhaps he could.)
To be fair to them, Harry and Meghan have seen the potential problem with their plan and declared their intention to “become financially independent.” But can they do this without trading off the institution they hope to step back from? Their opening move in this direction doesn’t suggest so. As my colleague Helen Lewis points out, the domain name of their new website is SussexRoyal.com.
Another problem the pair appear not to understand is their desire to be progressive—but seemingly without the controversy and criticism that comes from taking a stance on issues of public debate. At heart, it’s unclear whether Harry and Meghan realize being progressive is not an apolitical act. Climate change is not apolitical. Even mental health is not apolitical. These issues, which the couple have voiced their opinion on, come with real, important, and political questions attached. On climate, it’s one thing to say it’s important, another to say what should be done about it. Who should bear the costs of tackling it, for instance? Mental health also comes with big, unanswered, and deeply political questions: Who should pay for treatment? Should it receive parity of funding with physical health? None of these questions have universally agreed-on answers—they are political.