After the longest apprenticeship ever, a 74 year old eccentric will be crowned King of the United Kingdom on May 6. Charles will be anointed with holy oil made to a secret formula by the Archbishop. He will also receive various symbols, such as an orb and an scepter, from him. The Archbishop of Canterbury will place a heavy crown made from gold on the head of Charles. It is so heavy that it can be worn only briefly.
Camilla will be anointed, crowned and decorated in the same manner as the Queen-Consort.
The unction or anointing of holy oil, which is the heart of the ceremony, will be done behind a golden fabric. The rest of the ceremony will be broadcast live to the world and the nation. Charles and Camilla are expected to arrive at Westminster Abbey in a grand procession.
Six thousand soldiers will guard them. The new monarch will be crowned in street celebrations across the nation. Some old people will recall the 1953 coronation of Elizabeth II.
What is going on?
The obvious interpretation, that Britain is creating another king, is constitutional nonsense. Charles III became the Prince of Wales when Queen Elizabeth died. The Queen has died, but the King will live on. Edward VIII was never crowned because he gave the throne to the divorcee that he loved, before the coronation could happen.
In the past, the ceremony served to establish the monarchy and marginalize rival claimants. A failed succession can plunge the country into civil conflict. There do not appear to be any rivals who are eager to take the Windsors' job.
The coronation can be interpreted as a distraction to our everyday problems. Many leftwingers believe that the monarchy legitimizes unjust societies by turning it into a costume play and diverting attention from the ruthless power exercised behind the theatrics.
The people of today are well aware that politicians and giant corporations do the real work in government, not kings or dukes. The king is treated with respect, but they temper it with a sarcastic cynicism regarding the behavior of certain members of his family and his own behavior.
The concept of "social solidarity" is more plausible. This concept is based on two things: acceptance of moral standards and affirmation of bonds that bind people together in a community.
The coronation ceremony is the epitome of Durkheimian ceremonies. The king accepts to follow the four canons that make up a good society: mercy, charity, and justice. The British people also reaffirm social bonds by not only participating as spectators in the ceremony but by organizing all kinds of celebrations.
The bunting is a great way to decorate the town. Communities host tea parties. The elderly are not left in the dark. Durkheim said that the broader society commits itself to its collective higher ideals.
The coronation, with all of its accompanying flummery, is less a national celebration than a communion.
Today, affirming social solidarity has become much more difficult than in 1953. King Charles' strategy is to both broaden and shrink the monarchy. Charles has taken up causes like corporate social responsibility and environmentalism. The invitations for the ceremony are made from recycled paper and feature the Green Man surrounded by hawthorn, oak and ivy leaves. This figure is a symbol of spring, new life and renewal in ancient folklore. The Palace makes a point of pointing out that the secret anointing oils do not contain ingredients that harm animals. Katy Perry will be performing on May 8, along with Take That and Lionel Richie. This is a far cry away from Handel’s ‘Zadok The Priest.
The ceremony highlights King Charles' commitment in slimming down his monarchy and excluding excrescences like Andrew, Duke of York. The ceremony is shorter and has fewer people in attendance than his mother’s three-hour marathon. The modernizing King will be carried in an 'air-conditioned horse drawn carriage with air conditioning and electric windows' to the ceremony.
Charles' ability to save the monarchy against the erosion of the time is still in question. After the overwhelming support for the Queen's death on September 8, the percentage of people who support the institution has once again begun to decline. Britain today, perhaps more than ever before, needs a force to reaffirm the social bonds.
Particularly among the poorer Britons, the institution of family is weaker than it was in the past. The level of civil engagement is declining. Social media is a contradiction: By searching for friends on social media, users become alienated from the immediate environment and are isolated within narrow pseudo-communities. The incidence of mental illness amongst young people has reached alarming levels.
Charles III could be the man for the job at this time. Charles III recognized at an early age the need for the monarchy to accept multiculturalism and "political correctness" if they were to survive. This instinct is crucial.
Today, the monarchy has a very important role to play. It is not only to represent tradition in an ever-changing world but also to be a force of cohesion for a society that suffers from atomization and anomie.
Adrian Wooldridge writes the global business columns for Bloomberg Opinion.