The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, September 25, 2023

It’s Monday, September 25, 2023.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

King Charles III Makes First Official Visit to France: Why Do We Care About a Monarch in the Twenty First Century?

Britain’s King Charles the Third made his first state visit in recent days, and that visit was to the nation of France. And in the aftermath of the state visit by King Charles and Queen Camilla, both on the British side and the French side of the English Channel, there’s a sense that the state visit was a huge success. Now, Americans find this kind of thing occasionally interesting, but as I’m speaking to you from London, I want to point to some of the deeper implications of what’s going on here. Now, for the one thing you have the fact that Britain has a king. I mean, that’s an obvious distinction when you compare Britain with the United States of America.

In the United States, we have no king. We have no hereditary monarchy. We are very proud of the fact that in our constitutional system of government, we have three different branches of that government, the legislative, the judicial, and the executive. At the top of the executive branch is the President of the United States, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces, and he’s the chief executive of the nation. He is not a king. If we have or when we have a woman as President, she will not be a queen. But there’s something also interesting, and that is that the American President is both head of government and head of state. When you look at Britain’s King Charles the Third, who recently celebrated or observed his first year on the throne, he ascended to the throne, of course, upon the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth the Second, who was the longest reigning monarch in British history.

King Charles is the head of state. He is profoundly not the head of government. In Britain, the head of government is the Prime Minister, the King’s first Minister, and the Prime Minister is Rishi Sunak. He’s, of course, also the leader of the Conservative majority in the House of Commons. So the Prime Minister is the head of government, but is not the head of state. The King, the monarch, is the head of state, but is not the head of government. You say, “Well, what is the advantage of that?” Well, for one thing, King Charles and Queen Camilla could go to Paris, they could conduct all of the events and all the celebrity and all the ceremony, the pomp and circumstance that comes with an official state visit, and by the way, a state visit is never more a state visit than when you have a monarch present. But even as you had this taking place in France, it’s also a reminder of the fact that King Charles was there as head of state, but not as head of government, and so there were no specific government policies that were at stake.

What’s the advantage of that? We’ll just consider this. In the United States of America, we’ve had two Presidents in the last several years. You had Donald Trump, the Republican President who served having been elected in 2016. Then you have right now President Joe Biden, the Democrat elected in 2020. America’s pretty much divided over whether or not they like President Trump or President Biden. The liability for the United States is that we have no separation between the head of state and the head of government and so the elected President serving as both shows up, like him or not and like his policies or not, as the head of state and head of government. Now, that does reduce a lot of ceremony and, furthermore, it was a principial issue for the American founders, who, after all, declared independence from the British Crown.

But as a historical footnote, we need to remember that’s not how they started out. The American revolutionaries or, before them, the colonists who were making their pleas to Britain, had actually cried out to Britain’s King George the Third for rescue from Parliament. And so the Americans, at that time they weren’t known as Americans, they would become known as Americans later, the colonists, even as they had rightful charges against the British Parliament, they made their appeal to the King as his subjects. The theological, biblical, and political rationale for the American Revolution largely came down to the fact that the British King did not recognize his American subjects as worthy of his attention in the way that they demanded, and I think quite righteously demanded. And so the colonists in the United States, in the New World, came to the conclusion that the monarch in London was not their king because he was not recognizing them as his rightful subjects with the rights of the subjects to make an appeal to the British King.

And so it wasn’t just that Americans decided, “We want our independence.” That wasn’t even how the original sense of trying to adjudicate between the colonies and the British Crown went. But it did go there and once it went there, Americans were pretty much sure they were done with having a king. The problem for the Americans was that, even as they won the revolution, it became very clear the articles of Confederation and the original government for the new nation were quite inadequate to the task. And so, even as the Americans tried to put together a new order of things, a new order of the ages, even it shows up on our currency, the Americans decided, “Okay, we are not going to have a hereditary monarch. We’re not going to have a despot. We’re not going to have an autocrat. But we do need a head of state.”

One of the most interesting aspects of American history is the fact that Americans have such a sure and powerful sense of being a nation among the other nations of the world. When George Washington, not by coincidence, our first President and chief executive, when he was helping to lay out the plans for the city that would later be named for him as Washington, D.C., the new nation’s capital, he informed the planner architect Pierre L’Enfant that what he wanted was a city that would intimidate European visitors. In other words, he wanted the new city, later named for him as Washington, D.C., to be marked by architecture that would make the Europeans jealous in order to establish America’s place among the nations, and quite quickly. But there is no palace in Washington, D.C. There is a White House and it’s called the White House, officially called at times the Executive Mansion because it is the home of the nation’s chief executive.

But he doesn’t get to live there for life. He’s not reigning for an undefined term. He’s elected to office every four years and, as set as precedent by George Washington, later set by Constitutional amendment after the four elections won by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the midpoint of the 20th Century, the American President can serve only eight years in office, or that is to say two elected terms of four years apiece. And so the American President was not going to be a monarch, but at the same time the Americans understood that a nation needed a statesman and a figure as the head of state. And so what’s interesting is that the American President has picked up much of the ceremony of a hereditary monarch. It’s an elected monarch in this case who isn’t actually a monarch at all. He is head of state, but is also head of government.

And so the complication for the Americans is every time the President shows up, all his politics show up with him and that leads to a certain tension sometimes in the United States that the Brits avoid by separating the head of state and the head of government. But it also in the American system avoids an awful lot of awkwardness because, at times, let’s be clear, the hereditary monarch has not been all that admirable a figure, and, thus, as head of state has not always commanded the automatic allegiance of the people. When it comes to the American President, even as you see in the Federalist Papers, the understanding was that having an elected chief executive who was head of state meant that at least every four years the American people could make their desire known by means of their vote.

By the way, this is quite economical for the Americans in another sense. When you have the British Prime Minister make a visit to the United States, he comes as a head of government, but not as a head of state, and so he is not on equal ground with the President of the United States, who’s both head of government and head of state. On the other hand, when a British monarch visits the United States, he visits as a head of state, but not to represent British policy, only to represent the British nation, the British people, and British tradition. That’s a very different equation. And, by the way, Britain is not unique in this. A Prime Ministerial system of constitutional government is quite common around the world. The model of the American Presidency is relatively more rare on the world stage. But then again, America did declare itself a new order of the ages.

But there’s something else that came up in terms of King Charles’ visit. Before he became King, when he was Prince of Wales, Prince Charles was famously or infamously committed to his own form of environmentalism. As I’ve discussed on The Briefing, that environmentalism was matched to a kind of new age spirituality, and, frankly, it’s reflected in the Prince’s writings. I had the opportunity to meet with him in a group a few years ago when he was Prince of Wales and he set forth these ideas, and I can tell you it was something of an eccentricity to be attributed to this particular Prince, now King. But, of course, eccentricities in this case come with policy and one of the great restrictions on the British monarch is having a policy. Queen Elizabeth was quite famous, Queen Elizabeth the Second, the current King’s mother was quite famous during her long reign for having no policy.

She was the Queen. She was the monarch. She represented the nation. She did not step into political disputes. She did not have political positions. She famously chided members of the royal family for ever acting as if they did have positions on policy. As she said, “The monarch represents the nation, no specific policy.” But Prince Charles is, obviously, chafing at this and it showed during his first state visit, as I said, this time to France. And the relationship between England and France is famously complicated. All we need to mention is the Norman Invasion, a series of famous wars, names like Napoleon, that should be enough to make the point. But there was another point that was made here, and that is the fact that there was open speculation in France that France has a sense right now of king envy or monarch envy. Now, why would that be so?

Well, the French famously put an end to their major royal tradition in the regicide that came in the wake of the French Revolution. Since then, it’s been very dicey when it comes to the French throne. Of course, you did have Napoleon, but that tends to make the point. But the French right now have an extremely strong Presidency. It is arguably a position that within the nation of France is more powerful than the American Presidency, at least there are fewer checks. You basically have an elected monarch for five years. But the French President is responsible for policy. Emmanuel Macron, the French President, was the head of state, and he, along with his wife, hosted the British King and Queen. But Emmanuel Macron is quite unpopular at home specifically because of policies and so it may be that the French were a little envious that they can have all the pomp and circumstance with the British monarch, the King and the Queen, who have no policies. Meanwhile, they’re stuck with Emmanuel Macron who has policies they don’t like.

Now, as an American, I just want to point out that an inherited monarchy is a very great risk to run. You sometimes have benevolent monarchs who are quite competent, but the history of monarchs tends to point out that there are more dullards and dictators, tyrants, than there are benevolent competent kings, or queens for that matter. British history has a good mixture of both and experiences with monarchs such as, say, Elizabeth the First would point to the utility of having a monarch. But by the time you look to Elizabeth the Second, the monarch is head of state without any particular power.

But one final thought on all of this, much of it goes back to the Bible. Just think of the warnings of Samuel to Israel when Israel wanted a king, and he said, “Well, if you have a king, this is what the king will do. He will send your sons to war. He will marry your daughters as wives. You think you want a king?” Well, Samuel seemed to say there is one thing worse than not having a king, and that’s having one.

But, nonetheless, on the world stage, it is still very interesting to note how interested Americans without a king are in borrowing monarchy. There has been a very strange relationship between the American people and the British throne going back to the period just after the Revolution and basically it was nearly impossible to imagine a British monarch visiting the United States until the 20th Century when the first major visit of a crowned head in terms of a British monarch came with the visit of King George the Sixth and his consort, Queen Elizabeth. And the background to that was the threat of Nazi Germany. But having experienced two world wars, by the time you get to the last half of the 20th century, Americans and Britain found themselves in a very close relationship, and it’s continued that way ever since. The death of Queen Elizabeth the Second just a matter of a little over a year ago drew more viewers in the United States in terms of her funeral than in Britain itself.

That tells you something and I think in one sense it tells you something about the human desire for majesty and continuity. There are times when it comes to the American Presidency when it seems we have neither.

Part II

Balancing the Stewardship of Feeding People and Caring for the Environment: Facing the Complexities of Society in an Industrialized Society

But let’s turn from the British King to the British Prime Minister. Rishi Sunak made headlines all over the world in terms of announcement about the Conservative government’s policy concerning climate change and energy transition. The bottom line is this, the British Prime Minister, head of the Conservative Party heading into the Conservative Party’s conference, that’s when all these policy issues are debated, made the announcement. And, remember, he’s in an incredibly strong position in parliament. If you’re the Prime Minister, you have a parliamentary majority, which means at least in theory, you can’t lose a vote. And in this case, Rishi Sunak turned his back on pledges made by the British government that it would put an end to the sale of all gasoline and diesel automobiles, that included some truck categories as well, by the year 2030. He said, at the very least, it wouldn’t happen before 2035.

And he went on to say that when it comes to much of the climate change goals and legislation, policies set by so many governments in the West, they are dishonest. He said, “This policy is basically dishonest.” The government has made no clear road ahead evident as to how in the world Britain can afford or accomplish this particular goal. But goals set by governments have policy ramifications and here you had Rishi Sunak saying, “Look, this government is not serious about this policy, so let’s be seriously honest and just say we’re nowhere near the goal of meeting that.” Now, you might say, “Well, you are, after all, the Prime Minister. You have a parliamentary majority. Make it happen.” But the point is, as Rishi Sunak pointed out, there is no existing technology that would allow a transition such that, that is a rational policy. It’s just not going to happen.

But it’s also clear there’s some other tensions in Britain, and this tells us a lot, not only about worldview dynamics, but about the politics and how this plays out on some issues like climate change. The bottom line is this. You have many people who are living in cities who have access to, say, mass transit or they could ride a bicycle or here, in the streets of London or you go to cities like New York, you see people on scooters and all kinds of other means of conveyance, they can pull off at least the illusion that they’re moving to a largely electric or non-gasoline or diesel powered transport system. But if you live in the country, if you work on a tractor, if you drive a truck, it’s a very different proposition. At least one of these issues of clarity offered by Rishi Sunak is the fact that there is no technology, there is no mechanism right now whereby you could have a switch from gasoline and diesel fuel to something like electric propulsion for vehicles and have that accomplished by the year 2030. It’s just not going to happen.

But it’s also clear in worldview that when you have policies like this, you have winners and losers, and this is where there’s a very interesting pattern of response to the British Prime Minister. It’s not just Liberal/Conservative. That’s one of the things we need to see. There is a Liberal/Conservative divide on this issue, but there is also an industry and technological divide, which is to say that, if you are in business, if you have shareholders who are invested, if you are working in the technology, these new alternative energy programs, you don’t want the government to backtrack on these goals. You want the government to double down in spending. You want all kinds of financing and financial incentives and tax policies that require industry to move in your direction.

On the other hand, if you are in the older industrial world, the issue is, and Sunak’s very clear on both sides of the Atlantic, in the United States and in the United Kingdom, and you could add to that Europe, there’s simply not enough capacity to accomplish a transition even if all the technologies already existed by the year 2030. Now you say, “Where’s the worldview issue here?” Well, number one, we have a responsibility as stewards. That’s very, very clear. But stewardship is a very, very difficult challenge at times. It’s one of the most serious responsibilities the creator gave to his human creatures. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and exercise dominion over it.” And then, of course, you have in both Testaments these incredible commandments, teachings about the imperative of stewardship and, as the scripture makes clear, it is required of a steward that he be found faithful.

So faithfulness is what we’re aiming for here, and faithfulness means that we take all human needs and all human goods into full account in the establishment of policy. And that’s simply not what is taking place in Washington, D.C. It is not what has been taking place in London. Now, some people are saying, “Well, the British Prime Minister is just playing politics.” Well, you don’t survive as a British Prime Minister unless you play politics effectively. But there is more to it than that. There was bracing honesty. It was very interesting to hear many people in industry, even political opponents of the British Prime Minister, say, “That’s just a matter of honesty.” Now, it’s very interesting to look at the British press on this. It is inches and inches and inches of news reports over the last several days.

One of the things that’s pointed out is that, if you’re going to have a shift to electric vehicles, you’re going to need not only new technologies of storage, you’re going to need new technologies of charging. You’re going to have to have a mass industrial scale. Now, again, there are winners and losers in every one of these policies. If you’re invested in a company building charging stations, you don’t want the government to back up. But the problem is, even those businesses are admitting they can’t keep up with the demand. They can’t meet the challenge, say, of 2030. They probably can’t meet the challenge of 2035. And here’s something else when it comes to stewardship, people have to eat. People have to work. They have to get to work. They have to get to school. And, again, if you live in a city, I think one of the problems with so many of the cultural elites in this country is that they think broccoli grows in a bodega.

They think food grows in a grocery store. They don’t understand it takes a farm, and farm takes land, and land takes big machines and big equipment if you’re going to feed a nation like the United States on an industrial scale. So you look at all this and you have to understand the good of preserving the environment is an important good. There is a stewardship for which we’ll give an answer, but so is the stewardship of feeding people, so is the stewardship of actually functioning as a society. And let’s face it, as a society, we’re pretty much agreed on the fact that power in our houses is a good thing. One of the problems in America, by the way, and our system of government, is that the government can come up with policies, but, quite frankly, when the policies are put into effect, the government is often confronted by a populace that says, “We’re not doing this.”

That was one of the discoveries during the so-called “energy crisis” of the 1970s. You had President Jimmy Carter saying, “Here’s where you should set your thermostat.” Then, what the American people did was largely set the advice of the American President aside. We will be following this story. We’re going to be looking in days ahead of huge moral changes taking place in the modern world.

Part III

The Great Media Disruptor Announces Retirement: Rupert Murdoch Steps Down as Fox and News Corporation Chairman

But it’s also important to recognize sometimes these issues come down to biography. They come down to an individual story. And when it comes to individual stories, there are a few that can match the story of Rupert Murdoch. And you’re looking at headline news here, Rupert Murdoch has announced that his son, Lachlan, will be taking over the reigns as CEO of NewsCorp and Fox News. You look at that and you say, “Well, that has to be a big story.” Well, it’s so big, of course, that they made an illusory television product known as Succession out of it just basically modeling the story of the Murdoch family.

But there’s more to it than that. Rupert Murdoch was a great disruptor when it came to the media. First in Australia, then in Britain, then in the United States, and in a very big way. In 1969, Rupert Murdoch bought The Sun and established what became a worldwide media empire. In 1989, he established what became known as Sky, or Sky News. And then, of course, in 1996, he established in the United States what became known as Fox News. Fox News, by the way, went from nothing to being carried on many cable networks, many cable systems, and right now it is the most watched of all the cable television news networks. Now, that is to the consternation of many, and, frankly, it’s also a part of the phenomenon of turning much of television news into continual entertainment.

There have been warnings about what television would do to this kind of political coverage, and just about everything that was warned has come to be true. You can see all kinds of entertainment masquerading as political commentary or news coverage. On the other hand, it is simply for Conservatives a very sobering thing to recognize that if Fox News did not exist and had not existed for, say, the last few decades, then Americans would never have been confronted with many Conservative arguments, many Conservative counter arguments to prevailing Liberal arguments. If you go back a half century, in American media life, you had the three networks that basically were all in the hands of those who were controlling the media elite, and they tended to be far more Liberal than the American people.

And so even as you look at Fox News making headlines itself for having to pay out an $800 million settlement having to do with the 2020 election, it is still vitally important to recognize that without Fox News and without the disequilibrium that is now a part of America’s media environment we wouldn’t be having a lot of the conversations we’re having in this country, we wouldn’t know many of the things we know, and you would have a continued dominance by a very Liberal media elite in the total economy of the American media. But, again, Rupert Murdoch, who’s age 92, by the way, he’s retiring saying that he’s going to become executive Chairman. And so there are many people who are Thinking he’s not really retiring at all, but he is tipping the hat to which of his four children he wants to take the reins of Fox News and the News Corporation.

One very important issue related to Rupert Murdoch. He saw himself as the opponent of the elites. He said this, “Elites have open contempt for those who are not members of their rarefied class. Most of the media is in cahoots with those elites peddling political narratives rather than pursuing the truth. In my new role,” he had said, “I can guarantee you that I’ll be involved every day in the contest of ideas.” Christians need to recognize we depend upon that contest of ideas. But, for Christians, we also recognize it’s important that we win those contests of ideas, and that takes an awful lot of conversation among Christians about the implications of Christian truth and the stewardship of our responsibility for the Christian worldview, for being salt and light in our time in the society of which we are a part and the conversation in that society of which we had better be a part.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from London, England before a live audience. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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