"This is what you get when you found a political system on the family values of Henry VIII." With these words, Christopher Hitchens opens his assault on Prince Charles, heir to the British throne. The problem, he says, is that "at a point in the not-too-remote future, the stout heart of Queen Elizabeth II will cease to beat," leaving as head of state a man with ambiguous feelings on the Enlightenment. The impetus for Hitchens's tirade were the Prince of Wales's remarks at Oxford University, where while "discussing one of his favorite topics, the 'environment,' he announced that the main problem arose from a 'deep, inner crisis of the soul' and that the 'de-souling' of humanity probably went back as far as Galileo." He then, Hitchens notes, proceeded to rail against the objectification of nature by saying that "'she has become an it'" and "describ[ing] the scientific worldview as an affront to all the world's 'sacred traditions.'"
Hitchens thinks this is precisely the kind of dangerously ignorant and touchy-feely rhetoric that needs to be discouraged, lest we lose our sense of the importance of science and reason. Science and reason, Hitchens explains, are our bulwarks not just against what he calls "every moon-faced spoon-bender, shrub-flatterer, and water-diviner" that Prince Charles manages to collect (he cites Charles's interest in a "fake anthropologist" and homeopathic medicine), but also against dangerous fundamentalists. As Hitchens puts it:
Once the hard-won principles of reason and science have been discredited, the world will not pass into the hands of credulous herbivores who keep crystals by their sides and swoon over the poems of Khalil Gibran. The "vacuum" will be invaded instead by determined fundamentalists of every stripe who already know the truth by means of revelation and who actually seek real and serious power in the here and now.
Having thus worked himself into a lather over "credulous herbivores" with crystals, Hitchens unleashes a last stinging sentence questioning both Charles's mental faculties and the dynasty from which he springs:
One thinks of the painstaking, cloud-dispelling labor of British scientists from Isaac Newton to Joseph Priestley to Charles Darwin to Ernest Rutherford to Alan Turing and Francis Crick, much of it built upon the shoulders of Galileo and Copernicus, only to see it casually slandered by a moral and intellectual weakling from the usurping House of Hanover.
This comes, of course, after also having called him "a morose bat-eared and chinless man, prematurely aged, and with the most abysmal taste in royal consorts."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.