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After the Jubilee: Why monarchy matters

ResPublica Director Phillip Blond's article in ABC Religion and Ethics

One of the more interesting aspects of Queen Elizabeth's jubilee celebration was how muted republican protests were, and yet how the monarchist majority seemed unable to articulate or provide an explanation of why they support the institution of monarchy - at least, beyond some vague but deeply felt emotion.

This lack of philosophical explanation extends beyond Britain's shores, where many are puzzled over why a seemingly anachronistic institution sustains such popular support both in the UK and abroad. After all, the Queen remains sovereign over fifteen other democratic nations - including Canada and Australia - and many in former colonies, like Jamaica, hanker for a return of British rule, while others like Bermuda vote for it.

So, monarchy must have a deep rationale - but what might it be?

In part, the longevity of constitutional monarchy can be explained by the limits and deficits of a purely democratic polity. A republic is rightly the site of political contestation, but when all common codes are eroded and no general good can be articulated, the notion of what is in the interests of all is lost and only a partisan interest remains.

This is not just a reference to America's current political impasse; part of the reason that Europe in the last century fell into the dark ages is that virtually every continental state was fatally divided between right and left, and all lacked the means to craft and embody a vision of the national good beyond ideology and the absolutist claims of class or race.

Constitutional monarchy provides exactly this salve. As the embodiment and personification of a national good, the Queen - and not parliament - is the fundamental site of loyalty, and so the national debate extends beyond competing creeds to resolution in a popular organic consensus. Hence monarchy represents a limit on the absolutist claims of democracy, just as democracy qualifies kingship.

Moreover, there are advantages to being a subject of the crown rather than a citizen of a republic. Traditionally English monarchs conferred the status of subject on all in their realms, thus making all equal. This effectively subverted the rule of feudal lords by making the King responsible for the peasants who worked the land. Conversely, citizenship in republics was often only conferred on a privileged group and could be denied of whole classes of people, such as slaves or women.

When monarchy and republics collide, it quickly becomes clear which is the more just. For example, in 1772, when Lord Mansfield freed an American slave named Somersett who had landed in Britain, he declared slavery an odious institution and argued that it had no place in British common law. Fear that this would extend to the American colonies helped provoke the war of independence, resulting in a republic that maintained slavery. As the former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass noted on leaving America in 1845 for Britain, he would be sailing from "American republican slavery, to monarchical liberty."

And English colonial history is replete with examples when the monarch tried to restrain colonists from pillage and murder precisely because the natives where also subjects of the Crown. So progressive is constitutional monarchy that, had the American Revolution been avoided, I suspect slavery in the United States would have abolished decades earlier, the civil war would not have occurred and the Native American population would not have been slaughtered.

Nor are the virtues of monarchies confined to the distant past. Constitutional monarchies comprise some of the world's most developed, wealthy, democratically accountable and progressive states. According to the UN, seven of the top ten countries in the world in terms of quality of life are constitutional monarchies. Monarchies really do help guarantee liberty and prosperity.

High tories used to argue that because the monarch stood alone, he or she could not be bought off by vested interests or the corruptions of representative politics. Indeed, English monarchs have regularly allied with the people against vested interests - so, when landowners were evicting peasants in the sixteenth century, the king campaigned against enclosure and the landed interest.

Similarly, today Prince Charles sponsors through his foundations and charities political and educational work that is often more radical and transformative than anything state or private endeavour has yet achieved. A populist monarchism also brought Spain out from fascism and monarchy remains central to many European states, precisely because people trust the institution more than they do politics and politicians.

In an era when representative government is so despised and democratic accountability has resulted in the creation of undemocratic and unaccountable elites who are nothing less than a modern oligarchy, do not be surprised that monarchy becomes ever more popular. It is, after all, the real defender of liberty and equality.

See the original article here.

Comments on: After the Jubilee: Why monarchy matters

Gravatar Alan Hinch 07 November 2012
(cont) who are unemployed. There seemed to be a leaning towards reducing university provision to the elite Russell group knowing that the passport to that is usually a school with annual fees that match maThe ny peoples yearly takehome wage. The monarchy
Gravatar Alan Hinch 07 November 2012
I went to liisten to Alison Wolf speak recently and agreed with much of what was said in her analysis of the British Economy and her proposals for change. What rankled was her use of the term "over educated" in reference to the number of graduates wh
Gravatar And Monarchy Matters? 24 June 2012
And monarchy matters?r/>r/>"No matter where; of comfort no man speak: r/>Let"s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs; r/>Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes r/>Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth, r/>Let"s choose executors and talk of wills: r/>And yet not so, for what can we bequeath r/>Save our deposed bodies to the ground? r/>Our lands, our lives and all are Bolingbroke"s, r/>And nothing can we call our own but death r/>And that small model of the barren earth r/>Which serves as paste and cover to our bones. r/>For God"s sake, let us sit upon the ground r/>And tell sad stories of the death of kings; r/>How some have been deposed; some slain in war, r/>Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed; r/>Some poison"d by their wives: some sleeping kill"d; r/>All murder"d: for within the hollow crown r/>That rounds the mortal temples of a king r/>Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits, r/>Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp, r/>Allowing him a breath, a little scene, r/>To monarchize, be fear"d and kill with looks, r/>Infusing him with self and vain conceit, r/>As if this flesh which walls about our life, r/>Were brass impregnable, and humour"d thus r/>Comes at the last and with a little pin r/>Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king! r/>Cover your heads and mock not flesh and blood r/>With solemn reverence: throw away respect, r/>Tradition, form and ceremonious duty, r/>For you have but mistook me all this while: r/>I live with bread like you, feel want, r/>Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus, r/>How can you say to me, I am a king? "r/>r/>William Shakespearer/>r/>
Gravatar Reality 37 24 June 2012
Monarchy does not matter. It is unelected and therefore illigitimate in a democracy.
Gravatar Malcolm Rasala 21 June 2012
It says much about the moral paucity of the arguments in favour of monarchy from Mr Blond that he is moved to assert (untrue of course) that "how muted republican protests were during the Jubilee". If you only read right wing newspapers" such a silly assertion appears true. If you only read red tops the celebrity bling that is the essence of monarchy patently provides the inane banal content around which they gain their advertising income. Clearly the blessed Philip failed to see the substantial interview on BBC TV with anti-monarchy proponents. More importantly why is Philip so scared of an elected head of state? It is is a very weird democrat who is against elected representatives. Or maybe in truth he is not a democrat. But isn"t this the road to fascism?
Gravatar Mark Jones 21 June 2012
O please Philip "how muted republican protests were". Remind us how many newspapers in this country argue for an elected head of state. All see monarchy as a free space filler surrounding their advertising income. The BBC is the propaganda arm of Buck House. Monarchy is celebrity bling content. Zero more. It used to be said monarchy created division of powers specifically stopping an overmighty politician from declaring war. Tony Blair"s Christian war in Iraq evidenced what a fallacy that argument was. Monarchy is a corrupt debiltating thwarting our young from truly aspiring. It is medievalr/>and out of date. Fantasists crowing about the absurd Jubilee are simply deluding themselves. If you asked the British electorate if they wanted an ELECTED head of state the vast majority would vote yes.
Gravatar Sabine K McNeill 13 June 2012
Dear Phillip,r/>r/>Yes, the monarchy is extremely important from my observations as a systems analyst: r/>r/>1. it is a "personalized institution". I.e. institutions outlive individuals, but the monarchy always has a more "personal head" than any other institutionr/>r/>2. people believe in the monarch"s Coronation Oathr/>r/>3. many victims of white collar crimes feel betrayed because employees of other institutions are abusing royal privileges once bestowed upon institutions, when they were fit to follow their remitsr/>r/>4. the Monarch has the ultimate power to redress what has gone wrong thanks to the City and its unregulated, unaccountable and wholly unethical behaviour. r/>r/>Let"s hope that the Monarch will find out what is REALLY going on and that Her Majesty is NOT only mis- and dis-informed as in all fairy tales... r/>r/>With sighs and hopes,r/>Sabiner/>Independent Web Publisherr/> r/>r/>

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Detailed Summary

Date Published
07 June 2012

British Civic Life

About The Authors

Phillip Blond

Phillip is an internationally recognised political thinker and social and economic commentator. He bridges the gap bet...