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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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