When is it the right time to discuss the Monarchy and its appropriateness in the modern world? Not when a Prince has just been born, probably; because to support the Monarchy, especially in the democratic era, is to attach oneself to old-fashioned ideas like tradition, selflessness and civility – and to question an institution at the time of such a personal and joyous occasion is just plain rude. That and the fact that monarchists are generally and rather unsurprisingly in favour of monarchy.
Yet at times such as this, when the birth of a Prince propels the Monarchy to the centre of our collective attention – admittedly fuelled by media outlets that don’t seem to understand the meaning of the word moderation – questions are always raised. Take this piece (https://medium.com/i-m-h-o/bd1ea31f515d), which is rather well written but, I’m afraid, composed of arguments I find unconvincing:
“To be a fan of the Royal Family,” says the author, “is to believe fundamentally that some people are intrinsically superior to you by birth alone.” I’m pretty sure it isn’t. The author may see it this way, and it fits quite neatly into the anti-monarchist narrative, but I’d hazard a guess that not many supporters of the Monarchy really believe members of the Royal Family are ‘intrinsically superior’ to them? I could, of course, be mistaken, but I doubt it – on this, at least. In fact, the argument becomes ever more bizarre the more one thinks about it.
This is not to say that there are no arguments against the Monarchy or monarchy in general. There are, and some of them are quite good, and I would assume the author agrees with many of them. But when these arguments turn to ad hominem criticism – such as: ‘Her’s (The Queen) is a benign arrogance but it has grown toxic in her selfish children’ – the deeply dispiriting opinion that society would be better without the Monarchy seems emptier with every breath.
The author goes on to suggest the military careers of both William and Harry might be some sort of sham, hinting that their service is a mere marketing exercise to shore up the position of the Firm. He suggests that they, along with Andrew during the Falklands War, are ‘presented as military marvels,’ making it clear he thinks they are nothing of the sort.
Well, true! They are not military marvels. But have they ever suggested they are, or has anyone else worth listening to suggested they are? I might be blinded by my own ten years in the Army, but I have never been aware that they were presented as better servicemen, more marvellous, than anyone else. I was just pleased that such high-profile members of the establishment could be bothered to serve in any capacity; and I think you will find that most of the people they serve alongside think something pretty similar. Just look at their democratically elected equivalents, whom the author presumably hopes will assume their role as heads of state.
And what evidence is there apart from assertion that their ‘progression through the ranks (has been) expedited’? I’d be interested to see it, but I suspect it doesn’t really exist. And the suggestion that they ‘had an easier time than ordinary officer candidates’ is odd. Again, evidence? The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst does not give favour to royalty, from whichever country they hail; and, if anything, it’s probably a bit tougher doing what’s required of them professionally as well as Royally.
But I don’t wish to be overly critical of this one piece. The writer writes well, and I like some of his other stuff; and, besides, I get the impression he wrote this particular article to provoke argument against the backdrop of what can often seem like unthinking adoration or unseemly sycophancy. Good luck to him. One of the roles of a writer, especially of current affairs, is to provoke thought and discussion. Which he has done pretty well, with me at least.
No, the reason I began writing this post was simply that I do not understand why some people take such great exception to the Monarchy. They are leeches, they say. Really? Duck houses anyone? They infantilise the public, they say. Really? Do politicians not do that? They oppress ordinary people, they say, because they deny them the opportunity to assume the highest office in the land. Good, I say. This is one of the great attractions of the Monarchy. It reminds people that there are limits to their own ambition. It’s not just ordinary, working people who are denied this particular opportunity. Everybody is. Fate, nature or God – however you choose to look at it – decides that one. It seems to me that human conceit and ambition is the cause of many problems. To remind people that they cannot have anything they might want is a good restraint.
There is also another argument that the Monarchy undermines democracy and prevents the full adoption of republican government. This is not true. The point of republicanism is to govern without autocracy. It just so happens that kings and queens used to be the autocrats, so it is only natural that people assumed democratic, representative and accountable government was dependent on the absence of a king – hence democratically elected presidents. But we seem to forget something called the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the subsequent development of what we now call Constitutional Monarchy.
Political power no longer resides with the Monarch. Government is now democratic, it is representative, it is subject to the rule of law, and power is balanced between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary (albeit imperfectly, although this has nothing to do with the people living in Buckingham Palace). These are the hallmarks of republicanism, and we have them while retaining a constitutional monarch. Best of both worlds. You might even call our system Royal Republicanism (I copyright that).
Cast your eyes to the Middle East. Some states have monarchs and some states have presidents, but nearly all of them are autocratic, or at the least they are mostly authoritarian. Tentative – and sometimes extremely violent – steps are being attempted to remedy this, but cursory analysis of the region should make it clear that the absence of democracy and the rule of law – the things we assume they need – are absent for other reasons, for more intractable reasons that have little to do with the sort of constitutional monarchy we have in Britain. We think they need to be more republican. We think they should be more like us. Well, we are already republican. The success of republicanism is not dependent on the absence of a constitutional monarch; it is dependent on the absence of arbitrary power. That is the prize, and we have it now – up to a point, but that’s a different discussion.
Another great attraction of Monarchy is that it links us to our past. Modern British civilisation developed, in part, because of the Monarchy. Kingship was as significant, perhaps more so, as cultural homogeneity in the creation of the state in England and Scotland. Kings created and extended the rule of law (on occasions, quite brutally, I admit), and they unified the kingdoms and nations of the British Isles (again, on occasions, brutally). But they were an essential part of that process, and the Monarchy today is a reminder that the civilisation we enjoy today is the result of an often difficult and harsh historical progress. To get rid of the Monarchy now would be to cut off something that defines who we are today.
No, now is not the time to raise the same old arguments against the Monarchy. But even if it was, which is isn’t, the arguments would still make little sense.