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Another thought about the monarchy, which I didn’t quite finish in time to post immediately after the last one.

Say you live somewhere without a monarchy. You’ve got a government running things in the form of a representational democracy. It’s based, at least in theory, on politicians holding office for limited terms to carry out the will of the people who directly elected to put them there. But it’s still a flawed system in many ways, and you’re wondering how it could be improved.

While discussing this very subject, your drinking buddy Ten-Toed Jake pipes up.


Hey, [opines Jake], you know what I reckon’d sort this government out? If they put me in charge of everything. Make me the big boss of the whole country, I’d knock ’em into shape.

Oh god, [you sigh], this is going to be another of your implausibly drawn-out, baffling flights of fancy that I’m going to have to play along with, isn’t it? Alright, then, let’s see. Putting you in charge of the whole country… It’s not quite in keeping with the whole notion of democracy or egalitarianism, is it, Jake?

Nah, but look where just voting for people’s got us. Everyone hates politicians. They’re just in it for themselves, they spend more time campaigning than actually working to help anyone. They could do with being taken down a peg, having someone they have to suck up to, make sure they don’t get too big for their boots. I reckon I’d be good at that. And then when I die, my son can take over.

One-Nosed Colin? What, so he gets to run the country after you? And then his kid, I suppose, and on and on down the generations forever?

Yeah, why not?

For a start, your family all seem to have weird names that describe perfectly normal and unsurprising characteristics.

You’ve not met my cousin, Gary Twoballsbutnotwhereyoumightexpect.

But mostly, why should it be you and your family, indefinitely? I mean, you’re not even pretending to be democratic about this. Who gave you the right to just decide you’re in charge of everything now?

Oh, I see. You want in on the action, eh? Making a power-grab? I’ll arm-wrestle you for it.

What?

I mean, I think it should be a basically arbitrary choice who gets to rule over everything, and obviously I think that arbitrary choice should be me. But it might as well be based on any number of things. We could arm-wrestle for it, or maybe have a “whose ancestor was the awesomest” contest. Just so long as we pick someone, then stick with them and their descendents forever. No changing things around centuries down the line. At least not without a massive, devastating civil war.

This still sounds insane, Jake. I admit the current system could stand some serious changes, but I don’t see how this can possibly be an improvement.

Okay, fine. Have it your way. We can say I won’t have any power to actually run the country, I won’t get to make any of the actual decisions – but they’ll all still have to, like, ask my permission to do everything, and stuff. Not because I really get to decide, it’s just ceremonial. Keeps them from getting too uppity, y’know? For the look of the thing. And I’ll need millions of dollars of taxpayer money every year to keep up this fabulous new lifestyle of mine.

Hmm.

I’ve got to be able to pay for my gold-plated butler, otherwise how can I expect the Junior Senator from Oklachusetts to feel appropriately demeaned when he has to kiss my feet and call me “your glorious, well-endowed worshipfulness” every time he wants a bill passed?

You’re not selling me on this, Jake.

Oh, come on. Think of the pageantry! The glamour! The spectacle! People will flock just to be near me! It’d be great for the tourist industry.

I’m not sure people would want to get closer to you if you declared yourself king and started ordering everyone around, Jake. Actually it’s starting to have the opposite effect. But even if they did, I don’t think it’s worth giving up the ideas of equality that we at least nominally cherish, and raising some arbitrary line of individuals onto some kind of diamond-encrusted pedestal, regardless of their merit or qualities, and exacerbating any class problems our society might have by reinforcing the notion that some people are inherently better than others and deserve fealty and unearned wealth as part of their birthright, just in the hopes of bringing in some hypothetical, hard-to-calculate, harder-to-prove foreign coin.

Huh. That was quite a speech. Really tripped off your tongue, there. Almost like you’d crafted it ahead of time in order to make some sort of point.

What can I say, I’m a fluent public speaker. Look, Jake, it’s not about you, you’re a great guy… It’s just the idea of having anyone in that position of bizarre pseudo-authority. It doesn’t sit right. It seems like an entirely superfluous addition to a supposedly egalitarian society.

Hmm. Well, I’m going to go ahead with the coup I had planned anyway. I think it’s my round first though. Another pint?

Cheers.


I may have lost the thread at the end a bit there. But the point, of course, is that introducing a purely symbolic monarchy seems to make very little sense, if you imagine a world where we don’t already have one. Our own system evidently isn’t one we’d want to switch back to, were the status quo different. So maybe it’s time for a change.

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Hi! Let’s talk about dismantling the establishment and abolishing the dominion over the masses by a privileged minority.

No? You’ve already got weekend plans? It’s okay, we can start with something smaller. How about we just get rid of the monarchy?

I’m a republican. Not in the increasingly widespread “keep your Darwinian religion out of my schools and your tampons out of my gun rack” sense that’s still distressingly popular across the pond, but the ever-so-much more British meaning of the word. By which I mean, I rather think that still having a royal family in this day and age just isn’t cricket, old sport, though obviously I don’t want to make too much of a bally fuss over it.

First, though, if we’re going to have any sensible conversation at all, can we dispense with the caricature of the grumpy, resentful, joyless grouch, whose only real gripe about the aristocracy is founded in a cruel grudge against anyone else who gets to have nice things?

It’s odd how often this one is wheeled out. The claim of anti-monarchists is simply that having an unelected, hereditary head of state, in this day and age, is at best unnecessary, and at worst North Korea – and that it’s possible to hold this view as a matter of principle, not just because you’re greedy.

Even if you don’t agree with this claim, it shouldn’t be so impossible to conceive that someone might genuinely feel this way, that you have to start writing their own motivations and neuroses for them. It takes quite a determination to be cynical, and to see ill will and insincerity in those who disagree with you, for you to instinctively ascribe a lack of support for an institution to nothing more noble than bitterness.

As many republicans have explained time and again, it’s nothing personal. William and Kate seem like decent folk, as do many of their immediate family, and I wish them and newborn George all the best. But my friend Sara’s a good person too; that doesn’t mean I think she should be given a castle and a police escort at the taxpayer’s expense. (Just checking whether she still reads my blog these days. If so, sorry, Sara, I’m still totally buying you that castle I promised you when I’m a billionaire.)

Anyway, that could become a whole tangential rant in itself, but not today, because one particular argument in favour of keeping the monarchy has been bugging me lately.

The idea is that, although the Queen’s role is largely that of a figurehead, and she doesn’t take an active involvement in running the country, she’s someone the people who do run the country have to defer to. The Prime Minister’s the top dog of our democracy, but he still has to go visit an old lady covered in jewels and humbly beg her say-so before he’s allowed to do stuff. Which is meant to keep him in his place somewhat, or something, and not let him assume the role of the pinnacle of concentrated power himself.

A terrifying pair of words have often been deployed to explain this argument in an impressively succinct fashion: President Blair.

Ugh, imagine that. Not just Prime Minister Blair, but President Blair. That Tony Blair was awful, so just imagine if he’d been our President. Eesh. It would’ve been hideous. He might’ve gone mad with power and, I don’t know… started an intractable war in the Middle East on dubious legal grounds, or something. God, can you imagine? We’re lucky the Queen was there to reel him in and stop any such catastrophe.

Oh wait, no, sorry, this is completely asinine, his role would’ve been basically exactly the same, just with a slightly shorter job title.

Also, here’s the real problem with a democracy which maintains an unelected monarch, in order to keep its elected leaders in check:

Isn’t that supposed to be our job?

Seriously, if you’ve got a democratically elected leader, put in place by the people as a result of a popular vote, then aren’t the masses themselves supposed to be able to exercise their democratic powers to evict any unscrupulous politicians from office, and make sure that those in power really do represent the nation as a whole?

That’s supposedly the idea, anyway. How well it works in practice is another matter, but surely this is the promise of democracy, and is exactly what people mean when they talk about your “duties as a citizen”, and all that. We’re supposed to be able to keep our leaders in check ourselves.

But if we’re delegating even that duty – if we’re trusting in someone unelected, unappointed, born to the role, to do even this job for us, of stopping our representatives from getting drunk on power and running away with themselves…

…then isn’t that a pretty clear sign of democracy itself being broken?

If we don’t need the monarchy to keep our country ticking along, let’s get rid of it. There’s no need for any undue unkindness to the individuals involved; being born into a dynasty and having the world handed to you on a silver plate means you didn’t ask for any of the unpleasant side effects, either. They’ve had any chance of a normal life pretty much obliterated anyway by the never-ending media fascination and scrutiny. So let’s just gently shuffle them along. The Queen’s a nice old lady, and deserves a comfy retirement. One where she’s not expected to stand out in the rain and the cold for hours any more, watching endless processions of boats.

Or, if we do need the monarchy, because our megalomaniacal elected leaders can’t be trusted without it? Then we should be massively terrified of how potentially dangerous our elected leaders apparently are, and we really shouldn’t be satisfied with keeping a protective figurehead over the problem and hoping for the best. Either way, things need to change far more than any conservative seems willing to imagine.

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