Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Against monarchy

No liberal can be a monarchist. You'd think that this was a straightforward truism, and yet several of the undeniably liberal nations of Europe have monarchs.

There was a time when it could have been argued that nations -- largely because they existed only as the personal possessions of the bold -- required monarchs. The monarch provided justice -- without which society is impossible -- and leadership in morality and religion that, although distasteful to us now, had an important role in making societies cohesive. Even larger states, such as Rome, could only really function as monarchies. It was the failure to monopolise force that caused the downfall of the Empire, which proves, perhaps, that weak kings are to be deplored. Factions -- classes, even -- when given rein will tear a society apart in pursuit of their goals (which recurrently have been one form of control of the economy or another).

But that time has passed. The problem of control of the economy is resolved in the liberal system if not equitably then at least without the conflict of prior ages. Kings have been reduced in power because they have no part in that resolution. Their role of leadership in morality and religion has diminished too. It can be readily seen that it does not sit well in societies that prize freedom of expression, nor is it compatible with the multicultural ethos that liberalism inspires, where cohesion is no longer thought important.

Without the power, a constitutional monarch only represents inequality. They are a living symbol of the belief that some are better than others. Even those who believe that some might be thought better than others through merit cannot make a case for so considering the Windsors. They are particularly lacking in that quality.

They survive largely because they are a side issue, because the things said about them, that they encourage tourism, that they are representative of a notion of "Britishness" that is worth keeping, that they are role models, that they are of huge entertainment value, are not challenged by anyone serious. Doubtless this is because the answers are so evident: the USA attracts many tourists despite being monarch-bereft; the royals are representative of a notion of "Britishness" that ought to repel right-thinking people and in any case are more representative of an interrelated elite that once fiercely oppressed the peoples of Europe; the idea of role models is far overplayed, and can be demonstrated not to be true simply by witnessing the lack of youngsters' indulging in lives of polo and skiing, or professing a desire to do so; although their antics do entertain, that is scarcely an apt profession for the state to fund (although, indirectly, we fund the likes of Dawn French, who has never shown the least inclination to be entertaining) and is hardly impossible for an elected president or someone who had applied for the job of national jester, say.


Post a Comment

<< Home