Constitutional monarchy is the most democratic form of government
A journalist I follow, Brendan O’Neill, recently came out as a republican in one of his Facebook posts (although it should be no surprise, his being a Marxist and all). Perhaps it is his Irish blood. Mr O’Neill is a democrat through and through, and I respect him for this. I enjoy O’Neill pointing out the hypocrisy of the ruling classes of the Western nations, who claim to support democracy whilst trying to frustrate some of its recent results, such as the “Brexit” process. What liberal cared about parliamentary sovereignty before they lost the direct democratic EU referendum? O’Neill, for all his flaws, is not a hypocrite. And that’s why I follow him. He always has an original, interesting populist perspective on recent events to offer. But I do not understand his republicanism even from a democrat’s point of view. Yes, the Throne is hereditary. On first impressions I suppose that's undemocratic. But the Throne overall brings far more democracy to the Realm than it prevents.
|Above: a picture of the journalist Brendan O'Neill.|
Her Majesty The Queen is the Head of State: the chief representative and living symbol of the country. The office of Head of State is the desire of all politicians, who are voracious for the veneration it would bestow on them. The Queen is also our Sovereign – the sovereignty (ultimate decisionmaking power) of the State is hers, and all the State’s authority derives from her (officially. Hence, “Her Majesty’s Government”, “Her Majesty’s Civil Service”, etc.). If a politician were also Head of State and Sovereign, we would obviously classify them as an autocrat. But the power of the British monarchy has been hacked away at over centuries, so today the Queen is but an ordinary (albeit wealthy) civilian. Democrats such as Mr O’Neill should be glad that our Head of State and Sovereign is a nonpartisan¹ civilian rather than a career politician. Elizabeth II has enough veneration, respect and standing to keep anyone else out of that office, but, thanks to centuries’ worth of constitutional conventions (traditions) and legislation, no power to become an autocrat herself. If you had a mighty sword, who would you rather give it to – a meek kitten or a greedy lion? The Queen is our meek kitten. She occupies the Throne so that a less feeble cat may not. This frees our actual leaders (the Prime Minister and whatnot) to be little more than civil servants. And thanks to this, Great Britain and other lands governed by constitutional monarchies have been free of tyranny for centuries. Nazism and Stalinism were the products of republics. Those who seek to demolish tradition ought to listen to what Edmund Burke warned centuries ago, that this will leave a vacuum which tyranny shall easily fill.
A republican would retort, “well, what if we should have no one Sovereign at all? What if sovereignty were to reside with the whole people and not a single individual?”. This is the nature of a republic. Well, popular sovereignty is a vague concept. It’s hard to define what an entire population composed of disagreeing individuals collectively wants or needs. Even democracy is merely majoritarianism, so its decisions may be criticised as an illegitimate “tyranny of the majority” by the rest of the populace. I'm pretty sure Joseph Stalin excused his authoritarian rule as ultimately being in “the people's” interests, regardless of whether they knew it or not. It is relatively easy in a republic, as in so many South American countries, for a general to stage a coup d’état claiming to be doing so “on behalf of the people”. Such a thing would never happen in the United Kingdom, as the Queen would just say “no” to any wannabe dictator (especially any South American-style wannabe military dictator like the hypothetical general just mentioned, as the Queen is the “Commander-in-Chief” (highest authority) of the British Armed Forces; therefore, all British military personnel officially owe their allegiance to her, above their generals and above the Government). The other Commonwealth realms have it even better off - they have an “extra line of defence” against tyranny in their Governor-Generals (viceroys), who act as de facto monarchs, as even if they approve a dictator, the Queen is still their ultimate Sovereign, and may yet say “not under my roof”. When I think of a “republic” the great populist demagogues of history come to mind – Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin, and so on; all of whom claimed authority from “the people” and had no living, breathing, rational² civilian Sovereign, like our Queen, to oppose them.
On top of this, I wonder if the hereditary principle is so inherently undemocratic in the first place. In “representative democracies” leaders all too often rise out of corruption, plutocracy, and the manipulation of the legislature and the electorate. In a way, hereditary monarchy is a form of demarchy. Who holds the British Throne is decided randomly, by the accident of birth. Republicans tout this fact as if it is a bad thing, but surely any democrat should be pleased that our Head of State and Sovereign is, as I have already stated, an ordinary member of the population rather than a distant, dishonest career politician. Ancient Athens, the progenitor of democracy, primarily employed demarchy to appoint political officials, and demarchy was regarded by the Athenians as one of true democracy's principal features. I reckon we will see the democratic potential of demarchic monarchy in King Charles III (or King George VII, which is what I’ve heard he may choose to be called; the present Prince of Wales), who so often, as heir to the Throne, already expresses sentiments, whether right or wrong, more typical of the general public than of the ruling elite. What could be more democratic than that, to have an ordinary civilian in the highest office? Actually, I would go so far as to say that the monarchy is barely undemocratic at all: in this age of republics, the British people could abolish the thing whenever they liked. But I guarantee you that in any referendum on the matter for the foreseeable future, the people would vote to preserve it. In the sense that it is only there because we want it to be, this institution is a democratic one. Therefore it is accountable. The evidence of this is in the constant effort the Royal Family makes to be popular, by, for example, looking pretty and doing charity work. Why would the Royals strive so hard to be popular if they were not accountable?
Due to their eternal hereditary financial security, and the fact that they owe their political position to no one, hereditary monarchs are also rather insusceptible to bribery and therefore control. This is really the whole beauty and importance of having a few unelected people at the top, such as the Monarch and the hereditary peerage of the House of Lords (all the arguments laid out in this article apply to them, too): they can be a restraint on the otherwise unbridled majoritarianism of representative democracy and the plutocracy inherent in the system. This is really how this whole article can be summarised.
One last point: as the philosopher Sir Roger Scruton put it, “Monarchy and the hereditary peerage were both ways in which past and future acquired a voice in present politics”. They represented, or represent, tradition, what Chesterton called the “democracy of the dead” (yet another way in which monarchy is actually more democratic). What Chesterton meant by this was, just as we see no reason why any man should be excluded from democracy by the accident of his birth, Chesterton saw no reason why any man should be excluded from democracy by the accident of his death. Surely our ancestors, who built this country (and to make a thing is to own it) should have some say over what we do with the product of all their hard work? For example, liberalising and industrialising these lands took many centuries of literal blood, sweat, and tears to do, so shouldn't we consider this before we so easily give away our freedoms and our industry, as we have been doing in the last few decades? Likewise, the hereditary principle represents the future, for should we not also consider the interests of those who shall inherit this country after we die? The Monarch and hereditary peers are incentivised to do this, as any political decision they make their own descendants will have to live with.
If Brendan O’Neill ever stumbles upon this article, I hope it persuades him that constitutional hereditary monarchy is the most desirable form of government for a true democrat such as himself. No doubt I will be laughed at by republicans for writing this. My ideas are old-fashioned; therefore they must be ridiculously wrong (apparently). But why is this the case? Surely the fact that an idea has been supported throughout history and throughout the world, standing the test of time, if anything, makes it more likely to be true rather than more likely to be false? But some people are too dim or lazy to think outside the box; indeed, to think at all. Many modern day men & women have a prejudice which I will call “era-ism”: the, almost religious, irrationally held belief that our era and its ideas are always superior to anything that came before³. Why is monarchy so blatantly wrong? Why is republicanism always the right way to go? Why is, say, European federalism the future? If you can give me valid reasons for these things without letting your bias towards anything modern influence you, I will respect you for it. I am tired of encountering people who pick and choose their opinions, whether they realise it or not, based on fashion, whether that is the fashion of the decade or the fashion of the century. Republicans are some of the worst of these, and the most noticeably so. Even when they are presented with strong arguments for monarchy's superiority I find that they still stick to their republican faith like mud, out of eraism, perhaps, or/and out of class war sentimentalism. Hopefully Brendan O’Neill is not one of these republicans.
¹Is it not fitting that “the chief representative and living symbol of the country” is politically neutral, even politically void? Certainly more fitting than a divisive partisan politician being Head of State, such as Donald Trump in the USA.
²If a hive-minded mob does take over the democracy and a dictator is elected, then a single individual will be more rational than the mob.
³Eraism is also called the Idea (or Myth) of Progress.
Summary: the hereditary principle allows for long-term-oriented freethinking nonpolitical civilians, not indebted to any party and therefore able to be truly independent, to be in the highest places of government, to temper the populism or plutocracy of elected party-political career politicians, and subsequently defend liberty and the constitution.