Saturday, 11 December 2010

Why the Monarch matters

Phillip Blond Director, ResPublica think tank, had a radio essay on the BBC. He argued that the Monarch has an important, continuing and foundational role in contemporary politics.

Here are his main points in favour of the Constitutional Monarchy as we enjoy it in Australia:
A king is a person vested with ruling and sovereign authority over land and people. He is a single personage with the right to rule over the nation.

There is a difference though between the power expressed by the monarch and that held by the prime minister. Initially we might think that the prime minister represents the democratic process. That he or she is a check on the absolute and arbitrary claims of the king.

But in reality the reverse is the case.

Does not the ideal monarch stand for a higher good and a deeper principle than that of the politician? Indeed by personifying the nation, the monarch holds politicians and democratic politics to a higher standard.

The King or Queen in seeking to stand for all members of the national commonwealth saves us from extremism and the righteous fundamentalism of those who believe only in their beliefs.

What I am beginning to suggest here is the paradox that democracy itself is not enough to ensure the continuation of democracy.

Unless we have powers that represent other interests than that of a temporary and often manipulated majority, we will be dominated by the contest for electoral superiority, and determined by the unlimited rule of those who win.

Monarchy helps to sustain the democratic process by mixing a power other than that of democracy with democracy.

And in this respect, mixed constitution - the combination of the rule of the many, the few and the one - is more effective than the division of powers in preventing elected tyranny.

Monarchy - the rule of the one - acts as a kind of umpire which ensures that the democratic process itself cannot cannot be subverted and that it displays a certain rule of fairness. In short the monarch upholds the rule of law.

Thus of some 40 constitutional monarchies in the world, 16 of which recognise the Queen as sovereign, all have clearly observed constitutional procedures.

Constitutional monarchies also comprise some of the world's most developed, wealthy, democratically accountable and progressive states.

According to the UN, seven of the top 10 countries in the world in terms of quality of life are constitutional monarchies.

Certain inherited institutions: the king, the lords and the church, representing the one, the few and the transcendent; stood guard over the notion of the objective good and the common good.

So to defend democracy, we need more than democracy.

Were we to abolish or further limit the power of the British monarch therefore, we would remove the very lynchpin that has secured our British liberties, equities, social mobility and sense of economic justice over hundreds of years.
You can hear a longer version of this essay via the BBC iPlayer.

5 comments:

Evan said...

Traditionally, kings had unlimited authority. Modern presidents, prime ministers, or kings, however, have limited authority. It seems to me the only current difference - besides traditional mystique - is how they are selected and how long they serve for.

"The King or Queen," Mr. Blond says, "in seeking to stand for all members of the national commonwealth saves us from extremism and the righteous fundamentalism of those who believe only in their beliefs." I agree: the ideal king or queen would do this. However, so would the ideal President or Prime Minister. I can see three questions here:

(1) What method produces this ideal head of state more often? Erasmus pointed out that one great advantage of hereditary monarchy is that the future monarch can be trained for the task from childhood. The American Founding Fathers sought to replicate this by having otherwise-uninvolved electors choose the President; however, the electors speedily fell under partisan influence. Perhaps monarchy does have an advantage here.

(2) When there isn't an ideal head of state, which system can correct the problem better? Unless Parliament is prepared to depose the king as quickly as James II or Louis XVI, they're stuck with a king for life. A President or Prime Minister, however, can be deposed at the next election. Here, a republic has a definite advantage.

(3) When the system does go wrong, which goes wrong worse? This depends on the particular constitution of the country, and how many powers the head of state has.

So, neither a republic nor constitutional monarchy has a categorical advantage. It depends on many things, such as how likely the people are to elect bad heads of state, and how many bad things the head of state can do. I've discovered that almost all political questions, unfortunately, are like this.

radical royalist said...

When there isn't an ideal head of state, which system can correct the problem better? Unless Parliament is prepared to depose the king as quickly as James II or Louis XVI, they're stuck with a king for life. A President or Prime Minister, however, can be deposed at the next election. Here, a republic has a definite advantage.

Let’s get real and compare the last eight US presidents with today’s European Monarchs. From the paranoid Richard Nixon to the present office holder, who started as a messiah two years ago and ended already as a lame duck and disappointing figure for all who hoped for and had been promised “change” there is none whom I’d prefer to King Albert II of the Belgians, Queen Elizabeth II of King Juan Carlos I. They have proved to be better heads of state than their US counterparts. And their long reign did not lead to unpopularity as usually is the case in the US.

Evan said...

From the paranoid Richard Nixon to the present office holder... there is none whom I’d prefer to King Albert II of the Belgians, Queen Elizabeth II of King Juan Carlos I... And their long reign did not lead to unpopularity as usually is the case in the US.

In other words, you're answering my question (1) by saying monarchies produce near-ideal heads of state more often. However, the modern monarchs you mentioned use much less power than US Presidents. I'd venture to say that if Elizabeth or John Carlos or Albert actually used anywhere near as much power, they'd be fairly unpopular as well. Suppose President Obama deeply supports policy X - all its opponents turn against him. Suppose Queen Elizabeth deeply supports policy X - no one will ever know. It seems to me that your argument would simply lead to limiting the head of state's powers. Hey, if President Obama did nothing more than call for "change", I'm sure he'd still be popular!

radical royalist said...

The concept of a Constitutional Monarchy is that there is a head of state who is above party lines and a Prime Minister who is responsible for the daily politics.

No Monarch of a Constitutional Monarchy can be as powerful as the US president.

ignatius masayuki said...

The main difference between Monarchy and republic: Monarchy sees its power as a form of obligation, even a sacred obligation entrusted by God himself; republic sees its power as a great right that belongs to everyone who consider him or herself worthy of it.
I think either Monarchy or republic can end up badly. The transformation from the good King Henry IV to the extravagant King Louis XIV; the transformation from the religious founding fathers of USA to the atheistic presidents of today.
In the end, I think the ability to corrupt everything that is good or innocence is the real original sin of mankind.