01 June 2012

Thoughts on the Diamond Jubilee

I saw a post recently attacking constitutional monarchies (can't find it now, I think it was one of the Ortho types). There is also an article by Sean Gabb, specifically criticising HM Queen Elizabeth

Both articles are correct on the facts. A constitutional monarchy is, for practical purposes, a republic, with all the faults of a republic

Further, the Queen's practical influence over the last sixty years has been, as far as we are able to tell, smaller than it could have been and harmful in its direction.

 Does that mean that neoreactionaries should stand against the celebrations of the second Diamond Jubilee in British history?  Of course not.

 The value of our monarchy is not in the effect the monarch has either on public opinion or on the government —- both are negligible. The value is as a reminder and as an alternative. Some day this war's gonna end. One day, maybe one day soon, though I don't hope for it, democracy will fall apart: due to lack of electricity or money, unresolvable election disputes, exposure of criminal entaglement of all of them, civil war among the progressivists, or some other Black Swan I haven't even thought of. When it does, we will need a ruler with some other basis of legitimacy. And we have one, ready to hand.

If it does happen soon, the new ruling monarch will, like Juan Carlos in 1975, not doubt see himself as a caretaker, overseeing the handover to a reconstituted democratic regime. But it doesn't have to be that way. That is where we come in, between now and then: our role is to  make the concept of restored monarchichal rule an alternative.

That's not so very far-fetched. Democracy could go out of fashion. Try just dropping into conversation the suggestion that Her Majesty (or the Prince of Wales or the Duke of Cambridge) could not actually be worse as a ruler than Gordon Brown or David Cameron, and quite a few will accept the point. That doesn't make them Royalists —- they still see the idea as unthinkable, but not as actually bad. The unthinkable can become thinkable very quickly if the right noises are made publicly (I have another article planned about that).

I wrote much the same thing on the occasion of the Duke of Cambridge's wedding. My argument is that the actual merits of members of a constitutional monarchy are not relevant. They, like the rest of us, are products of a liberal democracy. The choice of both the Queen and the Prince of Wales to concentrate their public attention on matters of great unimportance (the Commonwealth and the environment, respectively) is one forced on them by their situation. Could they have done better?  Undoubtedly. But you restore monarchy with the Royal Family you have, not the one you might wish to have.

I suppose there is another path, the only one open to republics, to start from scratch: let somebody rule absolutely, and start a dynasty. It could work. It's not at all preferable, though: the first King must actually be a politician, and the politics is likely to stick: the North Korea precedent again. It would be easier for a republic to adopt monarchy if a constitutional monarchy could make a success of it first.

Failing that, probably the best bet for a republic is total collapse, and a recapitulation of the phylogeny of monarchy via anarchy, warlordism and feudalism. Possibly this is what John Robb has in mind when he talks about neofeudalism —- I've not quite been able to understand him. The whole process needn't take longer than a couple of generations, provided technology doesn't regress too far on the way.

Restoration of a constitutional monarchy to an absolute one seems a much smoother process.


bloodyshovel said...

Kings ruled because they have an army. That's the basis of their power, and not the consent of the governed or some post-facto rationalisation.

They don't have an army now. And I don't see how they would get one.

Aaron Davies said...

Singapore seems to be a decent counter-example to North Korea--the Lees, father and son, look like the start of a fairly effective crypto-monarchy.

A Nonny Mouse said...

An elective government with quinquennial parliaments can on occasion last for 15 years. A dictatorship can last twice, but never three times as long. Usually though, the damage that it does is 10 times as great as that done by elective governments in the same period. A monarchy is simply a dictatorship with a different kind of P.R.

For example:
Saddam Hussein seized power 1968
he was overthrown & his sons Uday and Qusay killed 2003
and hanged 2006. Dynasty lasted 35 years.

James VI of Scotland becomes I of England 1603;
civil war starts 1642; Royalists defeated 1646;
Charles Stuart beheaded 1649. Dynasty lasted 43 years.

Muammar Ghaddafi's group of Officers seize power 1969;
Ghaddafi killed 2011. Dynasty lasted 42 years.

But Ghaddafi was the champion dictator of the whole world, kept in position by an unusual windfall of oil. 42 years is still short of 3*15 though.

Where I think you are going wrong is in believing a false historiography in which actual political régime change is disguised as the centuries long continuation of hereditary absolute monarchy. For example, Henry Tudor's claim to the throne was that his mother's grandfather was an illegitimate son of Edward III's third surviving son. In other words he was a fairly average member of the nobility (in the way that David Cameron is a descendant of George III). His method of asserting continuity was to marry a high ranking female in the legitimate succession and make sure that anyone else with a plausible claim was disappeared, beheaded, imprisoned in the tower, exiled or in terror of their life. This is politics at its worse, not monarchy.

A much simplfied description of the course of English Politics since 1066 would be as follows:-

Curthose v Beauclerc
Blois v Anjou
King v Barons
Anjou v Montfort
King v Lancaster
Lancaster v York
King v Pilgrimage
Tudor v Gray (Catholic v Protestant)
Tudor v Stuart
Cromwell v Stuart
Stuart v Orange
Hanover v Stuart
King v Regent (Whig v Tory)
(Liberal v Conservative)
(Conservative v Labour)

Brackets indicated that the centre of the conflict has moved way from the monarchy. It's just one long civil war, interspersed with plotting (politics). The great advantage of introducing parliamentary elections is that the civil war has now been replaced by the sham war which is the election campaign: the jockeying for power remains.

Aaron Davies said...

fidel castro: 1959-2011, 52 years. (the exact dates we should use for him are a bit fuzzy, but he pretty clearly beat 45 years.)

kim il-sung: 1948-1994, 45 years.

chiang kai-shek: 1928-1975, 46 years. (we tend not to think of him as a dictator, but afaict he was one.)

and there have of course been dozens of monarchs with individual reigns over 45 years, and dynasties into the centuries (and millennia, if you take japan's claims seriously).

Anomaly UK said...

bloodyshovel: An army. Next objection?

Anomaly UK said...

On the other comments, I'm not quite sure what they're directed at, since the basis of the monarchist arguments are not made in the post above. Examples where I gone beyond an overly simplistic "Monarchy = stability" argument are Actually Existing Monarchy and On Over-Mighty Subjects

The claim "A monarchy is simply a dictatorship with a different kind of P.R." is very interesting though. I agree completely. But so what? P.R. is absolutely fundamental to government. The reason why Monarchy is preferable to Dictatorship is that it has P.R. which is less easily transferable to a rival.

Yes, hereditary legitimacy broke down seriously for the entire 15th Century, and that was a bad thing.

In fact, Spandrell's point is linked: whether or not the Queen has an army is a matter of whether people believe she has. On paper, she does, but right now, Cameron has greater legitimacy. The Monarchy does not need to gain more legitimacy, they just need the democratic institutions to lose the legitimacy they have. And that could happen.

(Even today, it's not so clear-cut. I think back in the 1960s or 1970s, Britain might well have become a republic if the government had complete confidence that the Army would break its oath. But I might be misjudging the times).

A Nonny Mouse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
A Nonny Mouse said...

Actually, the English King did not rule because he had an army. Throughout most of English history he had no army, no constabulary, no traffic wardens, no prison guards and no social workers, except for clergy, and very little in the way of a civil service. Armies were assembled on an ad hoc basis, mostly kept abroad, and then immediately demobilised: a standing army would have been a danger to the Monarchy. Elizabeth Tudor was terrified when the Earl of Essex appeared unexpectedly in her palace of Nonsuch: she calmed him down through tact, charm and cunning, but she would have been totally at his mercy. Henry VIII could have been overthrown by the Pilgrimage of Grace: but he got his nobility to parley with them, separate them from their leaders, and disperse.

Charles I made the mistake of annoying the Fenlanders by trying to reclaim their marches: this is what did for him. This is the one good thing about kings as against parliaments: they can't afford to piss anyone off, and in the main they try not to.

The King ruled largely because he was the richest man in the country: he would remain such by not wasting money on armies. When there was another rich man, as with the Earl/Duke of Lancaster, he could afford to overthrow the king, which he did to Richard II. It also helped that communications were poor. Punishments for sedition were draconian.

French history is much the same. A single nutter in a rural town could, by gathering followers around him, advance on a city like Paris and take it over. Even today, it is reckoned that Manchester United supporters could, if they acted in concert, take over a country like Belgium. The mould was broken by the King of Prussia. He was able to introduce freedom of speech: his subjects could slander him as they chose, because his army was fully in control.

Chang Kai-shek lasted 20 years (1928-1948) as a sort of ruler of China, but spent the whole time fighting warlords, the Communists or the Japanese. His dynasty lingered on in Taiwan because the USA paid it to: Castro similarly was Russian funded. The vaunted millennia of Japanese Imperial rule are a laughable fiction. Contending warlords prevailed, and then in 1868 imposed a figurehead Emperor from an ancient family which had never hitherto had any power. None of these are examples of the McGinnean politics-free paradigm.