I’m a little unnerved to hear about your unhappiness, Brian. I tend to rely on your general bouyancy to keep me from going under.
I note what you say regarding ‘er Maj but I can’t say that I find it very persuasive. She is performing the useful function of being stubbornly in the way of those seeking more power and glory (and we all know who they are, don’t we). Besides, your claim that she acts as camouflage for the nefarious doings of the nefarious is somewhat contradicted by your (correct) assertion that an Anti-Blairite resentment is beginning to fulminate. People do catch on sooner or later, albeit for different reasons.
I think the British have a rather predictable and long-standing attitude towards the governments they elect. It starts off as:
Stage 1: A great bow wave of expectation and enthusiasm followed by
Stage 2: anti-climax and disappointment which tends to become
Stage 3: feelings of unease and surly resentment which eventually translate into
Stage 4: let’s hang the bastards!!
We’ve been hovering around Stage 2 since just before the last General Election but I detect that we have, in the last few weeks, seamlessly slipped into Stage 3.
I also agree that the Tories are doing exactly the right thing by doing absolutely nothing. They cannot win, Blair can only lose, so let him. Of course, whether the Tories are acting in this strategically brilliant manner due to 1) genuine vacuity and impotence or 2) masterful political nous, is an entirely different discussion.
Why the caution David? Because if they do start chucking H-bombs about the subcontinent I don’t want to add a feeling of extreme foolishness to all my other unhappinesses. It reminds me of yet another P.G. Wodehouse quote, where Bertie Wooster (I think) notes the occurrence of some ghastly modern practice or other and says something to the effect that if it catches on Western Civilisation will collapse. “And then what a lot of silly asses we should all look.” I love that.
Changing the subject, to all this royal stuff that’s going on just now (which you also mentioned in another post, David), I find myself noting the emotions that millions of my fellow countrymen now seem to feel, of fondness for their stubbornly traditional country and its stubbornly traditional head-of-state arrangements, but not sharing them. I’m a puritan. I think constitutions should describe the realities of power, not surround reality in an aerosol spray-canned mist of sentimental heritage flummery, which was once the real system but which is now just a fading memory. I’d like to live in a country where the official story of how we are governed approximates to reality.
It is said that Royalty confers respectability upon the sordid manoeuvres of politics. Exactly. That is precisely my objection to it. Let the sordid reality of politics be looked in the face, not funked. And then, you never know, people might just be persuaded to change it for the better. I don’t think that our Monarchy is better than the predations of democracy; I think it protects them. (Hans-Hermann Hoppe argues for the reality of Monarchy, not the shadow of it as we now have.)
However, there is the matter of Europe. The Europe issue is real. Royalty is just an argument about interior decor by comparison. If I have to choose between Britain becoming a sordidly real province of the European Union, and remaining a sentimentally heritaged flummery in a state of at least some political detachment from that Union, then I go with the flummery.
I summarise my objection to Britain’s “membership” of the European Union with one question: What British problems will it solve? Only career problems among the elite, it seems to me. With luck, some of them will get to run what they fondly hope will become a superpower to rival the USA. No more grovelling to Uncle Sam. No other problems will be solved that I can think of. What problems might British membership of the EU cause? Infinite. As some clever French conservative (identificatory emails welcome) once said: “When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.”
That’s how the Royals always do it. They quietly allow themselves to become identified with whatever in the country is being complained about, and all the complainers forget about any flummery objections they might have had (and in this case there were damn few complainers to start with).
The Conservative Party is finally making a difference to all this. It is keeping its hated mouth tight shut. This is helping. An anti-Blairite atmosphere may now finally be coalescing, and the Conservatives must wait in silence, and let it grow.
(I’m right now watching the Falklands Play, and I’m taping it too. Very interesting.)
Pomp and Circumstance
Heard from a British TV presenter today when reporting on Golden Jubilee Celebrations:
“The crowd greeted the Royal entourage ecstatically. The young Princes went on a walkabout and were treated like popstars“
I must admit that the terms ‘Libertarian’ and ‘Monarchist’ are not one that are effortlessly congruent but neither are they mutually exclusive. So it is without any hesitation that I declare myself to be, in my own quiet and understated way, a Monarchist, at least as far as Britain is concerned.
This being the case, I am only too happy to rise to the challenge of Brendan O’Neill
“..in fact, worst of all is a monarchist who dare not speak his name, who won’t come out in full defence of the royals. So come on then – defend the monarchy.”
I do dare to speak my name, Mr.O’Neill, and defending the monarchy is not just my burden but, I’ll have you know, my pleasure.
If one is to live within the institution called ‘nation’ then it is entirely reasonable (and maybe even essential) to have something or someone to symbolise that nation. Our monarch fulfils that role not just satisfactorily but admirably. It is an institution which is the product of our heritage, culture and history and a reminder that our constitution and civil society was painstakingly built by the craft and toil of ages and has now been largely squandered by the kind of elected representatives you seem to admire so much.
The monarch is a continuum; it is an anchor for the commonwealth of the people and stands not above politics but apart from politics. The monarch has served and continues to serve as a totem for both British sense of community and nationhood; a stubborn reminder that British civil society is not within the gift of Tony Blair or Romano Prodi and will be here long after both of them have turned to dust. Our Queen really does serve, our politicians merely feed at the table.
I might remind you, Mr.O’Neill that it is not the Queen that is bleeding us white with taxes, it is elected politicians. It is not the Queen that is suffocating us with pettyfogging regulations and laws, it is elected politicians. It is not the Queen who has traduced our civil liberties, it is elected politicians. It is not the Queen that has delivered us, bound hand and foot, to the fat Cardinals in Brussels, it is elected politicians. Given the choice between Queen Elizabeth and the gaggle of mendacious, thieving sluts that people like you have in mind to replace her, I know for sure which one I would take up arms for.
So there you have it, Mr.O’Neill. A defence of monarchy. And since I have been bold enough to defend my position, perhaps you will allow me the indulgence of a challenge of my own? It is a challenge for you and all others who believe in ‘democratic’ virtues. Did you take a holiday last year? If so, did you canvass everybody in your constituency beforehand on their opinion as to a) whether you were entitled to a holiday and b) where you should spend it? If not, why not?
Brendan O’Neill has posted a reply to the various people who have commented on his anti-monarchist remarks posted earlier on his own blog. In the following paragraph he addresses my article posted yesterday called A toast to the ‘anti-democratic’ and pleasingly powerless Monarchy
Perry at Libertarian Samizdata challenges my definition of democracy, and claims that ‘the Queen steals a great deal less of my money and poses a far lesser threat to my liberty than the democratically elected thugs in Downing Street’. This is a popular argument in favour of the monarchy – that it is at least better than the politicians we end up with. But this is an inherently anti-democratic view. At least we can get rid of politicians if we don’t like what they do – there is no option to ‘unelect’ Prince Charles for talking utter nonsense about the environment, or Prince Andrew for being a useless, parasitic playboy, or Princess Margaret for being obnoxious and arrogant. We’re stuck with them, whether we like it or not.
Of course what I said was anti-democratic, what I wrote was an overt anti-democratic polemical article! It seems Brendan has completely missed my point. I don’t care what Prince Charles says about the environment because he, unlike Tony Blair, has no ability to take my money to put his views into practice. I am free to ignore him, which I do. I don’t give a damn how obnoxious Prince Andrew is… supporting his playboy lifestyle is chump change compared to what the socialist British state takes from me by force to support the ghastly National Health Service or any other of the host of other theft based ‘social’ (meaning state) programmes. I regard the monarchy as a quaint oddity and the Jubilee as a fine excuse for a party because it has no real political power and thus does not actually need to be ‘un-elected’. The Queen and that idiot Prince Charles does not decide how much of my money the British state will
steal tax, the democratically sanctified state does, aided and abetted by everyone who adds bogus legitimacy to that appropriation by voting for the thieves MPs in Parliament who act as their proxies confiscating other people’s property.
To say an aspect of life is amenable to democratic politics, which is to say, to politicise it by allowing parties other than the people directly involved to decide what form some interaction must take, is to take that aspect of life out of the realm of voluntary association/dis-association and to give it a violence based mandatory nature… and to morally de-legitimise it.
I am not pro-monarchy, I am anti-political… and that includes democratic politics as well. Thus the reason I will toast the monarchy is that it is essentially a non-political figurehead with no real power over me, unlike Tony Blair or Iain Duncan Smith or Chaz Kennedy. I do not care how it is determined who gets to pull the political levers of power… I want those levers to have no one’s hands on them and the hands (and, yes, maybe heads) of anyone reaching for them cut off with an axe. I do not want the power over my life wielded by the democratic state transferred to the monarchy, I want it removed all together. Brendan, I think the ‘libertarian’ bit before Samizdata might have given you a hint where I was coming from. What matters is not democracy or monarchy, but several liberty.
democratic adj. 1 of, like, practicing, advocating, or constituting democracy or a democracy. 2 favouring social equality.
Brendan O’Neill is a republican in the British sense of the word, which is to say he wants to abolish Britain’s figurehead monarchy. He wants to do this because it is ‘anti-democratic’. Of course when a Marxist says ‘democratic’ it is useful to actually ponder the meaning of the word and how it is being used. After all, communist East Germany was the ‘People’s German Democratic Republic’… and Brendan is both a self described republican and in favour of democracy, so clearly one must not just assume that when the D word gets bandied about we all mean the same thing.
Or do we?
When I use the term democratic, it is generally in a negative pejorative sense. To me it means my neighbours voting themselves some of my money, in effect mugging me by proxy when the state taxes me for their perceived benefit. To me ‘democratic’ means allowing my neighbour a say in how I build my house and how I raise my children and what chemicals get put in my food and water regardless of what I want. Democracy is at its core about denying the concept of ownership, even of your own body, because other people get to use the violence of the state via their ballots to reduce my actual ownership. When the state intermediates itself, it negates society, because state and society are two completely different things. The morality of several ownership, even of yourself, gets superceded by the force based political state.
So when I hear people like Brendan say something is ‘anti-democratic’ I usually assume that whatever they are referring to is actually a good thing. The US Constitution for example is quite anti-democratic because it severely constrains (in theory at least) the ability of people to vote for laws that would abridge liberties (such as freedom of speech or the right to own the means to defend yourself)… so things that act as a check on that violence backed tyranny of the majority called ‘democracy’ are generally a splendid idea. For me, voluntary social interaction is the source of legitimacy, not the sanctification of the ballot box and the violent intermediation that springs from it.
Yes, I suspect Brendan and I do indeed mean the same thing when we use the term ‘democratic’, I just happen to regard it as the means by which a vast engine of criminality powers itself whereas Brendan sees it as the key to an egalitatian Utopia at gunpoint.
So whilst I must confess to being infused with the widespread indifference to the monarchy Brendan mentions, the fact is the Queen steals a great deal less of my money and poses a far lesser threat to my liberty than the democratically elected thugs in Downing Street, so I for one am happy to use the Jubilee as an excuse to hoist a few drinks to toast the health of ‘Her Majesty’, who reigns without ruling, something I am unlikely to ever do to the Capo di tutti Capi, the Prime Minister, who rules without reigning.
It seems my item on Wednesday Lessons for Blair from France, pointing out the advantages of constitutional monarchy as a healthy focus for patriotic sentiment compared to the likely alternatives triggered a few harrumphs from some Samizdata readers. I cannot answer every point but here are a few:
I was trying to figure out how monarchy on the British model might prove useful in some societies roiled by internal strife, such as France. My article was most certainly NOT a starry-eyed defence of monarchy as such. As a minimal statist libertarian who has flirted with the anarcho-capitalist stance, I certainly think our Royal Family should be privatised, its tax-funding status ended and the Civil List significantly curtailed. I also realise the Royal family’s role in standing atop the English class system which, while not as oppressive in the past, has its faults. I am also well aware that the U.S. is the great example of how a republic can hold the allegiance of its citizens and has worked supremely well, give or take the odd hiccup such as the 2000 Florida vote re-count controversy (“George Bush is dead, long live George W. Bush!”) and some unpleasantness during the 1860s.
More broadly, I would say this: until the day comes and we can all live in a libertarian utopia with zero income tax and tiny government, or no government at all, we are likely to have states. Those states will be headed by someone or something. It really unlikely that an elected president, who is bound to be a partisan political figure, could be an improvement. After all, Royalty is a lottery for its members. They don’t ask for the job and are obliged to repay their fortune with a life of duty. (That is why royals get such stick if they are seen to misbehave, like some of the younger present members).
Of course, one day we may be able to dispense with the whole affair and move on. But as a libertarian activist, getting rid of royalty is not exactly top of my priorities. I’d rather focus on cutting the government down to size. If I could pay just 10 percent income tax with the Queen remaining in Buckingham Palace, I’d settle for that rather than a social democratic republic where I’d pay 50 percent.
Anyway, that is my ha’ pennyworth on the subject. For a good, thorough defence of British style monarchy, check out British journalist, blogger and aspiring Shakespearean actor Andrew Sullivan. Worth a read.
Here’s a poser for Samizdata readers – does the institution of constitutional monarchy help to domesticate feelings of patriotism into something more civilized?
Michael Gove, in a splendid column for the UK’s Times newspaper today, makes the point that the monarchy, precisely because it is composed of fallible human beings above the political fray, acts as a far healthier focus of national loyalty than often afforded by more “modern” republics, like, say, France. As our society becomes more individualised, multi-ethnic and diverse, it is surely more, not less, important to have institutions that can provide some kind of common bond. Think, for example, how the breakup of the Hapsburg empire after the First World War led, in short order, to an upswelling of often unpleasant nationalism in the states composed out of its demise.
If the electoral travails of the French tell us anything, it is that, even after five republics and the Empire of Bonaparte, they still haven’t figured out the value of constitutional monarchy as part of a truly liberal order.
Is ‘Britain’ still a culture rooted in evolved wisdom and contradictions that stretch back more than a millennium? Do those Anglo-Saxon, Norman, Celtic and Nordic roots still run deep?
Or is Britain in 2002 the product of a transcendent collective moment in 1945, just waiting these years since for the uncluttered minds of New Labour to sweep away the last remitments of the Old Empire and cut the even older entangled thread of yeomanry and gentry, producing the longed for value-neutral tabula rasa of ‘Cool Britannia’? Is this Year Zero, in which all cultural values are equally valid… dancing around the maypole, Guy Fawkes night, religious tolerance and snogging behind the bike shed are not more or less a part of a collective multicultural state-society than burqas, clitoradectomy and enforced arranged marriage?
Well the verdict is in… in excess of one million people lined the 24 mile route of the Queen Mother’s progress to St. George’s chapel to cast their vote on the impromptu referendum on just what ‘Britain’ actually means. Millions understand that a hereditary monarchy that reigns over society without ruling the state is less corrupting than democratically sanctified political patronage. These same millions know what it is to be British and stood up to be counted yesterday. They were not there just to see what was but also to show to each other was still is.