We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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Samizdata quote of the day

We have heard the Rights of Man called a levelling system; but the only system to which the word levelling is truly applicable, is the hereditary monarchical system. It is a system of mental levelling. It indiscriminately admits every species of character to the same authority. Vice and virtue, ignorance and wisdom, in short, every quality, good or bad, is put on the same level. Kings succeed each other, not as rationals, but as animals. It signifies not what their mental or moral characters are. Can we then be surprised at the abject state of the human mind in monarchical countries, when the government itself is formed on such an abject levelling system?—It has no fixed character. To-day it is one thing; to-morrow it is something else. It changes with the temper of every succeeding individual, and is subject to all the varieties of each. It is government through the medium of passions and accidents. It appears under all the various characters of childhood, decrepitude, dotage, a thing at nurse, in leading-strings, or in crutches. It reverses the wholesome order of nature. It occasionally puts children over men, and the conceits of non-age over wisdom and experience. In short, we cannot conceive a more ridiculous figure of government, than hereditary succession, in all its cases, presents.

Tom Paine

38 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • I prefer levelling systems where the experience points required to get to the next level increases with each level, rather than those where the EXP requirements remain constant but the EXP you get from defeating enemies decreases as your level increases.

  • terence patrick hewett

    And who shall we have as a Republican President? Tony Blair? John who ate all the pies Prescott? John Bercow?

    George Bernard Shaw asserted:

    “It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him.”

    He was correct: we have spent the last two thousand years trying to kill each other in the most horrible ways we can devise.

    As Marriot Edgar put it:

    “When they told him they’d brought Magna Charter,
    The King seemed to go kind of limp,
    But minding his manners he took off his hat
    And said ‘Thanks very much, have a shrimp.’

    ‘You’d best sign at once,’ said Fitzwalter,
    ‘If you don’t, I’ll tell thee for a start
    The next coronation will happen quite soon,
    And you won’t be there to take part.’

    So they spread Charter out on t’ tea table,
    And John signed his name like a lamb,
    His writing in places was sticky and thick
    Through dipping his pen in the jam.

    And it’s through that there Magna Charter,
    As were made by the Barons of old,
    That in England today we can do what we like,
    So long as we do what we’re told”

  • I am totally in favour of monarchy, as long as all it does is reign but not rule.

  • RAB

    And George Bernard Shaw was that very “other Englishman” (though he was Irish) who would have massacred his fellow man in droves had some Fabian committee found them to be “unproductive”.

  • James Strong

    The most important function of the British monarchy is to separate the roles of Head of State and Head of Government.
    It makes me, who felt loathing for Blair and feel contempt for May, less likely to be called unpatriotic.

    I would like to have a non-executive president. Germany, Italy, the Republic of Ireland, and other countries too, all have them and I bet almost no reader here could name them.

    Al that is needed is a sober, well-mannered person who can read an autocue and behave with dignity at the Cenotaph and on other ceremonial occasions.

  • James Strong

    I think somewhere in his writings Tom Paine said that the idea of a hereditary ruler is as absurd as a hereditary mathematician.

    Perhaps someone can come up with the precise words he used?

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    I think that everyone should be equal before the law,the idea of a monarchy is contrary to that. The head of state is the physical embodiment of the sovereignty of the nation, and by having a hereditary monarch in that role at the centre of the constitution, you found that constitution on the idea that this is not so. So in principle I find the idea as offensive as Tom Paine did.

    On the other hand, with a monarchy your head of state is chosen by random, and you have no idea what you are going to get. In the case of a republic with an elected president, you know exactly what you are going to get – ie a politician. That is the biggest argument in favour of the monarchy.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    James Strong, I also like the idea of a non-executive president, and many countries do indeed function quite well with them. (You can still get a bad president, but if you do they are generally fairly easily removed). The trouble is how you get from here to there. What set of constitutional changes do you propose, and how do you implement them? A proposal
    to turn my native Australia into a republic failed in 1999 over questions like these – the monarchy itself was barely discussed in that campaign – and Australia does have written constitution and a clear mechanism for amending that constitution. Unlike certain other places I could mention.

    (In Australia, a referendum is required by law over questions like this, and it must be a very specific question. You can’t do anything vague like “Do you favour a republic?”. It has to be “Do you want to change the constitution from [this] to [that]”. The 1999 referendum was defeated by an alliance of people who wanted a different [that] and actual monarchists who wanted the status quo – likely a smaller group).

  • Mr Ed

    I quite like the Sanmarinese system of two Captains-Regent, joint heads of state serving short terms (they have 6 months) and then some other buggers have a go. It is reputedly modelled on the Roman Consuls. AIUI, you can serve more then once and they can face judicial action on leaving office for any misconduct should a citizen complain. They combine executive and titular functions, but know that they have little time to serve.

    Of course San Marino has had Communist governments, but they never got going with the GULAGs, and the problem there is the people rather than the system, but when the people are the problem, the system needs to be perfect.

  • Paul Marks

    As so often Mr Paine uses clever words – to say very little.

    Mr Paine does not answer the basic criticism of the French “Declaration of the Rights of Man” – that it confused individual rights with the rights of “the people” and was a total mess as a legal document because of this confusion. Instead Mr Paine seeks to divert attention for the mess of the “Right of Man” document – by an attack upon the British monarchy, indeed upon the British people themselves. For please note – much of the quotation from Mr Paine is not directed at George III “the abject state of the human mind in monarchical countries” (and on and on) is insulting abuse directed at the BRITISH PEOPLE – abuse directed the British people by Mr Thomas Paine. It was not the British people (whom he so abuses and insults) who tried to kill Mr Paine – it was his French Revolutionary friends who tried to kill him.

    Was the British monarchy expensive, compared to other systems of government, when Mr Paine wrote these words? No it was not (George III lived in a small house for most of reign and was certainly not a man with a taste for luxury) – it was cheap compared to the various plundering factions (robbing each other and robbing everyone else) in the Revolutionary France that Mr Paine supported.

    Was the monarch too powerful or lacking in a sense of duty – either in the time of Mr Paine or now? Many people have said hard things about George III (for example mocking his illness – which caused him intense suffering), but no one has ever said he was lazy or lacked a sense of moral duty. Nor was he too powerful – his powers were quite limited. Indeed he had great difficulty even getting justice for Mr Harrison (the inventor a clock accurate enough to be used in the calculation of longitude) whom the elected politicians and officials had horribly abused and betrayed.

    As for anyone, anyone at all, who would claim that Elizabeth the second is too powerful (when the lady has hardly any power at all), or costs too much money (when the profits of the estates, which are unjustly taken away from the Royal family, are vastly GREATER than the “Civil List” that is paid in compensation for this confiscation), or is lacking in a work ethnic, or a sense of moral duty…. well such a person would be a LIAR, and would also be showing clear HOSTILITY to this country (the United Kingdom – please note the name), which would be particularly rude if such a person were a guest in this country.

    I trust you agree Mr Michael Jennings.

  • Paul Marks

    As for the particular political question.

    It a vital part of any good political constitution that someone should have their eye on the LONG TERM.

    I am certainly not in favour of absolute monarchy – I am a Whig not a Tory (and even Tory folk are really Whigs when put to the test), what if a monarch goes mad? Or is hopelessly weak? Or is too strong?

    However, a political system where no political office holder has any real reason to care about the long term (their children and grandchildren) is not a good one.

    I think tiny Liechtenstein has the balance about right – in the end the people have the last say (via their elected representatives or, better, by direct vote), but the hereditary Prince (by virtue of being hereditary) is part of a tradition that reaches back to his ancestors (both those he knows – and those dead before he was born) and reaches out to his children – and their children. Not just knowledge – but custom and obligation.

    The British monarchy is far too weak now – too weak to really play the balancing role in the constitution that it supposed to play, but where we are where we are and do not think anything can be done about.

    “But equality” – I am not an egalitarian, a pox upon equality.

  • Here is another Paine quote, as recorded by Wolfe Tone, a fellow supporter of the French revolution but a better man. When they met in Paris, Tone mentioned that he had known Burke in England and spoke of “the shattered state of his mind in consequence of the death of his only son, Richard.”

    Paine immediately said that it was the ‘Rights of Man’ which had broken his heart, and that the death of his son gave him occasion to develop the chagrin which had preyed upon him ever since the appearance of that work.

    Tone was somewhat disgusted, commenting that, while Burke doubtless did not care for Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’ pamphlet,

    I have myself seen the working of a father’s grief upon his spirit, and I could not be deceived. Paine has no children!

    You have to be as vain as an intellectual to think a man would be so annoyed by your pamphlet that he’d treat the death of his son as a mere excuse to say so. If I had something to say about monarchy – or anything else – I would not quote Paine to make my point. He is too like those modern intellectuals of more ego than intellect whose idiocies this blog fights. 🙂 Intellectuals like that hate monarchs – it’s a position you can’t get by passing exams, still less by preening before your fellow intellectuals.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    My opinions on equal rights under the law (good) and democracy (less bad than the alternatives) have not changed since 2004 when I wrote a post for this blog of which I am still proud called “This great isonomy of ours”.

    But I like the monarchy in part because it thumbs its nose at these desirable principles of isonomy and democracy. The actual violation of them is trivial; the level of oppression practised upon me by Elizabeth II is about a picoStalin. But it is good to be reminded that for most of history things were quite different. It is healthy to give that part of our souls that yearns for tribal ritual a little outing sometimes. Think of it as an inoculation.

  • Eric

    I am totally in favour of monarchy, as long as all it does is reign but not rule.

    Isn’t that what you have? A sideshow for the tourists? I realize the queen technically has the power to veto acts of parliament, but if she ever actually exercised that power they’d take it from her and go on with business.

    I have to say the British royal family doesn’t seem much improved from the days when consanguineous marriage was the norm.

  • bobby b

    “It is healthy to give that part of our souls that yearns for tribal ritual a little outing sometimes.”

    And to re-direct those tribal yearnings away from the CEO and towards a rockstar figurehead who smiles but never gets the keys.

    (Way before my time, but nice post, so thanks for pointing it out.)

    A commenter on Catallexy jokingly says that he expects that America would be thrilled to adopt The Queen as America’s head, implying that Trump is Prez only because he’s a culture star and we’re enthralled by such people. It occurred to me that if we could adopt The Queen but keep the slot of CEO (with Trump for now), with the split of the Heads that that entails, we’d be doing well. We ARE a celebrity-loving society, and would be better off if we could have an unchanging and beloved figurehead who no one could ever really have any reason to dislike, so that we could stop expecting such qualities from the person who is supposed to act as our head executive.

  • Erik

    …and therefore we should abolish all inheritance. And luck, while we’re at it.

    That’s where this line of reasoning leads, right?

  • Steve Borodin

    Re Paul Marks (8.42 p.m.)

    “It a vital part of any good political constitution that someone should have their eye on the LONG TERM.”

    Precisely what was wrong with the BREXIT shambles in my view. Everyone was preoccupied with what would happen to the pound/immigration/GDP tomorrow and not the long-term consequences of committing ourselves to a large federation/country lacking democratic accountability and ruled by a bureaucracy with its roots in corrupt socialist administrations.

  • David

    Well we down here in Oz have a constitutional monarchy with Elizabeth II as our Head of State and represented at a Federal level by the Governor General and at State level by a Governor. For those unaware Australia is a federation of States with each being a sovereign entity.

    It has served us well and, for Eric’s benefit, was put to the test years ago when an elected government was denied supply but tried to push on against the conventions in place. In crude terms the Governor General [the local rep for the Queen] sacked the incumbent Prime Minister and a general election resulted at which said Prime Minister was given his marching orders by the people. It is not just a tourist attraction even though it certainly attracts plenty of them to the pageantry of monarchy.

    In simple terms it is not the power the Monarchy has but the power it denies to those who would misuse it. I have heard all the arguments for a presidential system and looked at those in place around the world and, thank you, I will stick with a Constitutional Monarchy as my preferred option.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    …and therefore we should abolish all inheritance. And luck, while we’re at it.

    That’s where this line of reasoning leads, right?

    I’m opposed to the concept of inheritance when it is enshrined in law, yes.

    On the other hand, I am absolutely in favour of property owners having the right to voluntarily choose to give their property to anyone they like, including members of their family after death.

    These are the not the same things at all.

  • Jacob

    There was once a debate: how is marriage best achieved: by random meeting and falling in love or by the old method – via a matchmaker and arranged by the parents. The fact is that both methods work about equally well. (Maybe the matchmaker method works somewhat better).

    So, what works better – a hereditary (idiot) King or an elected politician as figurehead President?
    [Not to mention non-figurehead Presidents like the American ones (all of America) or French ones].

    It really doesn’t matter. All men are frail and limited in they abilities.

    The Monarchy is, at least, colorful and extravagant, so it’s worth keeping.

  • Jacob

    “terms the Governor General [the local rep for the Queen] sacked the incumbent Prime Minister”

    Australians are lucky. It’s very useful to have someone invested with authority to sack a PM.

  • Isn’t that what you have? A sideshow for the tourists? I realize the queen technically has the power to veto acts of parliament, but if she ever actually exercised that power they’d take it from her and go on with business.

    Fuck the tourists, the fact the monarch could do more but doesn’t is a feature not a bug, it is the ‘nuclear option’. Sure, the government of the day could in theory strip away even that notional power, but that then pulls the thread on the whole constitutional settlement & delegitimises the entire system, kicking off all manner of fun. At that point, what the Army thinks about the state of the nation suddenly matters for the first time since Glorious Revolution.

  • Erik

    I’m opposed to the concept of inheritance when it is enshrined in law, yes.

    On the other hand, I am absolutely in favour of property owners having the right to voluntarily choose to give their property to anyone they like, including members of their family after death.

    These are the not the same things at all.

    I think you missed the joke, so I shall spell it out.

    Depending on its local form, hereditary monarchy may be little more than a particularly large-scale property owner (the king) opting to give their property (the country) to anyone they like (the heir).

    Thus, Paine’s jeering at hereditary monarchy easily extends to jeering at all ownership and property. “It changes with the temper of every succeeding individual, and is subject to all the varieties of each” indeed. I, too, was very annoyed when the local bakery was sold to a new owner and the new owner ran it differently from the previous owner. “It has no fixed character. To-day it is one thing; to-morrow it is something else.” And therefore what, the bakery should be nationalized and run by a committee to keep it in stasis? I think not.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    No, I didn’t miss anything. The sovereignty of a nation is an entirely different thing to the ownership of private property, unless you consider the people who live in the nation to be the property of the head of state as well. I hope you don’t.

    As for the example of the bakery, there is nothing stopping you buying the bakery and running it as you see fit, assuming that the present owner is willing to sell. If he isn’t, there is nothing preventing you from building a competing bakery on property that you down own nearby. There is no way whatsoever that you can make yourself king, however.

  • Erik

    The people who live in the nation are some combination of employees, tenants, users, customers, and possibly other roles. It’s a large corporation, it has many people. But I contend that sovereignty is not an entirely different thing – sovereignty is largely a matter of in-housing your own security and dispute resolution matters.

    In practice, I cannot make myself king because the powers that be will conspire to prevent me, but that proves nothing other than that the powers that be are an oligopoly who wish to prevent new entrants into the market for governance. In principle, I could perfectly well make myself king by declaring independence, although I should probably gather loyal (or at least well-paid) followers first to back that up.

  • I agree with Perry de Havilland (London) at May 20, 2018 at 11:49 am and earlier. The point of ‘reign not rule’ is that the monarch is not part of the day to day administration and is not from the mostly self-selecting (others-excluding) same-mindset group, so is a ‘nuclear option’ that has at least some chance of detonating at (hopefully never required) need – or as I prefer to put it in my mild-mannered way, is an insurance policy (one with the happy feature of paying for itself and providing entertainment). A significant category of true emergencies arise only because the mindset and posturing of the day-to-day rulers forces them to ignore the problem even as it grows to gross proportions.

    Any such insurance policy may fail to pay out at need of course, but the figurehead president is apt to be a much worse risk because they usually come from the same mindset and selection process as produced the prime minister.

    (Think, for example, of the behaviour of today’s Labour-reconstructed house of ‘lords’ on Brexit versus how a more hereditarily-selected upper house might act. The current ‘lords’ back up the remoaners – because so many of them are the detritus of the commons and the chattering class. The last thing we need is a second chamber that tries to protect the deep state from any occasional attempts of the first to respect the popular will – but thanks to Tony Blair that’s what we’ve got.)

  • Thailover

    It’s the nature of monarchy to rule and subjugate people to your will. That’s shadow-self aspect, not enlightened or divine self. Divine self deals in leadership, not rulership; inspiring others to act, rather than controlling. Divine self is about individualism and civilized liberty. Shadow self is about collectivism, group identity. Divine self is about being a victor. Shadow self is about being a victim and considering victimhood a virtue, a political blunt instrument to beat others into submission.
    Divine self is a race to the top where others are invited, as “winning” is positive sum.
    Shadow self is always zero sum, jealous and petty and full of hatred for the successful. It’s a race to the bottom. Shadow self is the idea that the success of others CAUSES others to fail.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    In practice, I cannot make myself king because the powers that be will conspire to prevent me, but that proves nothing other than that the powers that be are an oligopoly who wish to prevent new entrants into the market for governance.

    As a matter of principle, I think this is bad. As a matter of practice, there are things that are much worse, as long as the king has relatively little power.

  • Pat

    The hereditary constitutional monarchy has the advantage that the chief symboliser of the nation doesn’t have to have upset half the people. The weakness of the US system is that the symboliser of the nation, the President is automatically despised by practically half the nation regardless who wins. The French have a similar problem.
    Even if allowed power, there remains one virtue to a hereditary system- the incumbent has an interest in not leaving his heirs a mess, as well as an incentive to actually produce at least one. CV. Keynes, May, Merkle, Macron- all are/were childless and could take the view that in the long run we are all dead.

  • Eric

    The hereditary constitutional monarchy has the advantage that the chief symboliser of the nation doesn’t have to have upset half the people. The weakness of the US system is that the symboliser of the nation, the President is automaticaly despised by practically half the nation regardless who wins.

    By the same token, with a hereditary constitutional monarchy you may end up with someone despised by the entire country.

  • Eric

    Sure, the government of the day could in theory strip away even that notional power, but that then pulls the thread on the whole constitutional settlement & delegitimises the entire system, kicking off all manner of fun. At that point, what the Army thinks about the state of the nation suddenly matters for the first time since Glorious Revolution.

    I wonder how many people would actually feel that way and how many would shrug and say “’bout time we got rid of the monarchy.”

  • I wonder how many people would actually feel that way (Eric, May 20, 2018 at 6:58 pm)

    Enough to ensure anyone who tried it would find themselves living in interesting times. 🙂 However Perry’s point is that it would be legal to make their lives interesting. An at-least equally relevant question would be how many who did not themselves take action would nevertheless shrug and say “’bout time we got rid of those politicos”.

  • Pat

    From time to time England has been presented with a monarch despised by all. Edward 11. Richard 11, Charles 1, James 11, Edward iix. and a few others who got away with it. None of those named got away with it.
    It has been exceedingly rare for an English monarch to govern without the consent of the people and survive.

  • terence patrick hewett

    As I read it in any constitutional crisis between parliament and the sovereign the decider would be which side the military would jump: and the military swear fealty to the monarch not to the state.

    The forces do not owe their allegiance to the state but to the Queen: they represent a very much older Britain of the shire, regiment and the county: some of which are extremely ancient.

    The forces swear loyalty not to the state but to the Monarch: the King or Queen in theory can dissolve parliament and call on the armed forces in support, although this would create a constitutional crisis. In the end it would be up to the loyalty of the forces which decides who would win out.

    The UK has an unwritten constitution which is embodied in the laws, principles and statutes by which we are governed: unlike the US which has a written constitution, so it is very difficult for an administration to do anything unconstitutional since the all they have to do table an Act of Parliament:

    “No Act of Parliament can be unconstitutional, for the law of the land knows not the word or the idea.”

    One of the few things that can be deemed unconstitutional is not to enact the law: hence the enthusiasm to implement law emanating from the EU – not to do so, as France or Germany often does, would be unconstitutional.

    We have an unwritten constitution because the UK is a union of ancient nations with a turbulent history so a great deal of flexibility was needed. But after Brexit, constitutional reformation is long overdue – possibly being replaced by a federation with a written or written constitutions.

    The basis of the UK constitution is Parliamentary Sovereignty and the Court of Last Recourse is Parliament. However given that the European Court of Human Rights says: “no, the ECHR has primacy” do we have any sovereignty at all? Do we have any longer a Constitution? Does the principle of the alteration of the constitution by Act of Parliament remain valid? These inconsistencies are now being cruelly exposed.

    The UK constitution is complicated matrix of checks and balances between Monarch and State. Before any act of Parliament becomes law it must be passed by the House of Lords: they may cut up rough sometimes but they always in the end pass legislation even if it is amended – until now of course – they seem to have a death wish.

    The HoL is supposed to be a revising chamber. Before any act becomes law the Queen must sign it off: and she could in theory refuse to do this causing a constitutional crisis. Hence the importance of the army oath: any parliament which has been captured by nutters will encounter a lot of resistance.

    “Black Rod’s role at the State Opening of Parliament is one of the most well-known images of Parliament. Black Rod is sent from the Lords Chamber to the Commons Chamber to summon MPs to hear the Queen’s Speech. Traditionally the door of the Commons is slammed in Black Rod’s face to symbolise the Commons independence. He then bangs three times on the door with the rod. The door to the Commons Chamber is then opened and all MPs – talking loudly – follow Black Rod back to the Lords to hear the Queen’s Speech.”

    This is not just meaningless ritual it is symbolic of an agreement to coexist.

  • Sam Duncan

    “In short, we cannot conceive a more ridiculous figure of government, than hereditary succession, in all its cases, presents.”

    And that is why it is good. Government should be seen to be ridiculous. It’s when it thinks it’s “legitimate” that the trouble starts.

    “Of course San Marino has had Communist governments, but they never got going with the GULAGs”

    The main virtue of San Marino is that it’s tiny. An accusation that the Scottish seperatists used to throw at us unionists during the referendum was that we “thought Scotland was too wee” to govern itself. I used to confound them by replying that on the contrary, I thought it was still too big. If we’re going to have polities that number their subjects in the millions, the UK, while absolutely far from perfect, is as good as any and I can live with it. But if we aren’t, then let’s do it properly.

  • Mr Ed

    tph

    The forces do not owe their allegiance to the state but to the Queen: they represent a very much older Britain of the shire, regiment and the county: some of which are extremely ancient.

    Well here’s some comment on the achievements of the new the next head of the UK’s Armed Forces, from the Gender Equality Awards:

    The development of new training initiatives that address employees’ unconscious bias. General Carter has personally led by example in this area, ensuring that he and his executive board members have completed senior level diversity and inclusion awareness courses.

    Introducing 360-degree reporting for executive board members. General Carter has also welcomed external female executives to the board, ensuring decisions and strategies are challenged from a diverse and inclusive perspective.

    Establishing a dedicated command support team to challenge traditional thinking and offer new ideas for modernisation on the basis of equality of opportunity for all.

    Commissioning a flexible working review. An ongoing flexible working trial has been extended in recognition of positive feedback from participants, 66% of whom are women.

    Yes, he’s for all the World a Zampolit, head of the Blairmacht. Richard Littlejohn had some unkind words for him.

    The new head of the Army has warned his subordinates they won’t get promoted unless they demonstrate their commitment to ‘diversity’.
    Officers and NCOs have been told in no uncertain terms that their priority is to increase the ‘inclusiveness’ of their units.
    General Sir Nick Carter, who takes over in June, is threatening to reprimand anyone who fails to embrace colleagues of different faiths, genders and sexual orientation.

    He seems to be no von Stauffenberg, perhaps he has an inner Vlasov?

  • Sam Duncan

    “Introducing 360-degree reporting for executive board members.”

    Swivel chairs, then?

  • Mr Ed

    Well, I’d prefer an Army that swivels to one that folds, to paraphrase Yes, Minister.

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