I met a young Australian fellow on St Michael’s Mount. I don’t know how we got onto the subject of royalty, but he was telling me how some of his countrymen were keen to abolish the monarchy. “Not me,” he said, “I look at the buggers that want the job of president and I figure we’re better off staying as we are.”
Utilitarian arguments like that always appeal to me, especially when presented in a gloriously no-nonsense Aussie accent. Certainly I am not by inclination a royalist – rather, a Roundhead – and if starting a new society from scratch I’d go with the Founding Fathers and opt for a republic. But the code you write for a new project is not the same as the code you rewrite for a program that’s already running. And it’s surprising how many people get so steamed up by the emotional issues surrounding royalty that they can’t view the subject rationally. (And yes, I know a king cannot be a subject, ho ho; I’ve seen Ridicule too, though the joke was originally Disraeli's.)
Having a non-political, non-executive head of state whose only interest is in maintaining the status quo is actually quite a useful balance when you have politicians jumping about with their eyes on a four- to six-year horizon. It may seem much more fashionable to install a president instead – but like my Aussie pal said, that’s just another job for a bloody politician.
Royalty is incompatible with the modern age, some say, and I often think that myself, though it sounds like a circular argument. We could just as well argue that representative democracy is outmoded now that it is feasible to have direct democracy on every issue. Take a look at California and then tell me how attractive that prospect sounds.
In the United Kingdom, some 10% of the population favour abolishing the monarchy as a step towards (somehow) ridding the land of class and privilege. Because that worked out so well for Russia, for example. Look around the world first. Examine history. When dictatorships rise, when injustice and evil flourish, it isn’t because the state in question wasn’t “modern” enough – whatever that may mean, given that Britain and the Commonwealth are continually adapting, as every state must.
Britain benefits from the robustness and flexibility that comes from having a constitution that is not, for the most part, hardwired in the form of written rules. Instead it exists as the ghost in the machine of society. That society isn’t perfect but it is capable of gradual adaptation. It ain’t broke. Abolishing the monarchy would not obviously create a more or less fair society, though it would be a very drastic change with completely unpredictable consequences. Those who argue for it are, I believe, not doing so rationally. As Cromwell said: “I beseech you: in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”
But all that is just the practical side of royalty. For the mythic slant, which is far more interesting, pop over to the Mirabilis blog today.