Monday 25 April 2016

Why the Left needs to embrace the monarchy

Let's just take a king at random: King Arthur. It was he who was supposed to have, like so many politicians, taken exception to anything which detracted from his image. In this case, it was the legendary head of Bran the Blessed, buried on Tower Hill in London, the magical properties of which protected the nation from invasion.

So that everybody could see that it was his efforts alone which held back the Saxons, he had Bran's head exhumed.

I was reminded of that story, as I so often am, thinking about some of the Facebook carping about the Queen's 90th birthday last week. Because the monarchy has a secondary, somewhat mystical function, which is little discussed or understood: it keeps us safe from fascism and authoritarian mysticism.

I consider myself of the Left, but I can't say I find much pleasure in my fellow lefties' complaints. The monarchy provides us with colour, extravagance, fun and a sense of mystical importance. There will be puritans among us who prefer life without maypoles, theatres and monarchs, but I'm not one of them. I find the dour disapproval of the monarchy in principle very hard to understand.

I know there is the old Charter 88 idea that monarchs imbue us with the habit of deference. In fact, I have a feeling the opposite is true. I feel more equal with David Cameron as a fellow subject than I would if he was president. I feel more equal with the inhabitants of Buckingham Palace than I would if they were sponsored by McDonalds after an election campaign backed by Murdoch. We can be citizens as well as subjects.

There is certainly a problem about prime ministers borrowing the powers of the monarch. That is a separate issue altogether, and doing away with the monarchy won't solve it.

But let's get back to Bran the Blessed (as distinct from Brian Blessed, a very different personage). You can't help noticing that nearly all the former imperial powers of Europe which got rid of their monarchies became fascist states - Germany, Italy, Spain and many of those in central Europe too. The exception is France, and I'm not absolutely sure that is an exception, but is certainly complicated by having two rival royal and imperial versions.

Why is this? Because former empires are subject to some fiercely nostalgic, not to say atavistic, undercurrents. There are dangerous, sometimes militaristic, yearnings for former greatness which attract dangerous and unpleasant people.

But monarchies dissipate this energy safely. People wave flags instead. They owe allegiance to the living monarch, not to imagined past glories. Monarchies inoculate former empires against authoritarianism.

Of course, there are some on the puritanical Left who want to protect the nation from fascism by their own campaigning power alone. I'd prefer not to take the risk.

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Matt (bristol) said...

I described myself the other day as a monarchist by pragmatic resignation -- a semi-neutral, non-activist hereditary sovereign as head of state is preferable to an activist elected leader who might engage in a renegotiation of the balance of powers in their favour.

And the nostalgic warm gossipy glow many people feel for the Queen is a long way off form the genuine hard-edged personality cult that a Trump for eg might seek to build around themselves.

If we were able to negotiate (among others) a federal kingdom with a written constitution, rights for the constituent territories to secede, an elected second chamber and formally codify the neutrality of the army into law, I might be more neutral on the subject of a president, under the confined terms that the German or Irish Presidents serve, but definitely not one on the US model.

But without all this in place -- FIRST -- electing a president would be handing an unknown individual too much undefined power.

Alisdair Gibbs-Barton said...

I was talking at the weekend with a friend, and he said that he was coming to the view that the UK should think about becoming a republic. Two words changed his mind ...... President Boris.

Anonymous said...

Italy did not abolish the monarchy before becoming a Fascist state, the monarchy co-existed with Mussolini as Duce. Looking at other notable examples of states that became authoritarian regimes under a monarchy, the Greek monarchy did not prevent the Colonels' Junta taking power in the late 60s. The Japanese Emperor did nothing to prevent the hollowing out of the Prussian model constitutions so that power in Japan rested with ultranationalist militarists who imposed totalitarianism within Japan and engaged in expansionist war of staggering cruelty in China before attacking British and American forces in 1941, leading to another round of expansionism and extreme cruelty.

It is of course true that Germany was taken over by the Nazi's 15 years after the collapse of the Germany monarchy/Kaiserreich. Is this supposed to recommend the semi-democracy of the Kaiserreich over the liberal democratic Weimar constitution? The Kaiser in exile welcomed the Nazi take over. Two people dominated the Kaiser' military in WWI and towards the end the Kaiser's entire government, that is Hindenberg and Luddendorf. Luddendorf was an early member of the Nazi party though to be fair he did leave before his death. Hindenberg was the President who appointed Hitler as Chancellor and gave him support during the Night of the Long Knives, which consolidated his control of the German state. Does the monarchical system get credit when democratic systems collapse with the participation of monarchist forces and approval of an exiled monarch? The Weimar democracy had trouble surviving the Great Depression because of the anti-democratic monarchist remnants dominating the military and other institutions. I don't see this as a score for monarchism against republics.

The Nazi, Fascist (and indeed Bolshevik) and allied authoritarian nationalists take overs in central and eastern Europe sometimes took place in republics that emerged from the collapse of the Hohenzoller, Hapsburg and Romanov monarchies. However, such regimes came to power in Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia under monarchies. The same is true of the Metaxas dictatorship in Greece. The authoritarian nationalist system in Hungary which replaced a brief communist government was a monarchy in principle, though Admiral Horthy acted as the Regent, so a monarchist regime in ideology.

In central Europe, Czechoslovakia remained a democratic republic until its March 1939 dismemberment. Further west, Ireland established a republic, without falling into dictatorship, in a process of separation from the British monarchy which established a de facto republic in 1921 (a Free State symbolically linked to the British Empire, but completely self-governing in practice and republican in şideology), something more clearly a republic in 1937 (the office of President was created) and absolutely clearly a republic in 1949. Liberal democracy was maintained throughout (even if excruciatingly socially conservative).

Anonymous said...

If we look at the crises which led to the formation of authoritarian or totalitarian regimes of various kinds, I think I can say with no controversy that World War One was behind them all. We might say that the destruction of monarchies (Ottoman as well the three already mentioned) was the cause of the later crises, but it seems to me I have submitted enough evidence to cast doubt on this. Anyway, who was responsible for the Great War? The German War Guilt theory used to popular, and that puts the blame of the government of the King of Prussia/Emperor of Germany.

OK it's not such a popular theory now, but then who have the historians given the guilt to more recently? The Serbian monarchy because a conspiratorial arm of the state under the chief of military intelligence was highly involved with the group which assassinated the Archduke in Sarajevo. Possibly even more guilt has been awarded to another state though, Russia, which was clearly a monarchy and one with a dysfunctional stare system in which the war party was able to push the Sarajevo crisis to promote war against Austria-Hungary and Germany.

There has been some criticism of the Republic of France for egging on Russia, but this is no more than a secondary cause. Anyway, there were two republics in Europe at that time, France and Switzerland. France was invaded by a monarchical power, Germany.I've no idea why you think France is not an exception to your thesis of authoritarian republics, France was a democracy and remained a democracy except for German occupation from 1940-1944. The two republics of pre-WWI Europe stayed democratic. The imperial monarchies all collapsed, and some of the other kingdoms fostered some very nasty regimes.

As far as I can see you are arguing that the post-imperial states would have been more stable as monarchies than as republics. Given that various monarchies did go authoritarian, including Italy which you put in the list of republics, then I can't see that you made your case. Various regimes of various kinds got worse after the end of WWI, those that did well include ones with essentially powerless monarchies, UK, Netherlands, Scandinavia, but also republics like Switzerland, France, Ireland and Czechoslovakia.

On the issue of President Cameron, most European republics have figıre head presidents, so I don't think the issue of combining Prime Ministerial authority with the dignity of head of state is a knock down argument.

David Timoney said...

"Monarchies inoculate former empires against authoritarianism". Ha ha. Top trolling.

The symbolic property of a monarchy in the modern era is to be anti-democratic. Literally. It serves no other purpose. Topically, it's worth remembering that the police swear an oath of loyalty to the monarch, not to the people.

Re President Johnson (or Blair), the idea that the abolition of the bad inevitably leads to its replacement with the worse is simply a reactionary rhetorical device. A truly liberal impulse would be to deploy Occam's Razor. For example, we should abolish the House of Lords and replace it with ... nothing.

Oh, la la said...

France’s president is really an elected Monarch. We chopped a King’s head once to get an Emperor later. Having an authoritarian – Male - figure that is going to “ save us “ is very French.
The idea that Napoleon was probably a sociopath seems relatively new.

The President resides au Palais de L’Elysée, not a place that will keep you humble or make you face the reality that the country is facing financial ruin,
and uses le droit de seigneur. In a Catholic country, still with the Madonna vs Whore complex , a French President that is faithful is not really French.
The current one has the mother of his children in the cabinet and a girlfriend living in the palace. You never get the feeling they work for us.
Advisors to the president are from special schools where only the top brains go to, get paid by the state while they study, come speaking technocrat, and never having lived in the real world are unable to connect with the average voter.
Macron, worked for Rothschild, and how my Lord, that makes him the Messiah.

It is hard not to love the Queen. Charles “ Whatever love means”,might have a harder ride for what he did to Diana, and his son is already accused of being work shy, losing his lustre fasting than his hair.