Thursday, 21 March 2013

Monarchy

In an evolving modern world, the question of monarchy will eventually have to be addressed. To have people making major decisions for your country, and representing it at a national level (whether or not there is also an elected parliament), is simply undemocratic. Today’s monarchs, particularly in Europe, are the same as they always were: descendants of so-called ‘high’ families who strove to be even higher by attaining, for their own advancement, positions of power. These families were never elected by the people. In the past, they justified their position by invoking a ‘divine right’; nowadays, the arguments usually used are tourism, commerce, and tradition.

I’ll tackle the tradition argument first, as it is easily dispelled. You simply have to imagine a tradition which is so unfavourable as to have been discarded despite its hallowed past, or in fact, look to history. The long-standing tradition in which women could not vote, rather than being kept around due to its having been around for so long (or for other dubious merits which were applied to it during the suffrage years), had been done away with, tradition notwithstanding. Perhaps you could say this is not a true tradition, but what is tradition other than the habitual practice of some custom?
In terms of tourism, and indeed commerce, well, these are where strength of the argument truly lies. The monarchy should be kept, people argue, because they are good for the country. They generate wealth, revenue. This is not in dispute. The Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and her family do much to enhance the international profile of the UK, and as well as their many and varied financial achievements, also contribute much to the worst-off of the nation via their charitable works. For this, we should applaud them.

However, there is a catch. Because these royals are the latest in a long line of power-grabbing families, whose real concern (in the past) had nothing to do with the people and everything to do with themselves; well, because of this, our only obligation to them now lies in their usefulness to us. Our decision about whether or not to retain a monarchy lies solely in their worth to the people, in how well they perform their job (and it is a job) of protecting, providing, and caring for the people. If they cease to do these things, they cease to be anything more than expensive showpieces.
When I say worth, I don’t mean of course, the worth of a person. That is another argument entirely. What I mean is the worth of the position. To take a fictional example: if there were an MP whose role was to ensure people apologised to each when spilling hot drinks, we might rightly protest that this position is unworthy of existence, and that the position should be dissolved and his or her salary channelled instead into health or education. This is what I mean about the worth of the royals. Currently they earn their keep. And you can be sure it is in their interest to keep it that way.

And don’t think they won’t be alright if the monarchy is dissolved. Part of the benefit of being a powerful family in charge of a nation for such a long time is the accumulation of wealth and property. Sure, a few things will be handed back, Buckingham Palace maybe, and the crown jewels, but it won’t be Child Benefit for Wills and Kate, of that you can be sure.
To be sure, none of the above takes into account the public’s love of the monarchy, much of it well-deserved based on the character of the people. Or the white trash propensity for styling their daughters princesses based on nothing more than sparkly clothes and wishful thinking. However, for me, an approach based on democratic rule and economic good sense must eventually force itself upon the nation, and it should never be the case that any leaders or rulers are beyond question.

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