Monday, 29 November 2010

The United... Republic?

A couple of weeks ago the UK and indeed most of the rest of the Commonwealth was hurled into a torrent of joy, patriotism and nostalgia with the news that Prince William was to marry Kate Middleton; his long term girlfriend. I know this is old news, but one blog a week isn’t enough to keep up sometimes. I’m also sorry that this is so late; I’ve had a busy weekend.

Anyway, I think I was about the only one in the Commonwealth who wasn’t either very excited at the prospect of a royal wedding or at least apathetic to the whole thing. Ok that isn’t strictly true, but doubters were pretty hard to come by. The fact that so few people seem to think that the continued existence of the royal family is an affront to justice and democracy is almost as worry as the continued existence of the royal family.

‘An affront to justice and democracy’ is a pretty bold statement to make, so it deserves some form of explanation. Let’s define terms first; justice is the concept of getting what you deserve. If you work hard, you’ll be more successful that if you bum around; if you commit a crime, you will be punished; if you treat other with dignity and respect, they will treat you likewise. It’s a basic concept which forms the basis of any society. When if fails, you are left with either tyranny or anarchy. In short justice forms the basis for society.

One born, or indeed married, into the royal family is born, or married, into undeserved and unearned privilege. Palaces and luxury are yours by birthright. From the moment you first draw breath you are destined for wealth and high office. Royalty are destined for privilege that no other citizen can even dream of attaining, no matter how hard they work, and yet they have to do nothing to earn such honour.

Unearned wealth and privilege goes against any rational definition of justice and the royal family embody unearned wealth and privilege. Of course the same can be said of any kind of inheritance, and I would agree with you, however this inheritance is such a gross and overwhelming one that all others pale in comparison. There is no way that any of the royal family could possibly attain what they inherit by their own efforts.

We must not forget also that royalty does not only embody wealth, but also high office. Here is where the democracy comes in. The ideal of democracy is that those deemed most able by the populace is appointed to lead them for a select period of time. It is, in many ways, an extension of justice – a collective choice of leader is made of he who is most deserving and, depending on how good the decision was, the people are either served well or badly. If things go badly, they only have to blame themselves.

The royal family are destined for high office. Prince William, so long as he doesn’t die before hand, will eventually inherit the throne. That means he becomes the official diplomatic, military and political leader of the UK and the rest of the Commonwealth. The people over whom he rules have no say in the matter and have no constitutional capacity to depose him. He will have done nothing to deserve it beyond simply being born for it. His wife will have done nothing beyond being lucky enough to be the object of his affection.

Unelected, indefinite power is not democracy. Sure the King/Queen has no real power – that lies with Parliament, but they still have a significant diplomatic and official role in the country. They often act as our spokesperson and act on the world stage in a very significant way. We cannot possibly call this democracy.

So the royal family is clearly and demonstrably undemocratic and unjust, so why do so many people celebrate their ongoing existence? Most of it is a rather fond nostalgia, harking back to the days when Britain was the world’s only super-power, rather than an increasingly isolated and insignificant island, neither in Europe, nor outside it. This is complemented with a rather large dollop of conservatism.

These arguments are impossible to refute, because they are, at heart, an emotional response that can only be refuted with introspection. There are some arguments, largely straw-men, which can be tackled head on.

The most significant of these is the appeal to tourism. It is argued that the royal family and all the pomp they represent are good for the tourist industry. They are a veritable magnet for visitors to the UK and Buckingham palace is on every tourist trail worth following. The problem is that if you go to France, the Palace of Versailles is just as popular, and yet no living monument to bygone days squats there. No tourist would shun the palace if it were to become an empty shell of our history, rather that a living piece of it.

I don’t think we should shun and forget the rich and long history that the UK has, of which the royal family has played an integral part, but there is a different between celebrating history and living in the past. Just like the monarchies of ever other European country, the gross injustice of monarchy belongs in the past. It should be remembered and the deeds of the great men and women who occupied the position should be celebrated – just as the deeds of the rather worse men and women (of whom there are just as many) should be bemoaned.

The rulers who occupy the pages of history should be studied so that we might understand how the UK came to be the way it is today, but they should not continue to be written into the history books. They have no place in a modern society in which justice and democracy rule, because they contradict both. No amount of nostalgia can fix that.

Speaking of nostalgia and how it is no excuse for progress, you might notice the rebranding. I have a new name for this blog because I didn’t like the old one. The content will not change, but now I won’t be quite so embarrassed by the title. 

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