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Why the monarchy should be abolished

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The monarchy in Britain is, to quote Larkin, a ‘vast musical moth-eaten brocade’, whose legitimacy wanes in proportion to scrutiny.

royal family

Let us examine some of the arguments in its favour.

First, the argument from history: that the present ought to conform to the past.

This is a logical fallacy. If historical precedent were a measure of truth, one would have thought the litany of wars, famines, executions, and constitutional crises ample reason to abandon the monarchy. Implicit here is the assumption that monarchy is tried and tested, republicanism new and infantile. But this is historically illiterate.

After Prince Albert’s death in 1861, for instance, there were persistent calls for republicanism from intellectuals, journalists, and politicians. Were it not for the disruption of two world wars they might have acquired more tract. It was only in 1923 that the Labour Party voted on motions that would have republicanised their official stance, and it was only in 1991 that Tony Benn introduced the Commonwealth of Britain Bill for a secular republic with a written constitution. That these motions were ever proposed reveals that a contempt for the hereditary principle remains part of British politics, particularly given Jeremy Corbyn’s proximity to Number 10. 

Second, the argument from pragmatism: there are no revolutions, the Queen is doing a good job, therefore we ought to keep the monarchy.

I grant that this argument holds now. Given last year’s vote to leave the European Union, and given June’s hung parliament, any attempt to undermine the monarchy now would be anarchical. But when the Queen dies, the question of monarchy will arise—especially given Prince Harry’s recent admission that no one in the family wants "the top job".

Assuming Charles become king, however, the real question becomes, third, religion.

The point and origin of monarchy is a religious one. Kings have always assumed God-given authority, if not called themselves gods. Without religion, the hereditary principle loses its only real source of validity, besides the shallow and temporal pragmatic justification.

Widespread agnosticism and atheism would therefore strike at the root of monarchy’s validity. As it happens, Britain is now one of the most irreligious countries in the world, often ranking alongside the Nordic countries and the Netherlands in levels of agnosticism. Less than 2% of our population attend Church of England services on a weekly basis.

prince charles

And it is worth reflecting on Charles for a moment. He has shown more than a passing interest in Christianity’s most influential plagiarism, Islam. Will this mean a multi-faith state religion, a defender of all faiths? Besides breaking the rule of non-contradiction (the world’s monotheisms make mutually exclusive moral and metaphysical claims), it would also be a denial of the world’s most mistrusted minority, a minority which in the U.S. enjoys less approval than rapists, namely atheists.

I have yet to be convinced, therefore, that Charles, with his piddling ‘black spider’ letters, will appear to the Government and to the people as anything but naked. Unemployed, Charles would enjoy greater freedom with which to pursue his other redundancies: homeopathy and inter-faith (not to mention inter-shrubbery) dialogue. The more the monarch is relevant, the less it is welcome. A parliament which was born in contempt for the monarchy, and was until recently dedicated to the secular European project, would not take kindly to an intrusive king.

A more serious argument is not a positive but a negative one that questions whether a secular replacement is axiomatically better. The state materialism of Stalinism is often raised. However, given Stalin’s own deification, and the State’s assertion of Lenin’s immortality, and the Orthodox Church’s frequent collusion with the State—and religion’s role in the USSR, North Korea, and indeed Cuba, it emerges not as separate but complicit. Never forget that the Nazi Party’s first act in power was the Reichskonkordat

There is, in other words, no logical connection between secular republicanism—which in its Jeffersonian forms prohibits any involvement with religion—and state materialism, which is an out-dated pseudo-philosophy's persecution of religion. In a secular state, all religions are better protected than under a state with an official religion. It is the reason thousands of Europe’s persecuted religious minorities fled to the new United States: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’.

Let us turn to another aspect of this argument. It is about our constitution. Most of the rights the British system originated are either unwritten or buried in ‘many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten law’, as Poe might say. Our right to the freedom of speech is largely negative. The many exceptions to the rule make it ambiguous whether one is exercising one’s right or committing a ‘hate’ crime.

Statute law, common law, conventions, and works of authority are not usually contained in a written constitution. All the latter need achieve is the collection of those principles from which the political structure gets its legitimacy. It should enshrine the most fundamental laws on the statute books—those pertaining to freedoms and the rule of law—and outline the principle of parliamentary government, parliamentary sovereignty, and the Unitary State.

Imagine, if you will, the strength and the pride we invest in the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights bound in a single volume—a volume which would in time acquire considerable gravitas given the achievements contained therein. We should indulge this country’s growing taste for the codified and the secular. Abolishing the monarchy is a necessary first step. 

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