As Thomas Paine pointed out, a hereditary head of state is as ridiculous as a hereditary astronomer or physician. The hereditary principle is about as opposite as you can get to democracy and meritocracy – principles which are otherwise lauded to high heavens with no anxiety about self-contradiction, as if to say: “We believe hard work and talent should be rewarded, and we also believe the highest position in the state should be decided by genetic lottery based on a medieval system otherwise abandoned centuries ago”. The most talented, inspiring, charismatic, committed person has no chance of attaining this position, while even the most slovenly, obnoxious, inept heir will be head of state regardless. The hereditary principle is flatout unjustifiable – unless you subscribe to the sort of race science and eugenics that has long since been firmly jettisoned by pretty much the entire scientific community. The trouble is that this is what scares Royalists the most. They want to cling to the past and simply cannot move forward, terrified at the thought that an outdated tradition can be ended, horrified at the idea that the fortunate should lose their good fortune.
All the various arguments for monarchy boil down to 4 main ones: First, a monarchy provides stability because it is part of national identity. Second, monarchy is popular and entertains people. Third, it’s somehow ‘cost-effective’ and brings in tourism revenue. And fourth, they do valuable work with charity and diplomacy. The first thing that should strike you is how superficial, trivial and irrelevant these arguments are. And the second thing is that they are based on a very twisted concept of reality that could only originate from the Walter Mitty daydreams of a Mr Toad of Toad Hall.
Let’s address them one by one.
“Monarchy provides continuity and stability, it’s apolitical so preferable to partisan presidential politics and guarantees national identity”
This line of argument is little different from the fascists seeking to sweep away any form of democracy. When you point out that it’s simply undemocratic/autocratic, they counter that the monarchy is purely symbolic – if they have no real power it somehow can’t be undemocratic. First of all, that’s not true – the monarchy wields huge power and influence, see here for more about that. Second of all, if symbolic is what you’re going for, let’s just have an elected figurehead – at least people will have a choice, rather than having a system based on eugenics forced down their throats. This idea of continuity/stability needs to be deconstructed as well. Stable for whom? A British ruling class which continues to make billions hand over fist while a third of the population live in poverty? Maybe discontinuity is exactly what we need, and that would lead to stability for that bottom third of society that has experienced extreme insecurity and hardship as a permanent feature of their lives. The monarchy may well be non-partisan (this is debatable but we’ll let them have this one for now), but it certainly is not apolitical. The monarchy’s zeal for all things military is no secret. The Queen regularly praises Britain’s hired killers and expresses support for their wanton destruction of sovereign countries. And her family is awash with Nazi-sympathisers. Elizabeth’s uncle, Edward VIII is known for his enthusiasm for Nazism and was involved in treasonous talks with the Germans during WWII – hardly apolitical. His successor also held the Nazis in high esteem, as does the Queen’s husband, Philip, whose 3 sisters all married high-ranking Nazis. So – the whole ‘apolitical’ line is bogus.
Finally, in a multicultural, multifaith society, having a head of state who is necessarily of a certain race and faith and also head of a particular church (the Church of England) compounds the marginalisation of minorities, again, further emphasising monarchy’s anti-democratic nature.
“The Royals provide glamour and pageantry, entertainment value, and are popular”.
People, if you want entertainment, go down your local karaoke. Don’t insist on a fundamental part of your political system being a feudal relic. But, again, it’s all spin and propaganda. They try and paint a suffocating atmosphere of antiquated protocol and the institutionalisation of snobbery and class condescension as ‘glamour and pageantry’. See how they do you? This institution inculcates servility by formalising steep hierarchies based on wealth and genetics. It casts us, ordinary hardworking folk, as the Queen’s subjects, her inferiors. And it infantilises the population, tapping into a credulity about fairy tales of princes and princesses. It’s degrading, humiliating and downright undignified. Besides, according to a YouGov poll two thirds of Brits weren’t even interested in the Harry-Meghan wedding and only 35% would be disappointed if the monarchy ended with Elizabeth II.
“They’re ‘cost-effective’ because they bring in tourists”.
Cost-effective? Oh, like when Andrew squanders £14,692 on a round trip to Muirfield to see the golf? Sounds legit. The government wouldn’t even spend £5k on Grenfell Tower to save the lives of dozens of families, but will spend hundreds of millions on a billionaire’s palace. The Queen could pay for safe cladding with her pocket change. We’re talking about personal wealth running into the hundreds of millions and institutional wealth running into the billions. And yet we’re lavishing hundreds of millions (well over £300M according to Republic) annually on this filthy rich bunch of parasites. While millions have to rely on charity to not starve. Beggar’s belief.
Royalists disingenuously base cost merely on the sovereign grant instead of the global figure (worked out by lobby group Republic). And then they divide that figure by the entire population instead of the taxpaying population, it’s a cheap trick. After all, we’re paying for an extravagant lifestyle that would put the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV, to shame.
And tourism? Hey, we’re talking about our political system here, and they keep banging on about tourism. Even so, on its own terms it’s false: look at French tourism; Versailles and all the rest. Buckingham Palace could be the same. And in fact it would likely increase tourism revenues. Think about all those castles and palaces put to good use. All that land and property they own (a sizeable chunk of the country, if it be known).
Royalists paint a picture of global tourists sitting down with a list of countries and choosing based on whether they are monarchies or not. France and the USA are the most visited countries in the world and both are republics. The only monarchy in the top 5 is Spain, but tourists visit for the beaches and weather, not the House of Bourbon.
Monarchists argue that The Crown Estates bring in revenues to the Treasury (over £200M) and the Queen only gets a percentage of that. So, it’s good value for money. This stems from a deal made between monarchy and parliament in 1760, when parliament took over financial responsibility for civil government. This is an absurd justification: they’re saying £30-odd million (however much it is in a given year) is better than over £200M, as if the Queen would otherwise be entitled to the whole lot. But it’s the opposite way round: the Queen is entitled to sweet FA.
“They do valuable diplomatic and charity work”.
It’s true the Royals count dictators and despots all around the world as close friends. And this helps British capitalism to an extent. But how is this an argument in their favour, unless you’re cheering on the British ruling class? The same class presiding over a system which engenders mass poverty both at home and abroad.
As for the charity work – it’s not their money to give, so that doesn’t count. And their patronage? They’re involved with wildlife charities while being some of the most prolific hunters in the country. Like if Herod the Great was President of Save the Children. They are a liability, not an asset. Maybe if the billions worth of property, businesses, gold, jewels, fine art, antiques, palaces and castles were taken into public ownership and we no longer lavished hundreds of millions on them each year, people wouldn’t need to depend on donations so much.
And the idea that they work hard? Please. A spokesperson for Republic stated ‘There’s 4,700 engagements last year – if you divide that between all the Royals, that’s less than an hour a day each, it doesn’t add up to a lot … When William left the RAF, we worked out that he does about 47 engagements a year, so he’s not a hard-working person’. Charles was born into a world where he has never had to do anything for himself, his shoelaces are pressed flat with an iron, ‘the bath plug has to be in a certain position and the water temperature has to be just tepid’. Charles even called his butler from another room to hand him an item mere feet away. He has more than 120 staff, including 3 footmen to escort visitors to his office ‘each responsible for a short segment of corridor’, 4 valets to help him change clothes, 4 gardeners. All paid for by the long-suffering British taxpayer. In a British republic, Prince Charles could finally reach true adulthood by learning how to brush his teeth himself, not to mention learning how to break rocks in the Pennines.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the monarchy is popular, provides stability, is cost-effective or does valuable work. What is important is that this family sits on tens of billions of stolen assets, parasitically reaps hundreds of millions a year from the British taxpayer, and is firmly embedded in an imperialist ruling class which wreaks devastation on the rest of the world. The Queen and her family are willing participants in an imperialist capitalist system which takes the lives of millions on an annual basis. They are deeply embedded in a military that devastates oppressed nations on a regular basis, pinning absurd medals to their ridiculous outfits in a morbidly sick pride. Elizabeth is involved in the legislative process which facilitates such destruction. Her vast riches are heavily invested in British capitalism: in its mining corporations which loot Africa (Lonmin), in companies which exploit Britain’s working class (BrightHouse), in weapons producers (BAE Systems) that arm the world’s despots (with whom she is on intimate terms). And far too many participate in this strange self-humiliation, singing the national anthem which hinges on the odd notion that a billionaire with her own praetorian guard needs saving, and is in such danger she needs divine intervention. William Cobbett once made this point, that the English collude in their own abjection by referring on the one hand to ‘The Royal Mint’ and on the other to ‘The National Debt’.
The problem is further compounded by middle-class republicans whose weapons of choice for fighting Royalism are classism, ableism, misogyny, and snobbery. They exhibit disgust of people on social security, equating them with the scrounging Windsors. They’re obsessed with Harry’s paternity: memes and jokes about who is Prince Harry’s biological father play up to the whole ‘genetic divine right’ discourse upon which the institution of monarchy is built – whether he has that magical ‘Royal blood’. They’re obsessed with who killed Diana – as if she was any better than any other aristocratic leech. They indulge in weird conspiracy theories about lizards from space and engage in base xenophobia, disliking the Royals for being foreign/German.
They don’t do the republican movement any favours. The argument is simple: monarchy makes a mockery of democracy. Imagine drawing up a new political system and deciding that the head of state would always be the direct descendant of one particular family. How bizarre! The idea would be unanimously laughed at, wouldn’t it? About 25 such families are left in power, fewer if we count the European monarchs are basically one big family (most of them are each other’s cousin). This institution will one day be extinct, and it will be forever a source of shame and embarrassment that Britain persisted with it longer than most.
The last word goes to Victor Hugo, who pointed out that ‘one idiotic habit of the people is to attribute to the king what they do themselves. They fight. Whose the glory? The king’s. They pay. Whose the generosity? The king’s. Then the people love him for being so rich. The king receives a crown from the poor, and returns them a farthing. How generous he is! The colossus which is the pedestal contemplates the pigmy which is the statue. How great is this myrmidon! he is on my back. A dwarf has an excellent way of being taller than a giant: it is to perch himself on his shoulders. But that the giant should allow it, there is the wonder; and that he should admire the height of the dwarf, there is the folly. Simplicity of mankind!’ (from The Man Who Laughs).