by Chris Dillow
April 28, 2011
Timothy Garton Ash gives some guarded support for the UK having a monarchy. I’d go further, and suggest it is a good idea, for three reasons.
First, the existence of a monarchy is irrational, out-of-date and absurd, with all its pomp, invented tradition and flummery. But this is an argument for it, not against it. The monarchy is much like the NHS: idiotic in theory but surprisingly successful in practice. It therefore reminds us that rationality is a very weak tool for judging the efficacy of institutions.
Only “progressives”, with their unthinking and self-regarding faith in their limited stock of reason, believe rationality should be the sole arbiter of how we should organize ourselves.
Secondly, John Band makes a superb point:
I suspect it’s not a coincidence that the countries which are best at equality overall (e.g. Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands) [he might have added Japan – CD] also tend to be monarchies
This, he says, is because monarchies remind us that our fate in life is due not solely to merit but to luck, and thus increases public support for redistribution. Is it really an accident that monarchical Spain is more equal than presidential Portugal, or Canada more egalitarian than the US, or Denmark more than Finland?
The Observer says that “meritocracy and monarchy is one marriage that just doesn’t work.” True. But a true meritocracy would, as Michael Young famously pointed out, be even more horribly inegalitarian than the fake one we have now. So given the choice, give me monarchy.
Thirdly, there’s a question. If we had an elected presidency, what sort of preening, self-loving narcissistic egomaniac would think they were capable of representing and symbolizing the nation? (Tony Blair, you all answer.)
An elected presidency would thus symbolize – and so help entrench – our culture of ego, the belief that people are to be valued for who they are as individuals rather than for their roles.
By contrast, a monarchy embodies the opposite principle – that people matter for what they do, not for who they are. In this sense, of course, a republic would be “modern”. But this is precisely a reason for opposing one.
Now, I can imagine two objections to all this. One is that a monarchy is a symbol of a society that is disfigured by class division. True. But we should worry about the bird, not the plumage. Secondly, my objections to a republic could be overcome by having not an elected president but one chosen by lot. This would replace the lottery of birth with the lottery of, well, a lottery. There is, though, a very high chance that this would throw up as our head of state someone far more obnoxious than our present Royals.
And given that there is a little to be said for impressing the outside world, we might as well stick with what we have.