Sixty Joyless De-Britished Uncrowned Commonpoor Years (1949-2009)

Elizabeth II Vice-Regal Saint: Remembering Paul Comtois (1895–1966), Lt.-Governor of Québec
Britannic Inheritance: Britain's proud legacy. What legacy will America leave?
English Debate: Daniel Hannan revels in making mince meat of Gordon Brown
Crazy Canucks: British MP banned from Canada on national security grounds
Happy St. Patrick's: Will Ireland ever return to the Commonwealth?
Voyage Through the Commonwealth: World cruise around the faded bits of pink.
No Queen for the Green: The Green Party of Canada votes to dispense with monarchy.
"Sir Edward Kennedy": The Queen has awarded the senator an honorary Knighthood.
President Obama: Hates Britain, but is keen to meet the Queen?
The Princess Royal: Princess Anne "outstanding" in Australia.
H.M.S. Victory: In 1744, 1000 sailors went down with a cargo of gold.
Queen's Commonwealth: Britain is letting the Commonwealth die.
Justice Kirby: His support for monarchy almost lost him appointment to High Court
Royal Military Academy: Sandhurst abolishes the Apostles' Creed.
Air Marshal Alec Maisner, R.I.P. Half Polish, half German and 100% British.
Cherie Blair: Not a vain, self regarding, shallow thinking viper after all.
Harry Potter: Celebrated rich kid thinks the Royals should not be celebrated
The Royal Jelly: A new king has been coronated, and his subjects are in a merry mood
Victoria Cross: Australian TROOPER MARK DONALDSON awarded the VC
Godless Buses: Royal Navy veteran, Ron Heather, refuses to drive his bus
Labour's Class War: To expunge those with the slightest pretensions to gentility
100 Top English Novels of All Time: The Essential Fictional Library
BIG BEN: Celebrating 150 Years of the Clock Tower

Friday, 7 September 2007

Stuck in a Colonial Mentality

The journalist Peter Brimelow once summed up the attitude of successive governments towards the monarchy as that of "the urchin, secretly urinating on some shrub in the hope that it will die." Those immortal words could easily be extended from the ruling class to unteachable elites like Anthony Westell, whose years of wisdom appear to have escaped him, when he openly belittles the ancient monarchical link as symbolically nothing more than the "last colonial tie" that should be severed at the earliest opportunity. I suppose we should be thankful that the urchin has finally come out from under his shrub.

As Andrew Coyne once remarked, the Queen is not some colonial pantomime; rather, the Crown is the very foundation of our government and constitutional system. But more than that it dares us to rise above argued abstractions and to think of our country in more poetic terms, as a people and a place whose five hundred year-old story has some meaning beyond the merely explicable. I know this is a concept that my Kiwi brethren, Lewis Tedious Holden, of New Zealand republican movement fame, finds incomprehensible, so I invite him and others to read an excerpt of what the author meant when he wrote it back in 1998. (The vandals latest victim: The Queen)

What on earth has putting the boots to Elizabeth II to do with breaking colonial bonds? She is not the Queen of England, and thus of Canada. She is not the Queen of English Canadians. She is the Queen of Canada, and of all Canadians. The bond between nations under the Crown is not colonial, but fraternal. It no more advances our independence to abolish the monarchy than it would to abolish the Department of Finance. It is the foundation of Canadian government, one of the three branches -- Crown, Commons and Senate -- represented in the phrase "the Crown in Parliament." As if it needed saying, we are already sovereign in every respect, having severed the last colonial tie in 1982 with patriation of the power to amend our constitution. It was coincident, indeed, with that great act of national affirmation that the Crown was formally entrenched at the heart of Canadian constitutional law, unalterable without the consent of Parliament and all 10 provinces.

We kept the Crown not out of nostalgia or anglophilia, but because it is useful. The monarchy is not some soap opera for soggy teenagers. No quaint anachronism or colonial relic, it is a marvellous constitutional instrument, the best that has yet been devised for reconciling the power of the state with the sovereignty of the people. As The Globe and Mail's Michael Valpy often reminds us, the American constitution, born of rupture with the British system, in fact froze it in place. The presidential model, adopted in mimicry of the powerful monarchy with which the revolutionaries were familiar, represents a case of arrested constitutional development, circa 1776. The countries that grew up under the Crown, by contrast, benefited from another century of constitutional evolution in favour of today's limited monarchy.

The Queen is more than the personification of the state, she is the humanization of it. As much as the constraints upon her once absolute power say ours is a government of laws and not of men, her very humanity, and her all-too-human family, remind us that government is also about men: about real people and their concerns, not bloodless abstractions like "the state." Focus of allegiance, symbol of unity, vessel of sovereignty, the monarchy is all these things. But mostly it is a statement about us.

A nation that calls itself a kingdom is a nation with a sense of gravitas, with a future and a past and an equal ease with either. In the descent of kings it traces its own glorious passage through the generations. A monarchy is something to live up to, and to wonder at. It is not fed to us in predigested chunks of reason. You either get it or you don't.

That is what fuels the abolitionist's rage. It isn't that the Crown is demeaning or outmoded. It is that it is beyond him. It makes him uneasy. It dares him to think of his country in poetic terms, as a people and a place whose story has some meaning beyond the merely explicable, and he can't. So instead he drags it down to his own banal level...

Wonderful words, those, and a far cry from those permanently stuck in a colonial mentality. That is not to deny, however, that there are vestiges of colonialism still kicking about that we could set our minds to abolishing. I hear patronage is alive and well, for example. Perhaps we could leave the Queen alone and... - no wait, what am I thinking - we all know, and as Mr. Coyne concludes, "that's a cherished national institution."

19 comments:

JJ said...

The problem with monarchist arguments is that they tend to be far more emotional than factual. The status quo is just arbitrarily declared to be this way or that, and we're supposed to just accept this analysis, simply because it's written in flowery poetic language.

Here's my list of the problematic phrases in Mr. Coyne's passage:

"The bond between nations under the Crown is not colonial, but fraternal."

The bond only exists BECAUSE of colonialism. Monarchist or not, it simply cannot be denied that the monarchy only exists because it is a colonial holdover that has been explicitly not abolished.

Likewise "our bond" with other nations under the crown is extremely tenuous. It only really exists with Australia and the UK, and in both cases our close relationship is the fact of many more important cultural, political, and historic factors, to which the crown is highly, highly incidental.

"As if it needed saying, we are already sovereign in every respect, having severed the last colonial tie in 1982 with patriation of the power to amend our constitution."

Canada still does not have the ability to freely modify the office of our nation's head of state in any way. It is not full political independence to have a foreign monarch whose office and person is controlled entirely by the whims of a foreign government.

"[The Monarchy] is a marvelous constitutional instrument, the best that has yet been devised for reconciling the power of the state with the sovereignty of the people."

No, it is not, for a number of reasons. Half of any given population in any of the Commonwealth realms opposes the existence of the monarchy, which clearly indicates the Crown's ability to unite the populace is no better than that of the most polarizing politician. It is likewise not a useful institution politically. The crown is powerless in the face of a crisis, has contested legitimacy, and has a self-preservation mindset that ensures it will always put its own interests ahead of that of the nation or democracy. Mr. Holden has written about all this in great detail.

"That is what fuels the abolitionist's rage. It isn't that the Crown is demeaning or outmoded. It is that it is beyond him. It makes him uneasy. It dares him to think of his country in poetic terms, as a people and a place whose story has some meaning beyond the merely explicable, and he can't. So instead he drags it down to his own banal level."

I believe a country is not a storybook, and a constitution is not a poem. A country is a functional thing, created by men to serve a purpose. If I seek beauty and poetry and magic and wonder, I have more than enough sources to turn to in the world of literature, film, nature, and elsewhere. The monarchy enrages me, to the point it does, because it uses mythicism and fairy tales to try to disguise and hide the failings of a poorly-thought-out constitutional organ that has no place in the 21st Century.

What fuels the monarchist's rage is that republicans are willing to peel back the veneer of the crown, and fight the claims of the monarchy on its own terms. The monarchy demands blind subservience in order to survive, and in this day and age people are no longer willing to offer that.

J.K. Baltzersen said...

J.J. McCullough writes:

The monarchy enrages me, to the point it does, because it uses mythicism and fairy tales to try to disguise and hide the failings of a poorly-thought-out constitutional organ that has no place in the 21st Century.

Edmund Burke told us that constitutions are grown, not made. I'll take the "poorly-thought-out" constitutional arrangements of old over the "well-intended designs" we have seen fail miserably since the French Revolution any day of the year, thank you.

As for fairy tales, the real fairy tale in this context is the fairy tale that modern government is progress from the institutions of old.

The monarchy has no place in the 21st century? Says who? The proponents of the Whig Theory of History? The interests gladly funding the political machine in the federal republic just south of Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa? Or those who think that being a millionth or less of a mass sovereign is such a brilliant idea of freedom?

Mr. McCullough further writes:

The monarchy demands blind subservience in order to survive, and in this day and age people are no longer willing to offer that.

Who is blind? He who bows to a monarch? Or he who cannot see how much a subject the "citizen" is in our modern democracy?

Please! Give me a break!

JJ said...

Once again, I have heard no specific counter-arguments to any of my points, just more lofty, empty rhetoric.

Are you seriously attempting to allege that there has been no abuses of power, corruption, or authoritarianism under the monarchical system? How exactly then has the republican model failed and the monarchical one not?

Any honest analysis would admit that both systems have failed at various times throughput history because they are both systems created and run by men, and men will always find ways to fail when the circumstances are right.

In a democracy, either system can work. But the republican system is superior for a number of reasons, both symbolic and functional. The argument we should be having is on those terms, not random falderol about Edmund Burke or the French Revolution.

Beaverbrook said...

This post is about republicans stuck in a colonial mentality, so I will stick with this theme.

Firstly, republicans are just as emotional and factually challenged as monarchists. The assertion that the Crown is a colonial holdover, for example, is such an untruth. This would only have some validity if we never had a choice in the matter, if we were subjugated in some way constitutionally. But as JJ well knows, the Crown was entrenched at the centre of the patriated 1982 Constitution Act because the democratically elected federal parliament and nine provincial legislatures - altogether now - freely chose to keep the monarchy. As Coyne alluded to, it was no less than an act of national affirmation.

No, what we have in this country is not a holdover colonial Crown, but an unjustified colonial mentality by some. It is an emotional mentality understandably shared by republicans, nationalists and those of a strong culturally Irish bent, among others. But historically it defies belief when you consider that in formative Canada, MacDonald, Laurier and Borden - all imperialist prime ministers rather than colonial premiers - were never inflicted with this particular mentality, when they might have had greater reason to be. That is because the culture of Canada is traditionally loyalist and Anglo fraternalist, from the United Empire Loyalists on. Any resurfaced colonial mentality is inexplicable against this backdrop.

It is true that the Crown is merely coincidental to the cultural fraternity of the English-speaking peoples, which would obviously continue even with the demise of the monarchy. But the Crown does reinforce those bonds, in a way that no other institution can, which is to say that Her Majesty is no more foreign to us than Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen, simply because they are English.

This is where I part ways with most Canadian monarchists who vehemently see the Queen of Canada as distinct from that of Britain, which is really nothing more than an important legal abstraction. In my view, there is no separate Canadian monarchy or separate Canadian royal family, or separate Canadian Queen that coincides with the Crown in right of Canada. It's bosh that won't wash with Canadians who see the Queen of Canada as British, which she is.

What's also bosh though is this stuff about colonial holdover. We are not a colony, we are a realm. We are a kingdom. What we need is a kingdom mentality, but don't hold your breath. JJ might be right about the 21st century.

Beaverbrook said...

Neil, I couldn't resist erasing your irrelevant post. But I did put it up in the header, and will keep it there if Canada wins!

Neil Welton said...

Hey, Beavers - since when has Britishness, the Anglosphere and the Fraternity been worthy of erasing.

Mind you, good to see that Canada has a rugby team.

A "colonial holdover" that even JJ might agree with.

J.K. Baltzersen said...

I hope "Lord Beaverbrook" will have me excused for starting an argument -- rather loosely related to the post -- with Mr. McCullough based on his initial comment. I just couldn't resist.

Once again, I have heard no specific counter-arguments to any of my points, just more lofty, empty rhetoric.

With all due respect, you are not free of empty rhetoric yourself, Mr. McCullough.

Are you seriously attempting to allege that there has been no abuses of power, corruption, or authoritarianism under the monarchical system?

No. I am merely suggesting that modern, democratic republics, including those that are in monarchy's clothing, are worse.

How exactly then has the republican model failed and the monarchical one not?

Well, modern republics have been quite successful at expanding the size and the reach of the state. Of course, that also goes for the modern, emasculated monarchies.

This is a discussion which goes far beyond the topic of the post. So we should perhaps leave it at that?

The argument we should be having is on those terms, not random falderol about Edmund Burke or the French Revolution.

When you, Mr. McCullough, mention the monarchy as a "poorly-thought-out constitutional organ," I find the wisdom of Edmund Burke and the development since the French Revolution quite relevant.

As for the claim that the Canadian monarchy is there because of colonialism, you are probably right, Mr. McCullough. However, Canada is Canada because of colonialism. Canada would be something quite else were it not for colonialism.

This raises the question whether it is republicans or monarchists who are most stuck in the past. What is more important? What institutions are there because of? Or what functions they serve in the future that lies ahead of us?

"Lord Beaverbrook" tells us that the monarchy was freely chosen back in 1982. If Canadian republicans are so obsessed with it being chosen because it was already there from a colonial past, that proves the point of the post; that Canadian republicans are stuck in the past.

Your initial reaction to this post serves as such proof.

Beaverbrook said...

By the way, if a country is merely a functional thing, what should we make of patriots and patriotism, with all of its attributed symbolism, anthems, folklore, literature and poetry. JJ has adopted the postmodern understanding of nation as that which serves a utilitarian purpose and nothing more. But nations, whether monarchies or not, in fact do elicit deeply binding emotions that are rooted in a basic love of country. So again, bosh to the argument that such flowery sentiment is the purvue of monarchies only.

JJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JJ said...

I've learned very little from this exchange, other than the fact that Mr. Baltzersen appears to favor some sort of absolutist monarchical system that does not presently exist in this country. I am therefore confused as to exactly what sort of monarchist he is. I appreciate that he at least agrees with my point that both monarchical and republican governments can- and often do- fail their citizens in a variety of ways.

On another topic, I object to the revisionist narrative that Canada in any meaningful sense "chose" to keep the monarchy in 1982. You know as well as I that the monarchy was never a principal piece of the constitutional debates at that time. The status quo of the Crown, along with the Senate, the distribution of Seats in the House, the Supreme Court, et al, were matters that were all consciously ignored in favor of an all-encompassing discussion on Trudeau’s Charter of Rights. When the matter of the Crown was raised in passing, Mr. Trudeau said that he had “no interest” in opening up the monarchy debate at that time, he wanted to focus on pushing his Charter through. Whenever a politician says he has no interest in opening a debate it is because he fears he might lose, or that the discussion will spiral out of control.

The political elites of Canada tacitly endorsed the status quo of the monarchy by failing to discuss it. But we have never had anything resembling a full national debate on the matter in the sense Australia has. I will readily concede that the people of Australia expressed their democratic will to remain a monarchy, but the Canadian people have never done anything similar. It is a hollow victory to monarchists that Canada has remained a monarchy for as long as we have, for with every passing year more and more vestiges of the crown are slowly stripped away. Canada has not “embraced” the monarchy in ages, and we likely never will again. We have tolerated it, accepted it, and ignored it. Our mentality must fundamentally change if we are to keep it.

As to My Lord Beaverbrook’s comments, you are right to note that nationalism, in the traditional sense, is tied to much mysticism and emotionalism that transcends rationality. You may enjoy this spectacle, I do not, because I believe irrational nationalism leads to a great more problems than it solves, be it war, persecution of minorities, or a simple abandonment of common-sense. I think it is perfectly reasonable for one to have pride in one’s country, but I think pride should come from the honest, undeniable achievements of that nation. We all love Canada because it is a nation which has given us freedom, liberty, health, and safety. For me, those are sufficient grounds for patriotism. I do not need to believe I am the cultural descendent of a King who controlled the tides or pulled Excalibur from a stone in order to feel pride in my country.

My sense of pride in Canada can survive the absence of the Crown, but yours would doubtlessly feel a heavy blow from the loss. That is where we are different, and I hope my reasons are clear.

As a post-script, I would just like to note something personal, not that I am sure if it is of any particular relevance or not. My last name is McCullough, yes, but I will note that the last Irish descendent on my father’s side immigrated to this country several hundred years ago. His descendents have since intermarried to such an extent that whatever Irish cultural roots my family once have long since eroded away, leaving the McCullough name as the only real reminder that Irishness is part of my background. I feel a much stronger affinity to the Dutch heritage brought by my immigrant mother, or even the Italian heritage of my great-grandfather. I know it is sometimes fashionable in monarchist circles to try and paint republicans as uppity Fenians, but I assure you, my own motivations are much more sophisticated.

Beaverbrook said...

Fair enough, JJ. If it is a national debate on monarchy that you wish, I believe you will get it soon enough. The issue will come up - it may take another twenty years at the most, but that day will arrive. There is a season for everything.

I actually was not referring to you when I spoke of the Irish motivation. It was that infamously disloyal Royal Military College professor, Captain Chainnaigh (sp?) that comes foremost to mind on that score.

James said...

I'm not sure if JJ is conveniently ignoring certain facts, or just isn't aware of them, but the monarchy was indeed discussed in the years leading up to the patriation of the constitution. Was it put to some kind of national referendum? No, obviously not. But, then, neither was any addition or revision to the constitutional documents at that time. Rather, as with the Charter, amending formula, et. all, the Crown's role was discussed, and decided on, by elected politicians.

Beaverbrook's quite right: as with all former Dominions, Canada had the choice at independence to seek its own path. However, unlike a number of other countries we decided not to dispose of what we had. The monarchy was not foisted on Canada by some foreign power, so republicans are obviously desperate for arguments if they're going to try to convince us otherwise.

Greg Benton said...

Sadly, Mr.JJ probably represents the majority of un-voiced opinion about the monarchy in Canada. It seems true that people tend to take 'pride' in their country based, not on principle, or even the utilitarian rationalism from which JJ derives some devotion.
The reduction of a national identity into a thin vulgarity is common. That is our Trudeaupian legacy...in co-operation with sympathetic politicians who found expediency in acquiesing to the transplant of a Dominion's soul.

What Beaverbook admires, I think, is not a mere 'esthetic' of monarchy (although that permits a much more appealing presentation of 'state' than what most banana republics attempt to imitate from the real thing.
The development of the monarchy remains anchored in antiquity and it is from the roots of antiquity that all that freedom and way of life that JJ so cherishes is derived. It evokes a metaphysical rather than a pragmatic, industrial, techo sense of identity and, as a result, is somewhat estranged from the current cultural icons that are promoted in this country as it's virtue, e.g., The Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The continuation of the monarchy in Canada hangs by a slender but somewhat strong constitutional thread; the loyalty of a some sub-cultural groups notwithstanding.
The virtue, history, and fundamental principles that the monarchy represents remain worthy but compromised, not only by the vulgar politicians whose sophisication in constitutional and historical heritage never passed elementary school, but some members of the Royal Family itself whose
exploitation of the vulgar culture has weakened their own efficacy within the institution.
It could easily be argued that Canadians themselves do not deserve the legacy of the monarchy. It has been largely abandoned in their national life with a few exceptions.
On the other hand, the generations that served their 'King' and 'Country' loyally and with their sacrifice ought to at least give pause to those who have only taken from the country that was built upon a foundation to permit the quality of life that they enjoy.
Of course, a pause amongst the vulgar, is but akin to withholding a belch so as to not offend dear old auntie.
At the end of the day or the reign, the continuation of the monarchy depends largely on both the will of the people through their polyester and guccied representatives as well as of the Royal Family itself.
In the meantime, for those of us who have held the Queen's commission and actually believe in what it says on the parchment, we shall remain faithful.
Would that the average citizen, being made aware of the principles embraced in such a commission, might also be prepared to accept such duty.
Alas, I fear that that is a not very likely scenario.
When the only song a country knows to sing is
'We will, we will rock you' from a hockey arena, it demonstrates the profound poverty of cultural depth that was once common in this country.

Beaverbrook said...

Very well said, Padre Benton. Your right that my affection for monarchy runs more than skin deep - it's more that I am much too invested in our shared Anglocultural and British military heritage to ever willfully abandon it. That's really the crux of it for this "monarchist". Loyal to the end.

Greg Benton said...

D'Accord, Beaverbrook.

Out of our cold dead hands.

It takes an enormous degree of arrogance on the part of those who have wilfully and even deceitfully imposed, largely by stealth,upon the Canadian body politic a definition of and identity that is estranged from the birthright of those who preceded them.

The Royal prerogatives have been given over to those whose prerogatives have become unseemly. So have the sensibilities and visible rallying colour that the Crown magnetically and inherently posesses and has afforded civilisation for centuries.

J.K. Baltzersen said...

Mr. McCullough writes:

I've learned very little from this exchange, other than the fact that Mr. Baltzersen appears to favor some sort of absolutist monarchical system that does not presently exist in this country. I am therefore confused as to exactly what sort of monarchist he is.

I am a sort of paleomonarchist.

While "absolutist" is often used as a term for monarchies where the monarch actually has real power, "kings of old" is not necessarily a reference to kings with absolute power.

Moreover, a "constitutional monarchy" is not necessarily a modern, democratic one such as that of the United Kingdom or Canada of today.

As for some of my views, I do, e.g., wish there was more of a balance between the three powers of the British constitutional system.

While I have problems with claims that the "checks and balances" claimed to be present in modern democratic systems compared to major previous systems, I do realize that monarchy is not the only thinkable means of keeping a check on power.

That said, I think it is unlikely that any further emasculation of the monarch in the UK or Canada – or outright formal abolition for that matter – will lead to the better. When politicos rail against the monarchy, a motivation for this is the wish to get rid of existing checks on their power – however faint, sadly, those checks may be in this day and age. It is unlikely that they will replace them with checks that are as efficient, which frankly is not much to cheer for, or more efficient, which in fact is needed.

Again we are quite far from the post topic of being stuck in a colonial mentality.

Shaftesbury said...

I really do not wish to reiterate all of my past arguments in favour of Her Majesty on this thread, but I will add that my Loyalty is not conditional, is not transferable, and will remain the core of who I am "until death."

I do not cleave to a piece of cloth (flag), or a clump of earth (country), or to the fraternity of so-called "comrades."

My loyalty is to my lawful Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth II.

If Canada becomes a republic (God forbid), and I have to live here, it will be with a Red Ensign at the staff - and draped over my coffin on the day they lay me to rest.

(yes, Shaft is back ...)

Anonymous said...

Members of the armed forces seem solidly (if quietly) monarchistic, at least here in Victoria, and that bodes well for the institution - both institutions, actually.

intellectual pariah

Anonymous said...

Surely it's clear to anyone that the it's the republicans, not the monarchists, who suffer most from a national inferiority complex.

"If only we would abolish... we could stand on our own two feet... we could have self-respect."

We do stand on our own two feet, we do have self-respect.

.i.p.