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

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The Wrinkles of Centuries

While reading J.K. Baltzersen's post on Queen Maud of Norway, as well as noticing that rather striking portrait of our future sovereign in the headers celebrating his 60th birthday, I began to ponder the question of dynasty. Victor Hugo, who was himself a republican but not overtly hostile to crowned institutions, observed in Les Miserables:

But it is not always easy to create a dynasty. At a pinch any man of genius, or even any soldier of fortune may be made into a king. Bonaparte is an instance of the first, and an instance of the second is Iturbide, the Mexican general who was proclaimed emperor, deposed in 1823, and shot the following year. But not any family can be established as a dynasty. For this some depth of ancestry is needed: the wrinkles of centuries cannot be improvised.
I am a monarchist by tradition. It is the tradition of my country, Canada, to have a monarchy. Historically monarchies have been more stable and humane institutions than their republican competitors, the only really successful republics in history are the Roman, the Swiss, the Dutch (which is today a monarchy) and the American. Most republics have been disasters. The French Republic - now on version 5.0 - survived into the second half of the twentieth century largely because of the efforts of one man, Charles de Gaulle, whom many called an uncrowned king in his dozen years as President. Why are most republics such spectacular failures? The modern world affords many examples of stable democratic republics, South Korean, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Greece and most of the states of Eastern Europe. Notice, however, that none of these republics have strong liberal democratic traditions dating before 1945, most were dictatorships of one variety or another as late as the 1970s or 1980s. None, importantly, have faced a grave military or economic crisis and should - forbid the thought - the world undergo another Great Depression I cannot see many standing for very long.

The period between 1929 and 1932 signalled the end of what has been called the first era of globalization, it was also the end of the first era of global liberalism, in the broad and original understanding of that word. Poverty and crisis overwhelmed the feeble republics of Europe and Latin America. Among the republican states only Switzerland, France - barely - and America survived. The stability of the House of Windsor, and the houses of Scandinavia, were never questioned. The secret is not, I think, really monarchy but something we sometimes miss here at the Monarchist, dynasty. Lloyd George, no friend of the peerage or the crown, once remarked about the House of Lords:

There are no credentials. They do not even need a medical certificate. They need not be sound either in body or mind. They only require a certificate of birth just to prove that they were the first of the litter. You would not choose a spaniel on those principles.
Too clever by half, as Lloyd George often was. The first of the litter doesn't seem an inspired method of selection, and it goes as much for monarchs as for peers. Yet it works well. An inherited position, especially of great wealth, mitigates corruption or ambition. A politician has the perspective of a few years between elections, and he is always fund raising. A monarch, or one in waiting as Prince Charles, must take the perspective of centuries. Unlike private wealth, which may come without responsibility, the wealth and glory of a monarch in a modern liberal democracy does not. The Queen and the Prince of Wales are among the hardest working people in the United Kingdom, enduring a schedule as brutal as that of many cabinet ministers or top executives. To whom much is given, much is expected.

It instills a sense of duty and public service, in the older meanings of those words. Today duty is seen as a thankless task performed with reluctance. Public service a code word for subservience to an over mighty state. No sane man would wish to be King, but having been placed in that line of fate, awesome even in a constitutional state, the opportunity to make an impact on the world is still great. It is this perspective, the wrinkles of centuries, that gives a monarchy its flavour and grandeur. To have lasted so long does not guarantee goodness, but it suggests that an institution has spoken to some deep desire and need of the human race. We ignore this truth at our peril. Those eager to replace the House of Windsor, and the personal union of Her Majesty's 16 Commonwealth realms, with some kind of crowned republic are pursuing an, at best, foolish, and often dishonest strategy. Crowned republic is another way of saying republic later. Any soldier of fortune can be made a king, or in our more stable times any patronage appointment can be made a king.

We too, in Canada, Australia and New Zealand can have some bloodless head of state like Italy or Israel, a nonentity plucked from obscurity to shake hands with foreign diplomats, a figure too weak and irrelevant to challenge an overly ambitious minister of state. A monarch like our current sovereign is not crossed lightly. She has seen too much and been enough away from the fray of politics, a detached and largely impartial observer, not to have learned much. We do not know what she thinks. We are fairly certain she was no fan of Mrs Thatcher, but very much liked Mr Wilson and Mr Major. Yet government worked as smoothly as ever. It was headlines when the Queen was alleged to have reprimanded Mrs Thatcher for being "uncaring," yet Thatcher could not - whatever the rightness of her cause - ignore the crown with impunity. Even a constitutional monarch who reigns more than rules, provides a valuable check on the power of her ministers. A monarch who was made a monarch by chance, by political whim or election, is a feather in the breeze. A dynasty is something not to be trifled with.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Monarchy is, an always will be, the natural form of government for mankind. We may experiment with all different kinds of other forms, but monarchy is part of the natural order of things since the beginning of time.

Bolingbroke said...

There's something to be said for the entrenchment and resulting long-term political stability that dynasties represent, alright. A very well argued point that we don't pay enough attention to.

Anonymous said...

Kipling: 'We too, in Canada, Australia and New Zealand can have some bloodless head of state...'

Kipling, speak for your own country and do not presume to speak for the countries of others. If you are a Canadian, speak for Canada, but not for Australia or New Zealand. If you are an Australian, speak for Australia, but not Canada and New Zealand. And if you are a New Zealander, speak for New Zealand, but not Canada and Australia.

DO NOT PRESUME TO SPEAK FOR OR ON BEHALF OF A COUNTRY OF WHICH YOU ARE NOT A CITIZEN AND HAVE NO ELECTORAL RIGHTS.

Dunraven said...

Kipling: "The modern world affords many examples of stable democratic republics, South Korean, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Greece and most of the states of Eastern Europe. Notice, however, that none of these republics have strong liberal democratic traditions dating before 1945, most were dictatorships of one variety or another as late as the 1970s or 1980s. None, importantly, have faced a grave military or economic crisis and should - forbid the thought - the world undergo another Great Depression I cannot see many standing for very long."

Kipling, are you serious? All the countries that you list have faced immense military and economic crises: the European countries you mention were ravaged by the Great Depression and devastated in World War II and South Korea was devasted in the Korean War 1950-53. And they have all stood the test of time since the end of World War II, even after some 45 years of Soviet occupation in the case of the East European nations. South Korea for example, weathered the Asian economic crisis of 1997/98 relatively well, though the IMF had to help bail them out. But in 2.5 years they were back on their feet. On what basis do you say that they would not withstand further grave military and economic crises? The countries that you specify had all undergone massive economic dislocation and physical devastation in the 20th century. Germany, too, recovered from massive destruction in World War II to become one of the richest and strongest economies in the world, and even with the advent of China is still currently the world's leading exporter nation. Such sweeping and unfounded statements as these you make sound quite unrealistic, or indeed, nonsensical.