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Monarchy, Nation-States, And The Failed Reign of "Elizabeth The Useless"
At the last Royal Wedding, back in 1981, I spent most of the day in bed, listening to Die Meistersinger. This time, I was bullied by my (Slovak immigrant!) wife and our daughter into having a shave and watching every ghastly detail on the telly.
Well, at least Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were not polluting the event by their presence. If the Mountbatten-Windsors had shown a little more backbone when these wretches were in office, I might think more of them today
Why is the English Monarchy is at once so important to England—I prefer this honest tribal term to the now-obsolescent "Britain"—and recently so disappointing?
Many Americans no doubt looked at all the bowing and kissing and walking backwards, and thought how lucky they were to live in a republic—especially in one where anyone at all, it seems, is able to become head of state. Perhaps they are right.
I, however, have always been very glad to be an Englishman. Among much else, being English brings complete moral security and no need ever to apologize or even explain.
It is the function of the Monarchy both to express and to sustain England's national identity and all that stands with it. The Monarchy reminds us that our nation is not some recent arrival in the world, and that the threads of continuity between ourselves and our distant forebears—what Abraham Lincoln called "the mystic chords of memory"—have not been broken. England and its monarchy exist today, and five hundred years ago, and a thousand years ago, and one thousand five hundred years ago. And, as we go further back, they vanish together, with no sense that they ever began at all, into the forests of Northern Europe.
But what makes the Monarchy nowadays so disappointing is that Her Present Majesty—"Elizabeth the Useless"—has, during the fifty nine years of her reign, been an absolute failure at discharging any of her positive functions.
Her negative functions she has discharged well enough. To do these, however, she has simply needed to occupy the right place in her family tree and know how to smile and wave whenever she appears before us. If, like the Emperor of Japan, she never said or did anything in public, she would still express our national identity.
But she really has never lifted a finger to sustain that identity. She could have done much to slow the transformation of England into a sinister laughing stock. She might well have stopped it. Instead, even before she became a shambling old woman, Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God Queen, Defender of the Faith, chose to sit by and watch.
Let me explain. By law, the Queen is our head of state, and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and Commander in Chief of all the armed forces. She appoints all the bishops and judges, and all the ministers and civil servants. She declares war, and all treaties are signed on her behalf. The only thing she cannot do is make laws by her own authority and impose taxes. To do either of these, she needs the consent of Parliament.
On the other hand, she can also veto any parliamentary bill she dislikes—and her veto cannot be overridden by any weighted majority vote of Parliament.
These are the theoretical powers of an English Monarch. During the past three centuries, though, the convention first emerged and then hardened, that all these powers should be exercised in practice by a Prime Minister who is leader of the majority party in the House of Commons.
He may be called First Minister of the Crown. He may have to explain himself every week to the Monarch. Where things like Royal Weddings are concerned, he mostly keeps out of sight. But, as leader of the majority party in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister draws his real legitimacy from the people. No Monarch has dismissed a Prime Minister, or tried to keep one in office, since the 1830s. No Monarch has rejected a parliamentary bill since 1708.
Because it is unwritten, and because its various conventions are in continual flux, the English Constitution can be rather opaque to foreign observers. Some of these fail to understand the nature of convention, and assume that the Queen of England is an absolute monarch—though more genteel than the King of Saudi Arabia. Others see the conventions as the only reality, and regard England as an odd sort of republic.
Both are wrong. Our Constitution is based on an implied contract between people and Monarch. This is that, in public, we regard whoever wears the Crown as the Lord's Anointed. In return, the Monarch acts on the advice of a Prime Minister, who is accountable to us.
But this implied contract has one important limiting term. It holds only so long as politics is other than a cartel of tyrants and traitors. But just such a cartel is exactly what has emerged in Britain as the 1960s radical generation completed its Gramscian "Long March through the institutions", as I have documented in my pamphlet Cultural Revolution, Culture War: How Conservatives Lost England, and How to Get It Back (free PDF download here).And once the politicians make themselves, as a class, irremovable, and once they begin to abolish the rights of the people, it is the duty of the Monarch to step in and rebalance the Constitution.
The need for this duty to be performed has been apparent since at least 1972, when we were lied into the European Union. The Conservatives did not fight the 1970 general election on any promise that they would take us in. When they did take us in, and when Labour kept us in, we were told that it was nothing more than a trade agreement. It turned out very soon to be a device for the politicians to exercise unaccountable power. The Queen could and should have acted then, beginning by insisting on a General Election after the terms of Britain's entry were settled.
There have been many times since when she should have acted. At all times, she could have sacked the Government and dissolved Parliament without provoking riots in the street.
But so far as I can tell, the Queen has acted only twice in my lifetime to force changes of policy—typically, on behalf of the emerging Politically Correct consensus. In 1979, she bullied Margaret Thatcher to go back on her election promise not to hand Rhodesia over to a bunch of black Marxists. In 1987, she bullied Margaret Thatcher again to give in to calls for sanctions against South Africa.
And that was it. She is somewhere on record as having said that she regards herself more as Head of the Commonwealth than as Queen of England. Certainly, she has never paid any regard to the rights of her English subjects.
I said that the Queen has not discharged her positive functions. It is actually worse than this. By discharging her negative functions, she has allowed many people to overlook the structures of absolute and unaccountable power that have grown up during her reign. She has fronted a revolution to dispossess us of our country and of our rights within it.
This does not, in itself, make a republic desirable. Americans may be very pleased with an electoral system that has given them so many interesting and even entertaining heads of state. But, from an English point of view, American history is something more enjoyably observed than suffered.
Doubtless, if a Government of National Recovery ever found itself opposed by the Monarch, it might be necessary to consider some change. Such a government would have only one chance to save the country, and nothing could be allowed to stand in its way. But this should only be an extreme last resort.
Symbolic functions aside, the practical advantage of having a monarchy is that the head of state is chosen by the accident of birth and not by some corrupted system of election; and that the head of state is likely to show a longer term, more proprietorial interest in the country than someone who has lied his way to one or two terms of office. (This is the essential argument of the German libertarian Hans-Herman Hoppe's book Democracy: The God that Failed.) We got Elizabeth II by a most unhappy accident of birth.
But the very real public interest shown in her grandson's wedding has not been merely about pretty clothes and music. We have seen our next King but one. We can ask if he will be a Patriot King—or yet another front for revolution.
Dr. Sean Gabb [Email him] is a writer, academic, broadcaster and Director of the Libertarian Alliance in England. His monograph Cultural Revolution, Culture War: How Conservatives Lost England, and How to Get It Back is downloadable for free here; hard copies can be purchased here, along with his recent novel The Churchill Memorandum and other works. For his account of the Property and Freedom Society's 2008 conference in Bodrum, Turkey, click here. For his address to the 2009 PFS conference, "What is the Ruling Class?", click here; for videos of the other presentations, click here.