Monday, October 29, 2007

Libertarianism and the monarchy

John Trenchard reiterates, once again, his support for a Republic.
As my libertarianism is enormously influenced by Founding Fathers and the American Revolution of 1776, my republicanism is derived from a central premise of those brave men, and that seminal event in history - namely the premise that "All men are created equal under God".

As someone who does not believe in a god, that doesn't really hold for me. Besides, the US hardly stuck to that, although they might argue that their general belief that blacks were not strictly speaking "men" did ensure that they stuck to the letter of the law.

It was, in fact, completely necessary for blacks to be regarded as animals for the Constitution to be consistent with slavery. You see, it isn't enough to simply have a document, and a Constitution does not make men free. One only needs to examine the Constitution of Hussain's Iraq or Stalin's Russia to be amply reminded of this.
This kind of demolishes any idea of the "divine right of Kings" , and thus with it any sort of monarchy.

The divine right of kings was a relatively late addition to the British monarchy; the Norman kings were well aware that they were invaders and not divinely ordered. The concept of divine right was first used by that supreme politician, Henry VII, when he usurped power from Richard III.

In the same way, although the rituals were observed, William of Orange knew perfectly well that he was invited on sufferance. He was not an absolute ruler: he was merely a pawn of Parliament for no real reason other than that of good form.

The English in general are not great fans of upheaval; they have an inherent sense of "good order", if you like. William was invited to invade and then to take the throne, essentially, because to not have a monarch offended the British sensibility.

But from that day forth, the monarch became essentially a tool of Parliament; a nominal brake on its power and a reminder less of a divine ruler than of a single embodiment of the British people. In short, the monarch—who ruled "in the name of the people" as well as god—reminded politicians of whence their power derived.
And yet, when I see Prince Charles meeting up with fascist Islamist thugs like King Abdullah of Saudi, I lurch back into my republicanism and wonder about DK's support of the monarchy.

Why? Do you worry about other people's support for a democracy when our elected leaders will not only meet the King but were the ones who invited him in the first place?

The reason why Prince Charles is meeting the Saudi King should be obvious: the monarchy is no longer a servant of the people, it has become the servant of Parliament.

Prince Charles goes where he is ordered to go and he meets whom he is ordered to meet. The monarchy are not superior to anyone else: they are the slaves of people, Parliament, duty and country.
Then again, I can understand that say 19th century England was quite a libertarian place, with a monarchy. But it also made use of 10 year old coal miners and appalling working conditions for about 80 per cent of the population. So, I'm not sure if we want to return to that.

What? Let me reformat that.
  1. Then again, I can understand that say 19th century England was quite a libertarian place, with a monarchy.

  2. But it also made use of 10 year old coal miners and appalling working conditions for about 80 per cent of the population.

Now that's just fucking silly: proposition one has absolutely fuck all to do with proposition two. 19th Century England was quite libertarian because the government were laissez-faire: they were paid little and were occupied with other things. The monarch had no more real power—other than that which they possessed as a person—than they do now.

Taking on board all of the above, from a libertarian point of view I think that one can, in fact, make an argument for strengthening the monarchy and making it explicit, when they take their oath, that they are always to act in the best interests of the people of Britain.

Were the monarch to refuse to give Royal Asssent to one or two Bills—or even to have the power to force a referendum on sensitive issues—it would, once again, remind those who are elected whose powers it is that they wield. And they will always need reminding.

I support the monarchy for the same reason that I support the hereditary Lords: from a practical point of view. Those who are brought up and dedicate their entire lives to the service of the country are infinitely more experienced and have less grounds for vote-whoring, bribery and corruption than those whom we elect.

I am not precious about status as such; I don't believe that the Royal Family are intrinsically more valuable human beings than I, for I do not believe in a deity. But they are a practical and, indeed, profitable institution.

In fact, the only real libertarian argument that I could construct for abolishing the monarchy—as it stands in this day and age—is from the point of view that they themselves are slaves and deserve to be as free as we would have everyone else be.

You see, although I am a libertarian, I am a consequentialist not an idealist. I do not believe in dogma, I believe in the most practical solution. As far as I am concerned, the monarchy is that practical solution.

And, whenever I doubt it, I look to history; for every USA—that throws off the "shackles" of the monarchy—there is a Communist Russia, a revolutionary France, a Communist China. Remember, we tried a republic in Britain and it didn't suit us (not least because our Lord Protector attempted to set up his own dynasty).

The monarchy serves an admirable function and its retention—and even its strengthening—is desirable from the point of view of utility. Besides, they are fun: everyone likes a little pomp and circumstance from time to time...

For more on this subject, I highly recommend this article at LibertarianUK.

23 comments:

Mark Wadsworth said...

You are missing the point. Of course it is fun to have a Royal Family. But if they all got wiped out in the same plane crash, whom would you have replace them?

I'd go for Peter'n'Jordan, myself. Posh'n'Becks have got a bit boring.

Roger Thornhill said...

Remember also that the State has a contract with the Monarchy, and so Rule of Law, contract rights etc come into play.

Maybe the Monarchy will relinquish the Civil List in return for all its land back.

Yes, you can argue the land was unfairly attained, but then again, it was a long time ago, and you would also have to reclaim parts of France in the process of reversing out title.

The Crown makes sense in its role vis a vis the people and parliament. It is the least worst option in my view.

The alternative - President Blair...and Slot Gob in tow. Heaven forbid!

Alan Douglas said...

"The monarchy serves an admirable function and its retention — and even its strengthening — is desirable from the point of view of utility."

As the previous post so rightly says, the monarchy is priceless if only once it manages to prevent a Cherie Blair or her like from donning the mantle of "President".

Long Live The Queen !

Alan Douglas (who only became a royal fan during the 1977 Jubilee)

John Trenchard said...

good counter argument DK.

so you're all in favour of having a Protestant as head of state and thereby exclude anyone who is British and doesn't subscribe to the Protestant religion?

agree with the fun part though. in it's weird anachronistic way, Prince Philip has warmed the cockles of my heart.
gotta love his complete and utter non-adherance to P.C. makes me laugh.

"Do you worry about other people's support for a democracy when our elected leaders will not only meet the King but were the ones who invited him in the first place?"

that makes me sick as well. but if you know Charle's history of sucking up to Islam you'll know that he wasnt doing it under pressure from parliament - he did it with gusto.

"when they take their oath, that they are always to act in the best interests of the people of Britain."

yes. but Her Majesty has never objected to any EU law , has she? so that's failed hasnt it?

"I do not believe in dogma, I believe in the most practical solution. As far as I am concerned, the monarchy is that practical solution."

thats the difference. i am, i admit, an idealist. i also recognise that my idealism might not happen.

"everyone likes a little pomp and circumstance from time to time..."

i agree. i can't envisage britain without the "changing of the guards". but i'm thinking of the future and whether these old traditions have served us well.

my breakpoint will be the passing of the EU Reform Treaty. If that happens, with royal consent, then you really have to wonder - what is the point of them? arent they supposed to be the final bulwark against foreign domination?

John Trenchard said...

i am just saying these things because for years the monarchist justified monarchy as being a final bulwark against parliament , for the monarchy will defend us against tyranny.

i see none of that happening. and if it is not happening, then what is the point of it?

Devil's Kitchen said...

"so you're all in favour of having a Protestant as head of state and thereby exclude anyone who is British and doesn't subscribe to the Protestant religion?"

No. There would be no state religion in a libertarian society.

"my breakpoint will be the passing of the EU Reform Treaty. If that happens, with royal consent, then you really have to wonder - what is the point of them? arent they supposed to be the final bulwark against foreign domination?"

Precisely the reason why the monarchy should be strengthened. The monarch has no real, practical power to stop a Bill now.

I can see precisely where you are coming from, of course, and I agree with you to an extent about Charles.

However, I think that he genuinely thinks that he is doing the right thing and that trying to build bridges with Islam is a good idea.

He may be wrong, of course, but I am not sure that he is entirely wrong anyway -- Muslims live here: we may as well try to include them as much as possible.

DK

John Trenchard said...

fair enough. i got one hell of a lesson in genuine British nationalism on here tonight. you basically want to preserve what it means to be british. and i cant fault that attitude.it's admirable.

Anonymous said...

"Of course it is fun to have a Royal Family. But if they all got wiped out in the same plane crash, whom would you have replace them? "

The line of succession goes on for a awful long time and includes a great many people who aren't considered to be in the Royal Family. It would therefore have to be an enormous plane to hold all those people.

Peter Risdon said...

I find these ostensibly libertarian defences of monarchy depressing. If we own ourselves we can't be subjects. If power comes from citizens it can't come from the crown. It's as simple as that.

What's more, having the power of a monarch exercised by Parliament means that Parliament has unlimited power, and that's irreconcilable with libertarianism, and also with classical Liberalism, really. Monarchy and limited government cannot be combined, they are mutually exclusive.

Government needs to be limited by a constitution, not by the arbitrary whim of a strengthened monarchy. We've had a good run of monarchs recently, but there have been some real doozies in the past and there will be again.

This is conservatism, not libertarianism, in principle and in practice.

The Remittance Man said...

Besides, they have sensible rules about not all travelling in the same plane.

Personally I think the monarchy is a good thing if only because it keeps the final say out of the hands of the politicians. I like the pomp, ceremony and silly outfits too though.

More sensibly my own thoughts have crystalised having done a bit of a study of Britain's constitutional history. All the democratic developments came about when the monarchy were the executive and parliament took upon itself the duty to scrutinise the executive's actions and approve (or not) the raising of the necessary funds. Essentally the seperation of powers.

Alas nowadays the executive also rests with parliament. All the efforts to seperate the two have come to nought. Indeed one could say we have swapped the Divine Right of Kings for the Divine Right of The Majority.

Seeing as restoring some royal powers is probably impossible I would argue for the creation of a seperate, directly elected Prime Minister from outside parliament. Her Majesty's Prime Minister would then appoint his cabinet in much the same way as the US President does. Parliament, shorn of its executive role, would then revert to what it should be - a scrutinising and budget approving body.

oddly enough I outlined these thoughts last week here: http://remittanceman.blogspot.com/2007/10/constitution-for-united-kingdom.html

Peter Risdon said...

we have swapped the Divine Right of Kings for the Divine Right of The Majority

The problem in fact is that the divine right of Kings is now channelled through democratic institutions. That right of unlimited power should not exist.

I don't know what his position on the monarchy is, but here's Tim Worstall at the ASI today: "A constitution tells us what the State may not do to us. It describes the civil liberties that we enjoy, which may not be taken from us, whatever the priorities of government. It absolutely is not about what we may do, it is about what they may not do to us. And as the sad and violent history of the 20th century tells us, if we forget that the State is the most dangerous enemy of our liberty then we'll have neither freedom nor security, nor perhaps will we deserve either."

Historically, the most dangerous enemy of our liberty has been the monarchy. That's why Parliament developed. People gave their lives in the struggle against despotic monarchy. Seven centuries of struggle against monarchy seem to have been forgotten.

The transfer of unlimited power to Parliament was not a good solution. The way to correct that isn't to support, or restore, the source of the problem. It's to eliminate the problem by limiting the scope of government through a constitution.

The Creator said...

I am intrigued by your comment that 'The divine right of kings was a relatively late addition to the British monarchy ... the concept of divine right was first used by that supreme politician, Henry VII, when he usurped power from Richard III.'

First, you must mean the English monarchy, not the British. England and Scotland were separate countries with their own kings. There was no British monarch until Anne in 1707. Even James 1/VI was separately king of Scotland and king of England. He was never king of Britain.

Second, divine right was a commonplace of English kingship since well before the Norman Conquest, a key means for rulers to assert their legitimacy in a period when the succession was almost always disputed. Hence William the Conqueror's coronation in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066. That he had seized the throne by force made it more not less necessary to proclaim his divinely sanctioned right to the throne.

I would have expected a former pupil of Henry VI's College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor to have known better.

The Remittance Man said...

Peter,

Limiting the things the state gets involved in is fine in theory, but history has shown that power will concentrate somewhere unless specifically prevented from doing so. And once power is concentrated it will seek to take more and more control. The original 1689 Bill of Rights didn't stop the monarch being the boss, it simply curbed the monarch's power by giving parliament the power to control the purse strings.

But because the document didn't specifically name the king as the boss either, executive power slowly drifted to parliament.

The Americans appear to have gotten it more right by creating two positions defined by their constitution: an executive presidency (in effect an elected king in the 18th century sense of the word) and congress which is the only body capable of authorising taxes and can censure the executive or even dismiss it.

I happen to think the monarchy suits Britain but I don't think it would be possible, or even wise, to return powers to the throne. So, as far as I can see, the only safe thing to do is formally remove the democratic executive (the prime minister and his cabinet) from parliament.

Anonymous said...

For the love of God, will you wonks get to things that actually matters?

Who the fuck is at the centre of this cocaine/blowjob blackmail story? I swear, if I don't find out soon I'll just fucking go on a shooting spree.

Peter Risdon said...

an executive presidency (in effect an elected king in the 18th century sense of the word)

Absolutely not. An executive with powers limited by Congress, the courts and the Constitution, where those powers aren't reserved to the States.

power will concentrate somewhere unless specifically prevented from doing so

Absolutely. And the constitution is the means by which it is specifically prevented from doing so.

If people like the tourist attraction of the monarchy, fine. But it should have no place in the constitutional arrangements of the country, the monarch should be an ordinary citizen with no special rights or prerogatives, and entirely subject to the law. Personally, I neither want to pay for it myself, nor see it resume ownership of property that was the legacy of the feudal system under which the crown owned everyone and everything in the land. If it's useful, it should be capable of being a going concern.

I completely agree with you about the need to recognise that we have an executive government and - most importantly - remove it entirely from Parliament so it can no longer use patronage (ministerial appointment) as a means of control over the assemblies that should be restraining the executive.

The broader point remains: monarchy and libertarianism are incompatible.

What's more, monarchism prevents libertarians from claiming the radical legacy that is rightfully theirs.

Anon - google has the answer.

Thomas Gordon said...

I must admit the idea of a Republic is somewhat appealing.

I've never been comftable with the term 'subjects' because I believe in 'citizenship'-these may be words but they do 'mark' us as being servants rather than masters of our own country.

By the same token I also appreciate tradition and values that are the essence of the nation state.

The Presidential idea is workable-Ireland being a good example.

I suspect however Republicanism will become popular when Charlie takes to the throne.

Anonymous said...

@Thomas Gordon

You must have a wonky passport, mate, because mine says very clearly that I'm a British citizen.

The Remittance Man said...

Peter,

I think we're both arguing for the same thing, except I'd keep the monarchy. Mostly for ceremonial stuff, but also because although I doubt they'd ever use it, giving them the theoretical final word prevents politicians getting their grubby little mitts upon it.

Peter Risdon said...

RM, I'm sure we're not too far apart. I'm very concerned about the principle of the thing: I ain't nobody's subject.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Peter,

I started a comment answering you, but I'm going to make it a full post.

In the meantime, what don't you like about being a subject? It's merely a name and has no practical meaning in the way in which you live your life.

We have no monarchistic tyranny: the monarch is merely a figurehead and they can be very useful.

DK

Peter Risdon said...

DK, the fact that I am a subject is the reason why my freedom of speech has been curtailed, and is being reduced even further. That doesn't affect me much, as it happens. Yet. So far, the fact that I can't hurl racial abuse at someone has no effect because I wouldn't do that anyway. It does affect the BNP, or at least some of them, and so they're squealing about it. But this is death by degrees. The religious restrictions might well affect my freedom - because they are not going to affect my speech. And it is going to continue.

These things are possible because I'm a subject. I don't have the protection of a constitution. That's why Americans have to put up with whackjobs like Fred Phelps, but they have government limited by constitution. They are not subjects.

I dislike the principle of the thing - I'm a freeborn Englishman and I'd die for that - I'd die rather than accept subjugation. But either you feel that or you don't.

True, our monarchy isn't tyrannical at the moment. That's an accident of chronology. Monarchs certainly have been so in the past and our present government is exercising petty, nannying tyranny using the powers of a monarch. They shouldn't have those powers. They shouldn't be able to get into any area of life they choose. They can do so because they have the powers of a monarch. It isn't, actually, so much who wields those powers - a King or Queen or a Parliament. It's the fact that anyone has those powers. They shouldn't.

Constitutions aren't there to protect people, citizens, from the well-meaning and benign rulers who do come along. Thjey are there for the other rulers. The fact that we;ve had a good run of royalty for the past half-century and then for most of the nineteenth shouldn't blind us to the fact that this has just been accident. There have been some tyrants in the past, and there'll be tyrants again in the future. It's much harder and bloodier to put protections in place when a tyrant is in power than it is when they're not.

Peter Risdon said...

DK, one more thing. If it's ever worth making a statement of libertarian principle - something about how we are the sole owner of our own person, body, property and fate, that sort of thing - then surely the question of whether or not we are subjects of another person is a principle worth stating. Because it's the same principle.

harry grasscutter said...

Is Peter Risdon for real?

See:

http://www.nobodylikesagrass.com

The man is a notorious fantasist and police informer. He is also the most incompetent liar in the land.

Who is this imbecile to lecture us about the encroachments of the State?

He is a paid and registered informant for the very state he decries! He regularly deletes or edits comments posted on his own blog which are deemed inconvenient showing what a fan of censorship he is when it comes to covering up his own seedy past! And on top of that he resorts to the very measures that most normal people associate with totalitarian regimes - planting listening devices in peoples' homes and offices!

Peter Risdon is a sad, creepy failure. His comments only reduce this blog's credibility.