Hands Off My Monarchy
As the media and self-righteous internet militants more and more frequently attack the monarchy in more and more vicious ways, I believe it is now, with greater reason than ever, justified to defend this institution. Indeed, given its vital importance to the continued existence of the United Kingdom, defence of the Royal Family – this establishment which for so long has striven to symbolise British reserve, tranquillity, and pragmatism – is and always shall be a worthy endeavour. A natural endeavour too, given the ease with which such a rebuttal arises.
The first cornerstone of this defence must be the matter of identity. Let us consider for a moment certain pivotal aspects of modern Britain: its anthem, which orbits around the present queen or king; its coinage, upon which is unfailingly imprinted the side view of our head of state; our Christmas day, on which we invite into the most intimate of settings the national icon who addresses us with warmth and clarity. I understand that each of us has had a unique upbringing, and that swathes of the population indeed do not actively recognise or participate in such cultural staples. However, given the depth to which the royal roots delve into our culture, I must admit to feeling a profound sense of sympathy for those who choose inconsiderately to bash the royal institution to excess. For in so doing they betray what is undoubtedly a tragic and self-destructive disdain for their own heritage and history.
In addition to the provision of identity, the current Queen has granted and continues to grant us societal stability; such a stability is no longer enjoyed by other comparable nation-states. Consider France, where one in four voters would accept the army running the country, and where two in five would accept even an unelected “strongman” as leader, according to The Times. Why not take a look at the US, where societal division and polarisation have become omnipresent, exemplified by events such as the farce of the now infamous January 6th 2021? The conclusion to be drawn is quite clear: when one can elect such a powerful figure as the president of a republic, huge anger can be generated against one’s fellow citizens. This is certainly undesirable, but not illogical, by the by: if you dislike your head of state, and your compatriots have elected said head of state, then it is surely coherent to feel a sense of frustration towards them and their outlook.
In the United Kingdom, however, we fortunately do not face this predicament. If you dislike Boris Johnson, you can take heart in Emmanuel Macron’s true reflection (also reported by The Times) that, “I’m head of state and he isn’t”. In this country, we have a representative who transcends the political realm, and all of its superficiality, to represent you in a way that is less divisive and, theoretically, more unifying. Not only does this mean greater stability within our own country, but also a link that reaches across borders and oceans.
Our royal family persists in its noble goal of unifying peoples from almost every continent of planet Earth in the form of the Commonwealth. Academics and scholarly observers may cite ‘soft power’ and diplomatic reach as the benefits of such an arrangement, yet I believe it truly to be much more profound than that. As I write this article, and as Europe witnesses unilateral invasion on a scale unseen for decades, the importance of common ties between human beings – whoever and wherever they are – cannot be understated. Nor can the loss of such an arrangement be undone, and I assert that, consequently, the maintenance of such an arrangement is worthy of any supposed ‘drawbacks’ to being led by the monarchy. The destruction of such vital social institutions would require stratospherically strong arguments; the arguments advanced by the monarchy’s detractors, perhaps unsurprisingly, do not reach this threshold.
The go-to anti-monarchical argument is that of taxpayers’ money; the pounds we pay into the royal family are purportedly an unnecessary waste of our hard-earned cash, of which we don’t individually reap any benefits. This argument still baffles me a little bit, given that those who posit it often fall into the camp of those who wax lyrical about the necessity of universally higher public spending, despite the fact that in almost every instance, public spending does not obviously benefit us on an individual level. We accept such spending because we recognise that, whether we benefit from it personally or not, it allows society to function better than it would otherwise. We accept an immense bill for the NHS, rendered expensive often by world-beating treatments that we individually may never need; we accept the maintenance of roads and motorways on which we may personally never drive; we accept that politicians need to be paid, even those who fight actively against our personal wishes. The monarchy follows exactly the same pattern. You may never feel the monarchy benefiting you positively as an individual – you may never meet a member of the royal family, and you may never take heart from the wise words of a royal address – but that is in no way a decent argument against depriving others of such joys, if we simply apply the same logic as we do to all other public expenses.
The cheapest and most disappointing of arguments against the monarchy is that it’s basically ‘unfair’, and that an elective system would be preferable. It’s a disappointing argument because it misses what I find to be blindingly obvious. Another opportunity for uber-wealthy Etonians, narcissistic tycoons, and career politicians to battle it out is not the egalitarian pat on the back that its proponents imagine it would be. If anything, such a scenario would be worse. At least under the current system of monarchy, there is a tacit acceptance that it cannot change, cannot be usurped, cannot be bought out by anything or anyone. We should be thankful for that. Furthermore, this argument for a more presidential-style system falls flat because I believe that, in the case it were implemented – with all the campaigning, slogans, and incessant media sludge it would bring with it – if the current royals were to run, they would win against their opponent, whoever it may be.
One concept most people who identify as ‘republican’ fail to understand (amongst many other things) is that we are in a privileged situation, to be gifted with a family that is legitimately trained to fulfil this role. It is for this reason that those members of the royal family who have not committed grossly inappropriate acts – which is to say the majority of them – are perceived positively by the public. The Queen is undoubtedly an exemplary figure of this. Charles, Kate and William also have their merits. They speak well, they carry themselves well, and they represent the United Kingdom well – just as well, if not better, than any ‘president’ would. Importantly, they do these things well not because they need or wish for re-election, but because they believe them to be right.
These commonly stated arguments against the monarchy are short-sighted, and inevitably held by those who wish to see the monarchy collapse, whilst dispossessed of any reasonable replacement to the present system and its plentiful benefits. Detractors of the British royals typically – and here, I admit to generalising – denounce with fervour the isolationism, protectionism, and nationalism emerging across the globe. Yet they seem not to care an ounce that the royal family is amongst the last vestiges we have of that tie between the Australians and the English, of that link between the Scottish and the Canadians, and of that commonwealth which embraces 2.4 billion people.
I wouldn’t wish to claim that the royal family lead tough nor difficult lives. Ostensibly, they do not. But to conclude, I would like to claim that the monarchy unites us in a way no other “presidential” system would. That the monarchy carries out tasks which benefit not only this country, but numerous others around the world. That in losing the monarchy, the United Kingdom would suffer disagreeable, turbulent consequences. We would thereby cease to be the united people of a kingdom, becoming instead the disjointed individuals inhabiting its ruins.
Illustration: Sarah Knight