Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Why I support the monarchy

This is a bit of a delayed reaction, but I was shocked and appalled by the coverage of royal baby number 2 the other week, especially when there were massively more important national and international issues to cover. I was particularly outraged about our leading politicians gushing on social media about the fact that an entirely irrelevant baby (at least as irrelevant as anyone else) was in the process of gestating.

It's times like that that make me feel like I should be a republican. I am totally unable to participate in the royal lovefest that exists in this country. Furthermore, I would regard myself as a socialist and an egalitarian, so the idea that money, power and respect should, as a matter of the constitution, go to one unremarkable family ought to disgust and appal me.

But as with so many things, what my heart says is not what my head says. And I think that's the same for most people. I believe in logic, but I'm also a hypocrite.

I should say at this point that it's my heart that is repelled by the monarchy and my head that supports it, rather than, as it probably is for the majority of British people, the other way round.

The monarchy is fundamentally irrational, so it seems wrong to have a rational argument for it. But people are fundamentally irrational, so. 

Why do we even need a head of state in the first place? Even parliamentary republics like Germany or Ireland find room in their system of government for some old hack politician to go round cutting ribbons and stuff. Why?

I don't know the answer to that: maybe we need the sense of a national, unifying figure, someone that everyone can be proud of and inspired by, which active politicians generally can't do.

The first reason I support the monarchy rather than a ceremonial president is that the monarch can truly be that person. The Queen has no politics. She never has had, from the moment she was born. The Queen is not even interesting: she is a blank canvas. If we feel proud of the Queen, it is like feeling proud of a Barbie doll: because we can pretend she's more than a piece of plastic. (Not to insult what I am sure is a lovely old lady).

But that's not the main reason I support the monarchy. I support the monarchy because it reminds me of the totally random and illogical way of the world. I support the monarchy, ironically, because of my anarchic streak. This is not the way a rational person would order things. In a rational country, David Cameron and Ed Miliband (or their press teams) would not take a second away from urgent matters of state or whatever they do to deal with an unremarkable though undeniably beautiful lady's pregnancy.

But we don't live in a rational country, populated by desiccated counting machines, and thank God for that! 

(I'm an atheist but that's for another day)

I support the monarchy because it reminds us how messed up the world is. It means that we don't need for fall for the illusion that everything we do is based on our effort and that the people in charge deserve their power and money.

Some republicans say that the monarchy promotes hierarchy and deference. But we have hierarchy and deference anyway! Any system with bosses promotes hierarchy and deference. But in a 'meritocracy' we defer to people on their apparent talent, whereas in a monarchy we know that the deference we show is based on nothing at all. As long as we don't take the monarchy seriously, it provides us with a daily reminder that in our society, brute luck rules the roost.

Now, you can argue 'full socialism now', and that's a separate argument. But in our society, right now, I think that kind of reminder of unfairness is good. Plus people sell mugs with very strange and inaccurate pictures of Prince Harry, and that helps the economy.

The problem in Britain is that we take the monarchy too seriously. At times like royal baby number 2 (Royal Baby: The Revenge), we run the risk of crossing the line to actually respecting the royal family, actually caring what they say and do, and actually developing the inferiority complex that would make us the distracted sheep that republicans argue the monarchy makes us.

I don't deny that the monarchy serves as a distraction, but so do all celebrities. The monarchy as an institution is still I believe the good kind of distracting.

What are generally acknowledged to be the most egalitarian and progressive societies in the world (the Netherlands, Sweden, etc.) are monarchies. If monarchy was so detrimental to the human spirit and to equality, then how is that possible? The cradle of modern republicanism, the United States, is hardly the most equal place in the world.

Of course, there are plenty of egalitarian republics. And the UK is incredibly unequal, which would seem to blow a hole in my argument. 

But here I come full circle. We take the monarchy too seriously. And that, I think, does contribute to our inequality.

But taken in the manner in which it should be, I think the monarchy is wonderful. I think it is delightfully silly, and the more silliness we have in the world the better, and I think, if the silliness is appreciate, it can, and who knows if this is utopian, but it can get rid of our illusions about how meritocratic capitalist society is. So, despite the best efforts of Karl Marx and Hello! magazine, I support the monarchy.

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