A Letter To An English Gentleman
A Letter To An English Gentleman
A letter to an English Gentleman of Republican conviction who opposes the Monarchy.
Explanatory Note: The Republican Gentleman, a man I do not know, nor have I ever met, posted a comment on Facebook in the British Monarchy fan site that the ballot box is better than heredity in determining the ruler of a nation. I retorted with my own post “It’s tradition, get over it.”
The Republican Gentleman then compared the tradition of the Monarchy to slavery and public executions, thus suggesting that since the latter are not right neither should be the former. I sent him a private letter calling his comparison out of order.
The Republican Gentleman rather than admit that his rhetoric has overstepped the line complained about his ilk having been viewed as “thick,” something he obviously took offense to.
He further suggested that tradition is merely “tradition” thus implying with his quotation marks that it is something abstract, and he finished all this off by complaining about “the torrent of abuse me and other republicans have received which has even included plans for our execution.”
I felt then compelled to write back to him a longer letter to set him straight on what it is that I meant by my original retort since he clearly missed the point. Sometimes, one has to explain these things to certain people. Given his lack of response to my letter suggesting that he is unwilling, unable or uninterested to give a response, I have decided to share it so that others may benefit by the error of his ways and have at least these few arguments to defend the venerable tradition of the English Monarchy…
Dear Gentleman ,
Certainly threats of execution are way out of order. You live in a liberal Constitutional Monarchy so your freedom of speech is something that ought to be and should be respected. But – tradition is circular, that is: it is tradition because it is tradition and thus unless it can be shown that it causes real, present and tangible harm it should not be abandoned simply because it is unpopular – unpopularity like popularity is a fad of the times.
The Monarchy has survived in as glorious a form only in the United Kingdom. It is the English link to a historical past. By suggesting that it can be voted on you are suggesting that maybe it should be open to debate. If that were so – it wouldn’t be a tradition. See how circular it is? I am certainly not suggesting that either you or your countrymen are ‘thick’ – I am suggesting that you know not what you have, or rather that familiarity breeds contempt.
We have no comparable institution to your Monarchy here in the United States. As a consequence, we have created an imperial Presidency to make up for it, where all ceremonial functions, traditional functions and executive state functions have all been rolled into one – a dangerous state of being.
The amount of money we spend on other useless things (too little room to list them here) could better be served to spend on a Monarchy that serves a vital need – a unification of the people that is in a way outside of politics and that transcends history, skips over trends and spans over time. Your first family is always there, ours changes every four to eight years, your first family has been there with you since World War II, ours wasn’t even born yet.
What I am attempting to convey to you is this: it isn’t “tradition” it is Tradition.
So many of your neighbors on the European Continent have abandoned any sort of link to the past that the countries there are hardly nations, they are more like geographical designations – France is just a political entity between the English Channel, the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean, the North Sea and the Rhine – there is no other France left, just a room for people to live in, and one can make a similar definition for Germany and for almost any other country in present-day Europe, save a precious few.
Why would you wish to become like everyplace else?
In the United States there isn’t much difference between one city and the next, the distinctiveness that made the Colonies palatable and made a Virginian fundamentally different from a Georgian and from a Texan is long gone. There is still some vestige of New Yorker versus Californian and Alaskan difference but soon that too will vanish the way of the telegraph machine. England is different from the rest of Europe and even from the rest of the world, it is distinct.
I worry that rather than embrace your tradition and difference, many of you seek to forcibly Europeanize yourself to the point of the obliteration of cultural suzerainty.
If that is the case Sir, I mourn for you. Traditions don’t belong just to you – to decide today – they are something you inherited from the past and are meant to give unharmed and mostly unchanged to the future. That is why we have traditions, it is a charge, a lofty charge to keep, and strangely it isn’t only for your benefit, non-English peoples need the English Monarchy too.
What I feel from a political position such as yours is that you do not wish to be a good steward of such a tradition because you don’t really value it, perhaps that is because most humans do not value that which they have, only that which they don’t have.
But I ask you… if the English peoples of the past valued it enough to make it into a tradition, what would you say to the English peoples of the future should they ask you “Oh 21st century Englishmen and women, why did you let such a old and venerable tradition slip away?” It is mostly a rhetorical question. I share this with you only because I find myself in a world increasingly hostile to traditions offering nothing better to replace them with except uncertainty and common universal banality.
November 15, 2010
I am the republican gentleman Konrad refers to. My name’s Liam and I’m a first-year law student at Cambridge University in the UK. I’m politically-active and have published my first book this year: Sacking the Monarch – Why Britain must become a republic, available at http://www.republic.org.uk/liamfinn
I’ll try and go through every point Konrad makes. I should also reiterate my apology to him: I failed to answer his email simply because I did not have the time to do so at first and then forgot to do so. Once again, apologies for my bad manners!
Firstly, I would encourage people not to describe anti-monarchists in Britain as “Republicans” (with the capital “R”). It’s extraordinarily pedantic but comparable to the distinction between “Conservatives” and “conservatives” and we simply don’t want to be associated with what we consider to be the extremely distasteful US Republican Party.
Frankly, I don’t understand how anyone could claim that heredity is a better medium for choosing a country’s head of state than the ballot box. Such a belief is almost eugenic in its perversity and wholly contrary to any democratic principle that our two nations claim to so fundamentally value.
I didn’t compare the Monarchy to slavery or public executions. Instead, I implied that “it’s tradition” can only be used as an argument if the sentiment attached to the tradition outweighs the negative aspects of the institution. In the case of the Monarchy – an institution which, inter alia, discriminates against and patronises the British people, offends the rule of law in its delegation of unaccountable theoretical power to one woman and extraordinary real and dangerous power to unaccountable politicians, propagates an antiquated stereotype of our nation and is extortionately expensive and decadent – the argument that “it’s been around for ageeeeees” doesn’t work. People wouldn’t try to defend slavery or public executions by saying that they’ve always happened. Why should they try and defend another inexcusable institution, the Monarchy, with such arguments?
There are two further points to be made with regard to tradition. For a start, many of the “traditions” surrounding the Monarchy are recent inventions and are not typical of the various forms of monarchy exercised in the British Isles over the centuries. Ultimately, however, this country has a greater tradition of democratic progress than it does plastic autocracy: from the Magna Carta to the de Montfort Parliament to the Glorious Revolution to the Chartist Movement to the Representation of the People Acts.
Neither was I complaining that “my ilk” were considered “thick”. I was complaining that the system of government in this country tells us that we are so. In the UK, one can elect ONE member of Parliament out of 650. We cannot elect the other 649. We cannot elect the government. We cannot elect the Prime Minister. We cannot elect the second chamber. We cannot elect the head of state. We are not trusted with power or sovereignty. There is a significant number of people in this country who actually defend this status quo by stating that proper democracy would merely result in a reality-TV-style government and who try to defend the system by complaining that we would only end up electing a “President Blair” (whilst being ignorant of the fact that, as a result of our farce of a constitution, we already had a President Blair, only one who we could not elect or sack).
I would encourage people to read the comments of a minority of monarchists on the profile pictures section of the Monarchy’s Facebook PR tool. These comments actually advocate violence against those who wish to see the electorate properly enfranchised – quite despicable actions.
Again, at the risk of pedantry, it is not the “English” Monarchy but the Monarchy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Although I am an Englishman, referring to UK subjects as “English” is deeply offensive to the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish.
“it is tradition because it is tradition and thus unless it can be shown that it causes real, present and tangible harm it should not be abandoned simply because it is unpopular.”
I feel that I have summarised above the real and tangible harm the monarchy causes.
“The Monarchy has survived in as glorious a form only in the United Kingdom.”
Well, this is a devastatingly subjective claim. Unsurprisingly, no republicans would claim that it is glorious. I would also remind you that the Monarchy as it is bears no resemblance whatsoever to the hideous, feudal autocracies of past centuries. But there are still several European monarchies: the Swedish, the Spanish, the Belgian, the Danish and the Norwegian, amongst others.
“It is the English link to a historical past.”
No, it is A link to a historical past. British history is so much more than just the Monarchy. But that is what the Monarchy should be: history. It should not be our present or our future. It will always remain part of our culture, our identity and our history. Royal residences will remain and will be properly open to the public, thus increasing tourist revenue.
Look at countries like France or even the USA. You could quite easily argue that monarchies are part of those countries’ histories. But are you really suggesting that I would find any Frenchmen or Americans who would sacrifice their democracies to return to such forms of government?
“By suggesting that it can be voted on you are suggesting that maybe it should be open to debate.”
Are you suggesting it shouldn’t?
“I am suggesting that you know not what you have”
Well, with the greatest respect, Konrad, I have studied the subject in very great detail, not only politically and legally but also culturally. I also do not believe that there is any substitute for actually living in a country all your life to obtain a feeling for its culture and idiosyncrasies. As such, and with genuine respect, I would suggest that I know far better than you what we have.
“where all ceremonial functions, traditional functions and executive state functions have all been rolled into one – a dangerous state of being.”
For me to suggest that the American system of government is perfect would be ridiculous. But I hasten to add that having largely-defined limits of power, as the United States does, as opposed to a piecemeal constitution open to extraordinary abuse for political expediency, as is the case in the UK, is highly preferable.
“The amount of money we spend on other useless things (too little room to list them here) could better be served to spend on a Monarchy that serves a vital need – a unification of the people that is in a way outside of politics and that transcends history”
Well, we also have massive waste in public expenditure (although I am strongly against the 1931-style cuts the Government is enacting).
To suggest the Monarchy unites the country is fallacious. In Scotland and Wales there is incredible ambivalence and opposition to the institution. I probably do not need to tell you how divisive the Monarchy has been in Ireland over many hundreds of years, with devastating consequences. Around 25% of the population in the UK are against the monarchy: that is more people than voted for the Labour Party in the 2005 general election.
It is also wrong to suggest that the Windsor family are above politics. Mrs Windsor, herself, remains largely silent on political matters but this is no guarantee of impartiality and she has incredible influence and powers of interference which are beyond check. Charles Windsor is overtly-political, constantly writing to and demanding appointments with government ministers, interfering with public policies ranging from healthcare to the environment to architecture and expressly stating his intention to be a politically-active king. Andrew and Philip Mountbatten have also made numerous political statements.
Yes, a explicitly-political figure such as an executive president is divisive but, with such a system – and it is a system which, in my view, would not be adopted in the UK: I believe we will opt for a German- or Irish-style ceremonial presidency – the incumbent can be sacked by the electorate and held accountable in a court of law. Such options are beyond the competence of the UK electorates and courts.
“Your first family is always there, ours changes every four to eight years, your first family has been there with you since World War II, ours wasn’t even born yet.”
You seem to imply that continuity for continuity’s sake is a good thing. I disagree. As stated above, if the Windsors were to behave inappropriately – as they frequently do – we have no right to remove them from their position. This is wrong. (NB: We would have had Edward VIII, a known Nazi sympathiser and anti-Semite, as head of state upon the outbreak of WWII, had it not been for his abdication in 1936. There were plans for him to have been reinstated as a puppet king had the Nazis invaded and defeated mainland Britain).
“So many of your neighbors on the European Continent have abandoned any sort of link to the past that the countries there are hardly nations, they are more like geographical designations – France is just a political entity between the English Channel, the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean, the North Sea and the Rhine – there is no other France left, just a room for people to live in, and one can make a similar definition for Germany and for almost any other country in present day Europe, save a precious few. Why would you wish to become like every place else?”
This is a staggering, warped and offensive view of Europe. So many of our European neighbours have abandoned their monarchies because they found that they were tyrannical systems of government which persecuted their peoples in abhorrent ways and were wholly ineffective systems of government: France, Germany, Italy, Russia, etc. To suggest that these countries do not have rich histories and to describe them in the way in which you choose is downright insulting and completely devoid of truth.
Why would having a system of government which recognised the ability of the British people to choose their leaders and become their leaders make us “like every place else”?
“In the United States there isn’t much difference between one city and the next”
Not having ever visited the US, I cannot contradict you but I am very suspicious of your claims and believe that many Americans would disagree extremely strongly with your conclusions.
“non-English peoples need the English Monarchy too.”
No, they don’t. And it’s not for non-English [sic: British] peoples to choose; it’s our choice.
“if the English peoples of the past valued it enough to make it into a tradition, what would you say to the English peoples of the future should they ask you “Oh 21st century Englishmen and women, why did you let such a old and venerable tradition slip away?””
Republicanism in Britain is not a new thing. The English peoples of the past didn’t necessarily value the Monarchy so strongly. Many suffered indescribably and died under its whimsical yoke. They were forced into submission at its feet because of social hierarchies and threat of the noose. Most Brits nowadays are in favour of it or are ambivalent towards it because of their misplaced belief in its benevolence and lack of knowledge about its constitutional importance.
I do not believe that I will have to answer that question to future generations. For a start, I shall be long gone. Furthermore, I believe that they will look back with gratitude, just as I look back to past generations who fought for democracy and civil rights in this country with pride and admiration. Which people would volunteer themselves into submission?
Please join us at http://www.republic.org.uk for further debate.
Cambridge, UK, 27 November, 2010
Our constitutional monarchy is simply superior to the republican alternative and it has the support of the majority of the British people as shown in recent polls and at the general election when the clear majority voted for parties who support the monarchy and less than 5% voted for republican parties.
We have an impartial head of state much of the population supports and respects, god knows why some people are so obsessed with replacing that with some silly politician half the country will hate.
It sadly most of the time comes down to class warfare, this has nothing to do with trying to improve democracy which could be done without the abolition of the monarchy. We should not forget that 7 of the top 10 democracies in the world according to the Democracy index are infact constitutional monarchies.
God save the Queen.