Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Capstone of Government

Some time ago, I read an article by a prominent British politician (Tory Party) lamenting the diminishment of certain personal freedoms in the English-speaking countries outside of the United States. He singled out for particular illustration the diminishment of freedom of speech, due mostly to the modern-day champions of political correctness and the recent idea that no one should ever have to suffer the horror of being offended by something someone else says. He noted that this was not a problem or at least much less of one in the United States in comparison to Great Britain because of the Bill of Rights. Correctly, he pointed out that, though many are unaware of it, Britain has a similar document, predating the American version of course, and restated the argument this man has made many times in the past that the founders of the United States were simply carrying on the tradition of their Anglo forefathers who had turned out King James II and welcomed in King William III in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 when the current model of the British constitutional monarchy was established. Lamenting that the 1689 Bill of Rights has been forgotten in the modern United Kingdom, he suggested that Britain would do well to emulate America on this front, perhaps with a written constitution rather than depending on the sovereignty of Parliament to keep Britain a ‘nation of laws rather than men’. Reading through this, I could not help but notice the glaring absence of a defense of the British monarchy because that is really the essential factor.

True, this person did point out that, because the Prime Minister exercises the royal powers, he has considerable political power, pointing out how easily Tony Blair was able to totally destroy (what was left of) the traditional House of Lords. Yet, the monarchy itself remains something few politicians of any stripe wish to address directly and those who do are invariably on the side of diminishing or abolishing the institution which is at the heart of all law and government in the United Kingdom and all Commonwealth Realms. Having no window to his soul, I could not state for a fact whether this is due to a lack of support for the monarchy as a vital part of British life, culture and government or because of fear of the political consequences of defending the monarchy in such a context. However, it is an essential point. The first thing that must be said is that, regardless of how comparatively better things may be or seem to be in the United States compared to other English-speaking countries when it comes to individual freedoms, the fact is that the Constitution is not a cure-all and never has been. It is one of the flaws of the American system that every politician must swear an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and yet, by that very document, it is perfectly legal to change it. An American politician can take an oath to uphold the Constitution and still have it altered or taken to the Supreme Court to be reinterpreted to say something it never said before. It is, after all, only a piece of paper. It cannot speak for itself, it does not toil or spin. It has meaning only insofar as the Supreme Court interprets it and it has authority only insofar as it is enforced as it is.

The British case, on the other hand, is quite different and yet here again the very document being lauded, the 1689 Bill of Rights, is at least somewhat self-defeating. The only problem with the unwritten British constitution is that the one entity which is supposed to defend it and which, allegedly, has the obligation to defend it has been completely robbed of the ability to do so in part because of those very events of 1688 and the changes which came after (of course there have been plenty of others, and more drastic ones since). At the coronation of every British monarch they must swear to uphold the law and administer justice and yet, because of the perpetual power-grabbing by Parliament, today the monarch is effectively incapable of doing this and, in fact, most legal experts in Britain today would consider it “unconstitutional” and illegal if the Queen attempted to actually uphold the very oath she took at her coronation. Yet, this is only one modern absurdity among many we can see today. Another would be politicians being required to swear allegiance to the Crown yet also being allowed by law to campaign for the abolition of the Crown. We see it as well in the law which makes Parliament supreme while Parliament votes away its powers to the European Union.

It seems strange to me to hear a British politician, even one of comparatively better sense than most, argue that a new bill of rights is needed while admitting that the old one is simply ignored. Why not simply stop ignoring the old one? Perhaps because modern Britain is planted so thick with laws, local, national and European, that they often contradict each other. To enforce one law would mean to violate another. Of course, one could appeal, but go far enough and one will find that the ultimate authority has been effectively deprived of the power to act. Furthermore, any reassurance that this would be an occasion to do so and follow the letter of the law exactly would take some persuasion given the decades stretched to centuries that monarchs have been browbeaten into believing that the one thing they must never, ever do is exercise the power that is technically, legally, their own. I must also point out that in this same article, the author laments the evolution of the modern, permanent political class; those who have made politics a profession rather than a part-time obligation. However, the system that exists came to be as it is now by these very people and to serve the interests of that same political class. That is why there is no recourse. The final authority is supposed to be the monarch but the monarch is not allowed to exercise any royal powers so everything just circles back around to those same professional politicians in Parliament.

The United States, lest anyone think things are better in the “Great Republic” has come to the same thing, and in much less time. Contrary to what various presidents have said, “the buck stops” nowhere these days. The President does something that is illegal (something that violates the Constitution) and yet, the Constitution can do nothing to stop him. The opposition party may ask the Justice Department to investigate but, of course, the Attorney General is a presidential appointee and unlikely to find his boss guilty of any wrongdoing. The Congress is supposed to be able to do something but as any American should know, a thing is only illegal if someone in the *other* party does it. Unless the party opposed to the President controls large majorities in both houses, there is nothing they can do about a President who breaks the law. Most would think that the Supreme Court could do something, and it is probably true that most Americans consider them to now be the ultimate authority in the country (oddly, the institution to which one is appointed and serves for life, making it the least democratic) but, even if someone brought such a case to them and even if they deigned to hear it their ruling must be enforced by the President as they have no power other than to render opinion. As most familiar with American history know, presidents have refused to enforce Supreme Court rulings in the past and, in the right circumstances, there is no reason it couldn’t happen again.

Every country, no matter how modern and “enlightened” it may be, has to have something that the political structure is based on. There has to be something or someone which, when all else fails, has the final say and is above question. A republic, fundamentally, does not. America has made a good effort with its Constitution but, again, that is only a document which does little good when those who must uphold it and interpret it (and I do so love that word, as if it was written in some obscure, ancient language) are the very ones it is supposed to restrain. For Britain and the Commonwealth Realms this is supposed to be the monarch and it could be and has been. However, over time, minor incidents were so exaggerated that the British public, it seems, came to view the monarch as being the adviser to the Parliament rather than the reverse and invested so much power in politicians for fear of being tyrannized by a monarch that today the monarch has no power to restrain the politicians from tyrannizing the people. As can easily be seen in America, if a President oversteps his authority, it is difficult to impossible to call him to account. Yet, in a monarchy, if a King or Queen in most European countries tried to exercise their authority (much less overstep it) there is no doubt that they would be brought down immediately. Meanwhile, those in power can overstep their authority with no one to call them to account because the only one entitled to do so is not permitted.

One can debate whether or not another bill of rights would do the United Kingdom any good. Perhaps it would help for a while, perhaps it would not or perhaps it would be twisted to actually do even more harm. What is certain, and it is certain because the current bill of rights has failed in “its” duty, is that it would not be a perfect solution. Nor is their likely to be one so long as the public is limited in its thinking to trusting for the answer to their problems in more politicians (such as in the new House of So-Called Lords) or in more documents to be upheld and interpreted by politicians when the politicians are the very problem. When the monarch has been reduced to ceremonial status and the House of Peers destroyed in all but name, is it any surprise that the professional politicians of the Commons have been able to run wild? The public must awaken sufficiently to stop trusting those who advance themselves by playing on the public vanity. It must awaken to the fact that sometimes the popular majority can get it wrong and that any constitution or code of justice is only as good as those who are charged with upholding it. They must also realize that, even if they cannot consider allowing a monarch to rule or even have a share in governing, it is still a good idea to allow a monarch to say “no” and have that be the end of it. The public wanted that power and they have it. Most now realize something is wrong but they do not want to admit that maybe, just maybe, they are part of the reason why. Looking at the situation today, a monarch would not be unjustified to say to anyone asking for help, in the words of the last German Kaiser, “You’ve cooked this broth, and now you’re going to drink it”.


  1. I concur completely. In fact, many of the points you outlined are why I favor hereditary monarchy as the ideal system of government. When it all comes down to it, in the name of efficiency and fairness it makes sense to have a unifying figure above the riffraff of politics to check the tedious squabbles of professional politicians.

    1. That's absolutely true, yes. At the end of the day,there *must* be someone, somewhere, who can sit in judgement and say "That's wrong" or "That's right" otherwise everything dissolves into endless squabbling and nothing good or useful ever gets done.

      Apparently when the English Parliament won the Civil War against King Charles I for good, they'd originally wanted Parliament itself to have complete sovereignty over the land, with no more individual sovereigns or heads of state. But committees being what they are; that model was inefficient enough for that awful tyrant Oliver Cromwell to step in.

      Funny how revolutionaries are always first to break their own rules and promises, isn't it? It's almost as if they're used to doing such things...

  2. Mussolini stated that the fundamental basis of the body politic of Classic Liberalism is the individual, for Communism it is the class (specifically the "protelariat") and for Fascism it is the State. I would postulate that the basis for Monarchial society is the nuclear family; this would mean that Monarchy is the most "human" of political systems, and thus explain its terrific strengths.

    In my opinion, republicanism is simply replacing an organic system with a machine. The machine may be powerful and efficient, but it is not particularly healthy. Of course, like all machines, it inevitably and invariably breaks down.

  3. Her Majesty is the most oppressed person in the country! Down with Republicanism! Down with the French Republic!

  4. Interestingly, the famously outspoken broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson made such a point in one of is newspaper columns a few years ago. He denounced the further castration of the House of Lords, saying that without it there was no effective brake on the government machine. He suggested that such a thing as "The Ministry of Common Sense" be set up, as a place to petition and appeal to in reference to red tape. Say, if someone wanted planning permission for a building that was denied for a spurious reason (like not using the right kind of roofing material to blend in with other local buildings), this Minister for Common Sense could rule whether or not it was common sense to ban the building project for the stated reasons.

    Such an institution that Clarkson was talking about was what you so rightly described here, MM - the monarch herself, or her legitimately appointed nobles & peers (in my mind the removal of hereditary peers from the Lords is nothing more than criminal theft at its lowest - Charles I all over again).

    But of course, the republican mentality being so ingrained as it is, not even the very Conservative-minded Clarkson thought of the Queen, rather than yet another elected politician from the House of Commons taking charge of sitting in judgement; is tellingly a worrying sign that the monarchy is being taken far too much for granted these days.


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