Tuesday 9 October 2007

When Monarchy Served a Purpose

I think I may have already made clear my position that I can't see the monarchy surviving till the end of this century.

A figurehead monarchy only serves a useful purpose if it is magical and mystical, obviously anachronistic, but free from human scandal and party politics.

When the Man Who Talks to Plants ascends the throne, and a Ginger Prince who may or may not be a Windsor gets a Duchy, the whole thing will look pretty silly.
If it doesn't already.

I think it still served some purpose fifty years ago, as a unifying symbol for Empire, and as a more upmarket substitute for a ceremonial President.
Not now though.

Still, looking back at history, it wasn't always that way.
For large parts of human history, it wasn't just a useful system, it was the best system.

Governments, like economic systems, must serve the needs of the state of development of a people at a time.
In an era of mass communications, when you and I can know so much about the state of the world, we can all have a say in how things are run.

But out forefathers had most of them not been further than their county town. You could have told them that the French were blue, and they'd have believed it.

Five Hundred years ago, people's worlds were smaller. Knowledge on most things was transferred by word of mouth.
You couldn't learn on the internet.
You couldn't learn by doing a college course.
You learnt by watching and working with, someone who knew.

Thus, most children learnt their trades from their fathers.
Who else would bother to teach them something for nothing?

Even nowadays, we wouldn't want our pipes fixed from a plumber who had no experience of fixing pipes.
One of the downsides of our system, is we are comfortable, however, with an entire cabinet taking office, none of whom have any experience whatsoever of holding any government office at all.

This was the advantage of absolute monarchy. An averagely intelligent man might still be an effective Monarch, because actually, he KNEW so much about running countries. He'd watched his father do it ever since he could remember. He knew little secrets no one else did. Things history doesn't know. Family secrets about the families which ruled other states. In those days, politics was personal.

In fact, looking at the ruling dynasties of most countries, it is hard to state that rulers chosen by heredity proved any worse than the ones we have chosen ourselves. Some were OK, some were excellent, some were abysmal.

England was lucky in a sense, in having successful, vigourous families on the whole, where the original talents of those who had initially made those families prominent survived through generations- The Plantagenets must surely be a good example of a dynasty which tended to produce winners.
The Capetian monarchs of France, less so, especially as time progressed.

Of course, the most successful dynasty of all time, must be the Habsburgs. In spite of inbreeding and a tendency to madness, they survived and prospered and in fact, the members of the dynasty with real talent, especially artistically, overshadows the ones with a tendency to dribble.

But perhaps the best of all examples of monarchy at its most successful, is the Sun King.
OK, he possibly ISN'T a great example of heredity- his father was a little shy of sex, and it's possible his real father was the man in the iron mask, but the fact is, this man was everything a King should be.

A quick look at his pictures show why. This was a man who never felt awed by anyone. At age five he KNEW he was King- apparently, he started referring to himself as Louis XIV whilst his father lay dieing.
Louis learnt from the masters- having his childhood and teens to watch Mazarin and Fouquet, experiencing the mob violence of the Fronde.
And when he took the reins on the death of Mazarin, he decided he, and only he, would rule France.

It is said that Louis never once forgot his deportment. He might be laughing and joking in private, but should the door of the chamber open, he would freeze, like a statue, into the demeanour of a King.

He cultivated the worship of his person, and he got it. The people of France had a REAL King, and they loved it.

Nothing happened in France that Louis did not know of. He worked an eight hour day and read all documents concerning government, something many monarchs didn't.

The important point was, he never allowed himself the luxury of thinking Kings could be men, just like everybody else.
Something his successors forgot.
For the problem with Louis XIV was, he had created a France which was utterly dependant on its King.
And most Kings are just not that good.

Kings, in their day, were as much dependant on popular goodwill as governments are now. The difference was, the mechanism for assessing popular satisfaction was less finely tuned.
A monarch could govern until the mobs overthrew him, and another rose over his beheaded corpse.
For its day, it was the best system that society could hope for. I don't think we should look back at the system in its day as being evil, or the class structure it maintained as being immoral- in its day, it was the only way society could work.

Someone had to organise armies, others had to till fields.

But, like Astrology, it serves no real purpose today.


Anonymous said...

But the purpose is still there be it somewhat different - mostly so we don't end up with a President. We are not alone, Holland, Norway, Spain etc.

Anonymous said...

I am amazed at how long those people live. It must be something in the water. The queen refuses to die so Charles won't get the throne.

England won't be the same without a monarchy. I understand it brings in $$$$$$ in tourism.

Anonymous said...

the monarchy is like a vestigial organ in a human - an organ that possibly had some function in our development, but is now obsolete

Anonymous said...

You've made a good case for the hereditary monarchy of former times and it's not my place to say what is right for the UK today. But I sure wish we would get rid of the monarchy in the former colonies, for that surely serves no purpose today. At least they got the chance to vote on it in Australia. Maybe one day.

Anonymous said...

OH but I love the Royals! Kings and Queens and Princes and Princesses. I would much rather read about those spoilt fools than the general population.

In all seriousness, there might not be any sense for the Royal Family in the political sense in England and especially over here in Australia (more so), but tradition holds steady and people love to love a Princess. What harm does it do?

Anonymous said...

Ingsoc, Royalty serve the very real purpose of keeping a politician from being head of state - and unless they take up lawyering, or something equally unspeakable then they have simply got to be better than a politician.

Would you really want Gordon Broon Breeks to be the official head of state?

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure about this. I think that monarchy as Mutley says has other purposes. On the historical point- there is some truth in what you say though I'd be careful about the efficiency of various regimes as monarchies. Many like the English monarchy functioned on the consent of those further down in the political nation- there is a classic distinction between monarchy and tyranny that is worth investigating in that context. Somebody like Sir Edward Coke in the 17th Century believed that England was ruled not by Kings but by laws. Its an interesting question and I don't think you've quite captured the subtlety of the system here but interesting post.

Anonymous said...

For once I agree Mr Crushed.

Anonymous said...

I agree that your case for abolition is strong. I also agree with jmb about having the Queen as head of state in Canada. If I were Canadian, I would want to have a referendum on the matter.

While I am a republican by instinct the abolition of the monarchy is fairly low down on my list of priorities

Anonymous said...

... "In those days, politics was personal."...

But it still is!

Take it from me, if we got a real baddun in line for the throne things would change very radically in this country vis a vis the Royal Family and monarchy tradition...

as it is, our Queen seems if anything to be too benign and NOT to speak her mind when I for one wish she would. Being head of state should not mean sacrificing one's own personality...

As for your prediction, only time will tell, but I'd reiterate I really think the future of the monarchy depends on the personality of the contender for throne.


Anonymous said...

Thanxx for your comment by the way. I agree with you about crack. Dreadful stuff.

(I answered you there as well...)

Anonymous said...

Thanxx for your comment by the way. I agree with you about crack. Dreadful stuff.

(I answered you there as well...)

Anonymous said...

Maybe the purpose is that they still keep the fairytale alive and inspire filmmakers to movies like “The Princess Diary”…

We have a King in Sweden too, althuogh it's Princess Madde who gets all the attention.

Anonymous said...

Mutley- It's Ok, when we have a monarch we can respect, but I'm not sure we will have for much longer. AS for most of the continental monarchies, most are in a worse position than ours. Norway I can't see lasting much longer.

Alexys- The Queen isn't THAT old, my grandmother is older.

It might be best if the monarchy DOES skip a generation.
But King William V would be just a glitzy tourist attraction.

Raffi- A bit like the appendix, yes. Social evolution, as we would expect follows much the patterns as biological evolution. After all, it is the same thing at heart.

I think up until the industrial revolution, it was the only workable model of government in large states.

jmb- Oddly, I think the Commonwealth is one of the few remaining positives of monarchy, though obviously the Commonwealth can evolve without a monarchy.

There IS a community between Anglophone countries which needs some expresion somehow.

Phil- I think separation of powers is necessary- I would want a separate Executive whose members are not permitted to sit in the legislature. The Executive is currently too powerful.
But a separate Executive HAS to have an elected President.

Blair was a dictator- thanks to Monarchy.

Gracchi- traditionally the English regarded their constitution as firmly placed betwen the two extremes of autocracy and democracy.

The Chandos clause in the 1832 Reform Act unashamedly contains the preamble 'To prevent the Commons becoming too democratic'.

I think its worth noting that under the Tudors, the Commons did as they were told.
They happily passed the Calvinist legislation of Edward VI, then just as happily reversed that for Mary I.

There was an undersanding at one point that Kings got their way, until people starved as a result.

Ed- It happens :)
This is the benefit of blogging. Things can be discussed sensibly.

Jams- I imagine it will go when the time comes. That's probably not any time soon. More urgent perhaps, is the mess that is now our second chamber.

Gledwood- The whole point is that she doesn't speak her mind. Having said that, I am put in mind of Charles II.
Rochester wrote a verse on him, in which he stated that the King 'Never said a foolish thing, nor ever did a wise one,'

To which the Merry Monarch retorted;
'Exactly. My words are my own, my actions, those of my ministers.'

Crashie- Your Kings actually retained quite a bit of real power till quite recently, I believe. I think it's interesting that your monarch gets numbered sixteen when the first six Carls never existed.

Anonymous said...

Crushed, where's Jenny! ? Can't see her.

Anonymous said...

How do you think they'll go down? Dramatically?

Anonymous said...

You are a clever person, I wonder if you can find out how many countries in the world still have a royal family, how this has changed over the last century and the reasons why. It could make a very interesting post - and book.

I don't know what will happen in the UK, we are sound bound up by traditions, much more so than most people realise.

Anonymous said...

Surely the Romanovs have to be in the running for most successful dynasty? If memory serves, they lasted 300 years, which is pretty good going, especially when you recall that the Russian Empire can't have been easy to govern.

However, it seems to me that in arguing that monarchy was the only way to govern a large state until roughly the industrial revolution, you beg the question of whether a large state, or even a state of any description, was the best way of organising people. It ain't necessarily inevitable, just because it happened.

Anonymous said...

As for tourist dollars, people still visit Versailles and Tsarskoe Selo...

Anonymous said...

As a monarchist I agree with you, Ingsoc. It is outdated but the Monarchy must remain in place until the best system and securities with which to succeed it is found.

Anonymous said...

James- More with a whimper than a bang, I guess. I think most European monarchies will end up being 'mediatised', that is, they get paid off (most of them have private wealth), keep their titles (much as French or Italian nobility do), but have no role in government any more.

As for Jenny, she has had a very good promotion- I think it's mentioned in her posts- and has less time to blog.
As I think many people know, her great attitude to blog visiting, was a luxury occasioned by a very free work schedule. That has changed, but I don't think I'm overstepping the mark by saying she does miss blogging seriously, and will be back with a vengeance when she gets a chance.

Ellee- At the turn of the last century, Republics were essentially a phenomenon of the Americas.
France and switzerland were theonly real examples in the rest of the world.

Portugal and China went Republican just before the Girst world War.

That wat saw the fall of the three Emperors of Europe- and the birth of several Republics in their place.
The Second World War ended the Italian monarchy, as well as turning the balkan monarchies into Republics.

The sixties and seventies saw the Middle East and Indochina go Republican.

It really has been a sweeping wave of the twentieth century- put a country in crisis, the monarchy goes.

Ian- Well, I think the Capets and the Habsburgs must claim the best record.

Descendants of Hugh Capet in the direct male line have occupied more thrones than I can count, but in 1789 Bourbons sat on the thrones of France, Spain, Naples and Parma.

The Romanovs of later days weren't strictly Romanovs- they were adopted Holstein-Gottorps.

The Empress Anne was the last true Romanov.

Ah, Versailles!

E-K- Looking across the Atlantic, I see such a system...
Abolish private wealth, and the Us DOES have the perfect constiution.

Based on ENGLISH philosphers too. Mainly John Locke.

Anonymous said...

I have a real hard time, as a Canadian, conceiving of the Queen, who only steps foot in my country seemingly every ten years or so, as my head of state. It is a little disconcerting that we are so bound to tradition-- it is almost a little humiliating, in all truth.