Two occurrences are foremost in my mind right now. The one is my country's upcoming (as these lines are written) celebration of Independence Day on 4 July. The other is an article I read about the decision of the government of the state of Queensland in Australia to remove all references to the Queen and the Crown from oaths and legislation (I should think that the state name would be changed too, to "Keatingland" or some such, but no one has broached it). The officer responsible explained the move by saying "It's time we stood on our own feet."
The latter episode in the light of the former is, to this Yank, laughable. The arguments against the Monarchy in Australia are threefold. The first two are common to Britain also, viz: a) the Monarchy is undemocratic, and b) that the Queen's offspring are behaving in a feckless and immoral manner. The third is peculiar to countries who share the Monarchy, like Canada, New Zealand, Jamaica, and so on: the Crown is a colonial institution, and an insult to our nationhood.
These notions are easily exploded by the experience of the United States. First, there is the notion that a republic is a guarantee of popular freedom, or as it is mis-named, "Democracy." But who are the sorts of individuals who generally bring about the conversion of Monarchies into republics? Whether we wish to speak of the Afrikaaner Nationalists in South Africa, or Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, or Robespierre in France or... the list is endless. But were any of these the kind of folk to whom a sane individual would wish to entrust his fate? "Ah," one might ask, "but what of the founders of your own glorious republic, whose Independence you will celebrate with fireworks (if local authorities graciously permit you to use them)?" What indeed? Let us consult historian Norman Gelb:
Liberty is always among the first casualties of war, even of wars fought to defend freedom. But its demise in revolutionary America, even before independence was proclaimed and before loyalists could be said to be lending aid and comfort to the enemy, showed liberty to be merely an empty catch phrase for many of the people aroused to action in its name. Not only was the liberty of individual dissidents suppressed with unseemly haste and unwarranted vigour, but freedom of the press, so proudly attained under British rule, quickly became a dead letter. As the orators of the Revolution thundered on about individual rights, individuals who dared to publish sentiments opposing their conemnation of Britain and their call to arms were subjected to indignities, penalties, and the forced closure of their journals....(Less Than Glory, p. 159).
In the opening stages of the revolution---indeed, even before hostilities broke out, Loyalists throughout the 13 colonies were harassed and intimidated by the "Sons of Liberty, which group every American schoolchild is taught to revere, and of whom Jay Stevens wrote (Yankee Magazine, July 1993, p. 56): "With their constant marching, their badges, their passwords, their numerous feasts and festivals...the Sons of Liberty bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the Brownshirts of our own century. Composed in part of dockworkers, apprentices, and street toughs, they enforced the boycotts, harassed the aristocracy, taunted the British officers, beat up the British officials, and tarred and feathered Tory sympathizers and informants." When the war was over, 100, 000 people were forced to leave, the equivalent proportionately to-day of 12,000,000. Three years after a war fought alledgedly to end unjust taxation had ended, the farmers of Massachussetts rose up against the new State government because of heavy taxation---unlike any in the time of King George.
Still, in the English-speaking world (save, alas, for Ireland), the day when men believed strongly enough in something to fight for it seems to have passed. All is done now through votes, media, and the stroke of a pen. The Queen reigns, but does not rule---and if she reigns through a Governor-General appointed by a local Prime Minister, that Prime Minister is correspondingly more powerful. But this is not enough. Politicos want more than power, they want to be worshipped. Undoubtedly, many a Commonwealth premier would be in Nirvana, were he able to halt traffic in his private plane at his nation's second largest airport, while receiving a £150 haircut. But the presence of even an old party hack turned Governor-General is enough to spoil the fun. Every piece of legislation with its ornate Monarchic language serves to remind him of a terrible fact: he is only a caretaker, not a god. That reminder must go.
Now we come to the Royal peccadilloes. Again, this is amusing. Statistics shows that divorce and so forth grow ever larger in Britain (in this free republic, the rate is something like 50%). It is rather unfair to accuse the Royals of being undemocratic, and then be upset if they follow their subjects' actions, rather than guide them. Besides; does anyone seriously think the republican rulers are moral paragons? Most have been simply unspeakable. Even in my own country, where they can be relatively benificent, folly, madness, and crime have stained more than a few administrations. The lurid revelations our President's alleged mistress in Penthouse magazine make all that MI-5 have dragged up from phone-tapping seem positively child-like and innocent. If immorality on the part of its leaders were a reason for abolition, there would be no institutions: political, business, religious, or any other sort; remaining on Earth---and that includes even families.
Let us look at colonialism now. First and foremost, let it be remembered that most of the peoples of the world have or had hereditary rulers. George Heaton Nicholls, later to be a prominent fighter for the Crown in South Africa, was High Commissioner in London for SA during World War II. There he found much opposition to King George II's return to Greece, a return Nicholls' PM, General Smuts, supported. Of this affair, Nicholls observed:
The opposition to the return of the King existed just as strongly in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, as it did in some political circles of the United Kingdom. The outcome of the plebiscite betrayed the failure of all these people to understand the deep spiritual significance and mysticism which surrounds a hereditary ruler fulfilling his predestined task and how curiously unaware they were of a loyalty for a crowned head which exists among all common peoples who have not been influenced by revolutionary propaganda. Those of us who have had experience inn administration of the native tribes in Africa, know with what a deep sense of satisfaction an hereditary chief is accepted as their spokesman to the world. Centuries of tradition and ritual are not easily erased by the arguments of the London School of Economics, however logical they may be. (South Africa in My Time, pp. 372-373).
Indeed, if it is a question of colonialism, surely our glorious republic's annexation of the Kingdom of Hawai'i is an interesting inversion of what is pretended to be the pattern. For that matter, President Roosevelt's Indian Re-organisation Act of 1934, which deposed all the traditional tribal rulers with more subservient elected ones was another. European Monarchies did very well with the concept of "indirect rule," because the local rulers' postion could be made analogous in law to a feudal lord's. Certainly, for many such colonial rule meant safety, peace, and food. Native republics, freed of faraway Queen and traditional native ruler alike, have rarely given their subjects these things for very long.
Ah, but what about us sons of the Europeans, in our far away American and Australasian homes? Surely a republic is most suited to us---have not the United States everything a Monarchy could provide them? No. We did have two things which did, for a long time supply us with the requisite stability. One was an apolitical judiciary; the other was a sort of Americanist religion, which led us to venerate as sacred everything---flag, constitution, liberty bell---having to do with our country in the abstract. The Founding Fathers were elevated in the national consciousness from a clique of revolutionaries to sainthood. But the first of these is gone, and the second is going. We have nothing to replace them.
In any case, neither Canada, Australia, nor New Zealand have a similar national idolatry. Their people retain something of Christianity in their makeup, and so for them the dicta of John Healy, turn-of-the-century Catholic Archbishop of Tuam remains valid:
The character of Kings is sacred; their persons are inviolable; they are the anointed of the Lord, if not with sacred oil, at least by virtue of their office. Their power is broad---based upon the Will of God, and not on the shifting sands of the people's will...They will be spoken of with becoming reverence, instead of being in public estimation fitting butts for all foul tongues. It becomes a sacrilege to violate their persons, and every indignity offered to them in word or act, becomes an indignity offered to God Himself. It is this view of Kingly rule that alone can keep alive in a scoffing and licentious age the spirit of ancient loyalty, that spirit begotten of faith, combining in itself obedience, reverence, and love for the majesty of kings which was at once a bond of social union, an incentive to noble daring, and a salt to purify the heart from its grosser tendencies, preserving it from all that is mean, selfish, and contemptible. (P.J. Joyce, John Healy, pp. 68-69).
Would that the good Archbishop's countrymen---or for that matter, their opponents, had heeded his words. But whether one likes it or not, all of us formed by the cultures which grew out of Europe have a need for Monarchy. In its rituals, its manner, it links us---not always consciously---to our ancestors, for whom Christendom was at once one Holy Church outside of which there was no salvation, and one Sacred Empire, outside of which there were neither safety nor civilisation. It brings us further back also, to a time common to all mankind, when the figures of Father, Priest, and King were one---yet a mere shadow upon Earth of One greater still.
We ignore these truths at our peril. Whether in London, or Paris, or Sydney, or Los Angeles, human nature is the same. C.S. Lewis put the problem very well:
Monarchy can easily be debunked, but watch the faces, mark well the debunkers. These are the men whose taproot in Eden has been cut: whom no rumour of the polyphony, the dance, can reach---men to whom pebbles laid in a row are more beautiful than an arch. Yet even if they desire mere equality they cannot reach it. Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes or film stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.
Charles Coulombe Archives