The Guardian: An Exchange

Here are excerpts from an e-mail I wrote on December 7, 2000 responding to some of my brother's criticisms of my vitriolic attack on The Guardian. I posted this in the interest of showing what a civilized and even-handed discussion (not what The Guardian has in mind) about the future of the British monarchy might look like. William's comments are in italics.

What is wrong with people choosing their own titles...

The preference for the republican term "citizen" over the traditional "subject" signifies a growing emotional distance from the language of monarchy which could eventually translate into anti-monarchism even if now people believe they can be citizens of a monarchy.

...and favoring civil rights for Catholics? How can you argue in favor of a society that discriminates based on religion? Shouldn't Prince William be permitted to marry a Catholic if he chooses?

I used to be in favor of repealing the admittedly archaic Act of Settlement. But the Guardian's proposal is not motivated by concern for the rights of Catholics; it is quite clearly meant to launch an attack on the monarchy itself. Since Britain does not have a written constitution, the Act is really the primary document that guarantees the existence of a hereditary monarchy. Here's the problem: if it's wrong to discriminate against Catholics, logically it wouldn't be very hard to take that position to the next step, that it's wrong to discriminate against people who not members of the Windsor family, thus invalidating the principle of hereditary monarchy altogether. Monarchy is discriminatory; it is not designed to comply with politically correct notions of egalitarianism. I would advise British Catholics bothered by the existence of the Act to ask themselves if it would really be appropriate for a Protestant to be King of Spain.

Such debate is useful; if Charles succeeds the Queen, it could mean bad PR for the monarchy because of the media attention for his affair and for his controversial positions which, though liberals may laud them, are still representative of monarchs interfering in matters in which they have no business.

No, a debate is not useful at all because it suggests that the people ought to decide who they want their head of state to be, which is entirely contradictory to monarchism. Charles is entitled to be King because he is the eldest son of the Queen; anyone who does not believe that is not a monarchist. And while the Queen is certainly obligated by tradition to refrain from making controversial statements, this does not necessarily apply to other members of her family. Prince Charles has a responsibility to be non-partisan; that is, it would be wrong for him to endorse Labour, but clearly he has never done anything like that. I am sure that by the time HRH becomes King (probably not for about 20 years) he will have the wisdom not to create controversy.

"It is obvious that the Guardian is committed to bringing its treasonous notions of republicanism into the mainstream political debate. The dangers of anti-monarchism can no longer be ignored by those who love and cherish the House of Windsor. It is time for all British patriots to denounce this evil newspaper and its pernicious campaign." This sounds frighteningly anti-civil liberties from someone who is supposedly a liberal. There is nothing wrong with criticizing any government anywhere, nor should there be.

I changed the word "treasonous" to "deplorable." Otherwise, I stand by that statement. If the Guardian has the right to criticize the monarchy, then certainly monarchists also have the right to denounce it for doing so. I should also point out that First Amendment absolutism, which I will continue to swear by regarding the U.S. as long as I am an American citizen, has no meaning in Britain since the U.K. does not have a First Amendment. I am all in favor of vigorous criticism of Parliament. Individual citizens certainly do have the right to promote republicanism, although I would prefer that they either leave the country, change their minds, or keep their mouths shut. However I do believe that it is morally wrong and professionally reprehensible for one of Britain's major newspapers, whose responsibility it is to provide the news, to artificially try to create a major debate which generally has not occurred naturally. The Guardian has no right to try to ruin Britain for those of us who love her the way she is.

"calling the ancient hereditary principle into question by 'reforming' the House of Lords, he has paved the way for these unfortunate developments." I applaud the decision to call reform the House of Lords. A constitutional monarchy does not pose intrinsic danger to the civil rights of a citizen of a country, but allowing people to wield power who hold that power without the will of the people is a violation of the people's rights. While the House of Commons is certainly more powerful, I am sure that the House of Lords is more than just an aristocratic club. No assembly should wield power that does not derive that power directly from the people.

The only power the House of Lords had was to delay legislation passed by the Commons. Since Britain has a unitary government with no American-style "gridlock," this is not such a bad thing. And, believe it or not, the Lords' influence is not always conservative. One of the most recent bills they delayed was an attempt to privatize the air traffic controller profession, frustrating Tony Blair's Clintonian efforts to out-Conservative the Conservatives. Once again, this is a slippery slope; if it's not OK to have a hereditary ceremonial component of the legislature, how is it still OK to have a hereditary ceremonial component of the executive?

None of these recent developments to me present a serious threat to the monarchy. There is a statistical definition of "landslide," which is set at 55 percent or more. Since 75 percent support the queen, you have twenty percentage points above a "landslide"; only when support dips below 55 percent can you begin to worry. After all, our supposedly intrenched Senator Lugar [R-IN] polled 67 percent of the vote, well below that percentage of Britons supporting the Queen. So statistically, have no fear till the polls read 54.9 percent.

You're right, to a point. I do not fear for the monarchy as long as the Queen lives. What I'm worried about is what will happen after her death if the Guardian and other republicans have been steadily agitating without sufficient opposition. And a 75% approval rating, while beyond most elected presidents' wildest dreams, is not very good for a constitutional monarchy: 97% of Danes express satisfaction with Queen Margrethe II.

Please build on the liberal monarchist philosophy with emphasis on the liberal.

As an American, I am still proud to have voted for Ralph Nader. However, I am beginning to question whether in Britain liberalism is really compatible with monarchism, now that Labour has sold its soul to the European Union, which ultimately is responsible for the Guardian's new crusade. I'm afraid that if I were British, I would feel that I had no choice but to vote for either the Tories or the hardline UK Independence Party in May.

Government should be based on two things. First and foremost, a government must take no action to violate the natural rights of any of its citizens. When this criterion is met, the government should then follow the will of the majority. Thus, I do not support efforts to keep former kings out of their countries, since that violates the natural rights of the king, but if 50.1 percent of Britons ever wanted to abolish the monarchy, I would support them, because an abolition of the monarchy would in no way infringe upon the rights of the Windsor family to life, liberty, and property and/or pursuit of happiness. A government that governs solely on these two principles I regard as ideal.

I don't go along with strict majoritarianism. In this country, I would continue to strongly advocate government funding for the arts even if I were convinced that a majority of Americans opposed it. (The truth is probably that most Americans don't feel that strongly one way or the other.) As for the possibility of 50.1% of Britons wanting a republic, that is what I want to prevent from ever happening! Of course, a vote that close would be fiercely contested and certainly would not present any kind of mandate. But what about the other 49.9%? Republicans should be able to live with a monarchy; after all, they have for hundreds of years. But for those people who love the monarchy its end would not just be a defeat; it would be the end of everything they hold dear; they would no longer have a country they could call their own. To those of us who are monarchists a Britain without the monarchy would not be Britain any more; it would be...Airstrip One, to quote Orwell.