I am a Republican – in the UK, where I live, this means a person who rejects the power of the British Monarchy, but instead wishes to return to the Republic we had following the English Civil War. This is not related to the Republican Party in the US. This is an important distinction I will need to return to again.
This distinction is important because it lays down some very real and fundamental differences between words as some may understand them. As mentioned before Republicanism means different things between the US and the UK. The same goes for the word which is also important in this discussion: Libertarianism.
I am a Libertarian. But I am a Libertarian in the same vain as Noam Chomsky, and that is Libertarianism on the left side of the political spectrum. This again is something different from the common understanding in the US. When most people hear the word Libertarian they either think of Ron Paul or the American Founding Fathers. One of these interpretations is accurate to my understanding of Libertarianism, the other isn’t. If one thinks of Ron Paul, and a system of severely reduced government and Laissez-faire Capitalism, then we have a wildly different interpretation of Libertarianism from me, and, I hesitate to say, the fathers of the Libertarian movement such as John Locke and Adam Smith, who the American Founding Fathers took influence from. The very phrase ‘Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness’ found in the American Declaration of Independence is copied from John Locke, only he put it: ‘Life, Liberty and Property’ which suits me much better.
To have a monarch who, if only in theory, has domination over my life and can very much harm my Liberty is quite simply demeaning, even if it is only in theory. I am not in reality a ‘Citizen’ of Britain, but a ‘Subject’ of ‘Her Majesty the Queen’. I flat out reject this for numerous reasons, some of which are philosophical, but first I will deal with the more announced criticisms on both sides.
Against my own position there are a number of arguments, some have more validity than others and here I will briefly address them:
Tradition: this to me is not a problem. I find British history interesting personally, and especially the history of the kings and queens of England, but tradition is something that British people will forever have, no matter how much the present changes. And even without the Monarchy we still have a fine tradition of great men and woman in almost every field: Shakespeare, Hawking, Darwin, Keats, Wordsworth, Locke, and since I am speaking about Britain, not just about England, David Hume too. And we would still have the history of the Monarchs. If England were to have Republic then great dramas like (for sake of example) Shakespeare’s Richard II would not simply vanish from history. We would still have that grand tradition.
Also is the argument that the Monarchy brings in a lot of money from tourism. And what is better: To have something that is right or something that is popular? Besides, this isn’t really a point in either favour anyway because it is about how Britain is perceived as a nation, rather than what it actually is.
One great point against which I will admit I can fully see is that the Monarch is good as a figurehead. For uniting the British Nation around something. This is so demonstrably true that examples seem rather pointless but I will give some anyway. The death of Diana was an interesting time that I remember vividly, showing that if anything the British are suckers for idol-worship, the royal wedding last year and the Jubilee this year also show how much the British like to indulge in unrealistic fantasies of wealth and pomp. But the mere fact that these are unrealistic presents again a problem. British Society is very hierarchical, a common complaint from us Republicans, but the simple fact is that I, as a middleclass half English half Scottish man just leaving University will never become a member of their ‘elite’ and I don’t have the ‘privilege’ they do. This is a complaint about the social society surrounding the aristocracy, one I can never enter no matter what I do. This is wrong, because it is a society based on title, rather than actual worth or wealth. How better to prove a man’s worth than through their achievements after all, and for some it can be as simple a thing as raising a family. This would be something I consider commendable, because it takes work, time and mental or physical strength. Being part of elite because of an accident I do not consider commendable. It is an accident of birth. I simply don’t believe power over a nation to be because of hereditary rule.
The other main common critique of my position is that republics have not always succeeded in stopping the rise of Totalitarianism or Dictatorships. I consider this point more a problem for the person presenting it, while it is true that the Weimar Republic did little to nothing to stop the rise of National Socialism, a Monarchy is in effect a Tyranny or Oligargy, because it is a nation led by a single figurehead who has (theoretical or not) an ruler with considerable power, unelected by the people. And besides, there is a difference between a rule that is elected, and a rule that was inherited. Even if the rule of the elected is criminal, it was still elected by the people so the people become ultimately responsible of their leaders actions. This is the essence of a Democracy.
To say too that the Monarchy has, or exercises little power over their subjects is simply a mute point, just because they don’t does not mean they can’t. And this is frankly an argument from ignorance. The Monarchy can still change or pass laws without going through Parliament. The queen can also dissolve Parliament. And during the Royal Wedding last year and the Jubilee this year Republican supporters were arrested for breach of the peace, just for protesting against Monarchy rule. This is nothing short of criminal, and I stand by this as being an affront to Free Speech.
As far as my philosophical reason for opposing the Monarchy my main one is that she is not only the head of the country she is also the head of the Church of England. In Libertarian philosophy there is the separation of power between Church and State, and this is so no one person could have absolute power. It is a mere detail that I am an atheist, and a triviality at that. Politics and Religion have proven themselves again and again to be very bad bedfellows, and the separation of church and state is a core ideal of our secular western democratic tradition. This does mean however that Christians are the favoured majority, despite the fact that the majority of the British people are not Church of England.
But my main contention with the Monarchy, and the main Reason I am a convinced Republican is this: as a Libertarian I firmly believe in man’s right to Life, Liberty and Property. Why I believe in this is related to my atheism. In a godless world I consider it man’s right to freedom, because without freedom we have nothing. But aside from this, and dealing with just the politics: the Monarchy does represent a challenge to my personal Liberty. I do not think that anyone, theoretical or otherwise, should claim me to be a subject or a servant. I own myself, and I am the author of my own future, therefore I simply do not accept another person’s claim over me. It just does not follow that a lover of Liberty and Equality (such as myself) should be happy under a Monarchy. If I cannot be equal I am not free, and if I am not free I may as well be dead, because Slavery, under any other name, is simply not an option to a Libertarian. In essence, Aristotle put it well enough in Book 1 of his Politics, which I will paraphrase as: ‘A man chooses, a Slave obeys’.
A republic could do great things for Britain. Firstly, it could dispel the frankly sad illusion over the British people that our Empire (which technically still exists, the current Queen is still the sovereign over the Commonwealth, counties which include Canada and Australia, and Britain still has some colonies remaining such as the Falkland Islands) is still truly a major contender on the international stage. It could also create a society once again interested in the political system, and the feeling that we, the people, have a voice that is truly heard. There is a lot of apathy among the British public, who do feel there is a distant between them and their regional representatives in Parliament. But I am not saying that a republic could solve everything, I don’t think anything is that naive. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin: When passion governs she never governs wisely - this is a danger to the Republican system, but isn’t this also a danger in any political system?
There is also the objection that the royal family generate a lot of positive PR for the British nation. This is true, I cannot dispute this, and the current Queen herself has proven to be a rather excellent Monarch by many standards. However, positive PR should really, in a fair and democratic system, to come from the actions of the people and their elected leaders, not from the ruling class. A republic is in no way a perfect system, but in Britain we have a proud tradition of Liberty and Republicanism, especially, but not exclusively, the men of the English Civil War such as John Milton (one of England’s greatest poets) and Oliver Cromwell. The great tradition of Monarchy we have in Britain is as established as the tradition we have of Republic and Democracy. As a left-leaning Libertarian, I consider our Republican tradition better in every respect, and the current Republican movement both necessary and justified in being a real voice for a more liberal, democratic Britain. Because of this I am a Republican, but then again, I am not so closed-minded that I cannot see and understand the other side.
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