I’ve been struggling to come up with a good excuse for keeping the British monarchy around, and I’ve come up with two. Just two.
- Inspiring the Irish to write lovely diatribes against kings, queens, and other such useless “influencers”.
Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.
Beyond this, it’s the stuff of children’s stories. Having a queen as head of state is like having a pirate or a mermaid or Ewok as head of state. What’s the logic? Bees have queens, but the queen bee lays all of the eggs in the hive. The queen of the Britons has laid just four British eggs, and one of those is the sweatless creep Prince Andrew, so it’s hardly deserving of applause.
Giving conservatives apoplexy as they twist themselves into knots to defend the indefensible.
British TV personality Piers Morgan on Wednesday doubled down on his criticism of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, after being pressured out of his high-profile anchor job at “Good Morning Britain.”
In typical style, he dug in his heels, refused to apologize and announced he would be back.
“On Monday, I said I didn’t believe Meghan Markle in her Oprah [Winfrey] interview. I’ve had time to reflect on this opinion, and I still don’t,” he tweeted.
Morgan sensationally resigned Tuesday after his network was flooded with complaints about his coverage of the interview. He had said he “didn’t believe a word” Meghan told Winfrey, specifically her assertion that she felt suicidal and was offered no help from Buckingham Palace.
These are all worthy accomplishments, but also rather superfluous. Irish writers have a long history of beautiful writing and hardly need a royal cause to motivate them; for that matter, the Scots and Welsh have also achieved much in spite of the English appendage to their homelands. While I’m happy to see Piers Morgan blow himself up, conservatives will seek out and detonate outrage no matter where it comes from. If they aren’t rushing to support the British Royal family, they’ll just latch on to some other victim, like Pepe LePew.
Come to think of it, a British royal and an entitled, oblivious cartoon skunk do have much in common.
A Sloth named Sparkles says
“Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.”
Some years ago I read an opinion piece that said the royals are entertainment for the UK. While the total cost/year to maintain them seems high, it worked out to a few pounds for each citizen and was well worth the value, sort of a Royals+ streaming service.
Samuel Vimes says
Contrary to popular belief, the royal family actually makes a profit for England…
#3 That’s actually wrong, there are a few videos taking apart what is easily the worst CGP Grey video.
Secondly, even if it was true, that isn’t a good reason to keep the monarchy.
He is off to roops new news channel ,gb news .Along with that slimy andrew neal .
I read somewhere ,the writer Fay Weldon said she because a royalist after she saw someone bowing and scraping to the Grantham witch .
And out there in cyper world there are placed side by side ,stories from the daily express about Kate Middleton ,and Megan Markle .
One has a touching story about wills giving Kate, Avocado to help with her morning sickness ,compare that to the story about
Megan Markle ,who’s Avocado use is linked to organised crime ,and slave labour .
I kid you not .
I recently watched a documentary of the royal kitchens on YouTube. The thing that struck me most was that Prince Charles insists on travelling everywhere with a box full of breakfast cereal goods, jams, and so on so he can have his favorite breakfast every morning. They described him as “fussy,” which is a lovely bit of British understatement. The big takeaway was that these people get way too much taxpayer support for doing absolutely fuck-all in return.
Not criticising the author, but oh boy is “sweatless creep” an understatement.
Samuel Vimes says
#4 Fair enough. I found two refutations and just gave them a watch. The first one I watched provided a lot of details and made some very good arguments, but to be fair, it was made by a political organisation whose entire purpose is to abolish the royals. A laudable goal assuming they’re correct about everything, but it just might be colouring their presentation of the facts. Still, very informative and definitely worth watching.
The second video I found was, well, not worth watching IMO. Perhaps they made a cogent point or two, but overall I feel they did not make their case. But perhaps I’m biased because of the excellent one I watched just before it.
Doing nothing is the best thing the royals can offer. I firmly believe the best opportunity for the UK to rid itself of the monarchy, and for Australia to became a full independent republic rather than the current quasi-republic, is when Charles finally takes the throne and does what he’s always threatened to do and use his position to influence politics — which in his case means some admirable goals such as working to prevent industrial global warming, but also some idiotic ideas such as diverting funds into homeopathy. I suspect that the combo of his unappealing personality and his sense of personal entitlement that he should get to influence democratic politics by birth right (without recognising the blatant contradiction) will push a lot of people to end our long and bitterly disappointing experiment with aristocracy.
@3 Samuel Vines
I don’t see why when the revolution comes we can’t seize the crown estate (and some other stuff, Windsor Castle for example). I also don’t buy that many tourist’s come just because we have the queen as head of state. You could keep the pomp and daft outfits without having to fund the royal family or allow the queen any political influence.
She does have substantial political influence by the way. She has weekly “audiences” with the prime minister where she can advise them. Charles can also attend these meetings and there is evidence of him meddling in politics, look up the black spider memos.
Also, England doesn’t profit from anything since it isn’t a separate political entity.
Marcus Ranum says
We could make Beyonce our queen, and then challenge the Brits to a Queen-off on pay per view.
PZ Myers says
I’ve been to London a few times. I’ve seen the crown jewels, done the usual touristy stuff. Never saw the queen, or a prince, or a duke. The tourism appeal seems to be there even in the absence of any royal corpus whatsoever.
The only argument I have ever had any time for in this regard is one I have never actually heard anyone else make. To wit, that having a pretend queen as a figurehead head of state is preferable to having a head of state with actual political clout. With the monarchy in place the Prime Minister is dissuaded from getting ideas about his station. It’s like vaccination – we maintain a neutered, harmless version of Monarchy in the body politic to immunise us against the full thing.
Having said that, I think we have a wasteful and altogether too extensive monarchy for this purpose. There is nothing about what the monarchy does now that requires a live king or queen to preside – a dead one would do the job just as well. So what we do is this: the current lot get to stay on until 2066, whereupon we revert back to William the Conqueror and start the whole thousand year cycle again. In 2087 William Rufus gets a second shot at the throne, with Henry I taking over in 2100. And so on through the nation’s previous kings and queens until 3066, when we start a third run. We don’t technically have to dig the current monarch up and stick their corpse on display with an ermine robe round its shoulders, but it would be a terrible wasted opportunity if we didn’t.
Pierce R. Butler says
kingoftown @ # 10: … the black spider memos.
Hadn’t heard of those, but had to look them up:
Apparently insufficient to win the approval of our esteemed host.
As anachronistic institutions go, at least the royals don’t screw things up the way that, say, the US electoral college does. I would happily trade in our electoral college for having Betty Windsor as our head of state, and consider it a good bargain.
Rob Grigjanis says
Don’t need a revolution, and you don’t have to seize anything. The monarch’s income from the Crown Estate is decided by Treasury, run by elected politicians. You could just reduce it to zero.
Other sources of income are from the Duchies of Lancaster (monarch) and Cornwall (Prince of Wales), which are personal estates.
Lady of the Lake gets a Tony
One use the current queen has is that she has a private meeting with the then current Prime Minister once a week. This is not minuted, and they can talk about about anything they want. Since she’s been queen since 1952, this means she has had such a weekly chat with every PM since Winston Churchill, which provides an amazing reservoir for continuity (assuming they talk about useful stuff). Of course this all resets once Charlie ascends the throne.
I’m a big believer in keeping the crown jewels well covered and not on display for tourists.
Stuart Smith says
Frankly, I’d rather have them defending cartoon characters, it’s way funnier. Conservative outrage targets over the last few weeks – Potatohead, Lola Rabbit, Pepe LePew, renegade royals, and Dr. Seuss. In a lineup like that, the royals are a big letdown, the disagreements grounded in something at least superficially resembling reality. I want more arguments about the size of cartoon animal boobs and the gender of plastic potatoes!
It could be worse. We could be stuck with the descendants of “captains of industry” dominating local, regional, and even national politics, finance, etc. They’d probably have even less “regulation” than does any family of royals (England or elsewhere, and if you don’t think it’s a structural problem try looking at the history of Spain for the last few centuries).
Wait a minute…
The royal family is truly a group of people who are famous for no reason other than being famous.
Well one person may represent some sort of closed door, off the record continuity with comfortable candor, but that seems too limited or stifling. Don’t most prime ministers or presidents have advisors or staff left over from previous administrations?
People knock it but the “deep state” (administrative elite or technocrats) provide continuity and there are plenty of distributed closed door candor thingies going on that obviate the need for a queen. Bilderbergs, Trilats, that silly midsummer thing where elites frolic in the Cali redwoods all seem more useful and perhaps meritocratic than born nepotic royalty. Sadly these elites overlap with born aristocracy, so imperfect and perhaps very corruptable given tit for tat cronyism and good ole boy networking. Plus the closed door secrecy thing.
An actual workaday administrative state (however technocratic) provides continuity between governmental transitions (except when swamp is drained) and ideally a well educated reservoir of knowledge work. Elections merely tweak the dial settings periodically as a split brain electorate cannot figure its shit out in a sustained manner. A queen just doesn’t compete with that.
The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs) says
I’m not a tourist-y type, but surely if I were going to go to England to look at tourist nonsense, I would rather be able to tour all of Buckingham Palace after the royal family was given the boot than be able to see a portion (or none) of it because the royals are in residence. (And security costs would be much, much lower without the parasites to protect.)
I agree with Vicar@24, which is a little scary, though it’s not something I’d fight to get. And anyway, there is a lot to see in London so I would probably skip it either way.
Wait, are heads on pikes part of this tour?
One procedural thing that I remember reading about (it was applied to Heisenberg and other German physics after WWII) is indefinite detention “At Her Majesty’s Pleasure” in order to get around the usual need to justify imprisonment with cause. It sounds so genteel too, like the Queen has invited you to tea, and no you can’t turn it down.
But there are probably other means to apply this kind of discretion, assuming it’s ever really needed, without having a physical embodiment of the power of state. That is just weird and archaic.
I can think of one valid reason for their existence, and even that is tenuous. Beyond that, they’re waste of space, time, money and effort.
Thailand’s previous king (who died in 2016) did the “benevolent dictator” thing once in a while. But just as often he supported coups d’etat and oppression of Thai citizens.
The Damned summed up my feelings well in their song, “Lovely Money”, with lyrics to boot.
A decade ago, I posted to the Endless Thread:
Ice Swimmer says
Cartomancer @ 13
Plenty of republics have figurehead presidents. They tend to have some powers to resolve political deadlocks caused by asshole politicians. For example Germany, Austria, Estonia and Italy have presidents whose main occupation is to look smart and represent the nation.
Rob Grigjanis says
I’m curious about the views of our Scandinavian, Spanish, Dutch and Belgian commenters on their monarchies.
When I think of bureaucrats employed by Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this guy springs to mind:
From 24’s intellectually superior cousin across the pond. He went deep cover in the States as a pill addicted doctor that nearly killed every patient in the course of diagnosing them.
You’re all missing the obvious answer which is a combination of the following three things:
chigau (違う) says
I remember Walton. I wonder what he’s up to.
Owlmirror@28 The anti-monarchic argument I prefer is simply that we would be better people if we weren’t all gushing over this “very special family” whether they have actual power or not. I mean, OMG, it is just depressing to me to think we can’t get past this. And it’s not really fixable while keeping the pomp in any form, even animatronics.
What galls me is the fact that anyone would think “such regal splendor” and not “what an appalling waste”.
And you could say the same about gushing over the Kardashians, but at least their celebrity has been privatized. While I’m not a big fan of privatization in general, this is a case I can support.
(Or better, just send them all off to collective farms… Wait, did I say that?)
2 arguments I found acceptable defending the institution of royal family in UK (acceptable doesn’t mean they convince me, it’s just they are not completely stupid) were already briefly mentioned here, but we need to start with one simple explanation.
US is presidential system, like Russia, where head of state (president) is also actual leader.
UK is parliamentary system, like Germany, where the real leader, chancellor or Prime Minister, has basically all the power while head of state is mostly a figurehead (if you can recognize Frank Walter Steinmeier on the photo, I salute you) or at most has ceremonial position.
Systems were there are two centers of power (president and prime minister both having significant prerogatives) are usually failed systems.
So what is an advantage of hereditary head of state (Queen Elisabeth II) over chosen president? You get a head of state that is professional diplomat for life and is forbidden to create their own policy plus all the clout and prestige that this title gives when you contact other heads of states.
Also the famous tuesday conversations of Prime Minister with the Queen has an interesting role. Prime Minister has someone to explain his actions to and that moment humility serves as opportunity for self reflection to half decent people, you can’t just dismiss the queen as your political opposition as she is apolitical in theory.
Of course all that works only if prestige of royalty weights enough and even then it won’t work on sociopaths.
If Trump was Prime Minister of UK, he would sooner grab the queen by the pussy than even for a moment rethought his own actions.
All the mechanisms based on honor and decency fail with people like Trump.
Are those 2 arguments (+ tourism revenue) worth keeping the royals?
Hard to say, if next royal would be a decent and talented person as Elisabeth II seems to be, maybe, if it would be her son – probably not really. At least Trump was not a president for life, unlike the next King of UK will be.
I rather have a shitty powerless king (his name is Willem Alexander) than shitty presidents with way too much power like the American ones (that specifically includes the current one). That said I’m a republican (European meaning of the world) – the Dutch Republic did fine without a head of state.
The occupation to look smart and represent the nation (@29) then is for the vice-chairman of the Raad van State.
Frankly I only today learned that it’s Thom de Graaf at the moment.
Hey, RobG,where’s the campaign for political reform going? Nowhere? So all the votes for your favourite were yet another waste, exactly like I predicted. Hand in hand with RobG and other pseudoprogressives marching forward to an American president who’s still worse than Donald the Clown. ‘Cuz America First.
Rob Grigjanis says
A crappy US President
can dohas done more harm in a year than a UK monarch could do in a lifetime.
The Irish Times article ends with a gem:
Harry and Meghan are ultimately going to win. Despite the tabloid frenzy, this was never the story of an ungrateful pauper being elevated by the monarchy. This was about the potential union of two great houses, the Windsors and Californian Celebrity. Only one of those things has a future, and it’s the one with the Netflix deal.
Rob Grigjanis says
Nattering about the silliness of the monarchy is good fun, but there’s rarely much about how getting rid of it would work. If it became unpopular enough, it could come down to a Brexit-style referendum with “details to be worked out later”. That would make me very nervous.
I’m British but if anything, the fascination with the royal family is even greater in the US than it is in the UK.
I wouldn’t shed a tear if they were abolished and their vast wealth in land, property, and investments, returned to the people. I’ve used that line “Well, at least we don’t have a President Bush/Trump” often enough, but a British president would be as much a figurehead as the Queen is today, at least in practice, since she does still have considerable constitutional clout, but would likely lose it if she tried to use it to do something like prorogue Parliament against the wishes of the Prime Minister.
But if we can’t get a constitutional presidency like Ireland’s, then a suitably modest monarchy shorn of its opulent wealth and meddling self-interest would be a decent compromise. Boot them from their estates and palaces (or start charging them rent), which can then be opened to the public, and give those who continue doing public engagements a decent salary, and leave it at that.
Rob Grigjanis says
mnb0 @36: I’m not American.
Rob Grigjanis says
tacitus @40: Most of their income could be stopped by voting in a government which would cut their take from the Crown Estate to zero. Taking away their personal estates could be a problem unless you impose caps on personal wealth and income which apply to everybody (fine by me).
I highly doubt that would happen. It’s not that that hard to design a constitutional presidency — plenty of other parliamentary systems already have one. Likewise, what to do with the royal family’s assets isn’t hard either — they would be returned to the public purse (i.e. the government) — though the legality of stripping the royal family of its lands and property would undoubtedly have to be confirmed by the Supreme Court first.
But, in all likelihood, this will only happen if the current monarch, whoever it is, agrees that it’s time to go, in which case they would voluntarily hand over most of their wealth, but keeping enough for them to remain exceedingly wealthy.
Rich Woods says
I’m sort of looking forward to Charlie-boy becoming King, if only because he’ll do much to either hasten the end of the monarchy or at least diminish it for likely the remainder of my lifetime. If I were a gambling man I’d put money on him ending his days powerless and living in some foreign villa, just like his youngest son and his great-uncle.
Rob Grigjanis says
tacitus @43: Saying there are good alternatives (there are!) does not guarantee that they would be on the table. Would you trust a Conservative government to implement the transition to a Republic?
The great English public’s regard for Mrs Windsor was strained when the drunk French driver killed Lady Di ,there was anger because the royal standard was not at half mast at Buck House .
Good point, and no.
By analogy, I think the US constitution is decrepit. The electoral college and Senate representation are both dead weights on democracy. The 2nd amendment (more easily fixed) is written ambiguously and is obsolete now if it ever made sense to begin with. In a world where people could be counted on to act in good faith, it would be time for an overhaul.
On the other hand, I am nearly certain that a constitutional convention would result in everything getting a lot worse. (Though if I thought it had a chance, I would be in favor of repealing the 2nd amendment in its entirety.)
Ice Swimmer @29
I was going to say the same thing – if one wants to have a ceremonial figure to represent the nation who doesn’t have actual political power except in narrowly defined circumstances, it’s quite possible to have that as an elected office rather than a hereditary one. I think that there’s a lot of merit in the idea of having a head of state who represents the country without having a lot of actual political power, in order to prevent too much power and prestige from being concentrated in one person. In US politics, the fact that the president is head of state as well as head of government is sometimes used to try and deflect or mute criticism, which to me is an obvious evil in an elected government and an open society.
Although I would prefer an elected head of state, a constitutional monarchy doesn’t seem nearly as bad to me as it does to some people. I get the impression that the UK’s monarchy still has a lot more ritual and “pomp and circumstance” than the other surviving European monarchies. Perhaps in the future of the UK monarchy will neither stay the same nor be abolished, but gradually become more low-key like the monarchy in the Netherlands or some Scandinavian countries.
Or why not somebody chosen by lottery, say on an annual basis?
So if you need to detain a dangerous “enemy of the state” without cause, you do it By Caprice of His/Her Luckiness, and maybe hit them with a cream pie in the face to authorize their imprisonment. It would make about as much sense, and assuming such measures are ever needed, would at least knock them down a peg to which they are understood as unpleasant stopgaps.
It’s somewhat bizarre that American conservatives, who usually rave about the infinite wisdom of the Founding Fathers, have decided they actually love the British Monarchy.
On the other hand, it makes sense: the Queen is the star of a reality TV show, she was born a billionaire, and she is somehow the head of state despite never winning the popular vote in an election. The monarchy produces exactly the kind of leaders Fox Fake News loves!
Also, American conservatism is ultimately founded on racism. Racism, in turn, is based on the belief that “bloodlines” matter, and that your worth as a human is determined by your ancestors. That belief is also the basis for hereditary monarchies.
SC (Salty Current) says
Owlmirror @ #28, wow. That was 11 years ago almost to the day. (I was just looking at an NCAA bracket prediction for this year and then saw Rev. BDC talking about it in 2010!)
I still like my butterfly idea, riffing off your post. :)
I was remembering earlier when I read PZ’s post that one of the arguments I’d made in clashes about the monarchy with Walton was the extent to which it limits the freedom of the people in it. That must have been on one of the threads around that time!
SC (Salty Current) says
chigau @ #33, didn’t he become an immigrants’-rights lawyer?
Rob Grigjanis says
Thought I’d do a quick look for past threads on the subject. Came up with this, from nearly 10 years ago (before my time);
@6 I read somewhere he had a melt down when he saw cling film over a plate of salad ,it seems he had never come across it before .And is it true he takes his private toilet seat with him when he travels ?
If the British are unsatisfied with the current royal family they can always invoke the usual protocol for replacing them by starting a long and bloody civil war.
Nobody ever made their family royal other than by being completely and utterly ruthless to anyone who opposed them.
I can see why Harry bowed out, he only needed to kill six people to become king, but he lacked the Windsor killer instinct.
I also wonder why the English support the monarchy, given that the last English king of England was Harold who died in 1066. Since then French, Welsh, Scottish, Dutch and German.
The most important lesson from Diana’s death is always wear your seatbelt, especially if your Mercedes is being driven by a drunken Frenchman.
Rob Grigjanis says
mailliw @55: So I’m not really English, even though I was born and raised there? And the last two US Presidents before Biden were Kenyan and German?
“What is the monarchy good for?”
Historical reenactments? Maybe turn the monarchy into a public corporation, give the queen/king a seat on the board of directors and give the rest of the royals an option to either strike out on their own or to earn scale commensurate with the actors at Williamsburg or the cowboy shows at Old Tombstone, for instance.
“The tourists who come to our island take in the Monarchy along with feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.”
— William Hamilton
@57 Rob Grigjanis
I hope it was clear I wasn’t being entirely serious – the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha family became better integrated immigrants when they changed their name to Windsor.
Rob Grigjanis says
mailliw @60: The non-serious part was clear, but trite. And with potentially racist undertones. Heard it hundreds of times. And yeah, Victoria’s house (Hanover) and Albert’s (Saxe-Coburg and Gotha) were both German. Not good optics during WWI. But royals, aristocrats and commoners have been interbreeding across national and ethnic lines forever. The Anglo-Saxons were in large part Celts who were first partially Romanized then thoroughly Germanized. The Celts in Britain before the Romans and Germans were a cultural/population overlay on an earlier population. And so on. Harold’s mum was a Dane. William the Conqueror’s male forebears were vikings. So the joke wears thin.
Also, I’m a crabby old man.
I have found that ignoring rather than objecting works well in cases like this. (Your choice, obviously.)
Eh, maybe. There’s a distinction between saying “You can’t be [some nationality] because your ancestors are from somewhere else.” (which is racist, or maybe nativist would be a better term) and “It’s ironic that you claim to represent a royal bloodline, when your ancestors are from somewhere else.” (and this was recent enough to be recorded) In the latter case, both parts of the statement are tied into the nonsensical assumption that your ancestry should have any bearing on your current status.
I grant that 1066 was a long time ago, and people have been moving around in Western Europe for a lot longer than that. The British royal family consists of those commonly understood to be members. So on the big points, I think we’re all in agreement.
Rob Grigjanis says
Well, good for you, but let’s see how you feel about that in twenty years or so.
Apparently royalty in Europe is somewhat fungible, see Otto of Greece, for instance.
If your country needs a king, there’s always some royal lounging around the continent somewhere who can be refurbished and customized for your unique needs.
According to the various kings lists, all of the royal houses (except for the Carolingians) trace back to Odin. So Norse and Dane, Angles and Saxon, Jutes and Low Countries are all related populations.
As Rob noted, Harold’s uncle was Cnut, King of the Danes. So Harold was Anglo Saxon, Danish, and Polish, but was chosen to be King of England.
chigau (違う) says
I liked https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Ralph.
It could be true.
I think it may have been a topic on an older thread about genetics, you don’t have to go back too far before pretty much everybody is related to royalty.
The thing about the upper crusts, in social terms, is that they have more in common with each other across boundaries than they do with the people in their own countries. In other words, the peasants are revolting and as Groucho Marx said, “You can say THAT again!”