Bring the powerful to heel, don’t glorify monarchs and privilege
by Philip Hall
The idea that Charles III is divinely appointed to rule over us is ridiculously far-fetched. Yet, ultimately, it is the metaphysical idea of the divine right of kings that gives King Charles III his political legitimacy. According to this theory, ordinary British people choose to make themselves the subjects of a king whose soul was chosen to rule over the United Kingdom by God.
Pull the other one! The only sacred task that Charles has in front of him (someone please tell him) is to phase out the British system of monarchy, to dissolve it and return all crown properties and privileges to the democratic state – to its people.
Charles III is not King Arthur; he is not a sacred king. He is not divinely appointed. He is not a unifier. Royalism is a smokescreen for the neo-Thatcherites, and for the warring corporations. It is a kind of opiate, an important distraction that we don’t need at a crucial time when the cost-of-living crisis is upon us, and while US capitalism wars with Russian capitalism, fighting over lebensraum at the cost of a terrible European conflagration.
What would really unite us all now, is not a new king, but a fairer society and the bringing to heel of the wealthy corporations that currently puppeteer and corrupt our British government.
Royalism is a smokescreen for the neo-Thatcherites, and for the warring corporations.
. . .
All the same, apart from those times when we lived in small communal bands of people who cooperated to survive (in other words, throughout most of pre-history) monarchy was the basis of civilization.
Kings and Queens brought people together into greater communities. They united people into vast cities. Monarchical systems that concentrated the wealth produced by labour in order to make great pointless monuments like the Pyramids. Monarchs had walls built that crossed vast regions and astoundingly luxurious tombs. They commissioned the building of magnificent palaces and splendid cathedrals.
Under the aegis of evolving monarchical systems of government, great progress was made in architecture, literature and art, in maritime engineering and war, in science and even in social reform.
The ancient institution of monarchy, though not as old as our dream of a happy communalism, symbolically linked us together into nationhood using real military, economic, social and religious power. It also attempted to unify us through ritual. When we were more monocultural society, monarchism might have helped ground our beings in the land across a narrow racial and cultural spectrum and give us a stronger common identity.
The deepest legend of the British is the legend of King Arthur and the idea that he will return and save the country in the time of most need. And, for some reason, in the Golden Age of U.S. science fiction and in Hollywood, these sons and daughters of their republic could only conceive of empires and kings in space. They read J. R. R. Tolkien with a deep nostalgia, like dogs returning to sick.
And this mysticism continues. The Stone of Scone, without a sword in it, is being ferried down from Scotland to London for the coronation in order to deepen Charles’ mystical act of dedication to a fictional land. His ‘idyllic’ village, the one he helped choose the designs for, is called Poundberry. Perhaps now he will rename the United Kingdom Poundland.
The Monty Python team put the question perfectly: is a mystical connection to God and the land the basis for a good modern system of government? A king is not subject to the will of the people. The monarch embodies a divine appointment to rule and the right of the Monarch contradicts, by definition, the rights of the subjects of that monarch.
The monarch heads an aristocracy. The monarchical system denies liberté, égalité, fraternité and social and economic justice. For modern humans living in democracies, the values of liberty, equality, fraternity and social and economic justice supersede any mystical connection one person might or might not have to the land. Respect for basic human dignity precludes us from agreeing to subject ourselves to another human. As Mark Twain said in private notes:
The institution of royalty in any form is an insult to the human race.
Mystique aside, Tony Benn, who was originally an aristocrat himself, while he was respectful towards the person of the Queen, was also correct in his assessment of the foundations of a monarchical system.
I don’t think people realise how the establishment became established. It simply stole the land and property off the poor, surrounded themselves with weak-minded sycophants for protection, gave themselves titles and it has been wielding power ever since.Tony Benn, in conversation
Of course, the monarchy in the UK is not absolute as it is in places like Saudi Arabia. In Britain, this power was circumscribed long ago by the Magna Carta (1215) and we eventually ended up with a constitutional monarchy, by way of the Glorious Revolution, when the parliamentarians actually chopped the head off King Charles I because he would insist so on his divine right to rule.
In the United Kingdom, the monarch’s power is limited by a constitution. The new King Charles III is relegated to the role of being a symbol of unity and state continuity. However, the existence of the British monarchy underwrites our class system. It is no coincidence that the link between the monarchy and the military is very strong and it always has been. It is not just that the British people agree to become subjects of the monarchy, force of arms maintains a monarch in power.
I had an argument with a friend which marked the end of our friendship. He was a member of the SAS and, while he studied Arabic and French, he moonlighted as a bodyguard for Prince Charles and Diana on different occasions, when Diana was still alive. I asked him this:
I accept the monarchy and the current political state of Britain under Margaret Thatcher because that is the expression of the will of the people in a democracy. But what if a socialist republican government were to be elected into power? Would you swear loyalty to it?
He said: ‘No!’ That was when we parted company.
In fact, according to past revelations, one of the main alleged organisers of a possible coup against the Labour government of Harold Wilson in 1968 was Lord Mountbatten, Prince Philip’s uncle. The Queen’s uncle, King Edward VIII, was a notorious Nazi sympathizer before he was forced to resign. The sexual behaviour of Edward VII was a hundred times more scandalous than that of Prince Andrew. Remember that the democratically elected Gough Whitlam, Prime Minister of Australia, was removed from office by the governor of Australia, the Queen’s representative.
Underlyingly, the ideals and principles of a monarchical system and the very real material foundations of that system are antithetical to socialism and equality. Though we should remember that four of the most progressive northern democracies in Europe apart from the UK, have constitutional monarchs: Holland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark.
The British monarch has no legitimacy in India, Africa, Asia or the Americas
Fifteen Commonwealth realms are now supposed to have King Charles III as their monarch. In the past, under the system of the British monarchy, Queen Victoria had the chutzpah to call herself The Empress of India (at Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s suggestion). Victoria presided over the British Empire. Britain colonised a quarter of the world and governed almost a quarter of its people not by divine right, but by conquest. Then Great Britain robbed the colonies blind in order to extract wealth and advantage. To maintain British imperial power, the British state over the whole period of empire, killed thousands in the colonies and oppressed millions on every continent. Australia, Canada and New Zealand were settled by colonialists transplanted from the mother country and dedicated to the extermination of the indigenous peoples of those lands.
Look at it coldly! How can there possibly be a mystical connection of fealty between the monarch of the United Kingdom and the native populations of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, who Britain oppressed?
Though, perhaps those same indigenous peoples do have a deep, almost mystical feeling of hatred towards the British monarchy for the British theft of farmland and mineral resources and the British violation of sovereignty and the many acts of oppression by the British. The British Monarchy, for example, can certainly sling its hook when it comes to claiming any divine right to rule over Ireland.
The United Kingdom is the place where the scattering began, as Merle Collins explained in a poem, and the UK is where the people of the former empire now gather, attracted by the wealth which that empire extracted from their different countries. When you look around you in the UK, you see that a large proportion of the people who form part of our multicultural society are here because ‘we were over there.’The king will wear the great Cullinan diamond from Africa in his crown at the coronation.
In defence of the idea of monarchy
Monarchy it is the oldest system of government in the world. It is based on a Hobbesian idea, the idea of the body politic.
If society is like a body and the Queen, or King its soul and the establishment is its governing head, then the legs and arms and the bottom of society shouldn’t usurp the soul and the head. Government is for people who study PPEs at Oxford University. The ruling class head nods to the monarchical soul; to the monarchy and its metaphysical, divine cementing of the social order and privilege.
When we say the arse of society shouldn’t rule the head, we don’t have to look far for examples:
Thomas Aquinas suggested that Tyranny is wont to occur not less but more frequently on the basis of polyarchy than on the basis of monarchy.
When monarchies have been removed, it is true that the result has often been much worse. What follows is usually tyranny. After the French Revolution and the Terror came the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. After the Russian Revolution came Joseph Stalin. After the emperor of China was deposed, along came Chairman Mao Tse Tung.
During the Glorious Revolution, the British people took a long hard look at Thomas Cromwell and the Parliamentarians and their behaviour during the Civil War. They saw how Parliament restricted liberty and the rights of ordinary people. They saw how Cromwell’s troops massacred the Irish who had rebelled. They saw how the Parliamentarians persecuted the Catholics and how they destroyed church decorations and prohibited literature and theatre. They saw how restrictive, controlling, prudish and puritanical the revolutionaries were.
Though initially the parliamentarians were permitted to defenestrate the institution of the monarchy, perhaps the British people had second thoughts about having a ‘Lord Protector’ instead of a king, and this is why the people eventually withdrew their support from the Parliamentarians.
To beg the question: is the reason why Europe had so many revolutions in the 19th and 20th centuries and Britain had none because the British people had already had had a good, close up, look at the results of revolution and saw the unpleasantness that followed on from it? There are worse things than monarchs: parvenu tyrants, for example..
What would really unite us all now would be a fairer society
What unites us in a post-enlightenment, technologically unified, globalised society is not a monarchy. What unites us, to the extent that it still exists, is being British citizens of a functioning representative democracy. What unites us is a system of social protection and welfare. What unites us in 2022 is free education and free health care. It is also negative liberty that unites us; the right to be free from persecution and prejudice
What would really unite us all now would be a fairer society; the bringing to heel of the wealthy corporations that currently puppeteer and corrupt our British government. What would really unite us would be the control, taxation and regulation by the government of powerful people and corporations who, without that control, have a tendency to behave like the ruthless commercial barons of the early part of the industrial revolution.
Social justice will bring social solidarity, not the anachronistic, counterfactual mysticism of an incredibly expensive celebrity cult.
The unification of Europe, and togetherness and kindness further afield, global unity and the elimination of conflict, is something the more enlightened spirits among us long for. All of us who believe in reciprocity and historical justice and the equality and rights of all human beings want unity, not splintering and division. But that unity should come about as the result of a proper democracy, not something as silly and irrelevant as a monarch.
We need a different system of government in the UK. We need an elected upper house and an elected head of state.
The real sacred task of King Charles III is to ‘love’ his people enough in order to have the democratically elected state abolish all aristocratic titles and inheritances and return all that property and wealth acquired through the system of monarchy back to the British people; from the property of the Duke of Westminster downwards.