Ecrasez L’Infame!

With all of the obsessive coverage of the birth of the “royal baby” let me say what should be obvious: the monarchy should not exist. No monarchy should exist anywhere for any reason. And while this article goes too far — I certainly wouldn’t put the royal family in prison — and overstates the case, there is still validity there.

The Royal Family is no better than a family of mobsters. It sucks its sustenance from the public coffers, enriching itself greatly at the expense of poor taxpaying citizens. It operates not as a meritocracy, but through strict nepotism and strategic alliances. And its strength is a rough measure of the lack of civilization in a particular culture. To be completely clear, we are not suggesting that people should “pay less attention” to the Royal Family, or that the UK should reduce the amount of money it spends on this obscene relic of a brutal monarchical past. We are suggesting that the Royal Family should, as an institution, be completely abolished, and that its remaining members be imprisoned and forced to work for the remainder of their lives to, in some token way, repay the public for all of these years of financial support. Perhaps by making license plates, or breaking rocks.

It is amusing to reflect upon the imperial past of England, and the inherent assumptions of racial and cultural superiority that fueled it, while also noting the fact that the UK still to this very day continues to offer slavish financial, political, and cultural support to a tiny family elite notable for nothing except the lineage of the particular person’s vagina from which they slunk. The persistence of the Royal Family, and the worshipful attention that it draws from the British public, is the sort of primitive superstitious voodoo that puts to shame any of the animist rituals that the colonial British would have derided as uncivilized.

The Royal Family is more than an international embarrassment, though; it is a crime against the British public. It represents the taking of precious public resources for the most undemocratic, elitist, and unproductive use. It is akin to taxing the American public to support the Kardashian family. Currently, the British monarchy gets 15% of the annual revenues generated by the Crown Estate. (Not to be confused with the slew of luxurious private estates that they own.) That will be well over $50 million this year. There are 2.5 million unemployed people in the UK right now. It is not too presumptuous to suggest that they might be able to find more productive uses for that money.

Many Brits have argued to me that the nation derives tax revenue from the royal family and that much of that revenue comes from Americans (including some very dear friends of mine) who, for some reason I will never understood, also share this obsession with the royal family. That may well be true. But that doesn’t make the idea of a royal family any less offensive. I am especially baffled by friends who are liberals and still defend it. If there is anything that should be offensive and appalling to a liberal, it’s monarchy.

And let me address Larry Moran’s suggestion that making this criticism makes one an “ugly American.” He was responding to PZ writing much the same thing, but I think he misses the point completely.

I don’t mean to pick on PZ Myers—he’s just one of many seemingly intelligent people who think that the American system of government is far superior to the governments of countries like the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, Australia, Jordan, Spain, Sweden, Malaysia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark.

But he’s wrong. This isn’t about comparing systems of governments on some macro scale, it’s about criticizing one particular aspect of them. And aren’t we always told by those defending such monarchies that they’re merely for show and don’t have any real power?

There’s a certain irony in this statement since Americans are fond of celebrating babies born into extraordinary privilege, especially if they are movie stars.

But where is the irony here? It isn’t as if PZ or me think that’s a good thing. I think it is every bit as ridiculous for people to obsess over Kim Kardashian or Snooki, two people who have also become fabulously rich with no actual talent to justify it, as it is to obsess over the royal family. Is it irony merely that an American makes this argument, even if he also criticizes similar things in his own country? Is that irony or is it intellectual consistency?

This is not about comparing political systems or societies as a whole. There are good things and bad things that can be said about every system and every culture. England is well ahead of the United States in many ways, including having a parliamentary system, which I’d like to see here. Despite their established church, religion has far less influence on policy there than it does here. They’re more friendly to the rights of the LGBT community as well. On the other hand, their free speech protections are lacking, in my view.

None of this is cultural chauvinism or any feeling of American superiority (I’m pretty much immune to feelings of nationalism, which I simply do not understand), it is reasoned criticism of those aspects of the British system that should be reformed and justified praise of those aspects that are good. The same kind of praise and criticism I offer for my own country and my own government every single day.

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  • sigurd jorsalfar

    I’m Canadian and I agree with you. I would be perfectly happy to dispense with our overpaid team mascot and her useless family.

    The ‘system of government’ objection made me laugh. It is an argument that mistakes form for substance. The parliamentary system has been all about slowly but inexorably removing all of the monarch’s powers and transferring them to Parliament. Even powers that still de jure belong to the monarch under the concept of ‘prerogative’ are de facto exercised by the prime minister and cabinet. I think the only power she has left is the power to give out titles to the members of her immediate family.

    I’m willing to bet that after Elizabeth II dies, the majority of Canadians would be happy to abolish the monarchy completely. The only thing that would really prevent that is Quebec. Not that they like the monarchy (they do not – they care for it less than any other region of the country), but because it would require a constitutional amendment and Quebec is unlikely to agree to any constitutional amendment that doesn’t grant it a special status within the country that the rest of the provinces won’t accept.

    So we muddle along with a system that may look like a monarchy but which is in fact as democratic as any other.

  • Chiroptera

    I guess celebrity gossip is the one thing that was successfully privatized here in the US!

  • Pseudonym

    Many Brits have argued to me that the nation derives tax revenue from the royal family and that much of that revenue comes from Americans (including some very dear friends of mine) who, for some reason I will never understood, also share this obsession with the royal family. That may well be true. But that doesn’t make the idea of a royal family any less offensive.

    But it is an argument against approximately half of the quoted text, isn’t it? Pretty much any developed country can name a government programme which costs $50 million and looks like a waste of money on the face of it. If the programme effectively pays for itself (particularly when you factor in the fact that this covers upkeep of a number of heritage listed buildings, plus all of the charity patronage and publicity, and so on; royals do have to do a considerable amount of work to be on the civil list), then it isn’t a waste of money, even if it’s not the most efficient possible use.

    As an aside, I can’t say I really understand the invocation of the history of racist imperialism, either, as if this is a problem unique to monarchies.

    Living in Australia, I say we have the best of all worlds. We have a monarchy (and hence a head of state who is above politics) that we don’t have to pay for.

    The argument presented seems to boil down to “it’s obscene”. As with gay rights, I don’t think that’s really an argument. Not even Prince Charles’ veto power over the Duchy of Cornwall (a genuine anti-democratic power that he holds and has exercised) gets a mention here!

  • rogerstanyard

    The prime reason why there is relatively little hostility towards the monarchy in Britain is that Brenda is well liked. Brian’s going to have a few problems in the popularity stakes, though, when Brenda pops her clogs.

    The high water mark in republicanism in the UK was in the early 1970s.

    I can’t defend the constitutional monarchy system but would say that the monarchy in the UK does have a sense of noblesse oblige (civic responsibility, in another form), a trait usually absent from the rich and powerful. That’s despite the average royal being as dim as a TOC H lamp.

    Oh, and Brenda stood up to Margaret Thatcher.

  • F [is for failure to emerge]

    Make them sports teams: They can compete, like in the good old days, for who gets to be the royal family of wherever. No, they don’t get to use armies or anyone outside the family. Direct battle between royalty is where it’s at. Player trade, moving teams, mergers and takeovers. 321go.

  • dingojack

    Uh – the Royal family (despite my parasitical crack earlier) actual costs the tax payers nothing at all. Their revenues cover their needs, and they generate (it is estimated) some 3 billion Pounds annually in revenue for the UK. The argument is a complete fail.

    As for the ‘ooh but they own soo much land it’s obscene considering there are 2.5 million unemployed’ argument – the UK has a more even distribution of wealth than the US, are you suggesting that US’s richest people be forced to sell their property? Who to? And would you support forcing someone to sell property for the terrible crime of having above a certain amount of money?

    And even if the UK’s monarchy did sell their properties, how exactly would that alleviate the fact that 2.5 million people are out of work? Are the unemployed in the UK all former real estate agents?

    I agree make the monarchy work for a living (some other European countries’ royals do), but really, if you’re going to be silly then go away, you’re not helping the republican movement one bit.



    *ahem* Ed not “”It isn’t as if PZ or me think that’s a good thing”; but rather ‘It isn’t as if PZ or I think that’s a good thing” – put each person into a separate sentence: PZ doesn’t think it’s a good thing. I don’t think it’s a good thing (not ‘me don’t think it’s a good thing’) [/inner editor].

  • dekomitri

    Hey Mr Brayton. I am usually rather fond of your blog but this is just some guys painfully ignorant opinion piece.

    Nolan is ignorant of the Royal family’s income as he says “It sucks its sustenance from the public coffers, enriching itself greatly at the expense of poor taxpaying citizens”, he call the family “subsidized”, etc.

    The fact is, the royal family makes Britain money. George III surrendered income from his estates in exchange for a salary.

    Nolan says, “The Royal Family did not “work” to acquire its property.” and “All of these things have been passed down to them, due to the accident of their birth”.

    Well, so what? Plus, the royal family servers a purpose. “2,000: the number of official engagements carried out by the Royal Family each year in the UK and overseas.” –

    Nolan offhandedly asserted that Royals have no impact on tourism, “Tourists would continue to go to the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace whether or not the Royal Family [is there]…”

    The Royal family benefits tourism / economy, “The goodwill value of the Royal Wedding is difficult to gauge but both PwC and Verdict released estimated figures on how the wedding would affect the economy. PwC said £107million to London alone, while Verdict came to £620million for the total British economy.” –

    CGPGrey does a very nice summary of the Royal family:


  • jnorris

    I agree with Dingojack. The family is independently wealthy and give direct and indirect employment to thousands.

    • rogerstanyard

      Dingojack – I’ve never seen any properly researched calculations of precisely what the British monarchy contributes to the UK economy. I very much doubt that tourists from abroad turn up here precisely because we’ve got a monarchy. More likely they are here to get blotto in our flea pit pubs and enjoy the glorious weather of a fog shrouded island in the North Atlantic – and, of course, to meet the misanthropic locals.

  • Bearded One

    Although I often agree with Ed in this case I disagree. It is wrong to think of the royal family as a “monarchy” because they are a monarchy in name only. Constantly referring to them as such without emphasizing that they are not a true monarchy is misleading and is similar to tactics used by creationists and far right-wingers.

  • dingojack

    Maybe that figure is simply Americans coming to see you in your native environment, a flea-pit pub! 😀

    I don’t know if there are too many ‘monarchies’ any more. Perhaps in Africa or Asia (do dictatorships count?)


  • sigurd jorsalfar “I’m Canadian and I agree with you. I would be perfectly happy to dispense with our overpaid team mascot and her useless family.”

    Then what will you put on that side of your money, another animal?

  • sigurd jorsalfar

    @11 Wayne Gretzky, obviously. Duh.

  • rogerstanyard

    How could you lock up the Queen in a British prison? She owns them all.

  • sigurd jorsalfar “@11 Wayne Gretzky, obviously. Duh.”

    The guy who played for the Kings? Why, for the irony?

  • sigurd jorsalfar

    @13 Call it ‘house arrest’.

  • abb3w

    There seems (from what I understand) to be a drive/instinct in most people to find some person to venerate/adulate, with the exact focus varying across cultures. I’m not convinced that the British tendency to veneration of the Royal Family is any worse than Americans’ tendency to veneration of Hollywood and Sports celebrities, and certainly seems preferable to veneration of an explicitly religious priesthood.

    Still, figuring out a “better” focus might make an interesting bit of social engineering.

  • The two aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s not as if folks in the UK don’t gush over their own celebs, and foreign celebs as well. Just look at the Jimmy Savile story. Savile apparently used his public prominence to find victims.

  • aziraphale

    At least in the UK we don’t have to fear that our next head of state will be a member of the Tea Party.

    • rogerstanyard

      At least in the UK we don’t have to fear that our next head of state will be a fundamentalist religious bigot.

  • rogerstanyard

    About 30% of the population of the UK could be described as republicans; about 70% are happy with there being a monarchy. However, there is a near universal view that there are too many royals – mostly usually described as hangers on. It’s always been like that.

    It’s silly to suggest that most British people “venerate” the Royal family. “”Indifferent” would be a more accurate term.

  • I don’t follow much of the goings on, but I think I’d prefer royal families to be detached from any sort of government benefits. If they’re just plain wealthy as private citizens and doing something productive for the economy with their wealth, I think I’m relatively okay with that, nepotism aside.

    I’m not fond of the fanfare around royal events, since I’d prefer not to celebrate monarchy. I don’t like the obsession with American celebrities, either. I’d prefer it if the tracking of royal bloodlines and titles was something people did primarily at geneology clubs.

  • aziraphale “At least in the UK we don’t have to fear that our next head of state will be a member of the Tea Party.” & “At least in the UK we don’t have to fear that our next head of state will be a fundamentalist religious bigot.”

    Woah, woah! Woah! There’s no need to be uncivil.

  • matty1

    I am not a monarchist but the funding argument is a bit of a red herring.

    First it is not clear that if the monarchy was abolished the crown estate would be government property. They were private property before George the Third gave control to parliament and straightforward abolition would see them revert loosing the treasury the other 85% of the revenue. Even if the whole lot were nationalised it seems unlikely the extra fifty million would make much difference when the 333 million already being paid to the government hasn’t.

    The money is coming from commercial rents not taxes so British workers are subsidising them only to the extent everyone subsidises those richer than them (which is more than we often realists).

    A fair amount of that money is going on the maintenance of historic buildings used for formal events and running costs like transport that would apply to an elected head of state as well. These are costs that would largely remain in the public sector whatever happens to Brenda and co.

  • matty1

    At least in the UK we don’t have to fear that our next head of state will be a fundamentalist religious bigot.

    Nope just a supporter of evidence free medicine.

  • exdrone

    As a Canadian, I would prefer to see our linkage to the British monarchy end, but I certainly don’t identify with the notion that having a monarchy is “offensive”. My attitude is more “Meh. They’ll slowly disappear over time.” It’s not unusual for a parliamentary democracy to have a figurehead head of state. It has been useful to have that ceremonial function fulfilled by someone, be it the Queen or our Governor-General, without suffering the partisanship that comes with electing someone. I agree with Sigurd that Quebec will ironically block any attempt to decisively remove our link to the British monarchy, so in typically Canadian fashion, we will likely find some compromise approach to inch ourselves away.

  • cptdoom

    The problem seems to be not with monarchy, which, as David Starkey pointed out in his Monarchy series, is the form of government that every democracy follows, but with the concept of aristocracy. When Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal,” it was a specific attack on the concept of rank, privilege and nobility of birth. The monarchy created in the Constitution was the antithesis of an hereditary system, although Washington likely could have gotten himself crowned if he’d wanted it. The British monarchy, on the other hand, is a lasting symbol of the idea that some are born better and that’s what bothers most people. It’s also ironic, because in its own way British society has always had a hidden meritocracy, with families and individuals rising through the ranks of society via the military, commercial endeavors, and marriages with poor aristocrats.

    I do believe, though, that there is a benefit to having a head of state who is above political power and can act as a focus for nationalistic fervor, especially if that head of state has no real power and cannot become a tyrant. There is a pretty compelling argument that fascism never got a real hold in Britain because the King held the position of adoration that Hitler and Mussolini co-opted. Whether that head of state should have the trappings of wealth and personal fortune of Mrs. Mountbatten-Windsor is another issue. Especially when that wealth was largely gathered by Victoria and Albert – after the dissolute Hanoverians had largely bankrupted themselves – some say by not spending money allocated by Parliament for official purposes.

  • busterggi

    If they don’t control dragons they aren’t real royalty.

    End of discussion.

  • I think the funding argument is a red herring on both sides. Even if it’s true that, on balance, the royal family makes money for England rather than costing it, would anyone think that’s a good justification for creating one now? If they didn’t already exist, would anyone think it was a good idea to randomly pick a family and declare that they and all of their descendants will be staggeringly wealthy for the rest of their lives into perpetuity? And that they will be worshiped and fawned over all over the world, and have every single need attended to by servants from the moment they’re born to the moment they die? Yes, I know that we have Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, but I think that is exactly the point. And at least with them, for reasons I will never understand, the public had to find them fascinating in order for them to achieve that fame and fortune. They didn’t get that adulation automatically just by being born (though both were born into wealth and have since made themselves wealthier). But neither one is a good thing. Both are bad. And I’m still just astonished to hear people who undoubtedly consider themselves to be progressives defending a fucking monarchy.

  • I’m no fan of monarchy as a form of government, and I don’t think America should have one — but our faux-populist self-righteousness about monarchy is way past its sell-by date. For starters, monarchies are far less powerful now than they were when John Locke wrote his magnum opus — there’s far worse evils to freak out about now. And the least I can say for the UK is that they ADMIT they have an unelected aristocracy, while too many people in the US keep on pretending our 1% got there by doing beneficial hard work and the obscene concentration of wealth in their hands is perfectly okay and we’re all equal so the 1% have no superior obligations amirite?

    Bashing the UK monarchy — one of the most harmless bunches of rich idiots I’ve ever heard of — every time one of them gets married or has a baby, is nothing but a pointless obsolete reflex, often practiced by libertarians desperate to distract attention away from the unelected aristocracy that funds their own “think” tanks and feeds them their new freethinking ideas. It was bullshit when Rush did it (old news reported in a new screechy voice), and it’s bullshit when people here act like they’re all vampires ready to drink our daughters’ blood.

    PS: I should also remind y’all that Prince William actually joined the army and served in AFGHANISTAN, ferfucksake (and only left because his posting became known and that was deemed a liability), while our ruling aristocracy didn’t even want to PAY for the war, let alone fight in it. His father served in the navy, and even his grandmother did a stint in a machine-shop during WW-II. And even the latter was a more substantive gesture than Bush Jr. pruning shrubs on his own Texas mansion while New Orleans drowned. So if we want to get all worked up about unelected aristocracy, let’s at least have some perspective, shall we?

  • dingojack

    Firstly – WTF? Who is creating (or even arguing for) a new monarchy in England?

    Secondly – What all those super-rich people never have families? Don’t their children get fawned on and treated as if they are better than the hoi polloi merely by being the children (or a descendant) of rich people. Your argument isn’t against monarchy, it’s against hereditary wealth. What are you proposing, banning people from writing willis or banning people from inheriting?



    Like I said, if you’re going to be unhelpful, join the monarchists, ’cause you’re really not helping republicans.

  • rogerstanyard

    Matty1 says “Nope just a supporter of evidence free medicine.”

    Yer, but nobody takes a blind bit of notice of Brian and never has. A bit like his dad, really.

    As I say, the royals aren’t very bright. Brian was the first one of them ever to get a university degree, despite all of them having very expensive private educations.

  • matty1

    Ed @28 I’m not defending the monarchy, I agree completely with your argument here, which is much better than the one quoted. Inherited power is wrong in principle regardless of who is doing the inheriting and how they make money. However I also dislike arguments based in incorrect ‘facts’ like the royals being paid for by taxpayers. It’s a pedantic dislike of inaccuracy rather than any love of the people or the institution. I can get the same explaining, for example, how there is no such thing as the Bermuda triangle and that isn’t out of some loyalty to shipping companies operating in the Caribbean.

    In that spirit Raging Beee @29 I think you’ll find it was his younger brother Harry who went to Afghanistan though William has done various military roles.

  • rogerstanyard

    Ed says “And I’m still just astonished to hear people who undoubtedly consider themselves to be progressives defending a fucking monarchy.”

    What makes you think the queen isn’t a progressive?

    It’s a really serious question.

  • slc1

    Re matty1 @ #24

    I think it very doubtful that Charles will accede to the throne after the death of his mother, assuming that he outlives her. There’s the issue of his divorce and remarriage for starters. I suspect that he will be forced to abdicate and Prince William will accede to the throne.

    Re Raging Bee @ #29

    I would remind Bee that 3 of the 4 candidates in 2008 had sons serving in Iraq, namely Biden, McCain, and Palin. Obviously, Obama’s daughters were too young.

  • Catrambi

    The thing I enjoy the least about Ed’s blog is the constant swipes random young celebrities about whom Ed probably knows next to nothing. His constant complaints that Kardashian or Snooki or Paris Hilton “lack talent” are so completely fucking irrelevant.. So what if Snooki doesn’t have what you recognize as “talent” – apparently she has something that generates enough money for her to pay her rent and live a comfortable life. My mom, who is a nurse, also has “no talent” for anything in particular, but I don’t write blog posts about how fucking useless she is.

    Also, notice how these particular celebrities are always or almost always described a “untalented” and “shallow”. What else do they have in common? Oh yeah, they’re all young women as well.

    Women making more money than Ed? Doing something that doesn’t interest Ed? Of course that’s gonna piss him off. Oh well.

  • Catrambi

    By the way, that’s not saying I don’t appreciate my mother’s skills and, in my opinion, “talents”. Neither does it mean I somehow look down on nursing as a line of work. Rather, my point was that the labeling of some skills as “talents” and other skills as “not requiring talent” is arbitrary and stupid.

  • lpetrich

    When I look at how some Americans react to the British monarchy and the recent royal baby, I wonder if the US Revolutionary War was fought in vain.

    More seriously, I’ve considered the question of why monarchy has fallen so far over the last few centuries, and while I could easily document it, I could not find anything on why it happened. Here’s a nice set of maps: Monarchy in the 20th Century Only two restorations: Spain and Cambodia.

    Monarchy had been almost universal for any nation larger than a city-state until the last few centuries. Some monarchies have been very long-lived; the Pharaonic and Chinese monarchies had lasted for at least 2500 years.

    As to what the UK is now, I like the term “crowned republic”. I remember having an argument with someone about whether that was a legitimate term. It was provoked by my mention of US Constitution writer John Adams describing the UK as a “monarchical republic” in his Defence of the Constitutions of the United States.

    The American Revolution was, I think, the beginning of the end for monarchy. We can credit George Washington with not wanting to be crowned King George I; he preferred a plain and simple title, “Mister President”. But the French Revolution was a *very* bad advertisement for republicanism, and France then alternated between monarchy and republicanism before settling down as a republic a century later. European nation builders up to WWI wanted monarchs for their nations, though when Latin American nations became independent, they became republics, with Brazil being the main exception.

    WWI was a big monarchy killer: the German, Austrian, Russian, and Ottoman monarchies fell, with their successors having no desire to establish monarchies. The new European nations were all republics, though Britain wanted monarchs for the Arab territories that it got from the Ottoman Empire. WWII and its aftermath killed more monarchies, with Italy’s falling out of association with Benito Mussolini. Greece’s fell in 1974 for similar reasons.

    With the fall of colonialism after WWII, most of the new nations became republics.

    Monarchy has fallen in many places, and in most places where it fell, nobody seems to miss the former monarchs. How many French want the Bourbons back? How many Germans want the Hohenzollerns back? How many Austrians want the Habsburgs back? How many Russians want the Romanovs back? How many Turks want the Osmans back? …

  • Red-Green in Blue

    I think I’m as surprised at US Americans defending a monarchy as Ed is at liberals defending one. In any case, as an English person, I see the monarchy as a simple dilemma. Either:

    a) A monarchy with significant powers: Assuming that democracy (of whatever form) is a good thing, then why should we permit one person to overrule the will of the people whenever it suits him or her? And assuming that accountability is desirable, how is a hereditary monarch any better than an executive president who can be voted out, and who would be treated with the contempt they deserved if they claimed divine right? Or,

    b) A monarchy with no significant powers which is simply a figurehead for the state: If such a monarch ever tried to wield their vestigial powers in opposition to the government, they would soon be an ex-monarch, so what exactly is the point of having one?

    Commentators often express the fear that people might choose some air-headed celebrity as their president rather than, for example, a humanitarian, scientist, or playwright who was held in respect at home and abroad, and thereby imply that the people cannot be trusted to make the “right” choice. My response to that is that if the people collectively cannot make the right choice, in the end no-one can make it for them. People naturally resist even good choices made for them in good faith unless they understand the reasons and have at least indirectly expressed their consent. Anyway, who is the final judge of the rightness of such choices if not the people? (Religious fundamentalists need not answer this question 😀 )

  • lpetrich

    How did monarchy originate? Some political scientists have talked about a “crown-prince problem” of how an appointed successor might want to get into office early.

    If a political system has a well-defined system of succession independent of its current leaders, then that problem does not arise. Representative democracy is an obvious example, but one-party dictatorships like Communist countries is another one.

    But if it doesn’t, then the crown-prince problem appears, and the safest choice is often a descendant of the leader. Thus, monarchy.

    There are some cases of de facto monarchies emerging or almost emerging over the last century. The biggest one is North Korea, which essentially reinvented god-kings, making it a Communist monarchy. Lesser ones are Hafez and Bashar Assad of Syria, and Papa Doc and Baby Doc of Haiti. Saddam Hussein and Muammar Khadafy wanted to be succeeded by their sons, but they never got the chance, and their successors do not have much love for them.

  • aluchko

    I get the Monarchy is problematic, but I’ve never been able to feel actual hostility towards it. The modern monarchy is essentially figureheads with a very limited constitutional failsafe role, I get they’re on a short leash towards being fired but I don’t really mind them.

    I think there is one important symbolic advantage to maintaining the monarchy which is continuity and stability. It shows that England has existed as a country for over a thousand of years, and it’s maintained a major institution throughout that time. I think that’s actually a good thing in building a national identity and avoiding internal strife. Doesn’t mean another country should start a monarchy, but if you’ve had one for hundreds of years maybe it’s handy to keep around in the background so you can bring it out for parades.

  • Childermass

    cptdoom @ 26: “There is a pretty compelling argument that fascism never got a real hold in Britain because the King held the position of adoration that Hitler and Mussolini co-opted.

    There was a king in Italy during the entire reign of Mussolini. So clearly having a king won’t exactly stop fascists from coming to power.

    This actually helped in the transition after Mussolini, but having a king on the off chance that a king will be very briefly useful after a period of having both a king and a dictator is not really worth it. Italians abolished their monarchy by a narrow margin in 1946.

    Another time which a king came in handy out of sheer luck was Franco’s mistaking Juan Carlos I as someone like himself thus setting up Carlos as his successor as head of state. When Franco died, Carlos took the throne set in motion a return to democracy. Of course that almost certainly not going to happen again. And as the Spanish monarchy clearly does not generate the money the English one supposedly does, their really not much reason to keep the monarchy.

  • bad Jim

    It’s funny, though; a lot of very progressive countries still have monarchs, like Norway, Sweden & Denmark, Holland & Belgium. It’s hard to make a case that having a ceremonial head of state is harmful.

    (I’m not pushing that line of thinking, though. Having an established church is demonstrably good for atheism, but I certainly don’t think it would be desirable for the U.S.)

  • Pseudonym

    rogerstanyard @13: I believe that Charles I tried a similar argument.

    Ed @28:

    I think the funding argument is a red herring on both sides.

    Then why was that the bit you quoted from the article?

    If they didn’t already exist, would anyone think it was a good idea to randomly pick a family and declare that they and all of their descendants will be staggeringly wealthy for the rest of their lives into perpetuity?

    Nobody, as far as I know, has ever chosen a monarch at random. (OK, George I came pretty close.)

    Once up on a time, it was whoever gathered the most support. And, of course, the current UK model isn’t the only kind of monarchy. That’s another thing that bugged me about the linked article, BTW; it seemed quite ignorant of the different models of monarchy that have existed throughout history. Holy Roman Emperors were elected by an electoral college, you may recall.

    As for picking a monarchy, Papua New Guinea did, and that was in modern times.

  • richardt

    I am by inclination a Scottish republican but pragmatically I can’t really work up too much of a fuss to change the hereditary Head of State for an elected or nominated figurehead because that is what they’d be in a Parliamentary system. So, if what the monarchy costs the UK is a central issue, I suppose I could look at what your country spends to elect a Senator let alone your President and I guess we spend a whole lot less. On the matter of what sort of Head of State I prefer, I could also make the point that on the whole I’d rather have Elizabeth II, than say George W Bush, as a non political figure.

    For the British people on the whole the present Queen is a genuinely well respected figurehead who does represent a degree of continuity in both England and Scotland going back 1300 hundred or so years. I might also remark that we did beat the French by about 150 years in chopping one King’s head off and forty years later by chasing out a king who was getting too close to absolutism for the taste of Parliament, thus instituting what some commentators have called a crowned republic; having dallied with revolutionary government we kept the monarchy. That is of course not to say that when his ma dies, Carlos the Bewitched won’t give republicanism a boost in what I suspect might be a short reign.

  • matty1

    When Franco died, Carlos took the throne set in motion a return to democracy. Of course that almost certainly not going to happen again. And as the Spanish monarchy clearly does not generate the money the English one supposedly does, their really not much reason to keep the monarchy.

    It is my understanding that the Spanish keep the monarchy in part out of gratitude for the part Carlos played in restoring democracy. That is there are people who are happy for the man who ended fascism to keep his position as a personal thank you but will revert to republicanism once he dies.

    If I were asked to come up with a non-royalty alternative for Britain I think I would look to the Irish Republic, which has kept a parliamentary system with an elected but largely figurehead president and without electing light entertainment celebrities. In fact a brief look suggests recent Irish presidents have been rather good at being non-partisan despite running on party tickets initially.

  • Karen Locke

    Sorry, but all these arguments have me putting a First World Nation’s problem field around it. When the brits are ready to get rid of their monarchy, they will. Until then, the Royal Family will continue to fascinate all sorts of people who haven’t the energy or resources to figure out how to deal with the Real Problems. So what.

    I’m going to accept the assertion that the Royal Family probably brings in more money to Britain’s economy than they take out of it. That being the case, these semi-useless folk (remember, some of the younglings are active serving military) are, by their existence, bringing money into the economy. So, Americans, if you care, schedule a trip to Britain if you can. Watch the changing of the guard. Spend money at the pubs. And if you have any sense at all, visit the British Museum.

  • lpetrich

    Abolished monarchy – Wikipedia is a big compendium of just that over the last few centuries.

    Republic | A democratic alternative to the monarchy in the UK

    AERM | Working together for a monarchy-free Europe with member organizations in the major European nations that still have monarchies: the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Spain.

    As to what would be a good form of republic for the UK, I think that it would be what several other republics do: have a ceremonial president elected by either the people or the legislature. The rest of the system can stay unchanged. There is no need to slavishly imitate the rebellious colonies.

  • Pseudonym

    One final thought.

    One thing with the British/Commonwealth monarchy in particular is that the current monarch has been in the job for 60 years, and has worked very hard over that time. For the vast majority of people, some of them quite old, she is the only head of state that they have known, and has been a constant all that time. In a sense, she is the embodiment of the state.

    The psychological effect of this long reign cannot be understated.

    When the Queen abdicates or dies, you can expect to see many of the remaining Commonwealth realms become republics, because the continuity will be broken. Australia is almost certain, an independent Scotland is quite likely, and Canada has a better-than-even chance. New Zealand may require a generational shift, so I give it 20 years. PNG, Jamaica, Belize etc may hold out; I plead ignorance there.

  • Pseudonym “The psychological effect of this long reign cannot be understated.”

    Plus, she has that throne made of swords.

  • It is amusing to reflect upon the imperial past of England, and the inherent assumptions of racial and cultural superiority that fueled it…

    Aside from the fact that the UK was hardly the only nation to engage in imperialism, the rise of British imperialism is inversely related to the power of the monarchy. As Britain’s imperial power grew, the power of the royals kept diminishing. Maybe that’s just a coincidence of history. But it’s possible that powerful interests who were getting rich off of imperialism saw the monarchy as an impediment and favored using Parliament to get their way.

  • …But it’s possible that powerful interests who were getting rich off of imperialism saw the monarchy as an impediment and favored using Parliament to get their way.

    A more doctrinaire Marxist analysis would say that monarchy was the creation of feudalism, and imperialism a continuation of capitalism. Which makes monarchy kind of a natural enemy of capitalism. (That might also explain why a nation run by greedy capitalists is so pointlessly eager to bash a monarchy that isn’t doing nearly as much damage — or wasting nearly as much precious resources — as the capitalists are.)

    Another factor here is that imperialism kinda coincided with the rise of democratic movements in both Britain and France.

  • I think the funding argument is a red herring on both sides…

    I agree. And the argument is especially bogus because no one is making an honest attempt to compare a cost-benefit analysis of the House of Windsor with a similar analysis of, say, the House of Murdoch or the House of Trump.

  • chirez

    I’m not clear on exactly what the argument is here.

    Is it against the flaws in hereditary power? In which case please do list all the powers currently granted to the English Crown, or at least those you find objectionable. I suspect they are few.

    Is it against the money provided to the monarch for the upkeep of the monarchy? That certainly seems to be the core affront which has the author of the cited article frothing. As the cited article states, the Queen receives ‘ 15% of the annual revenues generated by the Crown Estate.’ What happens to the other 85%? The remaining $300m goes straight to the UK treasury. An interesting little factoid I learned not long ago which seems absent from this discussion is that this system replaces the previous one which provided funds for the civil list. That system was put in place through a deal between mad King George and the Parliament of the time, in which the UK government would receive all revenues from the Crown Estate, in exchange for cancelling George’s debts and funding the monarchy.

    If you want the system repudiated, you are in fact arguing that the Crown should receive the revenues from the Crown Estate, making the UK $300m per year poorer, and the monarchy $300m per year richer. Unless you would like to see the Crown itself dissolved and all posessions of the Crown placed in the public trust. Even were that done, the $50m retrieved from the monarchy would be almost entirely consumed by the costs of maintaining the various castles, palaces and employees which under the current system are the financial responsibility of the monarch.

    Personally I find it hard to believe that the Crown poses more of a threat to democratic freedom in the UK than the House of Lords. The monarch has little or no influence over policy, whereas the House of Lords is a fully integrated component of the government. For the USAmericans out there, imagine if your entire Congress were composed of hereditary seats.

    So far as I can tell the major objection to the UK monarchy is that people from a country without one dislike the idea of the UK having one. Which may well be the flipside of the same impulse which causes US tourists to fawn over the Royal Family. Getting rid of them would achieve nothing other than making the frothy republicans insufferably smug.

    Oh, and to the person who commented that Presidential candidates’ kids were in Iraq… 1) It’s so cute that you still think your politicians rule your country. How many of the ‘1%’ have kids in the forces? Significantly less than the national average I’d wager. 2) Did you miss the huge furore over Harry’s little trip to the middle east? Unelected spongers can also shoot brown people, and it doesn’t even win their parents any votes.

  • dingojack

    I think we all agree that the financial argument is dead.

    Next objection!


  • Pseudonym

    Modus Operandi @48: Well, the Scots took their lump of red sandstone back. Swords are all that’s left.

    Area Man @49: You quoted:

    It is amusing to reflect upon the imperial past of England, and the inherent assumptions of racial and cultural superiority that fueled it…

    In a brilliant piece of timing, Dan Carlin just released his latest history show on the Spanish-American war and the following Philippine-American war. The United States hardly holds the moral high ground when it comes to imperialism based on assumptions of racial and cultural superiority!

  • lpetrich

    As to turning the UK into a republic, there is no need to slavishly imitate the rebellious colonies.

    Several republics use versions of the Westminster system, where a legislature chooses the executive-branch leaders. But they have an elected ceremonial president who does essentially what a figurehead monarch does.

    I think that that would be a good model for the UK, and also for Holland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Spain, the other “big” monarchies of Europe. I’ve found an Alliance of European Republican Movements advocating abolishing those remaining monarchies.

    Hmmm… does anyone ever talk about republicanism for Japan?

    Queen Elizabeth II has been a good figurehead monarch so far, but I think that Prince Charles is a bit too reckless. Given that being on the losing side of political and social upheavals has doomed several monarchies over the last century, I think that Queen Elizabeth has been careful to avoid risking that fate. But I’m not sure about Prince Charles.