The Monarchy – A Block to the Progress of Society – Workers’ Weekly –
Ever since Thomas Hobbes wrote his treatise on state power Leviathan in 1651, the monarchy has been promoted as a guarantee of stability, using the logic that without a person of state to which all look up, a figure of unity and shared values, then the “mob” would follow their unholy desires, a war of all against all. The maintenance of the monarchy is therefore still put forward as the key to the functioning of society. This is precisely what needs to be overturned.
The functioning of society, the political system and institutions, which today in Britain are dysfunctional, requires that the monarchy be abolished. The argument that it provides continuity is not very convincing when what is necessary and what people aspire to is change, change into a society where the people can take control of their lives. How can it be seriously argued that maintaining the monarchy is what gives people control of their lives?
The fiction that the monarchy sets the example in providing service to others is barely able to be maintained, when the hard reality is of class privilege and entitlement. Peoples at home and abroad are hungry for change and are rejecting this fiction and demanding accountability.
Queen Elizabeth II has been promoted as being above the fray, a saint-like though human person, a symbol of everyone being in it together. This was nicely captured by the then Labour Prime Minister Jim Callaghan when he wrote in the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977: “The Throne, as the summit of our institutions, provides a unifying influence for our people, and no nation is better served by the summit of its institutions. But it is not to the Throne as an institution that you will deliver our Address tomorrow, Mr Speaker; it is to Her Majesty the Queen as a person that we ask you to render our thanks.”
And, it was also nicely corroborated by Elizabeth II herself when she said of the Prime Ministers who have kissed her hand: “They unburden themselves or they tell me what’s going on or if they’ve got problems and sometimes one can help in that way too. They know one can be impartial … I think it’s rather nice to feel that one’s a sort of sponge and everybody can come and tell me things. … And occasionally you can be able to put one’s point of view which, perhaps they hadn’t seen it from that angle.”
This fiction that the monarchy is impartial, above classes and that it represents the values everyone holds dear cannot continue. As long as the monarchy continues, society will continue to be blighted. Everything indicates that the role of the monarchy is more than a symbol, where power has simply been transferred to monarch-in-parliament. It is a lynchpin in the arrangements of the state, and has ramifications not just in Britain, but throughout what is now the Commonwealth. But the notion that only a “strong” government or head of state can ensure stability in the face of the natural tendencies of the “mob” which is prone to anarchy and violence, also has implications wider afield, in the sense that peoples are struggling against their disempowerment which the system enforces.
In Britain, the English Civil Wars of the 1640s gave rise to the beheading of the monarch and the abolition of the House of Lords. The period which, from the royal perspective, has been known as the “interregnum” was a period of serious debate centred on how the people can decide how government should function. This can be said to be of its time, or premature, but the crucial implication of that period is it was the onset of a democratic revolution which has still to be consummated.
And at the apex sits the person who represents the supreme power. In the U.K. and the Commonwealth countries, the monarch is the person of state. In other countries it is a president. This arrangement is waiting to be toppled, a necessary requirement for the democratic revolution begun in the 17th century to be completed. … How can the democratic outlook be blighted by such an institution, holding the levers of temporal and spiritual power in its hands. Stability, peace and security cannot be maintained by such an institution which today talks in terms of “hard power” – the military and police forces – and “soft power” as the King calls his powers of “persuasion.” The opposite is the case. The monarchy represents everything that is rotten, obsolete, aggressive and anti-democratic in the society of today.
There cannot be a “common purpose” uniting everyone that it is promoted King Charles will represent as long as society is dominated by narrow vested interests. Whether promoted as the present catchphrase of “levelling up” or the assertion that “we are all in this together,” it is clearly not the case when working people are struggling with the effects of the cost-of-living crisis, class privilege, and attacks on their rights. Charles himself is living proof that there can be no common purpose when his sovereignty rests in possessing obscene wealth. This is not what working people aspire for either. “Levelling up” is a cruel joke while the accumulation of wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands continues apace.
In this whole context, the challenge which confronts the people as a whole is how to end their disempowerment and put themselves in a position of being in control of all affairs which are affecting their lives. It stands to reason that as long as the fictitious person of state in the shape of the monarchy is at the apex of all the political and constitutional arrangements, this challenge faces a serious block. The status quo is not an option.
It is necessary for the progress of society to remove the block to the people’s empowerment that the monarchy represents.
1. P. Hennessy, “The Hidden Wiring: Unearthing the British Constitution,” (London: Victor Gollancz, 1995).