Monarchy and Ideology, Part I:
Problems of Liberal Monarchism and the Relationship between Democratic and Traditional Monarchy

My 1999 essay, “Why I am a Monarchist,” is a defense of modern, democratic constitutional monarchy as currently practiced in countries such as the United Kingdom. Three years later, I stand by that defense and continue to believe that for contemporary Europe and much of the rest of the world, constitutional monarchy offers the best opportunity to combine a healthy respect for tradition with modern democratic values.

During the three years after I wrote the essay, published in the December 1999 issue of the Monarchist League’s newsletter, it was occasionally necessary to make small adjustments to the “official” version (online since I began this website in the fall of 2000), in order to keep it current. For the most part, these changes were of a minor factual nature and thus did not significantly alter the content. For example, in 1999 I had never visited a European monarchy; since then I have visited Denmark (twice), the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. However, another type of change was more substantial and reflected fluctuations in my personal ideology: I gradually became less comfortable with the original essay’s assertion that my political beliefs were essentially on the Left, and the corresponding implication that constitutional monarchy was defensible partly or even primarily because it has not interfered with the establishment of democratic and socialist policies in Western Europe. As I grew more disenchanted with both the American and European Left, I gradually qualified the description of my positions on American domestic issues as “liberal”—first with the word “most,” then with “many,” and finally with “some.” But I have become dissatisfied with this kind of tinkering and have concluded that a new essay is necessary. (In November 2002 I restored the original version of the 1999 essay to this website.)

With this piece I wish to address two main topics. The first is my personal difficulties with maintaining my old dual allegiance to monarchism and modern liberalism. The second is the proposition that royalists, even as for practical reasons we defend constitutional monarchies, should be able to make at least a theoretical case for the traditional, non-democratic monarchism of the past.

I think I can speak for most if not all English-speaking monarchists of British ancestry when I say that the well-being of the United Kingdom and its House of Windsor holds a special place in our hearts. Therefore I do not think it inappropriate that this portion will focus on Britain. Since the 1997 victory of Tony Blair’s New Labour, it has become increasingly difficult to combine Left-wing or even Center-Left political views with loyalty to the throne. First, in the aftermath of the death of the Princess of Wales, the Prime Minister took on a more prominent role than previously would have been considered appropriate for a politician at a royal occasion. Later that fall, Mr. Blair again used a royal occasion to his own advantage when, at the Queen and Prince Philip’s Golden Wedding celebrations, he mingled with the crowds in a way that detracted from the royal couple, who should have been the center of attention.

These were minor infractions compared to what was to come. In 1999 Mr. Blair achieved the expulsion of hereditary peers from the House of Lords. This revolutionary move, which brutally severed a quaint link to Britain’s medieval past, was justified with radical appeals to democracy and attacks on hereditary privilege. Tony Blair has always insisted that he is an “ardent monarchist,” and to his credit he kept the subject of the Crown separate from the Lords debate. Nevertheless, it is difficult to argue with republicans when they point out that it is absurd to insist that symbolic hereditary privileges are an intolerable outrage at Westminster but an invaluable national treasure at Buckingham Palace. I do not see how the removal of the hereditary peers can but be interpreted as having undermined the hereditary principle in general. This was illustrated when it became clear that at the Golden Jubilee thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in June 2002, there would be no places reserved for hereditary peers, many of whom have loyally served the Crown all their lives, but there would be seats for Labour’s life peers, some of whom hold republican views.

I have already discussed elsewhere on this site the dangers to monarchy inherent in the European unification process, essentially a Center-Left project. I also have concerns about immigration, with regard to both the United States and Europe. I will not elaborate on this topic here as it is not directly related to monarchism; I mention it only as a further example of an issue which has driven me away from the Left of both my own country and abroad.

The most recent project of the British Left which must be regarded with suspicion by monarchists is the attempt to ban fox-hunting. Not only is this rural tradition known to be a favorite activity of the Prince of Wales and his sons, but the anti-hunting campaigners appear to be motivated at least partially by a vicious class antagonism inherently hostile to the monarchy. I do not think it is a coincidence that animal-rights fanatics have united with radical anti-royalists to form the anti-hunting “Urban Alliance.” In contrast, supporters of the right to hunt such as the heroic Duke and Duchess of Devonshire (who vowed to risk imprisonment to permit hunting on their estate) tend to be loyal subjects of the throne. I would guess that there was not a single republican among the 407,491 people who participated in the Countryside Alliance’s “March for Liberty and Livelihood” on September 22. This is almost beside the point, however; the important issue is that the government’s plans to ban an ancient rural pastime which has been associated with royalty and nobility for generations reveals a contempt for liberty and tradition which can only be dangerous from a royalist point of view.

The fox-hunting controversy leads naturally into the second purpose of this essay: a discussion on the merits of democracy versus traditional monarchy. Even if the royal family had no involvement with the issue, the prospect of a government ban on a recreational activity (harmless to human beings) beloved by a minority but either ignored or opposed by the majority would be enough to make me question the virtue of democratic government itself. A parliamentary ban on foxhunting would be nothing less than tyranny, and perhaps more dramatically than any previous event in British history would disprove the notion that democracy and freedom are the same thing.

One might reach such a conclusion independently of any royalist sympathies. However, as I write a conflict between democratic and monarchist values has been suggested by the actions of no less a person than HRH the Prince of Wales himself. Recently it has been revealed that Prince Charles, who not only supports hunting but has a knowledgeable, thorough and wide-ranging interest in rural issues, regularly “bombards” government ministers with letters expressing his views. This revelation has inevitably caused controversy, especially concerning the Prince’s agreement with a correspondent’s opinion that farmers are “more victimised than blacks or gays.” It is important to understand that these letters were never intended to be read by the public, and therefore cannot be regarded as an intentional violation of the royal family’s traditional political impartiality. But for the democratic egalitarians of the Left, apparently only winning an election qualifies one to speak with authority on issues of any importance; comments from Labour MPs Tony Banks and Ian Davidson essentially denied that the Prince of Wales had any right to communicate his views. St. James’s Palace rightly pointed out that to voice the concerns of people whose feelings might not otherwise be known to those in power is part of the proper responsibility of the heir to the throne. It is possible that His Royal Highness will agree to mute his views when he becomes king. However, defenders of the throne must confront the possibility that King Charles III could prove to be a more opinionated monarch than his serenely apolitical mother. Therefore I believe it is appropriate to wonder if the modern era’s worship of democracy has gone too far, and if there might be something to be said for the older kind of monarchy in which the sovereign plays an active role in government.

Before I proceed to my case for traditional (non-democratic) monarchy, I want to explain further why I believe such a case to be necessary. When defending today’s constitutional monarchies, royalists often make a point of the fact that they pose no threat to democracy, emphasizing how different modern monarchy is from its earlier feudal and absolutist incarnations. Yet we also praise constitutional monarchies for providing a continuous “link to the past.” Here lies the problem. No one, not even the staunchest republican, can seriously deny that modern monarchy does indeed provide a “link to the past.” The real controversy, then, is whether this past is worth linking to. If non-democratic monarchy was such a bad thing, why preserve reminders of it? If contemporary monarchies really had absolutely no connection to the non-democratic monarchies of the past, would today’s leftists, the heirs of the French Revolution, bother opposing them as fiercely as they do?

Every currently reigning European monarch is directly descended from and related to sovereigns who were anything but democratic. Sometimes the relationships are quite close: that model constitutional monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is married to the grandnephew of the uncompromisingly autocratic Empress Alexandra of Russia! But this is not the only connection. Many of the customs associated with royalty—ceremonies, forms of address, recreation—have changed little since the days when kings ruled as well as reigned. The fact is that today’s monarchies, however powerless, inevitably evoke memories of royal power. Therefore I have concluded that it is not logical to maintain that Queen Elizabeth II’s position is defensible only because it is nothing like that of Queen Elizabeth I. Non-democratic monarchy can and should be defended, not necessarily in order to restore it but in order to prove that this aspect of much of the world’s heritage is at the very least worth honoring in the form of constitutional monarchy.

--Theodore Harvey
September 25-26, 2002

Monarchy and Ideology, Part II: A Case for Traditional Monarchy