Has the Sun set on the British Monarchy?

Breakfast With Bwana

By Anil Madan

The late Queen was always doing and saying the right thing, at the right time, in the right place. Unerring and reliable. Until her initial reaction when Princess Diana died. Then, the nation saw their Queen with clay feet. Pic – Reader’s Digest

Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the Editor and I had an email exchange in which he asked about the monarchy as an institution both in the context of the UK and the Commonwealth of nations. Why, in essence, he asked, has the monarchy survived to this day, without the Empire?

I must confess that the answer to this question is ephemeral. So, I offer some thoughts with the disclaimer that I really don’t know the answer to the ultimate question posed. On the other hand, the answer may be obvious.

King Charles III in his first speech to Parliament said: “While very young, her late Majesty pledged herself to serve her country and her people and to maintain the precious principles of constitutional government which lie at the heart of our nation.” He then avowed that he was resolved to follow in her footsteps. He also allowed as how “Parliament is the living and breathing instrument of our democracy.”

When I heard a replay of that part of the new King’s speech — no, I did not watch it live — I smiled. It occurred to me that the British monarch has very little to do with maintaining the principles of constitutional government. Indeed, the very concept of monarchy or hereditary power is antithetical to the idea of democracy. The role of the sovereign is merely ceremonial.

Over the centuries, people have tried to understand why the monarchy survives despite calls for its abolition and the more than obvious contradiction to the concept of Democracy that inheres in a hereditary and Divine succession.

A plausible answer may lie in a look back over the centuries. The experience of Britain has been almost as profound as the example of Democratic thought that America conceived and propounded to a world not accustomed to concepts of self-determination and what Abraham Lincoln was to encapsulate in his famous formulation: “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

One can see that the concept of government in Britain evolved from authoritarianism to representative government or democracy. And the American experience was to throw off the yoke of the authoritarianism of King George III and move to self-government or, as the Declaration of Independence stated, government by the consent of the governed. In these twin movements, one can see a mirroring of the concept of freedom that both the US and UK cherish.

A cursory review of history shows that the tendency of autocrats and would-be monarchs claiming hereditary or divine rights is a common occurrence. Even in today’s world, we have no shortage of dictators and authoritarian figures. Putin has effectively made himself President for life and Xi Jinping is on his way to similar effect. Kim Jong Un is revered as a God and Reccep Tayyeb Erdogan is virtually president for life.

That to me, is the magic of the British monarchy. The monarch is willing to cede all the power and divine right to the concept of constitutional government. Perhaps the monarch no longer has a choice, but the principle remains. And it has survived so far because the late Queen, deeply sensible of her absence of power to determine the policies that successive governments sought to implement, was at the same time deeply sensible of the power of tradition, pomp, circumstance, and pageantry. She did all of those well, better than almost any predecessor.

One must also give credit to King Charles III. He seems intuitively to have grasped that his mother was the ultimate Drum Major for the British Monarchy leading its marching bands and battalions and then surveying them as representing her ultimate source of power in the pageant of British democracy.

To be sure, it is a valid observation that the British monarchy is a magnificent and lucrative tourist attraction for the British Exchequer and the economy of Britain writ large. And, if one must be cynical about this, all one must do is look at the magnificent funeral march and procession for the late Queen to understand that the British do this stuff like no one else. That was an attraction that Britons too wanted to see, up close and personal. Read More… Become a Subscriber

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 16 September 2022

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