Britannia defends Law, Monarchy and Religion against Violation from the Great Political Libertine. Despite its many flaws, inequities and inequalities, a constitutional monarchy remains the least easily manipulated governance system humans have devised
ADELAIDE - Raymond Sigimet's perfectly competent and informative article about the death of the Queen triggered a remarkable outpouring of venom about the monarchy from those who want to replace it with a republic.
There is no denying that the monarchy is an archaic and elitist institution. Also, there are plenty of examples of royals behaving badly.
However, the proposed alternative of republicanism is hardly a model for fiscal rectitude, high moral character and outstanding achievement.
Republics have offered up leaders of the worst character on many, many occasions.
A very long list of dissolute, venal, corrupt and incompetent presidents is easy to compile.
We have some splendid examples of this in our world today, perhaps headed up by Vladimir Putin, almost an archetype of everything that can go wrong with a republican model of government.
So, when the various sins of the British monarchy are laboriously listed by those who wish it gone, it is important to remember that republicanism has, in the relatively short time it has existed, compiled an impressive list of egregious failures and crimes to rival those of any monarchy you can name.
The central problem about the governance of nations is rarely constitutional structure. It is invariably the character, ideas and motivations of the people who rise to the top of whatever structure is in place.
A genuinely virtuous political leader is a vanishingly rare phenomenon.
Mostly, it is the flawed and eccentric characters who turn out to be the most effective leaders.
Although some, like Clement Attlee or, perhaps, Anthony Albanese, use their apparent ordinariness to disguise underlying reformist zeal.
These leaders will tend to emerge in a manner consistent with but largely independent of the constitutional governance structures.
It is the underlying political structures that really matter.
In a democratic context, this usually means achieving mastery over, first, a major political party and, then, the parliament as a whole.
Putin did not achieve power because of the Russian constitutional arrangements but because he was able to first achieve control of the elected duma (parliament) through democratic means.
He then set about subverting the very institutions set up under that structure.
Republican models are vulnerable to this because, far too often, they allow comparatively easy changes to the constitution or 'primary law'.
This allows unscrupulous and ambitious politicians to either undermine or simply negate the democratic processes that should operate to prevent the over mighty gaining power.
I think that a constitutional monarchy, for all its many flaws, inequities and inequalities, remains the least easily manipulated governance system that we humans have devised.
The quaint formalities, sometimes almost bizarre rituals and elaborate pageantry embedded in such a system, mean that fundamentally emotionally based conceptions of how things should be run take a firm hold on the public.
Thus the customs, traditions and conventions that are part of the monarchical system are not easily changed, nor is it easy to convince people that they should be changed.
Constitutional monarchy has developed over many centuries and become deeply embedded in the culture and traditions of those nations which have adopted the system.
Even in multi-cultural countries like the UK, Australia and Canada, people from very diverse backgrounds and traditions will happily embrace the British monarchical system that, seemingly, has no personal or culture relevance for them.
Also, what most of us would regard as sophisticated and egalitarian nations like Sweden and Denmark happily maintain their antiquated monarchical systems.
Superficially at least, it would logical for them to have long ago replaced them with a republican model but there seems little public appetite for such a change.
It seems pretty clear that constitutional monarchies are surprisingly robust institutions and generally well supported by the public.
It is doubtless galling to committed republicans that a system based upon obviously antiquated ideas and traditions is so highly respected and admired by the public.
The displays of sentimentality and raw emotion now on display as the elaborate rituals and ceremonies surrounding the death of the Queen are playing out on TV screens across the world are testimony to the power of the monarchy to transcend and overwhelm that of mere politicians.
It seems a case where the sheer theatrics of monarchy effectively negate the problems inherent in a system based upon birth right, patronage and privilege.
For the reasons mentioned I think that Australia’s republicans will be very hard pressed to persuade the majority of Australians that any change to current constitutional arrangements is either necessary or justified.
The popular aphorism, ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, is one that resonates powerfully with an instinctively conservative public who already are deeply sceptical about the sincerity, motivations and ambitions of the political class.
I would guess that the same will be true across most of the Commonwealth although some countries will doubtless choose to take their chances with a republican system in which history suggests that all too often it is a politician of no great merit or capacity who ends up as head of state.
Perhaps most compellingly, there is little evidence that changing to a republican system will somehow generate an enhanced sense of nationhood or self esteem. In fact, monarchy seems a much more successful model for doing this.
The truth is that people appear to like the feeling of being part of a history and traditions that, in the case of the British monarchy, date back 1,000 years.
Republicans do themselves a disservice when they fail to understand the utility, power and appeal of a monarchical system that they too often regard as self-evidently anachronistic and contemptible.