Monarchists argue that the system works, so it’s OK. Graham Smith says that despotism and dictatorship also work fine and get the trains running on time.
It’s a common argument put forward by those with little imagination or with a vested interest in preserving the status quo that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Or, to put it another way, if it works, it’s OK.
This point of view was repeated by the UK Telegraph a while back, when they were complaining about the opening of Britain’s new Supreme Court. The piece suggested that:
“The only worthwhile test to be applied [to parts of our constitution] is whether or not they work.”
This is demonstrable nonsense, for this piece of logic is also a defence for dictatorship and despotism.
It is famously recalled that Italy ‘worked’ best when under the dictatorial rule of Mussolini (and the King, of course). China ‘works’ pretty well too, their economy has been outperforming the rest of the world for decades and law and order are well maintained. Dictatorship ‘works’.
But of course ‘what works’ is not the issue. Humans have been governing themselves for thousands of years, we know what works, we can hold society together in one way or another just fine. The issue isn’t really what can work, but what should work. So how do we make choices between workable systems that deny people their rights, that demand too many sacrifices for the sake of national security and cohesion, or which are based on paternalism and authoritarianism, and those systems that respect and guarantee rights and which are based on popular sovereignty?
There are two questions to ask:
- what will work best (and by what criteria do we measure that); and
- by what principles do we want to organise and govern ourselves (or be organised and governed by others)?
So monarchists are offering no argument at all when they simply repeat “but it works!” ad nauseum, as that doesn’t differentiate their beloved system of government from most others. The questions they must answer are the principled and practical questions above: what are the fundamental principles by which you wish to be governed, and in what practical sense does the monarchy work better than the alternatives on offer.
The two are of course intertwined. The practical question hinges on a principled view of what you mean by ‘works better’. If you think government should be allowed to do as it pleases, or if you believe the people have a right to govern themselves, then your answer may be quite different.
As for the principles, that’s the really interesting question. Republicanism is founded on principles of equality, respect, responsibility and aspiration. It is a system based on universallly applicable ideas, not personal self-aggrandisement and power-politics. Republicanism stands for the people. What does monarchism stand for?
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