Beyond 29 April: Equity after monarchy

By Phil Wood
29 Apr 2011

On the 29 April 2011 some of us will be preoccupied. Quite a few of my friends are planning overseas trips to locations with no TV reception. I intend to head for the republican street party at the Red Lion Square, near Holborn. I know introverts hate parties, but this one is a must. I can always sit in a corner drinking coffee from my 'I'm not a royal wedding mug' mug - courtesy of the cmapign group Republic (http://www.republic.org.uk/).

The polling evidence in the UK is ambivalent. Over a twenty year period since 1989 republican support in Britain has increased from around 20 per cent of the UK population backing a republic to just over 30 per cent. Depending on respective vantage points, that picture either shows a gradually building republicanism or the relative resiliance of monarchist support. The trends are probably encouraging for the anti-monarchists. Despite pro-royalist media bias and sporadic establishment attempts to stifle dissent, republican support is in the ascendent.

Monarchy has survived into postmodernity partly because of its ability to reinvent itself. In an age that doesn't 'do God' the royals have recognised the power of a strategic name change or the cult of personality. They have become minor deities in the pantheon of celebrity; household gods in a gospel of gossip.

If that sounds like exaggeration, how else do we explain the mawkish devotion to Diana - in life and death? The same cultishness is evident in the media driven speculation that the succession might skip a generation.

The prospect of King William and Queen Kate is simply too tempting a photo-opportunity. From a republican point of view it's shabby and shallow. From a Christian perspective it's idolatrous.

There are plenty of reasons to be republican; not all of them honourable. The fragmentation, 'personality politics' and frequent negativity of republican movement miss the point. Moreover, attacking the royals personally simply offers backhanded confirmation for the cult of celebrity.

It was Gerard Winstanley who rightly warned that simply chopping off the king's head and removing the 'Norman Yoke' was insufficient (Christopher Hill: p.134). In so far as Winstanley was 'restitutionist' his focus was not only a return to Saxon values but to an equitable Eden.

Winstanley's The Law of Freedom carries a potent message for today's anti-monarchists. The republican case is rooted in a vision of a just community and a grown-up democracy. In some senses this mature democracy completes what the Civil War left unfinished: a fully economic revolution.

That vision is just as pertinent in challenging an increasingly post-democratic political eliite and pressing for urgently needed land and tax reform as it is in replacing the monarchy. It reminds us that a monarchist 'detox' would involve giving up constitional royalism and residual aristocratic privilege (e.g. land ownership) as well as sacking Mrs Windsor.

Establishments give the impression of ubiquity, but in reality they are vulnerable, to external and internal pressures. To offer an example, the position of the Church of England in a time of cultural and constitutional uncertainty is intriguing and ambiguous.

The established church is no longer simplistically the Tory party at prayer or a persecutor of Anabaptists. In Post-Christendom UK it is hard to say whether establishment is abomination or anachronism. Almost certainly, if Britain became a republic, disestablishment would be inevitable.

The impact of disestablishment on a continuing monarchy would be less dramatic, but it would be a piece of institutional 'levelling' in the right direction.

'Equity after monarchy' is a fine ambition. I would be proud to live in a country like that.

References:

* Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1972).

* 'The monarchy is not as popular as you think' (opinion poll analysis), Republic, April 2011 - http://tinyurl.com/6bnoesw

* Republic: Campaigning for a democratic alternative to the monarchy - http://www.republic.org.uk/

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© Phil Wood has a varied background uniting community development, social entrepreneurship, housing and Christian mission. Phil is a Mennonite but has a Methodist background. His blog is at: http://radref.blogspot.com/

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