Recent weeks have seen prominent coverage of William Windsor (“Prince William”) on the front of celebrity magazines as well as in national newspapers. Having taken on extra responsibilities, and been well-received in Australia, support and admiration for him seem to have grown.
William Windsor’s supporters seem keen to extol his virtues and to say how he will make a great king. But they don’t seem to have enough confidence in his suitability to support a system that would involve his name appearing on a ballot paper, so that the public can decide whether he, or someone else, should be our head of state.
The problem with promoting William’s virtues is that this completely misses the point of monarchy. The idea of monarchy is that the position goes to the next person in line – regardless of whether or not he or she is any good at the job. In earlier centuries, this absurdity was maintained by belief in the Divine Right of Kings, the doctrine that said the royal lineage had been blessed by God.
Surely almost no-one still believes this. Had the Divine Right of Kings been true, it would at least have provided a good reason for monarchy, which is more than can be said for the arguments that monarchists use today. I doubt that royalist soldiers in the English Civil War marched into battle thinking “Well, King Charles is a bloodthirsty tyrant, but he's very good for tourism”.
In reality, to appoint a head of state based on an accident of birth is only slightly different from choosing a head of state by lottery – different because, while such a lottery would be a dangerous absurdity, it would give everyone a chance and thus be a slightly fairer form of dangerous absurdity.
Many people argue that this unfairness doesn't really matter because the monarch has no power. This overlooks the Royal Prerogative, the power that is generally transferred to the Prime Minister, allowing him or her to do all manner of things that should be the business of Parliament, such as declaring war and signing treaties.
Furthermore, while Elizabeth Windsor has had the integrity to keep quiet on almost all political issues, Charles Windsor seems determined to express a public view on every subject that occurs to him. There can be little doubt that he would seek to influence politics after becoming king. He gives the impression that he wishes himself to be regarded as a politician, but is not prepared to do any of the difficult things that usually come with such a role, such as facing John Humphreys on the Today programme – or fighting elections.
More important than this, however, is what the existence of a monarchy says about our country and how we operate as a people. By making the top position in the land dependent on an accident, we are effectively saying that democracy isn't good enough. A whole range of other injustices are firmly attached to the monarchy, either through formal structures or traditional association. The monarchy backs up an unelected House of Lords, a grotesque honours system, an undemocratically established Church of England and the veneration of the armed forces.
Many of these undemocratic abuses are now under considerable pressure, not least due to the groundswell of popular support for reform following the parliamentary expenses scandal. Power 2010, which has united a wide range of people around calls for meaningful political change, is a movement that I find far more exciting than politicians' policy pronouncements.
I admit that calls for the abolition of monarchy have not been prominent in these debates, though this is likely to change following the death of the current post-holder. It is likely that we will achieve significant reform in other areas before we achieve a republic. But abolishing the monarchy would take out the rotten heart of a stinking system of privilege and hierarchy that celebrates inequality not as an injustice to be tackled, but as something natural and irremovable.
As a Christian, I am alarmed by the number of Christians who are happy to defend monarchy. To me, monarchy, aristocracy and privilege seem to be the very opposite of the message of freedom that is at the heart of the Gospel. I mock the image of God in myself and others if I grovel before someone who God has created as my equal. I cannot acknowledge God in Christ as my Lord and King if I accept that there is any other Lord or King.
Perhaps the most ridiculous argument in favour of monarchy is the claim that the monarch is “above politics”. This gives the impression that politics is something dirty and that being above it is the best option. But politics is about more than politicians and elections. Politics is about people, about us, about our everyday concerns and how we – or someone else – use power to address those concerns.
Supporting a monarchy that is “above politics” implies that we do not trust ourselves to run our own society and our own lives. But this is our society – and we should be able to run it.
(c) Symon Hill is co-director of Ekklesia.