Friday, June 21, 2013

Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend Post, Somewhat Delayed

I have always been immersed in history, so what appears as ‘progress’ to many of my contemporaries seems to me one more lurching step in a blundering random walk across idea space. Take, for instance, the question of ‘Republic vs. Constitutional Monarchy’, which floats to the surface to trouble our lives every now and again like a bloated corpse insufficiently weighted with rocks floats to the surface of the Murrumbidgee. None of the reasons offered for changing our form of government have ever made any sense to me. I voted informal in the referendum, but that was only because I felt I was unduly influenced by my background as an ‘American’; now that I have resolved to believe that the United States of America is an imaginary country invented by Nabokov as a setting for his novel “Lolita”, as the latest step in a program to expunge all American-ness from my soul, I would have no compunction about voting “over my dead body” in any future referendum.

The only important question to ask about any system for providing stable democratic government where the rule of law is respected is “will it work?” Every other question is a distraction. To that end, let us consider the historical evidence, and make a little list of nations that are stable and democratic  today, and have been so continuously for a hundred years (excepting short periods of being conquered by unpleasant neighbours).

Costa Rica
New Zealand
San Marino
The Netherlands
The United Kingdom
“The United States of America”

Let me know if I’ve forgotten any. Now, of the countries in this list, one is a tiny relic of the Renaissance Italian republics (San Marino) and one is a rather larger example of the same kind (Switzerland). Two are attempts to revive the institutions of the Roman Republic, which have been plagued by the same tendencies towards civil wars and degenerating into Empires, though thankfully not to a significant degree in the century of interest (France and the ‘United States’); and one is an imitator of the Franco-American forms of government  that I have included in the list despite one brief dictatorial interlude early on in the hundred years (Costa Rica). None of the other imitators of these forms of government, now so ubiquitous, make the grade. 

All the other countries in the list are constitutional monarchies. (Even though one has half-a-Monarch provided by the elected head of state of a neighbouring country. People come up with wacky ways of doing things.)

This is not any proof that the current imitators of the Franco-American republics will not be stable into the future, of course; but they do not have proven staying power. And it is apparent to outsiders that the moderately successful French and American republics have peoples who are, or were, uniquely and passionately invested in their republican experiments. 

Now what struck me quite strongly this Queen’s Birthday long weekend was how two of these very stable democratic constitutional monarchies used to be republics, and gave it away.

The Commonwealth of England, 1649-1660, governed what is now the United Kingdom.

More significantly, the Dutch Republic, 1581-1795, governed what is now the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

So history doesn’t flow in one direction.

People make the argument that replacing the Governor General, appointed by Parliament and rubber-stamped by the Monarch, with a President, appointed by Parliament and rubber-stamped by no one, is a minimal change; but it’s not the most minimal change, and it doesn’t replace the Queen as a focus, albeit a diffuse and divisive one, for non-partisan patriotism.

There is a minimal change to our system that I would strongly endorse, which would be to replace our current dynasty of dwellers-in-the-Antipodes with a dynasty that actually lives here. And we are lucky enough to have the perfect candidate for Queen who I am sure would have overwhelming bipartisan support.

Catherine I, Future Queen of Australia

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