From John Ray's shorter notes

September 15, 2002


Many American Christian conservatives are adamant that there would be no survival of morality or civility in the US without the widespread transforming power of the Christian faith. They see their faith as the historical and still real foundation of American values. They believe that, without anchors in Christ, Americans would all succumb to the mindless "all is relative" doctrine of the Leftist and be unable to make any distinction between right and wrong. The restraint of faith is seen as needed to prevent everyone from behaving like mindless, selfish beasts. And certainly, even to a foreign visitor, there does seem to be a marked contrast between the Piranha-like attitudes that are often to be found in big cities such as New York or Los Angeles and the more generous and humane attitudes prevalent in smaller, more faith-based American communities.

But Christianity may not be needed at all. It seems to me that, in the USA, the national traditions embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the ideas of the American Revolution are still great unifiers, even among those with little or no religious faith. Americans on the whole still do (with good reason) believe in the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", and in democratic institutions, in protection of property rights, in the rule of law, and in the "American Dream." And the "American Dream" is about working hard and taking risks to become well-off, not about winning the lottery or robbing the rich.

A second reason for my skepticism about the importance of Christianity is the reality of another venerable democracy of the English speaking world: Britain. England is one of the most Godless places on earth these days. A huge proportion of the population appear to have virtually no religious belief and only about 2% go to church regularly. And, as noted at some length elsewhere, when they do go to church what they hear from their Church of England clergy is generally much more akin to Leftist politics than traditional Christianity.

So has the United Kingdom collapsed into anarchy or Stalinism? Not at all. Margaret Thatcher was as energetic and as effective a conservative reformer as Ronald Reagan and her influence has arguably been more long-lasting. A prominent member (Peter Mandelson) of the nominally Leftist political party that governed Britain in the early 21st century famously declared in 2002 that "We are all Thatcherites now". And that is the LEFT of British politics. Can we imagine the now deceased Senator Edward Kennedy saying that "We are all Reaganites now"?

So how does Britain do it? If Britain lacks the cohesive force of Christian faith, what keeps Britain as still one of the world's more civilized and prosperous places? One answer, I believe, is the influence of the monarchy. I myself am in the happy position of being both a keen monarchist and a citizen of a monarchy (Australia) and I tend to assent to the usual monarchist claim that the House of Windsor, for all its human weaknesses, is infinitely more reliable as a model of worthiness than are certain American Presidents with (for instance) strange uses for cigars. Be that as it may, however, I think the reality is that the claims of monarchy are emotional. To be ruled by a distant, glamorous and prestigious figure with access to a lifestyle unimaginable to the ordinary person is the normal lot of mankind. It is democracy that is the freak. The Roman republic succumbed to Caesar and Augustus and the ancient Greek democracies succumbed to the tyrants of first Sparta and then Macedon. So people seem to have evolved to need a monarch. They need that glorious and distant figure at the centre of power in their community.

And the British genius has been to find a way of having their cake and eating it too. They have a monarchy with all the trappings of greatness and real reserve powers yet are nonetheless governed by one of the world's oldest, most stable and effective democracies.

And, as it is so often re-iterated, the monarch is the symbol of the nation and of the continuity of national traditions. The popularity and prestige of the Queen is enormous and her powers are no less real for not being exercised. The reality of the reserve powers of the monarchy was vividly seen in Australia in 1974 when the Queen's representative dismissed a Leftist Federal government that tried to continue governing against constitutional precedent (failure to get its budget through both houses of Parliament). In short, the monarchy gives the British people a strong sense of security against arbitrary power, a strong sense of their identity, history and nationhood and serves as a model for what is decent and allowable. It is a unifying and cohesive force that transcends differences of class, accent, education, occupation, region etc.

I am pleased to see, therefore, that one of Britain's most prolific libertarian writers --  Sean Gabb -- has also written a lucid defence of the British monarchy.

My only quarrel with him is that he underestimates the support for the monarchy in Australia. There are many Australians -- mostly older and female -- who quite openly declare that they "love" the Queen. And if your old Mum loves the Queen, you are going to be pretty constricted in saying much against the monarchy! And in our recent constitutional referendum -- fought specifically on whether to have the Queen or a political appointee as Head of State -- nearly two thirds of Australians voted to retain the monarchy. How the Leftist wreckers must have hated that!

So it may be that in the US, Christianity plays an important part in preserving civility and a healthy common culture but I submit that the monarchy does a similar job for Britain and the other countries where the Queen reigns.

And is it coincidence that the other enduring European monarchies (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, The Netherlands and Belgium) are also highly civilized and stable democracies that have never turned to dictatorship and remain among the more peaceful and prosperous places to live?

My argument above is not of course original. Monarchists of all sorts have been saying much the same for centuries. It is however perhaps worth noting that even a Leftist American sociologist has come to a similar conclusion. As Owen Harries says:

"In his 1959 book, Political Man, widely regarded as a classic of its kind, the sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset observes the apparently "absurd fact" that 10 out of the 12 stable European and English-speaking democracies are monarchies. This, to Lipset's mind, could not be an accident. He suggests that during the rapid and profound social and economic changes of the last 100 years, which apparently were making monarchy increasingly irrelevant, the institution played a crucial role in retaining the loyalty of those groups that were losing as a result of the changes: the aristocracy, the traditionalists, the clerical and rural sectors. The persistence of the central institution provided reassurance that the world they knew was not totally lost, that the new social and political order could be adapted to. On the other hand, in countries that dispensed with monarchy (e.g., France, Germany, and the Hapsburg Empire after World War I), reconciliation and stability proved much scarcer commodities"

And, although it is not strict proof of anything, a comparison of two Austrian leaders is surely a little thought-provoking. The first Austrian, Kaiser (Emperor) Franz Josef, "was especially noted for his exceptional attitude to Jewish soldiers serving in the Austrian army, concerning himself over the availability of kosher food of the highest standard, assuring them of access to the necessary religious articles and ensuring unhindered Sabbath observance. .... (Quote from p. 210 of The Heavenly City by Menachem Gerlitz, 1979). The second Austrian leader was, of course, Adolf Hitler.

More potted history of the European monarchies: The Fascist dictator Mussolini came to power only because the Italian King allowed it. Monarchy is weak in Greece and Spain (though the Spanish have recently restored theirs) and both suffered years of military dictatorship. Germany abandoned their monarchy (with good reason) after World War I and got Hitler in exchange. France decapitated Louis 16th only to get the military dictator Napoleon and the incredible loss of life of his wars in exchange. And look what happened to Russia when they deposed the Tsar! I think it is not unreasonable to conclude from all this that, incredible though it might sound to American ears, monarchy has a powerful role to play in maintaining a civil society and is not easily replaced, once lost.

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