I appreciate, with the Queen’s platinum jubilee, opinion pieces and editorials on the event are likely to predominate. Of course, there is no problem with people commenting on what they want. And so seeing one in this month’s Evangelicals Now comes as little surprise. However, I think there are various assumptions written into that editorial that might warrant a little pushback from my perspective as a British republican.
The piece opens this way:
It is probable that most readers of en are in favour of a constitutional monarchy rather than a republic, though of course there are arguments for both views. This is not the time and place for that discussion! But whether we are monarchists of republicans we can recognise the length of service of The Queen is something both to mark and to celebrate.
This perspective makes some sense for a monarchist who believes what we have is the best of all possible, yet ultimately flawed, systems. If you are essentially okay with monarchy in principle, it naturally makes sense that you would want to celebrate the length and service of QEII who – even from my republican standpoint – has done the best job we might hope for given the system we have. That is to say, if we’re going to have a monarch at all, she has done as well as we might hope any monarch would.
The problem is, for republicans like me, we object to the system in principle. So, just like if I were going to have a dictatorship, I would be glad to have Salazar over Saddam Hussein, I ultimately would prefer neither. One might be better than the other given the system that you have, but neither are actually good and nor is the system acceptable, even if the one is more comfortable than the other. By the same token, whilst QEII might be the best monarch we could hope for – and I think that is probably about right – it doesn’t change the fact that it would be preferable to have no monarch at all.
That makes it hard for us to “recognise the length of service of The Queen is something both to mark and to celebrate”. Someone serving competently and for an exceedingly long time in a role that you fundamentally find problematic is not something to mark and celebrate. Salazar, for example, served from 1932-1968 as Prime Minister of Portugal – longer than any British Prime Minister. But if you object to a national dictatorship in principle, it would feel difficult for his supporters to insist that we can all, regardless of our political position, “recognise the length of service… is something both to mark and to celebrate”. Those who recognise dictatorship is not to be lauded are not going to find much to mark or celebrate about a dictator leading for an extended time – albeit a relatively benign one who may be the best dictator one could hope for.
It also seems worth noting that is hardly surprising that an Anglican might consider this a matter for celebration. When the Queen is both head of state and supreme governor of your church, it follows that one is liable have less concern about the marking her office given that they have not only been born subject, but voluntary made themselves so in their communion. But given the nonconformist roots of Evangelicals Now – though the calculation that the majority of readers would be in favour of a constitutional monarchy might well be right – there are grounds to suspect there might be a significant number who do not see matters that way, biblically nor politically. Indeed, I wonder how far this will hold when Charles ascends the throne as supreme governor of the Church of England, yet self-identifies as self-described defender of the faiths? Aside from the constitutional problems with that position, it might create some interesting ones for our Evangelical Anglican brethren.
I am also minded to point out that the slightly sneering reference to the US smacks of the kind of exceptionalism that British folks often claim they so dislike about our American cousins. Unlike our system, however, the Americans have rightly cracked onto the fact that they can replace such people through the ballot box (and, indeed, chose to do so at the last election). Whether they are happy with that choice or not, they have the means and mechanisms to do other about it again. Their system at least works to that extent. Ours, by contrast, will stick us with a raving lunatic for life with no ability to remove them from post. We can look at our own history – where such has literally been the case – to see how that pans out.
The editorial rightly notes that other nations have found monarchy can end up in problematic places – though we hardly need to look abroad to make that point. We have something of a history of particularly terrible monarchs. Even our more recent history of constitutional monarchs has not always been a happy one – with our very own Nazi-sympathising king turned betrayer of his own country – and, lest we forget, we still have a King Charles III in waiting. The fact that Elizabeth II is not as bad as such previous iterations – and equally hasn’t followed the examples of some of other European monarchs – merely underscores the case that we are entirely stuck with whomever we get and this is not a matter of celebration, but should be an anachronistic embarrassment. An embarrassment, I daresay, we will be reaping when the not-so-young pretender takes office.
For republicans like me, inherited authority is a problem in principle. Accidents of birth are no grounds to head up countries and churches. There are other political principles that might cause us to look askance at the institution too. If one wants to support a constitutional monarchy, you are free to hold that position. I recognise most people are broadly happy to leave things alone because it seems not to encroach on too much in practice. Many are of the bigger-fish-to-fry school of thought. Others are traditionalists wedded to the institution. Others still hold their position specifically because of QEII herself, rather than the institution. And such as you want to make your case for that, you are free to do so.
But I would prefer Evangelicals Now did not assume that we are all happy to celebrate and mark what we fundamentally object to in principle. If you find something to celebrate, have at it. I believe you are free to hold your views and subsequent parties. But a bit of reciprocity would be well received. It is objectionable for me to be asked to join in with the celebration of an institution to whose very existence I fundamentally object.
I have nothing against QEII as a woman. As I have said already, if we are to have a monarch, I think she is the best we might hope for. She seems like a fine woman from what I can tell. But I do object to being told that we can all agree her service and and reign is something to be lauded; there is no other institution or organisation to which people object in principle that its supporters would insist we must all laud despite our fundamental objection to it. I wonder if the editor would feel similarly happy with Muslim friends suggesting – though we may all have different views on the matter – we can nevertheless come together to celebrate the longevity and service of the Grand Mufti? If he would struggle with such a suggestion, it may be worth thinking about how his insistence that we all come together to celebrate a different – though nevertheless clearly not wholly unifying institution – might be received by those who think differently to him?