The Future of the Monarchy
History stands testament to the idea that the monarchy is a stable and established institution that has withstood innumerable challenges to its traditional rights and privileges. This history is also reducible to the impact of republican discourse the most influential of which is the critique woven into the Thomas Paine’s doctrine of “Common Sense” 1776. Such was the revolutionary impact of Paine’s doctrine that its study and the circulation of its principles outside the academy still flourishes within the circles of the Common Sense Club as long-standing homage to his radical ideas. The question this essay seeks to answer in its study of the monarchy’s future is whether the study and circulation of Paine’s doctrine has contemporary relevance, inasmuch as the monarchy as we know it is subordinate to Parliament.
“The nearer any government approaches to a Republic, the less business
There is for a king…”
Forwarding the hypothesis that the future of the monarchy is proportionate to the ongoing ideological struggle between the evolving, and in many ways conflicting narratives of republicanism, citizenship, and the sovereign power of the state, and the monarchy with its greater emphasis on the state as embodied in the authority of a single individual, this essay foregrounds the discourses that both challenge and stabilise democracy unity. The arguments raised in this essay relate the future of the monarchy to developments in education, utility and the future of republican thought, its popularity being historically conditioned to highlight failures in democracy, and the degree to which this form of government is exercised by the people.
“For ‘tis the Republican and not the Monarchical part of the Constitution
of England which Englishmen glory in, viz., the liberty of choosing an
House of Commons from out of their own body – and it is easy to see
that when Republican virtues fail, slavery ensues.”
Of course the problems of Paine’s society are not strictly those of today, but the methodology of synthesising these dichotomous narratives that have shaped the monarchy leads to the overarching question of identity and how this concept can be said to influence the future of the monarchy. The essay, by considering the monarchy firstly in terms of political ethics and human rights, and secondly in terms of its empirical “value-neutral” function, illustrates the monarchy as providing a double function, lending itself to a practice of citizenship compatible with the wider western democracy as well as preserving the formal tradition of subjectivity. As such, the idea of common-sense can be applied to both the historical deconstruction of the monarchy, as well as its relations to national identity. Common sense in these contexts of the ethical and the functional can relate not only to the futility of entrusting reason and leadership to a system of hereditary right, but also to sustaining a national identity and promoting a form of democracy that is adaptable to constitutional change. This essay thereby relates the necessary assimilation of republican thinking and the ideological upholding of traditional values of loyalty and servitude to a conflict of interests and in the true sense of democracy, the future of the monarchy is bound up in the future of the people, and insofar as the individual ‘subject’ is bound to the will of monarchy, the monarchy is itself subject to the collective body of ‘citizenship’. The most salient problem here relates to the degree to which the people are conscious of their rights to exercise its power over its monarch, and the degree to which that power is entrusted in the politician to retain and exercise the people’s authority on a perpetual basis. In the furtherance of this understanding this essay traces the historical constitutional narrative that has shaped the monarchy into its democratic mould. In this respect, to understand the future of the monarchy is to understand the democracy that sustains it and the ways in which the popularity of the monarchy is determined by a greater understanding of its failings among the people.
Where the Greeks saw democracy, from its literal translation from demos ‘people’ and kratia, to ‘rule’, Plato saw inherent ideological conflict reducible to the ambiguity pertaining to whether ‘all’ the people rule or the ‘common people’ rule. Noting this semantic ambivalence, that all the people is not necessarily the ‘common people’, Plato regarded oligarchic and democratic models of social organisation as born of a corrupting desire for power and self-gratification rather than a collective focus on necessity and political unity; problems that are ever more applicable to the modern world in which political democracy brings with it rivalry for power at home and abroad and an inherent spirit of competition.
“For him [Plato] democratic equality meant an abdication of specialised
qualified expertise and education; democratic rivalry, in particular the
tension between rich and poor, undermined civic stability and unity; and
democratic encouragement of the desire for power and influence, both
among individuals at home and in imperialism abroad, subverted the
achievement of order and happiness.”
The latter distinction of democracy, in which the common people rule means, as Melissa Lane explains, that they are “numerically and ideologically dominant” and thus “generating tension with the elite”. Plato’s ‘Republic’ delineates the ways in which these ‘democratic’ problems are reducible to hereditary power and the desire to rule, problems could be negated as Plato’s hypothetical solution to this historical conundrum extends beyond the more politically obvious ideas of imperialism and class struggle, to the psychology of their making: Hence, the emphasis on “qualified expertise and education”. For Plato, education was a means to counteract these problems of democracy and subvert its psychological mould furthering the idea that political unity and social harmony “the highest goals of the Republic” could be achieved by a more utilitarian allocation of power. His answer to this conundrum of what it meant to be ‘democratic’ within the stratified parameters of its political application was his concept of the “philosopher-ruler”.
“there will be no end to the troubles of states, or indeed, my dear Glaucon,
of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or to
those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers
and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.”
This theoretical usurping of monarchy negated the desire for power on account of ‘his’ “reluctance to rule” despite being best equipped, and subsequently the problem of democratic rivalry is irradiated by way of their “virtue”; the problem of self-interest is negated by the idea that all citizens could occupy the main positions of power, and their ultimate foregrounding of education ensures their actions to be in the interest of the wider populous. For Lane, the centrality of education has, as she states, “become an indispensible part of politics and ethics”, and education thus provided the means for removing the distinction between ethics and politics so prevalent with the failings of democracy in Plato’s Athens. In lieu of its sociological and anthropological scope, Plato’s Republic, originally entitled ‘Constitution’ has thus become the philosophical, political and academic platform upon which the history of republican thought has developed and the future model of constitutional change. Regarding the implication of monarchy and government in achieving ‘the highest goals of the Republic’ echoed in the utilitarian maxim of the greatest happiness to the greatest number, the idea of ‘common sense’ is paradoxically symptomatic of an unfulfilled legacy of the Republic founded on virtue, utility and political unity.
This legacy has its profound expression in Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’, inasmuch as this publication was based primarily on a functional regime of equality at the expense of the hereditary succession of monarchs; and instead, purporting that civil distinctions are “founded on only on Public Utility” and that the “Nation is essentially the source of all Sovereignty”. Both these republican ideals are founded on the following premise that…
“… as no man at first could possess any other public honours than were
bestowed upon him, so the givers of those honours could have no
power to give away the right of posterity, and though they might say
“We choose you for our head,” they could not without manifest
injustice to their children say, “that your children and your children’s
children shall reign over ours forever.” Because such an unwise, unjust,
unnatural compact might (perhaps) in the next succession put them under
the government of a rogue or a fool.”
Thomas Paine’s doctrine of common sense, here applied to hereditary right over utility, is explained in the most explicit sense, encapsulating this argument of an ‘unnatural compact’, in the analogy, an ass for a lion. This, in short refers to the idea that – fine clothing disguises but words will disclose a fool – and the use of the brackets in this quote purposefully belies the combative revolutionary nature of this doctrine that served the moralistic and constitutional ends of the American Revolution. In addition to this, just as Plato’s Republic discusses the constitution as extending to the soul of each individual, linking political harmony with psychological harmony, Thomas Paine arguably regarded society on similar organic and functional terms considering his reference to an “unnatural compact” and Plato’s idea of natural order being achieved by way of political harmony. Thus, in this context of utility and virtue, Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man is written in the spirit of Plato’s ‘Republic’, insofar as the problem of the “ass for a lion” can be considered testament to the requirement for Plato’s hypothetical ‘philosopher-ruler’ in the context of democracy.
This emphasis on function allows us to consider the role of the monarchy as pragmatic in terms of establishing national and cultural identity and thus foregrounding the monarchy’s role in sustaining the moral, religious and cultural values in a secular age of increasing religious scepticism, moral ambiguity in relation to existing foreign policy, globalisation and multiculturalism. Furthermore, as the monarchy remains a firm established institution, and this emphasis on function that Weber would call “value-neutral” lends itself to a sociological examination of the monarchy’s function above and beyond its status of absolute and symbolic power. The fact that morally questionable political decisions on war or immigration are not directly sanctioned by the monarchy is testament to its superfluous function beyond a national identity that can be associated with both, national fervour on the one hand, and ethical degeneration on the other, the current ‘war on terror’ being a case in point. Further to the political pursuit of common sense so apparent in Plato and Paine, the general idea that the secular values of modernity may have in many ways superseded the religious and cultural values upon which the institution of the monarchy is based, would seem a reasonable assumption; yet the monarchy is still a monolithic object of mass identification.
“If it is true that man depends upon his gods, this dependence is reciprocal.
The gods also have need of man; without offerings and sacrifices they
For Durkheim, all civic institutions have their derivatives in religion, which allows us to view the monarchy empirically. Given that the monarchy represents religious and cultural values that could be argued as obsolete and called into question as the authority of church and state is overshadowed by parliament, the monarchy is still the object of mass identification and the ‘dependence is reciprocal’. Furthermore, the history of republican discourse and its catastrophic revolutionary expression is testament to Durkheim’s idea that:
“even before his gods, a man is not always in such a marked state of inferiority;
for it very frequently happens that he exercises a veritable physical restraint
upon them to obtain what he desires.”
This controlled worship we can relate to the constitutional endeavour of republican action alluded to in Durkheim’s “veritable physical restraint”, and with the influence of Thomas Paine, much has happened since Plato’s Republic in the way of constitutional progress in bringing about Plato’s distinction of democracy as inclusive of the common people. The Republic has, in it’s advocating of the philosopher-ruler, been found at the root of totalitarian ideas of fascism and communism, informing the “usual suspects” Nietzsche, Hegel and Marx, but it is a result of such collective action that the British monarchy we know today, as a constitutional monarchy, is politically subordinate to the constitutional decision-making machinery of parliament. By this logic contemporary society still has a use for its ‘gods’ and this modern contrast to the doctrine of ‘divine right’ adopted by the British monarchies of the 16th and 17th centuries, and the belief that made Louie IV declare, “I am the State”, is a functional monarchy that assimilates the republican ideals of citizenship.
Furthermore, it seems that with this historical turbulence of the Age of Reason came a political symptom of the psychological ill health to which Plato refers, and that is bound up in the idea of identity and a symptom of these dichotomous narratives of monarchy and republic. For, example, in the case of Charles I, after disproving the idea of the divine right of kings by democratic means, the ‘republic’ was still later returned to the monarchy in the furtherance of social harmony and a stronger national identity. This example is demonstrative of the symbolic, as opposed to actual unconstrained power of the individual above the law and politically autonomous on the one hand, yet demonstrates the historical impacts of an ongoing constitutional struggle committed to democracy, human rights and pluralism on the other. This is the ideological balance achieved by a constitutional monarchy, but the very idea that the monarchy is a product of such historical synthesis of dichotomous narratives determines that the nation and its individuals maintain a mutual recognition as testament to its function in maintaining the social structure that republican discourse seeks to dismantle.
For Hegel, such a recognition is an important ethical stage in the development of freedom based on a relationship between the individual and the state, in that individuals are supposed to find themselves and their interests reflected in their institutions, so they are willing to identify with them and make the necessary sacrifices; and by the same token, when individuals are unable to find themselves reflected in their institutions, alienation and decline result. Therefore we can argue that the future of the monarchy is in many ways bound up with identity and the level at which the values it represents are truly representative of the democratic majority.
Durkheim, Emile, The Elementary forms of Religious Life, Free Press of Glencoe, 1961
Hegel G. W. F. Phenomenology of Spirit, Oxford University Press 1977
Lane, Melissa, Plato’s Republic, Penguin Classics, 2007
Paine Thomas, The Rights of Man 1776, Eric Foner, Penguin Books, 1969
Robertson, Roland Sociology of Religion Penguin Modern Sociology Readings, Penguin Books Ltd., 1969
Williams Robert. Hegel’s Ethics of Recognition. University of California press 1997.
Weber, Max. Major Features of World Religions. Oxford University Press – 1946
 Paine, Thomas, ‘Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession’, from Common Sense 1776
 This relates to the ‘fifth Principle of Democracy’.
 Plato’s Republic, Penguin Books, 2007 introduction by Melissa Lane, p xiii
 Plato’s Republic, Penguin Books, 2007 473d
 Paine, Thomas, ‘Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession’, from Common Sense 1776
 Durkheim, E, The Social Foundations of Religion, from The Elementary forms of Religious Life, Free Press of Glencoe, 1961, cited in The Sociology of Religion, Penguin Books, 1969 p 43
 Plato’s Republic, Penguin Books, 2007 introduction by Melissa Lane, p xiii
 Williams Robert. Hegel’s Ethics of Recognition. University of California press 1997. p. 20