Her Majesty Elizabeth II reigns over the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and her other Commonwealth realms and that reign has now surpassed that of Queen Victoria as the longest in our line of monarchs. This is reason to celebrate and to wish Her Majesty many more years upon the throne.
Unfortunately there are those who insist on spoiling occasions like this. One such person is Anthony Furey, former comment editor of the Ottawa Sun and columnist for the Sunmedia chain of newspapers. We are living in days of great confusion about our identities, as was evident in the recent media circus surrounding Bruce Jenner's apogynosis, and Mr. Furey is a confused individual of an all too common type - a liberal who thinks he's a conservative.
I don't mean he is a liberal in the contemporary North American sense of a progressive who believes in the nanny state, coddling criminals, and the soft tyranny of sensitivity classes and human rights tribunals. He is a classical liberal, a true believer, in Eric Hoffer's sense of that term, in capitalism, individual liberty, and democracy. That is better than the other kind of liberal, but it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference, and his Toronto Sun column of Sunday, September 6th, is one of those times. He choose this time in which we are rejoicing in Her Majesty's long reign to suggest that Canada severe our ties to her successors and become a republic.
That shows the kind of lack of class one would expect from a Grit or an NDP supporter. Perhaps not a Green supporter, as, while I would say that their leader, Elizabeth May, is wrong about many things, perhaps most things, she at least is a monarchist who understands the importance of the institution. It is most unbecoming, however, in a supporter of the party that calls itself Conservative, and is so to the extent at least that it takes seriously the eighth of their Founding Principles.
Furey begins his screed the way most republicans do, by talking about newcomers to Canada and projecting onto them puzzlement over why the "democracy" to which they have come to flee "tyranny, instability, or religious fervour" is a monarchy and not a republic "like our neighbours to the south". This is the updated version of an old liberal trick. It used to be, when the Liberals would attack our country's British heritage and institutions, they would do so in the name of French Canadians, not because French Canadians had told them these things were offensive to them, but because they assumed they would be. It was a dirty trick, for the Liberals wished to replace our country's British institutions and, not coincidentally, secure their hold on power in the country, by turning French and English Canadians against one another. They came very close to tearing the country apart. More recently, progressive opponents of the monarchy, usually from the NDP, have expressed this opposition in the name of New Canadians but this is the same old dirty trick - trying to turn Old Canadians and New Canadians against each other for political gain. One would think that no one who has moved to Canada in the last forty years bothered to find out any basic information, such as that it is a Commonwealth country and a constitutional monarchy, before coming here.
There will be a "crisis of confidence" in the monarchy at the next succession, Furey argues, which may very well be the case but it will not be due to any fault in the institution, but rather to republicans bent on stirring up trouble. Failing to grasp the distinction between the regality and dignity attached to the office of monarch with that of the person who holds the office, which latter is due in part to personal traits of character and in part to having absorbed it from the office during a long and successful reign, he states that neither Prince Charles nor Prince William carry the same "heft" as the queen, which could not reasonably be expected of them until they have reigned as long and as well as she has. He brings up the cost of converting all of our currency over to the name and image of the new monarch, ignoring the fact that this would have to be done if we converted the country into a republic as well, but with the additional cost of opening up the constitution again, which, the last time it happened, created a crisis that for the good part of two decades threatened to split the country.
Furey shows no understanding of either the country or the institution of which he writes. "Time to set us free", he says, but this is nonsense. The idea that to be free one must be a citizen of a republic rather than a subject of a monarch belongs to the country south of our border and was adopted by that country at a time when they were the largest slave-owning country in the world. One of the reasons the Americans rebelled against the Crown was that it had guaranteed the French Canadians the right to the practice of their Roman Catholic religion after the Seven Years War and they wanted all of North America to be Protestant.
Does this sound like their republic was a more free system of government?
We are free subjects of Her Majesty and if we are less free today than we once were it is entirely due to acts of our elected officials. Furthermore, much of the legislation that has lessened our freedom has been done by our politicians in imitation of laws first passed by the American Republic. Income tax, which takes far more out of our pockets than any other tax, which requires us to hand over our records of employment to the government, and for the government to maintain a large tax collecting agency, was introduced by the Americans temporarily in the 1860s, then permanently in 1913. We introduced it in 1917, the year the Americans entered the war we had already been fighting for three years. The expansive social security network that we call the Welfare or Provider State was introduced in North America in two big leaps, the 1930s and 1960s. In both cases the Canadian government followed the example of an American President, FDR and his New Deal and LBJ with his Great Society. In 1964 the Americans passed the Civil Rights Act, which was unnecessary to end de jure segregation in the South as it had already been ruled unconstitutional by the American Supreme Court in 1955, but which interfered with the freedom of association of all Americans by telling them they could not privately discriminate as individuals in certain situations. In 1977 our country followed their example by passing the Canadian Human Rights Act. This went further than the American bill because it included a section, mercifully recently removed, that told us what we could and could not say on the telephone and on the internet, but we would never have passed this Act at all without the American example. More recently, both the Liberal government of Jean Chretien and the Conservative government of Stephen Harper followed the example of the second Bush administration in the United States by passing laws, in the name of fighting terrorism, that weakened the ancient constitutional safeguard of our freedoms that requires police agencies to get a judicial warrant before investigating and arresting us.
Clearly it is not the monarchy which is to blame for the erosion of our liberties and following the example of the American republic has not made us any freer.
Indeed, in Canada, the monarchy is the basis of our freedom, as two real conservatives, John Farthing and John G. Diefenbaker, explained in their books Freedom Wears a Crown and Those Things We Treasure, both sadly out of print. Diefenbaker explained how the erosion of our basic rights and freedoms under the Trudeau premiership went hand-in-glove with that government's attack on the institution of monarchy, and Farthing explained how the attack on the Crown's reserve powers and reduction of its role to the purely ceremonial, under Liberal governments going back to Mackenzie King's, undermined the accountability of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet to both Crown above and Parliament below, paving the way for Prime Ministerial dictatorship.
The Americans, when they put together their federal republic after the Treaty of Paris, relied heavily on Montesquieu for their idea of the separation of powers into executive, legislative, and judicial. What they did not want to admit was that Montesquieu had gotten the idea by observing this same division of powers in the British Parliament. Nor did they want to admit that not only did the British Parliament, and later our own in Canada, already contain this division into the executive powers of the Crown ministers led by the Prime Minister, the legislative powers of the whole of Parliament, and the judicial powers of the courts, Montesquieu saw that it also embodied Aristotle's idea of the most stable constitution - one that combined the elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy in a mixed constitution that would avoid the destructive cycle of constitutions that he had observed in the ancient Mediterranean city states. We, having inherited this mixed constitution from the UK, would be fools to give it up, which we would be doing if we ceased to be a monarchy.
The fact of the matter is that democracy is not the source of freedom that Furey thinks it is. The ancients believed it to be the worst of the three simple forms of government, each of which could be good or bad, depending on whether the one, the few, or the many, ruled for the common good or their own interest only. They regarded democracy as the worst because its good form was closest to its bad form and it contained no internal brakes on adopting its bad form. This is all the more true of modern democracy, which is based on the idea of the collective sovereignty of the people. When sovereignty belongs to the people, and the people are the government, everything the government does is the action of the people to themselves. Anything and everything can be justified.
The American founders recognized this, which is why they set up their republic the way they did. It was not to be a simple democracy - even the president would be elected only indirectly by the general populace, through the Electoral College. Indeed, what is truly praiseworthy about modern Western governments is not that they are democracies but that so many of them have kept democracy's worst tendencies in check. This is a basic characteristic of the English-speaking world but it was not true of the French Republic of the 1790s, of Russia after the Tsar was deposed, or Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. What made the difference was that English-speaking countries were liberal in the best sense of the word - holding to the idea that individuals had rights and freedoms which all governments, even democratic ones, must respect, and if they are to be violated in the name of the common good, it must be under extraordinary circumstances, and under clearly defined limits.
Effective as liberalism has been in holding democracy's excesses in check, it does not have an infinite capacity to do so. It is not a naturally stable check on what Tocqueville called "the tyranny of the majority" because it sees itself as being based upon principles of abstract reason that are universally applicable and available, and does not recognize that it could only have developed and can only operate in certain contexts, under certain conditions. It functions best in the British parliamentary monarchy system in which it first developed for this system contains additional checks on the excesses both of democracy and of liberalism itself.
One of the negative aspects of democracy is that it places power in the hands of politicians, who are by definition ambitious people who seek power. Lord Acton was not entirely correct when he said that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely, but it is true to say that power is very dangerous in the hands of those who seek it for themselves. Our system divides the ownership from the exercise of power. The sovereign ownership of the powers of government belongs to the monarch, but they are exercised in her name by the Crown Ministers, the Parliamentary assembly, and the courts. The House of Commons is filled with politicians including the Crown Ministers but the fact that they are in the position of servants, exercising the Queen's powers in her name, injects a degree of humility that would not be present if they were merely representatives of the people. Governments that speak in the name of the people - like the 1790s French Republic, the Third Reich, and every Communist "People's Republic" the world has ever known, are the most arrogant and cruel governments possible.
Canadians made the right choice in choosing loyalty to the Crown and the British model of government. The French Canadians, who had only just come under the British Crown after the Seven Years War, chose to remain loyal when the Americans rebelled. The English-speaking Loyalists chose to come up here and live under the Crown over persecution and dispossession in the United States. When the Americans tried to "liberate" us from the Crown in the War of 1812 we fought back, and when we confederated as a nation in 1867, English and French Canadians alike agreed to a federation of provinces, with our own federal parliament under the shared Crown. A great many Canadians would still look upon the moment when, no longer automatically at war when Britain was, we declared war on Nazi Germany and fought side by side with Britain, for our separate countries and common king, as our country's finest moment. To describe our monarchy as foreign is to be out of touch completely with our country, its nature, and its history.
No, Mr. Furey, we still need the monarchy. Indeed, we need it more now than ever, to keep our increasingly arrogant politicians humble, to give our government a touch of class and dignity that is above the demeaning circus of democratic electoral politics, and in these turbulent, ever-changing times, to provide us with a link to our past, history, and heritage, that has withstood the test of time.
God Save the Queen,
Long May She Reign