The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monarchism and Minarchism

Imagine that you are sitting at your dining room table. Having just finished your breakfast, you are glancing over the morning newspaper while you enjoy your cup of coffee and prepare for the coming day, when all of a sudden there is a knock on the door. You go to answer it and on your doorstep you find a man you have never seen before. He has with him a briefcase, a clipboard, and a smug, pompous, attitude of superiority.

You ask him who he is and he says “I am from the government and I am here to inspect your home to make sure it is up to regulation standards”.

Naturally, you ask to see the man’s credentials. He produces them and they appear to be legitimate it, so reluctantly and with a great deal of annoyance at having your daily routine disturbed, you allow him in.

The inspector goes through your house, from attic to basement, making sure you have working smoke detectors in every room, that your electrical, water, and sewage systems meet the latest standards. From time to time he makes snotty comments about the way you live:

“You know, you really shouldn’t have all these appliances plugged into the same circuit.”

“You should rearrange your furniture to make it easier for people to leave in case of a fire.”

Finally the inspection is over, and the inspector lets you know that you have passed. “Just by the skin of your teeth”, he adds, by his demeanor though not his words.

Was it a king or queen who authorized this invasion of your home? Or was it a democratic assembly composed of politicians who are elected by a general vote on a regular basis?

After the inspector leaves you realize you need to go right now or you will be late for work. In a hurry, and still irritated by the inspection, you get in your car and hurry towards work. A couple of blocks before you reach your workplace you hear a siren. You look in your rearview mirror and a police car is flashing its lights at you and a policeman is waving you over to the side.

You glance at your speedometer and see that you have been speeding – not recklessly, but enough to get you stopped.

You pull over to the curb and wait for the policeman. He walks up to your window and asks to see your driving license. He takes a look at it, hands it back to you, and asks you if you realized how fast you were going. Then he asks you why you aren’t wearing your seatbelt.

You had been so preoccupied in your mind with the inspection and getting to work on time that you had completely forgotten to fasten your seatbelt! Now you have been caught having committed two traffic offences at the same time, and the policeman is convinced that you are a troublemaking scofflaw and decides to make an example out of you. He gives you a tongue-lashing, writes you a big ticket, and sends you on your way to work, where you are now, of course, late.

Who thought up the idea of punishing people with fines for not wearing their seatbelts – an offence which can not possibly hurt anyone other than the offender? Was it a king? Was it a queen? Or was it not rather a bunch of progressive do-gooders in the democratic assembly?

You get to work and your boss chews you out for being late. You explain the circumstances and you notice that he isn’t really listening to you and seems to be worried about something. Then you remember that it is government inspection week at work too. Today the fire inspector will be making sure your employers fire detection system and fire escape routes meet government standards. Tomorrow the safety inspector will be inspecting your workplace, looking for potential hazards to your and your co-workers safety. Several other inspectors will be coming in later in the week. Preparations for these inspections have been hindering your companies productivity for the past month.

Who was it that tied your company up with so much red tape? Was this an innovation from the Crown or from the Commons?

The idea is widely held today that democracy is the form of government that is most compatible with freedom and limitations on government power. This notion, however, is contrary to the facts of history.

The last few centuries saw the triumph of Whiggery. In Whig doctrine, a country may have a king or queen (a head of state whose office is passed down through hereditary succession) but only if their position is reduced to that of ceremonial figurehead. The actual governing of the country must be carried out, by officials elected by the general public. In the Whig system the king or queen “reigns but does not rule”, is the “head of state” but not the “head of government”.

The Whig system should not be identified with constitutional, parliamentary monarchy. The confusion of the two is common but erroneous. The latter is a much older aspect of the English constitution which we in Canada have inherited. A constitutional monarchy, is a monarchy in which the office of king or queen regnant is established, defined, and filled by society’s constitution and the king, deriving his authority from the constitution, is therefore responsible to the constitution, to uphold it rather than to overthrow it by governing arbitrarily. A parliamentary monarchy is a monarchy in which the constitution dictates that the sovereign lawmaking authority of the king or queen is to be exercised “in parliamento”. Parliament is derived from the French word “parler” which means “to speak”. The concept here is that the people who live under a country’s laws should have a voice in the making of those laws. It is a completely different concept from the notion of democracy in which the people themselves are regarded as the sovereign power.

Constitutional parliamentary monarchy is an English tradition that goes back prior to the Norman conquest of 1066 to the time of the Anglo-Saxon kings. The line of Norman kings that started when William of Normandy secured his shaky claim to succeed Edward the Confessor to the throne of England by defeating his rival Harold II at the Battle of Hastings promised to govern according to the constitution and laws of Edward, which had evolved out of the constitutional reforms made by Edward’s ancestor Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, in the 9th Century. When John Plantagenet was compelled by his barons to agree to the Magna Carta in 1215 it did not really introduce anything new in the way of constitutional limitations on the authority of the king, so much as require in writing his agreement to uphold the existing constitution.

The triumph of the Whigs occurred in 1688 when Parliament forced King James II to abdicate and gave his crown to his son-in-law William of Orange. This did not have the immediate effect of reducing the office of king to that of ceremonial figurehead but it ultimately led to that because it represented the triumph of the principle of democracy over the principle of royalty in the constitution. Over the course of the three centuries since the so-called “Glorious Revolution” the implications of the Whig victory have unfolded as Parliament, especially the elected lower House, has taken over the role of actually governing, and the role of the Crown has shrunk to a ceremonial role.

If the Whig doctrine, linking non-intrusive, limited government, and freedom to the democratic principle is correct, then we should expect that over the last three centuries government would have shrunk, taxes would gone down, and government presence in people’s everyday lives would have all but vanished.

The exact opposite is true.

The more the important the principle of democracy has become in our mixed constitution, the more real governing power has been concentrated in the hands of elected officials and the bureaucracies they head, and the less of a role the Crown plays in government, the bigger government has become.

Over the last three centuries, the Parliaments of Great Britain and Canada have imposed income taxes on their peoples. The first income tax was introduced in Great Britain by the government of William Pitt the Younger in the late 18th century. Canada’s first income tax was introduced in 1917 by the Borden government. Income taxes take far more money out of the hands of the tax payers and raise far more government revenue than any other kind of tax. They were unheard of back in the days when the king was unmistakably the head of government as well as the head of the state.

Also unheard of, back in the days when kings had more real power, were these large government bureaucracies we have today with their armies of inspectors invading homes and businesses to enforce libraries of petty regulations covering every minute aspect of everyday life. Huge bureaucracies go hand in glove with mass democracy. The saying “a man’s home is his castle” is obsolete today in the age of democracy, but it actually meant something back in the age in which it has its origins – the age when kings ruled as well as reigned. Kings were simply not interested in passing laws to prevent you from hurting yourself and hiring huge numbers of civil servants to enforce these laws. The king had constables and magistrates to enforce the peace, i.e., to keep you from hurting others and/or upsetting the civil order. It is democratically elected politicians and the progressive “experts” they hire to staff their bureaucracies that created the “nanny state”.

Democracy, then, is not the foundation of a free and just society under a limited government, that liberal doctrine makes it out to be.

Nor is monarchy the antithesis of freedom that liberalism makes it out to be.

There have been bad kings and good kings. If the definition of good government, is a government that provides society with basic laws (laws which govern public areas, laws which prohibit actions that hurt other people and threaten the order of society, and which provide a just manner for people to settle disputes with one another) and enforces those laws, but otherwise lets them live their own lives, then the English parliamentary monarchy has been overall a good government through history.

What about a government that fails to enforce the basic rule of law, which instead enforces thousands of petty regulations about minute aspects of everyday life, which taxes people to death, which actively seeks to undermine other social authorities such as parents in the home and clergy in the church, which wages war against the social, cultural, and moral traditions of the society it governs? Would that not be the very embodiment of a bad government?

That is the kind of government we have, now that the principle of democracy has triumphed over the principle of monarchy.

There are some who would have us take the principle of democracy even further and abolish monarchy even in its present ceremonial role. Let them not be deceived into thinking that they would be furthering the cause of freedom, justice, and good government by so-doing.

Aristotle argued that the best hypothetical constitution of a society would combine the principles of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, each balancing the others. What Aristotle wrote about in theory, materialized in the traditional English constitution of parliamentary monarchy, which we in Canada have inherited.

If we are ever going to see the constitution balanced again, and good government restored to this country, it will not be by allowing the principle of democracy to further overshadow the principle of monarchy. For this reason it is important to maintain the monarchy, even in its present ceremonial role. If the monarchy serves no other purpose it is as an anchor in the constitution of the past that will hopefully prevent the ship of state from drifting even further into the turbulent sea of progressive democracy.

1 comment:

  1. "an offence which can not possibly hurt anyone other than the offender?"

    Untrue. There have been deaths of people hit by passengers who were not wearing seatbelts, and otherwise; any unsecured object in a crash becomes a kinetic missile, after all.

    I'm also torn regarding the whole idea of red tape legislation; while there's a lot of cruft and such in them, to be certain, there are amongst them rules that DO stop willful negligent evil. It is non-trivial to identify which rules are good and which are unnecessary: or shall we go back to lead paint and asbestos?

    None of that, naturally, addresses your main point.