Thursday, January 18, 2007

My Monarchical Temptation

by Tibor R. Machan

As I watched The Queen, one of the best movies I've seen recently, I thought about just how much I detested monarchies. That's how it started. After all, what are monarchies but the subjugation of millions by one individual, a queen or king, sometimes with certain restraints built in, sometimes hardly any? Not all that different from a dictatorship, except kings and queens usually dress in fancier garb and live in far plusher abodes. But in principle monarchs are even more powerful than most dictators, seeing as they claim their earthly power to have been handed to them by God. And when a monarch reigns in consequence of having inherited his or her position, there is hardly any check on whether one of them is out-and-out nuts.

Yet throughout human history some monarchs have been other than sheer tyrants, sometimes even relatively benign and benevolent rulers. So what's better, being ruled by a mob that's supposedly the majority of the politically involved, or by someone who by tradition may in fact uphold certain standards of decency and prudence?

Of course, the Queen of England is but a ceremonial, if rather expensive, monarch today. How such a title can even survive in the 21st century beats me—calling someone "Her Royal Highness" has got to produce guffaws whenever it is said out loud, does it not? The whole enterprise has to resemble something on the order of a fairy tale or Disney story, with everyone knowing full well that there's nothing real to correspond to the funny language. Yet millions in the UK want to hang on to it all. But then people everywhere seem to have a penchant for living with myths in preference to reality!

Of course, when Helen Mirren plays your monarch, it may be very tempting to fall for all the sham. She is such a superb actress and when her persona is infused in the character of the Queen, it is a very promising illusion. Given how messy the alternatives to monarchy have managed to turn out nearly everywhere—just compare George W. Bush with Elizabeth II—this idea of Helen Mirren being in charge of things has something going for it. Especially as the movie depicts her.

The American founders wanted to get away from monarchy because they held that we were all endowed with unalienable rights and so none could justly claim to rule anyone else. As Abraham Lincoln spelled out the point, "No man is good enough to govern another without that other's consent." So all that talk about subjects is pure bunk. But the American founders offered up a genuine improvement to monarchy, namely, a constitutional republic that severely limits the scope and power of government. They did not, however, count on the insidious influence of the age-old governmental habit, which reasserted itself in America despite all those brilliant sentiments expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. What they spawned, sadly, turned out to be a pseudo-democratic empire, with mob rule and the reign of bureaucrats.

What with the resulting tyranny of a bunch of those petty bureaucrats and the politicians in whom people still have the ancient faith that they will fix everything for us, considering the old monarchy doesn't feel so bad, at least not when its embodiment turns out to be Helen Mirren. With her in real power, maybe someone like Tony Blair could be kept in line.

Alas, as things stand, the Queen is little more than a costly figurehead, so I doubt very much that the monarchist system would be an improvement on our depressing regime. For awhile, during the last couple of decades, there was at least the promise of improvement across the globe, in the direction of greater liberty; today, however, the venerable Freedom House is reporting that the regime of individual liberty is on the decline around the globe.

Yes, it was a desperate fantasy on my part, thinking that a monarchy might improve matters. But then Ms. Mirren can turn a man's head even at her current age!

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