God save the Queen

Ben Ramanauskas

January 2, 2019

1828 recently published an article by Matt Gillow in which he explains why he is now a republican. Gillow is a thoughtful writer and I agreed with much of what he wrote, especially the importance of avoiding tribalism while also remaining consistent with one’s overall ideology.

He is, of course, in good company. Thomas Paine was one of the many great thinkers throughout history who expressed their reservations about a hereditary monarchy. He is not alone in arguing that the idea of a monarchy is not compatible with classical liberalism.

However, I believe that a constitutional monarchy is not only compatible with classical liberalism, but preferable to republicanism. What’s more, far from abandoning the monarchy, the UK should embrace it now more than ever.

My first issue with republicanism is that I believe it ignores an aspect of human nature. Namely, that people have a tendency to want an individual to govern and represent them. Indeed, a common feature throughout human history has been that groups, regions, and then nations have gathered around a single leader, and accepted that their heirs are the rightful successors to the role.

This has been the case since the dawn of civilisation with Mesopotamians, the Babylonians, and the Egyptians all ruled by monarchies. The Old Testament tells how the Israelites requested a king so that they could be like all the other nations. The Romans, in the midst of increasing chaos, went from being a republic to being governed by two successive Triumvirates and then an emperor. England was, in many ways, formed by uniting around a hereditary monarchy, starting with the House of Wessex. The First French Republic, formed by revolution, collapsed and was replaced by Napoleon Bonaparte who ruled as Emperor. And the 20th century saw the rise of dictators, often with popular support.

Therefore, there does seem to be a tendency for humans to unite around a single leader who governs and represents them, and this leader tends to be a monarch. This, of course, does not necessarily mean that monarchies are a good idea, but it would be naive to ignore this aspect of human nature when promoting republicanism.

In his article, Gillow rightly points out the importance of meritocracy and social mobility, and he argues that a monarchy is incompatible with them. This is a common view, with many people arguing that the country would be much more equal and fairer if we abolished the monarchy. You only have to look at the response to the Queen delivering her Christmas message in front of a golden piano to understand the tenor of this argument.

There is inequality in the UK, in addition to a troubling lack of social mobility. However, to think that abolishing the monarchy would solve this is nonsensical. The United States of America – that great example of a republic – has very high levels of inequality and a woeful lack of social mobility. Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands, on the other hand, are far more equal and enjoy a higher level of social mobility. Republicanism versus constitutional monarchism would seem to be an irrelevant debate when it comes to thinking about these important issues.

You could, of course, have a situation where the head of state is elected, but background would still play an important part in determining who would be successful. The progeny of the wealthy could potentially be prevented from reaching such a position, but only through illiberal means such as wealth and inheritance taxes.

What’s more, the idea that a republic is far more compatible with liberal values than a constitutional monarchy is equally fanciful. It is, for example, easy to extol the virtues of the Roman Republic, to quote Cicero, and lament it’s fall. However, the republic was a bloody and brutal place characterised by prejudice, slavery, and sexual exploitation. Indeed, the United States allowed one of the greatest evils of all time – the slave trade – to flourish. Many of the founding fathers owned slaves themselves, and the republic was nearly torn apart during the civil war when Abraham Lincoln sought to abolish slavery.

In short, there is nothing about republicanism that guarantees a liberal utopia.

When the emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Joseph I was asked by Theodore Roosevelt what he thought the role of monarchy was, he replied: “To protect my peoples from their governments.” This illustrates one of the ways in which a constitutional monarchy is perfectly consistent with classical liberalism. It contributes to the doctrine of separation of powers by depriving elected politicians of certain powers which they could otherwise use at their whim.

The merits of this form of government were recognised by the great American revolutionary, Alexander Hamilton. He argued in The Federalist Papers that the president should have significant powers in order to balance out the power of the other branches of government.

So, a constitutional monarchy can play a vital role in upholding classical liberal values such as democracy and the rule of law. Under such a system, any potential despot who wishes to undermine freedom will find themselves undermined and eventually dismissed by the monarch.

As for the UK, the monarchy is particularly important. It is a huge boost to the economy, with countless tourists being drawn here every year due to our royal heritage. It also helps to project the UK’s soft power, as it engenders good will, affection, and interest around the world.

It is particularly important at the moment. As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it should, of course, maintain free trade and friendly relations with Europe. However, the Commonwealth should also be an area of focus. Free trade deals and freedom of movement between the UK and many Commonwealth nations would have huge benefits for the UK and these other countries. Given the historic significance of the royal family to the Commonwealth, the UK would be extremely foolish to become a republic.

Finally, the UK is more divided now than it has been for a very long time. The monarchy has often been seen as a unifying force in the country. King George VI and the Queen Mother were seen as figures of hope during the second world war as they visited communities bombed during the blitz. Indeed, the monarchy is still incredibly popular during a time when trust in politicians, the media, and the establishment in general is at an all-time low. The monarchy could hopefully help to restore unity in the UK and trust between those in power and the people whom they govern.

There are many issues in the UK, but the monarchy is not one, and a republic is not a solution. A constitutional monarchy helps to uphold liberal values and ours will be vitally important in 2019 and beyond.


Written by Ben Ramanauskas

Ben Ramanauskas is a research economist at Oxford University and a former adviser to the International Trade Secretary.


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