Monarchy is Better Than Republicanism, Part CXVI

22 November 2010

Meanwhile, elsewhere in whimsy the nice folks at Foreign Policy asked me to write a piece about Prince William’s engagement. Somehow this ended up with another modest proposal: the United States should ditch the Presidency, join the Commonwealth and become a parliamentary democracy. You know, like Canada.

They have the trappings of royalty already, but none of the benefits:

Last year, Peggy Noonan, the American conservative commentator and former presidential speechwriter, complained that President Barack Obama lacked some of the presence that a good head of state requires. She imagines "a good president as sitting at the big desk and reaching out with his long arms and holding on to the left, and holding on to the right, and trying mightily to hold it together, letting neither spin out of control, holding on for dear life. I wish we were seeing that. I don’t think we are."

Americans tempted to scoff at the gushing nonsense produced by the British press this week should attend to Noonan’s words. It is one thing to be dazzled by quasi-mystical notions of the thread of royalty stretching back through the centuries; quite another to wrap a mere politician — all too human flesh and all — in such purpled prose. A politician is merely a politician, here today and tossed out tomorrow. The monarch, however, is a reassuring and enduring symbol whose presence is inoffensive at worst and more often comforting. The American system simply isn’t set up to produce the kind of figure that Noonan longs for.

If the president must be comforter-in-chief and chief executive, is it any wonder that the office is bedeviled by a kind of institutional schizophrenia? The president must, simultaneously, be the leader of his party and a kindly, bipartisan father figure whose stately presence in the White House reassures and embodies the great republic. With all that, the wonder of the American presidency is not that it is [not*] done well but that it is done at all.

Since Congressional elections increasingly resemble parliamentary elections, the tensions in the US system aren’t disappearing any time soon. As Bagehot put it more than a century ago:

"The executive is crippled by not getting the laws it needs, and the legislature is spoiled by having to act without responsibility: the executive becomes unfit for its name, since it cannot execute what it decides on; the legislature is demoralized by liberty, by taking decisions of which others (and not itself) will suffer the effects."

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This isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world and, again, I’m sometimes surprised that Washington works as well as it does. But there’s something to it anyway. 

Obviously tongue-in-cheek suggestions that Brenda reign from sea to shining sea below the 49th parallel won’t go anywhere, but it would be a good thing if the President weren’t elevated to quasi-Royal status.

Anyway, the whole thing is here.

*An unfortunate lapse left this useful "not" out of the original piece. My fault, mainly.

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  • Radric CHAN


    Constitutional monarchy is a monarchy where a monarchy is bound by constitution and has limited roles. The UK is what is called a uncodified constitution. Although it is not confined in a single document, there are major laws that define the workings of government which is what a constitution is. And what role the monarch has in it is strictly convention.

    The American revolution was actually a struggle for representation and self-determination, not about monarchs. Given the fact that the country they gained independence from was one of the more democratic governments at the time (17th century and early 18th century British politics should explain that to you) and asked and receive help from two absolute monarchies at the time (France and Spain) concludes that fighting monarchical tyranny wasn’t the agenda nor the point of the American revolution.
    The only reason why the US chose a republic over a monarchy is because they lived during the enlightenment and saw an ample chance to experiment governments (many enlightenment philosophers preferred a enlightened absolute monarch and constitutional monarchy) and didn’t find a more alternative of George Washington, who was ask by many to be King. They also want to avoid the pitfalls of any government (which explains the rigid structure of America’s governmental system), they had much criticism in democracy as well.

    We can debate about the practicalities on a nation’s head of state and it’s level of Independence but Canada is certainly not a colony and for the most part not dependent of Britain. It’s an independent state that shares a head of state.

  • tarzan

    “Constitunional Monarchy” does not really exist. Britain does not have a constitution (claiming it is “unwritten” makes no sense). Your reply to my comment exemplifies the twisted lies of modern monarchy. What do they symbolize other than social hierarchy based on birth and unfair impediments to social mobility.

    The Great American Republic was born in a heroic struggle against the tyranny of monarchy.

    As long as Canada is under the unelected monarch of a foreign country Canada will not, technically be a true nation. It will remain a self-governing crown colony whose people are “subjects” and not citizens. How does that make you feel?

  • Radric CHAN


    First of all, Alex said republicanism. There’s a difference between democracy and republics. Second, monarchy has been around way before the middle ages and some current monarchies were created long after. Third, you do know that there’s such a thing as constitutional monarchy where the monarch’s power is limited. Last, there has never been an event anywhere in history where a nation abolished a monarchy because of a struggle for democratic liberation from hereditary tyranny. Not one.

    So to end this, try republican monarchy.

  • tarzan

    This isn’t funny. Monarchy is the anti-thesis of democracy. It is a symbol of medieval superstition and injustice. The struggle for democratic liberation from hereditary tyranny was paid for in blood. Joking that monarchy is better than democracy disrespects the price that has been paid for freedom

  • Ben G

    Good idea. Americans love heredity already, to judge from their elections.

  • dearieme

    We have a crowned republic, they have an elective monarchy. Ours is better. At least for us.

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