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April 28, 2011


Patrick Osgood


"By contrast, a monarchy embodies the opposite principle - that people matter for what they do, not for who they are."

But our monarchy does not "do" anything. Indeed, the great strain is to find things for them to do, given what a limited bunch they are. We are continually bored by talk of William's "career" when it is obvious it is in fact a hobby. The only royal with any practical role is Prince Andrew. He keeps, shall we say, unusual company and gives a jarring and embarrassing impression of the nation wherever he goes. And what the royals do is not for the greater public good but for the preservation of the system from which they derive near sole benefit. All their effort is exerted, as it always is with monarchies, on survival.

Regarding a "culture of ego", I can think of nothing more egotistical than the idea that one deserves deference and a surfeit of material comfort due to the mere fact of one's birth, where one's uselessness is one's strength, and one's live should be broadcast as a constant, simpering drama. A stronger connection with X Factor and the like you'd do well to find.

And as for egalitarianism and monarchies, I need't point out that correlation ≠ causation. If the royal family were abolished and the CoE disestablished, would we become a more equal unsociety as a result? I think not.


Arise Lord Dillow, ennobled for your splendid Modest Proposal


"Lottery of birth" is a strange phrase. Perhaps you get better or worse royal 1st borns, but part of their genetic background, and most of their upbringing, is the same every time. So it's not much of a lottery, is it?


Interesting post. But how's the NHS 'idiotic in theory' and where is the evidence for the monarchy being 'successful in practice'? A measure of success for monarchy is an interesting idea alone! Performance pay for princes?


Interesting post. It seems that Prince William's and Katherine's marriage has triggered a new debate on the reasons of monarchy.


@ Patrick - if abolishing the monarchy were all we did, we might eventually become a more unequal soceity. The existence of a presidential system might promote the myth that success was due to merit, and so reduce support for redistribution; this might be the case in the US.
And I'm not claiming anyone deserves deference by virtue of birth. Insofar as we defer to the Queen, we do so to the role, not to the person. Under a presidential system, the president would claim to deserve his role by virtue of who he is. Mrs Windsor makes no such claim. Which is why I say monarchy does less to promote egotistical culture.
@ David - I meant the NHS was idiotic in the sense that one wouldn't expect a massive organization, based upon top-down organization and without price signals at the point of use to work so well. As for the success of the monarchy, this lies in the fact that it hasn't been an issue for 300 years - which is quite a triumph.


Good post. Maybe not a very strong correlation between relative equality and monarchy tho' once you've factored in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait etc? Republican France is more equal than Britain, no?

Nick Cohen

"I suspect it’s not a coincidence that the countries which are best at equality overall (e.g. Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands) [he might have added Japan - CD] also tend to be monarchies,"

And he might have added Britain, but did not because he could not.
Not such a superb point after all

Charles Wheeler

Can't quite see (in spite of your elaboration) why the NHS is 'idiotic in theory'.

Surely private healthcare is idiotic in theory - providing perverse incentives for unnecessary treatment and bearing no relationship to clinical need.

It can only be 'idiotic in theory' if you buy the market fundamentalist prescription.



There's simply no causal evidence for your supposition, and (as Nick Cohen points out) some evidence to the contrary. I think you are creating a myth of your own.

The deference to a president is from his legitimacy arising from election, a deference which disappears the moment his mandate expires. How a monarch - who inhabits the role for life, with the expectation of doing so from birth, and irrespective of popularity or competence - is *less* egotistical is lost on me.


"The monarchy is much like the NHS: idiotic in theory but surprisingly successful in practice. It therefore reminds us that rationality is a very weak tool for judging the efficacy of institutions."

Are you seriously suggesting we should keep the monarchy because it's been around a long time?

"Only "progressives", with their unthinking and self-regarding faith in their limited stock of reason, believe rationality should be the sole arbiter of how we should organize ourselves."

Really? I thought that was neoclassical economists. I thought progressives were all about the immorality of the rational pursuit of self-interest.

"This, he says, is because monarchies remind us that our fate in life is due not solely to merit but to luck"

The media has not got this message. Our culture in general, and this wedding in particular, is crammed with a "fairytale princess story" that to me reeks of patriarchy, privilege, and if anything to do with luck, DEFENCE of that luck. I believe the word "deference" is pretty apt here.

"Is it really an accident that monarchical Spain is more equal than presidential Portugal, or Canada more egalitarian than the US, or Denmark more than Finland?"

Firstly, of course it's not "accidental" that different countries have different levels of inequality and that that has nothing to do with monarchism or lack thereof. You're the one always banning on about leaders not having as much influence as they are thought to have - now you're telling us that what? That Cameron would be cutting faster if it wasn't for the Queen?

And where is your evidence that monarchy even correlates with greater equality? Or was it just pulled out of your arse?

Also, its' ludicrous to bring up "monarchist Spain" considering its history.

"But a true meritocracy would, as Michael Young famously pointed out, be even more horribly inegalitarian than the fake one we have now. So given the choice, give me monarchy."

But concentrations of wealth are bad whether or not they arise through a meritocracy or through patronage and royalty. In fact, the concentrations of wealth are often more ludicrous under monarchy. How many castles and palaces do capitalists own?

"If we had an elected presidency, what sort of preening, self-loving narcissistic egomaniac would think they were capable of representing and symbolizing the nation?"

There are a number of problems with this:

1. What about the current Queen, who obviously sees herself as "capable of representing and symbolizing the nation" (else she'd have abdicated)? Why isn't she a "preening, self-loving narcissistic egomaniac" also?

2. Who says the choice is between an elected President and the monarch? There are so many choices. What about an elected monarchy? What about having the Speaker as Head of State? Or (my personal fave) NOT HAVING A HEAD OF STATE AT ALL?! Seriously, what's the point of a symbolic head of state in the first place? Scrap the post and replace with no-one. You're always attacking the concept of leadership and so on. Why not add the monarch to the long list of unnecessary jobs?

3. Even if we did have an elected president, such a figure would've been chosen by the public. Scaring the public away from republicanism by bring up "preening, self-loving narcissistic egomaniac" bogeymen doesn't make sense. If the public don't want a "preening, self-loving narcissistic egomaniac" for president, then they won't vote for one.

"Tony Blair, you all answer"

Tony Blair would never have run for a symbolic elected president - since there would be no power there. However, if we had an American-style presidential system, then yes, Blair would have gone for the top job. The problem with the "President Blair" bogeyman argument, is that we already had President Blair, only he was called "Prime Minister Blair", and he actually wielded more power in proportion to the size of his country than does the US President. After all, we have no constitution to check the PM's power, an overly centralized structure particularly in England, no separation of powers, a payroll vote, patronage in the second chamber and the Parliament Acts. Etc.

"the belief that people are to be valued for who they are as individuals"

I think you might want to rephrase this. It seems a good thing to value people as individuals. Much would be better in political culture if more people did so.

"a monarchy embodies the opposite principle - that people matter for what they do, not for who they are"

Bollocks. A monarchy embodies the principle that the head of one particular aristocratic family can be "capable of representing and symbolizing the nation". How is that not egotistical? How does that not value a certain class in society as more important than the rest?

"One is that a monarchy is a symbol of a society that is disfigured by class division. True. But we should worry about the bird, not the plumage."

But monarchy is not just the result of class division, it is class division.

"There is, though, a very high chance that this would throw up as our head of state someone far more obnoxious than our present Royals."

Umm, show your working please. Why would the genetic inheritance of one family, warped from birth by privilege, by less likely to produce obnoxious monarchs than choosing by lot? Unless you're claiming that monarchical families inherently have more "class" than the hoi polloi (and I don't think you want to go down that road), I can't see how you can justify this claim.

Chris, stop trolling your readership with bizarre contrarian for contrarianisms sake posts.


The Right Honourable Denis MacShane MP concurs: http://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2011/04/28/kate-et-william-sont-ils-marxistes_1514045_3232.html [fr]. However, looking at the Gini indexes, according to the UN, it seems that, in the EU, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland, Hungary, Germany, Slovenia, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, France, Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Poland, Estonia, Italy and Lithuania are more equal societies than the UK.

Paul Sagar

I presume this is tongue in cheek, because the reasoning is well below par.

Tim Almond

I don't mind that some people, by virtue of birth are richer than me. I do mind that I'm forced to pay for a few of them under threat of violence by the state.


I love it.

The Athenians did something like this, I think.

We could choose the head of state by lot and have a different one every day. They could wear the crown and everything, but just for the day. That would avoid any lengthy embarrassments.

Miguel Madeira

Perhaps the causal relation monarchy-equality is the opposite: societies with much inequality tend to produce political unrest that brings down the monarchy?


Monarchy is an institution with its pros and cons and people who are pro and against it. Monarchy has inspired lots of fairy tales.

john b

And he might have added Britain, but did not because he could not.

Thanks for turning up and making a fatuous point, Mr C. Britain's less equal than most wealthy societies. That's one data point. The other constitutional monarchies are more equal than most wealthy societies. That's a lot of data points. The conclusion is not "everything in the UK is awesome", it's "the fact that we are an unequal society demonstrably has fuck all to do with the monarchy".

How many castles and palaces do capitalists own?

In the UK, a hell of a lot more than royals do.

Seriously, what's the point of a symbolic head of state in the first place?

To stop people from deferring to the head of government.

In the UK, nobody questions your patriotism if you claim the PM's a cunt, because he's not a symbol of the country. If there's no symbolic head of state, the head of government takes that role in the eyes of the world, which inherently gives their partisan views undeserved respect and advantage.

john b

Bother, forgot Chris's HTML-stripping ways. Insert quotes where appropriate above, dear reader.


Yes, Barack Obama is seen as a Great Patriot in the US. There's no prominent movement claiming he was born in Kenya, at all.


Thanks for an interesting post.

The point on the relationship between monarchies and equality, while fascinating, faces challenging evidence.

Of the 14 countries with gini coefficients under 0.30 (all of which are in Europe), only the 3 you mentioned are monarchies. The rest, such as Finland, Iceland and Germany are not.

Canada and the UK (and also the Netherlands) are less equal than any of these, and while certainly having a lower Gini than the USA, they are similar to for example the Republics of Ireland and France. Portugal is the least equal country in Western Europe. So while it has greater inequality than Spain which has a monarchy, there is also less in Switzerland and Italy that don't.

And once we go beyond European or commonwealth countries we find more counterexamples in the likes of Saudi Arabia, Swaziland etc.

Jussi Jalonen

I dunno, man. The fact that the Finnish gini coefficient diverged from the Danish figures in the mid-'90s is supposed to be the sublime proof that the house of Gorm the Old has done really well promoting equality? Wow, it took only one millennium. Or is it supposed to be a proof that there was some unrecognized, but obviously fundamental flaw in the Finnish republican form of government, and it took almost eight decades to manifest itself?

On the other hand, gini coefficients aside, at least in this country, we don't have ass-backwards laws on immigration (yet).


J. J.

Moncler Rockar

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