Why do royalists support monarchies

Why the British monarchy remains a constant in the storm of time

The persistence of the monarchy in Great Britain continues to astonish outsiders. A premodern institution conveys stability, especially in times of incessant change. The latest withdrawal movements by Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan do not change that.

It is hard to imagine a greater anachronism in a democracy: it is only by chance that someone becomes head of state. It is a blatant violation of the ideal of equality in modern society, in which individual merit and not the archaic principle of descent should determine a person's rank. Don't blatant misconduct like that of Prince Andrew or the latest twist in the soap opera about Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan show how highly problematic the dynastic principle can be these days? But why is the institution of the monarchy still barely controversial in Great Britain?

Let us first let two unsuspecting witnesses have their say, whom no one would accuse of a nostalgic glorification of outdated forms of rule. The Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm put it this way: “The constitutional monarchy without executive power has proven to be a reliable framework for liberal democratic forms of government such as in the Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain or Spain. It will continue to be useful - if only because it excludes politics from regulating the succession. " Alex Salmond, former Scottish head of government, longtime campaigner for the secession of his part of the country from the United Kingdom and avowed despiser of English conservatism, specifically advocated keeping the Queen as head of state of an independent Scotland and as a "symbol of common values".

Influence but not power

This principle of a figure of general respect at the head of the state floating above the everyday controversies was able to hold up even in the storms of the Brexit drama - except for a brief but critical moment. When Boris Johnson tried to postpone parliament for several weeks to avoid losing the vote on his exit treaty with the EU, he needed the Queen's signature. This was interpreted as an attempt to draw the Queen into the current political dispute and thus to break a taboo.

For the monarch, there has not been the slightest leeway since Victorian times that would have allowed her to counteract the advances made by her head of government or even to refuse to sign a law. Because according to the unwritten British Constitution, the Queen has no power, but she does influence. This is not stipulated anywhere. It is exercised discreetly and can therefore always be denied in individual cases.

Prince Andrew is not the first black sheep to discredit the royal family. But while in earlier times the exponents of the dynasty benefited from the double standards of the time during their escapades, which were no longer bothered by mistresses and affairs, this is different in today's media environment. Therefore, the supply of acceptance for the British monarchy should not be inexhaustible. But there is still one bulwark against which all reservations rebound: the reigning monarch. Because, unlike many members of her family, she almost never disappointed expectations during the record-long period of her reign, but rather fulfilled her role in an ideal way. Although - or precisely because - she persistently embodies outdated values ​​such as an iron sense of duty, religiosity and patriotism, she has a special charisma. Almost the only moment in which she caused consternation among the people was her behavior, which was perceived as cold after the accidental death of her daughter-in-law Princess Diana in the summer of 1997. In opinion polls at the time, around a third of the British questioned supported the abolition of the monarchy. Today, depending on the question asked, it is only 17 to a maximum of 20 percent. The reluctance of the Queen, which was criticized at the time as cold feeling and aloofness, acts in retrospect as a sign of dignity in contrast to the excitement of the public in those days, which bordered on mass hysteria.

To this day, the British monarchy has proven resilient in the storms of time. In the eyes of many «subjects», the Queen's discretion and her scandal-free calmness contrast favorably with the rampant cult of self-disclosure in the age of social media. The queen is the unmatched master of composure. No member of the other royal families in Europe can even come close to holding a candle to it. While the other “royals” have been unwillingly providing material for the tabloids for decades, the queen seems to be surrounded by a special aura. The effect of films and TV series that have increasingly broken this boundary line in recent years has yet to be seen.

A remnant of the sacred

The monarchy in Great Britain juts into ours from another time. But it cannot be separated from the fabric of the unwritten British Constitution. It creates a connection to the thousand-year history of the country that is visible to all. The current dynasty has only held the throne since the 18th century and until the First World War still had a German name, which it had to give up in the nationalistic fever of that time. The Queen should be very well aware that ultimately the monarchy cannot do without the mandate of its “subjects”. After all, as a child she experienced what happens when a king fails: Edward VIII was actually forced to resign by the government in 1936 - a process that suddenly revealed the true balance of power.

In the 19th century, the constitutional theorist Walter Bagehot once demonstrated how a medieval remnant in the literal sense of the word can still have an important function in democracy: the prime minister is responsible for the "dignified" aspect of rule in Great Britain and his government, on the other hand, in a kind of division of labor for the "efficient". Above all, Bagehot warned against the disenchantment of the monarchy, which must always retain a remnant of its sacred mystery so that it does not lose its right to exist: "We must not let in daylight upon magic."

Embodiment of continuity

Basically, it is this magic that Elizabeth II was able to preserve. After almost seventy years in public, the Queen has become the embodiment of the monarchy and is identified with it. Most Britons have never known any other monarch. As she ages and the likelihood that Prince Charles will succeed her, questions inevitably arise. The throne may be inheritable, but respect for the monarch is not. Unlike the Queen, who always showed herself to be a neutral Sphinx, Prince Charles never made a secret of his personal views and, for example, used to bombard ministers with letters on topical issues. But recently he has shown much more restraint and approached his mother's role model. The crucial moment will come after the next coronation, when it becomes clear how Charles will interpret his role as head of state.

The British monarchy is not immune to unsuitable incumbents either. But it embodies the continuity of the nation in a time of ever more rapid change that leaves little else untouched. It can therefore still work in the 21st century. If one had to fill the post of elected president in a parliamentary democracy, Elizabeth II would be hard to beat as a candidate with her understanding of office. Just imagine if Great Britain had a president named John Major or Tony Blair in its place, in order to come to the conclusion that the hereditary monarchy certainly has advantages, since it removes this office from the influence of the politicians. That alone does not mean that it is secured for all time. But there is no better alternative in sight for Great Britain.