Last weekend I enjoyed ‘Our Queen At Ninety’ on ITV, and in a time when many are calling a constitutional Monarchy ‘out of date,’ I think it’s worth exploring what value the Monarchy still holds.
I would argue that the Monarchy has survived and continues to be useful because having a politically neutral, ceremonial head of State, who is not simultaneously the head of the executive branch of Government, is a stabilising and healthy part of our constitution as it subordinates the role of elected politicians.
The Monarch is above the Prime Minister. It is right and good that the Prime Minister is not the head of the British state. It makes the office of Prime Minister more obviously one of public servitude in a way that the office of the American President does not seem to be.
In the UK, because the Queen and her extended family cut ribbons, elected politicians don’t. In the United States, executive decisions are made by unelected members of the President’s Administration whilst the President carries out ceremonial commitments. Aside from the democratic deficit that creates, it is important that politicians don’t forget that they are public servants. Taking politicians away from their service and making them cut ribbons turns them into VIPs. This seems to advance a sense of grandiosity and hubris in politicians who already need no encouragement.
There is a cult-like reverence around anyone who holds power. People like powerful people for no reason other than because they have power. I’m glad the UK focuses most of that energy on a politically neutral head of state rather than any politician. Wrapping the ceremonial trappings of a head of state with the powers of the executive branch removes a check of executive power.
In 2008, Cato Institute scholar, Gene Healy, wrote a book called ‘The Cult of The Presidency’ documenting the serious abuses of executive power by the Presidency. If the USA did not have a written document specifically limiting government power, the Constitution, this aggrandisement of the head of executive power could have made the American government bigger and the office of President more autocratic. All the worst ever politicians have tried to make themselves cult leaders because it makes them untouchable.
In the ‘Our Queen at Ninety’ programme it mentioned that the Queen had seen no less than twelve American Presidents come and go. Whether you like her or loathe her, it feels like the Queen has been around for an age. It is healthy for politicians to have a reminder that they are transient, public servants just around to do a job, and can be replaced easily whilst the show goes on without them.
Politicians are divisive and usually, the more effective they are, the more divisive they are. The Monarchy has undeniably been a unifying and stabilising influence on the United Kingdom and has helped shape the British identity. This is useful because it means divisive politicians can only divide up to a point, with the Monarchy acting as a rallying point for healing division and emphasising a common status as British subjects.
For these reasons, merging the head of state with the head of the executive branch of government would be unwise. I can easily see how this role being carried out by a celebrity family is considered anachronistic. If the Monarchy is ever replaced, however, it should be replaced with an elected, ceremonial, and politically neutral head of state for the sake of the subordination of overarching elected politicians.
I enjoyed Sam Hooper’s piece about the increasingly aggressive phenomenon of ‘safe space’ students. I think there is value in exploring where this social attitude came from in further detail. I believe that the recent desire of students to turn the adult world into their personal comfort zone is a direct consequence of a school system that over emphasises left- wing values. The ‘no one should ever lose’ mentality must be eradicated from schools in order to combat this insidious social attitude and create resilient adults.
One of the main fallacies I hear from those of a left-wing persuasion is the fact that competition means ‘someone loses.’ Obviously this is true, if a company makes an inferior product, and another company makes a better product, the former company receives less sales ergo profit and can be said to have lost. The latter company, who produced a better product, is said to have ‘won’ and that’s bad because someone else (the purveyor of shoddy products) is put out of business. Left-wingers don’t see this as a good but people who believe in markets are okay with this. This is how markets are meant to work and usually left-wing commentators forget that the consumer also always ‘wins’ too, by being able to purchase a superior/better value product.
This thinking has permeated the education system for decades. For years, children have been artificially insulated from any form of loss or emotional upset. The common practice of everyone getting a prize for taking part in sports regardless of how good they are, or how much effort they have put in. The reasoning being that no one’s feelings should get hurt. Whilst I appreciate that adults want their children to have happy childhoods, this has been taken way too far. It is not just the job of parents and educators to make children’s lives as happy as possible. It is the job of parents and educators to make their children into adults who can thrive in the adult world.
The rise of students who cannot exist outside of a ‘safe space’ shows that parents and educators have failed in many respects. Children should be exposed to competition and tests, offered incentives for doing well in them and working hard because that builds resilient adults who are ready for a world where not everyone gets a part in a blockbuster movie or a book deal. In trying to create a world where children are never subjected to rejection or losing, they are unprepared for an adult world where so much of life is about how you deal with rejection, loss, grief and disappointment and avoiding it is impossible. This is, after all, precisely what school is for; a place to fail when the stakes are low.
Left-wing anti-competition dogma, may very well remove mild temporary stress from children’s lives but it also robs them of the chance to develop the vital resilience they need to navigate the adult world. What is a job interview if not a competition? There’s no second or third place, there’s the person who gets the job – the winner – and everyone else is a loser with no prizes for taking part and often, no explanation for why you lost. This anti-competition attitude, which is pervasive in schools, prepares children for the world their parents and teachers wish existed rather than the world as it is.
Is it any wonder then that these students, now university aged, want to turn the adult world into an extension of their own personal comfort zones? We shouldn’t be surprised that students are shallow, virtue signalling social justice warriors who are threatened by any view that challenges their own. This is exactly the type of student conventional left-wing educationalists always wanted and it is tragic. But don’t worry! When they are no longer cushioned by their student unions, these individuals are in for a short, sharp shock of entering the adult world and it’ll do them a world of good.
Previously on this site, I argued that marriage allows you to unambiguously define your family. Now I want to add to that point with regards to children. Marriage can arguably be said to have been designed for the protection and provision of children (I am not sure that the state would ever have got involved if it had not been about children - it would have just been a private contractual matter).
Essentially, you get married, you have children and the state says "get on with it" (there is, of course, a law relating to compulsory education and more and more interference - but they are breaches of the principle). When somebody has a child without two parents there to bring him or her up, the state tends to get heavily involved - not always but generally. It is still broadly true when people are married with children, the state keeps its nose out. Sadly, this is becoming progressively less true over time and Libertarians should support policies that reverse this ‘State creep’ into family life.
The reality of family break down can mean a sudden influx of State lawyers, social workers and, in worse case scenarios, the police, into your private life. Once agents of the State come into your life, they are usually there for a long time. I recently watched as the break down of a friend’s marriage not only involved all of the above but also made him effectively homeless as he was not entitled to social housing because he had equity in the shared home he was prohibited from returning to.
In cases of divorce or abandonment, the State will normally end up either financing the child care while the mother goes out to work (empirically it is nearly always the father who is absent); pay the mother an income while she brings up the child; or, if both parents are there and they split up, the State ends up adjudicating about the family finances, who sees whom when and so on. Marriage in the context of children can be thought of as a liberal buffer against the state poking its nose in to the upbringing of children. It is not a necessary condition for that to be the case, but it is the case with remarkable regularity.
Marriage allows the whole family unit to be treated unambiguously as one - though the fact that it is treated as one for benefit purposes but not for tax purposes leads to discrimination against family formation. This is a quirk of the tax code that should be vehemently opposed by those of us with an anti-State persuasion.
Libertarians have long neglected emphasis on family relations, perhaps because it is seen as the domain of Conservatives who taint anti-statist arguments with notions of “morality” that not everyone can subscribe to. Healthy, in tact marriages, however, mean less intervention from the State. We can not argue in favour of reeling back the State without articulating, bolstering and defending the social structures that should replace it; and one of those institutions is marriage.
Marriage was designed to protect women and children physically, emotionally, and ensure the property and financial conditions conducive to their well being were in place. Even though the institution has changed over time, what is interesting is not how the institution has changed but what remains the same. Libertarians should see marriage as part of an organic safety net and advocate for its strengthening as buffer against the State’s pernicious involvement in our family lives.
Recently, I have come across a new mantra amongst people my age of a libertarian/anti-state persuasion. The shunning of Marriage, dismissed simply because it’s 'just a piece of paper.' Some of you may have heard something similar to the following: “We don’t need a piece of paper – our love is pure!” Yes, that’s right, the belief that love is all unicorns, fairies and angel farts… I get it. Good for you! Now, let me explain to you how wrong you are…
A Marriage certificate is not just a piece of paper. It is a contract; and contracts are important. Things like Marriage certificates and Wills are some of the few times in our lives we get to explicitly sign a social contract with the State; however, inadequate they may appear to be. In exchange for signing the contract, certain rights, privileges and obligations are granted from the State.
There are lots of other arguments in favour of Marriage on the basis that Marriage affects the quality of the relationship, more likely to last, etc., but this article is deliberately not concerned with those.
The most valuable thing Marriage and civil partnerships do from a legal standpoint is make you unambiguously related to your partner in the eyes of the law. Governments are big, fat and stupid so unless you have a piece of paper saying you are married to your partner, as far as your Government is concerned you are two unrelated adults.
In recent years there have been calls for the rules to be changed to acknowledge the condition of Cohabitation. Obligations regarding ‘Cohabitation’ are often only applied when there are children under the age of eighteen involved. Once those children become adults, you and your partner effectively go back to being unrelated adults again. That’s how the State treats you if one of you dies prematurely, regardless of how many children you’ve raised together, or how many years you’ve lived together, or how much you loved each other.
I don’t think these laws will ever be changed because Cohabitation is too ambiguous. Oh well, I lived with him for two years and we have a kid, but I lived with him for five years and I loved him more… What? If only there was some sort of contract couples could sign to make their relationship completely unambiguous…
Also, there is no such thing as a ‘Common-law wife/husband/spouse.’ I’m amazed at how many people think that it exists. It’s effectively a polite term for ‘living in sin.’
In the Gay Marriage debate, I found myself rather surprised that no one was actually arguing that Homosexuals should have Marriage because Marriage is good. The main thrust of the debate from ‘liberals’ was about getting the State to acknowledge and sanction Homosexual relationships (despite the fact that when Heterosexuals do it, it’s a caustic patriarchal institution – but that is an article for another day…). I was pro-Gay Marriage because, since Marriage is actually a really, really good and useful contract, it’s blatantly unequal that Homosexual partners should not be allowed to have the privileges of a Marriage contract.
Rather than being a collusion with the State and it’s sanctioned institutions, Marriage acts as a barrier between you and the State. If you die without a Marriage certificate and/or a Will, it is the State who decides what happens to your worldly possessions, your estate, your pension, or even your body. Your partner will probably not be included in those decisions: why leave that up to chance? In a world with so much uncertainly, why shun a tool that provides some measure of certainty?
As you may have guessed by now I’m a fan of Marriage, although I do acknowledge it’s not perfect. What makes the Marriage contract inadequate in many ways is, not it’s relationship with the State but, the fact that it doesn’t resemble a private contract enough.
Marriage is not ‘just a piece of paper,’ it is an exceptionally useful and valuable public contract. Dismiss it as ‘just a piece of paper’ at your peril!
For Conservatives For Liberty, March 2016.