Sunday, June 03, 2012

Citizen not Subject

This afternoon I am not watching the Diamond Jubilee Pageant. In fact if I didn't have Sunday responsibilities I would be at the republican protests.

The idea of a hereditary head of a state seems entirely irrational to me. The idea that somebody should have the job of head of state for life for the simple reason that their parent was also the head of state is, well, just silly.

But what offends me most is the language of monarchy. Our language reinforces ideas of hierarchy and class divisions - when we say "your highness" or "your majesty" we are explicitly saying that Elizabeth Windsor is a better human being than the rest of us. As Will Self said in a recent piece I heard, "while our society may pay lip service to equality of opportunity, our fundamental values remain those of inherited wealth and privilege... Yes, deference is the key - and with each bent knee, each ma'am and sir and Your Majesty, we reaffirm that this is the way things are meant to be."

This seems very clearly to me contrary to the idea of the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Unitarianism has always had a foundation of spiritual equality leading to a belief in democracy. Given this it surprises me how many Unitarians seem to want to celebrate the monarchy.

I have a constitutional allergic reaction to anything resembling sycophantic hero worship, whether it's to the latest boyband, the queen, or even Jesus. It seems terribly unhealthy to me to have the sort of investment in others, reinforcing a sense of your own inferiority. Jesus seemed to agree, warning against special titles and privilege. The wealth, privilege and inherited power the country seems intent on celebrating this weekend couldn't be further away from the teaching of Jesus if they tried.

Practically I'm not entirely sure what I would replace the monarchy with. I'm actually not convinced it needs to be replaced with anything/one. One of the phrases in the Will Self essay interested me: "The difficulty for the monarchy is thus not that they are symbolic - but that unlike the transcendent God of the great monotheisms, they are not symbolic enough."

The monarchy is not symbolic enough. Actually I think I would like to keep all the symbolism of the monarchy, and just remove the human being. I would still have "the Crown" - and the Crown could become symbolically the centre of the nation. I would have the Crown (literally) arrive in a stately carriage for the state opening of Parliament, there just wouldn't be a person underneath it. We could hold One Last Coronation where we would crown the nation, crown us. The Crown would sit on all our heads, and be a symbol of The People. How about the royalty of every citizen as a foundation for our nation? That's something I would happily celebrate.

4 Comments:

Blogger Kenneth Robertson said...

As one of the 'sycophantic' dupes of the monarchy who lined the Thames yesterday,I was amused by your idea of 'the Crown becoming an object of veneration - I never thought that I'd encounter a Unitarian arguing for the worship of relics ! So no big screen and party at Bank Street then !

10:23 am  
Blogger Matt said...

I agree with your thoughts on why we shouldn't have a monarchy anymore. However, I would prefer if we moved to the Irish or German system of a largely symbolic president - not a perfect system, but less imperfect that ours.

8:22 pm  
Anonymous Noel said...

"Monarchy can easily be debunked, but watch the faces, mark well the debunkers. These are the men whose taproot in Eden has been cut: whom no rumour of the polyphony, the dance, can reach - men to whom pebbles laid in a row are more beautiful than an arch. Yet even if they desire mere equality they cannot reach it. Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes or film stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison."
C. S. Lewis.

9:19 pm  
Anonymous Noel Davies said...

Stephen,

An insightful piece but not one that I can allow to pass without challenging it, seeing as I am one of those Unitarians (for the time being) that surprise you so much.

Firstly, I would question, as politely as possible, the tone of your writings, and will say nothing of the timing. I quite like the monarchy, not to the extent that I laud them above all others, or would be willingly to sacrifice my Christmas Morning to watch them in the snow making their progression to Sandringham Church, but enough to have enjoyed the recent celebrations. This makes me, you seem to suggest, at best silly or at worst engaging in a sort of reactionary betrayal of the values by which I purport to live. Perhaps so stark a contrast was not your intention, but it reminds me somewhat of your occasional posts on Gay Marriage (a subject which, unlike the Monarchy, I agree with you) which proposed that those that oppose Gay Marriage are engaging in a form of Homophobia-Lite, as opposed to having deeply felt theological views that happen to differ from your own. And this is without questioning whether the Jesus you believe would be berating the whole affair would necessarily be the Jesus that those participating would recognize. I hate to say blasé, but I heard more about commitment, dedication, service to others and, I daresay, God in the past four days then I have done before in the public arena.

Secondly, there seems to be a form of unwarranted extrapolation of opinions going on. In much the same way that proponents of the Iraq War back in the day (which you have previously indicated that you opposed) suggested that to oppose the War was, in essence, to support the dictatorship of Saddam Hussain, there seems to be an undercurrent to your piece that supposes that those in favour of the Monarchy must also desire a Downton Abbeyifing of society. Ultimately, I’m not Walt Whitman and am more than happy to take my hat off to anyone worthy of it.

And, being cheeky, I can’t help but notice that you didn’t quote Will Self when he said “Indeed, I feel quite strongly ambivalent about the Church of England for this very reason. That while it may seem the very essence of anachronism to have one small Christian sect placed at the centre of national life - when that nation comprises many different believers, semi-believers and indeed outright unbelievers - nonetheless, there is something properly spiritual about a priesthood whose remit is to minister to all irrespective of class or creed.”

1:35 pm  

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