Save us from more politics!
By J.K. Baltzersen
Popes and presidents came and went. The Platinum Queen ruled on. Since that accession in a tree in the wilderness of the Aberdares. It would not go on forever.
The new King stands crowned and ready for his first official birthday, Trooping the Colour, separate from his own birthday, November 14, a tradition that goes back more than a quarter of a millennium.
The British and Commonwealth monarch is a ceremonial monarch, whose tradition is to stay far away from political controversy, particularly since the abdication of Edward VIII, although that wasn't always clear when the new King was Prince of Wales.
In the reign of the present King's great-great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria, Editor-in-Chief of The Economist Walter Bagehot wrote The English Constitution, in which he put out the rights of a "constitutional monarch," narrowly defining constitutional monarchy. The rights are: the right to encourage, the right to warn, and the right to be consulted. It is indeed a form of constitutional monarchy, but it is a narrow definition and describes a subclass of constitutional monarchy, denying the term to other constitutionally limited monarchies of the past, and even the European principalities of this present age. Queen Victoria is often described as the first British constitutional monarch, but that too is according to a narrow definition.
In extension of the Bagehot rights are the reserve powers, the available option for a monarch to pull the emergency brake, indicating a less narrow definition of constitutional monarchy, but narrow still.
One would wonder whether the modern monarchs ever could pull that emergency brake, considering a top priority is to stay out of political controversy. The King of Italy pulled it first after more than 20 years with Mussolini as his Prime Minister.
These monarchies are technically a form of constitutional monarchy. It would, however, be more precise to call them ceremonial or symbolic monarchies (sometimes called crowned republics), especially for the case of Sweden, where the monarch has been completely removed from the decision-making process. The closest the King of Sweden comes to that process is the formal opening of Parliament and signing of ambassadorial credentials. Yet, no politician occupies the highest post, as it is reserved for the monarch, who behind the scenes may challenge them, and to whom they may confess.
Certainly, in modern-day constitutional monarchy, the monarchy can serve as a nice wrapping around the dirty work of politics.
The limits those especially limited monarchs put on power are admittedly far from sufficient to secure liberty. However, the likelihood of what would come in the place of those monarchies, being better is low. Yet often, republicans want minimal changes beyond having the monarchy removed. That would limit the potential harm but also the potential gain.
In some cases, republicans argue that removing the monarchy is needed to make way for checks and balances. How realistic it is that the political system will put effective limits on itself, that is another story.
The premier example of checks and balances in our age is arguably the United States. While the American union to some extent does have such checks and balances and limits on politics and government, it leaves much to be desired.
Yet, modern monarchies to a large extent separate national loyalty and unity from politics, which may provide much needed stability. While stability varies amongst republics, replacing a cultural institution in a country with a deep-rooted tradition over centuries is gambling with stability, and could be a perilous experiment.
As Edmund Burke told us, constitutions are grown, not made.
Monarchy is not merely not harmful; it is beneficial.
That is important to keep in mind this upcoming Saturday, when His Majesty King Charles III of the United Kingdom and 14 other Commonwealth Realms marks and celebrates his first official birthday.
God save the King!
J.K. Baltzersen is a Norwegian author and political commentator. He has edited and co-written a book on constitution, democracy and liberty. His writing has also been published in North America, most recently in The Washington Times.