It is no secret that I have no warm feelings for monarchy. The last few days have, however, convinced me that it is more important than ever to make a cogent case for why this is so. There’s the obvious reasons, being Kenyan: we have a history packed with exploitation at the hands of British colonial masters. Anecdotally, it is widely known that Elizabeth II, who only died this week, rose to the crown while on a commonwealth visit to Kenya amid the last decades of British colonial rule. Such happenings disprove the impulse that constrains colonial atrocities to history, and these are among only the most obvious reasons. Past the contemporaneous evils the institution has committed and supported, there is a greater case to be made against the logical inconsistencies of maintaining monarchy in the current politic, in both conservative and liberal constituencies. I am tired of justifying my dislike for a Queen. Here, I will try to make a case for why you, too, should find her celebration troubling.
The world today is a far cry from what it was like when most monarchies were founded, yet the institution has failed to adapt to changing times. In fact, there’s a clear argument that considers the institution of monarchy as having become more regressive in recent history than at any other time in its many centuries of existence. Monarchies have historically been justified by their divine right; it was agreed that god ordained them with leadership, wealth and custody of the state. This may well have been true at one point, but it is no longer the case now. With science proving god’s non-existence or, at the very least bringing it to question, we are left with an institution whose legitimacy is openly in question. What do you think such dissonance does to citizens’ worldviews? It cannot be a good thing.
But even putting aside this critical factor, one that undermines the entire justification for monarchy around the world, there are plenty more practical reasons why monarchy should be abandoned:
1) Monarchy encourages conformity – Monarchy is a social ill in its formal stiffness. Those born into royalty are usually brought up to conform to strict social norms and behave in a certain way. This can stifle creativity and individual expression as everyone tries to fit into the same narrow mould. The tabloids enforcing this strict code make royals’ lives difficult, surely, but they make our own more so in encouraging the impulse to more generally set unnecessary standards and police behaviour for certain classes of society.
2) Monarchy contradicts democracy – The very existence of monarchs goes against everything that democracy stands for: equality before the law and representation of all members of society regardless of social status or wealth. Monarchy creates two classes of people: those born into royalty and those who aren’t. This is wholly undemocratic and unjustifiable in modern society, where everyone should have an equal say in how they are governed regardless of their background or social status. The fact that someone can become king or queen simply because they were born into the right family, rather than being elected by the people, goes against everything that democracy stands for. What’s more, monarchs have, in some senses and dependent on the place, absolute power and are not accountable to anyone. This makes them very dangerous indeed.
3) Monarchy promotes nepotism – There are familial lines of succession, but these are only the beginning. Royal families tend to marry within their own ranks too. We are familiar with the uproar that comes with welcoming commonplace people into the institution–we’ve seen shocking scenes play out in Japan, the UK and elsewhere when this happens. I will not speak of the strangeness of marrying within degrees of one’s familial relations. In addition, royal families often prefer their relatives when it comes to filling essential positions within government or giving out lucrative contracts rather than selecting the most qualified person for the job. Is this a world we would continually choose to live in?
4) Monarchy is expensive – Monarchies are extremely expensive to maintain. In addition to the cost of preserving royal palaces, there are also the costs of supporting the royal family’s lavish lifestyle, security costs and so on. All of this comes when most countries are facing severe financial difficulties and cannot afford to waste money on such things. There are some economic benefits to maintaining monarchy e.g., in the British tourism industry , yet the calculation of these benefits often ignores actual costs. Charles, kingly Charles, on his ascension, got to skip a 40% inheritance tax on billions of wealth. Most will ignore this shocking robbery of the public coffers.
5) Monarchy leads to political instability – One of the main problems with monarchy is that it often leads to political instability. Monarchs tend to rule for life, so when they die, there is often a power struggle between their relatives as everyone vies for the throne. Where there is an acknowledged line of succession, there still can be bloody civil wars (as we’ve seen in many countries throughout history) or revolutions as people try to overthrow the monarchy altogether. It could be that elected positions have this same quality, yet this, if true, still works against the case for supporting the monarchy. If it is at best no better than its elected counterpart, why choose it when it has the same and more deficiencies?
6) Monarchy is an anachronism – Many people believe that monarchy is an anachronism in the modern world. This is because it’s a throwback to a time when kings and queens ruled over their subjects with absolute power. In today’s society, where we pride ourselves on being accessible and equal citizens, it seems absurd that we should still have monarchs who are born into privilege and rule over us as though we were their property. Its existence seeds a dissonance in conceptions of the world, and surely births undesired responses to attempts to fairly structure the world.
7) Monarchy undermines human rights – One of the most serious criticisms of monarchy is that it undermines human rights. This is because monarchs have absolute power and are not accountable to anyone. As a result, they can do whatever they like without having to worry about things like democracy or human rights. This has led to some brutal dictatorships in recent history (such as the one in Saudi Arabia), where the king or queen rules with an iron fist, and the people have no say in what goes on. Their British counterparts publicly hold wealth looted from much of the developing world and continue to resist any efforts at restitution. It is difficult to consider their nations in the role they portray themselves in–as guardians of a global rights-based order–when this is the bed they choose to lie in.
8) Monarchy leads to corruption – Monarchs tend to rule for life, so they can abuse their power without worrying about being removed from office by voters at the next election. The sagas are endless. I need not list them here.
9) Monarchy undermines social mobility – People born into royalty are usually given preferential treatment in society. In addition, royal families often marry within their ranks, further entrenching their position at the top of society.
10) Monarchy encourages discrimination – The summation of a series of royal mores means you want a certain kind of person to be it, and another kind not to. I’ve heard tales of Queen Elizabeth’s ban on certain groups of people working in her kitchens. In her kitchens! Ha!
11)The monarchy sucks. It may be more obvious to those with liberal leanings, but even a conservative lover of structure should hate one that fails the test of coherence. Monarchy remains a cursed institution. I pray we can rid ourselves of it while I still draw breath.