Tuesday, 12 June 2012

God Save Our Gracious Queen

 "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. " 
Romans 13:1-5
"I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence."
1 Timothy 2:1-2

 "the Gospel teaches an eternal righteousness of the heart...it does not destroy the State or the family, but very much requires that they be preserved as ordinances of God, and that charity be practiced in such ordinances. Therefore, Christians are necessarily bound to obey their own magistrates and laws save only when commanded to sin; for then they ought to obey God rather than men."
Augsburg Confession, Article XVI, Civil Government

"Gracious Father, you have exalted your Son as the King of kings and Lord of lords and yet he rules as the humble servant of all. We thank you that under him you have established governments and rulers for the world and blessed us through them. Today we give you thanks for Elizabeth, our Queen, and for the 60 years of her reign. Grant her joy and peace in her duties, sustain her with good health, and strengthen her to continue in faithful obedience to you and devoted service to her lands and peoples, now and all the days of her life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
Prayer Upon the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, Lutheran Church of Australia 

Yes, Australia is a constitutional monarchy, much to the consternation of my American friends who wonder why a  modern and progressive nation so like their own would continue to tie itself to such an outdated institution with a foreign-born monarch as head of government to boot (actually, Australians are profoundly different from Americans, but that is the subject of another post). The answer is really quite simple: the constitutional monarchy and the Westminster system of government it heads has provided the politically stable foundations on which modern Australia's prosperity and relative peacefulness has been built. That's not to say this is a perfect system of government, but to paraphrase Winston Churchill's remark apropos democracy generally, it is the least imperfect system that we have found. Thus the attitude of a majority of Australians to the question of a republic is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", especially given the political turmoil which we see presently engulfing many republics. In tumultuous times it would appear there is much to be said to for having an apolitical head of state who, unlike the American or French president, for example, can sit above the fray and provide a sense of unity, continuity with the past and hope for a future under the blessing of God. Constitutional monarchy "has the runs on the board", to use a cricket analogy we are fond of  "down under", while republics seem apt to fray at the edges until the fabric of society tears irreparably and chaos ensues (cf the Weimar republic of post WWI Germany).  And besides, the Queen, like her predecessors, is highly respected and personally popular among Australians, even republicans!

Like most British and Commonwealth children of the first two post-war generations (I was born in the 1960s), I grew up singing 'God Save Our Gracious Queen' every morning on the school parade ground, the classroom still entertained a portrait of the Queen in the place of honour above the blackboard and, while it was already by my time an anachronism, a map which showed all the countries of the British Commonwealth coloured in pink. Why pink and not red is apparently something to do with printing, but in any case the train of pink countries from East to West across the map powerfully conveyed the reality of the old saying that this was an empire/commonwealth on which the sun never set and inspired us with the sense that, although we were in those days a relatively insignificant antipodean Anglo-Saxon enclave (with significant Irish, German and other  minorities) on the wrong side of the world, we were connected to an entity much larger than ourselves.  Yes, I am aware that all this was the the legacy of an imperialism and colonialism which involved the imposition of the will of one people upon another by means of armed force. Australians generally are fans of neither imperialism nor colonialism, but the paradox is that we are the children of both.  Therein lies the only way to reconcile ourselves to this aspect of our history: that out of evil God brought good. I would also maintain that of all the colonial powers, Britain was demonstrably the most benign (compared with France, Spain, Portugal, Holland and Germany) and mostly a power for good over time, as the mode of de-construction of empire showed (witness also the fact that the vast majority of former colonies maintain membership in the Commonwealth to this day, even those who are republics). 

For deep-seated personal and emotional reasons then, not to mention political pragmatism, I would find it impossible to vote for a republic while the present monarch sits upon the throne.  There is also the matter of political philosophy: as I get older I am also increasingly convinced that radical and revolutionary republicanism is the bed-fellow of atheism and fosters the iconoclastic individualism that threatens to tear post-modern societies apart. In contrast, the "given" nature of monarchy and its contribution to the maintenance of institutions which build social capital and community make it for me the natural polity of a society whose ethos has been historically informed by faith in the Triune God.

Not that Australian republicanism is all that radical or revolutionary by historic standards; in fact, to date it has failed to inspire with an alternative, republican ethos or philosophy (cf the United States and France) at all, and has persisted with the view that republicanism is simply about exchanging a British monarch for an elected Australian as head of state. While republicans persist with that argument, I think most Australians will continue to ask why, if the political system is not broken, we should attempt to fix it? 

So, God save our gracious Queen, long may she reign over us!


Chris said...

"I would find it impossible to vote for a republic while the present monarch sits upon the throne"

That sounds like you already are a republican. Like you, we want to choose who our head of state is and throw him/her out if they are unworthy.

"As I get older I am also increasingly convinced that radical and revolutionary republicanism is the bed-fellow of atheism."

The evidence would suggest that is correct for France, but Australia is a not a republic and rapidly becoming more atheistic and the USA is a republic and one of the most Christian countries there is.

Mark Henderson said...

Quick off the mark, Chris!

A monarchist who votes for a monarchy is therefore a Republican? That's a non sequiter. In our form of constitutional monarchy citizens can have a vote on such a matter - that is the outcome of centuries of historical reform of the British monarchy (btw, there are forms of monarchy I would not support!)

The US is "exceptional" in many ways, as de Tocqueville originally noted. It's difficult to draw any firm conclusions from their history or development which can then be applied to other societies. It is alos much more regional than Australia, France or the UK, which again makes comparisons hard. Parts of the US are as secular as Australia.

Meantime, the decline of religious belief in Australia naturally occupies my thoughts a lot, although I haven't posted much on it. Perhaps I will in the future.

Chris said...

"A monarchist who votes for a monarchy is therefore a Republican? That's a non sequiter."

Not quite what I said. Or what I meant to say anyway.

You said: "I would find it impossible to vote for a republic while the present monarch sits upon the throne"

This seems to indicate that would would consider voting for a republic if there was a different monarch. But the thing about monarchy is that you don't get to choose who your monarch is.

Chris said...

btw, I am not a robot but I had a lot of trouble trying to work out the second word: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/130269/robot.png

joel in ga said...

Enlightening and enjoyable commentary. Keep it coming!

Judging from the media coverage the British royal family gets, Americans generally like the monarchy too--now that it is at a safe distance.

Gratuitous thought--where did I hear it from? 'The American Revolution was a great victory for the British ideals of freedom and democracy over a German king and his Hessian mercenaries.'

Mark Henderson said...

Thanks Joel!

Yes, I see what you meant. The thing is that in a constitutional monarchy like Australia you DO get to choose -witness the 1999 referendum.

Now, like most Anglo-Saxons and Australians I suspect, I am at heart a pragmatist and not an ideologue when it comes to politics. I'll readily grant that I'd rather live under a good republic than a bad monarchy. The genius of the institution of the English monarchy, it seems to me, is that it has been reformed incrementally to remove the most objectionable features of monarchy as an ideology. It has been made to serve the state and not just be served by the state. This is also the genius of conservatism - incremental reforms are more likely to yield fruitful results than revolutionary acts.

Mark Henderson said...

And I write that as an ex-socialist!

Lvka said...

A very... physically attractive queen.

When I watched the original 1959 `Twilight Zone` series, I noticed this hot, gorgeous young girl in one of the first episodes... who turned out to be the same actress that plays Katherine Chancelor on "The Young and the Restless"...

Then, when watching Hitchcock's Vertigo, I've noticed a young Miss Ellie (from "Dallas") : she looked simply smashing !

And last night I've watched "The Children's Hour", featuring a very young and attractive Shirley MacLaine...

I'm not really sure why I'm writing all this...

Mark Henderson said...

You need to get out more, Lucian.
Still no work?
You know what we say in English?: "The Devil makes work for idle hands"

Lvka said...

I do get out. Daily. It's summer.

Lvka said...

But getting out of the appartment is one thing, whereas getting out of my own head is quite another... the thoughts follow me wherever I go... Relentlessly. :-|