The British Monarchy Must Go

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Ben Cohen
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Royal family by spacebahr.

photo by spacebahr

By Jason Hill

Last
week the British tabloids were saturated with stories of how Michelle
Obama broke with protocol by putting her arms and hand around Her
Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. Did Michelle have BO or something? Were
her hands contaminated? Exactly what is so special about Elizabeth that
makes it permissible to touch her hand but not shake it? Seeing the
Obamas standing stiffly and apart from her made me wonder about plain
commoners versus blue-blooded royalty. Does this woman have a greater
share in humanity than the rest of us? What’s the real rationale behind
all these protocols that seem to suggest that, standing beside this
woman, we have unequal intrinsic moral worth and value in relation to
her. I immediately think of the caste system in India.

Nowhere
is thetarnishment of the self more evident than in the notion of
Untouchability. The Untouchable (Dalit) in the Hindu caste system,
identifiable by his community, is not only thought to be physically
unclean. Indeed, the elaborate rituals that Untouchables
undergo—sweeping behind them as they walk so that no higher caste will
tread the same dust as they, assigned to specific occupational roles
associated with contamination—could easily be remedied by attending to
the hygiene of an Untouchable. But this is not the case. Not even a
cleansing bath could erase his contamination and impurity.

There
is some intrinsic feature that the Untouchable harbors by nature of his
existence—it cannot be located anywhere, a smelly armpit, an unwashed
crotch, uncombed and dirty hair, for example. This impurity that he
harbors is not even the residual stains of a sinful life. If such were
the case, then Untouchability might at least have the dignity of
playing a redemptive role in social life. The Untouchable would atone
for his sins by being scorned; his apartness would be punitive and
rehabilitative. To be so set apart from the rest of humanity would
restore in him an understanding of the importance of human sociability.
But the Untouchable is robbed of any such rehabilitative possibility.
He functions for others like a different species-being.

In a
post-enlightenment age, in the age of liberal democracies, the idea of
hereditary monarchy and hereditary chosennes seems downright illiberal
and archaic.

Had Princess Diana married Dodi Al Fayed, her
racially vague and somewhat androgynous pretty boy heartthrob, the
future king of England would have had a "commoner" and a North African
as a stepfather, which should make those of us who suffer from
principled sickness of the notion of royalty and blue blood righteously
pleased. We fail to understand how people can respect lineage more than
individual moral character. Make no mistake, in an era in which the
equal moral worth of all human beings regardless of background has
become the staple of progressive moral and political thought, the
British monarch -- indeed, the very idea of monarchy -- embodies the
worst social ills that deplete any hope for civilized society: racism;
sexism; ethnocentrism; and religious preference.

In a Vanity
Fair article, Christopher Hitchens pointed out just how racist, sexist
and ethnocentric the British criteria for becoming head of government
are. The specifications are set forth in the 1701 Act of Settlement
that stipulates that one has to be able to number oneself among the
descendants of: "The Princess Sophia, Electress and Duchess dowager of
Hanover, daughter of the late Queen of Bohemia, daughter of King James
the First, to inherit after the King and the Princess Anne, in default
of issue of the said princess and his Majesty, respectively; and the
heirs of her body, being Protestants."

Hitchens' article
makes clear what is meant by the term "heirs of her body." It is
dependent on the notion of primogeniture, which gives preference to
sons over daughters, as well as the children of sons over the progeny
of daughters. Therefore, Prince William is second in line to the throne
while Princess Anne, his aunt and the Queen's second child, is eighth.
To be head of state one must also be Protestant and a member of the
Church of England. One must descend in the male line, and listen to
this: One has to be ethnically German as far as possible. Ethnocracy,
the genesis of so much destruction, is institutionally guaranteed
longevity via the veins of the blue-blooded royals.

This is
offensive because it is just plain backward. It is Germany that emerged
as one of the most savagely tribal states of the 20th century. Until
recent years, all those who aspired to German citizenship had
todemonstrate German lineage as fully as possible. This ought to
offend the moral sensibilities of all Americans who relish the idea of
a civic as opposed to an ethnic form of nationalism. Ethnic Turks born
and raised in Germany and schooled in the language and culture had less
claim of citizenship than ethnic Germans born and raised in Russia and
whose ancestors have lived in Russia for over 200 years. That such
individuals can't speak a word of German is irrelevant. German laws are
changing slowly and a residency of eight years is now required for
naturalized citizenship.

Blood, that human body fluid most
revered by a tribally minded people, is imbued with magical powers.
Possession of a certain type guarantees the possession of all sorts of
traits that are normally achieved by the rest of us through discipline
and courage. (Similarly tyrannical and oppressive is the "one-drop
rule" which identifies as black anyone with a shred of African
ancestry, and that still holds sway in America.)

Perhaps I have a
bias here. I am a product of a postcolonial island nation in the
Caribbean. I've never lived under colonial rule and know little of its
formal indignities. I continue to witness, however, the ghastly
spectacle of a people who continue to see Her Majesty and all her
progeny and their progeny as somehow representing a model of humanity
that is innately better in some ineffable way. What is really sad is
the failure to fully grasp the contradiction in the ideas of equality
and human dignity that they hold dear and the values of monarchial
lineage.

There is a conflict between the principles people
rely on to make sense of their lives as creatures of inherent dignity
and the ways in which their veneration or silence about an institution
that is deeply at odds with such principles renders them cognitively
immobile. Thomas Paine said, "The idea of hereditary legislators is as
inconsistent as that of hereditary juries; and as absurd as an
hereditary mathematician, or an hereditary wise man; as absurd as an
hereditary Poet Laureate."

The truth is that those who fail
to abide by this fail to see how rotten to the core the idea of
monarchy is today. Its corruption lies in the fact that it assumes a
fundamental difference between the humanity we commoners possess and
the humanity of a blue blood. The sorry thing about this, like the
Catch 22 of original sin, is that most of us are accorded this share of
a blighted inferior humanity before we have even a chance to achieve
our humanity, let alone voluntarily corrupt it. No, we just have to be
born. That's all. And so do they.