On 6 February, Elizabeth Windsor marks 70 years of ruling the UK as queen. The major celebrations of her ‘platinum jubilee’ will come in June, as will the peak of the ‘Not Another 70 Years’ campaign by the British anti-monarchy group, Republic.
The abolition of the monarchy is important for the peace movement. It’s important at a fundamental level – to do with what militarism is.
At a more surface level, the queen is officially the head of the armed forces and the royals are sewn into the fabric of the British military. Devotion to the royal family generally translates into instinctive ‘support’ for the armed forces.
It’s also pretty obvious that royals are sent abroad to sell British goods and services including British weapons.
As someone from Nepal, I find it a bit weird talking about abolishing the monarchy.
In Nepal, it took 10 years of civil war, where Maoist guerrillas took over most of the country, and a royal massacre, to get rid of our royal family.
The royals weren’t assassinated by Maoists or dissidents. They were killed, on 1 June 2001, by the crown prince of Nepal, Dipendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev (29). He shot dead nine members of his family, starting with his father, king Birendra (55). His victims included his younger sister, Shruti (24), and his mother, queen Aishwarya (51).
The massacre, and the conspiracy theories, led to a huge loss of respect for the monarchy. This helped to make it much more natural to dethrone the royals in 2008 as part of the peace process which ended the civil war and brought the Maoists into the political mainstream.
Nothing like this is going to happen in the UK.
On the other hand, I expect it will take some mighty upheavals to break the love and admiration of the British public for ‘their’ royal family – and to demolish the current constitutional system. YouGov polls show the queen and her eldest grandson, prince William, have both enjoyed approval ratings of 80 percent or above for the last decade.
There is a slightly deeper point, which is that the queen is, as Republic point out, ‘a fig leaf for excessive government power’. The queen’s speech to parliament every year is written by the government of the day, which shows how royal power is really government power.
The power to make war, to send troops into battle, is a ‘royal prerogative’, which is to say it is a power of the crown, not of any democratically-elected body. Because it is a ‘royal prerogative’, it means that a prime minister (and her cabinet) can make war without having to consult or get permission from any legal or parliamentary authority.
If we want democratic control of the decision to launch (or stop) wars, we will have to move it (and foreign policy in general) out of the zone of royal divine rights. The most certain way of doing that is to abolish royal prerogatives completely by abolishing the royalness of the Windsor family.
Okay, let’s go to the deepest level of this conversation.
What is militarism?
Let’s turn to the anarchist thinker Rudolf Rocker: ‘Militarism and a military establishment are not the same thing, although the existence of a standing army is to be regarded as the first prerequisite of militarism. Militarism is to be appraised first of all as a psychic condition. It is the renunciation of one’s own thought and will, the transformation of man into a dead automaton guided and set in motion from without, carrying out blindly every command without being conscious of his own personal responsibility.’
Militarism means obedience to the leader – without conscience, without thought.
If we want to uproot militarism, we will have to uproot unthinking obedience and conformism – whether it is in a paratroop regiment or a pacifist affinity group or a people’s assembly.
Monarchism is, at its root, worship of a godlike leader, a divinely-chosen and -appointed being who is superior and who deserves obedience and submission from us mere humans.
This is not a person who deserves respect because of what they have done (it is possible they have done some worthy things).
This shining being deserves reverence and compliance because of who they are.
They are royal.
As long as we have a monarchy, we have a society based on inherited wealth, aristocracy and hierarchy; we have a society based on unthinking obedience and conformism.
Loyalty to royalty is militarism and misery.