Thursday, April 28, 2011

On republicanism

With a Royal Wedding in the offing, it is entirely predictable that the online contrarians on the blogosphere should take the opportunity to make the republican case.

It's the sort of thing where I end up taking issue with the people I ostensibly agree with because I find them annoying. What annoys me about my fellow republicans is the way they assume the case for it is self-evident and unarguable. This failure to make an effort is perhaps why they don't make any converts.*

While obviously more rational, modern, and democratic as an idea, there seems to me a few obvious objections to the idea of a British republic:

1) The 'brand' has been historically 'toxified' though the experience of Cromwell. Our experience of republicanism was too soon before the 18th century window where it could be associated with liberty and equality. As it is, the English republic is remembered for banning Christmas and killing Irish. That in the 20th century republicanism was more likely to be associated with Irish terrorism serves to illustrate that there's something in this cause that can piss most people off.

2) The shift from monarchy to republic is normally linked to a regime-change of some kind; revolution, defeat in war, or cessation from an empire. Surely no reasonable person could argue that having none of these in our recent history is entirely a bad thing? Let me put it another way: Germany is a republic and you could argue it is better for it. But you wouldn't want the path to modernity that Germany has taken.

3) The record of republics with regards to liberty, equality, human rights or even basic regime-stability isn't very good. The 20th century was the most violent in human history. Think you'll find the American, Russian and Chinese republics played not an insignificant role here. And to keep it contemporary - Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Libya? The republican form of government is fairly well represented in the Middle East - as it is in Africa, as it is in Latin America. Hardly regions that were noted for their stability in the 20th and now 21st century.

I wouldn't have thought that the experience of finding British Royal pageantry more than a little kitsch and irritatingly inescapable was an overwhelmingly heavy weight to put on the other side of the scales in this argument. Neither is the technical description of our status in the UK. We're called subjects but in practice are citizens, whereas the difference between being a citizen and a serf in various despotisms throughout the world both past and present is difficult to discern.

*Or the wrong sort of effort. See this, for example. Nice attitude.

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