Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment published on the Internet

Issue Number 2
7th September 1997

Why Libertarians Should Sing
"God Save the Queen"
by Sean Gabb

The recent death of Diana, Princess of Wales was a most lamentable event. Its suddenness and other attendant circumstances must excuse much conduct that would otherwise deserve condemnation. Plainly, some of those who had been close to the Princess were overcome by grief. Equally, many common people wanted to show their grief in the only manner they knew.

But the remembrance service and funeral are over. The flowers have been cleared away. The time for expressions of grief, and for tolerance of their mode, is passed. Those expressions that do continue in the media have for the most part a political end—this being the destruction of the Monarchy. The agenda is seldom explicit. Instead, we are told that "questions must be asked", or that "tradition must be set aside", or the like. Even so, the agenda can be seen. There are journalists and media proprietors who turned the Princess while she lived to an attack on the Monarchy, and who are now using her when she is dead for the same purpose.

This is, I suggest, to be denounced by all English libertarians. It is nothing that that those making such attacks often pose as supporters of the free market and of desirable social and political reforms. By their actions, they announce themselves enemies of our remaining freedom as surely as if they went about with swastikas or hammer and sickle emblems on their arms. The true justification of our Monarchy is not that Her Majesty the Queen is glamorous, or a nice person, or a tourist attraction. It is that she is the living embodiment of our nationhood. She is among the greatest of those symbols that preserve our communion with a freer and more glorious past. This side of rebellion, she is the ultimate guarantor of the freedom that is our entailed birthright.

Since Bagehot, constitutional writers have tended to misunderstand the political importance of the Monarchy. It is far greater than they allow. The Queen's legal powers are as great as those of William III. She can pick and choose her Ministers. She can veto Bills sent up from Parliament, and call fresh elections almost at will. She can declare war and peace, and make treaties. She is Supreme Governor of our National Church.

By custom, most of these powers are exercised in her name by elected politicians; and the power of veto has not been used since the time of Queen Anne, and the power of choosing Ministers not since the time of William IV. But custom is a living force. The present arrangements require the elected politicians not to be traitors or other kinds of villain. If it becomes plain that times are altered, and that we are being taken irrevocably towards native despotism or conquest by foreigners, the Monarch retains the power—and the words of the Coronation Oath confer an absolute duty—to step in and restore the balance of our Constitution. It would be unwise to break through centuries of custom without at least some public acceptance of the need to do so; but the legal power and duty to act are part of the Constitution.

Even without extreme circumstances, the Monarchy works in our favour. Though in obvious decline in other areas, our Constitution has evolved to contain a separation of everyday power from authority. Though intervening from time to time to solve or prevent crises, the Monarch remains aloof from politics, leaving the business of government to the elected politicians, who are blamed or rewarded by the people according to their performance. On the other hand, the elected politicians have a subordinate place within the Constitution that they cannot hope to change. This may be the reason why we have preserved so long into an age where absolute government is easy to establish and maintain so much of the freedom that emerged under the weak governments of the middle ages.

Personal rule is the most natural form of government; and a people must be unusually enlightened and fortunate in their circumstances to live without it. Most peoples are neither enlightened nor fortunate, and so most countries are monarchies—in fact if not in name. Those republics that do exist are mostly of recent origin, and cannot be expected to last more than a few decades.

Even the United States is only a partial exception. It began as virtually a nation of libertarians. It expanded over half a continent without any real foreign threat. But after two centuries, its Constitution is increasingly a dead letter; and it can be questioned whether civil asset forfeiture and a militarised bureaucracy have left Americans as secure in their life, liberty and property as we are in England—a country without such initial advantages, but with a constitutional monarchy.

While there are grounds for scepticism about the existence of God, so far as He exists, and so far as she does her constitutional duty, Her Majesty reigns over us by His Grace. In this contingent sense, she is the Lord's Annointed. But even without such recommendation, I am not ashamed as a libertarian to call myself a loyal subject and to urge other English libertarians to do likewise.

As the republican attacks in the media gain over the next few months in frequency and confidence, let us eclipse the most diehard Tories in our defence of Her Majesty. Her defence is the defence of our ancient liberties. Long may she reign over us!