Today marked the start of the 4-day Diamond Jubilee celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s 60th year as Head of State of The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and numerous Commonwealth realms.
It’s given the British people a couple of days off work, a free concert and injected some much-needed joy into a otherwise perpetually depressed nation. There are some that argue that the royal family is an anachronism, that it’s irrelevant, that it’s out-of-touch. So would I! But then, let’s face it, those adjectives could be used to describe every political institution in the world, not least the United Nations.
I’m not swayed by arguments wrung out by Daily Mail-types who believe that to criticise the monarchy is akin to collaborating with The Nazis. Nor am I swayed by arguments wrung out by tub-thumbing Trots screaming off with her head – these are arguments borne out of emotion, of jealousy, hatred, fear, misguided patriotism and xenophobia. These do not interest me.
As a graduate of History and Politics and well-travelled absorber of all things groovy and novel, what does interest me is political systems: ones that work and ones that don’t.
I want to convince you in the course of this essay that republics – democracies with an elected head of state – are a deeply flawed political system, and that constitutional monarchies – democracies with a un-elected head of state – are (perverse as it may sound) a fairer, more sensible and more democratic way of doing things.
When you’ve finished picking your jaw up off the floor, I’d like to refer you to the Democracy Index. A list of the most democratic nations in the world. Notice how 7 of the top ten most democratic states in the world are constitutional monarchies. In fact, 4 out of the top 5 most democratic states in the world are constitutional monarchies. Weirded out yet? I hope so.
This goes against all common sense – how can having an un-elected head of state be more democratic that having an elected one?
The answer, as with most things in life, is politics. In a constitutional monarchy, the monarch has no political power. Nor should they have – after all, they are just one man or one woman, who are they to frustrate the will of hundreds of elected politicians? Who are they to frustrate the will of the millions of people who didn’t vote for them? Who are they to steal the country’s natural resources or unilaterally declare war on another country?
The system that works the best is when the Head of State and Head of Government are two clear and distinct roles, the former having no political power and the latter not being in direct control of the army.
A presidential system naturally cedes far too much power into the hands of one man.
In the USA, which I believe has one of the worst political systems this side of North Korea, you have a situation in which the Head of State, Head of Government AND Head of the Armed Services is one man. ONE MAN. Let’s think about this for a moment.
ONE MAN can veto each and every bill that has spent months – maybe even years – passing through both houses of Congress. A bill that would have been carefully formulated, gone through committees, sub-committees, debates, re-writes, collective bargaining and been voted on by a majority in both the House of Representatives and The Senate. ONE MAN has the power to say ‘bollocks to that for a game of soldiers’ and throw the bill in his drawer and forget about it. You might presume that this amazing and unbelievable power would be something that happens maybe once or twice in an entire presidency.
Not so. George W Bush vetoed 12 bills.
That’s nothing: Clinton vetoed 37. George Bush Senior 44… and Ronald Reagan? 78.
Still, pales in comparison with Franklin Roosevelt’s kinda depressingly magnificent 635 vetoes.
In contrast, the Queen of Britain has vetoed exactly 0 bills. In 60 years. In fact, the last time the British Head of State vetoed a bill that had passed through both houses of parliament WAS in 1708. OVER 300 years ago. The power of veto is there in case of emergency, say if we get a loony Hitler-type in charge of parliament who wants to kill all the Welsh, but that’s never happened… and is rather unlikely to happen because the armed services of the UK do not swear alliance to the Prime Minister, they swear allegiance to the Queen. They have a right to say no. Unlike in the USA where…
ONE MAN can order the armed services to invade a foreign country FOR SIX WEEKS before having to seek permission from Congress for his actions.
You might want to rub your eyes and read that sentence again. SIX WEEKS!! Of course this rule was invented when it took six weeks to cross the Atlantic, and the British were running around burning down the president’s residence (according to scuttlebutt, the Yanks painted it white to cover the scorch marks). NOT when the USA had the capacity to WIPE OUT ALL HUMANS ON THE PLANET in the same given time frame.
Don’t forget: ONE MAN HAS THIS POWER. This is a presidential system. It is the reason the USA scores below the UK – which still doesn’t have an elected upper house, AND has a monarchy – in the Democracy Index.
It is the reason why France and Italy aren’t even down as ‘full democracies’, but rather ‘flawed democracies’ along with Cape ‘frikkin’ Verde. You look at the monumental corruption of Berlusconi, Mitterand, Chirac et al and then you look at how remarkably incorruptible the Queens of Britain or the Netherlands or Denmark are. Incorruptible because they aren’t greedy career politicians in it for the money, or the power, or both.
The line that sticks with me is in Gladiator when Marcus Aurelius Says to Maximus that he wants him to lead Rome back to democracy. Maximus says he doesn’t want the job. That, says Marcus, is why it must be you.
You see a job like that of Head of State naturally attracts the wrong sort of people. So does Head of Government, but at least in a parliamentary system the Head of Government can be over-ruled by cabinet or their own party… and can be gotten rid of as soon as they cock-up big style. Contrast the axing of Maggie Thatcher over the Poll Tax compared to the unbearable unpopularity of that dickwick George W Bush in his second term. Could the US voters get rid of Bush before the end of his term of office? NO. Not unless they could prove he broke the law. Being excruciatingly BAD AT YOUR JOB isn’t enough to fire a president – after all, he’s Head of State.
So let’s lay my cards on the table. In my humble opinion, the USA elects a dictator every four years. A dictator that has a phenomenal (and grossly un-democratic) amount of power. But the US isn’t alone in this madness. Look around the world – presidents are almost universally bad news (note that NONE of the top ten democracies are presidental systems).
In most countries in Africa, where a tribal-cum-parliamentary system would be best, you have a guy who is a member of one particular tribe – usually the biggest tribe – and he’s president. And he will look after his tribe to the detriment of all others. The corruption that stifles development in the third world is almost always linked to a presidential system. One man. Head of State. Head of Government. Head of the Armed Services. Let’s have a coup d’etat! Let’s kill the opposition! Let’s change the constitution so I’m president for life! This is not the way we should be conducting matters and running countries in the 21st century.
Yes a monarchy is anachronistic, yes it’s probably out-of-touch and yes I quite frankly hate Prince Charles. Maybe other political models work better, but that’s not the purpose of this piece. I’m merely telling you why I’m not a republican. It is because I find republics IN PRACTICE to be a one-way ticket to tyranny. Give me the checks and balances ensured by Constitutional Monarchies around the world anyday.
In closing, I’d just like to say that I once met a Jewish guy from the lower east side of Manhattan. This was in 2005, a few months after George W Bush was re-elected president. I suggested that he must be rather miffed that that walking disaster for the world had got back in.
“No”, he says, “I voted for him”.
My years of political study about voting patterns, demographics and political loyalty went flying out the window.
“WTF???” I scream, half in horror, half in sheer disbelief.
Well, says my Jewish friend, “you have to rally around your leader at a time of war.”
The prosecution rests.
This Post Has 13 Comments
The overwhelming majority of Jewish folks in the US typically vote Democrat. There was a brief period in 2004 when some groups – especially the ultra-Orthodox – voted Republican on the (IMHO faulty) belief that Bush was a better friend to Israel than Kerry would have been. Similarly in Canada, there has been a surge of support for the Harper Conservatives from the Jewish community, much to my chagrin. I think that’s a totally misguided and nonsensical approach, but with politics, everyone’s entitled to their opinion… even if it’s wrong. 🙂
I should also point out that it’s entirely possible to have a government that is NOT a monarchy, where the head of government and the head of state are two different people. Plenty of countries (not including mine, since our GG is the representative of the Queen, so Canada is still a constitutional monarchy) have a Prime Minister who is the head of government, and a President who is the head of state with largely ceremonial duties.
Having been born and raised in America, I have to say this makes sense. Probably because I study history and have traveled to Europe and lived in Bahrain. Most Americans don’t get out much, sadly. The Supreme Court decision Citizens United essentially legalized corporate bribery in politics turning us even further into a fascist state. Wasn’t Germany in the 1920s and 1930s a Republic?
“Congress may override the presidential veto with a two-thirds majority of those in attendance in both the Senate and House of Representatives at the time the override vote is taken.”
A response written
First I would like to mention that its 5am so if their are any typos or mistakes below I would say to them “Congrats! your survived my edition until i was too tired to keep writing”
You have proposed that the United States government is the “one of the worst political systems this side of North Korea.” You submit as evidence that the President of the United States has the soul authority to invade another country for a period of 60 days without congressional approval and that said power comes from the constitution and further the constitution concentrates the military and political power in one man. You submit the constitutional monarchy is more democratic because the military is under the command of the monarch while the political power rests elsewhere. Your further state that the President of the United States is akin to a dictator and site his veto power as evidence of this but ignore congresses ability and will to override those vetoes a power that parliament does not have over your monarch.
The power of the president to wage war for 60 days without consent that you refer to as making sense in a time when it took 6 months to cross the Atlantic does not reside in the constitution. The constitution only gives the president the ability to act if the country is directly threatened or if our troops attacked. Congress retains the ability to raise or disband the military as well as fund or defund any shenanigans that may ensue. The powers you speak of resemble a misinterpretation of the War powers act of 1973 written 185 years after the constitution was enacted at a time when it took 7 hours to cross the Atlantic over a presidential veto. That act was an attempt to reassert congressional constitutional authority over a president who some would claim was a rouge. The only act that resembles a concentration of power in the presidency comes from the first war powers act. Enacted in 1941 153 years after the constitution and when transatlantic crossing took 7 days. That act gave the president increased powers to deal with the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and deal with WWII more efficiently. This power is similar to the power given a roman dictator in times of emergency. Dictator here has no relation to the modern usage. That power was limited to give person appointed the ability to deal with a national emergency, a rebellion was the triggering event in the first case such powers were enacted in Rome and WWII was the triggering event in the United States and the powers were to expire after the emergency was over in both cases. That war powers act expired six months after the war ended. Nowhere in that act does it give the president the ability to wage war for 60 days without congress or mention any such term. The war powers act of 1973 does mention 60 days. However it does not give the president the right to wage war for 60 days without congress. In fact it is an attempt to further limit presidential power by limiting the president’s ability to respond to threats against the United States by putting a time limit on those responses. The president must submit justification for actions taken within 48 hours of taking said action. And all actions must end no more than 60 days if congress does not approve. At no point does congress give up its constitutional power to disband or defund the military or any action at anytime which would effectively stop the president. Each president has taken the position that this act is an unconstitutional limit on presidential power without openly defying it. According to the act and the constitution several acts by several presidents, Regan in El Salvador which I do not support and Obama in Libya which I do support, to give examples were violations of the War Powers Act and overstep congressional authority.
In England the power to go to war rests with the royal prerogative, parliament can merely advise the monarch but in reality she can do as she wishes. The only reason this currently works is not a consequence of the system employed, but the nature of the monarch herself. There is no reason to be sure the next monarch will be as wise. Putting the British system somewhat at the mercy of the genetic lottery. No matter the relative luck the British have enjoyed so far there is nothing stopping the current monarch ordering the military from blowing up parliament or sending that horrible eye thing rolling down the streets of London.
Now we move on to the veto power of the president. You represent this power as the power to subvert the will of the congress and by extension the people. Besides wondering how the currently 17% approved congress represents the will of the people I must point out that congress has the power to override a presidential veto something that they have done up to 71% of the time. In recent times Clinton was overridden a low 6% of the time while Wubba was overridden 36% of the time. In British system there is a way for the monarch to veto the actions of parliament and just proudly state that the last time that happened was 304 years ago. You neglect to mention that the two times before defying parliament caused a civil war…twice. The first time the monarch was killed. Lots of people died both times. The last time royal assent was with held it was because the monarch perceived a threat to her power. The Queen remains apolitical not because of the grand design of the system, but because remaining apolitical keeps her in government housing.
Finally if the power of the president is akin to a dictatorship then why can they not get more of their agendas through? Why did we not get single payer universal healthcare under Obama? Why didn’t we get it in ’94 under Clinton? With all the problems inherent in the US system you managed to pick ones that do not exist or miss interpret issues that we have. You do realize that you’re talking about a nation that nuked Japan because Russia was looking at us funny.
So what are the real issues behind your perceived ones? In the face of the war powers act of ’73 and the constitution why does congress not more readily exercise it authority over the military. Congress could disband the military or any part of it. Or cut off funding stopping and president in its tracks. One congress is not going to disband the military. Partly because we as a nation go around the world spreading a surprisingly explosive form of democracy and there are many who would like to show their “appreciation” for our gifts. The other is military expenditures are tied to a large portion to our economy. So that leaves the purse strings. The scenario goes something like this. A president invades country F shock and outrage ensues because the people in said country are not brown or yellow. (side note has anyone seen a yellow person? Were the first Europeans to meet Asian wearing yellow sunglasses or did they just happen upon a bunch of people with liver problems?) Congress does not approve and decided to act quickly and cuts funding asap. What happens to the troops in route or the ones in theatre? Well most likely without proper funding and support the might get stuck while congress and the president fight. The ones who make contact will not have a high chance of survival and congress would be responsible. I can say such an action stranding troops would not be terribly popular. Even if the president were persecuting a clearly unjust action its unlikely any congressman voting to leave US troops hanging would be reelected.
Yes. Yes I do.
No, while the Royal Armed Forces swear allegiance to the Queen, she has no authority to tell them what to do, unlike a Commander-In-Chief. The point I was making is that the POTUS has way, way too much power: most presidents around the world do… and tyranny is often not far behind. It’s an oldie but a goodie: Power Corrupts. Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.
With a two-thirds majority! IN BOTH HOUSES!! Which is a bloody difficult thing to get. And what if it’s a pocket veto? Session over, the bill starts all over again. Madness!
Yes, so a terrorist attack like 9/11 gives the Pres the ‘ability to act’ in pretty much any manner takes his fancy.
Still, theoretically, the President could fire off over 1,000 nuclear warheads before the politicos got their arses to Capitol Hill for an emergency session.
Have you seen the number of Roosevelt’s vetoes?! Good job he wasn’t Stalin, eh?!
“Saddam was looking at me funny.”
So – let me get this straight – Pres can order the invasion of Burkina Faso, so long as he submits some kind of excuse for it within 48 hours. AND THEN EVEN IF Congress does not approve of the action, the Shock and Awe can continue for 60 days. What part of “he can invade a country for 60 days without asking permission from Congress” is incorrect?!! But thanks for clarifying.
What a useless power! Disband the Military??! It would NEVER happen!! Turkey’s don’t vote for Thanksgiving…!
Great! So in real world examples which you give, THE SYSTEM OF CHECKS AND BALANCES IN THE US DOESN’T WORK!
This simply isn’t true. In a democratic constitutional monarchy, the monarch expressly CANNOT do as they wish. Something I made very clear in the original piece.
What? We all just got lucky?! No, it’s the system. In the UK, Sweden, Netherlands et al, The Head of State is not Head of the Legislature or the Executive. They have no power AT ALL to formulate bills or execute them. They have the power of veto in case of a serious emergency, but never use it – unlike Presidents who veto like it’s going out of fashion.
He can be a gibbering buffoon who plays with his poo, it doesn’t matter. The system will still work. Unlike when you get a president for 8 years who couldn’t outwit a pretzel AND THE GLOBAL ECONOMY COLLAPSES AS A RESULT!
YES!! YES THERE IS! As we have already talked about this and by your own admission, a president can order the military around. ORDER. The Queen cannot order the army to do anything, they merely pledge allegiance to her. This is done for a damn good reason: if the Prime Minister of the UK goes insane and orders the army to blow up the London Eye(Sore), they can defy their orders without committing treason. But this would never happen, unlike the US invasion of Grenada, which did.
‘Up to’ being the operative words there. Do you work in advertising?!
Wow! And that’s congress really asserting itself!! Let’s look at the statistics for how many times the British Monarch as been overridden since the foundation of the US… ooooooh… 100%… why? Because, in reality, they can’t veto anything!!
Once, really, you can’t call the Glorious Revolution of 1688 a ‘civil war’. But still, I don’t agree with the power of veto being in the hands of ONE MAN, so good, let’s have a system in which the power of veto held by the Head of State is NEVER USED! Great!!
Nope, it’s the Grand Design. She’s massively wealthy to start with, doesn’t really need the £38.5 million thrown at her each year by the British Tax Payer. That may sound like a lot, but it’s still way, WAY less than the US President’s travel bill alone. The Queen, you might have noticed, does not own a jumbo jet. Even the Ex-Presidents of the US milk $4 million a year from you saps and they don’t even do anything!!
Akin. Domestically, their hands are tied when it comes to policy formulation: it’s much easier for a President to say no to somebody else’s idea than it is to get his own through both houses. Which is why most US Presidents while away their time (and the lives of young American men and women who serve in the military) by dropping bombs on other countries. In short, because a Presidency is one of the worst systems of government.
Apparently, it was the ‘Hilary Effect’. There’s a good book about this called ‘Boomerang’.
No, I picked on the main one: Presidencies are a terrible, terrible idea. All the ‘inherent problems’ the US system faces are a result of that fact. Note this article is ‘why I’m not a republican’, not ‘why I love the monarchy’. Because I don’t.
Again, military adventures on foreign soil is what US Presidents do best. As well as defying the wishes of Congress. Hmm… I wonder why NOTHING EVER GETS DONE domestically in the US? How’s that Equal Rights amendment coming along…?
I couldn’t agree more!! All you’re doing here is supporting my main argument: having a President as Head of State, Head of Government AND Head of the Armed Forces is a terrible, terrifying idea. The system isn’t just flawed, it’s positively broken.
Graham you made me feel patriotic. Felt dirty and unnatural. Please don’t do that again.
Listen to what mechwarriorace argues. All valid points.
But what irked me the most, Graham? You are quite a bright guy, yet your main arguments FAIL as you “missed” an important fact, pointed out by a previous poster:
In the USA…
“Congress may override the presidential veto with a two-thirds majority of those in attendance in both the Senate and House of Representatives at the time the override vote is taken.”
Just saying. You should greatly alter this post of yours or delete it altogether. Many of your key arguments put your politics/history education in question.
PS? Checks and balances. Key in US government. Google that.
I’m not entirely sold on your argument at all. Your confusing a complex series of issues with the systems of government. If Sweden or Netherlands were a presidential system they wouldn’t overnight face the same political problems the United States faces for a variety of reasons. Neither country has the cultural issues, demographics,and is a major power or relevant enough in world politics to make any kind of comparison. Also congress HAS disbanded armies in the past, what your complaining about is a post World War Two U.S global Superpower invention. If constitutional monarchy is supposed to hinder foreign intervention than how do you explain Great Britain’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan? While a republic like France refused to get involved. Lastly, even in parliamentary systems Prime Ministers are rarely removed from office, so I don’t see how that would stop a George Bush if he gets re-elected by the people a second term.
So I can’t compare the US system of government with any other (better) system because they’re not ‘a major power’? Okay – lets compare it with other world powers. China, for instance. The have a president and tyranny. Russia, perhaps, they have a president and corruption up the kazoo.
Erm… YES. YES I AM.
For better or for worse, they had a vote in parliament and they voted by a clear majority to go to war. I’m not advocating a government so limited it couldn’t go to war if it wanted to. The difference is that in the quite-frankly-bananas US Presidential system, it was pretty much the decision of ONE MAN and his own UNELECTED team of cronies, which included out-and-out crooks like Donald Rumsfeld. Great system guys!
Rarely? Maybe not forcibly removed, but considering TEN Prime Ministers of the UK have resigned since 1900 (Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Lloyd George, Andrew Bonar Law (ill health), Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain, Anthony Eden (ill health), Harold Macmillan, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair) and in the US only ONE President has ever resigned (and that was only after he was caught out AFTER HE COMMITTED A CRIME!!) I’m sorry but I don’t follow you on this point. Reagan continued as President long after he lost his marbles and George W Bush continued long after his approval rating had slumped to 25%. This would not be allowed to happen in a Parliamentary system in which the Head of Government and Head of State and Head of the Armed Forces are three very separate roles.
My argument from the start was that many of the problems that the US (and many, many countries around the world) face are caused by the daffy political system they use, and I stand by that sentiment.
Let me quickly reply to several of your replies; So that’s 8 resignations in 112 years! man those British are tough on their PM’s lol j/k. Second a parliamentary system would not have stopped/slowed down/hindered the war at all,as Congress at the time OVERWHELMINGLY supported G.W. going to war. They weren’t dragged kicking and screaming by a tyrannical president as your trying to claim. Like I said I don’t think there is as strong a correlation as you believe on Prime Minister/President = No War/War. Your grossly over simplifying complex issues to try to prove your point. From your theory Israel should be as peaceful as Norway, but there not due to more than just a political system, but culture,history,geographic location,religious conflict, demographics, etc. And Lastly, if you think the reason China has a tyranny is due to them having a president than its clear you have no knowledge whatsoever of their history or current politic system, cause there is no remote similarity between the U.S. government and the P.R.C.
Norway too is a constitutional monarchy like the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Spain, etc..
Israel is governed by a bunch of knobheads. Under a president.