Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Royal Succession (continued)

After writing my modest piece inspired by the changed rules for royal succession in the UK and the other Commonwealth “Realms,” came across an interesting article from April 16 by blogger Nate Orman, “Religious Tests and the British Monarchy.” 

To read Orman’s argument in full, It can be found on line at:

In addition to rendering the royal succession gender-neutral, the 2013 Succession to the Crown Act also eliminates the prohibition on royal marriages to Catholics and also reduces the number of those who remain bound by the 1772 Royal Marriages Act from thousands of distant descendants of George II to only the six royals closest to the throne. At the same time, however, the new legislation retains the Act of Settlement's requirement that sovereign must always be Anglican – “a religious test for the British monarchy” that Orman finds problematic.

He states at the beginning that the new legislation “made a number of tweaks to the British monarchy, in large part to make it a rather more liberal institution.” Presumably, his objection to retaining “a religious test” in the form of the requirement that the sovereign be an Anglican is rooted in a sense that this tradition, this "religious test," is ultimately illiberal.

I agree. It is illiberal. Indeed, according to contemporary liberal ideology, having an Established Church at all seems certainly illiberal. All of which brings me back to what I wrote about yesterday – the inappropriateness of judging a pre-modern, pre-liberal, pre-individualist institution by the canons of liberal ideology. In this case, in fact, there are two such pre-modern, pre-liberal, pre-individualist institutions at stake – the monarchy itself and the Church of England by Law Established. Both institutions, I would argue, serve a socially valuable purpose precisely because they are pre-modern, pre-liberal, pre-individualist and so are witnesses to values that are likewise pre-modern, pre-liberal, and pre-individualist - in contrast to contemporary society's prevailing liberal individualist ideology. (How effectively the Church of England may actually do that may be open to debate. Here I am concerned only with its legal position as the Established Church and the contribution that the legal institution of religious Establishment makes as a counterweight to liberal individualist ideology.)

Of course, as Orman notes, the Church of England is the Established Church only in the UK – and there only in England, not in Scotland or Wales of Northern Ireland. Regarding the other Commonwealth “realms,” Orman considers it “rather Anglo-centric to require those other nations to suffer a religious restriction on their monarch for the sake of a purely English establishment.”

But how exactly do they “suffer”? And isn't the point of the shared monarch "rather Anglo-centric"? There are a few Commonwealth countries which actually have their own monarchs and which do not share the same monarch with the UK (just as there are other Commonwealth countries which are republics). The 15 “realms” retain the same monarch as the British because of the claims of a very specific history and tradition. They would likely have no monarch at all if they didn’t have the British one. They value their history and tradition enough to maintain a connection which is essentially historical and traditional – not based on any modern, contemporary criteria of liberal constitutionalism. And the mutually shared monarch’s being head of the Church of England is just one part of that historical traditional package, regardless of the fact that none of the other “realms” retains an Established Church. It is, again, utterly anachronistic to judge such an arrangement by the tenets of an ahistorical, anti-traditional, rationalist liberalism.

In actual fact, of course, the only person who could “suffer” in the present arrangement would be some actual monarch or heir to the throne who chose to convert to Catholicism and so would have to abdicate or renounce his/her claim to the succession. Admittedly, that would be a burden – a decidedly illiberal burden – that the system would impose on that one individual person. But then kingship or queenship imposes plenty of personal burdens. But then that just brings us back to how monarchy as an institution is inherently different from liberal individualist institutions. As I said yesterday, monarchy “embodies a pre-modern, pre-liberal, pre-individualist priority of public community over private individual, of the common good over special interests, of duty over individual choice and self-definition.” Being King or Queen is not like any other contemporary career choice. In a world in which the reigning ideology is one of free choice in matters of personal lifestyle and public career, the King or Queen is governed not by freedom but by duty, not by choice but by vocation. You can hardly get more illiberally anti-modern than that. And thankfully so!

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