Tuesday, April 22, 2008

On the Monarchy

A move is being made once again to change the way in which the British royal succession is determined.

'Unfair' male right of succession to the throne set to be scrapped

Like other monarchies around the world, the British royal succession is based on a system of ‘male primogeniture’. That is to say, the first-born son of the Monarch will succeed to the throne upon the Monarch’s death.

Feminists are claiming that this is unfair, and moves are made periodically to try to change it. Let’s make one technical point first. People often say at these times “The government is proposing to abolish primogeniture”. This is the opposite of the truth. The government is proposing to extend primogeniture. ‘Primogeniture’ means ‘the first born’, and at the moment, we have a modified system of primogeniture, in that it is only the first-born son who can succeed; the idea is to remove this modification to give us a system of pure, unadulterated primogeniture, in which the first-born child will succeed.

It is worth asking how we came to have a system of male primogeniture in the first place. Evolutionary theorists might comment that humans are a member of the chimpanzee family, and as such, territories are held by a group of males, with females being exogamous, which is to say that they marry out; on marriage, they leave their parents’ troupe, and go to join their husband’s. This helps to promote genetic diversity. Exogamy is reflected today in the fact that married women take their husband’s name, and property passes down the male line. In ancient times, when communities would find themselves threatened by other communities, they relied on the military for survival, and that means the males. The strongest male was simply the best person for the job. Females could not successfully challenge the alpha male in combat, and moreover, they were too biologically valuable to risk losing, as they constituted the community’s ability to reproduce itself.

Monarchy is an ancient institution, and it follows male primogeniture because in ancient times, the King was also the head of the army, and marched to war with his men. He was the gang leader, the godfather, the alpha male, the toughest kid on the block. There were many other men who wanted the job, and if they could topple him, they would. Very few women could survive for long in that environment, nor wanted to try. In those days, unlike today, women would have valued masculine strength.

The real question is not “Why didn’t women succeed to the throne on an equal basis with men?” What we should be asking is “Why did women ever succeed to the throne at all?”

Those who managed to get themselves into power wanted to cling to it by any means, including passing it on to their children. A breakdown in the royal succession often led to civil war and foreign invasion, and everyone wanted to avoid that. The worst outcome for a monarch was to die childless. It is no surprise that the Royal daughters became Plan B. If the King had a daughter but no sons, then she would often succeed to the throne in order to maintain political stability. At the same time, do not imagine that Royal women in the past were passive idiots; they were just as rich and arrogant as the men, and they maneuvered on their own behalf.

Male primogeniture, like much else in society, is a cultural reflection of human nature, not some sinister misogynist conspiracy. Feminists constantly bite the hand that feeds them. It is the effort of males over centuries which has created the relatively stable, rich and peaceful society which we currently enjoy. Women today can consider standing for political office, safe in the knowledge that they are not going to have to ride into battle carrying a sword, or be stabbed to death by a rival in their beds. The nature of leadership has changed. Rather than express gratitude for the comfortable and safe life which male-dominated society has provided for them, feminists can only complain.

It is not as though women have fared particularly badly in English history. If you ask English patriots to name the greatest leaders of English history, they will typically name five.

Queen Boudicca (died c.AD 60)
Ancient British Queen who led a revolt against Roman occupation. Her army defeated a Roman legion, and burned London, Colchester and St Albans to the ground. As a result, the Roman Emperor Nero considered withdrawing from Britain altogether, before she was finally defeated.

Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603).
Her reign took place during the golden age of European maritime exploration, and saw the early colonization of North America, the defeat of the Spanish at sea, the origins of the British Empire, and helped undermine the Vatican’s despotic control of European thought.

Queen Victoria (1819-1901)
The longest-serving British monarch in history, the ‘Empress of India’ presided over the world’s most powerful nation, and the largest Empire the world has ever seen.

Winston Churchill. (1874 – 1965)
Although not a monarch, no list of the greatest moments in British history would be complete without mentioning Churchill, the great war leader who inspired us to stand alone against Hitler, when most other politicians, including the Communists, were advocating appeasement and the USA was neutral.

Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister, 1979-1990)
Again not a monarch, but undeniably one of Britain’s greatest leaders, she confronted communism both at home and abroad, and helped to reverse a period of national decline.

No doubt some historians might dispute this list of the greatest British leaders, but if you were to ask ordinary people for their opinion, this is probably who they would name. The fact that our two greatest modern leaders were not monarchs reveals the fact that the monarchy today does not have any real political power anyway.

The thing you will notice about our greatest leaders is that four out of the five are women. I remember being a teenage Leftie in the early 1980s, and listening to poisonous feminist harridans hissing and whining about how awful it is to live under the yoke of The Patriarchy. I remember thinking “Who rules this country? The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, and the head of the government is Margaret Thatcher. Some Patriarchy”. But that argument didn’t wash. It was a Patriarchy, despite the fact that it was ruled by women. One of their favourite sayings was ‘Margaret Thatcher is not a real woman. No woman would behave like that’. Cognitive dissonance can be a terrible thing.

As a teenage Leftie I was an instinctive Republican, and believed that the monarchy should be abolished. A few years later I moved to Turkey to teach for a few years. One of my students gave me a different view.

“When we went to school, they told us that the Republic was the best form of government, and that Monarchy was primitive and medieval. But we looked to our neighbours on one side, Iraq, Iran, Syria, the Soviet Union, and we saw that these are all republics, and they are all authoritarian police states. Then we looked to Europe and we saw countries like Great Britain, Holland, Belgium and Sweden, and these are all rich democracies where people are free, and yet they are all monarchies. We knew which ones we preferred.”

I stopped being such a knee-jerk republican after that. The world is often more complex than it first appears.

Hitler thought that democracies were inherently weak, and he had no fear of them. The only country he feared in Europe was Great Britain, because he thought that it wasn’t really a democracy. Maybe he had a point. A think-tank in the 1990s published a survey of how democratic various countries are, and Britain came out well below places like the Czech Republic, on the grounds that we have an unelected head of state, an unelected upper house, and no written constitution. But for all that, Britain is still one of the most tolerant nations in the world, although feminists and cultural Marxists are doing their best to change that. They, not the Royal Family, are the real threat to civil rights in these islands.

The proposed change will not make a great deal of difference. Here is the royal family tree.

The current heir to the throne, Prince Charles, is the Queen’s oldest child, so his succession will not change. Some don’t realize that the succession follows what software engineers call a depth-first search, rather than a breadth-first search; if Charles should unexpectedly die, the succession will not pass to his younger siblings, but to his first son, William. As William is also the first child, this will not change.

The current line of succession shows that, even though she is the Queen's second child, Princess Anne comes behind all three of her brothers, and all of their children (including their female children, interestingly). Perhaps this is what vexes the feminists so much. The main effect of the change will be that Princess Anne's position will move from 10th to 4th, and of course her children will move up with her. I don't anticipate any civil wars any time soon.

This raises the question that if it really makes such little difference, then why bother doing it? I'm fairly agnostic about the Royal family, and I have no objection to abolishing male primogeniture. It will probably not happen anyway, as any such move would have to be approved by the parliaments of every nation of which the Queen is the head of state. I can't see that happening before the next election.