Republicanism: democracy and equality

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One of the key notions that underpins republican democracy is the idea that we are all equal.

IT'S a profound and fundamental idea upon which democracy rests—without it democratic ideals are rather meaningless and democratic practice is nothing more than a preference over other practices, open to easy attack and opposition.

Equality is an idea that is shared right across the political spectrum, although its meaning and implications are contested. Some will argue that as equals we are owed an equal share of the national cake, that resources and wealth should be shared equally. Others say that as equals we must be free to pursue opportunity even if that makes outcomes unequal.

What should be agreed is that we are morally and politically equal. By morally equal, I don’t mean we all have the same moral standards—of course that’s not the case. What I mean is that moral standards must apply equally to all of us. The starkest example would be that someone’s right to life is not dependent on their social position or race. By politically equal, I mean we must all be accepted and recognised as equal citizens—that in our relationship with the state, with the law and with the political process our rights and responsibilities are the same.

It is this fundamental issue of principle – and practice – that often separates republicanism from monarchism. In a monarchy we do not recognise the fundamental equality of people. We put some above others, we discriminate according to class and social position, we grant some people greater political rights and privileges than we do others. We are told that the values of some have greater force than others simply because of their heritage and family, while we deny some people rights and freedoms because of that same status and position.

In a republic, Elizabeth Windsor and I would be considered morally and politically equal, even if she remained head of state as president of the country. Her position would be limited and dependent on the consent of others. It would also be open to others to replace her in the future, her children would have no greater right to do so than anyone else.

In Britain and Australia, we only have a limited conception of citizenship. Power does not derive from the citizenry, it derives from the Crown, something to which only one person has a right to posession. Republicanism is about a citizenry of equals, governing ourselves freely and without limitations being imposed from above. It is about the government of the people, for the people and by the people. The monarchy denies Britain the opportunity to recognise that fundamental issue of equality and that, as much as any other reason, is why it must go.

[This article was first published, in a slightly different form, on the 'Republic' website.]  
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