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The art of distraction

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All these pretty things monarchists say are the "art of government" are actually meant to distract the great unwashed from government, writes Lewis Holden.

THE "Right Honourable" title is back in New Zealand. The Monarchist is of course pleased, and takes aim at our media release, arguing the Prime Minister is responsible for the title being granted to the Prime Minister, not the Queen. But even if we're wrong and the Prime Minister did want the title, that only goes to show the monarchy grants politicians prerogative powers while disguising their use in the petty coat of the monarchy. It also speaks to a the pomposity of the titles, which even readers of the conservative National Business Review are apparently against.

The title change emphasises a point I made a few weeks ago at Independent Australia: far from keeping politicians in check, dignified and honest, the monarchy actually enhances their powers. Monarchists counter that monarchy provides "colour" and is "the art of Government" "pomp and ceremony" as if it's a wonderful knock-out argument to the failure of the monarchy to keep politicians in check. When you look at where this argument originally came from, you'll see the writer meant something completely different.

The writer was in fact one of histories greatest constitutional monarchists, Walter Bagehot, who wrote in his seminal work The English Constitution:
...constitutional royalty has the function which I insisted on at length in my last essay, and which, though it is by far the greatest, I need not now enlarge upon again. It acts as a DISGUISE. It enables our real rulers to change without heedless people knowing it. The masses of Englishmen are not fit for an elective government; if they knew how near they were to it, they would be surprised, and almost tremble.

Bagehot's argument is that all these pretty things monarchists like to say are the "art of government" (as if republics don't have changing of guards or military ceremonies) are actually meant to distract the great unwashed from government. In other words, prevent them from getting too involved in the political protest, lest they might actually stand up for themselves or their civil rights.

Now of course Bagehot was writing in the Victorian era, when such sentiments were more than acceptable. These days they're simply whispered in a hush by monarchists, who like to speak out loud about how a constitutionally neutered monarch is all that stands between us and total authoritarianism.

(Lewis Holden is Chair of the Republican Movement of Aotearoa New Zealand.)  
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