Skepticism

Why Should I Care About Kate Middleton?

I am home with a nasty headcold today, so I am sitting here in my PJs looking at the latest celebrity gossip headlines. You know, in case my girlfriend Angelina Jolie or any of her six adorable children have done anything interesting today. Unfortunately, there is no news about Angie or my other celebrity crushes… this is probably because the gossip news is swamped with stories related to the recent engagement of Kate Middleton and Prince William. There are stories about the proposal, the ring, who designed Kate’s engagement announcement dress, and even how to place bets on when and where the royal wedding will take place.

I have to admit that, browsing these stories, I find them somewhat entertaining… in the way that I find stories about movie stars interesting. Kate Middleton is indeed a snazzy (if a bit preppy) dresser, but beyond that she seems one-dimensional to me. I guess I admire that she is a “commoner” marrying a Prince, but, really, I’ve seen that Disney movie before. As for Prince William, I have nothing against him but, honestly, I’ve never even had a crush on Prince William- not even many years ago when my high school roommate (I went to an all-girls boarding school) plastered her walls with pictures of the Prince.

So, I generally ignore these Prince William and Waity Katie (I guess she’s not Waity anymore) gossip stories as they don’t interest me very much. However, I was surprised yesterday when the engagement of Prince William and Waity Katie was the top news story not just at the gossip websites, but everywhere! I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised, but a part of me was wondering- why is this more important than Cholera in Haiti or the new TSA screenings? Why should I care about this Kate Middleton person?

Then it dawned on me… Kate and Prince William are being married in the United Kingdom. Kingdom! The UK is still a monarchy! Please, UK residents, help me out… am I correct in understanding that you really do live in a Kingdom? A Kingdom with a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary system, but still a monarchy? And is it true (if unlikely) that if the Queen wanted to dissolve the parliamentary government she could do so? ARE YOU ALL OKAY WITH THIS? I suppose this shocks my rebel American system. But do you really have the same government system as countries such as Jordan, Malaysia, and Thailand? Those are very nice countries, by the way, but ones that I really do think of as Kingdoms.

So… if Kate Middleton one day becomes Queen (or at least wife to the King), she could actually have real, genuine power? Woah. Suddenly I’m worried about much more than what blue dress Kate wore to her engagement announcement.

By the way, UK and territories (you hear me, Australia and Canada) I think it is strange that you put the Queen on all your money. I guess that should have been my first hint that you are still King (Queen?) doms. I suggest replacing the Queen with more pictures of cute cuddly koalas and platypuses (in Australia) and more more ducks and maple leaves (in Canada).

Evelyn

Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

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84 Comments

  1. I’ve always thought of modern royalty as nothing more than the accidental decedents of medieval crime families and oppressive warlords; not to mention all the inbreeding issues. And I hope Kate’s parents get a nice vacation out of the deal.

  2. The royal family is mostly ceremonial today. In fact, there has been a lot of unrest for British citizens arguing that they shouldn’t have to foot the bill anymore…I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the Royal Family fade away in a generation or 2.

  3. Is it wrong that I find Evelyn’s news much more interesting than who some prince is going to marry?

    I always found it strange and amusing that the royal families of Germany and England are one and the same yet they still managed to try and wipe each other out.

    Makes the drama at my family reunions seem quite tame.

  4. Man, why does Australia get the cuddly animals on their money? We have… beavers…

    But yeah, I find it mildly disturbing that I have to put “Property her majesty the queen in Canada” on the bottom of all my slides/reports/posters for federal research projects.

  5. The only real life she-marries-the-prince story in my lifetime starred Prince William’s dog-ugly father – no thanks.

    Little girls need a real life perfect handsome prince to dream about, and as far as I can see this one turned out pretty damned good. Happy to see he grew up so well despite his tragedy and that he found someone. I feel sorry for her, and hope the UK press remembers what they did to his mother and doesn’t hound this poor girl to her death.

  6. I’d get rid of the lot in a heart beat. If Charles had any balls at all he’d abdicate as soon as he’s made king and call an end to it all.
    If I was being overly generous, at a push I’d consider them over-paid employees in the Great Britain theme park that apparantly tourists like to visit.
    I can honestly say I see no reasosn at all to be interested in these in-bred parasites. I’m amazed we still think it’s even acceptable to use words such as “royalty” and “commoner”.
    WTF?

  7. Also the same government as Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands.

    But as you said, our system is a Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy, the Queen has no actual power. It is her government, but the power lies with Parliament. She does dissolve parliament, but it is the Prime Minister that decides when (i.e. for elections).

    Don’t think having the Queen on money is all that bad, she is the figure head of the country after all. Besides we have Darwin on the other side of the £10, that’s got to tick some boxes surely?

  8. Canada, et al, are not in any way part of the UK and haven’t been for many years. Queen Elizabeth II is Queen of Canada, but that’s a separate Realm.

    It’s all hokey, sure, but Canada (and most of the rest) while members of the same Commonwealth as the UK really are separate.

  9. I think you should care. A bit. While Kate Catherine won’t have actual power she will (already does) have access to those in power that you or I could never hope to have. She’ll have influence over funding for many non-governmental organizations.

    Look at Diana’s legacy and she never even made it to queen.

    @PASmith the underlying problem with that is that the UK does not have a constitution as most people understand it. The majority party* in parliament has effectively unlimited power. The only back stop is the monarchy. You’d need to replace that piece of the government.

    Mike

    * Since there’s no majority party at the moment the point is a little moot right now. But times change…

  10. Okay I’ll give this one a go, yes we do live in a consitutional monarchy over here however this actually works quite well.

    “and is it true (if unlikely) that if the Queen wanted to dissolve the parliamentary government she could do so?”

    Technically yes, however if she were to actually do this without a request from the prime minister she would be forced to abdicate. The monarch cannot go against the will of the House of Commons.

    “So… if Kate Middleton one day becomes Queen (or at least wife to the King), she could actually have real, genuine power?”

    No that power, such as it is, would reside with William the King, not the Queen.

    Having this sort of arrangement does have other quirks. Every week or so the prime minister must go to the monarch and report on how the whole governing of the country is going. This, I think, probably injects some humility as the most powerful person in the country must be generally a bit more servile than he or she would otherwise have to be. No bad thing in my book .

    I once heard it said that the strength of our mornarch is not in the power that it weilds but that which it denys to others.

    As for the big question, why should you care, well you’d be in good company over here if you didn’t.

  11. @QuestionAuthority: This is my answer too. The papers this morning all (apart from one or two) have this on the front page, page 2, page 3, page 4, page 5, etc, etc. The 10 o’clock news last night was actually presented from outside Buckingham Palace. Neither of them even live in the bloody place.

    I could almost accept them reporting the engagement announcement (but not like this), even though it’s a complete non-story if they weren’t going to go on about it every fucking day for as long as it takes until they get married.

  12. Canadian bank notes aren’t all the queen (just the $20 in the current series, I think). The rest are former prime ministers. And we’ve got some critters on there, too (most of our change, and back in the 80s our bank notes featured bird species).

    She appears on all of our change, but really — our currency would be a total sausage fest if it weren’t for her.

  13. In australia we do put those cuddly things on our money, on the other side, the 20c coin has the platypus but we don’t appear to have a koala as a prominent part of any of our currency.
    on our notes however only the $5 note (our lowest denomination note) has the queen on it.

    Also there have been a few referendums for if australia should become a republic but they have failed for 2 reasons 1. our current system works and usually the proposed replacement model of government has some flaws 2. sentimentality. Queen Elizabeth II has been around forever and we have grown to like having her there, as soon as she is out though there is likely to be another referendum with a good chance of success.

  14. When you are talking about monarchys (archies?) of the world, you left out a few Ev…
    Beside the 4 you mention, there are:

    Bahrain
    Belgium
    Brunei
    Cambodia
    Denmark
    Japan
    Kuwait
    Lesotho
    Liechtenstein
    Luxembourg
    Monaco
    Morocco
    Netherlands
    Norway
    Oman
    Qatar
    Samoa
    Saudi-Arabia
    Spain
    Swaziland
    Sweden
    and Tongo

  15. Yep. Here in the UK we are a proper monarchy.

    I think in theory the Queen could dissolve parliament on a whim, but in reality it would have to be a military coup to succeed.

    Are we happy about this? Well, some are and some realise it ain’t gonna happen, so don’t worry too much about it. I guess the same question could be asked about the USAians: are you happy that your president could suspend all democracy if desired?

    As an aside, Prince William flies search and rescue helicopters over the mountains and sea near where I live. A very difficult, dangerous and worthy job. Not the impression that is often given of dilettante royalty.

  16. @spurge:

    One of my history teacher’s favourite anecdotes was a letter (or was it a telegram?) the German emperor wrote to the British king on the eve of WWI, paraphrased: “Let’s not go to war, please – what would grandma say?”
    Grandma being Queen Victoria, to both of them.

  17. Please let me “enlighten” you ;)

    Yes, theoretically the Queen could dissolve parliament. While this may sound odd, in reaity it would NEVER happen. If the Queen were to do that then it would undoubtfully be then end of the monarchy. Plus, the Queen will never ever make any comment about politics on her view on issues, as she tries to be completely unbiased. Also try to consider that there are benefits to this. If a radical and destructive, racist government were to come to power (which could happen in any country), the Queen would have to choice to stop it. Is that not a small benefit?

    And what Americans do not realise is that our Head of State system has (at least in the last century or so) arguably worked better than yours. The Queen is an unbiased, unpolitial figure, for both the UK, AUS and Canada. She is not, and will never be corrupt. As they say: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. She doesn’t have absolute power. However, look at some recent US Presidents. George Bush was not exactly a very good representative for the US was he? He reinforced prejudice American stereotypes. However the Queen is seperate from the Prime Minister, and it is her that foreign heads of state look forward to meeting. They want all of the regality and banqueting.
    Also consider Richard Nixon, as we know, he was corrupt. This has not happened in our system of Constituional Monarchy, as it can’t!

    Add to that the Queen obviously brings in a lot of tourism. Undoubtedly far more than it costs to supoprt her and the palaces (£0.69 per person).

    I think a royal family is also a good thing for a country to have. Kate Middleton, for example, is obviously extremely intelligent and well-educated, and will probably become a female role-model (think Princess Diana). This is far better than being associated with a trashy, tacky celebrity, who isn’t very intelligent (Paris Hilton type). Also, the Royal family does A LOT for charity. People seem to think the Queen does nothing all day. She works something along the lines of 300 days a year!!! Would you like to be her? I wouldn’t!

    You also ask whether we are ok with our system. We are, at least I know we are in England. Obviously there are Republicans, but they are a political group you NEVER hear about.

    As for why you should care about Kate, I say this: Although she is young and not exactly a Saint or anything, is she not the kind of person young girls should aspire to be? She’s clever and seems genuinely kind, and has a normal job. Some young people now just aspire to be Lady Gaga or (in some rare UK reports) marry a footballer!

    As for Can and Aus, the Queen has always said that whether or not they choose to leave the monarchy behind, it is their choice and she will not interfere. Plus, it gives us, like the Commonwealth, a special kind of connection.

    Finally, it makes us a bit different, doesn’t it? Do we really want to end up with a President as Head of State like 200 other countries? No. Also, if in the US a foreign leader has an intense disliking of the US President, they have no choice but to dislike the head of state aswell, unlike the UK where they are detached and seperate.

    P.S. Hope I made things a bit clearer for you.

  18. I heard about this story because I frequently watch BBCA when there’s nothing better on than news. So even though I’m in the U.S. I get an interesting perspective.

    This morning one of the British reporter guys basically explained that the monarch is a symbol of the country’s identity, sort of the way the flag is in the United States. The monarch has little power because they elect a Prime Minister, but the monarch does act as cultural glue.

  19. The fascination with the idle rich that people have mystifies me. Historical continuity aside, this is equivalent to gossip about Paris Hilton, or whatever rich idle layabout everyone seems to be gossiping about at the moment. They’re just famous for being famous. That’s it.

    End of story, end of interest.

  20. The Queen (and a future King) of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) yields *real* power: make no mistake about it!
    The armed forces swear loyalty to the monarch, not to Parliament. Even the Opposition is called “Her Majesty’s Opposition”.
    Every week (I believe on Monday morning) the Queen meets with her Prime Minister (she has had already more than twenty, I think) to discuss every issue of relevance. She even did that with Margaret Thatcher, probably the only woman in Britain who could be thought of as tougher than EIIR.
    However, that’s a Constitutional monarchy for real.
    Perhaps, more alarming is that Church and State are not separated; in fact the Queen is also the Head of the Church of England. Dawkins blasted her for being too nice to the Pope in his recent visit, noting that she was even doing a disservice to her Church…

  21. I am blue-collar Midwestern American, so that might account for my extreme reaction, but, yes. I seriously can’t even begin to comprehend that monarchies still exist. At all. In any way, shape or form. I remember reading recently about the Swedish princess’s marriage and being entirely shocked and outraged it was paid using taxes. Taxes from working citizens paid for a lavish ceremony for royalty that doesn’t even rule? It absolutely astounds me.

  22. I have no interest in the story. Like all celebrity news, it’s just another soma/opiate as far as I can see.

    However, as a UK resident, I can confirm that we have a monarch. (A word henceforth to be capitalised, for emphasis.)
    I’m neither a Monarchist nor a republican. I’d like a decent constitution, but more to limit parliament than to oust the Monarchy.

    Yes, my taxes pay for some of their upkeep. I can’t say I’m happy about that, but if I had the choice of stopping money flowing to royalty or flowing to badly procured projects in the government, I’d pick the projects.
    (Our government is second only to the USA’s in picking really bad providers for big expensive projects, which turn out to cost at least three times more than estimates and ultimately be useless anyway. Well, useless unless their purpose was to enrich multinational corporations, that is.)

    You see, our royals are special. They know their place.

    Queen Elizabeth II stays quiet on political issues, and behaves impeccably. (It was an item of national comment when she said she’d had a bad year in a speech!)
    Her husband is, by all accounts, hilariously good company.

    And neither of them have much power. Yet when we send them abroad, people treat them like, well, royalty.
    Meanwhile, our politicians get to stay home and work.

    I like that part of the Monarchy. Getting to send a powerless, figurehead Head of State abroad, yet not actually losing the people that should be doing work? And having the host countries be grateful for it? Well, that’s nice!

    Given the choice between our Monarchy and the Presidential behaviour of that egomaniac idiot Blair – or the not-quiet-yet-proved-an-idiot Cameron – I’ll take the Monarchy, please.

    They also do good work on the charitable trusts front, acting much like celebrities do as patrons, helping raise awareness and funds.

    Frankly, the only downside I can think of is Prince Charles. A nice man, who I’d happily chat with over a whisky or three. But he does have a somewhat tenuous grasp of the facts of reality, and a tendency to advertise the fact rather more than is advisable.

    But overall, I think our Monarchy has worked out rather well.

    Much better than a Presidency, anyway.

    The difference between a President and Monarch appears to be that a President wants the power. Whereas a Monarch has been raised to believe that they have to bear the weight of such power by birthright.

    It’s a bit cruel on the Monarch, I suppose. It’ll probably be ended on human rights grounds eventually. So I think I’ll just enjoy it whilst I can…

  23. So how much presidential stuff is paid for with tax payer money? Whaddya mean, “all of it”?

    At least the royalty keeps all the dirty laundry and attention of the public for said laundry a little separate from politics. Sure, the occasional politician will fall from grace, but the royals serve as a pretty decent lightning rod for all the paparazi I’m sure.

  24. catgirl’s comment at #18 is about right. Whatever power the UK monarchy might have – which is pretty much entirely symbolic – it’s not the sort of power that bemused Americans often think it is. It’s true that a section of the UK population follows everything they do (hence the explosion of press coverage yesterday) – but it’s only a section, and it’s more about soap opera than deference.

    As a Brit, I used to be somewhat agnostic about the royals. They didn’t seem to do any harm – or be any danger – and my strong assumption is that they bring far more money into the country, mainly through tourism, than they cost taxpayers, so where’s the problem?

    Having become far more aware of the US political/constitutional system after living here for nearly ten years, I’m actually far more wary of the fact that the US system makes the same person both head of state and head of government. This is potentially quite a dangerous situation for democracy, since it can stifle practical criticism of the President, confusing it for unpatriotic criticism of the country as a whole. In the UK, the abstract notion of the country/state is siphoned off into the royals, which leaves the temporary occupants of Westminster quite rightly free to be held to rigorous practical account – *far* more rigorous than any account to which the US President is held – without seeming unpatriotic. It seems quite healthy to me. I wrote a blog post about it here:

    http://northgare.blogs.com/paul/2005/05/deference_and_t.html

  25. @Denver7M:

    Luxembourg is the cutest monarchy ever. A few of my relatives live there and regularly meet the royal family out and about.
    Once my aunt saw the Grand-Duke himself blocking traffic so his entourage could cross the street. Oh, and one of the younger princes knocked up his girlfriend as a teenager.

  26. The relationship between the Monarch and Parliament is complicated, but fundamentally Parliament is supreme and can remove the Monarch if it wishes to. It has cut the head of one King, removed another for being dangerously Catholic and had another step down for marrying an American (or being dangerously sympathetic to Hitler). The Monarch has a number of theoretical powers, but if she tried to use any of them she would be removed although thanks to Europe her head probably wouldn’t be cut off

  27. So far as I am aware, a Queen Consort doesn’t have any powers under the UK constitution, even in a theoretical sense – unlike a regnant monarch who can, in theory, do just about anything except raise taxes. Influence is another thing, harder to quantify, and very much dependent on the individual.

  28. Omfg, I’m never ceased to be amazed at American hand-flapping over the queen’s supposed influence over Canada, etc. I ran into a few nice ladies overseas a couple of weeks ago while on vacation who thought the Brits “own” us (Canada) – but I’ll forgive them because they were adorable and let me share their umbrella.

    Rest assured that if the queen suddenly lost her mind and decided to dissolve Canada’s government, it would mean absolutely nothing. There’s no way the Canadian people would stand for it, the Canadian government wouldn’t stand for it, and no matter how many times they’re forced to symbolically sing “God Save the Queen”, the army wouldn’t stand for it either. Reactions could range from “oh she’s lost her marbles, time for a new reign” to war. Either way, a supposedly civilized modern country isn’t going to take too well to their government being fiddled with from afar. Consider the uproar when Canadian parliament is even prorogued, ffs, let alone fundamentally messed with.

    Any modern monarch worth their salt isn’t that bag of hammers insane.

  29. @paulatnorthgare: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. The queen serves Canada as something cute to be into as much as we’re into “patriotism” while still being able to call our government out on its shit. Unfortunately, Canadians suffer from chronic apathy so we seldom bother to take that liberty anyway.

  30. Please, UK residents, help me out… am I correct in understanding that you really do live in a Kingdom? A Kingdom with a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary system, but still a monarchy? And is it true (if unlikely) that if the Queen wanted to dissolve the parliamentary government she could do so?

    Yes, we live in a monarchy. The monarch has lots of symbolic power but no real power.

    The last monarch that tried ruling without Parliament ended up a foot shorter; we wouldn’t need a civil war if one tried that again.

  31. Well technically the American people don’t get to vote for the president, as the electoral college members are free to vote whichever way they choose; but there’s an expectation that that just wouldn’t happen, am I right? It’s the same with the monarchy – people just assume that they don’t have any real power. The English already chopped off the head of one king in the 17th century for being too dictatorial!

    In general it is easy to romanticise the royals, and like catgirl said, they are seen by many as a symbol of Britain – legitimate targets for satire but vaguely respectable in a way that politicians simply aren’t.

    Of course ideally you would introduce an elected President, who could only govern for a maximum of two four-year terms, overseeing a two chamber legislature where one chamber reflects the immediate angers of the electorate while the other prevents the first from doing anything, and document the exact civil liberties of the citizens with presidentially appointed judges making sure the president doesn’t breach them; but in Britain democracy has always been advanced by those in power i.e slowly and incrementally. This has left many anachronisms, not least the monarchy.

    I do agree that a 21st century monarchy does seem a bit ridiculous, however I have bigger concerns about the way we are governed: it seems the only check on our PM is the European Court of Human Rights, our second-rate chamber (the Lords) are appointed for life by the PM (and consequently the Lords also have little real power) and the election system almost guarantees the PM a majority in the law-making chamber. I suppose you might call me a RINO oh dear bad joke = appropriate place to stop.

  32. Look at what is done in the U.S. Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sarah Palin all were either elected or have a shot at being elected. We don’t elect statesmen (stateswomen), we elect people who we find attractive. Maybe if the U.S. had a king/queen/emperor, we’d save our “love of the beautiful people” for him or her, and maybe we’d do a better job electing actual statesmen to office.

  33. The thing to remember about the British government system is that it was never designed in the same way that something like the US constitution was designed from scratch. Instead, it’s slowly evolved for over a thousand years as a series of patches over the existing system.

    We’ve ended up with a halfway decent democratic system, but we’re still left with our fair share of tail bones, appendices and other vestigial organs. Generally, they still exist because nobody cares enough to have got around to changing things yet.

    Church of England bishops still technically form part of our legislature as Lords Spiritual. Sinn Fein MPs (who I consider scumbags and terrorists, but who are democratically elected scumbags and terrorists) are prevented from sitting in parliament because they won’t swear an oath to the Queen. Nobody who is Catholic or married to a Catholic can ever become monarch. And yes, technically the reigning monarch has the power to dissolve parliament or veto any law on a whim.

    It’s a messed up system, but nobody has got around to changing it yet.

  34. @spellwight:

    Little girls need a real life perfect handsome prince to dream about

    Do they?

    The most popular and successful home-grown American fairy tale stars a girl who resolves most of her problems by keeping her wits about her, being helpful to strangers who become her friends, and politely requesting the assistance of a powerful female authority figure. And it was published in 1900.

    (Every male authority figure she meets is ineffectual and/or a fraud. It’s really quite a subversive book.)

  35. It’s probably worth mentioning that in Australia the Queen (or, rather, her local representative, the Governor-General) can also dissolve Parliament if he/she judges that necessary. It has happened in the relatively recent past (1975).

  36. I find the idea of a monarchy offensive to the idea of basic human equality as it amounts to a genetically-determined taxpayer-funded family of national celebrities. Having lived in two countries with monarchies, the best arguments I’ve heard have appealed to simple tradition and sentiment: “We’ve always liked it.” It’s rather ironic to use majority will to justify the existence of an unelected position.

  37. @pciszek: I think so. If little girls didn’t dream of a perfect handsome prince figure what would they dream of? Whatever they can get? That’s pretty depressing. Children should have idle dreams of princes and flying and exploring space and whatever else they can dream up. All I’m saying is that growing up the only real prince I knew about was Ugly Old Charles, so I didn’t dream of princes and look how bitter and snarky I am.

  38. @ianf: The Queen can’t suspend democracy, she can dissolve a Parliament but that would just trigger a General Election and a new Parliament would form. After the Glorious Revolution she can’t dismiss Parliament and the Monarch can be removed or replaced by Parliament.

  39. @scollyb: “After the Glorious Revolution she can’t dismiss Parliament and the Monarch can be removed or replaced by Parliament.”

    OK, that clarifies it a bit. If Parliament could only replace the Monarch by inviting conquest by a foreign power…well that’s just not very useful.

  40. When I moved from the US to the UK, it was weird to get used to, particularly during the election when the ministers have to formally ask the Queen’s permission and things like that. It’s all pomp-and-circumstance really.
    However, I live in Scotland, in which there runs a thread of (un-successful) rebellion. The Scottish banks print their own notes (bills) and they are instead graced with historical figures and monuments in Scotland. The £20 note in my pocket has Sir Walter Scott on one side and the Forth Bridge on the other. It’s nice to be able to escape the monarchy a bit, this far north…it’s not taken as seriously here, which I like.

    Also, I’ll trade fanatical, inescapable christianity for a power-less monarch any day. Which I did.

  41. I think it’s worth pointing out that the American system is also rather archaic if it is considered objectively. It’s inevitable when you consider that the governmental systems evolved over hundreds of years. In practice, the royal family has very limited power and is largely used in an ambassadorial capacity – rather successfully in my opinion. As for the inherent inequality of it all, I think the people who it probably harms most are those born into the royal family, unrequested intrusion and engagements from birth. I do wish Charles would shut up about science and medicine though…

  42. @erinpatmac:
    Funnily enough, when I moved from the UK to the US almost thirty years ago I was under the impression that its Constitution guaranteed the USA to be a secular state.
    After all, the First Amendment forbids the establishment of [any] religion, not the establishment of “a” [particular] religion.
    One advantage of having an established church is that if you can ignore the 300 pound gorilla, as the British do, the lesser apes are of negligible importance. They don’t get involved in politics as that seat is already taken.

  43. Yeah we have a really messed up system here.
    The queen is technically the head of Church and state ( yes we have a state religion) but really nobody gives a rats ass. We also have the house of lords and the house of commons which together make up the rest of the government. It is interesting to note that only the members of the house of commons are actually elected, people in the house of lords are well… lords and they have something like 16 seats that are automatically reserved for the 16 highest ranking Bishops of the Church of England.

    Yes it is really really stupid, but like a previous poster pointed out, it doesn’t really matter. If the queen tried to do something everybody would laugh her out of her castle and the bishops agree to stay out of politics. Indeed I actually have some respect for the Archbishop of Canterbury.
    The laws have changed so much that the power really is with the people, and the house of lords and the queen really only exist for historical reasons and because nobody cares enough to get rid of them. I mean if they dont interfere with anything why bother? (I happen to think its still stupid and would like to get rid of all of them, and get some proper political reform but there is a lack of support from the public for that, mostly because it bothers nobody.)

    Its kind of like some of the old laws we still have in the books. I heard from a bunch of law students I am friends with (and I might be wrong about this as I did not independently verify this) that we still have laws that state you can shoot a Scotsman with a crossbow if you see them on a city street during the weekend. Stuff like that is not changed because Human rights simply override these laws and they are just vestigial parts of the countries history that really do not play a tangible role.

  44. I tend to find it amusing when Americans react to a monarchy – when you’re sitting in a broken glass house, I would think you’d get your fingers cut finding stones to throw.

    In terms of practicality, what’s the difference between the two systems? In the U.S. the president is venerated, and the political parties nearly worshiped. Mentioning that one might be an atheist is politically dangerous.

    In the ‘monarchy’ the politicians are treated with the derision they deserve, and religion takes a back seat. Those that like to venerate public figures waste their time on the powerless monarchy.

    I think we’ve accidentally hit on a useful trick for governments given human psychology – dividing the real government that does the work from the awe and loyalty some people give to the pack leaders.

    We also don’t have campaigning for, what, 3 out of 4 years? We expect our politicians to work, and then when they irritate us, we vote them out of power. In the U.S., as far as I can tell, the political system is an extension of the entertainment industry.

  45. @Agranulocytosis: A few years back I used to listen to conservative radio host named Michael Medved, and he had a semi-regular segment, on the day of the full moon, when people could call in and argue for conspiracy theories they believed in.

    One theory I always remember concerned Price Charles. Apparently, he’s secretly converted to Greek Orthodox, and when he becomes king, he’s going to make it the state religion of Briton. The Archbishop of Canterbury, catching wind of this, had Diana killed as a warning to Prince Charles.

    A bit off topic I know, but that one’s always made me laugh.

  46. @rcn2000: “In the U.S. the president is venerated, and the political parties nearly worshiped.”

    I’m sorry but I don’t see that at all. I move in both liberal circles, and to say the president is venerated is just wrong. The liberals love president Obama, for the moment, but are free to criticise his policies as not going far enough.
    Of course the conservative response is beyond any rationality at this point, though I have seen that subsiding a bit.

    The liberals hated President Bush, but he was never conservative enough for the far right.

    The parties are nearly worshiped? Forget it. They’re mostly seen as the lesser of two evils. And I need to point out that here we vote for individuals, and are free to cross party lines, or vote for people who aren’t memebers of a party. Where as you have to vote for the party, and the party decides who’se going to serve.

  47. @weatherwax: @ianf: ” I guess the same question could be asked about the USAians: are you happy that your president could suspend all democracy if desired?”

    “I’m not sure exactly what you mean by that? The presidents powers are limited.”

    I may be wrong, but most heads of state have powers that can suspend democracy. Normally some sort of State of Emergency provision.

  48. @ianf: I admit I’m not as much a constitutional schoolar as I should be, but his powers to do so are limited, and of couse it would have to be a real emergency.

    During President Clinton’s last term in office, there was a conspiracy theory on the far right that he was going to declare a state of emergency and cancel the next election. He simply couldn’t have done it if he wanted too.

  49. @weatherwax

    “And I need to point out that here we vote for individuals, and are free to cross party lines, or vote for people who aren’t memebers of a party. Where as you have to vote for the party, and the party decides who’se going to serve.”

    Unless I’ve misunderstood you, this is not quite correct.

    In the UK, we vote for an individual member of parliament. Candidates can stand independently, without any affiliation to a party; and they can also cross the floor.

    You are however correct that we don’t vote for our Prime Minister, if that’s what you mean by “who’s going to serve”. Many UK voters seem unaware of this, and regard the General Election as an opportunity to vote for the campaigning leader of a party, rather than the local MP they are voting for in practice. So, even though no PM is really elected by the public, people get annoyed about “unelected” PMs like Gordon Brown.

  50. @weatherwax:
    “OK, that clarifies it a bit. If Parliament could only replace the Monarch by inviting conquest by a foreign power…well that’s just not very useful.”

    Well it was only Holland :-) But more importantly it was much easier than with Charles I and all it took with Edward VIII was a threat by the PM to resign.

    Having said that there was a sketch I saw a long time which said a Republic was impossible because the Royals are better armed and better shots than MPs

  51. There are a couple of curiosities about the British parliamentary system. One is that, as the Prime Minister is the leader of the majority party, you don’t get the common American position of the President being of a different party from one or both Houses of Congress. This makes it easier to get things done.
    The other is that the PM must be a Member of Parliament. This means that in an election, the 60,000 or so voters in the PM’s own constituency have the power to throw the PM out of Parliament. This would force his or her party to chose a new leader who would then become Prime Minister. (In theory, the Monarch appoints the PM and could veto the party’s choice. At most, strongly-worded advice might be given.)

  52. @DoubtingT: “One is that, as the Prime Minister is the leader of the majority party, you don’t get the common American position of the President being of a different party from one or both Houses of Congress. This makes it easier to get things done.”

    That’s very often not a good thing :)

  53. I LOVE Michael Medved’s Conspiracy Day! His style of debating these conspiracy theory wackos is brilliant. Of course his political views are squarely Republican, not Libertarian, ultra-conservative, or caught up in the Tea Party Movement, he prefers to put callers on the air who disagree with him. Unlike most talk show hosts, he doesn’t just hang up on them, either.
    But I highly recommend his Conspiracy Day segment to any skeptic who is especially fascinated by the wacky world of CT’s.
    I am a native US citizen, but it seems quite cheeky (as the Brits would say) to criticize their established governmental system. From what I understand, the Royal Family considers their role as a duty and responsibility, not merely a privileged advantage. Obviously this is a tradition that they are quite fond of. Otherwise, their legacy would have been abolished a century ago. The Royal Family is to the UK, what the Founding Fathers are to the US. At heart, they have only the very best intentions for the well-being of their empire. The US emerged as a society who at its core rejected the rule of monarchy. Apparently, many Americans have effectively been indoctrinated as to the superiority of our system of governance. Reading this thread, I realize how much the famous saying, “Give me liberty or give me death” has shaped my own world-view. The closest thing we have to royalty is probably whoever happens to be the current First Lady. And I think that wasn’t until Eleanor Roosevelt established this unique role. When the president’s approval rating falls in the public opinion polls, the First Lady’s popularity usually soars. Despite the recent mid-term election results, we continue to love Michelle Obama. It’s nice to have someone to patriotically admire. I even think the public’s opinion of Hillary Clinton has dramatically improved now that she is secretary of state. You know that if she happened to be the president, the partisan pundits would indeed be having quite a go at her (as they say in the UK).
    It almost seems somewhat reassuring to know that if the government were to become totally corrupt and autocratic, the queen would intervene in a way that could avoid bloodshed.

  54. Thanks for all the comments, everyone.

    To stir the pot a little, what happens when your royalty spits out a bad gene combination- i.e. Charles.

    I guess I have a problem with any hereditary form of leadership. If the leaders are great (for instance, I am very fond of the Sultan of Oman) it can work very well. But what about those dud gene combinations? Children are not necessarily as wonderful/skilled as their parents (and vice versa).

    Okay, done stirring the pot. Discuss.

  55. If the British monarchy wants to continue at least another century or so, then Queen Elizabeth II should disinherit her son Prince Charles and arrange for her grandson Prince William to be the next king. I never liked Charles, but William seems to be a great guy who seems far more popular than his father.

  56. Personally I’m a republican, in the “end the monarchy” sense, although for Norway I’d want the mainly ceremonial head of state instead of the obviously silly US system of choosing who runs the country with a one on one popularity contest.

    There’s no hurry though and my main concern isn’t with the chance of the royals being loopy. We dodged a bullet by not making the end of male primogeniture retroactive, like the Swedes did, so princess I-talk-to-angels-horses-and-the-dead Märtha Louise, is now fourth in line or something after her younger brother and her niece and nephew. But if she had been the heir, she would have kept the loopiness to herself, because that’s what the real royals do.

    No, my concern is not with a potentially loopy head of state. He doesn’t actually do much and is probably just as cheap (when you consider the state would still have to maintain all the state properties like the castles and run elections every few years), more of a unifier than a possibly contentiously elected head of state and more likely to know his place and not try to have opinions and influence politics than someone elected who might have been a politician.

    No, my reason for being a republican is the human rights of the royals themselves. They don’t have free speech, they don’t have freedom of religion, and they can’t chose where they want to live or an occupation. The Swedish king even voluntarily abstains from voting, and although I don’t know what ours do, I think it’s fair to say they’re excluded from participating in politics.

    In my opinion that’s the only valid reason to oppose the Scandinavian (and possibly British) Monarchies. Fear or concern that it’s somehow an inferior system of government is just ignorant ideology.

  57. I’m a bit late to the party on this one because I’m just back from a visit to Scotland, where I learned some very interesting history about the forming of ‘Great Britain’ (Cliff Notes version – Scots still pissed off with England)

    @exarch: I prefer Ireland, at least they have Euros, like the rest of us …

    True, however we are also apparently incapable of managing our own economy :)

    Bizarrely in Ireland, we have a head of government, An Taoiseach, equivalent to the UK Prime Minister, but then also an elected head of state, the President (or Uachtarán if you’re really, really pulling out the Gaeilge). She has a very similar function to the Queen – attends functions paid for by our tax euros, speaks on the country’s behalf, but doesn’t actually do very much. She ran uncontested for a second term in the last presidential election.

    But get this – she’s the one who signs off on new laws and can veto them if she wants to (although I suppose she’d have to have apretty good reason). How is that really any better than a monarchy?

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