Australians for Constitutional Monarchy - Toowoomba Branch

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The Monarchists And The Future

Transcript of Address to ACM Supporters Meeting
By Damien Freeman - ACM Young Supporter and Member of ACM Education Committee,
Sydney, Australia August 9, 2002

Not so very long ago we witnessed the spectacle of the Queen's Golden Jubilee celebrations. And not so very long before that we were all moved by the funeral of the Queen Mother. And many of you will no doubt have found that both the Queen Mother's funeral and the anniversary of the Queen's accession took you back to a time fifty years ago when another royal funeral took place after the death of King George VI which caused the accession of Elizabeth II.

In a contemporary letter the great philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote, "People here are supposed to be affected by the King's death. But as 100,000 people die every day, I cannot feel much about it."1 Clearly the overwhelming majority of his kinsmen felt otherwise. Why? In his television series, "In Search of Holy England" aired on the ABC some years ago, Rabbi Lionel Blue described his feelings upon learning of the King's death. He was reading for a degree at Oxford at the time. When the King's death was announced he felt an immediate impulse to travel to Palace of Westminster to attend the lying-in-state. And he asked rhetorically on the programme why it was that he had felt compelled to do this. He explained that he had felt touched by the thought of a simple man who had suddenly found himself in an office to which he had never aspired and to which he felt so ill-suited. He was the insecure, stammering younger brother of the popular and outgoing Prince of Wales who had been destined to ascend the Throne. And Rabbi Blue said there was something about the way the King overcame his stammer and discharged his duties during the War years which affected him. I imagine that many of you who experienced those years of war would remember with equally strong sentiments the King whose sense of duty would not let him leave London during her darkest hour.

It was with this same sense of dedication that Princess Elizabeth chose to mark her twenty-first birthday. In her broadcast from South Africa to all the peoples of the British Commonwealth and Empire she said "I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong…" It was vow of service which her biographer, Sarah Bradford, describes as "heartfelt and one to which Elizabeth was to maintain a lifelong devotion."2

Those words affect me greatly. One could not imagine Prince William making a similar declaration. But then again one could no more imagine President Bush calling upon his countrymen to ask not what their country can do for them but what they can do for their country. It is simply antithetical to the Zeitgeist of the times in which we live. When I dined with David Flint recently he lamented that popular culture sends out the message that all that matters in life is that one gets as much sex and money as possible. I think he's right. But for me the monarchy stands for something quite different. It is about noblesse oblige - the concept that privilege entails responsibility. No one can deny that the Queen and her family are among the most privileged souls to walk this Earth. But it is privilege that she and both her parents understood to entail responsibility. Today people are encouraged to seek as much privilege for themselves as they can without sparing a thought for the degree of responsibility that ought to be entailed by such privilege.

A cartoon drawn by Michael Leunig in the Age seven years ago captures rather well my own feelings about this.3 Sitting in a room is a young man whose nose ring is connected by a chain to a television set on which is written 'HOLLYWOOD TODAY'. An older lady sits admiringly in front of a portrait of the Queen. The youth says to the lady, "Honestly! Your link to the Queen is irrelevant, irrational and antiquated." To which she replies, "That's what I find so lovely about it."

The cartoon tells us two things it tells us something about the reason that the monarchy is valued by some people, the people for whom it was a symbol during the war; the people who associate it with a sense of duty. And it tells us something about the other - largely younger - group of people for whom the monarchy is not such a symbol and who do not value the sense of duty which the Queen's life has embodied. We must be honest about both of these facts. We must admit that a large number of people cannot relate to the monarchy. And we must acknowledge why it is that for almost a decade ACM has been able to recruit volunteers and elicit donations from all of us. I believe that our commitment comes from the soul, not from textbooks of constitutional law.

Monarchists were right to form that unholy alliance with direct election republicans that was the No Case campaign committee. The referendum question invited Australians to make what was effectively an irrevocable change to their Constitution. It behoved all who rejected the proposed model to campaign against it. It didn't matter why one was opposed to the model on offer, it was the duty of all who were opposed to it to warn their fellow citizens of its pitfalls.

Now I don't need to tell any of you that we won. But what I do want to insist is that we must break out of the campaign mindset. We must stop thinking that we are still campaigning against a threat to the Constitution. We must start to address broader issues. There is one point on which I am in complete agreement with the republicans. That is that a significant number of Australians feel disenfranchised; they feel no sense of ownership over their civic institutions. Whether the republican leadership felt this way or whether they merely sought to ride this wave of public sentiment for their own advantage is not a matter which I wish to comment on now. But I do believe that this lack of ownership of civic institutions was what led a lot of people to the republican cause. Most mainstream republicans agreed that the system works well and either wanted to preserve it in a republican form or improve upon it. Similarly, all concerned acknowledged the lack of awareness generally about our institutions.

I don't think it really matters whether the Queen is technically the head of state or whether the governor-general is. I don't think it really matter to republicans either. As the Prime Minister said on Remembrance Day, 1996, "Australians are a pragmatic people who distain legalistic distinctions." I think a lot of republicans saw the republic as an opportunity to make a symbolic change which would go some way towards giving people a sense of ownership over their Constitution and in turn their civic institutions generally.

A lot of these people are sincere and well-meaning Australians. And I want to say to you today that it is not all right for us to say "let them eat cake." It is not all right because on principle it is not desirable that some Australians continue to feel no sense of ownership over the public life of the nation. And it is not desirable in practice because if people do not feel that they belong, in time the foundations of our society will begin to erode.

I don't see that this problem is necessarily inconsistent with being a monarchist because I don't see that the head of state issue is the only - or indeed the best - way of resolving the problem. Well what is the solution? The rather trite answer is that there is no easy solution. ACM is committed to launching an education campaign which is very important. But education is not enough on its own. Those of you who have felt moved to give up our precious time and money in the defence of the Constitution don't do so because of something we learnt about section 61 of the Constitution. Many of you do it because of a relationship you forged with King George during the War. You do it because he and his successor tug at your heartstrings.

A new generation has had new and different experiences. But it must be given the opportunity to identify with its civic institutions. Once the Royal Family served as a means of allowing people to identify with their Constitution. This is no longer its role. Monarchists have long understood this. It is something about the concept of 'We the People', of 'democracy', that now makes the Constitution meaningful to Australians. It is the will of the people that must legitimise all institutions of government. The Queen acknowledged as much at the time of her Golden Wedding when she remarked that an hereditary constitutional monarchy 'exists only with the support and the consent of the people'.

We've got to think creatively about how we can help people to connect with the institutions of state. For my part I've been working on a children's story book which I've written. It is designed to present material about the Constitution in a way that might allow primary school students to feel they can relate to the institutions. I'm not saying it will solve the problem, but initiatives of this sort might go some way towards giving children a sense of ownership of the Constitution.

My brief today is to give you a young person's perspective on the future of ACM. I think that means that Kerry still regards me as 'Young Damien'. If that's the case, then I've given you my own perspective and that's enough. If I am meant to speak about young people more generally then I think I have done that too. I think I have explained this problem of ownership which I think will be the real challenge in the future. I don't think that at the heart of the debate lies the slogan 'resident for president'. As I have said, I think this has been seen as a means of giving people - especially young people - a sense of ownership which they presently feel they lack. In a sense, I think they were looking for something 'soulful'.

I think this is what the cartoonist Michael Leunig was getting at in an interview for the Anglican media in Melbourne. He said:

"The republican debate became a soulless matter because of the way we were selling it to ourselves, the way we were going into the process. I think republics are often born in great suffering and bloodshed - not that we would want that - but there is often something soulful in this, you see. Should it be born in a kind of petty squabble which is got up by advertising agencies and once again turned into a media event? Where is the spirit in this, where is the soul?

"A lot of people in this country felt that something was about to be wrenched away from them. And I felt that there was something wrong about this wrenching away. If it must change, let it die a little more graciously. The monarchy has no actual effect on us, I don't think. The Queen has no real power over this country. It is purely an ornament, it would seem, a sort of a cultural appendage, but it is an important one. It rests in our dreaming somewhere. It represents the notion of irrational hierarchies. Perhaps there is some need for hierarchies that are irrational if they are fair and just.

"Perhaps it represents the notion that you can't vote everything out. There are some things that transcend the rational democratic process and we have to pay respect to that. I think the president is an appalling concept, a very un-Australian concept. Presidents belong to the twentieth century, not the twenty-first century. Presidents are just dreadful. They are people in suits and they live in modern houses".

"The monarchy's a living relic. It might be rotting and crazed and demented, but it is authentic. And it's a preservation - it's part of a funny old ecology. I'm a bit of a conservative - I like to conserve things.

"The Queen does not repress us, we don't kowtow to the Queen; we kowtow to Hollywood, we kowtow to television, we kowtow to the bank. We are an absolutely subservient, compliant, slavish, beaten people in many respects.

"I think the pageantry and the pomp is one of the things that actually elevate us away from the bank and commerce and America and the media."

I don't necessarily agree with everything Leunig says. In particular, I don't think that the monarchy is purely ornamental although I agree that the Queen exercises little power personally. And I utterly agree that presidents are dreadful people who wear suits and live in modern houses (although regrettably the occasional State Governor has been guilty of this too). But what really matters to me is this business of kowtowing. I'm concerned by the way I see popular culture kowtowing to Hollywood and television and the bank, and more importantly, the selfish and self-centred values that these institutions espouse. Perhaps it's this concern about values that makes me a monarchist in the full sense of the word rather than merely an anti-republican. I think being a monarchist in the late twentieth century - especially a young monarchist - had a lot to do with values as well as constitutional law. The monarchy is a link with a lost world - a world which knew the sense of duty that is so crucial during wartime. And it is a world in which a young person could still declare that she would dedicate her whole life to the service of others.

But I do not suggest that monarchists have a monopoly over civic values. As I have said, I believe a lot of republicans were also concerned about these things. They saw a constitutional change - which they hoped could be purely symbolic - as a means of revitalising the nation; of giving people a sense of ownership over their Constitution - the sense of ownership that the Royal Family once gave people as the embodiment of the Constitution. I don't think the sovereign or the Royal Family will again have that role in this country. But I don't think that their existence is an impediment to Australians reclaiming a sense of ownership over their civic institutions either.

Monarchists must heed the message of popular republicanism. I do not say that we should directly elect the president, but I can understand that there is an honourable motivation driving many people who might want to. I can understand that they feel out of touch with the national life of their country and they want to do something about it. I just happen to disagree that constitutional amendment is the best way of going about it. Monarchists should be concerned if their fellow citizens feel that they cannot relate to the public life of our nation. They should understand the importance of this because they understand the importance of the institutions of state and the public life of the nation. But they must look for a creative solution. Many people are fond of speaking of the monarchy as a conservative institution. But they fail to acknowledge just how adaptable it has proven to be throughout its long history. The problem is not insurmountable and the monarchy can rise to the challenge. It is a very fluid institution. Professor Bogdanor writes that "George Washington would more easily recognize Bill Clinton as performing a similar function in the American Constitution to his own [than] would George III be able to recognize Elizabeth II." Monarchists must remember this. We were fond of counselling republicans not to through the baby out with the bath water. To cherish the baby, however, is not just to shelter it from criticism but to nurture its continuous growth and development.

Damien Freeman

Footnotes:

[1] Griffin, N. (ed.), The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell (Routledge: London, 2001), p. 466.

[2] Bradford, S., Elizabeth (Rev ed, Mandarin: London, 1997), p. 120.

[3] Age, 14 June 1995.

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