The New Yorker recently published a terrific cartoon by artist Leo Cullum which shows a young boy on the lap of his father, the King. The boy asks: “Tell me again, Dad, how you started in the mailroom.” In a single brilliant one-liner, we understand exactly why the British Royal Family — and all its equivalents around the world — are ultimately as useless as an ejection seat on a helicopter. As the world awaits the birth of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s baby with an unbridled fervency typically reserved for parade processions of newly appointed North Korean “supreme leaders”, there is no better opportunity to highlight how monarchies have no moral or democratic raison d’être in the modern world.
From a historical perspective, the sacral function of kingship was transformed into the notion of “Divine right of kings” in the Christian Middle Ages, while the Chinese, Japanese and Nepalese monarchs continued to be considered living Gods even into the modern period. The system of monarchy since antiquity has contrasted with enlightened forms of democracy, where executive power is wielded by assemblies of freely elected citizens — not by one pre-determined family’s genetic line. In antiquity, monarchies were rightfully abolished in favour of such assemblies in Ancient Rome (Roman Republic, 509 BC) and Ancient Athens (Athenian democracy, 500 BC). In Germanic antiquity, kingship was primarily a sacral function, and the king was elected from among eligible members of a network of several royal families. Such ancient “parliamentarism” declined during the European Middle Ages, but it survived in forms of regional assemblies, such as the Icelandic Commonwealth, the Swiss Landsgemeinde and later Tagsatzung, and the High Medieval communal movement linked to the rise of medieval town privileges.
The modern resurgence of parliamentarism and anti-monarchism began with the overthrow of the English monarchy by the Parliament of England in 1649, followed by the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1792. Much of 19th century politics was characterized by the division between anti-monarchist Radicalism and monarchist Conservativism. Ultimately, many countries abolished the monarchy in the 20th century, choosing instead to become republics, especially in the wake of WWI and WWII.
So how is it possible for a country as progressive as Canada to have maintained its connection to the British monarchy in the year 2013? “It’s part of our history,” some might say, with a naive, childlike excitement. “It’s so glamorous,” others might proclaim with a glazed-over ‘not quite there’ fog in their eyes — not realizing how corrosive this belief is to the fundamentals of freedom and true democracy. While other Commonwealth nations around the world have rightfully cut their ties to this outdated genetic line of power, Canada for some reason still clings to these bucktoothed, baggy-eared Royals like a 146-year-old man sucking on his mother’s tit. Mother’s tits, too, were part of the history of millions of Canadians, yet somehow we have all known enough to let them go when they become irrelevant — why should a connection to a medieval genetic line of power be any different?
As a proud Canadian, it boils my blood to think that an unborn British fetus thousands of miles away already has more rights as a Canadian than I ever will. My dream is that the second that Royal baby’s umbilical cord is cut at some point in the coming days, so too will our nation cut its ties to this painfully undemocratic and outdated system of genetic privilege and medieval buffoonery. And if this child should ever desire to hold a place of power in the halls of Canadian government, he or she needs to begin the climb to that esteemed role in the exact same place as the rest of us — in the mailroom.