L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 34, December 25, 1997
Why Libertarians Should Sing "God Save the Queen"!
by Sean Gabb firstname.lastname@example.org
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
"Over himself, over his own mind and body,
the individual is sovereign"
-- J.S. Mill, On Liberty, 1859
The death, earlier this year, of Diana, Princess of Wales was a
most lamentable event. Its suddenness and other attendant
circumstances must excuse much conduct that would otherwise deserve
condemnation. Plainly, some of those who had been close to the
Princess were overcome by grief. Equally, many common people wanted
to show their grief in the only manner they knew.
But the remembrance service and funeral are over. The flowers
have been cleared away. The time for expressions of grief, and for
tolerance of their mode, is passed. Those expressions that do
continue in the media have for the most part a political end -- this
being the destruction of the Monarchy. The agenda is seldom explicit.
Instead, we are told that "questions must be asked", or that
"tradition must be set aside", or the like. Even so, the agenda can
be seen. There are journalists and media proprietors who turned the
Princess while she lived to an attack on the Monarchy, and who are now
using her when she is dead for the same purpose.
This is, I suggest, to be denounced by all English libertarians.
It is nothing that those making such attacks often pose as supporters
of the free market and of desirable social and political reforms. By
their actions, they announce themselves enemies of our remaining
freedom as surely as if they went about with swastikas or hammer-and-
sickle emblems on their arms. The true justification of our Monarchy
is not that Her Majesty the Queen is glamorous, or a nice person, or a
tourist attraction. It is that she is the living embodiment of our
nationhood. She is among the greatest of those symbols that preserve
our communion with a freer and more glorious past. This side of
rebellion, she is the ultimate guarantor of the freedom that is our
Since Bagehot, constitutional writers have tended to misunderstand
the political importance of the Monarchy. It is far greater than they
allow. The Queen's legal powers are as great as those of William III.
She can pick and choose her Ministers. She can veto Bills sent up
from Parliament, and call fresh elections almost at will. She can
declare war and peace, and make treaties. She is Supreme Governor of
our National Church.
By custom, most of these powers are exercised in her name by
elected politicians; the power of veto has not been used since the
time of Queen Anne, and the power of choosing Ministers not since the
time of William IV. But custom is a living force. The present
arrangements require the elected politicians not to be traitors or
other kinds of villain. If it becomes plain that times are altered,
and that we are being taken irrevocably towards native despotism or
conquest by foreigners, the Monarch retains the power -- and the words
of the Coronation Oath confer an absolute duty -- to step in and
restore the balance of our Constitution. It would be unwise to break
through centuries of custom without at least some public acceptance of
the need to do so; but the legal power and duty to act are part of the
Even without extreme circumstances, the Monarchy works in our
favour. Though in obvious decline in other areas, our Constitution
has evolved to contain a separation of everyday power from authority.
Though intervening from time to time to solve or prevent crises, the
Monarch remains aloof from politics, leaving the business of
government to the elected politicians, who are blamed or rewarded by
the people according to their performance. On the other hand, the
elected politicians have a subordinate place within the Constitution
that they cannot hope to change. This may be the reason why we have
preserved so long into an age where absolute government is easy to
establish and maintain so much of the freedom that emerged under the
weak governments of the middle ages.
Personal rule is the most natural form of government; and a people
must be unusually enlightened and fortunate in their circumstances to
live without it. Most peoples are neither enlightened nor fortunate,
and so most countries are monarchies -- in fact if not in name. Those
republics that do exist are mostly of recent origin, and cannot be
expected to last more than a few decades.
Even the United States is only a partial exception. It began as
virtually a nation of libertarians. It expanded over half a continent
without any real foreign threat. But after two centuries, its
Constitution is increasingly a dead letter; and it can be questioned
whether civil asset forfeiture and a militarised bureaucracy have left
Americans as secure in their life, liberty and property as we are in
England -- a country without such initial advantages, but with a
While there are grounds for scepticism about the existence of God,
so far as He exists, and so far as she does her constitutional duty,
Her Majesty reigns over us by His Grace. In this contingent sense,
she is the Lord's Annointed. But even without such recommendation, I
am not ashamed as a libertarian to call myself a loyal subject and to
urge other English libertarians to do likewise.
As the republican attacks in the media gain over the next few
months in frequency and confidence, let us eclipse the most diehard
Tories in our defence of Her Majesty. Her defence is the defence of
our ancient liberties. Long may she reign over us!
Sean Gabb http://freespace.virgin.net/old.whig is Editor of Free
Life Commentary, an independent journal of comment published on the
Internet, in Issue Number Two (7th September 1997) of which this
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"The right of self-defense is the first law of nature: in most
governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right
within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are
kept up, and when the right of the people to keep and bear arms is,
under any color or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not
already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction."
-- Henry St. George Tucker (in Blackstone's Commentaries)
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