Wednesday 21 November 2007

Roundheads, queens and the immorality of revolutions

Apologies to "SubjectofRome" whose post I seem to have lost. Can you send it again? Midlander need not bother unless he comes up with some arguments rather than simply barracking. Sorry, Midlander.

Others have written and some still do not quite get the point that I was making.

Last try, then, folks. Here goes.

Some make a common mistake and assume that a different set of rules must apply to a head of state who is called king or queen than to one who is called by some other name.

The name of the head of state makes no difference: he cannot seize powers that are not lawfully his (or hers) and thus do not belong to him under the Constitution.

Dictators of unstable countries all too often seize such powers for themselves. This is merely a coup d'etat. It is illegal and immoral.

Some seem to think that merely swapping a monarch for some other kind of head of state with a different name solves the moral problem of signing immoral laws. How could it?

I don’t quite know why this relatively simple idea seems so hard for some to grasp.

The evil consists in requiring a head of state to seize powers he does not have and thus overthrow a constitution.

Again I do not know why this should be so difficult an idea to grasp.

I suspect that some have but one idea or concept of monarchy in their heads and that is monarchy with wide power. But the British monarch is not such a monarch.

Some call this a "charade". It is no more of a charade than a republican constitution that requires the president to do the same thing. How is it any less of a charade to call a president “head of state” when he or she has virtually no power, either?

The fact is that most jurisdictions have a head of state, even if only for ceremonial reasons. There is a need for such a figure. It is not a charade. There is a job to be done. Most constitutions give that head of state some final and residual power to prevent the Constitution being ultimately subverted.

It really amounts to not much less than a kind of blind prejudice and bigotry to think that this system must be abolished if it is exercised by a person called a monarch or "king" or "queen" but is fine if it is exercised by some other sort of head of state with a different title like, say, "president".

This bigotry is simply not logical. It is perhaps cultural or psychological. For instance, some Americans and many Irishmen seem to have a kind of cultural and psychological aversion to the mere word "king" or "queen", partly perhaps for understandable historical reasons. Many Irishmen, for instance, understandably associate monarchy with oppression by successive English governments but end by having an irrational aversion to the word and idea as such.

Perhaps some other people have been brought up on fairy tales about kings and queens and princes in castles who order subjects about with largely untrammelled power. Thus they think this is how all monarchs should be and can’t get their heads round the idea of a restricted constitutional monarchy.

Or perhaps some have a romantic notion about revolution which, in their mind’s eye, requires some supposed villainous monarch to rebel against.

I don’t know what else causes this kind of bigotry but it is profoundly anti-rational.

The Queen does not do evil when she signs a law because, in signing that law, she is not exercising any freedom to endorse or reject that law. She has no such freedom.

Her signing is not a free act on her part but merely an acknowledgement that Parliament has passed a law. It is rather like signing a receipt.

The only exceptions are the extreme situations to which I referred in my earlier posts (deadlock in Parliament which cannot be resolved by the courts, or a rogue government seeking to abolish the Constitution or, say, elections) and these now represent her only real power and discretion to act.

The fact that her signing is called “Royal Assent” is now a legal fiction, save in those extreme cases. Then, and only then, does the Queen retain any discretionary power.

Other than those extreme situations her signature is now no more than a “Royal Acknowledgement” or a “Royal Receipt” rather like signing a DHL receipt to say that you have received a DHL-delivered parcel.

No-one would suggest that the act of signing a DHL receipt for a parcel means that you were responsible for sending the parcel in the first place!

So, also, with the Queen. She is not morally or legally responsible for the legislation enacted by Parliament.

Now, it might be very nice and good if the Queen had more power than that and exercised it to block an abortion bill. But she doesn’t.

And no amount of calls for her to resign will give her, or her replacement, that power.

The royal power was radically attenuated by the Civil War, the so-called "Glorious" Revolution and the Bill of Rights of 1689 and further inroads continued to be made thereafter by a now powerful Parliament.

However much one may regret the Roundhead rebellion and the Whig Revolution, they won and the Royalists lost and it is now too late to reverse the constitutional situation. Indeed, even to try would now, if done by unconstitutional means, be a revolution of its own and thus sinful.

Now try as you might, you simply cannot blame Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for this situation!

Moreover, because Parliament passes an immoral law, this does not give either the Queen or a subject the right to overthrow Parliament.

I repeat, yet again, that this is what St Thomas Aquinas teaches in his De Regimine Principum ("On the Rule of Princes"), as does the Church itself.

St Thomas makes it quite clear that, whilst an unjust law is no law, morally speaking, and so it cannot bind morally and one should not obey it, that does not give us the right to overthrow the state or the prince (or the Parliament) which produced such an immoral law. It only gives us the right to refuse to obey such a “law”. We are not then disobeying the law because this “law” is, in fact, no law at all, morally speaking.

Likewise, the Queen, whilst she should certainly regard the abortion law as no law at all – morally speaking – she cannot break the legitimate laws (i.e. those which forbid her to exercise the Royal Assent as she pleases) in order to nullify the immoral “law”. That would be doing evil that good may come of it, which is strictly forbidden by the moral law.

The abortion law remains a human positive law but, in the sight of God and good men, it is really no law at all, morally speaking.

One must not, therefore, obey that law if it requires one to participate in an abortion, or connive at an abortion, but the existence of such an immoral law does not give the subject the right to overthrow the state or the Constitution.

For the same reason the Queen does not have that power, either.

The blame for these immoral laws lies with those who frame and pass them - not the Queen.

Some say, well, what about Hitler and the Nuremberg Laws. Well, what about them? They were laws passed by the Nazi-dominated Reichstag, not by President Hindenburg.

If there were laws passed to put Jews into concentration camps then those laws should be resisted and not obeyed but the Queen would still not magically get powers she does not have to block Parliamentary Bills. If, however, these laws were forced through illegally (as, of course, they would have to be since no-one would now pass such laws) and the courts refused to act, then the Queen would be facing the very extreme situation which I adumbrated and might then have a discretionary power.

I hope this, at last, makes the position clear.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And if the dynasty is an usurping dynasty are we compelled to comply to it?