Do I Look Like a Serf?
by Colin James Haslett
Queen came to town last weekend, and Canadas deputy Prime
Minister Mr Manley got himself into some hot water. It seems that
he had the temerity to suggest that maybe Canada doesnt really
need a monarch any more. And even worse than merely suggesting such
a thing he made his suggestion at this most (in)appropriate of times,
when he knew the media would pick up on it like a starving dog on
a dead rat. The man is a politician, and without a doubt he was
perfectly aware of the controversy he would stir up and the effect
his timing would have on it, and I dont think his ulterior
motives should be too difficult to deduce given Mr. Chretiens
upcoming retirement. None of this challenges the inherent validity
of his statements, and Id be willing to go one step further.
Not only does Canada no longer have any need for a monarch but Canada
should be in a hurry to divest itself of its monarch.
I have a very good
friend who is a staunch monarchist, at least as firm in his beliefs
as I am in my own anti-monarchism. He makes arguments about tradition.
I counter with other wonderful traditions like slavery, indentured servitude
and taxation without representation. He says that the queen is a rallying
point for Canadian culture, a symbol that we can use to identify ourselves
as Canadian. I point out our flag, which no longer has a Union Jack
on it, our social safety net, which is admittedly full of holes but
still does a better job than most other nations, and our charming refusal
to call back bacon anything but back bacon. He opines that Elizabeth
II is a sweet old lady who makes people smile and feel happy when she
visits us. I suggest that this county has tens of thousands of sweet
old ladies who make people smile when they visit, and their names are
Grandma. Its just that most of them dont get the attention
they deserve and none of them get to travel around the county in first
class on the taxpayers dime.
I know that a lot of people who oppose the monarchy do so on fiscal
grounds, and many oppose it from a nationalistic standpoint. My own
opposition is based on a simple democratic principal equality.
In a democratic society every member of that society is considered equally
worthy, by virtue of simply being a member of that society, to have
a voice in deciding how that society functions. In a democratic republic
this is put into practice by giving every citizen the vote, to do with
as they please. Politicians, police officers, business owners, retirees,
homemakers, soldiers, office and factory workers, teachers, welfare
recipients, actors, CEOs, even convicted felons in prison get a vote
and every vote counts exactly the same. Use it or not, every one of
them gets the same vote in the next election. And, once again, every
one of them gets the exact same vote because they are equal in the eyes
of their society.
Not so in a monarchy. In a monarchy a single individual is deemed to
be the ultimate moral authority for the entire society. This person
has total power over the functions of law, trade, taxes, diplomacy,
etc for the whole of the society. True, in practice a monarch would
have advisors and subordinates but the ultimate authority belongs to
this one individual. Sometimes this individual has attained such a position
through conquest, sometimes by leading a revolution, sometimes by order
of the church, but in general this individual is deemed morally superior
to everybody else in that society just for being born. And for some
reason I find the idea that someone can be born morally superior to
anybody else very disturbing.
I do believe that an individuals physical and mental potentials
are determined by heredity. Whether or not a person achieves those potentials
is another matter entirely: genes for particular characteristics can
be stymied by environmental factors. However, I am perfectly willing
to admit that if somebody is faster or stronger or smarter than me then
their advantages may be a result of nothing more than the accident of
their birth. But none of these sorts of advantages, in and of themselves,
make one individual morally superior to another, let alone the mere
presence of their potential. Simply put, morality is not hereditary.
Im also not so naïve as to believe that every individual
in any society is in fact morally equal. I could rattle off quite a
list of people whom I consider morally inferior to myself without too
much difficulty but theyre also the kind of people whod
likely sue me for libel and slander and malicious honesty, so I wont.
And in all humility I could come up with a fairly good list of my moral
betters but I wouldnt want to make any of you blush, so I wont.
My criteria, the general criteria I believe, for determining someones
moral standing are the actions theyve taken in the course of their
life. How much weight I give to particular types of actions will undoubtedly
be different from the weight other people might give them, but it should
be easy to see that just being born can not be given any moral weight
at all. It should also be easy to see that nobody can be given any credit
for the actions taken by other people, at least not those actions taken
before their own birth which, obviously, they could not have had any
hand in. So once again morality is not hereditary.
But a monarchy functions on the fundamental supposition that morality
is hereditary. Monarchy functions on the basis of an ethical falsehood.
As long as Canada has a queen or king as its head of state then the
people of Canada live under a monarchy and the foundation of our government
is morally unsound. How can we demand parliamentary or senate reform,
how can we demand political accountability when the head of our government
is accountable to no one, when our system of government is inherently
In practical terms Queen Elizabeth is a figurehead. I realize that she
appoints Governor Generals who, in her name, sign into law pretty much
whatever parliament and the senate tell them to sign into law. The likelihood
that she would ever pull rank and prevent a bill being passed into law
is pretty much non-existent. But my point isnt that she would
but that she can. She can because Canadians acquiesce to her inherent
claim of moral superiority by accepting a government headed by someone
who supposedly was born into that position. How anybody can not find
this distasteful is beyond me. Canada needs to end its monarchy and
shift its form of government to one that represents the ideals of equality
that its constitution puts forth, for if we will not discriminate on
the basis of sex, race, religion, age or what have you how can we discriminate
on the basis of bloodline. Canada needs to live up to its promise of
a democracy by moving its government out of the middle ages and into
the modern age. Monarchies may have been just dandy in medieval Europe,
but this isnt medieval Europe. Im a Canadian citizen, with
a voice equal to that of each and every one of my fellow Canadian citizens,
not a serf.
Haslett October 2002
can die if he doesnt get any'
The Problem With Modern
Parenting is... Nobody Does Any
that sound like a lot of work? It is. Its still called parenting'.
Editor's note: All opinions in Hackwriters are the writer's own and
not necessarily reflective of the magazine. We welcome diverse views
on public issues.
< Reply to this Article