A Modern Monarchist Winces At The Royal Wedding
Surely, that is, unless you consider yourself a monarchist.
The reality is that the wedding is another lightning rod drawing the attention of those who would rather do away with the monarchy. Every story speculating on the bride's gown or hairdo, or the star-studded guest list, or any other bit of marital minutiae - the staples of tabloids and mainstream media alike these days - becomes ammunition for those who find the monarchy extravagant, outdated, and undemocratic, and the royal family itself unfairly privileged and out of touch with the lives of ordinary people.
For those who feel that way - that is, those who believe that a hereditary monarchy is an anachronism incompatible with modern democratic principles - I'm more likely to receive a Christmas card from Christopher Hitchens than to convince you otherwise. The argument is not without significant merit. Such significance, in fact, that I will concede that if I were forming a new country, I wouldn't establish a monarchy (unless I could be king, mind you).
So why have a Canadian monarchy? Perhaps because we might like whatever would replace it less. What about an elected governor general? One could imagine that (certainly not a president - too American). But could one as easily imagine a partisan Liberal or Conservative GG? Aye, there's the rub. One of the chief strengths of the Canadian Crown (and it is a Canadian Crown - the Queen of Canada is legally distinct from the Queen of the United Kingdom; they just happen to share the same taste in hats) is its impartiality. The Queen, and her viceroys, represent the Canadian state, and not a political party. In practice, this means that the Crown can lend support to worthy institutions, or honour worthy citizens, or recognize military personnel without the suggestion of partisanship.
But does having an unelected sovereign make us undemocratic? No. Canada is as democratic as they come (the occasional contempt of Parliament notwithstanding). Any Canadian can aspire to be prime minister or, in fact, any other office in the land. The only job we can't have is king or queen. But we're all in the exact same boat. Or to put it another way, the monarchy is so undemocratic that it becomes democratic. There are roughly 34 million Canadians who can never be king or queen. It's out of our hands, leaving us to concentrate on the business of democratically running our country and determining our collective future.
Democracy has its own national flavours. Consider the republics born of the two great revolutions, the United States and France. There are more foreign-born American citizens who can never be president than there are Canadians who can't be the sovereign. And the French don't grant automatic citizenship to children born in France to immigrants. These arbitrary limits on the rights of citizens are contrary to the Canadian experience, but fit the democracies of those countries.
But is the universality of our inability to succeed to the throne enough to discount the privilege history has granted the House of Windsor? If not us, why them? There's no obviously good answer except historical tradition. One might define historical tradition as what people learn to live with after wars or colonizations. National languages, domestic and international borders, and political structures are good examples. And traditions are not intended to be changed lightly. Or easily. In Canada, the monarchy has been part of our national tradition from the first day of confederation. A separation of Canada from the monarchy would require a substantial change to the constitution, and although constitutional debate and self-determination are Canadian traditions as well, constitutional consensus is not.
What about the cost of the monarchy? It would probably be a wash - the $1.53 per capita Canadians spend annually on the monarchy (according to the Monarchist League of Canada)would likely be spent on whatever we came up with to replace it. The "show" of statehood must go on. And the extravagance of the wedding? The royal family is paying for it, and well, if we're going to go after everyone who inherited money from less-than-perfect ancestors, we'll be at it all day.
As for me, I don't plan to watch the royal wedding, although I'm sure I'll catch the highlights. It's not my cup of tea. I'm a monarchist, not a "royal watcher". The only portraits I have of the Queen are on my money, not collectors' plates. I wish the good prince and his bride well in their marriage, and hope that when the time comes, their Canadian crowns are waiting for them.
In the meantime, since even the most vocal republicans don't see pushing for any change until after Elizabeth II's reign is over, God save the Queen.