Atheist and Republicans

I haven’t had time yet to deal with a piece of nonsense from last week on Canadian Atheist.

The arguments put forward by the Monarchist League of Canada are entirely secular. You might or might not find them more persuasive than the arguments put forward by republicans, but this is in no small part a matter of subjective values rather than scientific and philosophical rigour. In other words, there are good objective reasons why one should be an atheist, but no equivalent reasons why one should be a republican (or, admittedly, a monarchist). – The Lad Who’s Born to Be King by Corwin for Canadian Atheist

Seriously?

This makes about as much sense as those who argue that you can make entirely secular arguments against women’s reproductive freedoms. The quasi-secular arguments strain human reason to the limit, better to be a pro-choice, republican atheist than whatever confused mess Corwin is arguing for.

Let’s break down the supposedly secular arguments of the Monarchist League before establishing a more coherent and secular argument for a republican Canada (or even secular United Kingdom, where I will be moving and where my other citizenship lies). It’s quite easy to see that all of their arguments are based on irrational appeals to tradition and fear of change but I’ll still go through.

Force for national identity: A distinct independence

Apparently the thing that most distinguishes Canada from the USA is the monarchy. By this logic, Australia and New Zealand are the same country (since they are both Commonwealth nations) or even the twin republics of Mexico and the USA.

Canadians clearly reject this as a vast majority name anything but the Queen as a symbol of our identity. The following is a graph showing the relative importance of various symbols of Canadian identity as polled by Environics between 1997 and 2012 [source pdf].

image

Our health care system, the Charter, the flag, and our parks are make us different than the USA. Hell, even hockey and the CBC are ranked well ahead of the Queen. The monarchy is not part of the Canadian identity.

Of course the monarch comes from the British (rather than First Nations or French) part of our heritage, so that symbol of national identity already drives a wedge against an entire province of our country, which brings us to argument number two.

Unifying, not divisive: Head of state vs head of government

Having already identified that an entire province, representing over 20% of the population, is unrepresented by a British monarch, the Monarchists argues that “the Sovereign is a force of unity, who as head of state embodies all Canada and all Canadians.”

Again, the evidence defeats the argument. Secular republics like France, the USA, and Germany manage to host plenty of national events with partisan leaders that don’t devolve into bitterness.

Instead, the monarchists would have us bow down at National events to someone we’ve already established most Canadians don’t identify with. Better a Canadian prime minister that I don’t like than a foreign theocrat.

Parliamentary monarchy: Guarantor of freedom

With Michaëlle Jean’s decision to prorogue Parliament in 2008, despite Stephen Harper clearly facing defeat by a non-confidence motion, the precedent is essentially set that the Monarchy has little real power to protect the rule of law in Canada.

Meanwhile in Britain, new surfaced after much effort that the Queen and Prince Charles are vetoing and overturning democratically-passed laws. This demonstrates the danger of allowing unelected and unaccountable figureheads to rule supreme.

We already have a well-functioning Supreme Court and judicial system that is able to balance the power of the legislature, and new secular and accountable structures could be set in place to reduce the power of Parliament.

People have always had to fight the Monarchy for their freedom. It’s no different now.

Neutral referee of federalism: The unity of eleven Crowns

This is a rather contrived argument based on one statement from 1978. There is no reason a different arrangement couldn’t be made than currently exists. We’ve already established that the Monarchy isn’t neutral, given its interventions into UK law. Let’s at the very least have a Canadian head of state to unite the country.

Personal allegiance: Process, not partisanship

Pledge allegiance to the country, our institutions, and our ideals. It doesn’t need to be a person.

Individual allegiance: The equality of every Canadian

In the US they pledge allegiance to the flag and in the 1990s the federal government considered changing Canada’s oath to reflect what citizens should actually care about – the country in which they live, not a foreigner on a fancy chair.

Also never mind all of the people who earn their citizenship by birth and don’t have to swear allegiance. Are we just magically loyal?

World figure: Represented by her Canadian team of Governors

No one in the world thinks of the Monarchs as Canadian when they tour the world. They are British first and foremost and its embarrassing to make this argument. Canada is represented by the Prime Minister and Premiers far more frequently and effectively than the Queen.

Reflection of history: Aboriginal, Colonial, Canadian

I can’t for the life of me see how this is a positive thing. The argument made is borderline racist and utterly ignorant of history. Many First Nations were not effectively monarchies but consensus-based matriarchal democracies. Best to be rid of our colonialist past and start working toward reconciliation.

Link to today’s Canada: The Commonwealth mirrors our diversity

Hey, look at all the other races Britain conquered and enslaved! We can all laugh about it now as a happy family.

Give me a break.

There’s no reason Canada couldn’t remain part of the Commonwealth while ditching the monarchy, much like the majority (33) of members. Only 16 countries of the Commonwealth recognize the Queen.

Evolutionary society: Canada prospers under the Crown

This is irrelevant, there are many successful republics like the USA, Germany, and France. Show me the evidence that the monarchy directly (hell, even indirectly) lead to Canada’s rank on the UN Human Development Index.

Stability in a changing world

This is essentially the argument from “change is scary” and I will ignore it as silly as it is.

Community, volunteerism, honours

These can be replaced with secular and Canadian symbols. In fact we already have the Order of Canada.

Republicanism: Diversion, blow to nationhood and the institutionalization of partisanship

Their final argument is basically that they really like the monarchy and nothing else is like it. Better a Canadian politician than a foreign figurehead.


Argument for Atheist Republicanism

For an atheist to argue that the monarchy should be retained borders on the absurd.

If you reject all evidence for God and the supernatural, then you reject the very source of the monarch’s authority. This leaves tradition, which is a sure-fire way to enshrine privilege and impede progress.

It would be like an atheist arguing that while Jesus clearly wasn’t the son of God, and may not have even existed, and the Bible was written post-hoc, the Catholic Church has existed a long time and shouldn’t be challenged.

As a moral, critical thinking species (in general, if not always), we can and must build secular institutions that are accountable and capable of reformation.

Freedom is not protected by the monarchy, it is hoarded. Canada should be its own country, with its own head of state. Someone who earns the position (either through democratic means or appointment), not someone born into it by having magic blood.

We can remember our history (which includes far more than Great Britain) while abolishing an embarrassing relic of our more racist, Christian, and colonial past.

2 thoughts on “Atheist and Republicans”

  1. So I hear you want a secular argument in favour of monarchy? Ok, then. I am happy to oblige. Here is a list of 4 scientific studies on monarchy and republics as government forms and the differences between them (as well as two supporting studies):
    http://www.reddit.com/r/monarchism/comments/2o8avm/academic_research_on_monarchy_ie_how_to_shut_up_a/

    But I also noticed a few errors in your post I’d like to address:

    “Of course the monarch comes from the British (rather than First Nations or French) part of our heritage”

    -Monarchy, as a system of government, also comes from our French and First Nations heritage. This is obvious in the French example as you probably are aware that France was once a monarchy. Interestingly it is also true for most First Nations which were, until the Indian Act was written, led by hereditary chiefs with powers and roles resembling modern constitutional monarchs as I detail on my website under the title:
    ‘Native Kingship: Canada’s Hereditary Chiefs’
    Hereditary leadership is one of the few things shared between all three groups.

    “With Michaëlle Jean’s decision to prorogue Parliament in 2008, despite Stephen Harper clearly facing defeat by a non-confidence motion, the precedent is essentially set that the Monarchy has little real power to protect the rule of law in Canada.”

    -I think you are ignoring the fact that the 2008 prorogation had specific limitations applied to it by the GG. 1. The prorogation must be short and 2. the budget must be the first order of business upon Parliament resuming. And indeed both turned out to have happened. Parliament resumed in a month and voted in favour of the budget. That Harper was willing to remove the offensive pieces of legislation and the coalition was unable to hold together over even this short period demonstrates it to be the right choice. The alternative was for the GG to either over-rule a democratically elected politician or dismiss a government before it had even proved whether it lacked the House’s confidence. Granting the GG the right to do either, except in the most dire of circumstances, would up-end conventions long preserved for protecting our democracy.

    “Meanwhile in Britain, new surfaced after much effort that the Queen and Prince Charles are vetoing and overturning democratically-passed laws.”

    -Ignoring for a second that a law isn’t passed until the monarch assents to it (which makes the above poor writing) lets consider the example given. Parliament wanted to transfer approval for air strikes from the sovereign to parliament. In other words parliament wanted to fundamentally change how their constitution operates without any consultation at all? Isn’t that the kind of thing you would insist our GG refuse to give assent to?

    “People have always had to fight the Monarchy for their freedom. It’s no different now.”

    -This statement shows a lack of understanding in regards to history. Most of the offences we attribute to the monarchy were carried out by the nobility. What difference does that make? Plenty. During the early Middle Ages monarchs lost a great deal of control over their countries to the nobility due to invasions and a breakdown in the rule of law. The nobility usurped these powers and privileges since local government is all that worked during the period. The monarchy, unable to retake these powers immediately, was forced to watch as the realm’s barons did pretty much whatever they liked. Even Parliament was not a creation by the people to rob the monarch of its powers, it was created by the monarch so they could create new laws (believe it or not all English law was once built on custom with there being essentially no legislative branch [in the king’s hands or otherwise]). It is worth mentioning that of the various peasant revolts that occurred during the Middle Ages against the nobility only one succeeded; Catalonia. This is because the king made common cause with the peasants against the nobility. Likewise, when the House of Lords attempted to block the Commons on key issues the king on more than one occasion threatened to dilute their power by naming hundreds of nobles. The monarch has rarely been the person the people have had to fight for their freedom and it is the same today.

    “We’ve already established that the Monarchy isn’t neutral, given its interventions into UK law.”

    -And what does what Her Majesty does as Queen of Britain have to do with what she does as Queen of Canada?

    “Let’s at the very least have a Canadian head of state to unite the country.”

    -Name a politician that would be willing to run for president and I will show you a man (and it would likely be a man) who some section of the country despises (Harper, Trudeau, Mulcair).

    “Many First Nations were not effectively monarchies”

    -See previous link. You picked an exceptional case to link to (and made your argument a strawman in the process).

    “Show me the evidence that the monarchy directly (hell, even indirectly) lead to Canada’s rank on the UN Human Development Index.”

    -See my first group of links. Specifically you may wish to read the first one since it deals with economics but arguably they all touch on it.

    “Canada should be its own country, with its own head of state.”

    -Canada is its own country and whats more it has opted to share a head of state with a number of other radically countries. In this world constantly being torn apart by ethnic and cultural differences I can’t think of a more progressive statement than to avoid the impulse to say “its ours and no one elses”.

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