Thursday, March 26, 2009

Succession reform

Downing Street and Buckingham Palace have discussed proposals for changing the laws of succession to allow British dynasts to marry Roman Catholics and abolish male-preference primogeniture. While I disagree, I'm more wearied than outraged. I just don't understand the point of trying to make the monarchy conform to modern notions of "non-discrimination." Doesn't the monarchy "discriminate" rather spectacularly based on whether or not one is born into the royal family in the first place? And why is it any more "fair" to base succession rights on order of birth? Perhaps the best article on the monarchy I've ever read in the generally republican Guardian was this one by David Mitchell, which makes similar points. But according to the latest polls, the vast majority of British people support both the continuation of the monarchy and these "reforms." Most people aren't that interested in being logically consistent--but I'd have to prefer inconsistency to republicanism.

Perhaps the most ridiculous idea is that repealing the Act of Settlement will somehow make up for the Labour government's record of policies diametrically opposed to Roman Catholic teaching. Somehow I suspect that orthodox Roman Catholics in the UK have other concerns than whether their co-religionist the Earl of St Andrews can be 24th in line of succession to the throne.

Just as silly and meaningless is idle speculation that had male primogeniture been abolished earlier, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany would have inherited the British throne. Well, no, since we have no way of knowing how subsequent history would have turned out had his mother Princess Victoria been regarded as heir to the throne. As the article finally gets around to admitting in the final sentence, it's highly unlikely that the heiress to the British throne would have married the heir to the Prussian throne in the first place, in which case Kaiser Wilhelm II would never have existed. This fallacy (and related stale propaganda about the Kaiser) mars monarchist Andrew Roberts's otherwise admirable defense of the monarchy and its status quo.

A related point about counterfactual scenarios. I do not believe that they are necessarily worthless just because they cannot be proved. But they must not assume the constancy of other variables that would have also been affected by the proposed alteration. For example: it is reasonable to suppose that had Archduke Franz Ferdinand not been assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, the Austrian and other European monarchies could have lasted longer than they did, perhaps even still being around in some form today. But it is not reasonable to assume that the occupant of any particular throne would necessarily be the same person who claims it today, since royal genealogy, shaped as it is by a myriad combination of events, would have proceeded quite differently, and many of today's royals (and commoners) might not exist at all. Even in the case of Archduke Otto, who was born in 1912 two years before the murder of his great-uncle, one cannot rule out the possibility that an Emperor Franz Ferdinand would have revoked his wife and children's morganatic status, or alternatively perhaps outlived the Duchess of Hohenberg and married a suitable princess, whose son by him would have succeeded him instead of Otto.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. Rather than allow Labour a cheap win with Catholics, it would be more appropriate to concentrate on converting the Brits first, or perhaps to minister to members of the House of Windsor and make the family Catholic before changing the regulation. After all, Queen Mary I and King James II needed no political go-aheads before their reigns; their ascensions to the throne simply got things moving.