Arbitrary and Unlimited Power, Thrown Away

The monarch’s job is to continue arbitrary and unlimited power, and hand most of it over to government. In 2003, Blair used this to declare war on Iraq without prior parliamentary approval, in 1992, John Major used this power to cover up Britain’s arms trade with Iraq, and in 1984, Thatcher used it to prevent civil servants from joining/forming trade unions.

English: H.M. King George VI and Queen Elizabe...

H.M. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in the Senate Chamber giving Royal Assent to Bills, Ottawa, Canada.

The Queen has formal powers too, such as the power to dissolve/dismiss government, withhold royal assent on certain bills, and to appoint Prime Ministers. Even though they haven’t been used in Britain for a while, they were used against democracy (with great backlash) in Australia to dismiss the 1975 government, and in 2008 to prorogue the Canadian government (and undemocratically prevent a vote of no confidence) for several weeks.

It is true that Elizabeth isn’t exactly controversial, but monarchism ends up choosing people by chance, and there’s a danger people like Charles could abuse it. Additionally, her being above the fray of politics is pointless, when she ends up being the government’s puppet. This is where the equality of opportunity argument comes in (and yes you can think it baseless in comparison to the white millionaires club), it’s not good enough for me to just say that the current head of state gives birth to the next one; I think such a position should be earnt.

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

Szlachcic na zagrodzie równy wojewodzie.

The noble on his estate is equal to the voivode .

This is a Polish proverb, part of the legacy that came with the Commonwealth, that basically means that no free man would think of himself as less superior than anyone else.

The Polish-Lithuanian was one of the early republics, and experienced a time of prominence in the mid-1600s. A huge state, ( see this map ) it had over 8 million residents. Germans, Armenians, Jews, Poles, etc. all lived together. However, whilst there was freedom of religion and many different faiths, Catholic was predominant under the constitution. The constitution, for that matter, was made up of all parliamentary legislation – ranging from the obligation of farmer tenants to wartime taxation.

Many would disagree that the Commonwealth was a republic, as there were still enserfed peasantry and privately controlled cities, and additionally, politics was limited to the szlachta (upper class). Those who held seats in the Senate could also only be Catholic, as was the case with the elected King of the Commonwealth.

Comparing the Commonwealth with its close neighbours, though, illustrates the importance of the progress it had made so early. Rights of self-determination to regional councils and a Parliament of the Commons made in the Commonwealth contrasted with the victory of absolute and central rule in Russia over Zemskii sobor ( assembly of the people ).

Furthermore, whilst in the Commonwealth, libertas and the rule of law was the guiding principle of the state, in Russia autocracy alone symbolised the principles of justice, salvation, and the state structure. Additionally, the Catholic King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was actively ‘monitored’ by the country’s politicians, who often blocked key decisions.

Overall, the Commonwealth is an interesting example of what some might class as a democracy, at a time where this was certainly not the norm. It would be worth looking more into this.

To obtain full confirmation in possession and full right to exercise the self-preservative powers, what is needed are the institutions of free polity. Examining these, we shall in effect be examining what Smith puts forth as the necessary conditions for the existence of commercial society.

It is therefore not surprising to find considerable evidence of Smith’s preference for “republicanism” above all other regimes. He was as overt in his arguments as a reasonably prudent man might have been, though he never went to the length of making positive proposals in this regard for this own country. Much of his advocacy of “republicanism” is implied by his reiterated praise of those aspects of Dutch life which were supposedly assignable to republican institutions. Thus Holland, one of the “richest and most industrious countries,” continues to prosper from “peculiar circumstances,” which we learn are “republican form of government.” Holland is held up as the standard and they type of the commercial polity. The digression on the Bank of Amsterdam is largely an encomium on Dutch prudence. The burghers of Amsterdam are “attentive and parsimonious ” The republic of Holland is “wise.” Holland approaches nearest in Europe to freedom of trade. And so on.

Cropsey, Joseph. Polity and Economy – An Interpretation of the Principles of Adam Smith. (1957:65)

Thomas Jefferson is one of the most famous Republican thinkers. Known for being the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and as the third President of the United States, he is a fitting start to a Spotlight post.

In the UK, Republicans tend to be linked with either the IRA or left wing extremists. In America, the word is inseparable with the political party of the same name. In this post, and hopefully others later, I shall be looking at famous/infamous Republicans and their views.