The so-called "republic debate" in New Zealand is an odd thing. Here's the Cliff Notes, setting out how it's usually handled--at least, when it's handled at all.
1. The Poll War.
Every now and then, someone will do a Poll on the Monarchy. It usually (but not always) reveals a majority in favour of the Queen--personally--who doesn't like Her Majesty? And crashing indifference about Constitutional arrangements in general. Insert lots of "But when we have Prince Charles, will the Crown continue?" breathlessness. To be honest, I think the Poll War is pointless, for reasons I shall outline.
2. The National Identity issue
A republic is a sign of national growth. Gratitude, even. Place in the sun, mature country, growing out of colonialism and cultural cringe, etc. When we "grow up" we leave home. I disagree with the basic premise of this argument, but it's a good one. In the news media, it is accompanied by lots of slightly sneering old newsreel footage of people bowing and snivelling to various Royal figures, and implications it's time we grew up. Vide John Campbell's A Queen's Tour.
3. But young people/ordinary people don't care.....
Royal tours, events like the Jubilee, interest in the Monarchy, etc. is ebbing--young people don't care about it, and old people are dying. See 2. It's this argument I'm interested in for this post.
Suppose I grant it (I don't think I do, but suppose I did). Here's my question. Are "young people" uninterested in the Monarchy, or simply uneducated about it? Is the indifference to the Monarchy a sign of wider indifference to, and disconnection from, civic life in general?
How many young people vote?
How many vote in local bodies?
How many join service clubs, or political ones?
How many know their neighbours?
How many are educated enough about civic life, history, and constitutional issues to even make an informed decision, for or against the republic?
Is our generation (for Dr. Swift is young) generally remarkable for depth of public engagement? Investment in constitutional, moral and social values? (in some cases, clearly yes. But is civics one of these things?) Or is the young majority for a republic (assuming there is one, see 1.) simply making up their mind based on sloganeering, and back issues of OK! ?
Somehow, it is a bad thing for the Monarchist majority to make up their minds based on personal loyalty to the Queen, as a celebrity figure (I don't disagree with this contention).
But the level of knowledge and engagement of the republican man-in-the-street are not interrogated. Is he or she really in favour of a republic? Or simply blankly incomprehending about the Monarchy and its historical and Constitutional role?
How much is disconnection from the Monarchy a sign of disconnection and distrust of institutions in general? It's these things we should be debating.
And by the way, if you want to see the republican case set out in depth and detail, skip the Cliff Notes, which do not do it justice--buy the Handbook. I intend to practice what I preach, and do just that.
Cross-posted at The Monarchist.
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