This may be political, based on the article below, but I had hoped for a more expansive discussion. It’s based on an appreciation of the UK essentially splitting royal duties from political power, which Frum feels has relevance in the US these days.
“The British stumbled upon an unexpectedly powerful idea: Sever the symbolism of the state from the political power of the state, and bestow those two different governing roles on two different people. Power has little majesty in the British system. Prime ministers reside in an apartment over their office. People are rude to them all the time. Their colleagues can give them the boot, as they just did to Boris Johnson…
…Meanwhile, the person who gets the palaces, the bowing and scraping, the bands and the guards, gets nothing else. The British monarch is both the head of state and that state’s most closely watched prisoner, forbidden to say or do anything remotely human, let alone political. That’s why Queen Elizabeth II was admired and loved: She submerged every aspect of her individuality to a discipline so remorseless that it invited insanity—or mutiny.”…
…“The American system of government is based in large part on that of 18th-century Britain. The powers of the American presidency look a lot like those of the British monarchy before the American Revolution—the power to propose and veto legislation, to pardon crimes and commute sentences—powers that no British monarch has wielded for ages. Because the U.S. Constitution is formalized in writing, and is so difficult to amend, the institutions of the former colonies are in many ways more conservative than those of the former colonizer. The British genius is the ability to wrap institutional innovations in fake antiquity. The American struggle is to wrestle outdated institutions into the modern age.”…
“But now, possibly, it’s America’s turn to teach. In the Trump era, Americans painfully learned that there are no institutions, only people. Institutions work, if they work, because they are served by people who do their duty with competence and integrity.”…
Thoughts? In general, not just politics, what can one country teach another?
Even if you bought this, and it was possible, what would it look like in the US if political power was separated from symbolism? Is this in fact the case with symbolic power represented by the entrepreneurs and celebrities who make up much of the news, or are they too powerful or not powerful enough?
I don’t think it’s so much about us teaching you anything as about what you decide it might suit you to choose to learn from us or anyone else. What each of us has is the product of all sorts of historical interactions, so it isn’t easy to just transplant from one to the other.
But if you’re looking for a ceremonial symbol head of state separate from a political government, it might suit you better to look at republics with an elected head of state, like Ireland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Finland, India, or a locally appointed Governor General like Canada, Australia, New Zealand…
The UK can teach the US about politeness (as opposed to friendliness, which is a different beast), reserve, silence when appropriate, and enjoying soccer*. Also universal health care, reasonable gun control**, and good policing.*** I’ll also add more freewheeling gambling laws, more realistic laws about drinking as a young person (America will gasp and clutch its pearls at the very thought of a 16-year-old being allowed to drink beer), and Christmas pantos.
The US can teach the UK about lightening the fuck up sometimes, optimism, randomly striking up a conversation with a stranger, and turning on red lights. ****
*OK, so the “America hates soccer” thing is an old canard that’s patently false, but you get my point.
**I don’t pretend to fully understand the UK’s gun laws, but they seem a hair better than ours.
***I don’t pretend to fully understand the police culture in the UK, but I’mma hazard a guess that yours don’t routinely beat the hell out of Black/Brown people just because.
****Not sure if turning on red lights is legal in the UK or not, but it seems to be illegal across most (all?) of Europe from what I’ve gleaned.
Just a question (and I am asking for information, not to debate the premise); Did the 18th king run the government? Or was there a prime minister who appointed the cabinet and ran the government. ISTM that that is the biggest difference. The president is not merely the head of state who can veto legislation, pardon criminals and all those other things, but they also run the whole government.
Well whether a Republic has an executive president or one that whose role is largely symbolic is a constitutional question you only get to make once at the founding of a Republic.
The UK constitutional monarch as head of state with a Parliament holding supreme executive power is an evolution. It was a rocky road that required the loss of a Kings head in order to resolve the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ contention that prevailed until the 18th Century.
A republic did not resolve the constitutional problem of who is in charge very effectively. The US constitution solved some if the big issues of the 18th century, but was slow and diffucult to adapt to suit the challenges of later centuries and the growth of the US as a superstate.
Learning from how other countries create their constitutions might help. France, for example, regularly reinvents it republican constitution and its tradition is as old as the US.
Any good ideas there for a 2nd Republic for the US?
England overturned the principle of the divine right of Kings a lot earlier, in the 17th century. In France they developed the idea further, revolving the identity if the a French state around the identity of the King. This arrested the constitutional development and frustrated the growing middle classes by depriving them of representation. It ended in bloody revolution.
England, meanwhile had successfully constitutionalised the monarchy. It took a civil war, the beheading of Charles 1st, rule for a decade under the Puritan ‘Protector’, Cromwell. Then the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II. England did the difficult bits in the 1600s and successfully established Parlimentary government. The French had a much more traumatic transition, that has never quite settled down.
Lessons for the US?
Don’t leave essential constitutional reforms until it is too late. Arguing over ambiguous anachronisms and politicising the Supreme Court is a bad sign,
However, there is a limit to how relevant the experience of smaller countries with centralised governments are to the US which is a superstate with a decentralised Federal structure. Not so many examples of that in the world.
Up until the 18th century, yes, the monarch ran executive central government (with an advisory Privy Council, where there was much jockeying for power and lucrative jobs between rival factions, often family-based); but the 17th century civil wars, and ultimately the revolution of 1688 made it clear that Parliament was the ultimate arbiter. The accession of the Hanoverians (who had two different kingdoms to run and two different sets of geopolitical interests to pursue, not to mention a limited command of English in the first two) meant that ministers acting together as a Cabinet became more and more important in managing the executive and Parliament, until by the early nineteenth century, the modern constitutional monarchy developed, which was only accentuated by successive extensions of the franchise.
I suspect the difference is not quite so much with the statute law (apart from the ban on handguns), as with the administrative guidelines issued to local police forces, who have to issue and enforce licences. I’m open to correction, but I think that’s where you’ll find the guidance that “self-defence” isn’t a valid reason for having a gun, or detailed guidance on what sort of gun is appropriate for hunting what sort of prey, etc.
Which underlines another difference, for good or ill- the scope for Parliament to use legislation to micro-manage the executive, independently of ministers, is very limited.
Seeing soccer as a less-than-manly sport is still very common among “salt-of-the-earth” Americans. Our group at work now is more than half foreign born, but as recently as 2018 there was considerable mockery of the few of us who were caught up in the World Cup.
And on the sports radio station both the hosts and the callers spent at least twice as much time mocking soccer as covering it. But I guess that was better than 2010, when the ratio was more like 20-1.
ISTM that the abstract idea of affection for a regal monarch is somehow hardwired into humans, even “freedum” loving 'mericans.
I have often waggishly speculated that we could solve the Trump conundrum if we were to make him King, similar to the UK, while removing him from any real political power. Yes, his dumb kids would be in line of succession - sound familiar? He would get to ride around in a carriage, crap in gold toilets just like he does now, and have toadies follow him around. His acolytes could cheer for him.
But, alas, he would never accept the removal of his ability to wax poetic on political matters, which to me is the genius of the UK system.
Maybe not so much Great Britain - I think their parliamentary elections need reform (eliminating first past the post) - but our next republic should be looking at and learning from all the better democracies in the world.
Yeah, we have a different set of logistics to resolve, like our size and our increasingly antiquated system of federalism, but we should be striving to be the world’s greatest democracy instead of believing that we already are.
An elected head of state without much actual political power - maybe restricting his duties to the maintenance of fair elections - is something we should be examining for the next time around.
But their example may be too situational to be relevant. When Britain declined as the world’s greatest power, it was supplanted by the United States. While our two countries have had their differences, it was a relatively friendly transition.
Looking at the possibilities, I doubt America’s transfer of world’s greatest power to our successor will go as tranquilly.
I’m pretty sure there needs to be a Critical Race Theory for the UK because the sheer amount of people I see on the Straight Dope who defend British Colonial History is astounding. Same with Canadians who didn’t even know Canada had slavery in the first place.
As a dual heritage Brit , I would respectfully disagree with you. To my mind, CRT is a set of ideas which constitute a response to specific American problems . I am not for an instant denying that there are problems here but we cannot copy your solutions. For example , following the contre-temps caused by police brutality in the USA , copy-cat demonstrations took place in London where protesters were shouting out “Hands up , don’t shoot” . It provoked hilarity as our police are not routinely provided with fire-arms.
Historically,our minorities arrived in Britain as a result of voluntary migration and while our colonial history has deplorable aspects , many would argue that this is of less relevance to this country than the enduring impact and legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws in the USA. has for your citizens. For example , when American forces tried to impose segregation upon their people in this country during the war , there was wide-spread revulsion .In your country I understand that there were disturbances when segregation ended .
I hope this response does not offend you
The problems from colonialism are serious and deep. The worst manifestations include atrocities from countries like Congo or Cambodia, war in the Ukraine or elsewhere, and slavery from Asia to the Americas and beyond. Canada had some slavery, abolished it earlier than most, but still struggles with Indigenous issues. More money and effort should be devoted to fighting things that genuinely undermine human dignity and freedom.
The past cannot be undone, so reasonable efforts at reparation and reconciliation should be made, and then things should be remembered but allowed to move on and progress. This will take some doing and more time, as democracy currently has the hiccoughs.
However, there is much to appreciate as pointed out by scholars like Hans Rosling. Things are actually getting better, for the most part, sometimes more slowly than one would like. Covid was unhelpful, but one too infrequently hears the good news - people are becoming freer in many countries, and billlions have been lifted out of extreme poverty within just a few decades. And this is the truth, not just talk.