The crowning of a new king should be a reason like no other to talk about the institution of monarchy and its place (if it has any) in modern-day society. There is however little to no serious discussion on the issue in The Netherlands, barring a small number of exceptions. One of those exceptions is an interesting op-ed by writer / comedian Arjen Lubach, ran by the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad. I translated it into English as a follow-up to my previous post: Billionaire puppet show.
A discussion between republicans and monarchists almost always ends in disappointment. It’s very much like debates between atheists and religious people, where the argumentation of monarchists (believers) turns out to be little more than submissive hollow phrases based on unfounded sensibilities. As a rule, the republican (atheist) is left with no more than the frustration of his disqualified ratio. Nevertheless, it always pays off to have a solid counter-argument. For that reason, I have compiled a list of the most used arguments of monarchists and their appropriate responses.
1) It’s a tradition, and part of our way of life.
Once upon a time it was a tradition in The Netherlands to force children into labor immediately after elementary school – until we realized that people are better off when they study longer and start work at an older age. Once, it was customary to get slaves out of Africa and to put them to work in South America – until we understood that they were people like any other and were entitled to equal rights. In that same vein it is a tradition now to allot money, power and status to members of a single family, solely for the reason that they have been born to a mother or father in a particular position – until we will come to the conclusion that it is more justifiable and more fair not to favor anyone on the basis of their descent.
2) But a king or queen is a great contribution to our wealth. Royals are indispensable ambassadors in international trade
This is a particularly persistent myth. In reality, Dutch trade missions that involve a member of the royal family are no more or less successful than those of countries that have no unelected leader (be they king, queen, emir, duke or emperor). And even if they did, that does not automatically mean that a president could not have the same effect on the trading partners in question. The reason behind this is as simple as it is sobering: the free market is not interested in fairytales. A good deal is a good deal, and a bad deal is a bad deal – and there is nothing an elderly woman in a funky head can do about that.
3) So what if we would have a president? They are at least as expensive
Even if a president costs twice the amount a king or queen is costing us – that would still be more reasonable, since they can be held accountable by the people and they can only retain their position if their performance is deemed adequate. Kings and queens have never been made to prove that they are worth the billions they have acquired. The Dutch monarchy is the most expensive one in Europe [the king’s income exceeds 800,000 euro’s annually (tax free)], while for instance the income of the president of Germany is around 200,000 and he pays taxes like anyone else.
4) They are worth it. The royal family is what keeps us together
The republics around us prove that an inherited office of power is no prerequisite for patriotism. Have you ever visited Paris on July 14th? The US on Independence Day? Have you ever asked an Italian if he is proud of his heritage? I would dare say that alcohol and a day off work are a stronger fraternizing factor than seeing a king waving at people from a touring car.
5) But Queen’s Day is so much fun!
Queen’s Day is on April 30th. So what if we make that the Day Of The Republic from now on? Everyone will have a day off, we will have markets, dress in red-white-and-blue, the president will give a nice speech and we will have our public festivals. Could we not have as much fun then as we do now? Would we not simply forget in 10 or 20 years time that once upon a time one blushing family was paraded around the land to participate in old-fashioned family games?
6) Do you really think it is fun to be king? So there!
Nobody is impressed when a kid eats out the candy jar every day and subsequently complains “Do you think it’s fun being fat?” It doesn’t matter if it’s great to be king or terrible. Neither is a justification of the peculiar custom of making people king or queen just for being born. If anything, it is an argument that supports the abolition of monarchy. When I think of the fresh king Willem-Alexander’s daughters I do not feel envy, but a deep, deep sympathy.
7) Holland would not be Holland without the “House Of Orange”
The Netherlands in its current state is barely 200 years old – and so is its monarchy. The most successful and influential (although admittedly infamous) periods our countries has known, were when it was a republic. Our royal tradition does not date back as far as England’s does. Even the United States (a relatively new country) in their current state are older than the Dutch kingdom, which was founded in 1806.
8) The king really doesn’t have that much political influence anymore these days
That doesn’t matter. Democracies are as strong as their weakest link. Anybody who favors democracy will agree that this form of government revolves around equality and control. For that reason alone it is unfeasible that we make exceptions for a single family, only because they are family. They may not have a huge amount of concrete political power, but the amount of time wasted between government and the royal family alone is a tell-tale sign that shows the king and his commissaries have far too much influence on the political process.
9) Nothing is as “Dutch” as the royal family
Even if King Willem III [1817 – 1890] was 100% Dutch (which he wasn’t, but OK), and supposing he was the father of Queen Wilhelmina (which is far from certain, but OK), then still Queen Wilhelmina – having a German mother – would be only half-Dutch. Her daughter Juliana, whose father is the German prince Hendrik, is only one quarter Dutch. Queens Beatrix’ father Bernhard was German as well, which makes her 12.5% Dutch. Her children (including the 2013 crowned king Willem-Alexander) were born of a German father, prince Claus, making them 6.25% Dutch. And then our current king’s children (with their Argentinean mother) are no more than 3.125% Dutch. Although that is no problem in itself, it begs the question if the Dutch royal family are in fact as Dutch as they are proclaimed to be.
10) It is the wish of the majority of the population
Perhaps it is. I do not recall any referendum on the issue of monarchy. Inasmuch as there are political parties in favor of ending monarchy, ending monarchy in itself is never one of their main policies. There is no serious public discourse on the matter, while plenty is being done to keep the silent majority silent. Royal awards, public feasts, big luncheons, and so on. In some of the royals’ public events they even show their taste in music, which seems to be as bad as that of the general Dutchman.