The fuss about the silence of Jeremy Corbyn during the singing of the British anthem was perhaps more than anything else the taking of an opportunity to attack a political enemy. Nonetheless it says more about our country than it does about Mr. Corbyn.
A nation that acts as if love of country is the same as loyalty to a family is a nation confused about the nature of democracy. It is a country that has perverted patriotism from pride into deference. From respect for the equality of citizens to worship of hereditary right.
When a nation requires its citizens by law or by bullying to express loyalty to a family it calls “royal”, it has failed to understand that the freedom not to say to say what you do not believe is essential to democracy. For freedom of speech is not just a about freedom to express your beliefs. It is about the right of every citizen not to be forced to say that which they do not believe.
This is something a patriot should stand up for. Not for a family.
The American Supreme Court put it well back in 1943. It said
“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein”.
West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette
But the British state takes delight in making its citizens “confess by word or act” what they do not believe. The Corbyn incident was one example. The requirement for an oath of loyalty to the Windsor family before taking a seat in Parliament or serving i the military, the judiciary or police service is a worse one.
Hypocrisy, Dishonesty and Falsity
That is not good for the democratic health of the nation. If its patriotism calls for hypocrisy, dishonesty and falsity above an honest expression of belief it is not a patriotism fit for a democrat.
When Jeremy Corbyn failed to sing the royal anthem the monarchists and the apologists showed that it would rather have subjects who bow and mutter obeisances than citizens who keep their heads erect and hold out a hand only to those who greet them as equals.
No democrat need feel a need to express loyalty to the Windsor family or confuse that with love of country. The citizen who refuses to do so is not at fault. Fault lies with the British state that fails its citizens by failing to reform its undemocratic institutions and by failing to change its anthem to one that all democrats can stand up for and join in singing.
In truth it is the duty of democrats to reject all in the government of their country that is incompatible with democracy. To say loud and clear that this is not acceptable. If, to use an American expression, they “go along to get along” as their critics demand, they have failed in their duty.
Owning a Seat in the Legislature
If for one moment one imagines that the members of our political and news media establishments are eligible to advise us on democratic practice one need look no further than to their failure to be affronted by hereditary legislators. They seem to believe that inheriting a seat in the legislature is fine and dandy. But that refusing to sing the royal anthem in an affront to all that good and true.
Still in the twenty first century they find it tolerable that some families should in effect own seats in our legislature.
Their unfitness for the role of democratic guide is confirmed by their acceptance as democratically legitimate of the hundreds of other legislators who were not chosen by the people and who cannot be removed by the people. These include legislators who bought a seat in our parliament by giving money to a political party. And others who were rewarded with a seat for the non-financial contributions to those parties.
This is an establishment that is happy for the Church of England, the church of a minority at that, to have extraordinary privileges, including the power to appoint its own godly legislators.
To top it all they recommend to us respect for their feudal class hierarchy of lords, princesses and dukes. All set above the common citizen. All incompatible with that democratic spirit that a democracy requires to thrive.
All of these disfigurements require much more of an explanation than does a refusal to sing the royal anthem. But we hear neither noisy complaints nor credible explanations.
It might seem to the citizen who values democracy that what they are asked to celebrate when asked to sing the anthem are all of these unwarranted privileges at the top of which sits the subject of the anthem. And if they have a little self respect they would be justified in saying that they will sing only an anthem that recognises the virtues of democracy and the sovereignty of the the citizenry.
Windsor Consent Required
During the Corbyn fuss some commentators told us that we must change the constitution first if we wish not to recognise a royal anthem as our national anthem. That as long as we have a monarchy, as long as the Windsor family stands for the state, a refusal to swear oaths to them or to sing their anthem, is to affront the nation.
But there’s a “catch 22” here.
For that pretend constitution that results in a royal anthem also requires legislators to swear an oath of allegiance to the Windsor family before they may take their seats. So before a legislator can propose a law or vote on a law to abolish the monarchy they must swear an oath of loyalty to that monarchy!
And, to quote the Windsors’ Web site
“It is also a long established convention that The Queen is asked by Parliament to provide consent (which is different to assent) for the debating of bills which would affect the prerogative or interests of the Crown”.
So our legislators must be loyal to the family and cannot debate the abolition of its privileges without the family’s consent. Then we are told that we must accept the monarchy until those who have sworn loyalty to that monarchy are given permission to abolish it.
That is the game they would have us play. But if we really want to replace the Windsors with a democratic head of state we must declare our disloyalty to Windsor and her family. One way of proclaiming that proud disloyalty is to refuse to sing their anthem.
The national anthem is in fact a royal anthem, not a national one. It’s a partisan anthem. If you sing it, or stand for it, you are endorsing monarchy.
If we allow the monarchists and the apologists for monarchy to get away with saying that our refusal to behave with the deference to monarchy that they demand is unpatriotic, we allow them to get away with the idea that their undemocratic institutions are acceptable.
And here Corbyn is at fault. And so are the other republican MPs who have sworn an oath of loyalty to Ms. Windsor and her family, without even making a fuss. They would no doubt argue that to have refused would have been to disenfranchise their constituents. And to give advantage in parliament to their opponents.
Resistance Can Work
In fact the life of Tony Benn tells us that resistance can work. When he was not allowed to sit in parliament because the state insisted that he was a “lord” and could not renounce that offensive title, he refused to accept that. Within three years the law was changed to allow him to toss away his feudal inheritance and to represent the people who had democratically put him into office.
We too should refuse to go along with what is wrong, keeping our mouths shut and our heads bowed. To do so would be to delay the day of our freedom from monarchy, which is what the monarchists want.
We should not allow the monarchists to turn us into passionless apologists for our democratic beliefs, hiding our contempt for monarchy and the remains of feudalism. We should not feel obliged to say what we do not believe simply because many do not like it.
The person who does so dishonours themself and the memory of those who have given their lives for democracy.
This is not about Jeremy Corbyn. It is about the defence of democracy and free speech.
In southern parts of the United States the confederate flag is revered by many. But many of those who revere it have had to acknowledge that its association with slavery means that it is not compatible with a society that rejects slavery and ideas of racial superiority. Because of that the flag has been lowered in many places where it once flew. In like manner British monarchists will have to accept that though they may revere their anthem and their monarch, they should have no place in a democratic nation of equal citizenship.
We should say it loud and clear. We are republicans. We are here to stay.
The problem with the anthem is monarchy. The solution to that problem is a republic.