The hypocrisy of Human Rights in a Hereditary Monarchy

EleanorRooseveltHumanRights

EleanorRooseveltHumanRights (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Human Rights are based on a belief that humans share universal traits that are not limited by sovereignty or citizenship.[i] Human Rights provide a form of equality based on our reciprocated recognition of our shared humanity. In this principle, we find the basis for the idea of self-government. The idea that people who have human rights can decide for themselves, or in concert with others, how they are to be governed. However, the desire for self-government challenges the traditions of hereditary monarchies or the divine right of kings.

Human Rights lead to the idea of self-government

In the United Kingdom, the Human Rights debate reflects an enduring struggle between the people and the Crown. The Crown reflects a belief in privilege and prerogative born of its hereditary status.[ii] Against this view, Jefferson argued for freedom based on rights of man. We can escape arbitrary authority based on privilege and prerogative.

That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view. The palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of god. These are grounds of hope for others.[iii]

Power and privilege of a monarchy is artificial, human rights are natural

The Crown reflects a hereditary monarchy which is borne of power, privilege, and patronage. The Crown’s prerogative emanates from a world in which the mass of mankind is born with saddles on their backs where the favoured few are booted and spurred to rid them legitimately by the grace of the god. To a certain extent, the Human Rights Act bridged the divide between the rulers and the ruled and created a democratic veneer to the hereditary monarchical system.[iv] The Conservative Party’s proposals would erase this veneer. In this sense, the issue returns us to 1789 when the French Revolution proposed the revolutionary idea of the rights of man against the Monarchical divine rights. In a historical sense, the Conservative Party has returned to Edmund Burke.

British Rights and the return of Edmund Burke

The British Rights, though, are implicitly not equal rights. In that they are limited to rights based on citizenship. In that sense, they remind us of Edmund Burke and his defence of the rights of Englishmen against the revolution’s rights of man.[v] At a less abstract level, they remind us that the Queen is our superior and not our equal. She is not subject to the law[1] and that has an effect on the common good which is based, in part, on equality before the law such as the Human Rights Act. A repeal of the Human Rights Act would bring us closer to a system of privilege that the French and American revolutions rejected and undermine the idea of self-government and human freedom based on human rights.

 

[1] http://www.royal.gov.uk/MonarchUK/Queenandthelaw/HowUKandEUlawaffectTheQueen.aspx (accessed 13 May 2015) “Given the historical development of the Sovereign as the ‘Fount of Justice’, civil and criminal proceedings cannot be taken against the Sovereign as a person under UK law. Acts of Parliament do not apply to The Queen in her personal capacity unless they are expressly stated to do so.

However, The Queen is careful to ensure that all her activities in her personal capacity are carried out in strict accordance with the law.

Under the Crown Proceedings Act (1947), civil proceedings can be taken against the Crown in its public capacity (this usually means proceedings against government departments and agencies, as the elected Government governs in The Queen’s name).

In the case of European Union law, laws are enforced in the United Kingdom through the United Kingdom’s national courts. There is therefore no machinery by which European law can be applied to The Queen in her personal capacity.

However, it makes no difference that there is no such mechanism, as The Queen will in any event scrupulously observe the requirements of EU law.

As a national of the United Kingdom, The Queen is a citizen of the European Union, but that in no way affects her prerogatives and responsibilities as the Sovereign.”

[i] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Pages/WhatareHumanRights.aspx (accessed 13 may 2015)

[ii] For an overview of the legal issues associated with a repeal of the Human Rights Act see http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2605487

[iii] http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/jefferson/214.html (accessed 13 May 2015)

[iv] Even the UK’s Bill of Rights does not do this because it is based on the rights of subjects not rights of man. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/aep/WillandMarSess2/1/2/introduction (Accessed 13 may 2015) As subjects they exist in relationship to the monarch not in their own right as Englishmen or as men simply.

[v] https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=aj5WXoG_g9wC&pg=RA1-PA314&lpg=RA1-PA314&dq=rights+of+englishmen+burke&source=bl&ots=rKuOWLXIOW&sig=Bhg-mahwGL9BCCMZf0zClGqKcYs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=JIpTVeepDoi67gaS1IAo&ved=0CDQQ6AEwAw (accessed 13 May 2015)

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About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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