On the occasion of the birth of his royal babydom, I’d like to make a modest proposal for the betterment of Venezuelans’ relationship with power: let us commit ourselves resolutely, from this day forth, to make this child our King when he ascends to the throne.
Because now more than ever constitutional monarchy is a solution to the deepest problems that affect Venezuela.
Modern constitutional monarchy amounts to this: the radical, visible separation of the Symbolic, Permanent Power of the State from the circumstantial, transitory, contingent power of the government.
In theory, of course, Republican Constitutionalism does the same thing, but by fusing the function of head of state with that of head of government in the single office of the Presidency, it makes a frightful muddle of the two. Is it any wonder that so many dictators are “President So-and-so” and so very few go by the title “Prime Minister”?
Modern constitutional monarchy takes the airy abstraction about the distinction between State and Government and turns it into theater. Swaddling the head of state in layer after layer of pomp that’s systematically denied to those who wield actual state power, it dramatizes the disposability of the latter.
That’s why modern constitutional monarchy is the most powerful institution yet devised to deflate the delusions of grandeur of circumstantially powerful people – a permanent set of institutions crafted to remind the powerful just how expendable they are, just how little the permanence and majesty of the state depends on them.
There is a moment – a wonderful, emblematic moment – in the State Opening of Parliament under the British system, that gets at precisely why Venezuela needs Constitutional Monarchy. The ceremony sees the Monarch ceremonially transported to parliament to “announce” “her government’s” legislative program for the following session. Of course, the actual speech she reads is one written by the elected prime minister, but it doesn’t matter: under constitutional doctrine, sovereignty is exercised by the Queen in Parliament, meaning any legislative priority spoken by her in that setting carries special weight and significance.
Now, once the Queen reaches parliament she sends for the members of the lower house – the riff raff commoners also-known-as the people who actually run the country – to be summoned to hear her speak. The elaborate charade is played out, even though of course everyone knows it’s the riff-raff that calls the shot. Now this moment – this wondrous, magical moment that solidifies all that is needed about constitutional monarchy in Venezuela – comes at 2:22 in the clip below:
As the Prime Minister and his cabinet are shown into the House of Lords and forced to stand, all the way in the back, craning their necks to catch a peak of a random old grandma reading out the speech that gives them the authority to carry our their legislative agenda. It’s…magic!
This kind of highly structured, highly ritualized humbling of the powerful is something Venezuela desperately needs. Because just ask yourself this: could things have reached the crazy extremes they’ve reached for us over the last fourteen years if Hugo Chávez had had to humble himself yearly in this way, standing up at the way back of an ornate room craning his neck to listen to an old lady give him permission to do what he said he would do?! Somehow, I don’t think so…
With his Royal Infanthood on a Throne of Orchids, Venezuela would inoculate itself once and forever from the extremes of state-government conflation that have wreaked such havoc over the last 15 years.
Joining the Commonwealth Realm, alongside Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica and our own neighbors, Granada, among others, is Venezuela’s last best hope of putting a sad history of caudillismo behind us. By committing to time our turn to Constitutional Monarchy to coincide with the new baby’s ascent, we ensure the transition is gradual, not jarring, giving us plenty to adapt psychically and institutionally for the new arrangements. And, as an added bonus, just imagine never ever again have to hear the word “primer mandatario”…bliss!
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