A modest proposal

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Flag-Pins-Great-Britain-Venezuela_zpsb4af261bOn 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!

1 COMMENT

  1. And the best part is that being born into royalty might be the greatest stroke of luck anyone on the planet could have. No matter how modern or advanced a society becomes, many of today’s Kings and Queens are some of the richest people on the planet, and the only thing required of them is being born .The Royal family would certainly be a perfect role model for Venezuelan children 🙂

    • I agree with firepigette, having a royalty is extremely unfair for a society, just to say that power is derivated from god is dangerous enough, a carismatic king could have the power to hijack a democracy and restore a good old absolute monarchy, so, i don’t think there is a good enough constitution that could prevent what is happening in venezuela, the only thing required for a country to work is that it’s people and their leaders remain smart with common sense and that corruption and poverty remain at a minimum

  2. I saw a very interesting play called ” The Audience” with Helen Mirren which speaks to the point. It is the Queen and twelve of her Prime Ministers-she’s there(as she says” even the Pope retired”- as they appear one by one at the weekly meeting.

  3. One of the worst posts I have read here.
    It’s pretty simplistic..but yeah, those who don’t find the post wonderful “just didn’t get it”, right?
    Two keys: a system of real debates and structures for promoting said debates (not parallel monologues), parliamentary democracy and a mature public media system with the right structures to avoid too much government interference.

    • There doesn’t seem to be much to “get”. The fact that posts such as these are being written speaks to the hopelessness that embodies Venezuelans all over. People probably like it without thinking of themselves as “special”.

      Anyway, how would you implement a “system of real debates and a structure to promote it etc…” it in a country like ours?. Wouldn’t you need a well educated and informed population? And even if we had that, which we don’t, what good would it do? What would even the incentive to debate be?
      It would be interesting to know how you would define Venezuela’s main issue in a few sentences, since I clearly don’t get the two keys.

      • First of all: there are clear differences between the way debates are organised in a place like Britain or Germany on one side and Spain on the other. You cannot avoid debates as easily in Germany as you do in Spain.
        So: there are technicalities that we need to implement.

        Venezuelans are not informed, Venezuelans are deeply ignorant and yet: they are not more stupid than the Germans or Norwegians. It is a tragedy that our snobbish elite does not seem it is worth it to promote the popularization of some basic concepts, things like the rules of debate, the concept of pluralism, of critical thinking, of putting in doubt the qualify of education, the need to cooperate and sustainable development…above all, the need for accountability.

        Venezuela in a few sentences? Hard lot.

        Venezuela is ultimately a very feudal country: with castes, a social mobility that is just an illusion, with a military elite that always kept the power, if not directly, through the sickest personality cult on Earth (Atatürk square).

        Power structures haven’t been properly discussed in the open: federalism becomes just local against national caudillismo, even if we think lots of people own some house, some property, the vast majority of Venezuela’s surface is, when it comes to property, as well defined as land property of Middle Ages European societies.

        When people discuss education they need to discuss the nitty-gritty: what is actually actionable education. Everybody agrees with the fact “we need more education”, but we don’t discuss what is this “education” thing really.

        Venezuelans, above all, still believe in El Dorado. Venezuelans believe in the cargo cult.
        And no one has had the cojones to say where the country really stands and that no country is rich when the average citizen is so poorly informed and is not used to critical thinking or good planning.

        • A couple of things:
          -An ever increasingly part of the Venezuelan population lives and has been born in poverty. That alone is such an immense disadvantage that we might as well stop here.
          -Venezuela is not only an immature republic in terms of time, but also one that was not brought up in the ways of the moral and work philosophy. Worst of all, believes in “El Dorado” like you correctly stated.
          In my eyes Venezuelans face two serious problems:
          1. A lack of correlation between wealth and work.
          2. The ways in which people move up the social ladder and increase of acquire status, and the way society defines both of these actions.

          A solution could go along the lines of what Edward Bernays did throughout the whole 20th century. Use mass media propaganda to change the way society behaves. In our case, the idea that the people who should be looked up to are: educated critical thinkers that work hard, and are not strangers to the physical and not so glamorous kind of work.
          All you need is tons of cash and a small team to pull this off.

      • Daniel, reading your post give me a little chills in my back, since I do believe there is not an educated and informed population anywhere in the world anymore, less in Venezuela…. those are the problems that the world have to face in the near future. The trend is that population gets more and more retarded, just like that great prophetic movie, Idiocracy. The things you can say with humor…

        • Feathers,
          The Sumerians were already writing in their cuneiform about people were becoming thicker and thicker by the day.

          If we had teachers, real teachers, we would have a real transformation of society.
          If we started to teach now and not wait for after the elections, we would have a chance.

          • So where r those real teachers? Your government, no government is interesting in putting those pluralistic democratic ideas to the people, it was the people who put a a democratic government on the first place. You see the point?

            But I have to disagree about Venezuelans, in general they are much better well informed about the world and current events than other countries. And giving the lesson they are giving these days, much smarter too about so much BS you see these days.

        • It’s hard to agree with the fact that people are getting more stupid. For example the Flynn effect is the substantial and long-sustained increase in both fluid and crystallized intelligence test scores measured in many parts of the world from 1930 till this day. On the other hand you can look up Hans Rosling and see for yourself how the standard of living, including the access to education, has greatly improved.
          I never thought i would say this but, despite of what Hollywood says, people are not getting dumber.

          • I don’t think is physical stupidity, like I mention before Venezuelans are pretty smart and many times more aware of the world and much less sheltered than many other better feed countries… and yet look where Venezuela is right now. Another thing is that you can be pretty well read and yet be pretty stupid like don’t understanding, it has to do more to being “wise” than anything else. But my point was, that what I see as a general trend, is people having more a unity of thought, not being able to disagree, and been told what’s good, and what’s not and going with it just like that.

            I see a lot of underground Rousseau’s but the way I see people right now in general is much less individualistic and less able to think individually like the fathers of the enlightenment envisioned.

            My opinion anyway and of course I can be wrong.

  4. isn’t this close to what el viejo caldera wanted in the 90s? he wanted separation between the head of state and the head of government via a prime ministership.

    • And that would be helped by a parliamentary democracy, simply put…just like in Germany, Switzerland and more and more countries. But even with that, the system won’t work unless there is an understanding about real debate – in the political arena and throughout the media in general.

      • I also always have the impression that Venezuelan society don’t see parliamentary democracies as actual democracies. This thing that you indirectly instead of directly choose the Prime Minister doesn’t seem to be understood by the people. Probably I am wrong, but I have got that impression with people that I have talked about European democracies.

        • That’s true: no los eligen directamente. One of the things we have to bear in mind is that the presidential systems came to place in the Americas when most of Europe had rather absolutist systems, specially after the Vienna Congress.
          People haven’t realised also that parliamentary democracy in Europe, specially in North Western Europe, has evolved a lot, specially after WW2. Among other things, the general public is much more aware of the tone of debate in parliament.
          There the prime minister is grilled and grilled time after time. Even Spaniards haven’t learnt very well how to do this, they are still learning and they are still often saying “oh, that MP was so rude”. Spaniards also haven’t got a legally well developed framework for the state media…so they also keep changing journalists according to government. This is something for which the British, the German and other systems have developed a more pluralistic mechanism…and this matters, as we know the media is yet another “poder”.

  5. It is obviously a democratic advance to split the duties of head of state into ceremonial/religious and temporary/effective. It also serves as a corrective to the sense that the people, by referendum for example, may erect the leader of the moment to be President for Life.

    As we have seen, the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people contains negative potential. On the other hand, British Constitutional monarchy was created incrementally, and there are anomalies in its structure which could be avoided in a new version. Although I’m no expert, my impression is that Scandinavian constitutional monarchy avoids some of the British problem areas. So, I think Quico should have recommended Venezuela hooking up with Norway. There might be benefits in oil policy, too.

  6. Good idea Francisco or we could have a parliamentary system that has a clear separation of state and government and we actually choose the head of state. Also comes with the added benefit of not having citizens who contribute nothing to the country spending fortunes that could be used to build schools or hospitals and we wont have to give up any of our sovereignty by becoming subjects of a foreign monarch which is something our ancestors fought very hard to stop. Either way is good…

  7. Should we get ourselves a permanent caudillo holding no actual power in order to get rid of this 22-year-long temporary caudillos (and caudillismo as a whole) that hold actual power? I’m not so sure. Even though I know very little about the British way, I think it’s fear to assume that a centuries-long history of monarchy helps keeping those institutions in place. We’re too different, that’s exactly what we rised up against in 1810. Besides, the appeal of the Venezuelan caudillo is that he is a man of the people, that’s one of the reasons Chavez was so charming. He’s one of us, and any of us could become him. And I believe that applies to most of the Venezuelan caudillos of the 20th century.

  8. Little known is that Bolivar sometimes played with the idea of transforming our country into a protectorate of the Brittish kingdom , basically to protect it from Spanish attacks, At the time romanticism hadnt had time to hiperinflate the notion of national sovereignty into something quite so bloated , untouchable and sacred as it has now become !! The hierarchical distinction between the Unified Historical Nation ( represented by the Monarchy ) and the transient Governments ( all screwed up by the passions of partisan politics) is in Britttain much more easily understood by the common men than in Republics where all those distinctions are blurred and merged in the figure of the President .

    • Good that you mention Bolivar Bill, his initial political views, portrayed in the Carta de Jamaica, were basically monarchical, he wanted a Presidencia Vitalicia, with a hereditary Senate and an elected Lower House. And considering the times, he wasn’t so far off the target, Latin America with almost no exceptions went to live under long term dictatorships and hereditary, plutocratic ruling classes. Juan Vicente Gómez/Porfirio Díaz anyone? I wonder, however, if we should continue to elect father figures, if recent history is any indication, the do seem to have a dampening effect on economic and social development, dont’cha think? Granted, education and awareness levels are not the same in Latin America as they are in Western Europe, but then again, one has to start somewhere, otherwise is el cuento del huevo y la gallina…

  9. Oh dear! anything but those parvenues from England…

    “¡Fin de mundo!” dirían en casa de los Toros de antaño…

  10. In Bolivar’s ‘Thoughts on the Congress of Panama’ of 1826 he communicated that union of the new states with the British Empire would create “the most extensive, most extraordinary, and most powerful league ever to have appeared on the earth.” He also suggested that “the entire Holy Alliance [Russian, Prussian and Austrian autocracies] is powerless against her [British] liberal principles.”

      • It’s noted in Karen Racine’s ‘Francisco de Miranda: A Transatlantic Life in the Age of Rebellion’ on pages 163-64 that Miranda used a flag upon arrival in South America with “England depicted as a maritime goddess with the Spanish lion lying prostate at her feet.” She argued that such “…carefully constructed images give clear visual insight into the sort of patriotic civic culture Miranda intended to create in Venezuela and his attempts to harness their future both politically and economically to Britain.”

        • Miranda was very Anglicized. He married an English woman, he was actually reluctant to leave England for quite some time.

          Bolívar’s ascendancy had a lot to do with the fact the guys behind him allowed him to pay (or promise to pay) thousands upon thousands of British (and a few German) soldiers/mercenaries who had become jobless once Napoleon got beaten.

          We would have probably got the independence as soon or not so much later without him and without having to deal with the enormous burden that the military caste became thanks to Bolívar.

          If you compared Venezuela with most other countries not over the last 40 but 200 years you will see ours is one of the countries in America that has been ruled the longest by military caudillos.

    • Perhaps, but had it been “king” Christina of Sweden the one able to back Bolívar’s enterprise against Spain, this byzantine discussion would have been about the Swedes and their “wonderful” liberal system. Miranda’s position is in a way easier to understand, a blanco de orilla would be a perfect now-a-day “resentido”.
      The British Empire left many positive things, but also left a despicable track of abuses, often worse than the ones they saw and accused the Spaniards of committing in América. In Spain’s (albeit weak) defense, one could say they were they first Europeans to have to deal with the strangeness of the brave new world. The British repeated the Spaniards’ mistakes, all over, while pointing accusatively at their rival.

      • I would said the conquest under British rule was far more ruthless, they didn’t take Indians to convert they just killed them. The Spain crown gave the church the task to convert the indigenous, that didn’t happen with the Brits. And they didn’t learn much in India, sadly. Although with all the bad you can tell how much benefit Indian culture got from the British rule.

        • I don’t know much about the transition of the monarchies of Scandinavia, but I did saw this wonderful movie that I recommend to all of you if you haven’t had the chance to see it yet, called “A Royal Affair” about the transition of the Danish court to a more modern days, thanks to a German physician, Struensee, who kinda infiltrates and get the ear of King Christian VII.

          I feel Venezuela is not far off than the mad days of Kind Christian VII. :/

          • Actually, there was a certain gentleman who contributed to the improvement of human rights in Danish prisons.

            I wrote about this in English some years ago:

            “A letter of diplomat Krüdener to the Russian vicechancellor of 12 February 1788 talked about the results of those efforts: “Count M., examining the public institutions with the investigative spirit that so typical of him, has found prisons in a horrible state…He decided to denounce this abusive situation. It has been thanks to his intervention that the Royal Prince has ordered to examine these matters, to present a report about them and to improve the state of the prisons”.

            Actually, the count was not really a count. It was just a Spanish general born in the Caribbean. His name? Francisco de Miranda.
            Just about that the next time you hear about Venezuelan prisons.

          • Another thing: the most absolutist kings of Sweden in the XVIII century were already promoting basic education for all like our “socialist” government hasn’t done just yet.

            If you wanted to have a real social life in Sweden back then and become a candidate for marriage you had to go through Lutheran confirmation. Unlike the Catholics, Lutherans HAD to read the Bible on their own, among other things. So: the king said young people had to become literate.
            So: Sweden had literacy levels higher than Venezuela today over 2 centuries ago.

            Of course, Germany became the cultural engine of Europe for a long time as well and there were many other movements that promoted better education, more skilled people and so on…but the basis was older.

            Actually: back in the XVI century Spain had as good or even better literacy levels as Britain or Sweden. But then came Catholic conservatism, closeness to the flow of ideas, the Inquisition. Spanish engineers and scientists started to fall back.

        • Actually there were widespread serious efforts at conversion in North America as well, but the large influx of immigrants and low population density of natives resulted in the those converts being overwhelmed. Central and South American natives dealt with a smaller influx of immigrants (and their diseases) and those immigrants that came tended to die more quickly (Europeans hadn’t even figured out central/south American diseases by the time of the Panama canal construction).

          • I am sure they were efforts to converts too…. as heavy war against them. Not getting all Ward Churchill in here, just stating facts that the indigenous under the Spanish friars got a better deal.

          • Trying to find out online what was the effort or plan to convert than the British have, like the way the Catholic colonies have, who was a direct rule from the Vatican to convert the New World. Was it something from the British crown? Or independent efforts here and there from the protestant religious pilgrims?

    • A little bit of Anglican in the mix would have served us (all Latin America btw) pretty good. Too bad those fuckers didn’t want to mix with anybody. Rule or nothing!

    • that has to be bullshit, they were probably just jalando bolas because they needed their help against the spanish, no way they would have liked to replace a foreing king with another, besides, the english were amomng the most ruthless imperialists that ever existed, only in britain things were great, some of their colonial populations were strongly suppresed

  11. I think you were wise suggesting the transformation happen when this little guy ascends. There are going to be a few years of disgruntlement in the Kingdom under Charles, I fear.

  12. I have thought and read quite a bit recently about presidentialism vs parliamentarism. Not an easy answer and although I favor parliament over presidents I don’t know if it is a true reflection of Venezuela’s society.

    I think the parliament proposal was discussed in 1958 in the congressional constitutional drafting for 1961’s constitution. I always said that I need to go to congress and ask for the debate notes and see why we went a different route, but my understanding is that Betancourt believed that Venezuela needed a president to get things done faster and it would be more stable given the weakened state of Venezuelan institutions.

    Maybe someone can add more on this.

      • I see your point. Very sovereign centered, and like Calderón portrayal of the king in a play where he left an empty chair with a mirror on it, the king himself was in the public, all a game of references and reflections.
        My point of contention with you is that I would take the mona del Pinar rather than a Brit noble. Of course, we’d had versions of her often enough…

      • I don’t know man… There is a lot of theatrics with chavism. In the Venezuelan Monarchy Chavez would have taken the crown and proclaimed himself as king, and it would had been followed by all the jalabolas that would then proclaim him not only king, but royal emperor, sultan and cacique galactico supremo and Bolivar’s will on Earth.

      • Damn Kiko, Talk about norte por el suroeste! So much effort put into the dissection of our more recent iteration of caudillo-tropicalness Hecho en Revolución and now this? Cromwell and Robespierre must be turning in their graves!

        • Yo por mi parte, in the eternal words of my Pana Denis Diderot, “Et ses mains ourdiraient les entrailles du prêtre/ Au défaut d’un cordon/ pour étrangler les rois”.

    • You gotta love that dark British humor. Even the Queen have this phrase I love “we most not take ourselves too seriously” love that.

  13. Quico, it’s much much simpler than that. It’s simply a matter of recognizing the Spanish Crown and saying independence was illegitimate. That way you’ll get EU passports (though I recently found out Venezuelans don’t need a Schengen Visa and I was about to join Juventudes Bolivarianas and ask Nicolás for a Venezuelan Passport in exchange for my loyalty), you’d be the EU’s most fertile and energy rich region, the Germans would come and build highways, airports, bridges, etc in exchange for slightly cheaper gas. Y coño, que haya una explosión de Felipes y Juan Carlos no es lío, pero Kéimbrich William Hernández si es una aberración.

  14. But but but Venezuela lives today under the ruling court of Luis XV Haven’t you all noticed??? Let me remind to all of you that we have already a roja-rojita-blood Princess Maria Antoinette-Gabriela Chavez living in La Casona like it’s her castle. I can’t believe no one have mentioned her. Granted, It’s not remotely European monarchy, with all the years of culture and killings, and the humbleness that it entitles, not even African who have their tradition (and western educated royals) too. We do have another option, that is Luis de Borbon, who actually is the heir of the throne of France, He would be Luis XX, already married to a Venezuelan, the daughter of opportunist extraordinaire Victor Vargas, to come and take over La Casona as the Venezuelan Royals, they are already regulars at the “Hola” magazine so. It kinda is all in the family, the roja-rojita connection makes them all part of the same family.

    Now seriously with all the tragic-jokes asides, I always have dreamt for the figure of a Prime Minister and a democratic parliament for Venezuela. It would take away that paternalistic President figure that I kinda despise a bit. Because the way people sees it as the Messiah who will come and solve all your problems. I hate that.

  15. For what it’s worth, I’ve always felt Latin America could benefit from parliamentary systems in general. And hey, we might get to see how it works soon if Cristina Kirchner manages to change the constitution to make herself PM.

  16. There have been dictators in parliamentary states who were not head of state:
    Germany – Hitler (until the death of Hindenburg)
    Italy – Mussolini
    Spain – Primo de Rivera
    USSR – Stalin (Kaiinin was President and head of state; but he could not prevent his wife being imprisoned in the Great Purge)
    Greece – Metaxas
    Poland – Pilsudski (1926-1935; he was chief of state earlier)
    Portugal – Salazar
    Austria – Dollfuss

    AFAIK all constitutional monarchies have been parliamentary states; none have had the President/Congress system followed throughout the Americas. I’m not sure how one would have a directly elected head of government who is not also head of state.

    • I think italy is the best example that destroyes this post argument, king vittorio emmanuelle iii watched calmly as benito mussolini quickly took over italy’s democracy with his cheap fascistic rethoric and immersed the unprepared country in a suicidal war against the allies

  17. On parliamentarism: just another way not to make important decisions. Nothing wrong with autocracy if the autocrat knows what he or she is doing. Image Chavez hadn’t been a total doof.

  18. Folks,,,,anything that starts with the tile a modest proposal is a satire…
    Have we gone entirely literal? Oh dear.

  19. We have had a king and a monarchy for the last 14 years, now we have the appointed heir. What we never had was a government.

    • The comparison is appropiate , Chavez ruled like an absolute autocrat and demanded and got the subservient adoration of his accolites and would do things a modern king would never dare do !! He was also highly theatrical and pompous in his gestures and words !! he was more than a king , he was a zar but less modest than any zar ever was!!

  20. really a parliamentary system in Venezuela are you nuts? People, we are a semi democracy, presidentialim…and really, if you want a Westminster kind of thing how the country is going to work in COALITIONS….we are not prepared…Venezuela is not Canada that could stand 1 months without PM , because they cannot make the coalitions to back up one of the guys/girls…Maybe being a petrol-state, what we had the 40 years of democracy was the anomaly”and the reality is that petrol-states need somo autocrat of some sort…

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