The Ockham Razor of Royal Equality

By Mathew Groves, BMS Blogger in Residence

Notorious left-wing agitator Peter Tatchell has something of a history of trying to slur our institution of Monarchy as racist.  Recently he put out a tweet suggesting that a hereditary monarchy is racist because people of colour cannot become head of state.  He was intentionally trying to jump on the coat tails of the Black Lives Matter movement with his own anti-British and anti-traditional republican agenda. Of course, we know that it is completely feasible for an heir to the Throne to marry a person from an ethnic minority and the resulting progeny would therefore be of mixed race.  In fact, this has already happened within our hereditary monarchy, as the sixth in line to the throne, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, married a woman of mixed race, thus demonstrating both that there is no secret racist agenda on the part of either the Royal family, or the Monarchy as an institution. 

The real problem with Peter Tatchell’s assertion and the lazy thinking behind it, is that for him there is only one moral good – that of equality of outcome.  There seems little reflection behind his totalitarian claim that this is all that matters and no other rights, public good, or practicalities, can in anyway moderate its right to be the only public good.  This extremely simplistic, and indeed narrow-minded thinking, would be destructive if applied to society as a whole, let alone the Monarchy. 

There are reasons that equality of outcome on a racial basis cannot simply trump any other consideration.  Neither has Mr. Tatchell demonstrated that equality of outcome in itself is logically desirable.  He has instead merely asserted that the tradition of succession within our hereditary monarchy makes it more unlikely that a black person would inherit the Throne.  That does not mean this is wrong, one has to consider the reasons why that is the case.  Instead Mr. Tatchell gives no consideration to other moral goods that would be compromised in order to achieve his goal of racial equality of outcome.  It is simply enough for him to use the word “racist” as though it is a magic spell causing us all to suspend our thinking and put to one side our critical thinking. There is a lower likelihood of a black person becoming head of state because we have a hereditary monarchy.  However, there are reasons for having a hereditary monarchy that mean the supposed public good of equality of outcome will have to be forgone.

Indeed, if one reflects for a moment, the idea of applying a principle of equality of outcome to hereditary monarchy is patently absurd.  Monarchy is by definition based upon exclusive rights of heredity.  This was foolishly ignored by the Conservative-LibDem coalition Government when it tried to apply the principle of sexual equality to primogeniture.  It simply does not fit.  You cannot demand equality of opportunity for something based upon exclusive and hereditary right.  One might argue for doing away with primogeniture for other reasons, but sexual equality of outcome is not a logical or intellectually coherent argument when applied to the principle of hereditary monarchy based upon the principle of exclusive right.

In a sense of course Peter Tatchell is right that the Monarchy is by definition exclusive, but it never claimed to be anything else.  Its whole legitimacy and its practical utility rest upon its exclusiveness.  No one else bar the first in line to the Throne has the right to be head of state.  And that is morally based upon claims that rest upon prescriptive rights and tradition and practically prevents the head of state becoming a partisan and divisive figure.  Furthermore, it allows the business of grubby politics to be left with the grubby politicians, not soiling our iconic ruler.  Therefore, for reasons of hereditary right and practical utility the British understand that an exclusive and hereditary Monarchy is right for our nation.  That entails that an ideological agenda of equality of outcome for races cannot be applied to the Monarchy without undermining its moral right and practical utility, which depend upon exclusive right by birth.

What Peter Tatchell is doing is exhibiting some remarkably simple philosophical assumptions that go back to a Franciscan monk from England in the Fourteenth Century.  He greatly simplified Western philosophy for the worse.  The colloquialism “Ockham’s razor” refers to the handy thinking technique of always going for the simplest explanation as most likely to be true.  Combined with that is his nominalist idea that nothing has meaning outside of the names we give them.  We have seen these errors lead to reductionism and revolution throughout European history.

This might seem like an overly intellectual point to make, but it explains Peter Tatchell’s lazy thinking.  For him one explanation to all social organisation is enough – discrimination causing inequality.  Politics is then reduced to combating this one overwhelming mischief and all questions are understood in the exclusive light of this ideological outlook.  That is applying Ockham’s razor and thereby it ignores nuance and complexity.  It is a convenient thinking mechanism that avoids engaging with nuance and layers of meaning.  Secondly Tatchell is assuming that we simply give names to things and that therefore they have no inherent or transcendental quality.  Therefore, it does not matter to him a jot, that the Monarchy claims the right to its hereditary succession.  These are just words for him.

This way of thinking is at the root of totalitarian ideologies where everything is defined within the context of an ideology.  Peter Tatchell without reflection no doubt regards himself as open-minded and as an opponent of oppression.  What he really is advocating is a simplistic approach that is the beginning of a slippery approach to totalitarianism.  He takes account of no other arguments apart from his own, dismissing alternative perspectives as mere words.  This is the very approach that even a historical empiricist leads to very ugly and dark places.  These people with their simplistic and all-encompassing accounts, whether it be Black Lives Matter or Bolshevism, or Jacobinism initiate a dangerous process, unforeseen by them, that can lead to the guillotine or indeed to Ipatiev house. 

Never trust the Ockhamites with their glib and reductionist philosophy.  This drift towards totalitarianism is inherent in the very philosophy and not simply because “fascists” like Stalin hijack the pure agenda.  It is this very simplicity of their answers that brings the danger, because the natural assumption is that the ends justify the means, as opposition is just reactionary prejudice or words.   Put in more friendly and folksy language it will be said “you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette”.   This is because no other claim against their simplistic goal can be tolerated or given credibility.  So much for open-mindedness.  We see this already with the BLM attacks and violence in the streets – the other moral claims, law and order, respect for the past, forgiveness are all invalid in the face of one overwhelmingly simplistic claim.

A one-answer philosophy is very dangerous.  It has throughout history usually manifested itself as an attack upon tradition and monarchy.  Here we have yet one more example of the simple answer that takes no account of other arguments, tradition, meaning or nuance.  It is not only stupid; it is highly dangerous.

So, Peter Tatchell, instead of tweeting (a format that encourages the Ockhamite razor that cuts so dangerously), listen to the other valid arguments that mean equality of outcome does not trump every tradition, right or privilege.  Put down the Twitter megaphone and reflect that however virtuous your own goals are, eggs might be Faberge and have a value too high to be plunged into your omelette.