Moral horizons and the modern state: opening up the 'black box' of constitutional monarchy
Paper short abstract:
This paper provides a conceptual introduction to the panel by revisiting debates over the difficulties of studying the state. I show how ‘the Crown’, as conceptual placeholder for the state, can shed light on the enigmatic nature of the state and its effects in post-colonial Commonwealth societies.
Paper long abstract:
In his seminar essay, Philip Abrams (1977: 58) argued that the State 'is not the reality which stands behind the mask of political practice. It is itself the mask which prevents our seeing political practice as it is.' Since Abrams, anthropologists have emphasized the importance of studying the 'state idea' and 'state effects' treating the modern state not as a reified given, but as an ideological or cultural artifact that creates the illusion of its own coherence. This paper asks, how is that illusion of coherence created and how are those state effects produced? These questions are particularly salient in post-colonial settler societies that retain Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state. Often referred to as 'the Crown', the state system of constitutional monarchies provides a fascinating exemplar of Abram's thesis. As conceptual placeholder for the state, the Crown also illustrates key aspects of the way that contemporary sovereignty operates and has adapted the medieval principle of The King's Two Bodies (Kantorowicz 1957). This paper argues that the Crown in Australia and New Zealand is an enigmatic entity rendered opaque and invisible by its own success and seeming naturalness. It is 'black box' in Latour's (1999) sense of the term. Yet it also provides a lens for analyzing the operation of the state in constitutional monarchies. The paper provides an introduction to the panel, to the methodological challenges of studying the state, and to the Crown's constitutional claims to moral authority.
Moral politics and the modern state: the crown and constitutional reform in post-colonial settler societies