Well, maybe not the House of Lords specifically, but a comparable unelected body comprised of the privileged.

A lot of people in the United Kingdom have argued against the House of Lords. Numerous attempts have been made to reform it and remove the unelected or hereditary peers, who sit because of their birthright and not because of their election or merit. Some are life peers. Oftentimes retired politicians or Members of Parliament, these people are appointed for life (but their children don’t inherit the title) oftentimes for their services to a political party or cause. Probably the most indefensible members of the House of Lords and the Lords Spiritual, or 27 bishops who are members of the Church of England. For the purposes of this argument, I’ll discount these members, although they serve a broadly similar role.

Also, as background, the House of Lords can only delay legislation by two years, they cannot block it, and they cannot pass legislation by themselves. In 1999 a reform took place which cut the membership of the house roughly in half by removing a lot of hereditary peers (no merit, just inherited from their parents). I just finished watching this documentary which discussed the bill. In it, the hereditary peers elected some from within them to continue to represent them in the house. It’s an interesting watch and gives some more background. It also paints a sympathetic picture of the hereditary peers (most of them, in any case.)

In any case, more to the point, the argument for the House of Lords and its peers mostly stems from the case that the UK has a parliamentary system in which he who controls parliament controls government. This can lead to not much of a separation of powers, and so one wants a (generally more conservative, although not always) upper house to check the more radical impulses of the lower house. It’s a bit of a crude way to do so (it gives power to those who have a stake in it without any election) but it does allow for those who hold other positions and have a wide variety of expertise outside of government to contribute their opinions to matters at hand. It’s not altogether a bad thing, although there always moaning and gnashing of teeth when they try to delay a bill by two years.

Right now in the US, we see that Donald Trump has a chance at the presidency. This is bad news, but the good news is he’d have limited power should he be elected, especially should congress repeal statutes which grant the executive power. Should somebody like Trump end up as Prime Minister, the Lords could slow him down. And they certainly would. It does highlight the need for a more permanent check in parliamentary systems in my eyes, but as it stands the lords, despite their archaic origins do contribute. Furthermore a lot of them, due to family legacy and whatnot are respected and eminent authorities in related fields, such as Conrad Russell. Congress has long stalled Obama’s agenda, and many have complained. But should we be cursed with a Trump presidency, at least we know congress can stop his agenda, and hold him within reason.

The one thing that the House of Lords has which the Senate does not is the fact none of them are elected. In some sense, this is a good thing. They are by and large educated individuals who, although unelected, have the interests of the country at heart. They aren’t beholden to anyone but themselves and their morals. This of course is both a positive and a negative, but they can’t be accused of being bought out with campaign donations.

Ultimately, the House of Lords is an extremely imperfect body in need of reform. Nonetheless it is a reminder of an era in which democracies were more willing to admit that in fact sometimes it’s important to be a republic. Sometimes, those who are in positions of power and influence, the educated, the wealthy, really should be making decisions against the will of the people. Whether it be on trade, or standing against Donald Trump should he attain the highest office in the land, sometimes elites have an extremely valuable part to play in our democracy. Though the House of Lords is an obvious and poignant example, political elites in America perform a similar function. While it’s easy to bag on them as holding us back, sometimes, in fact, we do need to be held back.