There's No Such Thing as a Monarchist

I’ve been on an early modern French history kick lately, reading The Battle: A New History of Waterloo, Alstair Horne’s The Age of Napoleon, and now Paul Johnson’s Napoleon: A Life, and Alistair Horne’s La Belle France. All this has led me towards a contention — though I suppose one on a quirky enough topic few will be interest.

It seems to me that there can be no such thing as a “monarchist”. An -ist indicates some sort of intentional form of government which one may support establishing or working towards. Yet looking at the various attempts to bring back the ancein regime or something like it, it strikes me that monarchy is not something which can be intentionally established, except as a cultural and political figurehead of sorts. Monarchy must necessarily be an unintentional form of government, and so while one may admire it where one finds it in history, it doesn’t seem like something one can be a supporter of establishing. An intentionally established monarchy would not be a monarchy in any sense worth valuing.

24 Responses to There's No Such Thing as a Monarchist

  • Edmund Burke made very similiar arguments. The bonds of civil society should be derived from the necessities of humanity’s organic development in community, beginning with the associations of family and tribe and extending later into the wider polis. Then, political obligation follows the purposes of civil society, which is the protection and advancement of the aforementioned associations. And so I think any intentionally established “monarchy” (what an invitation to hubristic tyranny!) is a violation of “rights of men”, rooted for Burke ultimately in the nature of man in dignity and inherent worth following from the creative acts of God.

    The reason he could support the monarchy of Britain was because of its long (and he thought properly) developed concepts of natural right and associational protection.

  • Darwin,

    As there are many ways to be intending for the creation of a monarchy, and many kinds of monarchies, what you have only shown is that 19th century France didn’t do a good job after the Revolution. If you want a fascinating piece of history to study, look to the Time of Troubles in Russia (and the period immediately before it), and you will see one example of an established, intentional monarchy. What you need to do is show why past failures present absolute examples of the impossibility of a monarchy being established in the future. In my own reading of history, we will see such, and it does not have to be tyranny as Jonathan indicates. It should be an interesting point of fact that monarchies produce saintly rulers — democratic forms of government, well… maybe a couple, but far less conducive of it, because of what it takes to get in charge.

  • As there are many ways to be intending for the creation of a monarchy, and many kinds of monarchies, what you have only shown is that 19th century France didn’t do a good job after the Revolution.

    It was the French example that reminded me of it, but I think it’s a more general principle than that. Which is not to say that you couldn’t get to a monarchy over time, obviously, monarchies developed. But I think one could make a good case (while recognizing that here I made only a brief assertion) that in the modern era it is essentially impossible to have a chosen monarchy. One would need to have a total breakdown of all governing institutions followed by a gradual build up from more regional rulers.

    It should be an interesting point of fact that monarchies produce saintly rulers — democratic forms of government, well… maybe a couple, but far less conducive of it, because of what it takes to get in charge.

    I think I would contest that that’s a fact. There have been a few saintly monarchs, but I’m not clear that they’re any more common among monarchs than figures like George Washington are among leaders of democratic republics.

  • George Washington is now a saint on the level of St Vladimir, Equal to the Apostles?!

  • King Saul was an intentionally established monarchy.

  • I’m not sure what you mean by an “unintentional form of government”. Do you mean, one not established by explicit constitution?

    There are certainly those in history who find themselves leading a people without having sought such leadership; but when the title “king” or “queen” or “emperor” is ascribed to some leader, then someone is intentional about the ascription.

  • “George Washington is now a saint on the level of St Vladimir, Equal to the Apostles?!”

    George Washington was a much better ruler than any crowned saint I can think of. I also have little doubt that if the 13 colonies had been Catholic that there may have been a push to have had the Church declare him a saint after his death. Certainly his example of refusing a crown, and retiring from power was rare enough up to his time to be considered a minor miracle!

  • George Washington is now a saint on the level of St Vladimir, Equal to the Apostles?!

    He was certainly an unusually good leader. I don’t know that I would consider St. Vladimir to be the equal of the apostles, but even if I did, you must admit that he’s not exactly an average example among monarchs. Indeed, bad or middling monarchs were far more common than saintly ones. As among any other sort of people.

    St. Louis and Edward the Confessor were both good men, but at best middling rulers. And again, it’s notable that among the English and French lines of kinds, they are only saints. (Though of course there was the popular acclaim for Charlemagne, who had a feast day on the calendar in many areas for a number of centuries.) Did the Hapsburgs even have a saint among them?

    King Saul was an intentionally established monarchy.

    True, and the kings of Israel (or at least, the earlier ones, as portrayed in the bible) seem in some ways almost more like constitutional monarchs than traditional ones — perhaps in part because it was so clear that they served at the sufferance of God, not out of any virtue or right of their own.

    I’m not sure what you mean by an “unintentional form of government”. Do you mean, one not established by explicit constitution?

    What I’m trying to say with that is a consciously established government, not in the sense that a leader becomes leader by acclaim, but in the sense of people thinking “what sort of government should we have”.

    Actually, I should clarify. I’m sure you can have a real monarchy through intentional establishment if your coming out of an aristocracy/feudal environment, or from a tribal society or virtual anarchy or a pure (non-constitutional) democracy. But once the idea of constitutional government and “the consent of the governed” has been had, I’m not sure you can get back to a real monarchy. You could have a single administrator, but so long as the idea of “the consent of the people” or of a constitution exists, I’m not sure you could have a true monarchy.

  • Concerning George Washington, it would be good for those here to recall how, in spite of the colonies having been predominantly anti-Catholic, Washington was the one who forbade the celebration of such anti-Catholic festivities like Guy Fawkes Day:

    Order in Quarters issued by General George Washington, November 5, 1775:

    As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope–He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada.

  • Good point e. Washington was ever a friend to American Catholics.

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2008/11/25/our-oldest-ally/

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2008/11/05/remember-remember/

    We should also recall that Pope Leo XIII had a great deal of respect for George Washington:

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2009/02/22/pope-leo-xiii-on-america-and-george-washington/

  • I think Charles of Austria was beatified and he was a Hapsburg… and there is Saint Stephen of Hungary who was a monarch and a saint. And there is Elizabeth of Hungary too.

  • “[The Monarchy] doesn’t seem like something one can be a supporter of establishing.”

    I can assure you: I am a Monarchist and want to establish this form of state. There are successful implantations of the a monarchical form of state – from Belgium (1931) to Bhutan (1907) to Jordan (1922).

    The only German Emperor who was declared a saint (Heinrich II + 1024) is unforgotten and his burial place in Bamberg is still attracting pilgrims.
    http://www.heinrichii.de/

  • I should add: It’s not that I particularly dislike monarchy. If I lived in one, I would not necessarily be agitating to end it. But It’s just that I’m not sure one can get there from here — I think the transition from true monarchy to some form of constitutional government (even a constitutional monarchy) is a one way transition, and it’s probably only possible to get back to a real monarchy in the same region after a total civic break down of some duration and then a gradual building back up through local feudalism.

    Well, and yes, I’m skeptical of the idea that monarchy makes monarchs virtuous while representative government makes representatives wicked — but that’s not so much a claim that monarchy is bad and should be avoided as that there’s nothing magical about it which makes people more proof against the temptations of great power than other forms of government.

  • Royalist,

    I can assure you: I am a Monarchist and want to establish this form of state. There are successful implantations of the a monarchical form of state – from Belgium (1931) to Bhutan (1907) to Jordan (1922).

    And to that we can add a massive list of monarchies which were completely unsuccessful, generally leading to massive and devastating misery on the part of their people.

    There’s no advantage to adding monarchy to the mix in places which are not in complete social breakdown. On the other hand, monarchy may be a better model for Islam states with a tendency to sectarian violence and Islamic-fascism. It worked well in Jordan and was working well in Iran until the election of Jimmy Carter.

  • I’d be alright with a constitutional monarchy.

    There is a difference, after all, between that and absolutist tyranny.

    I like the idea of a ruler who is raised from birth for only one purpose – to rule.

    But I do believe that an educated and virtuous citizenry deserves democracy in some form. That is more or less what the American founders believed as well. It is hard for me to imagine them as defenders of this modern abstract, absolute right to vote and to representation given what I have read. I may well be wrong.

  • Indeed, I think most of the founders would clearly have been horrified by the idea of anyone over 18 you could drag to a polling station having a vote.

  • I’m not sure I follow Darwin’s line of argument here. The idea seems to be that what is established via the will of the people can always be disestablished by the will of the people. So if the people tried to set up a monarchy it wouldn’t work because the people would still be ultimately in charge, and that’s not monarchy. But the premise here is incorrect. From the fact that the people establish a certain form of government, it doesn’t follow that they are able to abolish it. There are numerous cases, for example, of dictatorships that have started via democratic means. If it could happen with a dictatorship, I see no reason why it couldn’t happen with a monarchy.

  • The composition of the populace, voting or otherwise, matters a lot more than those in the public sphere will ever discuss openly (often for good career-protecting reasons).

    In the place of the idea of monarchy, constitutional or otherwise, I would prefer to see strict limits placed on the voting franchise – no students, no public employees, no felons, those that are net taxpayers….

  • I see your point about the people not necessarily being able to dis-establish a government simply because it established it.

    I guess what I’m trying to hash out, though, is that it seems to me that “monarchy” in the sense that some people find it attractive (and in the sense that distinguishes it from an enlightened despot or just plain dictator) involves among other things a belief that it is some sort of necessity that one man wield power, and do so in a way constrained by well understood but often unwritten ties of mutual obligation between ruler and ruled. And while I see how that’s something you can admire from our modern point in time, I’m not sure it’s something you could establish in a post enlightenment society without a fairly complete social/political breakdown to allow political memories to reset.

    Maybe I’m wrong. I think right now I’ve got more an aesthetic sense about it an a fleshed out argument.

  • Darwin,

    I don’t think monarchy requires belief that monarchy is necessary. People under European monarchies back in the day knew about the Roman Republic, and other such systems of government, so it’s not like they didn’t realize it was possible not to have one man rule. They would have thought this an inferior way of governing, but not an impossible one.

  • That’s certainly true.

    Though there’s a great weight to tradition so long as it remains unbroken, which is hard to ever put back together again after it’s been broken off for a significant period of time.

    Maybe it’s that I’m strongly associating monarchy with the sense of tradition (rather than constitution or unfettered autocracy) which seems to me to go with it — and obviously tradition is something which can’t really be created so much as developed.

    I’ll have to think on it some more if I’m to come up with something fully coherent it seems.

  • If there was a tension between monarchy and the modern world, I would think it would be in the idea that certain people are of royal blood, and deserve to rule based solely on account of their ancestry, etc. That’s something that would seem hard to sustain in the age of DNA. Not sure to what extent this is required for monarchy or not (obviously there are sophisticated ways of being a monarchist without believing there’s anything special about the King’s blood, but for most people legitimacy has to be internalized).

  • I believe that with a Monarchy, all other things being equal, you have a basic 50% chance of the Monarch doing well and/or being saintly. Whereas, in a Republic, such as the US, with so many 100s involved in every decision, no good can come of it unless a majority can resist the lures of greed and power. While agreeing that it would be hard to get back to, or create from whole cloth, a Monarchy, I’m inclined to believe that you have a better chance of enlightened rulership under the Monarchy.

  • Absolute Enlightened Monarchies are the best type of government ever invented. If you just do the research you all will find that out. I am even a Catholic and I am a monarchist. It does not really matter what type of government you have, it is who’s in charge is what matters, and a monarchy is the easiest one to run.

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