Conversation with the Modern Monarchist
Conservatives and progressives disagree about plenty in this country, and libertarians disagree with both of them even more. Yet, as Americans, all three generally tend to have at least one thing in common: an aversion to kings. America was born from the radical idea of popular sovereignty, an idea carried out by the extreme measure of revolution. We practically breathe personal liberty and natural rights (at least, in words), to the point that it feels like the only answer. But for some, it is not.
Enter modern-day monarchism, a political system more misunderstood than most others in America today. When Americans even hear the word "king" they reflexively cry out "TYRANT!" while dumping their tea into the harbor. But, as a more liberty-minded individual, I'm fascinated by the attraction to an idea that has essentially gone extinct and is preserved in most countries as ceremonial. What are the tenets of this political system, and what makes it supposedly superior? I'm here today to share my conversation with a group of these modern monarchists, and explain their not-so-crazy political philosophy.
Before I begin, there are three things I need to share. One, the people I conversed are those whom I know personally, and they may not represent the larger monarchist school of thought. That said, I do think they accurately represent an important branch of that school. Second, when talking about monarchies, we aren't speaking of modern monarchies like Saudi Arabia. So, don't turn away just yet. And lastly, I've formated the conversation like an interview with a single person, whom we shall call "Mike." In reality, it was about five individuals who contributed their own thoughts to open-ended questions at their leisure. My many thanks to them all.
Stanton: What exactly is the definition of a monarchy?
Mike: Put simply, it is a centralized office meant to safeguard the patrimony of a nation. All that really means is there is a single point of failure that has complete control over any bureaucracy and can override lower decisions. The king (or queen, but I'll stick with king for sake of writing space) is meant to uphold a sense of rightful citizenship. That is, to curtail vice and encourage virtue. Or, at the very least, provide an example of what not-being-bad looks like. He does this in the spirit of his nation's character, or the cultural inheritance that has naturally developed over the past centuries by a common people. He is the steward of that national identity.
Stanton: Single point of failure? Surely, a monarch can't run the entire government, even the size England, much less something America.
Mike: Of course, you're right. When we say single point of failure we mean that when problems arise or corruption has developed, it is all done under the authority and name of a single person responsible for delegating power and developing solutions. A king could very well have delegated the authority to build roads to the Royal Transportation Service, who operates in his name. Which means, if the Service makes a serious blunder, the proper authority to deal with it is easily-known and defined, and corrections can be conducted swiftly.
Stanton: But with all that power and authority so centralized, doesn't it create the danger of abuse?
Mike: It certainly does. But, a key aspect of monarchism is duty and nobility. It is the duty of the king to protect and care for his people. It is the duty of the nobility (lords, counts, etc) to ensure the monarch remains dutiful. Nobles hold their direct power over land, and even have certain militias. Today, though, it would more likely look like lord governors (or mayors for big cities) that govern and build their localities, thus earning themselves the loyalty of their people. The nobles have a direct interest in ensuring the king does what he is supposed to do, just as the king has a direct interest in pleasing his nobles to ensure peace. There are numerous accounts in history of an abusive king being forced to acquiesce to the overwhelming demands of the greater nobility.
On another important note, in a democracy, everything is good when the leaders are good. But as corruption slowly creeps in, it can be difficult to root out the problem, because it's so widespread, and the process of reform is deliberately slow. A single king can easily become tyrannical, but identifying that tyrant is also easy, and resolving the problem becomes simpler (even if not easy).
Stanton: When you say the king and nobles have a duty, what exactly does that mean?
Mike: There is a key concept called Noblesse Oblige, which is a general duty of all nobility and royalty to be generous and charitable toward the governed and less-privileged. Monarchists definitely belief in a form of social contract, that a king loves and provides for his people, and his people are loyal to him. But it's more than a contract, really, more like a covenant. It's not just paying for service, it's not a bureaucratic agency or a thing. It is a person who has a people, and a people who have a leader.
Stanton: But this noble obligation isn't a guarantee, and still leaves power to one.
Mike: Again, correct. We're not blind to such things. But a monarchy is a form of government, like any other, with weaknesses and advantages. It's essential task is to provide for the people. Some forms of government have a certain characteristic about it. We think monarchs have the better characteristic. Think about it: in a democracy, people have to actually want and seek power. The politics of elections inevitably leads to a distinct style of lying to people to retain power, or worse, giving people what they want when it is objectively not good.
In a monarchy, succession isn't about bloodlines, per se. It's about inheritance, the absence of choice. The heir is raised with the expectation of becoming king, groomed and trained for the virtues of leadership. He focuses on the proper role of a king, and not the politics of populism. Democracies choose corrupt leaders all the time; the chance of corruption is the same, if not lower. We think the experience and training of future monarchs is a better solution to preventing such problems. And if there's a bad egg on the throne, the nobility persists.
Stanton: I'm still worried about the nobility. We see how Congress continually fails to check against the president, and even collaborates to receive presidential favors. What stops the nobility from doing the same? What about the politics of the court?
Mike:There are, of course, many examples of such infighting. Court advisors stabbing backs, rival siblings vying for the throne, and the king bribing nobles with luxurious titles. How can we respond to this? Just like we did with inheritance: how is it any different from today? Systems correct each other, and governments go through ebbs and flows. We think the ebb and flow of monarchs is superior because of its distinct characteristic of virtue. You see, we think that a monarchy requires a sense of piety for a higher order. We don't think kings have some divine right to rule from God on high, but rather, that man has a place, and it's not on top. The nature of man is dictated by a law of nature, and kings strive to adhere to that understanding of nature and law.
Stanton: Are you saying monarchies require a state religion? Must all citizens be a part of it? Do clerics hold power?
Mike: Usually, no, no. Religion is important to monarchs, yes. But it's more of a proximity to it for the sake of piety and reverence for the natural law. A state religion can often achieve that, but that doesn't mean all must pay tribute to that religion. A good king cares for all his subjects, and a wise king allows those subjects in the minority to have their own customs while being good, untroublesome citizens. Which means clerics do not hold power. Again, this isn't divine right; it's a monarchy, not a theocracy. Again, is there possibility of some abuse and discrimination? Sure. But the less than 300 years of American history have plenty of both.
Here's the point: a nation is a fragile thing, not something that can just be changed on a whim. It requires a sense of stability. Religion and common culture help achieve that. Common cultures built around religion from generation to generation creates a sort of inheritable wisdom for successive generations. The king is the steward of that wisdom, and guides others to follow it through the law. Monarchies are better than democracies because, even if they face numerous (and similar, mind you) pitfalls, their benefits are exceedingly better. I want to reiterate a point from earlier: not everyone has to agree to religion, or even to the understanding of natural law or virtue. Monarchies seek to achieve peace and prosperity, and do so through encouraging good behavior. No one has to necessarily hop on board with that good behavior; they just can't cause trouble and disturb the peace for those who do.
Stanton: Why do you not see the benefits of democracies or republics as good or better than that of monarchies?
Mike: Simply put, with the short record of democracies, I don't like what I see. They're inherently unstable (like anarchies, which almost always devolve to some leader or another arising), more often than not make bad decisions, and the good decisions aren't even all that great. The successful economic results in democracies can be achieved through a king encouraging innovation and enterprise. It's not so simple as top-down planning; that's not necessarily monarchy. You don't need the idea of natural rights to achieve prosperity. Listen, man is distinct from other animals in the sense that he has reason, a moral character. As a moral actor, he pursues justice; and so, whatever rights man has are oriented toward the pursuit of justice, which includes maintaining the good of a person. A person's good includes being healthy and nourished. It is just, then, to ensure that a person is cared for and fed. If an impoverished person's good demands that another wealthier individual clothe and feed the poor, then the king may, by law, compel such an act. The right to property, or anything, is oriented toward justice. Monarchy, in a nutshell, is oriented toward virtue.