Why I am a Monarchist

by John Médaille on November 29, 2010 · 39 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Politics & Power

voting booth

Reprinted from The Remnant Newspaper. The first of a three-part series.

The announcement that one is a monarchist is greeted with the same regard as the announcement that one has joined the Flat-Earth Society, or espouses geo-centrism, or has expressed a belief in a world only 6,000 years old, where God planted fossils in the ground just for fun. Politically, monarchism has a prestige just a tiny bit better than fascism, but not nearly as respectable as being, say, Amish. Therefore, it behooves me to cut directly to the chase, and state very clearly why I am a monarchist: “I am a monarchist because I am a democrat.” That is, I believe that the will of the people, their traditions and customs, their concern for their families, their communities, and for the future should determine the shape of any political order. And monarchy is the highest form of this democracy.

Now, the first response to that is likely to be, “That is what our democracy does, and what a tyranny doesn’t do; democracy enthrones the will of the people, while monarchy enthrones the will of the tyrant.” But it is clear to me, especially in this late date of our democracy, that it enthrones the will of determined and well-financed minorities, that it dissolves the customs and traditions of the people, and that it has no concern for the future. And a king may indeed be a tyrant, but such is the exception rather than the rule. Tyranny is a degeneration of proper monarchy and generally happens only in degenerate times, and even then, the king has to be speaking for some other and greater force, such as a strong army or a commercial oligarchy. A king, no less than a president, must consider the forces and interests in his kingdom. But a king is free to judge the justice of the arguments; a president is free only to count the votes. And while the president might attempt to engage in persuasion, in the end he himself can only be persuaded by power, that is, by whoever controls the votes, which is very likely to be the ones who control the money. A king may also be persuaded by power and money, but he is always free to be persuaded by justice. And even when a king is a tyrant, he is an identifiable tyrant; much worse is when a people live in tyranny they may not name, a system where the forms of democracy serve as cover for the reality of tyranny. And that, I believe, is our situation today.

This thesis requires some extended explication, and I will explore it in three parts. First, a critique of electoral democracy as it actually exists; Second, an explication of a monarchist polity, and; finally, an examination of American institutions which could evolve, in times of trouble, into more monarchical (and therefore more democratic) forms.

The Dogma of Democracy

Modern democracy has come to mean, in preference to all other possible forms, electoral democracy, where the officers of the state are chosen in periodic plebiscites determined by secret ballot. This is not the only possible form, but it has long since been the dominant form, so that it has become, in common usage, the only meaning of democracy. And in the last 100 years we have fought numerous wars to make the world “safe” for this form; it is as if we believed that the right level of shock and awe would turn the citizens of Baghdad into good Republicans and Democrats, or convert Afghanistan into a suburb of Seattle. Since this democracy is something we are willing to both kill and die for, it assumes the status of a religion, albeit a secular one. Like all religions, electoral democracy has its central sacrament, its central liturgy, and its central dogma; its sacrament is the secret ballot, its liturgy is the election campaign, and its dogma is that the election will represent the will of the people.

But is this dogma true in any sense? Is the “will of the people” really captured by 51% of the voters? Clearly, not everyone votes, so the will of the voters may not be at all be the will of the people. One might respond that it is the will of the people who cared enough to vote. However, that ignores the fact that there are people (like myself) who care enough not to vote; people who find no party acceptable, or worse, find that both parties are really the same party with cosmetic differences for the entertainment and manipulation of the public. I suspect that if there were a real choice on the ballot, such as a box marked “none of the above,” turnout would be higher, and this last choice the consistent winner. But in any case, it is not true that the will of a bare majority of the voters can easily be equated with the “will of the people.” Even if one equates 51% of the voters with 51% of the people, we can ask if that is actually a sufficient margin for any really important decision, one that commits everyone to endorse serious and abiding actions. For example, should 51% be allowed to drag the rest into war? Or into the continuing war against children that is abortion? Certainly, there are issues that can rightly be decided by bare majorities, but the important issues cannot fall in that category.

There is yet another problem with the dogma of representation, because there are clearly two groups which elections cannot canvass: the dead, and the yet unborn, the past and the future. In an electoral democracy, the interests of the living predominate. Now, as to the first group, some say that we should not be bound by the dead past, and that our first freedom is freedom from our parents. There is, of course, a grain of truth in this; death is there for a reason. Nevertheless, life is bigger than the present moment, and no generation, no matter how scientific, can grasp the totality of life, can completely discern the correct way of living in the world. The world as it is at any given moment is the result of decisions and actions that make up its past. The traditions we receive are the sum total of the distilled wisdom of the past about how to live in the world and with each other. It is, of course, an incomplete knowledge, and our task is to add to it, and to pass it on. Tradition therefore comes from the past but is oriented to the future. But democracies tend to erode traditions by pandering to current desires. G. K. Chesterton has labeled tradition “The democracy of the dead,” and a real democracy will accommodate this voting block.

In abandoning the past, democracy also abandons the future. We pile the children with debts they cannot pay, wars they cannot win, obligations they cannot meet; we allow the infrastructure to deteriorate and so weaken even their ability to earn a living. We vote ourselves large pensions at an early age, confident that we can live on the taxes paid by the children, even as we restrict the number of children we have, placing an even bigger burden on the ones that remain.

But in abandoning both the past and the future, democracy abandons even the ability to represent the present, because without the guidance of the past and the concern for the future, even the present moment losses its reality. The present moment is always ephemeral, because as soon as one grasps it, it is already history. Without tradition and an orientation to the future, the present moment becomes a kind of cultural Alzheimer’s, with no memory and no direction.

The Liturgy of Democracy

And if the dogma is wrong, the liturgy—the election campaign—is troubling. In truth, elections are markets with very high entry costs. To run for a party’s presidential nomination, a candidate might need $50 million in his pocket just to be credible. This will not come near his or her total expenses; it is just the down payment. It doesn’t buy the election, it just buys credibility, and without such credibility (I. e., money) one will not be covered by the press. The total expenses will be a multiple of that down payment. Indeed, in the 2008 elections, campaign costs were a staggering $5.3 billion, and that was just for the national races. There are very limited sources for that kind of money, and the political process must, perforce, be dominated by those sources. The corporations and organizations that fund elections do so as an investment, one on which they expect a superior rate of return. And they get it, in the form of subsidies, favorable laws and regulations, access to high officials, and tax breaks. It may be the best investment most big businesses make. But it leads directly to oligarchy, the opposite of democracy, a Republic of the PACs rather than a polity of the people.

And why is so much money needed? Because the political arts in a democracy are not the arts of deliberation and persuasion, which are relatively inexpensive, but are the arts of manipulation and propaganda, which are extremely costly. The appeal is almost never to the intelligence, but to raw passion and emotion. This is because the path to power in a democracy, the surest way to ensure the loyalty of one’s followers, is to exaggerate small differences into great “issues.” Candidates must find a way to distinguish themselves from each other, even (or especially) if they are in fundamental agreement. And the more irrational an issue is, the better it is for the purposes of manipulation. Real issues can be the subject of real arguments, and voters might be persuaded by such arguments, which would erode the fanatical devotion that politicians require. Thus, it is better to debate the issue of whether Obama is a Muslim rather than whether he grasps mechanics of a financial crisis; the former is the subject of a passionate and fact-free debate, but the later requires knowledge and intelligence.

The true path to power in a democracy is the creation of the demonic “other.” Those of a different party are portrayed not as people who in all sincerity start with different assumptions and reach different conclusions, but as deliberate and demonic destroyers of the social and political order. Reason is replaced by fear, and if the “other side” is always feared, then one’s own performance doesn’t really matter; no matter how inept one party proves itself, it can always make the appeal that the other party is demonic. To be sure, there are assumptions and opinions which do tear down society, but there are few, if any, who hold their opinions for the purpose of destroying the social order; rather they have a different, if often erroneous, vision of that order.

This demonizing tendency is most clearly seen when democracy is imposed on nations that have diverse ethnic, cultural, and religious elements. While there is always a certain tension in such societies, nevertheless, under the rule of kings, empires, or even dictatorships, they find a way of living together in relative peace. But with the coming of electoral democracy, each group and tribe demonizes the other, and the result is civil war, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Indeed, ethnic cleansing has become the highest act of democratic order. I cannot recall a single exception to this rule. Well, perhaps Czechoslovakia, where the divorce was at least peaceful. We have truly made the world safe for democracy; unfortunately, we have made democracy unsafe for the world.

The Sacrament of Democracy

With minor exceptions, democracy takes place in the “sacred” space of the voting booth, which resembles nothing so much as the Catholic confessional. And indeed, this is the place where the voter, alone and isolated, confesses his true religion. It is, perhaps, the highest expression of the individualist philosophy of modern man. But surely it is not the only form of democracy. There are deliberative forms: the caucus, the town meeting, the group assembly. The major difference is that voting in these systems is public, and a space is allowed for deliberation and public persuasion. It is true that any group can be as irrational, or more so, than isolated individuals. Nevertheless, in a group there is always the possibility that persons of reason and temperance, trained in the arts of rhetoric, will be able to persuade their fellow citizens to a reasonable course of action, and overcome the natural tendency of democracy to passion and irrationality.

Is Democracy Democratic?

When we look at our political order, we may truly ask if this is what we really wanted, if the true will of the people is expressed in our institutions. Oddly enough, both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, express grave doubts that this is so. Indeed, this may be the only point of agreement between the two sides; they both conclude that something has gone terribly wrong.

Let me suggest that the answer lies in modern absolutism. A thing is known by its proper limits, and a thing without limits becomes its own opposite. Thus democracy, sacralized and absolutized, becomes its own opposite, a thinly disguised oligarchy of power which uses all the arts of propaganda to convince the public that their votes matter. There is precedent for this. The Western Roman Empire maintained the Republican form and offices. Consul, quaestor, aedile, and tribune remained and there were hotly contested and highly expensive campaigns for these offices. The army still marched under the banner not of the emperor, but of the SPQR, “The Senate and People of Rome.” But of course it was all a sham; real power lay with the emperor and with the army and the merchant/landowning classes whose interests he largely represented, while buying off the plebs with the world’s largest welfare state. But at least the Romans could see their emperor, could know his name, could love him or hate him. We are not permitted to see our real rulers, and never permitted to name them. The democratic sham covers the oligarchic reality.

All that being said, one may still ask, “Would things have been better had we stayed with King George? After all, it doesn’t seem to have helped the British, who resemble nothing so much as the Americans.” This statement, while sure to offend my English friends, nevertheless contains a kernel of truth, and a question that must be answered. For in truth the notion of monarchy had, by that time, undergone its own period of absolutism to become its own opposite as well, and the German kings of England were there by the sufferance of oligarchic powers. To get a true idea of kingship, we will have to go back a bit, not merely to the middle ages, but even as far back as Aristotle. And that will be the subject of my next installment.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Patrick J. Deneen December 1, 2010 at 12:40 pm

I think it’s fair to say that John’s thoughts here – while very interesting, often accurate, and provocative – do not represent the position of many who write for FPR, and certainly not this author. While the major flaws of modern representative “democracy” are well on display here, I do not believe that this diagnosis leads to the conclusion that monarchy is therefore the necessary and logical alternative. Indeed, I would submit that monarchy goes against the grain of the American tradition, and that we have a native tradition of local self-government that would redress many of John’s well-stated objections to the centralizing, plutocratic, and deracinating tendency of modern representative “democracy” without resort to suggestions that what is needed is the installation of a monarch (while Alexander Hamilton argued on behalf of a constitutional monarchy in a long speech during the Constitutional Convention, it was essentially a non-starter. The delegates perhaps listened to him in silence, but, were it then fashionable, doubtless would have rolled their eyes).

As I’ve argued elsewhere, I believe the plausible and desirable American alternative to contemporary corrupt and corrupting forms of representative democracy is democracy, understood not as barely harnessed license, but as a lived practice and habituation in self-government. This form of democracy – one that stressed vibrant and robust forms of local self-government – was central a central desideratum in the set of objections lodged by that group of patriots whom we now (mistakenly) call “the Anti-federalists.” Their suspicion was toward the centralizing and “consolidating” tendency of the new Constitution, something that they saw as utterly compatible with, indeed, attendant upon, the dissolution of the central role of the States and the emphasis on the direct connection between individuals and the central government. They sought to protect the fact and practice of mediation and local self-governance, and this was a remnant feature of American democracy that Tocqueville admired and recommended for the preservation of true democratic practice.

I agree with nearly every particular of John’s critique of modern representative democracy, but I disagree strongly and emphatically with his suggestion that monarchy is a reasonable and desirable alternative. While we have our differences on the Porch, most of our disagreements are a matter of emphasis and style. This is a disagreement of kind, however, and while his argument stretches to the outer boundaries the kinds of topics that get kicked around on the Porch, I remain a staunch admirer of John’s work – particularly his efforts to revive a contemporary form of distributism, which has a footing in the American tradition – but find, on this subject, that I am hard pressed not to roll my eyes from a different part of the Porch.

avatar D.W. Sabin December 1, 2010 at 4:05 pm

A Lonestar Monarchist……points for the picturesque at the very least. I would like to know however, exactly when any of mankind’s political endeavors were not shot straight through with degeneracy of one form or another. Politics is dogma, it requires dogma to package the narrative and the narrative is generally one of distraction while one or another governmental force rifles the cupboards or displays a professional level of sporting hypocrisy while fomenting further plans for war, frosted with conceits of National Glory.

To think that a monarchy is any less dogmatic or prone to the standard licentiousness of any self-serving state seems a tad optimistic to me but then, I have a bad attitude. Still, I give you credit for self-describing as a monarchist while residing within a depauperate nation in the grips of a fit of cognitive dissonance such as ours. After all, the nervous and jerky citizenry loves to sing hoary love-songs to liberty while making a mockery of the institutions left it by gentlemen who possessed both legitimate and disingenuous reasons for rebuking their formerly beloved and typically daft monarch.

The key is neither monarchic leadership nor democratic energy. The key is a chastened opinion of the possibilities of any form of government and a commitment to the kinds of checks and balances that might elevate this chaste outlook. Too many States promise glory and utopia and leave poverty or destruction in their wake. Monarchy has no better, nor any worse record on this account.

Obviously, like Deneen, my sentiments lean in the direction of small government and big citizens, a notion that in this nation now, is firmly eclipsed by a kind of nervously gluttonous crusading government championed by recreationally competing flocks of sheep who do so love the wolf. Left or right or vaunted middle, it matters not at this time. Unceasing want and rootlessness will do this to a people. The embrace of Imperial Thinking, a monarchist tendency, though not exclusive to monarchism by any means, will also do this to a people.

Democracy would be a far better thing if it were understood and practiced as equal responsibility rather than its commonly clucked about nirvana of “equal rights”. Would that we embraced our fallen state rather than vainly thinking we might worship it away or buy a free ride via the imprimatur of an undeserving State.

avatar John Médaille December 1, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Let me say that I am in total agreement with the comments of both Patrick Deneen and DW Sabin, and if this were all there was, I would join in the general eye-rolling. But this is only a critique of pure democracy, which is necessary but not sufficient to establish a defense of monarchy. Furthermore, all such discussions are merely theoretical if they cannot be related to a particular political tradition. But there are two parts to come which address those concerns. For now, I request only the dramatic privilege, namely a willing suspension of disbelief.

In a polity of pure democracy, an assertion of monarchy can only be provocative and (some will think no doubt) damaging to the reputation of the Front Porch, which is after all a republic. Nevertheless, the advantage of provocative statements is that they can often provoke a real discussion, and perhaps on a topic more weighty than Sarah Palin’s latest media escapade.

avatar Kevin_L_Hall December 1, 2010 at 11:38 pm

Medaille has really done it now. There are things you can’t say and then there are things you can’t say. I thought you had a King down there in Texas, King Richard, or is it King James? At any rate, he was just elected to another term, no? Oh, that’s right, it is Governor Rick Perry. A stick in the mud anti-federalist or federalist (as one may prefer is these modern times), turned Republican shouting down (and turning down) the Federal Leviathan (a devil more wicked and harder to name than any tyranny) at every turn. Yes, Governor Perry, a man who I wonder if more than a few here on this Porch would be uncomfortable with. I’ll cut my wondering short, but I do look forward to Medaille’s attempt to better Aristotle.

avatar dfbuysse December 2, 2010 at 12:26 am

“True idea of kingship” from a Higher Authority that Aquinas or Aristotle:

“Samuel delivered the message of the LORD in full to those who were asking him for a king.
He told them: ‘The rights of the king who will rule you will be as follows: He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot. He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will use your daughters as ointment-makers, as cooks, and as bakers. He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves. He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best oxen and your asses, and use them to do his work. He will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves. When this takes place, you will complain against the king whom you have chosen, but on that day the LORD will not answer you.’ ”

(1 Samuel 8:10-18)

avatar John Médaille December 2, 2010 at 12:52 am

Sam was definitely unhappy about this whole king thing, and his prophecy pretty much describes the reign of Solomon. Trouble was, Israel was unhappy at the idea of Sam’s sons ruling after him, since they were apparently real stinkers. Solomon taxed everybody a tithe; now, if democracies could just keep the tax down to a tithe…

avatar John Médaille December 2, 2010 at 12:54 am

King Rick wants to be President Perry, and sees himself as the alternative to President Palin. I’m for it; at least it will get him out of Texas.

avatar Stephen December 2, 2010 at 1:27 am

I believe that the will of the people, their traditions and customs, their concern for their families, their communities, and for the future should determine the shape of any political order.

Please drop the “will of the people” talk. What matters is not the will of the people, but the good of the people. Sometimes (oftentimes?) what’s good for the people is not what the people want.

avatar ARicketson December 2, 2010 at 3:50 pm

“This demonizing tendency is most clearly seen when democracy is imposed on nations that have diverse ethnic, cultural, and religious elements. While there is always a certain tension in such societies, nevertheless, under the rule of kings, empires, or even dictatorships, they find a way of living together in relative peace.”

What is the historical basis for this claim? The Roman empire, which suffered through a couple centuries of almost constant civil war? The Soviet Union, where ethnic minorities were deported from their homelands and Russians were sent to colonize non-Russian areas? Hussein’s Iraq, where the Kurds were gassed?

avatar Samuel Levin December 2, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Hear hear! An important distinction. Thank you, Stephen.

avatar Calhoun December 2, 2010 at 6:54 pm

“What matters is not the will of the people, but the good of the people.”

There is no such thing as the “will of the people.” The “will of the people” is the name we give to the sum of competing interests, visions, concerns of an unfathomably complex diversity of views. Individual people hardly know what they want on a personal level. When you can hardly speak of the “will of a family” -as any family’s “will” often involves deep divisions- you are treading thin ice indeed to speak of the “will of the people.”

As for the “good of the people” there is indeed such a thing, but it is not for a centralized elite to decide, or even a decentralized elite.

avatar Schofield December 2, 2010 at 8:23 pm

Oh my God! I just can’t wait for the deluded masses to vote in Queen Sarah for life!

avatar Stephen December 3, 2010 at 3:39 am

An addendum to my prior comment: “What’s good for the rulers is often not good for the people.”

But I must say, Calhoun, that I disagree with your assertion (or at least your insinuation, if I’m reading your last sentence correctly) that elites are no good for the people.

avatar Weaver December 3, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Mr. Médaille,

are you a fan of Kim Jong-il? He’s no tyrant since the people love him. Granted, he rules via a modern managerial state, but the technology is here.

Why do you prefer monarchy to aristocracy? While you’d find my views of a nation-state abhorrent (though distributist and with set boundaries), I wish to point out that Dr. Fleming also favours aristocracy unless his views have recently changed.

I look forward to your next installment.

avatar John Médaille December 3, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Concerning the function of the aristocracy, stay tuned to this channel.

As far as Kim as king goes (or Sarah as queen, for that matter), again, stay tuned.

An excellent point about the “will” of the people vs. the “good.” Let me note that if the “will” is confined to those currently breathing, it is likely to be as Mr. Calhoun describes it. If it includes the past and future, it will be something different. Without Chesterton’s “democracy of the dead” (and, I may add, the yet unborn) there is no real democracy.

avatar Junker December 3, 2010 at 4:58 pm

What in the hell has happened to the porch?

Hey John, if you want a king, give me your number, I’ve got lots of work that needs done and I could use a slave. Give me a ringy-dingy sometime.

-J

avatar Petronius December 3, 2010 at 5:16 pm

May we have George III back? Please?

A few words in defense of monarchy :

For one thing, a king would not ordinarily seek to impoverish his own realm, the government of which is regarded as his private estate. The monarch’s position is proprietary, not ideological. The monarch’s time preference is long-term. He wants to pass the realm to his heirs in as good or better condition than he inherited it. The monarch’s outlook is to both past and future generations, rather than short-term and present-oriented.

Thus it is unlikely that a monarch would deliberately bankrupt his own country to gain short-term advantage. It is in the monarch’s self-interest to promote the security and prosperity of his realm by protecting private property rights, contracts, the rule of law, the currency, the accumulation of wealth and capital formation, and commerce, as such policy would also increase his own wealth and prestige. Nor would he be likely to demonize his most law-abiding and productive subjects as “enemies,” systematically rob the rich, shut down entire industries, and humiliate himself and his country before foreigners by apologizing for the rule of his ancestors. It is unlikely that he would attack institutions such as the family, the church and the religion of his subjects (which is normally his own church and religion). Or deliberately to offend his allies (who may be his own relatives), and dismantle his country’s military defenses in the face of powerful enemies. –– Because all such measures would diminish his future security and the value of his estate (kingdom) for himself and for his heirs across the generations.

Would a monarch be so callous and stupid as to ignore the suffering and outrage of his own people? From time to time there will be bad monarchs, but it is unlikely they will be so bad as what we now have. And there will always be other members of the royal family who will urge him to govern with good sense and moderation, and who may otherwise supplant him if necessary to preserve their dynasty.

Finally, I would note that monarchs may be either kings or queens, but they are always members of the royal family. Having lived always in the public eye, the prince or princess would never ascend to the throne as a virtual stranger, much less as a complete “man of mystery” as we have here –– in a monarchy the prince is never a person of unknown background, and uncertain or dangerous loyalties.

avatar Junkerj December 3, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Have you people ever studied history? This is the dumbest discussion of all time here on the porch……Frankly, I cant believe people didn’t throw you out of here John, on your ass. Sad commentary on this sad group of sad excuses in here.

I’m removing this site from my favorites tab…….something I should have done long ago.

Goodbye bastards.

-J

avatar ojc December 3, 2010 at 11:56 pm

In the midst of this rapidly escalating disagreement between democrats and monarchists, I am surprised no one has mentioned the opinion shared by Aristotle, Aquinas, and the Founding Fathers that the best practicable regime is one that mixes elements of democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy. The kind of monarchy that gives Americans shivers is monarchy a la Louis XIV invoking the absolute “divine right of kings,” which ironically is a relatively modern concept.

By contrast, medieval kingship was not the specter we Americans associate with the term “monarchy.” It in fact resembled the mixed American regime that Dr. Deneen cherishes: decentralization, self-governing local entities, and a distribution of power amidst different bodies. Medieval monarchs were intrinsically limited in what they could do; they did not have the benefit of the bureaucratic machinery or the theory of sovereignty that the modern state has. Kings could not levy taxes or conscript the whole male populatio like the modern state does. In many ways, the king had less “power” over individuals than a mid-level IRS bureaucrat does today. This is not to say that there were not nasty kings, but, compared to the scale of devastation and intrusion that the modern democratic state is capable of, they really could not do all that much.

I do think there is a danger in embracing monarchism as a reactionary rejection of modern democracy. The wisest political philosophers understood true kingship was extraordinarily rare and that, in practice, the best we can hope for is a system of government that incorporates the best elements of democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy. One could argue that what we find today, unfortunately, is a mixture of the worst elements of those regimes: an imperial presidency, a plutocratic elite, and a materialistic demos.

avatar SiarlysJenkins December 4, 2010 at 1:18 am

This is essentially the philosophy of Stuart La Joie in Robert A. Heinlein’s immortal The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, albeit presented with far more depth and erudition. I would certainly agree that, while the foibles of electoral democracy are well diagnosed here, monarchy is not a credible alternative. James Otis remarked, at the time of the American revolution, that only God is entitled to omnipotence, because no other monarch is omniscient. The real virtue of an electoral democracy is not that “The People” rule — most of the people don’t want to be bothered. Rather, it allows more variables in play than a hereditary monarchy. Most kings were rather easily deposed if enough barons united behind a plausible cousin — kings were NOT free to choose justice over power.

avatar Rob G December 4, 2010 at 4:24 am

It’s only dumb if you’re an ideologue. Non-ideological folks of good will and intelligence s/b able to discuss and debate such things without getting hysterical or crying wee-wee-wee all the way home.

avatar Calhoun December 4, 2010 at 4:37 am

Re. to Mr. Medaille:
I’m very partial to G.K.C.’s “democracy of the dead” idea. The problem I’m trying to get at, though, is about the words “will of the people.” When people start talking about a thing like that, even if they concede right off the bat that the “will of the people” will never be completely unified, they then go on pretending as if the “will of the people” was a Christmas wish-list that they themselves are privy to and then run about saying, “Look! We have to do such-and-such -it’s on the list.” Now, if you add to all the people breathing with all the people buried in the ground and (as Mr. Burke would have it) all the people who are going to be born, you don’t really get out of the jam you’re in in the first place -which is that, when I can’t speak of the “will of the table” at my Thanksgiving dinner, how can I speak of the “will of America”? As I see it, because there are competing wills, competing interests, competing claims, not only on a national, but also a state, local, family, and even personal level, the important thing is that those claims all get their own representation. While giving power to a king to arbitrate between claims might seem like a solution, actually it just sidesteps the problem, because neither a single person nor even an entire aristocracy can ever have enough knowledge, virtue, and ability to understand all the different claims in society and represent them equally. So when we talk of doing something for the “will of the people,” inevitably we end up doing it for the will of some people, because of the difficulty.

Re to Mr. Stephen:
Talking about “the elites” and “the people” is sort of confusing, especially when deciding who is better or who is good for whom. Now, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t, for example, say that the Soviet elites were good for “the people” of Russia, so again, the use of these abstract terms divorces the argument from reality.

P.S. to Mr. Medaille:
Sir, I read your book “Towards A Truly Free Market” and was very impressed. Allow me to congratulate you on it and urge you to mount further economic examinations and expositions on distributism. There’s much in your book that it would be to many people’s benefit for you to elaborate on.

I do, however, have one question which I can’t help asking since it seems like you’re reading this comment section. You discuss many times about how capitalism relies on an interventionist state to boost aggregate demand. If I understand you right, you seem to be saying that government spending does not crowd out investment in most cases because crowding out occurs at full-employment and capitalist markets in modern times seldom are able to produce full-employment. The “investment deficiency” of modern capitalism therefore depends on government stimulus to remedy. My question, however, is about full-employment; as you’re no doubt aware, many mainstream economists define full-employment at a level of 4-4.5% unemployment and believe that at certain points the economy operates beyond that capacity. With that definition, therefore, your assertion that full-employment conditions are never met by capitalism becomes accurate only if you accept full-employment as 0% unemployment. I myself have no view at the moment on the matter, but was wondering how you defend your view that full-employment involves no frictional, structural, or seasonal unemployment (the “natural” types of unemployment that lead some economists to count 4.5% unemployment as the full-employment number).

avatar Dan Phillips December 4, 2010 at 4:58 am

ojc, have you ever read Prof. Donald Livingston’s “Secession and the Modern State?” He makes the same points. I am not a monarchist, but I was going to make a similar point under Dr. Deneen’s comment. A case could be made that the anti-federalist decentralism that he favors is closer to monarchy than is Hamiltonian faux monarchy. The Constitution represented a move toward a modern political order although thankfully not entirely modern since the French Revolution had not yet transpired. And the anti-federalist were endeavoring to maintain a pre-modern political order, just as monarchy is a pre-modern political order. The monarch’s power could be absolute, but it was not unlimited. He had much less power (partially due to the limits of the time) than does the modern state. The modern state, which is propped up by the illusion of popular consent, is the problem

avatar Dan Phillips December 4, 2010 at 5:02 am

I am not a monarchist, a case could be made that the anti-federalist decentralism that you favor is closer to monarchy than is Hamiltonian faux monarchy. The Constitution represented a move toward a modern political order although thankfully not entirely modern since the French Revolution had not yet transpired. And the anti-federalist were endeavoring to maintain a pre-modern political order, just as monarchy is a pre-modern political order. The monarch’s power could be absolute, but it was not unlimited. He had much less power (partially due to the limits of the time) than does the modern state. The modern state, which is propped up by the illusion of popular consent, is the problem

avatar Schofield December 4, 2010 at 8:44 pm

You need to tell us Mr Medaille exactly what it is that frees a king, or a queen, from pursuing their own self-interest. What is it exactly that prevents them from doing a George The Third and buying stock in the East India Company which corrupted the British Parliament and eventually caused the Boston Tea Party?

avatar John Médaille December 4, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Excellent question. Stay tuned.

avatar Matthew December 4, 2010 at 9:45 pm

It is also worth noting that medieval commentators thought this passage referred to tyranny, not true “regal” monarchy.

James Blythe is good reading!

avatar Weaver December 4, 2010 at 10:02 pm

So the crack addicted bum is to be given the same say as the hard working business owner who gives out food occasionally?

We’re not equal. Some are more virtuous than others.

avatar Weaver December 4, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Jefferson thought that only the educated ought to vote, and there was that other restriction on voting rights that we no longer have too.

avatar John Médaille December 5, 2010 at 3:54 pm

I find the “definitions” of economists to be both unconvincing and unscientific, a question of ideology in action. The so-called NIARU (Non-inflation adjusting rate of unemployment) turns out to be a moving target, and the “Phillips Curve” more like a clover-leaf. There is certainly frictional unemployment, as workers change jobs or businesses close and open. But structural unemployment is another matter, which can and should be eliminated by changing the structures. Taiwan operated for most of its industrial history with unemployment rates below 2%, and when it reached the high 4′s in the 2000′s (mainly because of outsourcing to the Mainland) it was considered a social and political problem. Their “problem” would be our “success.”

If “crowding out” were a real phenomenon, you would expect to see full employment and stable conditions in the pre-keynesian era. But in fact we saw the opposite. Both employment and the economy have been more stable, not less so. This is not an endorsement of Keynesianism, but only an observation that corporate capitalism is dependent on Gov’t expenditure. In fact, corporate capitalism is not even something different from statism.

avatar charles mcaleer December 5, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Monarchy was the form of government throughout Europe for many centuries. It’s too early to say whether “democracy” will be able to claim as great longevity, although I already have a strong hunch the answer will be no.

But monarchies are like oaks. They take time. You can’t just lay one down like lawn turf. I’ll be interested in seeing where Mr. Medaille takes his.

avatar Matt S December 5, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Interesting first installment. This discussion very much reminds me of Betrand de Jouvenel’s book, On Power: The Natural History of Its Growth. I haven’t read it in a few years, but I definitely recommend it – very pertinent to the topic.

With George III coming to mind for many Americans it might help to differentiate between that sort of monarch (the head of a mercantilist state) and the monarchy of certain kingdoms of the middle ages – when the aristocracy, custom, and the divine right of kings was a limit on the monarch’s power. Think of the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV’s “Walk to Canossa”, spending 3 days fasting in the snow outside the fortress gates begging the pope to lift his excommunication. Henry rightly feared that the nobility would elect a new king without him having the authority granted to him by the Church.

DeJouvenel traces the growth of power from the middle ages when it was clearly embodied and delineated in the form of monarchs, custom, nobles, and the Church to the present day where, “masked in anonymity, [power] claims to have no existence of its own, and to be but the impersonal and passionless instrument of the general will”. All that said, I’ll take my republic – still looking forward to the next couple installments though.

avatar Plawler December 7, 2010 at 3:20 am

I might actually agree with this piece except that a democracy isn’t easily toppled because of the exact reason you allude to… the plutocracy which runs the leaders and the country will not allow it… Democracy is just another word for plutocracy and as such this criticism is very good!

avatar Dar June 26, 2011 at 11:36 pm

Very good article, too bad it got such a negative reaction.

Sadly it begins with on great contradiction: “I am a monarchist because I am a democrat”.

Democracy is incompatible with monarchy because democracy is the assertion of the state as the principle and domnant focus of human existence, while in a monarchy the state recedes in the backgrounds.

Most people in pre-modern times (and in some areas of the world today) live entire lives without encounters with the state, while the same cannot be said of democracies.

Add the hedonistic and the moral/intellectual degenerative powers of democracy, and you’ve got plenty reasonw hy the two are incompatible.

avatar M August 19, 2012 at 6:08 pm

‘Monarchy’ is, in itself, a generalisation; there are various forms of monarchy which exist today. I am British and a supporter of the British monarchy. The reason for this is that in my opinion, we are fortunate enough to possess, with regard to our current queen, a most gracious, intelligent and aware sovereign, who has directed our affairs (and those of the Commonwealth) with skill, good judgement and selflessness, incomparable to any politician or president in modern times. As the Prince of Wales may accede to the throne, and in time his son William Wales also, I believe both these men shall continue in the same inherently virtuous, humane, conscious manner as Elizabeth, to reign as Kings. Long may that be the case, subsequently, in years to come.

The challenge for us is to somehow find politicians of the calibre of our queen, Charles and William. This we mostly seem unable to achieve. In my opinion, we have a benign monarchy in Great Britain which does not impede parliamentary democracy. Quite the reverse in fact.

avatar Chris Travers November 24, 2013 at 1:13 am

I have come around to slowly seeing the virtue in monarchism as well, not because I am a monarchist (I am still in neutral territory there but starting to lead there), but because I see it as one possible (and very viable) model of governance provided proper limits. There are large numbers of ways that monarchy can be achieved in a good and just way, just as there are many ways it can be achieved badly and the devil is in the details.

We have this funny binary idea in Western culture that democracy and monarchy are incompatible, that it would be truly weird and even silly for a district in a representative democracy to be a monarchy, and that if it was, it must be a really backwards one. And yet, the world is a diverse place and it loves to throw at us examples that, if we reflect on them, challenge our assumptions. So let me bring up Jogjakarta DKI (The Special District of Jogjakarta), a local territory in Indonesia which has an Islamic monarch within a larger representative democratic nation.

Indonesia is a modern nation far more diverse than the US culturally, socially, and even religiously.than the US. While there are five officially recognized religions, those are in fact umbrella designations and “Hindu” in particular can sometimes man “other.” The nation was stitched together out of a loose coalition of anti-colonial forces many of which had their own governmental systesms. Jogjakarta was (and consequently still is) a monarchy, or more specifically, a Sultanate.

I have spoken with a few residents of that area about it (interestingly only non-Muslims due to the social circles I travel in), and they have all been very happy with the system for many of the reasons Medaille mentions. The Sultan is generally considered beyond corruption, putting the interests of all residents first, and so forth. The Sultan is not an absolute ruler, but basically accepts hereditary governorship of the district (imagine if Texas had a hereditary governor). This is in a country where corruption by police and government officials is so tightly woven into the society that the society probably could not function without it (again this is not without limits– it is accepted for police to extort money from someone who was involved in a fatal car accident, but taking kickbacks for illegal logging will get any police officer in trouble). Jogja still has, effectively, a republican system of government, but one where the chief of the executive branch is hereditary. This would not be that different from the republican structure of Sparta and the role of kings there.

So to my mind the question of monarchy or anti-monarchy but what kind of monarchy we are discussing, what are the limits of the power of the monarch, what is the scale of the kingdom, and so forth. Those questions, to my mind, decide whether a monarchy is a good system or not. “Monarchy” is just too broad a topic for me to be for or opposed to it.

avatar Bill McEnaney December 13, 2013 at 4:37 am

For me, it’s great to know that Dr. Medaille is a monarchist. I’m an American traditional hereditary one who wants sovereigns to reign and rule. That’s why I wonder what fans of elective monarchy would do to solve two problems. One, what would they do to prevent subjects from electing a power-hungry ruler? Two, when would an elected monarch learn how to rule? Young members of the British Royal Family begin their training long before their crownings, I think.

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