Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, September 11, 2009

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.


Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

An intentionally established monarchy would not be a monarchy in any sense worth valuing.

OK, I've read this post twice, and I don't see why this would be a true statement.

Darwin said...

Hmmm. Let me see if I can take a second shot at it:

If one sits down (at least from a modern perspective, with ideas like writing a constitution or government by the will of the people floating around) and decides to have a king, what one really gets is a single absolute administrator. It's not really a monarchy, because for a monarchy to really a monarchy in the sense that pre-modern monarchies worked, it has to be necessary to have a king. It must seem to be the only decent way to be ruled -- the only way to have and ordered and just society. The king has to be king because there must be a king.

But if you say, "We're the people, and we think we'd like to have a king," you're essentially saying, "The people rule, but they'd like to have one person in charge at the moment." If the people wanted a senate instead, or a pure democracy, they could discard the king they had chosen and have that instead.

In this sense, it seems to me that real monarchy is something which has to just develop, naturally. It's not something you can choose. And thus having a monarchist ideological faction (except perhaps to the extent of saying, "It's impossible that you get rid of the monarchy, we must keep the monarchy!") doesn't make any sense.

It would be like saying, "We demand organic development of the liturgy right now!"

Anonymous said...

Is Russia organically drifting back towards their own version of Ancien Regime you think?

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in having a monarchy if I can be king. hahahaha

Anonymous said...

I think I get what you're trying to say... basically, a true monarchy is a top down government, whereas a republic is bottom up.

God, at least in a sense, would establish a monarchy.

People establish republics. Or dictatorships for that matter.

Figulus said...


I can see where you are going with this. It would seem that any American who campaigned to replace the office of the President of the United States with a monarchy would be a radical or revolutionary or worse, and nothing could be more fatal to the conservatism and legitimism that typically characterizes a monarchist.

But I also think that the issue is much bigger than just politics in modern nation states. Take the case of Afghanistan. Under Mohammed Zahir Shah, Afghanistan enjoyed 40 years of stability characterized by freedom, respect for the law, modest modernisms like the education of women, but also a conservative respect for traditional tribal and Islamic culture. All this came to a halt in 1973 when an ex-prime minister declared himself president with Soviet assistance.

After decades of turmoil, Zahir Shah returned to Afghanistan in 2002 to convene the Loya Jirga. Many people, myself included, think he would have been the best head-of-state that Afghanistan could possibly have, an opinion he himself shared. But he was unwilling to fracture the fragile republic which coalesced behind Hamid Karzai, so he stayed in Afghanistan and lent his personal legitimacy to the new republic, but not as a head of state. It seems to me Baba Zahir's partisans could accurately be called monarchists.

Take also the case of Australia. Those who actively campaign to replace her Majesty with an elected "president of Australia" are being opposed by people who are very accurately called monarchists. Or consider Spain; not so very long ago a man could be killed for calling himself a monarchist, yet today Spain is headed by a king. Those who won the day and returned Spain to stability and prosperity could and still can call themselves monarchists.

Monarchism is a very real political phenomenon, and monarchists have contributed mightily to the political health of many nations.

Darwin said...

Good points, Figulus.

I think you're definitely right about Afghanistan. I guess I'm less sure I'd really think of Spain as a monarchy, given that the monarch has virtually no part to play in the government these days. But you're right, being a monarchist in the Spanish Civil War meant something, and indeed, I'd agree it meant something worth fighting for.

Anonymous said...

I think it is commonly misunderstood the degree of absolutism historical (Catholic)monarchies have had. The people could be released from loyalty to their Kings and Emperors by the Pope or bishops as a result of acts of despotism.

I do seem to remember occasions in the history of Europe that the nobles of a kingdom actively search for candidates to replace a king whose bloodline had ended.

I know these points don't address the topic very precisely, but I haven't time right now to make such a response.

CMinor said...

Wasn't monarchy an outgrowth of military leadership? In which case it would have evolved and not been intentionally established.

the other Sherry said...

Many monarchies have been elective: Holy Roman Emperors were elected; the Polish-Lithuanian commowealth had an elective monarchy. Many other examples (see elective monarchy in Wikipedia). How would this fit what you are discussing?