Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Plan B: Monarchy?

     Machiavelli believed that the institutions laid down in a republic at its birth are of little use later, when the people have become corrupt. For him, virtue and corruption had to do with the eagerness or reluctance of a people to hold liberty over any other value. Thus, Machiavelli would consider virtuous a proudly free population such as that which threw off the yoke of England in Eighteenth Century America. He would consider corrupt a population dedicated to self-indulgence and dependency, for which it was willing to trade much of its liberty. It is difficult to be clear-eyed about one’s own time, but there are certainly many indications that Twenty-First Century America is less attached to the rigors of liberty than to the charms of license. Defeatism is its own reward, and hereabouts the tenor is intended to be optimistic. However, it may be worthwhile on occasion to run some thought experiments about what to do if the U.S. eventually loses all its necessary virtue (in the Machiavellian sense). One plan, currently under discussion around the conservative blogosphere, is monarchy.



     If people cannot govern themselves they must be governed. An old political axiom states that nations in chaos attract tyrants who impose order (Rome, 27 BC; Britain, 449 AD; Germany, 1934 AD). If some form of tyranny is inevitable, conservatives would no doubt prefer a limited, traditional form of autocratic rule in which the ruler or rulers at least preserved some of the old forms of society. Thus, rather an Augustus or an Elizabeth I or even a Lee Kwan Yew than a Stalin or a Mao. In this context, it may be of interest for some readers to sample the latest dialogues on monarchy at the reactionary, monarchist blog Throne and Altar (by Bonald). There is also an interesting critique of Bonald’s postings on another reactionary blog, The Thinking Housewife.

     We do not accept the fundamental argument of Bonald, which is that the inherent weaknesses of democracy amount to inevitably fatal flaws. Perhaps it is just pie-eyed optimism, but surely enough people of sense will recognize their civic responsibilities and reject—or at least take one step back from—the corruption (in the Machiavellian sense) of big government.  Sic transit libertas?

8 comments:

  1. A centuries old monarchy does have great advantages of tradition and well developed tried and trusted institutions. It wouldn't be my personal choice of government, but I can see its advantages. The trouble is it really isn't something that you can consciously choose. If you haven't got one you can't make it out of nothing.

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  2. Historyscientist, that's a very interesting and important point. "If you haven't got one you can't make it out of nothing." I suspect the only option after a republic dies is greater or lesser tyranny, and monarchy is simply not viable. For instance, even if the US were to associate itself once again with the British Crown, it's not clear to me that that venerable institution would be able to provide the stability needed to settle the chaos of economic and moral dislocation (as any honest look at the UK today seems to confirm).

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  3. With your interest in ancient history I imagine you know this already, but amongst some of the German tribes at around the time of Caesar they had a system whereby a tribe would usually be run by a council but there were a couple of families from whom a king could be selected should some extraordinary circumstance require it.

    Maybe the US could dispense with its president most of the time, but if the need for one arises you could pick on a Bush or a Clinton to sort out the crisis.

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  4. Switching to a monarchy would be much more difficult for America than for nations like Germany or Israel. Italy could easily replace its president with a king and no one would notice. In America, the president has responsabilities that make it difficult to replace him with a figurehead.

    Much as I see the appeal of a figurehead monarch (although I don't share it), a monarch with the same power as the US president wouldn't go over well. Prince Charles might be okay for waving and ribbon-cutting, but I wouldn't trust his judgement.

    For America to adopt a figurehead monarch its core government institutions would have to go through radical restructuring in a way that Germany's wouldn't. Barring an existential threat even greater than what the US faces today, I don't think it would be worth the cost of transition. (And really, if politicians spend an existential threat arguing over whether they should have a monarchy or a republic, America would be doomed already.)

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  5. Don't conflate democracy-vs-monarchy with liberty-vs-tyranny. Democracy and monarchy represent different ways of choosing the leaders of a country, not different degrees of liberty.

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  6. However, the word "emperor" comes to mind. the problem with that is, there's no citizen influence over the legislative process ... oh ... wait...

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  7. Wm Jas: Agreed. Aristotle and others distinguished between democracy (lawful majority rule) and ochlocracy (lawless mob rule). Basically, mob rule is to democracy as tyranny is to monarchy or oligarchy is to aristocracy (here reading the terms with their original Greek connotations).

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  8. GC: Meaningful implication is an art. You, sir, are an artist.

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