Am I a good enough monarchist?

The Mad Monarchist (MM) has an interesting rant against those who he calls “theoretical monarchists”–people who claim to be monarchists in principle, to accept monarchism as an abstract political doctrine, but who don’t support their actual existing monarchies because they find them insufficiently pure.  In an admirably conservative move, MM reduces the question to one of loyalty:  a monarch’s loyalty should not be to an ideal, but to his actual king.  His particular ire is directed at some Jacobites, Carlists, and sedevacantists who’ve been giving him a rough time.  I have sympathy for all three of these groups, but I admit that at some point hope against incredible odds must slide into fantasy.  They should, as MM points out, realize that their current choice is the English/Spanish monarchy or an outright republic, either the uninspiring leadership of the current Magisterium or outright heresy.

On the other hand, I feel a bit stung because I am, in a sense, an entirely theoretical monarchist myself.  There is no one I regard as my rightful king, and I’m not very interested in finding such a person.  My support for monarchy is all support for a principle, not for any person or even group of people.  I care far less about the existing, purely ceremonial, monarchies in the world today than does MM.  In my defense, I am an American, which is a very awkward state for a monarchist to find himself in.  To me, monarchy means authority from God through tradition rather than the pseudo-authority of government as puppet of the popular will.  In the American context, I think the thing for a monarchist to do is to support the autonomy of the Supreme Court, which is the closest thing to a repository branch of government that America has. It is the implicitly “kingly” role in America’s constitution, deriving its motives for action not from the popular will but from a mandate to uphold tradition–in this case constitutional law, although we would like the Court to develop a fuller sense of the traditions it should be preserving.  Not long ago, conservatives tended to think of the Supreme Court as the radical Leftist branch of government inflicting its will on a conservative populace.  This is no longer true.  I expect the next round of pernicious social engineering is going to come through the state and federal legislatures doing the will of a brainwashed, radicalized populace.

As for England, I have sometimes called myself a Jacobite, mostly just to spite the Whigs.  It is easy to deny the legitimacy of the post-Glorious Revolution English government because that government, beholden as it is to Locke’s ideology, doesn’t claim legitimacy as a monarchist would understand it.  Why acknowledge what it won’t claim for itself?  It claims to be the creature of popular will, and I’d readily grant it that.  On the other hand, if I were actually an Englishman, I’m sure I’d support Queen Elizabeth and the existing monarchy.  Then loyalty to persons would come into play.

The only place where I can be a good monarchist is in the Church.  I despise the Second Vatican Council, letter and spirit, I resent Pope John XXIII for being an incompetent boob who wrecked the Church before I even got to live in it, and I agree with the traditionalists on most points of contention.  But I will not follow them into schism, because the pope has a rightful claim on my loyalty, even when he says stupid things.

16 Responses

  1. As a Canadian I am loyal to our reigning monarch, Elizabeth II. I have sympathies to Jacobitism as a reactionary, romantic, cause, but am loyal to the reigning House. Boswell, in his life of Samuel Johnson, describes the result of an encounter that Dr. Johnson had with King George in the royal library, after which Dr. Johnson, a High Tory with strong Jacobite sympathies, had to admit that a case could be made for the legitimacy of the reigning king.

    There are two sides to supporting monarchy. There is the matter of loyalty to the actual monarch. There is also the matter of loyalty to the institution of the monarchy, and the principles it represents. Both are important.

    There is a passage in Alexandre Dumas novels, in one of the Musketeer novels (I think “Vicomte de Bragellone”) where Athos advises his son Raoul that one has to honour the institution and principle of royalty even if one cannot honour the one who sits on the throne for who they are as a person. Dumas, of course, was writing in post-revolutionary France and his remark foreshadows how he would develop the character of the Sun King in his book – as the author, with Colbert, of the modern state, which would have no room for honour, chivalry, and those other older concepts, that Dumas heroes, Athos in particular, valued and stood for.

  2. It’s an important question. In the first place, it is hard to disagree with “if you live in a monarchy and do not support your monarch, I do not consider you a monarchist.”

    The retort of the theoretical monarchist is that “I do not live in a proper monarchy, but in a de facto republic with a purely ceremonial monarch”.

    The counter-retort to that is “Some people in every monarchy have claimed that their monarch is not ‘proper’ — how do I know that you would ever accept any real monarch?”

    For myself, the most important principle is that the contemporary view that every citizen has a right to a share in political power is wrong. Monarchism is an expression of that principle, though not the only one possible. My point of origin is in the work of the not-exactly-monarchist Mencius Moldbug:

    The logic of the steel rule is simple. As a reactionary, you don’t believe that political power is a human right. You will never convince anyone to adopt the same attitude, without first adopting it yourself. Since you believe others should be willing to accept the rule of the New Structure, over which they wield no power, you must be the first to make the great refusal. They must submit to the New; you must submit to the Old.

  3. Yeah, it’s easy to be a monarchist when you don’t have to live under an actual king.

    You’re a Harry Potter fan who takes himself too seriously, that’s all. You simply lack the self-critique or the self-awareness to realize it.

  4. I’m a Morte de Aurthur and Lord of the Rings fan who takes himself too seriously. So there.

    Actually, you make a good point. Any way of life involves sacrifices and inconveniences, and I can’t really know how much they would grate on me without living through them. However, my claim is not “monarchy would make me happy” but “monarchy is a better form of government”. If I were to be unhappy having to obey my king, I would chalk it up to my character not being properly formed, so that I am gratified or vexed by the wrong things.

  5. Wow, bonald, that was very Christian of you not to reply in kind to dan’s insult. Impressive restraint.

  6. Thanks. I’m trying to work on my blogging manners.

  7. I’m pretty sure that Harry Potter is set in a parliamentary democracy.

  8. The essence of monarchism is the authority cannot be limited from below, but only from above. His subjects could not judge Christian king, but God (and God’s Vicar on earth) could.

    That is what Chateaubriand meant, when describedt Christian Rome as being for the modern what Pagan Rome had been for the ancient world—the universal bond of nations, instructing in duty, defending from oppression.

    Hence the indissoluble union of throne and altar

  9. i might be ok with monarchy as long as the king was subject to the laws of the land (is that part of the deal?).

    what i don’t get AT ALL are monarchs that are not related to the people of the nation.

    emperor of japan — japanese just like the rest of the japanese. ok!

    many european monarchs — huh? wha?

  10. “i might be ok with monarchy as long as the king was subject to the laws of the land (is that part of the deal?).”

    In the heyday of European monarchy in the Middle Ages, this was a disputed point. Some writers said that the King was above the law, while others said that he was subject to it.

    In later times, even the uber-monarchist Joseph de Maistre (who disdained the idea of a constitution) said that there were certain fundamental laws that even the King couldn’t breach.

    As for monarchs of different nationalities, you have to remember that modern ideas of nationalism and patriotism didn’t really exist before the 18th century. People in earlier ages wouldn’t have had such a problem with giving their loyalty to a monarch from a different country.

  11. Hello hbdchick,

    Since the point of a monarch is to defend his country’s traditions, I would agree that these should be his traditions as well. Being a semi-Jacobite, I am not happy about the last time the English native dynasty was overthrown and a foreigner was brought in to rule England. However, within a civilization, there’s a lot of overlap. I suspect the English would have felt differently about importing a Dutch vs a Turkish royal dynasty, for example. Also, royals will often be more genetically transnational because of their use of cross-national marriages to cement alliances.

  12. It is easy to deny the legitimacy of the post-Glorious Revolution English government because that government, beholden as it is to Locke’s ideology, doesn’t claim legitimacy as a monarchist would understand it. Why acknowledge what it won’t claim for itself?

    It could be argued that the British state is a republic implicitly since the Glorious Revolution. Montesquieu and Voltaire were ardent Anglophiles who wrote books extolling the virtues of England and her Constitution (the Glorious Revolution and Magna Carta). In many ways the French Revolution was just an attempt to graft that system onto a French context.

  13. I’d question whether it is the case that the British monarchy “claims to be the creature of popular will”.

    The claim is actually rather different. The claim is that the monarch reigns by virtue of Act of Parliament (namely, the Act of Settlement 1701). From here, there are two routes that a principled conservative can take:

    1. Parliament may nowadays equate de facto with the “popular will”, but it doesn’t de jure, in terms of classical constitutional theory. The High Court of Parliament still consists today, as it did in 1701, of the Queen and representatives of the estates of the realm: the Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal and the Commons. To put it more succinctly, Parliament means the Queen, the Lords and the Commons – and the popular will only intrudes in the last of these components. Of course, the Commons is in practice overwhelmingly dominant today, but this is more a practical political fact than a legal one.

    2. The Act of Settlement merely placed the ancient common law of succession to the throne on a statutory basis – it didn’t substantively change anything. This was Burke’s view. He fiercely denied that the monarch reigned by virtue of the popular will: rather, he reigned because he had inherited the throne in accordance with the ancient laws of the kingdom.

    I would suggest that the larger problem for a reactionary monarchist in the British context is that there is no real indigenous British tradition of absolute monarchy (and Jacobitism does not provide a convincing alternative). The doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty goes back certainly to the 16th century and to some extent to the 15th (see “The Sovereignty of Parliament” by Jeffrey Goldsworthy).

    The more robustly monarchical pretensions of the likes of Henry VIII and the Stuart kings need to be understood in this context. The tripartite Parliament was consistently regarded as being in principle the supreme authority, even if in practice several monarchs tested the boundaries of their authority. The last attempt to furnish the king with a broad unilateral power to legislate for the kingdom was the statute 31 Henry VIII 8 (1539) – itself an Act of Parliament – which was repealed after only a few years. After that, the king’s prerogative subsisted within and subject to the law of the land (see, most famously, the Case of Proclamations [1610] EWHC KB J22). I’m afraid that one can’t sweep this stuff aside by blaming it on 1688 and the Whigs.

  14. “There is no one I regard as my rightful king, and I’m not very interested in finding such a person.”

    I’m only half joking when I suggest that you could start with the lawful sovereign whose North American realms (excepting loyal Canada) were stolen at gunpoint by a gang of rebels in 1776.

  15. There’s a strong case to be made for that.

  16. Should you wish to associate yourself with it, you have a ready-made, rich, vibrant, living royalist tradition which is tightly bound up with your country’s history and heritage, and is an integral part of the culture of its neighbours (Canada and various Carribean countries)…..

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