Promoting monarchy in movies

Hollywood is, as everybody knows, controlled by our enemies.  And yet somehow, movies have overall been pretty good to the cause of monarchy.  School teaches us to have negative associations with words like “monarchy”, “authority”, “feudal”, “medieval”, while movies end up giving us positive associations with “king”, “queen”, “princess”, “knight”, and “royal”.  This needs explaining.

Republicans generally have no understanding of the appeal of monarchy.  They think that a monarchist must be either an aspiring tyrant who secretly sees himself as the coming king, a fool who imagines that only exceptional men will ever occupy the throne, or a childishly servile fellow who “can’t handle” the freedom of adulthood.  There’s no sense that monarchy may actually enable a certain type of human excellence, that loyalty to a leader–not because of his personal charisma, but because of an order of legitimacy that transcends both ruler and ruled–can be a manly, virile, and intelligent attribute.

This is a weakness of the republican consensus.  The idea of a brave and loyal subject is intuitive to most boys.  Progressive doctrines, republicanism included, take a very extreme, and thus difficult to defend position–that rival positions have absolutely nothing to be said for them.  So it is that a historian will complain when a Civil War documentary gives the Northern justification 15 minutes and the Southern justification 15 seconds, not because of the imbalance, but because the South was allowed a say at all.  So it is that sodomy marriage advocates feel compelled to say not that their arguments are better, but that their opponents don’t have any arguments at all.  Not a shred of ambiguity, not a single trade-off or shade of grey, is allowed in the official narrative.  Only their control of the media makes it possible for them to advance such a fragile position.

To subvert republicanism, you only need to portray a good subject, not a good king.  The king in a story may be good, bad, or absent.  Republicans and monarchists agree that a king might be any one of these.  The disagreement is on whether subjects are degraded compared to citizens.  Even loyalty to a bad king, it portrayed as admirable, will thus do more for the cause of monarchy than for republicanism.  So republican propaganda has to be really egregious.  For instance, The Patriot had to fictionalize history making the British into monsters in order to make the Founding Traitors look good.  Another republican film, Gladiator, was actually a pretty good action movie, but even run-of-the-mill Americans probably felt that the “bring back the republic” subplot was stupid.

Obvious propaganda can backfire.  For instance, it was Leon Uris’ book Exodus that cured me of Zionism.  I realized that the story of Israel couldn’t be as black-and-white as that, and yet Uris’ story is basically what Americans are taught.  Such was my first venture outside the Judeo-Manichean narrative.  Often enough, screenwriters don’t want to sacrifice the integrity of their stories to the degree republican dogma demands, and so movies are filled if not with monarchical sentiments, at least with characters with monarchical sentiments.

Let’s take an example.  I know what you’re thinking.  “Bonald is going to start talking about some Disney cartoon again.”  Well, you’re right!  I want to talk about Robin Hood.  I like this movie.  As a kid, I found Prince John (played by Peter Ustinov in my favorite of his roles) and Sir Hiss hilarious, and I still do.  Given how wicked and ridiculous the man (well, anthropomorphized lion) occupying the crown is, one would expect this to be a very anti-monarchist movie, with audiences going home thanking the stars that the vote saves them from rapacious rulers like Prince John, but the actual effect is the opposite.  Take the archery contest scene.  Robin Hood has won the contest but been captured by Prince John, who sentences him to death (“sudden, instant, and even immeeeediate DEATH!”).  Maid Marian pleads for Robin’s life, but the prince insists “Traitors to the crown must die!”

Robin Hood, tied up by John’s guards, shouts out “Traitors to the crown?  That crown belongs to King Richard.  Long live King Richard!”

Facing death, Robin Hood chooses to defiantly proclaim his loyalty to his legitimate king, precisely because of his legitimacy (not because he’s such a good king, but because it’s his crown).  Do we find his gesture weak-willed or immature?  Certainly not.  The boys watching will recognize it as heroic.  Nor would Robin Hood shouting something about the Will of the People had the same poetic force.  Abstractions are not what is needed at such a moment, but loyalty to tangible persons.

Note that I haven’t even talked about the good king returning to fix things in the end.

Or how about the most conservative movie ever made, The Last Samurai?  Here the heroes are rebelling against the one whom even they regard as the legitimate Emperor.  And yet they do it out of a sense of higher loyalty to him and his realm.  You can call this a rationalization, but they are clearly sincere about it, it is clearly important to them, and we are allowed to admire their monarchical idealism.

15 Responses

  1. I tend to think the reason for this is that it’s so inherently better, that people don’t even notice it.

  2. Moanrch s merely a symbol of the City and it is loyalty to one’s City that is the basis of the political order.

  3. “The idea of a brave and loyal subject is intuitive to most boys.”

    I remember being totally confused as a child when I discovered that America didn’t have a king. “What kind of country doesn’t have a king?”, I thought out loud. I was quickly corrected that we were really better because we didn’t have a king.

  4. I think about this topic regularly. I am not sure of Hollywood’s motives, but I assume, like you, that artists generally care more about their art than their ideology, and good art reveals truth (a controversial statement in this age, but I maintain it). Some time ago, Kristor reflected upon seeing a marred Goth couple with a little girl in a pink ballerina dress. His point was that nature reasserts herself. I think that such must be a large factor in Hollywood’s depiction of monarchy.

  5. […] Source: Throne and Altar […]

  6. Have a look at this article.

  7. If the monarchy comes back. What’s to prevent a French revolution 2.0 from toppling it in our modern era?

  8. Probably Monarchy and feudalism is the only natural regime, and all the rest régimes reproduce the feudal system it in a bastard way.

    There is no need of maintaining an ideology to support the loyalities of a feudal system like there is no ideology necessary to support the familly as institution. And political analysts use a feudal language when referring to contemporary politics: They say that this of that politician is loyal to this or that candidate. Or “this politician gained his election in his feud” .

    The bastardization comes when the legal institutions are used to maintain the feudal ones, that remain hidden but are the effective sources of power. And also the lack of real social mobility up and down when theorically the modern regimes promotes themselves as a “Open societies” when it is not really the fact. This bastardized feudal regime is then more evil than the republic that says to be, and the feudal system that say that he has overcome, when it is not, and unite the worst aspects of both.

  9. This is a wonderful essay.

    To subvert republicanism, you only need to portray a good subject, not a good king.

    St Thomas More is an argument in favor of monarchy, yes. Just as the horse is an argument against Animalism.

    another republican film, Gladiator, was actually a pretty good action movie, but even run-of-the-mill Americans probably felt that the “bring back the republic” subplot was stupid.

    My boys like this movie, so I have seen it a few times. Much of the dialogue and the action lack coherence with one another. It’s like watching a video where the soundtrack is delayed by 30 seconds. On the one hand you have all the republican “Rome the idea” crap from the spokesbabe. Why do Orange Revolutions always have spokesbabes, by the way? On the other hand, the action of the movie shows Commodus gradually losing the Mandate of Heaven. It would have been regicide for Maximus to kill Commodus the first time they met in the arena. By the end of the movie, killing Commodus is no longer regicide.

    One bit of dialogue that isn’t like this is at that first meeting in the arena, when Maximus tells Commodus that he, Maximus, is loyal to the “true Emperor” Marcus Aurelius. Maximus is not loyal to Commodus (for typically obnoxious Hollywood reasons). Thomas Paine wants him to rationalize this by rejecting monarchy in toto. Maximus rationalizes this by denying that Commodus is the Emperor and claiming that Marcus Aurelius is. Maximus becomes, not a Protestant, but a sedevacantist.

    Now, if you are a neoCath, you like Protestants better than sedevacantists. If you are Catholic, not so much.

    Neither rejection of monarchy nor rejection of the sitting monarch are really the right thing to do. In fact both are kind of unthinkable. The intellectual path that led Maximus, loyal follower of the Stoic philosopher-Emperor, to his sedevacantism must have been torturous. And, indeed, we see in the movie that it was. But it’s only against this ideological background that Maximus’s choice really makes sense.

    Of course, you could reinterpret the scene to make Maximus just a politician searching out the word-string which will do him the most good in front of his audience. Lying to the mob in the service of a good cause is certainly also a key republican virtue.

    Nor would Robin Hood shouting something about the Will of the People had the same poetic force.

    In Braveheart, Mel Gibson/William Wallace dies crying “freedom!” This word, “freedom,” is equivocal, and the equivocation is central to its use here. For us Americans it immediately calls up all the Bill of Rights nonsense and makes identification with Wallace entirely unambiguous and unthreatening. But that’s not what it is about in the movie at all.

    In the movie, it means the freedom of Scotland and the Scottish crown from England and the English crown. It is freedom in the Catholic, great chain of being, sense—the freedom of my Church/King from the domination of any earthly power.

    The end of that film is also instructive. It explains that loyal Wallace’s death is not in vain, for it inspires the Scottish king, Robert the Bruce, to stop being such a douchebag. Thus it is a loyal subject, bad king argument for monarchy in the vein Bonald is mining in his essay.

  10. DrBill has reminded me that Maximus’ transitioning loyalties were more interesting than the final bring-back-the-republic plan everybody settled on would lead one to suspect. As he points out, it had to be so for the character to make any kind of emotional sense.

    Memetic Warrior makes a good point: Organization based on personal ties of loyalty (family or feudal) are less ideology-dependent than impersonal organization.

  11. […] takes note of Russia’s mild turn-around in birth rates and also how remarkably well Monarchy gets portrayed in the movies. When opposing forms or ideologies lose enough power, they often come to be seen as quaint by the […]

  12. “loyalty to a leader–not because of his personal charisma, but because of an order of legitimacy that transcends both ruler and ruled–can be a manly, virile, and intelligent attribute.”

    Like Sean Bean playing Eddard Stark in Games of Thrones about Stannis Baratheon – he being adamant is that the issue is not whether Stannis would make a good king, but that he by right he is _the_ king. It was intuitively likeable.

    You see, Burke wrote that the rights of citizens can only be upheld by a monarch who holds his power as a right, and what happens here psychologically is the inversion of that: to me, Eddard’s defense of rule by right and not ability gave me that warm fuzzy feeling that if someone would try to take my home or what ever I own away, based on fairness or some other principle, he would also help me on the basis that right and not fairness is what ownership is about. This, I think, is why it is intuitively likeable, as it sends the message of the willingness of upholding everybody’s rights.

    This is disturbing in democracy. It begins with an entirely arbitrary choice done in the voting booth, which does not even require a rationalization or an argument to support it. The democratic government takes its legitimacy from that. It is conceived in arbitariness, and easily inherits that, easily decides that that it is the choice of the government, and not the rights of the citizens, that is paramount.

  13. […] I’ve showed before that movies have been a surprisingly good medium for showing (good movies never argue or explain) the case for monarchy. Let us consider whether they also can be used to show what’s wrong with democracy. On the one hand, there are plenty of movies about the corruptness of the political establishment (e.g. Mr. Smith goes to Washington), but such movies don’t argue that democracy is inherently bad–just that we need more men like Mr. Smith who can resist the corruption that mysteriously comes over every other mortal who goes to Washington.  (Compare, some of the best pro-monarchy movies are about bad kings and good subjects, as I argue in the link above. Democracy claims to remove the ruler/subject distinction and to dispose with personal loyalty, so it can’t make this same dramatic move, but democracy is very good at positing shadowy “special interests” to blame for its inevitable failings.)  One can also point to movies where a courageous individual defies the majority. While these movies show that the voice of the people is certainly not the voice of God, they don’t prove democracy to be worse than any other form of government. Courageous men should defy evil orders from either mobs or kings. […]

  14. […] Are there virtues that flourish only under monarchy?  Certainly:  the virtue of loyalty.  Cardinal Newman defined Toryism as “loyalty to persons”, and we do indeed regard a subject’s loyalty to his lord as highly as republicans regard a citizen’s suspicion of his government.  Loyalty is a splendid and manly virtue.  (“Traitors to the crown?  That crown belongs to King Richard.  Long live King Richard!”) […]

  15. […]  I’ve written about this before regarding Disney movies (see here, here, here, and here), My Little Pony, and Batman.  The affirmation of official pieties, when present at all, seems […]

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