In Defense of Monarchy

The branches of government

By symbolizing justice, the state is also a symbol of God (as Durkheim realized in his way). In particular, it represents God’s role as the just Judge. A healthy state is structured to make this symbolization as clear as possible. Thus, there are three branches of government, corresponding to the triad of memory, intellect, and will in Augustine and Bonaventure’s psychological model of the Trinity. Note that this triad does not correspond to Montesquieu’s better-known division of the state into legislature, executive, and judiciary. Monarchy cannot be properly understood using this latter scheme.

The first branch of government is the traditional or repository branch, corresponding to government’s role as the memory or self-consciousness of the nation. Included in this branch are the king, the hereditary nobility, and the ministers of the established church. The repository reminds citizens that they are members of a nation which endures through time, that they have a collective past and a collective future. As the representative of the past, the repository upholds inherited traditions, the will of the dead, against the transient will of the living. It also upholds the nation’s inherited commitments and obligations: treaties, debts, etc. It is responsible in a particular way for honoring the dead and promoting whatever basic historical narratives the nation uses to understand itself. Finally, the repository is the defender of the nation’s most basic principles, including its constitution (which, as Aristotle pointed out, guarantees the continuity of the state) and its religion. Since the repository represents the past against the present, its officeholders (the nobles) are ideally chosen by their connection to the past, i.e. by hereditary succession. By choosing them in this way, the king and nobility are given a strong incentive to fulfill their duty of defending tradition, since this is the only basis of their own authority.

The second branch is the legislature, the creator of laws. The third branch is the executive or ministry, which applies the laws to specific cases and enforces them. Each of these branches operates on a more specific level than the branches above it. The repository (analog of the memory) expounds general historical commitments. The legislature (analog of the intellect) translates these into abstract laws. The executive (analog of the will) in its judicial aspect determines how the laws apply to specific cases, while the executive in its civil service aspect is authorized to make technical decisions regarding how the legislature’s desires can be fulfilled most expediently. The executive includes most of the employees of the state: judges, policemen, soldiers, teachers, and bureaucrats. Since their jobs require special expertise, it is reasonable that they should be chosen by merit. That is, executive functionaries should be hired or appointed; they should not be elected to their posts or inherit them. The legislature includes the national parliament, state or district legislatures, and city councils. Lawmakers are usually elected; choosing them in a way different from that used by the repository and executive branch ensures that the legislature will have an independent character. (The separation of the legislative and executive guarantees the rule of law.) The state will thus have a mixture of monarchical, aristocratic (meritocratic), and democratic elements, as recommended by Cicero and Thomas Aquinas.

The role of the monarch was misunderstood by some eighteenth and nineteenth century observers of imperfectly functioning monarchies. Thus, Montesquieu identified the English monarch with the executive, and Bonald more or less identified the French monarch with the legislature. The former’s confusion was carried over into the constitution of the United States, with the president being given some of the features of a monarch and some of the features of a prime minister. In fact, the branch of America’s federal government which most closely resembles the repository branch is the Supreme Court.  Not all philosophers mistook the true division of the branches of government.  Hegel, in his Philosophy of Right, provides a rationalization of the modern state which is very similar to the description I’ve given above.  Unfortunately, the true genius of Hegel’s political thought is often obscured by the Marxist lens through which he is generally read.

4 Responses

  1. […] and the paternal role.  Then it gets better by linking authority to symbolism, something else I’m always emphasizing.  As I wrote in my defense of patriarchy, the father must represent the outside world and the […]

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  3. […] I’m moderately conservative, but I know some people who argue that we should go back to direct rule by kings and an established church. The Misanthrope came out, snarled, and has not yet gone into his […]

  4. […] for a specific difference won’t stand; it is a fact that there are general defenses of monarchy, religion, tradition, and the like that proceed along entirely different lines than those of the […]

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