Sunday, July 11, 2010

a Short Defense of Monarchism


This is a short defense of Monarchy in theory and history written in response to the criticisms of Justin. Please enjoy.

Justin:



Ugh Ryan. I wasn't going to respond to these strange monarchist outbursts of yours. But come on. I'm all for healthy intellectual dissent, but i highly doubt you're genuine to the core--you delight in too many freedoms that otherwise you would not be deemed entitled to you in a tyrannical regime. I’ve seen your rather Nietzschean arguments that somehow suppose aristocratic excellence (which somehow is more desirable, or more ‘excellent-ish’ than other types of imaginable excellences/[virtues?]) is A.) only achievable in a non-egalitarian social framework (in your case it seems only monarchism could achieve this) and B.) somehow innately desirable. [which of course is ludicrous]

You know that monarchy is not somehow a more natural form of governance, and you *know* that Obama-idolatry or celebrity idolatry isn’t evidence of a society’s natural inclination toward monarchy. There’s no indefeasible warrant connecting the two—at all, just sophistic contrivance. Now, if you wanted to advance some argument that there’s some perpetual, ever-present social forces pushing toward plutocratic oligarchy, then fine, I might even be inclined to agree with you—but that doesn’t get a singular sovereign into the picture…at all.

Furthermore, a monarchy is almost always theoretically predicated upon a social fiction—some supposed ‘divine right’ or what have you. And these fictions are demonstrably (just that)….fictions. There is no social warrant, no bite to an absolute, hereditary monarchy.

In any monarchical system there are extra-monarchical magnates and extra-monarchical feudal or feudal-like structures. IN THIS FACT ALONE we can see the beginnings of the theoretical necessity for popular sovereignty, from that, the seeds of liberalism. Magnates must be pleased in order to maintain power, and their potential (and actual) “usurpation” of power is not only a salient feature of monarchical regimes—but historically a part of every monarchical system this planet has ever seen. Because it is, in fact, a NECESSARY feature of every monarchy—we see that there is NO ORGANIC RIGHT/ENTITLEMENT to absolute sovereignty. There is only practical, this-worldly forces that the person who claims the sovereignty can manage to wield to maintain power—all completely contingent upon his abilities and any other random, relevant state of affairs. **there might be some very tiny nations, or tribes out there where this might not apply, but consider them irrelevant—I refer only to nation states of any sufficient size.

Theoretically, the only way there might be some organic entitlement is to derive some Hobbesian normative claim—which is all predicated upon arcane state of nature arguments—and which still rely on theories of social contract—and, as I won’t go into depth here, I think as soon as we wrestle w/ social contract, popular sovereignty and the seeds of liberalism begin to sprout [I’ll just take that as granted…I’m sure you’re smart enough to fill in the in between steps].

Where else might we find an organic entitlement? Perhaps…God? Ryan, as a good catholic you should be well aware of various encyclical literature praising things like democracy and egalitarianism. This should be enough for you to drop your monarchist claims…or at least any claim that monarchy is somehow innately good…or at VERY least, that monarchy is some how natural or necessary.

Finally, the contemporary monarchy [that is actual] is DE FACTO a fascist and/or otherwise extreme totalitarian regime. I shouldn’t need to go into this too much. Maybe you don’t think that’s too bad—but tell me, examine yourself and ask whether you would really like to live in such a state. The sovereign is always in a harrying fight to maintain his power—which leads to oppressions and violence of every kind—the modes of productions are taken over (this includes far-right regimes…it’s just done through the military industrial complex)—otherwise threatening magnates will arise AKA potential usurpers. There just has been no contemporary monarchy that has been idyllic or pleasant—it has just produced violence and war, oppression and misery…and what may for you be even worse…the antithesis of excellence and virtue.

I hope I haven’t created too many straw men here, I only briefly read a lot of your recent comments floating around Facebook. Regardless, I think these considerations are enough to defeat any monarchist claims. I’m calling you on your bull.

Ryan:



I am pleased that you have expressed such diligent interest in the viability and coherency of Monarchy. I have excerpted what I considered to be the nine principle arguments(in quotes) from the previous reprinting of your criticism.

1. "you delight in too many freedoms that otherwise you would not be deemed entitled to you in a tyrannical regime."

Classical political philosophy, from Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, to Porphyry, Iamblichus and Augustine, employed the conceptual distinction between monarchy and tyranny. Tyranny, in contradistinction to monarchy, was considered to be an illegitimate usurpation of the State; generally by a personal turn to wickedness, the force of partisan loyalists, or the cajolery of populist demagoguery, for the aim of private interest and aggrandizement unrestrained by moderation, law or governmental bodies. By contrast, Monarchy was considered as a healthy and virtuous form of government, in equal proportion to the viciousness and pathology of Tyranny. Where the former was thought to be a harmonious and integral social body, ordered by the unreflective expression of prudence, wisdom, civility and compassion, the latter was required, in the absence of these virtues, to employ the legal and administrative powers of the State to forcibly coerce and compel compliance with the self-indulgent whims of the Sovereign. In short, Monarchy was envisioned as an idyllic community in which virtue was natural and spontaneous, rather than mere hypocrisy or affectation, and obedience resulted, not from legal or social compulsion, but rather from a fraternal cooperation and a genuine admiration and fidelity to the excellence and superiority of the rulers.

However both Plato and Aristotle recognized the fragility of the ideal Monarchy due to the weakness of social immoderation and human caprice, and for this reason forewarned that a monarchist regime was all too prone to descend into Tyranny if the sovereign were not of exceeding superiority of character and the severest self-restraint. For this reason both classical philosophers, while recognizing the lofty aspiration of Monarchy, advised a variety of remedies(a topic of investigation for political theorizing, yet the concern of philosopher-poets of old!) with which to restrain the sovereign, so that his expected incontinence and inadequacies might be prevented from thereby imperiling the State. In reference to the classical tradition of political philosophy, it should be apparent that the integral fraternity and humane felicity of Monarchy need not imply an unfavorable diminution of freedom, but instead rather serves to enable a more immediate freedom of personal actualization and princely decisiveness; both of which remain unrestrained by either constitutional proceduralism or legalism, and yet simultaneously adhere without reflection to the requirements of the universal Moral Law! Furthermore, this sublime vision of government is intended, not merely for the private avarice of the Sovereign, but for the vigor and spiritedness of broader society; who are through this means united in action and intention by a continually renewed bond of fraternity and courtesy, extending from the humblest servant to the most resplendent and magnanimous prince.

2. "I’ve seen your rather Nietzschean arguments that somehow suppose aristocratic excellence (which somehow is more desirable, or more ‘excellent-ish’ than other types of imaginable excellences/virtues?) is a.) only achievable in a non-egalitarian social framework (in your case it seems only monarchism could achieve this) and b.) somehow innately desirable. [which of course is ludicrous]"

The second contention which you raise(2.b) concerns whether virtue and excellence are innately desirable by all men, or merely the parochial aspiration of Aristotelians or Nietzscheans. While it appears that you seem find this proposition to be prima facie "ludicrous", instead I contend that the desirability of these qualities is both apodeictically and categorically true- or truly the case everywhere and always for all persons! We should ask how could virtue could be unwelcome when broadly conceived as the pragmatic capacity to act freely, a potentiality and will to power, as well as the moral conscience and discipline to resolutely adhere in thought and action to what reason informs us to be practically required and theoretically true. When virtue is thusly conceived, it is viewed not as an arbitrary social circumscription or an unfavorable restrictedness, but as the very means and measure of will and action with which to actualize the intrinsic potential of our selves in accordance with the pragmatic and theoretical necessities of the world! As no alternative to this moral and pragmatic freedom can possibly be conceived without also imagining a diminution of the angelic freedom which virtue implies, this effectatious unity of movement and comprehension cannot be simply disregarded or denied without also involving oneself in a theoretical contradiction.

The first contention which you raised(2.a), concerning whether an inegalitarian society is more conducive to the furtherance of excellence and virtue, or whether these traits might be equally evident in a more egalitarian society, is a central theoretical concern for monarchists and one of the principal reasons for any advocacy of a more explicitly inegalitarian society and constitution. Like the dialogue of Socrates in which in which personal virtue is related to political virtue in "the Republic", I find that this concern can be best understood in relation to the previous question(2.b) of the intrinsic value of virtue and the conditions which inspire human excellence. If the former description of the practical necessity and highest good of virtue is categorically true, then it follows that we should analogously judge that constitution and social arrangement which is most conducive and effective in inspiring the development of virtue among the people to likewise be the highest social or political good.

From this judgment, it needn't follow that socio-political inequality is more advantageous than equality, nor does this recommend a specific arrangement of the constitution, the laws, or of broader society. The necessity of unequal relations (such as the five Confucian relations of ruler and minister, parent and child, older and younger neighbors, husband and wife, and older and younger sibling) follows instead from another three convictions: 1) that among the varying multitude of mankind there is to be found an unequal allotment of talent, form, and ability which corresponds to their intrinsic potentiality and relative actualization of human virtue, 2) that human society and politics achieves the aforementioned aims most efficiently when organized so as to maximize the beneficial effects of (1), and 3) that (2) is best achieved when society and politics are organized into a visible and understood hierarchy from the most temperamental infant to the most serene and magnificent exemplar of mankind. The result of accepting the soundness and truth of these three propositions, which I see no need to herein argue for, is the inferential conclusion that Monarchy is the most just, able and noble form of government.

3. "if you wanted to advance some argument that there’s some perpetual, ever-present social forces pushing toward plutocratic oligarchy, then fine, I might even be inclined to agree with you—but that doesn’t get a singular sovereign into the picture…at all."

I do not argue that a description of social or economic forces which lead incrementally from one government form to another (such as the anacyclosis described by Polybius, the corruption of a regime described by Aristotle, or the development of productive and political monopolies under capitalism as described by Marx ) is a compelling argument for the benefits of Monarchy. Indeed such a description does not suffice to advise us of the benefits of any particular regime, and serves merely to describe the dangers of inherent in the development of polities in history. Additionally, you correctly mention that these unintended historical processes are very likely to tend towards unfavorable governments such as Tyranny, Oligarchy, or Ochlocracy(or the rule of the mob), and offer very little reassurance of a benign result.

4. "Furthermore, a monarchy is almost always theoretically predicated upon a social fiction—some supposed ‘divine right’ or what have you. And these fictions are demonstrably (just that)….fictions."

Has there been, or could there ever foreseeably be, a form of government which does not make use of social fictions, myths, and rhetorical sophistry to offer a legitimization of their laws, policies and institutions? Even the city-states of classical Greece found it expedient to deify their founders, to trace their ruling lineages to the heroes of Homer and Hesiod, and to attribute their laws and constitutions to sage-kings such as Solon of Athens or Lycurgus of Sparta. The fictions which our present polity entertains- of inspired founding fathers, hallowed documents, and unexamined egalitarian convictions-seem equally fantastic, yet for this we are faulted with the greater hypocrisy due both to our stated disbelief in the sacredness of the State as well as our cynicism concerning the fallibility of men and their writings. The reason for the necessity of these social fictions should be quite clear; for why would any man consent to be governed and punished by a State which is not of his choosing, if it and its laws were acknowledged to be the whimsical invention of fallible men of his own wretched condition? Why should he prize the constitution and the products of his legislature so highly, when he might equally scribble his own thoughts for the regulation of his neighbors? These inquiries swiftly reveal that the State is at present, and has been for all time, the result of a systematic exercise of force, violence, and cruelty without comparison in any other human institution.

Our present adulation of the State, inspired with the same benign intention as Virgil's mythic retelling of the founding of imperial Rome, aims in part to persuade us against considering these unsettling conclusions - yet is a sophistry which I find to be indispensable in governing the sentiments and restraining the ambition of nations. This observation of the continuing necessity of social fictions should not be misconstrued as simply a injunction to maliciously deceive the people. Rather it is an pragmatic assessment, in the tradition of blessed Plato's "noble lie", of the invaluable yet strategic function which the myths and public cult of the State serve.

5. " In any monarchical system there are extra-monarchical magnates and extra-monarchical feudal or feudal-like structures. (a)In this fact alone we can see the beginnings of the theoretical necessity for popular sovereignty, from that, the seeds of liberalism. (b)Magnates must be pleased in order to maintain power, and (i)their potential (and actual) “usurpation” of power is not only a salient feature of monarchical regimes—but historically (ii)a part of every monarchical system this planet has ever seen."

In the excerpted quote(5.a) you describe the necessary plurality of social and political power (whether it be invested in ministers, proconsuls, governors, dukes, or viceroys etc.) which you infer to create the "theoretical necessity [of] popular sovereignty". First, it will help to clarify that "popular sovereignty" is a modern theory of statal legitimacy rather than a description of either the arrangement or the functioning of political power. It is fairly incoherent to infer the theory of popular sovereignty(which it should be noted is a conceptual contradiction, for how can the people be both sovereign and subject) from the existence of political plurality. Additionally the existence of political plurality has not historically resulted in a theory of "popular sovereignty" until the writings of European liberals in the early modern period(Locke, Rousseau, and Montesquieu). When Pontius Pilate touted his power to crucify Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace replied "Thou shouldst not have any power over me, unless it were given to thee from above."(John 19:11), yet no theory of popular sovereignty followed from this exchange.

Second, although it might be imagined that the necessary existence of political plurality (this is a necessity as humans live in communities which require cooperation and interdependence) leads historically to liberal democracy, this assertion of a grand historical narrative merely tautologically presumes the conclusion(in this case liberal democracy) of a historical socio-political teleology, and thereafter claims that the present political arrangement is a conclusive validation of the "end of history" presumption! Although this assertion is logically invalid, the thought remains compelling- or at least as compelling as the historical inevitability of the Kaiser's German Empire or the Soviet Union must have seemed to partisan contemporaries. However without any further arguments in support of this historical teleology, this assertion will only seem as presumptuousness as those of our ancestors; ancestors whose tendency towards cultural chauvinism has yet to be exorcised by the inspiration of modern rationalism.

The second criticism which you offer(5.b) is twofold: (i)you briefly argue that the means by which the recipients of political power in a monarchy are compensated and recognized inclines them to usurp power from the sovereign. Apart from this observation being horribly anachronistic(for instance the last civil-war among the nobility of England was the War of the Roses(1455-85), the Wars of Religion(1562-98) in France, and the uprising of Zhu Di(1398-1402) in Ming China!), the argument fails to offer either an explanation of why this phenomenon might be more pronounced in Monarchy, or why we should not expect to find similar events in liberal democracy (as in the innumerable instances of military coup d'├ętats in recent memory). An argument in your favor might be presented as follows:

(p1) Feudal lords are granted absolute power over their subjects and soldiers.

(p2) Fuedal lords are afforded compensation and recognition in proportion to the extent of land and the number of subject which they have dominion over.

(p3) if (p1) and (p2) are true, then we should expect fuedal lords to attempt to forcibly increase the extent of their land and the number of their subjects by (i) usurping power from the sovereign, (ii) and accumulating absolute socio-political power to themselves.

(p4) if (p3) is true and political plurality is necessary for any monarchy, then we should expect this violent cycle of hegemonic domination and usurpation described in (p3) to repeat itself without end.

TF: if (p4) is true, then Monarchy is inherently violent and politically unstable.

However this argument is specious because, although Monarchy might comically be conceived as a violent monopoly of marauding Franks, Huns, and Vandals, history and political theory displays much more administrative and social sophistication in actual monarchies; a fact which demonstrates (p1) and (p2) to be mere storybook simplicities. Additionally it is not clear that, if these premises were sound then this argument would not also apply to contemporary military officers; who are similarly invested with inestimable armed force, and are recognized in accordance with their political power and compensated, not with land(as in physiocratic agrarian states), but with money. Yet the application of this argument to present government of either a country like Communist China or the United States is viewed as prima facie absurd precisely because we know of the social and political mechanisms with which military officers are restrained from overthrowing the state- mechanisms such as legal institutions, social reprobation, and the fiction of sacredness(quote 4) which the State promotes and for which officers swear to defend (a custom similar to an oath of fealty still practiced widely in the world's militaries).

After asserting the truth of (5.b.i) you inductively conclude(5.b.ii) that because usurpation is evident in all historical monarchies, Monarchy is therefore intrinsically prone to feudal strife and instability. If the falsehood of (5.b.i) and thereby this inference is not apparent, then we might instead equally investigate the sordid history of political instability among Republics; beginning with the Athenian Democracy, the Roman Republic, the five French Republics, and so many other instances of civil strife and political instability in recent history. From this it may be understood that evidence alone is insufficient to establish to preponderance of political instability in Monarchy in comparison to liberal democracy. Finally, it should be considered that the political instability of a government, while certainly the cause of great harms and historical grievances, cannot and should not be universally prepared against, as it may in some instances be the requisite means by which a despotic form of government is overthrown.

6. Because it is, in fact, a necessary feature of every monarchy—we see that there is no organic right/entitlement to absolute sovereignty. There is only practical, this-worldly forces that the person who claims the sovereignty can manage to wield to maintain power—all completely contingent upon his abilities and any other random, relevant state of affairs."

For the reasons elaborated in (5.a), the criticisms expressed in quote (6) are meaningless. Neither the existence of political hegemony nor the necessity of political plurality suffices to warrant either the theory of monarchical "absolutism" or the theory of "popular sovereignty". This is so because a description of affairs does not necessarily entail a normative theory of how affairs ought to be, without reference to additional theoretical resources which are not contained within the description.

7. "Theoretically, the only way there might be some organic entitlement is to derive some Hobbesian normative claim—which is all predicated upon arcane state of nature arguments—and which still rely on theories of social contract... Where else might we find an organic entitlement? Perhaps…God?... that monarchy is somehow natural or necessary."

The three convictions which were listed in response to quote (2) provide a limited theoretical justification for the legitimacy of monarchy, without appealing to either Hobbesian political hegemony or the "divine right" of kings. However, this inferential judgment doesn't show that Monarchy is "natural or necessary", only that it is preferable to other forms of government which fail to satisfy the second requirement.

8. "Finally, the contemporary monarchy [that is actual] is de facto a fascist and/or otherwise extreme totalitarian regime... There just has been no contemporary monarchy that has been idyllic or pleasant—it has just produced violence and war, oppression and misery…and what may for you be even worse…the antithesis of excellence and virtue. "

The presentation of the argument (5.b), which is implied in this quote (8), adequately demonstrates that Monarchy needn't invariably lead to either Tyranny or Fascism. The confusion between Monarchy and Tyranny was addressed in response to quote (1). Additionally, there is some dispute among scholars concerning the historical causes and intellectual ancestry of Fascism, yet Monarchy is not generally considered among the factors involved (for a scholarly summary of this dispute, you might read pages 141-72 of Roger Griffin's anthology "Fascism" for which I wrote this Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fascism_(book)). While Italian fascism developed within the government of the Italian monarchy(the Monarchy also was among the principle agents in deposing the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini), this has not been universally the case with fascist states as Adolf Hitler's National Socialists famously emerged from the republican government of Weimar Germany. Furthermore, many historians consider modernity(Talcott Parsons), capitalism(Harold Laski), and liberalism(Ernst Nolte) to be among the principle factors in the historical development and continued appeal of Fascism; while the historical influence of traditionalism is a subject of dispute(Stephen Holmes), but is not an argument which I find especially convincing.

9. "Ryan. I wasn't going to respond to these strange monarchist outbursts of yours. But come on. I'm all for healthy intellectual dissent, but I highly doubt you're genuine to the core.[...]I think these considerations are enough to defeat any monarchist claims. I’m calling you on your bull."

I am indeed genuine in my advocacy of Monarchy, which I find to be both a viable and healthy alternative to the contemporary morass of democratic liberalism. These considerations of yours are unfortunately insufficient to "defeat any monarchist claims". I encourage you to re-examine your democratic beliefs in reference to this alternative as well as the potential of Monarchy to offer America and the world a more advantageous socio-political arrangement to that which we currently enjoy. I thank you for your contributions, and encourage you to inquire into any further concerns which you have with the idea of Monarchy.

3 comments:

Peter Gilles said...

Hey Ryan, this is Brendan from the Latin mass community. I had saved your blog in my favorites when we were Facebook friends and just rediscovered it!

As to the subject at hand, I agree with the Brazilian thinker Plinio Correa de Oliveira when he wrote,

"To avoid any misunderstanding, it is necessary to emphasize that this exposition does not contain the assertion that the republic is necessarily a revolutionary regime. When speaking of the various forms of government, Leo XIII made it quite clear that "each of them is good, as long as it moves honestly toward its end, namely, the common good, for which social authority is constituted,"5

"We do label as revolutionary the hostility professed against monarchy and aristocracy on the principle that they arc essentially incompatible with human dignity and the normal order of things. This error was condemned by Saint Pius X in the apostolic letter Notre charge apostolique, of August 25, 1910. In this letter, the great and holy Pontiff censures the thesis of Le Sillon, that "only democracy will inaugurate the reign of perfect justice," and he says: "Is this not an injury to the other forms of government, which are thus reduced to the category of impotent governments, acceptable only for lack of something better?"6

"If one fails to consider this error, which is deeply rooted in the process under study, one cannot completely explain how it is that monarchy, classified by Pope Pius VI as the best form of government in thesis ("praestantioris monorchici regiminis forma"7), has been the object in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries of a hostile worldwide movement that has overthrown the most venerable thrones and dynasties. From our perspective, the mass production of republics all over the world is a typical fruit of the Revolution and a capital aspect of it.

"A person cannot be termed a revolutionary for preferring, in view of concrete and local reasons, that his country be a democracy instead of an aristocracy or a monarchy, provided the rights of legitimate authority be respected. But, yes, he can be termed a revolutionary if, led by the Revolution's egalitarian spirit, he hates monarchy or aristocracy in principle and classifies them as essentially unjust or inhuman."

It's from his book -Revolution and Counter-Revolution- which can be found at TFP.org.

Ryan said...

Thank you for your comment. I enjoyed reading this. It was very informative.

Peter Gilles said...

That being said, let me try to say something about what you've written.

It seems to me (I could be wrong) that the heart of your defense of monarchism is your three points in response to (2), I.e., (i) there is a very apparent inequality amongst persons in terms of virtue, skill, abilities, etc, (ii) government ought to take advantage of this inequality/gov't ought to be structured according to the reality of this inequality, (iii) (ii) is best realized through a visible hierarchy.

It would seem to me that these three points could just as easily call for a 'meritocracy' or some form of representative government. In other words, I feel like (iii) is a very open question: what sort of mechanism ought the state to have to realize (ii)?

Certainly there is a hierarchy in American government. There is rule by one (executively) in the President. There is nothing terribly egalitarian about the Constitution. Perhaps there is a 'spectrum of monarchism' that we could place various regimes along to the varying degrees they are monarchist.

To bring up another point mentioned in the discussion: perhaps the idea that American gov't/other constitutional republican gov't is distinctly not monarchist is more social fiction. Many Americans at the time of the new Constitution felt the President was rather like the King, and so the Constitution had to be sold in the right packaging. John Adams wished for the president to be addressed in a more or less royal manner, and more generally recognized inequality and believed gov't form ought to recognize inequality ( (i) and (ii) ).

This sort of gets back to what Oliveira said about forms of gov't. He clearly believed (i), (ii), and (iii), but believed that different forms of gov't might satisfy the three in different places/circumstances.

That being said, I'm sure you have a more particular idea of monarchism and what the ideal monarchist regime looks like.