Long Live the King: A Defense of Monarchy



Crowning of Charles VII of France

When we gaze around the world today, we see a political landscape dominated mostly by democracies and other various types of governments, which seem distant from any semblance of a monarchy. This is either due to the fact of an abolition referendum (as in the case of Italy), or a violent overthrow of the monarchy (as in Russia), which replaced monarchs with elected representatives. Since the halcyon age of monarchs is long past, we view monarchy as another relic of a bygone age, just like the milkman. However, this heedless dismissal of monarchy is not wise and perhaps, like most things of the past, can give us copious amounts of wisdom, which we desperately need in our world today.

In the ancient book, The Histories by the Grecian historian, Polybius, he writes of a cycle of governments, which is commonly termed the Kyklos. In The Histories, Polybius explains that three favorable forms of government exist and three unfavorable forms correspond to them. In Book 6 of The Histories, Polybius states, “We cannot hold every absolute government to be a kingship, but only that which is accepted voluntarily, and is directed by an appeal to reason rather than to fear and force. Nor again is every oligarchy to be regarded as an aristocracy; the latter exists only where the power is wielded by the justest and wisest men selected on their merits. Similarly, it is not enough to constitute a democracy that the whole crowd of citizens should have the right to do whatever they wish or propose. But where reverence to the gods, succor of parents, respect to elders, obedience to laws, are traditional and habitual, in such communities, if the will of the majority prevail, we may speak of the form of government as a democracy. So then we enumerate six forms of government,—the three commonly spoken of which I have just mentioned, and three more allied forms, I mean despotism, oligarchy and mob-rule.” It is evident, therefore, that monarchy is not evil by itself, but a neutral force which can be used to better the lives of the people entrusted to its care, like democracy. However, in a similar vein as democracy, monarchy fails when evil people ascend to power. While monarchy and democracy are different in countless ways, they can be dreamy or dreadful for the same reason.

A millennia after Polybius, the English statesman Edmund Burke wrote a defense of monarchy in his letter Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke, while not defending an absolute monarchy, reasoned that monarchy, even that of Henry VIII, was desirable over the revolutionary sentiment that was sweeping France. In the letter, Burke reasons, “I can say nothing in praise of those acts of tyranny which no voice has hitherto ever commended under any of their false colors, yet in these false colors an homage was paid by despotism to justice. The power which was above all fear and all remorse was not set above all shame. Whilst shame keeps its watch, virtue is not wholly extinguished in the heart, nor will moderation be utterly exiled from the minds of tyrants.” While Henry VIII committed atrocities to the Catholics living in England, he gave the veneer of justice, setting up false courts before colonizing their monasteries or cutting off their heads. The French government, which claimed to be of democratic alignment, did not even take the time to set up these false courts and instead jumped directly to the punishment. It is evident by human nature that shame can be the most powerful emotion to keep people from acting erratically. In democratic systems, there is not so strong a sense of shame, as a mistake by a person can be borne by their party or coalition, rather than themselves alone. However, in a monarchy, shame is the biggest check on the monarch, as they now must be cognizant of making decisions since all accountability rests solely on them.

The biggest critiques of monarchy pertain to the idea of absolute power and its exercise. I have heard people contend that monarchs can confiscate land and even kill people without any repercussions. That is a fantasy that is based in no reality, but that of their innermost prejudices. To contend, merely since the monarch has vast authority, that they would immediately use it for nefarious purposes is ignorant of government and history. It is also hypocritical on their part, as the United States has confiscated land as well. It was only in 2005, that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of property confiscation. In the 2005 case Kelo v. New London, the Supreme Court allowed the government to condemn a property and hand it over to a private real estate developer for further economic development. While the government has the authority under the Fifth Amendment to take property and compensate the owners, this case is a violation, as they did not take the property for government purposes, but to sate the desires of greedy developers. Another common diatribe against monarchy is that it dismisses the welfare of people it rules. This is also a complete fallacy, as in the case of 18th-century Austria. While Austria was ruled by monarchs, notably of the Habsburg dynasty, it prospered and served the basic needs of its citizenry well. The attacks that can be leveled against monarchy are the same attacks that can be brought against democracy. 

While no government is perfect, as they are all run by humans, monarchy is certainly not a disreputable form of government. While it has been attacked and maligned through the ages, it has kept stability in many nations, both current and of old. The family structure which comprises monarchies has been the base of all of civilization, as it seeks to propagate children and more importantly, values and traditions through every generation. When no model of deorum exists at a governmental level, it destroys the very fabric of the rest of the nation. As taken from “Equality,” an essay by C.S. Lewis, “Where men are forbidden to honor a king they honor millionaires, athletes, or film-stars instead — even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served — deny it food and it will gobble poison.” Long live the King!