Kings & Freedom

I’ve been thinking about the contradiction in my thinking between my support for existing monarchies and my general hostility to government. Should I not favor democratic rule over hereditary? Do not monarchies exist because the monarch’s ancestors were the most successful at killing, suppressing and conquering? Aren’t democratic governments, at least at some level, answerable to the people? I don’t mean to solve this contradiction in this post but just use it as a basis for some thoughts I have had on the matter.

The first is related to a series I’ve been watching on and off which is appropriately enough called ‘Monarchy’. This is a British series by Dr David Starkey and focuses on the British Monarchy roughly since Alfred the Great. I am still on the first series and something that occurred to me is that despite being called absolute, they don’t come across as stable and certainly not permanent. This may be because of the documentary format or just the way it is presented, but with invasions, intrigue, incompetence and insurrection, the rule of each monarch seemed precarious in hindsight. And often was. There was no certainty of the British Monarchy lasting as long as it has, and in many ways, it hasn’t survived as the same entity from Alfred through to Elizabeth II.

The same is true of the Catholic Church which is often portrayed as having an iron grip over Western Europe throughout the Middle Ages, despite the complications of distance, communication and culture. This too was never the case though as the Catholic Church was often in danger of destruction and came very close several times. Various Pope’s took great risks in exercising power over European monarchs. And much like the British Monarchy, only God can account for it’s survival from St. Peter to Pope Francis.

The point being with both these examples is there is nothing necessarily permanent about hereditary rule. It comes and goes, society prospers and collapses. There is nothing necessarily inevitable and inescapable about a Monarchy. King’s die. Life goes on.

On the other side we have democratic government which even in the most despotic countries is at least present as political theatre. I used to become annoyed with people who suggested that it was theatre in the US and other Western countries but over the years, I have come to see their point. As a recent example see what the people who elected him view as the undesirable actions and inactions of President Trump. Neocon foreign policy and not even a metre built of the border wall. Though I should stress that I am not equivocating North Korea and the USA, just agreeing that their is a varying degree of theatricality in both systems.

In the case of democracy, the people are told they have influence over their government but practically speaking, I see little more power between citizens and subjects. Promises, personalities, problems, petitions, publicity all come together at the ballot box and then there is a result. Those things don’t just disappear once a decision is made though and so competing interests will still jockey for the spoils. The public will be pacified as much as the politicians in power feel is necessary. Sometimes events go beyond their control, sometimes they miscalculate and sometimes the public just gets bored. All these things can happen to a king.

So I feel there is something intrinsically dishonest about democracy as it exists today. Simply because what the majority wants often gets ignored or just done in the most minimal ineffective way. I don’t reserve all my disdain for the politicians either as the public can be equally stupid, selfish and clueless as mobs often are. This is why I instinctively prefer a society where people are left be as much as possible while acknowledging the problems with it.

In contrast, there is something far more honest about monarchy. The rule that says that this man is the king and when he dies, his son will be king. Nothing much is certain but there is a tad more certainty in such a system. If only the certainty that a bad king will one day die or even be overthrown.

It is a little clearer at least than being told that such and such will be done if enough people vote for this person and such and such if another. Only to watch a series of reverses, backtracks or seeing such and such implemented only for it to be irrelevant and unhelpful. Democracy in a sense is more like a long-ruling king subject to constant mood swings and occasional outbursts.

The problem of the inevitable origin of every monarchy; that is violence and conquest is partially bypassed by pointing out that the same could be said of every government. It’s not completely though and thinking about a man like Napoleon leaving a trail of death and destruction and proclaiming himself Emperor certainly bothers me.

What was the genesis of this post comes in the form of an aphorism:

“I can’t abide a man who makes himself king but I can show deference to a man who is born to be one.”

I don’t know if this is original but I think it at least partially solves the problem. What is – is, and what is offered as an alternative is by no means going to be better. I can’t say I’d have much respect for someone who went on a murderous rampage through my community before having a crown put on his head but if his great, great grandson is the king when I’m born, I could probably deal with it.

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