27 March 2011

Kinds of Monarchy

Devin Finbarr asks in the comments whether I'm talking about hereditary or elective monarchy.

The answer is that it is hereditary monarchy that I have in mind. The problems with elective monarchy are, firstly, that it introduces politics to determine the succession. The electors can demand commitments from the candidate that would divide his power. Secondly, it reinforces the damaging idea that the monarch is a "Servant of the people"

The monarch is not a servant, not quite. A monarch is responsible for the well-being of his people, but he is not responsible to his people, or any subset of them.

Rather, I follow Filmer in seeing kingship as an extension of fatherhood. It is clear that a father is responsible for the well-being of his children, but he is not their servant and he is not answerable to them.

Exactly what he is responsible to is not clear — to his ancestors, to his descendants not yet born, to both (to his genes, perhaps, in a modern view of that). Maybe just to himself or to his conscience or to God. (Inevitably, the modern state makes parents responsible to the bureaucracy for their children, with predictably horrific results).

Back to succession, there is a case for giving the monarch the right to choose his heir, rather than going strictly next-of-kin. That involves no division of power, and seems to be a way of weeding out some of the less capable specimens. Against that you have the danger of weak elderly kings being pressured, or of ambiguity.

In any case, it is important to remember, when talking about whether monarchy should be like this or like that, not to miss the point. If we could sit around a table and design a constitution that would be magically enforced, we could do a lot better than monarchy. Monarchy is a natural phenomenon that happens to a society, not something we engineer. The reason for discussing it now is to encourage people to accept it, if and when it happens, rather than to fight against it as modern fashion would dictate. The small print will have to take care of itself.

Incidentally, the "perpetual motion machine" analogy that Devin liked, like so much else here, is due to Mencius Moldbug. I like it chiefly for the resemblance between the designs attempted by enthusiasts to achieve either perpetual motion or separation of powers.


James A. Donald said...

Monarchy, however, is apt to start out as a military dictator, or a successful bandit or gangster.

The problem with Pinochet and Sulla is that they condemned their enemies to death secretively and arbitrarily, thus undermining the institutions they sought to restore and preserve.

Devin Finbarr said...

I have responded on my own blog:

Alrenous said...

It's perfectly clear who the monarch is responsible to.

The monarch is responsible to themselves. If they spit on their kingdom, then they'll have a spit covered kingdom, and they can't pass responsibility for that off on anyone else - not in fact and not even in perception.

Similarly if you see a brat, it's natural to blame the parent. Right, too.

The hope is that parents want a non-brat and the monarch will mind having a spit-covered kingdom. But nobody can make them want these things, if they don't. It's technologically impossible.

Indeed, your point about parent-by-bureaucracy causing horror and misery is true precisely because the custom pretends it can make parents care about their sprog if they don't already.