A 2009 Vatican conference on “Catholic Social Doctrine and Human Rights” condemned “ethical relativism, which by no means few see as one of the principal conditions for democracy because relativism is said to assure tolerance and mutual respect between people. However, on the basis of these assumptions the majority of the moment is said to become the ultimate source of law, whereas history itself demonstrates that majorities can be deceived.”
As modern leaders are realizing the problem of legitimacy and the need for the transcendent, we are witnessing a rise of royalism, especially in Eastern Europe.
No system can deny nobility and hierarchy and last forever. Attempts at and shadows of these exist in our system, however much we seek to deny them, and struggles against them always either fail or get co-opted. Think of term-limit proposals which promise efficiency and redistribution of power yet only give us more incompetence (they take from leaders the benefit of institutional memory) and are, paradoxically, undemocratic in that they restrict our choices. Egalitarianism is evil because it is a lie. It gives many false hope of success, setting them up for disappointment.
It has been shown that “the end of democracy made the Greeks more polite”. People often do not respect their equals, and most certainly do not respect their inferiors, but when you take from them the expectation of advancement or knock them down the proverbial totem pole, they often become more cooperative. It is in stratification that we find courtesy, as it is that we find lessons in horrible episodes.
Even Jean-Jacques Rousseau admitted, “Were there a people of gods, their government would be democratic. So perfect a government is not for men.” Count Joseph de Maistre responded, “It remains to be seen how a government which is made only for gods can yet be proposed to men as the only legitimate government…”
Democracy breeds a culture which treats individual achievement (maximization of your own outcome) as different from service; one might think that this would lead to meritocracy, but our fallen nature prevents this. We envy and cheat, so we know our representatives do, too, but we are conflicted, because we know it is wrong for them to do it but also want to leave our options open. (This is why only the most grotesque sins are seriously punished.) We resent those hornswogglers, but we only accommodate them. Our politicians spring to their daises to tell us of their personal triumphs and feed us platitudes freshly inspired by the latest polls, and we applaud them, no matter how much they disregard us or how cognizant we are of their worthlessness. But when the Queen of England speaks, she has got something to say. When the politician speaks, he says “I” and “Me”; when the monarch speaks, he says “Us” and “We”. Democracy sows competitiveness and disruption, whereas monarchists find meaning in following the king’s will and sing, “Oh, let us love our occupations, bless the squire and his relations, live upon our daily rations, and always know our proper stations.”
Arguments against monarchy fall after fair inspection. We do not want to be imposed upon, but “political correctness” is accepted, with only pockets of resistance. Monarchy and the Church are “bad” because of their past censorship, but we have our own inquisition, our own index, and our own forbidden sacrileges. Monarchy brings freedom. It is only by settled law and clear boundaries that we get space which we own and which cannot be stolen. What is arbitrarily given by one vote can be arbitrarily taken by another. Not only that, but democracy turns us into, as Solange Hertz said, “guilt-ridden ‘constituent[s]’ who must be constantly reminded that ‘eternal vigilance is the price of liberty'”. We need not concern ourselves with every single position on every single issue.
A monarch is an arbiter bound by tradition, and he consults with experts before making important decisions. He is accountable (as well as cost-effective!) and shouldn’t even dream of being absolute in every respect. While there are bad royals, members of their dynasty will be keen to keep them in check, if for no other reason than the continuation of their own fortunes.
We need someone at the top who can say “No more.” Not a strongman, who would not have the moral credibility; nor a politician, who, because he is to be like his constituents, lacks the standing to rule over them. A leader above the fray. A true fount of honor. We have our own heroes, but they don’t quite measure up.
It is in royalty that we find this capacity. A balance is maintained in the monarch’s psyche: trappings surrounding him, he recognizes his own insignificance and strives to find his place, looking out for opportunities to imitate his beloved forebears; these trappings, however, do not weigh him down to the point of breaking him, as even if he is somehow unworthy or feels as if he always will be, he has pleasures with which to distract himself from potential mistakes and an adoring public that could perhaps convince him otherwise. (Ritual is extremely important: interestingly, “ill omens” and mistakes in English coronations have been seen as predictors of the monarchs’ success.)
Taken as a whole, monarchy has been a very positive thing, and it has given those of us in the West men of whom we can justly be proud. Henry III built up architecture. Charles II supported music and the theatres. The much-maligned George III had an avid interest in literature and was remarkably gracious to scholars. As monarchs advanced, they shared gifts and tastes with each other and left us legacies which still inspire us today. They were mostly not of artistic genius, and they did not have to be; these were simply men with good will and an openness to truth and beauty — history is not lacking in examples. But greatness of the scale we desire can only be had with unparalleled authority, the ability to both impress upon the notables and direct the masses to work for things higher than themselves, even to their momentary material detriment. Where there is equality, there is mediocrity. Equality limits those on the high end of the range to the modest resources of the mean, effectively burying their brilliance and that of those they would have furthered.
Charles Coulombe observed, “Every institution we enjoy in the West to-day stems from Monarchical creation or patronage. Parliaments, government ministries, universities, judiciaries, armies and navies, provincial and civic governments, learned societies and academies — all of them. Moreover, they cling to remaining or resurrected trappings of Monarchy to give themselves legitimacy. American colleges, Congress, and a few State legislatures retain the mace — in origin a symbol of royal protection. The Gardebataillon which protects the person of the President of Austria does so in the Hofburg, and carries the double-eagle standard of the Imperial Guard. A major court case being fought between State and Federal governments in the U.S. over control of public lands revolves around whether the States or the Feds inherited the Sovereignty of the Crown in 1776 (or ’83, if you prefer). One could multiply these examples by many more.” Many American sites owe a debt which is rarely acknowledged.
In this country, the monarchy was waived off for no good reason. I ask, Was it really worse than what we have now? 2016 was like something out of The Wizard of Oz: we had a witch up against a flying orangutan. (But it’s still a little too rich for me to hear about “threats” to “the sanctity of our democracy” from certain persons who called into question both of the elections of the previous Republican president.)
Values today do not match the values of our forebears, and so we have a kind of flip-flopping cognitive dissonance, a confusion which causes us frustration and leads even the good-willed to lash out. The Wall Street Journal could once declare on its front page (26 June 1915), “Wall Street has some soul. It also has pride in the traditions of the district that it represents. It feels that it divides with Catholic and Protestant churches a heritage above wealth or even taxes. It will oppose attempts to tax churches, to desecrate the surroundings…” Financiers no longer make this a priority. The fashion industry, for another example, has rapidly moved from allowing Christian symbolism to pushing androgyny. In her 2012 memoir, Grace Coddington (who attended a Catholic convent school) wrote of her first editorial feature for American Vogue: “I accessorized [the shirts] with hundreds of little crosses..something that, in these days of political correctness, would not be allowed, as all forms of religious symbolism are now strictly against the rules of Vogue.”
Of course, even in the beginning of the last century, Wall Street complained about the number of holidays, especially in Catholic and Orthodox countries, noting with appreciation that the American government was “much more reasonable” (Journal, 21 January 1909, front page); and there was licentiousness then, too. But these attitudes were more accepted in urban areas, among the elites. Increasing deference to them was, however, inevitable, given the easy flow of bad information, globalist attempts at imposing uniformity, and human fatigue. With no anchor, we will continue to drift leftward. This trend is reversible, but we must reject relativism and embrace an epistemology which does not selectively put only tradition up against an impossible, hyper-skeptical test and which recognizes that we need objective truth and a morality that reminds us that our sins have consequences. Hostility toward traditional values, especially those that come from religion, must end, or else all claims to “sanctity” and goodness are reduced to partisan screeds.
Government can only be maintained in perpetuity “when it is understood to emanate from God as its august and most sacred source” (Pope Leo XIII, Diuturnum, § 12), when power is seen as coming from the top down, not from the bottom up. We must affirm that popular sovereignty is problematic; otherwise, we are reduced to a Machiavellian relativism under which might makes right.