the imaginative conservative logo

monarchyLike many modern people, or, at any rate, like many modern people in England, I would describe myself as a monarchist and, at the same time, as a believer in democracy. Am I therefore an idiot? Am I guilty of holding two mutually exclusive positions simultaneously? Am I like the poor dupes in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four who practice the reductio ad absurdum of doublethink?

Clearly I would argue that I am neither an idiot nor a dupe, nor that I am guilty of the charge of holding mutually contradictory views. I would argue that, on the contrary, the simultaneous belief in monarchy and democracy is not a contradiction in terms but a paradox, the latter being understood in the Chestertonian sense of being an apparent contradiction that points to a deeper truth.

In order to delve deeper into these two seemingly opposing things it is necessary to define our terms. A monarchy is a political system in which sovereign power is invested in one or occasionally two people (as in the case of a king and queen ruling jointly). In contrast, a democracy is a political system in which sovereign power is invested in the majority of the people. Put thus, and prone as we are to the prejudices of our own time and culture, most of us would feel that democracy is obviously the fairer form of government. The problem is that the principle does not work very well in practice. As Plato tells us, democracy tends to descend into anarchy, a system of political chaos in which the majority, and especially the weakest members of the majority, suffer the most. If something works in theory but is an unmitigated disaster in practice, only a fool would seek to put the theory into practice.

But what about monarchy? Mindful of Lord Acton’s famous maxim that power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely, only a fool would advocate a system whereby absolute power is placed into the hands of a single person. Yet although monarchy condemns us to a system in which tyranny is much more common than justice, democracy (at least in its contemporary form) condemns us to a system in which politicians tend to become more and more powerful and therefore more and more corrupt and in which governments tend to become bigger and more distant from the people and therefore more and more corrupt. The difference between monarchy and democracy is that good kings are more common than good democratic governments!

It seems, therefore, that we have a problem. One system leads to corruption, which leads to tyranny; the other system leads to anarchy, which also leads to tyranny. Are we thus condemned to choose between two tyrannies? Is it a choice between the rule of the king and the rule of the mob? If so, the logical and ethical response to monarchy and democracy should be to call down a plague on both systems, in which case I must be not merely an idiot but a double idiot because I advocate supporting not neither system but both systems!

I would suggest, however, that my reasoning is not quite as dumb as it seems. In fact, I would argue that the two negatives (monarchy and democracy) make a positive (a socially just solution) if they are added together instead of being placed in opposition. What is needed is what might be called true monarchy and true democracy, woven together in justice.

Is this possible? I believe it is.

First, however, we need once more to define our terms.

A true monarchy is a monarchy that is subject to the One King from whom all authority flows. Instead of the absolutist monarchy which advocates the so-called (and heretical) divine right of kings, an idea that tyrannical kings have employed to justify their tyranny, what is needed is a monarchy that is subject to the moral law and which has no right to break it. What is also needed is a monarchy that is subject to the principle of subsidiarity and which therefore has no right to supersede the power that is invested in the family or in legitimately elected local, regional, or state government.

A true democracy is a democracy in which the majority of the people have a real power over those who govern them. This will require the devolution of power away from huge central government to local, regional and state governments. If we are to have genuine government of the people, by the people, and for the people, it needs to be government that is closer to the people and therefore more answerable to the people.

Yes, I am a monarchist, but I seek a monarchy with limited power and which is answerable to the moral law and is a servant of the people. And yes, I am a believer in democracy, but I seek a real democracy in which the family and local communities are once more empowered to govern themselves without the tyrannical encroachments of monolithic and distant governments.

Books on the topic of this essay may  be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
"All comments are subject to moderation. We welcome the comments of those who disagree, but not those who are disagreeable."
5 replies to this post
  1. What can be said both in this post and in the comments depends on one’s set of working definitions. And the first term whose definition needs to be revisited is the term ‘democracy.’ Quite literally, democracy means ‘rule by the people’ (see ). And here, there are two ways by which we can see this rule: as a state of being for a group or society or the kind of political processes used to make decisions and choose rulers. Pearce’s definition of democracy is more based on political processes used rather than a state of being for a group or society. Had he defined democracy by its literal definition, he would put more stress on the equal standing all people have in the group or society than on the rule of the majority (see Jeff Halper’s description of Israel being an ‘ethnocracy’ in

    It is important to make the above distinction because a majority can use democratic processes to eliminate the equal standing that any minority would otherwise have. So democracy in terms of the state of being of one’s group or society implies that each group shares society with all other groups as equals. Such an understanding eliminates any tyranny of the majority.

    Comparing the above definition of democracy as a state of being for a group or society with Pearce’s blending of monarchy with democracy, and we see that Pearce’s combination of monarchy and democracy rules out democracy as a state of being. For one of Pearce’s absolute ruling principles, the principle of ‘subsidiarity,’ a concept that comes from the Roman Church, is determined by whom? And how is that concept any different from libertarianism, which is an ism that allows for elite-centered rule from the private sector? We should note that elite-centered rule is the consolidation of power, whether that takes place in the public or private sector, and is thus the antithesis of democracy. And why should subsidiary by the absolute ruling principle?

    Yes, Pearce’s joining of democracy and monarchy can be seen as a paradox rather than a contradiction. But it is a paradox only when we limit the definition of democracy to the set of political processes used by a group in making decisions. So we should note that such allows for domination of one group over another rather than protecting the equal status of all groups.

  2. Aristotle enumerated three good or at least fairly decent forms of government, in descending order: monarchy, aristocracy, and polity. Then he listed three bad forms of government, in reverse descending order: democracy, oligarchy, and tyranny. Mr. Pearce wants to combine one of the good ones (monarchy) with one of the bad ones (democracy). He says nothing about the middle forms (aristocracy–“good”), and oligarchy–“bad”). If it is a mixed system that is needed, why not take the best from monarchy, aristocracy, and polity, and consign the bad systems (democracy, oligarchy, and tyranny) to the ashcan?

    The U. S. Constitution was designed to do just that. We have a President (a monarchical element), combined with aristocratic elements (the Senate and the Supreme Court), and an element of polity (the House of Representatives). “Democracy” was a bad word for the Founders, as it should be to us.

  3. Well, you’re not an idiot, but you are wrong. No I don’t believe you can have a real democracy if you have an aristocracy and monarchy. Democracy implies that every citizen is of equal status before the law and more importantly before each other. I would never answer to any living human being as “your lordship” or “highness.” And there’s no evidence that western democracies de facto lead to dictatorship or in justice. Because some have does not imply they all do.

  4. My apologies for the anger I had in my previous comment. I just want people to understand that Catholicism has traditionally supported hereditary monarchy. Because if the ruler rules like Christ the King than he is fit to rule,(even if he is hereditary). Many hereditary Monarchs/Monarchist were Saints. Like St. Louis ,like Blessed Pius IX, like St Pius X, and Blessed Charles of Austria. The supporters of hereditary Monarchy that are canonized are (there are more than I have room to mention), St Therese of Liseux, St Joan of Arc, and my patron Saint Padre Pio, who voted to restore the Italian Monarchy. I know this irks a lot of American and especially Irish Catholics. But it needs to be said. I do admire Mr Pearce’s work immensely, but I don’t want him to think Catholics who support absolute Monarchies are completely naive. Again forgive for my bad manners, but I must stand for my beliefs even if they can be hard for others to believe them. God Bless.

  5. The English seem to like their present system, where the monarch is basically a tame lion (or maybe a tame duck), at any rate, toothless and of no threat to the rights of the people who are, in practical reality, ruled by a democratic institution, the Parliament. What no one in the West wants is a REAL monarchy, the kind where the king can say “Off with his head” and has the power to have that order carried out.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: