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.

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