Monarchy FAQ

by Charles A. Coulombe

1. Is monarchy evil?

Certainly not! Was St. Louis evil? Charlemagne? All the many saints who occupied thrones? How about King David, or his descendant, Jesus Christ? Why do you suppose that the Bible tells us in the first Epistle of St. Peter (2, 13), to honour the King? Or that the Church composed ceremonies for the anointing and coronation of Kings, and declared that they ruled "by the Grace of God?" The Catholic concept of Monarchy was well defined by Archbishop John Healy of Tuam, Ireland, who wrote before his death in 1919:

The character of Kings is sacred; their persons are inviolable; they are the anointed of the Lord, if not with sacred oil, at least by virtue of their office. Their power is broad---based upon the Will of God, and not on the shifting sands of the people's will...They will be spoken of with becoming reverence, instead of being in public estimation fitting butts for all foul tongues. It becomes a sacrilege to violate their persons, and every indignity offered to them in word or act, becomes an indignity offered to God Himself. It is this view of Kingly rule that alone can keep alive in a scoffing and licentious age the spirit of ancient loyalty, that spirit begotten of faith, combining in itself obedience, reverence, and love for the majesty of kings which was at once a bond of social union, an incentive to noble daring, and a salt to purify the heart from its grosser tendencies, preserving it from all that is mean, selfish, and contemptible. (P.J. Joyce, John Healy, pp. 68-69).
C.S. Lewis put the problem very well:
Monarchy can easily be debunked, but watch the faces, mark well the debunkers. These are the men whose taproot in Eden has been cut: whom no rumour of the polyphony, the dance, can reach---men to whom pebbles laid in a row are more beautiful than an arch. Yet even if they desire mere equality they cannot reach it. Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes or film stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.

Indeed, indeed!

2. But what about all the corrupt monarchs who ruled in the Middle Ages?

But what about all the saints who also ruled? As Catherine Goddard Clarke put it in her Our Glorious Popes (p.59):

We have been slowly and deliberately taught that monarchies and kings are bad things, and papal supervision of any kind in government, even over its morals, is a very bad thing… …

Scarcely anyone is ever told any more that France, Spain and Portugal, Poland and Hungary, England and Sweden, all had kings and queens who ruled their lands gloriously and brought untold happiness and well-being to their subjects.

Indeed, the pages of both Dom Gueranger and Alban Butler, whose respective Liturgical Year and Lives of the Saints are true classics, are filled with accounts of Royal Sanctity.

There were, to be sure, corrupt Kings, just as there were and are corrupt clerics. But that does not change the fact that the institutions these fallible humans represent are capable of producing greatness in a way their alternatives cannot.

Examine the history of any republic you like; with the exceptions of such men as Garcia Moreno in Ecuador, Lucas Alaman in Mexico, Engelbert Dollfuss in Austria, and Heinrich Bruening in Germany (all of whom, coincidentally, were Monarchists who thought the time of restoration as yet unripe for their particular countries), it is a record of mediocrities at best, and monsters at worst. Hitler was elected, after all. Given its track record, perhaps the adherents of republics should stick to theory, and leave history be.

3. Isn't a king simply a dictator with a crown?

Certainly not. Every dictator is a self-made man. Having clawed his way to the top, he considers himself beholden neither to God nor man. His talent for acquiring power is generally unaccompanied by learning or skill in state-craft---hence the often crude and clownish impression made by such folk. Unbound by tradition, he may rule according to his own whim.

A Monarch, on the other hand, is bound by tradition and ceremonial to reign in a certain way. He has been trained for his role since infancy, and knows he owes his position to no talent of his own. In a word, a Monarch may just have a little room for humility; no dictator ever can.

4. Is the American Republic inherently evil?

In the sense that it was founded upon a bloody revolution, and in accordance with anti-Christian principles, yes. But God can bring good out of evil---the Fall of Man was redeemed by the Incarnation and Death of Our Lord. As Samuel Johnson observed, "Satan was the first Whig." In a sense, every revolution against a Monarchy, motivated by greed and envy is another Fall. But who can say what kind of redemption may not occur here? Certainly Americans have been capable of great good.

5. Are republics in general inherently evil?

Those which have been installed in accordance with the anti-Christian principles of 1776 and 1789 are. The few which existed prior to that in Christendom were almost all city-states owing ultimate allegiance to a Monarch. But our current set are all imbued with the evil principles mentioned: "A state without a King, and a Church without a Pope."

6. Is it better to have a Catholic republic or a Protestant Monarchy?

This is, in a sense, a false question. In Ireland, Portugal, Poland, and throughout Latin America there have been attempts at a "Catholic republic," by which is meant a republican state run according to Catholic principles. But what is involved here is really an anti-Catholic form of government, staffed by Catholics. Should the latter be replaced by a different sort of folk---as has happened in most of the places mentioned, the state and the local society rapidly become secularised. This is simply a case of the chickens coming home to roost, so to speak.

In the case of a Protestant Monarchy, the ones now extant (Great Britain and the Dominions---Canada, Australia, etc., Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands), as well as those overthrown (Prussia and the other Protestant German states), a basically Catholic institution was overlaid with a Protestant veneer. But the nature of the Institution is such that even in such a caseit can bring to the fore individuals reminiscent of their Catholic forebears: George III and Edward VII of Great Britain, Gustavus III of Sweden, and Frederick William IV of Prussia come to mind. The great stability these countries possess, even in the midst of social change and "quiet" revolution, may be laid to what remains of value in their Monarchies. In the case of a few countries, such as Saxony, where in the 18th century the Elector (later King) returned to Catholicism, the benefits to the people were swiftly made manifest.

Taking all of this into consideration, I would maintain that a truly Catholic republic is not possible; what we call by that name is not preferable to a Protestant Monarchy.

7. What if our King is a tyrant?

In a modern constitutional Monarchy, the tyrants are generally the politicians elected by the people, and the bureaucratic class who actually run the nation; these are of course unimpeachable, and must simply be obeyed. The King serves primarily to remind folk that it was not always so, and may not be again. If the politicians really muck things up, he might be able to get them out of the mess.

In the Middle Ages, if a King broke the law, the great men of the realm would oppose him for his own sake, ala Magna Carta. Did he go too far, the Church would excommunicate him.

8. The notion that people can simply inherit power over me bothers me. Isn't voting an effective tool for checks and balances? Doesn't it ensure competence?

I am sorry that you are bothered! After all, you have no control over the selection of your IRS auditor, and innumerable other folk who have more power over you than any Medieval King could have hoped to. But there are two answers to this first question.

The primary one is that, well, not to sound odd, but God gives the Kings a people deserve. The hereditary principle leaves the choice of paramount power to the Almighty; it has been claimed that an attempt to elect him is a denial of providence.

On a more mundane level, the truth is, it works better, and for longer periods. In the words of the saintly Spanish priest, Fr. Jaime Balmes, in his European Civilisation (p. 143):

Regarding things in the abstract, there is nothing more strikingly absurd than hereditary monarchy, the succession secured to a family which may at any time place on the throne a fool, a child, or a wretch: and yet in practise there is nothing more wise, prudent, and provident. This has been taught by the long experience of ages, it has been shown by reason, and proved by the sad warnings of those nations who have tried elective monarchy. Now what is the cause of this? It is what we are endeavouring to explain. Hereditary Monarchy precludes all hopes of irregular ambition; without that, society always contains a germ of trouble, a principle of revolt, which is nourished by those who conceive a hope of one day obtaining the command. In quiet times, and under an hereditary Monarchy, a subject, however rich, however distinguished he may be for his talent or his valour, cannot, without madness, hope to be King; and such a thought never enters his head. But change the circumstances---admit, I will not say the probability, but the possibility of such an event, and you will see that there will immediately be ardent candidates.
Of course, the strife that conflicting parties cause is endemic to the modern state; the welfare of the people is always the first thing to be sacrificed in preparation for the next coup, election, or however the particular republic customarily changes its head of state. It is almost a maxim that those who strive for high office are the least worthy of it.

Elections, long experience shows, do not really provide checks and balances---reflect on the abortion question, as an example. Such a key issue, which goes to the very heart of the power of the State and the meaning of humanity, has never, in the United States, been referred to the ballot box. And even if it were, is the definition of human life something one wants decided by vote? Could it not be altered just as easily? In any case, important questions are rarely decided by the people.

9 . Wasn't serfdom in the Middle Ages a terrible thing?

As compared to what? The serf, like labourers everywhere and at all times, had a hard life. He also could not be forced off the land, worked about 30 days a year for his lord (as opposed to the average American‘s 167 for the IRS), and could NOT work on Sundays and the 30-odd Holy Days of obligation and certain other stated times. One may compare that to any current job description one wants to.

10. Hasn't the monarchy in England turned out to be a joke?

In comparison to the Clinton White House? While it has not been nearly as effective in some ways as one would hope, what government has? Moreover, Queen Elizabeth II, in her role as private adviser to the government, prevented such blunders as Harold Wilson‘s contemplated invasion of Rhodesia in 1965. Her Governor-General in Australia, Sir John Kerr, in 1975 dismissed the government of Gough Whitlam, who was threatening to fund his regime illegally after the Senate denied him supply. Her Governor-General of Grenada, Sir Paul Scoon, called in American troops after the government there collapsed in revolution and Cuban intervention seemed imminent. In all three cases, a republican government would have spelled disaster.

Much is made of the marital woes of the Royal Family, particularly of the Prince of Wales. But given the kid-glove treatment our own president has received in this area, can it not be asserted that the Prince‘s annoyance of many influential groups by his stand in such areas as architecture, the environment, and education has been at least a partial source of his woes? This appears from a revealing 21 January 1993 letter he wrote to Tom Shebbeare, director of the Prince's Trust (and quoted on pp. 493-494 of Dimbleby's biography):

For the past 15 years I have been entirely motivated by a desperate desire to put the "Great" back into Great Britain. Everything I have tried to do---all the projects, speeches, schemes, etc.---have been with this end in mind. And none of it has worked, as you can see too obviously! In order to put the "Great" back I have always felt it was vital to bring people together, and I began to realise that the one advantage my position has over anyone else's is that I can act as a catalyst to help produce a better and more balanced response to various problems. I have no "political" agenda---only a desire to see people achieve their potential; to be decently housed in a decent, civilised environment that respects the cultural and vernacular character of the nation; to see this country's real talents (especially inventiveness and engineering skills) put to best use in the best interests of the country and the world (at present they are being disgracefully wasted through lack of co-ordination and strategic thinking); to retain and value the infrastructure and cultural integrity of rural communities (where they still exist) because of the vital role they play in the very framework of the nation and the care and management of the countryside; to value and nurture the highest standards of military integrity and professionalism, as displayed by our armed forces, because of the role they play as an insurance scheme in case of disaster; and to value and retain our uniquely special broadcasting standards which are renowned throughout the world. The final point is that I want to role back some of the more ludicrous frontiers of the 60s in terms of education, architecture, art, music, and literature, not to mention agriculture! Having read this through, no wonder they want to destroy me, or get rid of me...!
Like his Stuart ancestors, he would attempt to play the role of steward of the land; his interest in hunting for example, is very reminiscent of his predecessors': "Despite protests by anti-hunting groups, the Prince of Wales takes a close interest in the sport at all levels and has defended it as an effective form of sporting conservation of wildlife and its habitat in the British countryside," as we read in the Royal Encyclopaedia. So too with what the same source tells us about the Prince's farm at Highgrove:
A particular concern on the Home Farm is environmental conservation: straw is never burned; chemical fertilisers are being reduced as much as possible; and in keeping with the Cotswolds landscape, 548 metres of dry-stone walls have been rebuilt around the land. In 1985 the decision was taken to go organic on three blocks of land as part of a general move to what has been called biologically sustainable farming linked to conservation. The step to full organic status on the whole estate is said to be on line for 1996.
The Prince‘s refusal to join the Masonic Order, and his denunciation of Henry VIII‘s split from Rome augur well for him as King Charles III---if he is allowed to reign by the powers-that-be.

11. How would our rights be guaranteed under a monarchy?

How are they guaranteed in any case? As Joe Sobran observed, "if voting actually changed anything, it would be illegal." The King is taught to think of himself as father of his people; the result of this has been that in modern times, Karl of Austria-Hungary; Nicholas II of Russia; Umberto II of Italy; Henri, Count of Paris, a claimant to the throne of France;Michael of Romania, and Constantine II of Greece; all chose abdication and/or exile rather than plunge their nations into bloody civil war. Compare this anxiety for the lives of their children to that of republican leaders from Lincoln to the present.

In the Middle Ages, the notion prevailed that even Kings were subject to the law; the interplay of King, Church, Nobility, Guilds, and landowners provided a great deal of personal freedom. Ultimately, the rights of a subject are bound up with his being a child of the God by Whose Grace the King reigns. In a "free" republic, of course, the citizen‘s rights are granted at the whim of the political class---or taken away (California smokers, take note!).

12. Who cares what you think? What is the Church's position on Monarchy?

Good question! I don‘t care myself! As for the Church, though, her position is clear. In her liturgy, as in her Bible, as in the actions of her Popes and Bishops, she endorses the institution. In his allocution on the death of Louis XVI, Pourquoi Notre Voix, Pope Pius VI declared that Monarchy is "the best of all governments." The Royal observances of the Church Calendar, Royal rituals such as the Coronation, and Royal patronage of the Church all reflect this. Monarchists in Catholic countries have always demanded a Catholic as well as a Royal State.

13. What is the Church's position on Republics?

The Church tolerates them, as she does all forms of government which allow her to operate. Leo XIII called upon Catholics to "rally to the (French third) republic." This was done for prudential reasons---namely, keeping the republic from voiding the concordat which paid clerical salaries. Apart from splitting the French Church, this had little effect, because the republicans broke it anyway.

14. I don't think its the form of government that matters. I think that what matters is what's in people's hearts. Are our problems going to go away if our form of government becomes a monarchy?

No. Without a firm religious base, the Monarchy cannot do much more than ameliorate problems to a degree. And even a full-blown Catholic Monarchy must deal with the fallen nature of King and Subjects.

15. How would we decide who our monarch should be?

Here, I have absolutely no idea. Without a firm moral and spiritual foundation in the hearts of our people, we already have the government we deserve.

16. Would it be a good idea for America to accept Queen Elizabeth as its Sovereign?

I suppose we could do worse. Given the answer to question 15, I don‘t suppose it would do much good, but it would perhaps be better than nothing. Even such a step on the part of the United States would require a spiritual reform of incalculable difficulty.

17. What's so holy about the Holy Roman Emperor?

What was holy about the office, apart from various of its occupants like Bl. Charlemagne and St. Henry, was its role. Gary Potter sums it up admirably in modern terms:

Words express ideas, and some of them now being quoted signify notions likely to be totally foreign to anyone unfamiliar with history prior to a few decades ago: "world emperor," "imperial office,"… This is not the place to lay out all the history needed to be known for thoroughly grasping the notions. However, the principal one was adumbrated by Our Lord Himself in the last command his followers received from Him: to make disciples of all the nations. In a word, the idea of a universal Christian commonwealth is what we are talking about.

To date it has never existed. To-day there is not even a Christian government anywhere. However, from the conversion of Constantine until August, 1806 – with an interruption (in the West) from Romulus Augustulus in 476 to Charlemagne in 800 – there was the Empire. It was the heart of what was once know as Christendom. Under its aegis serious European settlement of the Western Hemisphere began and the Americas’ native inhabitants were first baptised, which is why the feather cloak of Montezuma is to be seen to-day in a museum in Vienna. After 1806 a kind of shadow of the Empire, the Austro-Hungarian one, endured until the end of World War I, when its abolition was imposed as a condition of peace by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Since 1438, when Albert V…was crowned Roman Emperor, all the Emperors were Habsburgs. The last was Archduke Otto’s father, Karl.

Of what interest could this ancient history be to us to-day? Well, as the "Russian Newman," Vladimir Soloviev put it, "For lack of an imperial power genuinely Christian and Catholic, the Church has not succeeded in establishing social and political justice in Europe." Nor anywhere else, one might add. Through such efforts as the United Nations and the European and other regional unions, secular man attempts, unconsciously, to rebuild some sort of unity among people. Many writers have attempted to sum up the importance of the Imperial office, and it too is reflected in the Church‘s liturgy.

18. But wasn‘t God angry at the people of Israel for wanting a King? Weren‘t Judges better?

The Judges of Israel were directly called by God, with neither acclamation by the people nor constitutional restraint. The fallen nature of the Israelites made such a government unfeasible for long---did not Our Lord complain that Jerusalem murdered the prophets? Having been chosen from all the Earth, the Israelites ought to been gratified that they had been given such a unique---and to our way of thinking, undemocratic---system of government. Instead, they demanded the natural manner of rule enjoyed by all other peoples---hence God‘s anger. But He nevertheless showed His approval of the institution both by having Samuel anoint Saul, and by establishing the dynasty of King David, whose last rightful heir according to the flesh, Jesus Christ, continues to rule by right over us all, whether we wish Him or not. It is by Him, and as a reflection of Him, that, as Pope Pius XI‘s hymn to Christ the King puts it, "Kings the Crown and Sceptre hold," as pledge of His supremacy.

In any case, the Judgeship is completely irrelevant to us to-day. Our republic is certainly nothing like it, and one cannot imagine whom God might choose to rule a heathen people like the Americans. (It is interesting that no such thing has ever happened in Catholic countries). Did we attempt such a thing, we would doubtless have a regime like the Mormons did in pre-Territorial Utah, or the colonists in New Haven, where the ministers would run things. One can imagine what the result would be. Such non-Catholic clerics would have the power of life and death over all citizens, Catholic or not --- and no constitutional or legal restraints on them. Even a non-Christian Monarchy, restrained by local traditions, would be far preferable.

19. But isn‘t Monarchy undemocratic?

In the sense of everyone not having a vote for King or Emperor? Certainly. But I am going to reveal a deep secret of reality --- no regime is, can be, or ever has been democratic! Some have been representative, in the sense that a majority of the population has some voice in the selection of their leaders (though virtually none in the policies those leaders carry out). But the larger the area to be governed, the less those votes matter. In reality, power is inevitably in the hands of those individuals and/or institutions in the given society whose money or land give them preponderant influence, as well as those who actually administer the State from day-to-day.

With our system, for instance, no one can be elected to national office who does not enjoy the support of one or more special interests ---- how could it be otherwise? It takes a great deal of money to be elected, and unless one is a millionaire oneself, how else to acquire it.

What makes such a system unfortunate is that, while maintaining the illusion of popular control, the real powers in the State are unaccountable for their actions. Thus, if a congressman votes for a bill disastrous to the interests of his constituents, he will be the object of their ire, rather than the employer of the lobbyist who suborned the legislator‘s vote. Correspondingly, said constituents will appeal to their representative for help, rather than to the company or interest behind him. Thus the real powers-that-be may exercise their power without any responsibility to the populace. It is ironic that this "un-democratic" way of doing business should be the stock-in-trade of all "democracies," but there it is. Perhaps replacing the House of Representatives with a House of Lobbyists would help make government more accountable.

That having been said, what is necessary in government is not "democracy," whatever that may be, but accountability and responsibility. As noticed earlier, modern Monarchs have felt so responsible they have often given up their thrones rather than shed their subjects‘ blood.

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