Responses to Questions on Monarchism from Traditional Catholics, Part I

from Monarchy, Democracy, and Catholic Views (AngelQueen, December 23, 2005 - January 10, 2006)

DivineMercy wrote:
I noticed that quite a few of the Angelqueen posters favor a monarchist form of government.

I am one of them, though I'm late to this thread as I don't visit regularly. (While firmly sympathetic to traditionalists, I am not yet Catholic, only an inquirer/fellow traveller.)

I am interested in your views on how this type of government should work. Are there any websites that explain the traditional Catholic view or an "ideal" goverment setup?

Yes. I would recommend in particular the following articles by Catholic monarchist Charles Coulombe:

The last of those links is from my own website, which offers a variety of monarchist perspectives.

Here is traditional Catholic blogger Nicholas Wansbutter on "The Sublimity of Monarchism":

Also, how do today's monarchists get politically involved if their country's government system is completely contrary to monarchy (eg. in a democratic republic, who do you vote for, or do you abstain from voting?)

I have not voted since 2000, and am unlikely to do so again in the near future. However, I would not say that a monarchist living in a republic must necessarily refrain from voting. My refusal to vote has more to do with the fact that I am a paleoconservative on American affairs (socially conservative, but also anti-war) and regard both the modern Democratic and Republican parties as more or less equally unacceptable. If credible paleoconservative alternative candidates (like Pat Buchanan) emerged, I would certainly consider voting for them.

I despise the French Republic more than the American; however, Muslim immigration is such an immediate issue that if I lived in France I would have no problem voting for Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front (which has monarchist supporters). We have no comparable party in the United States.

Could a democratic government theoretically elect a monarchist?

Yes. The modern Norwegian monarchy was created democratically in 1905. The Greek monarchy was restored by referendum in 1935. Brazil held a referendum on restoring the monarchy in 1993, but that was unfortunately unsuccessful. Bulgaria elected former King Simeon II as Prime Minister in 2001.

How would monarchists propose setting up this new form of government?

I am not interested in agitating for a monarchy in the United States; I prefer to focus on countries with a more substantial monarchical tradition, such as those mentioned above. Theoretically, monarchists should be able to work within republican structures to promote their ideals. A referendum or parliamentary constitutional amendment could restore a monarchy that once existed, either with a new constitution or a simple reversion to the old one. However, many modern republics that used to be monarchies, such as France, Austria, Portugal, and Greece, have laws that effectively prohibit serious consideration of changing the form of government. (Contrast this with constitutional monarchies such as the United Kingdom in which anti-royalists are free to spread their poisonous ideas and use their positions in Parliament to undermine the throne they supposedly serve.) Nevertheless, I believe monarchists might be able to accomplish restorations in at least a few countries if we could organize ourselves more effectively and stop squabbling among each other. But if we are prohibited from utilizing the democratic process, all we can hope for is a crisis which will pave the way for a right-wing dictatorship that will eventually restore the monarchy, as happened with Franco in Spain.

thomist wrote:
Again, I don't disagree with you monarchy is better when the monarch is a Saint. The trouble is that history shows that for every St. Louis of France, there are 10 Josef Stalins.

Huh? Josef Stalin was not a monarch, but the ruler of a thoroughly evil Communist regime which itself came to power via the overthrow of a legitimate Christian (albeit Eastern Orthodox) monarchy.

It might have made more sense to name a bad monarch, such as King Henry VIII. But while most monarchs were probably somewhere in between St. Louis and Henry VIII, the fact remains even the worst Christian kings did not approach the evils of the modern regimes that have come to power by displacing monarchies since 1649.

St. Louis IX was hardly the only royal saint. Other exemplary monarchs that come to mind are Bl. Charlemagne, St. Edward the Confessor of England, St. Stephen of Hungary, St. Henry II of the Holy Roman Empire, St. Ferdinand III of Spain, and more recently Bl. Emperor Karl of Austria-Hungary. See the recent Remnant article, especially Michael Matt's superb introduction:

And, even monarchists today should vote, for that is a civic obligation of a citizen of a representative democracy. According to Fr. Jone in "Moral Theology", voting is an obligation which binds under pain of venial sin.

Nonsense. How can something which had nothing to do with the lives of the vast majority of Catholics throughout history suddenly become a positive obligation just because one happens to have been born in a country that calls itself a democracy? What if a Catholic believes that neither candidate is acceptable? What if the political system has become so thoroughly corrupt that both parties advance rotten agendas? What if the differences between the establishment's candidates are too minute to be meaningful? As I said above, I would vote for a candidate who I thought was decent even though I would prefer a monarchy; however, as long as our "choices" are along the lines of Bush vs. Kerry, count me out.

As recently as the 1930s in Spain, pro-Franco Catholics gave their lives fighting AGAINST "democracy." There is no way that voting is an obligation.

John_19_59 wrote:
We only have one King.

I have no time for any others.

What a thoroughly offensive and ignorant statement. By this rule you would have "no time" for quite a few rulers the Church has seen fit to canonize as saints, such as Louis IX of France, Ferdinand III of Spain, Olaf of Norway, Edward the Confessor of England, Henry II of the Holy Roman Empire, Wenceslas of Bohemia, and Stephen of Hungary. You also would seem to have "no time" for the heroic and devout French Catholics who gave their lives fighting in defense of Throne and Altar in the Vendée in the 1790s.

As someone whose interest in traditional Catholicism was sparked initially by attending a Traditional Latin Requiem Mass for King Louis XVI of France in 2002, I "have no time" for Catholics who disparage Monarchy, which Pope Pius VI quite rightly called "the best of all governments."

thomist wrote:
The definition of monarchy is rule by one, not adopting the title "King".

That's only one definition, based on the literal etymology of the word. But "rule by one" is neither the best nor most common contemporary definition. My dictionary also defines "monarch" as "the hereditary (often constitutional) head of state; king, queen, etc." and "monarchy" as "a government or state headed by a monarch," with a note that the "rule by one" definition is now "Rare." "Monarchy" may have originally designated simply "rule by one," but over time the hereditary principle became so entrenched as to become inseparable; when most people today speak of monarchy, they are indeed referring to a system in which the role of head of state is hereditary, in the European tradition usually passed on from father to son.

In fact, pagan and anti-Christian monarchies are much, much worse than anti-Christian republics.

Wrong. A cursory glance at world history reveals that even non-Christian monarchies have invariably been preferable to whatever replaced them. Think of China, Albania, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran: in each of these cases a relatively benign non-Christian monarchy was replaced by a brutal dictatorship.

And, the most evil of the modern regimes actually have been monarchies: Kim Jong-Il in North Korea, Castro in Cuba, Mao in China, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, etc.

Wrong. None of these regimes were or would have considered themselves to be monarchies; to label them as such is simply inaccurate, not to mention grossly insulting to true monarchists such as myself, who despise all the regimes you mention. There is no point in discussing monarchy if we cannot get our terms straight. All of those regimes were anti-monarchist, and invoked democratic and egalitarian rhetoric. It is preposterous to speak of a dictator like Stalin as a monarch. The Russian monarchy ended in 1917 with the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II.

The fact that the current leaders of North Korea, Syria, and the United States happen to be the sons of previous leaders does not make these countries monarchies. In a true hereditary monarchy, the law explicitly states that it is both necessary and sufficient for the head of state to be related to (usually the eldest son of) his predecessor. This is not the case in these countries.

No, pro-Franco Catholics gaves their lives fighting against Communism.

While the Spanish Republicans were indeed dominated by Communists, and received aid from the Soviet Union, not all Republicans were Communists, and surely at least some of them sincerely believed that they were fighting for "democracy" and "freedom." The point I was trying to make is that the fact that Spanish Catholics overwhelmingly lined up on the side which was and still is generally perceived to be "anti-democratic" suggests that democracy and voting should not be held sacrosanct by Catholics.

schoolman wrote:
Are you serious? I mean, is that what you consider to be the absolute ideal form of Government - hereditary monarchs?

Yes. Absolutely.

Why? First, see the links I've already posted.

Hereditary monarchy places the Family and its rituals, joys, and sorrows, at the center of national life. What could be more natural and healthy? Democracy, in contrast, artificially enthrones the divisive and increasingly absurd man-made process of elections.

The pageantry and traditions of royalty speak to some of the deepest needs of the human heart, needs which over two centuries of egalitarian and republican propaganda have not been able to eliminate. As British journalist Peter Hitchens put it, "the word 'king,' with its echoes of chivalry and romance, touches the heart as the word 'president' never could."

I have explained my position in more detail in these articles:

thomist wrote:
OK. In Catholic political theory "monarchy" usually refers to "rule by one" (cf. Bellarmine or Aquinas) with or without hereditary connotations. What should a non-hereditary monarch be called then?

Regimes such as those of Cuba or North Korea are dictatorships, not monarchies. Sts. Bellarmine and Aquinas, fortunately for them, did not live to see the creation of post-monarchical dictatorships.

There are only two non-hereditary monarchies in the world today: Vatican City and Andorra.

You're showing a bad monarchy got replaced with an even worse one.

No, because I do not accept your ridiculous and insulting insistence that dictatorships are monarchies. Every historian agrees that the Russian monarchy ended in 1917, and every political scientist agrees that a Russian "monarchist" today would be someone who advocated restoring the Orthodox Tsar, not a return to Communism (which was and is diametrically opposed to monarchy). If the Soviet Union was just another kind of monarchy, then the word has no meaning.

Anti-Christian "monarchy": Cuba. Anti-Christian republic: the U.S. or France. Which is worse?

Cuba is a dictatorship, not a monarchy. I will concede that Saudi Arabia, which IS a monarchy, is worse than the U.S. or France. But that has more to do with Islam than monarchy.

Are you really proposing that all the brutal examples I mentioned as what happens when "rule of one" goes awry, and the danger of rule by one, will be mostly eliminated merely by stating in law that the successor will be the son?

No. A proper monarchy is based on respect for tradition and the family, which tends to guard against the extreme abuses associated with dictatorships. Catholic monarchy, with the Church limiting the power of the throne, is the ideal, but even non-Christian monarchies, real ones, tend to be less abusive than the non-Christian "republics" that replace them.

thomist wrote:
What then, precisely, is the difference between a dictatorship and a monarchy?

In general, a dictator seizes power, while a monarch inherits it, or is elected by an elite whose status is hereditary.

However, this generalization is not adequate for all cases, as I'm sure you'll point out if I don't. Perhaps a more inclusive, but harder to precisely define, distinction would incorporate these contrasts: the monarch's status depends on a respect for tradition, the dictator's does not, and may even require a rejection of everything that came before the dictatorship. This holds true even if the monarch is the founder of a new dynasty; he must establish some sort of continuity with his predecessors, whereas the dictator must discredit the past. The monarch stands for continuity and tradition; the dictator stands for "progress." The monarch does not claim to be able to solve all problems; the dictator promises a utopia. The monarch, especially a Christian monarch, implicitly acknowledges limits on his power; the dictator does not.

Well, again, what is a "proper" or "real" non-Christian monarchy?

Jordan, Bhutan, and Brunei are some of the better ones today.

Here is a list of today's reigning monarchs:

You still haven't shown an example of a non-Christian monarchy being replaced with a non-Christian republic, only a dictatorship.

That depends what you mean by "republic." One definition of "republic" I have seen in a dictionary is "a government whose head of state is not a monarch and is usually a president." Many regimes meeting this description are dictatorships. It is precisely my point that countries which abolish their monarchies almost never replace them with American-style democratic republics, at least not without many intervening years of violence and tyrranny.

You evidently mean more than "rule by one" with monarchy

Yes. Here is another illustration of why defining "monarchy" as "rule by one" is not adequate. Clearly Queen Elizabeth II does not "rule" the UK. Yet undeniably the United Kingdom is a monarchy. Otherwise, when anti-royalists talk about "abolishing the monarchy," what are they referring to? They do not mean establishing more divided or limited government; indeed, most British "republicans" are leftist statists who if anything would enact even more centralization. No, they mean that they want to get rid of the hereditary Christian institution which today is mostly symbolic but whose origins stretch back to the early Middle Ages and which was once powerful. From this one can conclude that the symbolism of monarchy--both tangible and theoretical--is its central defining characteristic. Monarchy symbolizes a nation that honors its past. It symbolizes the right of inheritance--on which any free society depends--and the importance of the family. It creates a living link connecting the present, the earliest beginnings, and all stages in between. The documented genealogical descent of a present-day monarch from his or her earliest predecessors evokes as no republican institution ever could the debt that all peoples owe their ancestors. The elaborate ceremonies--coronations, weddings, funerals, parades--often associated with royalty speak to the human need for ritual and ceremony, and humanize the otherwise remote and intangible concept of the nation. For all these reasons I am mystified by traditional Catholics who do not at least have a soft spot for monarchy.

Responses to Questions on Monarchism from Traditional Catholics