Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Joys of Monarchy

If you don't get the intuition behind monarchy, I suggest you see the next production of The Pirates of Penzance.

At the end of the second act, the pirates have triumphed over the dutiful policemen, and are on the verge of exacting terrible revenge on the hapless major-general. All seems lost, until in the nick of time, the defeated chief of police makes a final appeal. "We charge you yield," he says—"in Queen Victoria's name."

That's it! The pirates yield, "because, with all our faults, we love our Queen." Peace is immediately restored, and the pirates are all immediately inducted into the House of Lords.

Who wouldn't?
This part usually gets played for laughs, probably because it's funny. It's funniness, though, conceals a fundamental point: A good monarch provides tremendous moral stability. Everyone—Whigs, Republicans, and even pirates—can be united by their affection for the head of state. Even though the vicissitudes of fortune blow us around, the king remains the same. He is a rock to rest on.

All this holds even if the monarch is a powerless figurehead. Even if the king's role is limited to dressing up and getting pulled around by horses, the natural affection that the subjects hold for him can hold a society together. Even if you despise my politics and I despise your religion, we both love our king. We will both cry when he dies, and we will cheer when his successor is anointed and crowned.

I think it's curious that most classes on political philosophy skip over Robert Filmer's De Patriarcha. That book is the sharpest defense ever given of divine right, and it points out fundamental problems with social-contract theory. Human beings, Filmer argues, do not pop into independent existence like scattered mushrooms in a forest. We are naturally born in families, and we have natural duties to the parents who take care of us. This holds no less for political society. God gives monarchs the right to rule their subjects wisely, just as parents have the right to govern their children.

If we have a wise and just king, we do not need to search for social justice in abstract, disembodied principles of fairness. We can look to our common father or mother for guidance, who stands right in front of all of us in flesh and blood. For all its sophistication, Entitlement Theory can't shake your hand.

(I wonder, by the way, if any major religions have adopted this principle. It seems like a pretty good idea to me.)

I do not mean to disparage democracy. To the contrary! Once we appreciate the moral comfort of monarchy, we are also in a position to admire our self-government all the more. We, a free people, need not rely on God-given protectors to take care of us. We will build our own highways. We will go to war when we think it's prudent, and we will decide whether to let our gay citizens get married. To live in a republic is an awesome moral responsibility, and we must pray to God—or, better yet, make sure ourselves—that we have the wisdom to set our own course. We have no parents, and we must control our own fates.

No comments: