The Catholic Thing
Beyond Naked Harry Print E-mail
By David Warren   
Thursday, 30 August 2012

American readers will have to forgive me in advance for a troubling deviation from the American republican norm. You see, I’m not American, but Canadian, of old Loyalist stock and allegiance, which makes me ipso facto monarchist.

Actually, one of my ancestors, a certain Stetson Holmes, fought in the Continental Army. He joined up when it counted – when the success of the American Revolution was far from assured. But then, true to the family propensity to lost causes, he switched sides after the Continental Army had won. Appalled by the treatment of his old Loyalist neighbors, he migrated, finally to Cape Breton.

Loyalists came in many cultural brands and colors, including black. There were Catholics among them, and every other sort of minority, fleeing Patriots who were overwhelmingly of the English Protestant heritage. The Crown was our strange common denominator, the unquestioned default position in a world where nothing else was secure.

Gentle reader will know that even one century is a long time, in human experience, and loyalties come and go. Little conflicts may even arise between these loyalties, over the generations. Even the stalwart British monarchist was presented with a stark choice, as recently as 1688, between Jacobites and Orangemen.

Though a loyal subject of Queen Elizabeth II, I am myself nevertheless inclined to the oak leaf and white rose on certain anniversaries. In a similar way, I am reconciled to the existence of the United States of America. (Though, 200 years after the repulsed U.S. invasion of 1812, I expect some reciprocal observance of the Treaty of Ghent.)

Good fences make good neighbors, in the 17th-century proverb. Robert Frost may have disputed that, but poetically and ambiguously. Peace in the world has usually been maintained by silent agreement, on all sides, to ignore – “forget about” – lively differences of opinion and claims to right. And as the alternative is war, which these days means total war, there is an argument to be made for “live and let live” – until the next provocation.

Yet ideas have a life of their own, and return to haunt us. The monarchical idea is a likely example. The “liberal” factions have instilled, since the American and French Revolutions, the notion that hereditary kingship is a thing of the past. “The Peeple” (as I like to spell them) have spoken, and the future lies with republican and democratic forces. They may not always prevail, but any failure is a “setback”; the direction of Progress having been marked by History, or whomever.

In the Summa Theologiae (1a 2ae, question 105, article one), Thomas Aquinas declares for a “limited monarchy,” developing arguments from his own tract, On Kingship. Clear that grace comes from God, not from men, he is disinclined to embrace any form of government absolutely; indeed he looks to the harmonious combination of the best features of several ruling orders. Reciprocally, he asserts that God may perfect what is lacking in nature.

           Two princes Harry:  “In politics we start with what we have . . .”

Aware of the characteristic evils that arise in monarchies, aristocracies, oligarchies, polyarchies, he rightly fears tyranny. Conversely, he fears the anarchy from which tyranny rises.

To the mediaeval mind, as to mine, the unity of society is crucially important. In unity is peace, and ultimately survival. We fear not only the worst evils, but what leads to them. And it is in this light that Saint Thomas, and other mediaeval political philosophers, observed that democracy is the worst form of polyarchy. They grasp that while the individual tyrant may be capable of the worst evils, it is not inevitable. Whereas, The Peeple will inevitably lead themselves astray, or be led astray, by demagogues and faction.

Or, that is my take on the older Christian view of domestic power politics. I don't think it can be far wrong.

In point of fact there is no surviving absolute monarch anywhere in the West, nor even a “limited monarch,” for the kings and queens that remain are all politically neutered. Even so, merely as symbol, the more charming among them do good service, in uniting people across party lines.

As my own Queen Elizabeth once said at Canterbury: “The archbishop has just spoken to you on sin, and he was, Against. I shall be speaking to you on the family, and my position will be, For.”

Mom and apple pie are important. An hereditary monarch, though he may go bad, was born into a job that required no power hunger. His task is at root straightforward: to deliver the kingdom up to his successor (his own flesh and blood) in good order. There is a certain genius in the simplicity of that arrangement, which I have long admired. To the credit of monarchical and aristocratic governments, none ever engendered a Nanny State.

To the discredit of the democracies, none has ever failed to engender a Nanny State, through creeping legislation, always factionally advanced. As that unintending Thomist, Major Douglas, once observed, the secret ballot relieves the individual voter of individual responsibility, while making him collectively taxable on a scale beyond what any absolute monarch ever thought possible.

Now, I am not preaching revolution here – no, no, no, for I am Canadian. In politics we start with what we have, not with an ideal order. I think democracy is here to stay for the immediately foreseeable future, and that compared with known available alternatives, it is worth two cheers.

But democracy has made a sufficient hash of everything that the more distant future is not foreseeable any more. It defers increasingly to bureaucratized forces at war with Christianity, and finally with man himself; and we should perhaps wonder if its ancient and mediaeval critics might have been astute.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and, until recently, a columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (10)Add Comment
written by Aramis, August 30, 2012
Thank you Mr. Warren for a though provoking, and it must be said, fairly bold article. Bold because in these times to question the assumed supremacy of democracy - by trumpeting monarchy no less! - requires an independence of thought and detachment from the modern chattering discourse that can only come from an intimate familiarity with politics.

I think the argument would be more effective if it was not this particular monarchy you were trumpeting and still claiming allegiance too. After all, for the past nearly half millenium there has been no more important enemy of catholicism in the west than the English crown beginning with Henry VIII and his offspring, and lasting right up until the secularizing trends of our civilization made the catholic-prostestant divide irrelevant to mainstream political discourse. As for the Continentals, I will take the idea of a limited and virtuous republic that the Americans fought for over what was already a complex bureaucratic enterprise in the British imperial system by the late 18th century any day, I am sorry your ancestor had a change of heart, talk about a frosty exile from liberty! (just kiddin)

Maybe a better example for monarchy would be next door to the perfidious schismatics of Albion in France. The unmitigated sheer decline of France in prestige, relative strength, and just general self respect since that drunken blood orgy of petulant violence they call the revolution has been stark and one of the greatest tragedies in western history.

But within the popular motto of that revolution - égalité - I think lies the pricinple reason why monarchy will never come back in the way you hint at. Egalitarianism, an idea which meant equality of human dignity to 18th century republicans like the Americans, but has since evolved into the notion of equality of circumstances thanks to overt and insidious marxist influences, is so unquestioned and such a commonly-held good that combined with modern mass comunications (which throw royals into our living rooms on a nightly basis emphasizing the contrast) it would only be a matter of time before public disgust was at such a pitch that the modern Swiss Guards would be putting in for early retirement before things got ugly again.
written by Titus, August 30, 2012
I believe the Crown Prince of Liechtenstein still enjoys the actual prerogative to approve or disapprove legislation (as opposed to the paper-pushing job of Her Britannic Majesty). Of course, they just had a referendum on it, so I suppose that goes both ways.
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, August 30, 2012
Pascal was onto something, when he said, "The most unreasonable things in the world become most reasonable, because of the unruliness of men. What is less reasonable than to choose the eldest son of a queen to rule a State? We do not choose as captain of a ship the passenger who is of the best family.
This law would be absurd and unjust; but, because men are so themselves and always will be so, it becomes reasonable and just. For whom will men choose, as the most virtuous and able? We at once come to blows, as each claims to be the most virtuous and able. Let us then attach this quality to something indisputable. This is the king's eldest son. That is clear, and there is no dispute. Reason can do no better, for civil war is the greatest of evils."
written by Athanasius, August 30, 2012
Mr. Warren presents some interesting and insightful thoughts. My observation is that the key ingredient to any form of government is that the governors must be virtuous people, and they must believe in a just and loving God who is the standard bearer of objective truth (such as we Catholics believe). With such leaders, a constitutional monarchy with a legislature of virtuous citizens may indeed work.

In a democracy, not only the leaders, but a majority of the people must also be virtuous. Such a people will see beyond their parochial needs and elect representatives who will work towards the common good. As we have seen, even democracies can descend into the "tyranny of the majority".

Of course, the source of virtue is God. And so, the real answer is that the specifics of government, be they monarchical or republican, the key is to have a people who look to God for guidance and truth, enlightened by both faith and reason.

We have seen failed systems of socialism where reason supposedly prevailed, but since faith was ignored reason did too. We have also seen systems of Islamism where faith supposedly prevailed, but since reason was ignored faith did too.

Today in America we see a choice between a socialist path where faith is relegated to the shadows and the State becomes God, and a republican path where traditional morals across different faiths are encouraged, free markets are allowed to work, and the State is constrained to specific appropriate duties. We have seen the former fail in Europe. We have seen the latter have success in earlier American history. To continue to succeed, our citizenry must put God first. God is the one who gives us the grace to forego our selfish desires and work towards the common good without needing the oversight of the nanny state.

The United States is certainly not the Kingdom of God. But of all the current nations in the world, it has the greatest potential to be a force for good and religious freedom in the world. But it will only live up to this potential if its people become "one nation, under God."
written by David Warren, August 30, 2012
Titus has got me there. I'd forgotten about Liechtensteiner exceptionalism.

My own heart-throb, among recent hereditary rulers in Europe, was the late Marie-Adélaïde, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg (died 1924; reigned 1912 until just barely into 1919). She succeeded her father at age 17. A well-raised, devout Catholic, she was immediately upon ascent presented with a piece of legislation from Luxembourg's little Parliament, designed to advance secularism in the Duchy's schools. She was expected to approve it, without murmur, but instead she thought about it, & then refused to sign. Her prime minister was of course apoplectic.

There were other issues, as time went on, & during the Great War she was utterly demonized by the "democratic" types. In retrospect we can perhaps appreciate that she saved her countrymen from the worst ravages of German occupation, by the brilliant device of flirting with the Kaiser.

I have some old postage stamps here, with her portrait engraved on them. So far as I can see, she was about the most beautiful woman ever born. But this is not strictly relevant to the argument.
written by Randall, August 30, 2012
I first read this article this morning and wondered what kind of responses it would get. I am a true red-white-and-blue American patriot, but I have to admit I've always had a weak spot for monarchy, especially the honorable and brave ones (King Saint Louis and King Sobieski of Poland for example).

Mr Warren, I just had to look up Marie-Adélaïde, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg and yes, she was a very beautiful woman!
written by debby, August 30, 2012
although my family history dates back to the 1600s fleeing England with some fighting Patriots years later, i have long been a fan of the "Divine Right of Kings". it must be the old Catholic seed somewhere in my soul in spite of 400 years of protestant ancestry trying to hang-draw-and torture it out of me.

i believe when Christ returns, He will come as King of kings, not President, Prime Minister, et al.
i, for one, cannot wait to fall prostrate.
i am practicing now because i am such a klutz that i fall all over myself often. i want to "get it right" when the time comes.

until then, i am suspicious of everyone (the Holy Father excepted) in power.

thank you, Mr. Warren, for your post on Marie-Adelaide. i looked her up and found an EWTN article which i have printed out to include in my home-school history. what a lady! (but i bet our Lady was even more beautiful.....)
written by Dave, August 30, 2012
Great article though I suspect the reserve powers and indirect influence of HM the Queen over the United Kingdom and her other realms are quite considerable. Thanks for the reference to the Grand Duchess Marie-Adelaide. Another Catholic ruler to consider, now a Blessed, is Karl of Austria. The Austrian, and later Austro-Hungarian Empire, was a cosmopolitan, multi-cultural enterprise that was thoroughly rooted in the Catholic faith and the Habsburg Family's devotion especially to the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. Woodrow Wilson made it his determined policy to overthrow that Empire and to make the world "safe for democracy." And now, here we are.
written by G.K. Thursday, August 31, 2012
Yes, the ideal of the just monarch is the best analogy to the reality of God's just rule over creation. That's why St. Thomas Aquinas argues for it as the best form of government, but limits it by the legitimate roles that the landed aristocracy, guilds, and especially the Church, have in fostering the common good.

The centrality of the Arthurian corpus during the high medieval period illustrates this perfectly. King Arthur was the virtuous king par exellance, but caught up in the sinfulness of the present world. The Arthurian cycle is not one of "happily ever after", but a tale of heroic virtue battered by sinful deeds and ignorance. Only the quest for the Grail can redeem Arthur's court, but at the cost of his kingdom and his life (in most versions of the cycle).

Alas, this ideal form of just monarchy has been the exception. Especially in England, starting with William the Conqueror, there has been little to recommend ths royal tradition, except longevity. Under most of these rulers Albion has been not only perfidious, but murderous and even genocidal. If only the Once and Future King were here again!
written by Aeneas, August 31, 2012
God bless you Mr. Warren! The one thing The Catholic Thing lacked was a monarchist, now we have one! :D

Great piece by the way! At first I thought it would be all about Harry, the nude prince. Thankfully it was not. As for the choice of the English crown, I'm a Jacobite all the way, though I still respect the current Queen, Elizabeth II. She's a good woman in an increasingly bad country.

I'm actually surprised by the comments here at the TCT, I'd half expected them to utterly rebuke Warren's entire thesis, but I am happily surprised such was not the case! Some of them were quite good too!

@Aramis-Agreed, the french crown ranks higher. Not only is it the more ancient and greater of the two, the Albion crown was tainted with nasty schism. Also, good point about égalité-the rot that never ends.
@Michael Paterson-Seymour-Thanks for that quote from Pascal, I'll have to remember it!
@Randall-It's nice to see even a republican patriot have a soft spot for Monarchs! :)
@Debby-Actually the "divine right of kings" was a protestant invention, even if Catholic kings later adopted it. But I think you mean Christian kingship (in general), more so than "divine right". And yes, he's called Christ the King for a reason! I'm fairly certain he won't return as a president or a prime minister! :) There is a blog I sometimes read, called The Mad Monarchist, on it is a picture of Christ as king, with the words underneath reading "Even God is a Monarchist!" :)
@Dave-I second your choices! Karl really was something special, as was the Habsburg dynasty, and the Austrian/Austro-Hungarian Empire. It really was the last Catholic empire of Europe, it's such as shame we had a ideological nut for a president (Wilson), he and his cronies were the main instrument in the destruction of the empire. They were dedicated to it, in fact.
@G.K.-Excellent appraisal of the Arthurian cycle! But I don't think the Kings of Albion after William were so bad. William himself was no monster, though he was not always fair to the local saxons. Richard was one of greatest crusaders, and Henry V was a pious, good man etc, etc. There were good kings on the British throne, but none who lived up to noble Arthur indeed.

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