Beyond Naked Harry

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 columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: