Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Why I am a Monarchist

As a fairly keen monarchist, I have sometimes found myself visiting monarchist blogs and the websites of monarchist groups. A lot of these sites, probably a majority, tend to have Roman Catholic authors. This isn't too surprising, I suppose. Monarchism and Catholicism both fit with a temper that could be described as "traditionalist" or "reactionary" (depending on who is speaking). The connection also harks back to the political philosophy of Joseph de Maistre, the philosopher of "Throne and Altar" conservatism, who wrote in the wake of the French Revolution.

Sometimes I worry that this link between monarchism and Catholicism might tempt non-Catholics to take the Faith less seriously. They might get the idea that Catholics are simply panting for ceremony and tradition, for croziers and mitres and crowns and birettas. Or that Catholicism is nothing but reaction, an allergic response to the disenchanted, utiltarian, egalitarian modern age.

I think there is some truth to the perception. Certainly, in my case, the ritual and ceremony and historical continuity of the Church appeals to me greatly. It's not that the whiff of incense lured me into the Church, but it seems fitting to me that God's presence on Earth would be heralded by such beauty and pageantry. It seems right. It makes sense.

But I'm not a monarchist because I'm a Catholic. And would I bet most Catholics aren't monarchists at all.

So why am I a monarchist?

First of all, I should clarify what kind of monarchist I am-- that is, a constitutional monarchist. I like the idea of a monarch as the ceremonial head of State. I don't care much about what powers the monarch holds, although I think it is generally a good idea to have a separation of constitutional powers, and the monarch-- being both an ordinary person and (hopefully) one brought up to feel a strong sense of duty-- might have a valid role as a brake on the legislative power. I think the powers and privileges of the English monarch are about right, although it would be better if the Queen actually used those powers more extensively-- for instance, in writing her own Christmas Speech (it has to better than the annual servings of pabulum written by her Government), and to call conferences of political leaders in times of crisis-- similar to the role King George V played in engineering the Irish Truce of 1921.

There are a fair few Catholics, at least ones I've encountered in cyberspace, who are bona fide royal absolutists. I respect their beliefs but they do rather baffle me. Would they like to live in the reigns of Henry VIII or Elizabeth I? Dictatorship opens up great possibilities, if you happen to get a Philosopher King or benevolent despot, but the risks are infinitely greater.

To me, the real importance of monarchy is the tone that it sets. A nation that styles itself The Kingdom of Such-and-Such seems to be on a much healthier footing than a nation that styles itself The Republic of Such-and-Such.The Kingdom is, from the very start (to use two evocative phrases from Edmund Burke) declaring that is not the "fly of a summer's day" but "a contract between the living, the dead and the unborn."

The Kingdom looks to the past and the future, since it has at least one old tradition-- monarchy-- which it has taken to its heart and sought to hand on to its posterity.

The Kingdom has a poetic, particular image in its very title-- it may evoke in your mind a crown, or a throne, or a man on a throne wearing a crown, or perhaps a coat of arms. A Republic is simply an abstraction, and who can love an abstraction? Even the flags of Republics tend to be ugly, like our own lacklustre and uninspired tricolour. (Yes, seeing the tricolour billowing in the breeze above the GPO makes my heart leap-- but not for the sake of the design.)

A Kingdom measures its epochs in a poetical and human way-- aren't the Elizabethan and Victorian and Edwardian eras of British history more "user-friendly" and appealing than the ante-bellum, post-bellum, Depression, inter-war and New Deal eras of American history?

The keynote of a Kingdom is reverence, while they keynote of a Republic is resentment. The guiding idea of a Kingdom is that, for all our ideological and social and philosophical differences, we express our aspiration to harmony by honouring the Queen or King, by setting one institution above the affray. I can't but believe that this simple act of graciousness ripples outwards through the national life. The guiding idea of a Republic is "nobody is better than me; nobody is to be privileged over me; nobody is to look down on me". And I know from experience where that mentality takes us-- a drive towards equality as sameness, towards stripping the public square naked of any vestige of history or heritage or the sacred.

A Kingdom is a family. A Republic is a hotel. And even the worst family is better than the most opulent hotel, after a while.

But, for me, the ultimate argument is the argument of the sauce bottle label. A humble bottle of Worcester Sauce attains a sort of grandeur by having the Royal coat of arms and the words, "By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen" printed on it. The dingiest pub gains in dignity by having the name The King's Head emblazoned over its door.

I think C.S. Lewis put it extremely well, when he tried to point out the folly of judging monarchy by a utiltarian calculus: "It would be much more rational to abolish the English monarchy. But how if, by doing so, you leave out the one element in our state which matters most? How if the Monarchy is the channel through which all the vital elements of citizenship – loyalty, the consecration of secular life, the hierarchical principal, splendour, ceremony, continuity – still trickle down to irrigate the dustbowl of modern economic Statecraft?”

So, having written all of this, I must be a pretty ardent monarchist, right?

Well, not really. I don't have a portrait of King Charles the First hanging over my bed. I know less about the English Royals than does the average reader of Hello! magazine. I stood outside Buckingham Palace not so long ago and found the whole thing a little bit garish, to be honest. I doubt it would even be worth a single human life to preserve a monarchy from destruction. As a Christian, I view all worldly things as ephemeral and even trivial, against the backdrop of Eternity.

 But, for all that, I am a convinced monarchist. And if there is ever a cry to restore the line of Brian Boru to Tara, I will happily raise my voice along with it.


  1. A Kingdom is a family. A Republic is a hotel.

    I like this comparison. I never thought of both forms of state in this way.

    Thank you for your posting.

  2. Thank you for your kind comment!

    I saw your name, Radical Royalist, and I thought, 'I'm about to get flamed for being so wishy-washy'! Glad I was wrong!!

  3. "Absolute" monarchy is an Enlightenment term. A more proper way of describing the active monarchy I and others want is Catholic autocracy.

  4. Interesting. Like America, Ireland needs a stronger monarchist movement, if only, at first, to provide an intellectual alternative to liberal democracy.

    To me, "absolute" monarchy is an inauthentic, Hobbesian term. I suppose a more proper way to put my very "absolutist" views would be Catholic authoritarian. A monarchy is best, but given the alternative (continued plutocracy), I would gladly prefer a dictator or an illiberal dominant party state too.

  5. Thanks for your kind words!

    I am sure you have encountered the obvious objections (I mean from a Catholic and conservative viewpoint) to such a view many times, and you have responses to them?

  6. who would you support for the Irish throne? this may sound out of the blue, but your website has Irish in the name, and this post is about how you are a monarchist. I feel that the person in question should be catholic (anyone else is unsuitable for Ireland) ehtinically irish (preferably descended from the pre-invaision gaelic nobility)and not connected to the windsors (the british royal family are among the people most responsible for the destruction of the gaelic nobility, irish language, and native culture so they are among the people least suitable for ireland)and fluent in both the English and irish languages. that criteria would serve to make the dynasty as clearly irish as possible. so who do you think should assume the iris throne Maolsheachlann? this is just a curiosity question.

    1. I don't really care. I think you could almost take someone off the street to begin a dynasty. I personally prefer the monarch to be Catholic, yes, or at least Christian. I don't mind about the ethnicity so much, or any relation to the British royal family, since I think it's time to put our animosities aside in that regard. An Irish speaker would certainly be nice.