The Moral Equivalent of Monarchy

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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22 Responses

  1. DensityDuck says:

    Many people have pointed out the Progressive fascination with Strong Central Authority that’s Objectively Superior and therefore Morally Acceptable. Very few of them *say* that they’d be happy with a return to out-and-out monarchy, but I doubt they’d kick very hard if we got one.

    Indeed, see all the crying about the Kennedy Dynasty, and how Massachusetts was “Kennedy’s seat”, and all that.

    And I can certainly understand the attraction. Who wants to spend their time thinking about the nitpicky grinding gritty-details *business* of life? All that grunting and sweating? Much better to lock ourselves up in ivory towers and devote ourselves to pure thought. Ding! Time to poop! Okay, I pooped. Ding! Time for a meal! Oh goody, granola bars again. Hm, is it time for TV yet? Nope, we haven’t heard a Ding yet.Report

  2. Matty says:

    OK you’ve lost me there, if by Progresive you mean the political left then one of its defining features back at least as far as the Jacobites is that it is egalitarian and historically hostile to monarchy. Now its certainly true you can find politicians who are both royalists and supporters of social democratic or even socialist policies but I’ve never come across them justify one in terms of the other.

    The other alternative is that you mean something different by Progressive but then I’m lost as to what that is.Report

  3. JohnR says:

    As an aside to your post, I think of Libertarians the same way I think of Unicorns – whenever I seem to see one, a closer examination shows me that it’s merely some other animal in disguise. How many ‘self-identified libertarians’ hold onto their loudly-proclaimed principles when somebody else will benefit, or be allowed to do something distasteful to the ‘libertarian’ in question? Not, theoretically, mind you. Considered theoretically, we are all saints and Communism works great as a national politico/economic system. No, I think ‘libertarians’ have proved in practice to be not particularly different from any other group – “We’re special and better, and your beliefs just suck.” “We’re sensible, down-to-earth, practical realists, and you’re silly, ivory-tower elitists who have no idea of how things _really_ work.” “We Know what is best for everybody and everyone should be forced to live by Our Rules.” It’s an easy game to play – you just define those you disagree with to hold ideas you feel are stupid and wrong. Ignore any evidence that might complicate your easy stereotyping; as a Sensible Person, you know what’s what. Once you Know That You Are Right, there’s no real need to confront messy reality; after all, it _must_ be the way you think it has to be. “Libertarians”, Neo-cons, Marxists, Fascists, Religiosists, Sexists, etc., etc.; they all seem (when push comes to shove) to have the same core idea: “What’s good for me is right and good, but it’s too good (and too expensive) to be wasted on the non-believers.”Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to JohnR says:

      I think if you actually read the study, you’ll find that it’s not nearly as flattering to libertarians as you seem to think. The devotion to cold, abstract reason comes at a heavy price, the authors suggest, and in any case that reasoning may be mistaken. It’s not a claim, and still less a guarantee, of being right.Report

      • Ah, okay! You’re responding to the article there, Jason. I thought that part of your post was a bit self-satisfied- sort of libertarians talking about the value that libertarians add to society. But it makes more sense once the link is clicked.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to JohnR says:

      When it comes to the power dynamic between folks whose goal it is to accumulate power and folks whose goal it is to not accumulate power, both are likely to be successful.

      But the accumulators will be a lot more powerful at the end of the day.Report

  4. North says:

    I dunno Jason, you haven’t actually addressed Yglesias’s substantive point. A powerless (in practice) Monarchy that serves as the vessle of various nationalist and jingoist memes along with legal and symbolic powers such as the one the Commonwealth nations operate under seem to serve a valuable function of depriving politicians of the benefits of those memes and powers. Division of powers and all that.
    After watching the Canadians and British merrily rip into their Prime Ministers as if they were misbehaving janitors while our increasingly imperious and imperial Presidents enjoy hiding behind the symbolic respect they claim as the head of the state and commander in chief of the military I’m not so ready to declare the American system superior.
    And goodness knows that libertarians obsess over others just like any goggling monarchist. Celebrities anyone?Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to North says:

      Why should the focus of our national mystique be in the government? Why not outside? As I’ve been repeating in private today — why have a queen, when you already have Oprah?

      In any event, it might be interesting to see measures of state power against the variable of having or not having a monarch, but I don’t think it would reveal too much.Report

      • I think Yglesias’ point is that, whether or not the focus of that mystique should be at least nominally within the government, the empirical fact seems to be that this focus tends to wind up on the government. In a somewhat roundabout way, what he seems to be implying is that the “Cult of the Presidency” results from the fact that our system embodies the President with both the symbolic authority of a monarch and the legal authority embued in the Constitution. It seems to me that there’s a reasonable case to be made that this combination has a synergistic effect that allows each form of authority to increase over time with relatively little resistance.

        Although I have a hard time believing that the legal powers of the British, Swedish, Belgian, etc. government as a whole have declined over time, it seems beyond question that their willingness to make use of those powers or to greatly expand those powers has in fact declined significantly over time. Indeed, it seems to me that the relegation of the monarchies in those countries to increasingly symbolic status has roughly (emphasis on roughly) coincided with the decline of their willingness to engage in imperialism. Compare that with the meme here in the US that “criticism of the President stops at the border.” Sure, Presidential foreign policy still gets criticized, but that criticism has a bad tendency to get quickly dismissed on the grounds of being traitorous or bad form, etc.

        I should say that I’m not sure whether I’m convinced by the argument, even though I think it’s got some real merit to it. In many ways, it’s not all that different from the arguments I’ve made for making the Speaker of the House a nationally-elected office.Report

        • Matty in reply to Mark Thompson says:

          Indeed, it seems to me that the relegation of the monarchies in those countries to increasingly symbolic status has roughly (emphasis on roughly) coincided with the decline of their willingness to engage in imperialism.

          I don’t know about Sweden or Belgium but in the UK very roughly still seems an understatement. The whole rise and fall of the empire took place with the monarchy already limited and subject to parliament so you could make as much of a case that the relegation of the monarchy caused imperialism as you could that it caused the end of imperialism.Report

      • North in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        What Mark said Jason. Nature abhors a vacuum and it seems that rule holds true in politics. If you don’t have a symbolic head of government then your practical head of government will end up being both.

        Now while I think that the constitutional Monarchies work very well for the nations that have them I don’t think that it’d be desirable or practical to try and artificially institute one. But I do think that this argument is a very strong one when arguing against, say, republicanism in nations that already have a working constitutional monarchy.Report

        • Trumwill in reply to North says:

          You beat me to the punch. If I was British, I would absolutely vote against any attempts to abolish the monarchy. As an American, I consider the notion of instituting a monarchy to be absurd. It’s in their character. It’s not in ours.

          There is a middle ground, though. Israel, Germany, and others do have a ceremonial head of state in addition to the head of government. When Australia was looking at becoming a Republic (not sure how I would have voted on that one), that was the route they were planning to go. I think the president had to be approved of by two-thirds of parliament, making anyone remotely controversial a non-starter. I’ve tried to think of who could pass that muster in the US. Colin Powell was one of the few names that came to mind. Maybe a squishy moderate senator.Report

  5. MFarmer says:

    Right at the point of demystification of the presidency is not a time to create a king. Just give it another 8 years — every aspect of the political realm will be in its proper place. In comparison to technological developments, unless we invent robot politicians, government/presidents will appear pathetically common.Report

    • Boegiboe in reply to MFarmer says:

      Bingo. Nixon made the presidency less than God. Clinton made the presidency equal to or less than Good Ol’ Dad (TM). Bush made the presidency…what exactly? Everyone was so perplexed by how much the world had come to hate us in 4 years (by the MSM’s reckoning, anyway) that we didn’t quite know whose fault it was. Now, Obama is making it clear what the presidency really can do, which is…not much. He isn’t really even Commander-in-Chief–he hires people for that sort of thing (just as Bush effectively did). I feel like he really understands the office in a way that few have understood before. He understands he can’t do a whole heckuva lot.

      Let’s hear it for the defanging of the last of our venomous branches of government!Report

  6. Koz says:

    “Indeed, it seems to me that the relegation of the monarchies in those countries [Britain, Sweden, etc. – ed.] to increasingly symbolic status has roughly (emphasis on roughly) coincided with the decline of their willingness to engage in imperialism.”

    Actually I think it corresponds much closer to the decline of their political classes to view themselves as obligated to the interests of their nation and its peoples. Instead, the political classes have viewed the populations as the source of various issues to be handled as opposed to sovereign citizens to be obeyed. That has resulted in many things and most of them bad. And, it’s an important part of the context when people talk about implement various Euro-ish policies here.Report