There was a robust discussion the other day on my Telegram channel about whether or not democracy is desirable. You can read the chat for yourself, I won’t go into the full details here. Suffice to say that I got rather annoyed by certain attempts to go off topic – but abel leba, the person who raised the original issue about whether or not monarchy is desirable, did make a number of very good points on the issue.
Simply put. abel leba noted the following problems with monarchy:
- Even if democracy is essentially mob rule, why would anyone want to be ruled by a king instead of by one’s fellows?
- Aren’t kings responsible for truly appalling bloodshed and destruction of their native countries?
- Isn’t God Himself dead set against rule by kings?
These are in fact excellent questions that deserve serious answers. (Just be aware that I moderate my Telegram channel the same way that I moderate this site – I don’t like off-topic comments and slap those down quickly.)
First, since the topic of discussion centred around democracy as mob rule, let us be very clear about what democracy is.
As defined originally by the Athenians, demokratia came from the two Greek roots, demos (people), and kratos (strength). Literally understood, then, democracy is the power of the people – or “rule of the commoners”.
However, we must clearly understand that even the Athenians weren’t stupid enough to give literally EVERYONE the power of the sovereign franchise – at the height of their experiment in democracy, the Athenians never gave more than roughly a quarter of their total population the right to vote. They restricted voting rights to people with “skin in the game”, as it were – they restricted the franchise to free land-owning men over the age of 20 who were Athenian citizens.
This, by definition, removed the franchise from: women, slaves, rentiers, foreigners, and juveniles. And EVERY democracy, EVER, has always done the same. Even in the most liberal modern democracies, a substantial portion, up to a quarter and sometimes even more, of the population is excluded at any given time from voting, simply because they are too young or not citizens.
Moreover, we must separate the types of democracy into representative, and direct, democracies. Most of us are familiar with representative democracies. We vote for representatives whom we supposedly empower in order to vote in assemblies on our behalf, to represent our interests. They promise us a bunch of stuff, we believe them (or not), and we vote for them (or not) based on whether we agree with them (or not).
The Results of Democracy
It is important to understand, right away, that democracy, whatever its form, has proven to be a deeply unstable type of government that always – ALWAYS – leads to tyranny.
This is not my argument based on some brilliant original insight – far from it. I’m nowhere near that smart.
This is what Plato predicted, all the way back in 380 BC in Book VIII of The Republic – which by the way is not an argument in favour of the “antlike communism” that he espoused, which is “weird in the extreme”. (The discerning reader will recognise the quotes from Maj. Reid in STARSHIP TROOPERS.)
Aristotle, perhaps the most intelligent man in history, created the “typologies” of government into “correct” and “deviant” forms. All governments essentially come down to the issue of who has power, and you can have good and bad outcomes with any of them.
Cicero expanded on Aristotle’s typologies in De Re Publica and noted that all forms of government really come down to three basic methods – rule by the one (monarchy), rule by the few (oligarchy), and rule by the many (democracy), building on top of what Aristotle wrote hundreds of years before him.
Cicero also noted that these types of government tend to follow a clear cyclical pattern. Rule by the one leads inevitably to overstretch and imperial hubris, which causes the oligarchs who support that king to overthrow and depose him. They then proceed to become glutted on power and wealth, and oppress the citizenry. Those citizens then rise up and overthrow the oligarchs, and rule themselves, until the majority begins to abuse the minority, and that minority then install a king to rule over them.
And so the cycle continues, always and inevitably. No nation has ever been immune to this process, though the more sensible ones have figured out ways to balance the interests of various power factions against each other.
If you look at the Athenian experiment in democracy, particularly during the Peloponnesian War with Sparta and its allies, you will see that it ended within a century with imperial overstretch and tyrannical rule by outside elites who despised the Athenian democratic traditions. By contrast, the Spartans, whose Great Rhetra, supposedly handed to them by Lycurgus the Lawgiver, enacted something of a model of republican government. (They were also pederasts, slave-owners, and downright weirdos. Good with bad, etc.) The Spartans figured out how to have two kings, a council of judges (aristocrats), a body of citizen representation, and a way to restrict the sovereign franchise only to those who had earned it through military service, thereby creating a real timocracy. And their system lasted, not for less than one hundred, but for nearly EIGHT hundred years.
Why Monarchy Is Preferable
Seeing as how democracy therefore ends in tyranny, my view is that we should simply cut out the mess in the middle and go straight to monarchy. And actually, if you look at the track record of monarchy, it is substantially better than that of democracy.
This is a bold claim that requires bold evidence. For that, I direct you to the classic text by Hans-Herman Hoppe, Democracy: The God that Failed. He also wrote a follow-up and expansion on the same set of ideas that I elucidated above. I did a podcast on the same subject ages ago.
Dr. Hoppe’s argument can be summarised as follows:
If you look at the track record of European monarchies, in particular, in the 40 years before WWI, you would see that they managed to establish the most advanced civilisation in world history. Interest rates and inflation were both low by modern standards. Employment was robust. The middle class emerged as a direct result of the Industrial Revolution. There had been a substantial and lasting peace on the European continent. Life expectancies and living standards rose continuously throughout this period.
Even when wars did occur, they were nowhere near the bloodbaths and horrific disasters that came later in the killing fields of WWI. They were fought by armies outside of cities with the aim of destroying the enemy’s ability to fight, not to capture and pillage population centres.
This system was stable, efficient, balanced, and flexible. It succeeded because the monarch essentially had real skin in the game. And, contrary to the stereotypes about monarchs ruling with absolute authority, the reality is that every monarch has always had to answer to stakeholders and power brokers. Just as there is no such thing as absolute democracy, there is no such thing as absolute monarchy.
In reality, monarchs always had to balance their own priorities with those of the nobility. A kingdom is simply too big for one man to rule alone. Every government in practice involves farming out power to various sub-rulers and sub-executors of the actual will of the ruler, whoever or whatever that is.
In the case of a monarch, this ruling class is the nobility. Monarchs always had to ensure that their trusted nobles were kept happy. If they hiked taxes too high on their nobles, then those nobles would revolt against them. If those nobles abused their citizens, then the king would be required to intervene in order to maintain his power over the people.
I am oversimplifying and overgeneralising to an almost horrid degree, I know. You can find any number of exceptions to these rules and points. But monarchy holds one key advantage over democracy:
With respect to democratic nations, we have seen for the past 150 years an inexorable drift toward ever-greater tyranny, always done in the name of “safety” or “prosperity” or some other shibboleth that democratically elected leaders can package and sell on to the people in easily digestible form. But that drift has not been constant. It has been marked by dramatic policy swings, based on the moods of the people, that result in downright schizophrenic policy shifts, making any kind of long-term strategic planning nearly impossible for the partners and allies of democratic states.
Why bother planning 20 years out for oil pipelines and industrialisation investments with a Western democracy, when you know that, in the intervening span, some Greenie weenie might come along and impose massive tariffs, or nix the entire deal, just to please a small minority of constituents? Democracy adds huge risks to long-term projects and plans, which is why, as Kissinger pointed out, being America’s ally is so dangerous indeed.
The list of nations that has paid dearly for being America’s ally is long and terrible. It includes much of Latin America, substantial sections of Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and even parts of Europe. So why bother, when the risk is so great, and a new Administration might come in and undo all of the hard work that you have put in for years and decades?
But What About War?
The natural objection to monarchy raised by abel leba is that, under monarchical rule, wars were endless and terrible, and populations suffered and starved horribly.
I actually (mostly) agree. That is true. If you look at the rule of European, Russian, Chinese, or Native American god-kings, you will see EXACTLY the same pattern, throughout history. It is one of endless war, strife, famine, death, and constant agitation against one’s neighbours.
My rebuttal, however, is that all of this is relative. You HAVE to compare the SCALE of these conflicts with what we have seen since the dawn of “unlimited” (which is nothing of the sort) democracy in the 20th Century.
And what you will find, when you do this proper comparison, is that the death tolls from those continental wars – even during the Napoleonic Era – were as nothing compared with the slaughterhouses and killing fields of WWI and WWII.
No century has been more deadly to human life than the one that just passed us. Putting power in the hands of the people ended up installing absolute lunatics in Germany and Russia, and look at the results. It resulted in the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Viet Minh in Vietnam.
Worst of all, it resulted in the Empire of Lies, that started in the USA and now extends throughout all of Europe, and which threatens to destroy us all in nuclear fire.
The 20th Century demonstrated beyond any doubt that democracy always ends in tyranny, but with a huge stack of bodies in the process. By contrast, if you compare the track record of monarchies, you will generally find that they are far less lethal to pretty much everyone. It’s a matter of scale and scope.
The major flaw of democracy, as always, is that you inevitably end up giving idiots power that they cannot and will not wield responsibly or sensibly. The results have been disastrous for humanity.
Furthermore, you will find plenty of counterexamples of wise kings in history that gave their people peace, plenty, and prosperity. Take, for instance, Olaf the Quiet, the son of the last of the great Viking kings, Haraldr Hardraada. After Haraldr’s death, Olaf ruled his father’s kingdom for 20 years without strife, and his moniker of “The Quiet” came from his refusal to get involved in crazy stupid wars. If you look at the track record of kings in general, you will find more than a few such examples, who wisely refrained from going to war and concentrated instead on governing their people correctly.
God’s Word on Kings
Now let’s look at the final objection raised to my view that monarchy is preferable to democracy. Doesn’t God hate kings?
Mostly, yes, He does. This is not surprising.
Let’s take a couple of Biblical passages on the subject:
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men[a] and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”— 1 Samuel 8:4-18, English Standard Version
That is the standard one used as an argument against kings. God warned Israel against kings, and with extremely good reason. Literally the entirety of 1st and 2nd Kings is just one long series of screw-ups and offences by the kings of Israel and Judah against the law of God.
However, that is not to say that kings are forbidden by God. By no means is this true:
14 “When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ 15 you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ 17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.
18 “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by[c] the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.— Deuteronomy 17:14-20, English Standard Version
The words of the Lord are clear. Kings that He picks are legitimate, as long as they follow the four rules set out above.
Kings chosen by the people are not consecrated by God, which is why Saul was not legitimate in the eyes of God and was eventually destroyed. But kings chosen by the Lord are entirely legitimate and will rule over their people with temperance and skill.
That is not to say that such kings are without flaws. Remember how great a sin David committed when he canoodled around with Bathsheba and condemned Uriah the Hittite to death in battle so that he could steal his wife. And remember that Solomon, for all of his wisdom, broke with the commandment against taking many wives – and look what happened to him.
Conclusion – Monarchy as a Type and Shadow
Most importantly, God’s view of the Universe is extremely clear in the Bible – He is the sovereign, and we are His subjects. We are free to disobey Him and ignore His rule, but doing so results in severe consequences. God very clearly intended to rule His Creation as its King, with His rule enforced by us in the material realm as His functional imagers, just as the angels enforce His will in the spiritual realm.
We, through our rebellion, corrupted and destroyed that original intent, and since God cannot abide to be around sinful flesh, He intended to rule through judges in Israel. When Israel refused to obey God’s sovereignty and headship, He afflicted them with terrible kings who made the people miserable.
The best way to look at monarchy on this Earth is that good and capable kings rule the same way that God rules in Heaven. Wise monarchs rule alongside a council of elders and nobles who have power bases rooted in how well they, in turn, govern their own territories. True kings balance the competing needs of different power bases, pitting them against each other if need be, and ensure that they maintain peace, prosperity, and a contented population.
Is this truly a safeguard against tyranny? Of course not. There are any number of ways in which tyrannical kings can usurp the freedoms and happiness of their peoples. Keep in mind, however, that the American Revolution took place against a king who dared to impose a ONE-CENT stamp tax upon his American subjects. Today, the US Federal government has imposed a national debt of US$30 TRILLION, and that is not even counting the tens of trillions of dollars in unaccounted entitlements, and a tax burden that makes the absolute WORST of King George III’s depredations look absolutely piffling by comparison.
Democracy has gotten the USSA into a position wherein its downfall is absolutely inevitable, and so great will be the fall of the Evil Empire that its people will be scarred for generations to come. If this is the fruit of “democracy”, then I’ll take monarchy any day of the week.
No comments!?! Must have been a busy day. Great article. I mention the American Revolution to my own children a lot. Basically, a bunch of spoiled British aristocrats got upset by what amounted in total to about 5% tax on income. Then they drug the rest of the populace into it. It wasn’t until the French sided with the Americans that we “won” the war. Now look at us. Real marginal tax rates are between 30% and 50% when all the various taxes are considered, even the hidden ones from regulations that make the products and services that much more expensive.
There is a similar book title, “Liberty – The God That Failed” that I have on my shelf. It’s a bit of a tome and written from a Catholic perspective, but makes salient points throughout. When we won’t voluntarily submit to God, when we won’t enforce His laws, we experience the chaos we are seeing today.
If we in America don’t descend into a Leftist version of 1984, I predict some sort of king/nobility will be installed in the next couple of generations.
I agree, there will be a king of some kind, but I suspect it will happen much faster than we expect. Either the USSA will break apart into a number of different nations, OR a strong central king-like figure will arise as an absolute dictator. I only hope and pray that the latter option will result in a sane, restrained, moderately conservative, enthusiastically Christian king. But that is a very tall order, given how broken and debased the USSA has become. I am not optimistic about the future in the US, to put it mildly.
You forgot to mention Darius the Great’s takedown of democracy from Herodotus’ The Histories. He predates Plato by about 200 years. In other words, we’ve known about this for a good while.