Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Nepal and the Errors of Republicanism

I promised a more substantial post on Nepal, so here it is. First of all, a new member of my forum has posted a thorough analysis of the political situation there which should be read by all concerned. Also recommended is the latest addition to my blogroll, Nepali Netbook. Today, having already linked to some of the recent coverage, I'll stick to some more general reflections.

My monarcho-skeptical but open-minded father, having heard the NPR report linked last Wednesday, asked me if the fact that one unpopular ruler (King Gyanendra) had apparently turned people in Nepal against the monarchy did not indicate a weakness in the monarchical system, since one unpopular president generally does not turn people against republicanism. An interesting question that deserves an answer. I would reply first of all that this apparent discrepancy is primarily a consequence of the embattled status in which the 21st century's surviving monarchies find themselves, in which republicanism (however defined) is widely assumed to be the default form of government, with monarchies at best tolerated as exotic curiosities. Indeed, ironically I myself have made essentially the same point made by my father, though in reference to what I see as the unfair assumptions behind much contemporary discussion rather than the intrinsic merits of the systems themselves.

Why is it, then, that the unpopularity of a king can lead to calls for the abolition of the monarchy, while the unpopularity of a president rarely leads to calls for changes in the basic form of government? I suppose that most republicans would say that this is because "you can vote to elect a new president," and to the extent that people believe that, and believe that it matters, in a narrow sense they're correct. But this explanation ignores two factors. First of all, what all republics claim in theory is that "the people," not the president, are sovereign; in a sense that is their fundamental difference with monarchies, in which the monarch (whether absolute or constitutional) is officially sovereign. So a King embodies the system of monarchy in a deeper way than a President embodies the system of republicanism, and consequently the failures of a King are more likely to be blamed on the form than those of a president. But does this really make republicanism superior? For the second factor overlooked is that republicanism offers no guarantee or even likelihood that the new president elected to replace an unpopular one will be any better than his predecessor, though he may be unpopular with different people. After all, there is no reason to suppose that presidential elections will reflect any more wisdom than that of the electorate. As difficult as it may be to get rid of a bad king, it is even more difficult to get rid of a bad electorate, the tyranny of which was feared far more by all the great philosophers. And I have more confidence in the randomness of hereditary succession than in the whims of the general public.

Such cynicism hardly seems unwarranted in light of the fact that the biggest winners in Nepal's elections have been the Maoists--the same people who have been slaughtering ordinary Nepalis for over a decade! History offers ample reasons to suppose that an election in which Communists are victorious could prove to be the very last election for a long time. But this does not faze idiotic Western observers such as Jimmy Carter, who, apparently not content with having undermined the Iranian monarchy when he was president, is now cheering on the collapse of Nepal's, while urging the international community to embrace its Maoist enemies. So what if Nepal is about to be run by bloodstained terrorists? All that people like Carter can see is the "total transformation in the form of government from a 240-year-old Hindu monarchy to a democratic republic" which in their myopic worldview is self-evidently a good thing. Even if this "democratic republic" were not likely to be controlled by Maoists, the sheer arrogance of the modernist mentality according to which the discarding of 240 years of tradition is something to be celebrated, or at least accepted, is breathtaking. What authentic, organic, genuine roots in Nepalese culture will this "democratic republic" have? How can it claim the allegiance of Nepalis who value the traditions of their ancestors? In the best-case republican scenario, Nepal, once the world's only Hindu kingdom, will join the ranks of its rootless artificial democratic regimes devoid of soul and character. But it is more likely that Nepal is heading down the tragic path of France, China, Russia, Germany, Iran, and so many other countries, in which its beleaguered monarchy is to be cast aside in favor of a new order likely to bring horrors dwarfing any problems that existed under the old regime. People never learn.

1 comment:

bo said...

How people can discard monarchy over one mad king, and support democracy even after a Hitler is beyond me...