Sunday, March 7, 2010

King Juan Carlos, Abortion, and Constitutional Monarchy

Much to the dismay of pro-life Roman Catholics, Spain's King Juan Carlos has signed the leftist Zapatero government's new law liberalizing abortion. While I oppose abortion and this law, unlike the internet's armchair warriors who are heaping abuse on His Majesty, I do not believe it is fair to blame the King. As I wrote on Facebook, the painful fact is that today's European monarchs do not govern their countries; their job is to act as symbols for all of their subjects, including the significant proportion who are now secular. That means they sign the laws the elected governments pass. I don't like it, but that's the way it is. The historical process that led to this was set in motion long before King Juan Carlos or any of his crowned counterparts were born. Don't like José Luis Zapatero's secularist, socialist laws? Blame Zapatero, blame the politicians, blame the people who voted for them, pray for their conversion (how many of these militant Catholics busily condemning King Juan Carlos have spared a moment for that, I wonder?), blame José Maria Aznar who stupidly identified Spanish conservatism with Bush's Iraq war. But not the King.

While many traditional Catholics--quite properly--opposed the Iraq war, no one blamed the King when his previous government committed Spanish troops to the invasion of Iraq. Zapatero is in power for one reason and one reason only, namely that in 2004 Spanish voters--quite understandably--repudiated the Aznar government for irresponsibly taking Spain into an unjust war that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI both opposed and thus needlessly bringing terrorism home. If anyone has blood on his hands, it is Aznar. But if Aznar's policies are not his constitutional sovereign's fault, neither are Zapatero's.

I wish with all my heart that Europe were still ruled by Christian Monarchs who could actually govern their realms as their ancestors did. But it isn't. If King Juan Carlos, or any other monarch today, had tried to rule in the way that his right-wing Catholic critics would presumably like, the most probable result would have been not the triumph of Catholic values (since no one man can unilaterally impose such a thing) but another revolution or civil war and the fall of the monarchy. Perhaps that scenario is acceptable to some, but not to me. Already, I find the existence of so many dull republics occupying lands monarchical for centuries practically intolerable; every reminder of what nations such as France, Portugal, Austria, Germany, and Russia have lost is like a little knife in the heart of me and every other true monarchist. In those blessed ten European countries that have so far escaped (or reversed) that horrible fate, I would rather have a symbolic monarchy than no monarchy at all.

Unlike pure liberals I will not condemn the politically incorrect monarchs of the past for not having compromised, but unlike pure reactionaries neither will I condemn the monarchs of today for their prudence. Since Europe's commoners--whether they call themselves socialists, republicans, or constitutionalists--have taken political power away from kings, it is the responsibility of commoners first to use the power they have stolen wisely, and then for those of us who know better to attempt to persuade the public to allow it to return to the Crown where it belongs. It is not the place of commoners to arrogantly judge their sovereigns and dare to condemn them for failing to singlehandedly reverse the tide of more than two hundred years of history when we cannot know how we would act were we in their place. I am a monarchist and I support the real monarchs of real monarchies. That is what monarchists do. Long live the Kingdom of Spain and God Save King Juan Carlos!


MadMonarchist said...

I have fought this battle many times myself. As I said on my own blog a couple months ago, "I have certainly not agreed with every act that King Juan Carlos has put his name to. I like him personally, I would prefer it if he would take more of a principled stand on certain issues but then I could say the same for virtually every monarch in Europe. I also do not think, as some seem to, that Juan Carlos alone could stop the current trend of Spanish government and society. Were he to do so, the most likely outcome would be that the monarchy would be abolished and a leftist republic established. With the current situation there is at least the framework in place for an eventual recovery."

I also like King Juan Carlos just personally. The fact is, whenever recent monarchs have tried to oppose parliament it has never turned out well. Juan Carlos is famous for saying, "I am the King of Spain, not the King of Belgium" when in fact, King Baudouin was still not able to actually stop the bill from becoming law and I have to say if Albert II were to try such a thing he would not escape as unscathed as his brother Baudouin who was so popular and respected he could not be touched. When Grand Duke Henri tried to go against the flow he lost his powers completely.

So many monarchists seem to ignore the fact that royals are products of their environment as much as anyone and the trends of society are bound to influence them to one degree or another and as you say we cannot expect them to stop the downward spiral of the world single-handed. Even absolute monarchs could not have managed that!

May said...

You make valid points (both Mr. Harvey and MadMonarchist) and I certainly don't want to "bash" contemporary monarchs, they have enough problems already. Stil, I don't think they can be entirely excused. Even if royal assent has been more or less reduced to a formality, I do think signing a law inevitably involves the monarch in a share of moral responsibility for the contents. I also would not want to see the remaining monarchies destroyed, but on the other hand, one cannot do a bad thing (sign an immoral law) in order to do a good thing (save the monarchy).

May said...

Also, I don't think abortion should be simply viewed as a "religious" problem. Even in purely secular regimes, there are laws against murder. Why should the lives of the unborn be any less protected?

The Moderate Jacobite said...

A clear and simple summation of the reality.

The alternative is not the defence of the unborn, but rather the collapse of a monarchy along with the passing of the repugnant legislation.

I would not like to be H.M. King Juan Carlos, and would find it incredibly difficult to sign such legislations...and would have a loooooong session with a good confessor before and after doing so - but I absolutely refuse to sit in judgment on him.

Anonymous said...

In Germany we have from time to time also quite harsh controversies around this topic. E.g. bishop Mixa compared the deaths from abortion are compared with those of the holocaust.

In the light of this comparison it is instructive to remember what Reinhold Schneider (writer and historican of the monarchist resistance against the NS-regime) wrote in 1946 in his Homecoming of the german spirit - On the image of Christ in the german philosophy of the 19th century:

"Those who explore the tide of history in truthfulness, will make the discovery, that the stream (of history) did not break through a dam, that was not before ransacked by the spirit and did not blast a stone gate without the explosive force of the spirit."

After this prologue Schneider investigates the teachings of philosophs like Lessing, Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling and Nietzsche.

As one of the key sentences in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing teachings Schneider comes up with this:

"Not the truth, in whose possession someone is or supposes to be, but the sincere travail he spent to gain the truth, makes the value of humans. Because not through posession, but from reaching after truth his strength amplifies, wherein his ever growing perfection lays. Possession makes a quiet, lazy, proud - - - If God had in his right hand all truth, and in his left only the ever active urge for truth, though with the addition, I always err, forever, locked and said to me: Choose!
I fell to him with humility in his left hand and said, Father give! the truth is finally for you alone!"

Bottom-line: Due to the proud rejection of gods truth the 20th centuries catastrophpes are really no wonder.

Aaron Traas said...

I'm not going to bash King Juan Carlos like the most of pro-life Catholic blogosphere, but I personally would have rather him taken the high road, like Grand Duke Henri. I'm not saying this is a simple, easy decision for him; far from it. I do tend to believe, however, it would be better for him to be stripped of this power (not the status of monarch, but that of signing bills into law) if he cannot oppose any bill without risking being deposed.

Jim714 said...

Does anyone know how the King feels about abortion? In all the posts and comments I have read this piece is missing. I mean, perhaps the King actually agrees with the new law; in which case he is not violating his principles. Personally, I think he made the right decision.

Harvey, you make excellent points in your blog. At this point in history, it is very difficult for a monarch to go against the tide of the nation. That's just the way it is at this time and in the long run, it may not be a bad thing.



Anonymous said...

What nonsense, I am sorry. His Majesty created modern Spain, he lead them on the way to the abandonment of Christian principles. So is the shepherd, so are the sheep. I will indeed pray for his soul, but I will also be praying ever harder for the lives lost in what is turning into 'defending a position for the sake of the monarchy'. He made Spain, and he will answer for it, as we all will for our own sins in the Last Day.

MadMonarchist said...

I have not seen anyone make any defense of abortion, certainly not myself, it is perhaps the most gruesome stain on the world today and it itself is an attack on monarchy as it is an attack on life and the family. The fact is though that the King of Spain did not write the abortion bill, did not propose it, did not vote into power the party that put it forward nor does he have the power to stop it. Queen Elizabeth II did not refuse royal assent on abortion and the King of Spain's position is far less secure than her own. Abortion is terrible, evil and unpardonable but why blame the King rather than blaming the leftist politicians who passed the law and the voting public who put them in office? How damn godforsaken has the world become when people actually blame a constitutional monarch that a majority of women in a given country want the right to kill their own children? If the King could have stopped it and refused to that would be one thing, but, admirable as his stand might have been, had he refused the law would still have gone into effect one way or another. That was proven in Belgium and Luxembourg and no one doubts the same would have happened in the UK and Holland and so on. There is no need to make excuses for the King -he simply cannot be held to blame for not stopping something that was not within his power to stop. If the public of any country is intent on killing itself there is not much the sovereign can do. It would be no more fair to accuse the family of a suicide victim of murder because they did not stop him in time. Blame those who want the abortions, those who perform the abortions and those who advocate for them, those who vote them into office and those who pass the bills but don't turn against the King simply for lacking the power to force the public to make better decisions.

Anonymous said...

I may haul after King Juan Carlos above all others because Franco made him his successor and he chose to make socialist Spain, he chose to put himself in this position, and yes, he chose to sign the bill in violation of the oath he took of the Gospels. End of story.

Theodore Harvey said...

I suppose for me a key difference between the two issues is that I have a deeply personal passion for monarchy that I am frankly unable to muster on the abortion issue. I tend to think of supporters of abortion rights as people with whom I disagree, but of anti-monarchists as enemies. While I now consider myself to be against abortion, I was once on the other side and am still not entirely without mixed feelings regarding the "hard cases." In contrast, I was never nor can I imagine myself as an anti-monarchist, and my enthusiasm for Europe's monarchies has never really wavered. I was writing songs about the Romanovs when Blayne was three years old. My bedroom is filled with books and magazines about royalty, not books about abortion. So I will never be a single-issue "pro-lifer," and given the political realities of the 20th century I can understand why King Juan Carlos made the choices he did, though I might wish his subjects had made some different ones.