Monday, January 12, 2015

Thoughts on Islam, Christianity, and Monarchy

Since the French Revolution, Christian Monarchies have been overthrown by people who were also opposed to Christianity, and the new republics associated with secularism. Muslim monarchies, on the other hand, with the exception of Albania's (the only Muslim monarchy of modern times located entirely in Europe), have generally been overthrown by practicing Muslims who would never dare to attack Islam, at least not to the degree that revolutionaries in historically Christian lands have attacked Christianity, and sometimes (e.g. Iran) by Islamic theocrats acting in the name of Islam. Even in Egypt and Turkey, where Islamic monarchies were replaced by relatively secular republics, few if any republicans would have wanted to be seen as anti-Islam (and both countries now seem to be moving in a more Islamic direction). This suggests that despite a long history of Islamic monarchies, Islam is intrinsically less compatible with monarchism than Christianity is.

The decline of "Altar & Throne" Christian Monarchy in Europe has coincided with the decline of European Christianity, whereas Islam appears stronger than ever in the many countries once ruled by Muslim monarchs that are now republics. Islam has significantly more power in Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and Iran today under republican governments than it did under those countries' 20th-century monarchies, but European republics are all much more secular than they ever were as monarchies. Of the Muslim monarchies that survive today, it seems that if any of them were overthrown they would be more likely to be replaced by an "Islamic Republic" than by a secular one. Despite being frequently (and inaccurately) denigrated as "medieval," contemporary radical Islam has little to do with nostalgia for the past, certainly not its monarchies. It is difficult to imagine a contemporary "fundamentalist" Muslim pining for the Ottoman Empire as a traditionalist Catholic might long for the Bourbons or Habsburgs or an Orthodox reactionary for the Romanovs.

Perhaps this is related to European leftists' seemingly puzzling fondness for Islam, which is hardly their ally on issues pertaining to sex: do they sense that it is more inherently egalitarian than their ancestors' Christianity?


David Votoupal said...

My dissertation is that contemporary Political Islam is in fact a product of imported Western influence - as The Independent article last year stated ( - and that since World War II, the Middle East has often been swept by ideologies both secular and Islamic that rejected both traditional monarchies and liberal democracy in favour of totalitarianism.

The impetus for it may have also been given by the new Western "progressive" paradigm post-war which emphasised a "Third World" struggle against the West, which led to non-Western monarchies being casualties.

Michael E. said...

Mr. Harvey:

You make an interesting point, but I'm not sure yours is the only conclusion to be drawn here. I think monotheism and monarchy go hand in hand--plus Switzerland and San Marino were founded as republics.

It may be more that Islam is a malleable religion, or one that they're afraid to leave for fear of what will be done to them if they do, or something like that.

Maybe you're right about the last part--or, again, maybe they're too afraid to go after Muslims who might fight back, but not too afraid to go after Christians who won't?

Theodore Harvey said...

I said that I think overall Christianity is more compatible with monarchism than Islam is, not that Christianity can only ever be monarchist. The point is that opposition to Christian monarchies has generally been secularist while opposition to Muslim monarchies has not. Many non-liberal Muslims maintain that the existence of Muslim monarchies today is actually contrary to Islam, whereas I think very few if any non-liberal Catholics, Lutherans, or Anglicans would argue that the existence of Christian monarchies in Europe is contrary to Christianity.

Michael E. said...

I understand. And you did point out something interesting there. I just wanted to add to that perspective. But that does seem to be true--even in the USA, while the States originally had official religions (Christianity), the federal government of the USA has the Establishment Clause.

Now I'm curious: what specifically do you mean when you say "non-liberal" Muslims who say that Muslim monarchies are contrary to Islam? I have definitely heard people say "no king but Jesus" even though that's nowhere in Scripture or Christian tradition.

Theodore Harvey said...

Ayatollah Khomeini, for example, repeatedly said that "the concept of monarchy is totally incompatible with Islam"--despite the fact that no Islamic republic had ever existed prior to the 20th century. More recently, I came across a Muslim website stating that in Islam leaders are to be elected (not via universal suffrage but some other process) and that the existence of Muslim monarchies where power is hereditary is contrary to Islam.

Theodore Harvey said...

Of course, one can easily find anti-monarchist Christians as well, perhaps especially in the United States on the relatively rare occasions when the subject comes up, but my sense is that the idea that monarchy is fundamentally incompatible with the religion is stronger in Islam.

Michael E. said...

I'm confused.... Are you saying Ayatollah Khomeini was not liberal? If so, how do you define it? That's what I don't understand.

I don't have any idea of the statistics myself, but the "no King but Jesus" idea's justification sounds kind of in line with Evangelical Protestantism (assuming I'm not misunderstanding this latter--I have no experience with it). That is, the idea that any king other than Jesus (if you're not Jewish) is supposedly idolatrous.

Come to think of it, could that be why Muslims justify their anti-monarchical sentiment?

Theodore Harvey said...

Sorry but I don't know how to add to what I've already explained.

Michael E. said...

That's all right, then. Thank you for answering as you did, at least. I appreciate that.

God bless!