Monday, April 2, 2018

Monarchy and Selflessness

I don't want to give specific examples, as criticising particular monarchs is hard for me and should only be done with the greatest caution. But I think most regular readers of this blog will be aware that when discussing monarchical history in modern times, monarchists will sometimes praise certain monarchs (usually their countries' last ones to date) who allowed their monarchies to fall rather than risk bloodshed, as an illustration of how much more altruistic they were than politicians tend to be. I understand where they're coming from: the King as the benevolent Father of his People who would rather go into exile or even die than hurt any of them is a powerful archetype. And it's certainly true that in modern times most countries' "Last Monarchs" have been good and kind men, with their predecessors often more culpable for any real or perceived failings of the Crown than they were.

However, I must confess that I've never been entirely comfortable with this line of argument. It seems to me that to posit the end of a Monarchy as preferable to bloodshed concedes too much to the essentially republican view that a monarchy exists primarily for the benefit of the monarch. But as monarchists, that's not what we're supposed to believe. The monarchy exists for the benefit of the people, or at least (when it is no longer possible to please all of them) those people who still believe in the Monarchy. The point of preserving the Monarchy is not so that the monarch can continue to live in the palace and perform the tasks of a head of state for his own enjoyment; no, it is so that those of his subjects for whom no other form of government is possible to love can continue to have the only kind of relationship with their country they understand. So is it really "selfless" for an embattled monarch to let the Monarchy end, possibly forever, rather than risk violence? I'm not sure it is. Do monarchs even have the moral right to deny their loyalists the chance to fight for them? I'm not sure they do. If the very existence of the Crown is not worth fighting for, nothing is. And in most cases it is ordinary monarchist people who will lose far more than the monarch personally does if the Crown is abolished. Aspiring to be a benevolent "father" who would never hurt any of his "children" is all well and good--in normal times, when the existence of the Crown is broadly accepted. But just as the Crown even in normal times does not invalidate its essential benevolence by punishing common criminals, it seems to me that in times of potential revolution those who would eradicate the Crown itself have forfeited any right to its protection. And so I think the greater sacrifice would be for an embattled monarch to fight to the end for the survival of the institution he was born to serve, even if he personally would be relieved to be rid of the burden, for as Queen Elizabeth I said, “To be a king and wear a crown is a thing more glorious to them that see it than it is pleasant to them that bear it.”

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