Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Kings and Human Failings

My friends know I've become a monarchist, but we don't talk about it much. Most of them think I'm a little crazy, but they thought that before, so no worries.

When I sometimes can't restrain myself from pointing out that some problem is the result of elected government, they often point out that monarchs could theoretically be prone to the same failings. When I pointed out the well documented irrationality of voters, one friend pointed out that a king has exactly the same neurological quirks as a voter. When I pointed out that politicians are tempted to allow unrestrained immigration because they want a voting bloc to which they can pander to get re-elected, another pointed out that a king might be tempted to do the same thing so that he can collect more taxes.

These are valid points, except that history shows that kings don't behave in the ways proposed, or at least very seldom. The problems of the 20th and 21st centuries are, for the most part, historically unique. This tells us that monarchs are not, in practice, particularly prone to these flaws.

Author Florence King is a monarchist. Her father was an Englishman, which is where she got it from. In one of her books, I believe Reflections In A Jaundiced Eye, there was a chapter entitled "Why I Am A Royalist", but it wasn't an especially good defense of monarchy. Then again, she's primarily a humorist (whose humor requires a degree of erudition to appreciate), so advocating a political platform isn't really her field.

(She refers to herself as a royalist, but according to the dictionary, a royalist has a particular person or dynasty he wants on the throne. A monarchist simply wants there to be a throne. I lean towards the Hapsburgs, if only because it would be poetic justice after Woodrow Wilson dismantled their empire, but I'd be just as happy with a Stuart, a Romanov, or a Windsor.)

Miss King says that the chief objection people raise to monarchical government is hereditary insanity, and then explains that monarchs who go off their heads are always more famous because they make for more interesting movies and novels, whereas most kings were boringly good.

The fact is that when kings really went bad (i.e. James II), it was possible to remove them, though it doesn't seem so to people accustomed to being rid of everyone automatically after two to four years.

But more importantly, when a king went bad, it usually only inconvenienced a handful of people. Courtiers might fall out of favor, even be imprisoned or executed, but the vast majority of subjects, who never came into contact with the court, would be unaffected by his folly. When some politician, lobbyist, or agent of the alphabet soup goes bad, every single person in the nation is affected, and getting rid of their pernicious measures can take decades... or forever.

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