Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Ambition and Politicians

Lately I have been reading a great deal about the World Wars, particularly the first. That is, I have been reading about how they changed Western civilization, how ideologues of various sorts seized the opportunity to implement their own grand schemes, and most of all, what the politicians were up to. The general impression I am coming away with is that war is indeed futile, only not for the reasons that pacifist antiwar protesters and simpleminded pop singers imagine, and that my own beloved country has indeed done some ill-advised meddling in the affairs of other nations, but the meddling most people complain about us doing isn't the ill-advised bit. (Indeed, most people who complain are staunch adherents of the bad things we've spread through the world, such as elected government and the UN, as well as the mischief of the mostly German-born but US-incubated Frankfurt School.)

Judging from what I have seen in the monarchist blogosphere, I think that most of the people reading this will probably already know what of what I speak. For those who do not, I am not going to try to summarize it here. A couple of good sources include this essay by Murray N. Rothbard; I haven't read the entire thing yet, but from what I have read he seems to be mostly on the same page as me. There is a troubling chapter in a PDF book at the Mises Institute here. Also, Mencius Moldbug proposes a relevant reading list (scroll down to the phrase "If I had to pick ten books" which precedes the list). Other good links would be appreciated.

My reason for bringing this up is that it shows rather glaringly the deficiencies of politicians as opposed to monarchs. I believe it was Mr. Peregrine Worsthorne in his excellent Democracy Needs Aristocracy who pointed out that a hereditary monarch might have about the same amount of power as a dictator, but the monarch will not behave in the same way. The dictator has been driven by burning ambition to get to where he is, likely has all sorts of chips on his shoulder and scores to settle with the world, and God knows what he has done to get to his position. Of course he is going to throw his weight around a thousand times more than some bloke who just has the job because he was born into it. There is an ancient proverb: "The world groans when a slave becomes king."

We need not raise the extreme examples of Napoleon, Hitler, and Lenin to illustrate this human tendency. Come to think of it, I think the milder example I am about to give is probably the one Mr. Worsthorne made. (I really must reread that book.) Monarchs and aristocrats are born to their positions, they are used to them, and often they are rather bored with them and see them as a matter of duty. Politicians have to expend tremendous effort to reach their positions, and once they do, having power is highly exciting to them. Even a good man will find his head turned by this novelty; indeed, one might say that a "good" politician, if I may use that phrase, is the one who is least carried away by his sudden elevation to power. In any case, anyone who wants a position in government enough to do everything he must do to attain it is clearly no one we should entrust with any power whatsoever.

So the downfall of elected government is in the ambitions of those it elects. Now, ambition is often a good thing. A society that has constructive outlets for it will benefit from it. But political power is not a constructive outlet.

A monarch knows that his country is his. In a sense, he possesses it. He sees his role as preserving it to pass on in good condition to his heirs. People take better care of things that they own and wish to pass on to their children than of things they have merely temporarily seized.

A man who becomes a president, senator, or prime minister is patently a man of great ambition. He knows he only has a few years to make his mark, and by God, he's going to make it. That is what Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were thinking, at some level, when they instituted their various domestic measures and got the U.S. involved in wars that we probably should not have been involved in, particularly the first. I am afraid that Mr. Winston Churchill was thinking the same thing, though I believe he acted more creditably - he was a "good" politician, as his head was less turned by his own position.

So President Wilson, President Roosevelt (either one), and many others over the past century did everything they could in the short time available to them to set social experiments in motion, so that decades and indeed centuries later, people all over the world would be feeling their effects. This is precisely why elected politicians should not be allowed the opportunity to do just that.

Kings wish to make their marks as well, but they almost never do rash things like make enormous changes to their nation's economy, create alphabet soups of bureaucratic agencies to meddle in its citizens' lives, create brainwashing camps to which all impressionable children must be surrendered, outlaw time-honored personal pleasures such as drinking and smoking, or maneuver to deeply involve their country in wars that are none of its business. The closest parallels I can recall are the efforts of particular monarchs of backward countries to technologically modernize their nations so that they can prosper and innovate. Here I am thinking of Louis XIV, who brought artisans of various kinds from all over Europe to make Paris the leader in good living, a position it retains to this day, and Peter the Great, who sought to introduce the new technologies being pioneered in Western Europe to Russia, as well as to do away with some of the more repressive Russian customs, such as forced marriages.

No, when kings are ambitious, apart from bringing in foreign scientists to teach native engineers, what they generally do is patronize artists, because, as Florence King pointed out, every king wants his reign to be remembered as the Age of Himself. I would much rather my head of state be occupied with finding painters to promote than in scheming how he may turn me into an ideal citizen of his ideal society.

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