Over at The Week, Matt K. Lewis is apparently frustrated at an “obsession” in the U.S. with monarchies.
Noah Millman of The American Conservative is apparently a bit angry at American monarchists (and that for him perhaps includes those who favor monarchy over democracy but do not identify as monarchists).
Mr. Millman says:
There’s a common argument that monarchies are more likely to have limited governments. I don’t see any evidence of that; rather, two hundred and fifty years ago, nearly all governments were monarchies and, at the time, all governments were much more limited than they are now. Medieval Iceland had very nearly no government at all, and it was not a monarchy. Meanwhile, the Scandinavian monarchies are not generally known for their parsimonious welfare states.
The argument is that monarchies are more likely to have limited government – or as the argument also goes; that monarchy tends to give more limited government than democracy. Attempting to disprove this with medieval Iceland and contemporary Scandinavia is rather unconvincing.
Medieval Iceland existed in a mostly monarchical world. There was no “We are the Government” illusion to the extent we have it now. Also, the parallels with modern democracy are limited at best, as Iceland had a system of chieftains. With the transition from monarchy to democracy in the world, we seem to be stuck with the confusion of the ruled and the rulers, a confusion which leads most people to believe that they participate in the rule. Hence, they allow themselves to be ruled to a much larger extent (yes, there is more to it than that, but that’s an important part of it).
As for Scandinavia, the monarchs there are very emasculated, and in this context it would be more correct to call them crowned democratic republics than monarchies. That being said, there are advantages of the typical constitutional monarchy of Europe, such as the Scandinavian monarchies and the British monarchy. I would mention the separation of the “worship of the head of state” and politics. However, you cannot have that to a large extent while still having a monarchy that substantially, in paraphrasing the Emperor Franz Joseph, protects the people from their government. This separation is what Michael Auslin of the American Enterprise Institute suggests when he proposes a First Citizen.
Monaco and Liechtenstein are the only monarchies of Europe that are relevant to the argument of monarchies producing more limited government. Granted, they are small in area size and population as well. They are still those that are relevant, and Mr. Millman chooses contemporary Scandinavia as one of only two specific examples in the entire history of the world to refute a theory of likelihood. Indeed unconvincing!
It could be that Noah Millman seriously believes that the argument is that monarchy as formal form of government per se likely gives more limited government. If so, I’d say he’s confused.
I suggest Mr. Millman has a read of Martin van Creveld’s The Rise and Decline of the State, Bertrand de Jouvenel’s On Power and Sovereignty, Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s Liberty or Equality, and Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Democracy: The God That Failed. It seems he could have read none of them.
Mr. Millman goes on to, apparently, ranting against American monarchists (and other Americans favoring monarchy?) for their not understanding that monarchy is not viable in America. A lot of them do understand this. So is Noah Millman confused?
Although a monarchy for those United States is probably not viable, there are still mistakes in the Union’s history that are worth pointing out. In American mythology, George III gets a lot of the blame. However, W.E.H. Lecky wrote in his Democracy and Liberty:
The disruption of America from the British Empire was largely due to the encroachments of Parliament on the ancient prerogative of the Crown[.]
H.L. Mencken wrote (collected in A Mencken Chrestomathy):
Even the American colonies gained little by their revolt in 1776. For twenty-five years after the Revolution they were in far worse condition as free states than they would have been as colonies. Their government was more expensive, more inefficient, more dishonest, and more tyrannical. It was only the gradual material progress of the country that saved them from starvation and collapse, and that material progress was due, not to the virtues of their new government, but to the lavishness of nature. Under the British hoof they would have got on just as well, and probably a great deal better.
Mencken wrote in his Notes on Democracy:
What is too often forgotten, in discussing the matter, is the fact that no such monarch was ever actually free, at all times and under all conditions. In the midst of his most charming tyrannies he had still to bear it in mind that his people, oppressed too much, could always rise against him, and that he himself, though a king Von Gottes Gnaden was yet biologically only a man, with but one gullet to slit; and if the people were feeble or too craven to be dangerous, then there was always His Holiness of Rome to fear or other agents of the King of Kings; and if these ghostly mentors, too, were silent, then he had to reckon with his ministers, his courtiers, his soldiers, his doctors, and his women.
One of the most recent contributions to the challenging of the wisdom of the American founding is a new novel by LRC contributor Becky Akers, Abducting Arnold.
It is said that the first step is to be ignored, the second to be laughed at, and the third to be fought. It seems the idea of Hoppean monarchy now is at the third stage. The American Conservative is not that mainstream, but it is something.