By Walt Garlington for the Saker Blog
There have been a few political thinkers in the United States through the years worthy of attention, but many of those here who comment on such things are awful guides, their views being badly skewed by their belief in American exceptionalism. Mr William Federer is a great example: His articles, while full of interesting details most of the time, too often place them in a distorted metaphysical frame. What he posted recently about kings is unfortunately not a departure from his established norm:
‘Slavery did not start in 1619. It began with kings. Whenever you had the first king on top you had slaves on the bottom.’
This is about as unserious and childish a statement as one could make about monarchy. So why bother about it, then? Because it is representative of the way many, if not most, people in the States think about kings. And that thinking is such a distortion of reality, political and otherwise, that it calls out for a response of some kind, if only to try to ward off any worse evils than we have been living through recently.
Christian monarchy, contra Mr Federer, is a great blessing to people in a number of ways. First, it draws their collective attention away from the mundane to heavenly realities. The Orthodox priest Father James Thornton writes in his book Pious Kings and Right-Believing Queens,
‘The throne of a Christian Emperor, King, or ruling Prince, is not an earthly contrivance but is of a much higher order. It is ordained and blessed by God and belongs to Him. It is written in the Old Testament that, “Solomon sat on the throne of the LORD.”4 The throne, thus, was not Solomon’s but was God’s.5 The thrones in all Christian monarchies are the same; they belong to God and are occupied by God’s anointed. In the Orthodox Church, the monarch is anointed in a Mysteriological (or “Sacramental”) act. At the coronation of Saint Edgar the Peaceable in 973, for example, “[t]he climax of the ceremony was not the crowning, but the anointing with holy oil which conferred near-priestly status….” 6 Precisely the same was true of the coronation of Saint Nicholas the Tsar Martyr in 1896, almost a thousand years later. As Bishop Nektary of Seattle (1905-1983) writes, “The Tsar was and is the anointed of God.”7 After the anointing, the monarch’s person is sacred and, consequently, to lay violent hands on an Orthodox monarch is a grave sacrilege; in fact, among the worst sacrileges possible. Conversely, a monarch is held by God to a much higher standard than ordinary men and women, for the monarch holds, by God’s Grace, special powers in his hands, which powers he is sworn to use in a God-pleasing manner. He is also an example to his subjects, on which, if his example is a wholesome one, those subjects should model their own lives, to the extent possible. Monarchs, consequently, must use their powers with fear and trembling, not arbitrarily, and must be mindful that the eyes of God and of His people are ever upon him. The monarch’s purpose or role is to uphold the law of God in his country, to protect his country and people from adversaries, to shelter the poor, widows, and orphans, to contribute to the prosperity of his people, and to provide, through the Church and in cooperation with the Church, spiritual sustenance, thereby guiding his subjects to eternal salvation.’
Modern Western democracies/republics, with their official detachment from anything Christian, simply cannot provide the kind of spiritual uplifting that a Christian king and the rites involving him and his people can.
Nor can they offer quite as powerful of a moral example needed to sustain other important institutions in society like the family. His Eminence Archbishop Chyrsostomos writes in the ‘Introduction’ to the same book,
‘ . . . we can . . . see in the lives of pious kings and queens from the past how they cultivated virtue in their subjects and how virtuous subjects, in turn, inspired selfless leadership in their rulers. This reciprocal relationship, centered, at least in Christian monarchies, on self-sacrifice and the concern of the monarch and his subjects for the goal of living a Godly earthly life in preparation for eternal perfection, is ideally reflected in the life of the family. The monarch, like a mother or father, cares for his or her subjects with love and concern, just as his or her subjects, like children looking up to a parent, feel an obligation to the monarch who nurtured and protected them. Monarchism, therefore, is intimately related to the family, a basic element in the structure of society, and draws on many of the same powers that have made the family such an enduring force in human history and in our personal formation.’
Modern elected politicians are prone to selfishness and not to self-sacrifice, seeking after power and wealth, unwilling to let go of them (some even dying while still holding their elected or appointed posts; recent US Supreme Court justices like William Rehnquist and Ruth Bader Ginsburg come quickly to mind). The Christian monarchs, His Eminence goes on to say, show us the opposing virtues:
‘The most amazing lesson that we learn from the lives of the virtuous monarchs of our Orthodox Christian Faith is singular virtue of fearing, following, and then loving God. Our royal Saints were men and women who feared the lure of the world and ruled according to Divine precepts, following the examples of the Saints. Many of them, in so doing, came to such love of God that they became monastics at the end of their lives, giving up power and privilege for the simplicity, poverty, and humility of the angelic life. Virtue so transformed them that they became, in the parlance and thought of the modern world, social parasites. But as the very lives of these righteous royals aver, in the course of embracing virtue they elevated and benefited humanity and society, giving it essential life. They expose, by their example, those who eschew virtue, who suck the marrow from human life, exploiting it for the sake of selfish passions and personal gain, as the real parasites. Trading social preëminence for humility, wealth for poverty, leadership for obedience, and self-interest for self-transformation in Christ, the Orthodox royals who sacrificed their lives for their people, who set an example of Godly life and self-abnegation in abundance and luxury, and who, in the most severe and extreme expression of their commitment to God and others, embraced the monastic life—these extraordinary figures pose a challenge to our increasingly unreligious societies, to our materialistic and passion-centered way of life, and to our deviation from the path of achieving human perfection in selflessness. They throw down the gauntlet to all of us in an epoch where we have made depravity available to all, calling us to spiritual nobility, the lowly and the mighty alike; to an egalitarianism of humility; to a common aristocracy of virtue; and to an abandonment of the material world and the passions for the spiritual gifts of goodness and purity.’
But this is not all. Most admirers of US constitutionalism and the Founding Fathers fail to realize how friendly towards monarchy many of those Founders were. John Adams, for instance, writes,
‘An hereditary limited monarch is the representative of the whole nation, for the management of the executive power, as much as an house of representatives is, as one branch of the legislature, and as guardian of the public purse; and a house of lords too, or a standing senate, represents the nation for other purposes, viz. as a watch set upon both the representatives and the executive power. The people are the fountain and original of the power of kings and lords, governors and senates, as well as the house of commons, or assembly of representatives: and if the people are sufficiently enlightened to see all the dangers that surround them, they will always be represented by a distinct personage to manage the whole executive power’ (Eric Nelson, The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding, Harvard UP, Cambridge, Mass., 2014, pgs. 67-8).
We disagree with Mr Adams as to the powers of ‘the people’ to make and unmake a government, but the statement is still remarkable in its claim by a ‘loyil American’ that an unelected king can be a legitimate representative of a people.
But even more noteworthy than this is that many North American English colonists were in favor of strengthening, not weakening, the powers of the King of England:
‘The Virginia lawyer and pamphleteer Thomson Mason (younger brother of George Mason and a future chief justice of the supreme court of Virginia) agreed, declaring (as we have seen) that “the general opinion, that the great defect in the present Constitution of Britain is the enormous power of the Crown” ought to be dismissed as “a vulgar errour.” Quite the contrary, it was the failure of the British people to restore “the ancient independence of the Crown” after the two revolutions that had crippled the mixed monarchy. The Americans, unlike their brethren across the sea, recognized this defect, and they were accordingly in a unique position to rescue the constitution, both in the colonies and in Britain itself: “Was our Sovereign, even now, to place a little more confidence in his American subjects, there are many amongst them whose knowledge of their country would enable, and whose affectionate loyalty to him would impel, them to point out constitutional modes of placing him in a very different situation from what a corrupt, selfish, British aristocracy wish to see; for, however humiliating the reflection may be to a Briton, it is the virtue of America only that can preserve Great Britain from becoming the prey of the most despotick aristocracy that ever yet was elected”’ (Ibid., pgs. 56-7).
It was King George III’s refusal to reign in the corrupt oligarchs in Parliament that led the colonists to abandon their loyalty to him rather than some kind of special, world-changing zeal for ‘freedom’.
Southerners for their part were quite comfortable with the hierarchy of the English monarchical system. This is plain in Mr Thomson’s writing above, and even as far removed from the War for Independence as 1836, when the Virginian Nathaniel Beverley Tucker published his novel George Balcombe. William Napier speaks first in this passage, followed by the titular character Mr Balcombe:
‘”You must have a curious fancy for genealogies. For my part, I only care to know that I am my father’s son.”
‘”Then you do yourself great wrong. Were you a Plantagenet, men would hardly blame you for claiming descent from the Conqueror, though traced through the treacherous John and his imbecile son, or any others whose crimes tarnish the glories of that illustrious line. Is it not a higher honour to be sprung from a race of men without fear and without reproach the ancient cavaliers of Virginia? Men in whom the spirit of freedom was so blended with loyalty as to render them alike incapable of servility and selfishness; and who, when their sovereign tore himself from his place in their hearts, transferred their allegiance to their country, and again poured out their blood like water, and scattered their wealth like chaff. Had they fostered this and transmitted it to you, you would have been careful to make out your claim to the inheritance. Are you not degenerate, if you do not prize, even yet more highly, the name, for the honour of which they gave so freely that which was, in their estimation, comparatively but as ‘the small dust of the balance?’’ (Harper & Brothers, New York, Volume 1, p. 22)
The firm grip of demonic revolutionary democratic ideologies on the Western soul makes a recovery of Orthodox Christian monarchy in the US or abroad unlikely in the short term. However, the awakening and re-enthronement of the sleeping king is a theme that recurs throughout history. There is an innate desire in mankind for a king-father to rule over him. The misguided efforts by writers like William Federer to ignore that good and natural desire and feed it the poison of pure egalitarianism instead (per C. S. Lewis) will only drive the West deeper into the darkness of ruin.
The Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee having come and gone, we cannot help noting that many folks in the States today sound all too much like the Pharisee – ‘We thank Thee, O Lord, that we are not like all the other countries with their autocrats’ – and other such prideful thoughts. Only the humility of the Publican will save us, though.