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Spengler

Two Cheers For Monarchy

July 23rd, 2013 - 6:38 am

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Apropos of England’s royal baby, a kind word for monarchy is in order. The popular fascination with Britain’s royal family reflects something less shallow than a collective celebrity crush: the longing for something more permanent, more reverential in the character of the state. One of the most penetrating discussions of the issue was penned by the great Jewish theologian Michael Wyschogrod in the journal First Things in 2010. There is something profoundly inadequate in the mere rough-and-tumble of political interests so beloved of the Hobbesians who dominate what now passes for political philosophy on the secular right wing of American academia.

The moment we place any restriction on popular will (as does the US Constitution), Wyschogrod observed, we impose a higher criterion which must in some way be thought of as theological. That is obvious on a moment’s reflection:

To discuss theological criteria for the constitution of a secular republic runs against the grain of modern political thought, even though constitutional restrictions on popular sovereignty imply reliance on an authority that is greater than human. In a republic the people are sovereign, yet the purpose of a constitution is precisely to restrict the power of any future majority. If popular sovereignty is absolute, what right has a constitution to frustrate a future majority by, for example, imposing some form of supermajority? In the extreme case, suppose a majority of the delegates to a constitutional convention enacts a constitution that forbids any change forever, or requires a 98 percent majority of the future legislature to enact any constitutional change.

This is no different in principle from the two-thirds supermajority that the United States requires for constitutional amendments. The only basis for a polity to accept severe restrictions on popular majority rule is the conviction that the founding constitution derives its power from a higher form of sovereignty than the voters in any given legislative session. Without such a theological foundation, a republic cannot feel bound by the rules laid down by its founders. A purely secular republic would self-destruct because it could not protect its constitution from constant amendment.

That is not the way that classical political rationalism looks at the matter, but Wyschogrod’s logic is sound. Where does that higher authority come from? And how can it be embodied in politics? In America it was embodied in a religious consensus, as de Tocqueville explained so well in his 1836 Democracy in America. In England it is expressed not only by democratic forms, but also by tradition, and embodied by the monarchy, which also is the custodian of the national church. That is a problematic arrangement in many respects, but one that has endured and still has the power to evoke loyalty and love of country.

Since the conversion of the Visigoths in Spain and the foundation of the Merovingian dynasty in France around 600 C.E., though, the notion of monarchy in the West has derived in important ways from the biblical concept of monarchy, centering on the reign of King David — which we now know to be a historical fact, rather than a legend as an earlier generation of skeptical scholars falsely believed. And it is in the State of Israel today that the issue might be brought most clearly into focus, Wyschogrod argued.

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All Comments   (11)
All Comments   (11)
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Mr. Goldman,
While this was not likely something you considered in your argument, I could predict that such a claim of Davidic monarchy sans monarch would likely be supported by Christian Zionists. As Christian belief holds that Jesus of Nazareth is the rightful heir of the throne of David, (The book of Matthew makes this a primary theme), this would be seen as preparing the way for His return, and not as an insult.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"A constitutional monarchy with an empty throne would conform to the thrice-daily prayers of the Jewish people for redemption...But it would also allow Israel’s democracy to function without theological interference of any practical kind."

David, are you seriously calling for Israel to install a King Empty Chair? The USA has one already and I don't think we should wish anything similar on anyone, anywhere!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hmmm...there are a few surviving Romanovs around. How do you feel about a real Tsar succeeding the elected one in 2018 when Putin decides to retire, David?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"That is not the way that classical political rationalism looks at the matter, but Wyschogrod’s logic is sound."

And it's wrong. The hard left elite believes free speech means pornography, and the right to bear arms only means muskets. It uses judicial fiat to twist and pervert the constitution into meaninglessness. But, it is impossible for ordinary citizens of the majority who honor its principles to ever have any influence on it. It becomes unholy.

Theology is possible in flesh, not law, because kings can discipline leftist elites or can be overthrown and replaced if necessary, usually for not doing enough to discipline leftist elites. Putting any constitution, including scripture, as the "spiritual" base of a government fails. Long before the written constitution the Anglo-Saxon people always understood its rights, by nature.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Israel does not have a written constitution because it has never reconciled its secular parliamentary democracy with its Jewish character."

I had always thought that it was because Israel was following the Westminster Model. The mother country does not a written constitution either, because the can be no limit to Parliamentary sovereignty. Or at least that is what I thought.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Or because Moschiach Ben David has not (re)appeared.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I blame Bismarck for all this democracy nonsense, as well as the welfare state. Otto von B. thought he could use the vote to accomplish his Kaiser's goals. But then the Kaiser died and in 1890 Wilhelm II fired Otto, only the first of his many blunders. Democracy stayed like the cancer it is, and soon consumed the German spirit.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Here in Canada, we have a monarch who only shows up in country about once every five years for a week. I argue that this is an ideal head of state, calling minimal attention to self. But my arguments still seem unconvincing to anti- monarchists. There is an idolatrous desire for some figure to "represent us as Canadians".
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
After Prince(ss) of Wales, you could have the Pince(ss) of Ontario?? (or in deference to Canadian needs, Prince(ss) of Onto-Quebec)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Wales is the right model. Go West, young man....
1 year ago
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