Modern political thought is pockmarked with false assumptions. The United States of America as a singular polity is presumed superior to the United States as a plural collection of governments - which was the original concept of our current Republic - and even more superior to the prior Confederation, or its ancestor the Continental Congress, which actually won our war of independence. Yet geographically dispersed political power has proven militarily resilient, and a strong guard of individual rights.
Separation of Powers, Checks & Balances, and similar sacred principles of our government are as likely to make responsibility for failure foggy and unamended, than to keep the man on horseback from seizing all our rights away. Most of the rebelling American colonies - which became effectively little nations, and then sovereign states within the different American national governments - did not wholeheartedly embrace those doctrines.
The legislatures held nearly all the power. They made laws without much reference to courts. They chose representatives to the Continental Congress, and the Congress of the Articles of Confederation. For more than a century, these legislatures also chose U.S. Senators. Legislatures also picked the Presidential Electors (as we were reminded in the Florida squabble), and so effectively picked the President. Some legislatures even chose the Governor of their state. Separation of Powers, and Checks and Balances were conspicuous by their absence.
Democracy is another principle of government which can be very good or very bad. Adolph Hitler gained power through successful persuasion of one of the best educated and most cultured electorates the world had ever seen. The appeal of German nationalism was earlier confirmed by plebiscites in Tyrol, Salzburg, and other German speaking areas - after Versailles but before Nazism - and the votes were perhaps the most lopsided popular votes in political history (in favor of a Grossdeutschland). Hitler would win by huge landslides any free fair election through the first two years of the Second World War.
Monarchies are another example of rampaging theory crushing history and practicality. Americans are particularly vulnerable to this argument because, after all, we won our independence from King George III, and in the course of our war, Americans vilified him. This British Monarch, however, was anything but a monster. Pathetic? Yes, particularly in his later years. Mistaken? Seriously so. Cruel and irresponsible? Not at all.
What has come out of the English and later British monarchical system? Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, Isle of Man, and Bermuda are some notable examples. Obviously the Monarchy did not prevent some of the most peaceful and open societies in the world from evolving into nationhood.
In fact, we underestimate the utility of monarchies in Great Britain. As the kings of England were making concessions and confirming some individual rights, the kings of the separate Scotland were doing this and more. Indeed, much of the text from the Declaration of Independence looks astoundingly similar to a Royal document from Scotland issued in the Fourteenth Century.
What about the bad governments of the Tsars, the Kaisers, and some other modern monarchies with real power? After the Tsars came the Soviets, who were more oppressive, suppressed economic growth in the Russian Empire (which had been clipping along at 10% per year before the Great War - a rate never matched under the Soviets), and although the worst Tsars had pogroms, the best Communist leaders had a Gulag worse than the worst pogrom.
Tsarist Russia produced great writers (often the enemies of Tsarist rule), and vibrant political parties which opposed the Tsars - and held seats in the Duma. Perfect world? Hardly. Even good? No, the Tsars were bad, but they were vastly better than the Commi-Tsars.
Imperial Germany had an explosion - not only of wealth, but also of intellectual achievement and exploration. Did the Kaiser and his Junker supporters run a good nation? Not especially. But they also never committed genocide, or burned books, or mocked the notion of truth.
Had these worst of modern monarchs stayed in office, with much reduced power, after the Great War, is there any question that the world would have been a much better place? Limited monarchies, in fact, are the antithesis of totalitarianism. Having finite and largely nominal legal power, these monarchs nevertheless provide a constant reminder that someone stands separate from the Party. It's impossible to imagine an Orwellian future with an hereditary king not beholden to Big Brother.
Modern history, in fact, provides some compelling examples of just how priceless monarchies can be in very dangerous times. The last, and perhaps the only, great moment of the League of Nations was when Hallie Selassie appeared before the assemblage, and warned about the dangers of Fascism. During the Holocaust, King Christian of Denmark and his family (and soon all Danes) began to wear the odious yellow Mogen David when the Nazi Anti-Semitic edicts took effect. A king is essential to that type of civil disobedience. The monarchs of Norway and of Holland fled to England after occupation, and without elections or territory, the hereditary rights of those rulers made their position as leaders of their nations secure and important. But monarchs, even rather petty monarchs, proved even more valuable in other events.
Mussolini, the "Duce" of Fascist Italy, was obviously losing the war in 1943. Although he was the head of government and leader of the Fascist Party, Mussolini was not the head of state. King Victor Emanuel held that title. When the Grand Fascist Council removed Mussolini, the shadow of the King was valuable. When Mussolini went to the King, it was Victor Emanuel who insured that the Duce was out - after all, he sat on the throne and not the Fascist leader. What happened after that is often forgotten, but tellingly important in the postwar environment. Italy not only removed Mussolini and stopped fighting the Allies, but it actually entered the war against Germany. During almost the last two years of the Second World War, Italy was an ally of the winning powers.
The modern Romans appeared to have learned from their ancient countrymen. Rome, as young history pups know, began with kings - proud and bossy kings. Then Rome purged itself of the Monarchy and instituted a Republic (one which enchanted our Founding Fathers, and many scholars ever since). Calling the Roman Republic a "failure" because it fell is like calling the death of an 120 year old trans-Caucasian Georgian "untimely."
But what happened after the Republic descended into civil wars and proscription lists? The Empire was born. An emperor and not the Roman people became sovereign, and Roman power in Rome or Constantinople lasted another thousand years.
This different view of monarchies is important today. Not too long ago, there was a Shah of Iran and a Shah of Afghanistan. These men were not saints, but their nations were much more tolerant, peaceful, and modern than the medieval cliques who rule much of Central Asia now. Moreover, monarchs with honest claims to the throne are native and natural rulers. What Arab nations are not giving us fits today? The kingdoms of Jordan and of Morocco come to mind.
As the West faces cultures strange to our values and our viewpoints, it's helpful to remember that monarchies are comfortable cultural symbols and systems in these lands. Those goons who wish to stir xenophobic natives into anti-American frenzies often point to our imposition of democracies, parliaments, charters of rights, etc. True - we have done just that - and in doing so, we've created another lever for resenting a captured culture.
Why should we do this? The consequence has not been democracy and modern liberties, but rather the worst of all possible worlds: Saddam Hussein and Muammar al-Qadhafi as effective political leaders for life, who derive their power from bogus institutions that on paper look consistent with our political values.
What has worked in the Mediterranean basin? Spain stands out as a conspicuous example. Franco, like Mussolini, worked within a monarchical system. Spain stayed out of the Second World War, when its entry in 1940 probably would have been decisive. During the Holocaust, Spain and Franco rescued an estimated 40,000 Jews from death camps. Even more critical to our current affairs, when Franco died, King Juan Carlos stepped into the picture, and turned an authoritarian nation into a working democracy. The standard of living in Spain today is equal to that of Israel, and growing faster.
Juan Carlos exercises no significant governmental power, but that doesn't mean he's powerless. The ancient Romans astutely noted that what we call political power comes in several varieties. Imperium was formal government power. Consuls, Praetors, and other officers in the Cursus Honorum had Imperium. Potentia was personal power: wealth, clients, veterans with small plots on the Italian peninsula, friends in high places.
Those two varieties look very familiar to us, but the third type of political power was Auctoritas, or Authority. This power was the psychological and emotional leverage that an individual had within the nation. Juan Carlos has little, if any, Imperium - and although wealthy and popular, he has only some Potentia. But Juan Carlos has vast amounts of Auctoritas. He is "above the fray", and he "puts Spain first."
In our new world of terrorism and religious suspicion, we would do well to consider again the uses of monarchies. Perhaps we should install a Shah of Iran, who actually rules the nation. Or perhaps we should instead consider taking decent, moderate, honest claimants to old thrones in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, and Lebanon, and install them as respected honest brokers. How do those hate-filled young men, who so admire Hitler and Stalin, combat someone like Juan Carlos?
Kings have power, even if their legal power is trivial or perfunctory. Romans recognized power came in several varieties: Imperium (which few kings have), Potentia (or money and friends, which kings often have in some measure), and Auctoritas (which all kings have). This power of authority or respect is often the most powerful political power of all.
Kings can, and do, lift the ethical level of public discourse (they can't afford to lie, and don't need to lie). The courteous manners, the general interest in the commonwealth, and the personification of national spirit that kings reflect, made their influence gradual and broad, but very powerful nonetheless.
There are really only two modern, successful nations that have had a trouble-free transition directly into our notion of a republic: America and Switzerland. France, of course, tripped and fell, and over-reacted for a century after the Revolution. By contrast, those nations like Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, and Britain, which have maintained this apparently useless governmental appendage, have done quite well. Why should we think that the Democratic Republic of Sudan would be better than the Kingdom of Sudan? We should not. A monarch is almost certainly what Sudan, Iraq, and other nations need right now.
How to reintroduce monarchies to those nations that need them? First, by recognizing that monarchies are not reflections of barbarian societies, but rather the formal systems of government in Britain, Japan, Sweden, Holland, and Denmark. Second, by noting that monarchies are a balanced way for a nation to formally expound its religious and cultural heritage (Queen Elizabeth is by operation of law an Anglican), without mob violence, or vile tyrants. Third, by providing powerful material encouragement to those badlands of the globe that want financial support, investment, and diplomatic respect, with restored monarchies as the means to that end.
History has given humanity a number of tools to reach the ends of moderate, stable, and sensible government of men by men. Ignoring well tested tools like the monarchy, is silly and myopic. In fact, this sort of fastidiousness may turn out to be a philosophical luxury our species cannot afford.