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Volume 19, Number 8
Why Hate Monarchs?
Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
Widespread panic set in this summer when the party of King Simeon II won a majority in Bulgaria's recent elections. There were ominous warnings about this being the first East European state to take a step toward restoring monarchical figures to power. So many people associate democracy with freedom and monarchy with tyranny that any attempt to revisit pre-democratic systems of government is regarded as evil.
Sheer nonsense. Freedom was nurtured in Europe under the decentralized monarchies of feudalism, which served as the political basis of decentralized federalism in the US. Unlike our own presidents, who are experts in passing the buck, the monarch tends to take personal responsibility for the fate of his domain. Upending a personal tyranny is much easier because you know whom to blame and whom to overthrow. The classical-liberal tradition was never hostile to monarchs as such; it was government power they opposed, and where the monarch restrained the state, he won their favor.
America has never had a monarch. In fact, we were born as a nation in revolt against one, which accounts for Americans' latent suspicion of anyone who calls himself king. The generation that brought us the American revolution against Britain set up, not a democracy, but a republic under the rule of law with a government so small it was barely noticeable. There was no king, but there was no president in the sense in which we know him today.
We've lived with mass democracy so long that the following is easy to forget: the democratic age, as it is known, began only at the turn of the century. It was imposed on Europe by force at the will of Woodrow Wilson. He was a social democrat and an imperialist but not a stupid man. He was caught up in the Progressive Era-fantasy that governments could manage society from the top down with the aid of science and lots of wishful thinking. He railed against monarchy and for democracy because he believed democracy would achieve this goal, which it sadly did.
Democracy in its purest sense should mean nothing but a peaceful transition of political officeholders. That is the sense in which Ludwig von Mises favored the idea: as an alternative to violent revolution. But democracy, as the system has been applied in this century, has come to mean something else. The democratic state is supposed to embody the people's will-or the "general will," in Rousseau's phrase. Hans-Hermann Hoppe calls this democracy "the god that failed."
Democracy has turned out to be not majority rule but rule by well-organized and well-connected minority groups who steal from the majority. It has also spawned exactly what Woodrow Wilson desired most: autocratic and centrally consolidated government. It is not a coincidence that government has grown as the franchise has been extended: more and more groups have been given the opportunity to help themselves to the liberty and property of others.
Twentieth_century democracy has made everyone's property vulnerable to public confiscation. Kings of old would have been overthrown in short order if they had tried to grab 40 percent of people's earnings, or told them how big to make their toilet tanks, or determined how schools taught every subject. One reason we put up with it now is the myth that says we are governing ourselves. That is why we turn a blind eye to petty tyrannies in our midst as well as to war atrocities when they are imposed by "our" government.
Given the history of democracy, why are so many alarmed at the idea of the restoration of monarchies in Europe? Surely, the monarchies will serve these countries better than communism has. What's more, democracy since 1990 has meant the dictatorship of the IMF and the World Bank. In Bulgaria, it has meant "painful" transitions that involve increasing taxes and corrupting partial privatization schemes.
What's more, Simeon II is not some ermine-clad despot-in-waiting. He was exiled in 1946 after the communists took over. He has lived in Madrid, working in business during all these dark years; he returned to his country only recently after sensing massive public demand. His advisers on economics are mostly American economists working in investment houses, people who understand that the IMF's advice needs to be taken with a cup of salt.
As an aristocrat who speaks every European language, he is in a position to help solve the deep ethnic troubles that afflict Bulgaria and to begin to provide something like juridical continuity to stabilize the country after decades of chaos. Certainly he may fail. But he is no more likely to fail than another coalition government made of communists, IMF tools, and other looters.
The US government says that every country should have a president and a democracy. In fact, the US might go to war against anyone who disagrees. In response, let me recommend the remarkable new collection of original scholarly articles collected in Reassessing the Presidency: The Rise of the Executive State and the Decline of Freedom, edited by John V. Denson. It shows that the reputation of this institution is wildly overblown: every president since Lincoln has exercised despotic power, particularly in wartime. The anti-federalists warned us that this institution was trouble waiting to happen; how right they were.
In so many ways, this book is a history-making volume because it is the first full-scale revision of the executive state. What a contrast with the usual presidential history, which calls the worst of them great and the best of them ineffective. In 800 pages, the authors turn convention on its head and shatter thousands of civics-text myths about our "commander in chief."
Presidents and kings should be feared no less than any government should be feared. But history suggests we often have less to fear from monarchs than we do from democratically elected tyrants or from pillaging multitudes acting in the name of the public interest.
Countries in Eastern Europe have suffered under fascism, communism, and, more recently, rule by the IMF and World Bank in the name of democracy. Restoring their lost kings rectifies a historical wrong and provides a glimmer of hope. In a few years, people will either yell "Hail Simeon II" or "to Hell with Simeon II," but at least the people will know that someone is taking responsibility.
Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Mises Institute and editor of LewRockwell.com (firstname.lastname@example.org).