Monday, December 22, 2014

On Monarchs And Monarchy

A gentle reminder:

    It was a plain weapon, not one you'd expect to see in the hand of a king. There was only the barest tracing on the faintly curved blade. The guard bell was a plain steel basket, without ornamentation. The hilt was a seven inch length of oak, darkened with age but firm to the touch. There was only a hint of a pommel, a slight swell of the hilt at its very end.
    "What is this?"
    "A sword. Your sword."
    A hint of alarm compressed his eyes. "What do you expect me to do with it?"
    I shrugged. "Whatever you think appropriate. But a king should have a sword. By the way," I said, "it was first worn by Louis the Ninth of France when he was the Dauphin, though he set it aside for a useless jeweled monstrosity when he ascended the throne."
    Time braked to a stop as confusion spun his thoughts.
    "I don't know how to use it," he murmured.
    "Easily fixed. I do."
    "But why, Malcolm?"
    I stepped back, turned a little away from those pleading eyes.
    "Like it or not, you're a king. You don't know what that means yet. You haven't a sense for the scope of it. But you must learn. Your life, and the lives of many others, will turn on how well you learn it." I paused and gathered my forces. "What is a king, Louis?"
    He stood there with the sword dangling from his hand. "A ruler. A leader. A warlord."
    "More. All of that, but more. The sword is an ancient symbol for justice. Back when the function of nobility was better understood, a king never sat his throne without his sword to hand. If he was to treat with the envoy of another king, it would be at his side. If he was to dispense justice, it would be across his knees. Why do you suppose that was, Louis?"
    He stood silent for a few seconds.
    "Symbolic of the force at his command, I guess."
    I shook my head gently.
    "Not just symbolic. A true king, whose throne belonged to him by more than the right of inheritance, led his own troops and slew malefactors by his own hand. The sword was a reminder of the privilege of wielding force, but it was there to be used as well."
    His hands clenched and unclenched in time to his thoughts. I knew what they had to be.
    "The age of kings is far behind us, Malcolm."
    "It never ended. Men worthy of the role became too few to maintain the institution."
    "And I'm...worthy?"
    If he wasn't, then no worthy man had ever lived, but I couldn't tell him that.
    "There's a gulf running through the world, Louis. On one side are the commoners, the little men who bear tools, tend their gardens, and keep the world running. On the other are the nobles, who see far and dare much, and sometimes risk all they have, that the realm be preserved and the commoner continue undisturbed in his portion. There's no shortage of either, except for the highest of the nobles, the men of unbreakable will and moral vision, for whom justice is a commitment deeper than life itself."
    His face had begun to twitch. He'd heard all he could stand to hear, and perhaps more. I decided to cap the pressure.
    "Kings have refused their crowns many times, Louis. You might do as much, though it would sadden me to see it. But you could break that sword over your knee, change your name, and run ten thousand miles to hide where no one could know you, and it wouldn't lessen what you are and were born to be." I gestured at the sword. "Keep it near you."

If there were men worthy of being kings, monarchy would be preferable to all other political forms. The problem is as Malcolm Loughlin stated: such men are very few.

Consider Veronica Roth’s novel Divergent, in which she placed political power in the hands of the “Selfless” caste: persons wholly unconcerned with personal gain. They live as if they’d taken vows of poverty and are serious about them. That caste’s members are assigned to it by a supposedly objective testing process...but what if the test could be corrupted, or the testers suborned?

Hereditary monarchy has even more problems, of course. There is no solution, as any “impersonal” method of selecting a monarch is as vulnerable as democratic electoral politics.

When it comes to governmental systems, we are faced with a choice of evils. More, every system comes with an ironclad guarantee: whichever one we select, given time enough it will wholly succumb to evil. The dynamic of power-seeking – i.e., that the most unscrupulous and ruthless of our species, who value power above all other things, will seek it most ardently and will ultimately win it – is implicit in any system that legitimizes and allocates coercive power.

Of course, there’s always the course of choosing none of them. But when will Man be ready to try that degree of freedom? Is there any chance of it happening before the Second Coming?

1 comment:

Reg T said...

I am an unabashed cynic. I wonder if humanity deserves a second chance, a Second Coming.

There are indeed men of good will, moral men who do what is right , damn the consequences. Most of us do not possess that moral courage.

The problem is the system, government. It is structured to diminish, to obstruct, and defeat the moral men among us. It is designed to prevent such a moral man from being able to influence much beyond his own local environment, to prevent him from overcoming the _almost_ absolute power wielded by the people who consider themselves superior to the "common man".

There was a time when the true "kings" among us could effect the necessary changes, could have sufficient influence to _lead_ us toward a moral society, but in my cynicism I fear it may no longer be possible. Or, if it is possible, it will not happen without much blood, sweat, and tears.