Failure Modes of Monarchy


OK, so a couple of outside websites have stirred the murky pool of
neoreaction — a welcome development, I think.
Because of the angle they came at it from (via Mike Annissimov, via
Scott Alexander), they rather overstated the importance of monarchism
to neoreaction. Monarchy is important as a point of comparison, but
it is only one possible approach among several for a neoreactionary
future.
Having said that, Anomaly UK is where future monarchy
gets seriously proposed,
so I’ve pulled together what I think are the main failure modes of
monarchy, to put the dangers in the proper perspective. Most of them
have been discussed here before, so this is largely an exercise in
consolidation and better explanation.
By “failure”, I mean either that the system collapses and is
replaced with something else, or that the system survives but is very
unpleasant to live under.
There are some failure modes that are common to all systems of
government: any system can be invaded by foreigners, or be overthrown
by a demagogue. Monarchy, because its distinctive feature is the lack
of selection
applied to its rulers, and the lack of regular
mechanisms for replacing them, has, or is perceived to have, its own
peculiar failure modes. Here they are:

  1. King is an evil psychopath
  2. King is a liberal
  3. King is uninterested, politics ensues
  4. King is sick, insane or senile
  5. King is a child
  6. Succession is unclear
  7. King has odd ideas short of insanity

Examples:
Evil Psychopath — I can’t think of any. Democracy (particularly
one-party democracy) seems to have a far stronger track record of
putting evil psychopaths in power than monarchy does.
Liberals — this has historically been the major failure mode. The
solution is to permanently discredit democracy and liberalism. The
Roman Republic managed to achieve that for Europe for over a thousand
years, so I’m optimistic on this point.
Uninterested — this was
a major concern
throughout the monarchical period, but I struggle to think of
examples, at least from English history. Edward II maybe? That’s a
long way back.
Sick or insane — this has been troublesome. Modern medicine greatly
reduces the risk: the best-known examples have been the result of
syphilis or other treatable conditions. Senility is a major worry for
a modern monarchy, though.
Child — again, historically a big worry, but not common: it hasn’t
happened in England since Edward VI. Better health makes it less
likely. The British royal family currently has three generations of
mature adults available.
Unclear succession — again, better health makes shortage of heirs a
very minor concern. Disputed legitimacy might become an issue: even
with the availability of genetic testing, there is the question of who
does the testing and whether they are trusted. My impression is that
while disputes over legitimacy or rules of succession are not that
rare historically, they are usually cover for some deeper underlying
problem, often religious.
Odd ideas — this seems like a worry. Historical examples are again
scarce, though. Most odd ideas can be indulged as hobbies at miniscule
cost to a modern nation.
The most dangerous odd idea is liberalism; such a damaging and
plausible outcome that I already listed it separately. Most European
monarchies did in fact succumb to liberal kings. The next most serious
threat is religion. If the king adopts a minority religion, or even
the majority religion with too much enthusiasm, he risks stirring
dangerous levels of opposition. The Stuarts’ problems mostly stemmed
from this (though the reformation in Europe necessarily made things
difficult for them). My solution is
antidisestablishmentarianism.
The common element in many of the perceived dangers of monarchy relate
to what the intentions of the monarch will be. The intentions of
monarchs seem to nearly always be to preserve his kingdom intact for
his family, to be remembered as a success, and, quite often, to get
laid a lot.
These motives can cause problems — heavy-handed policing employed
against even remote threats to the regime, wasteful vanity projects —
are common to all forms of government, particularly democracy. The
failure modes that really are specific to monarchy are
well-understood, and steps to avoid them have been taken — it is
well-known that the chief responsibility of the young royal is to
produce more than one legitimate heir at a relatively decent age.
We see this today in the non-ruling royal families of Europe, along
with a relatively recent development, that elderly monarchs are
routinely either abdicating in favour of their children, or less
formally delegating to them. This is an important response to modern
longevity. A monarch with strong family loyalty who found himself
incapacitated by illness would be likely to do the same.
A tight family group provides these benefits to a monarchy, but if the
family is relied on as the most trusted set of allies for the monarch,
then family members are going to be competing to some extent for power
and influence. This is normal, and happens under every form of
government. The fact is that members of a royal family are closer to
having a common long-term interest than members of other ruling
organisations — political parties, civil service departments or
military commands, and so are less likely to be destructive in their
competition.




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