I, and I imagine most monarchists, are often questioned about constitutional monarchies or challenged by those who confuse modern constitutional monarchies with the absolute monarchies of yesterday. This can become rather tiresome and is a particularly difficult issue for me to deal with because it requires a little explanation and does not easily water-down well to the size of the average modern sound bite. In the first place, as most know, I fully support the constitutional monarchies of today. That should go without saying. I am a monarchist, I support monarchies over republics, regardless of whether or not they have a constitution which allows the monarch some role in government or if he or she is reduced to cutting ribbons, handing out medals and waving to the crowd. However, as most know, that is not the sort of establishment that I would consider ideal. As I have mentioned before, for me the ideal would be a traditional, religiously based absolute (but not arbitrary) monarchy. For me, the High Middle Ages are tough to beat.
A formal, written constitution, I believe, is not essential to the efficient operation of a good monarchy. They do tend to be rather necessary for republics, on the other hand, for reasons which will be evident in a moment. Having said that, I certainly do not think constitutions are necessarily detrimental to a monarchy. Every monarchy in Europe today has a constitution and I support them and hope that they all continue. My “problem”, for lack of a better word, with constitutions for monarchies is the idea or the mentality behind them which I find utterly naïve and unrealistic. This stems from much the same reason why I do not think there is one perfect political ideology in the world. Constitutions seem perfectly rational and reasonable and logical but human beings are none of these things, neither those who write the constitutions nor those over whom they are supposed to apply. It is not that I dislike all constitutions, it is only that I disagree (strongly) with the idea that constitutions can solve every problem or the idea that every country that is to be acceptable has to have one, written down and on display for all to see.
This is an opinion I hold because I firmly believe that one can never totally codify justice. We are told that a constitution is necessary to act as a check against the misrule of a bad monarch. But what about the reverse? As US President Ford famously said, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have”. I would apply this same reasoning to constitutions for monarchies. Any constitution strong enough to prevent a monarch from doing wrong is also strong enough to prevent a monarch from doing what is right. Human beings are fallible creatures, both the rulers and the ruled, those who are governed by constitutions and those who write those constitutions just the same. Nothing made by the hand of man nor any institution operated by mortal men is going to be infallible or immune from corruption and that applies to any constitution and any form of government that could possibly be imagined.
A constitution is a legal document, it is blind, impartial, unfeeling and heartless. At certain times and in certain circumstances those can all be positive things but they can also be negative. A monarch, on the other hand, is fallible like anyone else, but can also have humanity and compassion in a way that no legal document possibly could. No code can ever cover every eventuality and even under the best of circumstances a constitution will always come up lacking and have to be revised, amended or reinterpreted. In some cases, such as we are seeing today all around the world, they can be reinterpreted out of all recognition from what their original intent was. In a republic a constitution is necessary because, like constitutions themselves, a republic lacks humanity. It sees the people as numbers on a page, as economic units or as a herd to be controlled and managed toward a productive end (productive for someone at least). However, a monarch, without a written constitution has the freedom to use his or her own judgment, common sense and to adjust policy with humanity and compassion, seeing beyond the cold hard facts to the greater, evident, truth. A democratic constitution, for example, would say that the majority is right, no matter what the circumstance, and must be satiated. A monarch without a constitution can, contrarily, overrule the majority when what they want is clearly detrimental to themselves, society or the good of the country.
Again, I will repeat, that there have been constitutional monarchies that functioned extremely well and I am not absolutely opposed to them in any and all cases. However, I can easily become positively infuriated by the mentality of those who think some damn piece of paper will solve all of their problems. The world does not work that way. You can have law based on written documents but you cannot always have justice. Where I live there was once a commonly held sentiment that “the law” should never be allowed to get in the way of justice. Today we have rather gotten away from that I think, but I still agree with the sentiment. Law and order should always be upheld and maintained of course, but, again, true justice can be found in the human heart but it can never be found in a book or a piece of paper.
A monarch has a conscience, a constitution cannot. A monarch can treat people with dignity and as individuals according to their unique circumstances or situation. A constitution sees no individuals, only a nameless, faceless number on a census report. The most powerful or the most powerless can be crushed by the unfeeling legalism of a constitution and no constitution is fool-proof. We are seeing that today, in my opinion, reflected in republics like Greece, Portugal and Italy as well as constitutional monarchies like Spain or Belgium. Their constitutions did not keep them from losing -at least in some measure- sovereignty to the European Union nor did they check the power of the government from enacting socialist policies that have ruined their economies, destroying the productive and rewarding the unproductive to the point that they are now near collapse. The original British constitutional monarchy, which maintained a balance of power between the Crown, the lords and the commons, worked quite well but it has been changed to something, by this point, completely different from that system. Constitutions can be good and in some cases can be necessary but history and the present day situation of the world only reaffirms my belief that they are not absolutely essential and can even be, at times, a detriment.
Bravo. I'm going to post a link to this article on my blog as soon as I find the time.ReplyDelete
To my mind, democratic republics certainly seem prone to turning their written constitutions into fetish objects. Which is ironic, given how often they level accusations of irrationalism at supporters of monarchy.
And Tom Sunic has pointed out that some of the most democratic provisions ever enacted were to be found in the constitutions of repressive communist regimes - but that one has to look at the criminal code to see the true nature of the political order in force.
I think the US Constitution is a pretty good one and I wish was more closely adhered to, but it is true that many have gone so far as to regard it as a sacred object. Furthermore, many governments from Latin America to Africa have copied it almost verbatim -and failed miserably, so obviously a constitution cannot be full proof -or fool proof.ReplyDelete
All true of course, but I can't help but feel like a broken record everytime we monarchists have to repeat these points.ReplyDelete
I believe that you have made excellent points here, MM. I would add also that anytime you have a monolithic institution like a democratic republic, all of whose branches derive power from the same source, then no constitution will stand in its way for long as it seeks its own interest, since government courts are the sole arbitrators of the constitutionality of government action. Convenient. If I were in a mood to be infuriatingly precise, I would also add that in the most technical sense, all states have a constitution, even if it is unwritten and says no more than "as the Emperor wills it, so shall it be."ReplyDelete
Yes, it is no coincidence that, in this country at least, no matter who wins or loses it is the lawyers who always come out ahead. In the old days, of course, there was a little more balance with senators being appointed by the states to represent the states (sort of like the Imperial German Bundesrat perhaps) but then they became elected as well -thanks to that self-righteous butthead Woodrow Wilson. But that's another story.ReplyDelete
I think the issue is not so much whether there is or there isn't a constitution, be it written or unwritten, with little or significant power awarded to the monarch. Probably all monarchies have a constitution, that is, an organic structure and rules that more or less explain the way it works.ReplyDelete
The problem for monarchies is the acceptance of the doctrine of national or popular sovereignty. That is, its acceptance in the modern sense: popular sovereignty can only be exercised by an elected assembly. Sovereignty is the (theoretical) power to do everything, including overthrowing the monarchy. This way, even well-beloved monarchs must pursue popularity to ensure survival, on a longer term than politicians but in much the same way. This vulnerability deprives constitutional monarchy of the independence necessary to exercise the impartial judgment that makes the institution so useful.
Of course, I understand that surviving constitutional monarchies may be useful insofar they preserve some elements of old monarchy, so that the people are familiarized with it and don't think it a relic of the past. However, I think we might agree that this use can only be entirely fruitful if it is pointed towards future restoration.
On the subject of constitutions, I think the French Constitutional Charter of 1814, (Bourbon), and the Additional Act of 1815 (couched as an amendment to the Imperoal Constitutions of 1804 (Year XII and its republican antecedents) were excellent monarchial constitutional documents, as was the French Imperial Constitution of 1870 (amending the Constitution of 1852).ReplyDelete
True but my intention here was not on the issue of popular sovereignty, it was simply to point out that no matter what documents or economic system or political formula you have it cannot replace the need for personal, individual virtue and correct morality. What I find disturbing is that so many people seem to think that if they have the "right system" there will be peace, prosperity and happiness no matter how vile and degenerate the people may be. This, of course, is not so and even if the "system" is one I approve of and think better than all others, it still requires the people, the rulers and the ruled, to behave in an upright and correct fashion.ReplyDelete
There is no escaping the human element.
Congratulations on this great post.ReplyDelete