Thursday, May 7, 2015

Conflicts that Impacted the Cause of Monarchy

It is a simple fact of the human condition that the most major changes in the world often coincide with the most major conflicts. The history of monarchy is no different. While it does not benefit to dwell on it, most monarchists are aware of the obvious fact that the institution has been on the decline in the recent eras of history. Since monarchy was the natural form of government that developed spontaneously all around the world, this is really no surprise. Where do you go from ‘up’? For most of human history, monarchy was not something that most people fought about. It was something that was accepted and monarchies fought each other for various reasons but rarely fought over the issue of monarchy itself. However, there have been some conflicts that have proven critical to the success or failure of monarchy as an institution, as a form of government. Some of these I have considered will be obvious and expected but others are probably less well known. There have also been some conflicts which many have assumed have had a great impact on monarchy but which, in fact, have actually had a negligible impact on the cause of kings.

One which had an impact far out of proportion to its scope was the English Civil Wars. Even though the republican dictatorship of Cromwell ultimately failed and the monarchy was restored, the English Civil Wars did lasting damage to the monarchist cause. For one thing, political realities pushed most of the monarchies of Europe into recognizing the Cromwellian regime and so set the precedent for monarchies at least making peace with if not actively allying with a regicidal, anti-monarchial republic. The republican victory also provided an example that was taken up by others in the world, most significantly numerous of the “Founding Fathers” of the United States of America. Even though the republican dictatorship of Cromwell failed, the fact that his Roundheads were victorious on the battlefield was immensely significant. Because of this, even after the restoration of King Charles II, the anti-monarchy crowd never felt themselves beaten, never accepted defeat and so continued to hold the horrific image of the fate that befell Charles I before the eyes of his sons until Britain went through the so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 when the nature of the monarchy was so fundamentally changed that the legacy continues to this day. It set a precedent, by events it set into motion, for the supremacy of parliaments over the Crown in fact even if not always in name.

As for the so-called “American Revolution” (more correctly the American War for Independence), the effects of it on the cause of monarchy has been considerable but probably not as significant as most think. Its importance tends to be exaggerated for two reasons; American hyper-patriots who like to think that the world revolves around the United States and everyone follows their example and longs to be just like America and, ironically, the anti-American crowd that has the same mentality but viewed negatively rather than positively. They also tend to look at how powerful the United States eventually became and so simply assume that so powerful a country must have had a great deal of influence on the rest of the world. It certainly did have some impact, even if for no other reason than that it made a new generation of people view republicanism as a viable possibility. It also aided in, indirectly, bringing about the more consequential French Revolution though it was certainly not the determining factor. Americans were more influenced by fashionable liberal thought in Europe than Europeans were by anything that came out of America.

For all of early American history, the United States simply did not matter that much on the world stage. The British also learned lessons from it that enabled monarchy to survive much longer in more diverse parts of the world than might otherwise have been the case. It certainly did not have much of an impact on its own neighbors. Canada staunchly refused to follow the American example and as for Latin America, it would take at least forty years for them to join in declaring independence from Europe and none of them adopted very American-style governments. Their independence came about mostly due to political disputes in Spain and the most significant powers among them, Mexico and Brazil, first became independent as monarchies. Eventually, the success of America would have an impact on others around the world without doubt but it is just as obvious that the revolutionaries who took to the streets in places as diverse as Russia or China shouted out verses of “La Marseillaise” and not “The Star-Spangled Banner” or “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. Most republics in the world have adopted the European model of parliamentary republicanism rather than the American presidential model.

Obviously, the French Revolution was a conflict that had enormous impact on the cause of monarchy worldwide. The Americas, Africa, Russia, even Southeast Asia have been impacted by the French Revolution in their republican movements. For example, the aforementioned political divisions in Spain that spurred the Latin American wars for independence were a direct result of the spread of the values of the French Revolution to Spain and eventually a new French-imposed regime on the ‘Land of the Setting Sun’. The civil wars that plagued Spain for so long afterward and which led to the loss of the empire were all based on political disputes that were born out of the French Revolution. Even the ultimate Allied victory in the Napoleonic Wars sometimes benefited the republican cause in certain cases depending on which changes, caused by the Revolution, were reversed and which were kept in place. It may not have been immediate but tensions remained that would ultimately prove detrimental to the monarchist cause. In both republics and monarchies the conflict coincided with an increase in nationalism across Europe. This did no harm, and in some cases even helped, monarchies which managed to make themselves the champion of nationalist causes but it proved very harmful to those who set themselves against it as people who were forced to choose between their monarch or their fellow countrymen tended to choose their countrymen.

France, it goes without saying, suffered the most from the French Revolution in terms of its effect on monarchy. Even though the monarchy was ultimately restored, as was the case in Britain, unlike the British the French never managed to come to a consensus that allowed the monarchy to survive. Efforts to reconcile the principles of the Revolution with the traditional values of the ancien regime never succeeded. Had the royalists of France been able to unite there would undoubtedly still be a Kingdom of France today but the rift in the Royal Family, caused by the Revolution, prevented this and ultimately republicanism prevailed, in the words of Adolphe Thiers because the republic was, “the form of government that divides France least”. The Revolution, by destroying the traditional Kingdom of France, also deprived the monarchist cause of what had previously been one of its sharpest swords. For conservative, Catholic France, which had once sent knights all over Europe, establishing monarchial states and spreading Christian monarchy, to become a secular, left-leaning republic had a huge impact on all sections of society and on countries and nations very far removed from Western Europe.

The French were also involved in the conflict that, I think, had a far greater impact on the monarchist cause than most realize which was the Franco-Mexican War of the 1860’s. It can, of course, be hard to be definitive and is very easy to romanticize “what might have been” but, having given that period of Mexican history no small amount of study over the years, I very much believe that it was one of the most pivotal struggles in the contest between republicanism and monarchy that the world has seen. I do believe that the subsequent history of not only Mexico but much of Latin America would have been changed dramatically for the better if the Second Mexican Empire had endured. I also tend to think that it would have had a beneficial impact on the institution of monarchy in Europe as well. Had Emperor Maximilian and Empress Carlota persevered on the Mexican throne, putting all of their plans into effect, and had Napoleon III carried on with his own further aspirations for the region, I see no reason why the Mexican Empire could not have become a monarchial power just as successful as the United States went on to become. Of course, the United States (or at least the northern half of it) is more responsible than anyone for the ultimate victory of Juarez and the defeat of Maximilian so that, one could say that the American Civil War was a pivotal conflict for the cause of monarchy as the victory of the free states over the slave states in that conflict doomed the cause of Maximilian and absolutely ensured the victory of Juarez and the republicans. Though, that may, perhaps, be the reason many monarchists do not wish to dwell on it.

Had Maximilian prevailed, the United States might today be the odd-man-out in an American hemisphere predominately consisting of monarchies. Maximilian envisioned the Americas with three primary powers; the United States in the north, the Empire of Brazil in the south (Maximilian loved Brazil) and the Empire of Mexico in the center. It may be stretching things a bit, perhaps even more than a bit, but it just might have had a beneficial effect on Europe as well. Suppose Napoleon had been more concerned with his “Kingdom of the Andes” project (perhaps working with President Gabriel Garcia Moreno of Ecuador who was a Catholic monarchist at heart) and his Panama Canal idea and these distracted him from falling into the trap set by Bismarck that provoked the Franco-Prussian War. It might have delayed German unification but, without the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, perhaps it may have prevented an Austro-Serb conflict from spreading into the First World War. Admittedly, that is quite a stretch but I do firmly believe that the loss of the monarchist enterprise in Mexico was much more far-reaching than most anyone today realizes. Under the sort of monarchy Maximilian endeavored to create, there really would have been no reason why Imperial Mexico could not have become just as successful as the United States. It would have had a diverse and growing population (they wished to encourage more European immigration just as America later had), it had plenty of natural resources and it would have had a monarch that believed in the same principles of economic freedom and private property rights that allowed the United States to overtake Britain as the world’s leading economy in the 1870’s. All the necessary ingredients would have been in place and the Maximilian-style monarchy could very easily have become an example to others in the region to start a new trend favoring monarchy throughout Latin America and, perhaps, beyond.

Another example which most will surely be expecting is the First World War. There is no doubt that World War I had a very negative impact on the monarchist cause, beyond simply the loss of the monarchies in Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia and eventually Turkey. The war itself really did not have much of an immediate impact on the wider cause of monarchy beyond these countries but the events which the war set into motion certainly did. One area in which I differ from many monarchists I know is my belief that the war itself was the problem, not which side happened to win. I do not take the view that everything would have been uniformly better if the Central Powers had emerged victorious, though certainly in several cases that would have been true. Once started, I see no reasonably probable way in which it could have failed to end in disaster for both the winners and the losers. A negotiated peace, a “peace without victors” may have been better but given how much both sides had lost, I just don’t see that as being likely. The more one loses the more one is going to demand in order to justify such tremendous sacrifices. I also tend to think that, even if the United States had stayed out of the last year of the war, the Allies would still have won. The British blockade had been too successful, the advent of tanks would have broken the deadlock and the non-German Central Powers were already on the verge of collapse or in the process of collapsing before the United States made any significant contribution at all.

Two events which had an even bigger impact on the monarchist cause were the Russian Revolution and World War II but, of course, both of these were a direct result of the First World War and, in my view, would not have happened without it. They still, possibly, could have been avoided or minimized had different decisions been made but had it not been for the First World War the problems that caused them would not have surfaced in the first place. Poland and Czechoslovakia would never have been republics were it not for the First World War and in those cases it did matter that the Central Powers lost for sure. However, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Albania would all have remained monarchies were it not for the actions of the Soviet Union in World War II which only came about because of the Russian Revolution which could have been avoided or minimized had it not been for World War I. Of course, had the Axis powers won World War II, there would have been huge loss of monarchy in Western and Northern Europe (what would have happened in the east is harder to speculate about) but every ill-effect for the monarchies of Eastern Europe in World War II as it happened (Allied victory) was a direct result of World War I by way of the Russian Revolution. The fall of monarchies from Ethiopia to Indochina because of communist revolutionaries, backed by the Soviet Union can all be traced directly back to  the Russian Revolution and World War I.

Where the Second World War does stand alone, at least somewhat, as a conflict directly impacting the cause of monarchy was in the East Asian theater of the war. In this case, the outcome of the war does matter as much as the war itself in that the war upset the existing, mostly pro-monarchy status quo but another, also mostly pro-monarchy state of affairs could have emerged but only if the Empire of Japan had been victorious. The problem with that, of course, is that Japan never had a prayer of winning the war and so some will doubtless be bitter about Japan upsetting the existing state of affairs with the succession of attacks across Southeast Asia in late 1941 and early 1942. For the most part, the impact was in the fact that the dominant power in East Asia would have been a monarchy (the Empire of Japan) if Japan had won the war rather than republican powers like China and the United States when Japan lost. Other than that, not a great deal would have been different on a country-by-country basis except that Manchuria and, perhaps, Inner Mongolia, would have been monarchies after the war was over. China, the Philippines, Burma, India and Indonesia would have become republics no matter who won the war. Laos and Cambodia did remain monarchies but Vietnam did not and, if Japan had won, it is probable that the Empire of Vietnam that the Japanese belatedly established, would have endured with Japanese support.

However, when it comes to conflicts which had at least a regional impact on multiple monarchies, two or three stand out in my mind. The first was the 1911 revolution in China. The impact of this should be obvious as China has traditionally been the powerhouse of East Asia and the Qing Empire consisted of more than just one country. The republican victory spelled the end for monarchy in Manchuria, Mongolia and Tibet as well as giving moral and material support to republican copycat groups in other countries, particularly Vietnam whether with the communist VietMinh or the VNQDD which was effectively a Vietnamese version of the Chinese Kuomintang. Furthermore, if not for the fall of the Qing Empire, there might have been no Japanese intervention on the mainland beyond Korea and thus no World War II in Asia and no consequent collapse of monarchies with the end the colonial establishment in places like Indochina, Indonesia, Burma or possibly even India though the case of India is debatable. The other examples, and why I say “two or three” are the revolutions in Egypt and Iran because they have, effectively, handed off the role of bedeviling the cause of monarchy in their region.

The overthrow of the Egyptian monarchy in 1952 is often credited with awakening Arab nationalism but, in fact, that had already been done during World War I with the British-backed Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks. However, that led to a succession of almost uniformly Arab monarchies emerging, the sole exceptions being Syria and Lebanon (thanks to France). However, the Egyptian Revolution led to specifically republican, anti-traditional and largely secular nationalist revolutions or attempts at such throughout several areas of Africa and the Middle East. It provided the inspiration for the 1958 overthrow of the monarchy in Iraq and from 1962 to 1970 Egypt provided the most support for the republican rebels in the civil war in the Kingdom of Yemen with Saudi Arabia backing the royalists. The Nasser vision of authoritarian socialist republicanism was also taken up by rebels in Oman where royalist forces and republican forces clashed with sympathetic regimes backing each; Great Britain, Imperial Iran, Jordan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia backing the Oman monarchy and China, Soviet Russia and East Germany among those backing the rebels.

Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 that country has become the primary antagonist of the Arab monarchies in the Middle East with the Ayatollah vowing to “export our revolution to the whole world”. An early attempt to reach out to the Islamic Republic by Saudi Arabia was slapped away by the Ayatollah, referring to Sunni Muslims as heretics and the regime stated openly that there was ‘no room’ for monarchies in Islam. It severed diplomatic relations with the distant Kingdom of Morocco simply for having allowed the exiled Shah of Iran to visit the country. However, more significant than its support for anti-monarchist groups throughout the region, the example of the Iranian regime has inspired religious radicals to rise up against existing monarchies just as the Egyptian revolution once inspired nationalist radicals to do the same. Over the years, Iran has pursued a very erratic foreign policy, originally dominated by rigid adherence to their brand of religion but later becoming much more unprincipled, in some cases (such as several involving China and Russia) taking the side of non-Muslims against fellow believers, even Shiites and people of Iranian ancestry. However, their opposition to monarchy has remained fairly consistent and the closer it is to Iran, whether in faith or in geography, the more they tend to oppose it. The revolution set into motion a new trend that spread even to Sunni countries which cast virtually all existing monarchies in the region as being insufficiently fervent in their religion and setting the example that a properly zealous cleric should rule in place of a monarch.

Today, there are not really any major conflicts that exist or seem eminent which would pose a threat to monarchy in general. Unfortunately, that is not quite as good as it sounds. The institution has been so greatly reduced that, though some fervent monarchists may not believe it, most major powers no longer consider it worthy of much consideration. Other priorities have taken precedence and various regimes may oppose or tolerate existing monarchies depending on their own national interest. It also means that the greatest threat to existing monarchies is almost entirely internal and that can be harder to deal with than external enemies. From what I have seen, there also seems to be a fairly radical breach between some people in existing monarchies and their governments (transcending parties and administrations) as to who exactly constitutes a threat to their continued existence. Many countries also like to maintain the appearance of cordiality, pretending to be friendly with practically everyone, even regimes that most everyone knows they thoroughly despise, that every individual has cover to pick and choose their own ‘state of the world’ as best pleases their existing views.

However, the best we can do is look to the past and try to gain the best benefit from experience as we can, being careful to avoid making justifications that would prompt us making the same mistakes again. On the largest scale, it would seem hard to overstate the impact of the French Revolution and the First World War on the monarchist cause around the world. Others, such as the English Civil Wars and the Franco-Mexican War would certainly not rise to that level but, nonetheless, have had much more far reaching consequences than I think most realize. These events can never be made not to have happened (which would be wonderful) but by recognizing what they caused and why, we can, perhaps, work to undo as much of the damage that they did as possible.


  1. Great Post!

    Any plans on writing on the role of "Freemasonry" in overturning traditional societies and monarchies? Mexico has suffered long under the rule of this group of people. The royal arch lodges were imported via US ambassador Poinsett (the Mexican flower is named after him) at the suggestion of NY Governor Dewitt Clinton.

    Thank you and God Bless you!

  2. I just find it extremely challenging to convince anyone, even accomplished historians who should know, that the Frenxh Revolution was evil, ruthless, unjust, unnecessary. The revolutionaries (I know they are a tiny group of radicals) have distorted the history books that now everyone sees the Ancien Regime a some oppressive police state. It obviously wasn't. It was France at its height of its power! France never recovered from the huge scar made from the Revolution and it is just sad.

  3. As a Jew of Iraqi origin, I believe that in the Middle East, the Iraqi Revolution was the most tragical and brutal of all mentioned above: both the regent, the king and the royal family were shot to death (the king that was only 19, after shot, was hanged on electric tile in the center of Baghdad). The date that this coup happened is a great horror also (14th July). The kings of Iraq, were ceremonial, constitutional kings and even for the Jews of Iraq that were expelled it was a tragedy (there were Jews that were close to the royal family and had personal influence on the king and even the prime minister - Nuri Said, that in a miserable decision,had international pressure (Arab states, mostly the republic of Egypt and Syria) and of Israel (wanted the Jews to settle the new state) that influenced him to expel the Jews, even in the price of their property, and so it was.

    1. Iraq was far better under the Hashemite Monarchy. There was no religious prosecution, a lot less poverty compared to now, economically far better off, more political stability, no terrorism on the scale of today, and life better as a whole


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