Slate Tries To Understand Why Nations Keep Royals

Slate recently published “King Me: Why do so many European countries still have monarchs?” by Brian Palmer. In one sense, I share the article’s puzzlement, since the “rulers” we are talking about now seem to be mere figureheads. So the convention appears largely symbolic.

“When asked whether they want to keep their monarchies, large majorities of Europeans answer “yes.” Around 80 percent of Dutch subjects want the royal family to stick around, and about the same proportion of U.K. citizens favor Queen Elizabeth II.”

I don’t see how the symbol would have any power without a national memory of a time when monarchs were real. So why not ask if there was ever anything good about monarchy compared to the parliamentary systems we have now? I can’t help but think that the Christian scholar, and author of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien, might have been onto something. He said:

“My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning the abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs)—or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy.”

Oddly, while the Slate article says that kings are “unaccountable,” Tolkien thought the bureaucratic republic was the unaccountable government:

“I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind)”

He’s joking about the arrest, but his point is that there is no thing called “the State” that does things; there are only people with power who should not be hidden from view behind the myth of “the State.”

And he brought up one specific example: in a royal dynasty a person is appointed to power. You don’t give power to people who strive for it in a popularity contest:

“The most improper job of any man, even saints, is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”

Think about how a private, personal, business owner would usually care for his company compared to the hired CEO of a publicly traded company. If you no longer care about passing on a workable and productive kingdom to your heirs, and you only stay in power as long as some majority of voters are happy, then why not run up national debts to make your own personal fortune? This is the way Republics work: politicians win popularity contests and have a great personal interest in how they use their power but no greater interest in the future health of the nation than anyone else. As economist Herman Hans-Hoppe puts it:

“Theoretically speaking, the transition from monarchy to democracy involves no more or less than a hereditary monopoly ‘owner’ — the prince or king — being replaced by temporary and interchangeable — monopoly ‘caretakers’ — presidents, prime ministers, and members of parliament. Both kings and presidents will produce bad [outcome]s, yet a king, because he ‘owns’ the monopoly and may sell or bequeath it, will care about the repercussions of his actions on capital values. As the owner of the capital stock on ‘his’ territory, the king will be comparatively future-oriented. In order to preserve or enhance the value of his property, he will exploit only moderately and calculatingly. In contrast, a temporary and interchangeable democratic caretaker does not own the country, but as long as he is in office he is permitted to use it to his advantage. He owns its current use but not its capital stock. This does not eliminate exploitation. Instead, it makes exploitation shortsighted (present-oriented) and uncalculated, i.e., carried out without regard for the value of the capital stock.”

For similar reasons, monarchies tend to have much more stringent immigration requirements than countries run by politicians looking for fresh voters: “the king would be highly selective and very much concerned about improving the quality of the resident human capital so as to drive property values up, not down.”

Of course, I’m not being utopian; I don’t want monarchy in America. But when some liberal writer pretends to analyze why other people like it, it would be good if he understood the basic issues involved.