"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Long Live The Aristocracy!

Much has been made recently about the abdication of King Juan Carlos of Spain to make way for his son Felipe.  “Why do we need kings and queens anyway”, say most Americans.  We fought a Revolutionary War, defeated our English oppressors, created a democracy founded on the principles of the Enlightenment, chiseled our God-given rights into secular tablets, and have stood up against tyranny, autocracy, and privileged rule wherever it exists.


The ancestors of Emannuel ____rode in the Third Crusade.  He was the last in a long line of French aristocrats who had fought for Christianity, suited up in the wars against usurping English kings, fought Henry V courageously at Agincourt, survived the Jacobin Reign of Terror, defied the little Corsican Napoleon in his predation and murderous wars of vainglory, were advisors to Louis XIV, and arbiters of high French culture for centuries.

Getting rid of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette was easy, but not so the aristocracy. Even the most patriotic Frenchman understood that the post-Revolutionary period was far too bloody, vengeful, and above all chaotic for the new Republic, and eventually welcomed back the aristocracy which could provide the social order that France had enjoyed for centuries.  Emmanuel's family was one of those celebrated and revered and quickly regained its position and social, cultural, and moral authority.

French greatness, said Emmanuel, was thanks only to the aristocracy.  Yes, the peasantry had tilled the land, worked the mills, and fought in the trenches in foreign wars, but it was the dukes, counts, viscounts, and other well-bred members of the court who patronized the arts, promoted and preserved French culture, and continued to serve as the anchor of a great nation.

At the same time a parallel commoner aristocracy grew up.  The énarques, graduates of the prestigious L’École Nationale d’Administration, filled top positions in government and were even more ubiquitous and influential than graduates from Yale and Harvard in the United States.  Together the landed aristocracy and the secular énarques ruled France.  The aristocracy was the arbiter of good taste and cultural and intellectual values, and represented an unbroken historical link to Charlemagne.  The énarques provided intelligent government and were the guardians of the post-regal period of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.  A very good team indeed.

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The English have been even been more traditional, for they still have a Queen and an aristocracy.  Henry VIII instituted some democratic reforms, instituting a Parliament which while by no means representative, was still a radical move.  Oliver Cromwell upset the aristocratic applecart in 1649, helped to overthrow Charles I, and established The Commonwealth of England; but not  long afterwards the Royalists regained power, restored the monarchy, dug up Cromwell’s body and hung it from chains in public view.

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The people of neither France nor England have complained much ever since the restorations of the monarchy and aristocracy. The British put up with their doddering Mum, the intrigues of the Palace, and the smarmy affairs, dirty linen, and scandals of the royals, but keep them on.  Even the grittiest East Ender understands that Elizabeth II is but the latest in a long line of kings and queens that date back to Alfred the Great (880).  The true blood of England runs through her veins.

Shakespeare wrote scathingly about Jack Cade, the peasant turned would-be revolutionary in Henry VI, Part 2. He was a caricature of the ignorant, willful, venal, and brutish peasant.  He and his like knew nothing – could never know anything – about affairs of state, high culture, and courtly sophistication.  For better or worse – and Shakespeare pulled no punches when he described the inanity of the petty causes and feeble justifications for the War of the Roses – the aristocracy was the foundation of England.



The aristocracy provides an important cultural anchor to society.  It embodies the unbroken history of its culture.  The Queen of England is the inheritor of Empire, Enlightenment, parliamentary democracy, and a long tradition of the unification of Church and State.  The ancestors of the present Conte de Villiers de Rochambeau Artois fought the Infidel in Jerusalem, sat at the court of The Sun King in Versailles, and fought against the Scots.

How relevant is all this now, rhetorically ask detractors of the monarchy and the aristocracy?  Europe is now pluralistic, multi-cultural, and expanding rapidly. America’s brand of consumer capitalism and rough-and-tumble democracy is becoming the standard for much of the world.  Immigration is slowly changing the fabric of culture and society throughout Western Europe. Borders are porous, and until recently regional rather than national integrity has been the ideal.

For those who admire the aristocracy and the regal traditions of Europe lament these trends.  While they are not for restoring the imperial monarchy and suspending democratic rights, they observe the chaos that exists without the anchor of a universally respected and admired aristocracy. The French aristocracy is largely impotent today, and the énarques seem at a loss to square multiculturalism with the idea of French citizenship (“We are all French”).

No one wants to restore the monarchy to countries that have done away with it; and although countries like Spain, England, and Denmark want to keep their regal traditions, the aristocracy has become a shadow of what it once was. The every-man-for-himself, barnyard politics, Western shoot-‘em-up democracy of the United States is temporarily ascendant; but is becoming badly tarnished and suspect as Europe, the Middle East, and other parts of the world are succumbing to factionalism, sectarianism, and outright religious autocracy.  If there was ever a need for a stable monarchy and aristocratic court, it is now.

One day a number of years ago and long before the current Afghan war, an Afghani taxi driver asked how he would solve the tribal rivalries and political chaos in is country immediately replied,   “Bring back the King”.

Mohammed Zahir Shah, the Last King of Afghanistan
Thais have always revered their King, but as a constitutional monarch he cannot intervene in the affairs of state which have always been – especially during his reign – troubled and violent.  Monarchs and their aristocracies only have real power when it is invested by law and tradition in them.

There is only one true monarchy left in the world – the Vatican.  The Pope is a supreme imperial regent, ruling with absolute power over an empire of 1.2 billion.  He is surrounded by an aristocratic court of Cardinals who in turn direct the affairs of the Church in a hundred countries.  His authoritarian power is weakening, however, as Francis accedes to the secular demands of his faithful.  By holding the line for centuries Catholic Popes have assured stability, adherence to Church teachings, and the perpetuation of Catholic creed, dogma, and culture.  That dominance is coming to an end, and with it the end of potent monarchies.

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It does not take a monarchist to understand the significance of kings and courts in Europe, Persia, China, and Japan.  Africa has had fewer notable kingdoms, but those of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai ruled for years and were potent forces for cultural expansion and preservation as well as territory. 

Societies tend to expand and contract over time.  For centuries centralized monarchies were the rule, followed by rudimentary and then mature democracies.  Currently so-called nation-states are factionalizing with newly-arrived ethnic immigrants demanding autonomy and self-rule, often according to religious law.  The world is splitting apart rather than consolidating.  Eventually it will condense once again. Perhaps President Putin is the avant-garde of this new-age imperialism, and a majority of ethnic Russians like his idea of returning their country to the greatness of the Tsars.  If they give up some political freedoms, so what?  Putin is promising more than electoral booths.

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