Ehud Would is one of my favorite writers. His probity and in-depth analysis on virtually all subjects are truly remarkable. I’ve known Ehud for years and I have profited tremendously from our friendship. I look up to Ehud in many ways and seek to emulate him in any way that I can, be it as a father, husband, scholar, writer, etc. I will not hesitate for even a moment to fully concede that Ehud is my intellectual superior, which is why I am surprised to find myself writing a response to one of his article that was recently published on Faith and Heritage – “Monarchy: Hoppe’s Gambit Considered.” I agree with many things Ehud says in this article, but I do have a reservation about Ehud’s understanding of Hans-Hermann Hoppe and his interaction with Hoppe’s argument. To be clear, my disagreement is not a particularly serious one, and I consider this a purely allied disagreement.
Over the course of time my formation as a traditionalist has led me to the conclusion that monarchy, broadly defined and considered, is the best and most enduring form of civil government. I would like to flesh this out in greater detail in future articles, but for now I would like to address a particular disagreement that I have with Ehud. As a brief aside, I have not studied the feud between King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell in enough detail to draw a firm conclusion one way or another. Both men possessed at least some admirable qualities and some flaws. My endorsement of monarchy does not constitute an endorsement of all monarchs, any more than a republican endorses all republican politicians or statesmen.
First, it’s important to clarify what Hoppe means by republicanism and monarchy. Hoppe observes that modern Western monarchies are essentially monarchies in name only. They do not have any of the traditional prerogatives of sovereigns to rule, even though they retain some of the traditional trappings and roles of the monarch. Western nations that have retained their monarchies are not governed by them. These nations are democratic republics for all intents and purposes. Likewise, Hoppe distinguishes between classical republics of antiquity such as Venice, Athens, Sparta, Republican Rome, and the Dutch Republic as more “quasi-monarchies” in comparison to post-Enlightenment republics, which tend towards universal suffrage and democracy. Hoppe is correct in his observation that aristocratic patrician republics are more akin to monarchy than to our modern conception of republicanism.1
I agree with several of the points and concerns raised by Ehud. I agree entirely with Ehud that the king must be understood as possessing limited authority derived from his covenant rights and responsibilities under God. The theory of the divine rights of kings was a historical aberration contrary to the spirit of Christian Europe. European Christians generally prohibited their kings from becoming oriental despots or quasi-divine figures to be worshiped. Insofar as Anglicanism conceived of the king as an alternative to the pope, it was wrong to do so.2
I also agree with Ehud’s rejection of what he calls Hoppe’s second reason for defending monarchy, wherein monarchy is superior to republicanism and democracy because bad monarchs can more easily be replaced or killed. Reality is far more complicated, as Ehud correctly states. Bad monarchs are often supported and counseled by bad oligarchs. I’m not sure of the extent to which this argument originates or finds support in the writings of Hoppe. I have read his Democracy and I don’t remember this being a particular argument that Hoppe advances. The quote that I’m most familiar with is derived from Wrath of Gnon. Regardless of its source, I agree with Ehud’s critique of this argument in that it does not give a compelling reason to embrace monarchy over republicanism or democracy.
I also agree with Ehud’s perspective on trial by ordeal, or the argument that historical success suggests the moral justice of a particular cause. This is particularly true when assessing the moral standing of the participants in war. The winners aren’t always righteous, and the losers aren’t always in the wrong. Ehud’s article on ordeal presents the classical Christian understanding on this issue with excellent clarity. In his article assessing Hoppe’s commentary on monarchy vs. democratic republicanism, Ehud accuses Hoppe of using a “utilitarian apologetic” against republicanism in a similar vein to “trial by ordeal” style argumentation. Ehud summarizes Hoppe’s primary argument in favor of monarchy against democratic republicanism as follows: “A hereditary monarch is more personally invested in his nation than bureaucrats.” Is Hoppe’s argument utilitarian in a manner commensurate with a trial by ordeal? I argue that it is not.
Per Hoppe, the power exercised in a monarchy is superior to a democracy because the hereditary monarch is the personal owner of the collective wealth of his kingdom, whereas a democratically elected politician or bureaucrat only controls the present value of the nation he governs. Moreover, hereditary monarchs and aristocrats are able to transfer their position and rank in society to their eldest sons through inheritance. The end result is that the personal stake a royal or aristocratic family has in the success of society extends beyond the present to future generations. Monarchs and hereditary aristocrats are then naturally more invested in the future success of the nation in a way that their republican counterparts are not. This isn’t a merely utilitarian critique of democratic republicanism, but a substantive criticism that gets to the heart of the difference between the republican and royalist ethos. Hoppe defends his argument by demonstrating that monarchical governments have spent less, taxed less, and generally employed better long-term policies than their republican equivalents. I will leave it to the reader to assess Hoppe’s specific arguments, but I personally find them compelling.
It’s worth noting that writers on Faith and Heritage have effectively used similar arguments against our intellectual opponents. Karl Blomqvist in his “A Tale of Two Cities” provides compelling evidence that black criminality exceeds white criminality even when factors like socioeconomic status are accounted for in crime statistics. In similar fashion, Nathanael Strickland utilizes the research of Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam to demonstrate that social trust and happiness are inversely correlated to racial and ethnic diversity within the community. Finally, we could mention classical apologetics for traditional economics against socialism and communism. Critics of socialism often observe how societies that embrace socialist policies experience economic ossification and stagnation due to lack of incentives for success and the misallocation of resources commonly known as the “tragedy of the commons.” None of us would deem these arguments as strictly utilitarian in nature.
The real strength of Ehud’s article on ordeal vs. providence is his refutation of the notion that might makes right in historical contests. The cause of the South cannot be judged simply on the basis of the outcome of Lincoln’s invasion. My disagreement with Ehud is whether Hoppe’s argument falls into this category. Hoppe’s arguments are more sophisticated and worthy of more consideration. We would not allow egalitarians, diversity proponents, or socialists to argue that the failure of societies that embrace these principles was simply due to misfortune akin to a trial by ordeal. The failure of these paradigms is rooted in fundamental flaws within the actual principles, not simply misfortune or happenstance. The same can be said of democratic republicanism, for the reasons articulated by Hoppe.
Ehud correctly observes that Hoppe himself is no monarchist. (Hoppe is a consistent libertarian who argues for the abolition of civil government.3) Yet his critique of democracy and republicanism remains useful. At the end of the day, Ehud and I have a very broad agreement on this topic. This is a very minor disagreement in the context of the struggles that we currently face. Neither Ehud nor I would lend unmitigated support to any earthly ruler, no matter what polity his government takes. In the future, I would like to delve into the topic of civil government in more depth, but for now I simply offer my own opinion on this subject for the consideration of our readers.
- For more information on Hoppe’s classifications of republics and monarchies, see Democracy: The God That Failed, footnote 19 on page 18. ↩
- There were and still are a good many Anglicans whose understanding of the government and monarchy is far more historically grounded. ↩
- See this presentation for more information on the libertarian perspective of thinkers such as Hoppe and Rothbard. ↩