Return to the New Way
Countrymen long for legitimacy, not ideology.
The words “monarchist coup” are like music to my ears, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. So, when I heard that one was foiled in Germany last week, I was heartbroken. My first instinct was to sing the Fehrbelliner Reitermarsch (“We want our old Kaiser Wilhelm back,/ The one with the long beard…”) and weep manly tears.
I thought of Claus von Stauffenberg, that stout-hearted royalist who tried to blow up Hitler. First he was executed by firing squad. Then he was played by Tom Cruz in the 2008 film Valkyrie. And now this.
Then, details of the plot began to trickle out.
The conspirators arrested earlier this month belong to a wider movement called the Reichsbürger (“Citizens of the Reich”). They were led by a minor prince called Heinrich XIII Reuss, who planned to install himself as kaiser.
To that end, the conspirators had planned to attack the German power grid: this, during the country’s worst economic downturn in over fifty years. They also tried to enlist support from the Russian government, who didn’t return their calls.
Stauffenberg hoped to spare the German people from greater suffering by killing one politician. Heinrich and his pals were allegedly trying to provoke “civil war conditions.” It seems they were happy for millions to die so he could seize the throne.
Stauffenberg wanted to prevent Germany from being subjugated by alien governments. Heinrich tried to goad a foreign power into attacking his country.
That isn’t monarchism. It’s terrorism.
Still, the Reichsbürger movement is right about one thing: Germany was better off as a monarchy.
As all historians now admit, the Allies’ decision to abolish the Second Reich was catastrophic. Since the First World War, Germany has gone through three republics and two dictatorships—one Nazi and one communist—with untold millions killed as a result.
By contrast, the old kingdoms and princely states lasted for a thousand years and kept mostly to themselves. And what kind of villains did you find in Germany pre-Hitler? Ludwig II, the deranged King of Bavaria, who drained the national coffers building spectacular castles in the mountains.
But Americans balk at this sort of thing. Our instincts are deeply anti-royal. To us, monarchies belong to the childhood of humanity. It’s like fingerpainting: once you outgrow it, you can never take it seriously ever again. You might find it quaint or charming, as we do the British Crown. But in the 21st century, monarchism is a kind of absurdism. What red-blooded American could say otherwise?
Well, let’s give it a try. It’s much easier than it sounds. I promise.
Except for the Black Plague and the Golden Horde, all of Europe’s worst calamities occurred in the last 200 years or so. And all of them can be traced back to the abolition of three monarchies: the French, the Russian, and the German.
Liberalism rose like a wight from the tomb of the House of Bourbons. Communism’s first victim was the House of Romanov. And fascism was born from the ashes of the House of Hohenzollern. (We, of course, lit the match.)
What’s more, the Kingdom of France stood from 987 to 1792, or for about eight centuries. In the last two hundred years, the French have enjoyed five republics, two empires, a Bourbon restoration, the July Monarchy, and the Nazi-backed Régime de Vichy. Meanwhile, when Russia’s tsardom was abolished in 1917, it was only 370 years old—the bloom of its youth, as monarchies go. Its successor, the Soviet Union, lasted for seventy years: a ripe old age for a republic.
And of all the great atrocities that have wracked in the modern world, only one was perpetrated by a monarchy: the Armenian genocide. All the others were committed by republics in China, Russia, Germany, Cambodia, and Rwanda.
Monarchies, then, are (A) more stable, (B) more peaceful, and (C) less likely to commit crimes against humanity. They also tend to enjoy a higher GDP and lower income inequality. So, the evidence is overwhelming: republics tend to be violent, poor, and unstable.
The question is: Why?
I think Tolkien (of all people) put it best: there is no such thing as “the government.” It doesn’t exist. We are always and everywhere governed by men. Republics like ours talk a lot about “political institutions,” but that’s just a bit of sleight of hand. Institutions have to be peopled by... well, people. Otherwise, they don’t exist. We can’t speak of “the presidency” without talking about the presidents any more than we can speak of “the papacy” without talking about the popes.
Whether our rulers are born or elected—whether they hold office for four years or a lifetime—it makes no difference. All government is personal. At the end of the day, someone has to give orders. Someone has to tell the treasury when to print more money. Someone has to summon the generals and give them marching orders. Someone has to “interpret” the constitution, even if they just make it up as they go along (cf. Justice Blackmun).
The great virtue of monarchy is that it doesn’t make any of these fine, meaningless distinctions between men and “institutions.” When Britons talk about “the Crown,” they mean King Charles III. When Americans talk about “the Executive Branch,” we mean the thousands of senior bureaucrats and party hacks who play Joe Biden like a marionette.
Put it another way. If “the Crown” screws up, Charles will be deposed or arrested or sent to the guillotine. If “the Executive” screws up, Biden will be given a Secret Service detail, a Presidential Library, a $65 million-dollar book deal, and a visiting chair at the Kennedy School of Government.
This is what Shakespeare meant when he said, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Really, the problem with our presidents (Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George Bush, and all the rest) is that they don’t wear a crown. They have no right to rule. Their legitimacy comes from us, the voters. Ultimately, their failures are our failures. Ultimately, they can’t be blamed for anything. And so their heads lie too lightly.
In monarchies, there’s no distinction between the office and the office-holder. So, while power is the king’s birthright, he’s also more responsible, and therefore more accountable. In theory, this makes no sense. But in practice… well, the numbers don’t lie.
Let’s take a very different example. Iran’s anti-government protestors have long used the “Sun and Lion”—the flag of the old Iranian empire—as their standard. This seems nonsensical. We may dislike the ayatollahs, but the Shahs must have been far worse. Right?
Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was, in many respects, a liberalizer. He softened the modesty code that once forced Iranian women to wear the full hijab in public. He sought to break up Iran’s feudal system, giving property rights to smallholders. And he dramatically expanded access to education while putting women on an equal playing field.
Still, he had his critics. On the one hand, there were the “Blacks”: the Islamists who opposed his reforms. On the other, there were the “Reds”: the socialists who opposed Iran’s monarchy on principle. Eventually, the dissidents united under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
If nothing else, Khomeini was an outstanding liar. And he spun his lies, not only to the Reds, but to Western media. For the most part, Khomeini directed the revolution as an exile in France. He wasn’t just trying to save his skin; he was also hoping to enlist support from the United States and Europe powers. And he knew just what notes to play. When asked, “What is an Islamic republic?” Khomeini replied, “It will be like the French Republic.”
In the end, all that lying paid off. Before long, every journalist in Europe was eating out of the Ayatollah’s hands. And of course the United States couldn’t resist a chance to spread the blessings of republicanism. Eventually, the Carter Administration threw its weight behind the Ayatollah. We imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, leaving the Shah defenseless against the Black-Red alliance.
Naturally, once Khomeini took power, he turned on his allies—both at home and abroad. Iran’s socialists were massacred or exiled, and the United States was declared the “Great Satan.”
When the Revolution brought an end to monarchy in Iran, it had grown to the venerable age of 2,500… give or take a century. It might not have been the greatest civilization of antiquity, but it was the most consistently great. The question was always, “Egypt or Persia?” “Greece or Persia?” “Rome or Persia?” “Byzantium or Persia?”
Today, even the most rabid Persophiles (like me) have to admit that Iran is a shadow of its former self. And there’s no greater Persophile than the Iranian patriot. That’s why they chose the Sun and Lion as their standard. They want their country, their people, to be great again. And Iran’s greatness is bound up with its monarchy. It always has been. It always will be.
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At first glance, Germany’s Reichsbürgers and Iran’s anti-government protestors seem like polar opposites. We might call one “conservative” and the other “progressive.” But, at some point, those words don’t mean anything. Germany’s republic dragged her forward, Iran’s dragged her backward, and both are worse for the wear.
What both countries need now is not ideology, but legitimacy. That’s why monarchism is making a comeback. The people want to go back—back to the way things were, before we started meddling in their affairs. And they want to go forward—forward, as though we’d never meddled in the first place.
Their lawful rulers have been usurped by mere “governments”…with no little help from our own masters in Washington. But these republican experiments are failing. May the kings enjoy their own again—for the people’s sake.