By NIKOLAI TOLSTOY NOV. 5, 2016, New York Times [original article contains links]
image from article
Southmoor, England — As a foreigner with dual British and Russian citizenship, it is
not for me to comment at length on the merits of the rival candidates for the
presidency of the United States. But it seems uncontroversial to say that neither
appears to be a Washington or a Lincoln, and that the elective presidency is coming
under increasingly critical examination.
That their head of state should be elected by the people is, I imagine, the innate
view of almost all American citizens. But at this unquiet hour, they might well
wonder whether — for all the wisdom of the founding fathers — their republican
system of government is actually leading them toward that promised “more perfect
After all, our American cousins have only to direct their gaze toward their
northern neighbor to find, in contented Canada, a nation that has for its head of
state a hereditary monarch. That example alone demonstrates that democracy is
perfectly compatible with constitutional monarchy.
Indeed, the modern history of Europe has shown that those countries fortunate
enough to enjoy a king or queen as head of state tend to be more stable and better
governed than most of the Continent’s republican states. By the same token,
demagogic dictators have proved unremittingly hostile to monarchy because the
institution represents a dangerously venerated alternative to their ambitions.
Reflecting in 1945 on what had led to the rise of Nazi Germany, Winston
Churchill wrote: “This war would never have come unless, under American and
modernizing pressure, we had driven the Hapsburgs out of Austria and Hungary and
the Hohenzollerns out of Germany.”
“By making these vacuums,” he went on, “we gave the opening for the Hitlerite
monster to crawl out of its sewer on to the vacant thrones.”
To be fair to the “American and modernizing” influence, a similar consideration
led President Harry S. Truman and Gen. Douglas MacArthur to preserve the
Japanese monarchy at the end of World War II. This wise policy enabled Japan’s
remarkable and rapid evolution into the prosperous, peaceful democratic society it
has been ever since.
Doubtless, entrenched republicans will respond that hereditary rulers may
prove mad or bad. But democracies have dynasties, too. America may have thrown
off the yoke of King George III, but Americans chose to be governed by George Bush
II. It is salutary to recall that George III when sane lost the American colonies, but
when insane ruled a Britain that triumphed over the armies of the (elected) Emperor
The framers of the Constitution were, without question, men of preeminent
judgment and intellect. But they did not enjoy a monopoly of such qualities. Across
the Atlantic, equally lofty thinkers argued that a monarchy was inherently more
stable than a republic.
No British statesman was more supportive of the colonists’ cause than Edmund
Burke, yet none was more eloquent in defense of the benefits of Britain’s monarchy.
“The people of England well know,” he wrote, “that the idea of inheritance
furnishes a sure principle of conservation, and a sure principle of transmission;
without at all excluding a principle of improvement.”
A monarchy, in other words, lends to a political order a vital element of
continuity that enables gradual reform. The rule of law is thus guaranteed by respect
for authority — as Dr. Johnson advised Boswell: “Now, Sir, that respect for authority
is much more easily granted to a man whose father has had it, than to an upstart,
and so Society is more easily supported.”
Their contemporary, the historian Edward Gibbon, weighed the rival systems
and came down with characteristic acerbity in favor of a hereditary sovereign. “We
may easily devise imaginary forms of government, in which the sceptre shall be
constantly bestowed on the most worthy, by the free and incorrupt suffrage of the
whole community,” he wrote, but “experience overturns these airy fabrics.”
The advantage of monarchy is that the institution “extinguishes the hopes of
faction” by rising above the toxic partisanship of competing parties and vying elected
officials. “To the firm establishment of this idea,” Gibbon concluded, “we owe the
peaceful succession, and mild administration, of European monarchies.”
It may be remembered that no British monarch has been assassinated for about
five centuries, while no fewer than four American presidents have been murdered in
the last 150 or so years. A factor to ponder, I suggest.
Gibbon’s point holds true today. Many Britons would, for example, be glad to
see the royal prerogative increased in certain fields, like the distribution of titles and
seats in the upper house of Parliament. The increasingly venal use of such honors for
prime ministerial patronage has led to calls for the queen to restore integrity to
government by resuming authority over the system.
The French politician of the early 20th century Georges Clemenceau once
remarked, “there are two things in the world for which I have never seen any use: the
prostate gland and the president of the republic.” As they contemplate the choice
before them this week, many Americans may share something of that sentiment.
There is an alternative.
Nikolai Tolstoy, the chancellor of the International Monarchist League, is a historian