[Paleopsych] Leland B. Yeager: Monarchy: Friend of Liberty

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Leland B. Yeager: Monarchy: Friend of Liberty

[I audited a course under Mr. Yeager in my last undergraduate year at UVa. 
I was to switch to economics there in graduate school. Mr. Yeager made me 
write a paper like everyone else in the class. In graduate school, he was 
on sabbatical somewhere else when I would have taken his famed course in 
macroeconomics. As it happened, his substitute was the worst teacher I 
ever had, tied with another one who taught econometrics. No one in my 
class got an excellent on the Ph.D. candidacy examinations, as a result. I 
got a satisfactory minus, minus, since I flat out flunked the 
macroeconomics part. I just could not handle patently arbitrary, if not 
absurd, assumptions that are built into macroeconomics, even though I was 
extremely gifted in math, having taken most of the graduate math courses 
UVa offered when I was an undergraduate. I simply had a severe mental 
block to the whole thing, though perhaps today I'd just play the game.

[I know THANK those bad professors. Both macroeconomics and econometrics 
are bottomless pits, and I am grateful that I did not waste what might 
have been a hugely successful career, which (I *am* or rather was, that 
talented in math) might have gotten me a Nobel Prize in macroeconomics, 
provided I would have dedicated myself as a calling from the Lord to do 
the steady and persistent day in and day out work that is required. Such a 
dedication is not part of my make up by a very long shot, so the matter is 
moot. I'm more a specialist in looking across disciplines, as I think my 
notes to these forwardings amply demonstrates, but I keep resolving to 
narrow my reading and have said so over and over again, only to lapse back 
into wide reading again and again.]

Democracy and Other Good Things

Clear thought and discussion suffer when all sorts of good things,
like liberty, equality, fraternity, rights, majority rule, and
general welfaresome in tension with othersare marketed together
under the portmanteau label democracy. Democracys core meaning is a
particular method of choosing, replacing, and influencing
government officials (Schumpeter 1950/1962). It is not a doctrine
of what government should and should not do. Nor is it the same
thing as personal freedom or a free society or an egalitarian
social ethos. True enough, some classical liberals, like Thomas
Paine (1791-1792/1989) and Ludwig von Mises (1919/1983), did scorn
hereditary monarchy and did express touching faith that
representative democracy would choose excellent leaders and adopt
policies truly serving the common interest. Experience has taught
us better, as the American Founders already knew when constructing
a government of separated and limited powers and of only filtered

As an exercise, and without claiming that my arguments are
decisive, Ill contend that constitutional monarchy can better
preserve peoples freedom and opportunities than democracy as it has
turned out in practice.^1 My case holds only for countries where
maintaining or restoring (or conceivably installing) monarchy is a
live option.^2 We Americans have sounder hope of reviving respect
for the philosophy of our Founders. Our traditions could serve some
of the functions of monarchy in other countries.

An unelected absolute ruler could conceivably be a thoroughgoing
classical liberal. Although a wise, benevolent, and liberal-minded
dictatorship would not be a contradiction in terms, no way is
actually available to assure such a regime and its continuity,
including frictionless succession.

Some element of democracy is therefore necessary; totally replacing
it would be dangerous. Democracy allows people some influence on
who their rulers are and what policies they pursue. Elections, if
not subverted, can oust bad rulers peacefully. Citizens who care
about such things can enjoy a sense of participation in public

Anyone who believes in limiting government power for the sake of
personal freedom should value also having some nondemocratic
element of government besides courts respectful of their own narrow
authority. While some monarchists are reactionaries or mystics,
others (like Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn and Sean Gabb, cited below)
do come across as a genuine classical liberals.

Shortcomings of Democracy

Democracy has glaring defects.^3 As various paradoxes of voting
illustrate, there is no such thing as any coherent will of the
people. Government itself is more likely to supply the content of
any supposed general will (Constant 1814-15/1988, p. 179). Winston
Churchill reputedly said: The best argument against democracy is a
five-minute conversation with the average voter (BrainyQuote and
several similar sources on the Internet). The ordinary voter knows
that his vote will not be decisive and has little reason to waste
time and effort becoming well informed anyway.

This rational ignorance, so called in the public-choice literature,
leaves corresponding influence to other-than-ordinary voters
(Campbell 1999). Politics becomes a squabble among rival special
interests. Coalitions form to gain special privileges. Legislators
engage in logrolling and enact omnibus spending bills. Politics
itself becomes the chief weapon in a Hobbesian war of all against
all (Gray 1993, pp. 211-212). The diffusion of costs while benefits
are concentrated reinforces apathy among ordinary voters.

Politicians themselves count among the special-interest groups.
People who drift into politics tend to have relatively slighter
qualifications for other work. They are entrepreneurs pursuing the
advantages of office. These are not material advantages alone, for
some politicians seek power to do good as they understand it.
Gratifying their need to act and to feel important, legislators
multiply laws to deal with discovered or contrived problemsand
fears. Being able to raise vast sums by taxes and borrowing
enhances their sense of power, and moral responsibility wanes (as
Benjamin Constant, pp. 194-196, 271-272, already recognized almost
two centuries ago).

Democratic politicians have notoriously short time horizons. (Hoppe
(2001) blames not just politicians in particular but democracy in
general for high time preferenceindifference to the long runwhich
contributes to crime, wasted lives, and a general decline of
morality and culture.) Why worry if popular policies will cause
crises only when one is no longer running for reelection? Evidence
of fiscal irresponsibility in the United States includes chronic
budget deficits, the explicit national debt, and the still huger
excesses of future liabilities over future revenues on account of
Medicare and Social Security. Yet politicians continue offering new
plums. Conflict of interest like this far overshadows the petty
kinds that nevertheless arouse more outrage.

Responsibility is diffused in democracy not only over time but also
among participants. Voters can think that they are only exercising
their right to mark their ballots, politicians that they are only
responding to the wishes of their constituents. The individual
legislator bears only a small share of responsibility fragmented
among his colleagues and other government officials.

Democracy and liberty coexist in tension. Nowadays the United
States government restricts political speech. The professed purpose
of campaign-finance reform is to limit the power of interest groups
and of money in politics, but increased influence of the mass media
and increased security of incumbent politicians are likelier
results. A broader kind of tension is that popular majorities can
lend an air of legitimacy to highly illiberal measures. Bv the
sheer weight of numbers and by its ubiquity the rule of 99 per cent
is more hermetic and more oppressive than the rule of 1 per cent
(Kuehnelt-Leddihn 1952, p. 88). When majority rule is thought good
in its own right and the fiction prevails that weordinary citizens
are the government, an elected legislature and executive can get
away with impositions that monarchs of the past would scarcely have
ventured. Louis XIV of France, autocrat though he was, would hardly
have dared prohibit alcoholic beverages, conscript soldiers, and
levy an income tax (Kuehnelt-Leddihn, pp. 280-281)or, we might add,
wage war on drugs. Not only constitutional limitations on a kings
powers but also his^4 not having an electoral mandate is a

At its worst, the democratic dogma can abet totalitarianism.
History records totalitarian democracies or democratically
supported dictatorships. Countries oppressed by communist regimes
included words like democratic or popular in their official names.
Totalitarian parties have portrayed their leaders as personifying
the common man and the whole nation. German National Socialism, as
Kuehnelt-Leddihn reminds us, was neither a conservative nor a
reactionary movement but a synthesis of revolutionary ideas tracing
to before 1789 (pp. 131, 246-247, 268). He suggests that
antimonarchical sentiments in the background of the French
Revolution, the Spanish republic of 1931, and Germanys Weimar
Republic paved the way for Robespierre and Napoleon, for Negrin and
Franco, and for Hitler (p. 90). Winston Churchill reportedly judged
that had the Kaiser remained German Head of State, Hitler could not
have gained power, or at least not have kept it (International
Monarchist League). [M]onarchists, conservatives, clerics and other
reactionaries were always in bad grace with the Nazis
(Kuehnelt-Leddihn, p. 248).

   Separation of Powers

A nonelected part of government contributes to the separation of
powers. By retaining certain constitutional powers or denying them
to others, it can be a safeguard against abuses.^5 This is perhaps
the main modern justification of hereditary monarchy: to put some
restraint on politicians rather than let them pursue their own
special interests complacent in the thought that their winning
elections demonstrates popular approval. When former president
Theodore Roosevelt visited Emperor Franz Joseph in 1910 and asked
him what he thought the role of monarchy was in the twentieth
century, the emperor reportedly replied: To protect my peoples from
their governments (quoted in both Thesen and Purcell 2003).
Similarly, Lord Bernard Weatherill, former speaker of the House of
Commons, said that the British monarchy exists not to exercise
power but to keep other people from having the power; it is a great
protection for our democracy (interview with Brian Lamb on C-Span,
26 November 1999).

The history of England shows progressive limitation of royal power
in favor of parliament; but, in my view, a welcome trend went too
far. Almost all power, limited only by traditions fortunately
continuing as an unwritten constitution, came to be concentrated
not only in parliament but even in the leader of the parliamentary
majority. Democratization went rather too far, in my opinion, in
the Continental monarchies also.


A monarch, not dependent on being elected and reelected, embodies
continuity, as does the dynasty and the biological process.
Constitutional monarchy offers us ... that neutral power so
indispensable for all regular liberty. In a free country the king
is a being apart, superior to differences of opinion, having no
other interest than the maintenance of order and liberty. He can
never return to the common condition, and is consequently
inaccessible to all the passions that such a condition generates,
and to all those that the perspective of finding oneself once again
within it, necessarily creates in those agents who are invested
with temporary power. It is a master stroke to create a neutral
power that can terminate some political danger by constitutional
means (Constant, pp. 186-187). In a settled monarchybut no regime
whatever can be guaranteed perpetual existencethe king need not
worry about clinging to power. In a republic, The very head of the
state, having no title to his office save that which lies in the
popular will, is forced to haggle and bargain like the lowliest
office-seeker (Mencken 1926, p. 181).

Dynastic continuity parallels the rule of law. The king symbolizes
a state of affairs in which profound political change, though
eventually possible, cannot occur without ample time for
considering it. The king stands in contrast with legislators and
bureaucrats, who are inclined to think, by the very nature of their
jobs, that diligent performance means multiplying laws and
regulations. Continuity in the constitutional and legal regime
provides a stable framework favorable to personal and business
planning and investment and to innovation in science, technology,
enterprise, and culture. Continuity is neither rigidity nor

The heir to the throne typically has many years of preparation and
is not dazzled by personal advancement when he finally inherits the
office. Before and while holding office he accumulates a fund of
experience both different from and greater than what politicians,
who come and go, can ordinarily acquire. Even when the king comes
to the throne as a youth or, at the other extreme, as an old man
with only a few active years remaining, he has the counsel of
experienced family members and advisors. If the king is very young
(Louis XV, Alfonso XIII) or insane (the elderly George III, Otto of
Bavaria), a close relative serves as regent.^6 The regent will have
had some of the opportunities to perform ceremonial functions and
to accumulate experience that an heir or reigning monarch has.

Objections and Rebuttals

Some arguments occasionally employed for monarchy are questionable.
If the monarch or his heir may marry only a member of a princely
family (as Kuehnelt-Leddihn seems to recommend), chances are that
he or she will marry a foreigner, providing international
connections and a cosmopolitan way of thinking. Another dubious
argument (also used by Kuehnelt-Leddihn) is that the monarch will
have the blessing of and perhaps be the head of the state religion.
Some arguments are downright absurd, for example: Monarchy fosters
art and culture. Austria was culturally much richer around 1780
than today! Just think of Mozart! (Thesen).

But neither all arguments for nor all objections to monarchy are
fallacious. The same is true of democracy. In the choice of
political institutions, as in many decisions of life, all one can
do is weigh the pros and cons of the options and choose what seems
best or least bad on balance.

Some objections to monarchy apply to democracy also or otherwise
invite comments that, while not actual refutations, do strengthen
the case in its favor. Monarchy is charged with being
government-from-above (Kuehnelt-Leddihn, p. 276). But all
governments, even popularly elected ones, except perhaps small
direct democracies like ancient Athens, are rule by a minority.
(Robert Michels and others recognized an iron law of oligarchy;
Jenkin 1968, p. 282.) Although democracy allows the people some
influence over the government, they do not and cannot actually run
it. Constitutional monarchy combines some strengths of democracy
and authoritarian monarchy while partially neutralizing the defects
of those polar options.

Another objection condemns monarchy as a divisive symbol of
inequality; it bars an ideal society in which everyone will be
equal in status, and in which everyone will have the right, if not
the ability, to rise to the highest position (Gabb 2002, who
replies that attempts to create such a society have usually ended
in attacks on the wealthy and even the well-off). Michael Prowse
(2001), calling for periodic referendums on whether to keep the
British monarchy, invokes what he considers the core idea of
democracy: all persons equally deserve respect and consideration,
and no one deserves to dominate others. The royal family and the
aristocracy, with their titles, demeanor, and self-perpetuation,
violate this democratic spirit. In a republican Britain, every
child might aspire to every public position, even head of state.

So arguing, Prowse stretches the meaning of democracy from a
particular method of choosing and influencing rulers to include an
egalitarian social ethos. But monarchy need not obstruct easy
relations among persons of different occupations and backgrounds; a
suspicious egalitarianism is likelier to do that. In no society can
all persons have the same status. A more realistic goal is that
everyone have a chance to achieve distinction in some narrow niche
important to him. Even in a republic, most people by far cannot
realistically aspire to the highest position. No one need feel
humbled or ashamed at not ascending to an office that simply was
not available. A hereditary monarch can be like the Alps(Thesen),
something just there. Perhaps it is the kings good luck, perhaps
his bad luck, to have inherited the privileges but also the
limitations of his office; but any question of unfairness pales in
comparison with advantages for the country.

Prowse complains of divisiveness. But what about an election? It
produces losers as well as winners, disappointed voters as well as
happy ones. A king, however, cannot symbolize defeat to supporters
of other candidates, for there were none. A monarch mounting the
throne of his ancestors follows a path on which he has not embarked
of his own will. Unlike a usurper, he need not justify his
elevation (Constant, p. 88). He has no further political
opportunities or ambitions except to do his job well and maintain
the good name of his dynasty. Standing neutral above party
politics, he has a better chance than an elected leader of becoming
the personified symbol of his country, a focus of patriotism and
even of affection.

The monarch and his family can assume ceremonial functions that
elected rulers would otherwise perform as time permitted.
Separating ceremonial functions from campaigning and policymaking
siphons off glamor or adulation that would otherwise accrue to
politicians and especially to demagogues. The occasional Hitler
does arouse popular enthusiasm, and his opponents must prudently
keep a low profile. A monarch, whose power is preservative rather
than active (Constant, pp. 191-192), is safer for peoples freedom.

Prowse is irritated rather than impressed by the pomp and opulence
surrounding the Queen. Clinging to outmoded forms and ascribing
importance to unimportant things reeks of collective bad faith and
corrosive hypocrisy. Yet a monarchy need not rest on pretense. On
the contrary, my case for monarchy is a utilitarian one, not
appealing to divine right or any such fiction. Not all ritual is to
be scorned. Even republics have Fourth of July parades and their
counterparts. Ceremonial trappings that may have become
functionless or comical can evolve or be reformed. Not all
monarchies, as Prowse recognizes, share with the British the
particular trappings that irritate him.

A case, admittedly inconclusive, can be made for titles of nobility
(especially for close royal relatives) and for an upper house of
parliament of limited powers whose members, or some of them, hold
their seats by inheritance or royal appointment (e.g., Constant,
pp. 198-200). The glory of a legitimate monarch is enhanced by the
glory of those around him. ... He has no competition to fear. ...
But where the monarch sees supporters, the usurper sees enemies.
(Constant, p. 91; on the precarious position of a nonhereditary
autocrat, compare Tullock 1987). As long as the nobles are not
exempt from the laws, they can serve as a kind of framework of the
monarchy. They can be a further element of diversity in the social
structure. They can provide an alternative to sheer wealth or
notoriety as a source of distinction and so dilute the fawning over
celebrities characteristic of modern democracies. Ordinary persons
need no more feel humiliated by not being born into the nobility
than by not being born heir to the throne. On balance, though, I am
ambivalent about a nobility.

   A Kings Powers

Michael Prowses complaint about the pretended importance of
unimportant things suggests a further reason why the monarchs role
should go beyond the purely symbolic and ceremonial. The king
should not be required (as the Queen of England is required at the
opening of parliament) merely to read words written by the cabinet.
At least he should have the three rights that Walter Bagehot
identified in the British monarchy: the right to be consulted, the
right to encourage, the right to warn. And a king of great sense
and sagacity would want no others. He would find that his having no
others would enable him to use these with singular effect (Bagehot
(1867/1872/1966, p. 111).

When Bagehot wrote, the Prime Minister was bound to keep the Queen
well informed about the passing politics of the nation. She has by
rigid usage a right to complain if she does not know of every great
act of her Ministry, not only before it is done, but while there is
yet time to consider it while it is still possible that it may not
be done.

A sagacious king could warn his prime minister with possibly great
effect. He might not always turn his course, but he would always
trouble his mind. During a long reign he would acquire experience
that few of his ministers could match. He could remind the prime
minister of bad results some years earlier of a policy like one
currently proposed. The king would indeed have the advantage which
a permanent under-secretary has over his superior the Parliamentary
secretary that of having shared in the proceedings of the previous
Parliamentary secretaries. ... A pompous man easily sweeps away the
suggestions of those beneath him. But though a minister may so deal
with his subordinate, he cannot so deal with his king (Bagehot, pp.
111-112). A prime minister would be disciplined, in short, by
having to explain the objective (not merely the political) merits
of his policies to a neutral authority.

The three rights that Bagehot listed should be interpreted broadly,
in my view, or extended. Constant (p. 301) recommends the right to
grant pardons as a final protection of the innocent. The king
should also have power: to make some appointments, especially of
his own staff, not subject to veto by politicians; to consult with
politicians of all parties to resolve an impasse over who might
obtain the support or acquiescence of a parliamentary majority; and
to dismiss and temporarily replace the cabinet or prime minister in
extreme cases. (I assume a parliamentary system, which usually does
accompany modern monarchy; but the executive could be elected
separately from the legislators and even subject to recall by
special election.) Even dissolving parliament and calling new
elections in an exceptional case is no insult to the rights of the
people. On the contrary, when elections are free, it is an appeal
made to their rights in favor of their interests (Constant, p.197).
The king should try to rally national support in a constitutional
crisis (as when King Juan Carlos intervened to foil an attempted
military coup in 1981).

   Kings and Politicians

What if the hereditary monarch is a child or is incompetent? Then,
as already mentioned, a regency is available. What if the royal
family, like some of the Windsors, flaunts unedifying personal
behavior? Both dangers are just as real in a modern republic.
Politicians have a systematic tendency to be incompetent or
worse.^7 For a democratic politician, understanding economics is a
handicap.^8 He either must take unpopular (because misunderstood)
stands on issues or else speak and act dishonestly. The
economically ignorant politician has the advantage of being able to
take vote-catching stands with a more nearly clear conscience.
Particularly in these days of television and of fascination with
celebrities, the personal characteristics necessary to win
elections are quite different from those of a public-spirited
statesman. History does record great statesmen in less democratized
parliamentary regimes of the past. Nowadays a Greshams Law
operates: the inferior human currency drives the better one out of
circulation (Kuehnelt-Leddihn, pp.115, 120). Ideal democratic
government simply is not an available option. Our best hope is to
limit the activities of government, a purpose to which monarchy can

Although some contemporary politicians are honorable and
economically literate, even simple honesty can worsens ones
electoral chances. H. L. Mencken wrote acidly and with
characteristic exaggeration: No educated man, stating plainly the
elementary notions that every educated man holds about the matters
that principally concern government, could be elected to office in
a democratic state, save perhaps by a miracle. ... it has become a
psychic impossibility for a gentleman to hold office under the
Federal Union, save by a combination of miracles that must tax the
resourcefulness even of God. ... the man of native integrity is
either barred from the public service altogether, or subjected to
almost irresistible temptations after he gets in (Mencken 1926, pp.
103, 106, 110). Under monarchy, the courtier need not abase himself
before swine, pretend that he is a worse man than he really is. His
sovereign has a certain respect for honor. The courtiers sovereign
... is apt to be a man of honour himself (Mencken, p. 118,
mentioning that the King of Prussia refused the German imperial
crown offered him in 1849 by a mere popular parliament rather than
by his fellow sovereign princes).

Mencken conceded that democracy has its charms: The fraud of
democracy ... is more amusing than any othermore amusing even, and
by miles, than the fraud of religion. ... [The farce] greatly
delights me. I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably
idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing (pp. 209, 211). Conclusion

One argument against institutions with a venerable history is a
mindless slogan betraying temporal provincialism, as if newer
necessarily meant better: Dont turn back the clock. Sounder advice
is not to overthrow what exists because of abstract notions of what
might seem logically or ideologically neater. In the vernacular, If
it aint broke, dont fix it. It is progress to learn from
experience, including experience with inadequately filtered
democracy. Where a monarchical element in government works well
enough, the burden of proof lies against the republicans (cf.
Gabb). Kuehnelt-Leddihn, writing in 1952 (p. 104), noted that the
royal, non-democratic alloy has supported the relative success of
several representative governments in Europe. Only a few
nontotalitarian republics there and overseas have exhibited a
record of stability, notably Switzerland, Finland, and the United

Constitutional monarchy cannot solve all problems of government;
nothing can. But it can help. Besides lesser arguments, two main
ones recommend it. First, its very existence is a reminder that
democracy is not the sort of thing of which more is necessarily
better; it can help promote balanced thinking. Second, by
contributing continuity, diluting democracy while supporting a
healthy element of it, and furthering the separation of government
powers, monarchy can help protect personal liberty.

"Monarchy: Friend of Liberty", Liberty 18, January 2004, pp. 37-42

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