Special to WorldTribune.com
By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs
What form of governance is “best”? What is most durable? What is most equitable? What produces the best economic results? These questions are usually posed — and the answers are usually imposed — as though a universally applicable model could be found by some divine inspiration; as though all peoples and all situations are the same.
So: is a form of republicanism more effective than a form of monarchy? Are republics and monarchies more similar than dissimilar? And are they both now assailed by the “anti-nationalism” of globalism?
Has the convergence of republicanism and monarchism already occurred, and are we already witness to the phenomenon of what could be called “crowned republics”? And what are the advantages which this phenomenon demonstrates for political stability in, for example, many Commonwealth states?
How deeply have we studied the universal characteristics which define a “republic”, or a “monarchy”?
Each comes in an infinite variety of forms. Where does “democracy” fit with either form? And is democracy a form of governance, or merely a process of governance.
Can true democracy merely be just a structured methodology, such as an electoral regimen? Or is it merely a characteristic of the way in which societies and their leaders instinctively behave? And do the mechanisms or manifestations of democracy — laws, elections, and guarantees — fail automatically when the underlying instincts toward an equitable management of society are replaced by the ambition of a few, and the sense of entitlement of a minority?
What, then, is “democracy”?
We will discuss the attributes of republics, monarchies, and “crowned republics” later in this report.
With so many variables, it is hardly possible to differentiate which form of governance is most desirable until each form has been completely understood within the geo-social framework in which it is to function.
History shows that the form of governance which works best and most durably is the form which springs directly from the roots of the society which creates and evolves it for its own purpose.
Each society is unique.
The geography and climate which determine the logic of survival and prosperity in a society determine its culture and mores, and its mode of creating, sustaining, and respecting hierarchies, imbuing them with the prestige which gives them authority.
Societies, then, create forms of governance in their own image.
And it is only when either the society changes its basic characteristics, or the government which the society created changes its relationship with its population base that the form of governance eventually collapses or requires transformation.
The French Revolution which overthrew an existing form of governance — the absolutist form of monarchy under King Louis XVI — began in 1789 because the government came to no longer reflect the logic and interests of the social base which it governed. It collapsed despite strenuous governmental attempts to force its society into compliance.
The Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), on the other hand, collapsed in 1990 because it was never fully able to impose its writ on the Russian people, despite seven decades since 1917 of attempted enforcement of its form of governance on them.
In essence, the French monarchy began organically and evolved — calcified — into authoritarianism. The Soviet Government began as authoritarian and then attempted, but failed, to become organic. King Louis XVI was overthrown by revolution; Tsar Nicholas II in Russia was overthrown by putsch, not by revolution. And the strategic context of World War I contributed to the context in which the Tsarist Government, already unable to stay ahead of the liberalism which it had unleashed, contributed to the inability of Nicholas to respond.
Thus the Soviet takeover of Russia and its Empire was not by “revolution”, which would have implied a societal rejection of the leadership; a whole-of-society rejection. Power was seized by a group which lacked the support of a national consensus.
It was for this reason, in Russia post-1917, that the Red (globalist) movement took so long to forcibly overcome the White (nationalist) movement, and why the Soviet model was never organic to the Russian people (and those of the former Russian Empire).
The collapse of all governments and forms of governance comes down to that reality: it occurs when society and the government diverge. [In assuming that they have diverged there is the assumption that they were ever “as one”, which, in the case of imposed governmental forms, they never were.] As the great strategic philosopher, Dr Stefan Possony (1915-1995), would say of electoral systems: “Governments are rarely voted into office; mostly they are voted out of office.”
Governance, at least since the Treaty of Westphalia began to define the modern nation- state in 1648, involves an acknowledged accord between the governed and the governors.
Hierarchies, whether evolved or consciously constructed, have, since the birth of human society, given form to what is arguably a natural urge toward “democracy” — the agreement between individuals over the allocation of responsibilities within society — in some form or other. Westphalia articulated, codified, and legitimized the hierarchies and rôles of all citizens as well as their relationship with their geography.
And yet the evolution of professional political classes through the 20th Century and into the 21st has meant, increasingly, that the “accord” has become an illusion.
Just as traditional leaderships (monarchies and aristocracies) over time — as history has demonstrated — may become rigid, brittle, and defensive of their increasingly entrenched positions, so do republican hierarchical leaders (presidents, elected officials, bureaucrats) also eventually become rigid, brittle, and defensive of their increasingly entrenched positions.
If we saw the impact of life-cycle ageing on monarchies occur in the 19th and early 20th centuries, we see it apply to republican and quasi-republican hierarchies in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
I noted in the study, UnCivilization: Urban Geopolitics in a Time of Chaos, in 2012, that civilizations as organic forms have fairly predictable phases in their lifespan. They are born out of an amalgam of cultures; they grow, mature, become sclerotic, and die. Governmental structures, too, are organic life forms and go through the same process. To avoid death, they must rejuvenate, and reinvent themselves.
Those monarchies and other traditional leaderships which sustained their popularity and effectiveness into the 20th and 21st centuries did so, and survived, because they had become more flexible and “democratically responsive” to their societies. Most of them began to hew to the usually unwritten “democratic contract” of mutual understanding between governed and governor.
They instilled a sense of identity in all elements of society, rather than to retain that sense of identity security only to the leadership.
Some traditional governance structures, mostly at the sub-national level (but some at a national level), simply went into abeyance; into cold storage. There they often moldered, but did not die. Some were kept alive because they did not threaten structures which eclipsed them in terms of political power. Thus, the leaderships of indigenous peoples in the Americas. Africa, and the Asia-Pacific, for example, survived and retained the hierarchies and identities of their peoples even in a changing context.
But in terms of national governance in modern societies, the trust and bond between elected officeholders and many societies eroded in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
In many cases, the old contract moved away from the practical and respected, agreed allocation of responsibilities, which said, essentially: “I will give you my vote; you will protect my life and nation.”
The situation moved to the position in which political and bureaucratic officials, having attained power, would not willingly relinquish it, regardless of public sentiment.
Thus the democratic bargain be- came a confection, an artificiality; an artifice, really. It had worked well until the professional political class ceased to be seen as representative of the whole of society. It worked until the professional political and bureaucratic classes became separated from their comprehensive societal roots, and until they became seen as representative only of themselves, separated from the mainstream of society.
It worked until someone from the crowd said: “The King has no clothes.” In other words, until a professional political class broke the concept of the nation-state as it was codified by the Treaty of Westphalia.
The breakdown of the implicit social contract is not a new phenomenon. It has occurred cyclically through history.
This time, however, and possibly for the first time in recent history, there emerged a conscious rejection of the Westphalian model — and the earlier implicit, geopolitically-based hierarchical models — because the Westphalian model is expressly built around the true sovereignty and primacy of the nation-state; around nationalism.
Globalists — the urban societies — believe that the nation-state is finally headed for demise and that city-states will rise. This is a tendency which arises after protracted periods of peace and rising urban wealth. It is significant that the rising belief that the “return of the city state” as a driver of globalization is expressed only in cities, which is why cities (such as London, New York, Washington, and Rome) were blindsided by nationalist movements around 2016.
A comprehensive report by Jamie Bartlett, director of the Center for the Analysis of Social Media at the London-based Demos group, appeared in early September 2017, entitled “Return of the City-State”, and sub-titled “Nation-states came late to history, and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest they won’t make it to the end of the century”, published on the Aeon.co website. What was significant about this report, and all the works written in the same vein, is that they make the assumption that economic and technological growth will continue in a linear line from the recent past, and that electricity will be available constantly to perpetuate the unfettered power of the city-state.
Thus the globalists — who mistakenly believe that globalization was a product of the cities when it was a product, in fact, of trading nation- states — feel that the weight of history is on their side; that monarchs and presidents alike will succumb to the horizontal populism of the urban ochlocracy. They were taken aback at what was felt to be an inconceivable and illogical whiplash by nationalists to attempt to reverse the will of the cities with the 2016 votes (in particular) in the UK and US.
Urban globalists see nothing but the march of history when they fight to overturn the expressed will of the electorates of the United Kingdom and United States, even at the cost of the nation-state and sovereignty. For the urban globalist, the nation-state is an anachronism, and sovereignty is merely a legacy of Westphalianism.
So perhaps we distract ourselves by attempting to force our interpretations of governmental forms into either the “republican” or “monarchical” categories. First we should look at something more fundamental: how will societies react to the threat against the nation-state concept itself, whether republican or monarchical?
The reality is that the form of governance which works is the one which is part of the sense of identity of the society which created it. Urban utopianist thinking fundamentally rejects both republican and monarchical governance forms, because both represent the nation-state. The city-state mentality is that it can create a form of governance which springs solely from the city, without, somehow, being vulnerable to the reality that their existence is subject to the good will of those who provide food and resources and control their logistical lines.
City-states historically survive only as long as a more comprehensively-based power does not challenge them. “More comprehensively-based” means a power which controls sufficient geography to command its own food and other resources, giving it the ability to deny those assets to the city-state.
So history usually reverts strategic shapes to the balanced geopolitical entities, whether they are tribes, or clans, or nation-states. Multi-communal nation-states became optimal because they could usually provide greater flexibility and depth than, say, clan-based societies.
History has demonstrated that all durable governance is based on “identity politics”; identity constructed over great time and in concert with its geography. If governance is not part of the identity of the people which it serves, then it is alien to them. Indeed, what preserves a sense of identity, purpose, and duty has always been an intrinsic bond with the national saga of the nation. It is fair to say that most successful and cohesive societies have had an overarching epic saga to cement their sense of identity.
This was, for example, particularly evidenced by the saga of the Solomonic bloodline of the Ethiopian Crown over three millennia, based on the union between King Solomon and Queen Makeda of Saba (the Queen of Sheba). When the Dergue coup leaders overthrew the Solomonic Emperor of Ethiopia — Emperor Haile Selassie I — in 1974 and began burning all the history books of the country, and banning reference to pre-coup history, the soul of Ethiopia began to die, and with it the union of its 60 or so ethnic and linguistic groups.
Ethiopia, absent its epic saga, began to be seen as just another poor and disparate group of African societies.
The early 21st Century schism between “urban globalists” and “nationalists” is literally over the issue of identities.
This writer, speaking at the June 2004 UNESCO conference, “Dialogue Among Civilizations”, noted:
Th[e] dichotomy — this war between the growing global reality of seamless human interaction on the one hand, and the eternal, visceral human necessity for a sense of societal identity on the other — will, unless addressed, lead to further global strategic unrest. …
What this dichotomy is, in essence, is that an aspect of all of humanity is at war with another aspect of all of humanity.
It is fundamental reality that if peoples lose their sense of identity and historic points of reference — like a sailor at sea losing sight of the horizon — then they lose much of their ability to act collectively for their own survival. Disorientation, and even the threat of identity loss as the precursor to disorientation, leads to panic and chaos. The challenge, then, is not how human society should halt or reverse the progress and tools of advancement we have created, but, rather, how these tools can be made to fit with the human requirement of group identity, and how societies can strengthen their underlying sense of identity and purpose so that they do not feel the need to lash out in order to protect their survival.
That “war” between two aspects of humanity became crystallized leading up to the significant events of 2016: the United Kingdom’s polarizing vote over whether to leave the European Union, and the United States’ polarizing vote to elect Donald Trump as President.
Both events were expressions of “identity politics”, just as the clashes between rural and urban voters in Thailand have from the beginning of the 21st Century until this point.
Similarly, the perceived widespread failure of governance throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa in the post-colonialist period (1960 onwards) can be attributed partly but profoundly to the reality that externally-imposed boundaries and governance structures have removed the organic link between societies and their state systems.
In other words, the identity security of individuals became lost when they no longer had an organic relationship with the structures imposed on them.
Dr Askar Akaev, wrote a book, Kyrgyz Statehood and the National Epos “Manas”, in 2002, when he was President of the Kyrgyz Republic, about the historical saga on which the Kyrgyz society was built. Bearing in mind that Kyrgyzstan had never been a true geopolitical entity — a nation- state — until the collapse of the USSR in 1990, it had been necessary for Dr Akaev to re-discover the origins of the Kyrgyz people and the centrality of the sage of their great hero, Manas, who defeated the Mongols. His book looked in some detail at the history of the Kyrgyz people, dating back to the Third Century BCE, and following their progress through their great migrations from their ancestral homes in southern Siberia and Mongolia to the present location of the Kyrgyz people and state.
One profound message of Dr Akaev’s highly-significant book was the attention and interpretation he gives to passionarnost’, a concept crystallized by Russian scientist and ethnologist Lev Gumilev, who died in 1992. It was during his Siberian detention in 1939 that Gumilev realized the centrality of passionarnost’ to his theory of ethnogenisis.
Gumilev at one point described passionarnost’ as “an increased desire to act” and a “driving force in ethnic history”; how passion can imbue a leader and a people. The concept grasped Dr Akaev as a physicist, and he saw the centrality of the great epic of Kyrgyz history — Manas — to the motivation of the Kyrgyz people, just as the great epics of the West, like the Iliad, motivated much of European identity and values.
So it becomes less a matter of whether a “republic” or a “monarchy” governs, but whether the geo- political entity — the physical state and its governance hierarchy — are created out of the society’s fabric; out of “whole cloth”.
Still, there is an implicit belief in the neo-post-industrial world — the urban-dominated world — that somehow, because republics are supposedly not built around inter-generational transfers of power within a designated (and, in some instances, a divinely-ordained) family, republics must somehow be built around a more empirically-driven logic.
Perhaps, in some instances, they are built around a more purposely-conceived construct than an organically-evolved hierarchy which, in some instances, harkens back in its origins to the mists of history.
Even assuming that there is a “civilizational” logic — as opposed to a cultural logic — to the creation of some republics, that does not necessarily mean that there is that visceral relationship between a governing structure and the society it is to govern. A “visceral relationship” is un- likely if the governing structure is imposed by an élite group rather than having evolved from the mists of time, and imbued with the respect which evolves from national myth.
“Civilizational logic” in designing the structure of a national governance system from a clean slate — applied in many states emerging from colonial rule and assuming borders which had meaning only to the departing colonial power — assumes that the construct gives legality toward its imposed view of ownership, rights and duties, and legitimacy.
Often, though, the birth of republics has been caused merely by the collapse of, or the desire to destroy, a traditional form of governance. Or because of the departure of a former occupying power.
Did the imposed new Government of Kosovo have any innate legitimacy or a governance structure with roots in the land of Kosovo when it was given sovereignty by foreign powers (the US and European Union) in 2008? Does the failure of Kosovo to achieve viability reflect the reality that its governance structure was artificially imposed on it by foreign entities (including the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army)?
In other words, the birthing legitimacy of such a republic is merely that it is not the former state (even if that state’s demise may have been due to its own failure).
A survey of most republics in the world at present shows that many are hardly representative of their populations. At best — and then only in a legal interpretation of voting systems which may themselves be alien to the consensus basis which historically guided the societies — they may allow the tyranny of the marginal majority over the marginal minority. A survey of most remaining regnant and sovereign monarchies shows that most, in fact, have become constitutional monarchies: usually reigning, rather than ruling, over federal or confederal structures which allow a greater sense of nuance on governance.
They have, in other words, attained an explicit contract between society and its unifying symbols.
Perhaps the argument, then, as to differences in governmental forms, does not come down to being between republican and monarchical forms, but between parliamentary and presidential approaches.
What characterizes or defines a republic? It is whatever it chooses itself to be. So it may be easier to first list the characteristics which are not implicit to a republic.
Possibly the only universal attribute which is generally quoted for a republic is that it does not have an hereditary leader. But even that, in current iterations, has been dis-proven in Syria, the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea, and even the United States of America where dynastic clans have been inherited an advantage in taking national leadership.
Republican forms of governance are not more “modern” forms of government than what today are considered as “traditional” forms of governance (and what we call “traditional” forms tend to all be variations of what we now call “monarchies”). Even today’s interpretation of “a republic” harkens mostly to imagery created by the Roman republic (res publica or “public thing” in Latin), but known forms of republicanism existed in the Seventh Century BCE in India, for example.
Republican forms of governance are not necessarily ones which have collective, elected, or democratic leadership, or the premise that “the people” are, in fact, sovereign. Not all republics are governed by a “constitutional republicanism”, although most governments of any description at least claim to have the authority of “the people”; the consent of the governed.
Republican forms of governance are not necessarily meritocratic. Indeed, they are, most often, anti-meritocratic. Where they depend on electoral success, it may be argued that the broader the electoral franchise, the lower the common intellectual denominator. Leadership is often dependent on populism and superficiality. Complexity and demonstrable accomplishment — a “track record” — are no match for image manipulation: “packaged charisma”. Elected governance (either republican or parliamentary in a constitutional monarchy) tends to recruit leadership based on competence only in times of existential threat.
It is usually the case that the head-of-government of a republic (although not necessarily the nominal head-of-state) represents a factional or ideological position. This may be a position held by the majority of the population, but never by all of it. The success or otherwise of such a leadership position, then, is the degree to which that leader commands respect and compliance from the overwhelming majority of the society.
In parliamentary systems (whether republican or monarchical), a government may be removed for failure to maintain electoral consensus, and this can occur without harm to the continuity of the identity of the state. That continuity is provided when the state itself is not synonymous with the government. Even the “absolute” French monarch, Louis XIV (who ruled from 1643 to 1715), understood that when he allegedly told Parliament “l’État, c’est moi” [I am the State], because he noted on his deathbed “Je m’en vais, mais l’État demeurera toujours” [I am departing, but the State will always remain].
In states with executive presidencies — and these are always regarded as republics — the collapse or failure of the government invariably tests the identity of the state, unless there are other, overarching, and quasi- monarchical symbols which transcend the government itself. In the United States, for example, that “quasi-monarchical” overarching symbolism was provided by the mythologizing of “the flag”, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
These symbols — because they have assumed mythological respect — have acted as a de facto neutral, nationally-unifying crown. But to the degree that reverence for these symbols fail in such a state, so does the viability of the state itself. As with all forms of governance, then, prestige is the most critical element in sustaining the viability of hierarchies: rule of law, value of currencies, and so on. As Possony noted: “Prestige is the credit-rating of nations.”
It is also critical to their ability to function. And when the leadership of a nation-state becomes the subject of partisan or ideological dispute, then the prestige of, and respect for, the most significant symbol of statehood comes into question.
This, perhaps, gets to the nub of the challenge to most republics, and particularly those with elected executive presidencies, or those in which even supposedly apolitical presidencies appointed by an elected assembly are seen as partisan in their interpretation of the nation’s constitution or unspoken equality of rights. They become seen as either representative of a partisan group, or as ineffective as a guardian of the society’s implicit rights in the bargain of governance.
What characterizes or defines a monarchy? Given that, as with republics, monarchies are whatever a society chooses them to be, it is easier to begin by describing what they are not.
Monarchies are not specifically defined by being hereditary. Not all monarchies are hereditary; neither are they necessarily the preserve of a single family or bloodline within a society. Russia, before the Romanovs, for example, fluctuated between “born tsars” and “elected tsars”, elected by the Zemsky Sobor (the Assembly of the Land), which could be summoned by either the Tsar, the Patriarch, or the Boyar Duma.
Most monarchies have no active role in governance; most act as the guardians of the society as a whole, protecting its rights against the possible over-reach of a “governing class” of politicians, bureaucrats, or aristocrats.
Monarchies rarely function without the explicit and implicit approval of society, or without a partnership with an agency of governance (a parliament or assembly).
Not all hereditary monarchies function under the succession principle of primogeniture or absolute primogeniture, although the introduction of the primogeniture in England could arguably have been said to have ensured the smooth transfer of the Crown (and, at that time, governance) from one generation to the next, thereby beginning the process of the accumulation of English (later British) strategic power.
Empires — and therefore emperors — are not axiomatically monarchical, although often (as in the Roman and Bonapartist empires) bearing similar characteristics.
Are theocratic states monarchical or some other form? Or can they be republics? The Vatican, clearly, is a monarchy — it is a monarchial-sacerdotal state — but its monarch is elected, as was some of the pre- Romanov monarchy of Russia.
Israel, Iran, and Pakistan have been referred to as theocratic states, but all are republics in name. Iran’s current religiously-based leader, however, has all the characteristics of the ancient Sultans of Persia in all but the fact that he achieves his post through a form of election within a carefully circumscribed community.
Most monarchies have an identification with traditional religion or traditional mythology. A religious link is not a pre-requisite for the monarchical governance, but religious links with the crown often evolved as part of the identification of the entire hierarchy of a society with the traditions and beliefs with which the society has developed. This implies that monarchies are rooted in their societies through culture and cultural, rather than civilizational, values. It means that they of necessity become iconic, and mythologized. And because crowns are usually seen as sacred icons of society, they carry an element of vulnerability. The more any icon or myth becomes humanized and demystified, the more vulnerable it becomes; but this is a factor for all leaderships, not merely the monarchs.
Cultures, however, are vital components for the creation of civilizations. Civilizations provide the constructed law and quantification of a society; cultures provide the lore and qualification of it.
Culture and Civilization
It is usually implied that republics are more “civilizational” in their orientation, and that monarchies are more “cultural” in their basis.
Fundamentally, civilizations cannot prosper without the foundational and parallel evolution of cultures, regardless of whether the civilization is based around a republican model or a monarchical one. “Western civilization” clearly evolved from being entirely based on a framework of monarchies in which certain common traits were apparent. It evolved, in the 21st Century, to include all nation-states which embraced the quantification standards of “the West”: currencies, measurements, recognition of legal frameworks, and the like.
But historically, Chinese, Egyptian, Persian, Roman (after the republic) and British civilizations were — like so many others — monarchies or empires. And, significantly, empires need not necessarily be classical monarchies. The frameworks of logic and consistent transactional practices, such as economic activities and currencies, and so on, which arguably define a civilization evolved happily from societies which also embraced the cultural roots of vertical hierarchies.
So the differentiation is not whether civilizations can embrace monarchism equally with republicanism. It is whether civilizations can survive if they reject the vertical hierarchies and geopolitical basics which define both republics and monarchies.
A ‘Crowned Republic’
Most current constitutional monarchies have become indistinguishable in most characteristics from republics, and some republics have the attributes of monarchies.
Why, then, the protracted debate about which is the best, or the inevitable, form of governance? It is difficult to highlight that one form or other performs better or more responsively than another, although it is clear that the societies where the populace and governance act in harmony are usually most productive, or at least most harmonious. This means that the governance or hierarchical forms which are rooted historically in the values (ie: the cultures and logic) of a society achieve that harmony, even if work is needed to sustain the vigor of it.
What seems clear, however, is that the debate now reaching the proportion of a conflict is between the nation-state and the globalist view of the city-state. Thus, retaining security within nation-states becomes critical, given the logical risks of having security services becoming politicized and partisan. It is for that reason that all monarchies — including constitutional monarchies — ensure that the oath of allegiance is directly to the sovereign or the sovereign’s representative (governor-general or governor, in many instances), to attempt to ensure that the armed forces, in particular, remain loyal to the state, rather than to the governing political faction.
In the U.S., the oath of allegiance by the Armed Forces is to the Constitution, which is also significant, given attempts already by numerous administrations to declare the Constitution as an impediment to governance. This significant, and seemingly ceremonial point, may prove critical as the conflict between globalism and nationalism accelerates.
And it is for this reason that the great ideological effort of urban globalists — and such groups as even Cambodia’s rural-based socialist Khmer Rouge (1968-79) — has been the eradication or transformation of the teaching of history. Little wonder Ethiopia’s Dergue, beginning in 1974, burnt all the books it could of the nation’s three millennia of history.
Little wonder, too, that history has been either eradicated or politicized in most modern, urban-dominated societies.
The Choices Between History, No History, and Anti-History
The nation-state represents sovereignty and history; it therefore represents a significant portion of the identity of its inhabitants.
Monarchical states — from near-absolute like Saudi Arabia, to emphatically constitutional, like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — have their identities bound together iconically by something indisputably apolitical and national: the crown. It is less subject to manipulation, largely because of its inanimate mysticism, than, say, a constitution, which requires a supreme court for constant re-interpretation.
Crowns, more often, have been the source of a defense against autocracy rather than a source of autocratic rule.