"Le Roi est mort, vive le Roi"

The Observer added his own thoughts in response to mine regarding the best way to structure government. Go read the whole thing, it's very good and he's clearly put a LOT of thought into his writing- which is one of the reasons why I read his work, of course. The tl;dr version is pretty straightforward: we agree that democracy is a Very Bad Idea, we agree that some form of monarchy is actually a better idea, and we both have an extremely strong dislike for the idea that people should be given authority without responsibility. We agree on the need for less centralised forms of government that are held to higher standards and which are watched over by people who have truly earned their freedoms. We basically just respectfully disagree on degrees, not substance.

Anyway, his writing started off a bit of a weird train of thought. This whole exchange started with a comment about Lockean natural rights, which started me thinking about a contemporary of Locke's, who wrote basically the second greatest work of literature in the history of the English language. (The first is either King Lear or The Lord of the Rings, depending on my mood on any given day...) Milton was known as something of a radical in his day, and it is his tract, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, that I'm referencing right now. This tract is one of his seminal works on the subject of political philosophy, and in it he addresses concepts ranging from the question of whether a monarch has absolute power by right, to whether it is ever lawful for a king's subjects to execute their sovereign.

That latter argument is especially interesting and important in the current day and age. The question is simple: is it ever lawful for the sovereign citizenry to sit in judgement upon a leader that they themselves have elected and then pass the sentence of death upon him?

In my opinion, the answer is: (a qualified) yes- in a republic, not a democracy.

Now before anyone goes off half-cocked and attributes to me something that I didn't write, let me make this very clear: I am not advocating that anyone up and start shooting politicians at will. (For one thing, there are so many of the damn things that it would be like that old joke about lawyers.) I'm merely posing a hypothetical question. We are still, in the words of Claire Wolfe, in that awkward moment- "it's too late to work within the system, and it's too early to shoot the bastards."

That said, the question remains. When Milton asked and answered the same question, he was writing about kings who inherited their thrones. The people didn't really have much of a choice in the matter. If they didn't like their monarch, there was pretty much sod all that they could do about it. Monarchs throughout history claimed to have absolute rights to rule over their people. The number of times that people rose up to execute tyrants is not exactly large. In the five-century history of the Roman Empire, for instance, Julius Caesar was murdered by the Senate without a trial, Caligula was murdered by one of his bodyguards, and Nero committed suicide. Other Emperors- Caracalla, Elagabalus, etc.- were murdered by their Praetorian Guards or by conspiracies hatched in the Senate.

In my opinion, a modern democracy is very much like what Ben Franklin described- two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner. In a democracy, if you vote for some nullwit like President Jackass, then you bloody well get what you deserve. And this country basically voted for him, twice, which gives you some idea of just how far gone it is and how miserable its prospects for survival are. In a democracy, if you vote for a moron like Obarmy because he promised you lots of free crap paid for with other people's money, then that's your bloody problem and you're an idiot for voting in favour of a candidate who is apparently too stupid to know what he doesn't know. And if you didn't vote for him- well, my sympathies, but if you're a mainstream Republican, then you're not really all that different from the Democrats anyway. Paradoxically, by giving every man and his idiot cousin a vote in a democratic system, power is not dispersed but is concentrated, usually into the hands of those who have no ability to wield it properly.

In a republic, however, the sheep has a chance to fight back. In a republic, whether it be one made up of land-owning aristocrats in a quasi-feudal setup or a more decentralised system based on restricted voting and maximal dispersion of power, authority is concentrated among those who have demonstrated, whether through birthright, natural ability, or dint of hard work and skill, that they can wield it- and not very concentrated at that. At that point, when power is dispersed as closely as possible to the people who matter, a President or Prime Minister who attempts to act like an absolute monarch has very thoroughly overstepped his bounds. At that point- and not before- it is, in my opinion, perfectly justified for the nobles, the plebians, and the ordinary people to rise up and demand his head. At that point, his mandate to rule is no longer extant, and should be overturned. Actually, this is really not very different from the way the English landholding aristocracy worked for a very long time- the Magna Charta was designed specifically to stop King John I from overstepping his boundaries as king, after all.

And now for the clearly problematic objection to this chain of logic: what of the Terror following the French Revolution? Or the horrors of the Cultural Revolution in China? To put it more generally, what can one do to avoid the likelihood of men giving into their more savage natures and turning into bloodthirsty barbarians?

It's not easy. Man is flawed and Fallen, and there is no getting around this basic fact of human nature. It ultimately comes down to a question of the balance of power between various parts of government. This is precisely why I disagree with the idea of full-blown absolute monarchy- in my opinion the ideal form of government is one that balances out the natural roles of the king, the oligarchs, and the mob. If power is balanced, however precariously, between these three points of tension, it becomes very difficult for any one group to become too strong.

All that said, let's say we could turn back the clock one hundred and fifty years, back to when the American Constitution still worked the way it was supposed to work. And let's say that, for some incomprehensible reason, the American people were dumb enough to elect someone as stupid and as incompetent as the twit in power now. Would it be legitimate to then call for his public trial and execution in response to crimes against the nation, after he sold out the country's principles and demonstrated that he was manifestly incapable of upholding his oath to preserve, protect, and defend the nation's Constitution?

As long as said ruler was tried in public for his crimes, with judgement rendered in accordance with Constitutional law, then at that point- and not before- yes, it would be.


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