Monday, July 13, 2015

Theses on monarchy

My collected notes on why I think monarchy is less problematic than oligarchic republicanism (which, ultimately, are the only two options for government).  We can say these are running theses in no particular order:

[1] Prima facie appeals to 1 Samuel 8 as a universal condemnation of monarchy are illegitimate.

[2] Yahweh specifically told Samuel the Israelites were rejecting Yahweh.  My question:  do evangelicals actually think and see the new America as ruled by Yahweh himself without a mediating figure?

[3] Some form of mediating figure is necessary (O’Donovan, 50).  In order for their appeal to 1 Samuel 8 to be strong, they have to posit the same social form seen in 1 Samuel 8.    During pre-Davidic Israel, Samuel was the mediating figure between Yahweh and the nation (1 Samuel 3:19-21).   Thus, republicans have to posit some Samuel-ite figure to mediate between God and the nation (the papal overtones should not be missed).  Few evangelicals will take this route.

[4] Per Leithart, If David was a “detour,” further, it is odd that the prophets again and again hold out the hope that Israel would return to the “detour” (Isaiah 9:7; 16:5; 33:15-26; Ezekiel 34:23-24; 37:24-25). 

[5] Monarchy is an “angled mirror” that allows us to see other worlds, or to see around the power games of this world (N. T. Wright)

[6] Augustine teaches us (Civ. Dei, Book 19) that a people must be united around common objects of love.  Historically, this has either been the liturgy/Faith or the monarch.  This doesn't immediately rule out some forms of Republicanism, to be sure, but it does put it on a tight squeeze.  Republicanism as a general rule

[7] This is a bit difficult.  In Colossians 1:24 St Paul sees an interplay between Christ's Sufferings, His Sufferings, and his people's participation in one or the other.  Perhaps monarchy can put this tension into sharp relief.  Sergius Bulgakov saw the tsar as carrying the cross for his people, of the tsar not as the presiding authority in a police state, but as the symbolic focus of Russia in all its pain and confusion. To be a tsarist in this context was, he says, to share in that pain and confusion (Rowan Williams).  

[8] Per [6]  liturgy is how the Church embodies and acts out its faith. Liturgy is both vertical and horizontal. Western politicians at least since the age of King John of England have wrestled with the question of the limits of the king’s authority.  They sought to “bind the king to the law,” or something like that.  King’s could be bound to the law from time to time.
Liturgy, however, does not bind the king to an abstract “law,” but rather connects him via baptism to the people.  King and commoner are thus bound together before God.

[9] The creational order is not egalitarian.  There is a hierarchy (though not an ontological chain) in creation.  Unless you have pure anarchism, someone is in charge of others.  Hence, mediation is inescapable [3].  This means we have the following types of mediation:
  • (a) some form of monarchy
  • (b) a republican president
  • (c) economic oligarchy
Royalists usually point out that (c) normally controls (b).   To be elected you have to have financial backers.  Therefore, any good you want to do for society is limited by not alienating your financial backers.  There may be a host of problems with monarchy but this is not one of them.  N.T. Wright said when he was on the House of Lords, only the Lords could truly debate what was good for society because they didn't have to worry about offending economic backers.  


  1. I'm with you on the biblical appraisal of monarchy. 1 Samuel 8 is the prophetic revelation that while the crown will now be the hope, it is a curse. I think it's fair that the prophets looked forward to a King, but the history of Israel (as God tells Samuel) is that the throne will be a source of constant pain, corruption and death for Israel.

    But this is where we part ways: why isn't that monarchy rooted in the, incarnate, Son of David who sits at the Right of Majesty? Why do we need another political mediation besides Christ and why do we need to embody and inhabit any government than the City of God (i.e. namely the Church as a polis-in-exile/not-yet)?

    Bulgakov, along with most Byzantine theology, rightly emphasize the ikonic and typological aspects of Scripture, but place them in another Tsar than the one who still reigns. If Christ is the Type, the Mediator between God and Man, why do we need another mediator to the mediator? Chain-of-Being advocates could make sense of this, but can we?

    For practical reasons, I'd be more supportive of a monarch in this day and age of kleptocracy and plutocracy that we call American republicanism. But that's out of a desire for tranquility, and not for any deep theological positing of our current governments. They are princes that pass away.


    1. PS. To take the kings of nations and say they are worthy to stand as mediators, not only ruins the church's mission but confuses it. At least with Rome, their reign is still in the belief of being in the Spirit. I'd rather be ruled by a pope than a prince.

    2. Cal, those are excellent questions. To do full justice to you I will have to answer them in a longer post.