Pre-Enlightenment Political Thought:
Misconceptions About Monarchy
Throughout my study of politics in both high school and at the university level, we are taught extensively about the modern political systems. These systems include republicanism, democracy, communism, and fascism. Furthermore, all of these systems contain different variations. Examples of this would be military dictatorships and various autocracies belonging to fascism. The multiple variations exist for the other systems as well. All of these forms of government structure have one thing in common; they all revolve around the modern nation-state model and stem from Enlightenment philosophy.
Prior to this time, however, the forms of government were quite different, along with the structure of a nation. Besides small differences here and there, predominantly the governmental structure was Monarchy, which is the rule of a King, Emperor, or Czar. It is also important to note that the government of these times are different as compared to of modern fascism. Although they share an aspect in relation to one-man rule, Monarchy was a private government as opposed to public government in context to the nation state. Monarchy is rarely ever discussed in modern political education, and only really brought up in the study of history, which does not give it proper definition. This paper will seek to present the case for Monarchy as a reasonable form of government. If the victors write history, then discussion of Monarchy is most likely flawed from a modern understanding. It is seen as evil and oppressive. This however, may not be the case.
The Philosophical Foundations of Regality
Modern man’s philosophical understanding of our place in the world is quite different than the ancient world’s understanding. Today, most of mankind thinks along the lines of anthropocentric thought; that man is the center of all things. Prior to this, the disposition was widely toward theocentric thought, meaning that God is the center of all things. This was common among all societies, whether they be Christians, Islamic or Pagan.
“In order to understand both the spirit of Tradition and its antithesis, modern civilization, it is necessary to begin with the fundamental doctrine of two natures. According to this doctrine there is a physical order of things and a metaphysical one; there is a mortal nature and an immortal nature” – Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World
This obviously played a large role in the structure of government at the time and it gave power to the ruler above that of the common man. The metaphysical nature bestowed on leaders endowed them an authority that transcended that of human law alone. Regardless of how one may think about such things now, this is the philosophical thought that was present in the time prior to the Enlightenment.
However, it is important to note that it took different forms such as those of far ancient kingdoms such as Egypt where the Pharaoh was seen as embodiment of the god Ra or Horus. In latter Kingdoms, under Christian Monarchy, the King was not divine himself, but was placed there under divine decree. “Traditional civilizations completely ignored the merely political dimensions of supreme authority. The Roots of authority, on the contrary, always had a metaphysical character”(Evola). To the mind of our ancestors we see that the King was not seen as a simple ruler that represented the interests of the nation, but someone that was viewed with a higher degree of honor, transcendeding the role of leader into a manifestation, or a near manifestation of divine will. The French counter-revolutionary Joseph de Maistre writes,
“God makes kings in the literal sense, He prepares royal races; maturing them under a cloud which conceals their origin. They appear at length crowned with glory and honor; they take their places; and this is the most certain sign of their legitimacy. The truth is that they arise as it were of themselves, without violence on their part, and without marked deliberation on the other: it is a species of magnificent tranquility, not easy to express.” –Essay on the Generative Principle of Constitutions
To those before us, the King was in a class all his own. To the modern mind this is very difficult to grasp but, it is important to understand if the political thought of the time is going to be comprehended. It is important to look through the lens unfiltered, instead of projecting modern thought onto the thought of those before us. As we see, authority in the past was drawn from metaphysical and divine origins, not mere consent. Furthermore, this leads to the conclusion that the law that flowed from these sovereigns was of a higher order then human law alone.
“Traditional man either ignored or considered absurd the idea that one could talk about laws and obedience due them if the laws in question had a mere human origin. Every law, in order to be regarded as an objective law, had to have a ‘divine’ character. Once the ‘divine’ character of a law was sanctioned and its origin traced back to a nonhuman tradition, then its authority became absolute. Thus, every transgression of such law was regarded not so much as a crime against society, but rather and foremost as sacrilege or as an act of impiety, or as an act that jeopardized the spiritual destiny of the person who disobeyed it.” Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World
Once again, it is important to note that this conception of committing sacrilege when breaking a law depends on the time period. Under those ancient regimes such as Egypt, where the Pharaoh was seen as a god, the above understanding of law is more accurate then that of Monarchial systems under Christendom. In Christian thought, breaking a law is not necessarily a sacrilege; non-the less it violates the moral teaching of the faith if such law is in accordance with moral doctrine.
As we see the philosophical foundations of pre-enlightenment political thought were radically different then those of modern thought, stemming out of a completely different conception of the nature of not only the world, but of man and his place in it. As noted previously, it is important to view these things through the lens of our ancestors, and not from our own perspective.