Marxists and Monarchists Unite?

By | April 25, 2014

Any possibility of what Ross Douthat is calling a “Marxist revival” among Americans is a fascinating thing to contemplate, particularly if you happen to be a monarchist (like myself). You see, Marxism and monarchy, while they have almost nothing in common from an intellectual standpoint, are comrades when it comes to cultural derision.

These “M-words” are both ideas that most Americans have been trained, from the cradle, to hold in contempt. Announcing publicly that you are a Marxist or a monarchist is sort of the political-economic equivalent of “coming out of the closet”—and, in some ways, coming out as an M-word might be worse: In the former case, people will just think you are immoral, but as an M-word, on the other hand, they will think you are immoral and stupid.

And there’s little anyone can do about it so long as the taboo persists. Argument is fruitless because the prejudice is not based on a decision—it is simply an a priori form of perception.

This is why it seems almost inconceivable that Marx could once again become culturally “relevant.” It is one thing for a moral or sexual taboo, such as that against divorce, to lose its authority, because moral transformations can come about unconsciously. But Marxism is an idea, and the taboo connected to it can’t slip away unnoticed. When Marxism transforms from pejorative term to talking-point, deep shifts are underway.

I mention all these things because, while I really can’t explain why or how this “revival” is happening, I can say that my reaction to it is a glowing optimism. After all, if American prejudices are loosening enough to have calm discussions about the merits of Marx, then, who knows?—maybe someday soon I might be able to have a calm discussion with someone about the merits of the monarchy.

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  • Aaron Taylor

    I’m a little suspicious of Americans who say they are monarchists for the same reason I’m suspicious of British people who say they aren’t.

    Surely the merit of monarchy is tradition? What thoroughgoing Marxism and an abstract kind of “monarchism” (i.e., abstract because detached from allegiance to a particular Royal dynasty historically rooted in a particular place) have in common in America is that both would be massive attempts at ideological engineering rather than an attempt to preserve an existing way of life and an already-existing political patrimony. Both would be rooted in the vain idea that we are clever enough not simply to be able to improve slightly upon or develop the wisdom of the centuries, but so clever we can afford to scrap it all and build again from the ground-up.

  • Daniel Schwindt

    “Both would be rooted in the vain idea that we are clever enough not simply to be able to improve slightly upon or develop the wisdom of the centuries, but so clever we can afford to scrap it all and build again from the ground-up.”

    Sound wisdom, to be sure. But what if you are born into a political system which itself was formed by scrapping the wisdom of the centuries and starting again from the ground up? Wouldn’t it be a fiction to give it the same respect that you would give to a regime based on the that old traditional wisdom? To scrap such a system would not be a bold attempt at novelty, for what is being scrapped is itself the novelty. It would only be a return to what was initially scrapped. Correct?

  • Aaron Taylor

    America was never a “monarchy” in the abstract, though. It was under the authority of the British Crown. So, yes, it would be a bold attempt at novelty.

    And how far would you take that argument? When William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066 he introduced a lot of novelties. Would you say it is a “fiction,” therefore, for a British person to give the same allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II as they would to the old Anglo-Saxon monarchy that was in place before the Norman invasion? Sooner or later, your argument lapses into incoherence from a historical point of view.

  • Daniel Schwindt

    That said, I think most monarchists would not advocate a total reconstruction anyway. Most are actually fairly “anti-revolutionary”–for obvious reasons. Integration of monarchist principles would be a huge step forward, and that could be done in small pieces, eh?

  • Rapallo

    What a thoroughgoing, brief call to arms!
    That is the modern world: Greed, self-interest, commodification. Right or Left, today they are all Libertines of one colour or another. It is all about the individual. The only thing that ever kept these
    ideas in check were the universal Church and the monarchy; without them, as imperfect as they may have been, it is nothing but a free-for-all.
    What old conservatives and old communists had in common was a sense that community overrides society. The last time these currents came together was during the domestic fight against Hitler in Germany. The political and military opposition to Hitler was spearheaded by socialist, devout Christian aristocrats aka the Red Counts; they were all executed after July 20th, 1944.
    I am not an American, but my observations from up North of your country is that despite the fact that the US are a plutocracy the country’s ideology is that of democracy. It will be hard to overcome this hypocritical egalitarianism.
    Some Christian anti-capitalists who have continued to question late Capitalism, while trying to reform the free market system, have increasingly begun to realize that in some measure an opposition to the possessive individualism of Capitalism can only be traditionalist. Indeed one can argue that originally even early communism itself was somewhat “counter-enlightenment” in character. Christian religion is, as Marx said, the ‘heart of a heartless world’, a heart that seeks the real light of human love, support, joy, purpose, and universality. This is because only what is sacred, what possesses a value that reason cannot fully fathom — that which, therefore, is validated only by modes of usually religious tradition — is truly immune from commodification. In this light, to call for a commonweal of family, mutuality, locality, religion, and civil society is a truly radical agenda.

  • Joel

    Rapallo. I like, your “call for a commonweal of family, mutuality, locality, religion, and civil society is a truly radical agenda.” Do you agree with Chesterton, et.al. that distributistism is a vehicle to foster your call?

  • Phillip

    Marx can become relevant to Americans because Marxism and Capitalism are kindred spirits in their materialist utilitarianism, and that are both of the modern and post modern libertine world. Both are opposed to the Ancien Regime.

  • Aaron Taylor

    I’m not sure there are such things as “monarchist principles” in the abstract, though. There are particular Royal Houses which function as integral elements of particular political systems (England, Belgium, Sweden, etc.). “Monarchism” makes sense, I think, when one is a citizen of one of those countries and one defends monarchy as part of a defense of the particular political settlement of one’s country.

    That’s why it makes no sense within an American context.

  • Daniel Schwindt

    If you are suggesting that monarchy is best preferred as but one aspect of a larger, “organic” political whole, then you do make a good point and that’s something I’d love to discuss–perhaps in a longer piece on just this subject (although I’m not sure EP wants to start running monarchist apologetics).

    For now, I’ll just say that this piece was intended as a set of off-hand remarks, and while it was sincere, it was also a bit nonchalant and facetious.

  • Daniel Schwindt

    I’m with you on your reasoning, Phillip, but I always like to see a weakening in the status quo. It gives us (meaning anyone with a positive direction they’d like to go) something to work with.

  • Phillip

    I agree with that fully, I do hate the status quo. What I would prefer to see is a division of the United States and a return of all real estate to their original European powers: New England to the Brits, the Southwest and Southeast to Espana, the Mississippi to the Frogs, Alaska and the Northwest to Russia, and then there could be a little war over who gets the Great Plains, or you could give it to the Indians maybe.

  • Aaron Taylor

    That is sort of what I am saying. But I’m saying more than that. I’m also saying that there is something dubious about the preference for a “whole” that is not actually one’s own. The whole that we ought to prefer is the whole of which we are a part, and so if one isn’t a part of a people with a history of monarchy, there is something dubious about being a monarchist.

    This goes close to the heart of *the* question, viz., “what kind of bond is the political bond that forms a people into one?” Is it a form of “social contract”? Or is it the kind of bond that makes a family?

    The liberal tradition, in its various different forms, holds that the political bond is contractual. It is dependent upon the choice/consent of society’s members.

    Non-liberal political thought tends to see society as formed not by contract, but as an outgrowth of the family. Here, the political bond is prior to one’s own consent, and is something that has a prior claim upon one’s allegiance. So, for example, being British, my allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II as one of her subjects is the same *type* of allegiance a child has to its parents (although obviously its a more attenuated form of that type). That is to say, allegiance to one’s mother isn’t based upon an abstract ideological judgment that one’s mother is some philosophically “ideal” mother. I love my mother simply because she is *mine*. Similarly, I have a certain loyalty to the Queen simply because she is *my* Queen, and not as the result of a speculative political judgment about “monarchy” considered in the abstract being somehow a preferable “system” of government.

    In order to be a monarchist an American must completely eschew what Scruton describes as the genuinely conservative attitude: “respect in the citizen for the order of which he forms a part and for himself as part of that order.” It is only within the liberal-contractual tradition that it even makes sense for an American to say, “I’m a monarchist.”

  • Rapallo

    Joel, while I admire Chesterton et al. very much and like distributism as a concept I think that in the 21st century we have the opportunity to go beyond Roman Catholicism. Also the notion of distributism is but awkward and vague. Distribute what? I think that in these post-secular times we ought to marry this old concept with the more current discussion on Localism and include all traditionalist people of faith.

  • Daniel Schwindt

    I agree with your assessment almost entirely (“society as an outgrowth of the family”, loving one’s mother and queen simply because they are “mine”, etc.). However, I think it is incorrectly applied.

    Everything you said about the conservative “attitude” is correct, but presupposes a conservative regime (like monarchy). If the regime is liberal (like ours undoubtedly is), then your statements reverse themselves.

    I don’t believe, for example, in society-as-contract. But what if your society is liberal in its philosophy and bases itself on that view? In short, I think your criticism is all valid in regard to a properly ordered society, but it is invalid when applied to ours, because the allegiance which one owes to his system simply because it is “his,” is just the type of allegiance fundamentally rejected by American doctrine, which is revolutionary, liberal, and individualistic in character.

    Thus, you critique my attitude as somewhat “liberal” for not respecting a liberal order. My choice, then, is either to respect the liberal order, and become an authentic liberal, or to reject it, and by criticized by you as a liberal for disdaining “my own.” What is a person to do?

  • Aaron Taylor

    If I were American, I guess I’d opt for the former course and become a liberal of some sort.

  • chrismarklee

    It is our culture of Relativism that causes this.

    Chris
    Owner CEL Financial Services
    http://www.taxprepfillmore.com/santa-paula-tax-preparation

  • Anastasios

    How about bringing back the Hawaiian monarchs and having them be America’s monarchy? There are heirs presumptive to the House of Kawānanakoa, and one of them could be our king.
    The idea that monarchy and American-ness are incompatible is true only if one has what I call the “Pilgrim view of American history”–New England-centered, Washington D.C.-centered and 1776-centered. The Pilgrim view of American history has often been linked with white racism in the past, so I think ditching it is a very good idea.

    If one has a more territorial (rather than civic) view of American nationhood, as I do and I think we ought to, than there’s no reason why we couldn’t consider folks like Liliuokalani and Kamehameha to be equally American and as potential candidates for “founding father/mother status”. Why not make the whole USA “Greater Hawaii?” It sounds outlandish, and perhaps it is. But if the rest of the country comes to accept the merits of monarchy, the Hawaiian throne would be the logical one, since it (unlike the British one) is actually indigenous to our land. Alternatively, a “federation of kingdoms” would be a possibility under the rule of various Native American chiefs/kings.
    Imagine that….Native Americans going from a marginalized minority to America’s (ceremonial at least) ruling class. It could happen, and perhaps it should. It would only be just, considering our history. Let’s give them their dignity back. This doesn’t mean whites/blacks/nonnatives should go home, but rather that we/they are guests in a land that was (and still is) the homeland of the First Nations.