The Righteousness of the Senate versus the Sanity of the King

About 15 years ago I realized that the way to keep legislators honestly and earnestly engaged in promoting the welfare of the whole nation is to buy them off. Simply pay them each a life annuity calculated as a miniscule percentage of tax revenues during the remainder of their lives, multiplied by the number of terms they serve. They’ll be motivated to maximize those revenues – i.e., to maximize the long term health and size of the tax base, which is to say of the productive economy. And this would be to focus their minds with great intensity upon the discovery and implementation of such policies as would lead to the most rational, productive, efficient and honest activities among the people as might be, and – not insignificantly – to their moral improvement (which is to say, their capacity for truly productive, truly good work, their causal efficacy, their personal wealth), and so to long-term cultural health, righteousness, and prosperity.

The funds devoted to the life annuities of legislators could be a very tiny percentage of overall revenues indeed, and still yield to them immense wealth – far more than any favor-seeker would want to pay, or be able to pay. The wealth generated by the annuity would be so great that any amounts a favor-seeker might try to pay would be of little marginal value to legislators – particularly when weighed against the loss of the annuity that would result from a conviction of corruption.

Finally, the annuity would be so huge that it would overwhelm the legislator’s willingness to whack national policy so as to steer goodies to his home district.

The same sort of arrangement would be needed also for members of the executive, of course: for ministers or secretaries of departments, and for the chief executive.

Well and good.

But only lately have I realized that where the nation is understood as the property of the King – as, indeed, effectually (by a logical, and thus physical extension) his very body – and likewise its subsidiary estates the property of his nobles, this incentive is naturally in effect. Taxes then are personal revenues of the sovereign, and his laws and expenditures are investments in the social capital that generates them. The sovereign, then, is naturally inclined to act in the interest of the general welfare of his subjects.

Whereas in a republic all but the most sagacious and righteous lawgivers must derive their inclination to act in the best interest of the nation from the blandishments procured to them for the same by means of bureaucratic measures, in a monarchy that inclination is given naturally and integrally with the basic form of social order.

Of course, neither the bureaucratic state nor the feudal kingdom is immune to the depredations of madmen, to the blunders of fools, or to violent contests for control of the levers of national power. Those are problems of another sort, that any social form must ever confront, no different in that respect than weather. But as for the control of the most egregious and wicked sorts of corruption, monarchy is better. Corruption there may be aplenty in the antechambers of the court, where access to the ear of the monarch is bought and sold; as so there is likewise in the cloakrooms and corridors of the most august senate or parliament or althing.* But the royal ear, and the mind that it serves, are not themselves confused, like those of senators and parliamentarians, as to the difference between their own interests and those of the people; for, in the natural course of events, there is no such difference.

A true and sane king can err in the service of his subjects, like any powerful man; but unless he be so mad as to be a danger to his own body, he cannot intend to do so. To injure his people is for a king to injure himself. It is to cut off his nose to spite his own face. So it is for all men, to injure others; but in no other office than the royal is this moral law so powerfully felt – except, perhaps, the episcopal.


* Comprehending this incorrigible weakness in man’s nature, and the danger it poses to his own body and that of the polis, the sagacious king might arrange just such an annuity as I have described in the first few paragraphs above for each of his ministers, senators, dukes, and indeed even commoners, the better to forestall the irruptions and depravations of private interests and factions in the business of the kingdom.

31 thoughts on “The Righteousness of the Senate versus the Sanity of the King

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  3. Fifteen years ago you’d have “played hell” trying to convince me that Monarchy is a better form of government than a Republic. I might have accepted that Monarchy is more stable. Might have. But each in his own time, I guess.

    I don’t know much, but I do know (or I’ve come to realize) that a whole bunch of this so called “freedom” we have in this country is bullsh*t, pardon my French. Freedom, it seems to me when boiled down and in common American vocabulary, is one form or the other of rebellion against legitimate authority.

    • I think that government ought to be designed and run by and for Christian fathers who meet the criteria for elder/deacon set forth in 1 Timothy. There should be an orthodoxy test and religious covenant for every governing authority. The express purpose of government should be to promote the salvation and edification of its citizens by securing and maximizing the liberty and authority of the Christian father in his home, congregation, neighborhood, and nation; and to bear the sword not in vain, as understood from the precepts of God described throughout the canon of Holy Scripture.

      I’m still a libertarian theonomist.

      • None of that is in any inherent conflict with monarchy. On the contrary, the family is the model of the kingdom, each an instance and synecdoche of the other; and the authority of the patriarch *is* the reign of a king; “king” is from “kinning.”

      • The crying out for a King as seen in 1Samuel, and God’s characterization of it as sinful foolishness, is reason enough to refuse appointing a king to rule over us.

      • Samuel, the poor fellow – he had worked so hard on behalf of his people, and was such a wise, brave and righteous ruler – was subject to a rather significant conflict of interest, in that the Israelites were demanding that he appoint someone other than his corrupt sons to follow in his footsteps as monarch of Israel:

        And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel. Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abijah: they were judges in Beersheba. And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment. Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, and said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.

        – 1 Samuel 8:1-5

        Joel and Abijah were archetypal instances of the sort of corruption that true kingship by nature tends to prevent.

        YHWH commanded Samuel to hearken to the Israelites, and Samuel obeyed:

        And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee. Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.

        – 1 Samuel 8:7-9

        If the Israelites were themselves righteous before the Lord, they would not have needed any governors. But they had never been thus righteous, and never would be. So they needed government. At YHWH’s behest, Samuel explained to them how kingship works – without, NB, ever suggesting that the perquisites of kingship are anywise unjust, or untoward. Kingship is no free lunch; but nothing is. Thus forewarned, the Israelites felt nevertheless that a king, with all the sovereign rights of kingship, was a better option for them than subjection to Samuel’s corrupt offspring – a situation not dissimilar to what we Americans now enjoy. Nothing in the text indicates that they were wrong in this assessment. And YHWH therefore *commanded* that Israel should have a king:

        Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles. And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king.

        – 1 Samuel 8:19-22

        Like any system of mediated government, monarchy is foolish compared to the self-government of prevalently righteous men, when such prevalence can be relied upon. It cannot. Nor are righteous rulers such as Samuel common. God therefore mandates kings.

      • “Joel and Abijah were archetypal instances of the sort of corruption that true kingship by nature tends to prevent.”

        I simply don’t agree with that opinion, seeing the lives of kings and their courts throughout our own history. This would probably strike up a lengthy utilitarian ethical debate where I would rather have a deontological one.

        “…a situation not dissimilar to what we Americans now enjoy.”

        I would agree with you and choose a Christian king over what we shall soon become. I am also an American and still patriotic to the Christian republican tradition that birthed me, Founding Fathers and all that. Yet my own personal conclusion is the third way stated above. At the end of the day I am just a pilgrim on this Earth.

        “And YHWH therefore *commanded* that Israel should have a king…God therefore mandates kings.”

        Does not follow. We may be Israel in the universal spiritual sense, but not in the legal political sense. We have our King and he sits on high. The Law has been fulfilled. We are to submit to the governing authorities (Romans 13) but are also free to become the governing authority ourselves (Mat 28:16).

      • I did not mean to suggest that kingship is any sort of prophylaxis against corruption or misrule. It is not. But I do think that ceteris paribus, kings are less prone than other sorts of rulers to such defects. This is another opportunity to run one of my gedanken policy tests.

        Note first that all of the drawbacks of kings are actually drawbacks of government per se:

        Then Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people that had desired a king of him, and said: This will be the right of the king, that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and put them in his chariots, and will make them his horsemen, and his running footmen to run before his chariots, and he will appoint of them to be his tribunes, and centurions, and to plough his fields, and to reap his corn, and to make him arms and chariots. Your daughters also he will take to make him ointments, and to be his cooks, and bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your best oliveyards, and give them to his servants. Moreover he will take the tenth of your corn, and of the revenues of your vineyards, to give his eunuchs and servants. Your servants also and handmaids, and your goodliest young men, and your asses he will take away, and put them to his work. Your flocks also he will tithe, and you shall be his servants. And you shall cry out in that day from the face of the king, whom you have chosen to yourselves. and the Lord will not hear you in that day, because you desired unto yourselves a king.

        – 1 Samuel 8:10-18

        Sounds familiar, no? Is there *any* sort of governed society that does not suffer the evils Samuel adduces? The nature of government as such, then, itself controls for most of the variables we want to hold constant in our gedanken experiment.

        Take then two societies, both otherwise alike in every respect, that differ in only one way: Society A has a king, while B has a ruling bureaucrat – a president. In the nature of kingship, the king of A holds it as his personal fief, and tax revenues of A are his personal property. The president of B, meanwhile, is a public servant, paid a salary of some sort for his service.

        Provided they are equally sane, intelligent and righteous as men – they have to be, for under the terms of the gedanken policy test, they are the *same guy* – which will be less vulnerable to the temptations of corruption, and more intently focused on truly rational policy: the president, or the king?

        The question answers itself. The president cannot by correct rule increase his wealth by more than a tiny margin, but the king can; the king, on the other hand, can ruin his wealth by misrule, while the president – provided he stays within the limit of the law – can vastly enrich himself by means of bad policy.

        We can correct for this design defect of bureaucratic governance through a policy such as the life annuity I discuss in the post. Royal government, on the other hand, does not suffer from that design defect in the first place.

        As I said in the post, no form of government can protect a society from the madness or wickedness of rulers, or of those who would usurp their rule. But that was not the question.

    • Terry: Me, too, on both counts.

      We should remember that our first freedoms – the freedoms we have always been taught that the American Revolution was fought to restore – were the ancient liberties of free subjects of the King of England.

    • Traditionally, and even in the U.S. today, property rights are understood to flow first from the executive authority of the sovereign – whatever the method of his selection – granted by him in virtue of his guarantees thereof under the laws he enforces.

      The monarch may or may not claim the sole right to coin money in his realms. Many have not.

      The king may or may not claim the sole authority to own land – most have not – but he generally does claim for himself and the ministers of his government the ultimate authority to determine who lawfully does own land.

      • I was oversimplifying for brevity. The beginning of the end of monarchy was the rise of usury. The replacement as the unit of exchange of land and labor with gold meant that gold had to be borrowed at interest. The system of usury led to gold fleeing circulation into bank vaults. Everyone has to mortgage everything, to get their hands on the paper money backed by gold in the vaults of the money-lenders. The government and every other business must operate at the pleasure of the moneylenders. The king occasionally declares a kind of selective jubilee (if only for himself), but this only hurts credit and the money lenders survive because they are international. Besides, the usurious class might just subsidize some anti-monarchical movements to put an end to these jubilees.

        The King is only able to act in the interest of his subjects if he controls the supply and issuance of money; if he owns the money in the same way that he owns the land.

      • I’m not clear on the chronology that you are suggesting. Gold has been around as currency for 8,000 years or so; usury, at least since about 1500 BC. Non-usurious loans too have been around since Babylon. And kings flourished long after those dates. Nor am I clear on why the use of gold currency requires that it be borrowed at interest. I’m not saying that you are wrong about all these things, but that I cannot tell, because I’m not quite sure what it is that you are saying.

        Kings generally do control the supply of money, insofar as they have the ultimate authority to determine who owns what bit of any sort of property. They don’t need to own the gold themselves in order to control the money supply, or the type of currency acceptable as such in their realms. The king can charter banks, and regulate them as he sees fit.

  4. I’m speaking of the specific instance of the return of Europe to a money economy during the commercial revolution. Money had to be borrowed at interest for the simple reason that only the money lenders had any (gold money does not per se require lending at interest). What hard money people did have was eventually placed a the disposal of moneylender as the system essentially requires that they throw good money after bad (loans create credit money, but only the principle.) and which they must obtain by paying increasingly high interest on “deposits”. Eventually, the hard money is sucked into the vaults of the usury class, who then have a monopoly on monetary creation.

    My only reason for bringing this up is that I want to move the problem back a step. I don’t think monarchy and usury can coexist. If we want monarchy and sanity, we must get rid of usury.

    • I would agree that we must get rid of usury if we want economic sanity, whether or not we have kings. Usury and sanity are mutually exclusive. But usury is not the same thing as lending, simpliciter. It is full-recourse lending, where in the event of default the lender is not limited to recovery only of such real assets as collateralized the loan, but has rights also to the human life values – i.e., the future labor product – of the borrower, limited only by the amount of the debt. For more on this, see Zippy, who has done a ton of work on usury. Most discussions of usury confuse it with lending as such, or with lending at high interest rates, neither of which is quite right.

      If non-recourse lending were the norm, no sane lender would lend more than about 60% of the value of the real collateral. There would be far less lending, and it would be far more prudent, in the sense that it would not occur unless there was a very high likelihood that the borrower’s project would be capable of generating the wealth – whether accounted for in gold, or in cowrie shells, or in fiat currency, or in banker’s notes and acceptances, or in hog bellies, it matters not at all – needed to repay the loan.

  5. Indeed, this is very true. It is difficult to imagine any but a truly mad king doing much to actively harm his kingdom. Sure, he might skim a little extra off the top every once in a while to throw a lavish party or build a grander palace, but such expenses pale to the systemic corruption almost inherent in most republican forms of government. In comparison, a republican government has all sorts of incentive to be wasteful in the extreme.

    It is amazing how much legal waste there is that is evident in government contracting. Contracting for the government, I believe, is so chock-full of corruption that it is hard to determine what things should actually cost. This might not even be overt corruption, but over time giving some marginal extra bacon to your buddy’s contract adds up to billions upon billions of dollars. This is not even counting the incentive to bribe voters through government cheese. It would take a living saint not to get in at least a little on the action. And when was the last time voters elected a living saint?

    In the end, I think democracy is just socialism for government. If socialism doesn’t work for economics, why do we think equally distributing political power over the masses would be any more effective? Giving over the lion’s share of political power to one family as a matter of private property solves the same problem that having an economy built primarily on private property and investment does. And, we don’t have to solve the problem by going insane and adopting anarchism and its concurrent delusional view of mankind.

    • Well said. You put the case much more forthrightly than I did – more concretely. I love your point that it is perverse for us to think that socialism might work for government enterprises when it doesn’t work for any other sort of enterprise.

      Note however – this is difficult for us native republicans to remember – that for a king to allocate some of his personal wealth to a nice palace is no more “skimming a little extra off the top” than it would be for you or me to add a room to the house. It’s *his money.* Only if he understands the revenues as his own assets can the incentives work as they ought.

      It helps if his subjects understand things the same way. This is more likely if the king’s tax policies are seen as lenient, his judgements just, his regulations wise and fair, his execution of his laws swift, sure, and impartial, the burden of his government light. The sane king, then, sees to it that he pleases his subjects in such matters, and meets their expectations. When the good of the nation – of his personal fisc – mandates sacrifice, he will make sure that everyone knows of his own severe, self-imposed privations. In his lifestyle as in battle, the king must be foremost in the van.

      Thus Alexander demonstrated his love for his men by pouring out the water they had collected from their own paltry stores to slake his thirst in the middle of the Persian desert. They loved him for this, his love of them.

      So this is no mere matter of pecuniary interest. On the contrary, as it is a matter of love, so also is it a sacred duty. The wise king sacrifices, not just for show, so as to gain some lucre for himself, but for real, and because he holds his people as dearly as he does his own body. Thus in the limit of dire extremity, when the life of the nation hung in the balance, kings of old would sacrifice their lives.

      To be consecrated a king *just is* to be consecrated a willing sacrificial victim. A man who is not ready to sacrifice his life for the nation cannot be a true king. Indeed, such a man cannot even be a true citizen. The duties of the king, then, and his rights, privileges, and powers, are different from those of his subjects not in kind, but in degree.

      • That’s my go-to point in discussion with libertarians on the issue. They usually respond by saying that everybody has a stake in society, so they should be able to exercise that stake through a vote like a shareholder. I point out this ignores that no two individuals have an equal stake and it is difficult to quantify each voter’s stake the way you can quantify a shareholder’s shares in a corporate enterprise. Not to mention, it would be fair to say that the employees have a share in the success of a company as well, but they don’t get a vote on how it is run overall because they have obvious incentives to temporarily enrich themselves.* This is evident in the failing of companies with closed shop unions. I tend to think most people have the same relationship to the state the average employee has to their employer: Their main interest is more money now.

        *I think shareholders can sometimes have these incentives as well, which is why I would tend to think a family-run business would be more successful in the long term than a publicly traded company.

      • Note however – this is difficult for us native republicans to remember – that for a king to allocate some of his personal wealth to a nice palace is no more “skimming a little extra off the top” than it would be for you or me to add a room to the house. It’s *his money.* Only if he understands the revenues as his own assets can the incentives work as they ought.

        I’d certainly agree with this. In fact, I’d generally say the more opulent the palace and its Court, the better. It shows off the wealth and stability of the society around it. And, you’re right, it’s the king’s money to do with it as he wishes. The reward system then is working as it should, since few people are the kind of miser who will make billions (even trillions in the case of a large empire) and yet still live in a modest estate. I mean, I know if I made my millions, I certainly wouldn’t live in a suburban tract home and drive a fuel efficient entry-level Hyundai. Why should I expect a king of all people to do so out of some false sense of modesty?

      • Hah! Just so. The glow of the king is the glory of the nation, and the splendor of his prosperity a sign and function of the health and wealth of his people. The king then has rather a duty to live magnificently, albeit always in due proportion to the welfare of his people. No? This duty of the king, to keep up the proper appearances, is like your duty to your suburban neighbours, of keeping your place tidy and well-tended, so as to prop up everyone’s property values and, more importantly, *keep the neighbourhood a nice place to live* (this niceness being, precisely, what is expressed in the higher property values).

        The bit about due proportion is interesting. Just as it would be odd and rather irksome to your neighbours if you were to replace your modest house with, say, a small castle, so would it be tasteless and rude for a monarch to live in imperial splendor while his people crawled about in noisome rags. As your neighbours would think less of you for your errant prideful little castle, so his subjects would think less of an overweening king.

        We see that sort of error of proportion often in the nouveau riche, or in the stupid sort of dictators, who take it over the top and lose touch with the common life of the city. They ring false, and foolish, erring not only in their execution of magnificence, but in their judgement of where it really lies vis-à-vis the quotidian lives of their fellows.

        A very rich king of a rich country can live abstemiously, behind the outward show of his public and ceremonial magnificence, and the people will count it to him as sanity, and righteousness. His personal humility will then evoke their affection, and respect. They will recognize that there is more to him than the perquisites of his office; that he is about something that transcends mere luxuries, so that they can expect from him the courage, and the honesty, that efficacy in his office requires.

        But a king of a very poor country cannot live in great opulence and quite carry it off. No one will be fooled by such inept and mendacious display, any more than anyone thinks for a moment that he can find a good hotel room in a Potemkin village. Such monarchs will be seen instantly by their canny subjects as fools, and furthermore as liars, not just to the people, but, worse, to themselves. So will they be resented, mistrusted, and feared.

      • “… this ignores that no two individuals has an equal stake.”

        It also ignores the related problem that many, many “voters” are, by any sane and rational standard, too stupid, and/or, too ignorant to be trusted with an equal vote. I might be one of them, but at least I recognize the fact.

        As I’ve pointed out a thousand times, it seems, the point, I thought, is to *preserve* the society and its institutions; to maintain them in purity and vigor, not to destroy them! We seem hell-bent on destroying it all through so called universal suffrage, which is collective insanity by definition. On this particular point libertarians act like they dropped their brains in the latrine.

        Not more than a week ago I was in a short political discussion with a female client who actually said to me that she possesses virtually no understanding of politics, but that she votes (democratic) in every election because it is her “sacred franchise.” God help us all!

        Which of the founders was it who said (paraphrase) that ultimately the government would likely become so degenerate that it would reconcile us to Monarchy? That used to sound like an ominous prediction to me indeed, but given the polluted society we live in a limited Monarchy is sounding better all the time.

      • “A leader is best
        When people barely know he exists
        Of a good leader, who talks little,
        When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
        They will say, “We did this ourselves.”

        -Lao Tzu

        “To lead people, walk beside them …
        As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence.
        The next best, the people honor and praise.
        The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate …
        When the best leader’s work is done the people say,
        We did it ourselves!”

        ― Lao Tzu

  6. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/05/01) | The Reactivity Place

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