There is always a king – the noblest man of his generation – and there are always a number of men who, the rightful king having perhaps never been discovered (he being, perhaps, cloistered in some deep hermitage, or engaged with his family – which is to say, among other things, his busyness – as after all he ought most well to do), are so close to him in nobility as makes no practical difference. Any one of that noble company might serve equally well as king. How to find one of them, and secure his reign, so that it is not (as Bonald has suggested it would probably be) ever disrupted by the usurpations of less noble men who wrongly think themselves worthy of the Purple?
As I remarked in response to Bonald’s objection:
It seems to me that feudalism is (among other things) a method of discovering the man who should be king and then securing his reign.
I had thought to discuss feudalism under this aspect in a future post. This is that post.
At the close of There is Always a King, I tossed off the following:
In any group of men under stress the noblest among them will soon become apparent to all. All will want to be his friends and allies, and will want to be like him. Ditto for any group of nobles.
No formal procedure is needed for royalty to emerge in this way.
These observations arose from my own experience. I was happy and fortunate as a young buck to be a whitewater guide for many years, rowing the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. There I knew the fairest company of men I have ever known, my dear old friends of the Crew; and was blessed with their acceptance into their brotherhood. This was a rare thing; hundreds of excellent young men tried, but almost no one made it into the Grand Canyon Crew. These were men’s men, competent at almost everything they tried, and eager always to try whatever challenge there might be near at hand worth trying; sapient, tough, clever, prudent, intelligent, incredibly strong, nimble and resourceful, canny, farsightful, cool of mind and ardent of spirit, wily, simple, happy, cynical, cheerful. Aside from my progeny and my conquest of the woman who gave them birth (or was that conquest hers, of me?), their decision that I was fit to join their company is I think the greatest and best and happiest achievement of my life. It still rather startles me that they think I am like them, albeit ridiculous in the ways that they know are just mine, as they all know themselves and each other to be.
We spent many silly hours, laughing at ourselves and at each other. In our reunions, we still do; the affectionate joshing never stops.
Our brotherhood and profound knowledge of and trust in each other was borne of unceasing hardship and constant danger – not just of the River, but of the desert, of the weather, and especially of the foolishness of men. We learned each other well; learned each other’s foibles, and fortes. We teased each other relentlessly, and rejoiced together in laughter. And when the chips were down, and things looked pretty bad, we hung together like death, in wordless coordination, like a single organism. Across half a mile of water, we could converse intelligently about where to camp by nothing more than nods. Such was our communion.
For each two week trip through the Canyon, there were five boatmen. One was designated Head Boatman. The office of Head Boatman rotated through the Crew, changing from one trip to the next. The “HB” earned $5 more per day than the others. He was primus inter pares. His job as Captain was to ascertain the consensus of the Crew, and give it voice. So he would solicit opinions, and then render a decision, which was almost always followed without quibble. It wasn’t a particularly difficult job, given the high quality of the team. But it did require a constant consciousness of the state of the expedition, given the mettle and health of the passengers, injuries, the weather, the equipment, the food, and so forth. It was a privilege, but it was also a bit of a pain in the neck. No one wanted it. We’d ask each other to do it. “Terry, you haven’t been HB for seven trips. It’s your turn, man.”
When things got bad, as they generally did for one reason or another, the HB’s job was to snap out orders. The rest of the Crew would instantly obey, unless they clearly saw something relevant that they could tell the HB had not seen. Despite the petty irritations that come from living together constantly in close quarters, there was never discord or competition over status. Things fell into place naturally and without rancor – except among those who, wanting to join, by their rancor and disquietude disqualified themselves.
So here’s the thing. Any one of us would have been comfortable with any of the others as permanent HB. None of us would have wanted to be permanent HB. Each one of us would have viewed election to permanent HB as something of a personal disaster, albeit a great honor. We would have rested easy, no matter who was chosen, not just because we had total confidence in each other, but because we knew we were brothers. We would know that we would be heard, and that our opinions would weigh heavily in the consideration of the permanent HB.
This is how leaders emerge among men who have been through difficult adventures together. Most such bands are less egalitarian than the Grand Canyon Crew of my youth. Some few emerge as natural leaders, while the rest are glad to count themselves followers, ready as students of their leaders to step up into their offices should they fall (such was my own eager beaver attitude before I was ennobled as a Grand Canyon Guide; indeed, even now, when we gather together, I feel like a novice among elders, though the most senior of my friends count me a fellow legend of the ancient days, a brother and equal). One of them sooner or later ends up High King of the band, a King among kings.
No formal procedure is needed. This just happens. It is informal to men, simply because it is natural to us, and essential. We admire the admirable among us, and want to be like them, and want to be in company with them – i.e., *precisely,* to break bread with them as com + panions, who share their food and their fortunes, who throw in together their disparate lots to make a go of things in this perilous adventure.
So, feudalism. Ramify this same procedure up a hierarchy based on bands of warriors – monks, free holders, soldiers, merchants in company together across deserts of water or sand, it makes no very great difference – and soon you have a noble aristocracy, and eventually you end up with a King, whom all below him can ratify as worthy on account of his ratification by their shieldmates, their brothers, and their uncles.
Now, as to Bonald’s worry about the security of such offices: sure, it’s a delicate thing. Rare it is for good kingship, and ergo royal security, to persist for more than three generations. Why is it, then, that royalty wherever it has arisen has almost always devolved to heirs under universal laws of primogeniture?
Simple. The son of my friend is more like my friend than the son of some stranger could ever be. If my son were to appear on the doorstep of one of my old friends from the Grand Canyon Crew and say, “I am Kristor’s son,” he would be met with an instant presupposition of trustworthiness and excellence, and welcomed as a friend and ally. He would, in other words, be loved for my sake. This is one of the great and wonderful benefits of friendship, no? Just last week, I recommended my daughter far away to the watchful avuncular keeping of an old, old friend of my boyhood, who lives nearby. He was thrilled at the honor.
So likewise with the son of my king, who was my brother or uncle or great uncle. I would keep him as my own. As it was hard and unlikely for me to gain access to the inner circle of the Grand Canyon Crew, so would it be hard to gain access to the baronial elite; and within that elite, bound together by familiar and friendly relations, their progeny would be as it were joint projects.
This would all redound to the stability of the overall hierarchy. As I penetrated the Crew, so could it be penetrated by any man of sufficient virtues. But it would be hard, and – rightly – relatively rare. Gaucherie of the nouveau riche would not be a particular hazard! The Crew would perdure from one season to another, aye from one age to another, with changes only at the margins, guiding and protecting their own.
None of this should be taken to suggest that a feudal order would be a panacea. It would not. There is no such thing in this age, and under heaven, but rather only by it. It should be taken to suggest only that a feudal order, founded in fraternal and familiar love, might be somewhat better, as better fitted to our natural feelings about each other, than the ruthless bloodless tit for tat consisting our current ceaseless political struggle over which of our adversaries shall rule.