Sovereigns Lose the Mandate of Heaven When They Promulgate Bad Laws

A sovereign who has lost the Mandate of Heaven is no longer legitimate, and is sooner or later doomed.

“Legitimate” stems from the Latin legitimus, which meant originally “fixed by law, in line with the law.” Sovereigns lose their legitimacy and so – with their domains – become weak when they promulgate law that is at variance with the Law of GNON – laws that are perverse, and that are therefore at war with Heaven, and so with Earth. Such laws are themselves illegitimate. As perverse, and so ill fitted to things as they truly are, they cannot work too well – indeed, prevent things from working as well as they might otherwise have done in the absence of their interference – and force all those who obey them to enact by that obedience an ontological falsehood; to behave falsely, to lie by their acts. Everything then starts to go wrong, as acts informed by bad law work out badly in practice.

As deformed by ill-formed law, and so less properly coordinated to reality, acts grow more and more corrupted by noise and error, and so tend further to corrupt their successors. Confidence in acts deteriorates, uncertainty increases; legal, compliance and due diligence costs rise; regulation by the sovereign cannot but increase; so commerce is ever harder, riskier, and more anxious. Counterparties then become more and more dubious. Social trust degrades. Things fall apart; the center no longer holds. The people then no longer credit the sovereign viscerally, or believe in him. Their guts tell them that the sovereign is lying to them about what is real, and about how they ought therefore to act. They grow cynical and bitter – not to mention poor, so restless and irritable.

His subjects then soon begin to resent and then eventually come to despise their sovereign, and so likewise his faction. So then they begin to despise all other factions, in the bargain. If the sovereign’s faction is illegitimate, how good can any of the others possibly be? For, all of them have been shaped and thus deformed and corrupted by their responses to the whacked policies of the sovereign? When one faction is distrusted, eventually no faction can be trusted. So society grows more and more adversarial, contentious, litigious, bitter. Internal enmity infects the polis.

When the sovereign has lost the Mandate of Heaven, politics begins; intrigue, or cold civil war, whether or not formalized, begins.

Politics is the process of replacing the sovereign who has lost the Mandate of Heaven.

For regimes such as ours, in which politics has long been highly formalized – so that laws compound in more or less orderly fashion, with the result that the accretion of inapt laws that enforce ineptitude is an ancient, dense, deep and interwoven thicket, not penetrable even by the sword, but rather only by devastating wildfire – which everyone desperately wants to avoid – politics is continuous, and incorrigible. There can then be no such thing as true domestic peace.

18 thoughts on “Sovereigns Lose the Mandate of Heaven When They Promulgate Bad Laws

  1. Pingback: Sovereigns Lose the Mandate of Heaven When They Promulgate Bad Laws | @the_arv

  2. Aquinas has some interesting things to say on the matter from a moral perspective.

    “If to provide itself with a king belongs to the right of a given multitude, it is not unjust that the king be deposed or have his power restricted by that same multitude if, becoming a tyrant, he abuses the royal power. It must not be thought that such a multitude is acting unfaithfully in deposing the tyrant, even though it had previously subjected itself to him in perpetuity, because he himself has deserved that the covenant with his subjects should not be kept, since, in ruling the multitude, he did not act faithfully as the office of a king demands.” De regno bk1 ch6

    The key term here is abusing power. Incompetence, for instance, is not valid grounds to remove a tyrant.

    • Thanks, University Student. Always nice to find oneself in train with the Angelic Doctor.

      His subjects have pledged themselves to the king in perpetuity in exchange for his pledge to them qua king. A king who rules unjustly has defected from the office of kingship. He has reneged upon the deal to which he pledged his own entire life at his coronation. He is no longer as much their king.

      The royal office is perilous.

      From a moral perspective, a people *cannot* legitimately – i.e., morally – obey an illegitimate monarch, for insofar as they obey his laws, and so grant him authority which his objective illegitimacy has vacated, they enact the injustice he has mandated.

      Incompetence per se is as you say not by itself sufficient grounds to remove a king. That said, incompetence at rule is generally somehow expressed in the promulgation of incompetently devised law; which is to say, bad law. It therefore generally eventuates in valid grounds for usurpy.

      As essentially unjust, howsoever competent it be, tyranny is always sufficient grounds to remove a tyrant.

      • “As essentially unjust, howsoever competent it be, tyranny is always sufficient grounds to remove a tyrant.”

        While this is true. Aquinas doesnt always use the term in the strict sense but also in the broader sense of a bad kingship being endured by a population. Similarly, he sometimes uses the term ‘just rebelion’ when technicaly a rebelion is always against a legitimate authority so a ‘just rebelion’ cannot exist. ‘Just rebelion’ merely refering to a legitimate authority, out of power, in conflict with a tyrant, in power. The tyrant technically being in a state of rebelion as you imply.

        “incompetence at rule is generally somehow expressed in the promulgation of incompetently devised law; which is to say, bad law. It therefore generally eventuates in valid grounds for usurpy. ”

        Depends on what you mean by ‘bad law’. If comming from a tyrant in the strict sense than yes. If it oversteps the constitutional boundries that have been designated for the king. E.g if he interfers with certain family matters perhaps or violates something like human rights then yes. But if he is merely incompetent than no, no matter how bad the law may be.

        If the laws really are so bad then a king can be removed from power by force if necessary. E.g if he has gone mad. But he will still be the ligitimate ruler and it will not strictly speaking be ‘just’ to remove him. Rather, we would fit into Aquinas’ moral category of ‘excused’ where one is forced by conflicting obligations to commit a wrong/unjust action. Though Aquinas doesnt state this senario explicitly as far as im aware.

        I definetly agree with much of your article though. In so far as previous soverigns have lost the Mandate from Heaven,but personaly, I think it has come from the creation of laws and orther actions that extend beyond their legitimate power rather than incompetence strictly speaking.

      • Some bad laws are worse than others, to be sure. Not all ill-made laws justify regicide. And every king dictates some mistaken laws, for kings are all human. So must there be some margin of error allowed to any king.

        With respect however to your last paragraph, even laws that are a little bit bad extend beyond the legitimate power of the king, which consists solely in the exercise of justice. Bad laws – even trivially bad laws – traduce justice at least a bit, and are therefore unjust to promulgate.

        Again with respect to your last paragraph, and to repeat: it is not the incompetence of a king as such that warrants his removal, but the disastrous results of such incompetence. Not all disasters that befall a people can possibly be due to the errors of their king. Nevertheless the faults of the king and the disasters of the people been always so tightly connected in the minds of men, that in almost all cultures it was at one time considered right and proper that in case of dire national emergency, the king should offer his own life in sacrifice for the people.

  3. Pingback: Sovereigns Lose the Mandate of Heaven When They Promulgate Bad Laws | Reaction Times

  4. Forgive me for getting down to the brass tack question, but I wonder, when did the sovereign ( in this case lumping all of the US in with the English monarchy, although we Texans could argue that ours was in Madrid/El Escorial) lose the Mandate of Heaven? Henry VIII? Surely not King Charles the Martyr, but if not Henry, then James II, provoking the Dutch Invasion? Or William and Mary?

    • “Which king of France do you think is the greatest, Arcinade?”
      “I don’t know—St. Louis. Louis XIV.”
      “No, it’s Philippe le Bel. More than a century ahead of his time, he was the only one in the Middle Ages to realize that it would soon not be swords or lances that governed the world, but money. Since money knew no frontiers, he concluded that, by means of it, it would be possible to create that empire of the West of which he dreamt. So he decided to control the order of the Templars which had become the master of money in Europe. Philippe le Bel tried first of all to become Grand Master of the Templars, but those imbeciles of Templars didn’t want anything to do with him. So he had them burnt, because he could not tolerate that such power should remain in the hands of people who did not obey him.”

      Jean Larteguy, The Praetorians, Kindle edition.

      • Just so. The Templars were the secular muscle of the Pope, both military and financial. They were the most powerful military and financial institution of the West – and of the East. Through their distributed network of correspondent banking institutions or of castles, their standing army of professional soldiers, their control of the all-important trade in relics (not to mention their custody of the Shroud), and the myriad familiar connections of their knights with all the noble families of Europe, they could bring down any king, should the Pope have commanded them to do so. If the kings were going to assert their independence from the Church, the Templars had to be destroyed.

        Philip the Fair might have become a Templar, and even perhaps the Grand Master of that order. But to join the order, he would have had to vow poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Pope. None of these were on Philip’s list of desiderata; indeed, he intended their diametric opposites.

  5. Kristor – do you consider politics done correctly to be a fractal of the family?

    Imagine a husband and father, who orders his wife to begin taking oral contraceptives to ensure that their marital acts do not produce any further children. Normally a wife has a moral obligation to submit to her husband, but in this case it is impossible – he has ordered her to do that which is evil, and one can never be morally obligated to commit evil. Her obligation is to submit to the law of God and of nature, and to refuse her husband’s order.

    Now the husband in ordering his wife to commit evil has acted tyrannically – but does this mean that he ipso facto loses his authority as a husband and a father, his “Mandate of Heaven” as sovereign of his family, if you will? No, of course not. He has sinned, and he should repent. But even if he does not repent he is still the legitimate husband and father to his wife and children. His wife and children are still morally obligated to submit to him in other matters.

    So it is with sovereigns, if my understanding is correct. A sovereign who attempts to compel his subjects to do that which is evil commits tyranny. His tyrannical decree must be resisted by his vassals and subjects, and he himself must repent. But his act of tyranny does not render him ipso facto an illegitimate sovereign. Emperor Tiberius surely issued any number of tyrannical decrees, but Christ still instructed the Jews to pay their taxes.

    • I do indeed consider the family a petty kingdom – and so, as with a kingdom, if politics spring up in a family, it is because it has become an open question, that having once been asked must then be answered, who will be the next patriarch.

      This is one reason why so many siblings descend into bitter civil war at the death of their parents.

      You make an excellent point. One jot of tyranny does not obviate the legitimate authority either of father or of king; nor, even hundreds and hundreds of such jots. But still there is a tipping point. Tyrannical dictates are eo ipso unjust and illegitimate. To the extent a man is tyrannical, and has acted unjustly, he has undermined his own legitimacy, and his authority. To the extent of his injustice, his subjects *cannot* morally brook his authority to rule them. On the contrary, they are duty bound to disobedience – to rebellion. I’ll quote University Student on the subject of rebellion:

      [STA] sometimes uses the term ‘just rebellion’ when technically a rebellion is always against a legitimate authority so a ‘just rebellion’ cannot exist. ‘Just rebellion’ [properly refers] to a legitimate authority, out of power, in conflict with a tyrant, in power. The tyrant technically being in a state of rebellion …

      The subjects of a lord too have their own proper offices, which they may not morally desert, and which bear down upon them awfully, imposing terrific and inescapable duties. The correction of their lord when he errs is one of them. This, even at the cost of their own lives, in proper service of their loyalty to their connationals.

      A good master welcomes that correction, and all’s well that ends well, as the house stabilizes in a new, more apt and more comfortable order. A bad master, who does not, evokes the righteous moral opposition of his subjects to his motions. The bad master is in a state of unjust rebellion against the offices of his subjects, to which he owes obligations reciprocal to their obligations to his, and from which by his tyranny he has himself defected, thereby corrupting his own authority.

      A king or father who is predominantly errant, thus tyrannical and unjust, has to that same extent predominantly forfeited his office. He has walked away from it. The office is still there, is still quite legitimate in itself, and still deserves the loyalty – and the taxes – of those subject to it. But the throne of that office is more or less empty, and wants filling. Nature abhors a vacuum.

      The king has two bodies: the body natural or corporeal, and the body politic. His spirit – the man whose office it is to be the person of those bodies – can depart from either one.

      • I do indeed consider the family a petty kingdom – and so, as with a kingdom, if politics spring up in a family, it is because it has become an open question, that having once been asked must then be answered, who will be the next patriarch.

        Unless I’m misreading you, this seems wildly incorrect. The essence of politics isn’t merely the process of replacing a sovereign or patriarch, it’s the art of resolving conflicts. It springs up in families as often as conflicts arise between members who have differing views on what ought to be done.

        One jot of tyranny does not obviate the legitimate authority either of father or of king; nor, even hundreds and hundreds of such jots. But still there is a tipping point.

        I suppose I can just barely understand how someone might rightly conclude, in extreme circumstances, that his own father is morally abominable and must be abandoned and shunned. But what I can’t understand is dwelling upon this dreadful possibility, even in the abstract. I think this story from Bonald is relevant:

        I remember once catching part of a television show on PBS about the spread of domestic abuse legislation. The show was very Liberal triumphalist: a hundred years ago, it implied, most fathers were brutal torturers, and they would be again except that the State now monitors them closely to protect poor, innocent wives and children. As I watched, I became more and more enraged, but not in the way I was supposed to be. I was supposed to be enraged by the brutality of fathers. But while I have always disapproved of child abuse, what upset me what the disrespectful attitude towards fathers. “They should not be talking about fathers this way. They’re throwing dirt on something beautiful. If the State does have to intervene to stop child abuse, it should do so discretely, and not boast about it, because it is wrong for people to even think this way about fatherhood.”

        As it is for fatherhood, so it is for kingship.

      • Another thought has occurred to me upon further reflection:

        A king or father who is predominantly errant… has to that same extent predominantly forfeited his office. He has walked away from it. The office is still there, is still quite legitimate in itself, and still deserves the loyalty – and the taxes – of those subject to it. But the throne of that office is more or less empty, and wants filling.

        This thesis strikes me as sedevacantism applied to sovereigns, and carries with it the many issues that sedevacantism entails. Chief among them is that it places the subjects in the position of deciding, through their own authority and private judgment, whether the sovereign has, in effect, forfeited his office. This is a question outside the competence of any subject, in the older sense of ‘competence’ which includes an element of authority, not merely technical expertise. So the way I see it is this: unless and until the Roman Pontiff deposes one’s sovereign and absolves his subjects from their fealty toward him, subjects ought to behave like their sovereign is in fact their sovereign.

      • I have three responses.

        First, yes: this thesis is something like sedevacantism applied to sovereigns.

        Second, subjects *do* have authority. They are after all each imago dei. So a proper subsidiarity cognizes in and so devolves upon each and every man subject thereto a certain de minimis social sway, and dignity; and authority. A proper subsidiarity, that is to say, treats none of its members as mere means, but rather each and every as ends.

        The sovereign at his coronation enters into a solemn contract with his people and his God, very like the contract consecrated at a wedding. It is an exchange of authority for authority. Authority is conserved. In pledging their fealty to him, his subjects surrender some of their own authority to their lord. He in turn offers his very life for their sake. This, at least, in every properly ordered monarchy.

        Had his subjects no authority to confer upon him in their vows of fealty to him, the king could have no authority over them. Authority not thus exchanged is merely taken, and so is tyrannical. So tyranny enslaves its subjects. The subjects of a proper king, on the other hand, are by him and all others beneath him recognized as free men in their own inalienable right, so that they have the wherewithal to bind themselves freely in reciprocal bonds of fealty.

        Authority flows up the hierarchy, and then back down. The rite of dubbing is a symbolon of this two way flux. The squire kneels and offers his neck to the sword of his lord. He surrenders his life to his lord. The lord accepts that life and then gives it back in a purely symbolic sacrifice, in which the sword rests for a moment on each of the squire’s two shoulders, signifying the death of his old life and the beginning of the new one. Having offered his life, the squire rises ennobled, a knight. The mana of the squire has flown upward in the hierarchy and mixed with those of all his superiors, even up to the king. It flows again down to him, admixed with theirs, and raises him.

        Third, yes: subjects ought to treat their lords as their lords, even when those lords have lost the Mandate of Heaven. We must keep two different phenomena distinctly in mind: losing the Mandate of Heaven, and thus legitimacy; and disobedience, even to usurpy. That a monarch has lost the Mandate of Heaven through his manifest errors does not at all mean that he ought not to be revered as monarch. It means rather only that by his defection from his office, he has vitiated his security in therein.

  6. Second, subjects *do* have authority.

    Yes, I recognized this above when I commented that,

    [I]t places the subjects in the position of deciding, through their own authority and private judgment, whether the sovereign has, in effect, forfeited his office.

    Subjects obviously do have their own authority, the critique should not be misinterpreted to imply that subjects are slaves. But just as the sovereign’s authority has limits, it is all the more true that his subjects’ authority has limits, and judging if and when the sovereign has lost the divine mandate is well outside the authoritative scope of a subject. Such a judgement can only be rendered by a sovereign’s superior, i.e. the spiritual power. Holy Scripture provides us an illustrative example in the sorry case of King Saul. Remember how when the Lord revoked His divine mandate from Saul, it was revealed only to the Prophet Samuel. Only Samuel, as the preeminent spiritual authority, was competent to judge the legitimacy of Saul’s sovereignty over Israel. Not even David, the one to whom God’s divine mandate passed to, possessed this competency, and he acknowledged this in his repeated refusals to strike down Saul when he had the opportunity: “And [David] said to his men: The Lord be merciful unto me, that I may do no such thing to my master the Lord’s anointed, as to lay my hand upon him, because he is the Lord’s anointed.” (1 Samuel 24:7)

    Saul was attempting to exercise authority as sovereign of Israel that he did not in fact possess. He knew this, because the Prophet Samuel had told him that the Lord had rejected him as king. David had cause to know this too, since Samuel had long since anointed him as the Lord’s chosen, and the spirit of the Lord was upon him. Nevertheless David shows Saul fealty until the end, always acknowledging him as the Lord’s anointed. He acts as if it is unthinkable that the king of Israel might be a tyrant. This is the model to follow.

    The sovereign at his coronation enters into a solemn contract with his people and his God, very like the contract consecrated at a wedding.

    Yes, and someone who takes a sedevacantist position with regards to his sovereign puts himself in the same position as someone who believes that his marriage is null and acts upon that belief by getting ‘remarried’ without first receiving juridical sanction from the Church.

    I can understand why, say, the ancient Chinese people, lacking any recourse to a legitimate spiritual authority, would develop a doctrine like the Mandate of Heaven in an attempt to discern when a dynasty change was morally justifiable. But such a doctrine is not necessary for Christendom, and actively dangerous if it leads people to believe that they have the authority to judge their sovereign a tyrant. To paraphrase Bonald, it is wrong for people to even think that way about sovereigns!

  7. These are all great points, with which I do not disagree. NB that I have not suggested either in the OP or in the comments that the subjects of a king who has lost the Mandate of Heaven – or, in Hebrew terms, the Lord’s blessing – ought to dethrone him. I suggested rather only that under the reign of such a sovereign, politics – the process of replacing him, or otherwise restoring the fullness of his office (perhaps by reforming him, or convincing him) – begins. This is an observation in political science, rather than a recommendation.

    Consideration of the relations between Saul and Samuel was one of the factors of one of my observations in The Indispensable Political Primacy of Sacerdotal Hierarchy:

    … we cannot expect cultural peace – not just lack of violence, but true harmony, krasis, justice – until there is again an established religion with a supremely authoritative sacerdotal hierarchy universally recognized and (at least ostensibly) obeyed, whose ukases have in principle ultimate authority over all moral and spiritual matters – and thus, implicitly, political matters, including those that pertain to the secular sovereign.

    The secular sovereign then must be a subsidiary officer of the ecclesial hierarchy.

    There’s no such thing, really, as a secular sovereign. When the US President walks into a room, the aweful mana and majesty of his office walk in with him, and everyone stands, as at the Benedictus qui venit – even when he is a scoundrel or a fool.

    The sovereign executive *just is* the earthly manifestation of the angel of the nation. The sovereign office is inherently religious. All kings then are priest kings, whether or not anyone consciously thinks of them as such. Better, then, to get those priests under the supervision of the pontifex maximus, like everyone else – like all their subjects.

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