Salvador Dali stated in his autobiography that he was both an anarchist and a monarchist. Of course, it is unclear how metaphorical and surrealistic the meaning he imbued those terms with was (after all, he said he’d prefer to be the sole monarch, by which he seems to have meant the most influential person on earth), but these terms have also been joined to convey much more concretely political ideas as well.
Others have also glimpsed the possibility of overlap between these two ideas, such as the philologist and fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkein, the esteemed Eastern Orthodox and classical theologian David Bentley Hart, and the webmaster for anarcho-monarchism.com. But have they merely been disaffected daydreamers, or worse, incoherent loons? Or are there actually more conceptual and historical threads that justify their strange vision?
The esteemed Prince of Liechtenstein, Hans-Adam II, made a splash in some headlines a few years ago when he publically declared that he desired to see the nations of Europe return to a more libertarian-esque state of affairs as they had been in during the Medieval past. To some, including many libertarians, this may come as a puzzling shock. (As it happens, there’s a quite interesting piece on Mises.org about Liechtenstein’s private property-centered history.)
But for those who understand a little about ancient and modern political affairs and the theory behind them, it may not be. For traditional monarchy, for all its transgressions, actually diverges less from a property-rights based, personhood-centered society than the modern illusion of social contracts and impersonal Leviathans does. Perhaps this is why J.R.R. Tolkein said,
My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control not whiskered men with bombs) – or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy. I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate! If we could get back to personal names, it would do a lot of good. Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people. If people were in the habit of referring to ‘King George’s council, Winston and his gang’, it would go a long way to clearing thought, and reducing the frightful landslide into Theyocracy. Anyway the proper study of Man is anything but Man; and the most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.
What inevitably sounds strange here to moderns, and even many libertarian ears (especially that of cosmotarians), is this meshing of anarchism and monarchism together as if there is significant overlap. But, despite the most apparent contradictions, one may hear familiar notes that harmonize with Murray Rothbard’s statement that the government is “a bandit gang writ large.”3 Tolkien would prefer we make no bones about the fact that the state is actually a group of people exercising rulership over the rest of us than to have an amorphous collective with the veneer of freedom dictate our decisions.
Power is not some Foucaultian, impersonal force pervading the world, and there are no cords of the Mystic Union. It’s just Barack Obama and his admin team, Clarence Thomas and his panel, and Harry Reid, Ted Cruz, and the rest of the 535 bumbling fools, and the goons who enforce their dictates — until the next changing of the guard.
Additionally, it removes the incoherent notion of public property — that there is some common ground which we all somehow “own” because the collective will of the people decides it is so. No, rather we see the truth beyond the lie — that it’s really property that has been forcibly claimed by those in power over the rest of us, we dupes who didn’t have the savvy to yank the reins of power for ourselves.
If anything, despite whatever elements of coercion came before, one must admit that the cause of liberty was set back centuries by the further descent into the black hole of tyranny that democratic republicanism and populism have become. Without this regressive step backward, we might’ve made the argument that everyone ought to have their own exclusive control to their own private property and have been done with it, with clear vision to see the thievery inherent in the system, rather than be subject to the endless struggle against mythical monsters.
All well and good, you might say. Monarchism is ideologically and pragmatically closer to anarchism. But that still doesn’t make sense of the obvious contradiction. A monarchy is rulership by one, whereas anarchy is rulership by none. Monarchies are coercive in nature, whilst libertarian anarchy is the rejection of all coercion.
If we’re talking purely about linguistics, then this is true. But reality is never as simple as a semantic formula. In truth, there has always been much more to monarchy than the outright coercive or even rulership aspect. There’s also the heroic, the noble, the parental, and the role-model in the legacy of kingship and queenship. It’s a very human tendency to see our most favored attributes embodied in any human who excels in them, whether it be Steve Jobs or Bono. And this is exactly the kind of leadership and command of both human imagination and resolve that can be taken quite apart from imposed hierarchy — indeed, can be seen to be in stark contradiction to it.
And if we deny the prominent role that such human iconography can take, it can easily devolve into the banal and profane, as with the hyped up acclaim of the Kardashians, the Kanye Wests, and the Miley Cyruses of the world. As C.S. Lewis noted,
Where men are forbidden to honour a king, they honor millionaires, athletes, or film stars instead; even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.
Ancient Notions of Kingship
Speaking of C.S. Lewis, by the way, he created the imaginative world of Narnia so many of us have come to love because of the sense of not only magical wonder, but nobility, humility, and freedom which that land and its inhabitants so represent. In the first installment, the four Pevensie siblings — mere children — stumble into its boundaries, only to find themselves inexplicably flung into the midst of a battle fighting severe oppression, and at the end be crowned the royal kings and queens of the land. And what was the nature of their rule?
Lewis briefly describes it at the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
These two Kings and two Queens governed Narnia well, and long and happy was their reign. At first much of their time was spent in seeking out the remnants of the White Witch’s army and destroying them, and indeed for a long time there would be news of evil things lurking in the wilder parts of the forest – a haunting here and a killing there, a glimpse of a werewolf one month and a rumour of a hag the next. But in the end all that foul brood was stamped out. And they made good laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from being unnecessarily cut down, and liberated young dwarfs and young satyrs from being sent to school, and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged ordinary people who wanted to live and let live. And they drove back the fierce giants (quite a different sort from Giant Rumblebuffin) on the north of Narnia when these ventured across the frontier.
In other words, they basically just defended against violent threats, and made sure that nobody interfered with anybody else’s rights and freedoms. This harkens back to the ancient tradition of the nobleman who would be the protector of the realm, and who would was not permitted to treat those under his protection unjustly: though, the latter probably did not experience quite as much liberty as the Narnian peoples were supposed to have:
These private jurisdictions are symptomatic of the general change which had been going on throughout the society, even before the migrations. In place of the old relation between the state and the individual, or between the clan and its members, obligations between man and man had become common. The protection which the poor man had been obliged to seek from the wealthy man had come to be recognized under the name of commendation, and the universality of this relation is indicated by the formulas of the seventh century.
A typical one reads: “To that magnificent lord so and so, I, so and so. Since it is known familiarly to all how little I have whence to feed and clothe myself, I have therefore petitioned your piety, and your good will has decreed to me that I should hand myself over or commend myself to your guardianship, which I have thereupon done; that is to say in this way, that you should aid and succor me as well with food as with clothing, according as I shall be able to serve you and deserve it. And as long as I shall live I ought to provide service and honor to you, suitably to my free condition; and I shall not during the time of my life have the ability to withdraw from your power or guardianship; but must remain during the days of my life under your power or defense. Wherefore it is proper that if either of us shall wish to withdraw himself from these agreements, he shall pay so many shillings to the other party (pari suo), and this agreement shall remain unbroken.”
As we see here, the relationship between the farmer and the nobleman was able to be dissolved through a buyout (which even modern cell phone contracts in our day often stipulate), or else, as would be common, due to some injustice committed by the latter upon the former, or a reduction of the relationship into basically a slave-master interaction:
In the latter year Louis the Pious decreed: “If any one shall wish to leave his lord (seniorem), and is able to prove against him one of these crimes, that is, in the first place. if the lord has wished to reduce him unjustly into servitude; in the second place, if he has taken counsel against his life; in the third place, if the lord has committed adultery with the wife of the vassal; in the fourth place, if he has wilfuly attacked him with a drawn sword; in the fifth place, if the lord has been able to bring defense to his vassal after he has commended his hands to him, and has not done so; it is allowed to the vassal to leave him. If the lord has perpetrated anything against the vassal in these five points it is allowed the vassal to leave him.”
Or, as Hans Hermann-Hoppe interprets this history in From Aristocracy to Monarchy to Democracy: A Tale of Moral and Economic Folly and Decay,
Feudal lords could only “tax” with the consent of the taxed, and on his own land, every free man was as much of a sovereign, i.e., the ultimate decision maker, as the feudal king was on his… The king was below and subordinate to the law.
This is much along the lines of the notion that seems to have been outlined in the Torah for proper kingship, as opposed to the coercive, military dictatorships that pagan countries engaged in. A future article will be dedicated to this topic, but just to touch upon it here:
When you come to the land the Lord your God is giving you and take it over and live in it and then say, “I will select a king like all the nations surrounding me,” you must select without fail a king whom the Lord your God chooses. From among your fellow citizens you must appoint a king—you may not designate a foreigner who is not one of your fellow Israelites. Moreover, he must not accumulate horses for himself or allow the people to return to Egypt to do so, for the Lord has said you must never again return that way. Furthermore, he must not marry many wives lest his affections turn aside, and he must not accumulate much silver and gold.
When he sits on his royal throne he must make a copy of this law on a scroll given to him by the Levitical priests. It must be with him constantly and he must read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and observe all the words of this law and these statutes and carry them out. Then he will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens or turn from the commandments to the right or left, and he and his descendants will enjoy many years ruling over his kingdom in Israel. Deuteronomy 17:14-20
First of all, it is of note that this is a figure that the people have chosen together to promote to the office (no doubt there was a live possibility of dissenters, even in such a collectivist society, but regardless, this was not a ruler who asserted his power against everyone’s will). It’s indicated that when the people cry out for a king like all the other nations, they are to be granted another kind of kingship altogether.
The parameters in the first paragraph also indicate provisions against the king becoming a coercive or dictatorial figure; not only must he be from among the radically decentralized culture of the Israelites, as opposed to the surrounding cultures which tended to be more top-down, but he must not have an abundance of military prowess and strength to enforce his rule.
Furthermore, the king would be as beholden to the law as anyone else, that he may not exalt himself above his fellow citizens. This would logically preclude taxation (theft), or other forms of coercion (the looming threat of injury or even murder). This makes sense of how this section of the law could be harmonized with 1 Samuel 8:1-22Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), in which the Israelites were apparently already expected to realize that what the specific type of office they were invoking had already been condemned.
Ancient concepts of royalty also often incorporated the monarch being the embodiment of the people he serves, bearing the burden of their needs and livelihoods. This is imaginatively explored in the Celtic-centered tale (which takes place in the Otherworld) The Paradise War, book one of the Song of Albion series by Stephen Lawhead8. In this part of the narrative, Llew is anointed leader of the people by their druid, Tegid:
“Lift your voice, Llew. Declare before the people: who do you serve?”
He replied as I had told him: “I serve the people!”
“Whence comes your life?”
“The life of the people is my life!”
“Where will you reside?”
“I reside in the will of the people!”
“How will you rule?”
“I will rule in the wisdom of the people!”
“How will you obtain?”
“I will obtain in the wealth of the people!”
I raised my hands before his face, palms outward.
“I have heard your declaration,” I called in a loud voice, so all could hear.
“Let it be so confirmed!”
Such an office of kingship would thus be more servanthood-based, rather than exploitative or oppressive (at least in intent; fallible human nature would not necessarily make this invincible to manipulation).
Alright, so much for ancient ideas of kingship and monarchy. But this is not an apologia for the archaic practices thereof. Rather, we are seeking to understand how anything resembling “monarchy” or sharing any of the elements that concept evokes could ever be called anarchistic.
But What Would Anarcho-Monarchism Look Like?
The answer is really quite simple after all, for which a basic framework may be given for the imagination to give wings and soar. First, a brief sketch, from Hoppe, of the high points of the ancient aristocratic order and its polycentric nature, and what would have needed to have been changed in order for it to become fully voluntaryistic:
I only claim that this [feudal] order approached a natural order through (a) the supremacy of and the subordination of everyone under one law, (b) the absence of any law-making power, and (c) the lack of any legal monopoly of judgeship and conflict arbitration. And I would claim that this system could have been perfected and retained virtually unchanged through the inclusion of serfs into the system.
In other words, if serfs had been able to have had more ease of disengagement from the lords they were under, and the ability to themselves become judges and nobles, the system would have become completely decentralized and totally anarchic.
So, what could an anarcho-monarchistic system look like in our modern day?
First, there would be no need for every single person in a given society to engage in such interpersonal relationships. Either all of society could exist in a sort of anarcho-monarchistic system of relations, or only a fraction, as a part of a broader anarcho-capitalist society.
In fact, anarcho-monarchism would actually not be much different than the standard anarcho-capitalist vision itself, if one imagines the defense resolution organizations (DRO’s) or private arbitration agencies to be centered around the CEO who acts as a sort of role-model or celebrity-type of figure, with the title ‘King’ or ‘Queen.’ The contracts would likely be formed in relationship with the CEO himself/herself, who acts as head of not a corporation which has a life of its own (as the state is said to have), but who simply operates defensive services on his/her customers’ behalf, by proxy of their trained employees. Heck, they could even deck the whole outfit in Medieval-styled gear and trappings, complete with ceremony and vocal affectations, just to keep up the gimmick (many enjoy LARPing, after all, or dining at Medieval Times).
Or he/she may just as well not: an anarcho-monarchist outfit may take on a very modern and sleek aesthetic. But what, one may ask, is then the essential difference from the economic arrangements of anarcho-monarchism and anarcho-capitalism? What is the point of differentiating the two?
In truth, anarcho-capitalism is broad enough that it is able to encompass and enable all kinds of economic and social arrangements. But anarcho-monarchism adds something that is not present in the economic barebones structure of anarcho-capitalism: values and roots. The point of the former is that it embeds and embodies value-laden, often familial, arrangements, involving honor, dignity, loyalty, and nobility; whether it be the chivalric code or a general mutual determination to seek justice and peace as a part of a harmonious set of social relationships. For more meat fleshed out on the bone of this description, see Matthew Lewis’ article “Blessed Are the Peacemakers: The Aristocracy of Heaven.” A brief quote from his piece:
The cultivation of nobility in the first person plural involves the cultivation of habitually pro-virtuous lives, as well as the cultivation of a free environment where the act of merit-making can flourish, maximally uninhibited by the initiation of aggression animated by worldly power. This initially comes about as the result of the efforts of first-generation peacemakers, the first-fruits of a true aristocracy; those who have loved and contemplated the Good, expressed excellence within their activities, and have led meritorious lives. Through these things they obtain the authority necessary to resolve inter-personal conflicts and establish peace, all while resisting the temptations of worldly empire and the aggressive powers it possesses. The work of the generations that come afterward is the work of perfecting, preserving, and passing on the good fruits of these initial efforts which they have inherited, and thus forge a generational continuum of co-heirs with Christ.
There are many inspiring figures that we humans naturally look up to, on account of their heroism, character, compassion, wisdom, talent, or all of the above; great figures who, through hard work and determination, and often immense struggle, carve out a better world for the rest of us, and inspire us to excel. Though they too have flaws, even those very flaws reminds us that they are men and women like us with similar foibles and fallibility, and so their successes may become ours as well.
So, how could we fault anyone for wanting to line up behind them? If we ever attain a society of near-perfect freedom, we should not be in the least bit surprised to see such things occurring.