Any perusal of man’s 5600 years of history will quickly show that the most common form of government has been monarchy. One man rule seems to be the default position in every land and in every age. A fascination with democracy, republics and parliaments is a very recent thing. I am not even sure that it is a good thing, though it might be the best that man can accomplish. Well we remember Churchill’s quip that “democracy is the worst form of government ever devised by man, except for all the others.”
And nowhere in the Bible does Christ entreat us to enter into His republic. He is a King, and He lives in a Kingdom. If man is commanded to emulate Heaven as much as he can, then the logical choice for him would be to set up kingdoms on earth. That has not worked out well, but it is not for lack of trying.
Those ancient Hebrews certainly tried. They debated whether or not to elect a king over their 12 tribes. Everyone had a king in those days, and those Jews wanted to be hip and modern. But old Yahweh warned them of such foolishness.
This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons…He will take your daughters…he will take the best of your fields…He will take a tenth of your grain…he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep…And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves…(1 Samuel 8: 1 – 18)
It is a bit distressing to read how God warned His people that kings would take a tenth of everything. Evidently such an amount was seen by God to be tantamount to theft. Alas, we modern sophisticates, we who wallow in democracy and republican virtue, have allowed our own government to take 40 percent of our wealth. And we call ourselves ‘free.’
But the Jews, who were indeed free, were a stiff-necked people, and they got their king. The end result was civil war and near extinction.
Let us not be too hard on the ancient Israelites. After all, one of their kings was David, and he is mentioned more times in the Bible than anyone else except for Christ. David was ‘a man after God’s own heart.’ Such a phrase would beef up anyone’s resume I would wager. We must remember, though, that David was a king, and like most such he practiced murder and adultery.
It was not only the Hebrews who traded in their natural freedom for security under kings. The Romans did likewise. When one thinks of Rome one conjures up a host of odd-ball Roman emperors, but the first emperor only appeared 500 years after Rome’s beginnings. The truth is that Republican Rome had an ingrained hatred of anything smacking of monarchy. Even the word for king—rex—was anathema.
Between 509 BC and 30 BC Rome was governed by a senate, a group of aristocrats whose abilities and temperaments had nothing in common with the pompous and preening asses of our own senate. But as if proving that monarchy is the normal mode of human governance, the Romans elected two consuls—let us call these guys ‘little kings’—to command the legions. Their terms were for a year only, thereby confirming the distrust of kingship.
When things really hit the fan, however, the Romans tossed aside this delicate balancing act and appointed a dictator for six months. He was a rex in everything but name, and could do pretty much as he liked—including putting to death other Romans.
All this began to break down around 100 BC, and like those ancient Hebrews 1000 years before, the ancient Romans came to plead for a king. Caesar came. He claimed the title of dictator pretty much for life, and that was that. Rome was a monarchy until her end 1500 years later.
And it was monarchs who ruled the world—barring the odd Hanseatic League and Venetian Republic—until a bunch of Americans crowded into that room in Philadelphia in 1787. We forget that they were there to review the Articles of Confederation because that government had no executive authority—it had no place for even a limited monarchy. They brought along with them a thorough knowledge of the ancient world and of the Old Testament. They knew the attractions and the problems of monarchy. What they created was a magnificent balancing act that included—surprise, surprise—a place for monarchy. That place is called ‘the presidency.’
And so accustomed to kings were our Founders that ‘His Elective Highness’ was one of the titles considered when addressing the president. Imagine for a moment having to refer to a concupiscent and mendacious creature like Clinton in such a manner. We owe Washington for adopting the simple ‘Mister President’ as his title. We owe him much more as well. He could have become the first king of America if he had so desired.
And many there were who desired it. Washington’s foe George III said that if Washington did not seize the kingship, he would be ‘the greatest man in the world.’ So close did the US come to reverting to the common practice of monarchy. It really depended upon the whim of one man.
The Founders put in place things to limit the power of the presidency—in reality, to prevent it from devolving into monarchy. These were the Senate, which represented an aristocratic element; and the House, where the hoi-polloi rabble could feel they had a voice in government. Obviously the Senate was meant to ape early Roman practice, while the House was a genuflection to Athens of old.
We moderns gush over those ancient Greeks while forgetting that the pure democracy of Athens was slavery based, addicted to internecine violence and homoerotic pornography, and perished in an orgy of violence after a few decades.
Over the ensuing 200-odd years our Republic is slowly reverting to the usual type of rule seen in history. That is, we are reverting to monarchy. The presidency of today would be seen as monarchial in everything but name to the Founders. Their great distrust of a king was based on his untrammeled power to wage war. This is why they gave only to Congress the power to declare war. This was a great idea, except they made the president the commander-in-chief of all armed forces.
We can understand the power of the US president when we recall that in all our history Congress has declared war only 5 times—and not since World War II—yet our nation has been involved in military conflict more than 200 times. Louis XIV would certainly approve—and stand in awe—of the US president’s war making ability.
I am not complaining about all of this, mind you. I am merely pointing out some history.
The American people are certainly coming around to thinking of the president as a nearly all-powerful monarch. Witness all the things they believe he has the power to deliver—health care, good schools, retirement, housing, cheap gas, cheaper college, clean air, high incomes, low unemployment and on and on. Really, such things would test the abilities of the most competent emperor of Rome.
Our modern infatuation with republican democracy will dissolve if the US ever declines to such an extent that her power scarcely reaches from sea to shining sea. We forget that most if not all of the democracies of the world depend upon the US. When she goes the way of Republican Rome so will they. The world will revert back into its customary rule by pharaohs, czars, dictators and other types of monarchs.
Those freedom loving sorts still among us today should enjoy their liberty while they can.