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What Kind of Governing System Would I Prefer?
Well, since you asked...
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the scaling problem with democracy, which was essentially that once you get above a certain (relatively small) polity size, democracy quickly becomes functionally unworkable and prone to being “hacked” by bad actors. In the comments, one reader asked me to detail what kind of a system I would prefer (since democracy obviously isn’t it!). Because I’m always on the lookout for material to write about, I thought this was a grand idea and resolved to write about it after clearing out my docket. So I’m going to endeavour to answer this question in the paragraphs below.
Before I dive right in, I’m first going to discuss some fundamental bases that inform my understanding of what a government “should” do and be. Then, I’ll get to answering the question in two different ways - what my “ideal” preference would be and then what I (more realistically) think could or would actually be feasible in some kind of a scenario where America, or a significant chunk of it, got a new government. I like to think that I’ve got enough common sense to know that the two probably don’t have a great deal of overlap, unfortunately.
To begin with, some principles that I see as essential to good, sound government. First of all, it is of paramount importance that a government both outwardly act to preserve, and inwardly reflect in its constitution, proper order instead of disorder. By this, I don’t just mean that it keeps people in line through a fear of punishment. Rather, from top to bottom a governing system ought to be infused with the sense that its purpose is to maintain good order that allows law-abiding citizens to be able to live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty. This certainly does not require a representative or democratic form of government, and indeed, such governments are actually less capable of producing good order and prosperity than are those reflecting a more correct understanding of proper authority.
There is a reason that “political scientists” throughout classical antiquity and the medieval period understood democracy to be an inherently disordered and inferior system. It lends itself too easily to subversion, to factionalism, to the scaling problem I discussed previously. We can see this currently taking place in the USA. While it’s common for conservatives to decry the “centralisation of power in DC,” the fact is that while this is what’s happen on a systematic level, the opposite is actually what’s occurring at a “personnel” level. The more totalitarian the Regime in DC becomes, the more spread-out actual decision-making ends up being as factions within government vie for power and bureaucratic rent-seeking. Hence, you have a combination of managerial excesses coupled with little in the way of individual responsibility. Conversely though, the more unitary the governing system is the more there is in the way of traceable responsibility and actionable authority.
In short, Acton’s quote about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely, at least as it’s usually applied to government form, is a bit of nonsense. You can have (and have had) good monarchial systems that qualify as good government. But you nearly always find that democratic, “distributed authority” systems end up going bad, devolving into factionalism, infighting, anarchotyranny, and disorder.
A second principle that I see as necessary for good government is that it be one that “rectifies the names.” The rectification of the names is drawn from Confucius’ statement,
“A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.” (Analects, 13.3.4-7, trans J. Legge)
Essentially, this is saying that within good government, the name and the description of a thing will coincide. In other words, language will be honestly used and the things which government does and supports will correspond to reality. In the Confucian view (and I should think many others), this will create both social harmony and governmental legitimacy, while the lack of it produces the opposite. When a government’s words and actions are in accord, even if they are not necessarily popular, they will be much less likely to destabilise a social order. Conversely, when a government cannot even define the two sexes correctly, much less anything else, it introduces only chaos.
The third principle is that of subsidiarity. Simply put, a rightly ordered government understands that not every function and role of government needs to be handled at the same level. It understands that alongside the need for authority to maintain order, there can be hierarchies of authority within a system that allow for descending levels of scope within a polity to be handled by a descending level of authorities. In many ways, these levels of authority will be fractal in that each reflects the order of those above and below them in a self-similar way. This is likely why I’m a fan of the sort of federalism that we see in the American system. Not everything needs to be a matter for the federal or national government.
Lastly, but most importantly, the best form of government will be the one that God indicates in His revealed Scriptures as His will. So what is that government? Frankly, it’s monarchy. That’s the system we see presented by God as being the ideal system which His Son Jesus Christ will exercise in His Kingdom, both within us now and when He returns to rule and reign upon the earth. God’s eschatological promises to mankind are all predicated upon the fulfillment of the promises made through the Davidic kingship. It is through the king - the polar axis about which his nation revolves - that legitimacy is enjoyed which generates the authority to rightly use power. While the details may vary due to peculiarities of national charactre, monarchial authority of some kind or another will best reflect that form of government which God Himself exercises.
On this point, of course, there are always the naysayers who have to point out that Israel tried to establish a monarchy under Saul and that it didn’t work out for them too well. The rejoinder to this is that the Sauline monarchy was established outside God’s specific will for Israel, but that the later Davidic monarchy clearly was at the centre of God’s will, both at that time and in the future. In other words, nothing about this is a rejection of monarchy as a principle. Another argument that’s often advanced against monarchy is that it’s too open to abuse, it too easily allows for the people to be oppressed and for warmongering to run rampant. While this has obviously happened in historical monarchies, let’s be honest enough to admit that the record of democratic and republican governments, especially in modern times, is not exactly that great, either. These governments are quite capable of starting horrific wars, interning millions of civilians, throwing political prisoners in jail on the flimsiest of pretenses, abusing their weaker neighbours, and overtaxing their honest citizenry. These behaviours stem from our inhering sin nature, not from some specific form of government.
Okay. That ended up being a bit longer than I thought it would be, so I’d better move on to the second part of this essay pretty quickly.
Having said all of the above, what would be my “ideal” government? Well, obviously it would be monarchical. It would be ruled by one ruler who exercises supreme (which does not necessarily mean unlimited) executive and legislative authority and around whom the political life of the nation revolves. This ruler would understand his role in maintaining order for the good of his people and would uphold the principle of “salus populi suprema lex esto,” the welfare of the people is the supreme law - while the people may not be directly involved in governing, their happiness and prosperity is nevertheless vital to the health of the nation as a whole. He would act as a true father to his people. He would rectify the names, ruling with an inherent honesty and rejection of corruption, denying Plato’s precept that the ruler should have the privilege of lying. He would also understand rightly ordered hierarchy and could “delegate” matters that are regional, local, etc. to their appropriate spheres to be dealt with by appropriate authorities underneath him.
Like I said, this is an ideal. But not one that cannot at least be approached this side of the Kingdom of Christ. There have been many good monarchs in history - the idea that all kings have always been evil, oppressive tyrants is merely the result of decades of republican propaganda (we should note, by the way, that the things the American colonists were really angry about before the Revolution were mostly implemented by Parliament, a body itself republican in charactre). Did they have flaws? Of course, they were sinful men like any of us. But kings (under whatever name) like Alfred, Charlemagne, Augustus, and many lesser-known rulers genuinely tried to rule well, implement just and good laws, and benefit their people and their kingdoms. Disparaging such men as “tyrants” or “oppressors” is nothing but historical slander.
However, we all know that ideal situations rarely exist. I’m savvy enough to know that what I’ve described above has a vanishingly small chance of ever being implemented in the United States or in any successor state of the current order that may arise as a result of a truly devastating collapse scenario.
The reason for this is one I outlined a few years ago when I noted that there are three kinds of states which tend to have three correspondingly typical forms of government attached to them. These are “core” states which tend to inhabit the central, baroque regions of broader civilisational units and which historically has strong, central monarchies or some sort. The second are “marcher” states which exist along the metaethnic faultlines between peer civilisations and which must be readier to call to arms to fight off the aliens. Thus, they tend to display militarised and decentralised aristocratic forms of government (think medieval European feudalism). The third are “frontier” societies - often colonial - existing on the fringes, on the borders between high civilisation and the barbarian lands. Because there is a greater need for “all hands” to work and to fight to carve out a new society, the pressure towards democratisation in forms and structure is much greater.
The United States was the last type, and even today still carries with it that sort of “frontier, pioneer” ethos. Such a nation is not going to be very amenable to a baroque king or a clique of feudal aristocrats. A nation of Daniel Boones isn’t going to be content under a Louis the Sun King.
But this doesn’t mean that the United States (or any post-breakup successor states) have to remain under the ridiculously communistic “democracy” that they are currently yoked with. What would be feasible as a replacement? Well, a lot of it would simply involve returning to forms that existed in the early Republic (since you’re not likely to see a return to pre-republican forms) but with some modification. Certainly, the franchise would need to be restricted to those who actually have a real stake in the system (property owners, people who’ve served in the military, people who pay taxes, or some combination). There’s no sane reason why masses of freeloaders and aliens should have a say in government. Obviously, a stronger executive than the original presidency would be needed to avoid the many socially degradative problems associated with overly divided government. The robust federalist system that obtained prior to the Civil War would serve an excellent subsidiarist role in our hypothetical Great Return system in America. Essentially, a recovery of a system appropriate to the American people but which purges the various democratic and socialist excesses that have degraded the American polity for the past century and a half.
But for the love of mercy, if this ever does become a reality, we MUST find a way to keep the errors of democratisation from creeping in again.
So I hope this has provided a reasonable and reasonably explicative answer to the question which was originally posed. I may have laboured the point, but I want my readers to know that I take them seriously and value their attention. It’s also a good opportunity to lay out exactly where I’m coming from in many of the things that I write about and hopefully people won’t think that my monarchism is a “fad or a fluke.”
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