Did C. S. Lewis contradict himself on Monarchy?

Lewis’s beautiful (and unassailable) remarks on Monarchy are liturgical in nature and point to the fact that proper veneration is essential to man’s nature (Sutton 1985).

Monarchy can easily be debunked; but watch the faces, mark well the accents of the debunkers. These are men whose tap-root in Eden has been cut; whom no rumor of the polyphony, the dance can reach — men to whom pebbles laid in a row are more beautiful than an arch. Yet even if they desire mere equality they cannot reach it. Where men are forbidden to honor 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. (1)

Beautiful, wise words and in need of no commentary.   Democrats–and under that label I include  theonomists, Ron Paul fans, the American Media Elite, Baptists–immediately point to another Lewis quote,

I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of man…mankind is so fallen that no one man can be trusted with unchecked power.

Here is the difficulty with the latter quote:  Lewis affirmed both in the same essay (“Equality,” February 11, 1944).   Assuming he isn’t just stupid enough to contradict himself within a few paragraphs, we must assume that Lewis did not think monarchy and at least some form of democratic government to be mutually exclusive.

The better apologists of monarchy realize that forms of social democracy are not incompatible with monarchy.   One of the difficulties moderns have with monarchy is they read later absolutist doctrines back into earlier monarchical systems.  As a result, they think that all monarchs are necessarily as evil as Edward I of Bravheart (which itself was a stereotype, however superior the movie is).

But as Fr. Raphael has noted, even the more absolutist Tsarist system was never supremely absolutist.  Absolute rule was an impossibility, for there were many mediating institutions between the peasant and the monarch:  the church, guild, and village.  As Johnson noted elsewhere (2004) it was Western liberalism that sought to remove the institutions that protected the common man from the raw power of the State:

Liberalism did one thing (and it was not elevating the “dignity of the individual”); it destroyed the intermediate institutions, the varied local foci of authority that preserved communal freedom in the complex of informal groups who emanated their own specific brand of authority in their own particular sphere of competence. Freedom is never abstract, it is always freedom to do something specific or to be free of some specific irritant. The oligarchy, Russian or otherwise, therefore, demands standardization and conformity because the strictness of contract law and exchange cannot admit of groups of traditional yet still informal and ad hoc groupings (however enshrined by tradition) that characterize traditional societies

In fact, our conclusion is this: any healthy monarchical system must also be radically  socially democratic on the levels where democracy truly helps the people:  village and guild.


(1) This quotation is from Lewis’s essay, not Sutton’s.  The reference to Sutton concerned his essay on the liturgical nature of man.

Works Cited:

Johnson, Matthew.  The Third Rome:  Orthodoxy, Tsarism, and Holy Russia.  New York:  The Foundation for Economic Liberty, 2004.

Lewis, C. S.  “Equality” Present Concerns.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1987.

Sutton, Ray.   “The Saturday Night Church and the Liturgical Nature of Man” Christianity and Civilization  (4) 1985.


Oliver O’Donovan on Electoral Futility

‘Electoral forms, then, not only fail to guarantee a just, or liberal, government; they are no guarantee of material representation either. The defense of Western democracy must, it seems, be even more modest than the most modest defense current among apologists. Perhaps it may take some form such as this: Modes of representation cannot be chosen in a vacuum; they are dependent upon the conditions of society and on the forms of spontaneous representation that arise unbidden. In a society that has lost most of its traditional representative forms to the unstable and shifting relations built on individualism and technology, but which can count on economic wealth, good communications, and general literacy, there is not serious alternative to the ballot box. Attempts to revive lost forms of loyalty are liable to be Ersatz and morally hollow; we had better secure ourselves against the temptations they present by setting a high procedural threshold for movement of spontaneous popular identity, and this electoral democracy provides.

“The case for democracy is that it is specifically appropriate to Western society at this juncture. It is a moment in the Western tradition; it has it own ecological niche. This allows us no universal claims of the “best regime” kind, nor does it permit the imperialist view that the history of democracy is the history of progress. Yet within its own terms it allows us to be positive about democracy’s strengths. The best regime is precisely that regimne that plays to the virtues and skills of those who are governed by it; and this one serves us well in demanding and developing certain virtues of bureaucratic and public discourse that the Western tradition has instilled. It is our tradition; we are bred in it; we can, if we are sensible about it, make it work’. – Oliver O’Donovan, Ways of Judgment (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 178

I am not as optimistic about making democracy work as is O’Donovan, but he does rightly note that democracy is peculiar to a certain moment in Western history and of that, it cannot be made an absolute narrative.

N. T. Wright on Democracy

I put it would be interesting to go to http://www.ntrightpage.com and do a google search for “democracy” and see what comes up.  I might update this page from time to time.

To imagine, as some seem to do, that western democracy is the perfect political system, and that if only everyone else adopted it Utopia would finally arrive, looks like a bit of displacement activity to distract attention from the fact that we’ve had this democracy for two centuries and many of our problems are just as intractable as they were before.


Your paper god–the Constitution–cannot save you

After the initial shock of people hearing I am a monarchist, the next line is, “I don’t have a problem with monarchy provided it is a constitutional monarchy.”  In other words, as long as the Constitution is all that matters, then you can have a king.  One of the first complaints given against monarchy is an (out of context) appeal to 1 Samuel 8.  God condemns kings, so it is argued, because kings are necessarily absolutist and will be a substitute for God.

But is not the Constitution equally a temptation to replace God?   Listen carefully to the rhetoric of the Constitution Party and Ron Paul supporters.  These people honestly believe that if the “Constitution were restored” (except for amendments 14 and a few others, while keeping the 1st Amendment on probation), then America would see an age of peace and justice.   Besides the outright naivete of such a view (which will be discussed in detail below), how is this view not also idolatry?  Can a piece of paper save?

What would happen the next day if such a thing happened?  Nothing.  The culture would be just as decadent.   Corrupt judges and officials would continue to ignore the Constitution.  This god is found wanting.  Ironically, the game isn’t over yet.  As St Gregory Nazianzus noted in his Third Theological oration, democracy leads to anarchy.  I will add the next premise:  anarchy cannot exist in a vacuum.  It must see the accompaniment of a real absolutist ruler.   The mob is fickle and easily persuaded.  In hoping for a “republic” and “constitution,” divorced from the ancient liturgy, Constitutional man is (ironically) left with the form of government he most hated!  Actually, it is worse than he originally feared.  The monarchist interlocutor never argued for a tyrannical ruler, nor did he want to see the rights of man abolished (that was a later, post-Enlightenment view).   But instead of a just monarch, the constitutionalist is left with the tyranny of 50% + 1.