Monday, April 22, 2019

Interview: Nikolai Tolstoy says "George III was no tyrant" but "a highly cultured, dutiful, and honourable ruler"

Editor's note: This interview was originally published in February 2017.

Story by Joseph Ford Cotto

What is so great about monarchism, anyway? 

America gets along just fine without it -- if you ignore the latest Gallup report that Congress has an approval rating of 28 percent, which is the highest said number has soared in nearly ten years.

"If a nation does not want a monarchy, change the nation’s mind," the late South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts said. "If a nation does not need a monarchy, change the nation’s needs."

Smuts knew the truth behind these words firsthand. He served in the late 1930s and early '40s, a time when the British Crown was being subsumed by Dutch-descended nationalism. Most of his country's voting populace ignored his advice, got its wish of a sovereign republic, instituted Apartheid to maintain power, ultimately saw this fall apart, and now is faced with a 'nonracial' government largely defined by varying degrees of black supremacism. 

This is to say nothing of the tribal conflicts that plague South Africa today -- all of which are glossed over by the promise of republican ideals.

"This war would never have come unless, under American and modernising pressure, we had driven the Habsburgs out of Austria and the Hohenzollerns out of Germany," Winston Churchill told during 1945. "By making these vacuums we gave the opening for the Hitlerite monster to crawl out of its sewer on to the vacant thrones. No doubt these views are very unfashionable."

Did Britain's most famous World War II prime minister not know what he was talking about?

"Anyone who fears that by becoming a republic we would condemn ourselves to a presidency held by a perpetual succession of superannuated politicians .... is an optimist," The Independent's Gordon Medcalf pointed out in 1997, with Tony Blair's anti-monarchist Labour Party having just attained power.

Medcalf continued: "The alternative nightmare scenario looks not to the European model but to the American, where the essentials for election to the presidency appear to be ruthless ambition, access to vast wealth, reckless promises of patronage and preferment, effective control of a big slice of the media and a plausible TV manner.

"We don’t know when we are well off."

Could any serious political observer look at our partisan duopoly and say Medcalf is wrong? Could any serious person claim that America's system of government works well for even a bare majority of the citizenry?

"Monarchy is the one system of government where power is exercised for the good of all," Aristotle declared. This ancient wisdom gels with the opinion of Margaret Thatcher who, after her prime ministerial tenure ended, remarked that "(t)hose who imagine that a politician would make a better figurehead than a hereditary monarch might perhaps make the acquaintance of more politicians."

Her statement takes on special significance when the perspective of Lord Russell, published in The Spectator amid Blair's ascendancy, enters consideration: "The monarchy is a political referee, not a political player, and there is a lot of sense in choosing the referee by a different principle from the players. It lessens the danger that the referee might try to start playing."

Here in America, the Supreme Court and lower federal judiciary are our referees. How apolitical are they?

Count Nikolai Tolstoy is the International Monarchist League's chancellor, having held this position since 1987. His career is very much a continuation of the family business -- writing. He has produced much about history and politics, putting down the pen to stand for office on four separate occasions. Though he never won, his anti-globalist ideas certainly did with the triumph of Brexit last year. 

Tolstoy recently spoke with me about many topics relative to monarchism -- specifically its role in the present day. Some of our conversation is included below.


Joseph Ford Cotto: These days, the few remaining strong monarchies are typically derided, and weaker ones are treated as more of a tourist attraction than anything else; though these too often attract scorn. Why might this be?

Count Nikolai Tolstoy: Absolute or authoritarian monarchies now largely belong in the past.  The Monarchist League, of which I am the Chancellor, advocates constitutional monarchy only.  That monarchies represent an outstanding tourist attraction should not be derided.  Public splendour unites the people both with the present, and with a shared glorious past.   It is not my impression that any but a handful of embittered ‘intellectuals’ resent public displays of national splendour in Britain.  

Indeed, the monarchy confers many benefits denied republics.  In Britain it has been wisely said that an essential point is not the power the constitution confers on the sovereign that is significant, but the power that denies greedy and unscrupulous demagogues.  Corrupt and unpatriotic Prime Ministers like Blair and Cameron were restricted in the damage they could inflict on the country by the obligation to defer to the Crown.

Cotto: Had George Washington accepted the proposal that he reign as monarch of the United States, do you believe that this would have given our country more stability, and through that, a higher standard of living?

Tolstoy: I think Washington was wise to refuse.  The revolutionary war had polarized opinion too far for the victorious Americans to accept a hereditary monarchy.  However, although understandable, this opinion was in large part based on false premises.  George III was no tyrant, nor a blundering Hanoverian.  That he was a highly cultured, dutiful, and honourable ruler is now accepted by most historians, but by 1783 the myth of his tyranny had gained too great a hold on popular imagination in the States to be ignored.  

In any case, for monarchy to be effective the sovereign needs to be heir to a tradition ascending into the common history – even prehistory - of the people.  Heirs to Bonapartist empires cannot enjoy the entrenched security and loyalty of ancient monarchies.