Friday, May 3, 2019

Interview: Nikolai Tolstoy says the American "revolutionary movement was by no means wholly disinterested or virtuous"

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

This is the fourth of five articles spanning my discussion with Count Nikolai Tolstoy. The first, second, and third segments are available on-line. 
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: To this day, an untold number of Americans equate an enthroned king or queen with tyranny. Is this borne out of Revolution-era propaganda, or might it be that many immigrants who came to the United States were disdainful of their ancestral homelands which, throughout most of history, were monarchies?

Count Nikolai Tolstoy: I studied history at Trinity College Dublin, and am fully aware of the extent to which Irish-Americans in particular understandably nurtured a tradition of hostility to the British monarchy.  With my Russian background, I have good reason to know that what generally happens with the passage of generations among √©migr√© communities is that historical perceptions can become ossified and distorted.  In Ireland itself, the Queen is widely regarded with respect.  

I recall from my Trinity days that when Princess Margaret paid the first post-independence royal visit to the Republic, a newspaper carried the headline: ‘Ireland needs a democratically-elected Princess’!

Cotto: Many Americans think that the Revolution was fought to escape the tyranny of the British Empire. Is this perspective grounded in historical fact?

Tolstoy: Broadly speaking, the view is correct.  However, recent studies by distinguished American historians have shewn that the monarchy remained popular up to the eve of the Revolution.  What changed everything was George III’s inability, or disinclination, to stand up to the British parliament’s overriding of his authority as king of the different American colonies.  The colonies were governed by royal charters, and impositions like the Stamp Act were unquestionably unconstitutional.  

On the other hand, the revolutionary movement was by no means wholly disinterested or virtuous.  Powerful American interests were resentful of British measures to protect American Indians from expropriation or annihilation, and apprehensive of the gathering anti-slavery movement in Britain.  As is the case everywhere, American public opinion tends to lag well behind the findings of American historians.