This is the third of five articles spanning my discussion with Count Nikolai Tolstoy. The first and second 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: Even in present-day America, as children, many dream of becoming knights, kings, or princesses. As they get older, however, aspirations for monarchy fade. One could say that all people are born monarchists as monarchical systems are, in base form, an extension of the traditional family unit and the relationships therein. Do you have any thoughts on all of this?
Count Nikolai Tolstoy: I entirely agree. The monarchy is a fundamentally natural institution, given that it places a family at the heart of an otherwise arid political system. No one supposes, or is intended to suppose, that the monarch is more intelligent than his subjects. He succeeds by a natural process reflecting that experienced by every family in the land. The intense interest felt by the public in its royal family intensifies the instinctive feeling that the nation itself is a family writ large.
Cotto: At root, what would you say drives the negative perceptions of serious monarchies among the American populace?
Tolsoty: My experience is of necessity limited, but most Americans that I meet admire our (British) monarchy, the Queen of Canada being after all their nearest foreign head of state. Of course, the republican tradition in the USA is far too deep-rooted for Americans to think of replacing it with what could only be regarded as an alien system.
Although a convinced royalist, I accept that there exist republics whose institutions are so deeply rooted in their national history as to make any radical change revolutionary and harmful. I am thinking in particular of such long-established republics as Iceland, Switzerland, and the USA.
I suspect those Americans who resent the British monarchy feel an hereditary system to be ‘unfair’. I suggest that the chance element in heredity is no more unfair than selection of a head of state by semi-secret jockeying among political schemers. Where the primary function of a republican head of state is confined to representing the nation, it is hard to see that this is in fact achieved.
I doubt, for example, that anyone in Britain or the USA beyond a handful of diplomats and journalists has the faintest idea who is the current president of, say, Germany or Italy.