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The Inevitability of Monarchy

King James I

King James I

In The Once and Future King: The Rise of Crown Government in America, I argued that the United States was drifting towards the one-man rule of an all-powerful President. It’s not something people, especially American conservatives, wanted to hear, but then I had a secret ally in Barack Obama. He’s the gift that would never stop giving—but for term limits.

Even the Washington Post, usually a reliable presidential courtier, has begun to take notice. In a recent editorial, the Post notes that Obama’s waiver of the immigration laws exceeds in scope any prior exercise of what I call the presidential non-enforcement power. Earlier, the Post let us know why this bothered the official newspaper of the regulatory state. It wasn’t so much that the amnesty was a bad idea; but given that Obama was term-limited, just imagine what the non-enforcement power would look like in the hands of a Republican President!

“From your lips to God’s ear,” I wanted to say. Except for one thing. I don’t expect to be alive when next we see a Republican President. You either, cher lecteur. Rather, I expect to see gridlock till kingdom come, a Democratic President and a Republican Congress, gridlock till the cows come home, gridlock that encourages a President to rule without Congress. So far from preventing the accumulation of power in a single person, the separation of powers has led the President to rule by himself. “I have to do it,” he tells us. “Otherwise nothing gets done.” And do you know, pretty much everyone agrees with him.

All this has led some conservatives to speculate about the road back. James W. Ceaser in the Weekly Standard, George Will in the Post are properly appalled by the rule of Good King Obama, and tell us how we might return to an earlier government of limited presidential powers. First, let’s elect a Republican President, they say. Then let him rule modestly, in cooperation with Congress, as in the good old days. In that way, we’ll develop a new constitutional convention, or return to the old, pre-monarchical one.

It seems to me highly naïve to think the Democrats would follow the convention when they return to power.

It’s really a bargaining game, isn’t it? First we elect our fellow. Then we approach the Democrats and say “Look, we’re not going to abuse the power of the presidency. All we ask you to do is promise that you won’t go back to your evil old ways when you win next time.”

Hearing that, the Democrats will promise to be good. Laughing up their sleeves. For what’s to prevent them from welshing on their promise when they return to power? Political parties exist in what Thomas Hobbes called the “state of nature,” where promises aren’t binding and where “he which performeth first doth but betray himself to his enemy.”

Surely we have already learned that lesson. If political promises were credible, we should trust the Iranians when they tell us they won’t build a nuclear bomb. Or the Chinese, when they tell us they’ll address their carbon footprint 20 years from now if we do so today. I don’t regard the implicit bargain imagined by Ceaser and Will to be any more credible.

The grim logic of the game demands that one party’s defection from the Constitution be answered by a like defection by the other party, tit-for-tat. When one party’s President rules as a king, so too must the other party’s. Were the Republicans to elect a President (hey, it’s a hypothetical, stay with me), he should match Obama in his use of the non-enforcement power, until Post editors are driven to Bedlam. And just consider what the tempting targets might be, for a conservative President who seeks to undo the statutory excesses of prior Democratic and Republican administrations.

Is that how the game ends, in a monarchy? Just possibly. But possibly not, too. It’s at least more likely that we’ll return to a more modest constitutional regime when both parties abuse the power of the presidency than when Republicans act like patsies.

Let the Democrats, like the Post, think twice before its President issues his diktats. When they bring a gun to a fight, let the Republicans bring a gun as well. Not a banana. It’s only the threat of payback that can bring us back to a republican form of government where presidential power is limited.

Reader Discussion

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on December 08, 2014 at 09:33:41 am

The children have been driving daddy’s car for so long that they gotten lost. The structure of the federal government was destroyed during the New Deal. Why should we be surprised that we are left to the tender mercies of politicians who are now free of their chains?

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Ron Johnson
on December 08, 2014 at 13:34:45 pm

Seems like I remember a treaty somewhere around the 1820s or in the decade just before it. Was it the Treaty of Ghent in which a vow was made to get rid of Republican forms of government (was the USA named in it). Anyway, there were a number of folks back then who wanted to get rid of such a form of political practice. Seems it violated the sense and sensibility of those who thought they were destined to rule. The right of kings, you know. Well, it seems, Rutherford's Lex Rex had some to say about that, and it came to fruition in the American Revolution when King George mourned the fact that his American colonies had run off with a Presbyterian parson. It wasn't quite that way, but almost. And the first major American Historian of note, George Bancroft, called America "The Calvinistic Republic," a fact that did not sit too well with another religious group. Behind the present push for socialism of either the corporate or the state variety, lies the silent power of which Woodrow Wilson spoke. In the sixties or seventies one of the leaders on the political fringes identified a leading capitalist as a part of a conspiracy, and the last decade of the 20th century that capitalist admitted that the was a part of a cabal and proud of it. I am reminded that my Marxist professor at a small Black University in the Midwest, identified a person who wrote books for the rulers of communist countries which they read so they might know how to govern those nations, who spent most of each class period telling us how communism would win over capitalism. He was a graduate of an institution linked to that capitalist. And then there was the lady who identified where the first communist experiments were carried out in the modern world.

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dr. james willingham
on December 08, 2014 at 19:00:42 pm

Interesting, indeed!

I agree with a tit-for-tat - but only if it is explained during the tit (or is it the tat?) that such *compensatory* actions will be limited and are specifically intended to *restore* proper structural dynamics. It may be a chance to educate the populace - because surely without such education this will devolve into a Parliamentary as there does not seem to be any inclination in either party to reassert such structural dynamics.

Maybe us rednecks could get them to listen - but then again I don;t buy lottery tickets either!

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gabe
on December 08, 2014 at 19:01:42 pm

Should read: Parliamentary / Monarchy

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gabe
on December 24, 2014 at 15:50:32 pm

A parliamentary monarchy, a monarchy of any kind? God forbid. Only God is the ruler yet, and He must have figured that with awakenings people can learn to restrain themselves and others, leaving the individual free to improve and rise, if he or she is so minded.

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dr. james willingham
on January 27, 2015 at 11:06:22 am

[…] The Inevitability of Monarchy […]

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Ramsey and Tillman on the Receive Ambassadors Clause - Freedom's Floodgates

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.