Molinari Explains the Difference between Monarchy and Popular Government
With the impending burial of the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth, republicans from London to Sydney have ramped up their efforts to end the British monarchy. The resulting war of words between monarchists and their opponents has highlighted the sheer diversity of opinions over the desirability of monarchy. Indeed, it would be impossible to enumerate all the different criteria on which different groups and individuals judge monarchy as an institution. However, for those of us who favor the ideology known as laissez-faire liberalism—also known as “classical” liberalism or libertarianism—a fundamental question we must ask ourselves in judging monarchies is whether or not they are useful in limiting state power.
This is not a new question and fortunately the question has already been addressed by the nineteenth-century Belgian-born French liberal Gustave de Molinari. Molinari is known today as an early proponent of truly radical laissez-faire, all the way to privatizing the military functions of states.
He favored neither monarchy nor republicanism on principle, and thus was willing to entertain any regime type so long as it could be used to limit the exercise of state power. In exploring this idea, Molinari did note that in cases where a monarchy is genuinely at odds with popular sentiment, the resulting “opposition of interests” can work as a brake on the expansion of state powers. Moreover, he suggested monarchs are also potentially more inclined than elected officials to engage in long-term thinking when it comes to the stewardship of a polity’s resources. These benefits are not due to any additional virtue or self-restraint on the part of monarchs, but are simply by-products of the public recognition that the relationship between ruler and ruled is fundamentally exploitative.
Molinari on “the Old System”
For Molinari, a chief benefit of monarchy was that monarchs are likely to take a long-term view of the viability of the government institutions under their control. In his 1899 book The Society of Tomorrow, Molinari explains:
Under the old system the political establishment, or the State, was the perpetual property of that association of strong men who had founded, or conquered, it. The members of this association, from the head downwards, succeeded by hereditary prescription to that part of the common territory which had fallen to their share at the original partition, and to the exercise of those functions which were attached to their several holdings. Sentiments of family and property, the strongest incentives known to the human race, combined to influence their action. They desired to leave to their descendants a heritage which should be neither less in extent nor inferior in condition to that which they had received from their fathers, and to maintain this ideal the power and resources of the State must be increased, or at least maintained in all their integrity.
According to Molinari, this way of thinking imposed a sort of fiscal conservatism on mo
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