The Best Way to Moderate and Fortify Monarchy Is to Surround It with Aristocracy and Democracy

July 21, 2011


Commenting on the thinking of Saint Thomas Aquinas regarding the mixed form of government, Father Rodriguez writes:

“On mixed regimes, theoretically the optimum form of government—In this work [De Regimine Principum], and more specifically in this seventh chapter*, following an analysis of the three kinds of governments (monarchy, aristocracy, democracy), Saint Thomas leans toward the monarchical form, albeit one having moderated power so as to avoid tyranny: “Simul etiam sic eius temperetur potestas, ut in tyrannidem ne facili declinare non possit” [Its power should be tempered so that it may not easily deteriorate into a tyranny].

The Queen and Prince Philip in the procession through the Royal Gallery on their way to the chamber of the House of Lords, as part of the State Opening of Parliament. May 25, 2010. Photo by UK Parliament

“This idea of restraining the monarch’s power led him, in later works, to shape the theory of the mixed regime as the optimum form of government: The best way to restrain the monarchy and to make it effective is to surround it with aristocracy and democracy. I limit myself to transcribing only the two texts that seem fundamental and that are sufficiently clear in this regard.

“ ‘It is incomprehensible that an optimum government can emerge from the two terrible forms of government (tyranny and democracy** or demagogy). A far better procedure is that in which they who form the city’s government use various correct forms of government, since the more mixed it be, the better, as more citizens participate in governing the city’ (in II Politicorum, lect. 7, no. 247).

“ ‘Some say that the best city government is the one that is a type of mixture of the aforementioned systems (monarchy, aristocracy, democracy). The reason is that, in this way, one system is held in check by the presence of the other. This leaves less room for rebellion, since everyone participates in the governance of the city, with the people ruling in some things, the aristocracy in others, and the king in yet others’ (Ibid.).”

It is incomprehensible that an optimum government can emerge from the two terrible forms of government (tyranny and democracy** or demagogy).

* Chapter 6 in Phelan’s English translation.

** Regarding the term democracy, Father Victorino [Rodriguez] writes: “This pejorative sense of democracy in De Regimine Principum is upheld in the commentaries on Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics, wherein it is also called ‘plebeian’ government, ‘popular’ government, government of the ‘poor,’ wherein a numerical majority of citizens reigns over a more qualified minority and, consequently, oppresses it unjustly (hence the pejorative sense of this democracy)…. Nevertheless, in the Summa Theologica, when the forms of government are alluded to (e.g., I-II, q. 95, a. 4; II-II, q. 61, a. 2), only tyranny appears as an incorrect form of government, and neither oligarchy nor democracy, which can be more or less correct” (Fr. Victorino Rodriguez, El Régimen Politico de Santo Tomás de Aquino [Madrid: Editorial Fuerza Nueva, 1978], pp. 31, 33).


Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites in the Allocutions of Pius XII: A Theme Illuminating American Social History (York, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, 1993), Appendix IV, p. 399.


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