Forms of Government: Abstract Principles and Their Influence in the Formation of a Political Mentality

April 26, 2012

It seems particularly fitting to raise some consideration regarding the pontifical documents and teachings of Saint Thomas on the forms of government included in this work [Nobility and Analogous Traditional Elites].

 

The Concrete Usefulness of the Abstract Principles

First, a reflection: These documents enunciate mainly abstract principles. Yet, many people today consider abstractions to be useless in political, social, or economic matters. They question, or simply deny, the relevance of the cited documents. Even a cursory observation of reality, however, shows clearly that the opposite is true.

Painting by DurerCharlemagne’s rule was  largely a pure monarchy.

For example, abstract principles have a very marked and at times even preponderant influence on the great majority of our contemporaries when they opt for one of the three forms of government. So we see that:

  • Of the three forms of government (monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy) pure monarchy is the one that embodies the greatest inequality between governors and governed. The monarch rules and the rest obey.
  • When the monarchy coexists with an aristocracy that tempers it by performing some of the duties of the royal power, the inequality between the king and the subjects is attenuated since some of them—the aristocrats—not only obey but participate in the royal power
    Painting of St. Louis by Georges Rouget

    St. Louis IX ruled France through a tempered monarchy, i.e. authority was largely shared with the nobles of the realm.

  • Finally, this enumeration must include the hypothesis of a State where no public power is held by a king or an aristocracy, in other words, a completely republican state. In it, political inequality is ipso factononexistent, at least in theory, and the rulers, elected by the people, are supposed to exercise the power strictly in accordance with the voters’ will

    President George W. Bush speaks to a Joint Session of Congress, Feb. 27, 2001.

Now, many are those today who prefer one of these forms of government on the basis of an abstract principle (actually condemned by Saint Pius X), namely, that monarchy and, implicitly, aristocracy are unjust forms of government because they admit a political and social inequality among the members of the same country. This principle, in turn, is derived from the metaphysical principle that every inequality among men is intrinsically unjust.

 

The Position of Catholics Vis-à-vis the Forms of Government

Pope Pius VI painted by Pompeo Batoni

When compared with the aforementioned pontifical texts and those of Saint Thomas, it becomes clear that both of these radically egalitarian principles are formally opposed to what Catholics ought to believe in this matter.

Indeed, monarchy (and implicitly aristocracy) is not only just and efficacious in promoting the common good, the Pontiffs teach, but it is also the best form of government, according to Pius VI and Saint Thomas.(*)

From this and everything expounded previously, it follows that:

  • According to the right order of preferences, however, a Catholic who wants to be excellent in his fidelity to the Church’s doctrine should admire and desire more what is excellent than what is simply good. He should thus be especially grateful to Providence when the specific conditions in his country permit or even call for the establishment of the best form of government, which, according to Saint Thomas, is monarchy.(**)

When a sound analysis of reality shows that the common good of his country can be furthered by a judicious alteration of its particular conditions, he will be worthy of praise if he is willing to take legal and honest action, within the framework of liberty of the democratic regime in which he lives, to persuade the electorate to change those particular conditions and establish (or restore) the monarchic regime.

Henry, Duke of Bordeaux and Count of Chambord (1820–1883), grandson of King Charles X of France. In September 1870–in the wake of the French defeat at Sedan–royalists in the French National Assembly came very close to restoring the monarchy and setting Henry on the throne of his ancestors.

"When a sound analysis of reality shows that the common good of his country can be furthered by a judicious alteration of its particular conditions, he will be worthy of praise if he is willing to take legal and honest action, within the framework of liberty of the democratic regime in which he lives, to persuade the electorate to change those particular conditions and establish (or restore) the monarchic regime."

  • All this stems, as we said, from the more general moral principle that all men can and must reject evil, love and practice good, and reserve the best of their preferences for what is excellent. This principle, applied to the choice of a form of government, would result in the rejection of misgovernment, anarchy, and chaos; in the acceptance of a legitimate democratic or aristocratic republic; and in the decided preference for the best form of government, which is tempered monarchy, whenever it is propitious for the common good. Should the monarchic form be unsuitable in view of the country’s specific conditions, the establishment of this more perfect good might be an act of inconformity with the designs of Providence, motivated by mere political sympathy
    Painting of the Empress Zita and her son Archduke Otto during the former’s coronation as Queen of Hungary in 1916

    "The true Catholic must have a monarchic political mentality that coexists with a strong and penetrating grasp of reality and its possibilities."

  • At any rate, one can conclude from this that the true Catholic must have a monarchic political mentality that coexists with a strong and penetrating grasp of reality and its possibilities.

 

(*) Another Doctor of the Church, Saint Francis de Sales, attests to the elevated degree of perfection in monarchy as a form of government more in accord with the order of Creation: “God, therefore, having a will to make all things good and beautiful, reduced the multitude and distinction of the same to a perfect unity, and, as man would say, brought them all under a monarchy, making a subordination of one thing to another and of all things to Himself the sovereign Monarchy. He reduces all our members into one body under one head; of many persons He forms a family, of many families a town, of many towns a province, of many provinces a kingdom, putting the whole kingdom under the government of one sole king” (Library of St. Francis de Sales, Vol. 2 Treatise on the Love of God, transl. by Fr. Henry Mackey, OSB [London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, Ltd., n.d.], Book I, chap. I, p. 19).

 

(**) “Almost all the Scholastic authors, ancient and modern, together with a great number of non-Scholastic authors, declare that a tempered monarchy is the form to be preferred in abstracto” (Father Irineu González Moral, S.J., Philosofiae Scholasticae Summa [Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1952], Vol. 3, pp. 836-837).

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, pp. 402-404.

 

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