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Real Catholics

A short while ago, a Mr. Michael Voris, who calls himself “The Real Catholic,” called for America to change its system of government from a democracy to a “benevolent” Catholic dictatorship, a system  Mr. Voris called a “Catholic Monarchy.” In Mr. Voris’s ideal system, voting, to the extent it would be allowed at all, would be confined to Catholics. Now, I am always a little uncomfortable with people who call themselves the “real” anything; I cannot get over the feeling that were I to venture a contrary opinion, I would be considered less “real,” or in this case perhaps outright heretical. Nevertheless, while Mr. Voris might be the real Catholic, I don’t think he is the real monarchist; I think he is talking about something quite different, something which Dr. John Rao calls regalism, which is often confused with monarchy.

Real Regalism

Regalism was a development of the late Middle Ages and early modern period that sought to centralize all power in the hands of the king. All social and economic institutions, even—or especially—the Church, were brought under royal control. This was the beginning of the modern “nation-state,” in which all loyalties, and all power, were transferred to the state in the person of the king; from there it was but a short step to replace the all-powerful king with an oligarchy or a democracy, or more usually, an oligarchy disguised as a democracy.

Regalism was, we might say, “non-denominational”; it was practiced by both Catholic and Protestant monarchs. Long before the Reformation, the state was expanding its power at the expense of the Church. The taxing of the clergy, the consolidation of ecclesial courts into civil ones, intrusion into the educational system, the replacement of the Church’s charities with the welfare state, and royal control of clerical appointments were some of the signs of the expanding power of the state. The Reformation merely continued this process, since so many of the “reformers” were more than willing to replace the pope with the prince to enforce a confessional conformity. The Reformation depended on lay power, and gave a justification for that power, but the way had been prepared by Catholic monarchs. And while the Catholic kings never succeeded in having themselves declared head of the Church in their realms, they came very close. For example, Pope Julius III could write to the French King Henry II, “You are more than pope in your kingdoms,” and when Richelieu was appointed Cardinal, he sent his letter of thanks not to the pope, but to the king, the real religious power in France.

Nowhere was this royal control more damaging to the Church’s mission than in the case of the missions. The king’s writ extended to distant lands, and the missions became another instrument of state power in which nationalism dominated over salvation. Missionary activity was subordinated to commercial and political objectives, thereby making the work of the Church seem like a mere instrument of what would later be called “colonialism.” The national control of the missions created tremendous jurisdictional problems, so that the new believers didn’t know which authority to believe, as bishops from the home country vied with vicars from the Vatican. And the nationalist missions impeded the development of native clergy, since this could form a source of opposition to royal control. Tremendous opportunities were lost in Japan and China, losing not only billions of souls for Christ, but changing the course of history; imagine how different things would be today if these oriental powers had become Catholic.

This regalism was a vast departure from the norm of medieval monarchies. Rather than a plenary authority, subjugating all to the royal will, medieval kings tended to have a limited authority as heads of a rich network of social institutions, each with their own domain, authority, and dignity. There was of course the Church, but also the guilds, the towns, barons great and small, universities, and associations of all sorts. The king’s writ might run as law, but there was very little he could actually write in his writ, given the plurality of powers that surrounded him. People were conscious of their rights and privileges, and willing to fight for them, as Richard II of England discovered when he tried to impose a poll tax (essentially, an income tax) on the people, and found that within a few weeks a vast peasant army swept through the kingdom to capture both London and the king. Treachery got Richard out of his difficulties, but he was made very aware of the limitations to his power. In fact, a modern bureaucrat, in the normal course of his day, exercises more power than a medieval king; the bureaucrat can, with a stroke of a pen, take away your business or your children, thereby making tyranny a sort of daily routine; the bureaucrat’s writ does indeed run as law, as long as the proper forms are filled out.

I dwell on the problems of regalism because it is this version of “monarchy” which is most familiar to the general public. Whatever the faults of the American Founders, this was the kind of monarchy that justified the revolution. The same principle that was applied in the last article to democracy also applies to monarchy. That is, a thing without proper limits becomes its own opposite, and benevolence quickly becomes a tyranny which threatens both civil and religious order. But Catholics can look to a wider tradition to meditate on these matters; we need not confine our meditations on monarchy to King George III, or even to King Louis XVI, Catholic as he may have been.

Real Monarchy

Preeminent among our sources is St. Thomas Aquinas. In his letter to the King of Cypress, he identified monarchy as both the best and worst form of government; best when the king acted for the common good, and worst when he did not. But of course, kings and queens are but men and women in regal robes, and greed rages in their hearts no less in than in the hearts of the commons, and a king no less than a commoner is likely to be ruled by unruly passions. So just as a democracy needs a monarchial limit, the monarchy needs aristocratic and democratic limits. As to how this is to be accomplished, St. Thomas says:

Accordingly, the best form of government is in a state or kingdom, wherein one is given the power to preside over all; while under him are others having governing powers: and yet a government of this kind is shared by all, both because all are eligible to govern, and because the rules are chosen by all. For this is the best form of polity, being partly kingdom, since there is one at the head of all; partly aristocracy, in so far as a number  of persons are set to authority; partly democracy, i.e., government by the people, in so far as the rulers can be chosen from the people and the people have the right to choose their leaders. (ST I-11, 105.1)

We can ask, “If the people have the right to choose their leaders, what is the purpose of the monarchy?” St. Thomas defines this as giving a unity to the people in order to direct all to the common good, which is a “unity of peace” and a concern for justice. “Peace” in this context means much more than just the absence of war. Rather, it is an internal harmony in the kingdom that directs all levels to justice, for “Everything is uncertain when there is a departure from justice” (De Regno, 26). Politics tends to be divisive by its very nature; even when people attempt to act for the common good, they also tend to interpret that good according to their own needs and desires. Some principle in government needs to have the possibility of interpreting the common good from the standpoint of the whole society, a good which encompasses all, from the lowest to the highest.

However, the term “common good,” standing by itself, tends to be rather vague and needs some development before it can be useful. The Catholic Church has developed two further principles in guiding rulers to the common good. These principles are not mere abstractions, not the result of isolated philosophers and theologians dictating what they think is good for society. Rather, they are the result of the Church’s reflection on its 2,000 years of experience with governments of all sorts. These principles are subsidiarity and solidarity.

Subsidiarity is a principle which stands the political hierarchy on its head; it states that the higher levels of government exist only to serve the lowest. A higher level of authority can be justified only by the aid (subsidium) it gives to the lower level, and especially to the lowest unit of society, the family. The royal family, the first family of the kingdom, is in a sense the last family, and the the king, who is the greatest of all, must become the servant of all, in the same way that the pope is the servus servorum dei, “the servant of the servants of God.”

Solidarity is the principle which requires that every action of government must be evaluated on the basis of how it affects the poorest citizens, and if it harms this group, it is likely not a just action to begin with. Its signature is a “preferential option for the poor,” and it forms a kind of acid test for the common good.

Note that Thomas does not give specific duties or authorities for each element of government. And that is proper, because the actual distribution of authority is not something derived from the natural law. Rather, it is a prudential judgment that changes from culture to culture, and with time and circumstance. For the character of peoples and nations vary, and the needs of the times change with the times; therefore their particular institutions must evolve from their own experiences and needs. Nevertheless, there are some general principles that we might advance, though they might be modified to fit any particular political tradition.

Concerning the king, he needs to have real authority, an authority that extends to the executive, legislative, and judicial functions. Of course, he should not be the only authority in these areas, nor even necessarily the ordinary authority; but he should, in some sense, be the ultimate authority. The king’s government also needs to have its own revenue stream, one fixed in the constitution and independent of any legislative body. A king who has to beg his bread from the legislature is no king, and whoever holds the power of the purse will soon hold all other powers. The legislature may by its own will supplement the constitutional revenues, perhaps to pay for a war or some other extraordinary expense, and they may control the funds they levy. But for the budgeting of the constitutional revenue, the king should be primary, or even the sole, authority. Other authorities may comment, they may even censure a king, such as when a king neglects the defense of the realm to build himself palaces. But in the practical world, control of the budget is control of everything else. The king should also hold an absolute veto over both the legislature and the judicial functions. And finally, there needs to be a difficult but peaceful means of removing a king; without this, kings themselves become the cause of revolutions.

The more difficult question actually concerns the aristocracy. Both Aristotle and Aquinas thought of aristocracy in terms of virtue and accomplishment rather than in terms of birth and wealth. The latter they considered to be a mere oligarchy. However, men often confuse wealth with worth, and this is especially true of the men with an excess of wealth and an absence of worth. In my opinion, even in cases where there is a requirement of wealth or birth, there should still be a selection process to choose the best of the wealthy or well-born. But whatever the process, the function of the aristocracy is virtue. I interpret this to mean that they should be a source of impartial commentary and judgment on political affairs. In the next installment, I will deal in greater detail with some solutions to the aristocratic problem.

Finally, there is the democratic problem. Democracy works best at the local level, and a national democracy is almost a contradiction in itself, since the staggering costs of national campaigns enforce an oligarchic control. Nor can this problem be solved by some sort of campaign finance reform or even public funding of elections, unless we are willing to forbid all political speech, save that funded by the public purse. But that would be a form of tyranny in itself. The best way to reduce the cost of elections is to make the districts small, which will keep the cost of campaigning cheap, and hence less susceptible to oligarchic control. Small districts imply large legislatures, and this has the advantage of making them slow and unwieldy, able to agree on laws only when they are most necessary. But if one wants a small and more agile legislature, then perhaps it would be wise to chose it by indirect elections, with electors chosen at the neighborhood level, who then meet in an assembly to choose the actual legislators. In any case, deliberative forms of democracy, such as the caucus or the town meeting, should be favored over electoral forms, such as secret ballot. But whatever the size and composition of the legislature, it should have clearly defined and limited powers.

However, all of these reflections, whether right or wrong, good or bad, remain sterile if there is no way to realize them in the existing political order. As interesting as they might be, such speculations are of great value only if they can be led to actions which are effective in the given political order. Even a remnant wants to be effective, to have some actual impact in the world. Political systems arise not solely from mere theorizing, but from actual experience. The task is to examine the current situation, and see what can be done, in this time of crisis, to make the political system more monarchial, which is to say more truly democratic. That will be the burden of my next essay.

Reprinted from The Remnant Newspaper. The second of a three-part series: Part I is here.

 

About the author: John Médaille

 

John Médaille is an adjunct instructor of Theology at the University of Dallas, and a businessman in Irving, Texas. He has authored the book The Vocation of Business, edited Economic Liberty: A Profound Romanian Renaissance and just completed Toward a Truly Free Market: A Distributist Perspective on the Role of Government, Taxes, Health Care, Deficits, and More.

 

Recent posts in History

 

32 Comments

  1. Excellent article, Mr. Médaille, thanks so much. Much more than “real monarchy” you are perfectly defining “real democracy” at the end of it, with the idea of “very small districts”. In my opinion the problem with modern democracy is the organization of the parties, that are the way to implement the democracy but they don´t work with democratic rules inside. So the “very small districts” would only work if the election is made as “personal” and the representants are not just a pawn in the hands of a big party.
    About the historical process of “regalism” i would like to point that we tend to see the middle age monarchies from our national point of view, but in the early middle ages european kings were considering themselves legilimated by the idea of the Roman Empire and ruling nominally in its name (Belloc, “Europe and the Faith”) and this idea of Roman Empire as the source of legitimate power made out of all christian kingdoms an spiritual unity. The only institution depending on Rome more than formally was the Church, but this was saw as natural as Rome was the “source of legitimation” to the power. With the very slow concentration of power in local kings, that endend in the conflict so called “the reformation”, the nations were created and the real “fall of the roman empire” happened.
    In my opinion Kings, even without real power like in Spain, where I´m from, would have now another very important function: to stablish a link with the past and traditions of the country and its present, but also a link with other christian countries and the common past and future that was and will be (and so said Belloc: “Europe is the Faith and the Faith is Europe”) Rome.
    Sorry for my terrible english.

  2. Thanks for good article, Voris is becoming one of those idols for many Catholics-I know a lady from Church, had to block her emails, as she wasa Voris groupie…Have seen Catholic forums, where Voris is an idol and where many are predicting his imminent martyrdom and sainthood!!

    Thanks for clarifications and a good balanced article….btw, does John have groupies ( LOL )??

  3. I would expect a link to substantiate the claim that Voris is calling for a Catholic dictatorship and disenfranchising all non Catholics from voting.

  4. Dear Dr. Schloeder,

    Unfortunately a link is unavailable because the video in question was pulled following audience reaction.

  5. I would like to see it before rushing to any interpretation, and in lieu of verifiable evidence that is now evidently no longer available I would caution about making that to be a point of departure for a discussion on monarchy. I say that in fairness to Mr Voris.

  6. To be fair, it should be mentioned that the video referred to in this article was pulled AND a clarification video was posted within a day or two after. It would have been better, if one wanted to critique the views of someone else, to have included this fact. I’m curious where Mr. Voris called himself “The Real Catholic”. A link to that would be helpful.

  7. I believe “The Vortex” is a show broadcast on “Real Catholic TV”.

  8. Dear Dr. Schloeder,

    Certainly we wish to be fair to Mr. Voris, and I include myself given that I watch Real Catholic TV. I will see if we can find a copy of the broadcast online.

  9. Dear Matt,

    I will be more than happy to add a note to the article.

  10. I’m enjoying this series of articles on monarchy. As a Presbyterian minister, I can’t help but note similarities of emphasis with Abraham Kuyper and his notion of “sphere sovereignty”. I hope that observation doesn’t harm John Médaille’s standing in the eyes of some.

  11. Mr. Médaille makes a very good point:

    In fact, a modern bureaucrat, in the normal course of his day, exercises more power than a medieval king; the bureaucrat can, with a stroke of a pen, take away your business or your children, thereby making tyranny a sort of daily routine; the bureaucrat’s writ does indeed run as law, as long as the proper forms are filled out.

    It reminds me of something Nicolás Gómez Dávila once wrote:

    “Absolute monarchies disposed with less fickleness of the fortunes of one individual than popular absolutisms dispose of the destiny of entire social classes.”

  12. I had never heard of Davila before, but the link you posted has a gold-mine of pithy aphorisms.

  13. Not at all; That’s just how Calvinists spell “subsidiarity.”

  14. Voris does some good work, to be sure, but I object to the rhetorical framework. For example, he doesn’t deal with differing views, but with “lies.” This is the death of real conversation and intelligent discussion. It gives the whole thing a sort of pontifical cast, a cast that is valid only for one particular Catholic.

    And he doesn’t blog.

  15. I find it very comforting that thought is given in this direction by authors from the Anglo-American cultural sphere, which has little recent precedent of traditional Catholic monarchy. It might be tempting for some to doubt that these ideas are “not the result of isolated philosophers and theologians dictating what they think is good for society”, since we often have to go back to St. Thomas Aquinas and the Middle Ages. However, let me point out that many cultures have not broken with this tradition until the acceptance in the 19th century of the French Revolution’s principles. Even after that time many legitimist schools of thought (prominently Spanish Carlism) have continued the work of permanent exegesis and scientific refinement of traditional social and political doctrine, uninterrupted to this day. 20th century Juan Vázquez de Mella is one of its most accessible authors.

    I mention this because said school of thought (and the traditional Spanish monarchy, before its 19th century corruption, that it embodies) places paramount importance in the “democratic” aspect, in the sense that Mr. Médaille used when in the first article he said: “I am a monarchist because I am a democrat”.
    This “democratic” (“representative”, to be exact) character of monarchy is embodied in a Parliament (Cortes, Parlements, Diets, etc.) that functions not as a legislative chamber per-se, but as an effective limit to royal power. Its composition is eminently social: since the small intermediate entities and associations that form society exist before the State (subsidiarity), it is right they should be represented as such. They exist by their own right, not by State concession (something Vázquez de Mella called “social sovereignty”). Modern legislative chambers are formed according to the ideological orientations of individuals, which in fact only form a very small portion of his vital circumstance, and certainly the one he is less interested in having the State consult him about. Modern representation, in this sense, is a sham. The only possible representation for the modern man (as holder of particular interests in his work, family, etc.) is lobbying, in the most undemocratic way: “courts” of lobbyists have to gain the favor of many independent four-year-long “kings”. The richest “courtier” naturally has the advantage.

    I stand with Mr. Médaille in rejecting the usefulness of one-man theoretical political constructions, however imaginative they may be. It is just not necessary. From a religious, cultural or even common-sense perspective our best bet is to contribute to the above mentioned labor of constant exegesis of traditional political thought, giving the benefit of the doubt, not to 18th or 21st century individual theories (however attractive they may look), but to over two thousand years’ worth of experience and tradition: that is, reception, improvement and transmission.

    To that end I dedicate the modest effort of my blog.

    Firmus et Rusticus
    http://firmusenglish.blogspot.com/

  16. :) — agreed.

  17. Rev. Wiley,
    Glad to see I am not the only reformed guy hanging out here!

    Heard Mark Stein on the Radio last week, I do not agree with everything he says, but he did remind his American listeners that King George III, in spite of his villainization, was never interested in monitoring the “wedding tackle” of his subjects. (unlike TSA bureaucrats)

  18. Your English is fine. The link with the past is like the castles, in my opinion. A nice tourist attraction, but no longer functional.

  19. Rev. Wiley, While it is true that Distributism may be considered “Catholic” because it was historically founded by Catholics in response to Papal teaching, it is based on philosophical understandings, and, as you probably know, philosophy is not the same as religion. Distributism is compatible with Catholicism, but – as your comment points out – it is also compatible with other faiths.

  20. Mark Stein is the one guest on Rush who (in the form of jokes) often makes points outside of libertarian orthodoxy. Laura Ingraham has that guy from the Acton institute on from time to time, but I don’t know that she gets the big picture of economics other than a vauge reference to subsidiarity.

    What do you think of Glen Beck? He has that annoying Worship of the founders and the endarkenment going on, but in practice he is encouraging people to get out of debt, detach from things, raise their own food, make more of their own stuff and support small businesses.

    It is mind-boggling that all the folks who want to conserve the vision of the founders are in such denial that after the West was settled in 1890 that capitalism would collectivize all industry and lead to class warfare.

    I think it is not the vision of the founders they would like to conserve, it is the ownership society that they would like to have back.

  21. Hi T,
    I agree with your assessment of G Beck. I have some real problems with the Mormon/Moralistic Therapeutic Deist theological underpinnings of the 9/12 groups, but I love his encouragements of domestic economy.
    He also has a quirky sense of humor I like. I think you are very right in his reading and understanding of the founding/founders is limited and one dimensional. This relates back to the 9/12 principle that “America is Good”. That’s a pretty broad statement to apply to 200+ years and 300 million souls ;-)

  22. Most people haven’t heard of him, but he certainly deserves to be better known.

  23. Pingback: The Distributist Review » Blog Archive » Monarchy and the American Constitution

  24. Richard,

    Glad to see you here too. I’m not familiar with Mark Stein — I don’t listen to much politcal commentary on radio, mostly sports. I’ll look him up. I do think distributism has real resonance with the reformed. For example, I think many traditional Catholics would be surprised at how popular Chesterton is among us, this taking into consideration how hard he can be on us at times. (Of course we’re used to knocking ourselves around, so Chesterton goes down pretty easy — like a pint of Guinness Stout.) I’ve always been drawn to the language of subsidiarity too. It is a more integrated vision for social order than “sphere sovereighty” — but without the loss of local control and personal freedom.

  25. Mark Steyn — yes, I’m familiar with, “America Alone” and with Hillsdale College, of course. (One of the schools I’ve considered for my son. He’s probably going to Grove City College, though.) Is he Reformed?

  26. Glad to agree with you, David. Within the world of Protestantism, I would say the Reformed (the real Reformed that is — not the phoney liberals) are most likely to be attracted to distributism on moral and intellectual grounds. Evangelicalism more broadly is drifting Left.

  27. Rev. Wiley,
    Is Steyn reformed? I don’t know? I only listen to some talk radio because the CD player in both the truck and car are broke! (I am also an oddball, being one of only about six native Western Pennsylvanians that does not like sports!)

    Like one of our Catholic friends here stated, Distributism strikes me as a form of political economy; not requiring adherence to the Magesterium. I lean 2K so I don’t worry about this too much. However, I think Distributism makes sense within a traditional Augustinian/Lutheran/Reformed “low” anthropology. If man is innately sinful, concentrated power (whether economic or political)should be avoided.

    BTW I live about ten miles from Grove City, and go to church with several professors (Two are regular contributors to Modern Reformation; T David Gordon and Gillis Harp) Great Men, great school, though the weather here is probably no better than Hillsdale :-)

  28. Say hello to Gillis for me!

  29. I will do so! I did not know you were acquainted. He is that the rare mixture of a brilliant scholar and Christian gentleman-kind of like the guy who wrote “Towards a Truly Free Market” :-)

  30. By The way Mr Medaille, in light of the recent stir your recent essay has provoked, your might have use of the following essay by Dr. Harp:

    http://www.visandvals.org/Are_We_All_Ideologues_Now.php

    Sometimes internet communication makes us too prickly. Around home, political conversation seems more polite; perhaps because the conversations are all within decent pistol range.

  31. P.S. This is the only page I know about Juan Vázquez de Mella in English. I bet distributists from everywhere will find much joy in his thoughts on social doctrine:

    http://www.carlismo.es/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=102

    -Firmus et Rusticus
    http://firmusenglish.blogspot.com/