28 March 2013

Recap of the fall of Monarchism

Hertzlinger points out, accurately, that absolute monarchy is a recent innovation. He also calls it “regrettable”. In a comment, I put forward the “history of liberalism in a nutshell”. It's nothing I haven't put here before, but it's been spread over posts on a lot of different subjects, so I'm pasting my comment here (with minor editing) as a post:

Absolute monarchy was an innovation made possible by new technologies of transport and communication. When subordinates could not be supervised because of the difficulty of travel, it made sense to give them a large degree of independence, and ensure that they, like the Monarch himself, had permanent power and therefore a long-term view.  When the Monarch became able to supervise subordinates closely, it made more sense for him to delegate to temporary appointees instead.

Monarchy died out because the enlightenment political philosophy, along with the propaganda pumped out by the English Whigs, became so intellectually dominant that even the monarchs believed it. By the end of the 18th Century, European monarchs were deliberately acting like democratic leaders, which hastened their end.

As Moldbug put it the other day, while technological competence is certainly an indicator of a successful civilization, it is also a lagging indicator. The story of the growth of demotism as I see it goes like this:
  1. As above, technology (roads, literacy) improves, very gradually over hundreds of years, to the point where a King can actually control his realm and his armed forces without delegating permanent power to feudal vassals.
  2. This creates a stable economic basis which produces an enormous boom of technological development and prosperity.
    1. Scientific discoveries undermine the religious world-view which is the traditional justification of the political regime.
    2. At the same time, many small landowners obtain, as a result of the economic boom, a degree of wealth previously associated with actual political power in the form of major feudal rights. They saw political power as a necessary accompaniment to their wealth.
  3. Those two developments led to the overthrow of the absolute monarchy that had triggered them, and to the first liberal regimes.
  4. The intellectual, technological and economic boom continued. It was erroneously seen as the result of the liberal political order, rather than of the absolutist political order that had initially caused it.

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