11 January 2015

The danger of ideological monarchism – Russia

Vladimir Solovyov

This article, written by The Mad Monarchist, is one of the reasons why I am finding it increasingly difficult to sympathise with a certain kind of doctrinaire, ideological monarchist. I say this as a monarchist who believes, first and foremost, that Our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ is the true and rightful ruler of the cosmos. But I regard with the highest suspicion the sort of monarchism which is willing to ignore, downplay, scoff at, twist around, or override any sort of consideration about the inner life of the society and the subject within that society, for the sake of preserving merely the external forms, however much they have been transfigured into brittle, dry dead husks and meaningless echoes of hierarchies of value long-forgotten.

I am saying this as a monarchist, and as a Slavophil for whom the organic unity of the inner life with its outward expression is the key point. Many will confess Christ with their tongues, but if they do not do so with their hearts and with their deeds, Our Lord will profess unto them upon the Day of Judgement: ‘I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.’ When the Japanese slaughtered the innocent and defenceless Empress Myeongseong upon their government’s orders, they will not be excused for that iniquity merely because that government had an Emperor. When wealthy financiers and oil barons from Saudi and Qatar send money and arms to the devils of Daesh who are even now slaughtering the region’s hapless and blameless Christians and Shi’ites, crucifying and mutilating men, raping their daughters and conscripting their sons into their evil ways, those financiers will not be excused merely because they profess loyalty to an Emir or a King. Such ‘monarchies’ are hollow mockeries of the leading values their forms are inherently meant to represent – first and foremost, a care and respect for personality integrated over generations, as opposed to the mere utilitarian and egotist concerns of the present. Such ‘monarchies’ are but one step removed from a government like North Korea, which keeps a form in which the head of state is a purely hereditary office, but whose leading values are devoid of any organic or traditional content.

Here is where the insights of Vladimir Solovyov come in handy. Solovyov was, within the Silver Age of Russian thinking, one of the inheritors of the Czarist Slavophil tradition – and one who actively sought a rapprochement between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions, in which rapprochement he firmly believed (Russian patriot that he was) that religious, monarchical Russia would play a key role. Yet he is notable in that he considered very seriously the nature of evil, and his short set of Platonic dialogues War, Progress and the End of History: Three Conversations, Including a Short Story of the Anti-Christ is a very clear example of this consideration. Moral evil, he believed, at its deepest and most insidious will appear upon its face to be a manifestation of the good – but on further inspection one will find that it surreptitiously and sneakily mutilates the good in subtle ways. (In this, Solovyov’s Anti-Christ bears a striking resemblance to the leaders of C.S. Lewis’s N.I.C.E. in That Hideous Strength, but that’s a topic for another essay.)

Notably, Solovyov’s Anti-Christ at first looks and bears all the external marks of goodness. He is young, fit, physically imposing and beautiful, ascetic, to all appearances blameless, a brave military leader, a tireless industrialist, a generous philanthropist – yet it is his inner life which is marked by a pride which refuses to admit any room for Christ. Notably, in Solovyov’s Short Story, the Anti-Christ assumes the title of Roman Emperor, and tempts the Christians of the world away from their faiths in Christ by appealing to their outward appetites for social reform, for individual freedom of inquiry and expression, for external authority, for traditional symbols and asceticism. All the external trappings of the Christian teachings are there in the monarchy of the Anti-Christ, and of course all the trappings of the monarchy are there – but the one thing that is missing is any acknowledgement of Christ himself.

So in answer to the Mad Monarchist’s assertion that Putin is blameworthy for having recognised the historical right but not having simultaneously abdicated and restored the Russian state to the House of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov, it is worth considering that such a sudden, precipitous and geometric outward political change, not being reflected in the inner life of the Russian society (mutilated as it has been by the misrule and theft and physical and spiritual impoverishment of both the Soviets and Eltsin’s neoliberals) might be an open invitation to the rule of Anti-Christ. (And a sorry excuse for a traditionalist is he who proposes a counter-revolution on just such terms!)

Two problems present themselves at once. The first is that the Russian nation, in its full generational and spiritual depth, is wounded. Wounds require time to heal, both in human bodies and in societies, and a treatment which does not progress in its proper order and time will likely do as much harm as good. For example, if you are impaled by a deadly foreign instrument – a sword or a beam or a sharp stick – basic first aid practice is not to pull it out at once. The bleeding must be stanched and the impaled area cleaned first before you pull out the impaling object. Russian Orthodox priestly praxis likewise recognises, in treating the spiritually-wounded human sinner, that penitence is a process and not a one-time event. The second is that the doctor administering the treatment must be competent. Now, in a monarchy, the usual case is that the monarch is competent because she has grown up with roots in the state which she is meant to govern. Her father, being king before her, will teach her from the wellsprings of tradition and religious devotion everything she needs to understand about her subjects and her land. But the House of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov’s competence is in question precisely on these two points. Note carefully that I have absolutely no doubts about the goodwill, faith and talent in government of Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna Romanova, just as I might have no doubts about the goodwill, faith and intelligence of a self-taught, unlicensed practitioner of medicine. That doesn’t mean she is capable of administering the appropriate treatment of my injury.

The Mad Monarchist claims that Putin is a republican and a secret communist sympathiser, but neither one is very well-evidenced. The primary intellectual influences whom Putin quotes most often, Pyotr Stolypin and Ivan Il’in, were both conservatives and staunch monarchists. In fact, I think the one who sympathises more with the communists and republicans – or rather, who understates the spiritual and material results of their rule – is actually the Mad Monarchist himself. By asserting, as he does, that the only right thing Putin can now do for Russia is to step down and restore the monarchy in its outward form, he is actually downplaying and obfuscating the inner, spiritual wrongs that both communist and liberal-republican ideologies have done there.


  1. I hope Mad Monarchist comes here and offers a response to your thoughts.

  2. I somewhat suspect that, if he responds at all, he will dismiss me as being a.) naive regarding Putin, or b.) the wrong sort of monarchist.

    Support for monarchy makes best sense when coupled with a Burkean fear of ideology and geometric change, and with Christian concern for the inner character and condition of subjects and societies.

  3. Good post. I sometimes think people forget just how bad things were in Russia in the 1990s and why Putin is actually a big improvement over the Yeltsin-style liberals of that decade. That is not to say that Putin is great and wonderful, but still, he is an improvement.

    Maybe at some point the monarchy will be restored in Russia, but I am not sure we can demand that it be restored right away. I don't know if the country is ready for such a big leap yet.