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The education of a monarchist: Advantages of the heritage of Caesar's corona

By J.K. Baltzersen
web posted April 6, 2020

On the last Saturday of this January Her Britannic Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had reigned for an equal amount of days as the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph. For more than a century the late Emperor had held the record of the longest reigning European monarch of imperial or royal rank without minority. Now he has been surpassed.

It has been almost seven decades since the Duchess and Duke of Edinburgh flew into Nairobi, and shortly thereafter they ascended a treetop hotel, Elizabeth as Princess, descended the next morning as Queen, although she learnt of this fact only later, at the royal residence of Sagana Lodge.

Growing Up Where the Queen Acceded

I remember it well, flying into Nairobi for the first time. It was early morning, the Sun had risen, and the dust was red. It was October 4 of 1979. This was to be my home for a few years. I was to learn the Swahili word for lion, simba, long before it became a part of popular culture through The Lion King.

A few times I have wondered whether the almost fairy-tale-like story of the Queen's accession and the story connection of it to the country in which I partly grew up has affected me towards monarchism. Certainly it would be foolish of me to claim that growing up in Kenya necessarily makes one a monarchist, as I am sure there are many non-monarchists who also have grown up in the country. But for me it was perhaps a contributing factor.

I never did visit Treetops – or Sagana Lodge – while living in the country, and I still haven’t. But I have been in the area around Mt. Kenya a few times and once at another resort in the Aberdare Forest, The Ark, which didn’t have as tough age restrictions as Treetops.

The summer before the year we moved to Kenya, we had been on vacation to the United Kingdom. My parents had taught me a few English words and phrases to say. Before the move down to the equator, I received private English lessons at the university. However, after some time at the international school – with a Danish (our languages are rather similar) classmate as mentor – without attending English-as-a-Second-Language classes, the school concluded I needed ESL.

I did have Norwegian classes on the side, and I did speak Norwegian at home and with Norwegian friends, but it was stricken down by teachers if done in regular class.

Upon returning to Norway, my English was better than my Norwegian. At one incident in class, I was speaking Norwegian, and a word unintentionally came out in English with an American-sounding accent. That was the laugh of the day for the rest of the class.

It has been pointed out to me a few times a claimed irony in that I am a monarchist who sounds more American than British when speaking English. I have heard a few American monarchists speak, and guess what, they all have American accents. Canadian monarchists, which is more common than American ones, sound more American than British too. Who would have known?

A few times I have been asked how long I have lived in the United States. At times, some have even guessed I do live in the States. Some claim they can hear a Nordic accent in my English, others say they don't.

Americans are stationed around the world. They have schools for their kids. I happen to have attended one of them.

"We're a Democracy!"

I remember hearing the news of the attempted assassination of President Reagan. The attempt took place late in the evening my time. So it was probably the next morning. I heard the news outdoors at school. A classmate uttered: "The President has been shot." I thought she meant President Moi, who recently passed away, as this was my closest association at the time with the term "the President," but my misunderstanding was quickly resolved.

I recall a few years later in a childish way telling someone in my class: "You don't have a royal embassy." The response was something along the lines of: "That's because we're a democracy." I wasn't at the time capable of making an argument against that claim. It was only many years later I learnt of the democracy vs. republic issue, and of course, all European kingdoms and the grand duchy are democracies. At some point I found Star Wars annoying for its glorification of a republic, but the main issue there, as I understand, is republic vs. empire, not republic vs. monarchy.

Don't Mess with Other People

I lived in Nairobi in a 30-apartment estate one storey tall, shaped somewhat like a stadium. 15 apartments were reserved for Norwegian families (of the development aid agency), and 15 of them were reserved for native Kenyan families. I remember once I told some of the Kenyan kids that we were there to help. I had to know how to run after doing so. They took great pride in that they didn't need any help.

I can recollect also the American seniors in high school watching videos with news from back home. Yes, tapes had to be sent in the mail in those days. Part of it was about foreign policy. I remember I was a staunch supporter of the invasion of Iraq, expressing this to an American couple in Acapulco in 2002. LRC later taught me this was a mistake.

I have also wondered whether growing up in a more tribal country – although greatly isolated from the tribalism – has instilled – slightly at the least – in me a skepticism towards the less natural institution of modern democracy.

An American Education and Exposure to Several Perspectives

At school in Kenya, social studies had a specific theme at each class level in elementary school. In fifth grade, the theme was American history. I recall watching the series The Blue and the Gray and my teacher making jokes about her being Yankee and her husband being Dixie. This was also the year I was bitten by the bug – apparently for life – with my interest in constitutional matters. We learnt about the U.S. Constitution.

Back at school in Norway, I was supposed to be learning that it was a good thing that the Norwegian constitutional order was changed through a packed impeachment tribunal, introducing parliamentary government, the concept that the cabinet/administration must have the confidence of the parliament/legislature. I didn’t get this to fit very well with what I had learnt about checks and balances at school in Nairobi.

I also noticed how much attention history of labor unions got in Norwegian textbooks. I did not recall at the time that this got attention at my international school.

Lesson: if you want to instill in someone one way of thinking, don’t expose them to different kinds of thinking and perspectives, especially if they are potentially contradictory. On the other hand, if you want yourself and/or your kids to be independently thinking, bring in stuff from all sorts of angles.

Computers and Constitutions

I have recollections of writing down constitutional rights when being in my family’s mountain cabin  – with no connected electricity or running water. Later I developed a skepticism towards constitutional design.

While I had a significant interest in constitutions, I also had interest in computers, which I demonstrated by sitting voluntarily in the computer room at my school in Nairobi after school hours on Fridays (Monday - Thursday was for swimming) when I was around ten. My having one foot in the study of society and one foot in technology was illustrated also by the fact that I wrote one of my two junior high school papers on the King’s role during the German invasion of Norway in 1940 and the other one on laser technology.

I have more than once been told that I seem like someone who would be a lawyer or study law. But I chose to go into computer science/engineering, from where I also have a course in industrial law. When choosing between social studies/humanities and natural science/technology an argument in favor of the latter was that it is/was not tainted. But that was perhaps before climate science came to dominate the world stage.

I joined the Norwegian Young Conservatives as an active member when in high school. I thought that was the right side of politics to be on. That was before I became more aware of false dichotomies. When the government decided it was a good idea to get rid of government representatives in the representative bodies of commercial banks, I thought it was a good idea to follow suit, and I put forward a motion with the Oslo Young Conservatives to get rid of mandatory employee representation in representative bodies of corporations/businesses. The motion failed.

When I went to Trondhjem for studies, I continued as an active member for a little while, but I found more connection with the local Conservative Students, who, like the Young Conservatives, had a formal link to the Conservative Party, but was more independent, not in the same way considered a part of the Party. Sadly, I had to witness the decay in this independence.

At the time when Norway entered the European Economic Area (EEA) and applied for membership in the EU, I was very much a supporter of Norwegian membership. Now, I believe Brexit can give hope for the UK leading by example. There are good chances the UK on the outside of the union will provide empirical evidence that things can go quite well outside the EU, and that it will give motivation for others to secede from a union that is all too fond of regulation.

What I noticed also at this time, was that Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein had threatened his people with his own exile if they didn’t approve membership in the EEA. I liked that, a monarch who was more than a figurehead. A fond memory from database class is an example for the entity-relationship model, an example where Harald (the King) was the boss of Gro (the Prime Minister). Yes, it was an example used by the teacher in a lecture in front of the full class. Imagine something like that happening in a political science class: it would cause a real uproar, especially in these times of the easily offended.

Being active in student politics, I had the pleasure of representing my faculty at a national convention for a student "trade union." There was another guy from the same school but another faculty who was more or less in line with me. We were called the Balkans at the Trondhjem table.

As an example, we didn’t want unemployment benefits for students. The so-called rightist group – actually called moderate group, apparently inspired by the Moderate Party of Sweden – did want such benefits. I was given an award for all the motions I upheld, i.e., forced a floor vote on despite no support for them in the committee.

I remember also while being active in student politics that I fought against a higher scholarship fraction in the handouts from the government (scholarship fraction vs. loan fraction). I realize that I probably should have gone even lower, but you learn as you go in life.

"Free" Education

Norwegian higher education – except for some private exceptions – has no tuition. There is a small welfare fee, but it goes to organizations for student welfare, not to the institutions of education. I remember one conversation with a couple of my classmates, discussing an opinion of Norwegian Nobel physics laureate Ivar Giæver, who had recently publicly opined that Norwegian students should pay for their studies. I thought he had a point, although I might not have been very clear about it in the conversation. One of the others was hostile, and the other one showed some sympathy.

I call to mind also a feeling of envy at times of those who could work for it all without government support.

I got my first e-mail account in 1992. It was a university account. Within the next few years, I wondered whether one could send letters to the editor via e-mail. So I called one of the largest newspapers in Oslo, Aftenposten. I asked if I could send them e-mail. That depended on whom I wanted to send to. I told them it was the letters department. That was out of the question. The answer to the follow-up I should have recorded on tape – or somehow. They actually told me that e-mail reception of letters to the editor would never happen. Never!

Democracy or Monarchy

I followed up my monarchism at the national convention for Conservative Students with a motion to amend the proposed ideological manifesto. The motion was to express the need for regal powers to be a check on popular power. It was laughed at. Later I met a few like-minded people in the European Democrat Students, an organization for center-right student organizations in Europe, where I attended – amongst several events – the summer university in Austria, starting in Vienna, in 1998.

This was also when I got to visit Bad Ischl, where I saw the desk where war had been declared against the Kingdom of Serbia on that fateful day of July 28, 1914. I traveled to Innsbruck, the small city below the town of Lans where Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn lived, without any knowledge at the time of the great scholar, whose last summer amongst us this was.

For some time I believed that democracy and absolute monarchy were equally bad, I even admit to in younger days to have indulged in competitive misuse of the term democracy. I believe it was the American monarchist Charles A. Coulombe’s FAQ on monarchy that started my transition from (absolute) democracy and (absolute) monarchy as equally bad to into democracy being worse, but I have no clear memory of any distinct transitional moments.

Discovering the Mises Institute

I have memories from my days as a student that I had almost vowed to myself not to read anything on political philosophy, as it would affect my independent thinking. It did not last many years. After all, an important rule for an engineer is to use solutions/knowledge already acquired, not to reinvent the wheel.

It must have been 2001 or thereabouts I discovered the Mises Institute. I think I had looked at a few articles from the website before my “real discovery,” which came through a search for monarchy and democracy. I discovered Hoppe and the Mises Institute that way. Beyond the knowledge of the existence of F.A. von Hayek and The Road to Serfdom, I knew nothing about the Austrian school before this time.

I read Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s Liberty or Equality in the summer of 2002. I read Leftism Revisited and Hoppe’s Democracy – The God that Failed shortly thereafter. The next summer I debuted as writer for LRC.

A Rubber Stamp?

Queen Elizabeth surpassed another reign in March, and is set to surpass another two in a bit over two years, and finally the Sun King in four years and a couple of months. It is something to have ambivalent feelings about, because I can’t let go of sensing that Sean Gabb has a point when he says it has been a reign of a rubber stamp, not a queen.

What good comes out of the reserve and advisory powers? I have wondered at times. When I went to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, I witnessed two guys putting on a show, and ending it with saying “jolly good show.” It was illustrative of what has gone on in Britain for a long time. The Brits are good at maintaining the facade, while decay goes on inside – although with royal divorces etc. the facade has its problems as well.

But I have serious doubts any formally republican replacement will be any better. Peter Hitchens suggests a monarchy without a monarch when the Queen goes. Maybe? Maybe?

I remember the attempted coup against President Moi well. We were relatively safe in our apartment in Nairobi. The drama was at a good distance, but it was still in the same city. Hayek makes a very good point in favor of democracy with the argument that it provides peaceful transition of power, but Hayek was in favor of something more limited than most modern democracies, and he knew that democracy empowered government. Also, in a lecture in Sydney in October of 1976, he admitted to preferring limited non-democracy over unlimited democracy.

Democracy has a lot of problems, amongst which is empowering of government. It is a complex matter and the fight must go on against the deification of democracy. It requires knowledge. As Tom Woods has noted, you must study and be knowledgeable in order to stand up against your intellectual enemies.

In these corona virus times, it is especially important to be aware of how crises empower government. The philosophy of "the government is us" and crises is a particularly toxic mixture. It is not only important to keep the torch of liberty up against government, but also to keep in mind that democracy also is a threat to liberty. Having something that can check the forces of the masses might not be such a bad idea.

The crown, the symbol of monarchy, may have developed from the corona worn by Julius Caesar. May we be so lucky that crowns or coronas may protect us from the encroachments that likely will develop from the coronavirus crisis? If so, that might be a somewhat morbid irony. Or are we simply out of luck? ESR

J.K. Baltzersen writes from the capital of the Oil Kingdom of Norway. He is the editor of the book Grunnlov og frihet: turtelduer eller erkefiender? (in Norwegian and Swedish; translated title: Constitution and Liberty: Lovebirds or Archenemies?), with Cato Institute’s Johan Norberg amongst the contributors.

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